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Between the Lines

Chapter Text

The barista rocking a tight manbun at the coffee shop on Fifth gives her the first letter.

It’s an odd Saturday off, and Alex isn’t an hour southeast at the DEO headquarters, filing incident reports for the latest alien attack; nor is she content to remain cooped up in her apartment on such a sunny day. She doesn’t even frequent this coffee house all that often, maybe pops in twice a month on slower weekends or federal holidays that happen to coincide with the lack of an intergalactic threat. The gilded coffee presses and billowing steam from the wands is an assault on the senses; the first time she brought Kara to a city coffee house during morning rush her sister had darted outside, shaking her head against the stimulation. She noted, all those yesteryears ago, to never give a Kryptonian caffeine.

The same could not be said for her bedraggled human system.

She steps forward and places her order, double checks her phone and shuffles her way down the line to the counter. Usually after runs she treats herself to a calorie-heavy pastry. But watching Kara demolish seven sticky buns in a single sitting last Thursday still has her stomach roiling.

Today, Alex gets a quadruple shot Americano and an unmarked envelope.

“What’s this?” Alex asks, scrunching her face up as the hand-off is completed. She hates asking because the place is swamped, flannel-clad millennials and toddler-toting moms eye-rolling and sighing at the slow (frantic, rapid, but never fast enough) pace of the service industry.

“Your friend left it,” the barista quips, turning his attention back to the espresso grinder and the portafilter.

“Friend?”

“She said she had an emergency. Had to jet.”

“I think there’s been a mistake—”

“You’re Alex Danvers, right? Quad-shot medium Americano with a dash of whole milk for a cool-down?”

“Uh… yes.”

“Then that’s for you!” the young man shouted over the crunching rumble of the grinder. “The General gives you her regards.”

Alex periscopes her head around the interior, scanning for any behavior that seems just south of human. The envelope feels light and innocuous in her hands; plain office supply paper with no outstanding notations on the exterior. There’s a thumbprint in brown powder at the upper left-hand corner that will likely be traced back to the barista. Of course the paper will undergo every test the DEO has in its scientific arsenal, several of which Alex designed herself. The smallest hint of sweat or saliva used as sealant could be traced, collected, dissected and studied.

Know your enemy, Alex.

Alex dashes outside, coffee and envelope in hand. She should call it in, she knows.

The General sends you her regards.

No way General Lane, even on his worst days, would ever be mistaken for a woman.

There’s only one other General within her circle of acquaintances… enemies… extended foster-family that Alex has communicated with in her lifetime.

You’re the human that defeated the Hellgrammite, she’d said, languorously stretching to prop herself up, her equilibrium no doubt compromised by the effects of the Kryptonite. Her body had suffered, but her mind was still relatively functional: I like you.

Alex should call it in.

She posts up against the brick of the building, one sneaker propped carelessly on the wall behind her. Alex had needed the run this morning, had missed her sparring session because Cat Grant was speaking at a conference in Montreal and Kara had accompanied the woman, eager for her first flight on the corporate jet despite the barking demands of an agitated boss.

But ever since Alex had started sparring with Kara, all the other agents at the DEO were afraid to get in the ring with her. Hank always refused, ever wary of outing himself as more than human. Alex didn’t blame him; after their rendezvous from the mission with Lord and his offices, Hank seemed more guarded than usual. Regardless, with Kara gone she was partnerless, but a brisk 5k through the city was supposed to center her, quiet her, not up her anxiety levels with mysterious, likely untraceable correspondence.

Alex doesn’t call it in.

She rips into the letter right there on the street.

 


 

 

Agent Danvers,

It is with great hesitancy I compose this letter at all. It will go against basic principles I’ve learned as commander and prisoner, and will likely be the beginning of my own demise. My dearest Kara believes, so naively and wholeheartedly, that faith between our opposing forces will be the first steps to compromise. I feel you know better Agent Danvers; belief in a cause is righteous, and admirable, and undoubtedly dangerous. Fervent belief, to the point of harming others with whom you disagree, is a bastardization of all that I’ve fought for.

Or so I am coming to learn.

I will spare you the details of my troops’ indoctrination. Not all under my command were good beings to begin with, as you well know. But with bloody resolve did I seize control over this unfortunate collection of criminals. I trained them, molded them, gave them the tools to face even the toughest opponents, all for the sake of saving this planet.

Hollow English words cannot express the depth of my regret.

The alien army are fantastic menaces that have, surprisingly, pledged their allegiance to me this past decade. Yet the troops grow restless. There is talk of insurrection, that I have grown weak due to Kara’s influence. My intentional capture, diversionary, of course, was seen as the first blow to my regime. Even my closest Lieutenant questions my resolve. I can trust no one, for they will not compromise. It has been my desire for the longest time to overthrow the established hierarchy you humans have in place; your habits mirror with devastating exactitude those of the Kryptonians before their planet’s demise. Living here, in secret, studying your historical patterns and reviewing the actions of your greatest thinkers, has shown me that it is through diplomacy, not force, that the most long-lasting change occurs.

I wish to open negotiating talks with you, and you alone, Agent Danvers.

I cannot trust your military officials. I know the type of people who result to torture, and they disgust me.

Have you ever looked at your reflection, Agent Danvers, and been disgusted?

I cannot trust Kara; she is too young and too hopeful and, in truth, too inexperienced in many regards to complete any operation remotely surreptitious. You are close to her, and rank higher than she does.

That is why I’m extending this request to you. Yours and your father’s scholarship on Kryptonian biologies has been entertaining and incorrect in many aspects, yet, admittedly, not wholly off the mark. You are wise for your youth; you are brave, and honorable. I recall that you protested vehemently when that heartless scrap of excrement opened the case of Kryptonite syringes while I was in your custody.

But I likewise understand the duty of a soldier. You were told to remove Kara from the interrogation and you followed orders. You are a premiere soldier, Agent Danvers; I would be lucky to have you in my command.

All this I write with the understanding that currently, our respective agencies are still at war. If the situation presents itself, I can fight you and respect you in equal measure; do not misinterpret my praise for leniency.

What I am doing accounts to treason in the laws of my people, so please give careful consideration to my proposition. I am writing this letter because it is the easiest to dispose of. Burn it, destroy it, I implore you. Should our correspondence continue, I encourage you to use this more tangible method of communication. Digital records are too easy to trace with both of our bases’ technological access, but these thin paper pieces are just like you humans.

So fragile. Flimsy…. Delicate.

To show my good faith I would like to alert you to the movements of one of my top agents. He has gone rogue, and has gathered a handful of dissidents on my side to attack the laboratory at Los Alamos. At least two in the group have the known ability to absorb energy in myriad forms, hence the location. By connecting to the experimental power sources at a nuclear facility, their abilities will only grow, making your job much more difficult. I cannot say precisely when this attack will occur, but I do know it will happen within the forthcoming week.

I understand that this could read very much like an invitation to an ambush; I did not acquire the rank of general by heeding every missive sent my way. But I ask you, like my niece would ask you, to exercise a little faith, Agent Danvers. If the group is thwarted in their endeavors then you will have successfully quashed a raid that could have devastating effects on a number of locations, not just National City.

If you wish to continue this discussion, I encourage you to write me. It would not do for us to be seen meeting. I have security, and I don’t trust your government not to have eyes on you, especially after your objections against General Lane. There is a fence, black iron with overgrown greenery, which separates the sidewalk from a vacant lot two blocks west of this shop. The ninth brick from the left is loose, the perfect spot to leave a note of agreement or refusal. You do not have to answer right away, of course. You may very well wish to allow the situation at Los Alamos to play out, and make your decision accordingly.

I will do what I can on my side to temper the gnashing of teeth and talon; it wears on me, this duplicity, when for the longest time I felt so certain in my purpose. The events of the upcoming months will rest heavily upon your decision, Agent Danvers.

I await your response and remain, respectfully,

General Astra In-Ze, First Daughter of the House of In-Ze, Arclominian of the First Order

Chapter Text

Four days later saw Alex and a group of DEO special operatives in the backwoods of New Mexico. Thanks to Astra’s intelligence, their squad wrestled and wrangled seven combative alien hostiles, two with Redline classification as energy manipulators.

“How did you know to put this locale on the watch list, Agent?” Hank asks her as they sneak up and get into position.

“Gut instinct, sir.”

“That’s not going to fly with me, Danvers.”

“Let’s get these guys back to the DEO before I tell you.”

“Why?”

“I’d rather not be reprimanded in front of subordinates, sir.”

No reprimand was issued, because the takedown went off as hitchless as usual DEO assignments do. And Alex thinks that with the success of their assignment, Hank will overlook his line of inquiry. There were multiple injuries, but no casualties. Alex crosses her fingers and hopes it registers as little more than a blip on Astra’s radar, so that the Kryptonian general’s grumbling masses don’t catch onto the fact that their AWOL brothers and/or sisters in arms have been taken into DEO custody.

On the ride back from New Mexico, Alex catches herself wondering why she’d been so willing to go along with Astra’s information.

She tells herself that her squad would have had her back; that with the amount of people deployed (double what they needed for a mission with seven combatants), she and Hank wouldn’t have been in any danger, even if Astra had set a trap. Alex wonders why she thinks of the General, of not wanting the Fort Rozz inmates on Astra’s side to find her out, to let anything slip—it’s not because Alex particularly cares what happens to Astra. The woman’s an elitist eco-terrorist who’s done near as much harm to Kara as Alura did when she carted her off to another planet.

But the prospect of an ally, no mater if they’re a downright insulting, is not an opportunity Alex can afford to pass up. Not with the increase in alien activity they’ve seen since Kara’s debut as Supergirl.

No, it’s not necessarily wise. But Alex will pull the plug as soon as she notes something fishy. It’s not like Astra approached her in her home, followed her to the DEO, swooped down and airlifted her like some demented golden eagle; she extended her offer, with rather sound reasoning, in one of the least threatening methods Alex could think of, as far as covert messaging was concerned. It’s a medium-ish risk with a big reward if it pulls through; and Alex has seen too many people hesitate in the field, only to wind up dead or limbless.

Alex takes the opportunities afforded her. It’s how she’s made it this far, black polo-clad, strapped and packing, with a Ph.D. to boot.

It’s two days after the showdown at Los Alamos that Alex finds time to stop back by the coffee shop and head west. She slips a Post-It under a loose brick a few blocks over.

Astra,

You’ve got my attention. I’ll come back in a day or two to see what you’ve got to offer.

-Alex Danvers

P.S. You write WAY too much.

 


 

 

Alex detours down past Fifth Avenue three days after she tucked the sticky note under the crumbling red brick. A right angle of white catches her eye, slightly damp from the morning dew. It’s still in an envelope, though not as thick as the first:

Agent Danvers,

Pardon my wordiness, but it seemed better to explain myself fully when I was staking the future of the planet on your decision. Henceforth, I’ll know not to do so. (Though I do speak eleven languages, the majority of which don’t even belong to this solar system; you’ll forgive my ignorance of your slang).

In summary: your team performed well. Perhaps I do occasionally underestimate your species due to your lack of physical power. However, your technology and novel battle strategies tend to work in your favor, thwarting my combatants’ sheer brawn.

My colonels are enraged. They lost two special force attackers to your raid and are petitioning to attack the DEO offices. They wish to put me under a telepathic field, a bit of science I’m sure is beyond you, to determine if I am lying when I say I do not recall the location of the DEO. The effects of the Kryptonite hadn’t worn off when you shackled and transported me for the hostage transfer. I assume, like any good team, you detoured numerous times to upset my sense of direction before depositing me at the exchange site. For future reference, such diversions will not always work; mine is a trained directional sense meant to compensate for trajectories on multiple planes. One of my first assignments was to relay intergalactic coordinates.

Nevertheless, the Kryptonite in my system had not completely worked itself out. I’m hoping there is no kernel of information buried in my subconscious to be retrieved from their telepathic prodding. Cloaking devices or not, I fear the DEO will not be safe for long. My colonels’ hunger for retaliation is insatiable. I cannot risk giving you any further information about our movements so soon; two successful missions against us in so few weeks after a decade of little interference would—what is the English phrase?—tip our hand.

This being the case, I believe the best course of action for the moment is deception. If there is any way to make it seem as though my troops are gaining ground, without giving up anything useful on your side, we will be able to appease my ranked officers. It will likely take more organization on your part, perhaps even sidestepping your superiors to get clearance for something like this.

Again, I do not wish to do anymore harm to this planet. Keeping casualties to a minimum (or, preferably, a zero sum) should be our top priority. I am at a loss as to how to proceed, for you know far more about your organization than I. If we were still at odds, it would be poor strategy to admit to our lack of knowledge. But again, you humans occasionally impress us.

I await your ideas as to my suggestion. I will do what I can from this side of the line.

General Astra In-Ze, First Daughter of the House of In-Ze, Arclominian of the First Order

 


 

 

Alex mulls over Astra’s logic for the rest of the week. It’s a more difficult assignment than she’s used to: feeding information to the enemy (just the right amount, and just convincing enough to be believed).

Not exactly her specialty.

Though the thrill of combat is enervating in its own regard, she sometimes misses her lab; running tests on the Fort Rozz detainees was how she got her name in the DEO. She authored the most thorough experimenting manual in existence concerning extra-terrestrial lifeforms, but many of her previous laboratory duties have now been relegated to lesser personnel down the chain of command--to those agents who haven’t completed the requisite year of training prior to strapping up with magazines the size of a tibia and semi-automatics powerful enough to leave a softball-sized bruise in an armpit.

Espionage, treachery, false-trails and white lies… at least Alex was better at it than Kara.

But there was reason for her expert secret-keeping. When Alex moved to National City under the guise of career recruitment, she didn’t have to face her mother’s constant questions. Once properly insinuated in the DEO, the higher-ups there manufactured a back story that she’d learned verbatim and spat forth whenever questioned. And when Kara followed, their schedules were incompatible enough that she’d never had to outright lie to her sister. The refrains of “headed to work,” or, “gotta work late,” weren’t untrue. Just… slant.

Alex figures she’s got a decent idea, but it could use some development. There’s no more hiding it from Hank, though. She did well enough chanting “We Will Rock You” as loudly as her brain would allow during the sting in Los Alamos, determinedly not thinking about the fact that Astra gave her the information to make it all possible. Hank hadn’t confronted her since, so she probably did an adequate, if not adept job, at shielding her thoughts from the Martian.

But something like this, she’s gonna need help. Astra said to go around her higher-ups, but there’s no way she’ll be able to hide from the commander. Hank, and Hank alone, would want—no, need to know, should all collapse to ruin. And with his mindreading abilities, it isn’t as if he wouldn’t find out eventually. Better to go to him beforehand, and plead her case.

Kara, on the other hand… could be left in the dark. She’s too close to Astra, has too much at stake if the alien betrays them all. This way, it’s just Alex taking the risk. Hank can say he knew nothing about it. And if he outright refuses to cooperate, Alex has some information she could use to twist his arm.

Alex loses her thought train in the DEO break room, staring absently into an empty cabinet.

I’m willing to out my boss as a Green Martian at the expense of following through on some hair-brained double-cross?

“Agent Danvers?”

A deferential know-nothing stands by the door, casting vaguely concealed glances of worry in Alex’s direction. She’s got to talk to Hank; she’s not spent this much time in the break room, avoiding his knowing gaze, since the first month of her recruitment.

“Yes?” she clips.

“You’re needed in the command room. No alien interference, but traces of… far-loo-min-ee-hum were found outside of a chemical laboratory near Denver.”

“Pharluminium,” Alex corrects, because she can’t help exerting that seniority. It’s an otherworldly chemical they’ve found in remote traces of Lorphos blood; an amalgamated name of component parts that resembled the atomic structures of earthly elements. Sounded weird as shit, but she named a chemical. She’s Alex Danvers, second in command of a top secret organization, fighting aliens and naming compounds left and right, with all the scientific prowess of a modern Curie or Newton, Galileo or Oppenheminer. She damned well earned it, worked hard, studied harder, fought her hardest, going with her gut through the duration of her schooling and her career.

It’s her gut that’s chanting some strange, reassuring song. A song telling her she’s doing the right thing. Putting her faith in the right person. The way Astra looked at Kara in that cell couldn’t be faked. It was desperate love, on the verge of concession. Concession in that Astra seemed near willing to grovel, if only for Kara to come back to her; there was regret, pressing and staggering, slowly crushing Astra with every accusation Kara flung her way.

Or maybe it was the Kryptonite.

Thinking back, it seemed as if Astra desired… desires, repentance.

And apparently Alex is the one to assign her the necessary Hail Marys and Our Fathers to clear her conscience. But before she can write to Astra again, she needs to know she’ll have at least one person on her side in this treacherous clusterfuck. She shuffles out of the break room and heads to command, eager to talk to Hank.

 


 

 

Astra,

First off, assuming I’m more incompetent than you is what got your forces into this mess in the first place. You already admitted that we regularly surprise you; so rather than insulting my intelligence with passive aggressive remarks, try explaining the mechanics of a telepathic field before you rudely dismiss me. I’m in the DEO because of science, not just because I can hit a bull’s eye from 150 yards out.

Sorry I don’t call you by your rank. You’re Kara’s aunt. I know you worked hard for your title—believe me, you’re not the only one—but in another world, in a more, well, peaceful world, if Kara introduced us, you’d just be Astra. Not the intimidating general lording her power over subservient human and alien species alike. If this back-and-forth we’ve got going here is going to continue, you can drop the formalities.

I’m Alex. You’re Astra. We’ll leave it there.

Kara would say we should get codenames, which isn’t a bad idea. But I’ll leave that for another letter.

The reason I open with some innocuous chatter about naming is that I had to go against your suggestions (but only partially). I told my boss about your helping us. Only my boss; he has no loyalties to General Lane and the higher ups besides what he needs to report to do his job. Considering we just kicked your collective asses on a sting mission, the higher ups are pretty happy; they don’t question us when we’re effective. I can’t tell you why I had to disclose your offer to him; again, there is information that both our sides are fearful of getting out. I accept that; it’s just smart procedure.

It’d be weird if either of us were completely honest with each other right from the get-go, don’t you think?

That being said, he’s not happy. He thinks you’re going to turn on us, which is unsurprising. I tried to explain, to let him know you were the one who tipped me off about the raid on Los Alamos… but he wasn’t convinced. Hell, I’m not sure I’m completely convinced… but I’d rather take this chance and gain as much ground as you’ll allow than throw it all away.

Astra, Kara and I are closer than you know. Again, I’m afraid to disclose too much too soon, but I know her. I truly do. I know how her nose scrunches up when she’s being funny. I know how she fidgets with her fingers when she’s nervous. Her eyes light up like solar flares when she’s hopeful, sheeny and ripply, because she’s on the verge of tears. She looks at you with all the hope a long-lost child has for a guardian. I can’t tell if it’s because of your sister, or because of you… she told me you two were thick as thieves when she was younger. It’s all the more devastating to her that you veered so drastically from the morality Kara treasures.

What I’m trying to say is, I would do anything for Kara. Even help you. Even believe you. I won’t ever bring her into this, because she’ll care too much. I’m one remove away, and I think I might care too much.

But know this: if you pull some elaborate triple cross as a means to hurt her, I will kill you. I don’t care if you’re stronger than me. I will find a way to make you bleed. In the meantime, I extend to you my cautious trust, and would like to present to you a plan of action:

You’re a general, so I’m going to assume you’re familiar with ciphers? Encoded messages using a series of symbols or letters or pictograms or whatever to relay information. You told me to let your troops find something that hinted at progress against us.

If your mission is to infiltrate the DEO databases or physical headquarters and take over, then we’ll lay a false trail.

What if one of your scouting parties intercepted our agents, who just happened to be depositing information at a random location? Of course, our agents would put up a fight but reasonably retreat, leaving your team to swoop in and retrieve what our agents were transporting: files.

You actually gave me the idea, with this whole letter thing.

We’ll type up stacks of papers, all with secretly encoded messages on them. They’ll be complete bullshit; I bet you’ve got alien technologies that can crack ciphers quicker than Kara does her Supergirl changes. But segments could be decoded; strings of phrases half-complete that might give you the coordinates of a storage locker we rented ten years ago—one with traces of radiation—that winds up being empty. Or the address of a former agent, who has since moved and left no forwarding information. We could even allow you to "discover" some of our failed projects; salvage all the useful bits and leave you with the scraps so your engineers are scratching their heads, trying to put together a puzzle without all the pieces. You could “crack” portions of the code, seeing as you’re the general, and then easily (mis)direct someone else to decode another portion. It’s not much, but you would be “gaining ground,” so to speak. And hopefully, it will appease your colonels.

You and I are in agreement that senseless bloodshed is the last thing either of our sides needs.

Get back to me ASAP, and I’ll make the necessary arrangements.

In the meanwhile, I redirect you to my promise. You hurt me, there’s not much I can do. It’s my neck on the line, and I’m willing to chance it. You hurt Kara…

What General Lane did to you will look like a mercy.

-Alex

Chapter Text

The day after Alex leaves the letter with her proposed plan, she makes a loop past her newly favored coffee shop in the early hours of pre-dawn—presumably out for a run. She’s got sparring practice back with Kara at 0700, now that Supergirl is done with her Canadian vacation. Kara’s been unfocused lately, though Alex can’t tell why. Her sisterly insight is failing her for the first time since their separation during the college years.

She chops her lengthy stride and bounces in a stationary jog, feigning interest in the opening hours sign. Two young women tottle behind the counter in maroon aprons, the hiss of steam wands and the drone of grinders audible even through the tightly locked doors. She’s early by a quarter hour. Fine by her. The place, as so many other places and people and events in her life, is a red herring, a diversion from the larger picture. When she turns the corner block and pauses, “catching her breath,” she’s slightly crestfallen not to find the brick dislodged from its place on the garden wall. Instead it’s nestled snugly between the other bricks, undisturbed and crumbling a bit at the edges.

Alex isn’t disappointed. It’s not like she’s eager to hear from Astra, though admittedly, the woman ranks higher than she does. Ten years ago, she’d never have guessed she’d be writing not just a general, but an alien general. Then again, alien military rankings aren’t quite her field of expertise…maybe she and Astra are equals?

Hardly, Alex scoffs internally, flashing back to the fight in the warehouse, the night the barb from the Hellgrammite nearly nicked her jugular.

Unlike Astra, Alex would never kill without reason.

Alex disregards the brick and increases her speed, trotting uphill until she reaches the peak of a city block. Her downhill jog soon morphs into a sprint, her feet fumbling along with gravity as physics works its magic. She nearly stumbles, an uneven jut of sidewalk catching the toe of her sneaker and breaking her stride. She scrabbles about to find her footing but pushes through, makes a wide turn and nearly sideswipes a sedan that honks at her mania.

She’s running, running fast and reckless, because she’s lying, has been lying to herself for longer than she cares to admit. Alex pushes and pushes and there’s no training incentive to this; it’s no test of endurance but a measure of her fear, knowing that when she stops to think she’ll have to face what she’s committed herself to with this perilous communication.

Her world is complicated. It’s grey and messy and of course, killing can be justified for any reason if the killer digs deep enough.

Alex has never seen a planet burn. Has never known tens of friends, hundreds of acquaintances, thousands upon millions of strangers singed or suffocated or crushed to death by the implosion of their homeland. She knows more than most what desperate times call for, and all at once, the nasty threat in her previous letter seems like a mistake. She wants to trust Astra but can’t, symptomatic of military indoctrination. And Astra… Astra must…

Astra must feel the same thing.

The fragility of trust, wayward and breakable, is so surprisingly human that Alex expels a hysterical half-chuckle at the thought. Astra, alien overlord, general of the mighty resistance, exhibiting qualities that humanize her. Leaning against a wall, panting in her confusion, Alex marvels at the sheer absurdity of it all. She’d nearly pissed herself on her first field mission and now, she’s waist deep in a convoluted mess of uncertain loyalties and cons, play-acting in missions and misdirections to achieve a greater goal. If only that green young woman, quaking with a pistol in her hand, could see her now.

The building stone is cold at the small of her back. Sweat trickles down her temples from her hairline, curling the clipped baby hairs that never make it up into her two-inch ponytail. She steadies her breathing and starts home, committing herself to something so volatile she wonders how badly she’ll be burned.

 


 

Alex,

That’s quite a bit to take in, given your penchant for brief responses. This last month of tentative replies cannot stand on hopes and promises between us. Only through fulfillment of those promises will we ever come to trust one another. I recognize that, which is why I made the first move. You are right to be skeptical; it is in your nature, your human cynicism honed by repeated disappointments and fear. Kara, thankfully, was spared that cynicism, but it has made her weak in other ways.

But know this: the day I hurt Kara is the day I relinquish my badge and hand over the blade forged with Kryptonite. Slit my throat and spill my blood, for it will be all I deserve.

Alex, your plan has merit. But as you say, our cipher technologies can crack codes at a speed immeasurable to your human comprehensions. I do not desire to venture upon insult, but I do wish to issue a warning. You will need to send the codes to me first, so that I may make alterations to help with this false trail you intend to lay. If I can apply encoding strategies that stymie our intelligence, you will have more time to prepare. I don’t want any of your agents harmed, but once my troops are on the field, the colonels will give them orders to kill. I’ve already halted an attack on your forces once, at the hostage exchange; I cannot afford to appear weak by encouraging them to take prisoners alive. I can appreciate the difficulty of this situation, but concessions must be made for the greater good. I will let you know which of my troops are assigned for deployment as soon as I can. You will then have at least some idea of what you’re up against.

I would also like to encourage a more cryptic annotation style. Our pronouns, while helpful as far as clarity is concerned, could do with some ambiguity. I’m not encouraging double-speak but vagueness, for if I continue with “my” troops and “my” colonels, any intercepted messages will be easily brought against me. Expect less explicit detail, but as much as I can give you without giving myself away. My troops look to me for their every move. They scrutinize and criticize; it would be too much for me to hand them the key to my jail cell.

With professional regards,

Astra

 

An addendum, which I believe you humans call a postscript:

Code names could work in our favor. Agent and General seem too telling. Creativity outside of the arena is not my strongest quality, so I will again assign this task to you.

 


 

 

Alex compiles the necessary codes with coordinates to empty bunkers housing dud missiles and an old service tank from the Vietnam era. Hank gets in on it too, and subordinates begin wondering why the two of them keep requesting thirty-year-old records that detail abandoned Air Force projects and rejected engineering schematics. When Kara asks about her latest assignment, Alex does that thing again that’s a not-lie, but a definite not-truth.

“We’re trying to draw the Fort Rozz aliens out of hiding,” she explains one evening over cheese pizza and light beer, as Khaleesi’s hair sizzles from her dragons’ steamy breath.

She’s been quietly tweaking the codes and files with her letters to Astra, some letters coming as frequently as three times a week. It helps that Alex can’t put a finger on Astra’s schedule. Her deliveries must come in the dead of night or late afternoon, for Alex is fairly consistent in her now-customary morning running route. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if she ever crosses paths with the General, but her stomach churns with an indescribable tightness at the possibility.

Alex considers and discards a number of options for codenames over a period of several nights. She stands at her sink, squeezing minty paste on a toothbrush and brainstorming, rubbing tight circles over her molars. It’s not until she spits and looks up into the mirror that the reflection of the bookshelf from the common room in her apartment catches her eye. It’s easier to narrow down options after she runs her fingers over the bindings. She finally dubs Astra Tolstoy, annoyingly concerned with alien elitism, steeped in decades of self-loathing and inward contemplation. Herself she references as Dostoevsky, a psychologist in an adjacent field, similar to her condition as scientist in combat boots. Then again, Dostoevsky had put the premiere man—all hope and positivity and goodness—into conflict, just to see how it all turned out.

Cue Alex and the premiere woman: Kara’s tucked under her shoulder for T.V. night, her cape pooling on the floor, collecting dust bunnies that congregate beneath the sofa. Jon Snow swings a Wildling sword and she hears her sister sigh.

“Not gory enough for you, Miss Alien-Exploder?” Alex teases.

“How was I supposed to know his arm would melt if I cooked him too long with the laser vision?” Kara asks innocently, smiling softly at the jibe. “You got most of the internal organs out of your hair.”

“What’s wrong, then?” Alex asks, ignoring Kara’s deflection.

“Nothing,” Kara says.

Alex stares her down until Kara shifts uncomfortably, always the baby-sister despite the not-S on her chest. Save a building, reverse a natural disaster, but don’t lie to Alex Danvers.

“It’s been weird at CatCo lately,” Kara says, picking up yet another slice of pizza. Alex remembers eating a piece from the large order, but somehow, the greasy breaded goodness has dwindled to a single triangular slice, currently drooping between Kara’s forefinger and thumb.

“Why’s that?” Alex asks, happy that it’s not something she’s done wrong.

“So… the thing with Winn?” Kara prods, chomping into the last mass of pepperonis.

So much for getting a second piece.

“How he’s head over heels for you, kissed you, confessed his eternal devotion to you? That thing with Winn?” Alex checks.

“Yeah, okay!” Kara says, bunching up her face and mocking Alex’s know-it-all recounting of the story. “It’s just… everything’s weird now.”

“That’s how it goes, sis,” Alex says. “It’s not a good idea, crushing on the people you work with. Too much pining.”

“I get that,” Kara says, and there’s a twinge of discomfort there that Alex doesn’t believe is solely preserved for Winn. “You remember how I went to Montreal?”

“Considering you’re still raving about it? Yeah, I remember.”

“Well, everything changed once I got back.”

“Kara, no,” Alex said, suddenly snapping to attention on the couch. She pauses the DVR and turns, places her hands on Kara’s forearm and tries to compose her thoughts. “It’s bad enough having someone you don’t like tossing you desperate glances at work, but the last thing you need to do is sleep with someone at a conference! I didn’t know James even went to Montreal—”

“What? No, Alex, James didn’t go to Montreal. I was too busy helping Cat—”

“You slept with Cat Grant?!” Alex’s pupils blow to cartoonish proportions as she stands, places her hands on her hips and begins pacing in front of Kara’s couch.

“Wha—”

“Kara, do you have any idea how reckless that is?! Cat Grant? Owner and feature writer for the Tribune? Stakeholder of half the media outlets between here and Metropolis?! And after all the grief Hank went through to dig you out of that mess with her—”

“Alex, slow down, I didn’t sleep with anybody!” Kara says, tossing her pizza back into the box. “It’s not as… I mean, it’s weird, and messy, and kinda tense, but not because of some weird office fling.”

“Good,” Alex says, snatching the remaining half of the pizza slice before Kara can take it back.

“Hey, that was—”

“Your eighth piece, and you scared me to death,” Alex chides, biting and chewing and speaking around the globule of cheese in her mouth. “This is compensation.”

Kara just shakes her head.

“Honestly, I can’t believe you even went there,” Kara huffs indignantly. “Makes me think you’re projecting.”

“Don’t psychoanalyze me, Kara. It’s not your style.”

“Yeah, well, when was the last time you had a date, Alex?”

“When Maxwell Lord insulted my intelligence and ogled my boobs for three solid hours,” Alex answers, gripping her beer coozie just a little tighter. She brings the lip of the can up and runs her tongue over the metal as she ships, quieting her buzzing brain. “The dating riverbed for the elder Danvers sister is dry as the Sahara. I’m living vicariously through your disproportionate love triangle.”

“Here I thought you could give me some sisterly advice about balancing the professional and the personal.”

“You didn’t screw anyone on the job or out of a job,” Alex summarizes. “What’s the problem?”

“Cat hired James’s girlfriend as her GC.”

“GC?”

“General council.”

“Oh,” Alex says, spending a bit more time chewing on her second bite, not wanting to choke herself. “And that’s weird because…?”

“Because it’s James!” Kara sighs, flopping back on the couch. “We work together at CatCo, sure, but then with Winn, we all three work together,” Kara flails, indicating the cape tangled up in the throw pillows.

“You’re worried little Lane is going to find out about the little ‘three musketeers’ gig you’ve got going?”

“I don’t know how often he’ll be able to help us if she’s around,” Kara pouts. “And I hate to reduce James to a buffer, but things with me and Winn have definitely not blown over.”

“You sound like a seven-year-old who had her toy stolen,” Alex says, moving from pizza back to the final swill of her beer. “My advice to any seven-year-old would be to play nice and share.”

“Not to mention she’s become Cat’s right-hand in the span of two seconds—”

“Kara, Cat Grant will coming running whenever Supergirl knocks.”

“But not when Kara Danvers knocks.”

“Why would you want her to?” Alex asks, confused. “She’s only useful insofar as not blowing your cover, should Kara ever slip up again.”

“It’s just… I don’t… I just don’t want Kara to get replaced by Lucy,” Kara’s voice drops as she runs her fingers over the hem of her cape.

It’s a blatant tell of discomfort Kara’s had since she arrived, and Alex has had to reach out—just as she does now—and still her sister’s fingers to force eye contact. Kara has trouble verbalizing what’s going on internally, and it’s Alex’s job to make sense of those half-phrases and stuttering confessions.

She should really add alien interpreter to her resume.

“It’s weird, talking about myself like that’s only half of me,” Kara articulates, though her face scrunches with the effort. “I thought I was learning from Cat, working toward a promotion. I thought James and I were… I don’t know, but we had something, me and him and Winn. And even if it was just like, friendship, being a team, like—”

“Camaraderie,” Alex supplies, familiar with the feeling of working with the same agents for years on end. When everyone has their acknowledged specialties and even the most dangerous operations come off smooth as Cat Grant-approved silk, because of the established report.

“Exactly! I don’t feel like I have that anymore,” Kara sighs, and twiddles her fingers in characteristic nervousness. “They grounded me when I needed it. It’s beautiful in the clouds, but, being earthbound means I have something to hold onto. I don’t know how to separate it without tearing myself apart.”

“Well, you’re not exactly talking to the queen of negotiating dualities, champ,” Alex says, flopping back to match Kara’s slumped pose on the couch. “I haven’t had a date that didn’t require a thigh holster since my second year with the DEO. My female civilian friends total a grand number of two, old college girls; I get a Christmas card from their rapidly procreating families every year. I’m afraid I committed just a bit too much to one side and let it swallow me whole.”

“Are you happy?” Kara asks quietly, and Alex hates the uncertain tremble in her voice.

She wishes she could say she was, that it’s just a matter of finding a niche, or a balance, or a meditation ritual, and sticking to it. But Alex hates lying to her sister. Astra’s already a big enough secret between them. Her own feelings would just have to be casualties of the conversation.

“I help people,” Alex finally says, pulling Kara’s head back against her shoulder. “So sometimes. But I don’t think you can be happy all the time, Kara. Especially with what we do. I think expecting anything more is unrealistic but I’m… fulfilled, if that’s any consolation. I know what I do makes a difference. There are fleeting moments when I want to give it all up, take a cushy job in a lab where I can make a ton of cash, have somebody take me out to a bar without having to worry about missing marksmanship drills the next morning. It’s imbalanced, and imperfect, but that’s the way life works, sometimes. You just gotta… hope for the best, and celebrate the wins when you get them.”

“Okay,” Kara says, and Alex doesn’t need to look down to know her sister is teary-eyed.

“Want to see how the Wildlings fare?” Alex asks, redirecting their attention.

“Yeah, go on,” Kara says, pulling a blanket off the back of the couch and flinging it over their lower bodies.

“You know what?” Kara says, snuggling back against the cushions.

“Huh?”

“I kinda love you.”

“Sure, sure,” Alex says, nudging Kara’s shoulder affectionately. “I love you too, Kara, Supergirl, everybody in between.”

“That means a lot,” Kara says warmly.

“Apparently not enough to split a pizza evenly for once in your life.”

“Just watch the show before I melt your face.”

When the credits are rolling, Alex dozes on the verge on consciousness. Her mind drifts between wolfish wargs and beautiful cursive script and blue-eyed winter monsters and a big red and gold S, all weaved together by exhaustion and anxiety. She blinks herself awake, knowing she can’t stay overnight, despite the fact that Kara’s removed her shoes and lain her flat on the couch; propped her head on a pillow and draped the blanket fully over her body. She checks her phone for messages, and isn’t surprised to find that Kara’s set her alarm for the morning at her usual call-time. She’d neglected to tell Kara she’d been waking up an hour earlier for her runs; but had Alex revealed that information, there’s little doubt Kara would have reset the alarm to compensate.

Alex wrangles her shoes on and heads out into the night, happy to have spent an evening with her sister.

Because tomorrow, she’s dropping fake files off in the middle of nowhere, waiting for an alien ambush. She and Astra finalized the details yesterday, her technicians having “cracked” the leaked codes that pinpoint the location for the drop-off.

Alex tells herself it’s not a betrayal of trust when she slips out the door, leaving Kara to her dreams.

Chapter Text

They’re somewhere in bumfuck Nevada, several miles away from a bombing range situated about two hours northwest of Area 51. Dust billows in tornadic swirls across the cracked road, uneven and vacant. On the horizon Alex can just make out the shapes of Quonset huts and storage units, rows and rows of metal buildings surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. Military-grade Hummers are parked inside the compound; Alex even notes a canteen at the nearest corner beside the electronic entrance gate.

Strange, but understandable—the military’s seizure of the most remote lands in the continental states.

They’re coming up from the south, a mountain range framing their journey to the left. Ahead, behind, and to the east, craggy patches of desert scrub and the occasional rock formation stretch as far as the human eye can see. Though Hank reassures her there’s no residual radiation in the square miles they’ve commandeered for their efforts, Alex is on high alert for any amorphous violet rocks or suspicious-looking tumbleweeds.

Because Hank’s not here to reassure her this time.

This is Alex’s show. Her idea, her work, her colluding with Astra. Hank had wanted to come, but Alex insisted that his (lack of) knowledge of the operation be maintained should it all go to hell. Alex can’t have Hank supplanted by a Washington sycophant if word gets out that he approved this mission. So Hank’s back at DEO headquarters, tucked away in a private office, watching it all go down via the chest cam Alex has pinned to her black polo shirt.

Alex takes point, recruiting two of her better marksman for what she’s chosen to call a glorified postal assignment.

“Budget cuts, Robinson,” Alex had explained with a slight tilt of her lips. “Feds and higher ups in the Air Force need these files packed away and don’t trust civilian transporters. It’ll be hell through the desert in that armored car, but at least there’s the overtime.”

“No chances for a detour through Reno on the way back, Agent Danvers?” Robinson had joked, senior enough to take the commands he’s given, even if military decisions make little sense anymore.

“You want to gamble away your time and a half, that’s fine by me,” Alex countered, then struck out to find Ortiz, hoping she’d react with the same acceptance as Robinson.

Of course, once they were all off-duty she called the two together to brief them, quickly and quietly, about the true purpose of the mission. Ortiz was eager to please for the shot at a covert assignment; something grand and impressive to add to her jacket since she’s so young. Robinson had just nodded grimly, but didn’t verbalize his reticence. He survived the attack on Lord Technologies, but Alex knows he’s got a boy about to graduate and a daughter in middle school. His is another one of the few Christmas cards she receives annually. She thinks, back during her training, that Robinson once told Alex his family thinks he’s a hedge-fund manager.

After the briefing, her stomach coiled in a different way than it did when she thought about meeting up with Astra. The only word she could attribute to the feeling was discomfort.

On the road, Ortiz drives and Alex takes the passenger seat, turning the information about the forthcoming alien encounter over and over in her brain like a mental Rolodex: two Hellgrammites, one Circadian, a Lunarian, and a handful of Tormocks.

Tormocks are the foot soldiers, Astra wrote in her letter yesterday, her usually elegant script cramped and untidy, as if she were writing in a hurry.

They are canon fodder, a barbaric race whose primary weapons are used in hand-to-hand combat: axes, staffs, scythes, etc. You can stop them with a bullet, but be prepared to use bullets that can take down those large grey beasts with the strange, dangling snouts that I’ve seen in your books on wildlife.

The Hellgrammites you’ve faced, so I can’t give you much information on them. The Circadians are typically a peaceful race, but if any alien joined General Astra’s forces, they were, at one point, convicted of a crime by their courts. Circadians resemble your insects—they can fly and dart about quickly, and their exterior skeletons will make it difficult to get a bullet through the shells. But the insides are vulnerable. Circadians, again, like your insects, emit a buzzing sound at the proper pitch that has been reported to lull humans to sleep.

Your primary concern will be the Lunarian—one of the more outspoken colonels sent to oversee the raid. His name is Gloxer— a formidable combatant with superior skill, vast field knowledge and an untempered aggression. He and the General do not see eye-to-eye on many missions due to his penchant for speed, hers for strategy. Like Kryptonians, Gloxer is granted extensive abilities due to your sun’s proximity. Flight, super strength, transparent and heat vision… and of course, he’ll be immune to any Kryptonite with his badge. The only way to escape will be to rid him of the device and wound him, even if you cannot kill him. He moves fast, too fast, and occasionally overlooks details that will be his undoing.

I can’t tell you how to advise your agents on retreat, but I know you will give them as much information as you deem necessary for them to complete the task. As I said, I know you’re uncomfortable sending anyone into harm’s way without proper warning, so I’m giving you as much information as I can. I apologize for the brevity and unkempt script; I’m trying to get it all down before you send your people off tomorrow. Tolstoy wishes you success in your mission.

It would gall Astra to know that Alex had signed up to lead the operation. Alex had conveniently left that detail out of their back-and-forth, knowing she’d never send anyone on a mission that she wouldn’t undergo herself.

Ortiz finally pulls up to the gate in the middle of the desert and shows the guard their forged distribution papers. They’re heading to a locker on row F, so Ortiz makes her way slowly across the speed bumps, avoiding soldiers on patrol. Alex hadn’t expected so many guards; she silently hopes that sounding an alarm at the first sight of alien movement will give them time to run to the Hummers. They pull up to the storage unit and park, on high alert despite the relative ease of the day. It’s midmorning and warm, the sun beaming relentlessly down in a cloudless, robin’s egg sky. It’s all blue and sandy brown until she sees a green streak, then two, hopping from roof to roof of the compound, growls rumbling from the recesses of their thoraxes.

“Heads up,” Alex says, shoving the magazine with laced Kryptonite bullets into place on her handgun. “Remember, we’re looking to get as many people out alive as we can.”

There’s a droning hum echoing down the metal corridors of the storage units, which fuzzes her mind instantly. She inserts the earplugs and raises her hand in a fist, commanding Ortiz and Robinson to split for their designated locations.

Alex waits, and waits, staying with the files, hoping to draw Gloxer toward her even as she hears the first shots sound, clipped and shrill. Bullets ricochet off metal doors and dust puffs in minuscule clouds, like flour at a bakery. Shouts crescendo as troops are ordered into defensive positions. Bullhorns mounted on telephone polls sound a high, piercing alarm, and it’s all Alex can do to block it out. She’s got one shot at disabling that anti-Kryptonite badge. The tiny hand-held device her tech team has been working on for weeks is tucked into the waistband of her pants at the small of her back. With any luck, muscle memory will kick in and do the aiming for her. The entire operation depends upon her getting within ten feet of Gloxer; and that’s going to mean taking a few hits.

He flies in the standard catsuit that Astra wears, black, flexible, a material that can’t be torn. He looks less human than Astra or Kara, more translucent, like pieces of his skin could peel and flake at the lightest touch, like crinkly tissue paper. When he lands, sneering and cackling, Alex knows a light touch isn’t gonna work on this guy.

She breathes deeply, sending good thoughts to Kara, just in case. With a feral yell Gloxer lunges toward her, engages her in combat, and the battle begins.

 


 

 

Dostoevsky,

To call me furious would be an understatement of the severest degree. Though you succeeded in distracting the troops for the current moment, I wish to impress upon you the gravity of your error concerning Nevada.

You are too important to this cause to risk.

You are my only contact; without you, I lose all credibility with your organization! I hardly think your superiors, knowing of our correspondence or not, would continue writing me if you were killed.

I was near the debriefing when the Circadian returned, wounded. You certainly did some damage to the Tormocks, and the Hellgramites limped back in shame. But after hearing the Circadian speak to the officers at General Astra’s command table, it was… difficult not to give myself away, once I heard of Gloxer’s death. They say you tricked him, allowed him openings for blows as he beat you like a plaything, only to shoot some harpoon-like device that emitted an electrical pulse, tearing the anti-Kryptonite badge from his chest. In his surprise he must have staggered, allowing you to take your shots with the radiation-laced bullets.

You are a brilliant marksman, Dostoevsky, and I commend you for your bravery. But you’ve given away one of your strategies for defense; I fear the officers will compensate accordingly with this new information.

They are utterly invested in the ciphers; our technicians are inputting all of the information into our systems as we speak, running code breaking programs at all hours, puzzled when one decoded segment references another segment, and another, and another. It will likely take further time to make out the coordinates, and even more time to properly scout, then infiltrate, the areas that really contain nothing at all!

It is a relief, not to have the watch of the officers on any of us. They have thrown themselves into discovering the DEO’s secrets. But you and I both know those secrets are well kept, don’t we?

I know this is not a professional request, but you’ve indicated in your letters that you have a connection with a certain person working for the DEO. You understand my desire to inquire as to that person’s well being… I don’t dare reference them directly in the letter, deferring to your superior creativity in the naming of the subject of my inquiry. I do not ask much, merely to know if they are well.

In the meanwhile, take your time to heal and enjoy this respite. I am sorry for your injuries, but your mission was a success. I am eager to collaborate further with you in this matter. Please try not to take such a stupid risk again. I only requested your aid because you seemed like the smarter choice. Don’t prove me wrong with carelessness.

Sincerest regards,

Tolstoy

 


 

 

Alex walks around in a fog for three days after the Nevada mission. Two guards not under her command were killed, and Ortiz lost her leg.

Her leg.

She’s only 26, two years older than Kara.

Alex still remembers the dust cloud swirling, growing and billowing from underneath the back wheels of the armed Hummer during their retreat. Robinson was poised at the machine gun above them, firing at the Circadian as it swooped in pursuit. While one of the storage facility guards drove, Alex remained with Ortiz, her shrieks at every jostle diminishing with all the blood lost, the head of the Tormock axe buried in her thigh all the way to the femur. They’d made it to a hospital in time for the necessary transfusions, but the limb had to go; sickly green liquid was running up and down the veins of her leg, likely an alien poison that needed to be removed completely.

The doctors at the hospital were wary after the ordeal, especially when Alex made calls to their superiors and mentioned documents like non-disclosures upon threat of federal imprisonment. Doctor-patient confidentiality only went so far when alien attacks were in place. Alex didn’t need any more of this getting out than it already had.

To compound her guilt with Ortiz, Kara wasn’t speaking to her.

She’d taken one look at Alex’s black eye and the greenish bruise near her collarbone and Alex had cracked, confessing to volunteering for a secret mission in Nevada.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so distant,” Alex says eventually, as Kara tugs at the neck of Alex's shirt to wince at the bruising. Her apartment’s a bit of a mess, clutter having piled up given her physical limitations at bending and squatting. The skin on her stomach is welted up, a wrist sprained—so picking up stray socks is the last thing on her mind. “But we got it done and no one—well, no one on our team died. Took down an alien or two in the process.”

“You could’ve told me, I could’ve gone with you!”

“And attract more alien attention than necessary?” Alex counters, pushing her shirt back into place. “Kara, I know you want to help, but you’re too important for some of these side missions,” Alex limps toward her cabinet and takes a glass down, runs the sink to fill it with water. She works the cap off a bottle of Ibuprofen and pops three in her mouth. She swallows, trying to keep her voice relaxed to counter Kara’s anxiety. “This was just a bid for time. You’re needed for the bigger battles.”

“I disagree.”

“You only disagree because I’m your sister. If it had been another DEO agent, you’d commend them for their bravery,” Alex says. “You can’t think of me as your sister in this business, Kara. If anyone found out it’d put me at risk, and I’d be pulled from every assignment. Sent to ride a desk until I go grey. And you know how well I’d do at a desk.”

“You’d probably staple someone’s hand if they made you mad,” Kara notes, huffing irritably.

Alex decides to keep the gag going:

“Paperclip their nostrils together.”

“Scotch tape their eyelids shut,” Kara offers.

“Highlight their skin in their sleep, make them think they have some sort of disease,” Alex jokes, this time turning her attention to her favorite coffee beans. She’s got reports to write up one-handed, so she’ll probably be burning the midnight oil.

“You sit, I’ll get it,” Kara offers, moving toward the grinder and filling the kettle, taking the French press down from the cabinet. “I’m surprised it’s taken you so long to become a coffee snob,” Kara changes the subject. She pops the kettle on the stove and flicks the setting, pulls a spoon from the cutlery drawer.

“I started going by this shop in the mornings before work,” Alex says.

“Really? Where?”

“Down on Fifth. I took up running on the days you don’t come in to spar. Not all of us have the metabolism of a teenaged boy.”

Kara giggles, spooning out too many beans for the grinder, but Alex doesn’t mind a stronger brew.

“Well, maybe I can run with you one morning,” Kara says, pressing the button so the thunderous whir of the device grates on both their ears.

“And leave me in the dust to complain later? No thanks. I’ll stick to kicking your butt in the ring where I’ve got the advantage.”

“Sore loser.”

“Cheater, cheater, sticky-bun eater,” Alex supplies. It’s testament to her exhaustion that juvenile taunts are her best comeback. “On another note, how have you been?”

She tries to ask nonchalantly, Astra’s inquiry buzzing in the back of her brain like a pestering gnat. Alex asks after her sister constantly, but their schedules and the latest mission have left her out of sorts with routine. It’s good to sit at the dinner table, Kara in the kitchen, the scent of coffee beans and a vanilla candle, medicated muscle ointment and micro waved leftovers all smelling excitedly of normal, of home and okay and not life or death.

“What do you mean?” Kara asks.

“At the office?” Alex elaborates. “Settled into a routine without James? Winn quit with the puppy-eyes? Is Lucy eating you alive like a mini-Cat Grant?”

“Oh,” Kara starts, shaking the grounds into the press. The steam from the kettle starts shooting out of the spout, cloaking Kara in a weird mist. It’s little moments like this that remind Alex her sister is an alien, fixing her coffee and talking about boys like some arrested development experiment.

“Well, I’ve been talking to Cat a lot lately…”

Or talking about girls, Alex mentally corrects. Talking about relationships with Kara in general is interesting given her deference of attitude at CatCo, her confidence at the DEO. She’s remarkably like Alex in that way; complex, thoughtful, so much more than what either side sees. Alex smiles, happy to know every side as well as she does.

“And?” Alex prods.

“Before the holidays, there was an internal hack on Cat’s email. We put a stop to it before it hit the press, but long story short, the biggest thing we found that could be used against her were monthly payments, distributed to Adam.”

“I know he’s her son, but I’m kinda sad it wasn’t a secret escort,” Alex cocks her head smugly.

“You’re just like the boys!” Kara accuses. “Cat dated John Stamos! Why would she need an escort?”

“Did she really, though?” Alex checks Kara’s unwavering belief in her boss.

“Anyway,” Kara pushes forward as the kettle shrieks, removing it from the heat. “You know that Carter’s only twelve. Adam is twenty-five. She wasn’t with his father very long, was probably around our age when she found out. CatCo was her baby then, she couldn’t… well, just imagine what you would do right now, if you ended up pregnant.”

She watches Kara pour the water over the ground beans, then retrieve a mug from the cabinet. Alex chews on her inner jaw in contemplation, miles away from the prospect of having a kid. Robinson’s got two; she knows a few other people on the job who’ve got kids, but doing what she’s doing right now—it just wouldn’t be fair to keep a kid she couldn’t be there for.

“Makes sense,” is all Alex says, despite her general ambivalence toward Cat Grant. She can recognize her for the powerful woman that she is, but Kara’s hero worship sometimes blinds her to basic human decency. It could also be the alien string in her DNA, but Alex chooses not to stew over that minor detail.

“Anyway, you know how I got when Adam showed up; or, would’ve gotten... if I’d had a minute to think without Bizarro,” Kara says. “He looks like her, a little,” Kara softens, and it isn't overlooked by Alex. “I’ve never seen her so worked up; and I was with her during the power outage two days before fashion week!”

“Not the power outage before fashion week!” Alex mock gasps.

Kara places her hand atop the plunger and, with what Alex assumes is alien gentleness, depresses the handle slowly. She then brings the mug and carafe to the table and sits opposite Alex, who's preoccupied with twirling a pen in her uninjured right hand, thinking about Kara and reports and strangely, Astra. She doesn’t know how to summarize all of the details of Kara’s life without going too in-depth in a letter.

And it’s not professional any longer, but personal; Alex is wary—scared of breaking Kara’s trust—but also encouraged by the idea. It’s reciprocity, of sorts. Astra gives her information on the alien movements, Alex lets slip some minor details about Kara’s personal life.

Win-win. But not Winn, if Kara has anything to say about it.

“Anyway, I feel like I left everything unresolved with him,” Kara continues, back to Adam Foster. “I don’t know if he’s trying to reconnect with Cat, if he’ll come back to National City and, I don’t know, maybe try again? And if this is going to make work with Cat more hellish than it already is—”

“But you’re running back and forth between the two?” Alex supplies.

“She wants him back,” Kara shrugs. “I… I didn’t get a chance to really get to know him, but I think I could want him back, too.”

“He kept stopping by your desk, right?” Alex picks up on the first portion of the sentence.

“Yeah, I mean, you don’t get to Cat unless you see me first.”

“And you think he’s cute? You said he looks like his mom,” Alex ventures.

“W-what?” Kara stammers, flushing instantly.

“Oh my god,” Alex groans, pouring herself the first of many mugs of coffee.

“Oh my god, what?” Kara asks.

“It’s a damn love-parallelogram you’ve got going now,” Alex chuckles. “Add in the relational dynamics with Cat and Lucy, and you’re looking at a twisted office hexagon.”

“Wonderful to know my personal struggles keep your geometry skills on point!” Kara laments.

“Kara,” Alex says warmly, picking up her pen. She’s got to wrap this up soon if she’s going to get any sleep tonight. Tomorrow, Hank’s having her visit the medbay first thing. The doctor is finally going to give her a time-line that will get her back into physical training.

But not if she oversleeps her appointment because she didn’t get her reports written up.

“It’s all going to work itself out,” Alex sighs. “Honestly, it’s more convoluted than I’d ever give you credit for achieving, so kudos to you,” Alex toasts her with her steaming mug. “But know that if you ever need a break from all of that, we could always use you to save the world.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Kara grins, taking the hint as Alex opens up a thick folder of papers. “I see I’ve distracted you long enough.”

“True, but I’m beginning to understand why Cat Grant keeps you around,” Alex manages, zoning in on her papers.

“Why’s that?”

“You make a great cup of coffee.”

“Ha, ha. I’ll see you Tuesday, Alex,” Kara smiles, picking up her jacket and heading for the apartment door, granting Alex a little wave as she slips out and sets the lock behind her.

Alex is two mugs and eight pages in when she slumps, mind abuzz despite the prickly feeling behind her eyelids. Work is going to be strange over the next few weeks, healing up and planning. She doesn’t relish the thought of more paperwork tonight, knowing it will just continue as soon as they dismiss her from the med bay.

But the coffee has her mind jolting, and she wants to help Kara make sense of all the seemingly random events compounding the stress in her young but exceptional life. Her mind floats to Astra, a sister, even if her relationship with Alura turned out significantly less than bad. Alex could never fathom going against Kara, could never understand what brought Kara’s mother and Astra to such division. But the General understands the bond, understands the work they do. Perhaps there is insight there Alex could use to her advantage, questioning Astra under the guise of informing her about Kara.

She sets aside the paperwork from the DEO and finds blank paper and a new pen, wondering how painful the walk down to the coffee shop will be with her sprained wrist in the early morning hours.

Tolstoy:

You inquired about the well being of our mutual acquaintance, hereafter referenced as our… Dear Friend. Well, our Dear Friend is healthy and relatively content, given the amount of pressure you and I both know he/she/they have to shoulder. Our Dear Friend asks my advice on a lot of personal matters, which can only be expected due to their age. It’s a funny story, so if you wish to know more, you may respond with an affirmative, and I’ll do my best to compose a decent letter detailing certain aspects of our Dear Friend’s life—without giving away too much information. I know you are invested in their future, so it would only be fair to provide you some small insight into their lives.

If it wasn’t apparent given your study of humanity, our Friend is an attractive, smart, kind, highly sought-after individual. At the present moment, our friend has multiple options available in the romantic arena. Being as young as they are, our Friend is understandably flustered by a person who had been a good support to our Friend, but now wants more... as in, a relationship. Our Dear Friend has jokingly referred to this person as the Hobbit, which I will do from here on out, to keep all our people straight.

Then there’s the object of our Dear Friend’s affection; though our Dear Friend is quite smitten, I don’t know this person well enough to give an exceptionally descriptive codename, so we’ll refer to this person as V-Neck (just roll with it). I promise it’ll help me remember all these silly code names. The problem for our Dear Friend, is that V-Neck is already in a relationship with a coworker, who I will call… Little L. Again, my time is monopolized by my organization, so the details of our Dear Friend’s acquaintances occasionally slip through the cracks.

(It’s frankly exhausting that our Dear Friend has this many people around. I would get so tired, trying to compensate for all of their individual needs. Our Friend is different from me in that regard. Though I carry out missions with teams, I really thrive on solitary research; our Friend, more so on social collaboration. I suppose our styles complement each other.)

In summary, we have the pining Hobbit, the handsome but unattainable V-neck, and the friendly rival, Little L.

To round out our Dear Friend’s motley crew, we’ve got the Queen, our Dear Friend’s supervisor. It’s honestly embarrassing on my part, watching our Dear Friend scrape and scramble whenever the Queen snaps her fingers. But here’s the tricky bit: the Queen and Little L don’t know of our Dear Friend’s secret talents. Nor does the Queen’s choice, the Prince, another rival for our Dear Friend’s affections (the Prince has since returned to his country, and is, for now, blessedly out of the convoluted picture). The Queen and Little L see our Friend like the rest of Earth does.

I’ll let you work that out for yourself.

V-neck and the Hobbit are in on the secret, but the Hobbit’s recent pronouncement of love has thrown off the dynamics of their little group.

While our Dear Friend works closely with my organization, their heart belongs to the “real” world. Friend maintains that the company, and their position within it, help to keep them ‘normal’.

You and I both know that our Dear Friend is anything but.

This is the current status of our Dear Friend. They continue to learn about themselves and their physical limitations, frequently under tests I administer and data that I collect. Because our Dear Friend was not involved with our last mission, they have been keeping to themselves in the “real” world, with the occasional venture into extending their—abilities. A very bad person launched an attack that was outside of our jurisdiction and our Dear Friend intervened. That seems to be the case in many circumstances, when our department’s hands are tied by regulations. Even so, I understand why our Friend likes to keep some of their life separate from the organization.

I know that my sole purpose is to aid and help the organization, and I have committed myself fully. Our Dear Friend wants a better balance, and they are working very hard to juggle it.

They have time to learn, though. They are still young. In the meanwhile, I’ll be back at the organization under watchful eyes on recovery. I have an upcoming project relating to our Friend that will allow me the alone time that I prefer. I hope that this is sufficient material for your inquiry into our Friend’s life. If you wish to know more, I will attempt to write more as I speak to them. If not, you can just tell me in your next letter.

Please update on further developments from your side as they arise. I expect you’ll enjoy a bit of downtime while your colonels and lieutenants keep chasing their tails.

-Dostoevsky

Chapter Text

 

Dostoevsky,

Firstly, let me thank you with the utmost sincerity. As you know, our Dear Friend was lost to me for a very long time. My years spent with Friend were unlike any other relationship I’ve ever had, and will likely never have again. I would have done—and did—everything in my power to keep that Friend from suffering tragedy.

To know that our Dear Friend is dealing with such mundane problems, despite their obligations to themselves, your organization, and the city, lightens a burden. My rib cage feels as though it’s being squeezed by a Circadian’s pinchers whenever I recall the disappointment and anger with which our Dear Friend spoke to me. I know it is not possible, without disclosing the nature of our correspondence, but I wish I could tell our Dear Friend how I care, how much I love them.

From what I see in your letters, Dostoevsky, you seem remarkably close with our Dear Friend. Even closer than I imagined. Hug them for me, will you?

I hope it’s not too forward of me to ask. You know of my… resemblance, to another of our Dear Friend’s connections. You mentioned seeing a hologram of that person. Again, you may ‘color me impressed’ (I recently discovered this phrase in my research) by your reconnaissance efforts. Your organization does well in harvesting and understanding alien technologies; you no doubt saw that hologram over and over in your study of our Dear Friend.

Our Dear Friend’s connection, my—let us call this person the Barrister. The Barrister would hold our Dear Friend tightly. I, however, would always step away and move our Dear Friend’s hair back over their shoulders. Even after all these years, they still keep it long. The Barrister got to see our Dear Friend’s face so often; my time, especially at the end, was occasionally brief with Dear Friend, so I always made a point to have an unobstructed view of their face. Before I hugged them, and afterward when we released, I liked to know that their smile was meant for me.

It’s been some time since I’ve made someone smile in anything other than malice.

I recognize the sentimentality there, trite and simplistic as it might seem, but sometimes the visuals remain with you longer than the sensation of hair on fingertips, or the echo of a laugh.

Does our Dear Friend still giggle out of turn? It was a terrible habit they had, even during the most serious occasions. Something would strike our Dear Friend as funny, and all hopes of them containing themselves were abandoned. It was endearing and foolish.

Our Dear Friend’s life is truly intriguing. I confess to having known our Dear Friend did not work solely for your organization, but it is interesting to see our Dear Friend surrounding themselves with people, acclimating to your lifestyle so easily. I cannot pass judgment on either the Hobbit or this V-neck you mention, but is it usual to have so many suitors? Including a Prince? Has our Dear Friend opted out of an arranged betrothal? And this superior of theirs, this so-called Queen, she is not cruel, certainly? If it were within my power to intimidate (it is within my power, perhaps not my best interests) then I would do so swiftly, threatening with impunity. It was customary on Krypton to vet suitors accordingly, before an agreement could be reached by both sides.

It amazes me that Dear Friend has chosen to go the way of her heart, as opposed to having the companionship process outsourced—then again, knowing Dear Friend, perhaps it is not so surprising at all. Though I believe it allows for many more mistakes concerning compatibility prospects, wouldn’t you say?

You wish me respite, and yet I never have it. When not involved in training regimens—especially for those inmates who’ve had no military experience—my solitary time is devoted to study of your planet. It was originally my desire to assimilate to your culture, to insert ourselves and then institute societal changes. The more I watch your news broadcasts, the more I realize your politicians and their rhetoric are abhorrent. But it is interesting, for your people swallow up their drivel as if it were the last remaining sustenance for miles around.

I hope to combat this ignorance with knowledge; I acquire periodicals, books, film—I wish to learn everything I can about this world, so I best know how to change its habits. Why do people bomb their own countrymen, destroy their own houses? What is it about your weather and your tides, this El Niño and Gulf Stream, which influences the migration of your sea creatures? Why are your skeletons so fragile? What is an avocado, and why has such a shortage rendered an entire island country morose? Who are the Kardashians, and what title or power do they hold, to be given such reverence and attention?

I don’t expect you to answer these queries. I know you can’t function as my gateway to the human world, only to your organization. Sometimes I wish I could break away from this life for a day, to fully experience your customs. I have walked in your cities, hidden myself as best I can. But I can’t very well question the workings of a subway without bearing several suspicious looks (you know the last thing I wish is to attract more attention to myself than necessary, especially when many operations depend on intelligence collection through stealth). I did puzzle out the subway, after several missteps. I confess I once tore apart a turn style, and had to flee the scene.

I, personally, found the incident quite humorous. I believe I caused a rather rude adolescent male to faint.

So no, there will be no break in the sense of relaxation, if that is what you mean. There will simply be more time to study, and like you, I will cherish the time alone. It is a burden, surrounded by beings at all times, a concession for a life in the military. So these brief moments where I do allow myself to learn, I leave everyone in my company and seek that precious privacy.

You seem to understand this. You are a scientist, correct? Your letters say as much, but I’m unfamiliar with your branch of study. I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually, but there is much to cover, and many battles to ‘plan’. I would ask to your specific course of study, to know what you will be researching in the upcoming weeks, but I understand that your work may not be a wise topic for discussion, should these letters ever be intercepted.

Also, I gather from your letter that you are still in the healing process. I didn’t realize this took so long for your bodies. Human physiology is a fascinating subject, one I wish to know better. You should really speed your recovery, though, should I have any soldiers go rogue, or a backlash from the superior officers. I might need to quickly brief you for field preparation.

So do get better, Dostoevsky.

I await the end of our hostilities.

Sincerest regards,

Tolstoy

P.S. What does ‘roll with it’ mean? Additionally, only two of the officers have tails, and it seems like a monumental waste of time for them to chase any bodily appendage.

 


 

“What are you smiling about?” Kara asks, barreling into the DEO’s lab in a flurry of red and blue, high color in her cheeks after several flight circuits over the base.

“Nothing interesting,” Alex lies, tucking Astra’s letter in her back pocket. “Unless you think Kryptonian skin cells wiggling about are really doing the Whip, I don’t think you’ll be overly invested in the results.”

“Kryptonian skin cells?” Kara asks, slinking closer to the microscope.

“Yeah, I should know better,” Alex says, her sockets glued to the eyepiece. “There’s no way your cells could do a proper Nae Nae. I’ve seen you dance.”

“Well that's just mean,” Kara says, plopping down on one of the stools inside the glass walls.

Alex goes about her business, jotting a note here and there, returning to her microscope for further study.

“What are you working on?” Kara questions.

“Something that would blow my dissertation out of the water, if I do it right.”

“That’s not very specific.”

“You want specificity?” Alex huffs, biting the end of her pen as she makes one final notation. “You know what the Hardy-Weidenberg principle is?”

“That’d be a no, but I can tell you about cognitive dissonance in communication theory,” Kara chirps happily.

“That’s not what I’m doing.”

“I got that,” Kara smiles. “But you’re looking at my skin cells?”

“I scratched some samples off the bottom of your heel when you fell asleep on the couch the other night. Had to take a Kryptonite knife to do it,” Alex confesses, looking determinedly through the microscope. “I’m sorry.”

“You could’ve just asked, you know,” Kara mutters, looking suspiciously at her left boot.

It must not hurt her very much, because Alex had taken the sample from her right heel.

“But really,” Kara continues. “You’re working on a new project? You’ve got that spark in your eye that makes you look like science Tinkerbelle.”

“I’m trying to pinpoint the similarities between yours and human cells, not chuck powdered carbonates at people to get them flying,” Alex explains. “You’re not a shape shifter, Kara. Our scans indicate that internally, your organs are a near match with ours. There are vestigial clumps, no bigger than the pineal gland—just some that we still don’t know the purpose of. But I think they’re a part of your bio-matrix.”

“Right, bio-matrix,” Kara nods, crossing her arms in faux understanding.

“You remember how dad—how Jeremiah said your cells were like a super battery?”

“Yeah…”

“I’m trying to figure out how that battery works. You break something down to its basic component parts, then you try to put it back together. What’s in you, we might be able to make synthetically. Clone and grow it in a lab—like Maxwell Lord, but without the reanimation part. Or the violating the sanctity of life part. We’ll never be able to fly, but if we can absorb the sun’s yellow energy and run some tests, think about skin grafts—”

“Are you trying to make more of me?” Kara scowls. “We both know how that went last time.”

“No, we’re years away from cloning a whole Supergirl,” Alex reassures her. “And I wouldn’t want to be the one to do that. I’ve already got one,” she squeezes Kara’s bicep reassuringly.

“Good.”

“Not that I couldn’t,” Alex says pointedly, crossing the small lab to retrieve a USB from a cabinet of labeled external drives. She inserts the device into a port on her tablet and starts tapping away. “I mean, if anyone were going to produce the greatest biological engineering feat of our generation, it would be me. Maxwell Lord was playing with Lincoln Logs. I’d build a skyscraper.”

“So you took samples of my toe jam to build a skyscraper?” Kara nods.

“Don’t belittle scientific advancement just because you’re rubbing elbows with celebrities, Kara,” Alex chides, ignoring the barb and focusing on the body scan shown on her tablet screen. “We can’t all be Cat Grant’s go-to.”

Kara blushes, and Alex feels smug. She loves the lab, loves having a mission, loves teasing Kara. Really likes that she’s learning more about her sister, after all of these years, from someone else who had the pleasure of knowing a different side of her.

“Don’t you have to clock in at CatCo soon?” Alex asks. “It’s nearly eight.”

“Carter’s in a school play this morning,” Kara says. “I almost got to go, but CatCo magazine goes to the printers next week and she’s on the rampage. Needs all the final drafts of copyedits on her desk before she gets there.”

“Copyedits that the writers do, and then the copy editors do, and then you do, and then she does?”

“Sounds about right. There’s probably one more line of defense in there, though. Commas are sneaky little devils.”

“Does she know you’re doing a copy editor’s job? That you’re reading an entire magazine before it goes to press?”

“Super speed doesn’t just mean my legs, Alex.” Kara’s pupils start wobbling, and Alex has to blink and rub her own eyes from the jittery convulsions. “At least it’s interesting material.”

“But you just got through with drills,” Alex counters.

“I took out the missiles in the first thirty seconds and still had to do laps,” Kara whines.

Alex is surprised she doesn’t add a foot stamp to punctuate her displeasure.

“It’s bad having a coach now, isn’t it?” Alex teases.

“If Hank would fly with me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Instead he just yells in my ear piece from the ground,” Kara says. “Sometimes I wish you could clone whatever it is in me that makes me fly. Then I’d actually have someone to fly with.”

That pangs Alex, hits her hard when she doesn’t expect it. Because Alex knows how much Astra would want to fly with Kara, push her, teach her aerial fighting techniques that Alex will never be able to master because of the disparity in strength, their difference of species. The secret presses like walls closing in, booby-trapped rooms that force her to do things she should probably think better of. She recalls Astra’s request:

“Well, you better head on to the city,” Alex says, crossing to Kara. She pushes some wind-tangled waves over Kara’s shoulders and smoothes the hair down, then pulls her in for a tight hug. She squeezes hard, trying to stir some long-lost recollection of familiarity in the action, hoping to comfort, not unsettle. When she releases Kara, Alex flicks the one stray piece of blonde that’s fallen back over her cheek.

“It’s good you pull your hair back at work,” Alex comments.

“W-what?” Kara pauses, and Alex can tell something, possibly a subconscious something, has registered for her sister.

“So people can see your face. Supergirl is always in half-shadow, anyway. Let Kara Danvers smile a little more,” Alex suggests.

“Maybe I will,” Kara answers, her grin unfurling like morning glory petals. It’s disgusting how sweet her sister looks sometimes. The wholesome Midwestern-thing really cramps Alex's badass science secret-operative reputation. This haircut didn’t happen just because Alex got that promotion.

“See you Friday for game night?” Kara questions.

“Things smoothed over with Winn?” Alex asks.

“Uh… he’s not coming this time, but it is getting a little better, though. I thought you could be my partner so we’d have an even number.”

“Sure, Kara,” Alex says softly. "I think it's time James and Lucy got their asses kicked."

She’s gotten better with her advice lately, probably because she’s had more practice putting pen to paper, forcing herself to compose her thoughts and then reword them, so as not to give too much away. It’s certainly been an exercise, tweaking and editing and revising her first language.

She wonders how Astra does it so skillfully.

 


 

 

Tolstoy,

I would like to welcome you to a specific subset of the human species that you certainly fit into: nerd.

You, Tolstoy, are what I and many others like to call a nerd. Characteristics of a nerd include, but are not limited to: intent fascination with a single subject, such that the subject fosters an obsessive attention, in which one learns anything and everything about it; intellect, frequently misunderstood, by those inferior (but usually intellect is respected, especially once you’ve reached a certain age); and bookishness, an affinity for research where others have none.

You will be happy to know that our Dear Friend is actually a major Dork, which is closely linked to the Nerd.

On a more serious note, my work is progressing. Initial stages, of course, with supplemental information provided by our Dear Friend. You, believe it or not, would be a good source of information, if ever our Dear Friend finds themselves otherwise engaged. Your link with Dear Friend is my subject of study. I can’t go into much more detail than that.

I am pleased to be back in my lab, performing requisite testing and documenting results. It’s a different speed than field operations, as you well know, but I have made it back to the shooting range. I’ve been doing light sparring since last Monday, and try to maintain an endurance regimen while not in the field. I’m healing, is what I’m trying to say. Not as fast as you or our Dear Friend, but it’s happening.

Our Dear Friend revealed to me today that they wish for someone to be able to… experience certain aspects of life that I, and everyone else we know, cannot partake in. It makes me wonder if you’ll ever consent to meeting with them. I hugged them the way you described, and though Friend didn’t say anything special, they did stand a little straighter. I don’t know if it registered, I’m not really a psychologist—but you’d probably be the biggest gift our Dear Friend could ever ask for right now.

I don’t want to get your hopes up. It’s not like I think it’d be a good idea, you meeting up with our Dear Friend. Currently, the situation between our two camps is volatile. We know the numbers on you guys. The skirmishes we’ve been in thus far have hardly put a dent in your bench. So unless it comes to all-out war, we won’t make any headway. I know you’re hoping that some of your fellow aliens will peacefully accept a life on earth; if they are willing, the DEO can help with integration classes, setting up governmental assistance. But the majority of these aliens are not good beings—otherwise, why would they be in a prison?

I know yours is an… interesting case, and that repentance is your primary concern. But I feel like our correspondence needs to have an end goal, a mission. These small side operations, diversionary or helpful as they may be, are momentary Band-aids on a patient that’s bleeding out on the table. We need a solution, and no one knows your weaknesses better than you do. I know it can’t all be done immediately. But while we still have the luxury of secrecy with these letters, we need to be planning with more intent, like we can actually put a stop to this.

I can tell you all about border conflicts in Azerbaijan and warlords in the Sudan if you want, or I can link you to some Greenpeace groups. Hell, the way you write—you know, once this is all over—I wonder why you don’t run for office on a Green platform. There are entire governmental parties devoted to that ticket; with your eloquence and penchant for actual research, you’d have a leg up on a number of candidates.

Oh, and ‘roll with it’ means to just go along with what I say. Don’t question it, just agree and comply. If anything, you’ll be relatively knowledgeable with English slang by the end of this weird back-and-forth we’ve got going.

-Dostoevsky

P.S. The Kardashians aren’t worth knowing about. Save your brain space for something that matters.

Chapter Text

Dostoevsky,

You have me intrigued and I'm experiencing... I believe the word is a yearning, for the day when I’ll be able to speak on friendly terms with our Dear Friend. I know it was your intent to express discomfort, or… perhaps, unhappiness, that our relations have come to this current state.

I write you briefly today, for I was nearly caught rereading one of your letters hours ago. I wonder if we might continue a more personal correspondence, keep the codenames and but less vagueness, concerning the matters of our Dear Friend. Our professional missives need to be shorter, and cutting out much of the questions I pose concerning our Dear Friend’s well being will allow for briefer messages. I believe I’ve even found a way to go about this.

We may use the brick as we have, for our shorter messages concerning the Fort Rozz combatants. Minor notices like dates, times, and number and classification of alien do not need the detailed explanations with which we write concerning our Dear Friend. So as not to draw suspicion to my routine, I wonder if you would not begin leaving letters of a more personal nature in a place that I frequent.

Have you heard of the National City Library?

It’s nothing like the libraries of my home planet; the scrolls and tapestries and symphonies were hung on frames and cataloged, compressed, recorded, according to age and artist, author and composer. Yet your books are fascinating, and the people there are usually silent. I often find myself walking amongst the shelves, enjoying the quiet. Though the turn of pages disturbs the stillness, it is the only place I can go to soften the city sounds. It’s where I got my information originally, before we connected to your computers and accessed your world wide web. But I still find your texts, your histories and geographies and political theories and ecology volumes, at this library. They sort books there with indicators called call numbers. If I leave you a note in our usual spot, with a call number designating a certain book, then you can leave me a letter concerning our Dear Friend within its pages. I’ll be along readily enough to take it.

I can do the same for you. This will allow us to continue speaking about our Dear Friend, and likewise focus on our mission.

You mentioned wanting an end goal; you and I are in accord. The best means of destabilizing the power structure of Fort Rozz combatants is to take out higher-ranking aliens first. The structure will crumble without lieutenants and captains and colonels to keep their agents in check, and, to power our home base. And perhaps, when the time comes, the DEO might even capture their General, to deal the final blow.

I only ask that you speak on my behalf during the tribunal, should it ever come to my capture.

Without leadership, the foot soldiers will scatter. You will not be facing a unified force. There will be some who will assimilate and others who will continue destroying, but to a lesser degree of destruction than they might have inflicted with an army of sympathizers. You can focus your efforts taking them down one-by-one. The foot soldiers tend to be the least powerful aliens; you’ve already killed or captured a number of our higher-ranking combatants. It is not beyond your power, and the superiors in my camp know this, to capture and contain every level of alien threat. What we have against you now is sheer numbers. Start chipping away at the edges, and the core will destabilize itself.

Believe me, I’ve seen it.

I’ve wept and… perhaps that is for another letter.

Best of luck with your research. I almost wish to help with your (likely) woefully inaccurate hypotheses, but we shall perhaps save that for another time? Tell our Dear Friend nothing, but should you hug her again, do it on my behalf. Expect two letters soon; one at the regular place, the other in between even more lines than we’ve composed collectively.

Warm regards,

Tolstoy

 


 

 

Alex is happy, and it’s disconcerting. She’s in the lab, making headway in her observations of Kryptonian cells and their structures, their responses to artificial versus natural stimuli. Sometimes she congratulates herself, on making the decision to move to the west coast, where all this sand and sun and desert provide the optimum conditions for her research.

And Astra writes and it’s interesting. The weeks come and go, and their missives at the brick are now written in personal shorthand that only the other can understand. Alex has been by the library twice to fill Astra in on Kara’s life, as well as some of her research. Astra even points her to a biology journal out of Johns Hopkins about genome splicing that ends up providing significant headway when she’d been stuck at a theoretical wall for three days.

Astra is smart, and Alex would almost admit to looking forward to her letters, because now Alex knows things.

She knows that Astra was there at Kara’s naming ceremony. That when her family laid hands upon Kara’s flailing, squirming body, she had only quieted when Astra stroked the underside of her foot. Alex doesn’t know a lot about babies. She thinks rubbing against a baby foot—Kryptonian or human—will end up being more ticklish than soothing, the last thing anyone wants at a formal naming ceremony with some weird version of a priest or a judge wielding a scepter-mace contraption while shining some radioactive Kryptonian flashlight onto the baby’s head.

But she smiles as she reads the paragraph, imagining Astra’s strong fingers, gentle against the curve of a newborn’s skin.

Alex knows that Astra is committed in her quest to saving the planet. Astra has asked her about fracking, about solar panels; about global warming and El Niño and why hybrid cars are so expensive (she writes back that Astra once punted a Prius in a skirmish with Kara, so who was really at fault, there?); Astra wonders why there aren’t more recycling plants and drop-off centers; why the rain forest is being cut down and why anyone would kill a panda.

And Alex can only partially answer all of the questions, finding herself complicit in many of the activities that end up destroying more than sustaining. Alex recycles, has the bins beside her kitchen counter for parceling out her plastics from her glass from her paper. It’s easier now that she’s got a plant nearby in the city. But back home in nowhere U.S.A., there’s no way they could’ve done it without driving three hours just to dump the trash. There’s no good system, and there’s not a way with her schedule she could ever do anything like start a freaking compost. She writes to Astra and tries to explain, but Astra finds it unacceptable, resolving to run for office under an assumed non-alien identity if the DEO ever stops tracking her.

Alex gives her hell for it, but also promises to act as her head of security (all veiled in a condescending, joking manner, of course. It would hardly do to write sincerely to Astra). She leaves the General a note in a failed politician’s autobiography to let her alien confidante know just what she’s in for. She makes fun of Astra, then wonders when they’d suddenly acquired the level of laxity that they do in their more personal letters.

And they do get more personal.

The DEO is taking in aliens left and right, all while Alex opens up about her time in college: the rigorous program she committed to on scholarship (having to explain to Astra what scholarships are, and then the different hierarchies in American universities), her year abroad working with Russian scientists in Moscow, and the flurry of failed experiments and useless trials and random discoveries she made during her postgraduate years. When she reveals that she is in fact a doctor, Astra bombards her with letters. She asks about the human body in comparison to the Kryptonian, marvels at the fact that Alex must be the only living person on the Earth to know both physiologies—also throws serious shade as to her still knowing relatively nothing concerning Kryptonians—but still sounds impressed. And it’s to Alex’s minor disappointment that she’s not that kind of doctor, if it’s something that would make Astra think better of her. Though in another life, Alex thinks she might’ve been a surgeon.

And it’s easy, talking to someone who’s not all in the know about the DEO, who’s interested in both Alex and Kara in equal amounts, interested in Alex’s work and competent enough to ask the right questions without prying, without assuming too much or blanking because they know so little. It’s going so well and the DEO is making headway and Alex just knows there’s no way to sustain such ease, knows it won’t last…

And it doesn’t.

It can’t.

Because she lives in a messed-up world, and it’s only a matter of time before an alien gets angry and wants to snap her neck.

Chapter Text

It’s dark when Alex comes to, the pain in her wrists so severe she knows she’s bleeding, but she’s less concerned with the restraints than the head injury. Her hair feels wet and crusty at the same time, so she figures the blood has had enough time to clot, enough time to dry. It can’t be that bad, because she’s regained consciousness, only partially woozy. But the more she thinks, the more it aches, the more she wants to fling herself back into blackout nothingness, where her pain receptors don’t have to register the agony pulsing from her rib cage and shoulder blade.

She doesn’t like what she sees when she blinks her eyes open and her pupils still to focus.

Aliens, of multiple origins and body shapes, staring back at her like she’s the prized trophy on display, like the winner of whatever game they’re playing gets to ring the bell and chew her up. It’s dark and her head is spinning, and the languages she hears are foreign and clumsy; she’s sure her mouth can’t even form half of the sounds funneled into her ear canals in the middle of this chamber.

Because that’s where she is, some cavernous interrogation chamber. She’s up on a dais, not quite a platform, but a station raised high enough that two stairs lead to where she kneels on a circular hub, shackled and bleeding, a single spotlight beaming down that seems to drain her energy with every breath she takes. It’s dark and clinical smelling, and this is where she’s going to die, she thinks, because hell if she spills one detail about Kara or the DEO or her research to this crowd crying for her life’s blood. Her arm throbs at the shoulder, so intense she nearly faints, but the blackness in the room is dark enough to hide her discomfort. She doesn’t want to look weak while she’s conscious.

“Slit her throat!”

“No, we must have her alive, for questioning—”

“—not what we intended, preying upon the weak of this planet—”

“—operative for the other side! See how she dresses for stealth—”

“Eviscerate, disembowel, remove the spleen and carve into the temple, draw a pattern on the calf and take half the tongue—”

“ENOUGH!!!!”

Alex hears a shout through the murmuring, solid as stone and her one chance at seeing the sun again.

Astra strides past her anxious, torture-happy warriors, and Alex can’t help but look at her like a gladiator looks at her Caesar, waiting for the thumbs down that will call for her head, or the thumbs up that will grant her another day to fight.

What took you so long?

“What is the meaning of this?!” Astra calls, and Alex watches as an unidentified, snake-like alien slithers nearer to the general, a whispy hiss of explanation slipping through his lips.

“We’ve acquired one of the human agentsssss that resissssssssst ussssss,” Snake-man says, and it takes a lot out of Alex not to eye-roll at his deference. He’s bowing and scraping to a woman who accidentally ripped a turn style out of the ground because she didn’t know what it did.

“You’ve indicated your desssssire for one of the humanssss alive,” the Snake-thing trills over the Ss and slinks back into the crowd of attentive alien eyes.

“Out, all of you!” Astra commands.

It’s testament to her power that the ragamuffin alien crew obey, eyes wide and cautious, trudging toward a door opening at the far side of the chamber.

“NOT the officers,” Astra commands, and through her haze Alex can appreciate the tactical maneuver for what it is. Either stalling for time, a diversion, an inquisition. She’s not sure what’s going on—her head is pounding—but she hopes to God that the past three and a half months haven’t been imagined, that it all wasn’t some stress-induced fever dream—that Astra has really been writing to her and sharing her plans for the future and maybe opening up to her like an actual… well, not person, but definitely not some evil terrorist happy to wedge iron spikes beneath her fingernails, either.

She watches as the officers take their places at a glowing table in the round that looks like an overlarge Lite-Brite board, the toy she used to show Kara constellations on when they’d stay up late nights, learning ‘human things.’ All the pretty neon and strobing shafts of light would erupt from the board, just like the blinding white light at this thrumming table. Alex lifts her head, battling her fatigue, and she can just make out the left side of Astra’s enraged face; it’s tinted a graying navy from the light and the white streak in her hair shimmers iridescently indigo.

It’s a strange thing to notice, with her head injury and her probably (definitely) broken shoulder, but Astra seems beautifully menacing.

“What am I to do with this?” Astra hisses almost as sharply as the Snake-man. Her officers, colonels and lieutenants and captains and whatever Kryptonian ranking system she has in place, shrink backward at the question.

“We are finally getting somewhere on their damnable codes, and then you go and ask them for direct confrontation by abducting one of their own?! Imbeciles!” Astra shouts, then slams her fists on the table before her. The light beneath her flickers; Alex wonders if she’s damaged the system with her furious strength.

“She is nothing more than a lab rat, performing tests on blood samples and alien bone marrow,” Astra growls. “Her usefulness is at the same level as yours currently, and yet you bring this battle upon us with no regard for the larger war! How could my officers be so shortsighted?!”

“General.”

It’s Non, blonde-headed, chiseled jaw, uncompromising and merciless.

Alex sneers when the light hits him, because her brain is floating and her shoulder is throbbing.

Not broken, dislocated.

Alex groans.

She hates Non for how he stands so close to Astra in a professional setting. Give her the space she deserves! Alex wants to shout. Alex hates him for many reasons she can name and for many reasons she can’t, the least of which is his involvement in getting her up here on this dumb platform.

She’s unbelievably screwed and she knows it. There’s no bargaining for her life, not with any of the random aliens the DEO have picked up over the course of the last few weeks. Not unless the DEO releases multiple hostiles, and no matter how much Alex and Hank have bonded over the past few months, no matter if he cares for her like a daughter—he won’t release that many registered Fort Rozz hostiles just to get one agent back.

And Alex wouldn’t want him to.

It’s with grim resignation that she understands the situation is out of her hands. The longer she remains conscious the more she’ll know, but that doesn’t stop her head from drooping, her eyes from closing. She wants to cry but won’t… instead fixating on Astra’s voice for whatever momentary comfort she can draw, even if it ends up denigrating her name and her organization.

Right now, Astra and her fire are the closest things she’s got to normal.

“She can tell us locations already in the codes,” Non asserts. His voice is a baritone and regrettably soothing; attractive in his well-advised suggestions. “We’ll stop wasting time.”

Alex hates and hates and hates.

“Did it occur to you, Lieutenant—” Astra snaps, and Alex has to hold back a grin. “—that their rankings are given special classification? They subdivide and assign duties like ants at their hill. No one person knows enough about their operation to compromise their system. Even their commander-in-chief is briefed weekly by subordinates. Have you disregarded all of my notes? Which of you has studied the materials I distributed?” Astra shouts.

It’s like a teacher reprimanding kindergartners. If Alex wasn’t ready to pass out, she’d be laughing hysterically on the floor.

“No wonder we’re being picked off like timid forest creatures. You take no care, no study, and give them the upper hand!

Alex is already half hysterical, she thinks, allowing herself to revel in Astra’s authority, in Astra’s commanding stance, in her voice, in her words, just as eloquent before her officers as when she puts pen to paper. Her head spins again and her eyes focus on Astra’s shoulder blades, moving like some jungle cat on the prowl as she circles her stewing subordinates.

“When you make these rash decisions—” she begins, cornering the table of alien life, “—I am forced to alter tactics. And now you leave me no choice but to make the human scream. She’s of no use to us as a bargaining chip, so we must wring her dry of information before disposing of her lifeless body. DISMISSED!” Astra shouts, and Alex nearly loses control of her bowels.

No.

Oh please, no, don’t let it be a trick.

Kara, I’m so sorry, Alex thinks. Thinks she’s going to die, up on a platform like an offering to some alien god she doesn’t know, doesn’t recognize. Officers file out of the same door as the foot soldiers but Non hangs back, overstepping his bounds. For some reason, Alex would rather Astra deal the final blow. Rather Astra snap her spine, slit her throat, bash her skull—as opposed to Non. That way Alex could meet her Maker knowing full-well she’d been played a fool, trying to do the right thing.

Don’t ever condemn yourself for thinking the best of people, Kara had once told her.

It’s all unraveling now. Alex is halfway to hell.

“Astra,” Non calls softly.

And despite the threat, Alex wants to shout in his face and elbow his nose until she fissures his skull open wide. Wants to delve into the crevice of his cranium and extract his brain for study, for he’s no better than a test subject at this point, a sniveling lab rat. She almost remembers going unconscious in her car at the pinch in her neck, crashing the DEO-issued SUV off the road. His blonde hair and feral eyes staring down at her with disdain, his boot swung back to kick her in the chest, his fist, raised and ruthless, jamming itself into her eye socket and then her arm, over and over again until he heard the tell-tell pop.

That’s when she blacked out, Alex thinks.

And now Non circles Astra as if he has the right. As if he’s brought Alex as a prize for her to play with.

“Yes?” Astra questions, and Alex wants to shout at her civility. Why allow him the space to breathe? Why afford him the courtesy of an answer? Why not—

Non swoops in and takes Astra in his arms, kisses her so passionately it’s Nicholas fucking Sparks fare, hands in hair and torsos mushed together and lips smacking noisily. And Alex is in physical pain because of it—because of the shoulder wound and her wrists, she insists, promises, swears—and she can’t dry heave without drawing attention to herself but the situation is so unbelievably unreal that she coughs, her shoulder throbbing with every convulsion pulling at her restraints.

“We need progress,” Non says, so close to Astra’s face. He doesn’t give the choking prisoner a glance of concern. “It is my desire to ensure that progress, General.”

“Husband,” Astra whispers, moving her hands about Non’s waist, groping at the lean muscles of his back. “I understand your need to move forward, but even you must admit this is unwise.”

“IN WHAT REGARD?!” he dares raise his voice against her, pushing away with all the force of a bottled hurricane. “We wait for our technologies to perform tasks we could do ourselves. We conquer! We change, and we alter to save,” Non pleads, and there is sadness in his voice, a lilt of loss, and Alex wonders whether he’s addressing his cause or his marriage.

Alex tries not to fixate on the latter.

“We preserve what there is, first,” Astra corrects, and it’s soft in a way Alex never knew Astra could speak. Not once since she regained consciousness has Astra spoken directly to Alex, but man, Alex wishes she would. Especially if she uses that tone. Alex thinks about the pain in her shoulder—thinks about her thinking, knows it’s compromised. Else she wouldn’t be giving two shits about Astra’s tone, let alone the hesitant, sweet way she reaches out to touch her husband’s shoulder. “Non,” she tries.

“What’s happened to you?” he asks, shrugging her hand off. “You find out your blood lives and suddenly everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve done—”

“You know I’ve had issues with your methods in the past,” Astra snips, her voice drifting lower, so that Alex can barely make out what she’s saying. There’s some murmuring between the two and then “… can’t get by on status here, Non. We’ve discussed this. Undermining me before the detainees only hurts us both.”

“Why lower your volume?” Non asks, his eyes narrowed to curious beads of suspicion. “She deserves none of our courtesy. She killed Gloxer.”

“Gloxer was reckless enough to get killed by a human, Non. She’s nothing,” Astra replies, and hell if the insult doesn’t hurt as bad as her decimated shoulder. “But if beings like Gloxer are who we have commanding our operations, don’t you think it gives more credence to my suggestion? We gained information but lost an officer, and Kara was not even with their forces at the time. Instead of losing more members than we can risk, we could send envoys, begin talks and negotiate with diplomacy—”

“Diplomacy will see us carted into camps and rolled out for display,” Non argues. “You’ve seen the papers; your niece is plastered on every one. Every other week she flies, every other week she’s praised for being exceptional. Meanwhile, she’s saving her murderers. Every human on this planet fuels their own death, and your blood supports their destruction. What happened to taking the necessary steps to save, Astra? We could rule! Why have you changed for the worse?”

I’ve changed?” Astra questions, and Alex hears the uptick of aggression in the back of her throat, that roar she knows the general keeps capped until the confrontation. “You’ve fallen into an impetuous, self-centered, raging descent since our years at conservatory. We are not who we used to be,” Astra’s knuckles go white on the table, but not from the strange light. She curls her fingers in on themselves at the top of the rounded command station. “I know there is not much left to salvage, here.”

It’s vague enough that Alex can’t stop wondering, can’t stop her pupils from tracking Astra’s every move, Non’s clenched jaw indicative of his seeping anger and an undercurrent of despair.

“But Non, you must see that further destruction and loss of life will ultimately lead to nothing for us.”

“I disagree,” Non says, reaching out to take Astra’s hand from the light.

“That is your prerogative, Lieutenant,” Astra waves him off, and finally turns her attention to Alex on the platform. “Go. Ready the functioning cells.”

“You said she was no bargaining chip,” Non grits, his face hollow and skeleton-like from the low-light of the command station. His dark suit contrasts with sharp cheek bones and an unearthly pallor; he’s just a ghost, now, insubstantial compared to Astra... ghastly.

“She is not,” Astra says, mounting the steps of the dais so that Alex is forced to look up to her. “But she also knows, as an operative, that we cannot extract information from a corpse. We will see just how much she can withstand before she reveals the location of the DEO.”

The saliva collecting in the back of Alex’s throat is filmy and thick. Alex spits at Astra, which earns her a backhand across the face. Her lip splits and she tastes iron, viscous and warm.

“Ready the cell!” Astra shouts again, and moments later Non disappears.

Alex doesn’t know what’s happening. It’s all messed up, this whole thing. The letters are so clear, so expressive, the perfect counter to Astra’s veiled expression. Her mouth is a thin line, a slice through granite. Her eyes, grey and weighted, carry more than the brunt of her command: the loss of her planet, her (supposed) desire for Kara, the implosion of her marriage, the power of a superhuman, the guilt of a survivor, the resignation to the cycle—history, in all its brutal cruelty, repeating itself on a different planet, even with heralds to stop it.

Alex wonders at that… Astra painted up and shouting at pedestrians, ranting about doomsday to busy passersby. Is that what those lunatics feel like? To be so firm in their belief that other people can see them as nothing more than insane?

“I’ll need you conscious if you’re going to withstand questioning, Agent Danvers,” Astra kneels in front of her and roughly clasps her shoulder, pops the arm back into place with little ceremony. The humerus grinds against the ball-socket and Alex convulses.

“Guuhh!” Alex grunts, bites so hard on her lip she breaks skin, maybe, possibly… it might be the blood still trickling over her chin from Astra’s slap.

“Where do you imprison the hostiles when they are apprehended?” Astra grabs her by the crown of her head and pulls back on her hair. It’s a rougher touch than Alex expects for all of Astra’s talk of diplomacy, straining her neck and putting pressure on her reinserted-bone. She hurts worse than when the White Martian kicked her ass in that warehouse, worse than the bruises she’d sustained from the skirmish at the secret drop-off, when she’d gone toe-to-toe with Gloxer.

“Secrets…” Alex starts, but coughs on her answer. Bloody spittle stains the sleeve of Astra’s suit.

“Yes?” Astra prods, and Alex watches as Astra reaches behind her, fiddling with the shackles until she releases Alex’s wrists. The strain on her bound arms goes slack, the blood returning to numbed digits in prickling needles of discomfort. She grasps Alex by the shoulder and sets her on her feet, then rears back and punches Alex in the gut—so hard she doubles-over from the pain.

“My apologies, Agent Danvers,” Astra says as she pushes Alex back.

Alex staggers against the makeshift stockade that had pulled her arms up behind her. She grips its top, hoping to stay on her feet as long as she can, even if it’s nothing more than posturing at this point. Her abdomen is throbbing; even before the punch, her ribs had taken a severe battering. She’s gasping, deep and slow, trying to suck as much air into her lungs as she can manage before Astra regroups.

“I didn’t hear what you said the first time,” Astra shoots across the platform in a blur, so fast Alex doesn’t feel the curl of fingers around her trachea until black spots start popping up at the edges of her vision. Astra’s face is like the hand-crafted work on those cameo broaches the old ladies back home like to wear; fine details and a sculpted outline, contrasting starkly against the black background. Astra’s image starts to blur at her ears, her hairline, and Alex knows she’s only got the lowest reserves of her oxygen left to speak.

“Secrets don’t—d-don’t… make, fr-friends, General,” Alex manages, able to fill every last syllable with as much disgust as she can muster.

“But friends make secrets,” Astra whispers, and Alex feels her grip relax completely, a thumb running gently over her neck. Astra’s face crumples, her expression as broken as Alex’s body. It’s back to calcified stoicism a second later, so fast Alex cannot be certain Astra ever looked at her with kindness, not in her pain-fueled delirium.

“You won’t talk now, Agent,” Astra lifts her chin up, pets at her head in such a condescending fashion Alex feels like nothing more than an animal. “But you will. You know you’re no good to us dead.”

“Pity,” Alex bites, struggling as much as she can—feebly, uselessly—against Astra’s grip. “Here I was thinking you’d have the honor to put me out of my misery.”

“There is no honor here,” Astra laments. She pulls Alex so close to her body that it’s terrifyingly intimate. Every curve of the catsuit is pressed against Alex’s tattered and bloodied black uniform. Alex feels pressure at the pocket of her trousers but can’t look down, can’t draw attention to the motion, because Astra still has her head tilted back, one hand tangled in her cropped hair.

She wonders if Astra gets a kick out of people looking up to her.

“My niece smells like you,” Astra comments, and it’s not hard at all, just an observation.

“That’s a weird thing to say,” Alex says, because Astra’s nose almost tickles her cheek.

“She no longer smells like our planet, like her people. She smells like you… human.”

“Yeah well, you caught me before I could get home to shower,” Alex grits. “Sorry it’s not all roses and songbirds.”

Astra smirks, then knees her in the stomach for good measure. Alex doubles over once more, makes a mental tally of the number of bruised ribs she’s suffered this year alone, thanks to Astra and her minions.

“Let’s see how witty you are once you’ve gone a week without food. We’ll leave the water dripping, just out of reach.”

“Promise you’ll come visit?” Alex rasps, defiant to the end. “I’ll miss our girl talk.”

Astra’s nose twitches, her lip shakes, and Alex tenses her abs, waiting for the next blow to the gut. Instead Astra just pushes her up against the stockade and places a hand at her hip—no, lower, where her front pocket is, where Alex had felt the pressure earlier. She’s so distracted by Astra’s hand on the dip of her hip and the fingers crawling up her waist that she doesn’t see the other slap coming. From the opposite side, so now her lip is split from both angles. She probably looks like a battered feminine Joker, with her brain rattling against her skull and her equilibrium shot to hell; she has the urge to vomit from the swooping sensation of vertigo. Collapsing at Astra’s feet, Alex cries out as she hits the ground on her injured shoulder, then cradles her arm into her chest.

“Guard!” Astra yells, and a desert-orange humanoid with three arms shuffles its way into the chamber. “Take her to block B. Lieutenant Non has readied a functioning cell.”

“General,” the humanoid growls, and Alex flies nearly ten feet forward as he/it/they/she scoops her up by the collar of her tattered polo and pushes her in the small of her back. “Walk, cretin,” the orange thing orders.

Alex does. Walk, for as long as she’s able. But the exhaustion and the pain are pulsating in equal amounts. She trudges forward on shaky knees for what feels like miles, limping down platforms and taking a flight of stairs and then another, then being redirected back the way they came to take another flight up, the orange thing pushing her down, then picking her up, all for his wicked pleasure. This is her penance, Alex thinks, for ever believing that trust could solve problems.

Who was she kidding?

Alex Danvers is too human to risk her life on trust. Kara is exceptional because she can’t die, even if she puts her faith in the wrong people. It’s a terrible observation of the human condition, and Alex wants nothing more than to curl up on a couch and cry over her failures, over the Russian existentialists who spilled gallons of ink on this exact topic of confusion. Why people—humans—are the way they are, and why the exceptional inevitably win in the end.

The normals… the unexceptional… they just wind up with broken ribs and a cell to themselves.

“I think the General likes you, setting you up with this nice cell,” the orange humanoid comments, shoving Alex in until she’s on her hands and knees, scrabbling over the ground.

“Really?” Alex gasps, clutching her left side with her right hand as she turns to sit up. “She’s got a funny way of showing it.”

“Oh, she was being quite lenient with you, you know,” humanoid declares, giggling with glee. Its voice is pitched far too high and shrill for an alien of its size. “The last being she interrogated left with two shattered knee caps.”

The humanoid slams the bars of the cell shut and walks off, its heavy tread echoing down the hallway. Alex moves as far away from the door as she can and props herself up on the back wall, determinedly not focusing on the pile of bones two cells over. They’re not human, but a skeleton of any sorts in such close proximity is enough to make her gag reflex kick in. She sleeps, restlessly, some terrible cocktail of discomfort and weariness dragging her under. But nearly every hour, painful twinges pull her back to the land of the living, if that’s what she can call an extraterrestrial jail, an alien ossuary. It’s not until several hours after the humanoid tossed her into the cell that she shifts, feels the lightest weight of something against the top of her thigh.

She reaches into her pocket and extracts a small device, wrapped tightly within a note. It’s transparent, a capsule of liquid or a glass bulb or some indefinable etching powering the device. It’s in a clear textile casing that could’ve been the lovechild of plastic and glass, as durable and sleek as it looks.

Spy beacon.

Press the light if you ever need me.

I’m so sorry. I’ll fix this.

-Tolstoy

Chapter Text

Hours or days later, Alex hears commotion down the corridor to her right. She tries to think, tries to focus, knows that if her body’s still functioning it’s not been more than thirty-six hours, even if the first symptoms of dehydration are starting to manifest. But it’s loud and there’s clanging, shouts echoing down the rows of cells and dull thuds against splintering walls that indicate something more than a skirmish between peeved foot soldiers.

Plus it’s close, the closest bit of clamor she’s heard since she’d been placed in the cell. Her hand flies to her pocket and she presses down on the middle of the device, taking strange comfort in the spy beacon. Alex allows herself to hope, hates herself for it, but she can’t outrun Kara’s influence, no matter how much procedure the DEO throws at her. Her sister was pure hope, and as much as her realism (cynicism) tries to assert itself—well, she thinks back to the hostage exchange, so many months ago.

You sound like my niece, Astra said, and it didn’t sound like a bad thing at all.

She has a powerful effect on people.

“ALEX!!!”

“Kara,” Alex manages, scrambling to her feet to cling at the bars of the cell, craning her neck as far to the right as her human anatomy will allow. Stronger, this time: “Kara!!”

She watches the door fly from its hinges and there’s Kara, decked out in full Supergirl regalia, a trail of alien bodies strewn about the floor behind her. Kara takes one look at Alex and then flies through the roof, delivers a one-two punch to the structure that allows sunlight, the first rays Alex has seen in at least two days, into the corridor of cells. Before she can assess the destruction Kara is back, bending the bars so that Alex can shuffle through the cell and grab onto her shoulders. Kara is intense and jittery, the opposite of the composure Alex drilled into her during practice in the ring.

It’s like everything Alex has taught her sister in the past nine months has left her, desperation fueling her drive as opposed to skill, tactics, planning.

They’re going to have to talk about this later.

“Just showing off there, huh?” Alex asks, indicating Fort Rozz’s newest skylight.

“I can’t fight my way back through that hoard with you in tow. Lay off those coffee pastries if I'm going to be carrying you around a lot, okay?” Kara says, on the verge of tears. She doesn’t cradle Alex in her arms but instead shifts so that Alex can go piggy-back, offering her body as a shield from in front and below should any aliens come at them in a direct assault.

“We gotta move,” Alex advises, not allowing Kara the time for an emotional reunion.

Just as they shift into position, Non broaches the doorway at the end of the hall, his anti-Kryptonite badge in place and murder in his eyes. He looks like he could breathe fire. If Alex hadn’t tested every one of Kara’s abilities herself, she wouldn’t put dragon breath past him.

“You’ll be in chains before you ever get the chance—!”

“Non!” Alex hears Astra shout at her husband, but the escaping duo don’t have time to linger. Alex pushes Kara forward toward the hole in the ceiling.

“Kara, go,” she says, gripping her sister’s shoulders tighter.

“Non, this is not a battle worth our effort,” Astra begins.

Kara hesitates. “But what if it’s a trick, what if Astra—”

“I said go, Kara!”

They’re off before Non has a chance to respond, but Alex sees the beginnings of a struggle, two black specks moving against each other as Kara shoots off like a rocket. They’re in the clouds, using the fluffy cover before Alex can blink, her hands wrapped so tightly around Kara’s chest from behind that her fingers are beginning to ache in the cold, wet atmosphere. Alex retains the mental capacity to check if they're being tailed. She looks over Kara's shoulders and sees endless blue, puffy egg shell behind them, nothing but horizon: no pursuers.

They fly for a while before Alex realizes it’s not turbulence making Kara shake, but her sister crying. She allows it, wonders why she doesn’t shed her own tears… thinks she’s too exhausted to spare any.

Or dehydrated.

They touch down behind the gate in the DEO service yard and are immediately swarmed by security. There’s badge checks and a nurse and then Hank is yelling at everybody, scooping Alex under his arm and leading her inside.

“Hello, sir,” Alex manages, and it’s scratchier than her voice normally sounds. He hands over a water bottle and it takes everything in her not to upend the thing and drink it all in one go. Instead, she patiently waits while Kara removes the cap and allows herself a sip or two, limps down the hallway because damn if she lets her sister carry her through the halls of her workplace.

“Med bay, now,” Hank orders.

“Lemme get out of these first, sir,” Alex requests, because she wants just a moment to herself before she’s poked and prodded, forced to respond to the thousands of questions that are SOP post rescue. “Give me a robe and I’ll change in the locker rooms.”

“Danvers—”

“Kara can help me,” Alex says, shooting a quick glance at her sister, eyes red-rimmed and jaw quivering like a toddler on the verge of a tantrum.

“We need to get your vitals checked—”

“Can I just have ten minutes to hug my sister, sir?” Alex says lowly, and she can’t remember asking for anything simpler from her boss, anything so easy that suddenly meant so much.

Five minutes,” Hank holds up his hand and snatches some sterile cloths and a backless robe from a paramedic on standby. He hands them to Kara and nods at the entrance of the DEO base; Alex watches the exchange and takes another sip of water, swishing the liquid around her mouth. She spits instead of swallows, the residual taste of blood fresh and metallic after her rinsing.

Kara offers herself as a prop and they make their way across the hall. The locker room is one of the first rooms near the entrance to the DEO, and today, it’s blessedly empty.

“First words out of your mouth,” Alex begins, as Kara lowers her onto a bench. “—better not be ‘I’m sorry’.”

“I…” Kara hesitates, tears rolling down the crease of her nose, over her cheeks. She offers Alex more water as Alex begins the arduous process of removing what’s left of her shirt.

“Let me do it,” Kara insists, ripping the shirt so Alex doesn’t have to extend her arms overhead.

“Handy,” Alex says, wincing as they maneuver the material off her shoulder. The tissue is puffy and fiercely pink; Alex imagines the bruise will be as dark as her wardrobe in a day or two.

“What hurts most?” Kara asks, careful with the rest of the garment. Even though it’s tattered to pieces, she folds it reverently, needing something to do.

“Seeing you cry,” Alex answers, and that was probably the wrong move because Kara goes from tiny creek to Niagara in a second, super speed employed even in her despair.

“Com’ere,” Alex says, and Kara’s hardly touching her, trying to hug her but not really. Kara already has to be so gentle when they hug normally and now it’s extra light, because Alex is injured and she thinks it’s her fault and Alex feels so dumb for getting herself into this in the first place.

“I love you,” Kara says. “They hurt you so bad because of me, it’s all my fault.”

“Kara, no—”

“I’m sor—”

“Stop that, I told you,” Alex commands, squeezing Kara’s bicep. “And let me down, I want more water.”

“This wouldn’t have happened if—”

“You’re going to hear this later, but you need to know it now,” Alex says, cutting her sister off. “They did not target me because of you Kara, okay? You need to understand that. They came after me because I took out one of their leaders, I was driving a DEO vehicle, and your uncle needed someone to blame because they’re not getting anywhere," she takes hold of Kara's hand with her dirtied one and whispers her reassurance: "This isn’t because of you.”

Kara slumps down, defeated, her cape pooling like a puddle of blood on the floor beneath them.

“This is part of the job, Kara,” Alex asserts. “It could’ve happened to anyone.”

“But it didn’t,” Kara says. “It was you. Alex, I’ve already lost so much—”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m tough as nails,” Alex smiles, and Kara winces. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Kara gingerly lifts her fingers to Alex’s jaw, skims the pad of her thumb near the laugh lines around Alex’s mouth. “Your lip…”

“Will heal, just like the rest of me.”

Kara’s face hardens, and she looks like her aunt… her mother. One of them, Alex is sure. Beautifully terrible.

“Which one did this to you?” Kara asks, and there’s nothing gentle about it. It’s dangerous, a roiling boil, ready to scald and burn and hurt. “What kind of alien was it?”

“Don’t, Kara,” Alex says, placing a hand on her shoulder to push herself up. She’s still weak, but she’s able to chuck her pants and combat boots in a locker while Kara silently stews, moving attentively to help her change into the backless robe.

“Was it Non?” Kara asks, pausing as she ties the scrap of clean white garment over Alex’s bruised back. “Did he split your lip?”

“I’m going to fill out a full report later, Kara. There was some orange thing that pushed me around a lot, I don’t know the species.”

“You know every species the DEO has on record,” Kara objects.

“Maybe we don’t have a file on this one,” Alex tries—but they do. Surely they do, and once Alex gets some more water and food in her system, she’ll probably be able to sort through all their photos and pinpoint the exact orange humanoid species that escorted her down to that dungeon of a cell.

She forgets that Astra was actually imprisoned there, behind those bars. Probably powered by something stronger than steel, since Kara was able to twist them like Alex does her paperclips when she’s feeling fidgety. She thinks of Astra, of her comment about begging for water, of a phantom zone where time doesn’t exist… but a decade is a decade, a prison a prison. What was so awful about that place that they could send those murderers there for ultimate justice? What made it so powerful that it could hold a Kryptonian?

Did it leave you the same after you came out?

Certainly not, Alex thinks, and she was barely locked up for two days.

“Let me get patched up before I undergo the inquisition,” Alex requests.

Kara nods stiffly, flexing her fingers and forming fists to calm herself.

“Promise me you’re not going to do anything stupid in the meantime, okay?” Alex murmurs, nudging Kara lightly.

Kara doesn’t meet her eye.

“Hey,” Alex says, more strongly this time, even though the effort for merely speaking is Herculean at this point. “Promise me,” she demands.

“I’ll wait until they treat you,” Kara says, offering her arm to Alex as they stand and head for the locker room door. “But someone needs to pay.”

“When they lose, they will pay.”

“Someone needs to pay now,” Kara argues, and it’s so unlike Kara that Alex has to stop, has to take a moment to play big sister before Supergirl goes off like a bottle rocket.

“I want you to do fifty circuits before you come see me again,” Alex says.

Fifty?” Kara gapes. It’s triple her morning training, back and forth across the continent at least seventy-five times, with some mileage to spare. “What do circuits have to do with—”

“You are angry, and you need to blow off some steam. I don’t have it in me to talk you down right now, so go fly it off. Or go get James—you two can go massacre a junk yard together, or something.”

“Alex—”

“Kara, take me to the med bay and go fly around the world,” Alex commands, taking her last sip of water. “I’ll see you when you get back.”

The empty bottle falls to the ground as Alex’s knees collapse beneath her.

 


 

 

A week on bed rest, another riding a desk, and then back to the lab. No field missions for at least a month.

Honestly, Alex had expected a lot worse by way of recovery.

But nothing was broken. Bruised ribs, both sides, and an arm that needed some heavy painkillers the first two days on leave (the doctor on call said it would have been a lot worse if the humerus hadn’t been reinserted so soon). They’d stuck an IV in her and had her on jiggly green Jell-O within the evening, solids the very next day. She gave Hank the run down as best she could, withholding certain pieces of information from the file, embellishing other bits as best suited her story.

Non, the Kryptonian hostile. Aided by a slew of others, taking agents hostage to question them for information, retaliation against confounding, unbreakable codes. They’d already kidnapped an agent once, the quid pro quo for their general in DEO custody, but this time, there was no reason to bargain for Alex. Which made the rescue all the more circumspect.

“How did Kara—how did Supergirl know to come looking for me?” it’s the first question Alex asks Hank after she’s finished answering the usual debriefing queries. Hanks barks, and the med bay instantly clears of all personnel. She feels gross and hungry, wants enough potstickers that even Kara might think twice about asking for another.

“Supergirl got a text message while she was at her… other job.”

“Really?” Alex asks, because that’s not what she expected. Though, she’d really expected to be killed (she still isn’t quite sure what Astra had up her sleeve with the whole ‘slapping Alex silly’ episode, though she has her suspicions. The general had been walking a thread-sized tightrope of treachery).

“Just a series of coordinates," Hank explains. "And then, ‘Agent Danvers in trouble.’ We ran the coordinates through the system and couldn’t stop her. Supergirl grabbed the cape and bolted. Said she’d handle the layout of the locations since she’s tuned into you, specifically.”

“Could you trace the message?” Alex shifts higher against her pillow but Hank presses against her uninjured shoulder, encouraging her to lie flat.

“Burn phone. Purchased six months ago at an outlet in Santa Monica.”

“Santa Monica?” Alex asks, twisting toward her commanding officer.

“I know. It’s strange, but after we pinpointed with GPS, satellite imaging found a structure, half-buried near a mountain range. It’s off the scale as far as energy readings go, but there’s no indicator that electricity has been funneled into the building. It’s self-sustaining, somehow. Generators, some off-world power source...”

“You mean—?”

“I don’t know what you’ve been writing about in those damn letters, but we’ve got all of our satellites aimed at their base,” Hank shakes his head, but can't stop the smirk from crowding out his doubts. “We’re watching their every move.”

Holy shit.

“We’ve got Fort Rozz? Well, not the prison, but… their headquarters?”

“She gave it up. Or, whoever bought a burn phone in Santa Monica six months ago did,” Hank says knowingly. “Who also has Supergirl’s mobile number. Lots of little clues, but I think the woman who gave you those bruises also saved your ass, and gave us eyes in the sky. It might not feel like it right now, but good work on this one, Danvers.”

“Yeah,” Alex nods, as she flops back on the pillow, overwhelmed by the idea of an alien general, compromising their position... all for her.

"We won't be moving in directly," Hank continues. "I'm guessing you got eyes on their numbers."

"Three to one easy, Director," Alex sighs. "Even if we brought in the Marine Corps, special ops... we're still looking at a numbers deficit. There's aliens in there we don't have any info on at all."

"All in good time, Agent Danvers. For now, you rest up," he directs, awkwardly patting her wrist.

Alex grins at the small comfort.

“Can I let your sister in now?” Hank asks. “She’s been pacing a hole in the command center, panting like she tried to loop the earth.”

“I might’ve told her to, to calm her down, sir.”

“I don’t know how well it worked,” Hank looks out the window at his other pseudo-daughter, and shakes his head as he gives Alex’s hand a squeeze. “I’m grateful you got back to us in one piece.”

“Happy to be here, sir.”

Hank dips his head and retreats, nodding as he passes through the glass doors of the med bay. Kara’s at her side in a picosecond, still hopped up despite her flight circuits.

“Hey,” she says, kneeling down to take Alex’s hand.

“Ugh, please don’t,” Alex scoffs.

“What?”

“I’m hardly on my death bed.”

“Don’t even joke,” Kara says, smiling in spite of herself.

“I’m fine. They’re going to let me recoup back home, that way I don’t have to worry about some newbie trying to get me back in this bed when I charge into command.”

“You would charge into command when you’re on doctor-prescribed bed rest.”

“Would you expect any less of me?” Alex asks, turning her head on the pillow.

“Never,” Kara says, and brushes a fallen string of hair out of Alex’s face.

They sit in silence for a few moments, Alex wanting nothing more than to go to sleep, Kara probably (definitely) wanting nothing more than to keep her up, keep her awake, keep her conscious, just so she knows her big sister is still her big sister. Alex feels Kara’s fingers rubbing her hand, and it’s so comforting she almost dozes off at the pressure.

It doesn’t help that the pain meds from the IV are starting to kick in. The doctor had held off on administering the drugs until after Alex had completed the full report.

“Hey,” Alex mumbles, her lids fluttering closed under Kara’s watch. “Don’t tell mom, okay?”

Kara can’t help the chuckle, and it makes Alex feel a little better, hearing Kara laugh. Especially after seeing her cry so much in such a short span of time. She hasn’t seen Kara this worked up since they brought Astra in, since she revealed Alura’s deception, since the hologram left her sister hollow and wanting, left her questioning her life’s truth.

“Who do you think messaged me?” Kara asks. “Someone who knew where you—Alex?”

Alex is awake but feigns sleep, keeps her breathing even, hopes her heart rate doesn’t betray her.

She can’t be the one to tell Kara that the same woman who put her here got her out of there.

Chapter Text

Alex grabs her piece from the drawer at her bedside table. The display on the clock reads 3:47 a.m., and the night is still around her. She’s sliding into day four of bed rest and is already several kilometers past stir-crazy. Her previous day had been spent pouring over notes concerning skin grafts and Kryptonian cells, solar panels and radiation limits for humans.

But it’s the middle of the night and Alex has been sleeping restlessly. She’s always been a light sleeper, really, but tonight she hears shuffling down the hall and itches for the feel of the stock in her palm, the cool metallic defense as she rests her hand against the trigger. She slips out of the bed as lightly as her handicapped tread allows, her ribs still making a regular walk more awkward and cumbersome than she’d hoped.

In position, she sweeps into her living room with her gun at the ready. Her eyes adjust quickly to the darkness, and she can hear the night sounds of the road, make out the dimmed lights of the cityscape behind the fluttering curtains of her open window.

Her open window.

“Kara?” Alex asks, taking quick strides across the floor of her common area, pulling her gun down toward her side as she moves.

But why would Kara pop the window open on the side with no fire escape, just floating, when she has a perfectly good spare key? When she could just let herself in like she’s been doing every day at seven a.m.? Always checking in, helping, looking wounded for not anticipating Alex’s every whim?

It can honestly grate sometimes, Kara’s need to shoulder every problem in the world. Boundaries, Alex advised her. I’m a big girl, so let me act like one.

Alex looks toward the sidewalk four floors below and sees nothing. No rappelling lines down the side of her building. No hovercraft or drone set up feet from her window. That’s happened twice before, once from Maxwell Lord, and once from the DEO.

Two guesses as to which device she let into her apartment.

She shuts the open window and locks it for good measure, never giving much thought to it since she’s an easy fifty feet above the sidewalk. But as she turns her foot crunches over the stark white paper of an envelope dropped on her floor, Alexandra written in familiar, curlicued script.

She pivots back to the window as quickly as her bruised limbs will allow and unlocks it, throws the frame open and pokes her head out.

“Astra?” she calls, wondering if she’s still within super earshot.

Alex had performed this experiment with Kara more times than she could count. But the distance covered was severely affected by whether or not Kara was listening for her specifically. If Kara knew the voice, knew what to actively listen for, then she could separate the ambient noise from Alex’s voice, pick up her whispers and her mumbles from miles further away than any other person’s general speaking volume. It’s surprising then, when Alex sees an unfamiliar black blob sailing over the skyscrapers back in midtown, closing in on her building.

“Astra? Are you—hello?” Alex calls, twisting her head about, even though she knows it’s her, she knows, and for some reason is both terrified and exhilarated by the impending confrontation. She wishes to return the slaps and thank her for the text all at once.

After several moments of determinedly not looking toward the skyline, Alex turns her back on the window—but leaves it open. Instead of returning to bed like any sane person who’s been kidnapped and tortured, she stalks to her coffee table and sits on her couch, takes the envelope in hand and mumbles: “You can come in if you’re out there.”

The shadows in her apartment shift, darken just the slightest. It could be her tired eyes, looking up into the inky black common room after focusing for so long on the white of the envelope in her shaky hands. Or it could be the woman in all black, perched in her window frame like some off-beat decorative wall art, blocking out street and starlight with an alien silhouette.

“In or out,” Alex mutters, not giving her full attention to Astra’s hesitation. “It’s cool enough for us mere mortals to need closed windows on windy nights.”

Astra slips in and shuts the window behind her.

Alex reflexively grips her gun tighter, even with useless metal bullets lodged in the magazine.

There’s no Kryptonite on the premises—she’s got to have special permission from the DEO to take that kind of chemical weapon off site—and the lack of adequate defense alarms her. She clutches the unopened letter as if it could protect her, as if it could shield her from further punches to the gut or kicks to the head. She’ll never admit it to anyone, least of all Astra, but she’s working with a healthy dose of self-preservation.

Not fear. Definitely not that. But her fight or flight response is one of the best, honed to tactical perfection from years under Hank’s charge.

“You don’t want me here,” Astra begins, and Alex can hear her pause in the kitchen.

“I wouldn’t have invited you in if I didn’t.”

“’In or out’ does not sound like much of an invitation.”

“You didn’t seem to need one the first time,” Alex says, holding the letter over her shoulder and waving it for emphasis.

“I didn’t enter your home uninvited, but I wanted you to get the letter. I apologize for your… uhm, your window, if I broke it when I lifted the frame,” Astra says, and it’s the weakest she’s ever sounded, at least to Alex’s ears. “I just wanted the letter in your house, Alexandra, and I feel… that is—I’ve already…I didn’t want to come inside. I’ve… already violated your safety, your health… it—was never my intention…”

“Never thought you would trip over words, General,” Alex returns. “Your letters are far more eloquent than you are.”

“It would not be outside the realm of possibility that you would desire to end our correspondence, given your treatment at my hands,” Astra manages finally, huffing irritably behind her.

“You think I’d want to stop writing you because you beat me?” Alex asks, propping one leg underneath her body, resituating herself in case she does need to run. Not that running would do her much good, not with Astra. Despite her prescribed bed rest she’s still overly tired, and her eyelids droop in the darkness. She places three fingers to her left temple and rubs tight circles into her head. “I thought about it.”

“I couldn’t be sure you would return to the brick wall, near that shop,” Astra continues. “I never got the chance to tell you—there was more I wanted to show you at the library, too.”

Alex snorts.

“So you disregarded my privacy—”

“I only wanted you to get that letter,” Astra says. “It… the contents offer my reasoning, even if you didn’t want to seek it out for yourself. I gave you the spy beacon.” Astra’s voice softens when she mentions the device. “But you never wrote me. I couldn’t be sure if the spy beacon… if its activation was from that day you escaped.”

The spy beacon. The little device she’d used a few days ago when she heard Kara throttling the guards outside the secluded corridor. Non was ready to take down Kara once she’d reached Alex’s cell, until Astra had intervened. Alex had forgotten about the beacon, only found it when she went back for her combat boots after the physician had released her from the med bay. She’d decided to chuck the unsalvageable pants, but the round disc had warmed the pocket of the trousers. Alex dug around in the pocket and extracted the device, still lit, for some inexplicable reason, and tucked it into her civilian briefcase.

It’s been hiding in the drawer of her bedside table ever since.

Alex shrugs, then realizes Astra can’t read her body language from behind the couch. Well, maybe she can, enhanced vision and all. But Alex can’t see her reaction.

“Come over here, so I can have eyes on you,” Alex says. “For all I know you’re coming at me with a steak knife.”

“Cutlery as a weapon hardly seems like an effective means of attack,” Astra murmurs, moving toward the sitting area. Alex holds her gun in one hand and reaches to turn on a lamp with the other, her eyes never leaving Astra’s creeping form as the woman maneuvers, hands raised defensively, around the end of the sofa.

“Worked well enough for Norman Bates,” Alex snarks. “But you’d have a berserker on your hands if you came after me in the shower.”

“What? Who?” Astra asks, tilting her head thoughtfully to the side. "...shower?"

“Another time,” Alex waves the gun in the general direction of an overstuffed armchair.

“So there will be another time… with this?” Astra asks, perched on the edge of the seat with a spine that’s ramrod straight, erect, her cat-like eyes wide with apprehension.

“How did you get Kara’s phone number?” Alex asks first, her gun resting easily on her knee.

“You recall a hacking incident at the CatCo offices late last year?” Astra supplies.

“Yes, but they figured out that was an inside job.”

“True, it was,” Astra explains, not relaxing for a moment. “But it also directly preceded our attack on Lord technologies. I… distracted Supergirl and arranged my own arrest.”

“I was there for that one,” Alex quips.

“It wasn’t just a distraction from the Lord infiltration," Astra begins. "Once I heard about the hack, I used the situation to my advantage. I had one of my operatives in the city copy all of Catherine Grant’s leaked contacts to our files, using the excuse that having information on human media outlets could be beneficial to our campaign. But… I also like to have knowledge of my niece’s whereabouts. I know her address, her telephone number, but no being in my army knows that Danvers is Kara's surname. Hers is just one of thousands of names that were taken; so, no one suspects ulterior motives.”

“Two birds, one flying Kryptonian. There’s that politician's angle again,” Alex says, giving her tense guest a critical appraisal in the low light.

There were half-depressed circles under the general’s eye sockets, her usually wavy hair tangled messily from flight. Despite her perfect posture Alex noted a hoarse, gravelly texture to her voice, indicative of weariness or stress or—whatever it was that made Kryptonians look less than perfect. Astra kept her chin down, tucked ever-so-slightly into her neck, as if her hands held more answers than her mouth could formulate.

“You look like hell,” Alex offers.

“Preventing my Lieutenant from stopping your escape has… it has taken some time to explain my reasoning to my leaders. Kara crippled a good portion of operatives, so they are aggravated.

“Why did you then?” Alex asks, shifting forward in her seat. “Stop him, I mean?”

Astra doesn’t answer immediately, so Alex flicks the safety on and places the gun in her hand on the coffee table, barrel pointed toward the wall. She rests her elbows on her knees, tucks her hands under her chin, and waits it out.

She’s an expert at getting answers from reluctant Kryptonians.

Alex watches the tension leave Astra’s shoulders, watches as her jaw slacks infinitesimally. She looks up from her hands and holds Alex’s stare, sighs away anything but the truth:

“He would have torn you to pieces.”

“You got the job started,” Alex says bitterly, thinking about the mottled bruising on her rib cage.

“That was—I can only hope you realize I was being surveilled. I could not show you leniency without arousing suspicion,” Astra starts, and it’s a little desperate, a lot defensive.

Alex knows that Astra can manipulate with the best of them; hell, she’d probably be a fan favorite on those Bachelor shows her two college friends go on about. But this explanation sounds too much like the confessions in the cell with the Kryptonite emitters. That day she got Kara so worked up it had taken three techs to fix the burned panels in the room with the hologram of Alura.

“If it hadn’t been me, it could’ve been so much worse for you,” Astra says, and it sounds so strangely meek of the woman, a characteristic that Alex can’t negotiate with Astra’s typical commanding personality.

Astra is dangerously expressive, with her face, her posture, her urgent words. And it’s hitting Alex so much harder, noticing these little chinks in the armor; because until now, until the letters started, Astra had only ever schooled her expression into one of haughty disdain, occasional intrigue, and—in the case of General Lane—untempered disgust. But she looks so like Kara, who’s worn her heart on her sleeve since she got here, who still has trouble maintaining the mask of professional distance as Supergirl, who just wants to feel her emotions uninhibited, unrestrained.

The only difference is that Astra doesn’t have the support group that Kara does. Doesn’t have a secret identity to lapse into, to allow herself that feeling. Alex wonders if this is the first moment Astra’s allowed herself to feel weak, less—sorry—in a very long while.

“I figured you were doing something decent when you popped my arm back in place,” Alex confesses, running her hand over the back of her neck. She’s still sore on her shoulder, still achy and mad that she’d been apprehended in the first place, that she’d let her guard slip as far as it had. “Thanks for that, I guess.”

“I wish I could accept it, but your gratitude is misplaced,” Astra mumbles.

“Look, I already know what’s in that letter,” Alex says, done with playing emotional cushion to a military leader for the opposition. “You did what you had to do. Made it look good. Then you fixed it, texted Kara,” Alex summarizes, trying to assure Astra that she understands, that sometimes you have to make the tough call. “It’s regrettable, but it was necessary. We’re looking at the big picture, here.”

Astra shoots up and her jaw clenches, her fingers curl into fists and her eyes narrow to slits. Alex doesn’t have a lot of reaction time but she scrambles for the gun, points it at Astra and brings both arms up for support, even if it hurts like a motherfucker.

“I didn’t realize giving you an out would make you mad,” Alex huffs, finger poised on the trigger. “Empathizing tends to strengthen working relationships.”

“You—you sound just like me,” Astra grits, and her voice is sibilant, like she’s hissing a charge through the spaces of her teeth. It sounds like an accusation.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Alex demands

“Before…” Astra says, looking down at Alex on the couch, gun aimed squarely (uselessly) at her chest. “You echo my words to my sister. Before the end.”

“What do you mean?”

“I used the ‘big picture’, as you call it, to justify my actions, even when it harmed others,” Astra says. “It always seems necessary at the time, just like now. I believed you would—I’m unsure, I suppose, in what I believed—only that you would hold me to a higher standard.”

“Seriously, now I’m your accountability?” Alex scoffs, standing (with some difficulty) as the conversation takes a turn for the bizarre.

She lowers the gun but doesn’t put it down on the table.

“Listen, if you wanted someone on the moral high ground, you should’ve written to Kara. Am I pissed that you kicked the crap out of me? Hell yeah. But am I even more grateful that you got Kara in there, and helped us get out? Yeah, color me thankful.”

“I need you to understand that my soldiers are accustomed to me being rather… harsh, during interrogations—”

“Listen, Astra,” Alex interrupts. “I’ve arrested people when I had no authority to do so, held them against the law. I once smashed a dude’s hand with a door to get the information I needed. I shoot things, and I punch things, and I’m really good at it. So take your pity party elsewhere, because you’re not the only one in this room who has killed before, General.”

“I can’t reasonably expect to be welcomed by a people I routinely beat to unconsciousness,” Astra snaps. “Isn’t it your job to be violent, Agent?”

“Let’s get one thing straight, here,” Alex begins, because she’s suddenly fueled with adrenaline, feels like her morning 5k might not be so unmanageable after all. Arguing like this has somehow, despite the pain, elevated her mood.

“I am in no way justifying your previous actions, but you need to understand that sometimes, the world—yes, even our measly planet Earth—is going to force your hand. I know this is your first time on this side of the line, and that you and your lieutenant are going through—” Astra cuts a look her way and Alex immediately backtracks, motions absently with her hand. “—whatever, but the fact that you tried to change first counts for something. A little something,” Alex qualifies, frowning as she places one hand on her hip, the other wrapped around the stock of the gun as if it were an extension of herself. “You do shitty things on the job but at the end of the day, if you can stand behind your actions, find some good in whatever it was you had to do, even if it was the hard thing, then you’ve got to dust yourself off and move on.”

“You make it sound so complex,” Astra counters. “Doing… doing the good thing.”

“That’s the lie that humanity likes to believe. That doing the right thing is easy. It’s not. Because humanity is fallible,” Alex says, then tries to clarify: “Listen, there’s a reason certain people get put in charge, and other people are just the—secret weapon, I guess,” Alex mentions, glancing at the photo of her and Kara at her end table, the one at Kara’s high school graduation.

“It takes all kinds, Astra. Some people deal with having to make the hard decisions, with having to do the questionable thing. Some people inspire hope. There’s too much at stake, too much complexity, to be sunshine and smiles every hour of the day. Sometimes, you’ve got to bring the thunder.”

“Pardon, the thunder?”

“It’s a metaphor—”

“No, I gathered that,” Astra places her fingers against her forehead and shuts her eyes, takes a settling breath. “Kara seems to manage her ‘sunshine’ perfectly well.”

“You don’t see her cry, nights,” Alex whispers, thinking about talking Kara down from all her doubts, all her insecurities. Astra makes a strangled noise in the back of her throat, practically whimpers, but Alex forges ahead. “Besides, Kara is Supergirl. She’s an exception to the rule.”

“But isn’t that her… story?” Astra questions, trying to grasp Alex’s reasoning. “That’s what the papers say, that your kind should aspire to greatness like hers. To goodness like hers.”

“The papers can build us up all they want, but we will fall short every time, and that's okay,” Alex objects. “Nobody’s perfect, Astra. We’re only human.”

Astra cocks an eyebrow and crosses her arms over her chest.

“I most certainly am not.”

“You’re more human than you give yourself credit for,” Alex drops her hand from her hip and retreats from the sitting area, shuffling in high-ankle socks toward the cabinets in the kitchen. She puts the gun down on the counter and reaches for her painkiller capsules, her hand hovering over the container of Vicodin. Her ribs ache, but she ends up grabbing a couple of Ibuprofen from the shelf and a glass from the cabinet.

“What are you doing?” Astra asks.

The general has moved from her position at the seat near the window to the far side of the kitchen. Her attention seems torn between Alex and the entrance to the apartment; Alex has a keyring and a corkboard hanging there, with pictures of herself and Kara from their adolescent years pinned up and overlapping.

“Self-medicating,” Alex says, popping the pills in her mouth and following with a swallow of water. “Trying to wean myself off the hard stuff.”

“Hard stuff?”

“More effective drugs. They make the pain go away but they compromise your system.”

“You are still in pain?” Astra asks, turning her back on the pictures and approaching the kitchen island in middle of the common area. “That’s odd.”

“See, you keep saying things like that, but it’s really not. Odd. It’s not odd,” Alex mutters, shaking the clacking pill bottle. “When you’re beat black and blue, it is normal to take pain medicine. What’s odd is that I’m skipping the prescription and opting for over-the-counter, because I’m a federal agent who doesn’t need to get hooked on any serious drugs.”

“You… you’re black and blue?”

“Means bruised.”

“Your bruises are that dark?”

“Well, yeah. What color are Kryptonian bruises? I know you don’t get hurt here, but back on Krypton you must’ve—”

“Kryptonian medicine was leaps and bounds ahead of Earthly prescription drugs. We did not often bruise, nor did we fall ill,” Astra explains. “In battle we fought, we recovered, and then continued fighting. Recovery periods were no longer than ten hours at their lengthiest; for serious injuries, possibly a day.”

“I bet you had really low-cost, quality healthcare, too,” Alex rolls her eyes.

“Would it be overstepping if I asked to see them?” Astra asks, crossing her hands before her on the counter top. Alex wonders if it’s an offering of trust, Astra keeping her hands in plain view. “Your injuries?”

“You want to see how easily we break?” Alex returns, skeptical.

“I hope that does not register as—”

“Cruel?”

“I was going to say… harsh,” Astra mumbles.

“There’s that double-speak. No wonder you went turncoat,” Alex sighs, moving out from behind the island, reaching for the hem of her shirt. “Are you sure you weren’t a senator or something, back on Krypton?”

“You say these things as if it is an insult,” Astra says, seemingly confused. “On Krypton it was an honor to be chosen to represent the interests of your people. A position of the greatest service. A senator should be happy to speak on behalf of her constituents.”

“I can’t believe that you’ve been watching our news cycles for a decade, if you still think that,” Alex remarks. She’s now within two feet of the woman who beat her senseless, about to take her shirt off.

Something is wrong with this picture. It feels... reckless, and maybe that's why she's consented to it automatically.

“I can’t extend my arm for too long, because it still kinda hurts, so get a good look while you can, okay?” Alex lifts the hem of her shirt over her abdomen on the side.

She realizes once she’s got it half way up her torso that she’s not wearing a bra—it’s the middle of the night—and doesn’t feel like exposing herself any more than she already is.The majority of the bruising has faded to swampish globs of green and a jaundiced yellow, but there are two dark indigo circles where a fist and a kneecap connected solidly with her body. She moves gingerly in this position as Astra stares at the discolorations.

“Why is your skin a rainbow?” Astra asks.

“Seriously? That’s what bruising looks like—” Alex catches herself, trying to recall her patience from back when Kara didn’t know anything, either. In some ways, because Astra only observed, never incorporated, she’s just as foreign as Kara was upon arrival. “When you hit something hard enough,” Alex explains, “these tiny vessels beneath your skin, they’re called capillaries, they burst. And the blood under the skin forms a bruise, like these.”

“But they fade, correct?” Astra questions, tentatively reaching her hand out. “No, I’m sorry.”

“Just… careful,” Alex says, taking Astra’s hand and guiding it toward her rib cage.

Alex places it against her marred skin, her hand unfathomably soft for a military officer. Alex at least expected a callus, maybe a blister, a patch of dry skin… eczema. But she’s just like Kara; smooth on the outside, and so much power on the inside. The light from the lamp hardly reaches the kitchen; Alex can barely make out the shift of colors on her abdomen, but Astra looks at the gradient like it’s a mystery to be solved, like she could study Alex’s obliques and they would reveal every answer those confounding humans had ever hidden from her.

“You’re warm,” Astra says, tearing her eyes away from Alex’s torso to look her in the face.

“Uhm,” Alex says, because the two of them are really close together. “Yeah, well, it’s blood, like I said,” Alex takes a step back and pulls her shirt down. Alex knows her heart rate is galloping; hopefully, if questioned, she can play it off as fear. She doesn’t know what she’d rather Astra suspect. That’s she’s afraid of her or that she’s—well, best not to even think it. “They do fade,” Alex says. “Or else I’d be all these different colors from head to toe.”

“You’ve been injured like this before?” Astra remarks.

“Growing up with Kara? Who do you think taught her to reign it all in?” Alex grins a little.

It’s the second time in fifteen minutes that Astra goes stiff as a board. And Alex wants to throw her hands up and holler what now?!?!, but she can’t, because her ribs feel like they’ve been pulverized by Ronda Rousey.

“Growing—growing up together?” Astra repeats, then turns on her heel, marches toward the corkboard, and pries it off the wall with little effort. She slams it on the counter with such force the dirty glasses on the counter top shake, and Alex isn’t too thrilled with the holes in the dry wall where the wall mounts have come loose.

It’s not like aliens have to pay superintendents for damages.

“I knew you were close, that’s why I picked you,” Astra mumbles, shuffling over the push pins, plucking photographs from the far edges of the cork board like a manic scrapbooker.

“Picked me?” Alex asks.

“I thought you were her handler,” Astra barks. Astra works in a flurry that’s so quick Alex isn’t sure the alien’s hands have moved at all.

But as she looks down, Alex sees that Astra has the printed pictures of the two of them, her and Kara, sometimes with her mom, sometimes with random extended relatives and neighbors and friends from back home, arranged in something close to chronological order. Her focus is fixed on the earliest photo, when Kara still had those blunt bangs across her forehead. She’s sporting a tight-lipped smile and Alex is smirking over to the side, taking too much pleasure in Kara’s nervousness for her first day of human school.

“Are you okay?” Alex asks after a few silent moments.

Astra’s trying really hard not to cry right now, and it’s making Alex uncomfortable.

Astra doesn’t answer, so Alex slides onto the bar stool next to her, and just starts talking.

“I was really mean to her that day,” she says as Astra blinks, and runs her finger reverently around the corner of the photo.

“She was so incredibly nervous and I think I said something comforting like, ‘C’mon Kara, it’s just school’.”

Astra continues to stare silently, holding the picture with both hands, her fingers curling over the edges.

“I was such a brat at that point,” Alex says quietly, rubbing the sandy feeling from behind her scratchy lids. “Insensitive. But then again, who wouldn’t be jealous of a new little sister who could fly?”

Astra smirks at the commentary, and then, like a switch suddenly flipped, that smirk spreads to the purest, most genuine expression Alex has ever seen on her face—and it’s a smile that could change worlds. Alex wonders if it’s something about Kryptonians, about the whole sun-absorption characteristic, that they must radiate some of that energy in another way. And Alex has found it, between Kara’s smile, the occasional grins from Clark at family gatherings, and now, Astra… it’s like concentrated sun beams shoot out of their faces, and it makes Alex feel a little bit brighter, makes her hurt just a little bit less.

“What’s this? Why the robe?” Astra questions, pointing toward the picture of Kara getting ready for junior prom.

“It’s for a dance,” Alex says.

“A… dance? Like, a ball? Or a festival!”

“Nothing quite so elaborate,” Alex replies. “She went solo, which was good for her. Well, it was with a group of people, so nobody had to couple up. She made friends easily. I didn’t have to worry about her socializing when I went off to college.”

“You weren’t with her then?” Astra asks.

“No, my mom took this and sent it to me in the mail,” Alex explains. “She wasn’t on Facebook then, so I got a print photo to put in a frame, for once.”

“Your mother put her face in the book to deliver a photograph?” Astra questions, and it’s phrased with the utmost curious sincerity that Alex has to work overtime not to snort at the question.

“Not quite,” Alex says, rising from the stool to follow through on a random idea.

“Wait,” Astra says, reaching out to grab Alex’s forearm.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Alex says. “I thought you might want to see more pictures.”

“There are more?” Astra’s eyes widen eagerly.

“Yeah, but I’ve got to go grab my laptop. And I want to get that spy beacon out of my drawer. I can’t turn the damn thing off.”

“The light doesn’t fade until it is partnered with its twin,” Astra explains, pulling a glowing disc from a zipper that Alex did not think was physically possible to have sewn on that fabric given the tightness of the catsuit. “It must be touched to its partner disc, to extinguish the light.”

“Annoying, don’t you think? Like a flashlight you can’t turn off,” Alex says.

“It keeps you accountable to whomever’s on the other side.”

“I… suppose I could see the merit of a device like that. It’s not like you can turn off your read receipts to know if the other person saw it.”

“What?” Astra asks, blanking on human technologies once more.

“This is Kara all over again,” Alex sighs, slapping the side of her thighs and heading down the hall. She emerges moments later with her laptop cradled against her chest and the spy beacon in hand, glowing brighter than the 60 watt bulb in her lamp. She watches as Astra extends the partner spy beacon and the light brightens, fades, and the discs return to normal.

“Cool,” Alex says, settling back onto the stool beside the general. She pushes the beacons away and props the computer on the counter, then turns to Astra. “So,” Alex begins, opening the laptop and running her fingers over the trackpad to wake it up. “This is a computer.”

“I know what a computer is,” Astra snaps, though she scrutinizes Alex’s fingers as she types her password at Kyptonian-like speed.

“Do you know what social media is?”

“It’s… media that humans discuss with each other?” Astra says, her voice hitching higher at the end uncertainly. And dammit if it isn’t like her niece, endearing in a naïve way that Astra certainly isn’t. Or at least, in a way that Alex’s current understanding of Astra isn’t.

“That’s… not technically incorrect,” Alex explains. “But for now, I’m going to show you pictures of Kara. There’s lots of them, entire albums uploaded to the Internet.”

“So, I could look at these anytime?”

“You’ve said that your forces have plugged into the ‘world wide web.’ And don’t ever call it that again; that term is dated. Just say uploaded to the Internet,” Alex sniggers. “If you’ve got Internet access, you can see some of these pictures. You’d have to be her Friend to get access to everything, but you’d at least get a couple of profile pictures, since her privacy settings are relatively low. Hmm…” Alex muses to herself. “We might need to get the DEO to change that—”

“I don’t want to be her friend,” Astra says seriously. “I want to be her family.”

“That’s not…” Alex exhales heavily, because under all the humorous misunderstandings there’s a woman who’s still hurting. Still hurting, because the closest thing she ever had to a daughter hates her guts. “We’ve got a ways to go,” Alex says. “But I can probably help with that.”

Alex clicks on one of her favorite pictures: she has her arms wrapped around Kara and she’s hoisting her up by the waist, sea foam chasing her ankles. She’s trying to dunk her at the beach but Kara was stronger, even on their first vacation together. But her younger sister had played along spectacularly, had smiled, open-mouthed and cackling so hard she’d gotten a stomach full of salt water for her joy. Alex clicks again and she and Kara are posing for Eliza, standing side by side with the ocean at their backs, beaming at the camera like there aren’t aliens or secret government agencies or prospects of torture in their futures. They’re just two sisters, best friends, having the time of their lives.

“You two look so happy,” Astra says, leaning closer toward the screen.

“Here, I can blow it up for you—”

“NO!” Astra gasps, grabbing Alex’s hands.

“That means make it bigger, so you don’t have to strain your eyes.”

“My eyes do not strain,” Astra says, as her focus shifts from the screen to their entwined hands, then returns to hold Alex’s stare.

Alex fidgets, but Astra’s fingers in hers are solid and pleasant. Those fingers have put pen to paper, have made her bleed, have made her feel like she stood a good chance at defeating an entire army of aliens. There’s so much potential in the hands holding hers and Astra doesn’t know anything about the world, not really—Alex wonders how someone could ever be so funny and so depressing simultaneously.

“Let me show you,” Alex murmurs, breaking eye contact and clicking the option for full-screen.

The image adjusts and their smiles are bigger, a little more pixilated given the quality of the older photograph, but the blurriness fades after a moment.

“You did this for her… well, perhaps not this, specifically,” Astra says, studying Alex at her side, taking in all of Alex on the chair at the bar—her bruised skin and her unkempt bed head and her pale face. Alex doesn’t like the way those eyes hit every portion of her body, as if a stare was the equivalent of a physical blow.

“You helped her grow up,” Astra says.

“Yes,” Alex answers, because she doesn’t know what Astra wants from her.

“Sisters,” Astra whispers, and the moisture makes a repeat performance. She tries to shake it off and swipe away an stubborn tear. Alex places a hand on Astra’s back and waits, allows her to process on her own time. Astra turns into her and wraps her arms around Alex’s middle, maneuvers one hand underneath her armpit so that she reaches overtop Alex’s shoulder blade and cradles the base of her head.

Alex freezes. The last time Astra’s hands were at her skull they were ripping strands of hair from their follicles. But Astra holds her so carefully, wary of breaking her, scared to press even the slightest against the spectrum of bruising she never knew painted Alex’s torso. Alex's hands settle lightly on Astra's shoulders as she recalls Astra’s first letter, her description of humans—delicate, flimsy.

He would’ve torn you to pieces.

Everything is off-balance; Alex doesn’t know what to feel.

“Thank you,” Astra whispers into her neck.

Alex shakes—she doesn’t know why, because Astra isn’t hurting her in the slightest—so Astra pulls back immediately.

“I’m sorry,” Astra says, hesitating, but after a nod from Alex, she places a careful hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t mean to harm you.”

“It’s fine,” Alex shrugs, turns so Astra’s hand drops back into her own personal space.

She’d never have pegged Astra to be so tactile, but wagers it’s a Kryptonian thing. Non had opened his and Astra’s negotiations with that God-awful kiss. Astra had stroked her cheek, just to intimidate her, all those months ago on her first encounter with the Hellgrammite, when Alex had mistaken her for Alura. Astra always kept Kara close in physical skirmishes. And Kara herself loves hugs; it had killed her to rein that tactility in when she first arrived on Earth, but time passed, and Kara learned. It surprised Alex that the idea of teaching Astra things—technology, slang, maybe even hugging—it isn’t unappealing.

Because she’s already been through it with Kara.

Obviously.

If anyone could teach a Kryptonian, especially one with a military background, it should be Alex Danvers. Of course. Then, once everything blew over, Astra could come and work for the DEO. Because of the military background. Because of Kara. Because she’d probably be locked up there for twenty-five to life anyway.

Sure.

“So, you want the life’s story, or what?” Alex asks, propping her elbow up on the bar for what was likely going to be an extended conversation.

“I would like nothing more,” Astra replies, and gives Alex that sun-infused smile again.

Alex tells herself that the tingly feeling in her gut is because she’s helping to rebuild a family. Because she’s going to do right by Kara, make her sister happy again. There’s no other reason that her stomach swoops when Astra smiles.

No reason whatsoever.

Chapter Text

You mean to say—” Astra smiles, and Alex can’t get enough of it. It’s 6:27 a.m., early enough for her to put the kettle on to make coffee, late enough that she doesn’t feel strange for getting some caffeine in her system before the sun comes fully up over the skyscrapers downtown.

“—that Kara fell down in the middle of a field after you gave her a cup of that?” Astra finishes.

“After she ran the length of North America. We didn’t tell my parents about that one.”

Alex pulls her favorite dark roast from the pantry and plugs in the electric grinder.

“Alcohol doesn’t seem to affect her as much as caffeine,” Alex explains, shaking the beans into the top of the appliance. “It’s the difference between a depressant and a stimulant, I guess. I’ve seen her drunk… maybe twice? But that was after more Jell-O shots made with Everclear than a human with a functioning liver should ever ingest. But I would not like to see a Kryptonian after a Redbull.”

“What’s an Everclear?” Astra asks from her perch atop the bar stool. “Or… a Redbull Jell-O shot?”

“That’s not necessary information for you,” Alex smirks. “Heads up, it’s about to get loud in here.” She depresses the button that sets the blade spinning, the zzzziiiiiirrrrrhhhhh of the grinder no doubt bombarding Astra’s sensitive hearing.

“Why do you do that?” Astra asks, watching her every move, tracking her coffee-making routine as if she would be tested on the procedure afterwards.

“Do what?” Alex asks.

“You… alert me when something excessive will come,” Astra explains. “When the noises grow louder. When you turned on the lights overhead. When you put that… that bowl in the—the macro—”

“Microwave,” Alex corrects, turning to fill her kettle with water from the sink.

She plunks the metal top back on and places it over the eye of the stove, the tick tick tick of the gas, the whoosh of the ignition, somehow symphonic in the early morning. And then there’s Astra’s voice, lyrical and melodious and soothing, and a bunch of other adjectives Alex should not associate with General Astra of the Alien Opposition. Not like her secret alien pen pal should be singing an aubade backed by an orchestra, just for Alex as the water boils for coffee, as the strained night fades to easy morning.

As she leaves before anyone can catch her slipping through Alex’s window in the daylight. There’s no telling what onlookers, outsiders, bereft of context, might suspect.

“Microwave,” Astra repeats easily, and Alex grins in her direction.

It’s been just over two solid hours of Alex telling stories, providing Astra with the most general and condensed outline of Kara’s timeline on Earth that she can recount. It’s all jumbled up for Alex though, because certain events stand our far more clearly than others. But there are instances, much of her freshman year in college, which coincided with Kara’s sophomore year in high school, that she can scarce remember anything major going on with her sister. There’s “Earthday” parties and Kara’s first kiss, her first driving lesson and the first time she took Alex flying. The experiments—Alex with her stopwatch and clipboard and Kara making the country mile—scientist and subject even during the early years.

“Do you mind if I turn on music?” Alex asks, picking up her phone and swiping towards her radio app. “Kara always had a hard time filtering everything, up here, you know?” Alex gestures towards her head.

“I have no objection,” Astra replies, standing from the bar stool and crossing toward Alex’s window. “It’s likely far more pleasant than the racket from the outside.”

“Racket?” Alex asks, abandoning the kitchen to follow the alien General into her sitting area. “I guess I should’ve locked the window once you got back in. I’ve got sealants on that front window, nearest the street,” Alex points, outlining the frame at the opposite end of her apartment. “When Kara comes over for TV night, it’s easier for her to concentrate on the sound with less,” Alex spins her index finger up by her head, “—racket, as you said, coming in. And I guess that’s the answer to your question.”

“The answer?” Astra asks, gracefully leaning back against the wall.

It’s more relaxed than Alex has ever seen her, the posture, the pretense, abandoned in lieu of comfort, in place of ease. Alex’s stomach does that damn flopping again, knowing she can somehow lower a Kryptonian general’s guard.

“To why I warn you,” Alex explains.

The sun’s streaming in through the windows now, Alex’s blinds tilted open and the apartment awash with soft, striated light. Astra still looks tired, but the corner of her mouth ticks up when the sun hits her skin; Alex wonders if she retreated to the window to recharge, to feel the natural warmth on her body. She imagines Astra stretched languidly, a cat in her suit, laid out flat on the hardwood and catching every single ray the window would allow. And then, when the window failed to provide enough coverage for her whole body, she imagined Astra punching through the side of her apartment building to create a large enough window to her liking.

Which would cost a helluva lot more than a patch-up job on the drywall.

“I had to get used to alerting Kara,” Alex explains. “It took a while, and it was more my dad than me. He taught Kara how to filter, how to turn the volume knob down on the sensations. Smells, like… like extra cinnamon in my oatmeal?” Alex indicates the bowl in the sink, her breakfast she’d scarfed down an hour ago. “It would send Kara’s nose going crazy. If I turned on a light too soon, like in the mornings, to get her up for school? It was blinding, even behind her eyelids. The first time I let her try Thai food was a disaster. Her taste buds kicked into overdrive and she had to drink a gallon of water. Honestly, it’s not even that spicy.”

“So you’re… alerting me? Helping to prepare me for the onslaught of sensation?”

“Old habits,” Alex shrugs.

“What about them?”

“Huh?”

“What about your old habits?” Astra asks, on the verge of exasperation. “Do you realize that you rarely finish your thoughts?”

Alex chuckles, retreating to the kitchen as she hears the first high whistle from the kettle.

“There’s a saying on Earth,” she explains, removing the kettle from the heat. “Old habits die hard.”

“Habits cannot die,” Astra corrects. “They—oh,” she stops, mulling over the words. “I… I understand.”

Alex wonders if the phrase is the best for a General making attempts at a new life. One who, no matter how much time she’s spent on Earth, is painfully unaware of Earthly things.

“Music time,” Alex declares.

She turns on her favored classic rock station as she pours the hot water over the grounds. The Steve Miller Band plays first, so Alex stops, takes a minute, thinks about her dad and all those early years, even before Kara, when he’d take her riding with this cassette tape in that crappy truck. It was so damn all-American, no one would have ever guessed the man was actually one of the foremost scientists of his generation—as opposed to a middle-class wage worker in a factory, a farmer, a tradesman in a Midwest Chevy advert.

“So, I have a proposition for you,” Alex begins, leaving the coffee grounds to steep. She leans back against her counter, tries not to think about her father; she crosses her arms over her chest as she summons the courage for her request. “An appeal, of sorts.”

“I feel like I owe you a great debt,” Astra says, gesturing toward the counter top with the pictures, the laptop that’s been powered down for an hour.

But even with the stories of Kara, Alex had drifted off course. To her own interests, to funny stories where she was the protagonist, and Astra had never stopped her, never tried to redirect her back to her niece. Had only listened, with open ears and wide eyes, as Alex relayed missteps and triumphs of her past.

And Astra asked her questions. So many questions, about coffee and caffeine effects, about Moscow and microscopes, about fighting and fleeing and family and future, whether she was in line for a promotion, a shift up the ranks.

Director Danvers,” Astra had mocked her in the earlier stillness of dawn, when her white streak had gone lilac in the grey morning light.

General Astra In-Ze, first daughter, Arclo-whatever… OBE,” Alex had jested, with an added salute and a click of her heels to add levity to the address.

And now Alex is proposing the one action that could ruin it all; she’s suggesting a revelation to the one person who could tear down the secret relationship… correspondence, Alex mentally corrects, that they’ve been cultivating for months. If the girl’s history with secrets is any indicator.

“I think we should tell Kara,” Alex says flatly, her gaze fixed on the floor.

“About us?” Astra questions, which garners an immediate head snap from Alex, eye contact, red cheeks and melting of the face.

“Uh… us?” Alex asks, and when the hell did it get so hot in her apartment? The steam from the kettle condensates at her elbow as she flutters about, stepping away from her perch near the counter in order to distance herself from the infernal wet heat that’s suddenly enveloped her body.

“Our… working together?” Astra questions immediately. “Your heart is racing. Are you sure that caffeine is good for you while you’re taking medication?”

“No it’s… uh, sometimes the drugs—they do that,” Alex lies, turning back around to the stove. “Remember who’s the doctor here,” she mumbles.

Alex can’t look at her, because she’s an otherworldly knockout— who has previously knocked her out. It’s bad, problematic, wrong on multiple levels. Alex knows, logically, that these feeling should not be registering. Plus, Alex hasn’t been with another woman since postgrad; Ilona, all blonde curves and thick Russian consonants. But Astra’s in her apartment during the early morning, and it’s like Alex could be cooking her breakfast after a fun night, like they’re sneaking around before Kara comes in to check on—

“Shit,” Alex slams the plunger on the French press too fast, and at this point, her morning liquid kickstart has probably been reduced to gross clumps of coffee grounds.

“Is there a problem?” Astra asks, bored for all of Alex's momentary panic. “Your human profanity leaves much to be desired.”

“Kara’s going to be here any minute,” Alex explains. “She always comes by to check on me before she heads to Catco. Well, this week anyway, ever since the…” Alex gestures to her body. She’d done really well so far, not pointing out that Astra had beat her to the point that she’d had to dismiss herself from work.

“So… I should go?” Astra asks, her brow furrowing in confusion. “Didn’t you just say that we should speak with her? About our partnership?”

“Yes, but not here!” Alex insists, her heart rate picking up even more than it had been when she’d thought of Astra lying nude—shit, fully clothed, like a normal person, in the sun. “I’d rather not have more holes in my wall, and a Kryptonian with a grudge is sure to get me some structural damage.”

Alex jerks her head over to indicate the spot where Astra had torn her bulletin board off its hinges, leaving two sizable gaps in the drywall.

“Yes, well,” Astra turns, and Alex swears the woman is blushing, but it could be her own wishful thinking.

Alex decides she's not had enough sleep, even on her prescribed bed rest.

“We’ll go back to our messaging system, then?” Astra nods, turning toward the window facing the alley. “For movements concerning my forces, the shorthand notes will be transferred under the brick.”

“Exactly,” Alex agrees, following in her footsteps hurriedly. “And then for… uhm, more…”

Alex shakes her head, licks her lips and tries to do a million other minor physical things with her body to stall. Bite her fingernail? Tuck her hair behind her ear? Quirk her lip or scrunch her nose or tap her toe or what thing can she pull off without behaving like some twitchy idiot?

“It’s personal correspondence, Alexandra,” Astra says, placing her hand on the windowsill. “When I wish to know more about this world,” she clarifies. “About your culture, or about Kara’s life. How you fare, with everything that you must bear, all the challenges you cope with, in your… very fragile life.”

Astra casts a careful glance around the apartment: simple, utilitarian, perhaps even dull compared to the design work and color Kara favors in her own décor. There's the odd pop of color over primarily muted neutrals, IKEA furniture that's certainly lived in, but nothing overly special. Alex doesn't spend enough time at home to feel like she needs to make her space homey. But if Astra starts coming by, even just to discuss military movements... she could stand adding a fleece throw over the back of the couch, or something.

Alex clenches her jaw as she assesses her own apartment; feels judged, yet desires feedback from Astra, even if it’s scathing.

“I don’t think I ever understood, not truly,” Astra says, those calculating grey eyes making a final sweep around the room, a final sweep over Alex’s recovering frame. “How much you risk with what you do. It is more than duty to you, Agent Alexandra Danvers.”

“I told you, it’s just Alex,” Alex corrects, but Astra’s already got a limber leg swung over the window sill, her hand propping the frame in place as she ducks slightly, like she knows very well which address Alex prefers, and refuses to comply.

“I thought it was Dostoevsky,” she counters.

“Tolstoy,” Alex nods, but as Astra preps for take-off (just like Kara), Alex catches her.

“Hey, wait a sec,” Alex stalls (knows she shouldn’t, does it anyway).

“Yes?”

“You say you read about Earth, right?” Alex asks, anxiety swelling in her gut like a water balloon. “I’m guessing mainly nonfiction?”

“My research benefits most from nonfiction, yes.”

“Have you ever read War and Peace?” Alex asks.

“War and peace? I live it,” Astra replies. “Well… somewhat.”

“I meant the novel, by Tolstoy.”

“That’s an actual name?” Astra questions.

“Russian author. I took a class or two, while I was in Moscow. As much as I love the lab, it was nice to sink into another person’s problems for a while,” Alex crosses to her bookshelf, pulls the tome from her collection.

“It seems as though these people have many problems,” Astra says, eyeing the thickness of the paper, the thousand or so pages.

“Well, Kara speed-reads. This shouldn’t take you too long,” Alex answers. “That is, if you even want to read it. Have time. If you’d, uhm, like to borrow it.”

“This book. You like it?” Astra asks.

“Like I said, I read it in grad school.”

“But you like it, correct? You wouldn’t have it otherwise, a book of stories, with no useful facts. It must bring you satisfaction in some way, to warrant space on your shelf.”

Alex blinks at Astra’s deduction. She knows her tastes are strange, in entertainment, music, occupation, lifestyle, and she doesn’t exactly have the time to sit for hours on end, devouring piece after piece of pop lit. She likes these long Russian novels; is familiar enough with historical trajectory that she can open it at any point, and gobble up some decent philosophical prose.

How do you stay a good person, when the world is so bad? That’s what those long, sometimes tedious novels were about. But it’s good to know people wrestled with that question hundreds of years ago. That Astra, lightyears away, wrestled with some version of it as well. That future generations, centuries after she’s been rotting dead in the ground, will likely still be puzzling out an answer.

“I do. I like it a lot,” Alex answers. “I think there’s themes in there—” Redemption, loss, falling out of love, “—that you would appreciate.”

“I’ll trust your recommendation, then,” Astra says.

“I wouldn’t want to waste your time,” Alex says, extending the pages, her own peace offering. It doesn’t glow, but it’s been a source of comfort for her in the past, maybe like the spy beacon was once for Astra.

“You never waste my time,” Astra says, taking the weathered paperback, tucking it close beneath her arm. “Thank you.”

“Expect a letter soon,” Alex says, by way of moving this departure along. “We’ll figure something out about a meet-up with Kara.”

“Of course.”

“Great. I’ll… write you, General.”

“Alexandra,” Astra dips her head, clutches the book, then shoots off like a weirdly attractive missile.

Alex turns back to her kitchen and hates that Freddie Mercury decided to start wailing about a Killer Queen. She loves the song, but skips it out of spite. Ten minutes and a few guitar and drum solos later she hears the ding of her phone, a message from Kara.

On the way up. U ok? Saw your window open.

It’s very late winter on the west coast, mild, at least compared to the rest of the country. But there had been a lingering heat in the night once Astra arrived, a swampiness Alex thought she could combat with an open window, an unspoken invitation.

Fine, just got hot last night, she types.

She sends the message because she can’t say it to her sister’s face. Has no idea how she’s going to explain away the corkboard and crumbling bits of apartment. Alex thinks it might save her a lot of grief if she just makes a third indent by shoving her head through the wall.

Chapter Text

It’s been a week and Alex can’t shake the feeling in her gut.

It's not just attraction (she doesn’t have x-ray vision but she’s not blind) but sympathy, admiration, and maybe a little intrigue. Alex has never once taken for granted her proximity to aliens, and the knowledge that she gets to perform the exceptional as part of her daily routine fuels her adrenaline addiction, her quest to know more.

She’s closing in on thirty and the idea of a crush is juvenile, but her interest concerning Astra, definitely bordering on impropriety, has been at the forefront of her mind ever since she got stuck at a DEO desk.

Like hell is she doing the paperwork they put in front of her; most of her time is spent brainstorming control experiments and typing up requisition forms for cadaver bodies and the like, her focus back in her lab, occasionally drifting to the sleek little disc in her pocket.

It’s strange, because she’s really only seen Astra for a handful of hours over months of correspondence. And she thinks she’s been spoiled, somehow, in the elaborate trajectory of kidnapping and rescue and… she hesitates to call it resolution, because nothing has been resolved. But she finally got to see her, to talk to her, to put expressions to the intimacy of the letters and shorthand that they’d built together. Alex flops back in her rollie desk chair, desperate for the doctor to release her to the gym so she can work out some of her frustration on a punching bag.

Astra’s leaving her letters every night now; they’ve apprehended two more alien hostiles within the week, lower-level intergalactic mercenaries according to Astra’s intel. The random lost soldiers the DEO apprehends aren’t registering on Astra's officers’ radar, mainly because there’s so many of them, Astra reminds her.

And as much as Astra desires to help, the idea that it all will come to a head, in a month, a year, a decade, cannot be put aside for long. But as Alex waits for that fateful, terrible, combative day, she reads more letters.

Astra writes about her Kryptonian anatomy, in a purely scientific way, of course. Alex asks her questions and she responds as truthfully as she can, knowing just a bit more than Kara, considering her niece’s level of general knowledge at the time she was whisked away in a pod from Krypton. Astra’s had some basic first-aid training for field medication, and it strikes Alex again that Astra was once a foot soldier, or at least a low-level officer, and has had to work her way up the chain of command. Astra’s probably seen trench warfare, has sat herself in a fighter jet cockpit, has manned the Kryptonian equivalent of a bazooka.

There’s so much Alex doesn’t know about Astra and likely never will—and it makes her more morose than she has any right to be.

Astra writes about War and Peace, wonders if it’s history or fiction or religious studies, perhaps even philosophical guidance. Her questions are searching, carefully composed: What would you do, Alexandra, if you were called away to battle, knowing you’d never see Kara again? How would you spend your final moments together?

It’s not fair that Astra is as intelligent as she is badass, as hot as she is intimidating. Roll it all into a single being and nobody, human or Kryptonian or the many species in between, could ever stand a chance. Alex bets that’s why she’s survived wars, survived planetary destruction and torture sessions and dissension from within; because she’s just… Astra.

“Head in the game, Danvers,” Hank walks by, sliding a folder across the desk at the entrance to the command room. “Just because I can’t have you up and about doesn’t mean you get to daydream the hours away.”

“You could send me back to my lab, sir. I’m making headway with the skin cells,” she manages.

“You’re not supposed to be on your feet for that many hours. Doctor’s orders.”

“You really think I stayed off my feet all that time in my apartment, sir?” Alex challenges.

Hank grumbles a little bit, shakes his head and walks off. She thinks she hears something to the effect of “unwise reconnaissance relationships”; something about Hank knowing she’s been with Astra makes her skin burn. She pulls out Astra’s latest letter, a personal one, that the General had stuck in the first volume of The Encyclopedia of Rock ‘N Roll back at the National City Library.

Dostoevsky,

I recalled the lyrics to those songs emitting from your small communication device. After some quick research, I found that the genre of music you played the morning I spent with you was called Rock ‘N Roll. It’s a fascinating subset of your music. I thought you might find this interesting.

And dammit if she didn’t read the first volume cover to cover on her final thirty-six hours of bed rest, because it was interesting. She nearly went back to get the second volume about the British Invasion, but stopped herself, knowing she had a mountain of paperwork awaiting her. But knowing that Astra remembered something about her interests, even an irrelevant something, knowing that Astra took the time to pay attention... it's kinda messing with Alex's job performance.

Alex goes to the DEO and doesn’t think about the field aspect of the job. Instead, it’s Kara and Astra; she thinks about her lab, thinks about the potential she has to somehow bring the niece and aunt together again. Be the bridge, emotional or maybe… scientific, between the two. Alex has changed her daily route so she can stop by the Fifth street coffee shop to pick up her letter, or the sticky note with the call number that will lead her to her letter. She tucks every missive into a folder hidden in a miscellaneous drawer in her apartment.

At first, it was going to be evidence of a triple cross, if Astra ended up betraying her.

But now it’s a lot more than that, and if she’s being truthful, it’s unsettling how much she looks forward to them. To conversation that has less to do with her work and everything to do with her. It’s unsettling because Alex craves more of it; wants so desperately to see Astra again, even though it might not be safe. She broaches the subject in her next personal letter, folded carefully within the pages of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Tolstoy,

Any chance you could get away from the army to meet up with myself and our Dear Friend? It would be best, I think, to do so in a public place, in case our Dear Friend gets gun shy. They’ll be less likely to cause a scene with civilians around. It would be easier if you came and found me before meeting up with our Dear Friend. I’d want to make sure you… blended into your surroundings. Camouflage, after all, is essential for subterfuge. With the knowledge that a public gathering in daylight might be best, you’ll know your routine better than I. Getting rid of… any sympathizers on your side could pose a problem, but I urge you to write back to me as soon as you’ve found a good time. I’m really looking forward to seeing you again, and I know, with a bit of talking, some explanation, some apologizing and groveling, our Dear Friend will be, too.

The sign off is always the hardest part. Astra’s words are so specific, formal when necessary, fond when the formality has fallen away. Alex frequently signs her codename and lets it end there, but she feels differently, now. Even if her attachment to Astra is not in her own best interests (or even halfway to being requited), she at least wants to remain on civil, friendly terms with the general.

Thank you for all of your help, answering so many of my questions. The more I write, the more I look forward to what you’ll say next, not just about the fighting. You’re… interesting. And I’m not stupid or proud enough to say that I know everything, that I couldn’t learn from you. I can learn, and I enjoy it because I’m good at it. And if I can teach you anything about reconciliation, then I’ll call it a favor returned.

The pen in her hand makes her brave. She hasn’t seen Astra in a week, so it’s essential that she get everything down, before she’s confronted by the woman who had originally hated her, hit her, then helped her, and held her so carefully, the night they hugged and Alex shook in Astra’s arms. The moment hasn’t left her.

Let me know as soon as you can.

She writes quickly, back to business.

I’ll need to coordinate with our Dear Friend, and you and I will need a battle plan.

Your friend,

Dostoevsky

Chapter Text

It’s silly to be nervous. Alex has faced death more times than she can count, has defended her country and her planet and her work against any number of invaders and skeptics. Has commanded an entire secret government organization, given National City’s alien hero advice and guidance more times than she can count.

So why does she feel so damn jittery?

It’s early hours again, just before dawn. Astra’s coming, and they’re talking to Kara before the younger woman has to head into CatCo, extra work for a Saturday. Of course, Kara just thinks her sister’s being sympathetic, wants to take her out to breakfast at her new favorite coffee place to commiserate over her extra workday.

It feels like the worst ambush she’s ever planned in her life.

Hi sis, here’s your pumpkin thing overloaded with sugar. Also, here’s your aunt that’s punched you and thrown you through a wall. But that’s okay! Because she’s punched me, too! And she’s got a really great right hook and biceps that could crush assorted nuts for a Christmas tray, AND she’s been writing me secret letters for the past four months.

Talk! Enjoy!

Don’t kill me.

Alex wants coffee, but thinks it’s redundant to make a pot when they’re supposed to meet up with Kara for breakfast and lattes by 7:30 at the place on Fifth. Her sister had balked at the early meeting time on a Saturday morning since she wasn’t supposed to check in at CatCo until Ms. Grant waltzed in, which would be closer to the nine o’clock hour. Alex thinks even if it goes poorly, Kara and Astra will still need an hour or so to hash out everything—probably a lot more time than that—but an hour would be good to start with, even if she had to play referee to an early morning alien brawl.

She’s up before dawn again, waiting on Astra to come in so they can get her dressed in “human” clothes. It shouldn’t take too long; it wasn’t like Alex had to run out and purchase anything new. She and Astra were about the same size, and, if the catsuit was anything to go by, the woman had a preference for black. Not that Alex had a particular love for the color, even though Kara always assumed so. It was necessity, the most work-appropriate and the easiest to stain with blood or chemicals or unnamable fluids either in the field or in the lab. She’d sure as hell love to pull a fire engine red dress out for kicks, but Alex could count the number of times on her hand she’d attended an event where she could wear a scarlet dress. It was a waste of time, money and energy to invest in something colorful when she’d never get the chance to wear it.

Pragmatic to a fault, Alex pulled out a few pair of dark pants, a couple of shirts and a blouse or two, even a ball cap, just to give Astra some options. Alex was dressed in running clothes, compression capris with sneakers and an athletic tee. If it went well, she intended to dismiss herself and give the pair of aliens time alone to catch-up, to clear the air. To talk about… whatever it was Astra needed to get off her chest. And Kara being Kara, would hopefully take the first tentative steps to forgiveness, to acceptance.

And then, when they didn’t have to worry as much about Astra’s forces trailing them, Alex would suggest her two favorite aliens go flying together.

two favorite aliens…

Correction:

That Kara go flying with her aunt. Right. Because she wants someone to fly with.

Alex has only one favorite alien. Two, if Hank counts for anything. Astra’s just… an ally.

There’s a banging on her window and then the sound of shattering glass, followed by a frustrated string of Kryptonese syllables.

Alex has heard Kara mumble and immediately blush afterward enough times to know some of those words are Kryptonian swears. She turns from her kitchen to the side window where Astra hovers uncertainly in midair, her nose twitching distastefully at the broken window. Alex wonders if she’ll have much of an apartment left by the end of her meetings with Astra.

“By Rao, why they keep that flimsy material for their windows in beyond comprehension—”

“Please tell me you’re not talking to the brick wall,” Alex mutters.

“Your building materials could stand an upgrade,” Astra snips, her hair flapping in the windstream of the alley. “I barely touched it.”

“Tell that to the number of ruined Walkmans of mine that Kara ‘barely touched’.”

“You have men… walking with you?”

“It’s not enough my references are dated,” Alex muses, swooping her arm to grant Astra access into the place. She turns to retrieve a broom and dustpan from the cupboard. “It’s that I make references at all.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Astra huffs, stooping to pick up some of the larger shards of glass.

“That’s alright. You’re operating with a pretty steep learning curb,” Alex sighs, sweeping up the smaller glass slivers near the baseboard, running the broom bristles over the floor and near the rug to clear away any stray debris. She reminds herself to drag the vacuum out of the back closet, to give the place a once-over before she does any more sock-sliding on the hardwood.

Astra’s moved directly over to her glass bin and dumped the larger bits inside. They chink lightly against the beer and wine bottles she’s collected.

“You’ll need to take care, removing the bag from its container,” Astra advises.

“Gotcha.”

“Or perhaps I should remove it; I am the one who shattered the pane.”

“You don’t need to take my trash out, Astra,” Alex says, the offer for handling such a domestic chore throwing Alex off-kilter momentarily.

“I can reimburse you,” Astra says, pulling a zipper down on the side of her suit, producing a wad of fifties and flicking the papers out like some high roller. “Did you know that there are machines that distribute currency on your streets? Set up, in plain sight, for anyone to use? You just issue a power surge, and hit the green button three times, and currency pours into your hands.”

“Why the hell did you rob an ATM?!” Alex admonishes, but is also curious as hell.

“Rob? ATM?”

“ATM—it stands for automated teller machine. Like a bank teller? Where people put their money? That’s other people’s cash.”

“But…” Astra says, staring helplessly at the cash in hand. “It came from a machine. Not a person.”

“We’re expediting our monetary withdrawals with machines,” Alex explains. “Saves time and money, but, look, that—in the grand scheme of things—isn’t yours.”

“I’m no common thief,” Astra straightens.

“No,” Alex agrees slyly: “I’d say you’re quite an uncommon thief.”

“I am not a thief at all!”

Alex takes a breath and pinches the bridge of her nose. “This is not what we’re here for.”

“You’re right,” Astra says, looking around the apartment uneasily.

“Are you nervous?” Alex asks.

“More terrified than the eve of battle,” Astra admits.

She drapes a hand across her stomach and props herself back against the island in Alex’s kitchen, stares at the floor, as if she could tunnel beneath the boards and into the next apartment, all the way down to the earth like some hibernating animal, too afraid to take a cold shoulder should it be presented. All she desires is the warmth of acceptance, and even with Kara’s hope and belief, Alex can’t guarantee that heat for her during this first meeting.

“Okay, so I’ve got some shirts and stuff in the back,” Alex says, trying to sound as comforting as she does when speaking to a nervous Kara. “You can go pick something out, and then we’ll figure out a game plan for this.”

“Game plan?”

“Strategize,” Alex corrects. “Do you know what you’re going to say to her?”

“I… I know what I wish to communicate, what I want her to understand, but… I…” Astra’s staring at the floor again, her insecurity concerning Kara so severe it makes Alex wonder about Astra’s position within her Kryptonian family. About Astra’s role as sister, daughter, aunt… wife, even. She was someone’s daughter-in-law once, back on Krypton. As much as Astra asks and writes, Alex knows remarkably little about the other woman’s history, something she’d like to remedy if Astra will allow it.

“We’ll work on it,” Alex offers. “I’ve only been talking Kara off of emotional cliffs for more than ten years, so you’ve got a pretty decent card up your sleeve.”

“Could you please desist with the idioms, because I don’t understand them,” Astra requests, her eyes roving gravely over Alex. “Especially today.”

“Astra,” Alex says, crossing toward the woman in her kitchen. “I know how to talk to Kara. You’ll have me as an interpreter, a... translator, of sorts. Even if you can’t find the words, I’ll help you relay them to her.”

“You act as if you know what I’ll say,” Astra scoffs.

“Nearly four months of your letters and you think I don’t know you?” Alex asks, which causes Astra’s lips to thin, her brow to tick upwards. Her hazel-grey eyes, burdened and haunted as they’ve ever been, never stop moving. Her expressive face, expressive for Alex alone, tenses at the implication.

“I know you don’t think much of humans, but you could give me a little credit,” Alex ventures.

“I… I know that most humans are not terrible,” Astra admits quietly. "But there are a select few that do sometimes astound me."

“I’ll take that as a win,” Alex grins, then shrugs her shoulder to rid the moment of its weight. “Down the hall, in the bedroom. Grab a shirt and some pants, I’ll be here when you finish up.”

Astra retreats, moseying down the apartment hallway and cataloging the interior, running her hands over the walls as if she could gather information through her touch. Like she could absorb every story the walls could tell, should she have the power to extract information from non-sentient architecture with her fingertips. Alex wouldn’t put it past her.

“Are you okay back there?” Alex asks a few moments later, because really, how difficult can it be to put on some pants?

“I… do not think this is correct,” Astra emerges from the guest bedroom, and Alex almost falls out on her kitchen floor, guffawing at the sight.

The guest bedroom has always been for Kara, or for her mom, on the rare occasions that Eliza visits. When there’s no one else in the apartment, it’s used primarily as a miscellaneous space: yoga mat on the floor, dumbbells in the corner, files on the bed and laundry piled up in the sitting chair. And Astra’s done what she’d said: grabbed a shirt and some pants.

But from the designated laundry chair the general has chosen the strangest combination of top and bottoms she could find. She’s got a deep purple racerback tank on, ribbed, that Alex had worn running a few days ago. The tank top wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t been paired with a set of red flannel pajama pants, due for a washing and deposited on top of the pile. But Alex is stunned by how small Astra looks in her clothes... not that the pieces swallow her up, exactly. Just that there’s less bravado in her posture, no authority with all the color and flowy fabric. Her uncertainty about this meet up weakens her, makes her shuffle about in mismatched clothing while her fingers fidget, and damn if the twitching isn’t hereditary.

“Okay, not quite,” Alex smiles, chortling despite herself.

“I do not appreciate your laughter at my expense.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex snickers, really, honest-to-God trying not to giggle.

“You’re drawing gleeful satisfaction when you know I’m wholeheartedly out of my depth,” Astra props her hands on her hips but not with the Supergirl fists, just rests her hands out of frustration. The tank top hitches slightly and Alex doesn’t look at the small expanse of skin showing.

She doesn’t.

“This is obviously… wrong?” Astra gathers. “I knew it. Why would you wear such strange garments?”

“One piece is for when I run around; when I workout,” Alex explains. “The other is for sleeping.”

“I’m wearing human perspiration?” Astra’s face scrunches up in disgust.

“Bingo.”

“I do not know what this means!” Astra fumes, stamping so hard with a foot that the hardwood splinters beneath her.

“Oh my God, calm down,” Alex says, raising her hands in a pacifying gesture.

“And why do you need clothes for sleeping if you rest beneath blankets?” Astra continues. “Earth cannot be so different from Krypton that you do not use linens, like I saw on your bed.”

“Not everyone feels comfortable sleeping in the nude,” Alex says. Of course Astra had to throw out that mental picture for Alex to stew over every night from here to eternity.

“You humans make no sense!” Astra insists, and it’s disdainful, a superiority that’s clearly Astra, but also whiney in the way Kara would complain early on—why this? why that way? I don’t understand!—before Alex had honed her patience.

She’s got the patience now. It just, might not be the best to laugh at a general prepared to put her foot through the floor.

“Sorry, I should’ve been clearer,” Alex says. “Down the hall, on the right side, not the left, there’s some clothes in my room. Neutrals, darks. I didn’t know if you would wear colors, because of your military uniform. I figured you didn’t want to draw too much attention to yourself. But there are some things in there that are more appropriate for morning coffee in public. Black pieces, you know?”

Astra scoffs, and turns on her heel. Alex doesn’t need super ears to hear her muttering all the way down the hall. Some of it's mumbled, but she gets the basic gist of the hurried alien language: “—why one-piece garments are preferable. I miss my robes, and the dresses that didn’t stick to the skin like some terrible slime, meanwhile she gives me her sweaty leftover clothing that smells of Lorcan feces –”

“You know Kara taught me some Kryptonese, right?” Alex calls down the hall.

Astra quiets shortly after that comment.

It’s another few moments, and Alex is worried again, because it seriously cannot take as much time as Astra takes, putting on pants and a shirt. A minute, thirty seconds. Point-zerozerozerozero-three seconds with super speed. Alex doesn’t want to intrude on the general's privacy, not knowing much about Kryptonian changing norms, but if she’s learned anything about patterns from military training, the woman might well have broken her dresser by now.

She knocks, one hand on the bedroom doorknob, and waits a moment before asking: “Astra?”

“Yes?”

“How’s it coming?”

“I’m… again, I’m uncertain.”

“Can I come in?”

“Yes.”

Alex opens the door and stops short, because Astra is facing the full-length mirror on the inside of her closet door, smoothing down the black material over her abdomen from the dress that Alex had worn on her date with Maxwell Lord.

Shit.

“Does this look presentable?” Astra asks, turning to the side to double-check her figure. Alex notices that she’s shucked the boots, and now stands barefooted and lithe and gorgeous, unassuming but critical, surveying every stitch hugging her body. “Yet… this is not how I wish to be for Kara. You said black clothing?”

“I… I meant this,” Alex gestures to the heaps of clothing on the bed, paired up and arranged, but why would that make sense to an alien? Alex realizes.

“Why would you put the clothing on your bed, where you sleep? Is that not what your wardrobes and closets are for?” Astra asks, moving from before the mirror toward the right side of Alex’s bed.

Alex’s bed.

In her I’m getting laid dress.

In her bedroom.

“Should I try these, instead?” Astra asks. “The last piece I plucked from your furniture was drenched in your sweat but I feel… exposed, in this.”

She tugs inexpertly at the hem, then twists so that the plunging neckline shifts, and Alex has to shift her focus to the clothes she’s got laid out before her eyes betray her.

“Yeah, I mean,” Alex tries, folding different selections just for something to do. “That’s rather, formal for coffee before eight a.m.”

“This is your ceremonial raiment?” Astra asks, indicating the dress. She lifts a burgundy blouse from the bed and sets it aside.

“Ha! Ceremonial,” Alex smirks, picking up her t-shirts from the left side of the bed. “That dress? It’s my date-night go-to.”

“Date night?”

“Uh…” Alex tries. “Courtship outfit?”

The garment in Astra’s hands is nearly ripped; Astra has closed her fingers around the dark-wash denim so tightly Alex practically hears the seams screaming from the strain.

“It’s… nice,” Astra tries, but the woman seems to be chewing concrete as the adjective slips past her slips.

“Yeah?” Alex prods. “Nice, but…?”

“But don’t you find it rather revealing?”

“I don’t normally whip it out until the fourth date or so. Maybe, sixth, seventh if I’m feeling really hesitant. It’s been a while since anyone’s gotten that far, though, if I’m being honest.”

Alex tosses another pair of folded pants to the side and Astra piles the clothes she’s been folding up near Alex’s pillow, then stands, scrutinizing the deep maroon blouse and dark skinny jeans.

“What warrants wearing such a revealing gown after a certain number of interactions?”

“I don’t like this topic of conversation,” Alex shakes her head, turns to gather the pile of clothes so she can deposit them in the drawers of her dresser.

“Is that why your heartbeat has been thumping incessantly for the past minute?” Astra snarks.

“Uh… what?” Alex stalls, breathing through her nose, attempting some deep-diaphragm work, hoping, praying, Astra doesn’t notice.

“Your pulse quickened when you entered. I do not understand.”

“We might be late,” Alex lies. It’s not even 6:15 yet. The shop doesn’t open until 6:30 on Saturdays, so even if they left at that very moment, they’d still have to wait until the baristas opened the doors.

“I believe you’re lying to me.”

“You can believe anything you like,” Alex deflects. “One of the benefits of choosing this country to terrorize over others.”

“Now you’re attempting to sidetrack me from my original line of inquiry,” Astra checks her, doesn’t fall for it. “Don’t underestimate a battle with a seasoned fighter, Alexandra.”

“I’m not underestimating you.”

“Are you still afraid of me?” Astra asks softly, sitting on the side of Alex’s mattress.

“What?” Alex asks, turning swiftly from her dresser set, her nerves decompressing like the high after battle, like some strange release was whooshing through her appendages. “No, I’m not—well,” Alex pauses, tries to ruminate momentarily over a proper way to negotiate the vortex of things she should think with what she actually is thinking. “There’s a part of me that’s afraid of you,” she finally says, but it’s hard to be afraid of a beautiful woman in her bed. “Because I know, logically, sensibly, what you can do. What you have done. To other people. To Kara… to me.”

Astra blinks, and waits for Alex to continue. It’s like Hank said: Kryptonians look so normal, attractive by earthly standards due to their strength, their exceptionalism. And even though the practical portion of her brain is telling her to reconstruct her walls and hollow down in a proverbial bunker, Alex is rather more infatuated with the adventurous side of her brain. It’s singing Start Me Up, by The Rolling Stones.

“But no,” Alex admits, looking off to the side as if the edge of her rug could provide any answers, as if her hamper or her bedside lamp could. “If you mean everything that you write, if you felt, even a little, those tears you cried in that cell, in my kitchen… then no, I’m not afraid of you.”

Astra nods, straightens her spine a little and turns toward Alex, vulnerable and optimistic, as natural light starts to fill the room. Perhaps, Alex thinks, pieces of Kryptonian life have rubbed off on her. Alex feels braver now, with the sun just touching her ankle. Soon it will cover the hardwood, the edges of the rug, will hit Astra’s expanse of displayed skin; and the alien will soak it up like a sponge, store it, filter it, and repurpose it into power, power that Alex will never have.

But still, like her pen, the sun makes Alex brave. Gives her something to look forward to as she charges and struggles through the night.

“That’s… encouraging,” Astra finally replies, shifting so that she stands with hands hanging at her side, studying the outfit she’s selected.

“That’s going to be fine,” Alex says, gesturing toward the outfit.

“Oh,” Astra says, as if she wasn’t even contemplating the outfit at all. “Good.”

“I’ll leave you. We won’t be late, not if you change now. We’ll talk on the way to the shop.”

“You still never told me why your heart rate quickened,” Astra mentions as Alex pauses at the door. “You are not afraid of me, but… if we are to work together, I aim for your comfort, Alexandra. Your work performance will suffer if we cannot maintain a cordial relationship.”

“You really shouldn’t worry about it,” Alex says, unable to explain. “You did nothing wrong.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes.”

“You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not.”

“I want you to trust me.”

“I want the same.”

“Then why won’t you tell me why I make you uncomfortable?” Astra finishes, and it sounds so beleaguered and solicitous that Alex can’t help the truth.

“You don’t make me uncomfortable,” Alex answers again. “At least, not in the way you’re thinking.”

“How can I prove my loyalty to you?” Astra moves from behind the bed, pads over to where Alex stands at her door. She’s barefoot and Alex is only wearing flat-footed sneakers. They’re eye to eye, so strangely symmetric that Alex wonders at fate just a little. If Alex extended her arm this very moment, she could curl her fingers around Astra's throat... or touch her cheek.

“How can I assure my loyalty to Kara?" Astra asks, clasping her hands deferentially before her. "To this… effort, I’ve been making for months now?”

“No, Astra,” Alex extends a hand, places it on Astra’s forearm. She doesn’t dare let it linger, just squeezes reassuringly as she does for Kara, that favored Kryptonian tactility calming in its intimacy. “I don’t fear you, I trust you enough to let you into my apartment. We’ve got a wonderful system worked out; now you have to trust me. Believe me when I say that I wish to continue working with you, that I’m… kinda proud of the way you’re handling this.”

“I suppose I should be grateful for your approval,” Astra says. “Kara thinks very highly of you. And I constantly find myself in your debt.”

“And we’re not just talking about the mini-demolitions you cause every time you come to my apartment,” Alex teases.

Astra huffs her irritation. “Again, my apologies.”

There’s the incline of the head, the deference, but at the edges of her lips, hidden away—possibly a smile?

“Not necessary,” Alex says. “Besides, helping Kara helps me, so it’s in both of our best interests. Although…”

“Yes?” Astra asks.

“Do you think I could get a hair sample?” Alex continues. It hadn’t occurred to her to request a sample earlier, but Astra’s shiny hair hadn’t been within touching distance earlier, either. “I’m running tests on Kara’s skin cells, her DNA. It would be useful to have another set to test.”

“You… are going to take my hair?”

“Just a strand or two. I’m studying the Kryptonian bio-matrix. If you wouldn’t be shackled on site, I’d love to put you in a full-body MRI.”

The tentative grin falters, replaced by healthy alien skepticism: “That sounds extremely uncomfortable.”

“Nah. It’s like… x-ray vision for humans,” Alex explains, carefully reaching up to curl her fingers around a lock of Astra's wavy hair. “Lets me look inside of you.”

“Again, uncomfortable,” Astra balks.

“I feel like you could handle it,” Alex says, separating three strands, two brown, one shockingly white, with her fingers. “Is this okay?”

“Yes,” Astra breathes, studying her intensely.

Alex pauses, lets her fingers slide through Astra’s hair… purely for sample acquisition.

“Okay, this might—well, this probably won’t sting at all,” Alex tugs to the side, and the strands don’t budge. Astra's head doesn't even bob. “Uhm, maybe you should do it? Kara pulled hers out for me.”

Astra curls her fingers around the selected strands and yanks the hairs from their follicles, carefully transferring them from her fingers into Alex’s outstretched hand.

“Wait! I need to get a baggie!” Alex shoots off down the hallway and returns with a Ziploc. In the few seconds it took her to rummage around in her kitchen, Astra has super-stripped and is tugging at the wrists of the chiffon blouse Alex’s mother had gotten her for a “conference,” back when Eliza had claimed her eldest needed more color for her power suits.

“Hey, you look great,” Alex says, as Astra crosses to deposit the hairs in the bag. She tries not to think about the a different context concerning the previous sequence of events, of futilely tugging on Astra’s hair while she was wearing that little black dress, barefoot in her bedroom. The blouse and jeans combo are easier, still put together, but Alex manages to keep a grip on her attraction.

“Yes, it seems… appropriate. This will be, ehm, great to meet Kara,” Astra concludes, nodding as if she’s just finalized the numbers for those attacking the right flank of an opposing force.

“Well, yeah, it’ll be good for Kara, but I meant… I guess, you look nice. Pretty,” Alex shrugs, tries to sound nonchalant about the compliment. It helps that she’s otherwise engaged, scribbling with a Sharpie to label the baggie. She can feel Astra watching her all the while.

“Ready to go?” Alex says, grabbing her phone and her keys as they abandon the bedroom. Astra follows in step right until Alex turns towards the door, Astra for the window.

“Astra,” Alex tilts her head, yanks a thumb toward her entrance.

“Oh yes, of course,” Astra course corrects, stutter-stepping uncertainly.

“Can I count on you not to go flying around in broad daylight?” Alex jokes. And it’s almost easy, joking about flying aliens. Like with Kara, or even Vasquez and Jones back at headquarters. It’s… actually really nice.

“There’s little movement from my troops in the early hours,” Astra explains, shooting a quick glance toward the dawn rippling through the large window at the apartment’s street side. “I could fly and they would not know. The only time I have… well, I’ve written to you about the times I get a moment’s respite, alone.”

“Explains why you’re always waking me up at the butt-crack of dawn,” Alex mumbles to herself. “Humans in the city might start thinking they’ve got another alien threat on their hands if you go zipping around. So keep it earthbound, okay?”

“Fine,” Astra concedes.

“And here, I got you something,” Alex waltzes over to her counter top, picks up the square framed glasses and passes them over. “Put them on.”

“Why?” Astra asks, bending the temples carefully. She scrutinizes the glasses as if they’re some sort of ocular torture device, bringing them up to her face, then lowering the pair, tilting them sideways and flipping them about. "What do they do?"

“They don’t do anything,” Alex says. “But you were on the news, fighting Supergirl that one time. It’s just one more layer of camouflage.”

“If someone believes this weak plastic could be used as a disguise, he is an unobservant simpleton,” the general huffs, but dons the glasses nonetheless.

“Yep, that seems to sum up the human race pretty well,” Alex sighs, pulling the door shut behind the pair of them.

Chapter Text

It’s busy for a Saturday morning, like that Saturday when the very first letter arrived. There’s a group of old men in the corner near the window, neighborhood regulars of retirement age that come in early on weekend mornings to shoot the breeze and discuss the dismal state of the now, reminiscing about the good old days. Politics, fashion, the economy—the world’s going to hell in a hand basket while they drink black coffee. Then there’s the three young mothers, decked out in jogging gear, two of which have finagled a double stroller into a spot near the back couches, one child wailing as the women sip their skinny vanilla lattes.

Alex scopes out the other tables in the long and narrow shop, finds an assortment of patrons from tourists with fannypacks and city maps to business people with briefcases, burning weekend hours just as they would the regular Monday through Friday. The grinder never stops and clouds float from the espresso machine’s wand like hot city steam from a grate. The air is saturated with the bold scent of coffee and raspberry-orange scones, fudge biscotti, apple crumbcake, and even a chocolate-dunked doughnut hole. Alex is famished and desperate for her usual.

Astra, on the other hand, is jumping at every whisper.

“Hey,” Alex says as they stand in line, inches from an elderly lady with a sack full of sewing equipment. They’re crowded from behind by three college-aged boys Alex thinks are still drunk from their night before. All the people in line and the relative lack of open square footage in the shop force her to press her body against the pastry display case and stand much closer to Astra than she normally would.

Not that she’s complaining.

“Humph,” Astra responds.

“Are you alright?”

“It’s like a warzone in here. There is much happening in such… it’s… a rather small space,” Astra grits out, twitching as the bell over the shop door rings, alerting the staff to another patron. The workers holler a greeting over the deadly whir of the blender, and the baby in the corner screams louder.

“You’re not claustrophobic, are you?”

“No,” Astra answers, wiping her hands against the pockets of the jeans. “It is merely… in larger spaces, it is easier to filter. Compared to the abyss of the Phantom Zone, Fort Rozz… Earth is so clamorous; it likewise reeks of concentrated energy.”

“That would be the coffee,” Alex smiles. “It’s a magic potion for humans.”

“The one that made Kara run—by Rao!” Astra cringes when the blender starts back up again for a frappucino. She twists her head and raises a hand to adjust the needless glasses. The general grimaces as they take a step forward, the lady leaning heavily on a cane in front of them emptying her coin purse in its entirety onto the counter for payment, the jangle and tinkle of coin adding another discordant note to the scale of auditory confusion.

“Here,” Alex says, and grabs Astra’s hand on impulse. She starts tapping a rhythm against the General’s smooth palm with her index finger, hums a little of the first song that pops in her head.

Come Sail Away… Styx.

One of Jeremiah’s top five road trip songs.

Astra’s eyes go wide and she swivels her head about. “What are you—?”

“Just think about me,” Alex advises, humming quietly under her breath. She uses just her index finger, almost as if she were tapping out a message in Morse code onto an ancient transmitter. “Just that touch…just my voice.”

We’ll search for tomorrow, on every shore—And I’ll try, Oh Lord, I’ll try—

It’s upon her like a tidal wave: Alex misses her father.

To carry on.

She always misses him, but has learned to live with the hollow ache in her chest cavity, the spot that was always filled when she could still be called Dad’s favorite. Because she was—but not in a creepy way. She loved her mother, truly, but she’d always felt more pressure with Eliza. And she loved Kara, loved her like a sister should, but Jeremiah was her hero before aliens were even on her radar. He was the smartest, kindest, bravest person she knew. He taught her how to keep both fists up, especially when she was defending herself. Taught her how to shoot a rifle. Spent late nights charting the stars with her, even after Eliza had demanded an early bedtime; he took Saturday morning field trips to the lab with her, delivered lessons over the microscope, sang off-key to classic rock songs blasting out of the speakers with the windows rolled down—

It’s a lifetime ago. A lifetime that informed her, shaped her, led her to this very instant, humming a rock anthem and holding an alien’s hand in a busy coffee shop on Fifth Street in the southern blocks of National City.

Alex hates herself for succumbing to trite nostalgia: it’s too early to be so melancholy.

“It’s easier with a single focus,” Alex redirects her thoughts to Astra’s predicament, the woman in front of them still counting out her change. The patient barista behind the counter bags up four slices of coffee cake.

“My dad taught me how to lessen it, when Kara would get overwhelmed—like at a pep rally, or one of her first big parties?” Alex glances up between them but Astra’s downturned gaze is fixed on their melded palms. “It doesn’t have to be a person, though,” Alex backtracks. “Just pick one thing. The bell over the door—you’ll be able to pinpoint the fading vibrations. The clack of the register keys. The rub of the shirt, against your skin?”

Too far, Danvers.

Alex clears her throat and breaks away from Astra’s intense stare: “Just pick one thing.”

Shuffling forward, Alex scans the menu and loosens her grip on Astra’s hand.

“Hi, can I get—”

She tries again to release the woman, but Astra doesn’t let go.

“Uh…” Alex looks back at Astra but her jaw is set, her pupils shifting slightly with every surprising sound. Through the lenses of the glasses, it looks as if she’s reading the menu.

“Can I help you?” the frazzled girl behind the counter asks, surveying Alex’s momentary breakdown with bewilderment.

“Yeah, sorry, can I get the biggest blueberry scone you’ve got in your case? And I—I’d like a quad shot Americano, throw a little milk in there to cool it down, please.”

The woman at the register repeats the order, yelling it over her shoulder. “And… uhm,” it occurs to Alex that she should’ve asked Astra what she wanted, that she’d be willing to pay, that they’re standing in line holding hands at a coffee shop with three snickering frat dudes one bro away from breaking out a keg and funnel right behind them.

“Do you like chocolate?” Alex asks quickly, trying to work her hand away from Astra again. There’s heat and pressure there, and Alex can’t help but feel this experiment with alien life will either fail miserably or be the best thing she’s ever worked for.

“I do not know,” Astra replies, her gaze turning towards the pastry display.

“We’ll try it…” Alex answers, zeroing in on the white streak at Astra’s temple. It’s bizarre and lovely and foreign and she wants to curl it around her fingers and tug. “And one regular white mocha with that.”

“For here or take away?”

“Here,” Alex responds, but Astra’s fingers are still wrapped around hers. “I need to pay,” she mumbles, wiggling her fingers so Astra understands.

“Oh, yes,” Astra releases her as if she’s been clutching hot coals, allows Alex to move forward to hand off her card.

“Name?”

“Danvers.”

“Got it. Hi, can I help you?”

Alex isn’t positive, but there’s a warmth on her lower back; and when she turns to step away from the counter Astra is right there, and it’s a bit of an awkward shuffle between two highly coordinated individuals in a tight little coffee shop. Astra keeps glancing around as if she expects Kara or an alien or a tornado to materialize at any moment; and it’s insane to note that Astra keeps placing her hand somewhere on Alex's body. The small of her back, the side of her shirt… like a toddler grasping hold of a parent’s finger, the hem of their jacket, just so they aren’t separated.

“Let’s go sit down,” Alex suggests.

She’s warm from a full body flush, but Alex Danvers doesn’t flush. It’s just the coffee steam and the fact that this place is flooded with people, that poor old lady and her walking stick squeezing in between tables with a bag too heavy for her, those mothers with their massive strollers blocking walkways, the suits ordering while they’re still on their phones, the college guys rough-housing, loudly obnoxious, with little regard for anyone else’s well-being. The door bangs shut with every departing patron, jarring those nearest the exit, shooting rippling waves over the liquid in the mismatched mugs.

“What about the… the coffee beverage?” Astra asks.

Alex notices Astra is rubbing the pads of her own fingers together, blinking in time with the rocking of the kid in the stroller.

Good.

Focusing on something other than Alex’s body.

That’s… good.

Alex frowns.

“They’ll call our name,” Alex explains, and scoots a chair at an empty table out of the way. “We can go over in that corner near the couch, there’s a third seat for Kar—Astra!”

It’s super speed that saves them, like the general saw it coming. One of the college boys pushes another, all in jest, and yet it escalates to a domino effect: he knocks into the dude talking on his cellphone behind their little group, which propels cell phone guy into a chair, and the force of it sends the empty table toppling, heading straight for the woman who preferred to pay with pennies for her discounted coffee cake.

Astra moves with less speed than she certainly possesses to block the careening table from the elder woman’s path. It knocks into her hip and she fakes a grunt, shielding the poor lady as she wobbles nervously on her cane. The group of boys swears and guffaws at the incident; the businessman rights the chair he overturned. Alex watches as Astra exchanges some words with the woman and holds the door open, places a hand on the lady’s arm to steady her as she takes the single step down to the sidewalk below. Alex’s goofy smile fades to a grimace in a flash, because Astra is striding back toward the group of young men with murder in her eyes.

“Oh crap, move, excuse—move please,” Alex mumbles, sliding past a thirty-something couple watching the entire affair with gaping jaws.

Astra’s about to let loose some well-deserved reprimand, but Alex intercepts her.

“Hey, hey,” Alex says, and takes Astra by the elbow away from the three young men. They make a snide comment but Alex ignores them. “Let’s try to lay low, okay?”

“What did those rogues mean by a ‘pair of flood embankments’?” Astra snaps, turning over her shoulder to continue her glare. “It did not sound complementary.”

“Nothing,” Alex says, pointing at a chair and encouraging Astra to sit. Alex has certainly been called worse in all her years at school, during her physical training, in the middle of a fight with an enemy looking to get under her skin. “That was good of you,” Alex says, hoping to redirect Astra’s anger. “To help that woman.”

“She brings treats to her grandchildren,” Astra says, her anger downgrading from boil to simmer. “She sees them on weekends. Her name is Eileen. She was gracious.”

“That’s nice.”

“On Krypton, we paid due respect to our elders. Those other humans, however…” Astra peers over the tops of her glasses. In her eyes are a thousand different tortures, and it’s as if she’s picturing every slow, agonizing thrashing for the boys resting on the counter, blocking the next customer. “…could use significant refinement.”

“So you want to put them in a furnace until they’re nice?”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Astra replies, arching a knowing brow. “Or sentence them to two hundred moons of basic training under my command.”

It’s sly, and on the edge of serious, and those glasses make her look like a deadly sexy librarian with—

Wait… what?!

“Danvers!”

"Thank God," Alex huffs.

Alex schools her expression to DEO passivity, then rises to retrieve their drinks. The barista taking orders behind the counter has the largest fake smile on her face Alex has ever seen. She looks more than uneasy, shifty eyes, shaky hands, all because two of the boys across the counter keep tossing one dollar bills at her in some bastardized spasm of hand motions--they attempt to 'make it rain'. The barista picks up the cash, counting out the dollars for their drinks.

“Hey,” one of the idiots smirks at Alex as she approaches the counter.

“Morning,” Alex says, though there’s no warmth to it.

“Your girlfriend’s got good reflexes,” douche canoe number one offers. “She uh—put those to good use with you?” The two bros behind him elbow each other in the sides, and one of them snorts in amusement.

“You don’t really want to start this,” Alex huffs, flashing her fake credentials to get the guy to back off. “It’s too early in the morning.”

“Oh-ho! You're a FED?”

Said guy does not back off.

“You and your girl break out the cuffs, then?” and he goes on to wink at her, the tool. “Good cap, bad cop? Or, uh… dirty cop?”

So much for laying low. And if something like Vesuvius starts bubbling in her gut every time the three men look over her shoulder toward Astra, well, she’s just doing her civic duty and keeping civilians out of the way of an alien threat. Because she certainly knows who would win in a smackdown.

“Here’s something about my girlfriend,” Alex leans in close to the guy, “… you’re gonna be glad it’s me that does this instead of her.”

“Does what?” he smiles, extending his hand to place at her waist. His pupils move lazily, his movements are clumsy, and his breath smells like concentrated absinthe.

Before he gets a hand on her she’s rotated the wrist and snapped the elbow back into an arm bar, kicked him in the back of his knees and held his head up by his hair.

“Apologize,” Alex commands quietly. “And be grateful I don’t arrest you for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.”

“Dude, what the fuck?” He’s struggling beneath her but Alex has a sneaker over the sensitive part at the back of his knee. He’s unable to stand with her weight leveraged against him.

“You should also be grateful this establishment didn’t kick you out when you knocked over their table, nearly trampling one of their elderly patrons,” Alex responds evenly, never raising her voice. She nods quickly at the shaken barista scrabbling about for the dollars, mouths it’s okay, before returning her focus to the man beneath her. “What if that woman had broken a hip? You got coverage for that?”

The people standing in line pause, and the blender stops whirring. The other workers scurry about behind the counter, one bedecked in a dripping apron shuffling into the back, probably off to call a head manager in to referee the early morning fisticuffs session amid the coffee house's acoustic covers and pour-over selections.

“Listen,” one of the other guys says, bowing up. “He didn’t mean anything—”

“I will crunch your trachea with my elbow if you touch me,” Alex seethes. She yanks harder at the boy’s head below her. “Apologize.”

“Dude, sorry,” he sputters, grimaces from the tight hold of Alex fingers in his hair and the pressure of her foot on the meat of his calf.

“For what?”

“Sorry I called you a dyke.”

“That’s not what I’m looking for, but I’ll take it,” Alex grumbles. “Apologize for being drunk off your ass and ruining these people’s breakfasts.”

“Sorry for messing up the coffee shop,” he mumbles. His bros gape stupidly at him, two dim deer in the headlights.

Alex releases his hair with a push and the kid scrambles up, red in the face and clutching at the crown of his head. All three retreat clumsily, knocking yet another chair over in their haste to depart with their throats still in tact. Alex turns towards the woman behind the counter, extracts her fake FBI credentials and flashes them for the girl’s benefit.

“Didn’t mean to cause a scene, but they looked like they were getting out of hand,” Alex apologizes.

“They do that about every other weekend,” the girl titters before her, staring at the badge. “They broke the front door last month.”

“Well, maybe they’ll think twice now,” Alex smiles. “Am I still allowed to get my coffee?”

“Definitely!” the girls says, and slides the plated scone across the counter to her. “Should I follow you to—”

“Nah, you guys are swamped. I can balance it,” Alex finagles the small plate onto her wrist and grips the two hot mugs by their handles, then migrates between couches and table tops to where Astra waits. Onlookers try not to stare as she passes by, but one of the old men in the group near the far wall rises to help her carry her plate.

He won’t take no for an answer, and before he leaves, he shakes Alex’s hand. The mothers in their jogging gear all catch Alex’s eye and smile, nod their heads in approval, then go back to nursing their drinks.

Alex sets the mocha in front of Astra and takes a heartening sip of her own coffee, makes a silent promise to never break up potential fights this early between aliens and bros before she’s had caffeine ever again. Although, Alex would’ve killed to see Astra kick that guy’s ass.

“Is this what you call ‘laying low’?” Astra asks smoothly.

Alex casts a quick glance at the woman sitting beside her at the table, and the inquisitive expression she delivers is downright cheeky.

“You’re the one who has to lay low,” Alex corrects, bringing the mug to her lips. “I’m just accessory.”

“The rules do not apply to you, is that it?”

“Oh they apply,” Alex says, smirking over the lip of her mug. “But I like to break protocol every now and then.”

Alex feels daring this morning. Maybe it’s the little rush, the minor exhibitionist in her that liked throwing those idiots out under the watch of the entire shop, under Astra’s attentive stare. Alex allows her eyes to drift easily up and down Astra’s body; she could be checking her for concealed weaponry or blatantly checking her out. Alex revels in the ambiguity.

“Obviously,” she tacks on, once her survey is complete. Alex swishes the mug slightly to mix the milk on top with the hotter espresso below.

Astra doesn’t remark any further on the incident, instead choosing to lean back in her chair and give Alex her own critical once over.

“What?” Alex asks, picking up the provided fork and cutting into her scone. She pops the first bite into her mouth and chews; it’s warm and sweet, and Alex really wants to stuff the whole thing in her face in one go. But Astra tempers that desire, only a little. The way she’s looking at her makes Alex’s toes tingle. It’s the same feeling she gets when she’s had a really good session at the shooting range, after she’s hit her mark time and time again.

Astra leans forward again with a quick shake of her head, then pulls the big mug with the mocha before her.

“You’re quite intriguing, Alexandra,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate, instead turning her attention to her drink. “What is that?” Astra asks, indicating the foam.

“Huh?”

“This… leaf, in the beverage.”

“That would be latte art,” Alex explains. She has a feeling this is going to be another one of those spiraling misunderstandings. “And it’s not a leaf, it’s a heart.”

“Your coffee distributors need a lesson in anatomical rendering.”

Alex nearly scalds herself, snorting into her coffee.

“I amuse you?” Astra asks, reaching both hands out to curl around the mug. She smiles that secret smile Alex is only now adjusting to, so used to the hard line of Astra’s face whenever she’s shouting her orders at her troops in that ridiculously tight catsuit.

“Yeah,” Alex confesses, but she still feels like she owes the woman an explanation. “But it’s not your fault. You don’t know any better.”

“Thank you for this,” Astra dips her head and makes a little toast, brings the ceramic mug to her lips and takes a careful sip. White foam clings to her upper lip and it makes the general look unassuming... delectable, even. Alex seriously needs to go run five miles, and then go home and take a cold shower. She’s hyped up from her interaction with those guys and sitting so close to Astra really isn’t helping her concentrate on the upcoming talk with Kara.

“Any good?” Alex inquires.

“Ehm… it is—the word escapes me,” Astra takes another swallow. “Sweet, certainly. Perhaps sweeter than I prefer. It is… thick, for a beverage.”

“That’s the milk. I should’ve ordered skim or something, judging by your physique.”

“What about my physique?” Astra arches a brow.

“Uh…what time is it?!”

Get a grip, Alex.

“Can you not check your mobile device?” Astra asks, a quizzical look on her face.

“Yeah, just… I should probably approach Kara first, give her a little heads up for what she’s getting into.”

“She’ll be here soon,” Astra manages, places the coffee down and runs a thumb over her lip.

“Here,” Alex motions toward a paper napkin dispenser in the center of the table.

“These are not good for your planet, disposable napkins,” Astra rejects the dispenser, swipes expertly at her lip with her thumb instead. “It delivers a substantial profit to your corrupt foresting industries.”

“Oh, yeah,” Alex shrugs, feeling a little guilty for not giving it much thought. She takes another swig of her own coffee and picks up her fork.

“Alexandra?”

“Hmm?”

Astra extends her hand and cups Alex’s chin. Her fingers on the supple skin where Alex’s jaw melds with her throat are so gentle that Alex forgets the woman touching her could tear her mandible from its ossified hinges. Alex feels like a Kryptonian in this instant, commits to memory every minute pressure of Astra’s index and middle fingers against the skin on the soft underside of her chin, the way Astra’s eyes lock on Alex’s mouth with determined intent, the truly delicious slide of the general’s thumb across her upper lip. Alex knows, of course she knows, that removal of a milk mustache is hardly an invitation to anything more forward, but the following swipe of Astra’s pointer finger, down her cheek, curling against her dimple to remove the last traces of the residue, seems to linger longer than necessary.

“I’m having déjà vu, here,” Alex mumbles.

“I’m unfamiliar with the term,” Astra answers, sliding her fingers along the underside of Alex’s chin as she drops her hand and wipes the (nonexistent) milk foam onto Alex’s borrowed pants.

“It’s a sense that something similar has happened before. You know, the—” Alex touches her own face but her hands are cold, frigid, glacier-like in comparison to Astra’s (even though she’s been clutching a warm ceramic mug for the better part of five minutes, her skin doesn’t feel nearly as good as Astra’s). “—the face thing.”

“Pardon?” Astra asks, shifting so slightly closer that if Alex hadn’t taken two years of body language studies she might have missed it.

“The last time you touched my face like that you said you were glad to have caught me alive,” Alex answers, viewing that remembered night in the warehouse with a totally new understanding of the threat sitting before her.

“I cannot say I am sorry,” Astra takes a distracted sip from her mug, clutches the side so hard tiny fissured cracks appear near the handle.

“Easy, it’s alright,” Alex places her hand atop Astra’s and guides the mug back down to the table.

“At the time, a threat like that suited my purposes,” Astra explains.

“Do you always threaten your enemies by poking them in the face?” Alex grins, tries to remove some of the guilt she sees depressing Astra’s shoulders like a weighted—this time foreign—world, crushing a strong but undeniably trapped Atlas.

“Of course not,” Astra answers. “You had battled the Hellgramite, were immobile, and yet so… defiant. I believed I could intimidate you.”

“Ha, fat chance.”

“Mmhm,” Astra nods. “Lying on the ground in that dirtied warehouse, unsure of your fate—you were fantastically courageous, Alexandra. You exhibited a resiliency I had not encountered with humans, and yet you looked so breakable. So…you looked as if you could crumble beneath my fingertips.” Astra moves and presses two fingers against Alex’s wrist on the table. She barely exerts any pressure, but Alex has to wriggle her hand out from under the grip because the edge of the wood is starting to dig into the skin at the inside of her wrist. “Still do, I suppose,” Astra finishes.

Alex shakes her wrist out: “And I thought all the black made me look really bad ass.”

“You cannot measure your physical strength as compared to mine. It is no match. It never will be.”

“Gee, that’s exactly what you want to hear from the enemy. ‘I’m stronger than you. You have no hope’.”

“It is the truth. My life away from you is a self-perpetuating lie, but with you I have the luxury of truth. Do not make me sacrifice that to stroke your ego.”

“You seem to be pretty okay with stroking my face, General,” Alex smirks and ticks her eyebrow skyward.

“Once to intimidate. Just now to make you presentable, to save you the trouble of using that paper waste,” Astra indicates the napkins on the table. “What alternative motivations might I have?”

“I don’t know,” Alex scoffs, amused. “Humans might call that tenderness. Affection, even.”

“Do you not stroke your domesticated animals on the head? On the stomach?”

“Are you calling me your pet?”

“My human pet. Fear not, Alexandra,” Astra smiles. “I promise not to go about touching other humans’ faces without your express permission.”

“Good, because if you do that you might get arrested.”

“In any case, your physicality notwithstanding, I’m happy to know that we seem to be relatively equal on many other levels,” Astra answers. The compliment comes easily, as many of her compliments have come before. Alex thinks about Astra and her truths, how happy she is to be so honest with Alex, to have her as a confidante. It’s not superpowers, but it makes Alex feel undeniably special. “It is reassuring to have such a capable ally. A… partner.”

“I… thank you, Astra.”

“You are most welcome,” Astra replies, and she smiles just for Alex.

“Hey, going back to the phone thing, should I get your number?”

Smooth, Danvers.

“My… oh, yes, well, I disposed of it,” Astra says easily, taking another tentative sip of her coffee.

“And by ‘disposed’, you mean—”

“I melted it,” Astra says. “After I texted Kara to come and get you, I couldn’t risk a trace coming back to me. The letters are preferable, I think. I learn a lot from your writing that those small picture faces cannot relay. Why is it that humanity is reverting to communication via hieroglyphs?”

“That… is a very good question,” Alex responds. She’s never been an emoji user much, but sometimes Kara replies only in pictures.

“May I have yours?” Astra asks.

“My phone number?”

“Your coffee drink,” Astra clarifies. “Not all of it, just to sample.”

“Oh, yeah,” Alex slides the mug over and rotates the lip around, tries not to feel disappointed for some idiotic reason. “It’s stronger than yours. A lot more bitter.”

“Still speaking of coffee, Agent Danvers?” Astra ticks her eyebrows skyward, picking up the mug with one sure hand this time.

And if she weren't sitting next to an alien who's tried to kill her on numerous occasions previous, Alex would think that her past five minutes of conversation were the epitome of clever banter.

“I’m not bitter,” Alex argues.

“And you are most certainly not stronger, as indicated.”

“On a level playing field, General, you’ll find I’m pretty scrappy,” Alex returns, and hell, are they flirting?! She might as well commit: “You and me could go at it.”

“A challenge?”

“A promise,” Alex says.

“Well,” Astra quirks her mouth over the brim of Alex’s coffee cup, curls her lip over the edge and takes a long pull from the drink. “Uhm… that is not terrible. Here’s to future interactions, I suppose.”

Alex beams at the implication.

“Alex?!”

Uh oh.

“Kara.” Alex snaps her head to her sister, clad in her prim pink cardigan and black framed glasses.

Shit. Kara.

“Aunt A-Astra?!” Kara stutters, her eyes narrowing to beads of aggressive caution.

Kara’s got a to-go cup in hand but it’s shaking, and her knees are bent, prepared to sprint into action. If there hadn't been a room full of people around, Astra would already be thrown through the window.

Shit.

Chapter Text

“Kara, breathe,” Alex stands smoothly, though her demeanor oozes urgency.

“Don’t need to,” Kara clips.

“Everything is okay, here.” Alex makes a gesture that she hopes Kara can interpret as calm the fuck down.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Kara fingers the bottom button of her pressed shirt, ready to yank the hem and make the Supergirl quick change in an instant. “How did she get you here?”

“I asked her to come,” Alex insists.

“Kara,” Astra rises cautiously. Alex notes that the three of them participating in a tense stare down immediately after she body slammed a dude is more than a bit conspicuous, so she tries to move this stilted salutation along.

“Let’s not all stand around drawing attention to ourselves, okay?” Alex moves toward Kara, gathers her up in a hug that has the wary Kryptonian tensing in her hold. One of the mothers pushing the baby in the stroller two tables away flicks her eyes towards Alex; the barista manning the espresso machine swivels his head toward her.

Just get her to the table.

“I know what I’m doing,” Alex mumbles in her sister’s ear. “Just hear her out, okay?”

She releases Kara, steps back, and hates the slight betrayal she sees marring her sister’s usually cheerful features. A broken expression, like the grimace she’d sported after finding out Alex had been working for the DEO all along. Kara sets her jaw and it’s Supergirl, not her sister, striding purposefully toward the table and removing the chair with more power than necessary, plunking down so hard the legs creak beneath her.

“Kara…” Alex warns.

“You’ve got five minutes,” Kara says sedately. “And then I call Hank on you,” she cuts, whipping her head toward Alex. “And you…” Kara sneers, and it’s crushing to see her sister look at Astra with such disgust, knowing what Alex now knows about the woman. “You, I’m throwing through a wall.”

Astra glowers behind the white of her ceramic mug. She holds it dangerously, a live grenade in her palm.

“You’ll understand my disappointment. A comment like that is not how I had hoped this would begin,” Astra replies, settling herself with a ramrod posture once more.

It’s an instantaneous switch, Alex notices, how Astra can relax one minute, and then instinctively assume a role she’s held for so long… not just a general, but a primary player of the opposition. Astra knows when someone is set against her, and cannot seem to lower her guard until the other person concedes first. Perhaps it’s Kryptonian training, never revealing weakness until the other side shows signs of conciliation, but it won’t help her this morning.

Astra’s the one who has come to the negotiating table. She’s got to be the one to extend the olive branch, not Kara.

“What could you possibly think I’d have to say to you?” Kara asks.

“I had… I thought perhaps you might have missed me.”

Missed you?” Kara balks. “You’re even more insane than I thought.”

Kara.”

Kara’s confused, Alex reminds herself. Her sister is never cruel, never intentionally hurtful. Even Alex feels the sting of that reply on Astra’s behalf.

Because Alex knows. Alex knows, and Kara doesn’t. Kara is ignorant of everything Astra’s done—and that’s Alex’s fault.

“Astra has been responsible for the capture and containment of no less than three dozen Fort Rozz hostiles, all acquired within the last few months,” Alex quickly summarizes.

It’s a statement she’s prepared herself, set the words on paper should she ever be called to testify in military court. She fears the smaller Lane might have loyalties to her father, and knows from Kara the woman was smart enough to get scooped up by Cat Grant, even if she ended up leaving CatCo in the end. Though Alex keeps her cool under pressure in the field, she’s only as good as her reflexes, her training, her preparation. In the same regard, Alex would like to be prepared if she’s ever court-martialed.

“Listen, Kara,” Alex commands, touching her sister’s elbow, trying to reassure her. “Astra and I have been corresponding secretly for a few months—”

“Four human lunar cycles, two weeks, and a day. The first letter came on a Saturday, Alexandra.”

Kara’s eyes bulge wide as a cartoon’s.

Alexandra?”

“That’s not helping,” Alex grumbles at Astra.

Kara waves her hands in a strange spasm of rejection, as if she could wipe away the books worth of ink spilled between the two.

“You’re telling me what, then, Alex?” Kara scrunches her face in on itself, crinkling her nose in distasteful concentration. “That she’s gone Benedict Cumberbatch—”

“Benedict Arnold? Seriously, Kara—”

“And is now helping us?!” Kara finishes.

“Kara, isn’t this what you’ve wanted the whole time?” Alex says quietly, trying to calm her sister. A quick glance about the shop indicates that they’re not being watched too closely, but one of those mothers’ with the strollers did raise her head when she heard Kara’s desperate tone.

“I don’t know.” Kara crosses her arms over her chest, arches an eyebrow skyward over the rims of her glasses.

“Little One, please,” Astra says, setting the mug aside, fiddling with the black frames at her temple. “I am trying—have been trying—to make amends. I cannot undo my past actions, and as a soldier, I stand by my beliefs. I could have saved your home, our home, Kara. Your mother—”

“Don’t—”

“Astra, not here,” Alex chides.

Astra huffs, then shakes her head angrily; Alex wonders if her eyes are shinier because of Krypton, because of Alura and a cause lost, or because of Kara’s rejection.

“I know you look at m-me and you see her,” Astra says. The general stares at the ceiling, pauses, takes the kind of breath that snipers take to slow their heartbeats… the kind that centers them before they deliver the kill shot. “You hit me, and you might feel as if you are striking your mother. But I… I am not Alura. And Kara, I am gravely sorry that I am not her. After all that you have endured, Little One… you deserve to have her here instead of me.”

“I d-don’t know what you want me to say to that,” Kara says, and dammit, now Kara’s crying, too.

“You do not have to say anything. But it’s something I wish you would understand. You are so like her, Kara, and look at what you’ve become. If she were here, instead of me, think of all the good you two could do together,” Astra moves to reach for Kara’s hand, then blinks, hesitates, settles her hands before her, fingers clasped. “I am just… I am so proud that you chose to persevere, after losing everything. I cannot say that I did the same.”

“But the important part is that you’re trying now,” Alex says, dipping her head to catch Astra’s eye. “Hey.” Alex nudges Astra’s knee under the table. “Tell her about how you know how to text.”

“What?” Astra asks.

“Text?” Kara mutters, glum.

“Go on, Astra. When was the first time you text Kara?”

“You know this already,” Astra says, frustrated, wiping discreetly at the underside of her eyes. “I just told you I incinerated that phone after I sent her the message.”

“When did you text me?” Kara asks, confused.

“When I was imprisoned at Fort Rozz last month,” Alex says. “She couldn’t release me without risking her cover as a double agent. Remember, Kara? Agent Danvers in trouble.

“You… you got me to come save Alex?” Kara questions, the severe creases on her brow smoothing out slightly. “You revealed the location of your base to the DEO, just to help her?”

Alex observes Astra’s reaction to Kara’s deduction, feels the woman shift uncomfortably under Kara’s interrogation. If Kara didn’t have super human x-ray vision, she would place a comforting hand on the general’s knee, implications be damned. Right now, her two favorite aliens are crying, and she can’t seem to translate, can’t seem to mediate between them like she thought she could.

“If I could bring back Alura, even after… I would do anything to restore what I had with my sister,” Astra says. “I cannot let you lose yours, Little One.”

“Alex,” Kara whimpers. “How does she—”

“We’ve been writing for months, Kara,” Alex explains. “She’s not an idiot.”

“No, I am a Nerd,” Astra says seriously.

The blender is still kicking back at the counter. The bell above the door dings, and the scrape of chair legs against linoleum tells Alex that someone has taken a table about two places away from them. There’s a lot of sound still happening, even for her puny human ears.

But the silence at the table that follows Astra’s statement is pervasive… that is, until Kara snorts.

Thank god something broke the ice thicker than the walls in the Fortress of Solitude.

“I’m sorry, I must’ve… you’re a what, Aunt Astra?” Kara leads, and Alex notices the uptick at the corners of her sister’s mouth. Tears are still sheeny over her irises, but something is right there, on the precipice of positivity—something like a smile.

“I’m a… nerd,” Astra repeats, though the inflection at the end of her statement makes it sound like a question. “Is this not correct?”

“No, it’s correct,” Alex smirks, releasing an anxious breath. She sips her Americano to keep herself in check.

“Alex, why would you do that?” Kara smacks her sister on the arm.

“I wasn’t allowed to screw with you growing up. Eliza would have killed me.”

“I’m sorry, have I not used the correct terminology?” Astra asks, gaze flitting between Alex and Kara. “I am a nerd, and you are a dork, Kara.”

“Hey!”

“Hello?” Astra responds—her chin quivering uncertainly. The poor general is floundering helplessly while Alex and Kara talk circles around her, and Alex just can’t keep it together. She puts a hand over her mouth to stifle the very un-badass chortles that are bubbling up like released water from a fire hydrant.

“By Rao, Alexandra, if this is another one of your… ill-expressed idioms I will incinerate these borrowed trousers of yours.”

“You called her a nerd and then you played dress-up?” Kara says, her anger melting to the consistency of soft-serve froyo. It’s amazing, Kara’s ability to heal, to bounce back, to forgive like a superhuman. Alex is often amazed by her sister, but it’s in the small heroics, the sincerity and heartfelt belief that she has in the good around her, that makes Kara Supergirl.

“Can one of you please tell me if I should be affronted at this moment?” Astra snarks, and Alex is pretty sure the general is skirting the edge of offense, looking at her with murder lacking conviction. It’s interesting to note that Alex can tell when Astra is truly angry, and when she is merely feigning anger for show.

Huh.

“It’s…” Kara’s smile slacks when she catches Alex’s eye. The levity shifts, falters, like a sprinter tripped over her feet in the last twenty yards of a dash. Almost at the finish and then—sprained ankle. The critical wrinkles on Kara’s forehead return, and she fidgets in her chair distractedly.

“Kara?” Astra asks, daring to reach across the table once more. “Since I was unable to do so when you needed me before, it would be a great honor if you would allow me to be here for you, in any way that you require.”

“Within reason,” Alex qualifies.

Kara snaps her head up, and the hostility with which she originally surveyed Astra is now being directed towards Alex.

“Kara, she’s the best chance the DEO has at stopping the Fort Rozz combatants for good,” Alex explains, patient as a priest. “It’s already a risk you two meeting up now; it would destroy everything we’ve gotten so far if you two start playing happy family all of a sudden.”

“Playing… playing happy f-family?” Kara mutters, wounded for a reason Alex acknowledges too late in the conversation to retract. Kara’s movements are tentative, but Alex watches as she reaches out to clasp Astra’s proffered hand and gives it a squeeze; Kara grins momentarily, then goes back to blankness, staring at the coffee table.

Alex picks up her coffee and mumbles an apology over the lip of the mug: “I’m sorry. That… was insensitive. I didn’t mean it like it sounded.”

Astra leans forward on her elbows, clasping her hands worriedly before her. “Little One?”

“I get why we can’t… I get why you couldn’t talk to me, Aunt Astra,” Kara says, shaking her head back and forth. “But Alex… you lied to me. Again.”

“Kara, Hank’s the only one who knows about this. I did it for your—”

“For my own good, yeah, I get it,” Kara cuts her off.

And in the many years that Alex has known Kara, her little sister only interrupts when she’s pissed.

It’s infrequent, and has hardly happened to Alex before.

“That seems to be a common refrain for you,” Kara snips, back to her minor cruelties.

“Kara, I couldn’t tell you,” Alex holds her ground. “This only works if as few people know about the letters as possible.”

“Those letters you keep smiling over?” Kara accuses.

Alex feels Astra’s eyes on her, that x-ray vision crawling underneath her skin and scuttling up her limbs, all the way to her torso, tapping, incessantly, like tachycardia rhythms on an EKG. And thank god Hank taught her how to keep her heart semi-steady, taught her how to focus on other stimuli so she could beat a lie detector test… because two sets of Kryptonian senses tuned into her physiology are a lot for her to handle; they press against her like a loadstone, bearing down on her secrets. Alex should’ve known better than to try keeping anything from superhumans.

“We’re making a lot of headway, Kara,” Alex says. “When I get good information from her, I get excited, as would any agent.”

“I don’t understand why you couldn’t tell me,” Kara holds onto her doubt.

“Kara,” Astra interjects. “Alexandra is the one who suggested revealing the nature of our correspondence to you. To allow you to know that I am on your side now.”

“That’s just it, though,” Kara laments, focus bouncing back and forth between Alex and Astra. “I only get to know things when Alex allows it.”

“Kara, no—”

“The DEO,” Kara begins, holding up one finger. “I woke up on that table and you looked like you were about to experiment on me, Alex.”

“You what?” Astra turns on Alex now, a noticeable twitch originating from the muscles of the woman’s upper lip.

Alex tries to explain: “Listen, that was at the very beginning of all this—”

“Then there was Hank,” Kara says, holding up another finger, and Alex hates that it looks like her sister is flashing her the peace sign. She’s not afraid of them, but two angry skull crushers on either side of her and peace is the furthest thing from her mind. “You didn’t tell me about his identity until you absolutely had to.”

“Hank?” Astra asks.

“J’onn,” Alex says.

“Ah, the Martian director.”

“And apparently you’ve told her!” Kara blusters.

“Listen, Kara, it’s just good strategy for her to know we have a shapeshifter on our side. It will aid with reconnaissance, infiltration, battle, should it come to it—”

“But you’ve been talking for months, right?” Kara questions, charging them both. Alex at least has the decency to look abashed; Astra’s uncertain, critical stare makes Alex feel small, wrong… human.

“I understand not wanting to get my hopes up,” Kara sighs, dejected. “I’m guessing some of your reasoning was to make sure she wasn’t tricking you.”

“Be fair, Little One,” and it’s the damn alien eco-terrorist that’s all of a sudden playing referee. “It is sound judgment she exercised. Alexandra did not wish to cause you pain.”

Alexandra forgets that I can take care of myself. I feel like a lot of people forget that,” Kara says.

“Kara, this was never supposed to hurt you,” Alex explains. “When I was captured, it finally became necessary for you to know. If you had faced off with her,” Alex nods towards Astra, “…I couldn’t live with myself if you did something you’d come to regret, all because you didn’t know.”

“Alex, you wouldn’t have had to worry about me fighting her if you’d just told me in the first place! You don’t have to protect us,” Kara argues.

“From each other? You sure as hell bet I do!” Alex objects, leaning over a half-eaten scone gone cold. “You were ready to launch her through a wall when you walked in here.”

“That’s because you made yourself the middleman from the beginning,” Kara says. “You gave yourself this power.”

“I wrote to her first, Kara,” Astra says. “And originally requested to keep you out of the correspondence. And you cannot fault a soldier her secrets. You have a rather large one yourself; it is sometimes necessary to keep secrets to remain active in the field… to remain alive.”

“Aunt Astra, you don’t know this about me, but Alex does. I’ve had to lie my whole life, and I hate it. I don’t get to be me unless I put on a costume—a disguise in plain sight. My life is split and the few people who know the truth are people I trust. I understand that it’s necessary sometimes, but I also understand what a pattern is,” Kara notes. “And Alex has a habit of lying to me, so it makes me think that she doesn’t trust me.”

“Kara,” Alex reaches for her sister’s hand, and the way Kara shirks her touch feels like the slap across the face Astra had never wanted to deliver, those weeks ago back at Fort Rozz. Alex Danvers has been beaten senseless by any number of off-world species, but she’s never had to stomach such fierce rejection from Kara. It tastes bitter and sour and foul, makes her throat tighten and her gut roil.

“I never got to play sports as a kid,” Kara says softly, without feeling. “But I get the metaphor now… The DEO, J’onn’s identity, you and Astra…” Kara closes her eyes and when her lids flutter open, the tears have returned. “Three strikes, Alex.”

Damn.

Here she was, worried for Astra’s feelings, worried she’d have to negotiate the relationship between aunt and niece, when it’s really her own relationship with Kara that needs the real work.

Mother fucking dammit.

“I’m sorry you have to hear this, Aunt Astra,” Kara says, removing her glasses and rubbing the pads of her fingers against her eyes. “I’m so happy you’re working with us, though. I think it’s pretty obvious that I would’ve liked to have known sooner.”

“Little One, I’m so grateful that we… that we have the chance to build something once again,” Astra says.

Alex’s jaw is tight, her teeth clenched, her focus boring into the center of the table. She doesn’t deserve to be present for this moment. Not after all the hell she’s put Kara through. She feels a warm touch against her knee, but she doesn’t react. It’s Astra, trying to comfort her in her own little way, but how can she understand Kara’s accusations? Everyone of them is true.

She hasn’t been fair to her sister.

Every detail Alex revealed about Kara’s life, a trade-off for information about Fort Rozz… was that betrayal? Manipulation? Has she become so invested in her mission that her personal ethics have flown as low as her GPA that second year of grad school, before she hit the books and got her shit together?

“You must not judge your sister too harshly,” Astra says. “I was complicit in this arrangement.”

And what the hell must Kara think of Astra’s hand on her leg under the table?

“I just… I think I need some time to process,” Kara says.

“I’m sorry,” Alex mumbles, still staring absently at the space before her. She feels Astra squeeze against her knee and it hurts a little, but she keeps her expression schooled to passivity. Alex is not the one who gets to feel hurt in this.

“I… know,” Kara says sadly.

Alex is about to suggest another meeting, another try, a rewind, a fast forward, just something to get this load of solidifying discomfort out of her belly, but Astra and Kara have both twisted their heads sideways, inclined their chins in careful study.

“What is it?” Alex asks.

“Gunshots,” the Kryptonians say in unison.

“A lot?”

“Glass… a bell… there’s the threat,” Astra narrates, listening intently.

“Robbery,” Kara and Astra say together, finally together again.

The blenders have stopped and Alex has heard the espresso wand blast sporadically over the past ten minutes; but even without the coffee shop racket, she’ll never have the ability to do what Kara and Astra can do. Never have the ability to stop a crime before it’s committed.

“I gotta go,” Kara rises, fingering the last button on her shirt. “I can take care of this and still have time to grab Cat’s latte at Noonan’s.”

“I’m proud of you, Little One,” Astra says. “We will meet again, under better circumstances.”

“I hope so,” Kara replies, smiling slightly. “Alex, I—”

“I love you, Kara. And even if I haven’t been fair to you… I… I do trust you. I haven’t shown it, but I’ll do better.”

Kara pats her on the shoulder. “We’ll talk more later.”

“I love you.”

“Love you.”

Kara’s gone so fast it’s like she never walked through the door in the first place. The only difference in the scene from Kara’s entrance and departure is the hand resting on Alex’s knee.

“Alexandra?”

“We should go,” Alex stands, the weight of Astra’s palm on her leg suddenly too intimate in the fallout. “She didn’t blow up in your face, so that’s good.”

“She is amazing in many regards,” Astra shuffles behind Alex, who rushes to maneuver through the maze of chairs and tables.

Alex doesn’t open the floor for further conversation.

But silence doesn’t exist in the city, not even on early weekend mornings. The glass on the front door is smudged, the early air cool with springtime breezes; but once they emerge from the coffee shop, honks and shouts and echoes of sirens filter down the street, sonorous vibrations rebounding off the walls of a metropolitan gorge.

Alex tucks her head to her neck and starts pacing down the sidewalk, heedless of direction. She doesn’t feel like she should walk towards Supergirl’s triumph, doesn’t want to talk about Kara’s extremely justified disappointment… doesn’t trust herself to speak without her voice cracking. But Astra grabs Alex by the arm once the pair of them have meandered a block or so from the shop, away from the prying eyes of any who might have noted their absence coinciding with Kara’s departure.

“She is amazing,” Astra reasserts, trying to catch Alex’s gaze. To direct the conversation back to Kara. “As I have learned today… especially when it comes to forgiving.”

Alex shatters right there on the sidewalk.

It’s been building, for much too long, the thoughts of her damning pride (jealousy) concerning Kara’s abilities, of not wanting to burden her sister (just so she could prove herself), of needing Kara to depend on her (rely on her, an element of control she otherwise wouldn’t have). It manifests itself in lies and half-truths; and Kara takes it and takes it, hit after hit after secret after lie, takes it like the Super Human she is, making Alex feel petty, useless, spiteful. Feelings Alex once thought reconciled she wonders if she’s merely repressed, and now, regurgitated them for both Kara and Astra to see. She loves Kara. Alex loves her. But the nature of her job, her work, so integral to her life, now—it means lying to loved ones. Lying to people she can trust with a million other intimate details of her existence.

It hurts to know that Kara sees her this way. Hurts enough for Alex to start crying, no matter how hard she attempts to keep the tears at bay.

“Alex—”

“Don’t… it’s fine.” Alex clears her throat as a siren shrieks in the distance.

“Sometimes, it is necessary to cry,” Astra stands awkwardly near a wrought iron fence, inches from her, Alex notes, when she looks up from digging in the corner of her eye socket with a healing knuckle. “It is not shameful to weep. Especially when you do not weep from weakness, but from love, Alexandra.”

“I hurt her,” Alex whispers, her lashes and lids flickering, heavy with moisture. She tilts her head up and the bright sun does nothing for her, not like it does for Kara and Astra. It just burns her retinas, makes her squint, forces the tears to run down her cheek.

“It is the nature of our positions,” Astra says. “Soldiers, armies… spies and covert missions. It is not that we are deceitful by nature, but it is requisite for success, oftentimes. And oftentimes, we feel as though we need to protect those who… do not need our protection. It is in our training, and, as you once told me… old habits die hard.”

Alex blinks rapidly, licks her lip, wonders why she can’t seem to make eye contact with Astra without wanting to cry even more.

“Kara is not my Little One any longer,” Astra continues. “She is Supergirl. A target for my army. I can only do so much for her now. You can only do so much. It is time that she stands for her name, for the House of El.”

“She shares my name, too,” Alex counters. “I can’t just stop worrying about her.”

“Allowing her agency does not mean you do not care for her safety,” Astra amends. “This may perhaps be my rank speaking for me, but I must allow my soldiers to complete the tasks I assign. I must trust them, trust myself to know that I have prepared them well. I cannot… what is your human term? I cannot lead and micro-wave at the same time.”

Alex snorts through the thickness in her head, the tears clogging her sinuses.

“Micro-wave?”

“I must delegate responsibility. Not… perform tasks that other people can do themselves.”

“Oh, you mean micro-manage.”

“The term is inconsequential,” Astra shakes her head, her fall of lazy waves shiny as shellacked woodwork in the morning light. “You must let her try.”

She’s gorgeous.

Alex tries to redirect her focus to Kara, to her sister, to Astra’s niece.

“But if I can help her—”

“You end up enabling her,” Astra corrects. “By not allowing her to do things on her own, not allowing her to fail, to triumph, she will never learn. If I may, Alexandra…” Astra says, reaching up to brush an errant tear away from the crease near Alex’s nose. “I imagine your Director Henshaw was not pleased when you revealed the nature of our correspondence.”

“Pissed beyond belief,” Alex smirks.

“And yet he allowed you… to have me, in a way,” Astra says.

Alex can’t help her heart from floating. Of course, Astra doesn’t mean it that way. She’s coming at it from the standpoint of the job, the standpoint Alex always loses sight of whenever Astra lays hands on her.

“It was a risky move, undoubtedly. But the Martian allowed you your project, trusted your judgment, after years of training, of guiding you. I can only thank Rao that the Martian did so, if it brought us here.”

Astra brushes her thumb over Alex’s cheek, tears no longer present, just a stunning shock where fingertips meet the line of her cheekbone. Alex closes her eyes, allows Astra to think she’s fighting tears when she’s really memorizing this feeling. Who knows the next time she’ll be able to speak with the woman face-to-face? To have her close enough to touch?

It’s the uncertainty that spurs her next stupid, selfish move.

She moves into Astra, dodging the arm cradling her face so that she can wrap her hands around Astra’s waist and pull her flush. She dips her head into the space of Astra’s neck, knows Astra can feel her feeble, human tears against her unbreakable skin.

It’s not just a hug.

She and Kara hug all the time. There’s affection present here, definitely… a degree of sympathy; but there’s also solidarity, a deeper understanding and commonality due to their stations in life that lead Astra to tighten the embrace, to tangle her hand in the hair at the base of Alex’s head, to drape her other arm over Alex’s shoulder blade and squeeze.

“I love how much we love her,” Alex confesses, knows her heart is limping along with her raggedy sobs.

“As do I,” she hears Astra whisper against her ear. She thinks she feel lips brush over the curve of cartilage.

“And I hate how bad we’ve made her feel. I hate how we hurt her,” Alex finishes, pressing tighter into Astra, wishing she could burrow deeper, wishing she could wrap herself up in a woman who is the incarnation of a mirrored self, of someone so stunningly similar she feels both justified and doubtful all at once.

“Oh, Alexandra,” Astra offers her confession: “As do I.”

Chapter Text

Dostoevsky,

I’m discouraged to hear that you and our Dear Friend have not had time for the reconciliation I know you so desperately desire. There are times when schedule and mission do not align. I understand our Dear Friend is experiencing multiple issues at their other place of employment—the Queen on her High Horse, as you say, enlisting a Number Two to unsettle our Dear Friend. But I encourage you to take heart; our Dear Friend will come around, given time, given your attempts to make changes in the responsibilities with which you entrust them.

In the meanwhile, do continue with your laboratory studies. I noted that your sting against the two dissenters from Phaldron went well; it is exciting to witness your ascension, moving up as you are in your ranks, having spent months writing to you. Dare I call it pride, Dostoevsky, seeing both you and our Dear Friend flourish so in your chosen fields, even if you are not on the best of terms at present? My Dear Friend of course, matters greatly to me, and I only wish for them to prosper. You, however… were an unanticipated surprise.

The troops here are in the final stages of building the Myriad devices. If the mind control does take effect via your satellite systems, I fear many civilians will begin an uprising, will be injured as authorities attempt to quell the unrest, through no fault of their own. However, one of your agent’s unexpected imprisonment and the DEO’s monitoring of our base has fostered an idea that could prohibit Myriad’s implementation, and hopefully sidestep a full-out battle between my forces and yours. It will require some technological manipulation that, unfortunately, falls under neither of our specialties. Of course, I know now better than to underestimate your understanding of such technologies. Perhaps you will have a suggestion as to implementing this plan.

Until such a time as I can relay further information, I remain, ever respectfully and amiably yours,

Tolstoy

 


 

 

Tolstoy,

Yes, my time away from Dear Friend has given me a little more space to think. In my lab and in the sparring ring, I take out my frustrations with punches and pipettes, but it doesn’t do much good apologizing until I can put that apology into action—to really change what I’ve been doing to our Dear Friend for years, now. It’s just… it’s ingrained, at this point. Protection, secrecy, sacrificing the feelings of the few for the feelings of the many. It’s hard. I still want to protect, still want to prevent pain when I can.

But… I know it’s not fair or right to prohibit our Dear Friend’s possible failure in the field by relegating them to the sidelines. I can’t operate like that any more. Our Dear Friend deserves more respect than that, and I’m going to give it to them if I ever get the chance.

Thanks for knocking that bit of sense into me, Tolstoy. It might be, like you said, coming from the wisdom that you earned getting to where you are now in your alien army hierarchy, but I don’t think I would have made it home without you that morning. I was a mess after Dear Friend left. Thanks for forcing—well, helping me pull myself together.

We didn’t even really get to say goodbye, not properly, you know? Because I was being… well, unnecessarily emotional, I guess. I don’t know if this is a confession, but it makes me wish I could see you more. Is that strange to say? We get things done okay with these letters, but you said it yourself. You amuse me. Intrigue me. We’re on the same page, idiomatically speaking—not to mention that book I gave you. I wish this wasn’t all dagger and cloak so we could go grab a coffee for real and just talk; you know, without the threat of an alien invasion or secret government agency attack hanging over both of our heads.

Maybe some things are too good to wish for. But it means a lot, that someone of your rank, of your experience, would feel even a little proud of me. Not many people can, because the DEO is all secrecy, under-cover ops and the personal satisfaction of knowing that you did a good job. It’s not like people come up to me in the middle of the street and thank me for my service. Not that I’d expect that of them. It’s just… you make me feel like I matter. A hug coming from you is worth a million nameless gratitudes and handshakes.

As to your idea, you know I’m all ears (that means I’m willing to listen, I’m not actually comprised of ears). If it’s got anything to do with capture, I was going to ask you about that myself. Your base is hollowed out at the foot of that mountain range. Underground, similar to us, impervious to sensors, radar, satellite, etc. It’s not the entirety of the Fort Rozz vessel, though, because I’ve seen that in our backlogged reconnaissance files—but there are architectural elements of the vessel built within that mountainside. Is that why you never integrated with the humans when you first crashed here over a decade ago? Because you were salvaging what you could from the jail? It makes sense, how you don’t quite know everything about us, but still have been reading and viewing enough from the outside to recognize the larger patterns of our behavior. Go ahead with your plan, and let me know when you get it ready for implementation.

I think we make a pretty good team.

-Dostoevsky

 


 

 

Dostoevsky,

A plan of such import is more complex, of course, than simply putting ink to paper. So many things between us, I would say, are more complex than written words. From your previous missives, I believe that you feel the same.

My plan is two-fold: it will allow your organization to detain the hostiles on my side without, as I’ve indicated, an all-out war; it will likewise allow me to utilize a tool I believe will aid in my original intention, which was to save this planet from itself. It will require guile, strategy, preparation that may take weeks if not months of work, for I alone might be doing the grunt of it.

You saw during the capture of one of the DEO agents that we have maintained our functioning cells. These cells are likely the most powerful detention centers in operation on your planet—more powerful, I dare say, than the cells in the DEO. They have been altered, of course; no longer is there an entire vessel lined with cell blocks of varying levels of security, bedecked with diverse and complex instruments of torture. We salvaged entire wings from the prison, in case we ever came across those who would (or ever could) oppose us. If my calculations are correct, the cells within our base could hold up to 80% of General Astra’s army. The trick, you see, would be activating the cells at the same time, with the combatants inside of them. They are all powered down, and are therefore no more powerful than basic titanium. Kryptonians and Lunarians would have no problem escaping the structures. However, if we were to prep the cells and institute some kind of safety protocol should our base suddenly be sieged—your team would have the benefit of attacking prisoners within a jail that can hold them. They would not be on the open field; you would not have to worry with transport.

I have noticed your preference for capture over killing. It is noble, I suppose, but I do not wish for any harm to come to you, should you refuse to take the killing strike when it is presented, all for hope of detainment. Just because I am suggesting use of the prison does not mean I do not wish to aid you in your fight… does not mean I am discouraging you from utilizing every weapon in your arsenal. You are—important to our Dear Friend.

Likewise, you are important to me.

The close quarters for fighting within the base are not ideal, but it would take the others completely by surprise. They know we are being watched, but they are cocky, feel themselves invulnerable to human attack. And currently, they are.

But not if we are smarter.

The energy that serves the base is… a somewhat self-sustaining power-source. Its effects can be multiplied, compounded, harnessed and expanded. However, after the crash from the Phantom Zone and the subsequent years on earth in a subterranean hideaway, our source, a Kryptonian synthetic compound unknown to Earth, has begun to exhibit signs of deterioration. Now, the analogy may not stand, but it would seem that those inhabitants of Krypton (Kryptonians), and even those elements we know to be dangerous (Kryptonite), magnify in power with their presence on earth. If we can find a way to bring the energy source out from underground and yet still power the prison below, we would be able to curtail the bloodshed and keep the secrecy from civilians that I know is so important to your organization.

Here in lies my quandary: I am unsure how long the element can sustain itself without a boost from your sun. Perhaps it is not self-sustaining any longer—solar powered, I suppose, yet I cannot abandon my hope in the similarities with the Kryptonian biologies. I do believe the principle applies to both; though, this is your area of expertise. It will only succeed if those principles can be applied to compounds of similar origin.

Is my desperation so evident, Dostoevsky, that I’ve let it cloud my judgment?

If my theory is correct, we need only bring the source to the surface on a sunny day, or, bring those solar panels you use on your Supergirl ally near it. It is a matter of getting near the energy and tampering with it, while also beginning reconstructions and refurbishing of the cells that we will turn against the very aliens who guard them that will take the most time. We would need an expert in technology systems to possibly infiltrate the base. It would require a small team on your end, preferably with your best scientist on hand. There is no way I can bring attention to the power source and its deterioration without the engineers jumping the proverbial gun and taking it to our highest security level.

The troops here are so involved with Myriad and the potential domination of humanity that they are heedless of their likelihood for demise. They do no think of the possibilities… should we have an entire population to rule and no planet to rule it on! The High-Lieutenant is especially garrulous concerning these matters, stirring up trouble from the troops. He will not listen to reason, continues to talk and spew vitriol against humans that is unwarranted.

It… saddens the General immensely.

It is frustrating, Dostoevsky, trying to keep a level head when others are calling for blood. It is not as simple or as pleasant as a morning spent with you, selecting garments to wear, walking the pedestrians pathways and conversing on topics of less import, drinking strange beverages and interacting with our Dear Friend. I do hold my mission in high regard, but you show me that other activities can be far more enjoyable.

Fondly yours,

Tolstoy

 


 

 

Tolstoy,

I don’t get how your letters can make me grin and make me grimace in equal measure. I guess it’s because you’re pretty endearing when you want to be. You turn that charm on and it’s amazing that humanity wouldn’t willingly subjugate themselves to you—go all, Teach me your ways, mighty alien overlord! But there’s the whole forcible-enslavement-taking-away-of-free will thing that’s not really okay. Anyway, I’m getting a little off topic. I’m just trying to say that you’re charismatic, and I think I’ve expressed that previously when I said you should be a politician. Oh well, down to business.

I’ve got a guy who can probably do what you need. You’re not going to like him. Hell, I hate the bastard… and the worst part about it is that he’s uncontrollable. Volatile as an unstable chemical compound. Doesn’t even work for the DEO, because he’s got more money than… uh, Rao. But I know he’s the only person who’s going to be able to handle tech and energy readings of that caliber. The terrible part comes with me having to talk him into it. I might have… casually assaulted him on a previous occasion. Then again, I also gave him the benefit of the Black Dress, so I’m pretty sure there was a trade-off in there somewhere. As far as actually getting him into your base, I think this is where I have to stop apologizing and start acting.

I think it’s time we brought Supergirl into the mix.

What do you say?

-Dostoevsky

 


 

 

Dostoevsky,

I will have to put aside my personal reservations concerning this individual if you believe he can benefit our objective. I am wary of anyone we might not be able to control. But then again, sometimes mercenaries can surprise you. Not that I’ve employed them… Perhaps he needs a little bit of—encouragement—from an off-world ally? I would be happy to instill a rousing fervor within this less-than-gentleman if you so desired, and if it would aid in our mission.

You say you’ve injured him? And then proceeded to pass time with him for a… social… engagement? In your courtship outfit? Forgive my skepticism, but human courtship rituals are quite beyond my comprehension. You say you hate him, and yet you honor him with your presence, clothed so brazenly? I can only hope, given your general opinion of the man, that subterfuge for the sake of a mission was the underlying reason for such an interaction. I was able to bypass methods of seduction in my first year of covert operations, as they did not generally work where I was from. However, going off-world, to be considered highly coveted for one’s appearance—it is a frequent method of trickery used by any number of species, mine not exempt. Nor humans, apparently. I’ve never much agreed with it, but the outcomes thusly justify the methods for the assignment.

If we are ever together again, without the burden of the mission pressing so insistently upon us, you must remember to ask of one of my first assignments, during which I faltered to an embarrassing degree. I barely emerged with my cover in tact… but I wager you would find the ordeal humorous, since you so genuinely enjoy laughing at my behavior.

As to adding an ally into the mix… I approve. The upcoming battle cannot continually be avoided. You work apprehending foot soldiers of our Army helps you to a degree, but it is only with outright confrontation of the full force that we will put this conflict to rest. Call upon your Supergirl. She may be an asset for when we sneak your engineer into our base of operations. She will likely prove an asset when all interactions come to a head. If you are to contact her for this mission, I believe it is time to resolve the conflict you have with our Dear Friend. Speak your truth, Dostoevsky, and know that they rely on you. That they love you more than you can likely understand, given what they’ve lost in their pasts. They just want the chance to prove themselves, to act upon that love, on that devotion.

Do let me know how your attempts go with our Dear Friend. I believe the best of the both of you.

Affectionately,

Tolstoy

 


 

 

Alex stands outside of Kara’s apartment door at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, double checking her phone. She raps her knuckles against the board, but knows that Kara can see her regardless of the knocking. It’s been tense the past week and a half since the disaster that was the weekend breakfast; tense whenever Kara’s strutted into the DEO, dragging an unconscious alien behind her; tense whenever Alex tries to text a dumb joke, and doesn’t get the customary one-eyed tongue-out silly-face emoji in reply; tense because she didn’t call last Sunday morning, like she always does, to escort Kara out to the diner in the desert that Kara swears has the best chocolate chip waffles in the universe. Kara’s mentioned having to work double-time to make sure Cat doesn’t throw her under the rails and replace her with Siobhan Smythe, has mentioned her friends James and Lucy on the rocks.

There’s a lot going on with Kara Danvers and Alex isn’t helping by adding trust issues with an older sister to the fray.

But tonight, hopefully…

Well, she’s got to start somewhere.

“Hey, I got your text,” Alex says softly to the door; again, knowing Kara can hear her. “I’ve got pistachio and cookie dough gallons, and the pizza’s on the way. I mean, my gastrointestinal system won’t thank me in the morning for all the dairy, but you sounded like you could use it.”

When Kara cracks the door, she props her face against the frame. She’s dressed in casual sweats and one of Alex’s hand-me-down band tees, her blonde hair is wet, her cheek bulged out comically over the wood. Alex offers her a half grin and shakes the bag of ice cream like a piñata before the widening eyes of school children, knowing the contents will be demolished as soon as her sister gets her hands on them.

“Hey,” Kara mutters.

“Hey,” Alex says, shuffling over the threshold as Kara swings the door wider.

“So, uh… cookie dough or pistachio? What’s going to make the week less sucky?”

“Cookie dough,” Kara laments. “And a funnel, if you’ve got it on hand.”

“Not since my terrible stint in grad school,” Alex says. “Uhm… thanks for letting me come over.”

“Yeah, I… yeah.”

Kara’s rarely at a loss for words, so effusive and jittery with her justifications that she occasionally overlooks the conversational gravitas in certain exchanges. But now, she’s unsure. Uncomfortable. Apprehensive.

Alex makes her feel that way.

“Here,” Alex says, cracking the lid on the cookie dough ice cream and passing one of the larger serving spoons toward her sister. Better than Kara going at the container face-first (as Alex has witnessed on more than one occasion).

“Ssssoooo,” Kara starts through a huge garbled mouthful of dairy product that gives Alex a brain-freeze merely by association. “How’s Aunt Astra?”

“Fine, I guess,” Alex shrugs, turns from the counter and helps herself to a bottled water from the fridge. Just as she’s about to twist the cap off the top of the selection she stops, thinks about Astra, then puts it back on the shelf. She shuts the door to the refrigerator and selects a glass from Kara’s cabinets, turns towards the faucet, and fills it up instead. After settling back at the counter where Kara’s already speed-eaten half-way through a gallon container of cavity creating cream, she elaborates.

“She might be having a slight effect on me.”

“Huh?” Kara asks.

Alex indicates the glass. “I invested in a plastic water bottle I can fill up, as opposed to the little paper cups at the cooler in the DEO break room.” Alex takes a sip of her water because her throat feels dry. “I mean, I don’t plan on starting a compost pile anytime soon in my apartment. But… better for the environment.”

“Cat’s been on that kick for a while now,” Kara mutters, slowing her ice-cream-to-mouth shoveling. “CatCo is the second greenest company in the nation, the ninth in the world, according to Forbes. Not that Cat cares about what Forbes reports, but it says something for a media company that sells papers and magazines.”

“Right,” Alex says, tapping absently on the counter with her index finger. She hates this. Awkward small talk. Like they don’t know each other at all, like they’re talking around each other, just to save the other a bit of grief. “But Cat’s been running you a little ragged?”

“Little? Yeah, you could say that,” Kara grumbles, slumping forward so that she rests her chin in her hand, her elbow propped lazily on the counter before her. She plunks the spoon down into the ice-cream container and it thuds against the dessert, making a series of indentations that look like a giant’s fingernails digging into the cream.

She’s just playing with her food now.

“So… I, uh, also brought a new show, since we just finished The Jinx.”

“That one was way creepy,” Kara say. “I don’t think I want to watch if it’s like that.”

“No, it’s… well, it’s in Danish.”

“Danish?”

“Yeah, but it’s by the same studio that did The Killing, and you loved that one,” Alex explains.

“What’s it called?”

Borgen,” Alex says, taking a deep breath, hoping the summary of a tv show can do a lot more in the way of apologizing than she ever could. “Political drama, not murder mystery, though. It’s about the Danish Prime Minister, and all the stuff she’s got to go through. It got good reviews about how the woman with all that responsibility had to balance working such a high-stress job and… well, uh, keeping her family life together.”

“Is there a happy ending?” Kara asks, looking up toward Alex with shiny eyes.

“I don’t know,” Alex confesses. “I haven’t seen it.”

“It’ll be a happy ending though… I think it will,” Kara says, extending her hand across the table, wrapping her fingers in Alex’s and giving them a reassuring squeeze.

“Yeah,” Alex’s voice catches just the slightest. “I sure hope so.”

Chapter Text

Two episodes and half a pizza in, Alex has now mastered ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ in Danish (which really isn’t all that impressive, Kara reminds her), and has put Copenhagen on her bucket list of capital cities for visit if she ever cashes in on all that off-time she’s logged. Probably won’t. Flying around the world might be nice, but having a world to fly around sounds nicer, which means she’s gotta stay on the job.

“She’s a good actress,” Kara says, sneaking another piece of pepperoni off the carton, the triangular droop of the slice disappearing into the garbage disposal that comprises her Kryptonian gullet. “I like that she’s firm, but not a hard-ass.”

“Balance, I guess,” Alex says, bringing up the remote, pausing before the ‘play next episode’ option pops up. “Which is something we probably need to work on… balance, I mean. I don’t know how much of a hard-ass I am until you get in the ring with me.”

Kara chews thoughtfully, silently, and Alex doesn’t rush her. Kara’s never gotten the hang of not shoving an entire crust in her mouth at once.

“Yeah, that’s… that’s something we could try to do better about, I think,” Kara agrees.

“Do you want to go first?” Alex asks, taking a fortifying breath. She knows whatever follows will probably hurt a heck of a lot more than a few cracked ribs from an enemy interrogation.

“What do you mean?” Kara asks, shifting to face Alex full-on. She pulls her ankles up underneath her body and crosses her legs, yanks the throw off the back of the couch and folds it over her lower half to get comfortable.

“We need to like… talk this out,” Alex says, gesturing vaguely between herself and Kara. “I’m done hiding things from you, Kara. Missions, jobs, any of the undercover stuff I sign up for, you have a right to know. You can handle it, and I’ve got to accept that you can handle it. I want to be fairer to you.”

“Oh, uh… thanks,” Kara begins, and Alex imagines Kara feels just as out of her depth as she does, presently. “I mean… good. That’s… good, I—‘cause I need you to be able to trust me. I can’t do—I can’t be Supergirl if you’re trying to… I mean… you’re not reigning me in, exactly. I just…” Kara looks up, her tongue playing over the front of her incisor as she thinks.

“I’m going to let you do your job, Alex. It goes both ways. The DEO was around longer than me or you, so that means there’s been agents risking their lives and their families for longer than me or you, too. But we’re kinda… special, you know? Because our family and our work are part of one another. You can’t… you can’t hurt me without your work suffering. And you can’t abandon the DEO, because it’s like you’re abandoning me.”

“I get that,” Alex says, running an agitated hand through her cropped hair. “Especially with Astra. She’s your family Kara, and… you were right, the other weekend. When at first I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to get your hopes up. But when I knew I could trust her, when I really started to let Hank in on the whole thing, the missions she’s helped to tip me off on… I should’ve told you sooner.”

“When you got taken,” Kara starts, leaning forward on her knees. “Were you writing to each other then?”

“Yes,” Alex says, afraid this was the portion of the correspondence Kara would zero in on.

“Did she know they were going to kidnap you?”

“No, that was your uncle’s doing.” Alex watches as the corners of her sister’s lips slide down in a scowl. “It took her completely by surprise. We’d not even seen each other face-to-face until she—”

“Let them slap you across the face,” Kara finishes, furrowing her brows. “But she still went along with it. Allowed them to hurt you.”

“Actually… well, yeah. She… she was the one who did it,” Alex mumbles, hates that she has to elaborate at Kara’s confusion. “Slapped me around, bruised my ribs.”

“She beat you?!”

“It’s not that simple, Kara,” Alex rushes to explain. “She… she’s in a really tricky situation right now. The reason she started writing to me in the first place was because she thinks her troops want to revolt from under her command. She’s never wanted the battle—well, I won’t say never—but she realizes now that all this bloodshed obviously does more harm than good. She wanted to go the diplomatic route, try to work with the DEO, the government, but her subordinates didn’t see it that way. And your aunt is powerful, Kara, but she’s only one woman. Just like you are only one Supergirl.”

“But that doesn’t explain why she still hurt you,” Kara pouts, concern evident.

“Kara, if they brought Astra in right now, the first thing I’d have to do is slap a pair of Kryptonite cuffs on her wrists and escort her to a cell. I couldn’t blow cover without putting her in danger. She couldn’t blow cover without putting the both of us in danger. If she’d taken it easy on me—which she kinda did—they would’ve turned on her right then and there. We would’ve lost our advantage. We were being watched and she performed accordingly.”

“How…” Kara starts, blinks, stares past the black screen and thinks for a bit, regards the city lights outside her window. When she turns back, she looks heartsick, lonely and desperate like she’d been when she’d talked of Krypton so fondly in her first year. “She really does miss me, then?”

“Oh, Kara,” Alex says, moves so her legs fall to the floor and she can reach out for her crying sister. Kara settles against her shoulder and even though she’s teary-eyed it seems better, seems better because Alex can now say, truthfully, that Astra misses her more than her homeworld.

“You’re the whole reason she’s changed,” Alex says, dropping a kiss to the top of Kara’s still-drying hair. “You put that cape on, and she decides to stop what she’s been working on for ten years… more if you count the time on Krypton. She wants to fly with you so badly.”

“Really?” Kara asks, the strength in her voice returning.

“She wrote something like… I yearn for the day I’m able to embrace my Little One once again.”

“No… she wrote that?”

“I’m paraphrasing, but yeah. She sounds like a character out of an old English novel sometimes. Makes me wonder how she learned the language in the first place,” Alex chuckles, stroking her sister’s head. “That, and all her trouble with modern idioms.”

“Who else at the DEO knows?” Kara asks.

“Just Hank. He would’ve found out anyway, with the mind-reading bit. And in case it was a trap, I had to have someone who knew my contact, that I was writing her,” Alex allows Kara to absorb that bit of information, allows her to know that it’s not just selfishness, but protocol, reporting up a chain of command.

But it is… was, Alex and her self-righteousness, holding back the details from Kara all the same.

“It should’ve been you, and I realize that now,” Alex muses. “Hank’s been really wary since the capture, but she and I are working on a plan to avoid a big final battle.”

“Yeah?” Kara perks up, extricates herself from Alex’s hold and turns, eyes alight with excitement, not tears.

Thank god there’s no more tears.

“You’ve heard rumblings about Myriad at the DEO, right?”

“Yeah, but nothing for sure. What are they thinking?”

“Astra’s troops want to rule humans. Want to implement mind control via our satellite networks… I’m not sure of the details, but tech’s picked up a lot of energy surges from National City’s six primary satellites. And when I wrote Astra, she confirmed that Myriad is mind-control, to an extent. We’ve got to stop them before they flip the switch, and have a city full of human soldiers on their hands.”

“And you’ve got a plan?”

“Astra does,” Alex clarifies. “She’s so smart, Kara. She says you take after your mom, but I see a little bit of her determination in you. She says you two were close.”

“Aunt Astra was gone a lot,” Kara recalls. “But the High Week of Rao, Kryptonian Service Days, Seasonal Solstice celebrations, she was always there. Always brought me a new chip.”

“Chip?”

“We didn’t have books,” Kara clarifies. “We had information chips, libraries of them, to insert into our cubes. Once inserted, the information was integrated with our libraries.”

“Like a big-ass Kindle?”

“Something like that,” Kara says. “Connected with the networks of other planets within the system. She went off-world a lot. Traveled, knew so many languages. She was… I always thought she was so glamorous.”

“Glamorous?” Alex snorts. “Astra? You’ve got to be joking.”

“Look Alex, I don’t mean to pull rank on you here, but my family was sort of a big deal on Krypton.”

“I never would have pegged you for an alien elitist,” Alex accuses, pinching ineffectually at her sister’s obliques.

Kara squirms away and scrunches up her nose playfully.

“It’s terrible… but it’s not untrue,” Kara sighs. “My father was the second born of a high-ranking House. His position in the government was assured from birth. My mother, as you know, was a judge. We were not a matrilineal culture, so it wasn’t common for women to do so well, to achieve such high positions. In that regard, we were remarkably similar to Earth.

“But Mother performed well at the Academy,” Kara continues. “Achieved great notoriety with her advancement, for someone so young. And Aunt Astra, she was—not reckless, but bold. Twins weren’t usual either, so they each had to prove themselves, middle-born daughters, uncommonly clever. My mother was reserved, composed, did wonderfully in philosophy, had boundless knowledge of critical theory, ethics, justice, political history. Astra was her counter… not just physical mirror. Science, action, concrete proof and a head for strategy, for numbers.

"Enlisting as young as she was at the time was like, the height of scandal considering how well Mother was doing, considering how well she performed at the Academy,” Kara giggled. “Rao, it’s weird thinking back on it now, really figuring out what was happening. It’d be like… if a Kennedy refused a senate seat in favor of boot camp. She told me once Grandfather threw her out of the house.”

“Did he really?” Alex asks, enraptured by the story.

“Who knows? I think she might have been doing that just to get a gasp out of me. She was dramatic, too. Always liked to reenact her battles with me; brought me a Clohmpistol once when she returned from one of her off-world missions. Astra nearly made my mother grow her own white streak when she found out.”

“A what?” Alex inquires. “Clohmpistol?”

“It’s like… the Earth equivalent of a BB gun,” Kara smiles. “I got to hold it, but never actually shot it. My mother was a little protective.”

“And Astra wanted you to have a little fun,” Alex counters.

“She was such a good aunt. A confidante, when I couldn’t talk to mother, or father. I was an only child, which was more common on Krypton than it is here. But thinking back… Astra told me once that wasn’t the case.”

Alex watches Kara stare at the threads on the throw Eliza had sent with her when she’d made the big move out here to National City. Kara didn’t really get cold or overly warm, but having something soft against her skin helped with other sensational bombardments. She frequently wrapped herself up in it just for the sake of having the weighted cloth press against her shoulders.

“You know, I wonder if the High Council knew about the core's stability, even then,” Kara muses. “Astra and Mother were siblings, and so were my father and Jor-El. So the generation before me had multiple children. But no one in my year at Instruction did.”

“What does that mean, Kara?” Alex asks, not quite following.

“Just… Astra might have recognized it for what it was. The first steps of population control, because they knew Krypton couldn’t sustain the upcoming generation. Less people to die. I mean, it doesn’t matter now, but… Astra never had any children.”

“She was a soldier…” Alex says, wondering despite herself if advancements on Krypton were not worth the trouble, not worth the sacrifice. “It would have been difficult for her to live that life and be a parent.”

“That’s true, and I can’t speak for her,” Kara says, fidgeting. “It just… makes me think about Krypton. The High Council was just, logical. They would allow each person a child, most likely, but a set of twins—especially middle-born like the In-Zes? So uncommon… I don’t know. I’m not making any sense.”

You’re making tons of sense.

“Do you think she wanted a child?” Alex mumbles.

Alex can’t stop the images from flashing before her like a disjointed PowerPoint slideshow. Astra with a little floating boy or girl, coloring books on a coffee table, blurred races in a park, bedtime early, but before sleep, charting the constellations—the kid hovering over her shoulder with a water pistol in hand, shooting at the seagulls on a California beach side, Astra just as fascinated with the flying creatures.

We didn’t have birds on my planet.

Astra stooping down to let the child play in the waves, counting the ridges on a seashell, seeing how far the tiny Kryptonian could hurl the lavender enamel out to sea.

Astra at the beach…

Astra in a swimsuit…

Abort, Danvers. Abort!!!

Kara’s said something, and Alex has no idea what it was. She was too busy having extremely inappropriate thoughts about Kara’s alien aunt and oh God… they’re just getting to where they can talk regularly again and now she’s got to keep another secret? Another lie from her sister?

Well that just sucks.

“Alex?” Kara asks. “Are you okay?”

“Uhm… no.”

Because it’s not just a crush anymore. Not just an infatuation, not just sincerely, or best regards, or even your friend. Nope. It’s affectionately and fondly and it makes Alex feel like she’s gone eight rounds with a Lunarian and beat the snot out of him every time. It’s curling her fingers around the strands of that white streak and snorting when Astra curses in Kryptonian, thinking that Alex won’t understand her, even though that’s the first thing Alex asked Kara to teach her when Kara began giving her lessons in Kryptonese. Ever since Astra came to her apartment that first night, then prepared to meet Kara the other weekend, the letters have grown more intimate.

I’m proud of you, Alexandra.

My time spent with you is enjoyable, Agent Danvers.

You’re important to me.

It was never written explicitly, but Alex knows it, can tell that Astra’s marriage has long been on the rocks, is suffering even more now. And Alex is too wrapped up in the mission—like Kara just said. Too wrapped up in Astra.

The job and family are one in the same.

What does that make her and Astra?

“Hello? Earth to Alex?” Kara waves a hand in front of her face, but Alex has no idea… no frame of reference for how to broach the subject. “Or Alexandra, if that’s what you’d rather the Kryptonians called you.”

Alex screws up her face and double-takes from her side of the couch, because it’s just weird when Kara calls her that.

“Uhm, Kara?”

“What?” Kara asks, ticking her eyebrow heavenward, tilting her head with a half-smile. “What is with you?”

“I… I don’t want to lie to you,” Alex starts, because that’s the truth. That’s the truth.

“We’ve established this,” Kara nods, sitting straighter, grin dropping.

“No, I mean, I don’t want to lie to myself, either, not anymore, it’s just…” Alex grunts, tosses the throw from her ankles and takes the empty pizza box from the coffee table and back into the darkened kitchen. “You don’t have anything stronger than ice cream in your freezer do you?”

“You mean like vodka?” Kara asks.

“Oh! Do you!?”

“No. Alex, what’s wrong?” Kara gets up herself and watches as Alex rifles through the cabinets, nearly KO’d by three boxes of Pop-Tarts that fall out of an overstocked cupboard. She would suffer a subdural hematoma not from danger in the field, but from her sister’s dietary preferences.

Kara crosses her arms over her chest and studies her sister; Alex doesn’t like the critical stare. It’s affecting her rapidly nose-diving courage. There’s no way she can speak the words aloud for herself—let alone tell Kara if she doesn’t have some sort of alcohol on hand.

“I think there’s wine leftover from last game night. Lucy brought a red, top right cabinet.”

“Bless that Little Lane,” Alex sighs, opening the cabinet to commence her wrestling match with the cork. She pours a healthy serving into a Noonan’s novelty cup because they’re not really at the Four Seasons, and Kara’s immunity to alcohol also means she’s not invested in a set of decent wine glasses. Still, it seems more than necessary that Alex not be 100% sober when she tells Kara she wants to bang her aunt.

“What the hell?!” Kara gapes, as Alex takes her first gulp of the Merlot. “Did you just say you wanted to bang my aunt?!”

Alex feels her throat tighten up as Kara repeats the words she’s just mentally (silently?) relayed to herself; the very non-composed secret government agent chokes and spit takes across the counter, little red rain drops splattering all over Kara’s kitchen island.

“Alex!”

“There’s no way you heard that unless you added mind reading to your powers without telling me!”

“You just mumbled it to yourself while you were attacking that wine bottle!” Kara counters, banging her hands on the back of the couch, groaning when the tiny legs creak under the pressure. “I have super-hearing!”

“This is why I needed the alcohol!” Alex flings one hand wide, sassy and desperate for something that will work quicker than glorified grape juice (even if it is a good label; Lucy has decent taste and more money than Alex on a government salary). Alex misses the days she could down multiple shots straight off the bar… or other people’s bodies, but she won’t get into that.

“Because you… you like…” Kara scrunches her features together, her cheek twitching, her eyes squinting, like she’s just seen something she can’t unsee. “Oh Holy Rao, you’ve been smiling at those letters for weeks. You’re smitten.”

“I am not smitten,” Alex objects, whipping a dishtowel off a hanger to clean up her mess. She knows it’s not just wine on the carpet that’s making Kara flail, making her grimace uncomfortably.

“She calls you Alexandra. No one else calls you that without getting assaulted.”

“It wouldn’t do me a lot of good to assault her,” Alex says, taking another large sip (it’s a gulp, she’s chugging it). Kara flinches when Alex brings the cup down hard on the counter. “Don’t judge me, Kara. You’re the one with half a dozen suitors at work.”

“I’m not judging,” Kara says, holding her hands up innocently. “But you’ve got to admit, this is weird.”

“I know.”

“She’s my aunt. My alien aunt, Alex.”

“I know, Kara!”

“And she’s married.”

Alex throws the towel at her sister’s head and slumps heavily on the stool at the counter, lets her forehead bang against the bar as she holds her death grip on the yellow plastic cup of wine.

“I. KNOW.” Alex whines through her bicep.

She wants to pick her head up and try to read her sister’s face, but she doesn’t know if she’s emotionally or physically prepared for whatever reaction Kara’s got for her. She’s trying to be honest, trying to be better about not keeping stuff from her sister, but confessing her attraction to one of Kara’s blood relatives is probably not the kind of trust issue Kara had hoped they would work through tonight.

“I guess it’s a good thing I look more like my dad, then; because that would just be a little too weird, y’know?”

Alex feels a hand on her shoulder so she turns her head to the side. Kara’s smiling down at her sympathetically, taking this information a whole lot better than Alex herself.

“You really like her?” Kara asks softly.

Alex expels a humorless chuckle, groans as she lifts her head up off the counter. She polishes off the rest of the wine in her cup, which Kara fortunately refills. Best little sister ever.

“I don’t know how this happened,” Alex says from her position at the counter.

“Does she like you?” Kara asks carefully.

“I don’t know,” Alex says. “It’s too complicated. It’s… We’ve been writing for four months and I’ve seen her three times in that period. Once, when she buried her knee-cap in my gut in front of her Army. But she felt bad about it. Gave me this,” Alex digs in her front pocket and withdraws the spy-beacon. “In case anything like that ever happened again. You know, if I get in trouble.”

Kara freezes beside Alex, her eyes locked on the device. Her mouth is open, gaping slightly, her expression weighted with puzzled concern as she reaches oh-so-tentatively for the object.

“Can I—?”

“Yeah, the thing’s durable as a military-grade com,” Alex tosses the alien communicator toward Kara.

“Alex, don’t!” Kara lunges for the object, holds it reverently before her.

“What’s with you?” Alex asks. “It’s just a little plastic thing. Quicker than a letter, especially if I’m ever in hot water with her alien cronies.”

“You don’t understand,” Kara counters, running her fingers over the exterior curve of the sleek little gadget. “You didn’t just run down to the Dispensary and purchase one of these, Alex. These were special. This was… this one was mine,” Kara says, a half-smile blossoming over her face. “Astra never loses hers. She always had me beside her, with this.”

“Oh, I…hmm.” Alex doesn’t have a response for that. “I don’t know what that means for me.”

“Might mean your crush isn’t so hopeless after all,” Kara smirks. “She wouldn’t just give this out to anyone she works with. She’d have to… I don’t know, care about the recipient of the partner beacon.”

“Seriously?”

“This is trust, Alex,” Kara holds up the spy beacon and twirls it in her fingers. “This is knowing that if you ever press the call, the other person will come and find you, no matter what. No matter the circumstance. If you gotta sprint through a battle field to connect the partner beacon, then that’s what you have to do. She wants to be there for you.”

“I’m sure she just wants to make sure I don’t do anything stupid,” Alex downplays the seriousness of the gift, tries not to let Kara’s explanation raise her already too-high hopes. “When she found out we were sisters, it hit her pretty hard, because of… well, you know.”

Kara nods, contemplative. Alex wonders how often she thinks about Alura, especially now that the hologram can taunt her with the prospects of interaction anytime she wishes. Sometimes, Alex curses herself for even constructing that model in the first place.

“She probably gave it to me so she could swoop in and stop me from blowing myself up, if I got in a bad situation. She knows how hard it would hit you.”

Kara considers her point, but then: “Did she give it to you before or after she found out we were sisters?”

Alex thinks back… The signs were there, breadcrumbs, really, leading to a trail that would be hard for any fairly intelligent person to avoid, and for Astra? She might as well have telegraphed her relationship with Kara through those letters, between all the words written and ink spilled on those lined letters.

“Technically, before,” Alex admits. “But she had to have suspected.”

“But you’re saying she gave this to you before she knew of your connection to me,” Kara summarizes, places too much cheeky emphasis on the word before.

Technically,” Alex reiterates. “Yes.”

“Then you've technically got a chance. She must like you a little bit, too!” Kara claps her hands together playfully, smiling bright as a daisy. “What does she say?”

“No, Kara, it’s not like that,” Alex says. She wishes she could tell Kara that they don’t waste ink on their feelings, that their job is too important to spend time writing back and forth about such trivial matters as hopes for the future and personal interests and… hell, how cliché, how they feel about each other. “If we let personal stuff take over the mission, we muddle a really good working relationship. She told me as much.”

In my bedroom.

In a little black dress.

With my hands in her hair.

“Wait, so… she doesn’t know?” Kara asks.

“No. I don’t think so. I didn’t even know until the other weekend, not for sure… not really,” Alex explains. “It’s how it always starts, little things that are nice, building up into big things," Alex shrugs. She's felt attraction, sure, but this feeling in her gut? This desire to know more about Astra, help her however she can, make her smile? It's definitely been a while for Alex.

"Have you seen her smile, Kara? She doesn’t do it often, but I’m convinced Kryptonian smiles are part of your superpowers.”

“These are the moments I wish alcohol affected me,” Kara feigns a good-natured shudder, turns to the freezer to take out the gallon container of pistachio, then rounds the corner for the utensil drawer. Alex has the wine bottle in hand and Kara the spoon; when she joins her sister, they both take comfort in their vices.

“I can’t believe I fell for an alien in an enemy Army,” Alex grumbles.

“Not just in the Army,” Kara corrects, waving her spoon, punctuating her sentence with a stab in the air. “The General of an alien Army.”

“Who is married.”

“To a raving lunatic,” Kara says.

“Not your favorite uncle?”

“Jor-El was so much nicer. Non was a high-ranking Senator’s son with more bark than bite. I’m convinced Astra signed up for the Army just to try to avoid the marriage. He was a scientist, not a soldier. That Lieutenant title he waves around isn’t earned… I’d say it didn’t exactly work out for her.”

“You mean it was arranged?” Alex asks. “She’s never said anything outright, but I could tell through some of her suggestions…”

“She probably could’ve said no, if she’d had other prospects. But Non-Ur came from a distinguished family of nobles who led the world in scientific research,” Kara explains, shoveling the pastel green flavoring into her mouth. “She could have turned him down, but the family would have never forgiven her, social mobility and all that. But he made her more radical.”

“I hate him.”

“Well, you want to sleep with his wife, so that’s understandable.”

Alex groans.

“On a scale from one to finding out I was in the DEO the first time around,” Alex breathes, rotating her cup on the counter top. “How angry are you with me?”

Kara lets her suffer a while, dipping into the ice cream container and emerging with a glacier of a spoonful, wrapping her lips around it and then returning the spoon into the carton with a vigorous shoveling motion. Alex hears Kara gulp around the glob of ice cream but she doesn’t catch Kara’s eye, too interested in the ripples in her wine.

“I mean, we’ve still got to work on the whole trusting-me-a-little-more-with-stuff thing, but I guess this is a step in the right direction,” Kara says. “Not the step I expected, but a step.”

“So… you’re not mad?”

“Mad? You’re my sister! Of course I’m not mad,” Kara says, nudging Alex with the blunt handle of the spoon. “Listen, when you go and sweep her off her feet or vice-versa, I don’t want all the details, okay? Let’s make a pact right now that you spare me that. I’ve already seen my best friend having sex in an office supply closet with my mortal enemy, and I don’t want to have to relive any experience remotely close to that.”

“Wait, who?” Alex straightens from her slump, happy to get some CatCo gossip. If Kara feels good enough to talk about the goings-on at the office, that means they’re back to a semblance of normal. “And who’s your mortal enemy that isn’t trying to rip your head off with alien strength?”

“More like office-mortal-enemy,” Kara clarifies. “Siobhan.”

“What? With who?”

“Winn.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“In the supply closet?” Alex’s eyebrows march over her forehead in amused credulity, the unexpected scandal something she’d never have wagered the IT hobbit would participate in. “Honestly, I didn’t think he had it in him.”

“It’s weird,” Kara says. “Siobhan hates me.”

“And Winn loves you, so yeah, I’d say that’s a conflict of interests,” Alex teases. “She’s a rebound. He’s got to get over you somehow. So he went and got under—”

“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Kara puts a hold on the conversation. “It’s alright when we’re talking about certain people, but just so you know, any talk like this, about you and…” Kara puffs out her cheeks with a breath and a head shake, clearly uncomfortable. “… should it ever come to it? Topics like this are off-limits. That’s the price of my blessing.”

“Well, we just gotta get through a war first. No big deal, right?” Alex says, raising her plastic wine cup to Kara.

“And figure out how to divorce a pair of Kryptonians,” Kara agrees, clinking her spoon against Alex’s cup.

It’s not quite a toast, not the outright reconciliation she might have hoped for—but the return of the Danvers’s sisters would never be over-the-top. It would be pizza and ice cream and binge-watching a new TV show, and Alex prefers it that way.

“Bonus: if she does ever want to date me, she’s threatened to intimidate Maxwell Lord on our behalves,” Alex chuckles.

“She always was my favorite aunt,” Kara says, dropping her spoon in the container. “Wait, what does she know about Maxwell Lord?”

Alex grins. The question is the perfect chance for that trusting-her-sister-more segue.

“Kara,” Alex says, “How would Supergirl like to join a special team to infiltrate an alien base, keeping in mind it’s risky as hell, no where close to protocol, and will likely endanger the life of a douche-bag civilian?”

Kara brightens mischievously.

“I think Supergirl wants to know... what took you so long to ask?” Kara winks, and Alex finishes off her wine for the night, two knowing smiles blooming over their faces.

Chapter Text

Three fifteen a.m. in National City is surprisingly busier than Alex thought it might be. Pedestrians and cabs slip by, and the occasional police cruiser rolls down the street, bypassing Alex’s vantage point. Then again, she is camped out uptown (not in the residential midtown area) parked on a sidestreet in a DEO issued SUV, eyeing the security guard for one of the largest phallic symbols—that is, skyscrapers, constructed near the throughway north of President’s Boulevard.

Lord Technologies looms like a menacing sword buried in the ground, cutting an impressive figure against the National City skyline. Just as ostentatious as the CatCo building, Maxwell Lord’s offices and labs lack the personal touch of the media conglomerate’s headquarters. At least Cat Grant had the audacity and willingness to have a hand in the construction of her building, the creation of her brand (even if the woman knew zilch about architecture, Cat Grant knows what she wants); Alex can tell just from the sleek, impersonal lines and walls of aqua-tinted glass that Maxwell Lord had thrown a fistful of money at the nearest “chic” developer and let the contractor have at it. Lord Technologies’s mega-sign sits at the top of the edifice, lit with pallid, ghostly white bulbs that cast a desolate shadow over several blocks in the area.

There is no escaping Maxwell Lord’s influence over National City.

The light thud on top of her car shakes Alex from her architectural contemplation, reminds her of the job (recruitment) they’re trying to perform tonight. Alex takes a deep breath, stows the keys in her pocket, and hops out of the driver’s seat.

“Astra?” Alex asks.

“Good evening, Alexandra,” Astra responds, propped on top of the roof of the SUV in her standard black catsuit. She’s perched there amiably, her legs dangling off the side and her booted feet crossed at the ankles. She smiles at Alex and swings her feet, seemingly merry compared to the gloomy dolefulness of the city around her. She hums and floats off the top of the SUV, settling next to Alex with inherent grace.

“Hey, you’re—is that blood?” Alex asks, stepping urgently closer without invitation.

Astra doesn’t startle, just ducks Alex’s attention and swings her hair back over her shoulder, her curls hiding what Alex is positive was a smattering of blood at the neck. There’s none on the suit, but then again… Kryptonian technologies might extend to absorbent or even blood-repellant battle raiment. It would explain why Astra never takes it off, if she can’t get it dirty…

Even if it’s blood-stained.

“Let me see—”

“It’s not mine,” Astra grunts, focusing on the rear wheel of the black SUV. “I’m uninjured, it’s… I would rather not speak of it.”

“You sure?” Alex asks, hating the tight feeling that grips her throat.

Alex’s concern is involuntary—like a connection that has thrived without her tending to it. Her attachment is almost like a weed; perhaps not the nicest plant in the garden, but exceedingly strong and resilient—the powerful crawling vines, overrunning and choking the life out of anything that stands in their way. They are an all-consuming force, in this instance, a floral reckoning.

Foreign. Tenacious. Occasionally beautiful.

Very much like Astra.

“Here you are,” Astra extends a black travel mug, warm on the outside, but sealed tightly to prevent a spill. The action shakes Alex from her heedful inspection.

“What’s this?” Alex asks, taking the thermos.

“Your coffee beverage,” Astra says. “American something, with the milk in it so it doesn’t scorch your tongue. This is correct, is it not?”

Alex sets aside the thrill she feels (knowing that Astra remembered her coffee order from two weeks ago) to slide the opening off the top of the thermos and take a tentative sip.

Perfect.

“You found a coffee shop open at three in the morning?”

“It closed at midnight. I may have—” Astra points toward the cup, then indicates her sparkly, verdant-grey eyes. “Then added the milk afterward.”

“Taking a page out of your niece’s book, then?” Alex asks.

“I would never ruin a book,” Astra says uncertainly. “Did… did Kara write a book?”

“No,” Alex laughs knowingly over her coffee, leans back against the SUV. “She works at this place and uses her laser vision to heat up the coffee for her boss. You know, so it stays hot. That must—” Alex reaches up, hand hovering near Astra’s sight line. She wants to run her fingers over those marble cheekbones, the angles on Astra’s face that make her look harder than Alex knows her to be. “That must come in handy.”

She drops her hand before she can get herself into trouble. It’s too early in the mission for her to be getting distracted.

“Not that I don’t appreciate it, but what’s this for?” Alex asks, returning to the mug. Her fatigue ebbs with every hearty sip, her alertness compounding as the liquefied espresso slides down her throat and begins the dissipation into her nervous system.

“Your circadian rhythms align with lunar and solar patterns,” Astra says. “I cannot have a fellow soldier falling asleep during an evening mission.”

“Hey, you know I’ve trained for this, right?” Alex returns.

“Of course, Agent Danvers. But you seem to appreciate it nonetheless, as I had hoped you would,” Astra replies, her attention turning toward the entrance of the alley. “Is that the building?”

“That’s the lab,” Alex says, then points two blocks south from their position to a moderately sized apartment complex, equally as pretentious, styled in the modern fashion with frames of steel and walls of glass. “That’s the apartment. Kara’s meeting us there in…” she checks her analog wrist watch. “T-minus five minutes. The fire escape’s on the backside, and he’s got the penthouse. So we need to sneak around back to climb—”

Astra places her hand at Alex’s waist and tugs, mushes their torsos together so that their bodies are flush, so that Alex releases a gasp against cheekbones so sharp they could slice through a pineapple in one strike. Astra floats Alex a few inches off the ground, her other hand moving to steady Alex at her lower back. Alex squirms, surprised, but stops fidgeting when she feels the stroking at the base of her spine.

“This works, too!” Alex yelps, jostling the offered coffee. She stares down at the concrete about a foot below and flings one of her arms over Astra’s shoulder, gripping tight against the shoulder muscles behind Astra’s neck.

“Don’t spill that on me. Its odor is potent, and I can’t have any more questions back at base.”

“A little warning next time would be—” she looks up into Astra’s face, open and curious and scant millimeters from her own. “Nice,” Alex whispers, licking her lips instinctively. “Astra, I…”

“Yes?”

Not now, a voice—Hank’s voice, the voice of two years of training, 12+ hours a day, occasionally seven days a week—bangs on the inside of her skull and tells her to keep her focus.

There will be all types of distractions in the field, Hank had told her. Leave your issues at the door. Once you’re on the turf, the only thing that matters is the mission. Fight with your head, and maybe you’ll get to keep it by mission’s end.

“I need to get my kit before we… f-fly,” Alex says, reluctant to leave the woman’s embrace.

It’s not that Alex insisted they meet curbside for any reason other than her need to perform an initial sweep of the perimeter. Not like she’d hoped Astra would offer to pull her close and fly her high. But Alex can’t say she’s disappointed, getting to fly like this again, wrapped up in a Kryptonian without the fear of punishment once she makes it back to Earth.

And wrapped up in this particular Kryptonian? Alex would be content to hover in this hold for the next three hours, even if she does have her conditioning rounds first thing in the morning.

“Of course,” Astra says, setting them back down on the ground, her fingers still smoothing over the hem at the base of Alex’s shirt. Alex doesn’t immediately step away and Astra doesn’t break their hold, just regards the woman in her arms with soft, haunted eyes and a literal otherworldliness that makes Alex grateful Astra’s holding her so close, because she’s damn-well going weak in the knees.

Before the tension gets any thicker, Alex clears her throat and dips her head, removes her arms from behind Astra’s neck and unlocks the SUV. She takes one last swig of the proffered coffee then sets it in the front cup holder; removes the heavy utility belt and drapes it around her waist; racks the slide of her standard Beretta, then holsters the piece. She slips the straps of the backpack over her shoulders and tightens them, shuts the door to the SUV as quietly as she can.

Astra’s been watching her ritual the entire time, but Alex doesn’t like to think about Astra’s attention, doesn’t dare concede that the other woman does look at her a bit too longingly, does hold her a moment past the period deemed appropriate. Alex can hope and hope all she wants, and Astra might even requite her… but at the end of the day they have a war to fight, and stolen moments in Stygian sidestreets have no bearing on their objective.

That doesn’t stop Alex from wanting to fling herself into Astra’s arms, though. She refrains, of course, but relishes the thought in the secret place of her mind, where she’s composed sentences and phrases she’s far too afraid to put on paper.

“Can we try this one more time?” Alex steps forward and wraps both hands around Astra’s neck, feels Astra’s hands settle on her waist.

“Hold tight, Alexandra.”

She and Astra look skyward and shoot up fast, instantly seven stories off the ground with Alex’s stomach flipping like an Olympic gymnast, twisty and springy in her abdomen. She holds Astra tighter and swears she hears the woman hum.

“Good thing I left the coffee in the car,” Alex mumbles into Astra’s hair.

Astra hums her assent and floats them forward, landing them in a sway on the top of the apartment building. Alex releases Astra quicker this time, because hell if she gives in and kisses the woman on top of Maxwell Lord’s penthouse.

It wouldn’t be right.

The interaction would feel… tainted.

She throws her pack to the ground and takes out the repelling cord and harness, ties the requisite mountaineering knots and attaches the carabiners to the metal loops about her waist. She can use one of the metal rod fastenings on the maintenance shed as an anchor, and follow after Kara lasers the glass portion of the window out of their way.

Speaking of Kara…

“Do you hear anything?” Alex asks Astra, focus shifting from cloud to cloud in the overcast sky. “Like, any fellow swooping Kryptonians coming in hot?”

“Not that I can sense,” Astra says, tilting her head just slightly.

“Well, we can’t make the move without her. He’s fixated on her. The whole… alien aspect of her,” Alex smoothes her hair back over her skull and rises, moving to wait beside Astra. “I guess that means you, too.”

“You’ve indicated that I would not like this man,” Astra says. “Your description is not moving him higher in my estimation.”

“That’s Maxwell Lord for you.”

“You have… history with this man?” Astra asks uneasily, and Alex notes that the General doesn’t turn toward her when she asks, stares straight ahead, as if she could disguise any emotional hit by avoiding Alex’s scrutiny.

“Ha! Not any kind of history worthy of remark,” Alex says, and then, feels bolder: “…not any kind you’d need to worry about.”

Astra abandons her watch of the cityscape and turns back toward her then, breathing deeply, settling her hands on her hips. “Alexandra, I… I know that my letters have indicated otherwise, but I do not think… that is, perhaps we should limit—”

The suggestion dies in her throat as Alex jerks where she stands and pitches forward, right into Astra’s arms. The force from the shockwave of movement knocks her off balance, so off-balance she ended up nearly face-first in Astra’s chest.

“Uh…” Alex says, straightening immediately, thankful that she certainly doesn’t blush— and even if she did, she’s not doing it now.

“Hey guys! Sorry!” Kara chirps, then waits for Alex to tromp back from Astra’s hold.

Now, it’s Supergirl’s turn to fling herself into the General’s arms. “Aunt Astra!” she crows, squeezing tight around her Aunt’s neck, engendering a ripple of so many instantaneous emotions across Astra’s face Alex wonders if the woman’s ever felt so much in such a brief span of time (guilt, disbelief, grace, gratitude, love, pride—maybe even acceptance?), since she landed on Earth over a decade ago. Astra’s hands envelop Kara’s waist and her fingers grip the red cape tightly, her smile so full of relief Alex feels as though she’s encroaching on a moment not meant for her.

Alex busies herself by strapping into the tactical gear, more for pomp and show than practicality; she doesn’t think Maxwell Lord will come at them with anything other than overblown egomania. But Alex sheathes a combat knife into the side of her boot, just for the hell of it.

The murmured Kryptonese behind her has quieted, and Alex glances around to find Astra holding Kara at arm’s length, her hand resting lightly upon the cape-clad shoulder, her eyes shut as the two whisper complex syllables in unison. Maybe it’s a prayer for reconciliation, or some Kryptonian war anthem they get to chant before going to kick ass. Either way, Alex doesn’t feel left out of anything… she instead feels excited the two of them have this brief moment together.

As they open their eyes and Astra drops her hand, Alex takes another look at her watch. Dawn is far off, but it doesn’t hurt to get moving should Supergirl be called away on business. For all of Lord’s bravado, he’s strangely hung up on Supergirl, probably jealous he’s not the one zooming in and out of buildings, getting the praise he’s so accustomed to. A God-complex without God-like powers can certainly make for a petulant technology executive.

“Hey ladies,” Alex calls, motioning over toward the side of the roof. “Let’s get moving. You see this window, Kara?” Alex points, and Kara hovers out over the side of the building.

“Yes,” she says, her voice dropping from that bright Danvers joviality to Supergirl’s business-like tone. Kara eyes the large square of glass, tilts her head, then shoots at the panels with her laser eyes.

Alex ties up the rope and threads it through her harness, perches on the edge of the roof with the exhilarated high of someone about to plummet, knowing she’s only got a couple of strings of nylon and physics to keep her from splattering on the ground.

“I could… I could assist you,” Astra says, but it’s far more hesitant of an offer with Kara floating before them.

“That’s alright General,” Alex says. Not that she’s about to do something a little dangerous just to show off. Not because Alex Danvers gets any sort of high from risky exhibitionism.

Because that is most certainly not the case. Just like she most certainly did not blush is Astra’s arms, mere moments ago.

“Supergirl!” Alex calls.

The lasers fade as Kara looks back up at Alex.

“How much open space on the floor of that common room?” Alex asks, before reeling the rope behind her to adjust for the necessary length.

“Uh, you’ve got about ten feet before you hit the back of a black leather couch,” Kara says.

“Ten feet? Alright,” Alex says, which is a little less space than she’d like, but nothing she can’t adjust to. She does some quick calculating and guesstimates with her rope length, as Kara pulls the two-inch slab of window from the side of Maxwell Lord’s penthouse and floats it up to the roof. No use dropping six square feet of glass to the sidewalk, many stories below.

“You two go first,” Alex says. “It doesn’t look like he’s got any tech other than a basic security system hosted by the building. He probably installed his more sensitive security panels over in his labs.”

“But you still want us to go in first?” Kara smirks.

“Just because the DEO sensors couldn’t pick up tech readings doesn’t mean that paranoid megalomaniac wouldn’t rig his home up with something. Could be boobie-trapped,” Alex says.

Astra snorts.

“Aunt Astra?” Kara scrunches up her face, amused.

“That is a silly word,” Astra smirks, and Alex wants to slap her over the head because of the colloquialisms, but seriously? What an utter child.

“Go on, you two,” Alex orders, and it’s only as she leans back against the side of the building on her rappel line that she realizes she’s the de facto leader of this capable trio. Either because of her history with Lord, or for being the odd human out, she doesn’t really know. But Astra and Kara are falling in line and it’s… it’s an interesting feeling.

“All clear,” she hears Kara through the com in her ear.

Alex takes a deep breath, then launches herself off the ledge of the apartment building with a giant push, feeling the rope thread through her grip just enough until it catches on the ledge and her momentum swings her forward, straight into the window like a mosquito hurtling toward a windshield. That is, had the windshield not been extracted with Kryptonian laser beams moments earlier. The rope tightens, swinging Alex into the depths of Maxwell Lord’s man-cave. Alex floats in on her line like an urban Tarzan, tucking into a forward shoulder roll and rising with her gun all in a single fluid motion, as Astra takes the left flank and Kara the right in the apartment.

They perform a quick scan of the open-plan kitchen, dining, and living area. Stainless steel fixtures, mahogany cabinetry, hint of blue for contrast, but mainly greys, blacks, and impersonal dark furnishings. Once they pass into the white hallway (no photographs, no paintings, bare and desolate as the man’s soul), though, something loud and grating starts beeping; or, it would have started in with a swelling crescendo of blaring alarms had Astra not shoved her hand into the guts of the dry wall and emerged with the security system’s control pad in her fingers. The wires sprout out from the back of the panel like multicolored roots from a shrub, and the little green light that was once blinking accusingly at the trio now dies in Astra’s iron-grip. Alex hears a deafening crunch, and knows that Lord’s probably going to be investing in a security upgrade sooner rather than later.

“Astra!” Kara whispers.

Astra sets the crumbling plastic pieces on the ground, then falls back in line as Alex works her way down the hall to what she assumes is Lord’s bedroom. Twisting the knob to the door, she swings it wide enough to get a full view of the space on first look. It thuds gently against a stopper on the back wall; the lump on the bed that must be Maxwell Lord doesn’t twitch.

Good.

With a head nod, she positions herself at the foot of the bed, and Kara and Astra take up their respective positions on the right and left. The drapes are drawn, but the glow of the blue digital clock display tints Lord’s face, his light snores the only noise breaking the stillness of the bedroom. Kara gives Alex a firm headshake when she looks down at his immobile body—Not It, the headshake says.

“Supergirl, get the lamp,” Alex murmurs, then reaches out to tap at Lord’s foot beneath the blanket.

“Lord… Lord!” Alex jostles the man’s ankle roughly, grabbing hold and tugging on the duvet so that the material slips and exposes his uncovered chest. He frowns as the light clicks on, squints, then slowly blinks himself to consciousness.

His slitted eyes scan the room and he scrambles as comprehension dawns, clutches the covers even as he scoots as far back against the headboard as space will allow him.

“Uh…” he starts, and Alex gets a bit of smug satisfaction, seeing the usually composed jerk so flustered. “Ladies?”

“Maxwell Lord?” Astra asks, polishing off the address with a gorgeous sneer.

“I mean—” he clears his throat, runs one hand over his head to pat down a cowlick… and then that disgusting smirk that seems like Lord’s default expression settles over his features.

“Supergirl, Agent Danvers,” he makes eye contact with them both, scans the room for further trouble, until his gaze moves to Astra. “You were a blonde media mogul the last time I had this dream,” he says, surveying Astra from head to toe, his attention sliding over her body like lecherous slime. He grins at Kara but his focus settles on Alex, always back to her for some reason, even as his insult is directed at the general: “Not that I’m complaining.”

“We need to talk,” Alex says, trying to be the bigger person, trying not to rise to the bait.

“Alright,” he shifts, moves both his arms out from under the covers so that he’s sitting with his hands open, as if this were a normal negotiation. “Must be important. I’d offer you a chair, but… the bed might have to do.”

Kara starts. “Or we could move to the kit—”

“Or I could have one of them dangle you out of your own window until you agree to shut it with the perverted talk,” Alex interrupts. “Supergirl, could you—”

“You don’t want to do that,” Astra stops them, cuts her eyes around the room and then crouches, picking up a pair of sweats and boxer shorts from the floor below her. She chucks them at Lord with more force than necessary. “Make yourself presentable. We are extending you the courtesy of a visit instead of a kidnapping. Your participation is not compulsory, but I ask that you listen to our plan before disregarding us.”

“But I’m going to get something good out of it?” Lord asks, fumbling around beneath the covers, sliding his underwear and pants on. “I do appreciate the attention of a house call.”

It’s moments like these Alex is eternally grateful that she doesn’t have x-ray vision.

“That is the point of a negotiation; you help us, we… return the favor,” Astra says. “Agent Danvers did not indicate that you were so obtuse.”

“Giving him more credit than he’s due, I guess,” Alex quips back, but Lord just fixes that sleazy half-grin on his face, and takes the hits as they come. He knows, as does Alex, that they need him, or else they wouldn’t be here. And he’ll use that leverage to wring out every bit of information he can get.

“Nothing from you, Supergirl?” Lord asks, swinging his legs out from the side of the massive California king bed, walking over to a chair with a grey robe slung over it. He dons it, grips at the waist ties, and prods further. “No collapsing buildings you need to go prop back up? Since, you know, you probably knocked them over in the first place.”

“I’m here with Agent Danvers and the General on special business. You can either help us, or we’ll figure something else out. We often do,” Kara replies, turning on her red-booted heel and exiting the bedroom.

“Sure,” Max says sarcastically, grappling with the ties of his bathrobe. “Let’s all adjourn to the kitchen.”

Alex and Astra file out behind Kara, but Alex can hear Max mumbling behind them.

“He’s not calling anyone, is he?” Alex asks Astra.

“No. You do not want to know the reprehensible things he’s muttering to himself. I’m only sorry Kara has to.”

They all settle in the kitchen. Thirty seconds later, even Alex hears the crunch of plastic and the angry expletive that follows.

“Was that the—”

“—security panel?” Kara finishes.

“Always plan ahead,” Astra smirks, eyeing a red-faced Lord as he limps into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

“So just to summarize—” Lord starts, his eyes flickering from each woman perched tensely in his kitchen. “You want me to risk my well-being, to sneak into a highly secure alien facility, and then attempt to disarm or dismantle or reprogram some piece of technology—no, pure energy—the likes of which Earth has never seen before, all to help the aliens that we’re fighting in the first place?”

“We’re not helping them, Max,” Alex corrects. “None of the aliens stand to benefit from this.”

“Then why is General Tight Ass inspecting my entertainment system?”

He nods toward Astra, who is scanning the edges of his massive flat screen with inquisitive purpose.

“She’s the one who is getting us in and out of there alive,” Kara says. “And it’s General Astra.”

“The same General Astra that Supergirl punched in the face, rammed into a building, and then arrested on behalf of Alex’s secret organization,” Lord finishes. He removes two coffee mugs from one of his mahogany cabinets, his fingers curling around the handles of the white washed ceramic exteriors. He pours one cup carefully, and then another, waiting for Kara to offer her rebuttal.

“Nothing to say?” Lord asks, shuffling toward the refrigerator and extracting some organic creamer that probably cost as much as Alex’s weekly trips to the shop on Fifth. “I’d never expect trickery and subversion from Supergirl. You’re all—honesty and hope and finding the best in people. Lying is hardly part of you M.O.”

“Do you want to help or not?” Kara snaps.

“Supergirl,” Alex says evenly, raising a brow in Kara’s direction. Kara might be in on the talks, but she hasn’t been through monthly drills of 48 hour on-site simulated hostage negotiation training with Hank. “Max, if we didn’t trust her to help, she wouldn’t be here right now. She’s given you every detail about the power source—do you think you can manipulate it?”

Lord dips his head and gathers up both mugs, passes one over to Alex, then shakes the dairy-or-not-dairy-flavored-fancy-crap in her face.

“No thanks,” Alex says flatly, nudging the cup back across the counter. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t know how Kryptonians react to coffee, but Supergirl?” Lord toasts the mug toward Kara, then indicates the free one, abandoned before Alex.

“We’re good,” Kara says, eyes wide and incredulous. “Can you just tell us what we’d need if you’re not going to help? The DEO has funds for compensation.”

“What would I do with more money?” Lord asks. “I just bought an island near St. Croix, I think I’m good.”

“Then let’s do this,” Alex says. “Your part of the negotiation. State your terms.”

Alex feels Astra approach from behind her. Lord sits at one edge of the marble-topped island and Alex mimics him, flanked by two Kryptonians who take up position at either shoulder.

“See, when you move in unison like that, you’re just asking me to be crass.”

“Max,” Alex cuts, knowing he’s only doing it to get a rise out of them, any of them, but most likely, Kara. “Your terms.”

“Terms are simple,” Max says, leaning back into the chair at the bar, taking in the Charlie’s Angels grouping before him. “I just want a favor.”

“Name it,” Kara says.

“Wait, Supergirl,” Astra finally speaks, her tone steady, the warmth of her body pressing insistently against Alex’s back. “It might not be you he wants the favor from.”

“Very good General,” Lord barks, sipping smugly at his coffee. “You’re right… now, with two Kryptonians at my disposal, you’d think I’d want to take advantage of the situation.”

“But you pride yourself on being an innovator—making the unexpected choice, so your request will be directed towards Agent Danvers,” Astra finishes for him.

“I don’t know whether to be impressed or sullen that you’ve stolen my thunder, General.”

“I don’t care if you are either; what will you ask of her?” Astra continues, never leaning into the taunts, deftly steering the conversation back to the goal.

“Just a favor,” Max says lightly. “When the time comes.”

“Toying with us will get you nowhere,” Astra returns.

“We’re done here,” Alex says, hoping Lord will act on her bluff. It’s not until Kara’s prepped for flight at the window and Alex wraps her arms around Astra’s neck that Lord moves.

“Wait,” Lord mutters, staring down into the dregs of his coffee cup. Alex watches him battle with himself, tap anxiously at the handle of his mug while he stalls, while he thinks, while he tries to reword his request without compromising too much. “Look, I’m not changing my terms.”

“But you’ll expound upon them,” Astra snaps, releasing her hold at Alex’s waist. “Do not waste our time again.”

“Alex…” Lord calls, and it’s all Alex can do to suppress an eye-roll.

She’s borne the weight of his infatuation long enough, and doesn’t want to indulge the man any more than she already has. But they need him, dammit, so acquiescing to his plaintive summons might actually be in their best interest.

“Just Alex,” he says, when Kara and Astra move toward him as well.

“You know they’re going to hear you anyway, right?” Alex says, walking back toward where Lord holds his ground.

“Humor me,” Lord asks. “Maybe they can put their super powers to good use and fix my damn window.”

“Max…” Alex sighs. “What do I have to do to get you there? This tech could be revolutionary for you, you know? It’s like I’m doing you a favor.”

“By getting in bed with the enemy?” Lord responds.

Alex knows he means it in the idiomatic sense, but she also wonders if Astra has overheard; wonders what the General draws from such an ambiguous statement.

“We can trust her, okay? I know you don’t believe in Supergirl, but I do. And I also believe in the General. If you can’t trust Supergirl’s reputation, or the General’s willingness to risk her own life by betraying her troops… then at least trust my judgment.”

“I still think you’re too close to the situation,” Lord says, tossing a furtive glance toward Kara. “Don’t let sentiment override your logic.”

“Please,” Alex scoffs. “I’ve been through this too many times to count. My distaste for you didn’t stop me from coming here, because I know, objectively, that you’re the best person for this job.”

“What very diplomatic wording, Agent,” Lord parries. “Almost as if you’ve been taking lessons from someone schooled in policy, diplomacy, execution—”

“The DEO does a pretty good job with their seminars. They give us access to the TED talks.”

“I wasn’t talking about the DEO,” Lord says, and now it’s Astra under his overly attentive glare—one that has her scientist’s eye twitching erratically.

He looks like he’s viewing a specimen for dissection.

“What do you want, Max?”

He doesn’t return her stare, just surveys the gaping whole in his apartment, the two Kryptonians idling by the edge, backlit by the city lights.

“I’m going to need a get-out-of-jail free card.”

“Actual… jail?” Alex asks, the corners of her lips tugged down like opposite ends of a rainbow. “Our jurisdiction only extends so far.”

“I need your word that I won’t be held at the DEO like I was before. Domestic legalities in National City are none of my concern. But I won’t stop finding ways to protect myself from those… invaders.”

“You stole bodies, Max,” Alex charges. “Human bodies.”

“You know as well as I that they were brain dead. Jane Does. They would’ve gone to a medical school anyway, after the allotted amount of time had passed… and no one had come forward to claim them.”

He sets the mug aside and grips Alex’s elbow, gently, peacefully, gives her plenty of time to pull away.

“I’ve always been in charge of my own fate. I work hard to face foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges. But they’re not challenges, Alex,” he motions with his head toward the two women at the window. “They’re… there’s no word to describe them. Unpredictable, maybe…” he waves his hand before him, lost for words. “I don’t scare easy, Alex. But them…”

“They’re certainly not as evil as you make them out to be,” Alex counters, her brows narrowing over the ridge of her nose. “Just because you can’t control them doesn’t mean that you need to fear them.”

“Still, it doesn’t mean I won’t protect myself, should the situation call for it,” Lord crosses his arms over his chest, meets Alex’s hostile stare with one of his own. “So that’s what I’m asking from you. No interference from the DEO. I do my thing, keep out of the way, protect what’s mine. That’s my right. I’ll help you… but you should know, it’s only because it’s you, okay?”

Alex blinks at the ceiling, feels her expression softening despite herself.

“Now who’s letting sentiment override logic?”

“Do we have a deal about non-interference?” Max asks.

“Done,” Alex says, ducks the hold on her elbow, but she still extends her hand for a shake.

“I should let you know up front, I can build a transport system for the source. I might have to split it, do some MacGyver stuff, nuclear surgery… but the programming aspect of the base might be a little beyond me. I can recharge the thing with your solar panels if you get me the equipment, but inputting new code to activate the cells…”

“I’ve got someone who can handle that,” Kara calls from the window. “That is, if you’re not opposed to working as part of a team.”

“Another alien to add to our ragamuffin crew?” Max remarks.

“Human, actually,” Kara says. “He’s handled alien computing before.”

“Aren’t we just an amazing representation of mutual goals,” Lord quips. “We should have t-shirts made.”

“I believe we’re done here,” Astra says, unable to stomach Max’s snark much longer. “How long until the transport device can be ready?”

“Give me a week?”

“Fine. Alexandra will be in touch.”

“Nice to meet you, General,” Max offers.

“I wish I could say the same,” Astra returns. “Supergirl, Agent Danvers.”

Alex nods a farewell to Max and steps into Astra’s hold. She wonders if it’s because of Max’s smarmy inspection that Astra crushes her against her frame, holds her head and back so close that Alex feels like Astra is trying to force their bodies to meld together, sewn or welded or fused until neither one of them could disentangle from the other. It’s seconds later that she’s released abruptly on the rooftop, Astra taken to pacing along the ledge as Kara helps Alex gather the rappel line and repack her bag.

“I have my doubts about this man,” Astra says. “He is the only one… you’re sure?”

“The only one we’d be able to convince on such short notice,” Alex says.

“I don’t like him anymore than you do, Aunt Astra,” Kara says. “But Alex is right. He’s a… he’s terrible, but we need him.”

“And what of your computer human?” Astra asks. “I was unaware we’d be adding another person to this infiltration. I’ll need to make some adjustments to the plans.”

“Winn can do it,” Kara says.

“Wait a second,” Alex stops her. “Winn? He’s a civilian, Kara.”

“A civilian who’s been helping me since I first started this, Alex. A civilian who defeated Indigo, when the DEO was having a difficult enough time finishing her off, if you remember.”

“I thought you two were fighting?” Alex huffs.

“No, that’s… we’re over that,” Kara says.

“I’m sorry, but just who is this civilian I’m going to have to work around?” Astra interjects, hands propped on her hips, brow arched in exasperation. “I’ve already got to compensate for that prideful scoundrel with the charm of a rat. Working around patrols with… five people will be even more difficult.”

“It’s the Hobbit,” Alex says.

“Oh!” Astra exclaims. “This is one of your suitors, Kara?”

“Suitors? What the… no, that’s not it at all!”

“Yeah, Hobbit boy moved on. Forgot to fill you in on that one,” Alex says.

“You’ve been telling her about that?” Kara asks.

Alex shrugs. “She wants to know about your life, Kara.”

“And this Hobbit at least has a redeemable skill-set with his programming,” Astra offers. “A mission like this will test his mettle; we’ll see whether he is worthy to court a member of the House of El.”

“Astra, it’s not like that, okay!?”

“Kara, she’s screwing with you,” Alex chuckles.

“How… what… ugh, you two!” Kara huffs, displeased at being the butt of the joke.

“All teasing aside, I think Winn could be an asset. If Lord says he’s not 100% on reprogramming the settings, we better have someone who’s at least seen alien computing before,” Alex says.

“I can assist, of course, though it might be better for me to be seen in another part of the base when the reprogramming occurs,” Astra says. “The situation is proving more difficult than at the start of all this… I’m… already having to field accusations of disloyalty.”

“Wait, really?” Kara asks.

“I’m handling it. I am still in charge, and they dare not openly oppose me,” Astra clarifies. “There are a handful a I still trust, some who might even sympathize with my turn. Though some of my methods have… some actions have escalated in ways that I did not foresee at the outset. But that is not your burden to bear, Little One,” Astra places a comforting hand on Kara’s shoulder, then glances up and meets Alex’s questioning stare. “Nor yours, Alexandra.”

“I…” Alex begins, thinking back to the glob of blood she saw on Astra’s neck. “What if we had two of you?” Alex asks, the gears of her brain shooting into overdrive.

“Two of me?” Astra questions.

“You need to be seen elsewhere when all of this goes down. Of course it would be great if we could get in and out without setting off any alarm bells, but if worse comes to worse, having a lot of your troops see you several floors away from the security breach would definitely shift the scrutiny elsewhere.”

“You think Hank would go for this?” Kara asks.

“Three aliens and three humans,” Alex summarizes. “Half-a-dozen is a standard number for undercover ops. Small enough that we’ll be able to know exactly where everyone is at all times. And the balance means all of us humans have a way in and out of there, even if the coms get cut off while we’re underground. I can get R&D to work on strengthening the signals for the coms, knowing we’ll be subterranean.”

“It’s good that we’re finalizing this now, but we should move,” Astra notes, her attention turned toward the ledge of the building. “Maxwell Lord just placed a call to a glass company to come and repair his window.”

“It’s five in the morning,” Kara says.

“Inconveniencing others does not seem like a deterrent for him,” Astra offers, stepping close to Kara. “I must go. But first, come here, Little One,” Astra commands, gathering up Kara in a bone-crushing hug. She lifts Kara off of her feet with the strength of the embrace, smiling through tears Alex bets Astra doesn’t know are noticeable.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Kara says to Astra.

“As have I,” Astra replies.

“We might have to work on the Little One nickname, though,” Kara says. “I’m as tall as you now.”

“Taller, with the boots,” Alex quips, hands on her hips, backpack slung over her shoulders. “We should go too, Kara. Astra… Expect a letter soon.”

“Alex,” Astra nods, but doesn’t move toward her. She steps away from Kara’s embrace and sets her feet against the loose gravel of the roof. Alex watches as the muscles in her thighs tense, and then she’s off, a spray of rocks quaking in her wake.

Kara and Alex both look skyward for the half second it takes Astra to disappear. The stars are starting to fade in an obsidian haze; the darkness getting deeper and murkier the closer they get to sunrise.

“She’s totally jealous,” Kara says, smirking at her sister. “Lord couldn’t have come on any stronger unless he’d gotten down on one knee.”

“Don’t, Kara.”

“Something about a lighthouse,” Kara continues, staring off into the night. “If you act like you aren’t interested, then they’ll come to you.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Alex asks.

“Lord,” Kara attempts to clarify. “For some reason, he’s just as fixated on you as he is on me. But like… not because you’re an alien, you know?”

“Let’s just get through this next week without any of us dying, okay? Then we’ll figure out if Lord’s obsession is anything I really need to worry about.”

“Fine, fine,” Kara says, moving to position Alex so they can get off the roof.

“It seems kind of petty, honestly,” Alex says. “Like, middle school manipulation. Not something you’d think about.”

“She said it wasn’t her best work,” Kara mumbles.

“What?”

“Nothing!” Kara answers quickly. “I love that Lord offered you coffee, though. As if you’d take anything from him,” Kara scoffs, flying Alex back down from the rooftop so she can retrieve the DEO vehicle from the alley.

            “Well, we are asking for his help to sustain alien technology that has immeasurable potential as an alternative energy source, so…”

“I mean anything personal, Alex,” Kara says.

Alex doesn’t respond. She removes her gun from her hip and ejects the magazine, double checks the chamber and puts it back in the case. The tac belt’s next, but she doesn’t plan on unpacking the rest of her gear until she gets back to DEO HQ.

“Astra brought me coffee tonight,” she finally says. “That’s another reason why I didn’t take it. I’d already had some.”

“Really?” Kara asks.

“That means something, right?” Alex asks. “She said it was so I wouldn’t fall asleep, but she knows I’ve trained for this stuff. I fought that Hellgramite of hers at two a.m., so that can’t be the real reason,” Alex shrugs. “Then again, I could be over thinking it, making it into something it isn’t.”

“I don’t know…” Kara muses, suddenly less hyped up, more thoughtful. “Wishful thinking?”

“Maybe,” Alex says. “Probably. Lord just offered because he was already drinking some. That’s a tactic. Trying to get the person you’re negotiating with to accept something small, so they feel like they’re already in your debt. But Astra… she knew my exact coffee order. Remembered it from two weeks ago, when we were at that café. She heard it one time, and remembered. There’s got to be more to it if she’s paying that kind of attention, right?”

Kara suddenly finds the ground very appealing. There might be color in her cheeks, but Alex can’t tell. She’s a little wrapped up in successfully getting Lord to work with his self-attested alien foes—so much so that Kara’s behavior won’t strike her as strange until the next afternoon.

“Just because someone remembers your insanely specific coffee order that you mention casually on like, one occasion…” Kara breaks off, fidgets with the edges of her cape before shaking her head. “I’d say you needed more confirmation than that if you’re planning to make a move. She might just… think it’s human niceties.”

“Yeah, good point,” Alex agrees, hopping into the driver’s seat. She shuts the door and cranks the vehicle, rolls the window down and smiles at Kara. “Good job tonight, Supergirl. We’ll keep working on the tactical skills to go along with that brawn of yours.”

“Still learning,” Kara sighs. “But I’ve got some good teachers.”

“See you Thursday?” Alex asks. “I’ve got series three on DVD from Netflix since it’s not streaming.”

“You bet. In the meanwhile, I’ll think up some better ways to get you and Astra working together,” Kara notes, almost as if she’s slipping into brainstorming mode in her assistant persona.

“Uh… thanks, Kara. Don’t think I didn’t notice you practically pushing me into her when you landed earlier,” Alex grins. “But I thought you said you didn’t want any details on that?”

“I meant after you get together,” Kara clarifies. “Right now, I’m the best wing woman in existence. I can actually fly, Alex!”

“How long have you been saving that one?”

“Since you brought Brian home during your first year at college. I never had any investment in who you were seeing until now,” Kara confirms.

“Of course,” Alex says with chuckle, dismissing Kara for the night. Her thoughts migrate to the DEO, to the schematics and timing and gear she’ll need to start thinking about for infiltration. And maybe Astra. And whether or not her attachment is growing at the same rate as Alex’s own, powerful and vigorous with little hope of turning back.

Chapter Text

“So, I’m equal parts terrified and excited right now,” Alex hears Winn speaking to Kara in the back of the DEO vehicle. “I mean, I know she’s your Aunt, and you were enemies for a while, but she’s a celebrity in the villain world.”

“Please stop, Winn,” Kara requests. “If you tell me you have a poster of her, I might just gag.”

“You thought it was cool that I had posters of you and Clark! Why should I discriminate against the villains?”

“Keep your mind on the mission, Mr. Schott,” Hank advises from the passenger’s seat. “You should be reviewing those commands the General gave you to study for reprogramming the Fort Rozz interface.”

Alex sighs uneasily. They’re meeting Max Lord in a parking garage, and then driving twenty minutes south of the city to meet Astra, somewhere in the middle of the desert. The plan is to loop back and fly from there, fifteen minutes tops if they’re hitting maximum speed, to the edge of a forest about two miles southwest of Fort Rozz’s mountain base. There’s not a lot of cover in those two miles from the tree line to the base, but Astra’s assured them that the guards on lookout tonight do not have enhanced night vision.

The Super-6 (as Winn keeps referring to them) had all met once before—Thursday late after Kara and Alex had finished the final season of Borgen. Hank had been undemonstrative yet professional, relenting to Alex’s request after she’d explained the operation in detail. He still possessed reservations concerning Winn and Max Lord’s involvement, but he eventually consented that their specialties rendered them more assets than they were liabilities, even with Winn’s frankly embarrassing behavior when meeting Astra in person for the first time:


 

“Hey, uh, nice to meet you,” Winn had said to Astra. “This is going to sound weird, but do I know you from somewhere?”

Astra hadn’t betrayed any recognition, just looked him up and down as if weighing his chances of survival in training under her command.

“You are the Hobbit, are you not?”

“Uh… what?”

“Yes, Astra,” Alex had indicated. “His name is Winn.”

“Winn, as in, win a war?”

“Yeah, uh, sure! Win a war, or a battle…Or, well, Winslow,” Winn had said, shaking out the crunched fingers of his hand after having submitted himself to Astra’s iron grip.

“Why would you wish to win slowly?” Astra had asked. “You certainly do not desire to prolong the destruction, amass more casualties?”

“Of course not!”

“I do not think then, Mr… Winn,” Astra had crossed her arms over her chest and, even though she was technically shorter than Winn, stared him down ruthlessly. “That we have met before. I do not imagine it would have ended well for you.”

“Right, uhm, yeah…” Winn had said, backing away cautiously. “Moving on!”

“This is the layout of the base,” Astra had unfurled the blueprints of Fort Rozz’s stronghold across the bulk of Kara’s kitchen table. “Here are the wings with the inoperable cells,” she pointed toward one far corner of the page. “We merely need to complete the rewiring of the circuitry, and make sure the transformers at the opening of the corridors don’t blow once the cells activate. Here is Command, the hall of our main computer lab. On the same level, down this corridor, is the power source. It has a complex name in Kryptonese, but for the purposes of this assignment, we can refer to it as Element-K.”

“Three teams, then,” Hank had surmised. “Mr. Schott will need to be at command, Lord at Element-K. Then we’ll need another team in the cell hall—”

“That will likely be the riskiest place,” Astra had explained. “There are two who operate the computers and alternate patrols. It will not be difficult to incapacitate them; I can reassign patrol rosters so that the least effective guards are on schedule that night. The power source is under recorded security that we can dismantle once we infiltrate the command station. The cells are under surveillance as well, so we’ll need to delete or loop the footage of those sectors… and there are prisoners being held within the cells that might sound an alarm.”

“I thought you said the cells were inoperable,” Alex had questioned.

“For select members of the forces. Here on Earth, they will never hold Kryptonians and Lunarians, unless we reinforce them with Kryptonite. That would take much too long, but I’d rather your entire Army face twenty of my troops instead of two thousand. I’ve mentioned insurrections and hostilities toward my command, and have had to answer those revolts with some form of retribution; rather than kill potential soldiers, I’ve locked up a handful of less powerful beings to set an example. The bars will hold them, but not Lunarians, Kryptonians—none of my ranked officers. Those who truly need to be imprisoned.”

“Then it should be me and you in the cells, Aunt Astra,” Kara had offered. “We’re the quickest, and once Winn tells us which adjustments need to be made in the panels to connect the power lines, it won’t matter if the prisoners are there.”

“I disagree, Supergirl,” Hank had protested. “I don’t think it’s wise to leave a civilian unattended without an exit strategy. We need one alien to every human in the group. Even if we have to blast our way out of the ceiling courtesy of Supergirl’s retreat a month ago, then we at least have an escape route. But the objective remains… General Astra does not need to be seen anywhere near command when all of this goes down. I think she should be in the cells, the furthest place from the central lab. I can change and allow myself to be seen further down the hall near the power source, under the guise of a surprise inspection, perhaps? Would that be out of the ordinary for your SOP, General?”

“No, we routinely perform night drills,” Astra had replied.

“Then I’ll go in with Lord,” Hank had decided. “That leaves Astra at the cells with you, Danvers. And Supergirl, you’re at command with Mr. Schott.”

“Score!” Winn had held his hand up for a high-five to Kara, who had then shaken her head urgently. They’d all looked at the guy like he’d sprouted a third arm. “I mean, uh, good plan, Director Henshaw.”

“We’re meeting in 7200 hours,” Hank had moved them along. “In and out, the operation should take—”

“No more than thirty minutes, if I can correctly preset some of the wiring,” Astra said. “It will likely depend on Mr. Lord’s speed as well.”

“Sure, just place a time limit on me with an unknown power source that could—potentially—blow us all to hell.”

“You’ve got the stabilizer and the transporter,” Alex had cautioned him. “We’ll do the rest.”

“Okay team. Operation Element is ago,” Hank had said, with a grin in Winn’s direction. “Sync your watch, Mr. Schott.”

“SCORE!”


 

Which finds the Super-5-of-6 idling in the lower levels of a parking garage in midtown, until a sleek, unmarked black car pulls up and Max Lord steps out, clad in black—but it’s designer black. He’s got a backpack over his shoulder and nine-o’clock shadow that looks too nicely scruffed to be natural. They’re going on a mission into enemy territory, and Alex already wants to bang her head against the steering wheel until the airbag ejects and bashes her in the face.

“Gang’s all here,” Lord mutters as he slides into the SUV. He hands over a sleek, unmarked briefcase that Kara puts in the back seat.

They’re a strange little grouping, Max and Winn on either side of Kara, decked out in her Supergirl gear, who lost the coin toss and got the middle seat. Both of the men are squashing her cape, but the back is full of gear they’ll have to don once they fly to the rendezvous point.

Alex doesn’t comment, just shifts the car in gear and rolls out for the interstate, ACDC’s “Back in Black” on mental repeat in her head. It’s her pump-up jam, always gets her ready for any big field mission. But blasting it with four other semi-nervous individuals prior to a supremely risky infiltration doesn’t seem like the best move to inspire confidence.

The drive is quiet, and the night is overcast.

Good. Less moonlight to see by, no stars…

They arrive at the rendezvous point within the quarter hour. Alex and J’onn load weaponry into chest and hip holsters and slip Kryptonite bullet-filled magazines into lead-lined casings, hoping not to discharge them until they’ve been transported by their respective alien partners. Kara glances skyward, and Alex pauses in her prep.

Astra lands on uneasy legs, a mushroom cloud of desert dust billowing from beneath her feet. Even in the dim, residual luminescence from the beaming headlights, Astra already looks shaken. Her face is clenched tighter than Alex has seen it in ages, the hard line of her mouth slanted into a grimace, as if someone had taken a jagged edge and cut across her face at a perilous decline.

Alex is explaining the mechanics of the gun to Winn on automatic, not really paying attention to her speech. Her attention flicks between the trigger and Astra’s tense movements. Alex shows Winn the proper grip and fixes his stance, runs through a practice firing round with him… and sees Astra clutching Kara’s forearm out of the corner of her eye. It’s only through her familiarity with the General that she notices the desperation, the schooled expression betraying nothing, but that tight grip against Kara’s red cape turns Astra’s hands crimson in the lowlight.

Or…

Is that blood on her hands?

“Anytime Frodo gets done with his tutorial, can we, you know, pick up the pace?” Max asks, rolling his fingers one around the other. “Or we could prolong the family reunion over here,” he gestures with his thumb toward Kara and Astra, who are murmuring swift Kryptonese syllables, their lips and articulators performing veritable acrobatics of pronunciation in their haste.

“Plans have changed,” Astra grits through a clenched jaw, when she and Kara approach the car. The Super-6 gather in a circle, five of them more confused that Astra when first presented with latte art. “The base is on high security alert.”

“What?” Hank snaps, shifting his hands to his hips. “Why?!”

“There was an attempt made on my life,” Astra says, as if assassination attempts plague her everyday existence.

The ease with which she delivers the information makes Alex’s bones chill to icicles.

“Astra,” Alex slips into a whisper. “Are you—?”

“I was compelled to respond. It would have looked suspicious if I hadn’t raised the security alert,” Astra forges ahead, ignoring Alex’s concern. “Though I suspect my own staff plots against me, I can only… I can only retaliate in ways that will quell their attempts at uprising. Placing heightened security near my quarters and the corridors between my space and command was the only logical thing to do.”

“Yeah, if you’re still working FOR THE OTHER SIDE!” Max fumes.

“So… now it’s going to be even more dangerous?” Winn asks, staring absently at the collecting desert dust.

“Unfortunately, but it wasn't entirely safe to begin with, Mr. Schott,” Astra confirms, taking a deep breath. “I will understand if the civilians wish to call off this mission.”

“Can you ballpark the numbers for our success rate?” Max asks.

“Ballpark…?”

“What’s the likelihood of success for this mission?” Alex interprets. “Percentage-wise?”

Astra flexes her fingers against the sides of her cat suit, wiping discreetly at what Alex knows is a palm coated with blood. “There’s no way to quantify that.”

“So zero?” Max says, scoffing at both Astra and Hank. “This is how it always goes. Paint the aliens sympathetic, try to help them, then get killed.”

“I hardly think the historical record supports you on that one,” Kara says.

“But we need to get in there,” Alex says. “We’ve got to divert the power line to arm the cells. If we can’t get this done, the entire DEO infiltration plans go bust.”

"And Myriad is in its final stages," Astra supplies.

“Can it not be postponed to another evening, an evening when your entire base isn’t on high guard?” Hank asks.

“My staff has instituted martial rule to ensure my ‘safety’,” Astra explains, clenching her fists anxiously at her sides. “But those are the very people who orchestrated the plot in the first place. They had the lower level soldiers attempt it, and so my punishment had to be delivered to those who carried it out. There’s no way for me to prove my staff has conspired against me without implicating those closest to me—which will instigate outright mutiny. They’ve tightened security to keep eyes on me. They know I’ve been sneaking away frequently, so I cannot project how long we'll hold at this alert level.”

“Then what the hell are you doing now, bringing them right to us?” Max yells.

“Watch your tone, human,” Astra steps across the circle and extends a threatening hand in his direction. “I would never put these people in such senseless danger. You must forget, sir, that I am a general—an earned title, and slipping detection is certainly within the scope of my abilities. I’ve stomached your insults for longer than is proper because you are necessary, but question my competence once more and—”

“And what?” Max smirks. “You’ll prove me right?”

“Let’s take a walk, Aunt Astra,” Kara says, grabbing hold of Astra’s bicep before she snaps and relocates Maxwell Lord’s nose to the back of his head.

“Dude,” Alex hears Winn address Max Lord, genius, playboy, Fortune 500 star. “You’re such an asshole,” Winn says.

“Forgive me if I don’t take personality critique from the IT guy,” Lord says, turning his attention to his iPhone. “I still have a day job to manage, so I’m going to send some emails while you talk this shit out.”

“Winn,” Alex says, approaching casually. “This isn’t your job either, you know? You’re not trained for this, so it’s completely understandable if you want to leave. We’ll figure something else out.”

“We usually have to,” Hank says, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s no stain on your character, Mr. Schott.”

“But, look,” Winn says. “If it’s the first night this new high-security patrol or whatever is running, there’s bound to be some missteps. The longer we wait, the better they’ll be at it,” Winn reasons. “It’s just like policy changes at CatCo. Takes a few days for people to fully implement the new rules. If we do it tonight, we still have at least some kind of advantage, right?”

“Even if your reasoning is sound, Mr. Schott, are you prepared to risk your life to complete this mission?”

“I mean, I don’t want to die, Director,” Winn shrugs. “But Kara’s like family to me. And if we don’t do something, the Myriad system is going to get into the satellites, make our brains go fuzzy, or… I don’t know. It could be like Indigo all over again. Either way, if it has something to do with satellites, with computers, National City, that all effects me. I can’t just stand by and do nothing.”

Hank’s disgruntled expression softens, his “dad” face emerging after Winn’s statement. Alex knows where her boss is going before he even opens his mouth: “Mr. Schott, have you ever considered programming for the government?”

“Uh…”

“Another time for recruitment efforts, Hank,” Alex says, slapping Winn on the shoulder. “I know Astra and Kara would still be down for this. If we can get Max off his phone long enough to talk him into it, we don’t have to shut the whole mission down.”

“I’ll see to him,” Hank says. “It seems I’m the only one who hasn’t offended the man yet.”

“Or you could just transform and scare him shitl—”

“Let’s not get the foremost electrical engineer on our bad side, Agent Danvers. The DOD has contracts with Lord Technologies, and by extension, the DEO. The man can’t build an empire without listening to some reason.”

“I’m starting to understand what Astra means when she talks about overestimating humans,” Alex mumbles when Hank departs, turning back to Winn. “Thanks for doing this.”

“It’s the right thing.”

“Doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.”

“Never stopped Kara.”

“Careful with that hero-worship, Winn,” Alex says, looking off toward Astra and Kara, the two speaking animatedly in Kryptonese. Her shoulders slump as she makes her way toward Kara, feels the weight of the forthcoming mission settle over her body like a heavy secret.

“Winn’s still on board,” Alex says, once she reaches the pacing pair of Kryptonians. “And Hank’s trying to talk Max into doing this. If we don’t strike tonight, the new security protocols will go into full effect. There won’t be any oversights on shift changes, or missteps in knowing where to report. If it’s as quickly implemented as you say, your council probably doesn’t even have the weaponry check-out written up yet. Not that I know how you run your army, General.”

“We can’t do this tonight,” Kara disregards Alex’s tease, and Astra arches a questioning brow. “Alex, they tried to kill her.”

“Kryptonite?” Alex questions, stepping closer to Astra out of habit. Six months ago she’d be staggering away, prepping to take aim.

“I was wearing my badge at the time,” Astra points toward the bright blue anti-Kryptonite device pinned to her chest. “And the Tormocks have terrible aim.”

“Thank Rao,” Kara says.

“But we do have a stash of Kryptonite in the armory to combat… Supergirl,” Astra confesses. “So we could face that tonight, Kara.”

“But still, you can’t be alright, Astra, you’re… this is too much for you,” Kara says, desperate to get through to her aunt. “They tried to kill you.”

“Kara, even on Krypton you knew I was a soldier.”

“But people weren’t out to get you for you. You weren’t a specific target so you can’t… You can’t stay there anymore.”

“Kara—”

“You can come stay with me! Or Alex, or… the DEO, if you turn yourself in—”

“Lane will be on her quicker than we can act, Kara. We can’t compromise her intelligence,” Alex says. “She knows what she’s doing.” Alex squeezes Astra’s hand, the one with dried blood running in crackling rivulets over her knuckles. “Gotta trust her.”

“Aunt Astra, I just got you back…”

“And you will not lose me again, I swear it,” Astra reaffirms, squeezing her niece's shoulder. “But your sister is correct. I am most valuable to you remaining at Fort Rozz, no matter how dangerous it may be. I promise you, I have endured much worse in that place.”

“That doesn’t make either of us feel better, Astra,” Alex says.

“I do not require your pity. We may be… family,” Astra says, her eyes shifting between the two women before her. “But tonight, we are a team first. Kara, you must understand, that in order to complete the mission, in order to fight a war, there are casualties. Casualties that you will know, that you will love, that you will wish to save. But as soldiers, our first duty is to—”

“The mission,” Alex finishes for Astra. “Not to each other.”

“I can complete a mission and keep you two safe. Keep everyone safe,” Kara says stubbornly.

“I have no doubt that you can,” Astra says. “But if you must make a choice—”

“I choose both,” Kara says, pulling Astra into one arm and Alex into another. “I’m Supergirl, and that means I have the burden of pulling off the impossible. But we can’t go into this already defeated.”

“We’re not,” Alex says, moving out of Kara's quick embrace. “We’re just going in realistically.”

“Optimistically,” Kara argues.

“Pessimistically,” Astra mutters beside them.

“Well, looks like we’ve got every view point to work with,” Alex says. “But Hank’s waving us over, and Max doesn’t look like he wants to kick a puppy; I’d say that’s a good sign.”

“So we’re doing this?” Kara asks, as they start toward the men in the crew.

“Looks like it,” Alex says.

“Maybe it’ll turn out okay,” Kara says, relentless with that optimism.

“Here’s hoping.”

Chapter Text

Getting in isn’t terrible.

The aliens are able to dart over the open land between the tree line and the base at lightspeed; at least, that’s what it feels like for Alex. Piggy-backing Astra during such an intense moment loses all levity normally associated with such an action—it’s nothing like the experimental piggy-back marches she’d made Kara endure for the sake of her fourteen-year-old scientist’s brain. The Super-6 dismount in a squelchy field of rubbish near a hollowed out entry way carved into curved stone resembling the looming sheerness of castle ramparts. The mountainside is cool to the touch, like a cavern wall in the shade. But the panel installed to the immediate right gives the safe haven away if you know what to look for—it's not a nifty rock formation, just a secret entrance. Astra places her hand on the panel and the wall shifts before her.

“Mirage effect?” Hank asks, staring critically at the sliding rock.

“Yes.”

“You have Drostricks here, then?”

“Two; who manage our geographic camouflage.”

“Explains why you never showed up on the radar until we knew what we were looking for.”

“What’s a Drostrick?” Winn whispers.

“Space manipulator,” Hank waves a hand over the rock, which instantly turns to metal paneling in a trick of the light. “They’re telepaths to a degree, and can manipulate the brain pulses of their enemies, often in the visual field. But their power comes from not needing to be present; they’re able to geographically situate a telepathic illusion. If they want this to look like rock, it will. Even if it’s five inches of steel.”

“Awesome,” Winn squeaks.

“Less so if you’re on the receiving end of a hallucination you can’t break free from,” Astra mumbles. “Now, this entrance is usually left unguarded, so if it were me, I would post one guard. Due to my staff’s paranoia, I expect two.”

“Why are there so few stationed here?” Winn asks on behalf of the group.

Astra slinks forward to the next panel and places her hand overtop it. A light turns blue, and when the rock slides open, a reeking wave of humid, pungent decay hits Alex’s nostrils with the full force of a sledge hammer.

Explains the wet, sucking pull on her boots.

“Never mind!” Winn sputters and coughs. “I got it.”

“I’ll take them out from behind, wait for my whistle,” Astra commands.

Thirty seconds and some distant scuffling later, the rest of Super-6 hear the call. After some instruction from Astra, some orienting according to direction, suggestions for speed, and distribution of coms tuned to a specific frequency Winn had quadruple-checked that wouldn’t be detected by alien frequencies, the group splits, but not before Maxwell Lord gets in one final parting shot about crawling through the garbage chute (to which Astra smugly replied that certain rats belonged there).

The teams are all ten minutes out and should be approaching their respective locations. Alex follows behind Astra as she loops them through grated metal staircases and roughly blasted cross-corridors with red lights stationed at about twenty-foot intervals.

“Night mode,” Astra whispers to her.

The primary hallways are teeming with guards. Astra stops at every cross section and checks both ways before motioning Alex to follow along behind her.

“The unfortunate thing is, we’re in the least heavily guarded areas,” Astra clarifies. “Do you believe your Director Henshaw and the cretin will take well to the crawl space in the ventilation systems?”

“They’re the two largest bodies on the op. Hank won’t mind, but I doubt Max is going to be happy about lugging that questionably stable Element-K through a tiny air shaft.”

“Better the discomfort than capture,” Astra murmurs.

“Kara,” Alex says, pressing against the button on her earpiece. “What’s your ETA?”

“Almost there, Alex, but the guard numbers are crazy,” Kara replies through the com. “I’ve already had to deck two Circadians and this huge orange muscle-thing. Can’t say when they’ll come to.”

“We’ll have Hank circle back and do a memory wipe if we have to,” Alex mumbles, afraid of any of their teams leaving a trail of guard bodies in their wake. “Are you sticking to the service corridors like Astra said?”

“Yes. The foot traffic isn’t as heavy, but like I said, I’m still having to knock more guards out than I care to. They must have the Kryptonians on the main floors, but the further in we get, the more I don’t like the numbers behind us, Alex.”

“How are you catching them off guard so quickly?”

“I make Winn run out in front of me waving his flashlight and then I sneak up behind everyone when the guards start to chase him.”

“That’s not safe or effective—”

“It’s effective. Less than safe, but we’re two corridors down from the Command station. You should start on the rewiring, and I’ll buzz you once we’re in.”

“Alexandra,” Astra calls, as they reach a circular entryway with an electronic palm reader installed at shoulder level near the sealed door.

“Kara, we’re on the cell block,” Alex answers. “I’ll give you fifteen minutes before checking in.”

“Alright Alex. Be safe.”

“You, too.”

“Alexandra,” Astra calls again, flicking her eyes nervously toward the metallic door, easily half a foot thick and powered by sophisticated hydraulics Alex has never seen before, not even on some of the prototypes of the DEO vehicles.

“Once I open the door, the first two floors will be able to see the entrance,” Astra whispers. “There are no Kryptonians held, so I’m going to run you to the other end of the hall where the first circuit breaker is located. It might be unnecessary, since most of the prisoners should be sleeping, but—”

“Better safe than sorry,” Alex supplies.

“Quite. When and if the grumbling subsides, I’ll return to the end nearest the door. The prisoners will not question me, they… I’m likely the one to have put them there. They fear me,” Astra finishes, fishing for the glowing pair of wire strippers Lord handed to them during one of their previous meetings.

Astra had bestowed a fancy-looking toolbox on Lord at their final meeting, with gadgetry and solar-powered accoutrements and mechanical science rather beyond Alex’s comprehension. She was wary of it, giving Lord access to all of this alien technology. But he’d turned around and granted them tools with which to carry out their plan, which boded well for actually achieving something with this suicide mission she’d found herself on.

“I’m setting my watch,” Alex rotates the tiny knob on her mechanical piece. “We've got twenty minutes. Once Winn’s in, if he’s practiced enough and his typing speed really is what it says on his résumé, he should be done in ten. We’ll flip the switch, and the bars should go live.”

“Eight breakers, one on the opposite end of each floor,” Astra reminds her. “The ladders are—”

“In the back left corners, got it,” Alex finishes.

“On my count,” Astra says, pulling Alex against her so that her feet hover scant inches off the ground. “Three—” Astra secures the Kryptoninan equivalent of a power drill into a pocket on her catsuit. “Two—” her hand hovers over the palm reader, and her exhales are warm against Alex’s cheek. Alex holds tighter against Astra’s shoulder blades, the butt of the pliers digging into the woman’s back. Alex wonders if Astra can feel them. Wonders if she weighs any more than a pebble, held so tightly in Astra’s grip. “One.”

Astra presses her hand against the palm reader and the doors slide open with a mechanical hiss; Alex blinks, and they’re at the other end of the corridor. Thank God and Rao and the deities in between, for none of the aliens in the bottom cells have stirred. The place doesn’t look much different than it did when Alex had been thrown into the foremost cell near the door all those weeks ago; it still stinks of disuse, must and corroded bits of metal more overwhelming than the fetid whiffs she gets of alien body odor. Because there are certainly enough aliens already in the cells to explain the terrible, sickening scents of perspiration and waste comingling with the industrial odors. The entire first floor is filled with alien prisoners, with species Alex didn’t know Astra had under her command.

The woman has been slowly imprisoning her own army…

Makes Alex’s job a hell of a lot easier.

Astra deposits Alex at the terminal end of the hall and flashes back to the front, already unscrewing the paneling on the breaker while Alex still gapes at the hostile numbers. She counts a few still awake, but neither she nor Astra can be seen, tucked away as they are from the main hall to fiddle with the breakers. She gets to work, locates the wire and dons the insulated safety gloves just for precautionary measures. One of the wires disintegrates in her hands, so she has to twist some of the coils and fashion a new link, wondering just how well a paperclip will work if she has to result to some sort of MacGyver’d system. After two minutes, the system begins to resemble the practice models she’s been timing herself on in the DEO training room, colored wires looping to their correct ports, switches in place and a single bulb waiting for Winn’s keystroke at Central Command to indicate activation.

Four minutes gone, and Alex moves toward the ladder, makes her way as quietly up the rungs as she can manage with a screwdriver securely stuck between her clenched teeth. She’s halfway through reconstructing another corroded wire when the alarm sounds.

She swivels about and finds Astra, one floor above her with the tools tucked beneath her armpits, her expression calculating, head cocked to listen as the noise begins to fill the hall, rouse the prisoners, alert the guards to their location. The blinking red lights only make the sirens worse; it’s like the prison is flickering in wavy curtains of blood.

A loud speaker clear as a Bose sound system sings something Alex can’t interpret, the robotic voice causing Astra to zip from her position on the third floor back to Alex on the second.

“Guards are coming to secure the breach,” Astra explains.

“What? Here?” Alex whispers.

“Yes. You’ve got to hide.”

“What about you—”

“Fourth floor, no prisoners there. To the ladder, Alex, quickly!”

The lights continue flashing as Alex hastily grips the rungs and makes her way skyward. She doesn’t care how much noise she makes huffing from the exertion, because the sirens cover any of the echoing scuffles her boots make when they hit the rungs.

“Hurry, Alexandra,” Astra whispers below her.

She’s practically sprinting up the ladder, but the massive hall of cells is four stories high at least, there’s no way she’ll make it in time—

She feels a pinch at her hip and is bodily lifted from the ladder; she then hurtles upwards into the darkened hall, wailing its warning and flashing crimson. Astra places her on the platform flat on her back, so that if she rolls over, she would in fact be able to see the comings and goings at the entrance of the first floor cells. Astra hesitates, glances down, then brings her index finger over her lips. She’s hovering near the ledge at Alex’s eye level, indicating the one sleeping prisoner on the third level four cells down from Alex’s position. Alex is out of sight, she thinks, but there’s no way she can sigh, let alone whisper without some threat of danger shocking her muscles into spasms. Astra’s shoulders rise high against her taut neck as she breathes deeply, silently, closes her eyes and prepares for whatever confrontation awaits her below.

And Alex hates that she has to face it alone, can’t stand the thought that someone had tried to take a shot at her, bullet or blade or bomb—Astra deserves none of it.

Astra is about to float back down but Alex throws her hand out to catch Astra on the side of the head. Alex’s brows slope forward, the smile lines around her lips tighten, and she tries to inspire determination with a look; courage with a nod. It’s a strange position, only seeing Astra from the neck up, Alex lying flat on her back on a metal grate with a purpleish looking alien missing his legs snoring like a chainsaw only four cells away. Alex throws caution to the wind and sends Astra off with a token of encouragement; she pulls Astra’s head in towards her so she can plant a lingering kiss on her forehead. When Alex releases her, it seems as if mountains of brick have been removed from Astra’s shoulders. She inhales sharply, dips her head low and leaves Alex with an unreadable look before she begins her descent.

Alex hears the stampede of boot treads echoing like gongs off the walls of the cell corridors. Astra won’t leave with the wires gutted as they are, can’t abandon the plan without someone slipping by on patrol later to come and report their dirty work.

“Labana,” Alex hears Astra say, no bite, no bark, just… ease. “And Zahine.”

Someone sighs their relief.

“My general.”

“General.”

Alex can just make out the tones of patterned beeps and blips (as if someone were disarming a keypad) before the alarms stop blaring.

“Securing the area.”

“Command, we have found the General.”

Two voices. Male. Female.

“You are not in your sleeping pods?” Alex hears Astra ask.

“My General,” the female begins, “The troops scattered after the execution. When you left your personal guard, the High Lieutenant placed the base on red alert.”

The woman’s voice jitters around her consonants, nervous almost, as if this report comes after hours of anxious worry.

“Forgive Labana,” the male says. “She was worried for you, as we all were.”

“Kara…” Alex whispers into the com.

“Did you hear something?” the male voice snaps.

“No doubt one of these degenerates roused by the alarms,” Astra covers for her.

Even after all her training, after all her years living with Kara, Alex still forgets these beings can here clearly across fifty yards of metal, four stories high. Alex slowly moves her gloved palm up to the ear piece and begins tapping out a signal in Morse code:

A-R-M T-H-E S-Y-S-T-E-M.

“It was a necessary test, of course,” Astra fakes a heavy breath, and Alex can just picture the grim purse of her lips as she attempts to surmise the intentions of the two reporting to her. “If I can slip a personal detail so easily, I fear the incompetence of this outfit has only grown while I have been engaged with Myriad’s final steps. I cannot seem to trust my officers to maintain order.”

“You disappeared, General,” the male—Zahine, Alex figures—replies. “And after such fortuitous news, we feared for your health.”

“News?” Alex hears Astra’s question.

“Astra,” Labana says. “We have become friends in all this time together, have we not?”

Alex hears the pause descend upon the conversation, the beat changing, the shift almost tangible. Alex continues her tapping, hopes the three aliens will disregard the auditory pattern, will attribute it to the creaks and debilitating sounds of a decrepit prison.

“I know you were undeserving of your sentences,” Astra remarks. “We bonded over that mutual dissatisfaction. Lunarian justice, much like Kryptonian… is absolute.”

“Astra, please. There is little need for formality without your guard,” Zahine says lightly.

“We believed the Yellow Sun would grant you the ability,” Labana answers. “So when the Tormock took the shot during the convened session, our first thoughts were for the child.”

“Child?” Astra asks, the briefest of lapses heralding her confusion. “So… Non has told you?”

“We offer our sincerest congratulations,” Zahine returns. “We only hope that… with enough exposure on this planet, we will be as lucky as you. To have this occur with Myriad so close to implementation—we know you must keep focus as our leader, but you above all deserve this happiness, my General.”

“Yes,” Labana says. “No wonder the High Lieutenant was so agitated, demanding your personal guard; he has two to protect now! Once National City falls to Myriad, he will relent. It is a father’s initial reaction, that fierce protection.”

“Like your own,” Zahine, this time. “General Astra, we hope we do not overstep.”

“Of course not,” Astra says. “I was... unaware Non had revealed the information. He and I had only just discussed… had not intended the news to circulate, I… did not think it would ever occur.”

Another pause. Alex keeps tapping against her ear, but her chest suddenly feels like the entire weight of the alien prison has been thrown upon her; her lungs throb, her ribs are shuttering… her heart aches.

“As you say, we have grown close,” Astra continues. “Non and I trust you two with many secrets we cannot reveal to others. I am grateful for your dedication, for your friendship, over these many years.”

“Many years that will soon end in triumph. You will bring new life to this world, my General,” Labana’s voice splinters like a broken two-by-four, and Alex imagines the Lunarian is crying.

Alex continues tapping the pattern into her com, barely breathes, and wonders at the wetness in her own eyes.

“Myriad will secure a future for us all, and for those to come,” Zahine pronounces. “Allow us to escort you back to your quarters, General Astra. I know Labana wishes to know how the knowledge came about.”

“My utmost gratitude to you, Captains,” Astra says. “However there is a reason for my presence in the cells. I… feel I can trust you with this knowledge.”

Alex holds her breath.

“I am preparing to rearm the cells. To repair the circuitry so that we can have sharper control over dissenters.”

“Rearm the cells?” Labana questions. “But why, my General?”

“You have discovered the reason yourself,” Astra answers. “This life I host, this plan I intend to bring about… I must have a way to confine those who oppose me, those who would harm my child. You know I aim to be just—”

“Your justice is gracious, wiser than your sister’s—”

“You will not speak of her,” Astra commands, hard as granite. “I do not wish to lose any more fighters. It will not do to go into battle lacking numbers, should Myriad come to it. But again, I must find punishment for those who question me. Every level of soldier has memories of this place. I am reluctant to dole out physical punishment, but the psychological torture of confinement should break the wills of any rebel soldiers who question my authority. Cruel? Possibly. But undoubtedly effective.”

Alex hears the pause and hopes Kara’s in position, that Winn is working on his coding and that Max is at least halfway through with the extraction.

“I have come to rewire the circuitry myself, and then to question those imprisoned about the attempt on my life. I… slipped the guard for privacy as my methods might be considered less than wise in my council—but Labana, Zahine, they know nothing of the child, and I do not wish for anyone in my circle to know I now have the ability to imprison them. Central Command is rerouting energy from our source as we speak, under my orders. I request your allegiance and secrecy concerning this matter, as your superior, but also as your friend.”

“You are the General,” Zahine affirms. “And there are those on your council who care so little for you. Who dare to—”

“Politics, husband,” Labana calms him. “Let us trust our General to appoint her own advisors, and to keep the peace within this hierarchy—the humans have a saying. Keep one’s friends close, the enemy closer. Our General knows this, that Myriad is the most important, now. You know our fidelity extends to you, not to your councilors, Astra.”

“Once this—plan—comes to a close, I will do what I can so that you will have seats, a… position… in whatever my future endeavors bring forth,” Astra answers cryptically. “If it were up to me alone, you both would be on Council now.”

“General!”

“That is very gracious of you,” Zahine replies.

“Many changes are coming. Perhaps soon, we will be able to find some sort of peace with this,” Astra says. “But return to your posts, and tell the High Lieutenant that I have been on base this entire time, furthering my investigation of the assassination attempt. He need not worry so.”

“He is truly devoted to you. Allow him this over reaction,” Labana attempts to ease Astra’s annoyance.

“I cannot allow it,” Astra says firmly. “The High Lieutenant needs separate his duty as husband and his duty as soldier. He does not have the final word to implement such a drastic security increase when efforts are needed elsewhere. I cannot allow Myriad to be compromised at this stage because of his sentimentality.”

“It is his child, General,” Labana dares to argue.

“And I am his wife, his superior, and the bearer of that child. I have a voice in this. And I say to return to your posts, with the order of downgrading to our normal security measures. I have two dissenters in cells four and seven who will not likely see the light of morning, considering what I know of their involvement in the plan from earlier tonight. If you hear screaming from this corridor, do not come questioning my methods.”

“Yes, my General,” Zahine says.

“Astra…”

“I appreciate your concern, Labana, but allow me to complete my task and carry out my inquiry. If I am to protect the future I have worked so hard to attain, if I am to protect my child… I must do what needs to be done.”

“I… understand, my General,” Labana answers.

“Thank you, Captains, truly. Dismissed.”

Alex hears the pair of Lunarians retreat. She remains still, processing everything that she’s overheard, tuning out the snores of aliens, her own clamorous thoughts, the little part of herself that feels strangely broken for no justified reason—

She’s married, you knew this!

“Alexandra.”

Astra is hovering at her side, holding the screwdriver aloft.

“I can explain, but we do not have the luxury of time,” Astra whispers.

“No, it’s… I got it,” Alex pushes herself up and creeps across the platform toward the breaker, takes her own screwdriver out and loses herself to the mechanics of the mission—locate the red wire, strip it and recoil the copper compound, insert into the port and reroute the green, shimmery bit.

It takes seconds, the breaker the least compromised of all the ones she’s handled so far, so when Alex turns to see Astra just standing there, watching her, the grip on that pair of pliers so tight she’s crushing the handle in her palm, Alex feels as if a physical blow has knocked her back, has left her confused and lacking and stranded in the middle of an alien prison.

“Astra,” Alex manages roughly. “One more on your end, I’m moving down to three.”

Alex places a finger at her ear and listens for the murmurs coming in from the other two teams. “Winn and Kara are having issues, Max and J’onn have Element-K secure, and are already heading back to the vents. We’re almost finished, let’s go.”

Astra opens her mouth to say something, decides against it, and then zooms across the open air of the third floor. Alex retreats in on herself, back into the mission, pushes all of her feelings aside because that’s training, that’s the job, that’s how she might get hurt but at least she won’t get killed.

Get the prison armed.

Get everyone out of there.

And then get enough whiskey to drown her sorrows before the final siege.

Alex is securing the last panel when the same sirens start blaring, but this time in another sector of the base.

“Alex, we’re made!” Kara says through the com.

“Winn, activate the cells!” Alex commands, and half a second later, the panel in front of her sparks, hums, and the little bulb on the breaker blinks to life as the cells shiver around her, powered by the recently diverted energy from Element-K.

“J’onn, what’s your status?!” Alex barks as she chucks the tools into various pockets and grips the sides of the ladder. No time to climb down carefully. She props her boots on the posts and slides down the metal fireman-style, crouching as she lands, taking off toward the front door of the cell hall. Aliens start shrieking, crying for human blood as they wake for the second time that night, but Astra’s given her the cover they both need, with that explanation to the Lunarians.

“We’re on our way out, haven’t been spotted,” Alex hears J’onn through the com.

“Alex, we’re pinned in Command. I could use some back-up!” Kara cuts through J’onn’s report.

“Kara.” Astra places her hand on the palm reader and the door slides open once more.

“You can’t go, you can’t be seen helping her,” Alex says, removing the pistol from her hip and loading the first Kryptonite magazine. They jog down a hall and Astra tugs her back by the collar of her black Polo, narrowly escaping the notice of half a dozen guards charging towards Command.

“She’s in the heart of the station!” Astra objects.

“Make sure J’onn and Max get out,” Alex tells her as she crouches to remove the 30-round Kryptonite magazine velcroed to the inside of her tac suit. She then retrieves the automatic rifle slung over her back. With practiced efficiency, Alex inserts the magazine and tries to control her breathing when she hears the thunderous click of the ammunition jammed into the well of the assault weapon. “We still need to preserve that Element, and I don’t trust Max with it on his own.”

“But Kara—”

“—is Supergirl. She can hold her own until I get there. Go, there’s no time,” Alex says, pushing Astra back toward the tunnels leading to the exterior of the base. “I’ve memorized the layouts, I’ve got this.”

“Alexandra—”

“No time, Astra, go!”

Astra swallows regretfully but disappears a second later, leaving Alex alone in the secondary corridor. Alex skips past patrols and turns a corner, backpedals with the stock of the rifle rammed into her shoulder. She takes out two lime-tinted aliens secreting some kind of mucus through their skin with one shot each, then jogs her way back down the hall.

“Winn, Winn, come in, can you hear me?”

White noise, mumbling, crashing sounds, a bit more white noise through the com, and then—

“Yeah… got… to hear, help Kara!”

“On my way,” Alex says, hurtling a light beam that looked suspiciously like a heat laser. She barrels into a trio of bewildered guards, undoubtedly roused from sleep after the high security alerts were changed and the second set of sirens started blaring. She jabs the barrel of her weapon into the gut of one of the humanoids then, as it double over, launches herself off its back to elbow the tallest being in the nose. The crunch that follows makes up for the blow to the torso she sustains for her efforts; but even as her chest throbs she turns, shooting a spray of precious Kryptonite bullets she knows she should be conserving for the fight in Central Command, but three to one odds (even if the aliens look confused as Astra had the first time she’d tried on human clothing) don’t bode well for her, no matter how much training she’s had.

None have super powers, so they all fall after the rain of bullets, injured, likely not dead, but wounded severely enough that they’re not moving, probably can’t even crawl over to the nearest alarm station after falling that hard.

“Winn!” Alex gasps into the com. “Delete the footage of Astra in the cells. But leave the footage of Max and J’onn where they can see it.”

She’s running, huffing, her adrenaline dancing like spasmodically-firing electrodes in her smallest capillaries.

“Winn! Delete Astra’s footage!!!”

She hurdles a lump of guards, an orange humanoid (one of the ones Kara took out during the infiltration) in the mix, and knows she must be getting close—the din of the fight pulses against her ear canals with her every stride.

“Winn!”

“Winn… computer—shot him, Alex!” Kara yells over the com.

Shit.

She turns the corner and there’s a swarm of aliens, ten feet tall with multiple limbs, half her height with spikes for fingers, egg-shaped forms with tusks protruding from their ears, and a host of Kryptonians hovering outside of the Central Command room, all bottlenecked around the entrance and waiting for their shot at Kara.

She wants to jump into the fray with her gun blazing, wants to rescue her little sister and Winn and get the hell out of here as quickly as she can, take out as many aliens as possible with bullets whizzing over her head—but she’s trained for this, and that training tells her a more patient strategy is going to win out in this instance. Alex doesn’t normally do this… but this time, she hides behind the corner, and gets to work.

Kryptonians first.

She starts at the back.

It’s so loud and Kara’s fighting for her life; the Kryptonians floating nearest the door won’t see their compatriots at the rear of the group falling with every carefully shot Kryptonite bullet. She’s injured five and takes out a sixth with two pop pops to the arm before she has to change her magazine, before one of the hovering aliens turns over his shoulder and spots her.

Plan B. Guns blazing!!!

Alex steps out from behind the corner and tosses two grenades into the hoard of aliens as one of the Kryptonians speeds towards her. She doesn’t even see him approach, just feels his fingers on her trachea, squeezing the life out of her as she thrashes in his grip. She hopes the new boots from R&D are worth it; clicking her heels together causes the Kryptonite blade at the front of her boot to eject from above the tread. It glows grimy green near her tiptoes. She struggles, strains, spasming without air, but finally lands a kick to the Kryptonian’s stomach. He stumbles and she coughs, gulping sweet air as he releases her throat. She kicks him once more in the gut, the blade at the top of her boot cutting through his cat suit, blood pooling in a small puddle as he gasps on the ground.

Her five-second skirmish tipped the aliens at the entrance to Command off to her location. She sees the recognition spread over the alien faces but dives back around the corridor, knowing that in two more seconds—

The explosion is so loud and so close she feels the foundation vibrate beneath her. There’s stomach-curdling groaning and wailing coming from around the corner, a film of dust and streaks of blood coating the floor to her immediate left. She emerges on shaky legs and staggers forward, tripping over the unconscious Kryptonian she’d gutted only seconds prior to the explosion.

“Kara!” she calls through the swirling destruction. “Kara!”

“Alex!”

Kara has Winn thrown over her shoulder. The bits of him not covered in black, DEO-issued clothing look moon-pale and ghastly. Alex trudges forward and kicks at a groping claw, stumbling into Kara’s free arm. A minor adjustment later and they take blessed flight into the night sky, her grenade blasts having decimated twenty solid feet of the Fort Rozz base walls.

“Kara, behind you!” Alex yells over the wind.

Kara swerves just in time to miss the lasers shot her way. Alex twists awkwardly in Kara’s half-hold and fires with two pistols at the pursuing Kryptonians. There’s only two of them, but it’s damn hard to see with it being so overcast. Kara tries for cover in the low clouds, zooms and veers and drops so abruptly Alex nearly dry-heaves, her stomach pitching like the time at that accursed summer vacation they’d taken to Six Flags in Valencia. Lasers singe Kara’s cape and Alex fires wildly into the night, shoots in the general direction of the laser’s origin and hopes, prays, then chocks it all up to sheer dumb luck that the laser-firing ceases.

“I think you clipped him,” Kara tells her, but Alex doesn’t release her death grip on the handle of the pistol.

Kara doesn’t have a lot of time to waste—she heads straight for the rendezvous point and releases her hold on Alex, shifts Winn so that he’s lying unconscious (Alex hopes) over both her shoulders. J’onn, Astra, and Max form a foul-faced half circle, J’onn stepping forward to pull Winn’s head up and open a closed eyelid.

“They shot him in the shoulder with something,” Kara says. “Should I take him to the hospital or—”

“No, the doctors in the medbay can see to him,” J’onn says. “But you’ll need to get him there quick.”

“H-he’s lost a lot of b-blood,” Kara stutters.

“Kara, go,” Alex says. “We’re right behind you.”

“Okay,” Kara says, cradling Winn into her chest, the crest of El smeared with enough blood to give Alex significant pause. If all of it belongs to Winn—

Kara shoots off so fast Alex staggers back, though it might be the jelly of her legs after the explosion.

Thankfully, Astra catches her, but her arms are stiff around Alex’s waist. Astra has held her a few times now, but the limbs around her torso don’t have that same give that they did even at the beginning of the night, before they’d flown to the tree line, before Astra had pulled her on her back, before she’d held Alex close enough to run her across the prison corridor, before she’d lifted her up to that fourth floor where Alex had overheard—

Had it only been such a short time ago?

“I must return to base,” Astra says, steadying Alex and then stepping away quickly.

“It’s insanity back there,” Alex says. “I blasted through half of your army and some of your base with the M2 Grenades.”

Grenades?!” Hanks hisses. “You used more than one?”

“It… they took a significant hit to their numbers, sir.”

“You could’ve blasted half the mountain apart!”

“I had to get us out of there,” Alex says. “Did you extract the Element?” Alex turns her attention back to Max.

“Oh, I got it,” Max smirks. “And I didn’t have to blow anything up in the process.”

“Mr. Lord has been content to play on his phone while we were waiting,” Hank explains. “General, you really should return, so as not to arouse suspicion.”

“Yes, I… I should go,” Astra says, lingering by Alex’s side longer than she should. “Alexandra, I—”

“I had Winn delete the feed of you on the cell block. Well, I asked him to,” Alex summarizes quickly. “But I told him to leave the surveillance with Max and J’onn up so that it would be the first thing your team saw.”

“Why would you want them to see us?” Max interrupts. “We’re the only ones that got in and out undetected!”

“A diversion,” Astra supplies, following Alex’s soldier’s train of thought effortlessly. “Yes, the Element is important to power Myriad and to redirect the power to the prison cells, but my advisors don’t know that your infiltration’s sole objective wasn’t just taking the energy source. They’ll never have to know that Alex and I have armed the cells. So when the time comes for capture—”

“They’ll think they’re still infallible, that we won’t have anywhere to hold them. They won’t suspect her at all,” Alex finishes.

Max eyes them carefully, then goes back to his phone. “If we’re done with all this, I’d like to get back to my day job. Some of us have empires to run.”

Alex tugs Astra aside. “Those Lunarians know what you were up to,” Alex says.

“They won’t alert anyone.”

“So you say.”

“They will not, Alex,” Astra repeats. “They’re… there are many things you don’t know about my command, about me—”

“That is becoming exceedingly apparent,” Alex can’t help but mumble.

Astra stands straighter. “Labana and Zahine are good soldiers, Alexandra. They will not betray me.”

“You don’t know who called for that hit on your life, Astra. What if they hadn’t missed?” Alex mutters, reaching out for Astra despite herself.

“We cannot have this conversation now,” Astra says. “I must return to base.”

“When can I see you again?” Alex asks, her voice hitching higher than it should. Seeing Winn bleeding over Kara’s suit, feeling the shake of the grenades, with the Kryptonite everywhere—

“Alex, please,” Astra backs away. “I’ll write you tomorrow. I promise.” Astra shoots off into the sky, and the waves of nausea that have been with Alex since Kara’s flight don’t subside. She starts tearing at the gear on her body and tosses her Kevlar vest into the back of the SUV, avoiding Hank’s and Max’s curious glances.

Anxious miles of desert are eaten away by the tread of the SUV’s tires. She takes Max back into town then heads into the DEO with Hank, a bloodstained Kara perched apprehensively beside the glass walls of the medbay. Winn lies helplessly in a bed while doctors flutter around him, the heart monitor beeping resiliently despite his terrible pallor.

“He’s okay?” Alex asks when she gets in.

“He lost so much blood. His humerus fractured during the explosion.”

“I couldn’t help it, Kara—”

“That’s not your fault,” Kara shakes her head, frowning to herself. “I just… how many more people… how many more of my friends have to get hurt before we finish this?”

“I don’t know, Kara,” Alex laments, running her fingers over her face, wiping at the dried blood she finds there. “I gotta go finish some stuff, I’ll be back in twenty, okay?” Alex says.

Kara nods absently, but Alex can’t find it in herself to walk away just yet. The night’s been hell, in many many ways, and the last thing she wants to do right now is leave Kara alone with her guilt. As if she could compound what she knows Kara already feels, having the Earth attacked all because Kara's pod brought Fort Rozz here. No matter how many times Alex tells her otherwise, she knows Kara thinks the Fort Rozz debacle is primarily her fault.

“Kara, this isn’t on you either, you know? You got him out of there. He’s alive.”

Kara’s lower lip trembles… That never happens when she’s in her Supergirl get up: “But what if—”

“He’s alive,” Alex repeats, trying for a half-smile. She forces Kara to step away from the glass, to tilt her wobbly chin up and face her. “And don’t think he won’t tell this story to anyone who will listen the first chance he gets.”

Kara barks her laugh.

“What about DEO non-disclosures?”

“DEO? He wasn’t working for the DEO, was he?” Alex smirks.

“Oh,” Kara thinks, the tiniest uptick at the corner of her lip lightening the lead in Alex’s heart significantly. “Right.”

“Now, I’ve just got to come up with a convincing enough lie to put on the paper work as to why I stole two M2 Grenades without authorization,” Alex says, leaning against the glass wall and mushing her cheek there. Kara laughs, genuinely this time, so at least Alex got one good thing out of the night.

“I don’t envy that part of your job.”

“Go clean yourself up, Supergirl,” Alex advises, squeezing her sister’s arm. “He’ll be up soon.”

Alex retreats to the armory and goes through the motions of checking in her weaponry. The paperwork she’s stuck with is as mountainous as the terrain near Fort Rozz. Hank’s got Element-K in a stasis chamber so that when their scientists come on shift in the morning, they can get right to work on analysis. She knows that if she asked for it, Hank would give her the leave time, but the paper work in front of her is a lot easier to cope with than her empty apartment, no matter how tired she is. Because if she goes home she’ll just start thinking, and the last thing she needs on her mind is Astra.

Astra…

Who is pregnant.

Alex locks herself in her tiny little office she hardly ever uses and writes for the next ninety minutes. She emerges only when the last t is crossed and even then, she still doesn’t want to go home. She speaks to Kara, who says Winn had woken up for a brief moment to give her a thumbs up—“He asked how heroic he looked,” Kara had said with an eye roll—before he’d succumbed to the pain killers.

“Supergirl up for some super breakfast?” Alex asks, once she’s done all she can do report-wise for the rest of the night.

“I’m starving,” Kara says.

“Lemme change back into some civilian threads and we can hit that diner off the Interstate you like so much.”

“Good plan,” Kara smiles, and follows Alex back to the changing room.

She’s just fixed the last button on her blouse in the locker room when Kara calls to her. “I’m thinking about the French Toast, the Western omelet, and the Chocolate Chip pancakes.”

“I’ve been wanting to vomit since you flew me out of that mountain,” Alex admits, shutting the door to the locker. "And you listing greasy menu items certainly isn't helping."

“You got everything? Where’s your phone?” Kara asks.

“Oh yeah,” Alex retreats to the locker and removes her phone from the shelf.

She doesn’t want to think about Astra, but her worry gets the better of her. She digs around in the pockets of her dirtied black mission trousers and finally pulls the spy beacon out. She’s kept it on her person ever since Astra first gave it to her, whether out of superstition or actual concern, she never figured. But it’s different now, the tiny little alien device, once so harmless in her palm, now suddenly as heavy as the heart of a Kryptonian.

The spy beacon burns just as bright and hot as a star in Alex’s shaking hand.

“Kara!” Alex calls, the edges of her voice lacerated by distress and the deepest of care.

“Alex, what’s…” Kara stops dead, and stares at the brightly lit device.

“Astra.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean she’s not at Fort Rozz?” Alex hisses into the com, frantically pacing the DEO control room. The other agents have been tossing her wary looks ever since she, Supergirl, and Director Henshaw brought an injured civilian into the medbay with a gaping shoulder wound inflicted by an alien barb—and an alien element purported to power the entire nation if the energy could be harnessed effectively.

So, typical Tuesday before six a.m. at the DEO, excepting one agitated Agent Danvers, who makes so many passes over the open floor of the control room she nearly wears a hole through the rock.

“I know my aunt's voice because... because she sounds like my mother. But I can't hear her, can't smell her, I don't see her at all, Alex. And if I were a general rebuilding my mountain base, I would probably be ordering people around,” Kara says over the com. “And I don’t want to risk getting any closer to the base so soon after our infiltration. You thought it was bad inside the mountain? There’s at least twenty bodies flying around, moving these huge slabs of rock back into place. I wish I had the beacon on me... it'll get brighter the closer you are to target.”

“What… how does the beacon get brighter?” Alex asks, running her index over the bright little circle, safely stowed in her pocket.

“You can tell when the partner beacon is close, because it shines more. Like a metal detector beeping faster the closer you get to coins or… lost jewelry on the beach? I could fly back to the DEO and get it, but I don't think we're looking in the right place.”

“Then come on back, Supergirl,” Alex sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’ll think of something else.”

“Are you sure?” Kara asks. “I bet I can sneak back in there and give it a once-over while they’re preoccupied with the reconstruction—”

“Astra wouldn’t want you going in with no back-up on her account. Especially after your fight at Fort Rozz Command. Even you might need a recharge after that, Kara.”

Alex huffs and pauses in her pacing, trying to get a grip on her nerves (trying and failing), attempting to let her training kick in, her years and months of intense instruction under Hank’s tutelage.

“What do they look like, Supergirl?” Alex finally asks. “You said they’re trying to fix the base but… can you get a sense of the feel of the place? Don’t get too close.”

“Smells like worry,” Kara relays. “I can’t really explain that, just, uhm, compared to the heart beats of the base previously, even when I’d gone in fighting…the place is a ticking time bomb, Alex. It’s just…tense”

“You haven’t seen Non, have you?” Alex dares to ask.

“No. I’d have to get closer.”

“Don’t. It’s done. Let’s… we can’t be sure those Kryptonians that were tailing us got to her first. She wasn’t injured, so it’s… I just can’t think of anything that would bring her down without her putting up a fight.”

“Unless the troops at Fort Rozz have a hidden bunker full of Kryptonite—”

“They do, but that’s a problem for another day,” Alex sighs. “And Winn’s awake. Wants to know if he can head back into the city.”

“Seriously?” Kara says over the com, but her voice is a bit more garbled, muffled in the windstream. “I’m sure he could take the day.”

“He says not everyone gets preferential treatment like Cat’s right hand.”

“I hardly get preferential treatment.”

“He told me some of the excuses you’ve used for Supergirl duties,” Alex explains. “Cat Grant is many things, but stupid is not one of them.”

“So what? You think she’s letting me leave my job in the middle of the day?”

“I think you were right to be worried about her catching on.”

“I think you’re distracting yourself with issues about my role at CatCo since you’re worried,” Kara smartly replies, redirecting Alex. “I know you’re scared, Alex, but we’re going to find her.”

“Kara," Alex heaves the heaviest sigh she dares in the heavily populated control room, staring with disconsolate disappointment at the floor. "Astra, she's... She's done so much to help us, I might have pushed too far. If this is somehow my fault—”

“Don’t you dare," Kara admonishes her. "I’m two minutes out from the DEO. Do what you do best, Agent Danvers. Find yourself an alien.”

Alex checks out of the com conversation and digs in her pocket for the beacon. Sleek and circular, maybe two inches in diameter, it has a raised section cut to resemble a perfectly proportioned crescent moon, a line bisecting the shape, and another deep line skewed diagonally across the material. The rest of the piece is a navy, plexiglass substance… possibly to resemble the sky?

There’s probably some symbolism there, that the beacon will illumine the way in the night, that even the smallest of torches can make the search easier. But Alex can’t do much with metaphor… she needs someone with hands-on alien-tech experience.

Or in this case… hand.

“Winn,” Alex calls, jerking her head at one of the nurses in the medbay. He clears out with a little salute. “Hear you’re asking to go back into the city to get to CatCo.”

“Uh… yeah,” Winn says, sitting up straighter in the medbay bed. His arm is tucked close to his chest in a sling, the cast no doubt itchy against his skin, but holding the fractured bone in place. “I mean, Cat’s got a soft spot for Kara, but the rest of us are always a little worried about the professional chopping block,” Winn rambles. “Regardless of blood loss, I’ll take my chances typing one-handed. And I honestly don't feel terrible. You guys got good tech and great medicine.”

“We use drugs and experimental treatment methods that haven't yet been approved for the mass healthcare market," Alex rapidly answers. "What do you make at CatCo?”

“Well, uhm,” Winn brushes it off, thrown a little by the query. “We’ve got decent benefits, and I do okay for a junior staffer in IT—”

“DEO technicians start out two levels above regular gov tech salaries. You’re operating with a knowledge of alien tech the likes of which even Max Lord hasn’t seen, which bumps you up to Specialist. They start at seventy-five an hour, Winn. Even if you pulled the eight-hour workday on a regular week, that’s upwards of a hundred grand a year. We’d let you talk to HR for sure.”

“Whahhh?” Winn starts, clutching at the covers nervously. “Why… I like it at CatCo,” Winn says. “I… I mean, I never really thought about quitting so early—”

“I have a project for you,” Alex cuts through the defensive confusion and tosses the spy beacon into Winn’s lap. “Go to the tech lab, ask for anything you need, and figure out how this works. It’s called a spy beacon. There’s another one just like it; they operate like homing devices to each other, get brighter the closer one comes to the other. I need to know what type of range it can cover, what type of frequency, see if you can track GPS coordinates for the partner beacon. You’d be compensated by the DEO, of course.”

“You know,” Winn says, turning the little device over in his functioning hand. “You could’ve just asked, Alex.”

Alex straightens, props her hands on her hips, and feels the uncertainty start to creep over her mind like crawling trellis vines.

“What?” she snaps, defensive.

“I get your job is really intense,” Winn says. “I mean, you’re Supergirl’s Supergirl! I guess you do the kind of stuff I did last night every other day, so I bet that takes a toll,” he continues, and Alex really wants to hurry this exchange along, wants to know just what Winn wants to get this job done.

“What are you getting at, Winn? You want more pay? I’ll see what I can do, but if you can’t—”

“I don’t want any pay, Agent Danvers,” Winn says, tossing the covers off of his lower half and swinging himself out of the medbay bed. He tottles off behind a changing screen and emerges in DEO sweats, his medical gown draped over him like some sterile hobbit’s cape. “I’m Kara’s best friend, and you’re her sister. I’d have done it if you’d just asked,” he explains.

Alex is about to rant about bargaining over hourly wages when they have an informant potentially undergoing the Kryptonian torture equivalent of waterboarding and thumbscrewing, but for once, she holds her tongue.

Winn smiles. “If we have the potential to be partnered up on game night from here on out, we can try being friends. Especially if we’re both in the Super-6,” Winn nods his head reassuringly, then looks off down the circuitous hallways that comprise the DEO. “Which way to the tech lab?” he asks, starting off for the main hall.

“Winn,” Alex stops him, tries to take a step back from her role as Agent Badass, from her tunnel-vision and her overbearing (yet still justified) worry. “Thank you for all of your help,” she says, trying (probably failing) for calm.

“No problem, Alex.”

“You think…” Alex grins, trying to extend an olive branch. “You think we could boot Max out and downgrade to the Super-5?”

“Doesn’t have the alliterative ring to it that Super-6 does,” Winn laments. “And as cool as I once thought he was, that guy is a total asshole.”

“Agreed.”

“Super-5 it is, then.”

“Thanks, Winn,” Alex says, escorting him out into the control room. “Evans,” Alex barks. “Take Mr. Schott down to the tech lab. Tell Dr. Harada and whoever’s checking in for the dayshift that’s he got full clearance for all devices, anything he needs, let him have it. Director Henshaw’s orders.”

“Yes ‘mam.”

“Vasquez,” Alex turns on her booted heel, skipping up the steps of the control station two at a time. It’s like a light bulb (or a spy beacon) all of a sudden went off in her brain.

She’s had it all wrong, this entire time, making herself and Astra out to be the lone pair, taking on the burden of Myriad all by themselves. Astra apparently trusts the Lunarians—maybe it’s time Alex extended her own circle of trust.

It feels lighter, suddenly, not so impossible. Like Kara once told her… she honors others when she asks for their help, when she allows them to use their talents to accomplish a task. It’s less prideful on her end, less pressure on her, just… less, all around.

“Mam?” Vasquez looks up from her screen.

Alex crosses her arms over her chest, and looks directly ahead at the massive control board, lights flickering and icons blinking as the different desktop views flash across the screens. “Your discretion would be appreciated, Susan,” Alex manages, acting as if the numbers and shifting camera angles on one specific screen of the two warehouses under surveillance in North Dakota deserve her utmost attention.

“What can I do?”

“Preferably not on the house monitors,” Alex says.

Vasquez tilts her head discreetly and hits a combination of keys, one of the screens to her upper right on the Smart Control board flickering to life at the skim of her finger. Vasquez places two pointer fingers on the SmartBoard and expands the screen, drags it just above her left hand so that she and Alex alone can view it.

“You still have access to the cameras on the DEO satellite?” Alex asks. “From back when I was taken to Fort Rozz?”

“Yes mam.”

“Hank said all our eyes in the sky were on the base. What’s the scale like on that satellite imaging?”

Susan types swiftly, could probably give Winn a run for his money on the keyboard. One of their top recruits out of MIT, she’d come in with the same class as Alex, but hadn’t sustained the extra hours for field training. But she’s all about exactitude, whether with keystroke or marksmanship. Vasquez is in the top three scores every week for firing drills.

"We’ve got anywhere from a twenty mile range if I zoom in on specific sections. Though the picture quality downgrades significantly if I extend it to that size, mam. It would be better if I knew the specific coordinates, and could punch it down to 4,800 meters.”

“I need you to start at the three mile mark and click through the frames second-by-second from…” Alex thinks back to when Kara flew them out of Fort Rozz, the two minutes or so that they were in the air, ducking, swirling, avoiding the pursuing Kryptonians. And then they’d landed, had a brief exchange—Astra couldn’t have stayed even three minutes after Kara had flown off with Winn.

“What time did Kara bring Winn in?” Alex asks.

Susan pulls up another screen. “Four forty-seven,” she says.

“I guess that would be… four thirty-seven a.m. forward.”

“You want me to go frame by frame, by seconds, on the satellite imaging?” Vasquez asks.

“Yes.”

“Mam, if I go for fifteen minutes, that’s 900 images,” Vasquez summarizes. “What exactly am I looking for?”

“It would probably be in the lower left hand corner of the image, coming from the southwest. If we don't find anything in the initial three mile view, we'll double it, and zoom in on the next three miles to the southwest over that same time period."

"Another 900 images?" Vasquez asks.

"Yes. And we're looking for anything out of the ordinary.”

“This is an alien base, Agent Danvers.”

“I know that!” Alex snaps at the sarcasm, but Susan just throws her a please stop wasting my time expression. Alex can’t quash the eye roll. “Flying projectile—”

“—Kryptonian body, got it,” Vasquez says, beginning her less-than-adventurous journey through the photographs.

“How did you know—”

“You and the Director should really work on Supergirl’s poker face,” Vasquez snarks. “If that’s not too out of line, mam.”

“Just… split screen so I can look, too. We’ll go faster that way.”

Five minutes and fifty stills in, Alex still hasn’t found any indication that Astra had flown back within three miles of the Fort Rozz base. There were plenty more to look through, but something in her gut, intuition, sense, she dare not call it connection, made her think that Astra hadn’t made it back within a three mile radius of Fort Rozz for a reason.

“What are you doing?” Kara asks, approaching the pair of agents on the control platform.

“Looking for your aunt,” Vasquez grumbles.

“Wait,” Kara says, her gaze snapping toward Susan on the right. “What—?”

“We’re having lie detector test training with you, Supergirl,” Alex murmurs, pushing herself back from the edge of the control panel. “You give them a look through, lower corner, see if you can spot her. You can flick through quicker than we can.”

Kara takes Alex’s position as Alex shifts down, and Susan transfers half of her image files into a new desktop interface before Alex.

Fifteen minutes later, and the trio has nothing to show for their efforts.

“That’s not necessarily true,” Kara objects, ever the optimist. “We know she never made it back, so she had to have been taken somewhere between the rendezvous point and three miles outside of Fort Rozz. She indicated she was heading back immediately. We have no reason to believe she’d take a detour.”

Looks like they'll be expanding the search, and if the next three miles don't yield results, they'll have to go for another three. The rendezvous point where they parked the DEO SUV was only fifteen minutes away from the base, but it's tedious, time-consuming work, time that Alex knows they really don't have.

“But that’s just it. We weren’t set on a rendezvous point until last night,” Alex says. “We’d held off on writing anything back and forth, just in case Fort Rozz intercepted any of our correspondence.”

“So who in your group would have something to gain from the General’s disappearance?” Vasquez asks.

“Hey! Supergirl,” Winn calls, and all three women’s heads whip towards him. He balks under the attention as he scurries toward the control panel. “What?” he asks, when faced with the accusing stares of the three women above him.

“You didn’t tell anyone where we were meeting, did you?” Kara asks him.

“When, here?” Winn asks.

“No, last night, where we parked the car. Before we flew to the base,” Alex explains.

“No way,” Winn says. “I even left my phone at home. The last thing I’d want would be to blow an undercover op because someone called me and the Game of Thrones theme song started playing.”

"It's funny you think someone would call you that late," Kara says.

"I know... people," Winn mutters.

“Phone…” Alex thinks, the neurons in her brain zapping, the axons shivering, fragmentary thought slowly forming a dreadful, fearsome hypothesis. “Can you get someone’s phone records?” Alex asks Winn.

“You have a warrant?”

“No. But I’ve got one of the most advanced computer systems in the world—well, even in the solar system, right behind me,” Alex counters, motioning toward the DEO control board.

Winn’s eyes glaze over like a kid’s in a candystore, that’s located right beside a skatepark, that’s neighbors with a Toys-R-Us. “Will I—”

“Be working with the full authority of a government agency behind you?” Alex hastens to move Kara out of one of the chairs, motioning for Winn to sit. “Of course you will.”

“What’s the number?”

Alex scrolls through her phone and shows it to Winn, who then gets to work on the tracking. “Gotcha. Need anything specific?”

“Outgoing or incoming calls, messages, emails, between midnight and four thirty a.m. last night,” Alex says.

“Got a handful of calls, one message from… blocked number,” Winn says, sitting straighter, fingers flying with one hand to his right. “Hmm. I can’t seem to—”

“What’s the number?” Vasquez chimes in.

“Here,” Winn says, rolling down in his chair and relinquishing the controls to Vasquez.

Her fingers fly while Winn, Kara, and Alex, wait with bated breath.

“Government number, encryption and a scrambled signal—there,” Vasquez manages with one final press of her index to the enter key. The formal military portrait appears on the screen below them, stars, bars and army drab eliciting a gasp from Kara.

“Who was messaging General Lane last night at two a.m.?” Kara asks.

Alex turns, murder in her eyes, and makes her way to the armory.

“Lord.”


 

Alex checks out her piece with glazed eyes and even breathing. She’s running on fury and adrenaline, a dangerous cocktail for an agent, coming down from the high of a mission, the frantic scrabbling of deduction and lead-following in the control room—and now, she really just wants to kick some answers out of one Maxwell Lord.

And if she breaks a nose or a rib or a tibia in the process, so be it.

“Alex,” Kara tries for the umpteenth time, tracking Alex’s practiced, fluid movements.

Magazine in the pouch, check the safety, rack the slide to make sure there’s nothing in the chamber, then lock it. Safety once more, holster the piece, move out.

Alex,” Kara calls, standing in front of the door.

“Get out of my way, Kara.”

“Alex, listen to me. You can’t just—”

“Get out of the way!” Alex tries to push her, but of course she doesn’t budge, doesn’t even teeter in her red boots.

“You can’t beat information out of him. He’s got a squad of personal security he’ll call on you in two seconds, Alex.”

“I’ve got Supergirl!” Alex flings her arms wide and pirouettes back into the darkened confines of the arms room, varying degrees of weaponry hung on the walls, enough fire power in one box to take our a number of skyscrapers. Or the Lord Technologies laboratories.

“Kara, you don’t understand.”

“We’ll get her back, Alex,” Kara says. “Vasquez says she might can do some tricks with Lord’s satellites, the six aimed at the city, and if we can just expand the range to the seven miles out and track the imaging, we might be able to—”

“She’s pregnant, Kara,” Alex whispers, propped back against the counter of one of the work tables in the arms room. “Astra. She’s… she’s pregnant.”

Kara drops her arms from the position she’d held, bracing herself against the doorway; her shoulders sag, the determined line of her mouth slackens, and her demeanor just… falls.

“That… that’s impossible.”

“I overheard her, at the base,” Alex says. “Two Lunarians came to check on the prison cells. Seems we’d tripped the alarm, I had to hide, but… she spoke with them. They’d said…said Non had told them about the good news. That they were concerned for her health," she checks herself: "For the baby’s health.”

Kara shakes her head, stares raptly at the floor for several seconds, trying to work her brain around Alex’s information.

“I don’t… I don’t think that’s possible,” Kara mutters. “Alex, Astra can’t conceive.”

And somehow, as much as she wish it did... the information does not surprise Alex.

Alex shakes her head, and tries to reconcile this new bit of information with the overhead conversation she heard on the cell block mere hours ago at Fort Rozz: “But she said—”

“Twins aren’t just uncommon on Krypton,” Kara says lowly, taking a seat on one of the stools near Alex’s perch. “They’re an anomaly. Kryptonian population control was… controversial, at best. The Codex stored all genetic materials of Kryptonian bloodlines, and Jor-El was of the mind that returning to natural births, like Kal-El, would help the future of our race. He believed it would… allow Krypton to flourish in ways that our progression had stalled. He knew, like Astra, that we had advanced so much that we had essentially fated our own destruction.

“The genetics of the In-Ze line took to two newborns, my mother and Astra. The science is beyond me, but… Astra was first born. Underdeveloped. What you might term premature, here. On Krypton, there were never defects from the Codex, it ensured perfection.”

“Which the natural births didn’t,” Alex figures.

“Exactly. That doesn’t mean our biologies do not equip us to carry children to term, we can. But the rules were stringent. The population—not culled, not really, but it was never allowed to get beyond unsustainable numbers, or so the Council believed. So when the genes take to the two fetuses, the exponential generations of an… accident, have to be cut off.”

"I don't like thinking that just because she can't have kids that's some sort of a defect," Alex spats. "She's every bit as strong. She'd be... she'd be an excellent mother."

"That was Kryptonian policy...their terminology, not mine," Kara attempts to placate her, to calm her. "Their understanding of gene progression."

“So… however your fetus forming went down, she… she was born unable to have kids?”

“She couldn’t pass on her genes,” Kara says. “I don’t know how that would… how that could change, here. The sun makes us stronger, amplifies our senses. It doesn’t necessarily remedy a defect.”

“This makes no sense,” Alex returns.

“On Krypton, our genetics were coded for perfection. Years of biological experimentation meant we had the best teeth, the best eyesight, the best agility… we were as perfect as we could be without being exemplary. So… it’s not like there was anything to improve upon. Everything was already good, so it just got enhanced. I don’t know if this yellow sun could alter something within her that she could conceive via—uhm,” Kara gulps. “Natural methods, but either way, it’s a long shot.”

“Why would she lie?” Alex lets the to me remain unsaid.

“That’s a question for her.”

“If we find her,” Alex says. “For all we know, General Lane has shipped her off to Antarctica.”

“Significantly closer than Antarctica,” Winn chimes in from the hallway as he knocks at the door of the arms room. He crosses toward them, poking Kara on the shoulder.

“What do you got?” Alex asks.

“Coordinates,” Winn smiles, tossing a now blinking spy beacon toward Alex. She catches it, and notes that the light no longer burns steadily, no longer consistent. Instead, it pulses, brightens then fades, one slow blink every two seconds or so.

“Are you serious?” Kara leaps to her feet.

“Definitely. You guys really do have some fun toys here,” Winn clarifies, still clad in that ridiculous hospital gown and the black sweat pants.

If she didn’t think it would make him faint for giddiness, Alex would have told him it looked like a cape.

Or a sad, Charlie Brown-like ghost costume.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Schott,” Vasquez emerges as well, passing a folder over to Alex. “Slipped them in binder for you mam,” Vasquez explains. “As you said… discretion.”

“What do we know about this place?”

“Nothing,” Vasquez says. “Mr. Schott was able to extract the Kryptonian equivalent of a microchip from the device with some careful dissection. We placed it into one of our scanners and were able to find where the partner beacon is activated.”

“And?” Alex prompts.

“We get infrared readings, but nothing shows up on the satellites,” Vasquez explains. “Probably military grade camouflage to combat geospatial intelligence. There’s always lingering paranoia over Russian spy satellites.”

“Awesome,” Winn whispers reverently once again.

“What did you do to this?” Alex asks, holding the spy beacon aloft.

“Well, in the middle of the day, it might be harder to tell when this thing just gets brighter,” Winn says. “So instead, the closer you get to the partner beacon, the faster it blinks.”

“Like I said with the metal detector!” Kara interjects.

“Same principle. Agent Vasquez pinpointed the coordinates, so we’ve got as close to an alien map as we’re gonna get. Supergirl, I think you’re good to go find her.”

“Winn," Alex can't help her hopeful smile. "You get to choose snacks at game night for a month."

"Game night," Susan huffs. "I see how it is."

"You get desserts, Vasquez," Alex amends.

"These are the kind of perks I signed up for with a government gig," Susan quips.

“I’m going,” Kara says, striding for the exit. “I’ll do a quick check, come back if I need back-up and you can—”

The lights overhead shut off as soon as Kara makes it over the threshold of the armory. But it’s not like the lights have shut off for night mode. Not an energy conservation protocol. No. The hum of computer fans slows, the climate control units depower, the lights, the hydraulic doors, the card swipe and retina scan entries—

“Oh God,” Vasquez whispers. “The cells.”

Alex fumbles for a flashlight in her tac belt and Winn brings up the light on his phone. Kara holds the blinking spy beacon and Vasquez follows at the back of their quartet, one arm holding the flashlight, the other with her gun at the ready.

“The back-up generators should kick on any minute,” Alex says.

But her stomach already feels like something is souring inside of it. Burning a little, spasming, like almost road-kill twitching out its last moments on heated asphalt in a desert. The vultures loom.

“Why hasn’t the power turned back on yet?” Winn questions.

“We have three sets of generators,” Alex says. “I could see the first set being sabotaged—”

“Duck!” Kara says, and the four of them all drop to the ground as a bolt of lightening singes the air above their foreheads.

“See ya, Supersucky,” Alex hears a raspy, feminine voice cackle in the darkness. There’s the flicker of electricity at nonconsecutive moments, irregular patterns of light dancing in striations or globs or bursts or… any number of shapes that tingle with deadly power. “I’ve got a Cat I’d like to drop in a bathtub with a toaster.”

Alex watches as the sparkles fade with a zap!, but she can’t really focus on Livewire’s escape, not as she hears the banging and breaking of glass from the other cells, housed levels and levels below.

“That’s a little twisted,” Winn whispers.

“I’ve got to get back to the city,” Kara says, her expression pinched with worry. “If Livewire’s after Ms. Grant—”

“Go,” Alex says. “We’ll handle things here.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Kara says, wincing as she hears another one of the cells break below. “Alex, should I stay—”

“No, Supergirl. The DEO’s been around a lot longer than you have. We’ll handle this.”

“TEAM!!!” Alex hears Hank shout as they make it back to the control room.

“Winn, get back into the city, if you’re able. See what you can do for Kara,” Alex says.

“Thanks. Good luck, Alex.”

“Same to you,” Alex returns. “Vasquez?”

“Agent Danvers?”

“Let’s go kick some alien ass.”

“Yes mam.”

Chapter Text

A day.

An entire day.

Twenty-seven hours to fight, defend and calm the personnel on base at the DEO. The only other time Alex had seen the department in such chaos was when Jemm escaped the first time around. Luckily, Hank had reviewed and improved on-site protocols concerning prisoner escape after the incident earlier in the year, but it didn’t mean Alex wasn’t punching, shooting, choking and tussling against aliens with varying levels of power for hours on end; she fought through the day that felt like night—inky black cavern walls, the cool dampness of the subterranean air, a thousand voices shouting through her remote com.

They were shut up underneath miles of rock with malfunctioning elevators, exits barricaded and reinforced steel doors several feet thick barred with titanium beams. Close quarters while shooting in the dark had been unnerving, bullet trajectories only so definite, only so steady along the red laser line—with all the metal and rock, the deadly tips of the bullets could ricochet and rebound off of any number of surfaces, taking out invaluable members of the DEO.

Thank God Supergirl was bulletproof.

Kara, as was her habit with Alex, made it all so much easier. The DEO still had access to multiple restraints that (blessedly) were fully charged—shackles and collars and cuffs that R&D had cooked up specifically for alien transport. Corralling all of the subdued aliens had initially been a challenge, but Kara had diverted Livewire’s efforts at taking out one Media Queen and had made it back to the DEO within the first three hours of the pandemonium.

While Alex and Susan and Hank and Kara and every other active agent attempted to subdue the escapees, the engineers worked.

After those harrowing twenty-seven hours, the engineers finally reset the generators, resorting to using the Kryptonian’s own Element-K to get them back online. Unlike the rest of the agents, the chemical engineers at the DEO had been sequestered in a room with five-foot thick walls of rock and power-locks on the primary entrance, trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get the generators back online. Susan had taken charge of a small unit of markspeople and was tasked with defending the entrance to the engineer’s workroom; despite hitting her targets with practiced aplomb, she suffered a nasty gash to the leg from a Slyggian fugitive.

Somewhere around hour seventeen, things took a turn for the better; the aliens were suffering significant hits from chemically-laced bullets and gas bombs. The restraints were holding, and Supergirl was catching her second wind. They’d nearly exhausted most of the munitions in the armory, but keeping the entire prison on lockdown, the aliens running amok but not completely free—Alex figured it was a fair trade off for the use of fifty boxes of military grade weaponry. Miraculously, only two hostiles were able to tunnel through the mile of rock and escape into the desert the following morning.

Alex can’t get it out of her head: the morning.

The next morning.

The morning after she’d lost Astra.

Twenty-seven hours later, it’s almost eight a.m., and the remaining generators are back to full power. There’s been a fair portion of casualties on both sides—three field agents dead, a dozen wounded, but those numbers double once you start counting alien bodies. Kara’s looking rather worse for wear, and Alex feels like she’s about to collapse. But with Livewire still loose, Astra still missing, and the threat of depowering generators still looming over them all, she digs deep, drinks a liter of water and a mug of luke warm coffee, then takes up her position at Hank’s left shoulder in the control room.

Hank finds the footage of two Kryptonians touching down just moments after Kara had brought Winn in the previous morning. The two Fort Rozz combatants scope out the area above ground, then place a foreign device on the only generator housed above ground, tucked away in a nondescript storage shed.

It's not even their primary generator. It's the back-up to the back-up... so how the hell could that tiny device send a signal so strong as to cut all of their power?

Vasquez is nursing a fairly deep laceration in her calf, but that doesn’t stop her from rolling the security footage in the heart of command. “What kind of tech—?”

“It’s not Kryptonian,” Alex manages, staring at the image. “Can you blow it up and fix the resolution?”

“Yeah, give me a second,” Vasquez twists the rollie chair she has her injured leg propped up in so she can get to the keyboard. After some fancy fingerwork, the three clear red dots, placed equidistant from each other in a triangle formation, appear on the surface of the building housing the primary generator.

“Indigo.” Alex swears.

“Who?”

“That’s Coluan tech,” Hank mutters grimly, his hands propped on his hips, the slump of his shoulders more evident due to his fatigue. Fighting as Henshaw wasn’t ideal during the riot, but he couldn’t risk his people turning on him, mistaking him for a loose escapee. Alex could see it in the way he held himself; strong chin, but a little slack to the shoulders. His eyes always carried the tinge of sorrow, but staring up at the screen, the sheen of the monitors reflecting back on him… the pain seems magnified.

Alex knows he feels like he let something slip. And as she sees the two Kryptonians land right after Kara…

“We probably won’t ever figure out how that device shut down all of our generators,” Hank says. “Humanity is lightyears and millennia away from ever seeing that type of technology, let alone understanding it.”

“Hank,” Alex mutters, tilting her head to pull him to the side. “We led them right to us,” she says.

“The Kryptonians?”

“They touched down right after Kara brought Winn in, from the other night.”

Has it really been close to thirty hours since the Fort Rozz infiltration?

“Kara and I were being pursued, two tails, right before we met up with you, Astra, and Lord at the rendezvous point. We made a loop to make sure we’d lost them, but Winn was bleeding so much, and Kara…” Alex trails off, shakes her head in disgust. She can’t believe she’d been so careless. But that high in the air, that high on the mission, brainless and perplexed by Astra’s behavior at the base… it all caused her to slip; now Fort Rozz knew exactly where to hit them, exactly how to send them scrambling. The Super-6 infiltrated, but not without well-deserved retaliation.

It’s a level playing field once more.

“Alex, it doesn’t matter now,” Hank brushes her off. “We’ve got Livewire to deal with, and the Myriad infiltration is only six days away.”

“They didn’t follow us because they ended up tracking Kara back here,” Alex manages, tired, weak, and gutted, like an animal that’s eluded pursuit for so, so long… only to fall into a trap in the end and have a hunting knife slit her stomach wide.

“We’ve got to regroup,” Hank charges her, places a hand at her elbow to steer her down the stairs from the control platform and across the main hall. They dodge a pair of agents and end up conversing in the semi-privacy of an auxiliary hallway. “We’re going to have to let Supergirl handle Livewire. And I have no idea how long this Element-K will hold up. We have new generators en route from Silicon Valley, but it’ll take two days for installation. Until then, I think I should call Lord in.”

“You can’t!” Alex props herself against a wall and makes herself small, tries to get out of the way as a gurney with an injured agent rolls down to the medbay. “J’onn…Lord turned Astra over to General Lane.”

“What?!” J’onn snaps, rubs a hand over his face, digs into the eye sockets of Hank Henshaw’s skull and grimaces. “You mean she’s missing?”

“As of 0600 yesterday,” Alex says.

“She’s our in to Fort Rozz, Alex,” Hank growls. “This entire operation depends on her cooperation, or it could turn into a bloodbath. And that’s if her followers don’t tear the city apart trying to find her first.”

“We just figured out she’d been taken when the power got cut,” Alex explains. “She and I have… a system, sir. If one or the other is ever in trouble, we’ve got a failsafe… so I can, uhm, know to alert you. Well, hand over this mission to you, or Kara, if something ever happened to me. But we need her, J’onn, Kara just got her back and I need—”

She cuts herself off because half a dozen more agents shuffle down the hallway, because J’onn is looking at her like something’s just clicked for him, because she doesn’t want to admit to herself that she’s more scared of losing Astra than of taking on the entire DEO again, running on no sleep and bucketloads of worry. Alex is tired, and in her weariness, the fear flourishes.

“Do we have a location?” Hank doesn’t rush to comfort her, at least not physically.

He’s at the same level as Kara and Eliza now, probably even Astra. She can read his moods, his nonverbal communication so easily interpreted it’s like he’s writing letters of his own: he’s saying I’m sorry and I can’t believe you let yourself get in this deep even as inquiries about coordinates slip from his lips.

“Tracked her with some rigged alien GPS,” Alex answers, fishing the spy beacon out of her pocket. It’s still blinking like a lackluster bulb on a strand of Christmas lights. “I need…” Alex takes a breath for composure, shakes the fuzziness away from her head. Her eyelids feel scratchy, like the Sand Man came in and painted the undersides with enough grout to retile a countertop.

“Then we’ll do some preliminary recon,” Hank says. “Supergirl can go do a sweep, and you’ll take an hour in the bunk room.”

“Sir, that’s not—”

“An order, Agent Danvers,” Hank says. “You’re not going to do the General any good if you can’t stand up. Supergirl’s got the stamina to do a quick flight. She’ll scope out the location. For all we know, we could resolve this peacefully.”

“What kind of place do you think takes aliens into custody?” Alex says smartly, gesturing around her. “There won’t be anything easy or peaceful about it if Lane’s involved.”

“We can’t worry over something when we don’t have all the facts, yet,” Hank counters. “Supergirl is on Level G, lifting some of the collapsed girders back in place. I’ll tell her to leave the DEO to the agents; she needs to get to those coordinates and see what we’re dealing with.”

“But what if Livewire—”

“That’s why she needs to go now. We’re as stable as we’re going to be, currently. We’ve got to keep in mind the upcoming offensive. While Livewire is still licking her wounds, we’ll send your sister after her aunt,” Hank summarizes, nudging Alex on the shoulder so that she heads to the bunkroom. “And Alex?”

“Yes, sir?”

“We’re going to get her back,” he says. “We’re going to make all of this right.”

Alex walks away, throws her hands up helplessly and drops them to her sides, dismissing him. There’s no point in arguing. If he even dared peek at her mind, he already knows she doesn’t believe him.

 


 

 

She ends up sleeping for two hours, but doesn’t feel any better after the minor break. In fact, Alex feels worse. Worse for having to shut her eyes at all, worse for allowing herself to be tailed, worse because she has no idea how to go about helping Astra... and a possible baby.

Alex Danvers doesn’t do helpless, but there’s no manual for coping when life spreads you so thin. She feels like there’s a Kryptonian tugging on every one of her limbs, and it’s only so long before her feeble human skeleton shatters at the joints.

“What’s the status on the coordinates?” she rasps, approaching Kara—who looks like she’s been crying—around the round table at command.

“The security they’ve got there might be better than the DEO’s,” Kara mutters, glum.

“What do you mean?” Alex asks.

“I… I f-found this,” Kara answers. She places the spy beacon on the table, right next to the one Winn had altered. They’ve both lost their light, unblinking, common, nothing more than plastic circles on a table.

“Where?”

“Dumpster of a facility in south Nevada, along with Astra's suit,” Hank chimes in, nodding over to a dirtied piece of black fabric. It's in a plastic bag that makes Alex think of crime scene evidence.

“Sugar Bunker," Hank pushes forward, "Former chemical explosives storage unit.” He flicks his hand across the smart table before him and digitized topography springs up, a small hologram of the terrain rising like budding flowers in an electric blue garden. “The place hasn’t been on the map much since the nuclear testing episodes in the late 50s.”

“Coordinates say the base is here,” Kara says, pointing to an empty area on the 3-D map. “But it’s so much larger than that, Alex. It’s an entire city of warehouses, labs, bunkers. I could only see into a few of the buildings; I bet half of the newer facilities are lead-lined.”

“When Superman first came on the scene, the government knew they’d have to protect their secrets,” Hank says. “Especially if they’re doing any kind of testing on Kryptonians.”

“Testing?” Alex feels like her windpipe has a stone stuck in it.

“Project Cadmus,” Hank explains, tossing a file with CLASSIFIED stamped over half of the cover in huge, blocked capital letters. “The experimental facilities garner lead-lining, but administrative offices still use flimsy metal filing cabinets.”

“I got in and out through sheer luck,” Kara says. “Security was still really tight, even in the first building at the camp.”

“Security’s a problem, but there’s no luck about the files,” Hank says. “Digital records, as we’re coming to find out, can be hacked easily. Paper files? If they’re never allowed off site, you’ve got to make it through half the U.S. military to get to the information.”

Alex flashes back to a sentence or two in a letter, plain white paper, ink on a page:

What I am doing accounts to treason in the laws of my people, so please give careful consideration to my proposition. I am writing this letter because it is the easiest to dispose of. Burn it, destroy it, I implore you. Should our correspondence continue, I encourage you to use this more tangible method of communication. Digital records are too easy to trace with both of our bases’ technological access, but these thin paper pieces are just like you humans.

So fragile. Flimsy…. Delicate.

“Allows for a lot of human error,” Alex mutters, flipping through gut-wrenching black-and-white photos of alien experimentation, quarterly expense reports, financial proposals requisitioning instruments to outright torture these beings.

“This is from 1974,” Alex says.

“Now multiply that facility by the scientific progress we’ve made over forty years,” Kara grumbles, crossing her arms over her chest.

Alex chokes on bile, shuts the folder, then props herself over the table. She stares aimlessly at the display for a few seconds, steadying her breathing. She hears Kara’s phone chirp in the distance.

“Problem?” she hears Hank ask.

“Just Winn. This is more important,” Kara says, and Alex’s heart leaps a little.

She knows Kara longs for normal, and Alex wants that for her—but she can’t help her own selfishness, can’t help the possessive streak that flares when Kara’s attention gets divided so many ways. She knows Kara feels pulled, too, feels yanked toward opposite poles and hemispheres by CatCo and Krypton and the DEO and the cape. Some days, she wishes Kara never had to suffer through such a destabilizing experience. Other days, it’s nice to know that Kara understands where Alex is coming from.

Alex can’t tell which one of those days it is, though.

“So we go into this… Cadmus,” Alex says, because there’s no point in sitting around waiting. “The longer we’re here, the longer they… I mean, if these pictures are from forty years ago, who knows what they’re doing to her now.”

“Will she be in any sort of condition to lead a raid against her own base?” Hank asks the question the other two are thinking.

“Let’s… let’s not think the worst,” Kara says, but even Supergirl’s optimism seems misplaced in light of the newest folder worth of information.

“We can’t storm a facility of this size,” Alex says. “And General Lane will shut us down in two seconds as soon as we flip the DEO badges.”

“We have no authority to take a prisoner of the U.S. military,” Hank says.

“But she’s not a prisoner. To them she’s… she’s a war criminal,” Alex answers.

“With no access to any of the rights afforded by international military law,” Hank says.

“What? You mean like…wait, doesn’t the Geneva Convention protect POWs during armed conflict?”

“She’s not human, Kara,” Alex says. “The United Nations is for nations, not for planets. International courts can barely litigate between countries; intergalactic law is likely beyond them.”

Alex can't tell if Kara is gasping, or sobbing.

“S-so we have no grounds—”

“Not without the backing of someone no less than irreproachable in the military,” Hank says. “With the full authority of U.S. martial law.”

Kara dips her head, nods once, and whips out her phone. “I have an idea,” Kara says, typing away on her touch screen. “I’m not saying it’s going to work,” she says to Alex. “And you’re going to hate it, Hank.”

“Who are you contacting, Supergirl?” Hank asks warily.

“JAG Major Lucy Lane,” Kara answers. “Are you okay here, Hank? I need Alex to come with me to plead our case.”

“I’ve got plenty of work to keep me occupied,” Hank nods back to the scurrying agents and the hurried reconstruction.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Alex says, catching on to Kara’s idea a lot sooner than her commanding officer. “If Supergirl’s plan is anything like I think, we might be needing J’onn Jones fairly soon.”

 


 

 

Kara’s bright apartment looks foreign after the past two days spent planning, executing, and recovering in semi-darkness. They’re convening at noontime, so the sun is shining purposefully onto her sister’s balcony. Kara stands there while she can, hands clutching the railing, back in her civilian clothes so she can swing by CatCo and explain away her absence for the morning. It’s frankly amazing that she hasn’t been fired yet, Alex thinks.

Winn and James are hanging out in the kitchen, unloading bags worth of food from one of the top delicatessens in National City. Turns out when Cat Grant gets attacked by a former protégé turned nemesis, she caters all of the company lunch. Works out well enough for Alex, because she honestly can’t remember the last time she’s eaten. It works out even better for Kara, because the Club from the place downtown Alex would never be a able to afford just so happens to be one of Kara’s favorite meals in the city. Her sister’s proximity to Cat Grant has altered her once less-refined palette.

“You think she’ll go for it?” Alex asks Kara, taking the minor step over the threshold onto Kara’s half-balcony. It’s just big enough for the pair of them to stand, prop themselves on the railing… hope, perhaps. Kara had insisted on having full windows that opened up to the sun, even if she had to move to a questionable part of town to get it (“What?” Kara had asked, roughly two and half years ago, right after she’d made the move from college. “It’s not like anyone in a bad neighborhood can hurt me. Plus, check out that brick interior!”).

“I don’t know,” Kara says, taking a bite of her sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. “I think she and I are… okay. James and Lucy have history, and me and James—” Kara cuts herself off, staring forlornly at her lunch.

“I don’t want dumb personal stuff to get in the way of me doing everything I can to help. I wasn’t… I was sent here to do good for this planet. To help Clark. I don’t want any of my past actions to jeopardize that.”

“If Lucy’s as great as you said she was initially, I can only hope,” Alex sighs, taking a nibble off of a (admittedly excellent) sandwich on culinary steroids: tiny pickled vegetables and provolone slices are draped over the cut turkey, little Italy after a day in hell. Cat Grant really knew how to say Thanks for not dying to her staff.

“It would’ve been so much easier if I had told her from the start,” Kara says, scratching irritably at her forehead. “She’s coming.”

Alex hears the faintest bang of a car door slamming floors below, and prepares herself for the questions. She’s got Astra’s letters on hand, because a lawyer needs a paper trail before they need anything. The personal ones she left out, keeps stored back in her drawer at home… those will only every be just for her:

Likewise, you are important to me.

It is not as simple or as pleasant as a morning spent with you.

Amiably, Fondly, Affectionately, Alexandra—

But CatCo’s safe for now, right?” Alex asks. “No Livewire sighting this morning?”

“Winn and James would have let me know if that had happened,” Kara says. “I guess I was still… taking out some frustrations over Astra. I whipped Leslie pretty good.”

“I’m glad it went smoothly.”

“Well, not exactly smoothly,” Kara murmurs. “Before I got back to the DEO, Siobhan showed up and had a freak attack over Winn’s arm.”

“I thought you got her fired?”

“She got herself fired, but she still brings Winn coffee every now and again. It’s sweet, in a weird, I-hate-your-best-friend kind of way. And he accidentally let slip that he hurt himself while he was ‘hanging out’ with me, so the aftermath wasn’t pretty. I was honestly glad to have Livewire’s ass to kick, to release some of that tension.”

“That’s my girl,” Alex pulls her close, hugging her from the side. “I never told you how grateful I am for you getting us out of there. Fort Rozz, I mean.”

“Are you kidding? You came in with those grenades and blasted a hole through a mountain!” Kara recounts the escapade, but it feel like ages ago for Alex. Ages ago, when she had Astra close and things were still confusing, but slightly less gut-wrenching.

“I can’t believe we thought hiding you away was ever a good idea,” Alex says, picking at the wrapping of her food. “You do so much good so well, Kara. I… I wanted to give Astra a chance because of you. I knew you’d at least hear her out, and—if I could extend that same courtesy? Kara, you’re one of the reasons I—she’s… You’re both so wonderful,” Alex blinks skyward, damns herself because she’s nothing like the ones she loves most, the ones who draw their power from the sun.

Alex wipes against a sandpaper lid as discreetly as she can and turns, stalks back into an unnoticeable pocket of the living area. The boys are still tottering about the kitchen as Lucy walks in through the front door.

“I am so glad you guys called for lunch,” Lucy mumbles, toeing out of her short block heels and chucking her briefcase on the floor. Her Major’s outfit glitters with its shiny buttons and military regalia, the trappings of time well-served in protection of her country. “Plus, after I heard about the incident at Cat—Winn, your arm!”

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Winn says.

“Fractured humerus sucks pretty bad, man,” James answers.

“James… you’re alright?” Lucy asks.

“Yeah, I’m… I’m fine,” James answers, rubbing his neck rather stiffly.

Alex has never really felt that before, the awkwardness of maintaining a friendship with an ex. But they both seem like good enough people to get over it, move on, do bigger and better things. She wouldn’t mind hearing about it from Kara, but they don’t have a lot of time.

“Supergirl came in, took care of it,” James says, moving back behind the counter. “You still, uh, you still like the veggie wrap?”

“Yes, that’d be great,” Lucy replies, a little colder after the mention of the superhero that fissured that relationship wide open. “Winn, you seem, oddly okay for someone who got attacked yesterday.”

“Oh, this wasn’t faburm ‘bessturdae’,” he replies, with a globule of roast beef and whole grain stuffed in his gullet. He swallows loudly, and his Adam’s apple bobs strangely in the function. “Got this the other night.”

“Did you go too hard on your Playstation?” Lucy teases.

“No, I infiltrated an enemy alien base, and Alex blew up a mountain,” Winn relays, as if that mission hadn’t been the most fascinating thing that had ever happened to him in his life. Of course now, his attention has been diverted by the sandwich.

“Okay, what game is that on?” Lucy asks, skeptically endearing.

“Not a game, Major Lane,” Alex finally walks back into the kitchen area, abandoning her silent perch near the window. “And I’m afraid we’re going to have to turn this into a working lunch.” She drops the folder file of Cadmus information and another with Astra’s letters atop it, and waits for the penny to drop for Lucy.

“Agent… Danvers?” Lucy asks, tilting her head. “Why are you at Kara—oh, Kara Danvers,” Lucy nods, and Alex can see the veil of discovery being drawn back from Lucy’s mind, can see the rapid-fire connections she’s making even as Kara approaches from the balcony, removing her glasses and hair clip. Kara runs one hand through her hair and unbuttons her shirt, revealing the crest from the House of El. Lucy looks at Kara with wonder, and Alex eyes Lucy with trepidation bordering on fear.

It’s one thing to help a superhero, it’s another to betray your father.

“Lucy,” Kara mumbles uncertainly. “Supergirl needs your help.”

Chapter Text

“Double agent?” Lucy asks, flipping once more through the Cadmus file.

“Yes,” Alex grits the answer through clenched teeth.

“How long?”

“Almost… six months now?” Kara answers, looking to Alex for confirmation.

She nods.

They’re grouped around Kara’s kitchen table, papers and files spread across the surface, Kara and Alex relaying the story of Astra’s aid over the past few months. Thankfully, Lucy had been intrigued enough by the story, or hungry enough to stick around for the food. Either way, Alex drew her attention to the one file Kara had managed to steal from the Cadmus facility in Nevada, as well as the sequence of Astra’s letters and Alex’s own field notes from the DEO.

“And you didn’t make a move any sooner against Fort Rozz because…?”

“Because I had to be sure I could trust her,” Alex answers. “Because she initiated this. It’s been… really under wraps, even at the DEO. We didn’t date the notes, but I’ve organized the correspondence chronologically as best I could. And I’ve also smuggled some of the reports of all the detainees we captured after her letters came through. If that’s not proof enough—”

“It’s not just that she’s family,” Kara tells Lucy, whose nostrils twitch when she sees a particularly gruesome photograph of metal rods protruding from the shell of a torso. “I mean, she is, but she’s really changed. She’s been helping us for so long, and she plans to fight with us when we take Fort Rozz next week. But without her… Lucy, please, we have to get her out of there.”

Lucy settles back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest. Alex bites down so hard against her molars she thinks the tiny bones might crack wide open; she jiggles her leg and taps a finger on the table because they don’t have time for this. They’ve devoted nearly an hour to explaining, answering all of her irrelevant, situational questions. Lucy can see the photos, can see the letters, right there in black and white. What is it that’s taking her so long?

“Here’s the problem,” Lucy begins, and Alex wants to bash Lucy's head against Kara’s table, Army training or no.

“We don’t care about the problem, what can you do to fix it!?” Alex stands brusquely, turning on her heel to keep from toppling Kara’s table. If she sits much longer she’ll probably pass out from worry, which is the last thing Astra needs right now.

“Alex, we need to hear her out, if you could just ca—”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down!” Alex shouts, pacing manically.

She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, with her feet, with her mind; it’s too busy conjuring images of Astra, beaten, shivering, bloodied and limp, a life dying inside of her, the mission she’d work so hard to complete, and then divert, finally coming to fruition in her absence because Litigation Barbie wants to talk it out. She’s almost grateful the generators failed at the DEO, otherwise she would have been dealing with this vertigo-inducing nausea in her gut a lot earlier, and for a hell of a lot longer.

“It’s been over thirty hours since we’ve seen her. And Lane has had his eyes on you, Kara, trying to figure out what can take you down, how much of your strength the military can withstand. That was the entire point of the Red Tornado android, to see what it takes to overpower a Kryptonian,” Alex says all of this hurriedly, her mouth unable to keep up with her mind, but nevertheless, she has to relay the worst conclusions... just to prepare herself. “And now they’ve got one. They can do whatever they want with her. Kara, after all she’s done, after all we’ve been through, we can’t—we can’t lose her, I w-won’t let them—”

“Alex!” Kara rises, reaches for her, even though Alex can’t help it, can’t keep the tears from forming and leaking over her bloodshot lids, can’t stand that she’s breaking down in front of her sister’s friends.

Kara drags her away from the kitchen where the trio of former and present CatCo employees try not to look on, try to be discreet with their sympathy; but their evident distress only makes Alex feel crappier. She came here for solutions, not a pity party.

“Stop, I'm...I’m fine,” Alex attempts to pull away, to escape to the balcony, to start planning around Lucy Lane’s sluggishness on the uptake. She begins cataloging in her head the number of weapons she can carry on her person, the different entries to a complex like the one built at Sugar Bunker, the likelihood of success—she dare not put percentages to it.

“You’re not fine, because you love her,” Kara challenges her, grounds her, keeps her from moving with that impressive strength. She rests two open palms on Alex’s shoulders and presses slightly, enough to keep Alex from stumbling around like a chicken sans head. “I have never seen you break like this, Alex, and those feelings are the only reason I could imagine you looking this desperate. I know you’re thinking of bypassing what Lucy has to say and going at it alone, but this is bigger than just me and you, bigger than Astra—”

“The hell it is—”

“We need you, Alex,” Kara says. “To stop Myriad, we need you and Astra, together. The two of you who came up with this plan from the start. And the only way to get the both of you out alive might mean taking the long way around, even if we have to postpone the infiltration.”

“Kara,” Alex shakes her head. “Myriad goes live in five days, we don’t have time—”

“We at least need to hear what Lucy has to say.” Kara turns back over her shoulder and nods at the junior Lane.

“In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which means alien unlawful enemy combatants can be tried for war crimes in a military court.” Lucy stands from the table and walks toward her briefcase, extracting her phone from one of the black leather pockets. “It allows for detention without trial of suspected enemy combatants and those categorized as co-belligerents, thus undermining codes of the Geneva Convention and suspending prisoner applications claiming violation of habeas corpus.”

“That was a lot of legal talk, but I definitely heard something about corpses,” Winn says, his attention finally diverted from his third sandwich.

Corpus,” James repeats. “It’s a suit detainees can file for being held without trial, in terrible living quarters, undergoing cruel treatment. I got into a military prison outside of the U.S. to document the conditions… they took my memory card and burned all my film rolls.”

“Sounds awful,” Winn surmises.

“Sounds about like our case,” Kara corrects. “Not to mention completely unconstitutional.”

“Which is why, in 2009,” Lucy continues, scrolling through her phone, “Congress amended the act to make it slightly less harsh, and allowed detainees to petition for habeas corpus encroachment. We could get a military court order for her release if one of you files on her behalf, but something like 65% of these cases are dismissed—but those look like domestic numbers, not federal. I imagine it’s higher on the military circuit.”

“Sixty-five percent?” Alex asks, rubbing at the burgeoning headache pulsing in her frontal lobe. Nearly two in three cases… dismissed.

“Yes,” Lucy answers, never taking her gaze off of her phone.

“What is that?” James asks.

“The U.S. Military Code.”

“The… entire thing?”

“I’ve got a big storage plan on the Cloud,” Lucy answers, dismissing him. “The problem, as I was saying earlier, is that we cannot categorize Astra. It’s difficult enough determining whether she’s been operating as a ‘lawful or unlawful’ enemy combatant, and I can make the case that alien in this instance applies to just that, an alien, even though it was originally meant for non-U.S. citizens of Earth. But even if I pull every string I have, and we get a sign-off from a military judge, it might not matter much in the end, because in the eyes of the courts, Astra doesn’t exist,” Lucy finishes.

“What do you mean ‘she doesn’t exist’?” Kara asks, bowing up taller, planting her fists atop her hips.

“Neither does Alex, for that matter, at least in a DEO capacity,” Lucy explains. “Block red confidential letters will have me tied up in non-disclosure litigation from now until eternity, which doesn’t help us stop Myriad. And this file isn’t admissible in court, no matter what’s in it, because it is stolen.” Lucy closes the Cadmus file and pushes it across the kitchen table toward Kara. “The letters I can work with, and we’ve got grounds enough to point in the direction of Sugar Bunker, thanks to the spy beacons. I can bring it before a judge, but I can’t actually mention what Cadmus is.”

“Couldn’t you argue, uhm… extenuating circumstances?” Alex has not spent any amount of time studying legal code, much preferring her perch behind the lenses of a microscope. Science seems more exact—there’s too much discrepancy in Constitutional interpretation. “Why would they have any reason to let her go if they don’t know that she’s being tortured?”

“Again, we don’t know that for sure,” Lucy says.

“Please,” Alex scoffs. “Your father put her in there!

“I’m not defending him!” Lucy yells back. “You think I want this for you? For Kara? It’s hard enough knowing that my friend is Supergirl, that my dad has been orchestrating these projects just to defeat her.”

“Lucy, you know, in your heart, that your dad is wrong,” Kara says.

“I know he’s wrong, but he is also terrified, Kara, because he can’t control you. Not through weaponry, not through law. He has no means of defense even though he’s in charge of that department. I’m not defending or justifying his actions, I’m just… trying to figure out his reasons. People do a lot of desperate things when they're scared,” Lucy grips the back of Kara’s chair, then takes a breath to compose herself. “I will go to a judge, I’ll call in every favor I have, but unless you can figure out a way to get my father back from his meeting at the Pentagon, I don’t see you getting your aunt out of there any sooner than two weeks from now. That’s when he’s due back to National City.”

“Wait, your father’s on the east coast?” Kara asks.

“He flew out last night,” Lucy says.

“Then we’ve got a way for him to escort me, with a court order, right onto the Cadmus base,” Alex says, turning warily to Kara. “Assuming Lucy can get the judge to sign off on it.”

“I don’t see how that’s possi—”

“They didn’t say it was a legal way, Luce,” James chimes in.

“If he’s all the way in D.C.,” Winn begins, “Then the only way he’d be able to take Alex up to Cadmus is if we clone—oh… oh! I get it now.”

“Seems like I’m the odd one out yet again,” Lucy says, gathering up all of the pages spread before her.

“We don’t want you to be,” Kara answers her. “But we have to know we can trust you, Lucy. This will… I know how important family is. And this goes directly against what your father’s been working for. There’s a way for us to do it with your help, but… we don’t have to tell you the other half of the plan. If someone finds out, you’d lose more than your father over this.”

“What are we talking? Disbarment?” Lucy asks.

“At the very least,” Alex gripes, fiddling with the zipper of her jacket. “Prison, probably, but you’d have me as a cell mate.”

“Don’t even joke,” Kara admonishes them both. “Listen, Lucy, we have a way for someone to impersonate your father and escort Alex into Cadmus. Combine that with a signed military court order transferring protective custody to the DEO, and we can get her out. It’s not a question of if they’ll be found out, it’s a question of when. You’ll be culpable, if the powers that be suspect you knew about the impersonation. But we can stop talking right now, let you do the legal bit and be none the wiser.”

“Oh, hell no,” Lucy fires back. “If Myriad has as far reaching implications as you say, there’s never been an easier choice. I’m in. I’ll even go with you to pick her up once the paperwork comes through.”

“Oh God, seriously?” Alex asks.

“Cat was right, you definitely are the better Lane,” Kara smiles.

Three cell phones chirp simultaneously.

“Speak of the she-devil,” Winn says, glancing down at his phone as Kara and James do the same.

“What is it?” Lucy asks.

“CatCo e-mail blast. The building’s on lockdown,” James answers. “No one in or out.”

“But why?” Kara asks, even as her phone pings again.

“What is it?” Winn asks, moving back from behind the counter. He grabs his cardigan and James grabs his satchel.

“Ms. Grant needs me,” Kara says, speeding about the apartment, shedding clothes and attaching capes with a flourish.

“You, or Supergirl?” Winn asks.

Kara shuts her eyes and tilts her head, the characteristic movement of a Kryptonian filtering out sound over long distances.

“Livewire’s back,” Kara explains. “But she’s brought company.”

“What, who?” James this time.

“I don’t know, but I can hear her from here without trying,” Kara winces, and even Alex feels like she can hear the high-pitched whistle, her eardrum quivering as if she were suffering from a chronic case of tinnitus. “Alex—”

“Go, Kara,” Alex says. “Come back when you can, but I’ve got Lucy to help, and Hank.”

“Okay. Boys, I’ll see you at work.”

“Let’s go, James,” Winn says, jogging for Kara’s front door. He looks far too much like an injured bird, jostling about with a broken wing in a sling.

“Wait, why are you grabbing the keys?” James bats Winn over the head. “You think you’re driving with a broken arm? You can’t even make it through midday traffic on the interstate—”

“I’m going to get us there faster than you, grandpa—”

“Play nice, boys,” Lucy says, and pushes them out the door. “Now,” she turns, picks up her briefcase, and nods toward Alex. “We need to get down to UCNC. I’ve got a former professor of military science who just so happens to be a sitting military judge. They let him keep the office.”

“Please tell me you were teacher’s pet,” Alex says, grabbing her gun and credentials, scrambling about Kara’s nearly emptied apartment to make sure she’s got everything she needs. She’ll be damned if Astra spends one more second in that hell hole just because she forgot her paperwork.

“Nothing less than A plus,” Lucy responds, grabbing another spinach wrap for the drive. “And call me a sap, but with everything that’s been going on between me and James and Kara and Cat, I’d like for one of us to get a girlfriend and keep her.”

“Astra’s not my girlfriend,” Alex argues, and hates how petulant she sounds when Lucy cocks a skeptical brow skyward, holding the door ajar, motioning toward the hallway as if she could inspire speed with condescension.

“Sure. And Kara’s totally fine with you two banging.”

“We’re not banging,” Alex argues again, finding her phone and her keys as she rushes to follow Lucy through Kara’s apartment door. “Wait a sec, what did you say about Kara and Cat?”

Lucy slams the door behind them.

 


 

 

“Max!” Alex shouts, elbowing her way past security and into Lord’s main lab.

The rest of the Supercrew have their hands full with something productive, but Alex can’t make a move on Cadmus until the necessary steps have been taken. She's done all she can at the DEO, even made back-up arrangements with Vasquez to use her family's cabin as a safe house, if they're found out before the Myriad infiltration begins. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be content to sit on her ass all afternoon while the others work: Lucy’s still arguing with a military judge in his law office at the campus downtown; Hank’s back at the DEO settling things with the escapees; and Kara’s tied up with Livewire and the Silver Banshee, aka Siobhan Smithe, driven to super-villainy by her inferiority complex. Alex still can’t say whether the Barry kid Kara claims sprinted through a hole in the universe is going to be an asset in the long run; but if he’s helping Kara right now, Alex isn’t going to turn down the offer.

She's a little preoccupied with doling out some well-deserved retribution.

The glossy blues and silver tints of Max’s lab at Lord Technologies present a chilly atmosphere, not exactly conducive to a scientifically creative environment. In fact, it’s less creative than it is efficient, the glass walls fostering the notion that Max and his all-seeing eye will be forever watching, critiquing, judging the work. Max sits atop a stainless steel stool at a high work table, lustrous purple shirt and black slacks protected by the standard white lab coat. His minions flutter about, some with clipboards and others with small wires, a handful operating highly complex robotic arms and computerized levers Alex guesses hold the secret to Lord’s newest invention.

“Agent Danvers,” Max quips, not looking up from his soldering iron and tweezers. He’s tinkering with the tiniest of microchips, a discarded pile of black plastic pieces that look like Blue Tooth headsets within easy reaching distance. He flips the magnified optical clip up off his safety glasses and turns to Alex, his smug expression shifting. She gets the smallest amount of satisfaction watching his face fully settle into displeasure when he takes a good look at her.

“You look like hell,” he tells her, removing the glasses as he stands from his stool. “You, out,” he clips at a young woman in a white lab coat, delivering more headsets, and what looks like a pair of dangling sapphire earrings. “You, too.” He hollers at the other staffers in the lab. “Everybody!” he shouts, approaching Alex with less swagger than he usually carries in his gait. “What happened?”

“A number of things, but I’ve only got one I need to ask you about,” Alex replies, setting her hand on top of the gun at her hip. “You turned Astra over to General Lane. Even after you knew she was working with us, you still handed her over to the researchers at Cadmus.”

Max’s concern dissolves like Alka-seltzer in a glass of tap water, bubbling and fizzing into a dynamic sort of disdain. He reaches to touch the arm that’s resting on the grip of her gun, but Alex flinches away. He huffs, annoyed.

“You didn’t need her anymore,” Max challenges, shaking his head. “Once we were in and out of Fort Rozz, there was no point in keeping her around. You can still take the base without the fear of her turning on you.”

Alex gapes at his audacity.

“I was never afraid of her turning on us,” Alex challenges. “You, however—”

“The military will get a lot better use out of her than you ever could.”

“Use?!” Alex spats. “She’s a person, Max.”

“She is not,” Max fires back, already prepared for this argument. “You and me, we’re people Alex. And we’ve got a big job, protecting this planet. Your sister and all of her baggage? She puts us right in the crosshairs, just like Superman. And you know it better than anyone,” Max points toward her, ready to present every argument compiled in his twisted little head, ready to discredit all of the good Kara and Astra and other aliens have done, just by virtue of their origins.

“That’s why you can’t tell people Supergirl’s your sister, because you’ll be at the top of the hit list of every alien who ever held a grudge against Krypton,” Max fumes. “It’s just like Metropolis. They’re weathering attack after attack, all because these intergalactic idiots feel they need to prove themselves against Metropolis's Golden Boy. I won’t subject National City to that same damage.”

Alex scoffs, shaking her head, needing to take a physical step away from the man. He crowds her, violates her space, and it’s all she can do not to throw him over her shoulder and start pummeling his ribs. She suspects security would take offense, but after witnessing how terribly he treated his lab assistants… she wonders how many blows she could get in before they feel compelled by their paychecks to come and haul her away.

“What?” Max asks, waspish. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You are,” Alex nods, flabbergasted by the man’s pride. “You’re so wrong you can’t even see it.” She waves a hand in front of her face, trying to keep a lid on her boiling anger.

“Hey, I did what you asked me to,” Max says, holding his hands aloft, playing at submission. “I got your Element-K rerouted via their power systems, and extracted for study.”

“You sent a double agent to be experimented on!”

“I sent a war criminal to a jail that could hold her. And I wasn’t under the impression that she’d ever signed on to work for the DEO,” Max objects, holding up one of the tiny headsets. “And I’m still helping you, even now, Alex.”

“Surely you can understand why putting away the contact I’ve been working with for six months doesn’t feel like help.”

“Listen, should Non and his forces somehow get Myriad to activate, I’m making up a host of these,” he stops, turning the microchip over and snapping it into place under the black plastic molding, “completely free of charge, I might add, for your teams at the DEO.”

“Even taking note of how fashionable we’ll look,” Alex continues, indicating the earrings. “How thoughtful.”

“Just making sure my assets aren’t compromised,” Max deflects, but Alex really doesn’t have enough time to worry over his cryptic answers. “These will scramble the Myriad signal, if the team is too late. If the aliens activate the technology before you can get in there to stop it.”

“Dammit, Max, are you listening to yourself?” Alex almost screeches, so angry at the man standing before her she’s practically shaking. “There would have been zero chance of Myriad’s activation if you’d left Astra alone. She has eyes on that system everyday, knows every fail-safe, every loophole. You go and tank our best asset, and then tell us how great you are for helping?

 

“You cannot create a problem,” Alex stalks closer toward him, holding out a hand in warning. “Then offer a solution to the problem you created, and still claim you’re doing humanity a favor. That doesn’t make you a hero.”

“I could care less about being a hero,” Max answers. “If I can save myself, and the things that I care about, then I’ve done right by me. Heroes end up martyrs because they can’t draw a line in the sand. I know where my line is, and no martyr ever accomplished anything after they got themselves killed. Now, you can take the help I’m offering, or you can get the hell out of my lab.”

“Fine by me.” Alex grits her teeth, then throws her elbow at Max’s nose. The bone crunches and the cartilage crumbles, like the exterior shell of a test car undergoing crash tests filmed in slow motion for safety commercials. The before is a solidified substance: metal, bone, plastic. The after is a glob of debris, splintering and compacted from the force of impact.

Max grunts and doubles over, the near-black blood trickling into brilliant crimson against the white of his lab coat. Pity, Alex thinks… she’d hoped it would have at least stained his shirt.

“I didn’t come here to argue,” Alex says, placing her hands on her hips as Lord scrabbles around the table, pinching the bridge of his nose as tightly as he can. “But I did come by to tell you that you’ve used your get-out-of-jail-free card. I should throw you in a DEO cell and say to hell with the aftermath. But we both know where that got us last time. The point is, I owe you nothing. See if I don’t tip off the cops next time you decide to play God.”

“Fuck you, Danvers,” Lord mumbles into a white towel. The blood gushes, staining the white rag, but offers only the smallest serving of satisfaction for Alex. She’d beat Lord to a pulp a million times if it could bring Astra back.

“Ditto,” Alex grumbles, pushing both glass doors open as she stalks out of the lab. “I doubt the people at GQ will call for another cover shoot anytime soon.”

Chapter Text

The drive to the Cadmus site in Nevada takes absolute ages.

The stars twinkle in the clear night, and with no city smog, no skyscrapers blocking the view, Alex can make out every constellation Jeremiah ever taught her, and even some of the new ones Kara showed her in their adolescence. The early May sunset over the desert had been gorgeous: violet and apricot and rosy striations knitted together over the mountaintops, the grandest element of beauty in a landscape that seemed to forefront the ugly, the barren, the wasteland, as many people termed it. Alex wonders if this is what Krypton looked like in its final days—empty, struggling, a dystopian Death Valley; the entire planet drained of sustenance, the desiccated vestiges of life clawing against sand and roasting in the rays of a fevered red sun.

Alex takes an educated guess that Astra would hate the desert, and makes an unspoken vow to herself to show Astra a rainforest, a tundra, a riverfront, the Serengeti, a national park, a beach. Once Astra gets out of Cadmus and they divert Non’s plan with Myriad, she’ll take her anywhere on Earth, show her what she sacrificed her life’s work for. They can start small with the desert sunset, or drive north out of National City, hit a boardwalk with a popsicle stand. The Redwood and Sequoia forest isn’t very far, and has withstood this season’s wildfires—life resilient, despite destruction.

Once she gets Astra out of there… because Astra is getting out.

Alex sits in the back of the DEO van, cataloging every piece of equipment they’ve stocked: syringes, IVs, plastic baggies, portable solar panels operating off of a remote generator, bandages, gauzes, disinfectants, band-aids, medical tape, pain killers of various potencies, snack bars, liters of water—a bone saw, skull clamps, wrist and ankle restraints, limb braces and rods and scalpels and sutures and forceps and tweezers and saline cleanser and enough anesthetic agents to knock Astra senseless (Kryptonian constitution or not), just to take away her pain.

Alex prays they won’t need all of it.

Hank had helped her load the materials without question until Alex reached for the propylene glycol jelly and a portable ultrasound (“Alex,” Hank had stopped her in the medbay, that semi-disguised sadness growing more transparent with every new bit of information he discovers about hers and Astra’s partnership. “Is she—” Alex had merely grunted and hefted the machine higher on her hip. “I… don’t know for sure. It’s a possibility. Best be prepared.” She didn’t cry as she tromped out of the medbay with the massive monitor on her hip—there were too many eyes on her, and she’d already felt dried out from her previous meltdown—but she could have, if she had to bear the way Hank kept looking at her for much longer).

Alex probably knows more about the physiological workings of Kryptonians than any other person on the planet, and yet… the thought of putting Astra back together jolts her out of equilibrium, like the world tilted off-axis and spun backwards. Lucy, situated silently in the front passenger seat, flips through the hefty file of paperwork and runs her fingers along the edges of the blue certificate, a ratified, codified, notarized, legalized, baptized, and scrutinized document that should get Astra the hell out of Cadmus. The retrieval trio is utilizing discreet, flesh-colored coms cooked up by R&D that shouldn’t interfere with any other signals at Cadmus… which means she and Lucy will only call for Hank if it is absolutely necessary.

“Are you okay?” she hears Lucy ask from the front seat, still looking as prim and put-together as she had when she’d first crossed the threshold of Kara’s apartment several hours ago.

“Yeah, just ready to get in and out,” Alex says, jostling her leg despite her attempts at calm.

“The SUV we arranged for transfer is on the third floor of the Monte Carlo parking garage in Vegas. Unmarked rental, can’t be traced back to the DEO,” Hank repeats, as if Alex hasn’t mentally run through the escape plan time and time again.

She hates that Hank has to go back to the DEO and manage the full brunt of the U.S. military’s accusations, if the DOD somehow finds out just how far he’s gone to help with Astra’s rescue (never mind his potential discovery as a Martian refugee). Lucy, too; despite her being the newest addition to this strange grouping of military and civilians, Alex worries for her. For Winn, Kara, Susan, even James. They’re all needed, all helpful, very little dead weight. Even if it’s just in the avenue of emotional support, Alex is thankful that she’s got enough people to help her shoulder the burden.

“We’ll head back west on the 146 just in case we are followed, and you’ll go south on the 160,” Hank reminds her.

“Adds another hour to the drive, but traffic shouldn’t be much of an issue this late,” Alex confirms.

“You have Vasquez’s address on you?” Hank asks.

“I memorized it,” Alex says, thinking about turning the wheel on the tiny Zippo, the flame consuming the scrap of paper with the directions to Vasquez’s family cabin near Big Bear Lake (“It’s nothing like those lodges you see on the lakeside, but it’s off-grid,” Vasquez had said in the seclusion of the armory, as Alex refilled the cartridges for her tac suit. “Me and my brother use it, but he’s at a conference in Seattle. Just… don’t get blood on anything.”)

“We’ll take the 18 from the north into the park,” Alex tells Hanks, “and her family’s got some private property on a side road. Third right, but it’s not close to the lake itself—no accidental run-ins with tourists. We’ll lay low for a day and then head back once you give us the all-clear.”

“You have the spy-beacon on hand?” Hank asks.

“Yes sir. You’ll call me if the situation gets out of control with Kara?” Alex asks.

“Of course. But that little man in red seems to be holding his own against Livewire and the screamer. Supergirl will do her job, Agent Danvers,” Hank reassures her.

“Yeah,” Alex slumps against the back wall of the van. “I’m still learning to let her.”

“And you’ll do yours, Alex,” Lucy adds. “Listen, Director Henshaw is letting me stay on at the DEO, starting tomorrow. Says it’ll be good to have me on site if there’s any issue with Astra’s extraction once people catch wind of what we’ve done this evening. We’ll keep you covered.”

“You could stay longer than that, Major Lane,” Hank says, running his hands over the steering wheel as gently as he would a frightened animal. “We’re always scouting for remarkable talent at the DEO.”

Lucy seems rather taken aback. “I’ll give it some thought… Director.”

Alex has sparred with Hank too many times to count in that training room, unaware of his exceptionalism, and now, understanding the extent of his strength, the span of his existence… it’s humbling and mind-boggling to know that he would do this for her, that he would work to recruit people—Winn, Lucy, her own drunk ass—that he would put himself on the line just so this mission would succeed.

“There it is,” Hank says, as they come down off a hill and into an empty, void-like valley, save for the roving lights of the complex reflecting off the tops of Quonset huts and metal buildings.

“I’m going to shift now, Major Lane,” Hank tells her. “I do not want to alarm you.”

“O… kay,” Lucy starts, but her jaw goes slack as Hank loses an inch in height, his hair receding. His rich brown skin shimmers to the evergreen of Martian, then to pasty, pocked cream; and though Henshaw’s shoulders were wide-set to begin with, the expansive breadth of General Lane’s body lengthens and unfurls in the driver’s seat, the shimmer of red Martian aura casting J’onn’s outline in an extra-terrestrial glow that poor Lucy will just have to get accustomed to if she stays on at the DEO.

Alex has seen him shift more times than she can count, but it’s still fascinating. She has tons of questions about the process, but is often too busy to get into the intimate details of her boss’s physiology. In this case, research takes a back seat to active missions during wartime.

“Are you alright, Major Lane?” J’onn asks, though Lucy looks like she might very well faint, her father’s voice coming from her father’s body, but with a gentleness that she’s likely not heard from the man in some time.

“Yes, I’m… I’m… adjusting,” Lucy says, taking a quick inhale through her nose. “That is… slightly disconcerting.”

“I will only remain in this form as long as we’re within the mile radius of the compound, Major Lane.”

“Yeah, that’s… yeah,” Lucy says, caught between staring at her paperwork and at J’onn.

“Take a breath, Lucy,” Alex advises. “And J’onn, let’s get in there. If it wasn’t obvious, I’m getting a little antsy back here.”

They’re able to roll through the security gate with surprisingly little trouble. When they see the multiple stars on J’onn’s shifted military uniform, the foot soldiers manning the barrier salute, then buzz them in. They’re directed toward one of four or five buildings in the complex that look more stable, brown brick, white dry wall, curious solar panels on the roofs.

“Go on,” J’onn says. “I’ll wait in the car.”

“Said no General ever,” Alex grumbles, grabbing the pair of Kryptonite cuffs and moving out of the back of the van. She walks with Lucy into what she’s thinking is the equivalent of the compound’s reception area. There’s a young man in the pixilated olive drab, McKinnon stitched in black thread on his left breast.

“Private McKinnon,” Lucy approaches, followed by Alex, who is content to let her take the lead during this exchange.

“Mam,” the private stands at the address, though looks rather flustered by the approach of a JAG officer and an unknown agent clad in black from head to toe, coming into what Alex assumes is probably a no-visitors facility afterhours.

“We understand that you’re holding an enemy combatant at this facility,” Lucy begins, and the private’s eyes bug wide.

She’s not supposed to know that, Alex thinks.

“And while we can spend the evening arguing about what I should and should not know about the operation of this place, I’ve got the signature from an officer of the military court system saying you have to release her to this agent’s custody,” Lucy nods to Alex, “at least until she undergoes questioning. Once the combatant fulfills her obligation to the department, we’ll see about returning her.”

Alex starts, and cuts deadly eyes toward the back of Lucy’s head. If she had heat vision, she’d blast through that tight little bun of hers, because there’s no way in hell Alex is ever bringing Astra back here.

“I’ll have to call my superior, mam’,” the Private answers.

“McKinnon, we don’t have all night,” Lucy continues. “Or do you want to be held in contempt for not complying with a military court order?” Lucy waves the blue paper in front of his face. “You’re to release this…” Lucy takes a dramatic look at the paper, then returns her focus to Private McKinnon, who is tapping insistently on the keypad of the landline. “… Kryptonian, Astra, to Agent Danvers’s custody at once.”

“Sir, we have a situation at the admin desk,” McKinnon gripes into the mouthpiece. “Just tell the Colonel to get down here! I don’t care if you have to wake him up,” McKinnon slams the phone back into the cradle on the receiver. “I’m not authorized to grant you access to the back buildings. I’m not even sure what a… a… Criptonyen—”

“Kryptonian, Private,” Alex corrects.

“I… uh, I can’t get you in the building. That’s in block H, and it’s restricted to all unnecessary personnel.”

“How long will your Colonel be?” Lucy asks. “This detainee you have, she’s been working undercover with a military organization. I’m sure the higher-ups here were unaware of that, and would have released her instantly if that information had been made available. But your detention and… questioning, will not trump an undercover sting six months in the making. The paperwork is all right there,” Lucy indicates the court order once more. “And the sooner you comply, the sooner you can get back to riding this desk for whatever reprimand was issued your way.”

The insult does it.

“I can escort you to block H, mam,” the private says stiffly.

Better for them, Alex thinks, dealing with a prideful private and bypassing any colonel who might know better. McKinnon walks them down a hallway and into the past: the corridor is tan, faded faux-wood paneling lining the walls and a Styrofoam ceiling looming low overhead. The place reminds Alex of a dated doctor’s office, like the ones she’d visited in Midvale in her youth. The building’s purpose seems solely administrative, small offices and rooms upon rooms stocked with filing cabinets and ancient computer monitors behind the few cracked doors she catches glimpses of.

McKinnon opens a back door for herself and Lucy, then takes them to a row of parked, open-top Jeeps from many eras previous. After loading up, they drive for several minutes, slowing over the speed bumps, Alex cataloging every turn around a building, every fenced exit guarded by armed patrols. They’re about a mile and a half into the heart of the facility, Alex thinks, when McKinnon slows and bring the Jeep to a stop outside of a large brick building with three stories, and yet another fence around it—twenty feet, easy—humming with energy from the coiled barbed wire at the top. The red lightning bolt sign displays the voltage charge of the fence, and Alex listens as a garbled conversation between private and authority takes place over a walkie-talkie as large as a wine bottle.

The thrumming stops, and Lucy and Alex hop out of the Jeep. A man in a lab coat with curly grey hair emerges from the front door of the complex and flips another switch near the entrance of the building. They hear a buzz, receive a nod from the man at the entrance, and push the gate open. They cross the thirty feet of the yard to the building, Lucy clutching the court order, Alex tightening her hold on the Kryptonite cuffs.

“Major… Lane?” the man asks, nodding to Lucy once she and Alex come through the door.

“That’s correct, Dr…?”

“Dr. Cromwell, Major Lane. I understand you have a court order which transfers custody of my subject?”

Alex bites hard on her cheek to keep from decking the guy.

“Yes,” Lucy says, passing the paperwork over. “When she was taken in, she was working on an undercover operation for another department.”

“Which department?” Cromwell asks, flipping each page of the document. Alex knows he’s looking for a mistake, the smallest hint at a forgery or a fraudulent petition that will allow him to keep Astra. For someone working in a place like this, sanitized to the fact that they’re experimenting on souls, a Kryptonian might just be Cromwell’s white whale.

“The Department of Extranormal Operations,” Alex chimes in. “Agent Danvers, sir. I’m here to escort the prisoner off-site.” She holds up the Kryptonite cuffs for emphasis.

“Just one escort?” Dr. Cromwell asks, skeptical. “You must be new.”

“If you consider acting director new, then sure,” Alex returns. “We’ve got tech to hold her, just like you, doctor.”

“When General Lane delivered her,” Dr. Cromwell begins, folding the court order and placing it in his interior pocket, “he indicated this subject was an alien hostile. Highly dangerous. We were unaware that she was being… used by another department, one I’ve never even heard of.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d never heard of Project Cadmus until yesterday,” Alex snips again. “You’ve got the order, it’s late, and we need to get back on the road.”

“She’s in the middle of a procedure,” Dr. Cromwell objects again. “You’d be interrupting an extremely expensive test sponsored by the DOD, wasting hundreds of thousands of tax dollars—”

Alex shakes her head and opens her mouth to argue, but feels Lucy’s discreet tug on the sleeve of her black pullover.

“Dr. Cromwell, as the daughter of a General, I know all about the drain on funds and the cutbacks the military is sustaining for such… vital research,” Lucy namedrops and placates, but it does seem to appease the doctor’s mood. His countenance shifts from one of outright hostility to mild irritation. “But the DEO had claim to her first. I’m sure once their questioning is complete, you’ll be able to submit your own petition to get her back into custody. Now, take us to her. I’d hate to have to pull rank on you, sir.”

“I suppose that’s that, then,” Dr. Cromwell sighs, rubbing at his temples in dismay.

Alex wants to shout it sure is!, but holds her tongue.

They loop up a stairwell and down a corridor, heavy metal doors with tiny windows situated to either side of them. In some cases, there’s not glass in the window recesses, just small bars that separate the different alien species from the doctors roaming the halls. They descend another flight, take two lefts, and come out in a three-story atrium—one that, judging by the coolness of the air and the low lighting—Alex feels must be partially dug underground. From their central position, Alex can make out the large number of doorways on the bottom floors, situated directly below doorways on the second and third floors. Alex thinks the set-up must be for observation rooms, stacked directly atop labs or testing spaces.

There’s muted groaning off to her left, growling to her right, and dreadful silence at the doorway right in front of her. They ascend a metal staircase and walk down the elevated ambulatory to one of several clinical, sanitized doorways, which overlooks one of the larger testing rooms at the lowest level. Alex feels like a spectator at a sporting event, lucky enough to score box seats for the main event playing out below her. There are three technicians in white coats gathered around the control board, sitting in stadium-like seating with their bespectacled eyes glued to green and blue blips on multiple monitors.

Alex walks toward the massive window over the control board and her stomach lurches at the sight: because Astra’s down there, and if the monitors are any indication, she’s at least somewhat alive. There’s a steady green glow pulsing from every surface of the room, a very low level of Kryptonite emissions compared to what they use in the cells or the training room at the DEO. But it’s not the size of the room or the fact that the staff are watching Astra like she’ll run a maze for a slice of cheddar… it’s that Astra looks dead.

Suspended in translucent green fluid in a tank the size of an eighteen-wheeler, Astra has been forcibly submerged, stripped, and injured, if the dark spots on her skin speak to her physical state. She’s hooked up to several black hoses that run like curlicued eels from her body, wrapped around her wrists, attached to her temples, her chest, her ankles. Alex can barely make out what must be the oxygen mask covering the lower portion of her face, her wild, long hair, that white stripe, floating like lifeless autumn leaves in a street-side puddle.

“What…” Alex begins, taking a deep breath through her nose to keep the tears at bay. “What is it that you’re doing with her?”

“We’re attempting to quantify how much force it would take to neutralize a Kryptonian’s powers,” Dr. Cromwell states, typing a command into one of the abandoned keyboards on the larger control board. He presses a large button and his voice booms over the intercom. “Team, we’re going to have to shut this down. Get a recovery and extraction unit into the testing room. Military court order.”

“But she’s only been under nine hours, sir,” one middle-aged blonde woman at the far end of the room states. She pushes her glasses further up her nose and taps angrily at her clipboard with a pencil. “We’d calculated at least twenty-two, considering how long the electric testing took.”

“Electric… you electrocuted her until she lost her powers?” Alex asks.

“With a substantial bit of Kryptonite to help, but at least we have some numbers to work with now, and no reason to waste more money, relying solely on Kryptonite bullets. This way, we can subdue them without shooting them,” Dr. Cromwell answers blithely. “Thankfully, the adrenaline injection returned her powers this morning, and we were able to move onto test two.”

“Is there Kryptonite in that water?” Alex asks, watching as a stretcher is rolled in from the right by a team of four (two in scrubs, two in camo, all carrying what look like cattle prods). One camo-clad soldier presses a command into the keypad on the right side of the massive tank, and Alex watches as the fluid begins to drain: Astra’s body floats, flutters, insubstantial as lace on the wind.

“Extremely minimal amounts. The Kryptonite in the room helps to keep her manageable, but we’re trying to see how much pressure her body can take, how long she can go without oxygen. She didn’t start seizing until hour four. Remarkable, really.”

“Yeah,” Alex answers, feeling so close to weeping she might just collapse. “Remarkable.”

“But I see you’ve got Kryptonite access yourself,” Cromwell comments. “Those cuffs looked highly advanced.”

“Yes, they do an excellent job at subduing the subject without resulting to outright cruelties,” Lucy snaps, “but I guess some agencies know how to develop their technology better than others.”

The water drains completely from the tank and Astra looks so small inside of it, a tiny, motionless, beached sea creature, stranded on a patch of land that isn’t her natural environment, a place that isn’t conducive to living. From this far away, Alex can’t tell if Astra’s back is expanding for breath. One of the women in scrubs moves to the edge of the tank and releases the sealed hatch, climbs inside the tank with the cattle prod in hand, and nudges at Astra with the blunt end of the device.

“Can I go down there?” Alex rips her eyes away from the scene, unable to watch Astra’s handling without breaking apart. “So she understands what’s happening? She won’t put up as big of a fight if she sees me.”

Dr. Cromwell arches a brow. “Is that so?”

“I’ve been her handler for six months,” Alex lies. “It’s not quite trust, but we’ve got a system.”

“It’s hard to imagine a being with that much rage could ever trust anyone,” Cromwell quips, motioning toward one of the camo-sporting men on the floor and then pointing toward Alex behind the glass.

“Like you said, doc,” Alex grouses, stomping out of the observation room. “She is remarkable.”

 

 


 

 

 

They don’t have to worry about Astra struggling, because the extraction team drags her out of the tank unconscious. Alex walks beside the stretcher, holding Astra’s hand beneath the sheet, as they make their way down the white-washed hallways of the warehouse on block H.

(“Readings say her powers are shot, Dr. Cromwell,” one tech had said, as they’d all gingerly pulled Astra’s limp body atop the stretcher, unwrapping the black coils from her extremities.

“Still, precautionary measures should be—”

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage for the day?” Alex snaps, throwing the inactivated Kryptonite cuffs to the foot of the stretcher. “If you must, normal restraints will work. She’s no more dangerous than you or me right now.”)

There’s an oxygen tube running up the leg of the stretcher and into Astra’s nostrils. Her hair droops wet and frizzy against the pillow, soggy, the white strip tinted the slightest shade of mint from the Kryptonite solution. Alex can’t help herself, reaches toward Astra’s slim, clammy neck and places two fingers against the Kryptonian artery Alex had found functioned much like the carotid, heaving a sigh of relief when she feels an irregular pattern she’s learned to recognize as a Kryptonian’s pulse.

The team plus Alex loads Astra roughly onto the flat bed of a transport vehicle. As they pull out of block H, a crosswind from the desert blows chilly against Alex’s neck. Without powers, Astra is susceptible to a head cold, especially with her hair saturated in the only solution that could ever weaken her. Black spots cover Astra’s palms and the bottoms of her feet, blistered bits of now-wrinkly skin collected in asymmetric circles. There’s a number of burn marks on her torso, superficial; and also the first signs of bruising, deeper, one hideous (worrisome) blow on her abdomen that reminds Alex of her own ribcage from back when she’d been taken, those scant months ago.

Lucy and Dr. Cromwell ride in the other car with Private McKinnon while Alex hovers over Astra on the flatbed, eyeing the extraction crew with nothing short of hatred. Her nose twitches when one of the women in camo reaches out to steady the stretcher as they roll over a speed bump. Alex can see the DEO van, parked out front of the admin building where they’d pulled up at the entrance of the compound. She should’ve known it wouldn’t have been this easy, should’ve expected it, because just as they unload the stretcher from the transport vehicle, another open-top Jeep speeds around the corner and screeches to a stop.

The man who hops out of the passenger’s side is clean shaven, late thirties, has the high and tight military haircut and the sparkling wrath in his eyes of a bureaucrat who’s been undermined one too many times, who carries an enormous professional chip on his shoulder. He’s extreme because he’s got something to prove, and dangerous as a result.

“What the hell is this?!” he shouts, and all of the soldiers in camouflage, aside from Lucy Lane, freeze and stand at immediate attention. Alex keeps pushing the stretcher and squeezes against Astra’s hand, hoping she can feel the pressure.

“Stop!” the man shouts, but Alex keeps going.

“Colonel Harper,” Alex hears Lucy intercept the raging superior, but she keeps her head down, her attention focused on Astra.

Under the manufactured lighting flooding the base, Astra’s pallor is gypsum grey, sickly as the half moon on a cloudy night. The doors of the van open of their own accord when Alex taps against them; it’s strange to see General Lane’s husky build carefully lifting one end of the stretcher and collapsing the wheeled legs beneath the contraption, gently guiding Astra’s body into the back of the car. Alex nods once at J’onn as he stabilizes Astra for transport, then shuts the double doors.

“—think you can barge in here on daddy’s name alone, with some crock of a court order for an agency that’s the laughing stock of the DOD—”

“In the end, we’re all government employees,” Alex says, returning to the fuming gentleman. “Just cogs in a machine.”

“Agent Danvers, Colonel Jim Harper,” Lucy says. “And as I was telling you, we obviously had enough legal grounds for a transfer, otherwise we wouldn’t have a judge’s signature.”

“You’re not supposed to even know about this place,” Harper seethes, bowing up over Lucy, who, impressively, does not cow to the threat.

“Dr. Cromwell has the papers,” Alex stands her ground as well. “Your subject is now under my protective custody.”

Your custody?” Harper sneers. “She has no rights; she can’t be taken into formal custody. How do you charge a being who is not even human?” His voice drops menacingly lower: “If you think you’re taking a combatant classified as one of the most dangerous threats to our world out of this complex with nothing but a senile judge’s scribbles on some worthless paper, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Now, Colonel Harper, they did go through all the proper channels,” J’onn emerges from behind the van, ambling up to the group circled around Alex, Lucy, Dr. Cromwell, and Harper. The soldiers part reflexively, saluting as J’onn offers the acknowledging head nod.

“Sir!” Harper gapes, face turned watermelon red. “You’re… back from the Pentagon?”

“I knew this transfer would probably fall under some scrutiny,” J’onn says in General Lane’s characteristic drawl. “I had hoped the legal means would be sufficient, considering this alien has been working for the U.S. government as a double agent.”

“But you just said… the other night—”

“I was unaware of her involvement at the time,” J’onn answers. “That’s what I get for taking the words of a civilian contractor over those supplied by the chain of command. I assume you have little problem obeying the chain of command, am I right, son?”

Harper sputters his answer: “Yessir, I mean, no—no problem at all, sir. You were just… so… adamant about learning all we could about the Kryptonian subject.”

“I can’t justify undoing half a year of another agency’s work just to keep her on site, Colonel. You know how the military works. You’ll have to fill out the paperwork,” J’onn answers. “Now, it’s late, and I’d like to try and get one last meal in with family before I head back to D.C.”

“I… understand, sir,” Harper says, though to Alex, he doesn’t look like he understands anything. In fact, the man looks so confused he’s probably starting to get suspicious.

Best get moving.

“At ease, soldiers,” J’onn says, turning to pat Lucy on the shoulder for added effect. “Back to your posts.”

The group retreats, but Harper stands stock still, the driver of his Jeep still hunched over, trying to stifle a yawn just as the clock hits 0000 hours.

“That includes you, Colonel,” J’onn throws over his shoulder.

Lucy and Alex shuffle toward the van as quickly as they can; Alex can see the wheels turning in Harper’s head, and the last thing they need is Harper calling a Code Black and taking them into emergency custody. Alex hops into the driver’s seat, playing at a deference she doesn’t necessarily possess for the real General Lane. She waits for J’onn and Lucy to load up, and then drives them out of the compound. They stay silent until two miles out, at which point, J’onn deems it safe for Alex to stop, get out of the driver’s seat and walk around to the back while he takes the wheel.

“I’m still not convinced Harper bought it,” Lucy mumbles.

“Neither am I,” J’onn answers her. “I’ll keep this form until we divert attention taking the Vegas route. Will that make you uncomfortable?”

“I’ve seen plenty of things tonight I’m uncomfortable with,” Lucy answers. “You’re the least of them.”

“I’m going to run through a vitals check with her,” Alex says, opening the small windowed partition between the front seats and the back work area. “Give me a knock when we’re twenty minutes outside of Vegas.”

“Will do, Danvers,” J’onn smiles, and even with the face of General Sam Lane, there’s that twinge of sorrow and sympathy that is so characteristically J’onn that Alex feels a little rush of relief flood her system.

Alex slides the window closed and sets to work, terrified to pause, too scared to stop and look, because the second she really focuses on Astra she’ll lose her composure. Instead of dwelling, Alex checks the Kryptonian’s vitals: blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate, pulse. She adds an IV drip for hydration, finds a vein and slips a needle beneath Astra’s skin, winces because Alex can actually pierce her flesh with the thin metal of the tool. She remains clinical, strips the tattered white subject gown off of Astra’s body and takes note of her injuries. Alex snaps surgical gloves into place and administers ointment to the burns on her palms and the arches of her feet, feels for irregularities in her limbs that could indicate broken bones from beatings. She presses very gingerly against Astra’s abdomen, and moves the ultrasound machine into place.

For some reason, Alex doesn’t feel it’s her place to rub the gel on Astra’s stomach, to place a camera against Astra’s flesh and check on Schrodinger’s alien fetus—like Astra had mentioned all those weeks ago, when she’d joked about the MRI… it would feel like a violation.

Astra is stable, at least physically, so Alex pulls a scratchy cotton blanket over top her body and moves about to begin setting up the solar panels. She twists screws into place so that the fixtures hang close enough for Astra to feel the heat, but not so close that they’ll jostle if Hank makes a bad turn. It takes her a while, but by the time she has the four panels erected, the back of the van feels toasty and cramped; her legs are stiff from moving about on her knees, her neck aches from bending to keep from beaning herself in the head on the roof of the car.

Without the distraction of work to keep her brain occupied, she moves to the small seat at the middle of the van and rests, finally, after more hours than she can count. It’s definitely past midnight… so, that would mean it’s been under 48 hours since Fort Rozz last saw its general. Going into four days until Myriad is supposedly activated, depending on Non’s desperation. Going on at least hour—

started seizing around hour four—

—six, of Astra being unconscious. But Alex can’t fault Astra for remaining out of it for as long as she needs. The longer she rests, the healthier she’ll be. Alex tries not to imagine a healthy Astra, a vibrant one in natural sunlight, smiling, flying, hugging Kara close and snapping at Alex for saying something she doesn’t understand. But the fantasy is so tempting, so much better than the artificial sunlight, the dry heat, the ghastly porcelain shade of Astra’s skin against off-white medical blankets.

“Hey,” Alex says, reaching out for Astra’s hand.

She wraps her fingers around Astra’s wrist (careful to avoid the burns) and brings Astra’s moist hand to her lips, presses a kiss to a knuckle, holds it against her cheek to warm the icicle fingers.

“You rest now, okay?” Alex says… feels silly, keeps talking anyway. “Because that’s what’s good for you… when Kara blew out her powers, all she needed was time. We’re a little short on that, but, I might can swing a day.”

Alex rotates Astra’s hand so that it lies palm-up on the bed. Alex is careful not to agitate the flaky, charred bits, wishing the healing process could speed up even if the powers take longer to return; but Kara’s situation with her broken arm during the earthquake doesn’t inspire a lot of hope. She trails her fingertips along the uninjured curves of Astra’s wrist, thankful just to be in contact with her.

When she finally does start crying, the hitch in her throat doesn’t surge to a sob. It’s just strain, tight in the back of this van, tight like Astra’s grip on her when they’d first met, tight around her heart, where Astra’s forcibly insinuated herself.

“I’ve cried more over you in the past two days than I’ve cried over anything in the past two years, even Kara. And you told me it wasn’t shameful to cry for love,” Alex whispers, circling the bony knot at the juncture of forearm and hand. “So I’m not ashamed… but I am—I do—”

She sniffles, and rests her head on the side of the stretcher, lays her palm against Astra’s shoulder, just to feel her. Alex succumbs to exhaustion, knowing Hank will wake her up shortly.

They still have a long night ahead of them.

 

 


 

 

 

Astra’s still unconscious by the time they make it to Vegas. J’onn shifts from Lane’s form back to Henshaw’s once they roll past the city limits sign, knowing that Vegas streets have cameras on every corner. It’s bright and blinky, even near two in the morning. Neon and strobe and laser lights all flash against the sides of the darkly tinted windows, a night life of plain sight for them to get lost in, should the military try to tail the car. Alex hadn’t noted a change in speed during the first leg of the trip from the Cadmus facility, so she wagers they won’t be questioned further until daylight.

They arrive at the parking garage beside the Monte Carlo and Alex starts to pack up her supplies. Astra’s still breathing steadily, thankfully, so Alex, J’onn, and Lucy form an assembly line from one car to the next, stashing medical supplies and duffel bags with a few changes of clothes, emergency cash, a burn phone, etc., all the supplies Alex had thought to bring for going off-grid. The food portion might be an issue when Astra wakes up, though.

For some reason, she doesn’t think Astra will possess her niece’s affinity for Pop-Tarts.

They wait until foot traffic in the parking garage slows to lift Astra out of the van, then roll the stretcher into the back of the SUV. Lucy had folded the seats down, and Alex had rigged the IV so that the hydration bag would hang from the overhead handle in the back of the vehicle.

“Text Supergirl once you get there,” J’onn advises. “They’ll have reason enough to subpoena mine and Major Lane’s phone records, but Supergirl is untouchable.”

“Here’s hoping,” Alex mutters. “She and Barry seem to have a handle on the Livewire situation.”

“I should still get back as soon as I can. I’d rather not have another generator fail like the other night, especially while I’m not at base,” J’onn says.

“Go on, we won’t keep you,” Alex says, then turns to Lucy. “And thank you for all of your help, Lucy. Really… you’re… you’re not going to regret having her on our side, if you take Hank up on his offer.”

“If you guys get into this much trouble regularly, how can I refuse?” Lucy smiles, and offers Alex a reassuring bob of the head.

“Thirty-six hours, Danvers,” Hank reminds her. “Even if she’s powerless, you’ve got to come in and run down the infiltration plans.”

“Understood, sir.”

“You drive out first. We’ll give it half an hour, and take the alternate route back to National City.”

“Yessir.”

“And Danvers?”

“Sir?”

“Stay safe.”

“I’ll try my best, J’onn.”

 

 


 

 

 

Alex is twenty minutes into the Mojave National Preserve, the staticky rock song on the radio telling her to carry on and stop crying, when she feels the sharp metal bite into her neck.

“Stop this vehicle and you keep your head, human,” Astra growls from behind.

“Astra!” Alex nearly shouts, surprised, just catching herself from slamming on the brakes and sending Astra through the windshield.

“Alex?” Astra gasps, her voice smoother, less gravelly in the question.

Alex feels something long and cool thud in her lap. She depresses the brake pedal, rolls to a stop on the empty highway, and fumbles between her thighs in the dark. There’s a pinch at her fingertip, and when she pulls her hand up, she sees the reflection of blood against metal.

Astra had held the scalpel to her throat.

“Yeah, hey, you’re okay,” Alex frantically discards the tool and puts the SUV in park, yanks the seatbelt from its housing and turns over her shoulder.

“Forgive me, I couldn’t see you!” Astra whispers, her labored breaths coming much too quickly. “I’m without—I cannot see—Alex, my powers—”

“Hey, hey, I know, it’s alright,” Alex says, reaching out for her, one hand pressing on her heaving shoulder, the other trying to physically push Astra’s chest into a slower rhythm.

“What is happening?” Astra looks frantically out the front window, her wild pupils darting around the van’s interior. “What are you doing?”

“I’m taking you some place safe,” Alex reassures her. “You… you’re hurt, Astra.”

“I cannot be in here,” she gasps, forced, ragged exhales leaving her gaping mouth like a concentrated stream of air from a compressor. “Let m-me out.”

“We’re going to a safehouse, we’ve got to keep moving—”

“Alexandra, please, it’s t-too close—”

“Okay, okay, I’m coming, don’t move, you’re alright—”

Alex launches herself from the car and darts to the back of the SUV, lifting the door up. Astra scrambles off the stretcher in the close quarters of the car, stumbling on wobbly legs as the sheet slips to her waist, the IV yanked from her arm. Blood trickles in two small streams from her elbow.

“Astra,” Alex extends her arm and Astra latches on like a leech, digging into her skin and pulling herself up as she gets her legs beneath her, as she stands, half-covered and shaking, in the middle of the desert.

“Astra, you’re shivering, you can get sick now,” Alex chastens her, draws the sheet up over her shoulders and rubs her arms through the material, keeping enough space between them that Astra can step away and breathe, if she so desires.

Alex wants to hug her, wants to hold her up, support her, keep her tucked in her embrace; but despite her denials of claustrophobia back at the coffee shop, that panic induced by tight, dark spaces isn’t doing any good for the hyperventilating Kryptonian. Astra’s still breathing too hard, staring up at the sky, shifting uncertainly from foot to foot because she’s in pain just standing, those burns on her feet likely making it unbearable to move.

“Breathe with me,” Alex tells her, taking one of Astra’s hands and putting it low on her stomach. She places her own against Astra’s bellybutton, feels how tense her abdominals are as her entire torso heaves frantically.

“In for four—two, three, four—out for one, two, three, four, in for four, two, three, four, out again, two, three, four—”

Her fingers tense over Astra’s stomach, because that’s the next issue she needs to address. She takes Astra through four solid minutes of breathing exercises, guides her backwards so that she can prop herself on the bumper of the SUV, so that it takes some of the pressure off her injured feet. The night is blessedly clear, the deepest indigos and bruise-colored swaths of navy punctuated by stars as numerous as grains of desert sand. Alone, so far in the wilderness, the hollowness of the landscape transforms into freedom, into openness, expanded and unrestrained.

Alex suddenly understands Astra’s desperation to get out of the car.

“Thank you,” Astra finally manages, removing her hand from Alex’s abdomen, placing it instead on her bicep. “I can never—oh Rao, thank you, Alexandra,” Astra cries silently, her breathing under control, but the tears leak as steadily as a broken garden spigot.

“I hate to make you lie back in the car if you don’t want to, but… I need to do an ultrasound.”

“A what?”

“An ultrasound,” Alex repeats. “Astra, we need to check on the baby. I don’t know how far along you are, it might not even register—”

“Baby?” Astra asks, wiping indiscriminately at her tears.

Alex curls her fingers into the fabric of the sheet covering Astra’s belly.

“When we last spoke, you left me under the distinct impression that you were pregnant,” Alex begins, voice shaky with the confession: “And I h-have thought of nothing but you and your child since you were taken.”

Astra shuts her eyes and rakes her fingers through her tangled hair, unable to meet Alex’s stare.

“How… how long—”

“About forty hours, but they were ready for a Kryptonian,” Alex mumbles, placing her free hand hesitantly against Astra’s cheek. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner, Astra.”

“I’m not pregnant,” she says, opening her eyes and placing her hand over Alex’s, the one that’s resting uncertainly over her abdomen. “I’m not… there’s no child. I cannot—”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me—”

“A distraction, for Non,” Astra squeaks. “I didn’t know he would tell Zahine and—”

“I believe you, I swear, but we can’t do this here,” Alex says, strokes tenderly at the side of Astra’s head. “You need more rest, and we’ve still got another few hours until we reach the safe house.”

Astra turns over her shoulder and eyes the lonely darkness in the back of the SUV. “Must I—”

“You can sit up front with me if you promise to rest. I’ll lean the seat back,” Alex says, dropping her hand from Astra’s face. “We’ve got an emergency bag in here, I’ve got some clothes—”

Before Alex can get too far away, Astra tugs on the hand that Alex still has resting on her tummy and wraps her up, throws her arms around her shoulders and spreads her legs so that Alex steps into her, so that Astra clings to her form like a child. The convulsions have lessened to little more than the occasional jitter, but Alex still feels all the tension in Astra’s frame, feels the jump and twitch of sheathed muscle when she lays her hands lightly on Astra’s lower back as non-threateningly as she can manage.

It’s muffled, damp and hot against her neck, and Alex hears the Kryptonian first, then the English: “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Alexandra, thank you.”

Alex runs her fingers over Astra’s naked back and feels the chill bumps pebble atop the other woman’s skin. She wants to hold Astra until the morning, but they’re on too much open terrain right now, raw and sensitive as an exposed nerve.

“Don’t thank me yet, General,” Alex quips, then gasps, as Astra’s lips brush her neck. Possibly consequence of their position, possibly intentional, but Alex dares not linger over the action. “Astra…we’ve… we’ve got to move.”

Astra reluctantly releases her, and doesn’t even complain when Alex throws one of Astra’s arms over her shoulders and helps her walk to the front passenger’s side. She gets Astra settled, then scurries around to the back once again, extracting a hoodie and black sweats from the DEO duffel, grabbing a bottle of water. She shuts the back door and returns to the driver’s side, passing off the clothing and water so she can grope in the cup holder for the key. She cranks the car as Astra slips the hoodie overhead, and soon enough they’re coasting ten miles over the speed limit along a back highway in the middle of nowhere, California.

Fifteen miles down the road Alex feels just slightly more relaxed, until Astra grabs her hand and refuses to let go. Alex doesn’t comment, just commits herself to driving as she suppresses yawn after yawn. Three more hours of rest they both desperately need, dedicated instead to night travel.

“When was the last time you slept, Alexandra?” Astra asks, staring solemnly out the window.

“I can’t remember.”

“Hmm,” Astra says. “And does Kara know about this?”

Alex wants to ask: about what? About her not sleeping? About Project Cadmus? About breaking Astra out? About the SUV they’ve requisitioned, about Vasquez’s safe house at Big Bear? About Astra holding her hand? About the fact that Alex has fallen so hard she feels like portions of her soul have cracked like fault lines, that schisms are etched into her heart at the mere suggestion of Astra in danger?

The answer, to pretty much every question, is the same.

“Yes,” Alex says, squeezing Astra’s fingers on the leather console.

“Very well,” Astra mumbles, then reclines against the tilted headrest, shutting her eyes. With the patchy reflection of the stars on her skin, Astra could be her own constellation: beautiful, broken, a sacrifice for the sake of the status quo.

Alex’s own Andromeda, sleeping in the passenger’s seat.

Chapter Text

The car nearly crashes only once during the night. Alex thinks those are wonderful odds, considering she shouldn’t be operating any type of heavy machinery, let alone driving a vehicle with enough ammo stocked in the back to function as an elephant-sized grenade full of shrapnel should the car catch fire, the gas line blaze apart, the whole thing—mushroom cloud into nothingness.

She drinks water to stay hydrated. Holds Astra’s hand to keep anchored. Grips the steering wheel tighter, knowing she’s in charge of delicate cargo.

Rolling up the gravel drive to Big Bear takes some work… she’s exhausted, but still has to make nice with a Park Ranger as to why she’s entering the property so late, with a car that doesn’t have a season sticker, God forbid.

Late girl’s night in Vegas, she lies. This one got a little too drunk (she thumbs over to Astra) and I had to wait until I was sober enough to drive us out. We’re not even heading toward the lake, got some friends with private property off Shay Road, just give us a break, man, we’re beat.

He lets them through the gate—Alex thinks she sees a Breaking Bad rerun on the laptop in the little shack guarding the entrance; bets he’d rather get back to Walter White’s distribution stories than shake down a couple of drunk women at four a.m.

Three turns, another mile and a half or so, and they’re now surrounded by trees, taking one of the lesser roads off to the north of the lake, deeper into the forest. It’s so much darker, such little moonlight filtering its way through the evergreen canopy. But Alex sees the cabin, a little larger than expected, hoisted about five feet off the rocky ground with a large porch, big windows, and an A-frame roof, the storage shed twenty feet from the entrance. She parks the car, and the motion-sensing light outside the cabin flicks on, a chorus of insects dancing in its beam.

Alex blinks dry eyes against the light and shoulders the car door open, leaving Astra snoozing in the seat to her right. She ambles toward the back of the car on lethargic legs, scrounges in the dark for the duffel bags, finds the utility belt and the burn ointment. It’s all she can carry for now, all she can manage, trudging up the front steps to unlock the door. It doesn’t squeak, and the place doesn’t smell musty.

Trust Susan to keep a wilderness retreat so well-maintained.

Alex drops the bags by the door and systematically checks the rooms, climbs up the stairs to the loft, jiggles the knob of the back door, shines her flashlight in a cursory check of the perimeter, makes sure all the windows are locked. She turns the air conditioner on, even though it’s a cooler night. She sleeps better under loads of blankets when the air is crisp around her, and she desires nothing more than the best night’s sleep she’s ever had. She shoots a text off to Kara, Made it to SH, then tosses her burn phone on the small dining room table. Alex staggers back down the front steps and out to the passenger’s side of the car, opens the door, and surveys Astra in the shadows.

Her white streak of hair curls haphazardly over her angular jaw, her mouth slightly slack with her head lolling, sinking into the headrest. The way her shoulders hunch and her torso twists compacts her, balls her up like a rollie pollie bug when Alex has only ever noted her poise, her stalwart, militaristic gait, her shoulders pulled back and chest puffed out like she’s ready to take a bullet at any moment. Her skin is pearlescent in the moonlight, still dappled with stars and thankfully unblemished. No discernible bruises marring her features.

She’s every poetic convention encased in a surprisingly fragile skeleton and has never looked less intimidating.

Alex reaches across Astra’s lap and unbuckles the seat-belt, psyches herself up despite her fatigue—Alex has done rep after rep of dead lifts, sometimes after four hours worth of cardio training (and that wasn’t even counting the first grueling six months of PT at the DEO). She can—most certainly—life Astra into the cabin. As smooth as she’d like to think she is, the shift of limbs and weights is awkward and trying. She’s able to scoop Astra’s legs off the seat with relative ease, work her hand between the woman’s back and the cushion of the seat, crook her elbow beneath Astra’s knees, but finagling an entire body out of the tiny space of the car door and then shutting the door, proves to be a little more than she can handle.

“I’m too tired for you to drop me,” Astra mumbles into her ear, and Alex grunts from the effort of throwing her booted foot behind her, the car door shutting with a muffled bonk.

“If I drop you, I might have to leave you on the ground,” Alex says, gritting her teeth against the effort. “Not really ‘cause I want to, but because I’ll probably fall on top of you and won’t be able to get up.”

She makes it up the dirtied walkway, but there’s no way she can overcome the stairs.

“I kept you out of the dirt, can you manage from here?” Alex asks.

“Hmm,” Astra says, as Alex gently releases her legs and lowers her to the first step.

Alex wonders how the wood grain feels against Astra’s feet, knows it must irritate, prickle, pinch and poke like minuscule needles in the skin that won’t have time to heal, at least not with her powers shot. Alex wishes she could snap her fingers for an acupuncturist.

She guides Astra up the steps and across the cabin threshold, turns, deadbolts the door, then grabs the duffel bag as she lets Astra lean on her, moving them down the hall to one of the bedrooms in back. Alex sets Astra down on the mattress and flicks on a lamp, rummages about in the duffel until she finds what she needs. “Sit tight a minute,” she says.

Alex escapes to the bathroom and reemerges with a wet washcloth in hand, then kneels at Astra’s feet, pulling the leg of the DEO sweats up so she can get a better look at the burn.

“Alexandra, this is not necess—”

“Don’t argue with me on this,” she gripes, swiping the cloth over the dirtied skin. “I’m too tired.” She rips into the package of a singular antiseptic wipe with her teeth and unfolds the medicated, disposable napkin. “This is going to sting.”

“Hmm,” Astra hums, but doesn’t even twitch when Alex wipes the germ-killing tissue against the arch of her foot. Alex follows the same ritual for the other foot, then quickly lathers more of the burn cream onto the bottoms of her feet.

“You’ll have to sleep with these on, so the cream doesn’t rub off,” Alex says, rolling thick, high-ankle socks over Astra’s feet.

Alex can already feel the air from the a/c unit blasting against her back, cold as the fortress of solitude, sharp like the blade of the scalpel Astra had held at her neck. Her skin tingles but she ignores it, pushes off the floor and nearly sways where she stands; she eventually rights herself, staggers across the room to the IKEA-assembled chest of drawers, and starts rifling through Vasquez’s things.

“What are you looking for?” Astra asks her.

“Gloves,” Alex mutters, moving on to the next drawer. “You can lay down now, if you want. I just want to do your hands, too.”

Astra yanks at the covers and Alex eventually finds a pair of mittens, knitted, with a silly reindeer pattern Alex denotes as ‘absurd’; she can give Vasquez hell for it later. Of course, she’ll be lucky to remember her name after these past few days, let alone Susan’s choice of winter gear.

Alex moves her makeshift first aid kit to the small bedside table and sinks down to sit on the edge of the bed. Astra’s moved under the blanket, the black DEO t-shirt gobbling up her frame, the lines on her face drawn deep, the downward tilt of her head signal of her exhaustion. Alex takes her hand and wipes quickly with the antiseptic, this time earning a hiss and a grimace from her otherwise unbothered patient. Alex applies the ointment and wraps a bandage overtop the wound, pulls the mitten down over Astra’s hand and points toward the other hand, which Astra reluctantly proffers.

“If you are to wrap them with medical gauze, the gloves seem unnecessary,” Astra mumbles, rotating her wrist for effect. “They’re itchy.”

“It’s to keep the excess cream from oozing out and getting on the sheets. We’re at one of the agent’s cabins, and I’d rather not have to do laundry before heading back to the city.”

Alex squirts a quarter-sized dollop of ointment into her hand, and starts to apply it to the raw, pinky scab of Astra’s palm. The oily feeling of the paste hits her with an unexpected sense memory and she chuckles, likely from delirium.

“I used to have to do this in college,” she mumbles, tracing her index finger between the dips and webbing of the fingers on Astra’s hand. Even with the sticky-slick of ointment sliding over their knuckles, they seem to be holding hands.

“Apply this… cream?” Astra manages, but her voice is slurred.

“Nah, petroleum jelly, though. I’m a biologist, so I touched a lot of gross stuff in school,” Alex supplies, thinking back to her numerous dissections, all the times she found herself elbow deep in substances that smelled so strongly it took days to wash away the scent. “I’d wash my hands so much after an experiment, because I was a little paranoid. And in the winter especially, like, when I lived in Russia? They’d get chapped, dry, my knuckles would crack and I’d have to find some way to keep them from bleeding.” Alex finishes wrapping Astra’s palm with the medical tape, and then slides the mitten over her fingers. “There you go.”

“I can’t touch anything,” Astra mimes a pinch with her digits and thumb. She looks like a disoriented lobster.

“You’ll be asleep,” Alex says, rising from the bedside. “I’ll set an alarm, but I can’t promise I won’t sleep through it.”

Astra’s already settled down on the pillow, tucking her mitten-covered hands underneath the blanket, drawing the fabric up to her chin. Alex drapes another blanket over her and switches the light off on the nightstand.

“Thank you, Alex.”

“I’m right across the hall if you need anything,” she whispers.

“Understood,” Astra mumbles back.

Alex retreats, doesn’t even bother turning the lights on as she shucks her shirt, boots, socks, pants, and collapses on the bed. She groans, because she can’t manage to get up to the kitchen, to set the alarm on the phone. She claws her way under the covers and she’s immediately asleep, somewhere between an REM cycle and complete oblivion.

Hours later she wakes and feels something tickling her stomach. It’s first light out; she can tell from the pewter and iris haze diffused through the white curtains, but Alex refuses to wake, knowing her body will thank her for dozing several more hours. But she does reach under the covers to find a mitten with a little blue and red reindeer pattern darned on it, attached to a hand, attached to an arm, which is slung around her waist, and holding her from behind. Alex doesn’t roll over because she’s too tired, but she does shift that damn mitten up a little higher.

It is quite itchy.

 


 

 

Alex wakes to even brighter sunlight, no reindeer mitten groping her belly. The room smells of cedar; rough-hewn grey walls with whorls and knots on the wooden panels are arranged vertically and striated, yet the textured blemishes suggest wilderness chicken pox. Through the slits in the white curtains, she sees rocky mountainside, a swath of evergreen, and closer, directly behind the cabin, a meadow with yellow and baby blue wildflowers. There’s a fire pit to the side. A grill. A picnic table situated between two trees, branches creaking in the breeze off the open meadow.

It’s still in the bedroom. Tranquil, perhaps. Some pastoral idyll manifested in her life when she’s been nothing but speedy, nothing but faster, quicker, harder, better. Alex turns her face into the pillow and inhales generic laundry detergent, self-soothes her helter-skelter neurons and commands herself to just relax.

She stretches her legs out, wiggles her toes, and rolls on her back—

Only to flinch, because Astra is perched above her, back to the headboard with her knees tucked up beneath the blankets and a book propped open like a makeshift tabletop. She’s writing something, concentrating, the scratch of her pen harmonious with birdsong, comforting in the utilitarian cabin bedroom. She’s disposed of the mittens, but the gauze is still wrapped over her palms, her tapered fingers straining against the tape.

Alex thinks the cosmic forces of the universe must really get a kick out of her suffering—because not only has she fully accepted her feelings, not only has Astra decided to plop herself beside her, in bed, in an old t-shirt, looking marvelously better than she had last night and tempting Alex with fantasies of lazy Sunday mornings and dreams of domesticity—but Alex has also worked herself into a bit of a bind: she is most definitely topless, pantsless, and full-body blushing because of it.

She knows Astra was holding her in sleep and touching places she can’t remember. She also knows Astra would never do anything untoward, especially after the night they had. Alex knows all these things, but she also doubts Astra has any intention of following through on any sort of solicitous touching, beyond that of general physicality, of soothing, of platonic comfort. Alex wants to yank the pillow over head and scream into it.

Instead, she groans her displeasure and shuts her eyes again.

“Afternoon, Agent Danvers,” Astra mutters, tapping her pen thoughtfully against the notepad she’s found.

“Is it really?” Alex asks, tugging the blanket up to cover her chest as she works herself into a seated position. “What are you doing?”

“Writing a letter,” Astra answers, twisting the paper with a printed border of leaves and branches so that Alex can’t see the text. “I found this notepad in the kitchen when I went to retrieve water. Are you thirsty?”

“No, I’m fine,” she answers, checking Astra’s arms once again for bruising. She’d given Astra a detailed once over in the back of the van last night, but those hours after Cadmus weren’t really calculable time to Alex. Instead it was limbo, and however long she stayed there she wondered if Astra’s ribs were cracked, if her skull had a fissure splitting it wide, if her organs had been sloshed and rearranged all at the whimsy of some mad scientist.

“What’s wrong?” Astra asks her, tilting her head, lowering her leg as she turns to place her writing on the bedside table. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re not hurting?” Alex asks her, scanning the half of Astra that’s poked out from the covers. “You…”

“I swear on the House of Ze, I am in no pain,” Astra says.

Alex thinks Astra must have some sort of changeling blood mixed in with the Kryptonian, because her irises gleam bright silver against the grey-wash of the cedar walls; they sparkle, hard and durable as steel in the morning light. She's so tough, so imperishable… and even though she’s sworn on her house, Alex wonders if she would confess to any discomfort, no matter how severe.

“What are you… was your room too cold?”

“No, it was serviceable,” Astra answers, perplexed.

“But you’re…” Alex leads, nodding a bit as she tugs the sheets tighter to her chest.

“I’m…” Astra parrots, forefronting her alien cluelessness once again.

“You’re in here,” Alex says.

“Yes?” Astra answers, but the confusion is still painfully present.

“I would’ve stayed with you if…” Alex trails off, uncertain. “I didn’t know—”

“Oh, oh,” Astra’s attention falls to the bedspread, small wood ducks taking flight from rippling pools of brackish water. Something Vasquez probably ordered without really scrutinizing the pattern from an outdated Cabella’s catalog. The sheets are dull khaki and the bedspread and pillowcases an explosion of woodsy browns and verdigris, but Astra’s cheeks are pink as cotton candy and finally coloring after her pallor from the previous evening—Alex has hated pink her entire life until this instant.

“I didn’t mean to suggest—”

“I didn’t t-t-think you did,” Alex stutters. Hoped, on the other hand…

“My body wasn’t physically compromised,” Astra continues, shutting her eyes briefly. “But… my mind—”

“No, it’s fine,” Alex shushes her, nudges her playfully with her shoulder to try to lighten the mood, and no, that’s not lighter—

Instead of brushing it off, Astra stares at Alex's bare shoulder, her eyes flickering upwards to where the sharp tips of Alex’s hair slice against the air at her chin. Alex is sitting so close she can see the muscles in Astra’s throat tighten as she swallows, as the tip of her tongue flicks out over her chapped lips.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Astra murmurs, those low reassurances kindling heat in Alex’s gut.

“I’m not uncomfortable. I’m… fine,” Alex answers, even though waking up to Astra is so far beyond fine she doesn’t think sonnets could do the feeling justice.

“You’re certain?” Astra pushes.

“Yeah. We… I’m glad to have you back. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

“Of course,” Astra straightens, her posture as level as the headboard, her chin kicked up a few degrees. “We are… good, as you say?”

“Exactly,” Alex mutters, wondering what it would take to have Astra look at her that way again. “We’re good, so… uhm, that letter,” Alex stalls, the moment charged so powerfully she could’ve given Livewire an ass-kicking, “That for anybody I know?”

“It’s not for anyone, not really,” Astra says, reaching back for her scribbled notepad pages. “It helps me to sort my thoughts. You asked what time it was earlier,” Astra says, and Alex wonders if she’s playing the subject-change game as well, if Astra can feel the strain between them as palpably as Alex. “I believe it’s 1330,” she continues, “but that’s an approximate reading of your sun. And Kara messaged you back.”

“What’d she say?”

“She’s dispatched the electric woman and dealt with someone called Siobhan. She then told me she rescued a cat she has a strange fondness for, and threw a red man through a hole in the universe,” Astra furrows her brow and marks through a line on her writing. “I confess, your code with Supergirl is far more complex than any code you put in place with me.”

“The worst part is, none of that’s code,” Alex answers, rotating so she can face Astra a bit more squarely. She looks… so much more solid in the daylight. “You said your body was okay, but…” Alex takes liberties where she shouldn’t, touches briefly at the top of Astra’s hair where her curls congregate. “How are you feeling up here?”

“Let me see…” Astra shuffles papers about, and then extracts another sheet of the same notepad paper, filled with scribbles. “Achy, acrimonious, affronted, angry, betrayed, better, blistered, coddled, compromised, concerned, confused—”

“You made a list?” Alex asks, taking the paper from her.

“I told you… it helps me organize my thoughts.” Astra shuffles her papers around, and Alex can see so many pages written, doodles in corners and big Xs over sections Astra’s apparently rejected, even for her own understanding. No wonder she began the letter-writing campaign, persisted in corresponding via long-handed notes instead of digital communications.

Astra likes writing.

“Yeah, I can see that… but, you alphabetized it?”

Astra shrugs.

“You’re such a nerd!”

“What else was I to do while you were sleeping?” Astra objects.

“Rest,” Alex replies, as if it were obvious, distracted by a triangular red welt on Astra’s bicep. “You’re not sore?” Alex almost reaches out, almost puts her fingers on Astra’s skin, almost presses her lips against Astra’s and tells her she loves her.

Alex almost does, but instead, doesn’t. She flicks through the pages, notes on Myriad, a sketch of the interior of Cadmus Block H, bulleted chemical names misspelled, as if Astra can’t quite remember the exact pronunciation. Alex hopes this isn’t an exhaustive list of drugs injected into Astra’s system while under Dr. Cromwell’s watch.

“My body is… it feels strange, without my powers. Familiar aches, but nothing debilitating,” Astra answers, taking no notice of Alex’s distress. Astra stretches her arms and rotates them, as if to show Alex her full range of motion. “The burns are not comfortable but… manageable. I’ve dealt with much worse. It’s funny, but, I feel more like myself than I have since I arrived on your planet.”

“You mean it’s normal for you to be in pain?” Alex scoffs, her face falling when Astra shrugs again, and offers no rebuttal. “Well, it doesn’t mean you should have to deal with this now,” Alex grumbles, unable to restrain herself with Astra so close. Alex reaches across the nonexistent space between them and grabs Astra’s right hand, unwraps the gauze, and inspects the circular red burn in the middle, now paled to a bubbled, blistered egg shell.

“Healing,” Astra says, skating her fingers over Alex’s attentive touch, running the tip of her index along Alex’s wrist, as if she’s the one who needs comforting. “Do not worry so, Alexandra.”

“With you… I can’t seem to help it,” Alex answers, the closest she’ll get to any sort of admission this bright morning.

She tugs her hand away and clears her throat, embarrassed, marveling at the sheer volume of notes Astra’s made when Alex’s growling appetite joins the conversation. It’s loud, and gurgley, and a really good momentary icebreaker, or so Alex likes to believe. Her body, coming in and saving the day even as her runaway feelings start to get the better of her.

Astra laughs and Alex flops back so that she’s lying down again, curling on her side to clutch at her empty stomach. Astra’s notes flutter about on the bedspread, and Alex swims in Astra’s words.

“Well, I would ask how you feel, Agent Danvers,” Astra smiles sweetly, “but it seems your stomach has spoken for itself.”

“Ugh, I’m famished. I could probably give Kara a run for her money over the potstickers she loves so much,” Alex says, turning so that she faces Astra’s obliques, still covered in the t-shirt from the DEO. Even with Astra clothed, Alex can’t shake the cozy feeling of intimacy, with her head pillowed near the side of Astra’s (thankfully) healing body. She tamps it down, buries it, focuses instead on refueling their depleted energies: “There’s a town on the southern side of the lake. I can run in and grab a couple of groceries. Aren’t you hungry?”

“I am content,” Astra turns to the bedside table and relieves herself of her writing, grabbing an opened container of peanut butter with a spoon handle sticking out of it. “I’ve found this substance in the kitchen cabinet…peanut butter. There were three containers, so I helped myself.”

“You ate three jars of peanut butter?” Alex gapes.

“Why, did you want some?” Astra asks, thrusting the jar toward her. “It is delicious, and, according to the label, ‘packed with protein’. We will need it for our upcoming mission, Alexandra.”

Alex almost proposes to Astra, spoon in hand, crunchy peanut butter stuck in her alien gums. Alex almost does, but… no, she doesn’t. Not over a container of Jif.

“You didn’t even try for a PB&J, did you?” Alex smirks.

Astra rolls her eyes, and shovels her spoon into the creamy peanut paste. “You’re going to remember, eventually, that I am a foreigner and do not know about your idioms, or your traditions, or your culinary preferences—”

“I’m not that great a cook, but PB&J? I could blow your mind, General,” Alex smirks as Astra shoves a spoonful of the goo into her mouth. Alex feels so much better, rested, happy to have a mission for the afternoon, even if it’s just grabbing peanut butter and jelly supplies from the grocery store. “Anything else you have a preference for? After everything, I… I don’t even know what you eat.”

“In the forces, you learn to eat what you can get. I am not overly selective,” Astra responds, trying to speak around the congealed mush in her mouth. She works her lips forward and her tongue behind her incisor, digging at the remaining bits stuck to the back of her teeth. She looks like one of those poor animals whose owners put peanut butter on the roofs of their mouths.

“My choice, then,” Alex nods, making a mental list in her head. She’s got a couple of hundred in cash in that duffel, plenty to cover an evening’s worth of dinner and an early breakfast. Even if leaving Astra alone isn't the best option, they need to eat well; who knows what their next meal will be like after they head back to the DEO? “I shouldn’t be very long. Just keep my phone close by in case Hank or Kara calls. And you can take a shower if you want to while I’m out. I mean… if you don’t need help?”

“I can manage,” Astra answers. “Despite the… the time in Cadmus, I don’t feel as poorly as expected. Just powerless.”

“Seems to be the Kryptonian consensus after a powers surge,” Alex surmises, thinking back to Kara’s last blow out. “Bathroom in the hall then, Astra.”

“Thank you,” Astra says, sucking on another spoonful of peanut butter, resituating herself to return to her writing.

Alex throws the covers off and briskly exits the bedroom, sights set on her spare clothes and the rest of her gear she left in the main living area in the front of the cabin. Alex leaves the bedroom feeling elated, perched on cloud-nine and smug as Max Lord, because she knows she heard the metallic clank of a spoon hitting the hardwood floor, followed by a Kryptonese swear.

Perhaps she should go topless in the wilderness more often.

Chapter Text

It’s really weird going shopping for groceries with a pistol tucked near her armpit in a shoulder holster. She’s normally got her DEO standard issue Beretta on her hip at all times, but she hasn’t been grocery shopping in… well, her schedule isn’t really conducive to any culinary extravagancies outside of the DEO canteen or what can be afforded via neighborhood take-out. So she dons the leather straps and pulls the jacket on despite the spring warmth, then double checks with Astra before she leaves:

(“Okay, here’s the phone,” she tosses it to Astra, still cocooned in the ridiculous, mallard-patterned bedspread. She plunks a black cap with a logo for the NC Dodgers emblazoned across the front on her head. She pulls her tiny ponytail through the adjustable slot in the back and stifles a grin, Astra watching her every move. “Shouldn’t be any longer than forty-five minutes, an hour tops.”

“Very well.”

“You’re sure I can’t get you any pain killers?” Alex tries. “I’ve got a fake prescription pad and terrible handwriting I can use at the pharmacy.”

“You’re handwriting is not so terrible; as to the… prescription, I don’t know what you mean. Is it anything like conscription?” Astra says, but she’s not mad, not stymied by Alex’s offer. She just rests her head against the headboard, looks at Alex from underneath the lashes of bedroom eyes that make Alex want to scrap the shopping trip altogether, so long as Astra invites her back under the covers.

“I’m asking if you need medicine,” Alex explains. “Any kind.”

“No. But thank you for asking. You’ve been so attentive, and…” Astra trails off and runs a hand through her curls, brings her fingers over her chin as if she can catch the words trying to break free. “You will spoil me, Alexandra. Mine is a militant life. These little comforts are... foreign to me.”

Alex laughs. “Well, you deserve it.”

“And you?”

“What about me?”

“The fact that you deserve as much, and so much more,” Astra answers, picking nonexistent lint off the bedding.

“I… deserve some food in my stomach,” Alex deflects. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Counting the minutes, Alexandra,” Astra murmurs, tapping the bottom of her pencil against the notepad.)

It’s overwhelming, because all of a sudden Alex wants to try. Alex wants to braise or pan sear or bake or flambé or whatever the hell it is you do to salmon to make it taste good. She wants to concoct a honey glaze, sprinkle rosemary over the entrée and add thinly sliced zucchini bites topped with shredded Parmesan to the plate. She wants to put candles out and use a tablecloth even though she can’t remember which side the forks go on; she wants to pair the dinner with a white wine like that barefoot lady with the boatload of gay neighbors on the beach who Thompson in IT obsesses over so much.

But Alex is no Food Network whiz, no foodie in general—if it keeps her standing upright she’ll ingest whatever is placed before her, never mind cozy candlelight and proper place settings. So she forgoes salmon and instead grabs chunky peanut butter and strawberry jelly from a squeezie bottle. Hot dog buns and ball-park franks, baked beans in a can, marshmallows, Reese’s cups, graham crackers, a sack of apples, chips, pancake mix, syrup, eggs, bacon, lettuce, tomato, a loaf of bread… Nutella, because she’s no heathen. She rolls the cart down every aisle and selects willy-nilly, no preference of her own other than does it cook fast?.

It’s nearing half past two and Alex is starved enough to crunch into an apple even as she mosies down the aisle with various wines and wine-blends and non-alcoholic beverages in the Big Bear grocery. Alex doesn’t plan to guzzle as much alcohol as is her habit to get through most family functions, but even a cheap Merlot or Riesling can work its way through her bloodstream and liberate some of that tension she’s been feeling for close to a week. And Astra, ever alert, ever poised and tense and rigid as a regiment, could do with a wind-down.

Alex grabs a red boxed-wine with the plastic nozzle instead of a glass bottle she’ll need to uncork. It’s not like Alex harbors any misconceptions about her obvious lack of refinement.

Fifteen minutes later, she returns to the cabin in the high heat of the afternoon, arms loaded down with groceries. She notices the air conditioner has been turned off and the house seems still, the scent of synthetic pomegranate and bar soap hanging in the humid air.

“Astra?” she calls, unloading bags of food, plunking a half-gallon of milk on the shelf of the fridge.

“Hey, General!” Alex shouts again, ripping into a bag of sour cream and cheddar chips, grabbing a handful, shoving them into her mouth.

As she unpacks she rearranges things on the counter to her liking, discarding the grocery bags in the trash. She feels that guilt, a minor sting like a paper cut, when she chunks things she could be recycling or repurposing. And all because of Astra.

Astra. Astra. Astra.

Her name even sounds mythic.

Alex tosses the grocery bags away but double-takes at the otherwise empty garbage can. Crumpled at the bottom are the leaf-printed borders of pages from the notepad Astra had been scribbling in that very morning.

If she had, in fact, been writing for the sake of writing, for the sake of expulsion, to banish those emotions to anywhere other than within her brilliant brain, Alex understood. The list of feelings Astra harbored and mulled over in the night grew to fill the front and back of one page, continued around the letter S to the second page: saddened, scared, sore, sorry… and on until she’d nearly completed the English alphabet. There were bulleted notes on Myriad, much of the plan they’d already run through--the system activation, the lure for the Fort Rozz escapees at the cells. Then there were lists of places, notes about CatCo, which Alex supposed had something to do with Kara.

And buried beneath all the notes, at the bottom of the trashcan, Alex finds the letter.

The letter that's not for anyone... not really.

 


 

 

Dearest Alexandra,

I don’t know how you do it. But whenever I feel that I’ve lost all faith, that the days will only remain interminable periods of depression, you always prove otherwise. You’re the one hope I have, surrounded by all this vacant darkness. Kara may be the sunshine, drawn high and resilient in the afternoon sky; but Alexandra, you’re my light and love dawning. You understand the night, navigate it with such deftness and skill, but you never fall victim to it. You recognize the deep darkness and you break it, shatter it as easily as you’ve shattered me; you maneuver through the shadows, against them, occasionally with them when it suits you. And yet you bridge that gap between day and night, between black and white—and the grey is enthralling, more than steel and thunderstorms and those in-betweens that your human species has difficulty negotiating. You and Kara have been my dual saviors in so many regards, but Alexandra… lying next to you gives me comfort I’ve not felt in decades.

I've never loved I've never held anything as precious as you.

Feeling you breathe against me…

  • your skin as soft as fog
  • your voice, so reassuring
  • your brashness and boldness and bravery
  • your confounding persistence.

I would fight for you, alongside you, I would offer my House’s name to you—all of my losses compounded over time amount to so little, but I’d relinquish the rest of what I have, meager and unworthy as it is, to you and only you—if you ever asked that of me.

Alexandra, I see you. I understand you. A soldier's life is never easy, and I want you to know that you aren’t alone in trying to do the right thing, in getting caught in the middle of those extremes. Risking your very well-being just to come and get me, when you might have been able to take Fort Rozz without me? I can never repay you that kindness. I can only praise your bravery, foolhardy and righteous as it is. You embody so many honorable qualities the likes of which completely dazzle me, perplex me, leave me breathless and confused in ways I’ve never before experienced.

And yet you are so human, Alexandra.

I love that about you.

Lovely, brave Alexandra... I love that you can... to me you are

You’ve done more for Kara than I could ever ask for. Shaped her, trained her, cared for her… and you’ve done more for me than I ever expected. Trusted me when you had no reason and thus, granted me the chance to change. The opportunity to repent. If it were not for you, I would still be so bitter, so angry, so rotten. I don’t think I can ever be wholly light, not after multiple years in Fort Rozz, not after Alura, Krypton’s demise, the hallucinations during stasis and the scars not after realizing I have killed, and killed with little remorse.

I regret all of-most only some of it, even now. Every life I stole, every breath I cut short—soldiers recognize early on that there will be casualties in war. And yet I wonder if every choice I made falls to the mercy of kismet. If I hadn’t taken lives, would the circumstances have led me back to Kara?

Would they have connected me to you?

darling, dearest, Brave One, foolish, gorgeous, captivating, headstrong

Alexandra, I love to write your name, love to say every syllable. Alex, Alexandra. I know you’re not partial to it yourself, but the elevations and depressions of the syllables, the keen x, the friction over my lips with the final –dra… I confess I speak it for entirely selfish reasons. Your name reminds me of Kryptonese. Something so dear to me that, by virtue not just of your connection to Kara but your very identifier:

Alexandra.

I feel closer to home when I speak your name.

I think about everything you’ve done… for my blood, for me, for yourself. You’ve built a life out of commitment to the greater good, obligation to your father’s house. And yet you’ve succeeded by your own merit-

  • by your talents
  • skills
  • intellect
  • determination

Alexandra, Alex, Agent Danvers… I respect and admire you more than I can write. You are glass to me, fragile and strong and beautiful and sharp, so cutting, deadly if need be—elegant without intention. You are filled with goodness, a fierce honesty and justice immeasurable for me.

Sometimes I watch you move and wonder how a human can move that way. Without powers. Without exception. And then I stop myself, because I know, I truly know, you are exceptional, my dearest, my most cherished Alexandra. You are  pre- gorgeous exquisite stunning so beautiful. I could speak to each and every one of your features, your ankles, hands, ears, shoulders, the tips of your hair and your thick eyelashes, but I would lose myself. If I could lose myself in your embrace, Alexandra

If I wasn’t indebted to you before, for saving Kara’s life, I am at your mercy once more, for rescuing me from Cadmus, from my grief, from my self-doubt. You are the best of what humanity has to offer, and I am humbled by your attention, grateful for your action, and utterly undeserving of your love.

But I cannot stop myself, this hope, and... It hurts to love you like this. Alexandra, darling, I love you so much, words can't... I...

All my love and ever yours,

Astra In-Ze, First Daughter of the House of In-Ze, Arclominian of the First Order and Lord Markswoman of the Elite Brigadiers, Soldiers of the Bastion Range

 


 

 

Alex shoves her knuckles so hard against her mouth she wonders if she’ll suffocate herself attempting to keep her hitching breaths in check. Somewhere around Alexandra, you’re my dawning, the floodgates opened, her tears peppering the page and smudging the ink. Because Astra feels this. She’s written these moving sentences and then discarded them but she feels it, must feel it as strongly as Alex does because there are phrases struck through and words amended and alterations made so that the letter reads more fluidly—as if she might present Alex with the edited version at any moment.

Alex wipes her whole hand over her face, sniffles and clears her throat, carefully folds the note and shoves it in her back pocket.

She continues unloading the groceries, fighting tears, grounding herself in the rote motions of opening cabinets, shutting drawers, assigning items to their respective spaces in the refrigerator. By the time she finishes she's breathing regularly again. The tears have stopped running, but her eyes are probably still red. She’s almost grateful Astra hasn’t come through the living area to witness her reaction. Hopefully, the general is asleep once more, resting now when she spent her entire morning writing a love letter.

“A—Astra?” Alex calls again, quieter this time. The sun shines down relentlessly through the large windows of the A-frame, heating the cabin interior to uncomfortable degrees.

“Astra, can… can we talk?” she tries again, moving out from behind the counter.

She carries the bag of chips with her as she checks each room, her munching growing less vigorous, her worry heightening the longer Astra doesn’t answer her. She even goes upstairs to scout the loft, but there’s no sign of Astra on the premises, only the heavy, just-showered scent wafting from the bathroom, the carefully hung towels waterlogged after use.

She can’t have been gone long.

Alex spews a face full of chips against the sliding window leading to the deck when she sees Astra’s body lying motionless in the backyard.

She drops the chips, palms her gun, and sprints across the deck and down the steps, over the open terrain toward the woman curled on her side.

Broad daylight off an open meadow, no cover for twenty feet, limp body in front of her to carry with just her pistol and a twelve round clip, open sight lines with multiple shooters—

“Astra!” she stage whispers, dropping to her knees and laying one hand on the woman who is—

Lounging.

On a blanket.

In the sun.

Alex heaves a deep breath and tries to get a grip on her nerves. Last night and this morning (afternoon?) were such emotional extremes, running the gamut from severe depression to elated delirium. Couple that with the emotional wallop that Astra’s letter packed, and it’s no wonder she nearly took out her frustrations on Bambi and Thumper.

That’s paranoia for you, Danvers.

“What is it?” Astra shoots up, her neck rotating as she periscopes her head about the surroundings, shifts her legs beneath her so she’s propped up on her knees like Alex, ready to spring into action. “Have we been discovered?”

Alex feels more than a little silly, now.

“No, you’re… you—are you okay?” Alex asks, running her hand over Astra’s arm, stroking over her shoulder, up to her neck, until she feels that Kryptonian pulse thundering so stubbornly against her fingertips. She holds her gun over Astra’s shoulder, aiming at the trunk of a tree should a daring squirrel get any wild ideas.

“I’m fine,” Astra answers, brows mushed to incomprehension. “What’s…”

“I saw you on the ground,” Alex explains. “I got worried.”

“On a blanket?” Astra asks, but she doesn’t pull away as Alex’s fingers move to clutch at the back of her neck. Astra smells like fruity body wash and pine, her hair damp and frizzing from the sunlight. That singular strip of white glints and flickers, and Alex imagine military medals pinned to Astra’s chest wouldn’t shimmer quite so beautifully.

“After the past few days… can you blame me for overreacting?” Alex asks her, stroking her thumb along the back of Astra’s neck, inching closer, two pairs of uncertain eyes most certainly dipping down to two pairs of wanting lips.

“The sun…” Astra offers, the sibilant s on her mouth drawing Alex forward, beckoning her like some outstretched arm reaching for rescue. “I feel better when I’m with—in the sun,” Astra explains, blinking suddenly, turning her head to shrug Alex’s hand away.

“Of course,” Alex answers, disengaging, dropping her hand, leaning back on her thighs. Astra is resting, she’s healing, and Alex is… is…

Logically, tactically, Alex knows they must leave midmorning tomorrow and return to the DEO, knows that their time is ticking by faster than the pace of that red man Kara threw through space. She knows that Astra won’t share her troubles even if Alex asks; knows, as surely as she knows seventh grade biology, mitochondrial powerhouses and rough reticulums, that Kryptonians recharge like Duracells in the sunlight. She knows Astra cares for her, loves her even, and Alex also knows pain, disappointment, uncertainty, and hurt—but not at Astra’s level. She knows Astra’s holding back for one or all of those reasons, for reasons Alex hasn’t even considered. But she also knows there’s only so much more skirting around she can do in the next twenty hours before one or both of them snaps like broken twigs used to kindle the hottest of bonfires.

Plus Alex can’t shake that nagging, ever-present doubt of valuation, of a letter at the bottom of the trashcan, of maybe we should limit—, of a fake pregnancy (one with enough substantiation that it could be used for guile). All those tiny doubts flock together and beat down on her as brutally as the UV rays on Astra’s shoulders.

Alex leans back to get a better look. Astra’s Kryptonian skin, usually infallible to blade or burn, now pinks in direct shine of the sunbeams.

“But you’ll want sunscreen, without your powers,” Alex indicates Astra’s arms. “Maybe I can find some in the medicine cabinet.”

“I can get it,” Astra offers, settling back so her ankles are tucked beneath her. “I’d not want to put you through any more trouble.”

“You’re never trouble,” Alex reassures her, even as Astra cocks a knowing brow her way. “At least... not the trouble I mind getting involved with.”

Astra might be powerless, but her calculating stare and straightened posture looks every inch a Kryptonian general. Alex would give anything for powers of her own, for some psychic ability to confirm that she’s not reading the signals wrong, that she hasn’t lost whatever game she once had… because Astra looks at her like she wants her and wants to get the hell away from her, all with the same expression. That move, the lengthening spine and square set of the shoulders—that’s a distancing tactic.

But Alex can’t figure out why the hell Astra would need to use it. Through the course of this correspondence, Alex has prided herself on knowing how the general would strategize, what Astra would do with her troops, what she would want from Kara, how she would command an infiltration. But Alex could spend another two years in body language classes and she’d still not be able to get an exact read on Astra’s feelings concerning her, not when Astra’s acting like this.

Guarded. Powerless. Semi-relaxed… Scared?

Astra had written on the note (the note Alex was never supposed to see) under the Ss on the second page that she felt scared. Does Alex scare her? Cadmus? Myriad or the DEO or Kara’s chosen lifestyle? There’s too many possibilities, so many triggers for that symptom that Alex decides to wait, again, even with that love letter stowed safely away in her back pocket.

“We should get you some food, Alexandra,” Astra declares, pressing off of her thighs with her palms and rocking to her feet.

Astra has the legs of the DEO sweatpants rolled up over her knees, the tank top strap drooping over her shoulder. Alex wants to pull the strap all the way down her arm and kiss where clavicle melds with shoulder; she wants to always keep her hands on Astra, to know she’s safe, as present and smooth as the mountain rocks worn by waterfalls. Holding hands is a tangible reassurance, but then—Alex doesn’t want to touch her at all. She doesn’t want to be that person, demanding more before Astra can give it freely; the recovering woman has had thousands of pressurized cubic liters of Kryptonite fluid leaching her powers out of her body like liquid wrung from tattered fabric. Even the lightest of touches might feel like a Prius set on human shoulders.

Alex can wait.

Alex has to wait.

No matter how little time they have.

“No, don’t get up,” Alex argues, nodding back toward the blanket. “I can whip up some sandwiches and bring them out to you. You should rest.”

“I’ll help you,” Astra says. “You’ve already retrieved the food from your shops, and I’d rather not be alone.”

Astra grabs the blanket from the ground and shakes it out, folds it carefully and (nervously?) slips her hand into Alex’s, as easily as a combat knife sliding into its sheath.

“Okay?” Astra asks, turning, heliotropic and eager toward Alex’s uncharacteristic brightness.

“Okay,” Alex answers, unable to contain her joy.

Chapter Text

“Tell me the name of this food again?” Astra crunches into her second sandwich of the afternoon. “It is possibly the best thing I’ve tasted on this planet.”

“That would be the bacon,” Alex says, mentally patting herself on the back for getting two pounds worth of premium, center-cut strips from the deli counter. “It’s a BLT: bacon, lettuce, tomato. And I don’t know about the best. I think you were hungrier than you let on.”

“Nevertheless, it’s excellent.” Astra nods, wiping at the edge of her lip with her napkin.

“It’s very simple, which means I can’t screw it up.” Alex slathers classic yellow mustard on the toasted bread and grins to herself.

Astra sits at a high, swiveling stool on the opposite side of the counter while Alex hovers over a cutting board, minding the skillet with sizzling strips of bacon popping in heart-clogging grease. The large windows from the lofted A-frame brighten the cabin’s interior; the living area sports rich red and brown tones with comfortably worn leather sofas and a plushy area rug, afghans tossed haphazardly over easy chairs, and a coffee table with board games stacked beneath it. Random prints of mountain landscapes hang at various intervals on the walls. The kitchen is cramped: gas stove, no dish washer, but the island bar allows grazers to sit on stools as the cook works his or her magic, storage space galore with cedar cabinets and drawers, matching the woodsy theme from the bedrooms.

The perfect little cabin retreat, somehow available right when Alex needs it.

“You’re normally supposed to put mayo on it, but that stuff creeps me out,” Alex tells Astra, removing three dripping slices of bacon with tongs. She transfers the cooked strips onto a plate of bacon that the pair of them has thus far demolished, only the crumbly, charred remnants of scraps left. Alex grabs another tomato from the fridge, then pats at the greasy bacon with a paper towel.

“Creeps… crawls?” Astra asks, taking a bite of apple and then chewing with her mouth closed, the napkin now draped over her left knee. Seems like Kara didn’t get her aunt’s table manners.

“Gives me the heebie-jeebies?” Alex says, pointing playfully toward Astra with the tongs.

Astra huffs and turns her attention back to Alex’s sandwich construction.

“Mayonnaise is a condiment,” Alex explains, dropping another two pieces of bread into the toaster and depressing the lever. “But it’s just oil and fat. Tastes kinda like feet to me.”

“And why do you know what feet taste like, Agent Danvers?”

Alex turns the eye under the skillet off and wraps the uncooked bacon in tin foil. She puts it in the fridge then turns toward the counter, whipping her serrated knife into place to slice a thick piece of tomato. Four months ago, she never would have guessed she’d be on the run, in a cabin kitchen, buttering bread and washing hands and passing lunch to General Astra.

“I meant figuratively, but I have gotten a mouth full of gym sock on occasion. Vasquez got a little testy after I kicked her ass in the training room.”

Alex begins putting the next round of sandwiches together and bites into an apple slice. Earlier, she showed Astra how to dip the cut apple pieces into the peanut butter. Though initially skeptical, Astra had soon taken the entire jar from her hand, and dug slice after slice into the paste.

“My dad loved these,” Alex says, holding up half a BLT cut diagonally. She motions for Astra’s plate and deposits the first sandwich on top of it, then passes it back over the counter. “BLT, grilled cheese, and really good steak. Oh, and pasta. My dad could cook the hell out of some pasta.”

“Your father was the reason you began your career,” Astra says, wiping expertly at the mustard on her mouth. Alex wonders how many State dinners Astra attended on Krypton. With candle light, silver cutlery, string quartets (or the Kryptonian equivalent), and any number of advisors at the Citadel, asking for the General’s hand to dance.

Alex shakes her jealous daydream away, back to Astra’s remark: “And Kara, of course.”

“You loved him very much,” Astra says.

“I did,” Alex answers, and it doesn’t hurt to speak of Jeremiah, doesn’t throb or ache or crack her open, as it has done in the past. “He taught me… everything. Everything that mattered, anyway.”

“You grew to be… you’re a very good soldier, Alexandra,” Astra says, staring at her plate.

Alex feels the burn in her stomach again, not hunger pains this time. In fact, her whole body is simmering, not from standing near the stove, not from her momentary excursion outside to retrieve Astra from her snooze on the blanket. The bread in the toaster pops for the next sandwich and startles her out of her musings, but that’s twice this afternoon she’s gotten too distracted, too caught up over not saying something. She reaches for the two slices and the mustard, peeking at Astra from behind her shuttered eyelids.

“I—uh, thanks,” Alex says, feeling the words of the letter burn in her back pocket like brands on skin. But if Astra can’t even look her in the eye, Alex doesn’t want to bring the contents up over bacon.

Or does she?

Alex wrestles with herself and slathers more mustard on the bread, then drapes the tomato over the yellow splotch. “Did you… did you get along with your parents?” Alex asks, attempting a subject change.

“'Get along’ is an interesting phrase. I made my family quite proud until I… didn’t. Make them proud, that is,” Astra shrugs. “On Krypton, personal honor and the honor of your House was paramount. It was uncommon, a woman entering the service. But I was—”

“Stubborn?” Alex supplies, scooping some peanut butter onto her plate.

“Willful and ambitious,” Astra amends, an elegant pointer finger extended for correction. “Good qualities in a leader, mind you.”

“Never said they weren’t.”

“I was close with my mother,” Astra answers, placing her elbow on the counter top, propping her head in her hand. “I respected her a great deal because she was… willful, in her own way. Ingenious, clever. We were not high-born, not like Kara. Ours—mine and Alura’s—ours was an uncommon story of social mobility. The beginning of which was launched by my mother. She was a seamstress, and she worked very hard to make us look like we belonged.”

“From the little I know—” Alex tiptoes around the subject, unsure of the right thing to say. She snaps a large leaf off the head of iceberg lettuce. “—you two became leaders in your respective fields. Your mother must have been very proud.”

“She would’ve been,” Astra says. “She died before I made General. Before Alura was promoted to High Council. The career trajectories were there, but… she did get to meet Kara, though,” Astra says, smiles even as her eyes glaze and she shifts, plops both arms crisscross on the table and shakes her head. “I thank Rao she never knew how desperate I became, what Alura did to me—”

“It’s okay, you… you don’t have to get into this if you don’t want to,” Alex says, bagging up left over vegetables.

“No, I’m—I’m being overly sentimental,” Astra waves a hand before her face. “It’s been decades. She was just… so proud of Kara, even as this… little… wiggling… thing. She’d hold her right under her chin, right here,” Astra pats the mushy spot beneath her neck. “To better breathe the baby smell, she once said. She crafted the most beautiful tapestry, the crest of El right in the center. She hung it in Kara’s nursery, near the window.”

The corners of Astra’s lips tick up as she recounts the story, and Alex marvels at how different Astra seems, so at ease, so forthcoming, sitting at a kitchen counter top with sun shining through the window at her back, softer than Alex has ever seen her.

“At night, even when the sun set, the two lavender moons would reflect off the gem stones sewn in the tapestry, and the shadows cast against the opposite wall displayed a map of our galaxy,” Astra explains, extending a stretched hand over the wall to the side of the counter. “She would rock Kara in her arms and name the stars, one by one, teaching her so young…”

“She sounds like a genius.”

“Rahv,” Astra says wistfully. “Rahv In-ze was my mother.”

“That’s a nice name,” Alex says, offering as comforting a smile as she can muster, even as she hears the slide of Astra’s voice to more somber tones. She watches the openness of Astra’s smile retract, the veil slide down, like a mourner trying to conceal her tears.

“I haven’t honored her.” Astra shakes her head.

“Don’t start,” Alex objects. “Don’t you dare ask me to list your accomplishments because we could be here indefinitely, Arclominian of the First Order, etc. etc.”

“I don’t need you to inflate my ego.”

“As far as humans, no. We kinda need to work on your superiority complex,” Alex checks her. “But when you speak of Krypton… you discredit yourself too often.”

“Yes, well, one does so when the mission fails, and fails terribly,” Astra scoffs, taking a corner bite off her sandwich. “Besides, you are one to talk, Agent Danvers—that is, a black pan that’s also… with a black coffee pot.”

Alex snorts as she reaches for her glass of water. “What the hell, Astra?”

“You admonish me for doing something that you are equally guilty of,” Astra answers. “The idiom suggests your cookware speaks indecorously of one another.”

“The pot calling the kettle black?”

“Exactly,” Astra says, slapping her hand on the counter for emphasis. “I… like being able to do that without shattering the surface.” She drags her fingers over the linoleum, Alex’s eyes glued to the lazy patterns Astra traces with her pinkie.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Alex asks, shutting the fridge one last time and then leaning back against it, her hands twitching nervously at the small of her back.

“Certainly.”

“Did you want a kid?”

Astra’s head shoots up from her hands.

“I mean, you could do that now, if you wanted, even if you’re not pregnant,” Alex blunders on. “Once all this gets finished. Kara said that it might not have been an option on Krypton, but… that doesn’t have to be the case here.”

Astra takes another bite of her sandwich, chews slowly. She takes her time, drinking from the plastic cup with the coyote printed on it.

“You must understand, Alexandra, it was one of the last diversions I had at my disposal. With our infiltration mere weeks away, and my consistent disappearances—helping you and Kara with the planning—I had to think of something to tell Non,” Astra shoves her plate to the side, frowning. “He would not… my advisors would not tolerate my absence for anything less.”

Alex nods, but the explanation (or lack thereof), rankles: “That didn’t answer my question, though,” she presses. “I get that… that you have to do what you can for deception—tell him or your officers whatever keeps them happy without giving yourself away. But a child?” Alex wants to leave her safe haven at the fridge and slide her hand over the counter, lay it atop Astra’s. But the subject seems much too personal. “If that’s something you want—”

“I am afraid such things are impossible,” Astra says easily, no sorrow, no happiness, seemingly at peace with the knowledge. “Biologically, logistically… I made peace with the issue on Krypton. It is simply not in my stars.”

“Wait, why logistically?” Alex forces eye contact at that dismissal, confused, tapping with her fingernail on the plastic handle of the fridge behind her. “I don’t know how you feel about interspecies adoption, but there’s plenty of kids out there who’d need a mom. From what Kara’s told me, from when she was younger? You’d be great at it… if that’s something you wanted, if that’s what would make you happy,” Alex grips the edge of the refrigerator tighter. “I want you to be…I mean, it would be the least the DEO could do to help… facilitate that.”

“Alex…” Astra shakes her head, the pinch in her forehead returning. “After we stop Myriad, I do not expect to remain free. I cannot very well parent a child from behind prison bars, no matter what I want.”

“Prison—w-what?” Alex sputters, because that is most certainly not the answer she’d been expecting.

“A number of your government agencies have a price on my head. One of your most powerful engineering magnates has a high-ranking military official in his pocket, and an obvious dislike for me.”

Alex wishes (not for the first time) that she could’ve given Lord an entire facial reconstruction with her elbow instead of just a nose job.

“And have your forgotten who employs you?”

“Astra, you have to know there’s no bounty out for you at the DEO. Not anymore,” Alex argues. “Hank helped get you out of Cadmus. He’s been recruiting people left and right, he’d probably jump to have you on the team if you needed a job. Hell, he’d probably give you an entire division, with your expertise.”

“And how many of your high-ranking politicians know they have a Martian commanding a covert agency?” Astra asks knowingly.

“His secret’s safe.”

“For now.”

“For always,” Alex objects again. “Now you really are being stubborn.”

“And what of your General Lane?” Astra asks, stepping down from the stool and swooping her hair over her shoulder. She picks up her things and loops the counter toward Alex, depositing her cup and plate in the sink.

“That man is not my anything,” Alex growls, attempting to remain grounded even as Astra lands blow after incomprehensible blow.

“These are all questions you must consider, as I have, Alexandra. And I feel I must remind you, this peace we share now? It is fleeting. Ephemeral.” Astra glances at the meadow beyond the windows and sighs, flexing her hands against the freshly applied medical tape. “You return to your post and I return to constant scrutiny. The best-case scenario is thwarting Myriad and Kara being granted visitation rights to whatever facility your government decides to place me in. I resigned myself to this fate the moment I fell for—the moment I put pen to paper six months ago.”

“You didn’t know about Cadmus six months ago,” Alex challenges, pushing off the fridge and crowding Astra near the sink. You didn’t know about me six months ago, Alex wants to shout.

“I had my suspicions,” Astra says, ducking her approach. “This is just another mission for you, noble and brave as your intentions are concerning my redemption—”

“I thought we were beyond the Kryptonian patronizing—”

“But if we do, indeed, stop Myriad, my usefulness expires,” Astra summarizes. “Myriad and its effects have taken my home, my family—”

“Your backbone, more like it,” Alex cuts her off, places her hand on Astra’s forearm to keep her from escaping the kitchen. “You’re a soldier, just like me. Why won’t you fight?”

Astra attempts to backpedal but instead, rams into the counter—nowhere to run and no super speed to carry her away. She casts her eyes skyward and places her hands on her hips, trying to prevent the collecting tears from rolling over her cheeks.

“Because I am tired, Alexandra.”

And she looks it.

Tired.

Alex had thought, only moments ago, that it was softness. But now, closer up, it’s not a doughiness, not a plush look about Astra, for she is as unyielding in her argument as she’s ever been. Whatever this change is, this worry or distress or burden, it doesn’t give Astra the right to turn herself over to Lane or Lord or a Lunarian, to allow herself to be broken again. Alex thinks back to the bed that morning: how Astra said aches and pains were familiar, how her hurting felt no different than she normally did. But just because Astra is accustomed to poor treatment doesn’t mean she deserves it. She’s changed from evil hot villain lady to still-hot villain-turned-partner, teacher, friend—and she deserves more than pain for her efforts.

Alex is tired and Kara is tired, and so are Hank and Lucy and Vasquez and Winn, probably even Cat Grant after the hell she’s been through this year with all the aliens out to get her. But they don’t stop because of something as meaningless as fatigue. She sidles closer toward a teary-eyed Astra and knows in her core that tiredness is an excuse.

But perhaps Astra is tired enough not to come up with a better one.

“I don’t buy it,” Alex pushes. “I can’t accept that you had this defeatist notion when you first wrote me. I’ll go back and reread them, but no part of those letters sounds like you giving yourself up.”

“Reread—you kept them?”

“Yes.”

“All of them?”

“It was the only piece of you I had for a very long time,” Alex confesses. “You write like a heartbroken novelist, of course I kept them.”

“Alexandra,” Astra starts, and Alex can hear the beginnings of a dismissal. “You have been such a great help to me, these many months, but I should caution you—”

“I won’t accept just being your ‘help’,” Alex says, hoping her tone can relay all of the disappointment her words cannot. “I didn’t bust you out of Cadmus just for you to go back in voluntarily. You looked… Astra.” Alex reaches out but waits, hovers her hand over Astra’s shoulder until she sees the bob of the head, the yes, you’re fine, signal that will allow her to physically comfort Astra.

It doesn’t come, so Alex drops her arm to her side and swallows her pride. When she finds the courage to speak again, her voice is frail as lace: “I saw you in that tank and I thought they’d killed you.”

“Alex—”

“You must know,” Alex starts, “how I feel about you—”

“Can we table this discussion, please?” Astra asks, placing a trio of fingers to her temple and rubbing there in a tight circle. Her eyes are shiny, and she seems to look anywhere but at Alex, anywhere but at the woman who’d risked more than her career to save her.

“Why won’t you talk to me about this?” Alex mumbles. “You deserve more than what you’re allowing yourself.”

Let it be me.

“Alexandra, please,” Astra grits through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry,” Alex holds both hands up in concession, because she doesn’t want to hurt Astra, would never, ever hurt her if she could avoid it. But she needs clarification. She needs to understand. She needs to know.

“I thought we…”

Now or never, Danvers.

“I thought we had something more than a partnership,” Alex tries. “More than friendship. El mayara.”

Astra straightens, clears her throat, and Alex sees it, the shift from Astra to General In-ze. It’s exactly like Kara’s compartmentalized self, how her posture changes when the glasses come off.

“Another mistake on my part, I concede,” Astra—no, General Astra finally says. “With Kara as a link, I allowed us to grow too close.”

“Don’t bring Kara into this,” Alex snaps. “I know what I feel.”

“Agent Danvers, remember the mission. Do not —”

“Oh, Agent Danvers now?” Alex huffs, fumes, gripping the edge of the sink so hard she’s surprised there’s no fingerprints in the metal, even if she is only human. “And guess what, General? I’m not under your command. So what, exactly, should I not do?”

“Don’t attempt to—”

“Love you, right?” Alex supplies, getting the tiniest thrill out of watching Astra’s face crumple. It’s bitter and petty, watching the corroboration play across Astra’s twitching jaw.

“Too late,” Alex murmurs.

“Alex, no…” Astra says. “You can’t… you don’t understand… you don’t know what you’re saying.”

“God, you are the fucking queen of mixed signals.”

Alex wants to remove the letter from her pocket and wave it in Astra’s face. It’s solid proof, a paper trail, concrete evidence; if they were on trial for loving one another it would have Astra’s fingerprints all over it. The paper even has her signature for crying out loud.

“Here’s another question for you,” Alex says, on some sort of vindictive parade now that’s she’s exposed herself, stuck the knife in her chest and pried her rib cage apart, left her heart beating and bleeding and waiting for Astra’s healing touch.

“What?” Astra mumbles, backed into her corner, staring resolutely at the floor.

“A child. Pregnancy, you’d have to be… You told him you were pregnant.”

The pause that follows is heavier than Alex’s personal best on the dead lift—something meant to be shouldered momentarily, not sustained for such an uncomfortable interval. Alex hates that there are actual crickets chirping to fill the silence, but they are right beside a field, and nearing early evening. The buzz crescendos. Grasshoppers or crickets or cicadas or whatever insects are out there, rub their legs together furiously, and the frequency makes Alex chomp down on her molars and grind her own teeth, wondering if this is what dogs feel like when subjected to that pitchy whistle.

“Well?” Alex asks, relinquishing her hold on the sink to knock on the door of the refrigerator with a closed fist. She really needs to move out of the narrow kitchen before she tears it apart and owes Vasquez for the damages.

“You never asked a question, Alexandra.”

Alex turns over her shoulder and removes the baseball cap, runs an agitated hand through her hair. She squints at Astra’s profile, curls draped over one shoulder, death-gripping the counter top, the muscles of her cheeks taut as the strings in the belly of a piano. If Alex touched her dimple, she wonders if Astra would make a sour sound.

“Do you two still… does he…” Alex takes another breath, and wishes, in vain, that Astra would look her in the eyes.

“You’re asking if I still have sex with my husband?” Astra fills the prompt for her, finally working up the courage to push past Alex, alleviating some of the claustrophobia in the kitchen.

“You’d have to be, at least… some… if he believed you had a viable shot at pregnancy without the Codex.”

Alex puts voice to the puzzle pieces she fitted together from that night when she was lying on the platform of Fort Rozz’s jail cells, hiding to preserve her life, when she’d heard Astra speaking with the Lunarians. Why she’d felt betrayed—not realizing that she was in love with Astra even then.

“But for some reason, that matters so much less to me than… than if you’re still in love with him.”

Astra turns back then to face Alex, to close that last distance between them Alex had been so wary of violating. Astra doesn’t touch her, doesn’t lean in, but does give Alex one small comfort.

“When I was very young, I married Non for the sake of a political match—I thought I could grow to love him, much in the way one loves an ideal. But he is nothing more than a subordinate to me. I lie with him, because he did… does… I can no longer tell, but his attachment to me is far greater than my own to him. And yet… I don’t believe it’s for me, not truly. I think it’s for Krypton, for familiarity. He has not yet found something else worth loving.”

“And have you?” Alex mutters, both elated and terrified by the opening Astra’s provided.

Her face feels flushed and her heart is pounding like a Thoroughbred’s. Alex has heard of horses running so fast they suffer cardiac arrest on the track—even after training as extensively as they do they still push so hard, the dirt clods flying in their blinkered vision, length after length until they cross the finish, only for their chests to bursts. Myocardial rupture. Exploding hearts.

“Astra, have you found something else to love?”

“You know I have,” Astra murmurs.

“Will you kiss me?”

The request is involuntary, a reflex she can’t control, some self-preservation instinct so that her heart doesn’t have to sustain this uncertain apprehension a moment longer, so that she doesn’t collapse at the finish line. Either way Alex will know, even if it’s the certainty of rejection. But the letter, oh God, the letter…

“Alexandra, I haven’t told… I cannot give—”

“May I kiss you? Please?” Alex wants to tunnel into a hole listening to how desperate she sounds. The way Astra’s face pinches together, as if the request truly is painful, as if it warrants such a grimace—it doesn’t bode well for Alex’s chances.

You are the best of what humanity has to offer.

Alex places her hand on Astra’s cheek.

“I’m going to—you can stop me if—”

My dearest, my most cherished Alexandra.

Alex kisses her.

Astra’s hair feels coarser than it looks; certainly not unpleasant, but there’s so much of it. Alex has both hands tangled in the thick waves and she scratches, knowing Astra can actually register the scrape of her fingernails against her skull, the tug of her fist against chunks of nutty brown hair. But it’s like kissing a tree trunk. There’s not the slightest give, no leniency, nothing silky about it. Astra remains stiff despite Alex’s desperation; she runs adventurous fingers over Astra’s cheeks and chin, massages her neck and kisses her again, lingering over her trembling top lip.

No response.

“Come on,” Alex whispers against her lips, and she can’t remember the last time she wanted to kiss someone so badly.

Her lips flutter over Astra’s and her hands migrate, from hair to face to neck to shoulders, and it’s not until her fingers slide down over Astra’s clavicle that Astra catches her wrist.

“I don’t think that’s wise.”

“But you’re not in love with him,” Alex argues, tears welling and spilling over the creases of her eyelids, hotter than the heat leaking through the windows in the living room.

All my love and ever yours—

“I am not,” Astra answers, moving away, away, out from the kitchen and around the counter, across the floorboards until she’s loitering beside the couch.

Astra is celestial body once again, eclipsed by the sun, and it hurts to look at her. Alex squeezes her eyes together and wills the tears to stop falling, berates herself for her antics, for reading too much into a letter that was nothing more than garbage. Alex trails after Astra, helpless, caught in a Kryptonian orbit and crashing. She could’ve gotten out, probably, but who’d give up the chance to touch a star, even at the expense of burning upon contact?

“I… Astra, I love you,” Alex says, blinking against the brightness at the windows. “And I thought… are you scared of loving me back?”

“Sit with me?” Astra requests, her breathing even, her bearing, demeanor, expression, smooth as glass—she surveys the dying day and makes room for Alex beside her.

Alex sits, if only because she has nowhere else to go. She can’t look directly at the sun like Astra, can’t stare without her eyes stinging.

“What are you so afraid of?” Alex asks her, moving so that their sides are pressed flush together.

Astra steels herself with an inhale and cups Alex’s jaw with her free hand as she leans in, places her lips against Alex’s cheek and kisses her softly.

Your skin, soft as fog.

This close, Alex sees only a black silhouette against the gloaming, smells piney grass and the remnants of bacon grease, feels curly hair tickle cheek, chin, neck. Even half-embraced by Astra, unable to free herself from the Kryptonian’s treacherous gravity, Alex still doesn’t feel close enough.

If I could lose myself in your embrace, Alexandra.

“That’s not what I wanted,” Alex hiccups. “And I didn’t even use slang.”

Astra dips her head into Alex’s neck, chuckling humorlessly. “I know.”

“Why can’t we—”

“We will table this discussion, as I requested earlier,” Astra interrupts. “I can’t… I can’t do what you ask of me right now, but I can sit in the sun, in this house, for as few hours as we have, and I can hold you. Alexandra, I… this isn’t a no. It’s… there are things you should know that I’ve not yet revealed. Just… grant me this time. Please.”

“Why should I?” Alex asks her, squirming under Astra’s touch. It’s so hot Alex feels roasted, desiccated. “Do you know how terrified I’ve been? What I feel for you? Why should I sit here another second if you won’t—”

“That’s just it,” Astra answers, a tear gliding down the length of her nose. “You shouldn’t.”

“Why would you say that?” Alex asks, resigned to her wretchedness. “You know I… can’t you give me a reason?”

“I can give you many, but for now,” Astra says, “I want to hold you.”

“And I want to hold you.”

“You won’t give up ground on this one, will you?” Astra asks, dejected.

“If I can’t have all of you, I’ll take what I can get.”

God, she feels pathetic.

They sit side by side, touching from shoulder to hip, hip to ankle, their hands clasped and resting between their slouched bodies. Astra’s breathing eventually evens out and her eyes close, but Alex’s never do. She stares out the massive windows and traces the sun’s path arching low over the mountain sky. Astra’s head is heavy on Alex’s shoulder, tear tracks drying on her alien, sun-burned cheeks.

...utterly undeserving of your love.

Chapter Text

Alex has a pleasant buzz percolating in her head just after sunset, tending the fire that Astra had no part in building. She’d escaped outside with the boxed wine after an hour of Astra sleeping on her shoulder, unable to look at Astra’s pink-cheeked face for a moment longer.

Sparks fly skyward when she hurls another log atop the kindling, coruscating bits of ash and smoke billowing in a triangular point. It’s still clear, and the stars are still endless, but Alex finds their beauty less, corrupted somehow. She takes another chug of really bad wine, sitting down on the long log pulled close to the fire pit, her elbows propped on her knees and her chin propped on her cup.

She just doesn’t get it.

Even if that letter was never meant for her, it still sounded too genuine for Astra to react the way she did. It’s not a no, Astra had said; but she hadn’t said yes either. This is exactly why Alex didn’t do the whole falling-for-people. You fall and your gun slides out of range. You fall and you get trampled. You fall and you get left in the dust.

“Alex,” Astra mumbles from behind.

Alex turns over her shoulder and sees Astra holding a coat hanger and a bag of marshmallows in her left hand. There’s a flash of silver at her waist; even after two glasses of wine, Alex recognizes the glint of steel. A kitchen knife, perhaps.

Why would Astra need a knife?

“I saw a photo, on the refrigerator,” Astra mumbles, indicating the coat hanger. “Would you… show me?”

Astra’s on high alert, lit by moon and firelight, tense and fearsome as a wolverine. Meanwhile, Alex is tipsy off of terrible boxed wine, her one indulgence after Astra’s rejection. Alex rocks perilously back on the log and laughs to herself, wondering how long it took Astra to study the picture and identify the different ingredients necessary for roasting marshmallows (she also wonders why the hell Astra’s got a knife tucked in her waistband).

Alex is on her guard in an instant, sobriety catching up with her, trust retreating, despite all the progress they’ve made so far.

She feels like she’s misjudged the entire situation and takes back the thought about the wolverine. Astra’s not fearsome so much as fearful, avoiding Alex’s stare as if Alex is the one who has just taken a jack hammer to her heart. But oh, no, Astra has s’mores and smiles and apologetic tones for all those inky implications. Astra’s waiting for Alex’s response, but Alex can’t get a handle on what she feels: clueless, disappointed, betrayed.

Heartbroken.

Alex blinks at the crackle of the fire, the smoking brightness mixing badly with the wine. Her brain sloshes in cerebral fluid, knocking against her skull. She struggles. She fights it. She’s keeping her eye on the weapon.

“Alexandra?” Astra asks. “I’m sorry about earlier, but…do you want to cook these… marshmallows?”

“No.” Alex pretends to take another swig from the mug she requisitioned as wine glass for the evening. “Not hungry.”

It’s still novel, hearing Astra’s voice. Alex has tried to imagine the words, tried to commit Astra’s formal cadence to memory. And as much as Alex retained in university, as much as she knows, as smart as she is, she can’t actively recall the lilt, the slight accent to Astra’s speech. It’s deeper than she remembers, but pure, clear; Alex imagines Astra not barking orders but singing them: advance left, second battalion! It’s musical, and Alex wants to sing with her—if Astra would only allow it.

“Alexandra, I’m truly sorry, I just…” Astra begins, approaching Alex with noted concern. Alex sets the mug aside and waits until Astra straddles the log beside her.

“You look frightened.”

“I’m not frightened.”

“But you’re…” Astra scowls, and there’s still no give in her voice. “You’re intoxicated.”

“Two glasses of bad wine? Hardly. My inhibitions are certainly lower, though.” Alex curls her fingers over Astra’s leg, wondering how much effort she’d need to expend to get her hands on Astra’s hip, the knife within reaching distance.

“Subterranean,” Astra grumbles, shifting and tossing Alex’s wrist aside as if she were nothing more than a useless scrap of paper.

An unwritten letter.

“Astra—”

“I need you to listen to something, please. I never meant to hurt you, but… I did lie to you.”

Alex isn’t afraid of her, not afraid of her or Kara, ever. But in heightened states of agitation, their otherworldliness is elevated; they are passionate, brutal beings, capable of such destruction and creation and monumental achievements that Alex does shrink, only slightly, under Astra’s steadfast glare. Her eyes flicker to the knife once more, and Astra catches her this time.

Her alien face pales in the firelight.

“Oh… oh Rao, no, no Alexandra, here,” Astra says, hastily drawing the knife from her waistband and handing it over. “Oh Alex, I’m—I didn’t intend—I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Alex takes it, feels the flimsy plastic of the handle in her palm, focuses on her weary, muddled reflection in the clean steel. “I thought… this morning, we… when we woke up together?” Alex asks, clutching the knife harder, no matter how much she wants to reach out and touch Astra. “You were holding me and smiling at me and it can’t… it can’t just be me. Do you not feel this?”

Astra shifts back on the log, a twig snapping underfoot of those too-small DEO combat boots.

“Let me explain so… so you understand my hesitation,” Astra begins, her fingers bothering with the plastic of the marshmallow bag. “There’s no accounting for my initial intentions but… I… I was not truthful with you in the beginning, Alexandra. I started … that is, I began writing you with the hope that… that you would be killed.”

Alex blinks, then blinks again, because the smoke is thick and Astra is insane, and Alex most certainly hasn’t had enough wine for this. She grabs the mug and takes a long pull of the liquid and grimaces, waiting, waiting… seemingly always waiting for Astra’s next move.

“Here,” Astra says, placing the marshmallows aside and pulling a folded slip of paper from the pocket of the borrowed black trousers. “I couldn’t… I didn’t know if I’d be able to tell you, so I had to write it down. It’s unkempt and difficult to read—similar to myself, I suppose.”

Astra passes the letter to Alex, who pushes it back on its author.

“Read it to me,” Alex asks, her voice scratchy from the alcohol.

“Very well,” Astra says, turning her focus toward her letter.

Darling Alexandra,

“Wait,” Alex stops her, then slings her right leg over the log, so that she’s facing Astra head on. She wants to see Astra’s face when she reads this. “Say it again, would you?”

“Pardon?”

“… no one’s ever called me that before.”

“Oh, but you are,” Astra answers her, cupping her cheek. “Even when you’re justifiably angry with me, you’re—you’re brilliant.”

“Can we just end it there?” Alex asks, smiling sadly against Astra’s wrist.

“No,” Astra shakes her head. “If I am to… if we are to… just allow me to read the letter.”

Alex nods.

Darling Alexandra,

I’m sorry. I’m truly so terribly sorry I hurt you. I cannot apologize enough but please, please forgive my reticence from this afternoon. First, I wish you to know that your feelings are not unrequited.

I do love you.

“Astra—”

“Please don’t interrupt me,” Astra requests, clenching her fingers against the edges of the paper. “This is difficult enough.”

“Alright, I… alright.”

“I love you, Alexandra,” Astra answers, turning her attention back to the letter. “Don’t ever doubt that.”

I love you so, so very dearly; please know that it has taken time but I have fallen easily from my flight and into the deepest sea of affections. I love you with a conviction that has driven me to violence, Alexandra Danvers, and that frightens me beyond words.

But you must know, this endeavor wasn’t truthful from the outset. I began writing these letters with the express intent to have you killed in battle. The first two missions we corresponded over were organized in the hopes that the stragglers from my army would kill you, and that I would know nothing of it. So that when the time came—

“Kara couldn’t blame you,” Alex finishes for her. “If I was… if I was hurt or injured not fighting you directly… you said in your very first letter that you knew Kara and I were close. That you didn't want Kara to know we were writing each other.”

“Yes,” Astra concedes, making no comment on the second interruption. “I told you in your apartment, the evening I called on you after Kara rescued you from Fort Rozz the first time… I told you I thought you were Kara’s handler, and that was the truth.”

“Then why kill me?” Alex asks.

“Let me finish.”

—so that when the time came, I would be innocent of any crime against you or your organization, and Kara could find no fault with me.

Stopping Myriad was not my initial objective. Kara was. I could tell during our first battle that Kara was unseasoned, a novice—that she was working with your department and still learning. I had hoped that a death close to her so early in her time fighting would make her vulnerable, would compel her to seek comfort in the familiar.

I had hoped to be that comfort, knowing what I know of battle. Of death. Thinking back, the idea was not as far-fetched as it might seem, but it was manipulative and vile, unfair to Kara. I know now that if Kara couldn’t come to me of her own volition, then whatever relationship we might have had would have been cheapened. I would have orchestrated the events surrounding her sister’s death, and she would have never known. I was so desperate to rekindle our relationship that I would have killed to do it, and begun our reconciliation with a lie.

Kara was always my priority. The objective never changed, but the plan did. I wrote to you for a month and a half before I truly considered abandoning Myriad and following through on everything we had discussed. It had always been a possibility, to give up Myriad, a tool and torture both. In the first formal letter you wrote to me, you threatened me. You wrote, “if you pull some elaborate triple cross as a means to hurt Kara, I will kill you. I don’t care if you’re stronger than me. I will find a way to make you bleed.”

I remember it exactly, because I laughed at that statement. I found it quaint that a blustering little human would threaten me.

You succeeded in your first mission at Los Alamos, which I counted as a setback; but after you killed Gloxer, I knew I likely wouldn’t be rid of you so easily. I don’t think you realize how remarkable your survival was during that skirmish. Gloxer had not once been bested in battle so long as I had known him. I did not appreciate his methods, nor his nature, and knew that even if you injured him it would be one less problem for me to deal with. I might have given you intel as to how to defeat him, but even that minor advantage should not have granted you the victory, not with a mere three people in your operation, facing Tormocks, Helgrammites, Circadians, and a bloodthirsty Lunarian. I believed I could let you destroy each other, and rid myself of two problems at once.

But not only did you survive… you prevailed. I’d never been more impressed. I’d never been more wary.

So I decided to go in deeper, to ask more about Kara outright. And I found myself telling you things, asking you questions. You were not there to hear me, and yet, I’ve never had someone listen to me as you did. There is a difference, I believe, in following orders administered by one’s commanding officer, and actively absorbing what someone else suggests. Absorbing, understanding, and then responding to it. Gloxer did nearly kill you, and in the succeeding letter, I played it off as concern: “you are too important to this mission to risk, Alexandra.”

I knew then, that if I lost you, I would lose my connection to Kara.

So, the plans changed. I resolved to keep you living. Bits and pieces of the truth bled through in those first two months of letters. I had indeed grown weary of keeping my followers in check. They did want to kill, and I didn’t, though I was still reluctant to forfeit Myriad. I led you to believe otherwise. But when Non brought you in, had you chained up in command and you looked back at me so bravely, you didn’t seem scared in the least. I knew then I could never kill you. At first I justified my decision, believing killing you would rid the world of good potential.

Your beautiful free will was the final push I needed to abandon Myriad. Your example was… you acted as the precedent I needed to realize that humans are capable of more than mindless destruction. You kept writing me, despite your commander’s objections. You kept writing me, and you kept it from Kara. You took me on as your full responsibility. You have your ethical line, Alexandra, and your understanding of that morality is wonderfully absolute. You believed granting me this chance was the right thing, and you committed yourself to that belief, even at the expense of your own safety.

Your decision making, your strategy, your mind and your heart. I could see that almost every action you suggested for combat was fueled by the desire to keep casualties to a minimum. Your work and research, performed not to help humans alone—but Kara, aliens, outsiders. You help as long as hostilities are kept under control. Your reasoning is so admirable. How could I ever compromise that by inflicting mind control on your populace?

I wish I could say that I came to the decision to stop Myriad on my own, but I didn’t.

It was you. You did that for me, and you never knew it.

You never knew I wanted you dead, that I selfishly wanted Kara all to myself. You never knew that you were the reason I changed, just as much as Kara. And now, I suppose… now you know how deeply I’ve fallen for you.

How afraid I am; afraid you’ll never be able to trust me again.

“And that is only part and p-partial of my hesitation, but the r-rest of it, I… I need to tell you.”

Astra looks up from her paper and she’s crying, her voice jagged as the serrated edges of that kitchen knife. She’d begun crying halfway through the damn confession and Alex had wanted to hug her, wanted to hold her, but…

Astra lied to her.

Astra had wanted her dead, just like Alex had wanted Astra dead, so many months ago. Alex thinks it explains the bluntness of those early letters, when Astra was both insulting and complimentary, as if she couldn’t quite quell her distaste for humanity and yet was still attempting to situate herself in Alex’s good graces. Alex tries to remember, tries desperately to recall the earliest notes, and it fits. The direct engagement with multiple Fort Rozz rebels stopped shortly after the delivery of the ciphers. The DEO only picked off alien stragglers after that, twos and occasional trios, but never any more than a half dozen. Plus, the contents of their letters had shifted toward the personal. Under the guise of Kara, at first, and then asking after her interests specifically—

“You knew exactly where to find me,” Alex murmurs. “That first letter at the coffee shop… you’d been following me?”

“Yes.”

“You knew exactly where my apartment was. You came to me… it wasn’t just the spy beacon, was it?”

“No, I’d known where you lived, even before I gave you the beacon.”

“When Non took me, I was on the interstate in an unmarked car… you’ve been tracking me for months haven’t you?”

“Yes. Though I had no part in your kidnapping, they found my notes on your movements. I had to burn your letters after that, so as not to implicate myself, and not to endanger you further. Though after the first month… Rao, Alexandra, you disarmed me so easily, in so many ways.”

“I…” Alex begins, but it’s a lot to absorb. “I don’t… I don’t know what to say to that.”

“It doesn’t imbalance—that is, it doesn’t negate what I feel for you. I am sorry I’ve kept this to myself for as long as I have, but I never expected you to want me back. Alex, the way I feel for you… I…” Astra blinks and shifts closer, gathering up both of Alex’s hands in her own. “Earlier, you asked me what I was afraid of.”

Alex feels the textured gauze of the bandages beneath her fingertips, feels Astra holding her hands so carefully, as if she were a Kryptonian relic.

“You never answered me,” Alex mutters.

“Because my fears overwhelm me,” Astra answers. “I’m afraid the DEO will fall to my soldiers and I’ll lose you, lose Kara. I’m afraid that the DEO will succeed, but your Armies will arrest me and I will be forced to comply. I’m afraid of what you make me feel, just as I fear Kryptonite in my blood... what I would do, who I would kill, to keep you safe. I fear for this planet, the humans’ ignorance. I fear for Kara’s well-being everyday—”

Alex snorts, wants to welcome Astra to the club of worry for Supergirl.

“I fear the second I let myself love you you’ll die in battle, you’ll leave, you’ll… realize I’m not enough for you. I never get to keep the things I love and I know…I know I have violated your trust and I do not deserve your forgiveness. Even if you offered me your world, I couldn’t accept you; I couldn’t pretend my earliest intentions had no bearing on your feeling.”

Astra dips her head low and places two kisses against the cluster of knuckles on each of Alex’s hands. “Forgive me?”

It’s unsettling. Perplexing. Alex is angry with herself because she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be feeling right now. Her emotional capacity has never been that sophisticated, so what is the correct procedure for this? What’s the protocol? Where’s the manual that tells her how to react to the person who wanted to assassinate her, who she somehow fell hopelessly in love with?

“I don’t know how—I still—dammit, Astra,” Alex gripes, shifting, releasing her hands, pulling the other letter out of her pocket. She unfolds it recklessly, nearly rips the page in half for all of her haste. “I found this and… you’re telling me all this new information, but then I found this letter—is this the truth, too?”

Astra takes the love letter and her eyes widen, then soften, and it’s all Alex can do not to kiss the confusion from her lips.

“Every word,” Astra says.

“I…” Alex starts, running her hands over her own face, attempting to wipe the sting away from the fire.

“I couldn’t believe you had come for me. Rescued me from that cruel place…” Astra bites her cheek and takes a shaky breath, as if the air has to skip over speed bumps in her trachea. “I woke with you in my arms and felt so much at once I had to get it out of my head—it felt like a bloodletting, writing those words, but… you were never supposed to see this.”

Alex leans closer, trying to catch another glimpse of the letter. “I figured.”

“Was this why… what prompted you to act earlier?”

“I don’t know anymore,” Alex answers. “It’s been building for me, too, for… I don’t even know when it started. But when I found out you were in Cadmus, I lost it. I couldn’t… I was so scared.”

“I’m sorry,” Astra says again, but apologies aren’t necessary. They’re just fillers for words neither of them can conjure at the moment.

“I get why you shut down on me, now,” Alex says. “I… I feel very confused.”

“I know.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Alex continues. “I feel like we still—like we still need to work on it. I just—if you wrote a love letter like that, what did you expect to happen?”

“The same thing that’s happened with every other one I’ve written,” Astra answers. “They’re rubbish. They don’t come close to what I feel for you.”

“You’ve written others?” Alex asks, astonished. “Like… love letters?”

“I told you, it helps to sort my thoughts,” Astra shrugs. “I believe I fell in love with you in a letter.”

“You never thought of sending any of them?”

“No,” Astra confirms sadly. “I threw every one away. What if you rejected me? Or worse? What if you requited me and then were killed, Alexandra? I might be a soldier, but I do not know if I’m strong enough to love one.”

“Bullshit,” Alex challenges, shaking her head. “How many love letters? How long?”

“I couldn’t say… dozens, perhaps. I started writing…a month ago? I felt bold, the night we infiltrated Lord’s apartment. I nearly gave you one then.”

“You brought me coffee,” Alex recalls. “Held me while we flew.”

“I wanted to kiss you then, but I was afraid.”

“I wanted to kiss you. I didn’t want to mess everything up.”

“I’ve lied to you. I’ve hurt you, beaten you, and I’ve kept secrets from you,” Astra folds the letter and places it back in Alex’s hands. “But I love you so fully it consumes me, Alexandra.”

“We… we just need… we just need to pause.”

“Pause?”

“Just… we can stop everything and have this,” Alex says, leaning forward, kissing Astra gently.

Alex finds pliant lips and soft, flushed skin beneath her fingers this time.

“If you expected to lose me, just to give me that truth… Astra, you’re the Brave One,” Alex mumbles, but Astra’s kissing her quiet, wrapping her arms around Alex’s waist and pulling her so close their black fabrics seem to mesh together. Their brown hair and their military assignments and their tactical minds and all their differences and similarities, trying to push them so far apart when all either wants is to be closer than time and space and loyalties will allow.

 

 


 

 

 

“It’s on fire.”

“Is that not the expected outcome when I place it in the fire?”

“You’re supposed to toast it, not char it to carbon.”

“This is a strange pastime,” Astra says, removing the flaming glob of sugar from the fire and reaching for it, hoping to deposit it atop the plate of marshmallows Alex had roasted to golden-brown perfection.

“Don’t touch it!” Alex says, batting Astra’s hand away from the end of the wire. She relieves Astra of the coat hanger and carefully jiggles the treat onto the pile. “You already have burns on your hands.”

“I… forgot,” Astra says, prodding uncertainly at the pile of hot goo on the plate between them.

“Hey,” Alex says, tilting Astra’s chin up. “We know your powers will come back. It just takes time.”

“Time that we do not have. Three days, Alexandra.”

“I know,” Alex answers, closing her eyes as Astra leans into her, trying to draw what comfort she can from Alex’s lips.

Astra’s kiss tastes like saccharine and summer camp, and Alex feels like fireflies are blinking in her belly.

“You’ll get an adrenaline rush on the battlefield,” Alex murmurs.

“And yet,” Astra whispers against her mouth, “Without my powers, I can ask… though it requires a formal request, really—Alex, I wish to…has Kara told you…”

“Astra,” Alex nudges against Astra’s nose with her own. “We’re done with not saying what we mean, okay?”

Astra nods, pulls back, removes the plate from between them and sets it aside on a stump, surveying the area near Alex. In the shadows, Astra moves regally, her arms shifting with the grace of a ballerina, the strength of a crew rower.

Others might mistake Astra’s reserve and stiff physicality for menace, but Alex can tell the difference now. It’s uncertainty. It’s nervousness.

I make her nervous.

“The knife,” Astra says. She begins unraveling the gauze protecting the minor burns on her right hand.

“What are you doing?”

Astra continues to remove the dressing on her hand.

“On Krypton, our oldest proverbs were learned early and repeated often. The doctrine of nobility, as the High Council had us believe. And I do believe them. I believe in Krypton as surely as I believe in Kara, for she is a product of it, just as I am,” Astra puts the rolled bandage aside and extends her other hand.

Alex cocks a skeptical brow, but passes the knife over without protest.

“But when I joined the forces, a superior officer helped me to see those proverbs in a new light.”

Astra takes a breath and places the blade of the knife against the fleshly portion of her palm.

“Don’t—!”

Astra winces and the blood pools in her hand, rending whatever healed skin might have been forming since the previous evening. “You fulfilled your threat from your first letter, Alexandra,” Astra smiles against the pain. “You did find a way to make me bleed, though not in the way you intended, I suspect.”

“Astra, I… what are you—?”

“I make you this Blood Bond, Alexandra Danvers of Midvale,” Astra pulls Alex’s hand to her own and the warm, slimy scarlet slides down between their palms, drips black on the leaves below. “On Krypton, we believe that blood bonds us all. It is the blood of my people, of my genetic makeup, that bonds me to my race. Yet it is the act, the bleeding, that bonds me to many worlds. We are both soldiers and we all bleed, no matter the species, Alexandra. With this bond, I swear to bleed before you do.”

“But…” Alex begins, clenching the fingers threaded through her own. Her palm is held suspended before her, as if she were magnetized to a leeching mirror. “… your powers.”

“Allow me my rituals. My symbolism,” Astra asks, rubbing her thumb over the calloused edge of Alex’s hand. “I make this vow at my most vulnerable. Even if my powers return before we take Fort Rozz, I swear others will beat me to bleeding before I allow them to harm you.”

“That’s some pretty big talk for a woman I rolled out on a stretcher last night.”

“You deflect with humor because you understand the gravity of this promise,” Astra says, gripping harder, the blood dripping faster down their elbows. “I know that I cannot restrain you, that you are content to fly into battle with complete disregard for your well-being. I would never limit you in anyway, but I can fight alongside you, and swear to defend you with everything that I am.”

It’s all morbidly romantic in the firelight, Astra declaiming her promises, the blood sprinkling the undergrowth, the knife glinting against her thigh. Something of Krypton remains, something Astra can foster, even here; she commits to the bonds of protection for Alex when there is no bond left for her homeland. Alex wishes she could deliver some eloquent reply, something poetic and stately that does justice to the occasion.

“Ditto,” Alex says.

Astra’s face falls. “I—what?”

Alex wrestles her hand away and snatches up the knife, tearing through the flesh in the palm of her left hand. Good thing she’s ambidextrous, or else propping the grip of her handgun would hurt like a bitch. She aims for Astra’s bleeding palm and mashes the wounds together, knowing she would do so much more than bleed for her.

“Ditto,” Alex repeats. “Means I’d do the same for you.”

“Alex…” Astra gasps, her fingers wilting in Alex’s hold. “I—you—”

“Did I mess it up?” Alex asks. “Am I holding you too tight?”

“You should have grabbed my other hand, for the Protection Bond,” Astra says. “This… this is another bond altogether.”

Alex holds her hand as tight as she can. Blood bonds us all. There’s no denying that blood tethers families across oceans, continents, galaxies. But then there’s love. Loving someone enough to bleed for them, and for them to bleed for you in return. Alex has bled for Kara. She’s bled for J’onn. And now, she’s bled for Astra.

In truth, she’d kill for them all.

Alex leans in, pushing Astra’s hair back with her uninjured hand. The cut hurts, like fire ants have taken up residence in her vessels. She pulls Astra’s jaw down so she can align their lips while squeezing harder with her sliced hand. Alex presses their mouths together and remembers the love letter: it hurts to love you this way. The blood glimmers oozy black in the firelight and it tingles like liquid cinders, trickling down the uninjured skin of her forearm. She licks against Astra’s mouth and the pain eases, quelling under a hot tongue and pointed teeth and devilish, searching lips. It’s consuming, the pain and promise both. Sealed with a kiss. Sealed in viscous blood. Astra’s kisses are like battle advances, hitting Alex in every critical area. Before Alex surrenders, Astra breaks away to breathe and murmur something lovely in Kryptonese, eyes closed, grip strong, lips swollen as they manipulate the syllables of her foreign words.

Alex holds on until Astra quiets, opens her eyes, then rotates Alex’s wrist to kiss the back of her hand once again.

They’re quiet for long moments before Alex’s grin cracks through the solemnity of ceremony: “So… does this mean we’re married now, or what?”

Astra smiles into Alex’s skin but pulls back, shaking her head. “No… this ritual was only observed in the underdeveloped Provinces. The binding here is more figurative than legal, but I feel no less for you than if we were joined. Papers and certificates have their places, but this? This is as close to magic as I’ve ever felt.”

Alex smirks again. “Ditto.”

“I love you very much, Alexandra.”

“I love you, Astra.”

“I’m eternally grateful that we’ve settled that matter,” Astra tries for a smile but can’t control it, letting the yawn overrun her blissful expression.

“Come on,” Alex stands, tugging Astra up with her. “Let’s kill the fire and go to sleep. All this emotional crap is worse than sparring with the new recruits.”

“Oh, they are tiresome, aren’t they?” Astra agrees, rewrapping her hand, stooping to retrieve the plate of leftover marshmallows. “Feeling as if they have something to prove.”

“Wearing me out in the meanwhile,” Alex says, kicking the loose dirt overtop the flickering embers until all traces of yellow are gone, only a thin wisp of smoke remaining. “I’ll have to wrap your hand again, but no gloves tonight.”

“Why is that?”

“Because if I hold you while we’re sleeping, I don’t want that itchy thing anywhere near me,” Alex replies, ending her quip with a yawn. They trudge up toward the deck and Alex checks over her shoulder to make sure the fire is truly dead.

“I suppose its only fair, since I was able to keep you close last night,” Astra mumbles.

“Do you have a little spoon issue, too?” Alex asks.

“Uhm… yes?” Astra says, sliding the glass door open and pulling Alex through. “We still get to rest together with your… spoons?”

Alex flicks the lights off in the main den and sets an alarm for eight a.m. If they’re on the road by ten, they’ll be back at the DEO right before noon.

“Forget about the spoons and come to bed,” Alex says, taking her alien and her first aid kit to the bedroom with her.

(Late in the night, she’ll wake with Astra’s head tucked in her neck, the tickling coming at her nose this time, from curls that smell like wood smoke. Astra clings to her in sleep, one arm clutching low on her waist, the other pressed between them, her fingers curled over the center of Alex’s chest. Alex is wrapped around Astra, and holds every part of her. Her hand, her body, her heart—the lightest load she’s ever dared to shoulder).

Chapter Text

“Alexandra?”

Alex blinks sandpaper eyelids in the dark, sleepy woozy and full-feeling.

“Alexandra, wake up.”

“’S not even light out,” she grumbles, turning her face into the pillow. Alex has always been an early riser by necessity. If Astra is a morning person by choice, they might have even more problems concerning their budding relationship than impending war.

“Come, you’ll thank me for it.”

Alex hears the chink of metal loops drawn over the curtain rod, pearlescent dawn diffused through the windows and gleaming on the wooden floor. She sits up and grunts, fumbling for the burn phone charging on the bedside table. The tiny black numbers on the green display read 5:47 a.m.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Alex mutters, patting down her bedhead.

“Here, drink this,” Astra tells her, passing over a steaming mug of coffee. “It gives you the energy you desire, correct?”

Alex takes a sip and thinks it could do with some creamer… and possibly a strainer for loose grounds.

“You know what else gives me the energy I desire? Sleep,” Alex says. “Which I could get another two hours of before we really need to think about packing up.”

Astra ignores her and takes her hand instead, tossing the covers back and pulling Alex to a standing position. When Alex’s feet hit the hardwood, a shock of cold surges from her toes up her sweat-pant covered legs, so sudden she almost jostles her mug. She takes another sip of the textured coffee to warm her body, feeling slightly more awake due to conversation and caffeine.

Astra drags her through the lightening cabin and chuckles at Alex’s groans when they reach the big living area, the space tinted a subdued lavender from the sun ascending over the eastern mountain’s edge. Astra takes Alex by the shoulders from behind and guides her to the edge of the room, pointing over her body and out the big glass windows to the meadow where they’d sat at the fire the previous evening.

“Fifty-five yards out, right side near the forest’s edge,” Astra says.

“Huh?”

“Do you see them?”

“Do I—oh,” Alex says, taking a closer step toward the window. She feels Astra release her from behind as her attention turns to the doe and two tiny fawns, heads down, grazing in the dew slick grasses. “Those might be newborns,” she says, taking another heartening sip of coffee. She smacks her tongue against the gritty taste, but can’t find it the energy to go make herself another pot since Astra went through the trouble in the first place. Alex can blame her sensitivity on the half-day honeymoon period they’re currently enjoying while still hidden away in this cabin. Once they get back to the DEO, she’ll make Astra swear to never fix coffee again.

“They are quite tiny,” Astra mumbles from behind, her voice sounding sleepy, a lower octave.

“The spots… means they’re babies,” Alex says, tilting her head to get a better look, wondering if sliding the door open will spook them enough to run for cover. She hesitates over the handle, then decides not to disturb the peace.

“I’ve read about your young mammals,” Astra says, slipping her arms around Alex’s waist from behind and oh, that’s very nice. “Are they not too young to be grazing, already?”

“My specialty is Kryptonian biology,” Alex quips. Astra places a kiss to her neck, just under the sharp cut of her bobbed hair. “Not forest mammals and their… gestation… periods… oooohhh, you better stop.”

Astra’s hands are playing near that exposed slice of skin between tank top and waistband, fluttering along Alex’s naval. Astra places another kiss on her neck, then her shoulder.

“Why should I?”

“You want to give the deer a show?”

“Perhaps,” Astra says, bringing teeth into the equation, nibbling like a baby deer, and then scraping quick and hard against an exposed section below Alex’s ear. “I’ve lived on this planet for over a decade; did you truly believe I woke you at dawn to observe infant wildlife?”

Alex sets the coffee mug aside, abandoning the window in lieu of making out with her… married Kryptonian lover?

“Have you met your niece? She once made me take a train to the burbs to visit a pet store that had a sale on—wait, what are you doing?” Alex’s eyes go wide.

“I believe for the moment, we should speak no more of Kara,” Astra responds, tugging the hem of her black t-shirt overhead. “And if it wasn’t quite obvious, I’m removing this shirt.”

“Yeah,” Alex swallows thickly, double-checks to make sure the coffee beside her isn’t resting near the ledge, about to spill over and spoil the mood.

Her attention is a little divided between coffee cups and baby deer and sunrise and a body toned to literal inhuman perfection; because Astra is standing topless five feet in front of her with a pair of overlarge DEO sweats slung low on her hips and Alex might just faint from the sight.

“I… I can see that.”

Astra steps forward over the puddle of cotton fabric and turns her attention toward Alex’s middle. Her half smile is replaced by a subtle genuineness that isn’t a grin, isn’t a frown, just a tilt to the mouth, pink in her cheeks; her pupils are shiny and dart sporadically, flickering all over Alex’s body but always returning to settle on her face, checking in to make sure this is okay.

When Astra tangles her fingers in the fabric at the hem of Alex’s shirt and pulls upward, Alex straightens her arms, no inkling of resistance or fight left in her. She’s spent the last four or five days fighting time and aliens and administrations and soldiers and lawyers and this morning she wants to—not fight at all.

Astra touches her stomach, splays her fingers against Alex’s contoured abdomen and skims her fingernails down to her bellybutton, then up to the underside of her breast. Alex feels the pressure of Astra’s hand on her front, the cold sensation of the window at her back, the steam near her cocked elbow from the cup of coffee on the table beside her. The chemicals are kicking her mind and libido into unstoppable hyperdrive.

Astra seems to be ticking off some foreplay checklist at she touches Alex: she runs her hands up Alex’s arms; squeezes her biceps with a bruising grip; digs with biting fingernails into the flesh of her shoulders; leans into her so that their bodies press against each other and Alex has to warp her spine as she arches against the cold window. Astra parts her lips and Alex can see her, eyelids hooded, nostrils flaring, millimeters from pressing her mouth against Alex’s neck. Astra’s right hand leaves Alex’s lower back and her left abandons Alex’s shoulder, pulling away so that their skin no longer touches.

Alex shudders against the chill of the glass from the loss of warm, solid contact.

“I did not injure you… when I touched you just now?”

Alex shakes her head.

She watches Astra nod once to herself, then slip her fingers into the waistband of the sweats, working them over her hips. Alex swallows, but her throat is dry.

Black panties.

Sport cut.

Shit.

But every other inch is nothing but Astra, blossoming bruises and scars dotting her extremities, one nasty gash faded to translucency two inches north of her right hip, her forever-long curls falling over her shoulders to brush the tops of her breasts, her curious gaze never faltering in her assessment of Alex.

“Can I… can I hold—touch—” Alex reaches her hand out to Astra, who shies away from the attention.

Astra retreats to the opposite side of the room near the hallway… leading back to the bedroom… further and further away… and for a fleeting, tragic instant, Alex wonders if this has all been a cruel joke. But Astra emerges quickly, unembarrassed by her partial nudity in an agent’s cabin at six o’clock in the morning.

Stuck to her fingers are three highlighter-yellow Post-it notes, probably scavenged from a bedside drawer. There’s that tilted, regal handwriting, narrower than expected, familiar and reassuring. That handwriting is a comfort. Because, even if Alex isn’t completely sure that Astra’s ready for this—she can always go back to their letters and ground herself. Those letters fuel her, so much so that Alex feels like she could blast through the roof in this very instant, as wound up as she is. That is, until Astra shows her the first note, which makes Alex want to remain glued to Astra’s side for as long as she can.

Alexandra, the note says. Thank you for holding me through the night. But you must know…

Astra flicks the sticky note from her finger and brings the second scrap of paper up to Alex’s eye level.

… how fervently I wish to be with you. What is your answer?

Astra plucks a pen from behind her ear that Alex hadn’t noticed was there, a little caught up with the whole, Astra is stripping in the living room routine. Astra places the final sticky note and the pen in Alex’s right hand, and the near imperceptible jitter on the delivery tips Alex off to Astra’s nervousness. She’s making the big move because Astra knows no other way than to go big, to conquer completely, to give her all for the mission presented—but the possibility of failure, of Alex’s rejection, it’s all there, evident in the way Astra holds back her smile.

“Our biologies cannot be so different that it would take terribly long, love,” Astra mumbles.

As if Alex could ever reject her, her mirror in so many ways. Alex had been the one to kiss first, to confess; perhaps this proposition was Astra’s way of settling the score.

Alex takes the pen, takes the note, sticks the tip of her tongue out between her lips as she brainstorms and scrawls her answer, like so many evenings spent on her couch or at her dining table, composing similar letters to this woman. She presents Astra with the note, and Astra’s face pinches together, then smooths to a smile.

“Ditto,” Astra reads.

“Yep,” Alex bobs her head, the beginnings of a grin tugging at the corners of her lips.

“You’re quite fond of that word, as of late.”

“I know,” Alex smirks ruthlessly as she pulls Astra against her and drags the back of the General’s head down into an aggressive kiss that is long overdue, in her expert scientific opinion. For Alex, second and third kisses are rarely this toe-curling, rarely the immediate precursor to intimacy if the relationship follows the usual trajectory—but Alex has never gone the traditional route. She developed feelings without meaning to, bled for the woman before she even hugged her, and now, slipping a leg between Astra’s thighs and a tongue between Astra’s lips, Alex intends to fuck the woman silly before she defeats Astra’s army.

Alex knows it’s all out of order, but Astra is starting to kiss her neck, is rocking her hips against Alex’s leg, is mumbling into her skin…

Alexandra.”

Alex is content to launch order out of the window with a catapult.

“Bedroom, come on.”

Fingers get wrapped up in hair and limbs are tugged on rather forcefully; they nearly hip check each other as they fall on the lumpy mattress, kisses turned sloppy out of desperation. But Astra eventually strips Alex’s bottoms off and, after the initial, well-intentioned struggle, Astra maintains her leverage and settles above Alex. She lays soft kisses against Alex’s cheeks before moving to take Alex’s upper lip between her own, tugging with teeth in a way that suggests something of a demanding nature in the bedroom (which is really, really fine by Alex).

Alex relaxes into the khaki sheets but her body thrums nonstop. When Astra laps at the seam of Alex’s lips with her tongue, it feels like delicious electrodes have been implanted beneath her skin, like every bit of friction is causing minuscule seizures in her muscle fibers. Her balmy, humid exhales become satisfied sighs and ooohhh, it’s been a while for Alex, even longer since she’s felt so invested in her partner.

“You’re so beautiful,” Alex mumbles into Astra’s lips, though how she manages anything close to coherence is a marvel with Astra’s hands on her. “You’re so gorgeous, you’re so smart… I can’t write love letters like that but God, Astra…”

Astra kisses her quiet and works her hands down Alex’s keening body with gentle squeezes and long strokes.

More kissing.

(Lots more).

A moan.

Hair falling onto someone’s chest and a misplaced elbow that results in an unrefined ooof!, shortly followed by a chuckle; followed by a kiss; ending with an I’m sorry whispered affectionately near Alex’s sternum. Open-mouthed kisses on Alex’s torso stoke the fire steaming low in her gut. She cants her hips when Astra finally reaches between her legs and coaxes, soothes, then kisses Alex’s overwrought hums to silence. Astra builds her high and slant until Alex topples breathlessly, coming apart while Astra delivers light kisses, put-her-back-together-kisses, kisses like kitten paw prints dancing across her clavicle.

(And then one blunt bite, because Astra just can’t seem to help it. Despite her attempts at gentleness, she leaves a sickle-pattern of indents, pink and possessive on the skin of Alex’s neck. The carotid thuds there, the mark so much more apparent with their bonded blood pulsing beneath it.

Alex loves it.

Alex loves her).

"I love you."

Astra smiles. She doesn’t stop smiling, her kissing execution almost suffering because her lips are stretched back, beaming. Tears are pooling in her fern-colored eyes but Astra never stops smiling at her. Alex gets to feel this way, hazy and soft in the afterglow, looking up at that galaxy-swallowing smile.

Alex feels light, feels airborne, even with Astra’s leg slung securely over her hip. Astra’s fairy-tale waves of hair and that curious white streak are caught in the crease of Alex’s neck, in Alex’s armpit, fluttering up her nostrils as she inhales—it’s the less sexy, all-over-each-other, practical portion of getting laid that the movies don’t show; and even as close as Astra is, the pair welded together by sweat and sheets, she remains excessively tactile. Astra nuzzles at Alex’s forehead and Alex can feel Astra’s fingers carding through her hair.

Thigh twitching involuntarily every time Astra shifts above her, Alex’s heavy breathing levels out while the other woman allows her to return the touches. Not that Astra is anything more than a complete tease: her lips tickle the shell of Alex’s ear, and her hands migrate lower to stroke Alex’s sides, her kneecap, the inside of her thigh, alien fingers climbing the indented ladder of her rib cage.

“I never thought I’d get to this part,” Alex mutters after catching her breath, the haze of orgasm fading. She gently slips her hands down Astra’s sides, and revels in the woman’s self-satisfied expression.

“Hmm?” Astra quirks her head inquisitively above her. “And which part might that be?”

Alex tightens her fingers against Astra’s waist and uses the leverage of the mattress to throw the other woman’s weight off of her in a sneak attack. She utilizes a militant grappling trick in bed, but it gets Astra below her, eyes widened from the shock of the quick maneuver. Alex straddles the General’s hips and keeps a smug little grin on her face and a loose grip on Astra’s wrist.

“The part where I pin a Kryptonian,” Alex says superiorly.

“My powers will return,” Astra grumbles, but there’s no real threat to the words. Her jaw hangs open in surprise, maybe even awe, and her pupils are blown to sheeny blackness… Alex wonders if Astra likes looking up at her like this.

“Hmm…give it another day or two.”

Alex releases her hold and leans down to kiss Astra again; she tastes like the sweet heat of gingersnaps, like a cinnamon solar flare erupting against the nerve endings on Alex’s lips. Alex's mouth tingles like sensation returning after a numbing injection from the dentist, like kissing Astra has finally allowed her to feel again. Tiny hot firecrackers blast against her lips, and Alex realizes she’s not felt this way in a long, long time.

Astra strokes Alex’s face with the pad of her thumb, runs her fingers along the cheekbone and the depression near the eye socket with gentle pressure, back and forth and back again. Alex leans into the touch when Astra cups her cheek, takes a moment to tuck the sense memory away where she’ll recall it forever.

“We’ve already talked about this, but I think you’ve got a thing for my face,” Alex grins, trying to rid herself of the notion that having Astra like this might be a one-time thing—she can’t look ahead to the battle at Fort Rozz without compromising some of the love she presently holds.

“And why should I not appreciate your face?” Astra asks, sincere, running the tip of her index finger down the length of Alex’s nose. “It is so… symmetric, sharp. We had artisans on Krypton, who would chisel the visages of characters in our fables into stones of amethyst. Yours is like theirs... a difficult beauty. Exquisite nonetheless, Alexandra.”

The appraisal is over-the-top and blunt and so very like those first letters, where Alex used to think Astra was being arrogant or patronizing (she was), instead of frank (she was that also), instead of truthful (half a lie, that morphed into vulnerable honesty). Alex can feel tears welling so she dips her head and places a kiss on that preoccupied alien wrist; she skims her fingers along Astra’s torso so lightly it makes the woman wiggle beneath her. Alex feels Astra’s deep, rumbling chuckles low in the woman’s abdomen, pressing via some osmosis of satisfied proximity into Alex’s own skin, absorbed into her organs, bubbling up from her diaphragm to her lungs to her throat and mouth until she’s biting back a laugh, an honest-to-God cackle clawing its way to the surface all because Astra wants her back. Fervently, like the note said…

“Exquisite, huh?” Alex questions, her tickling fingers slowing to soft, insistent strokes that prod gently at Astra’s obliques. “Hmm…That’s a first.”

Alex starts distracting Astra with her hands. Her alien eyes can’t seem to focus on Alex’s face without fluttering closed momentarily, then snapping back open, drifting down to Alex’s neck, shoulders, breasts, until she gets caught up in the touches and her lids sink lower once again.

“Hmm?” Astra asks, but Alex can tell she’s lost the conversational trajectory. Not that Alex can fault her. She’s really good with her hands—Alex once reassembled her automatic rifle in the field in less than twenty seconds.

“I got beautiful once,” Alex recalls, placing her hand beneath Astra’s back so she can press the woman’s spine up. She leaves a reverent kiss on the hard palette between Astra’s breasts, right over her heart. “But it’s normally ‘hot’ or ‘badass’.”

“Well, you are beautiful,” Astra replies breathlessly, reversing the arch, curling those spectacular abs to move Alex back to a sitting position with her weight on her knees, straddling Astra’s hips. Astra leans up to plant a kiss against Alex’s cheek, another on her jaw, skimming velvet lips to the strained chord in her neck.

Astra wraps her arms around Alex’s torso and clings, and Alex simply breathes into her for several seconds, skin mashed together as they take the time to hold each other. Alex feels so—enveloped, she thinks, physically, emotionally—no longer hollow in her most elemental parts. Astra tosses out compliments as if Alex has heard them her entire life, as if it were obvious that everyone should hold Alex in the same regard that Astra does (which is absurd, yet wholly addictive). Astra latches onto her like she’s the rarest gem in the universe, validates her without intention, without having to try to make Alex feel these things.

Worthiness has never come easily to Alex, and yet with Astra, she finds this peculiar notion of merit, of virtue, of satisfaction in who she is and what she can do. Astra could have anyone, could reign over this Earth if she so wished; but instead she chose the right thing. She chose Kara and family and love and Alex.

“You make me feel like I have super powers,” Alex whispers into her head, clenches her fingers tighter into Astra’s hair. Alex pulls back and tugs so Astra tilts her chin up to her. And even though there are tears present there’s also radiance, the smallest of joys peeking through the pain.

“This might sound like an insult, coming from me, but that is not my intention.” Astra mirrors Alex’s movement from before and presses a slow, special kiss to Alex’s chest. She rests her forehead over Alex’s thumping heart. “Alexandra, you make me feel human.”

Alex releases her grip on Astra’s back and cradles her face, nudges her head up to kiss her deeply, thoroughly, long and searching and with as much care as she can manage, using her fingertips, tongue, lips.

“I would never ask you to be,” Alex crinkles her forehead in confusion. “You can’t… I’d never want you to turn your back on Krypton. I think you mean… not human, but…” Alex pauses, it’s difficult to think with Astra beneath her, peppering grand, lovely kisses to her breasts. “Humane, perhaps.”

“I feel sympathy,” Astra places another kiss in the hollow between throat and clavicle. “Compassion.” Her fingers rub the notches of Alex’s vertebrae. “I am lenient, because I understand now, Alexandra. You made me understand.”

“Give yourself more credit,” Alex protests. “You eventually came to me.”

The wondrous expression on Astra’s face shifts to something far more wicked.

“No. You came to me,” Astra smirks.

Alex’s eyebrows nearly launch off her forehead at the correctly-utilized English innuendo.

Leave it to Astra to get sexual slang correct.

“Hmm, I did, didn’t I?” Alex smirks above her.

“And it was… hot? As your other suitors have called you,” Astra continues slyly, allowing her hands to slip from behind Alex’s back and lower over her sides, grabbing handfuls of Alex’s muscular thighs and holding on tightly. “I suppose you do feel warm. Though that is unsurprising, given our coupling.”

Coupling?” Alex snorts, dropping her head to rest in the scoop of Astra’s neck and shoulder.

Astra turns her head to the side and from this position, with Alex above her, holding her head, Alex’s legs framing Astra’s hips and Astra’s arms wrapped around her lower half, tighter than the death grip of alien tentacles, tighter than linens on an ancient corpse—Astra’s in the perfect spot to tilt just slightly, to place her ear against Alex’s chest and listen. She stays there, frozen, concentrating, the dips in her forehead furrowed deeper than the crop rows outside of Midvale. It seems Astra needs to memorize these moments, too; needs to commit this uncertain exchange to memory while she still can.

“That is so reassuring,” Astra whispers.

“Hmm?”

“Your heartbeat,” Astra answers. “It’s normally so loud, so quick—now I can barely hear it.”

“Hey,” Alex tilts Astra’s chin up, knows how the woman feels, wants to reassure her, to comfort her—but without the pen and paper in her hand, words fail. Alex deposits a quick kiss to Astra’s lips, then sweeps her thumb over the single teardrop falling from Astra’s murky, grayish-green eyes. “No crying when I’m about to ravish you,” Alex tries, preferring the easy teasing over the weighty significance of finally coming together, only to throw themselves headfirst into battle once Astra’s powers return.

Alex buries the thought and forces a smile; she begins shifting her hips atop Astra’s lap and the woman whines beneath her: “Alex…”

“You can cry if I’m bad at it, but for a human…” Alex tugs at the tips of Astra’s curls so that she has to lean back at a severe angle, so Alex can climb the column of Astra’s neck with harmless bites and promises. “… I excel in so many areas.”

Astra’s chuckle morphs into a moan, and Alex can feel the chords and tendons tighten against her lips, the sounds falling to the guttural register of Astra’s throat.

“I don’t know what your human suitors were thinking, Alexandra,” Astra nips at Alex’s bicep, digs sharp nails of one hand into her shoulder blade and clutches at her back with the other. “But your ass is far from ‘bad’.”

“Oh, God,” Alex rolls her eyes, but decides kissing Astra is a spectacular way to keep her from talking. “How about we finish that coupling you mentioned?” Alex suggests.

Astra hums her assent as Alex pushes her to lie back, then crawls down the General’s healing body. It’s more thorough than romantic, how Alex approaches the interaction like a mission so no area gets overlooked. Her objective: get Astra to invoke Rao’s name as many times as possible, and discover just how breathy the general's voice sounds when she cries Alexandra.

Chapter Text

They touch down at 1130 hours about half a mile outside the DEO compound. Astra had been grumbling throughout the duration of their flight, and especially now, spotting the caravan of Army Hummers lined up outside the perimeter of the compound, she’s on edge and rigid with worry.

“You’re going to be alright, you know,” Alex says, getting her feet beneath her as they land. Astra places her hands on her hips to steady her. “I’m not letting them take you.”

“I’m less concerned with my fate than their meddling,” Astra returns, falling into step beside Alex as they turn toward the DEO entrance. They’re both clad in the standard black getup, strapped with pistols at their hips and a sidepiece at their ankles. Alex wonders if she and Astra look like extras in some epic music video, stalking across the scorching desert and packing heat, dressed to kill… rather literally.

“To think that all of our hard work should come to naught due to the arrogance of some spineless, posturing commander who has likely not seen battle in two decades—”

“He’s never touching you again,” Alex reassures her. “You’ve got the full authority of the DEO behind you, J’onn, Lucy, not to mention Supergirl—”

Astra stops dead in the sand and swears in Kryptonese.

“What?” Alex asks, turning back toward her, signaling quickly with a hand wave to the guards at the gate. “What’s wrong?”

“Kara…”

“Yeah, look, she’s been taking care of the city while you were recovering. She’s fine.”

“That’s not… uhm, she’ll be able to deduce… we…” Astra works her jaw open and closed, then places her hands on her hips in a disgruntled fashion that Alex classifies as endearing frustration.

Clothed in black with a desert backdrop, her brow mushed up and face contorted, the General seems to be strategizing. Alex wonders if this is the position Astra dons when at a working locale: in the field, her own war room, the front of a training gym, the cockpit of a rocket. Alex likewise wonders if she’ll ever get used to Astra’s body language, or if every new pose will come as a surprise.

She supposes it depends on the outcome of the next few days... which depends quite heavily on the next few minutes.

“If you two are anything like my sister and I,” Astra continues, “it would not be outside the realm of possibility that you would… discuss… your, uhm, sexual histories.”

Alex’s eyes go wide and she chuckles, then throws a cautious look over her shoulder at the gate guards (still a good 300 yards away). She turns to step in front of Astra and grabs her hands.

“You want me to keep our private life private, is that correct?” Alex asks her.

“I’ve only just gotten Kara back,” Astra says, squinting beneath the desert sun. “I will not abuse her courtesy by flaunting our intimate relationship. It could lead to unnecessary awkwardness for her.”

“You realize Kara’s a big-girl alien now?” Alex prompts. “Like, she’s had sex, and she knows how I feel about you. It’s not going to come as some big revelation to her that I jumped your bones.”

“Jumped my—never mind,” Astra steps back from Alex and waves a dismissive hand, then scratches at her eyebrow with her thumb. “I am, of course, not naïve to Kara’s maturity. From your letters, you indicated that her options for suitors were never-ending, so it’s only natural that she should… experience… a healthy sexual outlet—Rao, this is a strange topic.”

“Kara knows I wanted you… uhm, have you now, I guess?” Alex amends, catching Astra's uncertain gaze, trying to reassure her. “Well, she doesn’t know about the ‘getting-together’ part… we’ll have to pull her aside once we finish the preliminary rundown and deal with the Army. Look, I won’t mention that awesome tongue thing you did—”

“If you mention it, I swear I won’t do it again—”

“But we’ll tell her. It’ll be normal. Although, I have a feeling she’ll put the pieces together herself once she sees that you’ve got your powers back.”

“You think that’s reason enough to expound on our intimacy?”

“You’d rather me to just lie to my boss and tell him that our day-long R&R stint made your powers come back, instead of the two orgasms you—”

“Rest and relaxation seems like sufficient information for a military report, Agent Danvers,” Astra cuts her off with a well-meaning reprimand, brow arched to a severe acute angle. “You’re compelled to explain the destruction to your Agent Vasquez, which will be quite the story. Spare me and yourself that extra ounce of humiliation by being brief in your report. Not unprofessional, just… slightly ambiguous.”

“Once we’re past that gate, I’ll be the epitome of professional,” Alex winks, smirking up at Astra’s dubious expression.

Astra pushes past her and they continue toward the compound.

“Somehow I doubt that,” Astra mumbles, and Alex can’t resist. She gives Astra’s fine Kryptonian ass a pinch.

“I felt that, and I know what you’re implying Alexandra!”

“I said once we’re past the gate, General,” Alex grins. “Try to relax.”

“That’s quite simple for you to say. You’re not walking into an enemy compound.”

“You’re armed with superpowers and a gun,” Alex counters, interested in this full emotional spectrum Astra feels comfortable enough showing her now that they are a they. “And you seemed extremely relaxed this morning…”

 


 

(“…I… can’t… re-re-recall if I’ve… ever done that before,” Astra pants. She flops back against the pillow and pulls the covers over her naked chest, blinking rapidly while Alex uncurls from the defensive crouch she’d assumed when the ceiling came crashing down on her head.

“Well, me either,” Alex grumbles, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and resurfacing from under the covers. One cracked piece of drywall clatters when it hits the hard wood and crumbles even further, little white globs of dusty plaster clogging up the fresh air in the room. Alex thinks she spies a bit of sizzled pink insulation dipping out from the support beam Astra thankfully missed with her laser eyes. “Not even my hottest dreams have resulted in falling ceilings.”

“I didn’t… I mean, my eyes were closed until—”

“You came again?” Alex asks her, knocking another chunk of plaster off the bed.

“That’s actually what I was referring to,” Astra blinks, pulling herself up to sit against the headboard. She’s got more than one white streak now, hair dusty and grey from all the falling debris.

“Sorry, what?”

“I’ve never… orgasmed in succession like that.”

“Well,” Alex grins, feeling extremely satisfied with herself. “You’re welcome.”

Astra leans over and takes Alex’s jaw in hand, pulling her in for a kiss. There’s a thin layer of plaster dust coating Astra’s face from the aftermath of the crumbled ceiling [when Alex hadn’t relented and taken her to a second climax immediately following the first, prompting whatever adrenaline spike was necessary for Astra’s dormant superpowers to kick back into gear].

“There’s a little more strength to that grip this time,” Alex says against her lips, feeling the pressure from a super-strong index and thumb.

“Oh, is it too hard?”

“Nah,” Alex says, removing the hand holding her face so she can unwrap the gauze covering Astra’s palm. The skin is unblemished, a healthy beige as opposed to the pinky blister from the past thirty hours. “Look at that.” Alex traces the lines over Astra’s open palm, smiling ridiculously on a mattress covered with blasted bits of drywall.

“Thank Rao I wasn’t looking down at you,” Astra whispers.

“I dodge lasers all the time,” Alex says, refusing to let Astra worry too much over something she finds blatantly hysterical. “It’ll keep the sex exciting, I guess.”

“So this was… satisfactory?”

“Aside from the housing reno there towards the end, I’d say more along the lines of ‘exemplary’.”

Alex moves to straddle Astra and kiss her again, but she has to pull away, her nose itching from all the dust. “I’m going to sneeze if we stay in here, which could put a serious damper on the proceedings of round two.”

“Round two?” Astra asks, the edges of her lips curling up into a mischievous grin.

“You woke me up at the butt-crack of dawn. It’s not even eight a.m.”

“Let me—”

Alex yelps when Astra holds her close and hovers off the mattress, poofs of plaster dust stirred up that eventually settle into grit against their sweat-slicked skin and the ruined sheets. Vasquez is going to kick Alex’s ass, but if round two is in the future… god, it’s going to be so worth it.

“Yes, I suppose that means I can fly again, too,” Astra surmises. “No sense driving in that poorly designed death trap of transport when I can simply take us back to your DEO headquarters. I believe that change of plans will save us time better spent on… round two.”

Which Astra is apparently content to begin right this second, if the kissing and the groping is any indication. Alex makes a note to herself that Astra loves neck kisses. She then makes a second note to herself to invest in industrial strength concealer if she ever plans on wearing anything more revealing than a turtleneck around Kara again.

“I’m gonna have to take a shower,” Alex mumbles, swiping at the dusty grit on her arms. “And you definitely need one. You got the worst of it.”

Astra shakes her head and dives into Alex’s neck again, clawing delicious little marks on Alex’s back with titanium-like fingernails.

“But Alexandra—”

Alex gasps when Astra bites down on her collar bone a little harder this time, but damn does it make her worry less about the structural damage above her.

“If you take a shower, we won’t…you’re going to get sweaty again—”

“Astra,” Alex says, futilely pulling against Astra’s hair, and then (after Astra continues) really pulling against Astra’s head. The force of it gets her attention instantly, the Kryptonian’s pupils blown to black from the tight grip Alex has yet to release.

“Did Kryptonians really never have shower sex?”

“I took showers in hastily constructed stalls in off-world hovels. Stimulation and sanitation were mutually exclusive.”

Alex bites her lip to stifle a chuckle and hops off of Astra, dragging her out of bed and into the hallway.

“I love it when you talk sanitary to me,” she laughs.

“Oh, uhm… the bacteria in open flesh wounds can be combated by disinfecting the area and then applying the cleansing micro-protein available in the standard Kryptonian field-dressing kit—mmmhh.” Astra doesn't finish as she's backed up against the wall, silenced by Alex’s mouth on hers.

“God, I love you so much,” Alex says when they finally break apart.

Eyes lidded, jaw slack, and strength surging, Astra flips their positions with ease, shoves Alex back into the wall and kisses her roughly, more teeth, more power, just—more this time, and before Alex can really acknowledge the shift from tenderness to passion, Astra drops to her knees and gets to work with little preamble.

“Holy—Astra!”

Astra sinks a fist through the wooden paneling of the hallway before the pair breaks for breakfast. When they finally make it to the shower, the rod holding the curtain in place falls casualty to Alex’s eagerness. Alex takes stock of the damage right before they fly out, and wonders if her yearly bonus check will be enough to keep Vasquez mollified.)

 


 

 

“As enjoyable as this morning was,” Astra remarks, “we need to retain our focus if… if we plan on having other mornings like it.” Astra squeezes gently against Alex’s bicep, casting a wary look over her shoulder at the two guards.

“You are a rather appealing bit of added incentive.”

“Yes, well, we’ll repurpose some of your spirited energy into combating any administrative or protocol hurdles prior to actual tactical planning,” Astra says, as they turn their attention back toward the DEO entrance. “Especially with the disturbance my capture causes with our initial plans. Your Director might be more open to a change, but I do not feel like your Army personnel will relent so easily.”

“Stand down!” Alex commands as they approach the gate, nodding toward both of the soldiers on patrol. She flashes her I.D. badge and she and Astra enter the compound, Alex making every effort to follow procedure to the letter: checking Astra in, registering Astra’s gun, waiting as they take a photo, fill out a form, print a guest pass—all the while eyeing every nervous soldier and aghast underling shuffling around Astra like she’s some venomous predator.

“To whom are we reporting?” Astra asks Alex.

They walk in step down the bustling corridors of the DEO, Alex noting the heightened level of agitation from the personnel they pass. Most people are walking away from command, so it only seems right that she should head directly there.

“Director Henshaw.”

“Your Martian friend?”

“That’s not known information, here,” Alex tells her, cutting a quick left further into the facility. “In fact, only three or four people know about his identity, myself and Kara included.”

“And certainly not anyone in your military,” Astra remarks. “I highly doubt they’d dedicate an entire covert facility to experimentation and allow anyone off-world to head an separate organization.”

“Humans are quite obsessed with control,” Alex mutters, taking a right down the main hall toward command.

Various officers in black scatter at her glare, then stop, double-take, and rush away, no doubt ready to report Astra’s presence to their superiors. Alex has never been as touchy-feely in her past relationships, but all the shifty-eyed stares make her want to reach out and grab Astra’s hand, just for the sake of comfort. She knows (of course she does) that an action like that would likely do the General more harm than good. Accompanying Astra is one thing; clinging to her is downright professional suicide.

“Kara’s here?” Astra manages, as they pass a half dozen new officers headed toward PT.

“Yes. She text me an hour ago, but she didn’t mention the Humvees,” Alex answers.

“Perhaps the military had not arrived when Supergirl came to report?” Astra speculates, then, in a fashion that it so very Astra, insults: “It isn’t surprising that your terrible commanders would wait until midday to begin any crucial business. It’s that type of laziness that will leave your kind dependent on fossil fuels until you tilt the world off its axis.”

Alex smirks as she types in her passcode at the second blocked entrance in the corridor.

“Remember that time you told me I represented the best of the human race?” Alex nudges Astra in her ribs and Astra looks unreasonably affronted. “Yeah, go with that feeling so you don’t piss off the people who took you in the first place.”

“You see reason,” Astra counters. “You’ll willingly work with others, you’re flexible—”

“One of your favorite qualities, I’m sure.”

Astra scoffs at her. “General Lane, however—”

“Would rather take down an entire force instead of one alien General, even after the embarrassment of losing a subject at Cadmus,” Alex challenges her. “He’s a terrible person, but he’s not an idiot.”

“Debatable.”

“Well, that’s what we’re about to do,” Alex says, taking a deep breath before walking past the fortified doors, the hydraulics hissing as the pair of women step into the circular hallway carved in the underground rock. “Debate the merits of your freedom, of your intelligence. Something tells me even General Lane and his cronies won’t be short sighted enough to immediately place you under arrest again.”

“SECURE THE ALIEN HOSTILE!!!” Lane roars, his stubby pointer finger thrust across the command room at Astra. The herd of Army escorts move as one, converging on the approaching pair.

“You were saying, Alexandra?” Astra purrs, slinking forward with hands raised, not resisting in the least.

The room has lost some of its kinetic nature that Alex has always taken as a DEO given. Instead of various specialists and agents bustling about, there are roughly half a dozen DEO operatives perched at various checkpoints about the room. General Lane and a handful of Army minions have positioned themselves on the far left of the command desk. He’s dressed in his standard olive drab, his manner as surly as ever; but Alex notices the new twitch in his cheek that she’ll attribute to a heady cocktail of stress and fury.

Hank stands tall and strong as a central pillar, immovable and assured, at the head of the command desk. He’s backed by Supergirl on his left, Lucy (Alex is happy to see clad entirely in DEO black), Vasquez (with her leg wrapped from her stab wound), and Winn (sporting a black Velcro sling for his arm).

Kara, thankfully, looks unharmed. When Alex makes eye contact with her, the polished mien of Supergirl drops and it’s simply Kara, relieved and grateful and glad, happy to see her relations safe after an uncertain 48 hours.

“Put those on me, and I’ll remove your spleen,” Astra snaps at an Army guard, approaching with a pair of sickly green Kryptonite shackles. “From what I’ve read, it’s not one of your vital organs.”

“You’re in no position to be making threats, General!” Lane squawks, taking in Astra’s haughty demeanor and defiant pose. “I don’t know who you think you are, coming in here like…” Alex sees the dots connect, like a toddler working out that you have to put the square block in the square hole. “She’s armed!” General Lane hollers. “Secure the—”

“Yes, she’s armed,” Alex steps forward, putting herself between the yielding Kryptonian and the three Army escorts who have her surrounded. “But I gave her the gun, as is SOP for all new DEO operatives. You can check the paperwork if you need to, General Lane.”

Sam Lane’s bald head turns red as magma. In fact, the man looks like one overlarge, annoying blister, an irritant that slices at the ridges of Alex’s skin after a training session. The attentions of Lucy, Kara, Hank, Vasquez and Winn ping-pong like spectators at a tennis match, eyes on the incoming women in black and then back to the life-long Army puppet who’s doing a pretty decent Vesuvius impression. Alex thinks back to a cartoon Kara loved when she first arrived; where the animated dog cracked an egg on its irate master’s head, and the yolk was fried to edibility from the steamy heat emitted above a hairless skull.

Alex amends her appraisal to that of a silly, breakfast-themed, blister-human.

The ridiculousness of the image gives her a surge of confidence.

For some reason, she’s not worried in the least. Alex doesn’t know if it’s the certainty of Astra’s requited feelings, or the fact that the woman has her powers back. Probably both, mixed with the accomplishment she feels when she looks in Hank’s eyes, the love she sees in Kara’s. She’s got the support of the entire DEO. Her home. Her territory. General Lane is the invader here. Vasquez, ready to call forth hell in the communications sector. Two new additions in Lucy and Winn, clad in standard-issue DEO black and staring down the opposition across the table with just as much conviction as Supergirl.

Nope, Alex isn’t worried. If anything, she’s reassured. This is her home, her family, and Astra’s a part of that now.

And so Alex gets ready to do what she’s always done.

Protect her family.

“DEO… operative?” Lane grunts, as if that word coupling just can’t register in the same brainspace he’s set aside for alien hostile.

“Director,” Alex tries, nodding toward Hank. “Permission to summarize Operation Pen Pal for General Lane, sir?”

“Operation Pen Pal?” Astra whispers toward her, a brow arched, her hands still raised submissively.

“Just go with it,” Alex grits out, as Kara extricates herself from the group on the right side of the command desk and makes her way toward Astra’s side. “General Lane, sir, General Astra and I have been corresponding for the past five and a half months. During that time, she has been responsible for the capture and detainment of no less than two dozen alien combatants, and has given more intelligence concerning the Fort Rozz hostiles to the DEO than our agents have managed to collect in the past decade.”

Alex takes a breath, and wonders how much a verbal sucker punch is going to cost her: “Because you listened to incorrect information from an outside contractor, you inadvertently imprisoned our only double agent. General Astra has been in recovery with me for the past 36 hours.”

“What—intelli—you… did you know about this?!” Lane seethes, rounding on Hank.

“I authorized it,” Hank draws up to his full height. It likely doesn’t help the situation that Lucy’s standing, armed with what Alex assumes is a bunch of above-board paperwork. “She has been a vital part of our mission to stop the aliens from Fort Rozz, and if you would call off your dogs, we could get back to that very important work.”

“She is a prisoner of the United States Army! Do you or do you not understand that we are at war with invaders, Director Henshaw?”

“I think he understands perfectly,” Lucy comments, tossing the files on the command table and staring defiantly at her father. “Because even if you won’t adhere to the laws set for recruiting double agents, as the DEO has, you just defined her as a POW. That means she’s granted all the rights and privileges of a prisoner of war—outlined in these files, General. I would argue that her privileges be extended, really, since she’s been working for us, and will likely turn state’s evidence once the proceedings begin for containment of the rest of the Fort Rozz combatants.”

Kara ignores a dumbfounded Sam Lane and zips toward Astra, brushing three guards out of the way and hurling the Kryptonite cuffs across the room. It’s a little more showy than Alex had hoped for this exchange, but the point gets made nonetheless. Kara gathers Astra up in a huge hug and props her chin on Astra’s shoulder, a hurried murmuring of Kryptonese exchanged between them.

“General Astra has been recovering in the custody of Dr. Danvers, our foremost Kryptonian biology expert,” Hank says. “We need her at full strength for our impending infiltration. Not only does she know the facility, but it will help to have another Kryptonian on our side. You can’t take away our best chance at ending this fight for good because of a bruised ego, General Lane.”

“Sir, legalities aside, there’s something here they aren’t telling us.”

Alex hears Colonel Harper whisper in General Lane’s ear like a dancing shoulder devil with shiny, gold buckled shoes and a tight military buzzcut. He emerges from the shadows like some villainous gorgon, ready to paralyze any progress with his sneer of derision.

“If you have something to say about the way I run my organization, Colonel, you can address me,” Hank says, walking round the control desk toward the grouping of Army officials on the other side. “General Astra has been one of our best resources for nearly half a year. Her connection to Supergirl and all of the intelligence she’s given Agent Danvers have given me every reason to trust her. You take her away, you take away our victory.”

“Sir, it doesn’t matter if she’s been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, they’ve got someone on their staff with the ability to impersonate a military official,” Harper chimes in again, his hard jaw clenched in annoyance.

“Not on their staff,” Astra speaks up for the first time in her defense, darting a look toward Alex and nodding, so quickly as to seem imperceptible. Her eyes glaze over Hank. “I have at my disposal, aliens of immense strength, with extraordinary powers. One of which is a shapeshifter,” Astra says.

Alex watches Astra hold Harper’s stare. She’ll have to give Astra a jar of peanut butter for the valiant effort she’s putting forward not to spit in the man’s face.

“There are three operatives on my staff who know of my correspondence with Agent Danvers, and are working with me to end the threat that the rest of my forces pose. Two of them are shapeshifters. I imagine it is their presence that you take objection to concerning my release from your Project Cadmus; not the fact that I was legally freed and had no right to be taken into custody in the first place, as Agent Danvers has assured me.”

“You mean to tell me…” General Lane once more, glaring with all the hatred the human equivalent of a thumb can muster, “…that you’ve been working with the very beings we’re trying to eradicate?!”

“Careful with your words, General Lane,” Henshaw barks. “Eradicate is not the type of jargon Washington appreciates. As to our… allies,” Hank says carefully, nodding at Astra. “I trust Agent Danvers, and Agent Danvers trusts General In-Ze. If this infiltration fails, then you’ll have every reason to call the Pentagon and have them remove me from my post. But until then, I suggest you stand down and allow my people to do their jobs!”

“You threaten me again, you’ll be out on your ass faster than—”

“Dad, seriously?” Lucy steps up, ready for her turn in the verbal sparring ring. “Can’t you just take the paperwork and let that be it?! She’s saved Alex, she’s saved Supergirl, and she’s led an entire special ops team into her own facility to bring back alien weaponry for study. If it was anyone under your command, you’d have given her a medal by now!”

“You are Major Lane,” Astra says, crossing to stand before Lucy. Alex keeps an eye on General Lane and Colonel Harper, as well as the obviously clueless cadre of soldiers they’ve brought to the middle of the desert for some military arrest gone terribly awry.

“Agent Lane, now,” Lucy says, looking to Hank for confirmation.

He nods sagely.

“Agent Danvers has told me of your involvement in securing my freedom. I owe you my life,” Astra says, placing both her hands on either side of Lucy’s head. “My sister was an adjudicator, a counselor first, similar to you. I can see the justice she held so dear within you, Noble One.”

“Uhm… thank you?”

Astra dips down to touch her forehead against Lucy’s.

Lane looks like his aorta is about to burst. “What the hell do you think you’re—!”

“Just… wait a second,” Supergirl steps closer to Astra and Lucy, and Astra pulls Kara’s hand to place upon Lucy’s shoulder. It might’ve made Alex jealous if the action wasn’t so randomly bizarre. Kryptonese syllables slide over Astra’s lips in a rush so fast that Alex can’t interpret it, but she does see the knowing smirk on Kara’s face.

“I pledge you this protection, sworn on my House by the... High Seat of Rao?” Kara stares at Lane, talking over Astra’s murmured Kryptonese. “For a life debt… something… our house as your safeguard, the defense of your character, and the preservation of your selflessness.”

“What is she doing?” General Lane asks.

“The Vow of Provision,” Astra releases her grip on a stupefied Lucy, and even Kara’s sky-high brows indicate that Supergirl has been thrown momentarily. “The highest vow I can give for her service to me. I am a Kryptonian, sir, and such vows are not taken lightly.”

Colonel Harper grimaces. “That doesn’t mean anything here.”

“It means everything here!” Astra shouts. “Supergirl and I are but a handful of survivors of our race. Would we act so carelessly with our culture and assimilate without pause? I do not think it coincidence that you share the same surname with Agent Lane, General,” Astra glares at Sam Lane, “but know that she had helped me, and for that, I am indebted eternally to her.”

General Sam Lane stiffens, the tight line of his lips twisting grotesquely. He lumbers toward Supergirl and Astra from his position behind the desk with a grimace on his face, and seems to shock himself when he extends a hand to Astra. “A momentary truce, General Astra,” he says, though Alex can tell it is painful for him to offer it. “Until Fort Rozz is secured.”

“I would prefer immunity,” Astra looks at the extended hand skeptically.

“We’ll have time to prep your case once the mission is complete,” Lucy pipes up from behind them. “Take the deal while you can get it, General Astra.”

Astra casts a wary glance toward an enraged Colonel Harper, pacing childishly behind General Lane. The men standing at ease around them don’t seem to know where to look, but Alex catches the eyes of one squirrely private, who hasn’t stopped looking for the Kryptonite cuffs since Kara chucked them across the room. Don’t you dare, Alex glares, and hopes the private can read the menace on her face.

“Very well,” Astra says, clasping General Lane’s forearm and tightening her grip there. “A momentary truce.”

“Men!” General Lane barks, still holding Astra’s bruising grip. Alex hears the resignation as he sighs: “Fall out.”

“General!” Harper objects.

“I said… Fall. Out.” General Lane turns from the room and only locks eyes with Lucy. Alex can’t read the emotions passing like waves of Morse code between the two, but she imagines it's something like hurt. Betrayal. Maybe understand, a sliver of gratitude. Alex doesn't attempt to puzzle it out, more concerned with the Army vacating the premises. It's one less variable for her to worry about before the Fort Rozz mission.

Once the last of the soldiers exits the hydraulic-powered doors, Kara flings herself at Alex, who staggers back beneath the weight of her exuberant sister.

“It’s so good to have you back,” Kara says, holding Alex just tight enough that it feels like Alex's elbow is stabbing her own liver.

“Easy there, I was just playing doctor,” Alex jokes, then checks herself as the implication rears its suggestive head. “Uh, I mean—”

“And you!” Kara laughs, practically bowling Astra over when she goes in for another hug (any ribald interpretation of Alex ‘playing doctor’ with Astra thankfully sailing over Kara’s innocent little head). “I almost couldn’t keep it together.”

“I’m sorry to have put you in that position Little One, but you performed admirably,” Astra smiles, patting Kara soundly on the back. “But a few lies here and there seemed like the best way to exploit his familial connection.”

“Wait, I’m confused,” Winn says, tilting his head to stare at Astra and Kara.

“That is unsurprising still, given what I know of you Mr. Schott,” Astra remarks.

“Wait, me too,” Lucy chimes in.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Vow of Provision wasn’t really some hallmark of Kryptonian culture, was it?” Alex says, beginning to put the pieces together in her head. “You just needed a reason for him to trust you, and what better way than to pledge your allegiance to his daughter? You'd already lied about the shapeshifter from Rozz...”

“Your people only seem to appreciate outside cultural significance when they can benefit from it,” Astra tells Alex. “A Provisional Kryptonian Vow is… what’s the word that you like to use, Alexandra? Bullshit?”

“As humorous as your play against a United States military general might be, Agent In-Ze,” Hank says, which earns an amused glance from Astra. “Your recovery period from Cadmus cut our prep time in half, and altered our original infiltration plan. Fort Rozz has been… agitated in your absence.”

“No queen bee and the hive collapses,” Lucy mutters.

“More like revolts,” Vasquez says, pulling up the feed of an ominous looking mountain with multicolored strobe lights pouring out of crevices in the rock.

“My lies to your general have given me another idea,” Astra says. “But if we are to have any chance with it, we must decide on it immediately,” Astra takes her place at the command desk, and Alex feels a surge of pride (and okay, a little arousal), at seeing the woman in action. “I have a feeling you will not be as open to it once I present it.”

“You’re really selling this, Aunt Astra,” Supergirl mutters.

“Merely preparing for your objections. Best to go ahead and confront them at the outset in order to overcome them as soon as possible, Little One.”

“Let’s hear it, then,” Winn says, smiling his charming half grin as he takes his spot by Vasquez at the control board. “Can’t be any worse than infiltrating an alien base with General Astra in custody.”

“True,” Astra says, placing her hands at the small of her back. “My suggestion is to bring in more people from my side.”

“This close to the infiltration?” Hank asks skeptically. “Myriad goes live in less than 72 hours. You’ve got people you can turn that quickly?”

“Two, I believe, who are more willing to give diplomacy a chance than any others.”

“I’m assuming this doesn’t refer to Uncle Non?” Supergirl asks.

“No, it does not,” Astra says, and Alex is glad that the woman doesn’t add an unfortunately to her statement. “I was to help with the munitions transport after we activated the cells. However, my absence has caused suspicion, and rightfully so. I believe I have two beings who would help in the weapons transport, if we gave them the right incentive.”

“Let’s hear it then, General,” Hank says, taking up his own position at the head of the table. “Gather round, folks. And let’s take our planet back.”

Chapter Text

“You got any sevens?” Kara asks, quirking an eyebrow up and over the upper rim of her “double-dose” lead-lined glasses.

It’s a little strange, considering she’s wearing her Supergirl get up, nary a floral-patterned cardigan in sight. She sits on hard concrete, cross-legged and content, in the massive warehouse two exits past the I-17 perimeter.

“Nah, go fish,” Alex says, shifting her knee beneath her so she’s got better access to the gun holstered at her hip. She tucks the cards in close to her chest and throws a cursory glance over her shoulder at the open floor of the warehouse behind them.

“Are you sure?” Kara asks.

“Yes, Supergirl, I’m sure,” Alex says. “Unless you’re really trying to cheat and you see that I do have sevens. But I don’t.”

“One thing I’ve learned about you in the past year, is that you’re a better liar than I ever thought.”

Alex looks up from the floor of the warehouse, concerned.

They’re waiting on Astra—her and Supergirl, the two representatives from the DEO sent to parley with the Lunarian recruits from Astra’s side. It’s better than trying to bring them into the DEO, especially after the incident with the generators. The Caluan tech was a dead give-away for Indigo’s involvement, though Astra told the table back at Command that she’d not been in contact with the Brainiac prisoner since their crash landing over a decade ago. Alex took note that Astra didn’t deny a rather rocky history with the blue being either.

 


 

 

“She’s not as interested in progress for the Earth as she is with the genocide of its inhabitants,” Astra had said, perched on the edge of a desk in Alex’s glass-walled lab, examining the device with three blinking red lights that had shut down the DEO’s generators prior to her Cadmus rescue. “Aha,” she’d said, prying the device apart and flicking a wire or seven. The red bulbs on the device had dimmed and the recessed floodlights powered by the DEO’s primary energy system had kicked back on.

“Woah,” Kara had said, a smile directed toward her aunt.

“I never wanted her as part of Myriad,” Astra had continued. “But if Kryptonians followed you here with this technology—”

“They really are going behind your back,” Kara had finished the thought for her, sidling up next to Astra. “Glad we could get you on our side before a full-scale revolt.”

“I am… I haven’t the words to express how fortunate I am to have you back in my life, Kara,” Astra had said, pulling the top of Kara’s head down and placing a kiss on its crown.

If Alex hadn’t been so caught up laying out the innards of the Coluan device and diagramming its interior, she might have snapped a quick pic of the two and presented it to one or the other for Christmas. She’d learned early in the DEO to keep thinking ahead, no matter how big the next mission. If she could concentrate on what they were doing for game night next week, or how Astra would react to her first earthly Christmas season, then that meant all three of them were going to make it out of the following day alive.

And Alex needed that kind of belief.

“Though my absence will likely create a power vacuum,” Astra had continued, once her precious, all-too-short moment with Kara had passed. “And Indigo will rise to fill it. If we are to make any allies with those remaining loyal to me, we must act quickly.”

“How do you propose we do that?” Alex had questioned her, turning from her work at the desk.

“I must go to them,” Astra had said, rising from her spot beside Kara. “Your director has approved their outside involvement; he knows that our initial plan cannot be implemented without an agent on the inside.”

“Wait, you’re going back to Fort Rozz? With no back-up?” Alex had stopped her, had placed a hand on her arm and looked at her with those same vulnerable eyes she’d had when she’d confessed her feelings, nervous and wary and all kinds of uncertain, back in Vasquez’s cabin kitchen. “What if… what if they capture you? Or make another attempt to kill—”

“You’ll siege the mountain with Supergirl at your side,” Astra had told her, smiling openly between herself and Kara. “The DEO already has the maps I’ve acquired with the list of alternative entrances to the base, and you know where our power supply is. Even if my forces have increased security measures since our infiltration last week, I don’t expect to be discovered by anyone who has assumed command in my absence. And if I am, it will be better if I am alone.”

“How is that better?” Kara had asked [and Alex was thankful that she hadn’t had to raise another objection].

“I’ll tell them what happened, which is that I was taken by your General Lane to Cadmus,” Astra had explained. “If they want to seek vengeance on an outside entity for taking their general, best turn them away from the DEO. There will be footage of my processing at the facility, I’m sure. Perhaps we can have Mr. Schott and your Agent Vasquez erase the hour’s worth of digital records with footage of my rescue? I can claim I escaped after regaining my powers.”

“It’s really off-grid,” Alex had said. “Operating off of internal closed networks. I don’t know how they’d hack the system. The only reason we were able to petition for your release was because we stole a hard copy of a file from the 70s.”

“Winn changed all the street lights in National City with a couple of clicks. I wouldn’t count him out until he tries,” Kara had replied.

“And this is all an alternative to the alternative, assuming I’m discovered, assuming they dare to interrogate me, and then assuming they need to corroborate my story,” Astra had nodded, supposedly satisfied with a plan that had a back-story a few layers deep. “There are still some there who see me as General. There are others who would like to see me dead. It is a chance, my returning... however briefly, but it is one we must take. For now, let us operate under the assumption that I’ll be able to recruit Labana and Zahine to our efforts, and advise them concerning the weapons transfer in the active holding cells.”

“Labana and Zahine?” Alex had asked her. “Wait, they’re the Lunarians that knew about your pregnancy?”

“Your not pregnancy,” Kara had corrected, and if Alex wasn’t mistaken… was that a pout?

“They are Captains in my command who deserve better positions. At least a better life, living alongside your race.”

“And you trust them with this?” Kara had asked. “Not to go all super-villain and stuff?”

“I trust them with more personal information than others in my advising cabinet, primarily because I do not believe they’ve ever attempted to murder me,” Astra had replied. “They will be cautious and will hopefully listen to my proposal. Even if they reject my offer, I do not think they will turn against me until battle is before them. They possess the honor of soldiers in that regard.”

“Then I guess we better go on another recruiting mission,” Alex had sighed, not happy with Astra’s desire for first contact with the Lunarians alone, but also not overly emotional enough to fight her on the logistics of her [admittedly logical] plan.

“We cannot meet here,” Astra had told them, motioning indiscriminately at the stone walls and plexi-glass tables of the DEO. “Even I was nervous walking into the compound despite my… connections. We need neutral ground.”

“The DEO has access to several empty warehouses on the outskirts of National City,” Alex had explained. “They function as holding locales for alien combatants until we can get full retrieval units to the disturbance sites. We can meet in one on the northeast side.”

“Then let us go,” Astra had said. “Myriad will go live at 0000 Friday; we haven’t much time to dawdle.”

“Wait, we need to hook you up with an ear piece,” Alex had stopped her. “R&D cooked up one for Supergirl that cuts down on feedback when you go supersonic.”

“Very well,” Astra had said, and the two of them had awkwardly shuffled around each other in the confines of Alex’s lab, keeping a good two feet of distance between their bodies. Much to their chagrin, the not touching was glaringly obvious to Kara, who had smirked at their antics as they retreated down the hall.

 


 

 

“Aces?”

“Crap, how do you do that?” Kara mutters, forking over the ace of clubs while Alex stacks her paired cards to the side. She is, mercilessly, kicking Supergirl’s butt at Go Fish.

“What? Know your every little tell from living together for ten years?” Alex replies smugly. “Plus you’ve never been good at this game. You always wanted to help other people make pairs, so you developed this terrible system of indicating what cards you have.”

“No I didn’t,” Kara argues, “Not intentionally anyway…” she trails off, cocking her ear skyward momentarily.

“Anything?” Alex asks, trying not to sound worried. They’ve got a thirty minute window expecting Astra and they’re only on minute two, but Alex can’t help but be nervous. She needs something to occupy her time, hence the card game. Admittedly, if she’d been in the back of the DEO strike van, they’d be playing poker with cigarettes and promised rounds of drinks as the antes for their bets and bluffs, but she keeps it simpler for Kara.

“No, sorry, I’ve just got a lot of air traffic I’m filtering with the airport so close.”

“The airport is half an hour away.”

“Exactly.”

“Anyway,” Alex chuckles, reaching over toward Kara’s handful of cards. “Right now, you’ve got a three and a queen, and you haven’t given me the tip for the other two yet.”

“How do you KNOW that?!?!” Kara sputters, staring down at her cards as if she could laser eye the numbers into changing.

“Because you hold your cards with a different amount of fingers showing depending on how many face cards you have. One behind your cards is a Jack, your index and middle finger together is the Queen, and when you shift to hold your cards with both hands you’ve got a King.”

“See, this just shows you’re paying way too much attention to my body language.”

“And then you tap your finger for your numbered cards. It’s like you’re ‘thinking,’ but you’re really just giving yourself away.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, I’m not wrong.”

“Guess what number I’m thinking of right now,” Kara challenges, putting her cards down, squinting her eyes and staring hard at Alex.

“I have no idea, but it’s not in your hand,” Alex says, propping her chin smugly on her closed fist.

“Four.”

“Why four?”

“It’s the number of hickies you think you’re covering with that off-brand concealer,” Kara says, slapping the cards down in the middle of their pile with a triumphant flourish.

“Kara!” Alex exclaims, tugging at the neck of her shirt and running a thumb over her collar bone and… yep, there’s definitely some creamy looking liquid foundation staining her neckline.

“You two barely looked at each other in the DEO, which is how I knew you probably… you know…sealed the deal, or whatever,” Kara finishes, waving her hands in the air before her, pointedly not looking as Alex takes stock of the state of her neck.

She can’t contort her neck that much, but one of the bruises at the end of her collar bones looks remarkably like a blow she might have sustained in the DEO gym, a fist to the chest, the capillaries agitated and signal to some aggressive exchange. Which… part of the morning did get pleasingly aggressive, at least for Alex.

“I kinda thought we were doing a good job of not making it obvious,” Alex grumbles, running a hand through her hair.

“Too good a job, really. It was all longing looks and standing too close and like… I never realized how obvious you two were before,” Kara mutters, fiddling with a small run on the knee of her tights. “Now it’s just weird.”

“She doesn’t want you to feel uncomfortable about it,” Alex explains.

“You guys talked it over?”

“En route to the DEO this morning.”

“Well, I’m uncomfortable but I’m not… not comfortable, you know?” Kara answers, looking up from her distracted twitching with her costume.

“Please, Astra already has a hard enough time with English, don’t tell her that and make her more confused.”

“I’ll get Ms. Grant to recommend the best concealer in the industry, then. Like, have you seen your neck? It looks like she—ugh, Rao, I don’t want to think about it!” Kara says, twisting her head to the side and shutting her eyes tightly.

“You’re the one who keeps bringing it up!” Alex glares back at her.

“And uhm, Alex, speaking of Ms. Grant—”

“You don’t think J’onn noticed, do you?” Alex asks, rubbing uncertainly at the collar of her shirt. “The last thing I need him to do is read my mind while she’s wearing all that black—”

“Gah, you’re gross,” Kara cuts her off, shoving her with enough playful strength to send her sprawling on the ground. Kara immediately extends a hand, pulling Alex back up into a less prone position. “So you’re… together, though? Properly now?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like I could sit her down and ask her to go out for drinks,” Alex says, gathering the cards up from the concrete below her. “We didn’t exactly take the time to skim over her torture and fake pregnancy to discuss whether I could introduce her as my girlfriend or partner or… come to think of it, we may or may not be married. I’m not entirely sure.”

“See, I’m not all about the details behind the hickies, but I feel like a wedding is something I’d like to be present for,” Kara says sardonically.

“It was like—some—blood bond thing? She said it wasn’t certified but I… I mean, we’re not dating but… well we haven’t had time,” Alex says, trying (and failing) to describe the level of intimacy she and Astra have.

She doesn’t have a word for it, not yet, not until after the battle… Alex is worried there’s a lot of stuff that they need to work out after. A lot of stuff, all reserved for that indefinite after. She knows, abstractly, that they’ve got to win for the fate of the world. They have to. People don’t just call in Supergirl for the little things anymore. But they’ve also got to win for the personal level, too, in order to answer a lot of those burning questions she still has concerning her and Astra. Alex doesn’t want to live in this relationship limbo forever, doesn’t want Kara questioning hers or Astra’s faith in one another; so they’ve got to kick ass and deal with it all before Alex worries herself into an aneurysm.

“We could be… we—we said we loved each other.”

“Aaaaaawe, Alex!” Kara says, letting her grin take over what had been a highly skeptical expression until then.

Alex groans her embarrassment.

Stop.”

“No, you guys are cute!”

“I dare you to call her ‘cute’ when she shows up with two Lunarians who could put you in the ground.”

“I just call ‘em as I see ‘em,” Kara beams, a superior grin flashed for Alex’s benefit. “And you two are cute.”

“I’m warning you, Kara, stop. Don’t make me say something you don’t want to hear.”

“Come on, Alex, you two could go jogging together. And maybe you’d bump into each other while you’re looking at the microscope!” Kara claps her hands together before her.

“Look, I can handle the teasing, but don’t mortify her, alright?” Alex gripes. “I have a feeling that stalwart Kryptonian pride might not do so well against your taunts.”

“You know I’m only joking,” Kara says, letting up just a little and knocking Alex on the arm good-naturedly. “I’m just excited for you two, is all. I want you to be happy, to feel good about it.”

...

...

...

“…that’s what your aunt wanted when she was leaving hickies on the inside of my thighs.”

Kara’s face freezes, then spasms grandly; and—as Alex had hoped—Supergirl shuts up, falls back on the concrete so hard she leaves a small dent in the floor with her head, and throws a hand over her eyes. She might be a 40s starlette clutching her pearls over some dramatic revelation.

“Okay, truce,” she grumbles, and Alex imagines Kara’s got her eyes squeezed tightly shut behind her fingers. “No more teasing on my part, no more… sexcapades from you, okay?”

“I don’t know,” Alex turns on her. “You’ve just introduced the term ‘sexcapades’ to my vocabulary, how am I going to keep it PG just for you?”

Kara straightens back up from her dramatic flop on the floor and gives Alex the Supergirl stare. She extends her hand.

“Come on. Let’s shake on it.”

Kara and Alex spat into their hands at the same time and shake, Alex holding on for just a minute longer so she can say:

“She’s a really good kisser and her militaristic determination crosses over into other areas—!”

“Alex, stop!” Kara pulls her hand back, giggling while Alex lets out a good belly-laugh. Kara rummages around at her waistband and pulls out a travel-size container of hand sanitizer, squirting a dollop into her palm and rubbing it in. Alex had been laughing at Kara’s reaction, but this new behavior after their ritual spit-shake has her eyebrows rocketing up incredulously.

“Seriously? What’s all that about?”

“Not that germs affect me, but just in case anyone else has got to grab my hand, I don’t want your spit all over them.”

“How considerate?” Alex says, confused.

“Hey,” Kara looks up momentarily, tracking movements through the ceiling with her x-ray vision. “Incoming.”

They both scramble to the feet for the introductions.

Seconds later, three flying bodies float in from the large door Alex had rolled open on the east-facing loading dock. Astra glides into a walk and approaches with the hint of a smile, flanked by the two Lunarians who, Alex notices, have two Kryptonite inhibitors each pinned to their collars.

“My niece is always considerate. I should hope your human culture has not eroded what good manners we taught her on Krypton,” Astra says lightly, coming to hug Kara. “Supergirl,” she smiles, and Alex knows it’s a little bit for show, just so these Lunarians understand how close the two have become. “Agent Danvers,” Astra says, taking Alex’s hand and giving it a squeeze. She pivots before them and extends her hand, beckoning Labana and Zahine forward as if she were the referee calling the coin toss between two teams prior to a sporting event.

They both look like soldiers.

Zahine has the build of a swimmer, trim and muscular, eyes and skin as dark as the battlesuit he wears. His face is kind though, an easy quirk of lips that Alex believed appeared when he saw Astra hug Kara. Labana is capable, cunning, and cute at best; deadly at worst. Athletic build, dubious expression. She shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot beside her husband, and doesn’t calm when Astra offers a reassuring head nod.

“I am uncertain if this meeting is within our best interests,” Labana says, her attention ping-ponging between her General, as well as Alex and Supergirl. “There is much unrest at Fort Rozz and yet… it is familiar. Predictable. Yet these humans have done nothing for us to trust them.”

“I trust them both, Labana,” Astra comforts her. “With my life.”

“Then let us hear this plan,” Zahine says. “To overtake the most powerful prison in the Thrice-Allied Galaxies.”

“From what I understand, that prison isn’t functioning as well as it once did,” Alex starts, attempting to break the ice.

Zahine and Labana seem no less recalcitrant, so Alex makes a mental note to not remind potential allies of their incarcerations.

“But we want to make some of it operational again,” Kara chimes in. “It’ll be easier to contain the aliens once the battle starts. We don’t have to worry about transport and keeping all of the prisoners tied up with our own equipment when we can use the cage that brought you here in the first place.”

Labana and Zahine gape at that, straightening their already ramrod-stiff spines at the perceived affront.

“What Supergirl is trying to say,” Astra interrupts, playing interpreter, “is that the humans do not wish to kill in this battle.”

“We will if we have to,” Alex amends her statement. “But our primary objective has always been to contain the threats posed to our world. Myriad is a threat, and Astra’s army—”

General Astra’s,” Labana corrects.

“Right, uh, the General’s army,” Alex says, a little chafed by the reprimand, but still happy that Astra has followers who respect her so much. “The fighters are a threat because they’re protecting Myriad. If our teams can contain most of the aliens in the holding cells already at your base while we deactivate Myriad, there will be a lot less bloodshed, fewer casualties.”

“And you know it has never been my mission to kill humans,” Astra tells her soldiers. “Only to save them from destruction. My time spent with Supergirl and Alex has shown me that Myriad, as effective as it may be, will bring about the destruction of the humans’ free will. And their wills, their choices… are what make this race as impressive as they are.”

“Is this why we found you in the cells last week?” Zahine asks Astra. “Before your disappearance, when you spoke with us in the hall?”

“Yes,” Astra confesses. “Agent Danvers and I were rearming the cells I had deactivated when we first crashed. There have been enough attempts on my life from within the base itself that others would not question me rearming a wing in order to hold anyone attempting a deposition.”

“And just how do you plan to get your army into those cells, General?” Labana asks, still openly skeptical.

“We get them to walk in themselves,” Supergirl says. “Use a lure. Bait. Put something in there they need in order to fight the DEO when the siege starts.”

Zahine crosses his arms over his chest, seemingly as skeptical as his wife. “And that would be—?”

“The Kryptonite inhibitors, for starters,” Alex points to the glowing blue device pinned to Labana’s collar. “And then for your lower level aliens relying on brute force… their weapons. Get all those Tormock axes and toss ‘em in a cell. At least some of them will head in there before they realize we’re shutting the gates behind them.”

“They won’t go in there if they see a human in the cell wing,” Labana argues.

“They won’t, they’ll see a Kryptonian,” Astra says.

“Begging your pardon, General, but did you not just say a good portion of the soldiers had attempted to kill you?” Zahine checks her, but it’s more teasing than anything. Kind of similar to Alex’s relationship with Kara. Huh, Alex thinks. She experiences a surge of something, a lightness at the idea that Astra might even have friends she can depend on. Just one more step to building Astra a life here.

“I said a Kryptonian, I never said it would be me,” Astra says. “Nor Supergirl.”

“Is there someone within your cabinet that has agreed to this insanity?” Labana questions.

“No, but we have impressive impersonators at the DEO,” Alex offers. “And is a bloodless takeover really insane?”

“It’s insane if you think this battle will be bloodless,” Labana snaps back.

"Even if they don't go into the cells because they're wary of getting trapped, they're still more vulnerable than usual. They won't have their weaponry or their defenses," Alex says. "They'll do a lot less damage to our strike teams."

“We all know there will be casualties,” Supergirl says. “But we’re asking you for help, Labana, Zahine, from the House of Tor-Bastol and the lost city of Selene. We ask you to help keep casualties on both sides to a minimum. In my house, we believe we are stronger together. So help us. Astra’s lost her authority, like you said. We need people to help prepare for the siege.”

“You would have us raze the armory?” Labana asks.

“Don’t destroy it, just move the weaponry,” Astra corrects. “Put everything in the armory in the cells, including all munitions, protective gear, battle suits, even the Kryptonite weapons they were hoping to use on Supergirl. We will stay in contact with you over the next twenty-four hours, and will alert you once the siege begins.”

“We would probably recognize that, General,” Zahine says.

“Of course you would,” Astra remarks, “but know that you are not required to stay and fight. Once you’ve successfully moved the equipment, you are no longer bound to our cause. I have been assured by the DEO that you will be free to roam the Earth, to live here, peacefully, without being tracked. They would of course, facilitate your integration into society with the humans, but you are under no obligation to take them up on their offer.”

“You would not have us fight at your side, Astra?” Labana wavers, and for the first time in all her simmering hostility, Alex sees the uncertainty she harbors when she regards her General.

They are friends, Alex reminds herself.

“If that is what you and Zahine wish, Labana, I would be honored to fight with Tor-Bastol. I have made my choice, to fight for my family,” Astra says, and Alex’s heart clenches hard when she realizes Astra’s looking at Kara, but she’s looking at Alex, too. “I would not fault you for prioritizing your futures, your family, in the same way I have done mine.”

“Sure, Astra,” Zahine argues, casting his eyes to the ceiling in a show of effrontery. “You send the best two soldiers you have off to assimilate with the humans, so you can add, what? Another two medals to your dossier?”  

Astra smiles. “As I say, I cannot keep you from the battlefield—”

“And you won’t. We’ll fight alongside our General,” Labana says. “And when the time comes, we will help the humans. Help Supergirl. It is time we stop blaming the humans for their mistakes, and instead prioritize peace. We will aid your—D-E-O,” Labana says, casting a cursory glance at Alex. “Will the humans be needing the prototype battle armor?”

“Battle armor?” Astra asks, surprised.

“It seems you and the Lieutenant have been at odds longer than we suspected,” Zahine says. “Non has been developing battle armor for the humans. We have three suits, all equipped with Kryptonite weaponry. We would rather your forces had them than any humanoid shifters in the army, General Astra.”

“Do you know why he commissioned these suits for development? I’ve not heard from any of the Builders in our construction unit,” Astra says.

“My apologies, General, but I don’t know,” Zahine answers. “I would assume they needed a way to do battle with Supergirl. A suit lined with Kryptonite would make it difficult for her to attack the wearer at full strength.”

“But there’s a lot more Kryptonians in your army than there are fighting with us,” Alex chimes in. “If you can get an armored battle suit during the weapons shifting, I’d love it. We can fit Lucy for the other one, then Hank can figure out what he wants to do with the third. That is… if it’s not too much trouble?”

“We can manage,” Labana says. “No one pays us nearly as much attention as you did, General, given that we are not part of the Cabinet.”

“Sometimes discretion is easiest when you’re not in charge,” Alex answers. “But on behalf of the DEO, which speaks for the government of the United States, we thank you. We don’t take what you’re doing lightly, and we want you to know we appreciate the significant risk you’re taking.”

“Yes, thank you,” Kara says. “But that’s just from Supergirl.”

“That is from the House of El, Kara,” Astra corrects her. “And you know my depth of gratitude is immeasurable, Labana, Zahine. But if we are to allow you time for the weapons transfer this night, we must set up the communication system with Agent Danvers.”

“Yeah, we’re running short on time,” Alex says, looking out from the loading dock landing. It’s dark toward the east, and the last fragments of a purple-pink sunset are fading at the very top of the doorway. Alex nods over to a functional table. Atop it rests a briefcase with padding on the inside, the most sophisticated of earpieces tucked securely into the packaging.

“Here’s your gear, guys,” Alex says, smiling warmly at Labana and Zahine. They offer tentative grins in response, staring down at the earpieces. “Welcome to Earth.”

Chapter Text

“Astra.”

“Hmm?” Astra answers absently, not paying attention to Alex, who has spent the last ten minutes trying to pry her away from the DEO Control Room.

“If you stare at that screen any harder your laser vision might blow the monitors to pieces.”

“Please don’t,” Vasquez tells them, rotating in her chair as the schematics of the mountain interior flash on the different screens, arrows blinking and moving about, representing the different strike teams and their movements for the first phase of the siege. “Do you know how many request forms I had to put in for these SmartBoards?”

“If it’s half as many as I submit for lab equipment, I feel your pain,” Alex mumbles out of the side of her mouth, her attention still focused on Astra.

The general is a wreck.

She’s been painstakingly reviewing every portion of the mission against Fort Rozz for the past twelve hours, and her fatigue is beginning to show. After their meeting with the Lunarians, Astra, Alex, and Kara had all returned to the DEO, where Astra had given a roomful of agents a crash course in alien hand-to-hand combat. After orchestrating a two-hour lecture on every species of alien she had under her command (with excruciatingly detailed minutia concerning their offensive and defensive abilities and powers), she’d taken groups of fifty, fifty-five, as many as could fit around the circular walls of the training room without an obstructed view, and given them instructions on how to administer the kill strike for each species.

Even with the Kryptonite raised to levels higher than Kara used in her training, she ran each group of agents through exercises and maneuvers that would help to disable certain species: the underbelly of a Circadian has a soft gap where the shell doesn’t cover; a Tormock’s eyes can be gouged; the feet are particularly sensitive for Gnolochs; always disable a Sontaron with a blow to the back of the neck; and the final vertebrae of the stinger attached to a Moorwevil’s tail can be dislodged with a horizontal strike. Alex had played referee toward any agents who felt the need to grumble taking orders from what they had (up until two days prior) perceived as the enemy. Consequently, she’d been in all four training seminars and found herself both immensely educated and slightly aroused.

Competence and intelligence have always been attractive qualities for Alex. Couple them with some sparring and flexibility, a woman who could get her leg over Alex’s shoulder both in the ring and in bed had Alex’s mind drifting. She was just so damn proud of Astra; swallowing her pride, teaching humans—the race she’d likely have spit on a year ago.

Astra had made lots of headway with J’onn and had talked in unpracticed, clumsy Martian (another one of the languages she apparently knew) about finalizing strike plans. J’onn had started when he heard the words directed toward him, and wasn’t quick enough to hide the twinkle in his eye from hearing his homeworld’s language (no matter how brokenly he insisted Astra spoke it) from another person. She’d made headway with Lucy, had shown the smaller woman how to operate the battle armor suit Labana had quickly delivered to the desert once night fell. Astra had also gone over Coluan and Kryptonian codes with Winn and Vasquez, who would be operating a digital infiltration from the DEO Control room as their teams took the ground physically.

They needed to de-power the facility remotely, and both Vasquez and Winn were only operating with three out of four fully-functioning limbs each.

The way Astra handled everything, broke it down, led and taught and corrected and advised and guided and comforted, even, giving Ortiz the third advanced battle suit to overcome the problems with her manufactured prosthetic—it was a completely new take on the woman Alex had met on a warehouse floor nearly a year ago. She was caring, professional, poised and attentive and patient and compromising and respectful and passionate and inspiring and… god.

Astra was simply super.

“Astra,” Alex tries again, placing a hand on her shoulder. “What’s up there now that wasn’t up there thirty minutes ago?”

“Just reviewing—”

“You’ve been reviewing since dawn, and it’s nearly 0900,” Alex tells her.

“Really?” Astra turns, blinks, the slump of her shoulders more apparent. She might be superhuman, but even superhumans can get slightly red-eyed from stress.

“You need to hit the bunkroom, if only for a few hours.”

Astra shakes her head and tries to shrug the fatigue away.

“Vasquez?” she asks.

“Astra?”

“What time is sunset?”

“Projections say 1945, mam.”

“Ten hours away. You can spare five of those for sleep,” Alex says.

Alex has it in mind to get Astra to drift off and then do another once-over of the battle suit for herself. The engineering is, of course, out-of-this-world. She can jump as high as the ceilings, double her sprint time on the 40-yard dash, and even pack more force with her punches (Winn had rigged a seismic punching mechanism to measure the pounds per square inch she was able to exude with and without the armor). Similar alterations happened with Lucy’s physical abilities. They might never know what Astra’s cabinet intended for those suits, but Alex is more than excited that they can exploit the pilfered technology for the final battle.

She feels physically invincible, even if her better logic tells her otherwise.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to,” Astra confesses. “I still feel as if I’m missing something, Alexandra—”

“Oh my God, Alexandra,” Vasquez snorts, turning in her chair and back to her eighth cup of canteen coffee of the night… day… morning? Susan has reassured Alex that she’s spent more hours awake whacking a belligerent gaming console than she has during this extended shift on duty. But if the woman knows what’s good for her, she’ll probably hit the bunkroom for a few hours as well.

“Anyway,” Alex continues, “Even if you have overlooked one minor detail, it won’t come to you if you work yourself into a stupor before the fight even gets here. I’ll come with you, okay? Five hours?”

“Two.”

“Four.”

“Three.”

“No, four, you need to get in one good REM cycle, and Kryptonian sleep patterns suggest—”

“Oh my god, Supergirl was right,” Vasquez sniffs from behind the lip of her cup. “You two are so gross.”

“We’re nothing of the sort,” Astra says, taking a quick glance over hers and Alex’s bodies. “We’ve showered and changed and—”

“Not that kind of gross, Astra,” Alex says, tugging Astra down from the platform where the Control computers are stationed. “She means we’re… I don’t know, grossly romantic, or something.”

“Is it gross romanticism that left the hole in the wall of her cabin?” Astra snarks.

“Hey, what about my cabin?!” Vasquez calls, standing from her position, but Alex is already steering Astra down an auxiliary hallway, passing sealed doorways and taking convoluted turns, until they’re in a much more secluded portion of the compound.

“I don’t know how many people will be in here, since it’s the beginning of the day, but keep it down, alright?” Alex asks her.

“Of course.”

Alex slides her key card through the reader and the light blinks from red to green, no sound, just in case anyone is sleeping off an extended night shift. Astra takes her hand without prompting and Alex tugs her inside, shuffles toward the furthest wall from the entrance and tiptoes past two sleeping bodies that breathe heavily in the darkness. Alex nudges Astra down on the bottom bunk and follows when Astra pulls her down beside her, which means Astra is sandwiched between Alex and an unforgiving the wall.

“There’s no way you’re comfortable like that,” Alex whispers.

“I’ll manage,” Astra whispers back, wrapping one arm around Alex’s waist, pulling her in with the confidence of someone who never plans to let go.

“You were amazing out there,” Alex tells her, feeling the smallest puff of breath against her cheek. “A real Kryptonian military general, making nice with the humans.”

“Surely you know it was all for you?” Astra replies. “I would train thousands of human soldiers if it meant giving you any advantage, Alexandra.”

Alex kisses blindly, lips hitting only half of Astra’s mouth in the darkness. She smiles into the skin of Astra’s chin regardless, shifts, connects more solidly on the second attempt.

“I think Kara and Vasquez are right,” Alex says. “We are gross.”

“I find nothing about your comportment gross.”

“I don’t think you’re gross either,” Alex smiles in the dark. Once the words hit her, she concedes… maybe they are a little gross. But it’s only because they’re super hot and badass the other 99% of the time. “You’re just… you’re so impressive. I can’t wait to… I can’t wait to actually date you.”

“Date me?”

“Court you, or whatever, but I hate that word,” Alex insists shifting a little against the pillow, humming when Astra runs her fingers through her hair. “We’ll do normal stuff for a while. Movies. Coffee. Shooting ranges. You know, real modern relationship, if you want.”

“We’ve already had a coffee… date,” Astra tells her.

“Kara can’t come. It’s a family outing when she’s there.”

“Coffee without Kara. I’ll do my best to honor the appointment, Alexandra.”

“But what else would you want to do?” Alex asks, the darkness emboldening her. She can hear the soft breathing a few bunks over, feel the cotton of Astra’s shirt beneath her fingers in the dark. It smells clean: like industrial detergent and dryer sheets and just-shampooed hair.

It’s dark and close and Alex feels safe in the most fragile of ways.

“I’ve got something for you,” Alex mutters, shuffling in the dark and pulling a letter out of her side pocket that she’d been working on, in between reviewing her mapped maneuvers with team Alpha. “You can’t see it, but it’s a letter. Don’t forget to take it, okay?”

Alex feels Astra take the envelope in hand, wiggling on her side of the tiny bunk.

“We are far too alike, you and I,” she says, her fingers abandoning Alex’s body. Alex hears some rustling in the darkness and knows that Astra has written her own letter for Alex, her name—Alexandra—probably carefully written in loopy script in the center of the envelope. She feels the dry paper beneath her fingers and thinks back, back and back and months and feelings ago, to an envelope with fingerprints from coffee grounds on it.

The general gives you her regards.

“Thanks,” Alex eventually mumbles to the silence.

“It’s for after the mission. Should I… should something happen.”

“I never plan on reading it, then.”

“Well, it’s there,” Astra says cryptically, moving the paper so she can kiss Alex again. Astra shifts to hover over her, to put the smallest amount of heat into the exchange. Astra’s hand on her lower back presses too tightly and her tongue rubbing Alex’s lips slips too wildly, too desperately, and it finally clicks for Alex that Astra is kissing her like this is their last.

“Hhhmmm, hey, hey!” Alex pushes her hand against Astra’s chest and feels the woman’s heart thundering, a reflective sheen over her pupils betraying her feeling in the darkness. Astra moves to turn away but Alex grabs hold of her shirt—Kryptonian or human, Alex won’t let her fly away without acknowledging this. “Hey,” Alex says again, a bit more emphatically. “I know you haven’t felt it in a long time probably, but… it’s okay to be scared.”

“You know that’s not what this is.”

Of course. Of course Alex knows what’s she’s feeling, with uncanny exactitude. They’re alike, they’re soldiers, they love Kara, they love their mission—so of course they’re not scared of fighting, of dying. They’re not scared of but scared for, scared for each other and for Supergirl and for the teams fighting alongside them. And Alex knows Astra’s scared that this is the last time she’ll get to love anyone in this way.

“Vacation,” Alex says, by way of topic change. “I need one. After two years here, I can take a week or two. We’ll go anywhere you want. Get outta Dodge and kick back for a little while. I know this amazing air service,” she smirks, rubbing her thumb over Astra’s shoulder.

“Is this your idea of sleeping, Agent Danvers?” Astra says, somewhat groggily.

“Trying to give you good thoughts for your dreams, General.”

“I’m going to dream of that pompous man’s face when he saw you with me,” Astra says. “Was he the reason you stood so much closer, Alexandra?”

“Lord was delivering some tech he’s been working on for the teams,” Alex said. “I wanted him to know he wasn’t ever allowed to come near you again.”

“Your hand on my hip seemed excessive; however, I cannot fathom why you still work with him.”

“He was delivering the Myriad inhibitors he promised to work on for our infiltration teams. Believe me, if we didn’t need him in a lab he’d be in a jail cell for what he put you through,” Alex reassures her, cupping the cheek of Astra’s that’s not half-buried in the pillow. “When we’re done with Myriad, we’re done with him. And… I can’t wait to start something with you.”

They touch each other in the dark of the day. Alex moves her hands against the muscles hiding beneath the long black sleeves of Astra’s DEO-issued attire, runs them down and skims her fingers over the woman’s elbow, eventually allowing her palm to rest in the dip of Astra’s waist.

“I love you so very much,” Astra tells her, shifting to place a kiss on her forehead.

Alex feels it spread like water dribbling down from the crown of her skull, feels the tingles overtake her body, like stepping into a warm shower after the longest day imaginable. Everything is easy in Astra’s arms, and she wonders if they can really make it, if she can really have everything her nontraditional choices had at one point rendered impossible.

“I want to give you everything you never had on Krypton, everything you deserve,” Alex says, still high on their plans, ready to take down the baddies on the mission. She feels like she’s flying like Kara, speedy, weightless, close enough to touch the sun. “Astra, I… I think we’ve got a real shot at this, you know? I need you to know I think we’re going to win; I think it’s going to be hard as hell fighting in that rock but I think we’ll be okay. I think Kara’s going to come through and everyone else… I think we’re going to do this right.”

She snuggles closer to Astra and drops her voice even softer, feeling Astra’s breath once more on her cheek.

“You say you think Alura should’ve been here for Kara but I’m glad it was you. Maybe that’s selfish, but… I would never, ever hurt you. I’m so in love with you, I—Astra?”

Alex feels the breaths in pattern now, even, slow, but she's grateful that Astra could lose herself momentarily, holding Alex all the while.

 


 

 

The four strike teams plus Astra take cover beneath the tree line two miles out from the mountain, waiting for the evening to fully succumb to night. Supergirl lands and the ground near Alex gives just slightly, a minor tremor from Kara’s force. Kara approaches, nodding once toward her aunt, then taking her place to wait out the rest of the preptime beside Alex.

“Kara?”

“Hmm?”

“Have you talked to her?”

“She’s a little nervous for me. I mean, I don’t blame her. Astra kicked my butt pretty good there at the beginning of the year, but I’ve come a long way since then.”

“I give the credit to your sparring partner.”

“Oh, of course you would!”

“But Kara, really, just so you know, there’s some papers in the top drawer of my desk at my apartment."

“Alex, no, you don’t have to—”

“It’s just money stuff, nothing big. I don’t think Mom knows it’s there. We get a pretty good life insurance package here, believe it or not. Most people here have families—”

“I don’t really want to talk about this.”

“Neither does your aunt, but you’ll take care of her, right?”

“I’m not making that promise, because we’re all getting out of there fine.”

“I think so, too. Besides, I’m not worried.”

“You’re not?”

“Nah, Supergirl’s got my back.”

“I love you, you know?”

“Yeah. I love you, too, Kara.”

 


 

 

They break into five teams.

Alpha will infiltrate Fort Rozz Command, working their way into the heart of the mountain hold. Beta to the jail cells. Delta—that’s Astra with the Lunarians—are already two-thirds of the way embedded in the winding maze of rocky corridors and metal staircase landings. It's Astra's job to seek out her colleagues and get to Command. Kappa’s heading in via the entrance Alex and the Super-6—seven?—however many there were at the time, used to reprogram the wiring in the circuit breakers over a week ago. Finally, Omega team, the largest unit, splits into six different groupings, each to secure one of the six entrances as they work their way inward.

If all goes as planned, it will be like the walls of the mountain are pressing in on the aliens, a circle drawing ever nearer the center, a geologic supernova. The center in this case being the wing of activated cells. If all of Astra’s intelligence has been correct, the DEO would only be unable to hold the two dozen Kryptonians and Lunarians forming the advisory cabinet in the cells on the premises, but that doesn’t mean they can’t restrain them.

Between the five teams, they’ve packed so much Kryptonite weaponry that merely standing near each other threw Supergirl’s equilibrium off a little while they were still prepping to load the strike vans. Luckily, Astra pinned the Kryptonite inhibitor to Kara's suit soon after.

Once the stars are fully out in the wilderness, they make their move. Half an hour to get in. Glove covered fingers digging in the dirt. Grit and dust up her nostrils. Climbing portions of a sheer rockface. Supergirl carrying team members. Pass code. Alien DNA. Turning. Creaking, Touching her earpiece. Movement to Alex’s left. Fist in the air… hold.

Hold.

Hold.

Hold… now.

It’s dark in the halls. Night mode, just like the last time Alex was in here. Her first, no, second time in the hollowed cavity of a once impenetrable rock deposit. Third time's a charm, right? Hank in her ear. Kara ahead in red, Lucy on the right, black, green lines where the Kryptonite emitters have been suppressed for the moment on her suit. Six other members of Alpha team in silent formation behind.

They take out two guards. No alarms. No bullets. One silencer. Ziiiiiiiiihhp.

Pop pop!

Thuds on the ground. Hellgramite. Something that looks like an aqueous Juggernaut.

Two down.

A legion to go.

The infiltration phase of the mission runs as such—surprisingly smoothly—until Kappa team trips a hidden set of explosive charges buried in the rock of the mountain outside the original wing the Fort Rozz hostiles were using as munitions storage. The plan was for Kappa to engage first, to spring a sneak attack on the combatants in the empty armory when the aliens went to where the weapons used to be.

During the confusion, Kappa team would keep the first wave of aliens secure. Once they regrouped, Labana and Zahine would reveal that they’d moved the materials on the general’s orders, forcing Non or one of Astra’s cabinet members to send the hostiles to the cell wing, and for Labana and Zahine to engage in combat in Command, swiftly to be backed up by Alex, Supergirl, Lucy, and Alpha team.

Of course, it’s hard to launch a sneak attack when the first strike team has been buried alive thanks to an imploding alien fail-safe a quarter hour ahead of schedule.

Alex and Alpha team are securing an eastern corridor when the mountain shakes with the violence of enraged landmasses and suddenly aliens are swarming—like a hornet’s nest come alive after being knocked from its perch. Before Alex and the rest of Alpha team can get their feet back underneath them, a Kryptonian flies past and the alarms start blaring, red lights—Astra hates red—flashing quick enough to induce a grand mal seizure. In the chaos, Alex vaguely wonders if Kappa team’s been buried in the rubble, or if it had been a lone agent who’d made the fatal mistake. Either way, the rest of the plan can’t commence until they secure the central control hall of Fort Rozz and hold it for as long as they can in order to activate the cells.

Alex wonders if Astra’s made her move, Zahine and Labana tearing Control apart, waiting for their reprieve.

“Alpha’s been made, Beta leader,” Alex tells Hank.

“Engage!” Alex hears Hank shout through the coms.

“Alpha team, move forward! Fire at will!” Alex shouts, as she sprints down the corridors toward Fort Rozz Command. She and Lucy lead the team in their own human supersuits, flanking a flying Supergirl just ahead of them.

The rest of team hold formation like Spartans, firing as aliens chase them from behind, from the sides, from above and below, barbs whizzing by helmeted skulls and laser beams banking off of heat-absorbent shields. Alex doesn’t lose step when a three-meter tall being with something like a tortoise shell covering its chest blocks her path. Instead, she picks up speed, using the advanced hydraulics and added force from the suit to ram the alien to the side with the full force of her momentum, jamming her shoulder but clearing the corridor like a linebacker in the process.

“Beta team, we’re twenty yards from Command,” Alex grunts into the com, the din of shouting and clanging and bones slammed against rock flooding her head, overrunning her senses. She spots two Kryptonians she’d seen months ago, fighting with the DEO team in Lord Technologies. She has less than a second to dart out of the way as the red eyes heat up, the laser beam close enough to sizzle the tips of her hair near her neck.

“Omega team, status!” Alex hears Hank shout in her ear.

“The six entrances—” dodge, cross, duck, punch "—mapped have been secured. All stationed agents—”gun in hand, cartridge in the magazine, fire, fire, firefirefirefire "—we've secured next interior level.”

Alex rolls out of the way as the Kryptonian falls in front of her, twitching on the metal rail of a staircase, and then slumping, no more twitching, green ooze seeping from his torso.

“Delta team, status!” Hank barks, and Alex hears the echo of a scuffle through her headset, not the actual scuffle she’s engaging in with a Tormock swordswoman before her.

“Delta team!” Hank repeats.

Alex watches as Lucy ducks a blow from a blue-tinted humanoid with ridges along its skull. Lucy drops to the floor and knocks the thing’s legs out from underneath it, then rolls to her left and shoots a bullet under the flabby portion of its neck, right where the chin melds to the throat. There’s a gross, hollow plunk and immediate paralysis, a dead alien with grey matter leaking from the hole in its head.

“Omega and Beta teams in position, Alpha engaged, awaiting status reports from Kappa, and Delta,” Hank surmises.

"Meanwhile, Beta team's having an ice-cream party," Kara grumbles, yanking the arms overhead of two aliens at once.

“Kara!” Alex shouts, nodding down the hallway. “Clear the area for the last ten yards!”

Kara hurls the two aliens she’d been battling into a wall, and then chucks them down the hallway for good measure.

“Christmas 2007 ring a bell, Alex?!” Kara shouts.

“What the hell are you—”

Everything turns frigid; it’s hard for Alex to hear the voices in her head because her ears have gone numb.

“Kappa… compromised…!”

“Delta team status!”

The freeze breath transforms the corridor into an igloo, the aliens still charging them losing their footing and tripping over themselves in their haste to engage with a progressing Alpha team.

They’ve nearly made it to Command.

There’s static and a gurgley bit of sound in Alex’s ear but her concentration wavers, split like the torso of the alien she just rammed a jagged combat knife through. Twisting, she empties an entire clip into the charging forces of aliens coming from a west-facing hallway, shouting her rage as they power against her hail of bullets, barbaric and ferocious in the melee.

Alex's breath puffs grey, red, and green as her chest heaves, a strange respiratory amalgamation of cold, Kryptonite, and combat.

Kara flies into the mass of frozen combatants with Alex right on her heels. She dodges a punch but something catches her behind the knee. Instead of reloading, she takes the Kryptonite sword from its lead-lined casing and starts hacking at thighs, bringing down two humanoids that could be Kryptonian or Lunarian or Hellgramite in new form. Seems whatever they are bleed as red as humans do (and have some equivalent of a femoral artery) considering the shower of hot blood spurting onto the sheet of ice in the corridor.

“Delta team, STATUS!!!” Hank roars in her ears.

“ASTRA!” Alex shouts, and the general’s name on the enemy’s tongue gives the alien Alex is currently pummeling enough pause for her to land an incapacitating blow. “That’s you!”

“A little busy, Alexandra,” Alex hears Astra’s voice in her ears, and oh, it's just condescending enough to make Alex smirk against the blood stains on her face.

Her heart is thudding wildly against the cold but Astra’s voice is steadier, low and warm and reassuring, something she can fight for. She twists against gripping claws and feels a talon getting caught in some of the circuitry and wiring at her elbow, sparks flying from her suit as she pops round after round into the teeming mass of aliens in the hall closest to Command’s entrance.

“Prepare yourselves, Beta team!” Alex hears Astra report. “Four units moving toward the cells for weapons retrieval.”

“Kara, get the door open!” Alex shouts ahead, as Kara punches a mighty fist into the wall of the compound, ice crystals and rocky tons raining over the charging alien guard Alex can hear coming up the north hall. The rocks fall on top of her but Kara gets out, effectively sealing off the corridor like an imploded mine shaft. It's cold and dusty but for the moment the aliens are gone, separated from a shaken Alpha team through several yards of mountain rock.

“Alex—Alpha team—we need you in command—!”

“Kara,” Alex yells again—how could she have been whispering in the dark only six hours ago? This pandemonium feels endless. “We’ve gotta go for Astra!”

Kara whirls around and flies through the reinforced door leading toward Fort Rozz command. Alex reloads her pistols but shoulders the assault rifle, shoving a cartridge with forty rounds of Kryptonite bullets into the magazine well.

“Lucy!”

“On your six, Alpha leader!” Lucy hollers, whacking a rousing Tormock on the kneecap with its own axe, then twisting around to hit the back of its skull with the blunt end of the weapon. The big blue troll crumples like a piñata at a birthday party.

“Status for Alpha team?”

“Johnson and Franconi are down. Stillman’s on the radio with an extraction unit from Omega,” Lucy reports.

The rest of Alpha team are picking their way over alien bodies, checking their persons for injuries and reloading in the short break.

“Alright team, that was the easy part,” Alex says. “Kryptonians on the other side. Remember, don’t hit Supergirl, Agent In-Ze, or the Lunarian allies.”

“There’s going to be a lot of bullets flying, Agent Danvers,” Green grumbles from her stooped position below, taking out two knives from her boot sheaths.

“Same goes for everybody on task. Don’t kill yourselves with friendly fire,” Alex advises. “Hold rank and keep your backs together. We’re like one big bug buzzer with all the Kryptonite we’ve got on us. Aim for the inhibitors first, then take the body shots. Ready on my count,” Alex holds her fist up, but she can already hear the chaos inside.

“Three-two-one-GO!”

She expects to hear the metal tinging of bullets against rock walls as soon as she enters, but instead, the noise falls away. She sees Astra engaged in battle with another Kryptonian, no, two, three—flying back and forth around the cavernous ceilings and trading blows, sees Kara fighting off another two, but Alex can’t hear any of it. Not over the tiny voice in her head.

Kill the aliens.

Alex shakes her head. That’s not…Yes, she’s here to kill aliens. It’s silent all around, save for the three words.

Kill the aliens.

She’s here to kill them all. To run them through. To put bullets in their eye sockets and watch the memories of their home planets fade into extinction, to end the life of any being that isn’t human, that isn’t her race.

Kill the aliens.

It’s silent except for the voice. Quiet in her head. The quietest it’s ever been, so that she can concentrate, completely focus on the one thing she needs to do:

Kill the aliens.

Her team behind her, guns down, blank stares, awaiting her command. If she spoke, they wouldn’t hear. They don’t need to. They know the objective.

Kill Supergirl.

Supergirl is an alien. Alex needs to kill aliens, especially Supergirl.

The quiet is helpful. The quiet is conducive to concentration. The quiet will help her in her mission.

She shoulders the rifle and fires. Fires. Keeps firing. She walks forward and Supergirl dodges a blow from another alien. The bullet mashes into the alien’s skin but it doesn’t do anything.

That’s not right. She’s supposed to kill aliens.

“ALEX!!!”

Alex doesn’t aim at Supergirl. She aims at the device the other alien, the related alien, pinned to Supergirl’s chest. The device that makes her bullets ineffectual. The reason she can’t shoot all the aliens, every alien, they all deserve to die—but not those two at the Command console.

Not the man with silver hair and not the blue alien, her hands attached to the glowing round console, a manic, open-mouthed smile on her face. Energy pulses from her blue limbs, fiery sparks turning the white console a rainbow of colors, blue green purple magenta green like her eyes in the morning no orange pink red crimson scarlet brick blood red red red red—

Is she laughing?

Why is the blue alien laughing?

Alex can’t hear anything.

Kill Supergirl.

KILL Supergirl.

KILL SUPERGIRL…

Alex sees Lucy remove the glowing green sword from its sheath and bound closer to Supergirl. Lucy leaps high. Lucy is fulfilling the mission. Alex watches Kryptonians swoop in and knock the team behind her to the ground, burn one with their eyes, snap a neck, twist an arm to breaking.

Alex unsheathes the sword.

Kill Supergirl.

There’s a dark alien before her with kind eyes, a trim figure, blocking her path to Supergirl—he deserves to die. He deserves to perish for keeping her from her task. Alex misses his body with her first silent swing; she isn’t precise, she merely needs to get through him. His mouth is moving. His jaw is dropping and flopping and his lips are pursing and his teeth are flashing and his eyes are narrow and his brow is furrowed and he has his arms on her and he’s in her way—

Kill Supergirl.

Kill Supergirl.

She lands a blow against his arm with the sword and his face contorts. He should be crying out. His mouth hangs open like a gaping sea bass but he doesn’t scream, just clutches the bleeding, near-severed limb with his other hand as he falls to the ground.

Supergirl and Lucy are fighting. Supergirl isn’t flying anymore. Alex hit the Kryptonite suppressor with her bullets. Alex is succeeding in her mission.

The blue alien at the console is laughing.

The man with silver hair is fighting with the alien—the alien with the white streak in her hair—their mouths are moving. They might be arguing. They’re not flying. They can’t. Alex feels the scrape of mangled metal bullets beneath her boots, the crunch of material that might be a Kryptonite suppressor. She doesn't hear anything. Just textures. Some smells. Like brimstone. Salt. Heat.

FINISH SUPERGIRL.

Supergirl is engaged in battle with Lucy. Lucy is quick. The other Kryptonians are quick as well. Lucy swings the sword to the side, but Alex taught Supergirl how to defend against that blow. Alex must do it. Alex knows what Supergirl knows. She knows what Supergirl doesn’t know.

Alex holds her sword in her left hand and whirls it into a secure grip. She will finish the mission. Alex cannot hear anything, but she can taste salt on her lips. Sweat, perhaps. Her vision is blurred by tears, though Alex must kill Supergirl, surely. That is the mission. She runs headlong into Supergirl’s back and sends her sprawling forward, Lucy’s sword slicing the material of her cape in two.

I hate that cape, sometimes.

Supergirl’s mouth is working, open, her eyes are wide, fearful, Supergirl fears her, fears the power she possesses, her resolve to complete the mission. She lifts the sword to deal the killing blow but Lucy stops her—no, not Lucy. The alien who rammed into Lucy. A brown-skinned female with the Kryptonite inhibitor pinned to her chest, uniform wet with red blood.

Another alien engages her in battle. This woman does not have a Kryptonite inhibitor. The woman is feinting, dancing away, dodging defensively and distracting Alex from her mission, her mission to kill Supergirl.

Alex turns, but the woman is there. The woman with the green eyes and the white curl and handwriting like calligraphy.

Alex swings with her sword and the woman dives out of range. The woman kicks at Alex’s hand, but so close, with the Kryptonite pulsing from Alex’s suit, she is weaker, is compromised, her technique is better than Supergirl’s, but the Kryptonite is consuming, the Kryptonite is weakening her—

Alex swings again with the sword, but it’s knocked from her hand as the woman who loves peanut butter pushes Alex to the ground. Alex attempts a leg sweep but the woman in the black suit, no, the little black dress in her bedroom closet, the woman in the black DEO tanktop, the woman who wore many outfits hurdles over Alex’s feet and remains standing, blocking her path to Supergirl. Alex presses her hands flat on the ground over her shoulders and kicks up her legs, arches and launches herself into a crouch and grabs hold of her pistol, turning, firing, clipping the woman’s torso as her jaw drops open—no sound—why is there no heartbeat in Alex’s head?—and the woman grips her mangled side and grinds her teeth together.

Pain.

She’s wounded now, the woman with the similar sister, with the arranged marriage, with no ability to make coffee. The woman who reached her hand across the table and removed the residue from Alex’s lip is trying to talk to her, but Alex can’t hear.

Remember the mission. Kill Supergirl.

Alex looks around to chaos; she sees guns firing but can’t hear anything. A green alien with a red X over his chest, red, kind eyes, keeps rotating his head in her direction.

Kill Supergirl.

Lucy Lane is on the ground and there’s blood pooling near her head.

Supergirl is crying.

Kill Supergirl.

“—lex!”

There. Someone’s calling her name. Calling her to complete her mission. To see to the utmost priority, to dedicate every ounce of power, physical and mental, toward achieving this goal.

“—not your fault.”

The woman whose kisses taste like gingersnaps is circling closer to her, moving her mouth, her lips flapping ineffectually, some bastardized version of a mimed story Alex has no interest in.

“—love you, Alexandra.”

Alex lets the woman come closer. Her eyes feel hotter than mercury. The salty taste is overwhelming, and when she touches her gloved hand to her cheek, the leather shines from the tears.

“No matter what happens here, Alexandra, do no blame yourself.”

Why is she crying?

Is this what failure feels like?

The failed mission?

The second-best sister that she’s always been, unable to compete with Supergirl, Supergirl, hope and happiness and promises promises but what are promises when the mission matters most? Alex pulls the pistol up in one hand and zeroes in on Supergirl, who is fighting off a hoard of aliens closing in on Lucy’s body. Her free hand gravitates slowly toward the belt at her waist.

“Alexandra, Alex no—!”

The woman Alex loves lurches for the gun as Alex fires and Alex allows the woman’s momentum to bring her forward into Alex’s body. The woman has control of the gun, but not control over her own body. Alex is holding her. close enough to kiss, but that is not the mission. Instead, Alex plunges the viridian blade of the combat knife between the woman’s shoulder blades, twists the handle, and watches the gorgeous woman’s mouth form the words her ears can finally, finally hear, as the silence breaks in her head:

“I love you, Alex.”

Chapter Text

Hey General,

It’s weird writing ‘General’ out when I got so used to opening with ‘Tolstoy.’ It’s even better now that I know you finished the book… and liked it. The capital G is weird to write anyways, and we both know my handwriting isn’t the best.

Anyway, I’ve sat down to write this more times than I can think, and whatever I end up with on paper always sounds a little dumb, honestly, but I thought this might act as… incentive, I guess, to get through the next couple of days. It’s not a love letter. I don’t think I’d ever be able to write that for you. I’d start off talking about how strong you are, and how beautiful I think you are, and how smart and tough and caring…and how much I admire you for all of that together. But then I look back at that letter you wrote me and I know I could never craft something so special. I can’t put it into words, but the way you make me feel is just something I’ll have to show you from here on out.

And well, speaking of what comes next, after we infiltrate and stop Myriad… I know that’s a little uncertain. You can take this letter however you want—love letter, battle inspiration, spare reading for you downtime. But it does serve a purpose.

It’s an invitation.

Astra—I’d like for you to move in with me.

You already know the place. I’ve got the spare room for anything you have that you’d want to hold onto, anything you might want now that you’ve got space to store it. I know your situation with the Army is still up in the air, but with Lucy on our side I don’t see you going back behind bars any time soon. Not with Gen. Lane as embarrassed as he is.

Again, only if you want to. That’s a big step, at least for humans in a relationship, dating, or—whatever you want to call it. Cohabitating with someone can knock the spice out of things sometimes, but for some reason, I don’t see that being a problem with us. I used to joke with Kara that she and I should come with a warning label, considering all of the trouble we get into. So I thought I’d let you know what you’re in for, if you accept my offer.

I know you’re a big fan of lists and writing things out, so I even made it easy for you.

Item one : I am not an early riser. When this started, I was taking those runs at dawn because I had to be at HQ early, and it was the only time I could get the cardio in. Out of necessity, not choice, alright? So if I’ve got a Saturday to sleep in, I’m sleeping in. Take Kara hiking or sun-rise chasing or whatever the two of you do before light because I won’t wake up.

Item two : I like classic rock. The Stones, The Beatles, Bad Company—all British Invasion stuff. The Doors, Van Morrison, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, CCR, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, 60s, 70s, 80s—Queen. Definitely, big Freddie Mercury fan, like my dad, and J’onn has me convinced Freddie wasn’t entirely human. I know that doesn’t mean a lot to you, but if you’re hanging around the apartment you’re going to hear rock music blaring while I do workouts inside, or if I’m cooking, which I rarely do, which brings us to—

Item three: I’m a subpar cook. Don’t listen to Kara. It’s not that I can’t do it. Cooking is chemistry. I’m a scientist, so I can follow instructions. Recipes aren’t beyond me, and I realize that the more emphatically I write about this, the more defensive I sound. I just… don’t have a lot of time for it. Take-out is easier, and half the time I’m too tired to scrounge anything up. But I can handle keeping the cabinet stocked with a few extra peanut butter jars. If you eat anything like Kara, we’ll have some adjusting to do.

            Three A: I’m a little more selective concerning my liquids. I’m a coffee snob, and I can knock back a double bottle of Merlot over a weekend easy. My go-to drink for electrolytes and stuff is lemonade. I have no idea why. It just tastes good.

            Three B: If you ever bring pizza home, please save me more than one piece. I know how amazing pizza is, and I also know how much Kryptonians like it. But humans can’t just have one piece of pizza. It’s now being made an official Danvers apartment rule.

Item four : I’m not a neat-freak, but I like my organized chaos. I might miss the hamper, but the dirty clothes go in a specific chair, not on the floor. All the bathroom cleaning supplies are in the hall closet, but they’re on the same shelf as a half a gallon of paint and my toolbox; below that, there’s some steel wool and a mousetrap, bug spray, spotlight, personal safe. All over the place content-wise, but still in one utility storage spot. Chaos, like I said. But there’s method to the madness.

Item five : T.V. Night. Kara and I trade off tv night at each other’s apartments every two weeks or so, with game night in the middle. It’s remarkably regular, considering how crazy our lives can get. We only get to watch about three episodes in an evening, and you’re welcome to join us if we’re at my place—unless it’s weird for Kara. I’d never kick you out, don’t get me wrong, but we like our time together. I know if she was ever dating anyone, I wouldn’t want to hang around like a third wheel all the time. We’ll talk that part out, because I don’t think we’ve covered the ‘third wheel’ metaphor yet.

Item six : No pets, just because my schedule is so hectic I couldn’t properly care for one. It’s not that I’m against them, but we’d have to pay another $50 a month plus all the expenses to take care of it… I don’t think that keeping something alive other than ourselves would be in our best interest.

Item seven : Sometimes I sing in the shower. If you make fun of me, I’ll shoot you.

Item eight : Half of my closet is black clothes. I’ve not seen you in much else other than your battle uniform, but if you like black as much as I do, we’re going to have to find a sorting system.

Item nine : I’m not perfect. I leave dishes in the sink over night or—in the case of one mission in Denver—days. I work too much, but I have a feeling you know that already. I’m not always going to tell you if I’m upset, because some things I just don’t like to talk about. It’s been strange, all this time writing you, having to put what’s going on in my head down on paper. I’m less transparent usually, and I feel like that makes me seem… I don’t know. Disaffected. Cold. Insincere. That’s not the case, not always. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll keep this letter thing going? It’s like you said—getting the words down on paper is a good outlet, even if I can’t say what I’m feeling to your face.

Item ten : You can disregard all of this if you don’t want to move in. If you’d rather stay with Kara, or get a place of your own, we can arrange that. I'll help you buy furniture, and dishes, and sheets and all that home-goods stuff that makes a house more homey. You’ve been living in a mountain for over ten years. It would make sense that you’d want to get a little time to yourself in a place that isn’t made of stone. This list isn’t something to pressure you into being with me.

I love you, but… I think we did it backwards? People on Earth say, “it’s the little things.” Like, the little things you fall in love with about a person; the little things that make you happy. Like your smirk. And the way you signed your full titles at the end of those first letters. The way you love Kara. Your conviction. Your green, green eyes (I thought they were grey for so long, but now, knowing your smile, I can't see them as anything else), the way you tuck your pinky in when you hold my hand.

So this was a list of the little things that you might have missed, if we’d done this in the proper order. I’d never trade how it happened with us. Somehow, I think this progression of events was the only way it could have happened, and I think that makes us a little special, don’t you? So, Astra In-Ze, first daughter of the House of In-Ze, Lord Markswoman of the Elite Brigadiers, Soldiers of the Bastion Range and Arclominian of the First Order... would you like to live with me?

Promise me you’ll think about it.

I do this thing, before a lot of major missions, where I think about something I’m looking forward to after I finish the mission. For the longest time, it was hanging out with Kara, trying out the prototyped toys in R&D with Vasquez, the newest season of Game of Thrones. Now… it’s you. I can’t wait to see what we’ll be together once all of this is over.

Love,

Your Alexandra

 


 

 

Alex flips the Kryptonite switch off on her suit when she feels the wetness.

Spittle.

Gurgle.

Trickle.

Tear.

Saliva.

Froth.

The taste of iron, because—

Blood.

Blood.

Blood.

Blood blood blood blood blood bloodbloodbloodbloodbloodbloodblood.

Alex has seen soldiers shot mere feet from her position during field combat. The thud of bullet impact, the soul wrenched from the body, the starburst stippling, the splatter of innards from the exit wound. Alex has wiped alien and human fluids from her cheeks in battle and continued firing.

It’s something she’s hardened to, something she’s learned to take in stride.

So when Astra’s lips curl and her diaphragm spasms one last time, the cough and splash of blood droplets expectorated in a bitter mist between them, Alex doesn’t even flinch. Not when Astra’s blood hits her in the face. And not when Astra smirks at her in wry unbelief. There’s a distant racket, the sound further away and filtered through the jolt of shock, the draaaaaaaaag of the serrated blade as Alex pulls it from the skin flaps.

Astra slumps in her hold and Alex almost drops her… drops her because streams of dark blood are spewing out of a mangled hole nearly an inch wide in diameter. The ragged, wet geometry is two finger-widths away from Astra’s spine. Gushes wet Alex's fingers, her black gloves slippery and metallic-smelling in the lowlight.

Alex knows she used the proper technique: when you stab an enemy in hand-to-hand combat, you try to inflict the most damage you can in a single blow—twist the handle to mangle whatever’s on the inside (Alex knows Astra is drowning from a punctured lung—blade scrape across the scapula—hemopneumothorax—collapse, convulse, coagulate). Her stomach lurches, but she can’t add vomit to the sweat and tears soaking her suit.

As the silence slowly gives way too booming shock, Alex follows Astra to the ground, cradling her in her arms, the knife used to bring Astra down pulsing and flickering like an infected Christmas light mere inches from them.

Alex’s brain slows to sludge.

Alex feels Astra quake in her arms.

Alex plugs and presses at the wound.

All of these actions happen thickly, disjointed and delayed and hard to connect.

Alex cannot breathe.

Alex cannot administer medical attention.

The medical unit is with Omega team.

Last Alex recalled, Omega had only secured the first level of entrances.

There were four levels.

Alex holds Astra tight enough to break her as she takes stock of the situation in Command.

Lucy is lying on the ground ten yards away and her eyes are shut. There’s dirt caked on her cheek, and in the eerie lime light of her shimmering Kryptonite suit, her face seems contoured from the smudges. She’s like a model cast in a Halloween cover shoot. A sprite, so small and deadly and dark. The cheeks—sharper than her naturally round face normally looks. Angular. A small, ferocious dragon, asleep in her mountain keep.

Zahine is being pummeled by a male Kryptonian, his back against the mountain wall, taking blow after blow. Every hit forces him into the rock, and when he rebounds with all the bounce of a basketball banked against a backboard, Alex notices the stain near his arm growing larger and larger, wetting the rock wall with glistening blood.

Non is being roasted alive.

The interior of the mountain feels like a volcano, and Alex wonders if geologists have been remiss in their searches for active magma rivers in the California area. The innermost core of the mountain is on fire, architectural supports and futuristic monitors and energy generators of unfathomable development sparking and flaming, brightening the interior of the Command room—or what’s left of it. Blue beams of tear-stained heat shoot from Kara’s eyes as she screams, rages, boring into her embittered uncle’s laser stare. Non fires back, but even from this distance, Alex can see the beginnings of his end. He falters under Kara’s force, losing ground as he falls into the railing nearest the circular control panel.

Alex needs to move. She’s back to her senses, the battle so loud it’s near deafening, so close to that terrible silence—but there’s still so much happening around her. That terrible silence had been like struggling through Niagara, a water curtain where she could barely make out portions of reality, but couldn’t push through it without being crushed. She can’t look at the straining body in her arms. She can’t. She’ll freeze up, she’ll crack, and they can’t have one more body paralyzed, not when Supergirl’s got her psychotic uncle on the ropes.

Alex kisses Astra’s temple and places her body on the floor. She climbs up on shaky knees.

She heads toward Zahine, tells herself she doesn’t see the wibbly spasm of a grin on Astra’s face as her head lolls to the side, a trickle of blood running from the corner of her lip. Alex reaches around and snatches the inhibitor from the Kryptonian’s chest and hurls it back in Astra’s direction. She simultaneously plunges the blood-stained knife forged with Kryptonite into his back while Zahine holds his thrashing form in place. He struggles momentarily then relaxes, falls to the side as Alex crouches next to a hyperventilating Zahine.

“Zahine, can you move?”

“Yes,” he huffs. “But n-no thanks t-to you,” he pants harder, shrinking from her as he staggers to his feet, clutching the mangled limb that once constituted an arm. It dangles at unnatural degrees from his torso. Alex’s face twitches when she recalls being under the silence, how she’d swung the blade and felt victory as it crunched against his humerus. “I wish you humans would make up your minds if you wanted to help us or kill us.”

“Get Ast—get the injured bodies to the side of the room,” Alex grits, ducking as a bullet whizzes by her ear, sparking off the rock wall behind them. “Do what you can. Please.”

When Alex turns, Indigo is cackling, baiting J’onn in his Martian form even as her blue face spasms, like glitching code on a monitor. Labana is fighting the remaining Kryptonian Army along with Agent Green, who whips two Kryptonite swords through the air with all the expertise of a Samurai. Labana swoops and Green stabs, two against four. Bodies are everywhere. Agents, aliens—the humanoid ones look so very similar mixed in with her own people, a sea of black armor and rigor mortis stares. Alex takes one Kryptonian by surprise with the same tool she used on Gloxer, months and months ago, a taser-like gun shot with her left hand that disabled the Kryptonite emitter pinned to the Kryptonian’s heaving chest. At the same time, a Kryptonite bullet finds its target in the soft skin of the Kryptonian’s neck from the pistol Alex fires with her right hand.

Ambidextrous.

Even with the love laceration Alex cut into her hand for Astra from two nights ago.

Astra.

Astra.

Letters by fireside, knife in hand, little promises whispered against her lips.

Steel.

Blood.

Blood bonds us all.

On Krypton, we believe that blood bonds us all. It is the blood of my people, of my genetic makeup, that bonds me to my race. Yet it is the act, the bleeding, that bonds me to many worlds. We are both soldiers and we all bleed, no matter the species, Alexandra. With this bond, I swear to bleed before you do.

General Astra, Arclomian of the First Order, embattled soldier, Lord Markswoman of the Elite Brigadiers, Russian literature reader, strategist, writer, the love of Alex’s life…

She certainly makes good on her promises.

There's so much blood Alex can barely keep her feet beneath her.

Astra’s body is somewhere in the collection of corpses on the floor, but there’s more at stake here, like Astra told her. Like Astra insisted from the beginning. Astra said it was for Kara, but Alex knows better. The mission was never Myriad. It was never to fall in love with Alex, never only for reconciliation with Kara, never to erase the guilt she harbored concerning Krypton. That’s not what the letters were for.

They were for peace. Astra’s peace. For her to set things right.

Alex has to keep fighting—has to see this thing through. For Astra.

Do it for Astra.

There’s three Kryptonian bodies flying around the remaining DEO trio—Alex, Green, and Labana.

Alex cuts a quick glance and sees that Zahine has Lucy shielded from the battle, her limp body wedged behind a series of crumbling stalagmites. He seems to be assessing Astra’s wound, but Alex can’t tell for sure if it’s Astra or another soldier he’s looking over, the small blue glow of the Kryptonite inhibitor waved over a torso like a magic wand. J’onn has a sparking Indigo held over his head and Kara has turned her attention to the two trios battling it out in the middle of Command. Part of Non’s smoking skull looks like watermelon burst on the ground—but Supergirl ignores it, stalking toward the melee.

Back to the three remaining Kryptonians. Back to the three DEO operatives, agent and alien mixed together. Alex hears Indigo screech and jolt into pixelated nothingness as J’onn rips her body into separate halves. It’s so violent it seems comical. Kara and J’onn approach, murder in their alien eyes. It’ll be over once Supergirl joins the fray.

Alex dodges lasers—has recovered from the shock of the silence enough for her to activate her Kryptonite suit once again. She leaps as Lucy leapt, swinging her fist against a male Kryptonian’s jaw with all of her remaining strength. It doesn’t do much good with the Kryptonite inhibitors, but Supergirl is there to catch his body as he fumbles in flight. She yanks his shoulders over her own and hurls him into the mountain wall, the entire cavern shaking with instability.

“Kara, careful!” Alex shouts.

Kara's eyes are as red as her cape.

She jets around the remaining two Kryptonians, faster, stronger, deadlier than Alex has ever seen her. She’s fueled with rage, sloppy in her delivery, grief and self-loathing evident with every strike. She takes one down and bashes his head into the rock floor, harder and harder and harder and faster and wilder until Alex launches herself at Kara, knocking her off of the Kryptonian enemy.

He’d cried for mercy somewhere around the third head smash.

Labana’s restrained the remaining Kryptonians, Green at her side with a pair of Kryptonite cuffs. J’onn has thrown the body Kara beat to unconsciousness into the pile that once consisted of Astra’s murderous cabinet—

Shit.

Astra.

Kara shivers from the force of her sobs and wails louder from beneath Alex’s body.

“Medic,” Alex says, and her voice is scratchy and thick. Kara’s chest heaves beneath her arm and tears run through the burnt dirt on her golden cheeks.

Kara’s whimpers are like a second shock to the system; Alex shakes herself from her battle daze and depowers the Kryptonite suit. It doesn’t help. Kara keeps crying.

“Medic—J’onn, we need a medic now!” Alex struggles to her feet and yanks Kara upright. “Kara, Kara, get it together. Astra, we—I didn't—” Alex pulls Kara as she struggles over the bodies, frantically looking to the corner for Zahine.

There’s the rock wall.

The black suit.

The kind eyes with the broken arm.

Pity in the look. Sadness. Grief.

The nod.

Body on the left, shorter, unmoving.

Lucy… poor Lucy Lane.

Body on the right… body… shaking... Astra’s body…

Alex falls down beside her and hears the wheezing above all else, the bloody exhalations, the suffocating sound of a squelchy, fleshy heart beating overtime to compensate for the critical puncture.

“Oh god…” Alex cries, tears stinging like droplets of acid. “I’m sorry, god—I’m—Astra, I’m so sorry.”

“Omega team,” J’onn says from somewhere far away, no doubt shifting back to Henshaw’s form as his voice changes, as the alien-turned-director crosses toward Lucy’s limp form. “Medical units reroute to Command. Multiple casualties. Send for the choppers.”

Astra’s hand flops about by Alex’s side. Alex takes it. Ice feels warmer.

“Don't cry—Alex—andra—” Astra smiles, and her teeth are sheeny pink, like she just slurped down a pitcher of red Kool-Aid. Her face is so bloody, her hair—crimson and slick like the color she hates. And she’s hurting, she’s shaking, God, she’s convulsing

“Kara should be here.”

Labana, over Alex’s shoulder.

“To say goodbye.”

Alex leans over Astra’s face, jostles her shoulder just slightly, watches her pupils roll back in her head—

“No... no, no!” Alex grits her teeth and brushes the matted curls out of Astra’s paling face. "Don't you dare! No, please... No!" Alex shouts, tilting Astra's chin upward, but the usually tight muscle in her jaw goes slack as a severed tendon. “We were supposed to fight together! Be together. You tell Rao or whoever the hell you pray to that you're with me, you're going to be with me-

“Let L-L-Labana take h-h-her.”

Alex hears Kara crying an turns abruptly over her shoulder. Kara sobs as she shifts Lucy’s limp body in her grip, the shorter woman’s neck lurching forward like a child’s with little support.

“S-S-She’s got a pulse,” Kara intones, careful to keep every portion of Lucy supported. “I’m going to start flying the injured back to the DEO.”

“Kara,” Alex hiccups, because this can’t be it. After everything, after battle… six months and love letters can’t be distilled down to a knife in the back and her family flying away.

“Labana can get her to the sunbed in time,” Kara tries.

J’onn is barking orders at Omega team behind them. Alex knows there’s little hope in Labana taking Astra now. Even if the wound sealed with the Kryptonite inhibitor Zahine had waved over Astra’s body, there are gallons of blood staining the rock where Alex stabbed her.

Alex stabbed her.

Alex killed her.

“Please,” Alex whispers toward Astra’s sagging face, her closed eyes, her quiet, broken heart. “I love you.”

“Agent Danvers,” Zahine says, standing deferentially with Labana at his side. “Let us take her to your headquarters.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” Alex says, gripping Astra’s hand tighter. That right hand, that hand that had written every word to her—written All my love and ever yours—but Alex should’ve known better. She had just been… so… close. But no kiss can undo the damage, can never erase the fact that Alex killed Astra—

“Agent Danvers!” Hank hustles over toward her.

“Sir?” Alex sniffles, staring absently at Astra’s body.

Hank lumbers over to the congregated bodies as Kara bows her head, takes more effort than usual to fly off, unable to look at her aunt’s still body or her shaking sister, hovering uncertainly amid the spiking rocks.

“Let them take care of their General,” Hank advises. “We have to get everyone out while we still can.”

“Sir, I didn’t… I couldn’t fight it,” Alex tries. She flashes back to the struggle with Astra’s face in front of her, the lips moving silently. She thinks she can make out the words, now: not your fault, Myriad was made for this. Alex looks up and blinks the tears that won’t stop falling. Astra’s hand still feels cold. One blemish. The scratch where she’d cut herself for Alex.

“J’onn, in my head—”

“No one could fight it. All teams were hit,” Hank explained. “We’d gotten the combatants secured in the cells once Myriad took full control over the agents’ brain waves.”

“You were unaffected?” Zahine asks.

Alex stands as Labana takes Astra’s body gingerly into her arms.

“The waves only affected the humans,” Alex hears J’onn mumble. “Let them go,” he tells her, the pressure of his hand heavy on her armor-covered shoulder. “We have to finish here first.”

“What’s to finish?” Alex murmurs, staring, bereft and nauseous and hopeless as the Lunarians float Astra’s body away, back to the DEO for an unnecessary autopsy. “What’s the point?”

“Your soldiers went through the exact same thing you did, Alex,” Hank turns her around. “They had the aliens trapped in the cells. They heard the same command you did. Do you know what that means?”

Alex hardly knows what existing means, let alone what happened fourteen corridors away.

“I was told… I was told to kill the aliens. I… succeeded,” Alex whispers.

Hank looks at the bodies of the aliens in their battlesuits, sprawled inelegantly on the ground. “So did everyone else.”

“Sir?” Alex asks, watching as her shell-shocked team members make their way into Command, some of the most battle-hardened fighters she’s ever served with taking a single glance at the Kryptonian bodies and then turning away, dry heaving against the mountain walls.

“Grouped together like that, I had to keep my cover,” Hank tells her. “I had to leave the cells… couldn't shift until I got here. Non couldn’t have realized what a command like that-issued via Myriad-would mean for the rest of Fort Rozz.”

“Sir,” Alex murmurs, taking stock of the haunted faces, the wet eyes, the grimaces of disgust every agent seemed to be throwing at their guns, strapped securely at their sides. “What happened to the aliens caught in the cells if the teams… they… they were trapped but the agents—”

“Corralled them into the active cells and opened fire,” Hank answers, turning to assess the state of his traumatized team. “Slaughtered them all.”

Chapter Text

To one Very Special Agent Danvers,

I don’t feel there is much to write that I haven’t already communicated to you, whether in letters, speech, or whispers. And yet I know there is so much to learn about you, about your history, about your world—and so much that you could learn from me. I have every confidence in you, dearest, and will be truly honored to fight at your side. Perhaps we will embrace once the fighting concludes.

Perhaps Kara will learn to hide her grimace a little better when she sees us doing so, hmm?

And perhaps it is only in my head that I think this way—due to unfortunate personal experience or my tendency to prepare for every eventuality—that I ask you not to mourn me too terribly long should this battle end in my death. I would never allow any harm to come to you or Kara, so do not be surprised if I abandon the task before me and come to your aid, should you require it. I dare not confess to premonition, but we both know Kara and I are walking into the singular stronghold in the galaxy that houses many species who could end our lives. I cannot shake the foreboding sense that I have missed something, that we haven’t placed our trust in the right entities, that we have overlooked a minor detail that could save us all. I might be ‘super’ to you humans, but I am just as vulnerable within that mountain as your team.

I hope to remain ‘super,’ however, if only to live up to your marvelous capabilities, Alexandra.

It has taken much of my life for me to reconcile my actions, for me to stop projecting my anger for myself, for my sister, and for my world, onto an Earth and a species that doesn’t deserve such judgment. Alexandra, should the worst come, know that I am at peace with it. That loving you, no matter how briefly, is worth every medal or title I was ever granted on Krypton. Darling, you have given me an acceptance and understanding I have never known. I fly, and I fight, and I can feel the chill of ice crystals form on my tongue if I concentrate; but you empower me in ways that would put my abilities to shame. These powers make me special, and a special life does not always run parallel with peace.

But you grant me that calmness, that self-serenity.

Thank you, Alexandra.

There are days when I realize that to feel so complete in you would have scandalized the woman I once was. Of course, I recognize my changes in minor degrees, not major leaps, but you, Agent Danvers, with your competence and bravado and skill to match that quick tongue of yours—you were an ambush I could never combat. I am so thankful our fight eventually fizzled to a cessation of hostilities, to a partnership and friendship that sustained me through miserable evenings alone in that mountain. And then, my love, my great love, Alexandra—you inspired me to help save this world.

With you in it, how could I refuse?

I do not know what this future battle will bring… or the battle after this one, or the next. I do, however, know you, and I know you will not stop fighting. I would never ask you to. And if I continue to employ my skill-set as well, I cannot imagine ours would be a life without trials. I can scarcely imagine it at all, the concept is so alien to me. Happiness, with you, with Kara. My second chance. Even if I cannot fathom it, that second life, it doesn’t mean I do not long for it, for the simple joys of spending time with you, holding you, and loving you until we are presented with some final battle. If I could simply write ‘I love you’ on hundreds of thousands of pages, for you to have at least one note every day on your hundreds of thousands of days to know you are so loved, respected, and cherished, I would. Of course, ours is not a life that would afford me the time to do so, but indulge me, and extrapolate the following for any day when I am without you:

I love you.

I think it would be rather useless of me to ask you to take care of Kara, as you have done so exceptionally for longer than I knew of your connection. Though I would be remiss if I did not advise you to take care of yourself. It amazes me that you do not see how special you are, Alexandra. Do not let that fierce, stubborn, blinding light fade for any reason.

Perhaps this letter will have no bearing when tomorrow’s sun rises. Perhaps we will be tucked away somewhere… somewhere bright, I think. I’ve lived underground for too long. And that morning light will fall on your shoulder and I will hold it, hold that dawn with my fingers on your skin and revel in that ease that you grant me.

How I love you, Alexandra Danvers.

Yours, ever, always, for every dawn and twilight to follow,

Astra

 


 

 

Alex clutches Astra's final letter between shaking fingers.

The swivel chair Alex is propped on in her lab is absolute hell on her equilibrium. Every time she thinks she sees Astra’s fingers twitch atop the sunbed, Alex knows it’s really only her own fatigued senses, her body listing like the mutilated prow of a schooner, further and further to the side.

She feels like she's sinking.

Alex bangs her head on the table at one point, her physical and emotional exhaustion over-running two years worth of endurance training. The jury-rigged heart monitor attached to Astra has blipped one time in the past fifteen minutes, and Alex cannot feel a pulse. Placing a hand mirror beneath Astra’s nose does nothing—the glass stays clear of fog.

Alex had to cut the black DEO clothing away from Astra's body (it had practically melded to Astra’s skin with all the blood) upon arrival back at HQ. And she had spent much of the past hour talking to Astra in soothing little nonsense noises, telling Astra about the equipment in her lab, how she was going to plug these wires here, and then shift Astra’s arm there, just a little, to apply the adhesive to her temple, to register brain activity and respiration rate and the pace of a heart that Alex had shredded with a blade.

There wasn’t any activity to measure.

Alex donned the flexible, lead-lined gloves and vest all human agents needed to wear when working next to the solar bed, and hadn’t removed any other clothing of her own, save for that faulty Kryptonian battle suit, prior to coming in the lab. She’d taken one look at the heap of advanced tech and wanted to gag, the Kryptonite still buzzing low and deadly beneath the wiring and notched gears at the joints.

(“Take it to the armory, Agent Danvers?” Some agent had asked her as she’d yanked it off her body in the locker room. The other female agents had chucked all of their blood-soaked clothing into a canvas hamper that was beginning to stain red.

“I don’t care,” Alex had answered. “Burn it. Chuck it. It’s not like we didn’t already decimate an alien army this evening.”)

Hands washed but face streaked with blood and tears, Alex had set to work on Astra before tending to her own scars. How could she? With Astra spread out like some anesthetized subject, waiting for Alex’s shaky hand to save her.

The sunbed was already thrumming with synthetic solar radiation once Alex arrived back from the mountain base. Labana and Zahine had refused to move from their post at the General’s side until Alex had returned, despite mouthing off to General Lane. He, of course, was soon preoccupied with badgering the surgeons drilling a hole in Lucy's skull.

Once Lane had been dealt with, Alex ran down the list of checks and procedures with Labana and Zahine, and even mentioned a name or two from the Protection and Placement unit—contacts that could help the Lunarians with identities and money and housing and whatnot, all the little details they’d been promised in return for their alliance during the mountain siege. And with heavy gazes, the two Lunarians had excused themselves, Labana aiding a wincing Zahine as they straggled off the premises and into a thankfully clear night, the two hoping to soak the moon’s healing glow into the snapped bones of Zahine’s arm.

If it weren’t for that singular blip on a heart monitor at the very beginning of Astra’s physical check, Alex would've called it. Alex wonders now if it was a glitch in the technology, a human machine modified by her own hands to measure Kryptonian vital signs. Normally, Kara’s heart pulses at the rate of an anxious gazelle—even in her moments of healing post-Kryptonite injury, or during the rare occasions that she’s blown her powers, Kara’s Kryptonian heart beats faster than a human’s in sleep. The stats they have on Clark indicate the same.

So for no reading on the modified EKG? No spike? One flat green line, thinner than the blade Alex used to… no.

No.

“Any change?” Hank asks, stepping cautiously over the threshold of Alex’s lab. There’s not as much movement in the control room behind him as there had been an hour ago. Many of the agents are in the process of filling out reports, returning their gear to the armory, and—for most all of the surviving members of the infiltration teams—attending mandatory group therapy.

“Nothing new,” Alex murmurs, too scared to try anything in the way of administering medical treatment. “There’s only so much I can… we know needles won’t pierce her skin. I can’t…” Alex bites her lip and blinks fast, hoping she’s all cried out for the night. The stinging prick below her eyelids indicates otherwise. “I have a headache.”

“Take some medicine. You won’t do her any good working yourself to… you’ve got other people here who are counting on you, Agent Danvers,” Hank says sadly, squeezing her bicep with a strong, sure hand.

“Kara?”

“Still in post-op with Agent Lane,” Hanks tells her. “Fairly invasive craniotomy to remove the clot, but the medical unit expects a full recovery. She’s young, resilient, and will likely be more concerned with the patch they shaved from her head," Hank tries for a smile, but fails to get one out of Alex. He sighs heavily, pulling a stool on rolling wheels beside her. "Your sister is… having a difficult time. You should go to her.”

“J’onn…” Alex turns back to Astra, covered with a thin medical sheet Alex had pulled over her body during the fruitless examinations. The blade hadn’t gone through her torso to the front, but her back… even if the skin knitted itself back together, the scar would be jagged and foul.

At least in Alex’s eyes.

“I’ll stay with her,” J’onn offers. “Lane doesn't quite know what to do with me, and I’ve done all I can for my teams at this point. I have to allow them to take care of themselves, and for many, that means being with family. Go find Kara.”

“I can’t… after what I did—”

“I guarantee you Kara feels the same way about Lucy,” J’onn answers.

“J’onn,” Alex tries again. “I loved her.”

“I know,” J’onn answers, shifting his arm about Alex’s shoulders, some strange bridge of physical comfort he’s never felt the need to cross before. “And she will not be alone for one moment until you return. But you and Kara need this time. Go, Alex. Take some painkillers for your headache. Ask Vasquez. She was complaining about one too, from staring at the screen for the past two hours.”

“That doesn’t sound like her,” Alex sniffles, standing shakily from the stool. “She’s on those monitors 24/7.”

“Yes well, depowering a remote alien facility using alien code you’ve only just learned might take its toll on even the most experienced of techies. Mr. Schott undoubtedly feels the same.”

“J’onn, could you…” Alex furrows her brows, then turns back to Astra’s body. “Her mind? Is there anything there?”

“It doesn’t always work that way, Alex. Sometimes, after a trauma, or… expiration, there are electromagnetic pulses that linger, depending on the biology—”

“So there is something?” Alex asks hopefully.

“There's always something, but nothing worth getting your hopes up for. Nothing substantial. Whispers, maybe but… I’m sorry, Alex.”

Alex slips the gloves off her hands and walks toward the head of the sun bed. She breathes through the pressure, the load of dead weight on her chest that hasn’t lightened in the past two hours, the vice around her torso constricting as she begins the process of shutting the bed down.

“Are you sure—”

“I won’t give Kara that false hope,” Alex replies, clearing her throat of mucus. “This bed emits a fraction of the radiation we’d need to promote cellular growth on such a microscopic level, but I can’t let Kara know that… that I can’t save… I should go to her.”

Alex lifts the top of the sunbed and runs her fingers gently over the crown of Astra’s forehead. For all that Alex has done in her years of study, in her obsessive career cataloging everything she can about Kryptonian biology, she never thought she’d have to pronounce a superhuman dead. It defies everything she's learned about their biologies so far. It's impossible.

Astra’s skin feels warm from the sunbed, but once the lights are shut down the pallor remains, her lips thinner, her face putty, nothing like the rigid intensity Alex loves to kiss away.

“Hey,” Alex says. “You know I was just… dust and ashes. Until I loved you, Tolstoy.” She kisses Astra’s forehead and lingers for the smallest of moments. “Dasvidaniya, love.”

She bolts out of the room without looking back.

 


 

 

Instead of finding Kara at Lucy’s bedside, Alex walks the length of the DEO. Floors, corridors, stairwells and closets... she accidentally walks in on a group therapy session where one of her previous Military Operations and Strategy Instructors is breaking down for the counselor, wobbling atop a metal fold-out chair. She ducks her head and backs out slowly.

Alex has avoided the place she should’ve checked first, mainly because she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to take Kara and a ghost in the same room. But, eventually, Alex stops in front of the door housing Alura’s AI.

“Kara,” she says, placing her hand on the door. “You know it only opens for you. Please, I… I need you this time.”

Seconds pass and the automatic door slides open, revealing Alura, removed and insubstantial, in her blue robe with her perfect posture. Half of Astra. Nothing like her. Everything like her. Something Alex wishes she could hold onto, and yet... she wonders for the first time if the AI wasn't more cruelty than aid.

Kara is sitting against the wall, her knees pulled up to her chest, her red cape balled up in one hand to wipe away her tears. Alex rests her weight against the wall and slides down to sit beside her, but doesn’t have any words of comfort. Kara leans her head on Alex’s shoulder and they watch Alura stand on the platform as they grieve in tandem silence. Alex turns her head into Kara’s golden hair and gets a whiff of soot, sees the streaks of black staining a cape that’s supposed to be impervious to the elements. She flounders momentarily but eventually finds Kara’s hand.

“I’m sorry,” Alex whispers.

“Me, too.”

“You okay?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

“I… I don’t know if I’m going to be for a while,” Kara says, moving her head back a little. She swipes inelegantly at snot running down her nose, and Alex is immediately transported back to nights of homesickness, where Kara would attempt to cry Krypton out of her system. “I didn’t get to… Alex, I can’t go see her like that.”

“That’s okay,” Alex answers. “I don’t know if she’d want you to.”

“You know it’s not your—”

“Yeah, sure,” Alex lies, because it most certainly does feel like her fault.

“Did they figure out what went wrong?”

“Lord,” Alex says. Even if R&D hasn’t had time to deliver the full report, she had heard the scuttlebutt from the tech room. “The Myriad Inhibitors were a joke. Just pieces of blinking plastic. I suppose that’s what I get for breaking his nose before the siege.”

“He let the teams go in,” Kara says, clenching her fingers against Alex’s hand. Alex doesn’t warn her. She’d be happy if Kara broke her hand beyond repair, knowing it dealt Astra’s killing blow. “Knowing they had faulty technology? Knowing they’d probably get mind-controlled in the process?”

“He can always claim he didn’t know it wouldn’t work. He did produce a large amount of tech off-the-books for the DEO. Since we’re a secret organization, it’s not going to look bad for his company.”

“What could he possibly have to gain from that?”

“Who knows?” Alex says. “It might have been some weird retaliation against me. Come to think of it, he was working on the inhibitors when I confronted him about sending Astra to Cadmus. Maybe he thought he was playing hero for the DEO until I broke his nose.”

“You broke his nose?” Kara asks.

“He sent her to be experimented on.”

Kara nods, releasing Alex's hand.

“I’d break more than his nose.”

“I wanted to,” Alex answers. “Plus, he’s got General Lane in his pocket. Just think, our mission was to capture, contain, then work on the assimilation and release programs for the non-hostiles. That’s not Max’s style. If our teams had been killed during the siege, he’d have the go-ahead to blow that mountain to kingdom-come, as long as the U.S. Army was on his side. I’m starting to understand why he gave Astra up in the first place. Think of the private contracts with the DOD.”

“I can’t believe he would do that.”

“I can,” Alex grumbles, twisting her attention back to the hologram. “You know…” she starts. “They’re twins but… I’d know her anywhere, now.”

She hears Kara's breath hitch, feels her tighten her grip on the cape. Wonders if the fabric will rip with the strain of her grief.

“I could always tell,” Kara says, her attention back on the hologram, too. “They could fool almost everyone they were around. When I was really little, they confused my father, for a prank. But I knew. I always—”

Kara cuts herself off, sniffling quietly. “And you were… what are you going to do now?”

Alex scoffs. “Me? Probably drink myself into a coma, first.”

“Alex, no—”

“What do you want me to say, Kara? I can’t even process—god, we’ve got to arrange her f-funeral,” Alex chokes a little on the last word.

“I have to preside.”

“We can find a good funeral home to—”

“No, you don’t understand,” Kara says. “A surviving female member of her house has to lead the service.”

“Kara,” Alex gasps a little. She steeples her fingers over her nose, pressing into the searing pain in her forehead. “I don’t even know what she would’ve wanted.”

“This wasn’t her planet,” Kara muses. “I don’t know if we can do a traditional burial.”

“Cremation? Would that even work on her—” Alex can’t say it. Can’t say corpse. Can’t say body. It’s still Astra, and everything within Alex wants to scream at the woman for taking that hit. Instead of really fighting Alex, knocking her out, Astra had only moved on the defensive. Alex will relive that fight every day, she thinks, until she stocks enough booze to wipe every I love you Astra whispered from her memory.

Alex will probably have to start with the letters.

Burn them.

Shred them to confetti.

Reread them and drink until her eyes cross and the ink has smudged from the liquid.

“I don’t know,” Kara says, but the pain in Alex’s head is starting to make it seriously hard to keep up with what Kara’s saying.

Alex doesn't even know how to mourn properly.

There’s banging on the door behind them, so they leap to their feet, Alex significantly slower than Kara.