Chapter 1: in which the wrath of cat grant is incurred
Cat glares fiercely at the photograph clenched in her fingers, eyes narrowed and pupils burning, as if by focusing enough anger at the image, it’ll simply burst into flames, and take the moment it captures with it when it turns to ash.
Objectively, she can see that it’s a beautiful photograph. A high definition immortalisation of a kiss in the sky, two figures pressed impossibly close, hands tangled in hair and around waists as they hover sixty storeys in the air, illuminated gently by the neon of the CatCo Worldwide Media sign.
No, it’s not the quality of the picture that’s the problem. It’s the subjects. Because one of her underlings has just given her the only existing evidence of a kiss between Supergirl and Lena Luthor, not twenty feet from where she now stands on the balcony of her office. She knows she ought to grasp the opportunity to create this decade’s greatest power couple with both hands, but there is an assistant-shaped reason sitting out in the next room that stops the idea in its tracks. Because it has not escaped Cat’s notice that Kara has been dating the CEO of L-Corp for over a year now. As far as she’s aware, they’ve always been perfectly happy: press darlings, nauseatingly adorable, and such a perfect contrast of bright and grey that the articles just write themselves.
Cat has spent enough time around Supergirl to understand the pull she has – beautiful, powerful, full of righteous hope and unending faith in humanity. She’s a magnet, and if Lena were dating anyone other than Kara, Cat couldn’t have faulted her for caving to that charming gravity.
But it is Kara, and that makes this personal. Because Kara puts all of her heart into everything she is and does, and she’s never learned to roll with the punches, which means a headline like this would break her with a solid hit to the ribs.
Cat never expected to have to deal with something like this. Supergirl finally having a relationship with a human is exactly the kind of media sensation she’s been waiting on, but this revelation tastes bitter and harsh.
They seem so happy, so completely dedicated to each other, and yet here is the 12” by 8” proof that somehow all that wasn’t enough to stop Lena from falling for National City’s resident hero. And it is falling; Cat can tell from the way they’re smiling into the kiss, holding each other so close and spinning gently that this is more than adrenaline and searching for the sensation of being alive.
She can’t bring herself to walk back to her desk, knowing that it affords her an unimpeded view of the twenty-something whose relationship is about to come crashing down around her, sooner or later.
Then again, maybe not, if Cat has anything to say about it. She tries to tell herself that it would be bad press for Supergirl, and therefore CatCo, but deep down she knows it’s because she couldn’t bear to lose the sunny glow of the presence at the desk down the hall.
She asks Kara to set up an appointment with Lena Luthor, and watching her assistant smile slightly at the name as she exits the office reminds Cat of the symmetry of all this; after all, a CatCo meeting is how they met.
She remembers it well, even after all these months. Lena had been far less sharp than Cat had come to expect, and Kara was even more awkward than usual, stumbling over words and dropping papers the entire hour, hands constantly jumping up to adjust her glasses or twist a lock of her hair. Cat had put it down to too much coffee, and spared her any slight criticism given that they were in company. Afterwards, when Lena had pulled Kara aside for a moment, Cat had left, under the assumption that it was merely about scheduling another talk. She still recalls finding out that it was far more than that, not three weeks later.
“You can come along, Kiera. Mingle with the business elite. Make some connections. Heaven knows you can’t stay my assistant forever,” Cat snaps somewhat caustically, and Kara jumps. As unexpectedly incredible of an employee as she is, Cat will have to scare her into the above and beyond eventually. Forcing her out of her shell at one of these galas might just be the way to go. “Of course, your primary purpose will be to remind me of people’s names, and when I’m next available in case anyone wants to set anything up.”
Kara fidgets in that way Cat knows means she has something she needs to say, and instead of pressing her like she normally would, the look of sheer discomfort on Kara’s face prompts her to allow her assistant a minute to psych herself up for whatever it is she has to share. A string of mumbles pours quietly out of her typically bright and open aid.
“What was that?” she demands.
“I – I can’t go with you to the gala. I mean, I’ll be there, so if you need me, you can get me. But – but – I’m sort of, um, already going.” At Cat’s raised eyebrow, Kara clarifies. “Uh – with Lena Luthor. You know, from L-Corp.”
“Yes, I am, interestingly, aware of Ms Luthor’s position. I didn’t realise you two were friends.”
Kara blushes slightly, but Cat misses the significance of it. Until the next day, of course, when she sees “Lena Luthor & Mystery Woman?” in the gossip section of the Daily Planet.
Her assistant jumps out of her chair and quickly makes her way into Cat’s office, hovering a few feet away. “Yes, Ms Grant?” She looks so naive and eager that it makes Cat stomach twist. After all these years in a cut-throat industry, Cat has some of the toughest skin in existence, and a vice as ordinary as resisting monogamy hardly phases her. People lie, people cheat, c’est la vie. But Kara – Kara has none of that cynicism, and far too much trust.
“I need you to get James to ask Supergirl to come visit me. Straight after Ms Luthor, please,” Cat demands.
Kara nods rapidly, fingering the frames of her glasses. “Of course. I’ll see what he can do. What should I tell him it’s about?”
Cat shakes her head. “It’s confidential, Kara. But be sure he informs our friend that it is urgent. Warn her that should she not show and resolve this with me, she may lose the support of CatCo forever,” she says gravely.
Kara visibly starts, looking slightly horrified. Cat sighs. Poor kid. Her girlfriend chooses, of all the people to step out with, her idol. Life is a bitch. “Oh god,” she mumbles. “Are you sure this isn’t some kind of misunderstanding?”
“Kiera, do you suppose I got this far by jumping the gun? No. Go see James,” Cat instructs, and Kara scurries away.
When Lena arrives, she lingers at Kara’s desk before coming in to make her appointment with Cat. The two kiss quickly and chastely, mindful of the glass wall. Still, it’s not quite innocent enough, and Cat averts her gaze, deliberately staring at her screen.
“Ms Grant,” Lena greets politely when she enters, all dark lipstick and tall heels. She’s beautiful and commanding and it’s easy to see why Kara is enamoured, although not as easy as it is to understand why Lena is drawn to Kara. It’s hard to find things as pure as her in a world like this. Lena may operate in a sphere of grey, but Cat knows it’s been a much lighter grey since Kara came about.
“Ms Luthor,” Cat returns, in a voice so sharp it could cut diamonds. While Kara seems relatively oblivious, writing it off as merely the Queen of Media in one of her moods, Lena is immediately on guard. “Kiera, I want you to accompany Mr Olsen to the opening ceremony of that new digital smoothie bar across town. And take that little IT gnome with you. His face is irritating me today.”
Kara’s face brightens at the possibility of hanging out with her friends, as Cat knew it would, distracting her from the fact that she is being made to leave instead of taking notes. Cat doesn’t want her to watch this conversation through the glass, plus that girl has freakishly good hearing, and Cat can’t risk even a little eavesdropping.
“Really? Great. Thanks, Ms Grant. Call if you need anything. Bye, babe. Uh – wait, no – I mean, goodbye, Ms Luthor,” Kara stammers, finally recalling the professional setting. Cat rolls her eyes.
Perhaps having realised that this is something Cat deems Kara mustn’t be present for, Lena has the good sense to wait until the gaggling trio of CatCo employees are safely in the elevator down to the lobby.
“You’re protecting Kara from something,” Lena observes, scrutinising the businesswoman behind the desk. “Something you think has to do with me.”
There it is – part of the reason Cat is so angry about this. With all Lena’s astuteness and acumen, not to mention ambition and potential, she’s exactly the sort of person her assistant ought to end up with. Kara to bring the happiness and optimism, and Lena to keep the focus and realism, because Cat won’t be there to counteract the rose-tint in Kara’s glasses and steer her away from trouble forever.
“Quite,” Cat agrees, pursing her lips. She frowns, searching Lena’s face for any indication that she knows what this is about. She comes up empty, but decides to maintain her silence so Lena can sweat it out for a while.
“Look,” Lena sighs, “whatever you think I did, I didn’t. I would never hurt Kara, surely you know that. You source is misleading you.”
“My source,” Cat spits, slightly offended that Lena doesn’t realise she hasn’t got this far by going out on a limb, “is a photograph.” She pulls it out of the envelope she’s hidden it in to ensure it never reaches Kara’s eyes. “Now, that doesn’t seem very misleading to me. Indeed, it seems pretty clear what you were doing.”
She holds the image up in Lena’s face, waving it gently, tauntingly. “Perhaps, Kara’s personal life ought not to be my problem. But you made it my problem when you brought her into the public eye, and certainly again when you use my own branded hero to betray her with.”
Lena just stares at her, lips moving slightly as she scrambles for something to say. “What, no ready excuse?” Cat enquires maliciously. “Or perhaps you’ll choose a traditional route. Deny everything? Swear you can’t recall anything like this every happening?”
The truth is, Lena remembers it perfectly:
It’s 1am, and Lena is finally on the last paragraph of an achingly dull sales report when there’s a knock on her – window? She rushes out onto the balcony and sees Kara hovering in the air, just beyond the rail. It still makes her stomach lurch, watching her girlfriend simply floating, as if half of her is convinced that at some point, gravity will set in, and Kara will fall from the sky.
“Hey there, Supergirl,” she smiles. Kara always looks ethereal like this – her skin reflecting the glow of the city lights, hair tousled from the wind, and cape fluttering behind her. The image of her girlfriend just so makes Lena’s stomach twist for an entirely different reason.
“Hi,” Kara grins, and for all the statuesque severity she usually tries to project as Supergirl, she’s never really been able to properly repress that puppy-dog joy which shines through now. “You said you were working late, so I thought you could use a break. I’ve got something to show you.”
“Up here. Trust me?” Kara asks as she drifts down to stand beside her girlfriend.
“Of course,” Lena responds immediately, the person in front of her the only one she could ever say that honestly to.
Kara wraps her arms securely around Lena’s waist, and for a minute they simply rest a mere foot in the air, waiting for Lena to adjust to the sensation before slowly lifting off, travelling above the rest of National City at about a tenth of Supergirl’s usual speed. Helicopters, planes, gliders – they all unsettle her, scare her, even, but flying with Kara is safe and there is no horrible lurch in her insides, just a soft warmth.
The wind whips Lena’s hair about her as they soar past penthouses and helipads, Kara the city’s guardian angel as they survey the night. Eventually, they come to a stop mid-air, and after a moment, Lena realises they’re just a few feet in front of the CatCo building.
“I like to come here a lot,” Kara admits. “There are only a few places that I feel like I can be both Karas at once. One of them is here. Another is with you.”
Lena kisses her then, because even though she’s known Kara was Supergirl since she saved the plane, her girlfriend is sometimes still slow to open up about her life on Krypton and the struggles of trying to remain on the pedestal of heroism. She holds moments like this close to her chest, filled impossibly with feelings of love and luck.
Kara smiles into her mouth, quickly, just a brief upturn of lips, before kissing her back harder, deeper. As Lena slides her hands up to tangle in long, blonde hair, she feels the arms around her waist tighten, so the two of them are pulled even closer, curves fitting together.
When Lena bites Kara’s bottom lip, the other girl seems to stumble on air, tripping to press them into the ‘T’ of the CatCo sign, finally allowing them some of the friction they need.
“I love you,” Lena whispers, wanting to say it but knowing she’ll forget about words soon. Even if she’s lost count of how often she’s said it, it seems more true and more significant each time.
Kara, whose hands and mouth are always more daring and eager when she is high on adrenaline from a night of stopping crime, still manages to pause where her lips are resting against Lena’s pulse point to breathe the words back.
Lena loses track of time after that, swimming in visceral sensation, until -
“Oh no, we have to get back to your place. I forgot you were working.” Kara pulls away, looking horrified at having ruined Lena’s schedule, but honestly, with Kara’s hands tracing over her hipbones like that, Lena couldn’t have cared less about those reports even if they had a deadline for tomorrow. She pulls Kara’s mouth to her own in lieu of an answer.
“Or we could join the mile-high club,” Lena suggests, enjoying how Kara’s blush makes her skin glow, from her chest to the roots of her hair.
“I – uh, ha,” Kara fumbles over phonetics as Lena laughs. “I - oh, hush.”
The city blurs under them, and it’s barely a minute before they’re back on Lena’s balcony and the Luthor heir is tugging them both inside, determined to make Kara finish what she started.
Cat’s gaze is calculating, caustic, unwavering.
Lena attempts to remain impassive under the distaste evident in her eyes, even as her mind trips over itself, scrabbling for a way to diffuse the situation without revealing the fact that Kara moonlights as Supergirl. It isn’t her secret to tell, and she’s kept it safe since that first night after the plane, when Kara hugged her, sopping wet and bursting with excitement, apologising for running out on their date.
There’s nothing she can say to Cat to absolve herself, not without damaging the reputation of one or both of Kara’s identities, which is something Lena will never allow to happen. She knows, too, that excuses will ring fake and flimsy – she can’t convincingly claim that she regrets kissing Supergirl (because dear god, she could never), and it’ll just make it worse if she tries.
“It was a simple mistake, a lapse in judgement,” Lena says, coolly, and it makes her stomach churn, pretending to be so cold and casual about her relationship with Kara, about Kara’s trust in her; it aches to invent a version of herself that could be anything less than completely in love with Kara. “It won’t happen again.”
Cat doesn’t even blink for a moment, still every inch the imposing and powerful Queen of all Media, before she seems to crumple, slightly. “I can’t pretend I wasn’t hoping you’d pull a reasonable excuse out of somewhere, Luthor,” Cat bites, and the use of her last name stings, it always does. “But I guess a little grace is still more than I expected. Kara’s not going to see this photo, but should something like this ever happen again…” she trails off, the sentence all the more threatening for being unfinished. Cat’s too classy to explicitly threaten her, so it’s only subtext, but barely.
For a moment, Cat looks like she’s about to say something else, but her gaze suddenly flicks up to a point behind where Lena sits. “Kiera? What are you doing back? I don’t suppose you recall that conversation where I gave you a very specific set of instructions?”
Lena whirls around to see her girlfriend hovering uncertainly in the doorway. “Um, yes, you did, Ms Grant, but I had an urgent message for you, and you didn’t answer your phone, so the boys went ahead and I came back.”
Cat beckons Kara closer to her desk, before turning to Lena. “I feel we have nothing else to talk about, Ms Luthor,” she says, and even Kara, with her ability to interpret every glare as someone just having a bad day, spooks a little at the Arctic tone of it.
Lena nods in agreement, and takes her leave as Kara tells Cat that Supergirl has confirmed she will be available that night to resolve whatever the problem appears to be. While Kara still seems confused about the whole situation, Lena suspects that she has a fairly good idea of what that particular meeting might be about. As she steps into the elevator, she texts her girlfriend to meet her at her office in ten minutes.
Cat stares at Lena’s retreating back, and tries to ignore the disappointment building in her chest that there wasn’t a reasonable explanation for it all. She wants to yell at her that betraying Kara’s trust should qualify as more than a lapse in judgement, but her assistant is standing two feet away, and thus that would cause more problems than it could hope to resolve.
The temptation to sever all CatCo business relations with L-Corp out of vindictiveness is incredibly strong in that moment, and it is only the understanding of the huge hit their stock would take that stays her hand. That, and how she’d manage to explain the memo to Kara when she sent it out.
“James said Supergirl got back to him, and she can come at six tonight. Does that suit?” Kara asks, and Cat nods her ascent.
“Yes, that’s fine, Kiera. You may leave. I have to plot my strategy for dealing with our resident hero later. Oh, Kiera, she will rue that day.”
“Rue what day?” Kara pries, tilting her head in that curious fashion that so reminds Cat of a small puppy. Cat’s saved replying by the ding of an arriving text message which immediately requires all of Kara’s somewhat sporadic attention span. After enduring Cat’s mandatory comment about millennials, Kara leaves with a vague comment about checking interdepartmental progress, which Cat has long figured out is Kara’s personal code for “something to do with Lena”.
She sighs, heavy with the unusual feeling that she has somehow failed to do her best. Once her office is empty, she glances down at the photo again, now concealed in a drawer.
“Oh, Supergirl,” she mutters, “there’s no superpower you can use to get out of this one.”
She meant to tell Kara as soon as her girlfriend walked through her office door. She did. She was going to start with the classic, “we have a problem”, and explain from there. Except, when Kara finally did arrive, her hair was doing that cute windswept thing and her fingers were fiddling with her glasses, and suddenly Lena couldn’t do anything but kiss her. Slow and soft, her hands resting gently on the waistband of Kara’s dress.
She feels her own name breathed into her mouth on a soft sigh, and has to forcibly resist the urge to lock the door, tug Kara over to the couch, and forget about any problems Cat Grant is creating in their lives. With reluctance, Lena gathers her willpower and pulls away. Well, she tries, but she’s powerless against Kara’s whisper of “Wait. Just one more,” against her lips. This, of course, leads to five or six more, and Lena’s hands becoming less and less well-behaved, and by the time she remembers that she really did have a reason to see Kara that didn’t involve shoving her up against a wall, her lipstick is irreparably ruined.
While Kara futilely attempts to fix some of the less fortunate buttons on her shirt, Lena rushes out, “Your boss thinks I’m cheating on you.”
Kara starts, her mouth pulling down in a frown, and after a heart-wrenching second, Lena realises how ambiguous and potentially misleading that statement is. She’s sure her panic must show on her face when she quickly adds, “Kara, darling, I’m not.”
Kara giggles. “I know. Lena, I trust you. Plus, you work crazy hours and I drop in on you completely randomly. Where could you possibly find the time to have an affair?”
Lena manages a smile, but her hands still tighten around Kara’s waist.
“And don’t worry, babe, it’ll blow over. Cat would never do anything without proof, she’s too smart. I’m surprised she even went as far as to call you in today. Come to think of it, why does she even care?” Kara looks bemused, and Lena would find it adorable, were she not temporarily distracted by the slight taste of Kara’s lip gloss she finds when she licks her lips. Her girlfriend thinks her super speed makes her sneaky, but Lena still catches the way her eyes follow the movement.
Before things can get out of hand again, Lena steps away. “That’s the problem. She does have proof. Of my illicit and home-wrecking affair with Supergirl.”
Kara looks shocked for a moment, before she starts to laugh. “Oh, that’s hilarious. Oh my gosh. Wait, no, this is bad. This is very bad,” Kara’s expression changes from amused to horrified lightning quick. “Supergirl is CatCo’s hero. Cat’s gonna drag her to hell and back. Drag me.”
“I already got the treatment. It’s only fair you get your turn,” Lena smirks, eyebrow raised. “I warn you, it was fairly savage. Lots of disappointed looks.”
“What did you tell her?”
Lena shrugs, discomfort written plainly across her face. “What could I tell her that wouldn’t expose your identity? I said it was a lapse in judgement.”
Kara winces. “Well, apart from the fact she has now got an unfairly bad impression of you, I don’t think there’s a lot she can do to us, at least. Publishing anything would be bad for Supergirl, and automatically for CatCo. Not to mention Kara Danvers. I mean, me.”
“Still, this is a mess.” Lena sighs, and presses her forehead to Kara’s for a moment, closing her eyes and enjoying the security of her girlfriend’s arms draped about her neck, the warmth of her skin. Despite how unfortunate the misunderstanding with Cat has been, she cannot find it within herself to feel anything less than impossibly lucky.
“We’re still on for dinner tonight, right? Alex is bringing her new cop friend,” Kara tells her happily, her fingers absently carding through Lena’s hair.
“Yeah. Of course. All right, you better get back to work, or Cat will wonder where you’ve gone,” Lena mutters regretfully, pulling away.
Kara pouts. “No, she won’t. I told her I was checking interdepartmental progress.”
“Kara, darling, you say that every time you come to visit me. Your boss is anything but stupid. She’ll have put two and two together by now.”
With one last quick kiss (okay, two), Kara vanishes out the door, leaving Lena alone in her office to reapply her lipstick.
The sound of Supergirl’s feet landing on her balcony is more tentative than Cat’s ever heard of it. There is no heavy thud of the righteous boots of a hero; instead, it’s the gentle steps of someone well aware that it’s not a good idea to be where they are.
“Supergirl,” Cat greets coolly from her desk, not bothering to raise her voice, in the knowledge that the alien can hear her perfectly. She doesn’t get up from her chair, doesn’t invite Supergirl in, already knee-deep in a traditional business power-play.
In a whirling flash of red and blue, National City’s hero is standing in front of her, hands on hips, looking just as righteous as ever. It rings a little false to Cat now, knowing that her moral compass is less steadfast than expected.
Without breaking eye contact, Cat slides the sealed envelope across the desk between them, and watches as Supergirl hesitantly picks it up, turns it over in her hands, and opens it.
“Look familiar?” Cat enquires darkly, once she’s had a moment to stare at the photograph. Supergirl nods slowly.
As soon as Alex tells her that there’s nothing left for her to help them with, she gives her sister a tight hug, and speeds away to the penthouse of the L-Corp tower, scanning the building for the only figure who ever remains this late.
Lena looks tired; she doesn’t need her x-ray vision to see that. Kara’s willing to bet anything that the document she’s staring at on her screen is more boring than a washing machine manual, and she wishes for the thousandth time that one of her superpowers was the ability to ease her girlfriend’s workload.
Instead, she decides that a little distraction is in order, and knocks lightly on the window, careful not to shatter the glass (she’d done that once, but Lena had said that she was too happy to see her to be mad, and insisted that there was no point in having the Luthor fortune if she couldn’t replace a window or two).
Kara’s still jittery from the adrenaline that comes with a night of kicking extranormal ass, and the urge to touch Lena itches in her fingers. But as much as she’d like to relieve Lena’s stress and use up some of her burning excess energy, that’s not what she came here for.
Lena says “Supergirl” the same way she says “darling”, and it makes Kara feel all warm and soft inside. So she tells Lena that she’s got something to show her, and asks if she trusts her. The “of course” that comes instantly in reply is a delicate gift that Kara will keep safe forever.
She loves flying with Lena, because it not only combines two of her favourite things in the whole world, but also because the wonder in Lena’s eyes as she takes in all the lights, rooftops and tiny people is her own kind of Kryptonite.
When she kisses Kara, it’s everything. It doesn’t matter that it’s probably the millionth time she’s done it, that Alex keeps insisting you can’t still be this into someone after more than a year – it still makes her wriggle with joy. It makes her glad she came to Earth. Lena bites her lip, and wow, yeah, she forgot how to fly for a second there, but now she’s got Lena pressed up against a hard surface and all the friction that invites is exactly what she needs. All the pent up hormones from nasty alien hunting find their release in the daring movements of her mouth and hands, skating over every available inch of skin. Her fingers dance up under Lena’s blouse, and – oh, that’s a work blouse. Work. Lena’s supposed to be working. Yikes.
Kara pulls back, all apologies, but Lena just uses it as an opportunity to make her blush.
“Yes,” Supergirl says, but with photographic proof, Cat’s not sure how she could’ve claimed anything different. “That’s me and Lena Luthor.”
Cat ensures her features are perfectly crafted into her masterful CEO Glare™, which she specifically designed to melt business competitors into small puddles of bubbling Armani suits and spreadsheet dust. It’s a work of art.
“I’m not sure how things work on your planet, Supergirl,” Cat begins, and even though the words themselves are innocent, the tone is scathing. “But here, when two people are in a monogamous relationship, we try to respect that.”
Supergirl nods seriously.
“As Lena Luthor is the one relationship, the majority of the blame must fall on her. However, as you are a superhero, I feel I am entitled to hold you to a higher moral standard than the rest of us, and therefore, I am equally displeased with you.”
Supergirl has the decency to stare down at her boots, and Cat might feel the teensiest bit bad about it were it not for the fact that the glass walls of her office afford her a clear view of Kara’s unoccupied desk, and that brings all her indignation flooding back. She’d learned early in her career the price of not acting when it is in your capacity to save something, and she’s not about to forfeit her principles now.
“I understand your disappointment with me, Ms Grant, but please don’t be mad at Lena Luthor,” Supergirl tries, some of her usual energy leaking back into her previously slumped posture.
Cat stares at her for a moment, observing her clenched fists and pleading eyes, and groans, rubbing her temples. “Oh, no. Dear god. You actually like her, don’t you? Love her? I suspected that to be the case, but -”
Supergirl immediately steps away, trying to backtrack with what is arguably the most human and least-convincing thing she’s ever said: “Nuh-uh. Me? In love with Lena Luthor? That’s ridiculous – impossible. That’s…” the alien trails off, her face twisting in apparent discomfort as she searches for adjectives. Cat wonders if she should contact those Guinness World Record people for the worst lie ever told.
She sighs. Damn it.
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 3: in which there is an unfortunate coincidence
A part of her can’t help but feel a little sorry for Supergirl as she takes off, leaving a promise to respect Earth’s conception of monogamy behind.
Despite her rather transparent protests, the strength of her feelings for Lena Luthor is abundantly evident, and stands in direct contrast to the CEO’s dismissal of their indiscretion as a “lapse in judgement”.
Any pity she does have for the hero, however, abates not too long after their meeting, when a text from Kara arrives confirming that she is still minding Carter on Friday, and she is firmly reminded as to why she is interfering in their affair at all.
Cat can see the panic register on her assistant’s face the second she exits the elevator.
“Oh, Ms Grant, I’m so sorry, I forgot your latte, I’ll be right back -”
“No need, Kiera,” she interrupts, waving her off carelessly. “I do, occasionally, enjoy mingling with the common people, and picked one up for myself this morning. And for you, as well.” Cat hands her the takeaway up, and breezes by as Kara’s eyebrows cinch together in suspicion.
“Wait – why are you being nice to me?” she asks, following the CEO as she heads to her desk.
Cat shrugs, eyebrow quirked. “I resolved a rather pressing problem yesterday, and I am, accordingly, in an uncharacteristically generous mood. Should this disturb you too greatly, Kiera, you are welcome to give the coffee to the little hobbit.”
Kara nods hesitantly, then smiles. “Okay, then. Thanks, Ms Grant. Oh, before I forget, is everything all right with Supergirl, now?”
The CEO purses her lips. “Consider her to be on probation, Kiera, with my decision pending on future behaviour. And while I am confident she will resort to her typically righteous activities, I do rather think you perhaps shouldn’t idolise her quite so much, hmm?”
Kara sputters. “I – I don’t idolise her, Ms Grant. That would be… weird? But I’m glad you and she have sorted things out.”
“Indeed,” Cat agrees, pursing her lips as she ponders last night’s revelations. If both Kara and the alien care that much for the L-Corp CEO, she has no way of reliably predicting who the Luthor will choose.
She has the distinct impression that she has got far too deep into something.
“I wish I could just tell Cat,” Kara mumbles, eyes fluttering shut as she curls into the sensation of Lena’s finger tracing up and down her spine, warm and rhythmic. It never fails to make her relax, and Lena can’t help but wonder if it’s some kind of inbuilt Kryptonian Achilles heel.
“She threatened to fire you, last time, remember?” Lena reminds her softly, ostensibly watching the seven o’clock news on the television, but really more focused on the feeling of her girlfriend in her lap. They’re in Kara’s living room, which is perhaps one of Lena’s favourite places in the world (and she’s been to at least sixty countries). It’s soft and bright and sporadic and so completely Kara that all the worries of L-Corp and her family and her past simply cannot follow her inside.
“I know,” Kara grumbles unhappily, picking at a loose thread in her sleeve. “And I really can’t lose CatCo. I can’t be Supergirl all the time. I need to be a person, as well.”
Lena hums in acknowledgement; after all, it was Kara Danvers, not Supergirl, with whom she fell in love.
(She’s waiting for the elevator in the lobby of CatCo, her stomach flipping vaguely at the thought of cramming into a tight space with nineteen people. Lena’s always been claustrophobic, and her favourite things about the new L-Corp building are easily the many staircases and the spacious private lift, not to mention all the windows in her office. Perhaps due to the stress of re-locating and re-naming her company, the old childhood phobia has been particularly difficult to repress lately. She’s tempted to change the place of her meeting with the CEO to a restaurant or someplace of the like on the street to avoid the ride up the penthouse offices, but she knows that to a woman like Cat Grant, such a move would read as a power play.
The little arrow finally lights up, and she and what feels like a hundred other commuters flood inside, filling the compartment until there’s barely room to inhale.
Lena chews her lip, staring at the ceiling and attempting to trick her mind into calming down. She starts at the gentle tap on her shoulder.
“Sorry, but are you okay?” asks a soft voice to her left. She blinks, turns, and if her breathing wasn’t irregular before, it certainly is now. The girl is bright – that’s the only way Lena can think to describe her. Bright eyes, bright smile, bright clothes; the kind of person Lena never encounters in her circles. And she’s currently watching Lena warily, waiting for a reply.
“Oh.” The lie I’m fine is behind her teeth, ready to be released, but for some reason, she instead says, “I’m just not a fan of cramped spaces,” and offers a tight smile.
“Yeah, I can understand that,” the stranger replies sympathetically, her eyes flickering briefly in such a way that makes Lena think that maybe, she actually does. When the doors open at the next floor, the girl tugs at Lena’s blazer sleeve.
“Come with me,” she invites, and Lena really should tell her no – she has a meeting to attend, and no idea where the girl wants to take her – but she finds herself following anyway, giving an inadvertent sigh of relief once she’s out of that horrible box.
“Ms Grant has a private elevator,” the blonde explains, leading her across the bullpen to the far wall. “If you promise not to tell anyone, we can ride it the rest of the way to wherever you have to go. It’s a lot less cramped.”
Lena smiles in relief. So this is what people mean when they talk about kindness from strangers (her last name doesn’t exactly invite a lot of compassion from unfamiliar faces). “Thank you, uh…”
The girl just looks at her for a moment, before she jumps. “Right! You’re waiting for my name. Sorry. It’s Kara. I mean, I’m Kara.”
The private elevator arrives, and they step inside. Kara’s right: the lack of people and the small window overlooking the city mean she can relax a little as they ascend the floors. Of course, that may have more to do with the girl beside her than anything else.
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh, top floor. You?” Lena enquires, wondering what Kara might possibly be doing in this building. She lacks that hard edge Lena knows to expect from business executives, but has far too much friendliness and confidence to be buried in one of the behind-the-scenes departments.
“Same. I’ve never seen you around, before, though. Who are you meeting with?”
Just as she’s about to answer, Kara’s phone rings. “Sorry, it’s my sister,” she offers apologetically, pressing the device to her ear. “Hey, Alex. When are you... no, you know I don’t understand it when you talk all science-y. Yes. No. Yeah, I’m on my way up now… Yes, Chinese and Veep.”
Lena resists the urge to smirk at the incredibly erratic one-sided conversation she can’t avoid overhearing. The topic of discussion quickly spirals from what Lena assumes are evening plans, to someone called Winn, to Alex’s boyfriend, who is apparently on the verge of being broken up with - “You can’t dump him just because he cheats at Monopoly. Well, it’s just a little unfair, Alex, considering you cheat at Monopoly.”
Lena waits for the familiar bitterness that inevitably comes whenever she sees someone interacting with a sibling who isn’t a homicidal maniac, but all that bubbles up is warm amusement. It’s different; it’s nice.
The elevator dings open just as the phone call ends, and the second the doors open, Kara pulls her out. “Sorry. I’m not trying to be rude, I promise, it’s just that Ms Grant can get a bit… snappy about people using her private elevator. Even if it is for a very good reason. I’d hate to get you in trouble.” She smiles, and Lena doesn’t tell her that yeah, it’s pretty unlikely Cat would scold someone she’s trying to make a huge business deal with. “Anyway, I better get to work, but it was really nice to meet you…” she trails off.
“Lena,” she supplies.
Kara blinks. “Lena. Like Lena Luthor?”
“Exactly like that,” she confirms.
“Oh, no.” Kara mutters, and Lena grimaces, waiting for the typical torrent of prejudice, for the disgust that comes as a hidden clause in her last name. “My boss wants to make a good impression on you, and you just heard me talking to my sister about how much Chinese food I can reasonably eat. Oh, I am so dead.”
Lena cannot help but laugh at the realisation that Kara’s expression has nothing to do with Lex. “Well, I promise not to tell her about the pot stickers if you don’t let slip that I’m afraid of elevators,” she offers, biting her lip.
She watches Kara’s eyes follow the movement, covertly, but they linger too long for Lena not to notice.)
“Maybe she wouldn’t fire you this time?” Lena suggests, pulling herself out of the memory which she knows will remain burned into the back of her mind forever.
Kara shrugs against her. “Nothing’s happened that would change her mind. I just feel guilty. She’s trying to help me, both of me, I guess, and all because of a misunderstanding and my stupid secret identity needing to stay secret.”
“Well, at least it’s resolved, now. All we have to do is not make out while you’re Supergirl, and let it all die down,” Lena tells her.
She can feel Kara’s breathing change against her collarbone from where the blonde’s head is resting in the crook of Lena’s neck. “But still plently of making out while I’m Kara Danvers, right?” A smirk is pressed against her skin.
“How did the interview with Lena Luthor go?” Cat demands, eyeing her grinning underling with some trepidation. The reporter – what’s him name? Matt? Dave? – appears far too thrilled for having just spent an hour in what should’ve been a rather boring and clinical meeting discussing upcoming L-Corp products.
“Oh, you’ll be very impressed this, Ms Grant,” he gushes, stepping a little too close for her liking.
She pushes back against his shoulder, widening the distance between them, and narrowing her eyes at him. “If I had a cent for every time a man told me that and was wrong, Michael, I’d have doubled my already very considerable net worth. Tread carefully.”
“My name’s Steven, actually,” he corrects, before quickly realising that she cares dangerously little about that. “Anyway, when I got to Miss Luthor’s office, guess who was there?” She stares him down until he works out that she is not the kind of person who ought to be made to guess. “Supergirl. She said that she was just leaving, but I managed to ask her a few questions before she took off. So now I have the transcripts of an interview with L-Corp’s CEO and National City’s hero.” He gazes expectantly at her, possibly anticipating a gold star. “Ms Grant, you don’t look pleased?”
“Supergirl was at Lena Luthor’s office. How dreadfully… interesting.” Cat drills her fingernails into her desk in a stressful tic that she’s trying to shake; it doesn’t occur to her how viciously she’s doing so until one of the painted French tips breaks.
“Very, well, Stephen. Have you ever asked someone to do something, quite nicely, I might add, and given very good reasons, only to have them fail to do so?”
He starts. “Ms Grant, I did exactly as you asked. I don’t see how -”
She rolls her eyes. “This isn’t about you, Stephen. Don’t they teach millennials about hypotheticals in schools these days? Honestly, your use to me has expired. Leave the transcripts, and scurry back to from whence you came.” Cat waves her hand vaguely in dismissal, not bothering to make eye contact with the reporter again.
She stares blankly at the manila folder that has been placed in front of her. It’s been barely seventy hours since she spoke to Supergirl in this very same office, when the alien had sworn to let well enough alone, and already, she and Lena had rescinded on their respective promises keep away from one another.
Still, perhaps it was innocent. A threat posed to L-Corp, or suspicious activity in the business sector. But Cat knows what people are really like, how weak they can be when it comes to others, and how easy it is to have all the good intentions and fold to temptation anyway. So she decides to leave the naivite to Kara, and assume the worst. She’s tough, but no villain, though, so she will give Supergirl one last chance to explain herself, and to ensure she understands just how serious Cat’s stance is on this is.
Cat sends Kara home early, despite her assistant’s protestations. “No, Kiera, you are not in trouble. I simply have no need of you, and there is no good reason for you to remain. I imagine you must have something else in your life besides this job that may require some attention? Well, go attend to it.”
She wonders if this is how Supergirl’s alter-ego feels, constantly telling small lies to those around her to cover up her real activities.
At the end of the work day, she calls James up to her office, and lightly bullies him until he relinquishes his phone. “You can have it back in a moment, Mr Olsen, I only intend to make one call.”
She checks her watch. Six o’clock. Late enough that their caped hero ought to be out on the streets, saving puppies and putting out fires.
She scrolls through his contacts, selects Supergirl, and dials.
“You should see if Cat will let you finish work early more often,” Lena mumbles as she kisses her way down Kara’s neck, smirking as her girlfriend squirms against her, her hands sliding up the back of Lena’s blouse.
Lena’s ability to focus enough to talk rapidly degrades after that as she kisses Kara, pushing her a little less-than-gently down onto the couch cushions, their legs tangling as they press together.
“Kara, the Supergirl phone is ringing.” She momentarily abandons the pasta on the stove to grab the device off the coffee table. “ID says it’s James,” Lena calls. She knows Kara could probably still hear her over the shower even if she whispered, but volume is a hard habit to shake.
“Just tell him I’ll be a second. If it was really serious, he’d have used his panic button,” Kara shouts back, and Lena can make out the tell-tale sounds of her cheating and employing a little super-speed to finish up faster.
She taps Accept Call, rather selfishly hoping there’s no Supergirl emergency, and she will not have to share Kara with National City for at least few more hours.
There’s a loaded pause, and the line crackles. Then, in the famously cutting tones of a certain CEO – “Ah, Ms Luthor. Another lapse in judgement, I presume?”
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 4: in which kara faces a fear
Lena feels her heart grind to a halt. Oh, shit. She has argued with irate businessmen on six million dollar salaries in the boardroom, stared down the barrels of her would-be assassins’ guns, and shouldered the backlash in her social circles for changing her company’s name. But that – Cat Grant’s voice, with each vowel sharpened and each consonant dripping with poison – is the scariest thing she’s ever had to deal with. Well, with one exception:
She eyes Kara, who is lying on Lena’s office’s couch, gaze fixed on her phone. Her foot is tapping gently against the cushion to the rhythm of a song that plays in her head alone, and she’s biting her lip in a way that’s really going to curb Lena’s productivity.
There’s still a pile of reports that need her signature, and as much as she wants to abandon them for Tomorrow Lena to deal with, she knows she can’t. She’s the spine of L-Corp right now, the only thing keeping it upright, and no matter how desperate she is to just go curl up next to Kara and let her brain shut off, her name will not drag itself out of the mud.
“You don’t have to stay, you know,” she tells Kara, getting up from her desk to go sit in the armchair next to Kara – maybe she can’t afford a break, but she can surely allow herself the luxury of closeness. It won’t slow her down that much.
“But it’s date night.”
“You playing Candy Crush and me checking productivity is hardly the definition of a date,” Lena smirks, her hand reaching out of its own accord to dash a strand of Kara’s blonde hair back behind her ear.
Her girlfriend shrugs. “It’s you and me together, isn’t it? That’s a date. And I’ll have you know that I’ve kicked my Candy Crush habit. I’m texting Alex. She’s still stuck at her lab. I had no idea scientists had such weird hours.”
Lena frowns a little at that. Alex always gives vague details about her job, which Kara accepts without question. But Lena has an affinity for the sciences (and knowledge as to what kinds of experiments ought to be going on in a biogenetics centre), and the dots definitely do not line up. Until she can work out exactly what shape they form, though, she’s not going to worry Kara with the fact that she’s almost completely sure that the eldest Danvers is not working as a scientist.
“Well, it’s fairly selfish of me, but I’m glad you’re here. This might be difficult to imagine, but Excel documents full of tiny numbers become significantly less riveting after ten p.m.,” Lena mutters, and Kara giggles. “What I mean to say is that having you with me makes it a lot better.”
The you make everything better sits on her tongue unsaid.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Kara tells her, sitting up. She leans forward, her hand coming up to cup Lena’s jaw, her thumb sweeping across the bruises under Lena’s eyes. This moment feels important, significant, and the part of her that’s so used to self-destructing the few precious things that her name and past haven’t already ruined, begs her to say something stupid like, you really love the view from my office, huh? But Kara kisses her before she can shatter the air between them.
It’s soft and slow, and the words that have been sitting behind her teeth for a month now (probably much longer if she’s being totally honest) are dangerously close to slipping out.
She lets her hands dance out to loop around Kara’s neck and pull her closer, hoping warmth and skin will cancel out the thoughts humming around her head. She thinks of her family, and how with them, feelings like these were always tangled with lies or disappointment or rejection or betrayal. And she can’t risk any of that with Kara.
But then Kara pulls back, just a little, just enough to smile at her. Because she’s happy, because, Lena’s almost sure, she makes her happy. And in a surge of possibly ill-advised courage that appears out of nowhere, she says, “I love you.”
Kara’s smile widens, and her eyes sparkle in that same way they do when she looks at the stars; bright and alive with something pure that exists outside of Lena’s conception of the world. She kisses Lena’s cheek, so gently that it could’ve been imagined.
“I love you, too, Lena.” She whispers it, but not like it’s a secret; instead, like it’s something precious, to be handled with care.
For the first time in her life, “love” doesn’t sound like a synonym for “I need something from you” or “do this for me”. It rings clear and melodic in that way truth always does, and Lena feels it in her bones.
After that, she decides the reports can indeed be Tomorrow Lena’s problem.
“Ms Grant,” she greets, and she thinks maybe that she sounds a little guilty, even if she’s actually done nothing wrong.
“This is quite curious, Lena, because you know, I’m quite sure I dialled Supergirl’s number. So, as you might imagine, I am puzzled as to why you, with whom I have already had a sufficiently scathing discussion on this topic, might be in the company of our hero.” When Cat says it, these days, hero sounds more like a curse word.
Kara comes bouncing into the room, opening her mouth to tell her something, but Lena makes a cutting motion across her throat, then raises a finger to her lips, signalling her to be silent, and luckily, Kara gets the memo before a single word makes it out of her mouth. Lena is nothing if not quick on her feet, and she’s already got a rough idea that may or may not bail them out of this fresh mess, and it would be ruined if Cat hears that she’s not alone.
“I was reliably informed that you aren’t in the habit of going out on a limb. In fact, I’m almost sure it was you yourself who told me that. And yet, here you are, making assumptions,” Lena drawls, in what Kara once christened her Scary Boardroom Tone™.
Her girlfriend flops down next to her on the couch, eyebrows raised in question; there’s no voice currently coming from the device for her to identify. Lena removes her finger from her lips, and uses it to trace the letters C-A-T on Kara’s thigh. Her mouth forms a small ‘o’ of understanding.
“What exactly are you suggesting, Miss Luthor?” Cat returns, not quite as righteously caustic as before.
“You seem to be under the impression that I am currently with Supergirl, which I can assure you, I am not. As I am sure your reporter no doubt informed you, she was at my office earlier today for work-related reasons, and when I heard your call ringing out, I realised she had left her phone here. Fearing it may have been urgent, I answered it.” It’s a risky move, possibly a little too transparent, but Lena says it with about a thousand tonnes of authority, hopefully selling it with a combination of confidence and casualness.
“… You expect me to believe that Supergirl forgot her phone?”
“Heroes. They’re just like us.”
“And she was at your office for work-related reasons, you say?”
Kara, who has likely tuned into Cat with her super-hearing, starts smirking. Work-related? she mouths.
Lena’s brain fills with all their completely non-work-related activities, but she shrugs. Over lunch, though, they had actually discussed Kara’s most recent exploits with the DEO, so at a stretch, she’s not really lying. Of course, it’s not that particular part of the visit that has Kara looking so smug.
“Miss Luthor, many people seem to forget that between my stint as a gossip columnist and tenure as the Queen of all Media, I passed a good deal of time as an investigative journalist. And do you know what I learned about lies? They’re never as airtight as anyone thinks. Dishonesty is like Twister, Lena: eventually, you become so tangled up that you fall, and tend to bring others down with you. Now, you might be telling the truth right now. I suspect not. Rest assured, I’ll find out either way. You are messing with my assistant, my hero, and therefore my brand, and me. I would make a suitably cutting remark about cats having claws, but I think my reputation precedes me, don’t you?”
She hangs up, sighs, runs her hand over her face.
“You did very well. She can be quite mean when she wants to be,” Kara tells her, and Lena doesn’t have the heart to explain that in contrast to the heated, bitter, stabbing way people usually talk to a Luthor, Cat Grant is almost a breath of fresh air. The sigh wasn’t from the berating; it was for Kara, and how the delicate, careful balance of their lives is being tipped out of control by a simple mistake. “We’ll figure it all out.” A kiss on the cheek, one that lingers. Then Kara tilts her head, like she’s listening. “Also, I think the pasta is in trouble, but given my cooking skills, if I touch it, it’ll probably explode.”
Cat stares out the window, sipping her latte, contemplating both the view from her office and her many problems. Most of the latter revolve around the blonde girl hovering in her peripheral vision; not that said girl knows it. If Cat’s being honest, she’s about neck deep in all this drama now, and couldn’t get out of it for anything. Her inability to let go of things until they reach a resolution (stories, arguments, relationships, scandals), which makes her so good at her job, has got her snared in this now. While she’s ever confident in her ability to tie this particular mess up with a neat bow, all without hurting Kara, she has resigned herself to the need of a backup plan.
Kara skitters into her office, notepad in hand. “Yes, Ms Grant?”
“Relax a little, would you? All that excessive energy is bad for my skin.”
“Yes, Ms Grant.”
“I just wanted to talk to you briefly about the different chapters of CatCo. Did you know, for example, that we have a branch in Metropolis? And another in Opal City. A few overseas, even, if you’re more of a globe trotter than I predicted.” She explains all this very airily, but is watching for a response like a hawk.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
A raised eyebrow. “Really, Kiera? I believe I used English the entire time.”
“I – I mean; I don’t understand what you’re saying. Why are you telling me all this, Ms Grant?”
Cat sighs. “I probably tell you this far too often, Kiera, but you are, in fact, a decent employee -”
“I think that might be the first time you’ve ever said that, actually -”
Cat waves her off. “My point is, should you find yourself, sometime in the future, needing a little space – to get away from National City – you will always have a job at CatCo. Wherever you need that job to be.”
Kara smiles at her, in that happy way she has that so reminds Cat of a small child (all innocence) or a puppy (all joy). It’s not as bright as the one Cat’s seen her beam at Lena, which is an eclipsing grin that Cat worries will soon have reason to fade. “Thanks, Ms Grant. But my whole life is here, you know. Lena and Alex and Winn and James. I can’t imagine why I’d ever want to leave National City,” Kara declares.
I can, Cat thinks.
“Ms Luthor? Cat Grant is here to see you,” Jess’s voice cuts over the intercom.
Lena starts in surprise. She could understand Cat calling another meeting in her own office, because making Lena go out of her way and interrupting her schedule is an obvious power-play. But Cat making the effort is unprecedented. Unless she’s hoping to catch Lena unprepared, keeping her on the back foot, or wants to keep Kara entirely out of the loop.
“Send her in, Jess.”
Lena barely has a second to take a deep breath before the doors are bursting open and Cat is stalking in, swept along by a hurricane of power and influence.
She gazes around the room appraisingly. “I do love your office, Lena. It’s not as nice or as big as mine, but we all have to start at the bottom of the ladder, I suppose.”
Lena wouldn’t consider being the CEO of a major technology corporation to be exactly the bottom of the ladder, but she doesn’t rise to Cat’s bait. “Quite,” she agrees, so impassively that the other woman can’t possibly read anything into it. She gets up from behind her desk, going to stand by the window, so Cat won’t be the only one not seated. “May I enquire as to the reason for your visit?”
Cat gestures vaguely. “I’m getting some fresh air. Stopped by for a chat. I also wanted to deliver an invitation to CatCo’s next fundraising gala in person.”
“A courtesy that is being extended to every attendee, I imagine, even the ones you do not believe to be having an ongoing affair with Supergirl?” Lena asks coolly.
“Careful, Miss Luthor. That sounds like a confession,” Cat bites back.
Kara’s shivering on the floor, sobbing, and even Alex’s arms tight around her won’t stop the tears. They’re huddled in a hallway at the DEO, trying to deal with the wake of their latest arrest: the hunt for Fort Rozz escapee that went badly awry.
The alien they’d been chasing was a mind reader and a meta-morph, a dangerous combination. When threatened, it had one of the most terribly effective defence mechanisms in the galaxy: scan the predator’s mind for a fear, and physically manifest as it before their eyes.
Before they’d left to track it down, Alex had joked about it being just like a boggart, and they’d laughed over memories of reading Harry Potter with torches under the covers late at night as kids. Hank had asked if she’d be okay, but she’d assured him that if she could survive the Black Mercy – survive seeing them all, and losing them again – she could face down this solitary alien just fine.
Except when they’d caught up with it, it hadn’t showed her a familiar face from Krypton, not like she’d thought it would. When it had transformed, red flesh and dripping spikes disappearing as it changed, she saw Lena.
Lena, eyes wide and staring up at nothing. Lena, limbs twisted, expression torn with the agony she’d been in when she’d died. Died. Dead. Lena. Gone. Kara’s thoughts had crumbled to monosyllables. It had looked so real that she’d fallen out of the sky, oblivious to Alex sending in a heavily armed squad of two dozen DEO agents to subdue it, in the hopes that they would be too many for the alien to target all at once.
Alex had been right, and the creature is now sealed in a glass prison, far away from Kara’s eyes.
But she can still see it behind her eyelids. See it as Lena. See her girlfriend, motionless on the tarmac, and she feels completely wrecked.
She’s sure the other agents at headquarters are whispering about the fact that their resident superhero is sobbing in a dim corridor, but she doesn’t care. She can’t get the image out of her head.
“It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real, Kara,” Alex murmurs into her hair. “It’s okay. Lena’s at work, remember. She’s fine. She’s safe.”
Kara chokes on air and tears, before gasping out, “I need to see her. I need to – to be sure.”
Alex nods. “Okay. I’ll call her. She’ll come down, and -”
“Too slow. I’m – I’m just gonna fly to L-Corp,” Kara mumbles out, staggering to her feet. She doesn’t feel like a hero right now. She feels like someone very much in love with a human who isn’t as indestructible as she is, whose skin isn’t bulletproof, who can be taken away from her at any moment.
Tears are distorting her vision too much for her to see properly, but she’s made the flight from the DEO to L-Corp enough times to do it from memory. She all but crashes onto Lena’s balcony, wiping hurriedly at her eyes – it’s futile, there is more and more saltwater every second – and barely managing to remember to be gentle with the window when she slides it open, so that she won’t shatter the glass or tear it off its track.
Lena is standing only just inside – she doesn’t need clarity of sight to be sure of that, she’d know her silhouette anywhere, even a blurry version of it – and Kara doesn’t waste a second, spinning Lena around carefully so they’re face to face and throwing her arms around her, holding as her as tightly as she can without breaking her. Lena returns the hold without question, fingers already dancing a soothing pattern up and down her back. Kara wishes she had some Kryptonite, so she could hug Lena as hard as she wants to.
“It was – there was – meta-morph, and he looked like you, and you were dead, and I – I – just,” Kara gives up trying to explain herself, and instead settles for counting Lena’s heartbeats and listening to the rhythm of her lungs, cataloguing vital signs that assure her that her girlfriend is alive. She murmurs that she loves her, and Lena, like she always does (even that one time last year when they had an argument), whispers it back.
After an age, she finally starts to feel okay again. Okay enough, at least, to brush most of the tears from her eyes with the hand that’s not clutching Lena’s waist, and look up. Okay enough to make out Cat Grant standing on the other side of the room.
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 5: in which cat re-evaluates
When Supergirl lands on the balcony outside Lena’s office, it’s the least graceful Cat’s ever seen her; jerky and sudden and like she’s been pulled out of the sky. She tugs the window open (Cat’s half-surprised that she doesn’t just walk through and shatter it, consequences be damned) and staggers straight into Lena’s arms, hugging her impossibly close and tight in that desperate way reserved for things nearly lost.
She doesn’t need super-hearing to make out the alien mumbling almost incoherently about something, or Lena’s soothing murmurs of “it’s okay, you’re okay, deep breaths”. The CEO doesn’t even acknowledge that Cat still exists, doesn’t try to make some kind of excuse as to why a superhero just dropped out of nowhere and is crying into her arms.
Supergirl has crumpled, somehow, as if all her ribs have shattered, and her diaphragm is compressing like an accordion. Her knuckles are white and she’s such a contrast to the unshakeable hero Cat’s used to seeing her as. She’s never looked so… human. It’s then that she hears a mumbled “I love you, and I couldn’t – you were just – Lena, I -”, and Cat listens as the sentiment is returned softly, words balanced on fingertips.
Lena is pale and Supergirl is wrecked and for the first time, she wonders if she’s been driving on the wrong side of this road. She watches how they hold each other (like they’ll never let go, like nothing could make them), and thinks about how she’s been trying to drive them apart. She’d assumed that because Kara is good and bright and her protégée, because Kara has always seemed so happy in her relationship, that she’s the one Lena’s meant to be with.
But love is one of those wild, sporadic, amoral forces that has never cared for collateral damage, and this time, maybe the victim will be Kara, no matter how hard Cat tries to protect her. Because this doesn’t look like a lapse in judgement.
The superhero across the room finally glances up, and makes eye contact with her, just for a moment. A small part of Cat expects her to hurriedly step back, claim that it’s another misunderstanding. Instead, she just turns away, deciding that her eyes would be better used staring at Lena, following her hands as they run over the CEO, apparently making sure she is intact.
Cat sighs. Supergirl has already had the world taken away from her once. She can’t be the one to do it again, not unless she’s really sure.
Cat picks up her handbag from the couch, and quietly leaves the room. She has a disaster to re-evaluate.
Kara isn’t at her desk when she gets back to CatCo. Not that it matters, really, Cat supposes – what could she possibly ask her? Kiera, I must determine if you need Lena Luthor as much as Supergirl seems to, could you fill out this small evaluative questionnaire? Kara’s always done her best to keep her relationship separate from work, and it’s been a long time since Cat’s actually seen her and Lena together for anything other than brief, stolen moments at the desk before a meeting, or after one as they sneak off to the supply closet (and they actually think they’re being discrete). She needs an opportunity to do a more thorough assessment, because if her assistant and the L-Corp CEO are not as strong and in love as she remembers, then perhaps she must do the thing she has been attempting to avoid for so long: simply tell Kara what she knows, give her the photo, and wait for the dust of the ensuing hurricane to settle.
The small IT hobbit (she’s almost completely sure he’s called Witt, but that doesn’t sound like a real name) skitters into her office when she’s knee-deep in introspection.
“Yes?” she demands, and it’s a green-light word, but she tries to make it sound like a stop sign. It works – she can see the fear in his eyes, but the poor creature perseveres anyway.
“Um, Kara just called to tell me that’s she’s come down sick, and to ask you if she can have the rest of the day off?” He’s shifting nervously from foot to foot.
“Of course. After all, Witt, is the alternative not having germs distributed around my space, ruining my productivity and my makeup?” It’s not as if she’s going to deny this small thing, not when she knows what’s on the horizon for the poor girl.
“Cool, cool-cool-cool,” he mumbles. “Also, James says that the final prints for the upcoming CatCo gala are ready to be sent out.”
It’s like a key has opened a lock in her brain, and it occurs to her that she does not need to find an opportunity to appraise Lena and Kara: she already has one, one that she accidentally prepared earlier.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Lena asks, tracing her fingers in delicate patterns over Kara’s face, a repetitive and calming technique she’d long since learned works quite well. She’s had Jess cancel the rest of her meetings, and they’ve moved now from the window to the couch, Kara’s head resting on her lap, blonde hair spilling over her skirt.
Her eyes are closed and her voice still shakes a little when she speaks, telling Lena about her day at the DEO; the alien and how it had looked like her, how for a second, Kara had been completely, irrationally sure Lena was dead. “It was like I’d lost everything,” she breathes out. “Like I’d lost everything again.” She’s crying, and Lena can feel the tears sliding down onto her own legs, warm and wet.
“Oh, Kara,” she murmurs, kissing her forehead. “I’m so sorry.”
They stay there, unmoving in the silence, for who knows how long. Kara’s brow is furrowed in that way that means she’s listening – although Lena has no way of being sure what to. To the rogue alien, now locked away? To her? It’s clearly helping her relax, though, so she doesn’t need to ask. Finally, she gently reminds her girlfriend, “Kara, Cat will be back at CatCo by now, and she’ll be wondering where you -”
“I’m not leaving,” Kara cuts her off. “I can’t leave. Not yet. I just -”
“I know, it's okay. I was going to ask if you want me to get Winn to tell Cat you’re out sick?”
Kara nods, so she texts Winn with one hand, the other one now held in Kara’s.
They end up going back to Kara’s apartment. The familiar setting calms her down, helps her pretend that today was just a really, really terrible dream. The knots in her stomach and tears in her eyes remind her otherwise, but she’s working on ignoring it.
She hasn’t been able to break physical contact with Lena since she stumbled into her office more than half an hour ago; maybe it was growing up around scientists, but Kara likes to have proof of things. Faith is nice, but today, she needs more than that. And proof is a warm hand in hers, is the thud of heartbeat.
They lie together on the rug in the living room, pressed close, and Lena whispers to her softly in Kryptonian, leaving Kara filled with the familiar warmth that comes from hearing her native language. She remembers how surprised she’d been when she found out Lena had learned it, and the raised eyebrows she’d received in reply (“Honestly, Kara, I studied three languages to be an international CEO, of course I’d teach myself one for you.”).
When the memories of a dead Lena become too much, she kisses her girlfriend to drown them out, reminding herself with each flip of her stomach and softly breathed moan that they’re both here, both real, both alive.
“Cat saw us before, you know. I was half expecting her to start yelling, right there in the office,” Kara mumbles, playing with Lena’s hair. “I wouldn’t have really cared, but… She just didn’t.”
“Maybe she’s decided to cut us some slack?”
“That doesn’t sound like Cat. But maybe.”
“Hey, you’ll go to the CatCo gala with me, right?” Lena asks, nudging her gently in the ribs. “You know I can’t deal with Cat all alone. Especially not now that she hates me.”
Kara wrinkles her nose. “I’m so sorry about that. And of course I’ll go with you. I always do.” She laughs suddenly, the dregs of an old memory drifting to the front of her brain. “Remember that first gala we went to together? How mad Cat was at me the next day?”
Lena smirks. “Only because the Daily Planet reported on us before she did.”
“Kiera!” Kara winces at the sheer decibel count of the shriek. While super-hearing does have awesome advantages, having her head split right down the middle by an irate Cat Grant is possibly the worst con of the power. It’s hard to feel too bad about it, though, not today – Lena had kissed her last night after the gala, and she’s still tingling from it, probably still smiling stupidly, too.
She quickly jumps out of her seat, hurrying into her boss’s office, notepad ready to record a tirade about Gwyneth’s latest mistake that Cat wants info on, or evidence as to why she must participate in the latest kale smoothie trend. “Yes, Ms Grant?”
Cat’s eyebrow quirks, in that deadly way which often precedes the firing of an entire department or a cutting remark about Lois Lane. “Betrayal,” she begins, and Kara feels a chill go down her spine, because this cannot be good. “Who would have thought that you, my meek, mild-mannered assistant, would drive the knife into my back,” she says archly.
“Ms Grant? I don’t understand. I’m sure that whatever you think I did, I -”
A copy of the Daily Planet is slammed down on the desk, one perfectly-manicured finger sitting on top of an article in the gossip section. It’s titled Lena Luthor & Mystery Woman? but it’s pretty obvious that the other person in the picture is her. She’s only so-called mystery woman because she’s a nobody, although quite unfortunately for her at this moment, she’s not a nobody to the Queen of All Media. She and Lena are standing rather too close to be “just friends”, and Kara recalls the second this must have been taken, right after they pulled back from the kiss. She knows Cat will kill her for allowing them to have been scooped on news that she’s a part of, but at that moment, looking at the picture, she cannot help but grin.
They get pizza and pot stickers for dinner, because on some spectacularly bad days, nothing less than a favourite will do. Friends plays on Netflix until Kara falls asleep, at which point, Lena quietly makes her way out onto the balcony and dials Alex.
“How’s she doing?” the eldest Danvers asks, in place of a greeting.
Lena sighs. “She’s asleep now. But…”
“Yeah. I mean, that alien changed into some pretty terrifying stuff for all of us, but it’s so much worse for her, you know? She’s lost so much. It’s been harder after the Black Mercy earlier this year, too.”
“Mm,” Lena murmurs, because she remembers those few days all too well. Biting her lip till it bled, watching from behind a glass wall as Kara’s body shut down and her brain went wild. Calling Cat Grant and telling her that Kara was in hospital, and asking to use some of the leave she’d accrued. She’d helped Max design the headset that freed Kara, but she’d still felt so horribly powerless, watching her girlfriend and Alex lying limply on those steel tables. Then there were all those nights after they saved Kara, when she’d wake up crying, haunted by the utopia she’d lost. As best as Lena had been able to determine (through half-formed comments and tangents mumbled through tears), Kara had still been on Earth, guarding humanity, and not much had changed except that Krypton was still whole and well, and she’d been able to visit it in her pod. The idea of her two worlds, her two lives, separated only by a short flight through space, had been her perfect fantasy, and it had been torn away. “I think she’ll be okay, though. This was different. This wasn’t hurting her, this was brief -”
“But this was you,” Alex says.
“Yeah,” she sighs.
Cat is not at all surprised when Supergirl doesn’t appear on the news the next day. It does, however, leave CatCo without what usually makes their headlines, so Cat resorts to entertaining herself by personally exploring the latest health food trends, ordering in from all over the city. She would usually send Kara on some kind of mad scavenger hunt to find them, but her assistant is unusually subdued today; the product of her residual sickness and perhaps, Cat posits, a crumbling relationship?
“Kiera?” she calls, more gently by far than she usually would.
Kara stands up, walks in, with none of her typical perkiness and energy. “Yes, Ms Grant?”
“If I may, did you see Lena Luthor last night at all?” Cat asks, and watches as Kara blanches, stumbles over her words a bit, before finally finding the “no, Ms Grant” she was looking for. Interesting (but not interesting in that way that gets her journalistic blood pumping; interesting where the word sounds like a frown, because it’s looking like for once, Cat is turning out to be right when she doesn’t want to be).
“Even though you were ill?” she probes, eyebrow venturing skyward.
Kara shifts awkwardly. “Well, you know, Ms Grant, I’m one of those people who likes to be alone when they’re ill. Just me and Netflix, not imposing on anyone.”
Cat purses her lips. That doesn’t seem to be very fitting – Kara loves people, loves being around them, in a wholly unselfish way that Cat can never really understand – not to mention that she has dozens of people in her life who would come running if Kara called them with so much as a sniffle.
“And besides, Lena was, um, busy at work,” Kara mumbles, and that hits Cat in the chest a bit, given that busy at work came up more than too often when they were settling the divorce.
“I see.” Cat isn’t sure what to say, because maybe currently Kara thinks that her girlfriend isn’t making time for her, but Cat isn’t about to make it worse by informing her that she does have the time, she’s just using it for someone else. “Then perhaps you have not yet been informed, but I invited Ms Luthor to CatCo’s upcoming gala. I can only assume you will be going with her?”
“Oh, she did... text me about that,” Kara adds quickly. “And yes, I’ll be there, so if you need anything…” she trails off.
I need to know how to proceed. I need to know if it’s really Supergirl who has to go, or if you might have to bite the bullet on this one, kid.
But Cat doesn’t say any of those things, instead – “That’ll be all, Kiera.”
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 6: in which it doesn't get any easier
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Kara’s always had nightmares. At first, they were about Krypton – the look on her mother’s face, that day on the loading bay; the horrible, shattering sound of a whole world dying; the dull, whirling susurrus of a solar system filling with embers and ash.
Then, occasionally, those familiar demons mingled with new ones – Alex dying, Winn getting hurt, being unable to save James.
And eventually – inevitably – Lena. They started after Lex’s first attempt on her girlfriend’s life (it still haunts Kara after all these months, the fear that she mightn’t have been fast enough, strong enough to save her), and have dramatically worsened now, the alien attack giving her subconscious the memories to craft into perfect weapons.
When she wakes in the middle of the night, heart pounding and eyes glowing, Lena wakes up with her, talks to her, holds her, calms her down until Kara’s breathing could almost pass for normal. Kara never needs to apologise for disrupting her sleep; they’ve both lived with these kinds of dreams their whole lives, both know how much worse they get after trauma.
It might take weeks, more likely months, but they will fade, become less visceral, less frequent.
The city has been surprisingly drama-free these last few days. Cat’s had no contact with either Supergirl or Lena Luthor, and no decent excuse to subtly pry into Kara’s life to better analyse the situation. The irritating itch to dig suggests that she has not, in fact, left her roots as a gossip columnist quite as far behind as she likes to believe.
But it’s not just innate curiosity and the urge to protect her awkward assistant that linger in the back of her mind; she’s still somewhat haunted by the broken version of Supergirl she encountered, by the idea that the invincible hero has such a clear Achilles heel.
“Kiera,” she calls out gently, and Kara darts quickly into her office. The girl’s yet to perk up, despite it having been half a week since her sick day. Before the typical, yet almost entirely meaningless yes, Ms Grant? can enter the air between them, she asks the question that’s been eating at her. “Are you quite okay?” She’s not really angling for more information – it’s more than likely that whatever is bothering Kara is entirely unrelated to the little scandal that Cat’s been investigating; tragically, she’s familiar with the bind of having more than one problem.
Kara hesitates, shifts from foot to foot. For a moment, Cat thinks she’s going to lie, and say that she’s fine, and the CEO would’ve let her – sometimes, dark clouds are too difficult to share.
“I, um. Have you just – have you ever been so afraid of losing something?” she mumbles, staring at her (rather cheap) shoes.
Ah. So not unrelated. “I am, contrary to popular belief, only human, Kiera, much as yourself. It’s one of the great vices of our species; to desperately want to keep things that we perhaps ought to let go of,” she hints gently. The desire has always been to keep Kara as undamaged as possible; she’s almost sure that a clean break is the only way to do that at this point.
Kara blanches. “It’s not something I should let go of. It isn’t. God, I could never.”
Cat sighs. The CatCo gala is tonight. Soon, this is all going to be resolved. She is going to have to break someone’s heart. “Kiera, I hope you appreciate how difficult it is to help you when I don’t have any specifics,” she reprimands, because the alternative is saying the world can be a horrible mess, and love can ruin more than it fixes, and I’m sorry, but everyone finds that out in the end.
“I – I can’t,” Kara says. “Never mind. I’m, I’m looking forward to the gala tonight, though,” she smiles, and a whisper of the sunny girl Cat’s accustomed to seeing walking around like a human light bulb flickers into existence.
She can’t help but offer a small smirk in reflexive reply. “Yes, I’m sure it will be illuminating,” she mutters, mostly to herself.
Kara, who has as terribly habit of overhearing every mumble, no matter how quiet, seems confused. “Sure, Ms Grant. Was there anything else?”
Lena eyes Kara, the way the dress clings to her, and wishes quite an embarrassing amount that they were just arriving home instead of about to go out. She’d really rather stay here.
“You wore that last year,” she observes, gazing at the blue material, reaching up and tucking a lock of escaping blonde hair back behind Kara’s ear.
Kara wouldn’t describe herself as nervous. She wouldn’t stop there. She’d maybe say that she is nerves, or perhaps go so far as totally terrified, because she is going on a date with Lena Luthor. It’s the good kind of terrified, though, the kind she’d get back when she used to fly. Alex has been at her apartment for the last two hours, helping her pick her outfit and calming her anxiety.
“Kara, you don’t have to worry so much. She wouldn’t have invited you if she didn’t like you,” Alex attempts to placate her. Fails.
Kara wrings her hands together. “But she already heard me talking on the phone to you, about all that stupid stuff. And she’s a super important business person. Like, this is way over my head, Alex. And – and – she’s so pretty, Alex. So pretty. Like, whoa, pretty.”
Her time in the safety of her bedroom with her sister seems to evaporate unfairly fast, and all of a sudden she’s hugging Alex goodbye, and heading downstairs to meet Lena for the first time since that day in the elevator, nearly a week ago.
But then the car waiting outside is discrete and normal-looking and when she climbs inside and sees Lena, the nerves start to melt away. It’s mostly because Lena’s smiling and the speakers are playing that song she likes (which is never on the radio anymore, which means it’s a playlist, and Lena knows this song, too), but also partly that she can hear the way Lena’s heartbeat is racing, because of her. She’s not the only one who’s scared, who feels like this, between them, could be important, significant somehow.
In Kara’s experience, these galas can drag on forever – rich, powerful people sidling up to each other and basically comparing Excel documents charting exactly how rich and powerful they are. But with Lena, the time skates easy circles around them, vanishing into the cool air of the night. Lena, who talks excitedly about the children’s charity this gala is focused on, and all their programs; getting girls into STEM fields, supporting LGBT safe zones, funding extra-curricular activities for underprivileged kids. Lena, for whom this event would no doubt be a great networking opportunity, but nevertheless doesn’t leave Kara’s side. Lena, who tells her bad jokes about all the affluent businessmen until they seem less like wealthy statues and more like people.
She remembers Winn telling her that there’s no algorithm for stuff like this, and finally, she really understands what he means – there is no x variable for how her stomach flips when Lena smirks at her, or method to square-root the way she nearly shatters a wine glass in her grip when Lena’s gaze flickers down to her mouth, just for a second. And there is certainly no means to calculate a prediction of how it feels at the end of the night, when Lena kisses her so softly, sweetly, that Kara’s legitimately worried that she might start to hover a few inches off the ground. It’s chaste, and on one level, Kara wishes they could kiss harder, deeper, and on another, it’s already too much, her brain frying itself; in all ways, though, it’s some kind of perfect.
“If I were to ask you out again sometime, would that be…” Lena trails off, apparently finding it difficult to multitask looking at Kara and speaking.
“That would be something I’d say yes to,” Kara says, internally impressed that she got the whole sentence out without stumbling over phonetics.
The streetlights make Lena’s smile glow, and it feels like a beginning.
“I did,” Kara agrees, turning away from the mirror to offer her one of those light, million-star grins that Lena’s never managed to get used to, ever.
If they kiss, carefully-applied lipstick will be ruined, and if it goes a little too far, possibly some precisely-styled hair, also, all of which would have to be re-done before the two could leave.
“We can be a little late, right?” Lena decides, and pulls Kara to her, who giggles, and presses their lips together.
Lena knows that things still need time to heal, but it’s impossibly good to hear her girlfriend laugh again.
Kara and Lena are late.
The logical part of Cat is trying not to speculate – most people deliberately show up to these affairs about twenty minutes after the official start time, in an effort to remain elusive and fashionable. Although, that doesn’t sound like either of them. Perhaps traffic is bad, or there’s been some other, totally legitimate, reason for them to be delayed.
The rest of her is picturing arguments, stiltedness, cancellations; all the sorts of things that happen in relationships where one person has fallen for someone else, in relationships crumbling despite the best of intentions.
But then they do arrive, and everyone at the gala cannot help but turn to stare at them, even though they’ve been together so long now that they’re anything but news. And while Cat’s sure the Luthor and Supergirl could cut quite the striking pair if they wanted to (the only times she’s actually witnessed them together is in a photograph, and then again in the middle of the hero’s breakdown), there’s something about Lena and Kara. How Kara’s usual self-consciousness seems to fade, and nothing can stem the tide of brightness. How Lena’s pale, impassive façade dissipates as she laughs at something Kara’s whispered in her ear. Their fingers are tangled together tightly. Not hand-holding out of a demonstration of togetherness, or the way you cling to an anchor in the only person you know at a party. It’s just… closeness. As in, I like knowing you’re there. As in, why just look if I could touch?
Cat waits the entire evening for any fracture lines to shine through, for the shattering moment when it becomes apparent that not all is perfect in paradise. She scans for a sharp word, a disinterested expression, distance, anything.
But Kara and Lena split their evening between dancing, hiding in a dark corner to talk, and doing the mandatory mingling with National City’s elite for the sake of L-Corp. Kara seems more relaxed and happy than she has for days, and Lena appears equally alive, although also peaceful.
“Kiera. Ms Luthor,” she greets, inclining her head, having finally finished her own social rounds and being free to investigate.
Kara’s currently got a rather impressive mouthful of appetisers, and after shooting her girlfriend an amused glance, it’s Lena who answers. “Cat. Having a good evening?”
“Ah… a super one, in fact,” she quips, watches as Kara’s brow furrows in what is likely confusion, and Lena coughs.
“I imagine,” she replies evenly, and Cat doesn’t miss the way her grip tightens on Kara’s hand.
Kara squeezes her fingers back, and even though she can’t know the warring subtext between them, she clearly picks up on Lena’s discomfort, because she takes the reins of the conversation. “Ms Grant, did you talk with Miss Clarke? You have a meeting with her on Tuesday about her campaign to change female representation in popular media, and you wanted me to remind you to get a read on her tonight.”
Cat starts. In the midst of her scheming, she has forgotten, and she excuses herself, darting off to rectify the situation. After she’s introduced herself – rather unnecessarily, she thinks, because everybody knows who she is, she’s seen to that – she and Miss Clarke are making their way through the mandatory shallows of small talk.
The activist gestures behind Cat. “Aren’t those two just so adorable? It’s no wonder the Daily Planet named them in their Top 50 Couples of 2015.”
Cat spins to stare at the pair in question. For all the drama that might be going on with Lena and Supergirl, Kara and the CEO are currently standing in the eye of the hurricane, completely untouched by whatever mess is in the process of being made. They’re orbiting each other, and Cat doesn’t have to read the I love you on Lena’s lips, because it’s blazing in her eyes. They kiss, and there’s the flash of the press’s cameras, and Cat knows the image will be all over the internet in ten minutes, and judging by the online reaction to every other picture of them, the millennials will have shared it a million times before breakfast, complete with those hashtags like #relationshipgoals that they always assign the pair.
“Kiera, do you know what ‘viral’ means?” Cat demands, spinning around in her office chair.
“My sister works in biogenetics, but I’ll be honest, Ms Grant, I’ve never had a great grasp of -” Kara begins, but Cat cuts her off.
“Not that kind. The kind we care about, I care about, at CatCo. Internet sensations, images and stories that spread like worldwide wildfire. Perhaps an example will jog your memory.”
“No, Ms Grant, I do understand -”
“This picture of you and Ms Luthor, for example, that was published, oh, a day ago, and already has over four million likes.”
“Wait, what?” Kara looks genuinely shocked, and Cat tuts, sliding her laptop across the desk between them so her assistant can see the image herself. Even Cat would call the snapshot ‘cute’, if she were the sort who used that kind of vocabulary.
The website she’s got open on her browser has posted the now-viral photo that was originally from Kara’s sister’s Instagram. In it, Kara’s loose shirt is splattered with paint, and her face is in her hands, blonde hair spilling everywhere; she’s laughing, a ruined canvas behind her. Lena’s got an arm wrapped around her waist, is kissing her cheek, so close that her own forehead is flecked with pastel colours, too. In the neon lights of the city, it looks like a scene from a movie. Probably one of those ridiculous rom-coms that Cat is severely allergic to.
They seem happy.
“Now, CatCo isn’t exactly hard-hitting journalism, but we’re a little better than re-posting social media, so this means nothing to me, and all the hashtags are giving me cavities. Just – I just want to be sure you understand that dating Lena Luthor will drag you into the spotlight, whether you want it to or not. And I know you, Kiera, and I suspect you are a ‘not’.”
But the expression on Kara’s face tells her this: the spotlight will not change anything; Cat’s opinion will not change anything; strangers on the internet will not change anything.
She’s in love.
“Adorable,” Cat repeats. “Yes.”
Because they are, they are, and that’s the problem. As much as she understands that the world is mostly grey, just once in a while, she wishes it was black and white. That Supergirl and Lena didn’t really mean anything, or Kara and Lena could go their separate ways with very literal collateral damage. But it is Lena that Supergirl flies to when she is on the verge of breaking, and Kara is just as happy, bright, flustered, and in love as Cat’s ever seen her.
And Cat realises this is what they call a ‘checkmate’. If she touches this, upsets the delicate balance of love and deception, she stands to ruin much more than she can fix. She can’t abide cheating, detests it, but no matter which piece she moves, she’ll be breaking at least two hearts. Probably three.
So Cat decides that unless something changes, something big, she’s going to let it go. She’s going to let it be, and see if they all make it out alive. If not, she supposes, she’ll be there to pick up whichever fragments are within her reach.
Cat is not to know it then, at the gala, but exactly two peaceful months will go by before her hand is forced, and everything goes at least a little bit to hell.
Chapter 7: in which origins are explored
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
“Did you have to pick tonight?” Kara grumbles at the wannabe-bank robber as she drags him out the bank’s front doors and towards the cop cars that are screeching over the curb to park beside them, lights flashing.
She and Lena had just left the CatCo gala when she’d heard the alarms and gunshots, so instead of getting to go home and enjoy how spectacularly beautiful and enticingly off-limits her girlfriend was in her look-don’t-touch backless dress and oh-Rao heels, she’d had to fly over to National City Bank & Trust to put a stop to this frankly unprofessional heist.
“Keeping you from a hot date?” the criminal bites, surprisingly chatty for a person in the grip of an alien who could actually hurl him into orbit with the rest of the space junk.
She glares at him. “Yeah, actually.” That shocks him enough to shut him up.
“I’ll take him from here, Supergirl,” offers a familiar voice, and Kara turns to find Maggie Sawyer leaning against the hood of her police cruiser, a pair of cuffs dangling from her fingertip.
She flicks her gaze up and down Alex’s new cop friend, nodding approvingly when she takes note of the bulletproof vest and backup piece. Kara can’t resist the opportunity to be slightly threatening, though, because nothing keeps someone in line like getting the shovel-talk from a superhero – no matter how much her sister insists they’re just “work partners”, Kara less oblivious than she seems. Okay, that’s a lie, it was Lena who said there was something between them, and then presented a swathe of evidence to convince her.
“Cool,” she grins. “Have a good night, you guys. I mean the cops, not you,” she adds quickly to their latest arrest. He waggles his eyebrows at her suggestively, and she narrows her eyes at him before she takes off. She probably shouldn’t have said anything to him in the first place about Lena – Alex would kill her if she found out she was gossiping with future inmates, no matter how relatively harmless – but she’s excited, and she’d announced it without thinking.
She’s ninety percent of the way home when the intercoms crackle and she’s called away again.
She takes her frustration out on the rogue alien.
Lena has no idea how long Kara will be gone, and her girlfriend has left a standing instruction to “don’t wait up, babe, please, you’re so busy and you can’t run a company if you’re exhausted”.
She leaves a hot chocolate on the apartment’s benchtop, knowing Kara can microwave it with her heat vision, and goes to bed. Despite her promise to rest, though, she does try to stay awake as long as possible.
Around one am, she’s awoken by the creak of the bed and a strong, warm arm winding around her waist as Kara presses her forehead between Lena’s shoulder blades. Lena knows that she’s listening to her heartbeat, which she does sometimes when she’s too full of adrenaline to sleep, or the world is just too loud.
“I’ve got to tell you something,” Kara mumbles, and Lena’s never seen her this nervous, not even on their first date, when she was practically vibrating with anxiety.
They’ve been together around five months now, which is about four and a half months longer than any of Lena’s previous relationships.
“Okay,” she says, wanting to believe the best but still bracing herself for something that’s going to hurt, something like it’s not you, it’s me.
Kara twists her hands together, adjusts her glasses, sighs, fiddles with a lock of her hair, opens her mouth and closes it again, all in the space of twenty seconds.
Lena’s worried she’s going to spontaneously combust.
“Kara, whatever it is, I -”
“I’m-an-alien,” Kara stutters out in a jumbled rush that’s the verbal equivalent of dropping a handful of scrabble tiles, syllables tripping over themselves.
“You’re what?” Lena asks, raising an eyebrow.
Kara reaches out and grabs her hand, as if she’s terrified Lena’s going to step away from her, either literally or figuratively. “An alien. I’m from Krypton. The same planet as Superman – we’re cousins. I came here when I was thirteen. We’re – we’re the only survivors. I think.”
Kara’s eyes are flicking over her face frantically, trying to read her expression, and she takes a deep breath like she does before she’s about to start rambling. To save Kara from whatever panicked monologue she’s about to launch herself into, Lena pulls her into a tight hug.
She’s studied physics long enough to understand that layers of atoms mean that two things can never really touch, and maybe that’s why it feels like she can never get close enough to Kara. It takes a moment, but eventually, her girlfriend relaxes into her, and Lena waits until her breathing has evened out into a more normal rhythm before speaking again.
“Thank you for trusting me, Kara,” Lena breathes into her hair, pressing a kiss to her temple. “I can’t even imagine what that’s like, having the weight of an actual world on your shoulders. I think you’re incredibly strong and amazingly brave,” she tells her, and she’s never meant anything more in her life, except I love you.
“You’re not mad I didn’t tell you earlier?” Kara murmurs into her neck, lips brushing soft skin and making Lena shiver.
“How could I ever be mad at you? Ever?” Lena wonders aloud. “But - there’s a lot of anti-alien sentiment out there, so I worry about you. I erased all of Lex’s research when I took over Luthor Corp, but since I found out about you, I’ve been trying to track down everything he ever designed to destroy it.”
Kara’s brow crinkles. “What do you mean since you found out? I just told you.”
Lena smiles softly. “Kara, darling, you are not a super sleuth. I mean, you’re very good, but you forget that I spend an awful lot of time with you. Plus, you know that thing you like that I do with my tongue? Sometimes, you hover a bit when I do it. And you left fingernail marks in my desk that time at the office. It was metal.”
Kara blushes. “Oh.”
“I didn’t know you were from Krypton,” Lena explains, squeezing her hands. “I didn’t know anything except that you couldn’t have been from Earth. It was your secret to tell, not mine to dig into. I figured you’d say something, if you were ever ready to. And, you know, I’m a Luthor, so I can see why -”
Kara looks up at her sharply. “That had nothing to do with it, Lena. Nothing. It’s just… only three other people alive in the world know, and it’s hard to reveal something you’ve been told your whole life to hide.”
Lena thinks about all the time she spent with an impassive expression on her face, trailing after her parents at galas in support of causes that she despised, or years where she dated boys she could barely stand to have touch her, just so her parents wouldn’t hate her any more than they already did. She can’t ever understand what Kara’s going through, has gone through, but it’s not totally unfamiliar, either.
“I love you, Kara, and I can’t imagine not loving you, okay?” Lena swears. “Although it does freak me out sometimes.”
Kara pouts a little. “Me being an alien?”
“No, of course not. The math.” Kara does that adorable head-tilt thing, confused, already out of her depth with the very word math. “I mean, like, the computers on Earth couldn’t even calculate the odds of you and I ending up on this planet in the same place at the same time. The probability that we would ever meet blows my mind, sometimes. Trillions to one. There’s every chance that I would’ve missed out on knowing you.”
Kara kisses her then, and it feels deeper than ever, somehow, now that there are no secrets between them. It’s chaste, but anyone watching would still have to look away, because this moment between them has a significance that must surely radiate about them.
“Alex is going to kill me for telling you,” Kara says after she pulls away.
“She already texts me pictures of her gun collection, what else can she possibly do without breaking the law?” Lena laughs. “I’m not afraid of your sister. …Okay, I am. She can be scary when she wants to be.”
Kara stares at her for a long moment, searching her face, and Lena doesn’t move or say anything, lets Kara think as much as she needs so. “I feel so much better now that I’ve told you,” she admits. “I hate keeping secrets. Even if I don’t have a choice.”
Lena brushes a lock of blonde hair back behind her ear, letting her fingers trace the outline of Kara’s jaw as she pulls her hand away. “If you ever want to talk about what it’s like living on Earth, or your home planet, or anything, just come to me, all right? I’ll cancel whatever’s scheduled. This is important. You’re important.”
Kara smiles at her, one of those reality-shattering, million-watt ones, the kind that are basically proof that she’s an alien, because surely no one from here could smile like that. She hugs Lena again, and while it’s close and tight, Lena can only imagine how much she must be holding back.
Later, they’re sitting on the couch, in a sea of Chinese food boxes, ninety percent of which are for Kara. “… and apart from the ones you’d know about from Superman, I also have, like, super-hearing.”
“How super?” Lena asks, her inner scientist screaming for information.
“I don’t really know how to quantify it in levels of super? I can hear things on the other side of the city. Phone calls. Heart beats. That kind of stuff.”
“Heart beats? Can you hear mine?”
Kara goes bright red. “Um, yeah. It’s kind of cheating, I know, but I can’t help it. Well, I mean, I can, but it’s really hard to resist peeking. Like, on, uh, our first date, I was really nervous, but I heard that your heart was going as fast as mine, and I don’t know, it made it easier, knowing you were as nervous as I was. I’m sorry, it’s an invasion of privacy -”
“Kara, it’s okay. Although I’m surprised that you needed to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, of course I was nervous. You were the most beautiful girl I’d ever met, and you were funny and cute and – god, Kara, I was terrified.”
Kara looks a little flustered, but Lena still wins a grin. “Also, uh, sometimes when we sleep. It’s really hard to calm down when I can hear the noise of the whole city, so I tend to pick a sound and focus on it. I usually listen to your heart, because it’s steady and soft and I like knowing you’re there.”
Lena nods. “Kara, that’s not really unusual. No different from listening to breathing, which is something humans do, consciously or not. It’s a natural pack reflex. Although I do have one thing I don’t understand about your powers.”
“Why do you come to the gym with me? You’re going to have amazing abs even if you watch Netflix all day, so why bother?” Lena pries, reaching across and passing
Kara the carton of pot stickers.
She receives an incoherent mumble in reply.
“I said, um, because I like hanging out with you. And you look hot, so…” Kara trails off, ducking her head.
She rolls over to face Kara. “Hey.”
“I thought you were gonna go to sleep,” Kara reprimands. “You have that conference call with the Shanghai investors tomorrow, and -”
Lena inches closer, presses their lips together; Kara tastes of vanilla and maybe the tiniest bit like smoke. She flicks her tongue along Kara’s bottom lip, and trails her fingers down to skate under the hem of the blonde’s pyjama t-shirt, tracing delicately across the defined planes of her stomach. She bites down gently, swallowing Kara’s gasp as hands dash out to grip her hips, tugging Lena closer. She takes the opportunity to roll them so she’s straddling Kara, winding her hands in golden hair; she sucks gently on the hero’s neck, because even though she can’t leave a mark, it still makes Kara squirm every time. Her girlfriend’s hands settle on her thighs, inching slowly into less and less innocent territory. She doesn’t need super-hearing to notice the way Kara’s breathing has sped up, and when she’s still on a crime-fighting adrenaline high, one kiss is like dropping a match on gasoline; it’s impossibly easy to get her worked up, and Lena loves it.
She pulls back suddenly. “You’re right, Kara. Maybe I should get some sleep,” she teases gently, making as if she intends to lie back down. Kara clearly misses the joke though, because she nods, would never push, even though Lena can feel the way she’s quivering slightly with the urge to keep going, bursting with energy and hormones that now have no place to go.
“Kara, darling, I’m kidding,” Lena whispers, and there’s barely time for a breath before Kara’s kissing her again, harder deeper.
“Oh thank god,” she mumbles out on a rushed breath, before their lips are sliding together again.
Cat’s been holding true to her personal promise not to interfere in Kara’s love life remarkably well, already on a four-day streak of having asked no questions of any of the three ladies involved. It itches at the back of her mind, of course it does – covering things up, no matter how small, has harshly stung ever since she was a young journalist, and didn’t report on that actress, her husband, and the terrible bruises. Truth often hurts more than lies, but it lets people heal faster, too. Still. She’s made a deal with herself, and she intends to stick to it.
As she expected, the gossipy side of the internet is awash with pictures of Kara and Lena. She’s long since noticed, though, that the couple always does a good job of concealing Kara at least partially from view – in their viral Instagram photo, her face is in her hands, and in these shots, Lena herself shields her as she leans to mutter something in her ear. It’s not so obvious that people could put it down to anything other than chance, but Cat knows it’s Lena’s attempt to afford Kara a little privacy. It’s small and considerate, something Cat herself had never thought or bothered to do when she’d had brief flings with relative nobodies. As much as she tries to be angry at the L-Corp CEO for the way she treats Kara, she can’t seem to muster up much hatred, because even if she’s cheating, it’s clear that she cares more than Cat imagines most people ever do about anything.
A snapshot of the two of them dancing is the internet’s favourite of the night, it seems, judging by the way it’s flitting across the various popular platforms. Kara is looking at her shoes, but she’s giggling, and even though it’s only a photograph, it captures a happy glow that she has about her. Lena’s half-smiling, gazing down at her with an expression so soft and full, one that the English language has never really come up with a suitable way to describe. The comments range, as usual, from the classically homophobic baby-boomer palate, to the often-confusing lingo of the bright young things (“omg heart eyes” and “moms”).
She’d instructed Kara to never read the online discourse surrounding her, back after they got a hold of the photos from her first date with Lena, because she’s more than aware of the savagery that the internet fosters. Cat occasionally checks it for her, though, just to ensure there’s nothing to really be concerned about.
Apart from the odd commenter demanding that Lena break up with Kara and date their anonymous self, it seems her assistant really has no cause to worry.
Lena’s cell phone buzzes on her desk. Years ago, she wouldn’t have brought her personal one to the office, but given Kara’s dangerous side-job, she can’t risk being out of touch. It vibrates again twice, in quick succession.
She reaches across and slides the messages open. It’s Alex, texting her about the same thing they’ve been texting about every morning for weeks now.
Alex [9:03am] I can’t believe you haven’t asked her yet
Alex [9:03am] you know I’m dying and you’re dying, just ask please
Alex [9:04am] we bought that ring a month ago
Chapter 8: in which things get serious
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Lena bites her lip, staring at the texts, thumb hovering awkwardly over the digital keyboard as she scrabbles for something to say in reply.
As she re-reads the messages, she can’t help but wonder at how far she and Alex have come, from glaring calculatingly at each other while Kara fiercely mediated, to the eldest Danvers pestering her over text for taking too long to propose to her little sister.
Eventually, the phone turns itself off, and she’s left staring at a dark screen, the knowledge that she has no idea what to say wrapped awkwardly around her shoulders. Lena has never been a procrastinator, preferring to face everything head on, but Kara’s always been her exception to everything, hasn’t she?
Alex stares at her over the top of her lowball whiskey glass, eyebrow quirked in a combination of happiness and amusement; she’s always been conservative with expressing lighter emotions around anyone but Kara, but on this occasion, Lena wins a rare smile.
“So, what, are you asking my permission? Like, Pride and Prejudice style?”
Lena rolls her eyes. It’d taken five minutes of silence and steady eye contact with the bar benchtop before she’d worked up the nerve to take a deep breath and tell Alex that she wanted to ask Kara to marry her. “This isn’t the eighteen-hundreds.”
“And yet, here we are,” Alex smirks. Then her expression flickers serious. “I’m proud of you, Lena, okay? You guys have come such a long way and been through a lot, and if anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s you two. You’re going to be gross and super in love forever.”
Lena actually feels her heartrate slow to a normal pace as some of the anxiety dissipates. “Thanks, Alex.”
“So, is that all? You just needed to make sure I wasn’t going to shoot you with one of my fancy guns?”
She shakes her head. “No, I actually need your help. A… A Luthor can’t really walk into a jewellery store and buy an engagement ring. It’d be all over the internet before I made it out the door. I don’t want Kara to hear about this from TMZ. I just want it to be the two of us, and the rest of the world learns about it however they do. And – and if you want, I’d like you to help me pick the one.”
Alex grins at her, excitement flaring up behind her eyes. “Of course! But we’re going to need a pretty impressive distraction. Kara spends most of her time with either you, me, or both of us, so it’ll have to be something big to keep her from noticing you and I sneaking off without her.”
Lena raises an eyebrow. “Six steps ahead of you, Danvers. National City’s annual Ice-Cream convention is next Saturday, and she and Winn could go together.” She hands the brochure folded neatly in her pocket over.
Alex nods approvingly, scanning the flyer. “Yeah, with sixty new flavours, I doubt she’ll remember that you and I are even alive.”
Lena laughs, feeling a little more relaxed, because even though she’s still miles from actually getting engaged, it all seems a bit more doable with Alex in her corner.
Lena thinks about the ring in the lead-lined drawer at the bottom of her desk, where it is safe from the eyes of a certain superhero girlfriend the days she comes by for lunch. It’s been sitting there since the day Alex went and bought it for her, after about a millennium of looking through catalogues online (“She’s seen actual stars, Alex, how am I supposed to find anything that’s going to be memorable?”), although in a lot of ways, she’s still carrying it with her, a small weight at the back of her mind.
The truth is, she wants this so badly that putting it off is almost physically painful in a way, but she knows that she gets exactly one shot about this, and Kara deserves the world.
Alex [9:07am] the longer you wait the longer it is until you get to see how happy she’s going to be
The room is large and sparse, much like every other one at the DEO. She’s been here a couple of times before, but never without Kara.
“I’ll be waiting outside, okay?” Alex tells her.
Lena nods, and listens to the soft hiss of the door sealing behind the eldest Danvers as she heads back out into the corridor.
The hologram of Alura flickers into existence in front of her, impossibly regal with an unreadable expression.
“Hi,” Lena says. The digital version of Kara’s long-dead mother blinks quietly at her, apparently waiting for something more than a greeting. “I – I just came to tell you that I’m going to ask your daughter to marry me tonight. I hope that’s okay with you.”
“I am not programmed to give you that information,” is the impassive reply.
“I thought you might say that,” Lena whispers, gaze flicking down to stare at the floor. “But, I, uh, hope that wherever you are, in the universe, with Rao, that you know how happy she makes me, and how much I love her.”
She leaves, with that, and Alex doesn’t ask any questions about why she chose to speak with an unresponsive hologram rather than Lena’s own living, breathing mother.
“You know I could use my x-ray vision to look through your fingers at literally any moment,” Kara tells her, trying to navigate in the darkness created by the hand resting over her eyes, guided by Lena’s arm wrapped around her waist.
“Yeah, but you won’t. You love surprises,” Lena murmurs, and Kara can tell that she’s smiling, even if she can’t see it. The lilt of her voice changes ever so slightly, and maybe Kara cheats and uses her superpowers to pick up the variation in tone, just because she likes hearing it.
“Where are we? Can I get a hint?” Kara begs, reaching out a fumbling hand into the unknown, moving it around a little wildly until it makes contact with something warm and soft. Lena. She can feel the tips of her ears turn red as she realises exactly where her hand is.
“Calm down, Casanova,” Lena laughs, tangling their fingers together and saving Kara from a bout of awkward mumbling. “You can look now.”
Kara blinks her eyes open, glances around the giant, dim, dome-shaped room they’re in. The carpet is soft under her flats, and as her vision adjusts, she can make out the rows and rows of chairs spiralling around them.
“What is this place?” Kara asks, turning around in a slow circle to take it all in.
“It’s the National City Planetarium,” Lena replies gently, letting go of Kara and walking over to a panel filled with a dizzying array of buttons and knobs. “I went to boarding school with one of the astronomers who works here. It took a while, but eventually we managed to find these coordinates for you.”
“For me?” Kara’s still not entirely sure what’s happening.
“Yeah.” A few minutes longer and the ceiling flares to life in a display of far-flung space, as if some great celestial hand has spilt a handful of dusty cosmos all over them. Kara sinks slowly to the floor, leaning back on her elbows so she can see as much as possible as she tries not to blink, desperate to take it all in.
“That’s my galaxy,” Kara breathes out on a sigh, transfixed by a night sky that doesn’t belong to Earth. It’s as if Lena’s projecting something from the very depths of Kara’s soul.
For once, she’s exactly halfway between two homes, and Lena’s right beside her, and the universe feels balanced and peaceful.
“We looked at the remains of Krypton; the remnants still in orbit.” Lena tells her, but doesn’t zoom in to show Kara what is essentially a galactic cemetery. “Um, did you know, that in billions of years, there’ll be a new Krypton? All the rocks and debris will re-condense into a planet again, and it’ll be different in all the ways you’d expect, but one day, there’s going to be new life where you once lived. Maybe it’ll be a planet of space puppies or giant flowers or something we can’t even imagine, but it’ll exist some day. So, I don’t know if it helps, but Krypton was like an organ donor, in some ways. Or Lego that someone disassembled and built into something new,” Lena rambles, seemingly unsure if this is something Kara wants to hear this or not.
“Thank you.” Kara’s voice cracks a little, but she does look away from the sky to gaze at Lena. “For this, for saying that, for everything.”
She likes that idea, of there being new beginning, that the infinite orbit of Rao creates as much as it destroys, and that broken things don’t have to be repaired to be exactly as they were, as long as they become something good.
The grief that sits heavily on her spine lessens by a few grams, and she sighs out.
They lie side by side, staring upwards at the projected space-scape in silence for a long time after that.
“I… I wanted to talk to you about something else tonight,” Lena begins softly.
She sounds nervous, so Kara reaches out for her hand, leans across and kisses her shoulder. “Yeah?” This place seems to demand that everything be whispered, every word said quietly and with reverence for the forever-ness draped around them.
“I saw all these other planets around yours while I was looking for Krypton – where it used to be – and it just, sort of, hit me again. Your parents could’ve sent you anywhere. I told you once about the odds of us never meeting, and I’d thought about it, but actually seeing it…” Lena sighs out. “There are billions of versions of ourselves who never know about each other. I’m not naïve enough to believe in fate or destiny, but I do believe in luck, because that’s when the chances are almost impossible but something happens anyway. And I think that amazing and improbable things occur all through the universe; I think that you and I are one of those things; I think we could be one forever. If you want.”
When Lena pulls a small, square box out of her pocket, Kara doesn’t need x-ray vision to know what’s inside.
“Alex! Alex! Alex!”
Kara tumbles through her sister’s window and onto the floor of her bedroom to land in an entirely graceless heap. She might’ve splintered a few of Alex’s floorboards but she can’t bring herself to mind, not right now. It’s five in the morning, so the eldest Danvers is understandably still asleep and likely a little annoyed, but Kara feels like she deserves a gold star for patience for waiting six hours before flying over here to tell her.
“Mmph, Kara,” Alex mumbles blearily. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“Kara, I have neighbours, remember. Inside voice?”
“Right. Sorry. I’m excited,” Kara hums gleefully. She might’ve landed but her heart feels like it hasn’t, still floating with its bubbly new immunity to gravity.
“Oh?” Alex’s tone of voice has changed, and though Kara can’t decode it, or at least, can’t muster up the concentration to.
Kara’s super-speed means her hand leaps up into Alex’s sightline faster than her eyes can actually focus on the ring that glitters there, so there’s a split second delay before a grin breaks over her face. “Oh my god, Kara!”
Kara leaps up and hugs her, burying her face in Alex’s shoulder, careful of her strength even as her sister’s arms wrap around her, too. “Wait.” She pulls back a little. “You sound happy, but not surprised. Why aren’t you surprised?”
“I’m very surprised,” Alex assures her, only just shy of a deadpan.
“I’m a top secret government agent, trained to detect -”
“She told you, didn’t she?”
“Yeah,” Alex admits. “Let me see it again.” She takes Kara’s hand, sweeps her thumb over the ring; it’s understated, but bright, though not quite as bright as Kara’s smile, which she seems unable to turn off. “She and Winn made a more indestructible version, too, you know. Out of some of the melted-down minerals from the asteroids that arrived with you when you landed on Earth. Just in case.”
Kara’s face falls for a second. “I – I can’t wear this as Supergirl, can I? Not just because it’s breakable.”
Alex sighs, rubs her back. “No. It’s too dangerous. People knowing that Supergirl has a human she loves that much… it could only turn bad.”
“I don’t want to take it off.”
“That’d be treating it like it’s part of the Kara Danvers disguise, and it’s not a disguise, it’s real, and…” Kara pouts, leaning against Alex’s shoulder.
“Being engaged has got nothing to do with what’s on your finger, Kara, it’s what’s in your head, and you get to keep that as Supergirl,” Alex tells her gently.
“I know. But I like feeling it sitting there. It’s like listening to heart beats, kind of. It means I don’t just think, I know. Plus, it’s really cool, because every time I look down, I get to be like, whoa, cool, I get to spend the rest of my life with Lena. How awesome is that?” Kara wriggles slightly with joy.
“How about we add something to your super suit, then? You can’t wear the ring, but maybe Winn can sew a little circle onto the edge of your sleeve? It won’t be the same, but…”
“It’s a great idea,” Kara grins.
She gives Alex one last hug before leaping back to her feet. “I’ve got to get back home, and you need to sleep some more.”
“Kara?” Alex adds quickly before she flies away. “I’m really, really happy for you.”
“I’m really happy for me, too,” Kara laughs, but she doesn’t really have to say it, because she knows her sister must be able to see it.
Kara doesn’t say anything about getting engaged at work. She likes hanging onto something that’s just theirs, for the moment, and everyone else can simply figure it out as they do.
Winn, of course, catches sight of the ring instantly, and drags her into the supply closet so that he can giggle over it and give her about twenty high-fives.
“I can be a bridesmaid, right?” he begs. “Or, like, the slightly manlier version of that.”
“Duh,” she grins.
James realises when she takes some layouts to his office – his eyes widen, and he grabs hold of her hand instead of the papers, which fall to the floor. Even though she’s made of steel, the force of his hug still lifts her off the ground, and it’s not the same as flying, but makes her smile in the same way.
She messages Clark, and gets “!!!!!” in reply, super-speedily followed by every English synonym for congratulations, a block of text that boils down finally from Lois, and a promise to visit the two of them as soon as possible.
Kara means to tell Cat, she does, but she’s running errands almost non-stop and her boss is in and out of high-stakes meetings all day. There never seems to be a good moment to say, hey, I just got engaged to the woman you still think is cheating on me, because I’m worried if I tell you I’m Supergirl you’ll fire me, and this job is where I met Lena and where I’ve learned so much and it helped me be a hero and I can’t lose it.
At their games’ night that evening, Winn Instagrams a selfie of he and Kara, their arms slung around each other’s shoulders, cheeks pressed together as they grin.
@winn_schottie: magic snap showdown between me and @karadanvers_92 tonight! P.S. girl you know I’ll win
Neither of them thinks anything of it – it is part of their great tradition of online trash talking – until they’re sitting on the floor after she’s creamed him at Hungry Hippos (Kara’s all-time favourite), when he checks his phone and actually drops it in surprise.
“Are you okay?” she mumbles out around a cookie.
“I – uh – have three thousand notifications,” he breathes out, tentatively picking up his phone as if expecting to explode.
“Yeah. Double yikes. I’ve only got, like, four hundred followers. What could have possibly…” he trails off, quickly opening the app.
“What’s going on?” Lena asks, coming over and sinking onto the couch near them. Kara shuffles over and leans back against her legs, humming softly when Lena drops a kiss on the top of her head. “Here, by the way,” she adds, passing Kara a pink lemonade and Winn a beer.
“Oh,” Winn mumbles, face illuminated by the glow of his screen. “Okay, both you have to promise not to kill me.”
“Okay,” Kara nods immediately.
“Both of you.”
Lena rolls her eyes affectionately. “Sure, Winn. I promise.”
“And you can’t pay anyone to, either.”
“Deal. What did you do?”
He shows them his Instagram picture of the two of them, which apart from an inordinate number of likes and comments, doesn’t seem to be enough to reveal why they might turn homicidal.
“Ah,” Lena nods. “It’s all right, Winn. Better you than the paparazzi.”
Kara tilts her head in confusion, but then – ah. Because of the way her arm is draped around Winn’s neck, in the far right hand corner of the picture, her left hand is clearly visible where it rests against his collarbone. Just within the edge of the shot are the few pixels that are going to make news tomorrow: her ring, shining gently in the soft light.
Within the next few minutes, Lena’s phone starts blowing up. She turns it off, and when Alex looks at her in surprise, she shrugs. “It’s not L-Corp business, and it’s not an emergency. I’ll deal with it tomorrow. Right now, I have to beat you at poker.”
Kara’s phone is also vibrating violently about every three seconds; missed calls, and messages from a few high school friends, some people she works with, and J’onn, in what is clearly his first attempt at using emojis.
She’s scrolling through the inundation of notifications when she sees a text from Cat, accompanying a screenshot of an article speculating on hers and Lena’s engagement. There are no congratulations, or anger, either. Just:
Cat Grant [9.37pm] The paparazzi will undoubtedly be at CatCo tomorrow morning. Come in through the service entrance and up the private elevator to avoid them.
“Mom! Hey, mom, look at this!” Carter shouts, skidding into the living room, where she’s examining the fashion department’s latest weak attempts at ‘breaking the mould’, which mostly seems to involve recommending leather where it definitely doesn’t belong.
“What is it?” she asks, flicking her gaze up from a slideshow of accessories that anyone with real class wouldn’t be caught dead wearing (she’s going to have to fire someone, soon, to remind them that knocking off early-2000s Vogue is not an employable quality at her institution).
“Kara’s getting married!” he announces, shoving his phone towards her. Her son’s always liked her assistant, and has recently taken a shine to Lena Luthor as well, ever since she took his science extension class on a tour of the L-Corp innovation labs and let them play with a prototype zero-gravity generator. “Look what Winn posted!”
“You follow my IT man on Instagram?” she asks quizzically.
“He mostly posts about video games. It’s cool. And he has a really big Nerf gun collection,” Carter defends. “And he knows Supergirl.”
Cat accepts the phone being waved under her nose, and adjusts her glasses to focus on the tiny picture on the screen. It’s Winn, grinning, and Kara, mid-laugh, the engagement ring sitting innocently at the edge of the frame.
She stares at the picture for a moment, before she sighs. Because now she has to tell Kara about Lena’s affair, lest she commit to something for the rest of her life without knowing all the facts. That’s something Cat had done, once, on her wedding day more than ten years ago, and she’d always regretted it. Kara shouldn’t have to carry the same burden.
And who knows? Maybe somehow, miraculously, the three of them will work. Maybe like Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Superman, there is room in this dynamic for all three of them, and no one gets hurt. Of course, it’s unlikely, because despite her strong approval of consensual polygamy, all relationships are built on trust, and as Kara is clearly under the impression that they are monogamous, Lena has delicately shattered said trust with one darkly painted nail.
Whatever happens after this will be entirely out of her control, and likely disastrous, but as it currently stands, Kara is the only one out of the loop, and Cat will not let her assistant fly blind, because that always results in a crash.
Chapter 9: in which it begins to crumble
Kara twists her engagement ring nervously around her finger, a habit she’s picked up surprisingly quickly. She’s delicate with it, even in her anxiety, not wanting to warp the soft metal and ruin one of her most prized possessions.
Noonan’s is relatively quiet right now, and no one is bothering her; she’s more than a regular, and apart from the barista offering his congratulations when he passes over her usual, she’s in a bubble of normality. She’d flown by CatCo earlier, though, and just as her boss had predicted, it was heaving with reporters from the trashier end of the magazine spectrum, hunting for quotes.
Of course, nobody cares about Kara – she’s just an assistant, she has no gravity, no family of interest. She’s just a means to an end, a gateway to the real hot topic: Lena. An inheritance, company, and corrupt adoptive family will keep Kara’s girlfriend under public scrutiny likely for as long as she lives, and it tugs at Kara’s heart, still bothers her after all this time that she cannot protect her from prejudiced glares, scathing reviews and snap judgements.
“You’re quieter than usual,” Lena observes, poking Kara gently in the shoulder, waking her from whatever grey reverie she’d sunk into. They’re at her place tonight, crashed on the couch with take-out for dinner, the TV murmuring fuzzily in the background. Kara’s eating pizza at what most people would describe as normal speed, which is a definite indicator that something is wrong; she usually inhales about four slices to Lena’s one.
Her girlfriend shrugs somewhat listlessly, still staring at a distant point on the far wall of the living room that as far as Lena can tell, is entirely unremarkable.
“Was everything all right at work today?” she tries, a little out of her depth with the whole comforting thing. They’ve been dating for just over two months, and she’s learned that as much as she likes to compress negative emotions and bottle them up like liquid nitrogen, never to be revisited again, Kara is the kind to talk through things, to turn problems over in her hands and inspect their facets.
“It was fine,” Kara says, letting her head drop onto Lena’s shoulder, snuggling closer. She’s slightly warmer than most people, but that’s good, because Lena runs cold. Her arm slides around Kara’s waist, holding her carefully. The blonde is tactile, but Lena’s yet to shake the tentativeness her touch has always held, barely-there in her surety that it is unwanted, seconds away from rejection. “On my way home today, I heard some people talking about you.”
Oh. She knows the sort of thing it must have been, the sort of thing it always is.
Lena’s ribs creak, cinching tighter around her heart. It’s achingly familiar. She offers a neutral, “okay” in reply, hoping this conversation isn’t working towards “I thought about what they said, and decided they were right about you”.
An unhappy pout has settled across Kara’s features. “And, I mean, it’s not the first time, and I’ve worked with Cat long enough to know that being famous can make you kind of a lightning rod sometimes, but… It’s just so unfair. I … I hate it. They don’t even know you. You’re so nice and sweet and patient but everyone has already got their mind made up about you, just because of your family. It’s so stupid. It makes me mad.”
Lena’s not sure that Kara has the physical capacity to actually be angry about anything, but that doesn’t stop her breath stuttering in her lungs. It fills her up inside, having this human manifestation of sunshine unwaveringly on her team, sure of her goodness when even she isn’t even always sure of it herself.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lena murmurs, placating. “It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. I’ve been a Luthor since I was four, remember? I’m used to it all, now.”
Kara’s eyes blaze as she turns to face Lena. “You shouldn’t have to be used to it. People should leave you alone and let you be your own person. Because then they’d all think you’re amazing, like I do.”
The corner of Lena’s mouth tilts up in a quiet smile. “I don’t need them to think I’m amazing. You thinking that is already more than enough.” That little voice in the back of her mind which sounds an awful lot like Lillian whispers to her that Kara’s just wearing rose-tinted glasses, and in a few more weeks, she’ll blink and realise Lena’s nothing but a handful of jagged flaws masking-taped together. She smothers it, though, determined to enjoy every second, for however briefly Kara stays.
Kara hugs her tighter, places a soft kiss at the base of her neck. “It’s just unfair,” she mumbles, and Lena allows herself a nod.
“It is,” she agrees. “But it’s the price, I guess, for being in my position. And I wouldn’t give it up, because where I am gives me the power to do a lot of good things.”
“See? That. That’s the kind of thing that people should know you think,” Kara whispers against her skin.
They settle back into comfortable silence, though, because there’s really nothing else to say. Neither of them can fix it; this is a part of Lena’s life that just is, will always be.
In a month or so, Kara will learn that the other kind of talk you have to put up with when you have a famous girlfriend, when she’s out with Alex and overhears a crowd of frat boys hollering about how much they’d like to get in Lena Luthor’s pants.
Kara sighs at the memory. Another thing her superpowers cannot protect against. The feeling of uselessness grates at her, but it’s an old scar, barely visible anymore.
Cat is emptying her email inbox, deleting some and forwarding most to underlings who will have the tedious duty of replying. There’s the odd sensation of uncertainty swimming about under her skin; she hasn’t been off-balance like this for years, and yet this ridiculous love triangle has managed to tilt her axis like nothing else.
It’s the right thing to do, telling Kara. Giving her all the facts so she can make an informed decision. This is what journalists do: offer the public everything they know, no holds barred, and let the opinions form themselves.
But – but – no matter the morality she is grounded in, she is still breaking something, shattering into nothing the most significant relationship in Kara’s life. A building demolished because of faulty foundations is still demolished, after all.
Cat hates it.
“Ms Grant?” Kara’s voice, a little wary, hums across the space between them. She’s hovering in the doorway, a latte gripped tightly in her right hand like a shield. Regardless of nerves clearly buzzing around her like a jittery halo, Kara is still bright and glowing, left hand curled up towards her stomach as if to keep her ring close.
Sometimes her innocence makes Cat ache. Maybe next time – when she’s managed to usher Kara up into the great beyond, lure her into a career where she gets to better exercise her talents – she’ll hire someone old and embittered to be her assistant, someone with dentures and battle scars and blood that’s two-parts experience, one-part cynicism. Who doesn’t need Cat to ruin things, because they do it just fine on their own.
“Kara.” She watches her assistant stiffen slightly at the use of her real name. “Honestly,” Cat rolls her eyes, “I haven’t grown fangs. Come over here.”
Kara inches closer, placing the coffee on the desk between them. “It’s probably a little cooler than usual. I took longer to get around the paparazzi than I thought.”
Cat shrugs, takes a sip. “We need to talk.” Kara flinches, and yeah, there’s never been a good conversation that started with that line. “About Lena.” They’d had another discussion, once, that began almost with those exact same words. Except it had been Kara saying them to her, not the other way around.
Kara fidgets with the edge of the cushion, sitting far too straight-backed on the couch. Usually, she folds into it, as if the comfort melts her spine and the furniture is trying to swallow her whole. “I need to talk to you. About Lena.”
That sentence alone has Cat’s full attention. It’s not so much the words she offers but the tone she sculpts them in – Kara has a penchant for asking, rather than telling, but this time, there is no room for uncertainty.
“Oh?” Cat encourages, still wary of being dragged into a session of millennial relationship counselling. Not that Kara’s ever mentioned any problems with Lena, so much as she likes to double-check moving forward; should she do this, do that. Cat knows Kara was adopted, but it strikes her that Kara’s never stopped adopting, collecting people all around her to weave an extended family, unconsciously wrapping everyone around her finger until she’s got advice and favours pouring in from all directions.
“Yeah. Can I have tomorrow off, please? It’s the anniversary of Lex’s conviction, and it’s going to be all over the news tomorrow, and I’d like to be with Lena for it. I can’t imagine it’s easy, being reminded of all that.”
It’s not as if Kara needs her permission – she’s got more sick days banked up than the rest of the floor combined, thanks to her commendable immune system, and could use them at any time, not to mention the solid month of vacation days just waiting for the word.
The truth is, Cat was going to send her home early tomorrow anyway. Like every other respectable news outlet, CatCo will be revisiting Lex’s reign of violence, remembering the lives lost and speculating the rippling social and political influence of his actions. And as much as she’d like to avoid staining his little sister with his actions, Lena is inevitably dragged to the front of the discourse, analysed and typically condemned. She’d rather not force Kara to sit through that.
“I suppose,” Cat agrees, inclining her head, not missing the grin that quickly flashes across Kara’s face.
“Thank you,” she says, so earnestly that it echoes around Cat’s chest. Cat had met Lena a few times when the girl was growing up; she’d always been pale, soft, haunted. She’s glad, she thinks, that Lena has someone like Kara.
“What about her?” Kara asks, shifting her weight from foot to foot. Her fingers jump up to fiddle with her engagement ring, and Cat takes a moment to marvel, that the nervous kid she hired two years ago wants to get married. The Kara she met then could barely stomach a first date without worrying about the possibilities, and here she is, confident in a love to last the rest of her life. It always shocks her, rattles her, these visceral reminders that people grow up.
Cat’s tongue seems to twist over itself, every word in the English language hurriedly vacating her mind. Should she slowly build her way up to the subject of infidelity, cushion the blow?
Or cut right to the chase, fast and hard, rip it out like removing the knife from a back?
She’s read and written enough stories to know that sometimes the best place to end is at the beginning. So she reaches into her desk drawer, and pulls out that 12” by 8” envelope, pressing it into her assistant’s waiting hands.
She thinks about how character is really an equation of loss, disappointment and time.
“Before you open it,” Cat says softly (now is not the time for her caustic tongue, her sharp teeth, now is the time to tread too carefully even for footprints), “I want to tell you that I’m sorry, and also that I really do believe that she loves you.”
Kara swallows, focused on the feeling of rough paper in her hands. She knows what this is, has had it handed to her before, as Supergirl.
This is it.
Kara stares down the crossroads, entirely unsure as to what to do. Either she tells Cat that she is National City’s hero, and faces the music (faces losing Cat, losing her job, losing so much of her life as Kara Danvers), or she pretends to not care that Lena is ‘cheating’ (lying is like pulling teeth, and she hates the pain is leaves, the cuts all over her skin; Cat deserves better).
She slides the photograph out of the envelope, gazes down at the nth kiss between Lena Luthor and Supergirl, remarkable and familiar at the same time, perhaps the most significant one apart from their first.
“Kara, turn up the TV,” Lena demands suddenly, cutting Kara off mid-sentence, her eyes fixed on the digital headline about the circling plane. “Isn’t that Alex’s flight?”
Kara whips around to check the screen, panic bubbling up inside her, turning to use her supervision to scan the sky. She locates her sister in a matter of seconds. It’s surreal, to see her in the swell of terrified passengers, trapped in the space between the city and the sky, a soon-to-be victim of gravity. Barely more than an hour ago, she’d been in the living room with them, helping Lena make final adjustments to some fancy new device that’s the subject of an R&D meeting tomorrow, both of them listening to Kara rant about the rude new intern at work while she baked cookies.
Kara shoots a quick look back at Lena as she darts across to the window, flinging it open, acting rather than thinking, and sees the fear in her eyes, but the certainty too, the faith.
She holds that faith in her fingers, uses it to buoy herself upwards, the helium that helps her fly for the first time in years.
She saves the plane. Actually does it. Uses her powers like Clark does; to save people, help them. It’s addictive, like learning new things about Earth, like Lena’s kisses. It settles heavy-light in her stomach, permanent.
Sopping wet, she climbs up onto the wing, x-raying through the metal to check that Alex is safe and sound. The search lights of helicopters swoop over her, and she can hear the click of cameras.
She can’t stay. It’s too dangerous. Alex would kill her for waiting to see if she’s all right.
So she soars back into the sky, laughing at the freedom of it, honing in on the sound of Lena’s thundering heart.
Her girlfriend is waiting by the open window, gaze flicking over the stars, the neon lights of twenty-four-hour grocery stores and late-night take-out places. Kara speeds up for the last hundred feet, spiralling quickly into her living room, throwing her arms around Lena.
She’s freezing, soaking wet, and must surely be terribly messy to hug, but that doesn’t stop Lena holding her tighter than she ever has. “You’re okay? Alex is okay?”
Kara presses her forehead into the crook of Lena’s neck, feels her shiver. “I’m fine. She’s fine. It was – it was -” she huffs out a buzzed laugh, her fingers digging into Lena’s ribs. She’s actually vibrating with energy and enthusiasm, high on whatever this heroism thing is. “I can’t believe I did that,” she admits, leaning back a little to make eye contact.
Lena’s hands are tracing all over her, attempting to confirm that really, yes, she is indeed fine. She tucks a few damp strands of hair behind Kara’s ears, her irises overflowing with a whole hurricane of things, some of which Kara can name and others she can only feel.
“People saw you,” Lena whispers, worry laced through her words, knowing better than most what xenophobic humans can do.
“Nothing’s ever going to be the same.” She’s gentle, not scolding or angry, just carefully reminding Kara that she has irrevocably changed the entire world in a handful of minutes.
“I’m proud of you,” Lena grins. “You’re amazing. You saved hundreds of people. You’re a hero.”
Kara grins. “I’ve watched a lot of movies about heroes,” she whispers. “Did you know, in the end, they always get the girl?” she notes, sentence laden with false innocence, even as her eyes dart down to focus on Lena’s lips.
Maybe it’s all the fight-and-flight hormones, maybe it’s the burning attraction to Lena that she’s still yet to learn how to really control, but holy hell does Kara want nothing more than to push her up against a wall right about now.
“Do they?” Lena enquires, and Kara could play along with her own game a little bit longer, but forfeits in favour of kissing Lena so hard that people on the other side of the world are probably blushing.
Hands which Kara could barely stop twitching a few seconds ago are suddenly completely occupied, wasting absolutely no time in sneaking under Lena’s shirt, tracing over her skin.
She’s probably uncomfortably cold from the river, but if Lena minds, she’s not saying anything, fingers twisting in blonde hair before skating down to hook in her pockets, tugging her so close that the definition of space is forgotten.
Alex is safe and Lena is proud and Kara is happy.
“I love you,” Lena breathes. Kara’s heart hums, knowing Lena means she loves this afternoon’s version (the Kara who baked cookies and wore a frayed blue sweater and teased Alex lightly about her haircut in sophomore year) and tonight’s version (the Kara who dug her fingers into metal and stopped tragedy and revealed herself to save one person, to save hundreds), and every other Kara that’s ever flickered in and out of existence.
She says it back, like she does every other time if she hasn’t already said it first, and it’s still just as precious, still weighs just as much as that plane.
Cat watches the frown form on Kara’s face, but there’s less shock than she imagined there would be. Less horror. Maybe she’s processing, maybe she thinks it’s photoshop, maybe she’s drowning herself in denial.
Each of those is a strong possibility, so she just waits.
Then, finally – has it been thirty seconds, ten minutes, twenty years? – Kara swallows. “Cat,” she whispers, and Cat wonders if she’s going to cry or scream or something else that she’s not exactly equipped to deal with.
But then Kara’s attention is snapping up, gaze tearing off the photograph to the screens that decorate the wall behind her desk. An expression tears across her face that Cat has never seen before, something like terror and panic and absolute desolation all at once. Like her entire world has died.
Cat spins quickly, stares slack-jawed at the televisions. Every news channel is playing the same story, the same footage of the top of a skyscraper exploding, raining ash and dust and crumpled lives.
The headlines are all variations on this: Bomb Explodes at L-Corp.
In the film, the noise is harsh and deep, metal tearing and glass shattering as the penthouse floor begins to cave, taking the “L” from the logo with it.
There’s a sharp intake of breath behind her, almost a sob, and by the time she jerks back around to face Kara, her assistant is gone, leaving nothing but air in her wake.
Cat leaps to her feet, scans the minefield of desks beyond the glass for the blonde, and finds nothing. She must’ve moved impossibly fast.
She’s about to head out into the bullpen and look for Kara, who must be undoubtedly falling to pieces for so many reasons right now, but at the last second, she turns back to the televisions. The cameras are zooming in on Supergirl as she swoops onto the scene, not even pausing to take stock before flying at full-speed towards crumbling concrete.
It’s small, barely a glint, and in the face of the rest of the devastation in the frame, Cat’s sure that no one else would catch it. But it’s definitely, indisputably there – a glimmer on the third finger of Supergirl’s left hand.
The kind of refraction one would get from, say, an engagement ring, if you forgot to take it off before flying out of a CatCo window.
Dots in Cat’s head begin to connect, dots that she’s kept almost deliberately alienated from each other; stars which make perfect constellations and flawless solutions, but can’t be because she’s had Kara and Supergirl in the same room before.
But that look on the hero’s face in the second she’s streaking past the cameras is exactly the same as the gut-wrenching terror tugging at Kara’s mouth just a second ago.
Cat’s dizzy with it all, and this is a twisted disaster of deception and misunderstanding, but it all seems to fade into background static for a moment as the top of L-Corp caves in on itself, and Cat feels a little hollow with the knowledge that Lena is inside.
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 10: in which it is imploding, slowly
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
It’s an ordinary day, until it isn’t.
Lena has a conference call with Paris, replies to the email of a curious twelve-year-old who wants to know about L-Corp’s latest battery design for a school project (it’s not really CEO stuff, but Lena isn’t about to delegate it), and plans next week’s schedule with Jess.
They’re halfway through discussing Tuesday when the world ruptures.
Kara’s ears are ringing, sound ricocheting around her skull with no regard for the damage it causes. She’s heard an entire planet explode, and even that wasn’t as loud as this: as the knowledge that everything is collapsing around her, the knowledge that she might never see Lena again.
Kara understands time well enough, better than most people, even – she’s flown across time zones and travelled light years and been held in stasis for over two decades. But still, she can’t seem to line all this up in her head, much less make sense of it. Her brain simply won’t allow the comprehension of the fact that hours ago, she and Lena were planning a future together, and now Lena may have no future at all.
She’s flying faster than she ever has in her whole life, faster than she’s ever even seen Clark go, but it’s still not enough. She can’t fly faster than concrete can turn to dust, than steel can melt, than people can go from living to un-living.
Kara wants to scream, for a love in the process of being lost, for a species too fragile to survive its own world. She’d give anything for it to be Lena who’s made of steel, rather than her. Anything to keep her alive.
Finally, she arrives at L-Corp, and she has to force herself to take stock instead of flying in blind. She hovers in the air, still, for a second – long enough to be sure the entire skyscraper isn’t in danger of collapsing, that the bomb has only affected the top floor (the top two, given the collateral), and to note that she can’t hear any screaming.
That’s the most troubling part, the part that wrenches irrevocably at her heart. No one is calm in the face of an explosion. Impending destruction and tragedy wrenches air from lungs and tears from eyes: if people were breathing in there, they’d be screaming.
Kara flies straight into the rubble, hands clawing at the chunks of debris, and if she could bleed, her hands would’ve torn to shreds by now. She lifts sheets of collapsed concrete and tosses it aside, barely focused enough to remember to watch out for the crowd gathering below.
The first body she finds is Jess. Wonderful, funny, kind Jess, who sneaks Kara in even when Lena is busy and doesn’t ask about the dents in the desk and makes sure Lena eats lunch when Kara’s caught up at the DEO for days on end. There’s a horrible moment where Kara thinks she’s dead, but eventually she zeroes in on a steady-enough heartbeat. She wants to fly Jess to hospital, but that’s wasting valuable time, so she swoops down to give her to the paramedics already arriving at the base of the building, and back up to the destruction in less than a blink.
She retrieves an unconscious delivery boy and bleeding board member. No Lena. Kara listens hard for a stray heartbeat, the rush of oxygen, anything to help her locate her fiancée.
A small fraction of her entertains the idea that Lena popped down to the labs or ducked out to get coffee with an investor, and wasn’t caught up in this after all, but Kara knows that isn’t true. That isn’t how the story ends. She’s seen enough of the universe to know that it’s wild and unpredictable but rarely ever kind, and when you get to have beautiful things, you almost never get to keep them. Even with an entire lost planet under her belt, it is more than likely that her tab with fate has not been paid in full, and she has been given more than has been taken from her. Now the balance is being evened.
Lena is here, somewhere. And nothing could tear Kara away until she finds her.
Dead or alive.
Her earpiece crackles. “Kara! Kara, are you listening? We’re trying to get agent up to you now.” It’s Alex, she’s almost sure. But her brain isn’t working properly and for all she knows, it could be Maggie, or even J’onn. She should probably reply, but her mouth won’t work, and she’s forgotten what words even are, anyway.
She shifts powdered marble and crumpled rafters and at one point even finds a flower, trampled and grey, from the vase that usually sits on Jess’ desk.
That’s why she can’t see Lena with her x-ray vision. There’s a whole side of her desk that’s lead-lined, a design Alex made for Lena to hide things in, specifically an engagement ring.
Kara fumbles through the rubble, lifts the warped remnants of Lena’s desk and finds the body underneath.
The glass from the windows shattering has torn long cuts along Lena’s pale skin, and dust and ash make her look like some kind of ancient, beautiful statue of a Greek goddess that Kara has just pulled from the earth, brought into the light for the first time in two and a half thousand years.
She scans for even the tiniest rise and fall of the chest, and finds nothing. X-rays for a beating heart, and finds a still one.
“Oh, Lena,” she sighs, and the tears ache to come, but she won’t let them. It isn’t over, isn’t over, isn’t over.
All her life, she’s made a habit of losing precious things.
Kara scoops her up, praying moving her won’t do more damage, and drops faster than even gravity would call for. She slows at the last second, but even though she manages not to jostle Lena at all, her boots leave cracks in the pavement.
In a matter of seconds, the EMTs have Lena on a stretcher, checking for a pulse, for any signs of life.
Kara wants to yell at them to stop checking and start doing something. She wishes she could trade her powers for Barry’s in this moment. With his lightning, she could re-start Lena’s heart. Or better yet, go back in time, and make Lena stay home with her, call in sick and force her to play Harry Potter-themed Monopoly and eat pasta.
He always warns that changing time does more harm than good to so many, many people’s lives, but for a terrible and selfish moment, Kara doesn’t care at all.
Strong arms wrap around her, Alex’s arms, and she collapses into them, as if her spine is a taut string that’s been deftly snipped. All the sobs she’s buried since seeing those television screens in Cat’s office rush to her throat, but she can’t seem to make them form. Too much shock, too much numbness. Instead, she just chokes into her sister’s shoulder, small keening sounds coming from the back of her throat as she tries to breathe and can’t.
“Charging!” the tall, blond EMT shouts, and then there’s the dull noise of the defibrillator that must be nothing more than a thud to the others but cuts through Kara’s whole being.
She can hear the thundering in Alex’s chest, and feel her tears on Kara’s own cheek. Because Kara isn’t the only one who loves Lena, and it isn’t just her feet that the rug’s been ripped out from under.
It falls to Maggie, then, to keep reporters away, to keep them out of sight. So no one asks why a Super is falling apart over a Luthor like this. Like it’s the second world she’s lost in one lifetime.
Kara listens so hard she’s surprised her eardrums don’t splinter. She’s not about to wait for the heart monitor to tell her whether Lena’s going to survive, if she can know herself a millisecond before.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Faint, unsteady, there. Kara bites her knuckles, because if she squeezes Alex as hard as she needs to, bones will break.
The EMTs start loading Lena into the back of the ambulance, and the second the doors close behind them, Kara leaps into the air and grabs a hold of the vehicle, lifting it in the air. In this traffic, the trip to the hospital will take far too long for her liking. Even flying, she can’t go as fast as she’d like, for fear of hurting her cargo.
She remembers when they chased that rogue alien, the one that transformed into a dead Lena before her eyes. At least then, Alex had whispered to her, it’s not real. But now, Alex is standing back on a sidewalk blocks behind them, shouting orders and sliding in behind the wheel to follow them to the National City General, and it is real.
Real, real, real.
The feeling that burns in her veins isn’t that dissimilar to the one she recalls vaguely from the Red Kryptonite. An irrepressible anger. A sense of detachment from the world. The belief that nothing she does will have any consequences. Except this time, that’s because the worst consequence has already come to pass, and surely nothing can matter after this.
The ring is cold on her finger, and she should take it off, because Supergirl isn’t supposed to be engaged. But she can’t. It’s stupid and silly but Kara’s genuinely afraid that if she takes the ring off, Lena will die. As if Kara’s absolute unwillingness to let her go is the only thing making her stay. And maybe Lena’s heart is fluttering along now, but Alex has made Kara watch enough episodes of medical dramas to know that there’s about a hundred thousand ways everything can still go wrong.
“I love you,” Kara whispers into the wind whipping her face as they zoom over the rest of the cars. Lena can’t hear her, of course. Of course. But Kara feels like Lena will know she’s said it, without having to hear it at all. And also because Kara can’t survive another minute without saying it.
It’s a blur, after that.
Lena, being wheeled into the hospital.
Lena, being swarmed by people in white.
The words, sorry, Supergirl, I can’t let you go any further than this and, you aren’t family. I can’t tell you what’s happening.
That’s when she knows that Supergirl has come as far as she can with Lena, and it is Kara Danvers who must go with her the rest of the way.
She changes in the bathroom, lightning fast, ducking back around to come through the front doors as Lena’s listed emergency contact. The nurse tells her that on admission, Lena had severe internal bleeding, and she’s currently in surgery.
And so she waits, the most powerful being on the planet in a small plastic chair pushed to the side of a hallway, her head in her hands. Half desperately wanting to listen in to what’s happening in the O.R. and half horribly afraid to.
Finally, Alex dashes in, leaving a cloud of agents to deal with the nurse while she races over to Kara.
“Do you know anything?” she asks, taking one of Kara’s hands in hers.
“Are you okay?” Kara pries gently, looking at Lena in curiosity. Her girlfriend’s gone quiet, staring at her hands, fingers tangling and un-tangling together.
“You’re being really quiet,” she prompts. She knows that Lena likes to internalise things, solve problems in the back of her mind instead of in the air between them.
Lena glances up. “I’m thinking.”
She shrugs. “How happy I am.”
Kara’s heart plummets. “Are you not happy? Because -”
“No, Kara,” Lena cuts her off quickly, stopping the movements of those nervous fingers and locking them with Kara’s, in that grip that’s sure but still so weakly human. “I am. I am. I’m really happy. I just – I never thought I would be; you know?” When Kara tilts her head in confusion, she breathes out a sign. “I mean, growing up, everything was sort of… grey. It was never properly awful; it was just never anything. I never mattered to anyone, not in any way that counted, and I guess…”
There’s a pause. “You guess?” Kara reminds her. Lena keeps everything locked away within her, and this is good for her. Kara doesn’t want it to grind to a halt. They talk about Lex sometimes, when it’s unavoidable, but even though Lena trusts her, loves her, she rarely finds it within herself to open up. To cut the tape off the boxes marked ‘miscellaneous’ in the back of her mind, and examine the objects that lay within.
But she’s getting better at it, learning how to be vulnerable without being constantly at the ready for disappointment and damage.
“Everyone always said that it gets better,” Lena murmurs. “I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to believe it. But it’s true. Now it’s my life, I’m free, and I’ve got you, and it’s amazing. It’s just weird, sometimes. I spent all that time thinking I was one of those people who just doesn’t know how to be happy. Isn’t meant for it.”
“But you are,” Kara scrabbles to assure her. “You deserve everything. Everything you want.”
Lena smiles. “I’ve already got everything I want right here with me,” she says, leaning up and kissing Kara’s cheek. Then the smile changes to a smirk. “I’m referring, of course, to the Journal of Business Ethics and the wine on the coffee table, but I guess it’s not terrible having you here, too.”
“You suck,” Kara giggles. "And... thank you for trusting me with that. For telling me."
“The DEO has everyone on finding whoever set that bomb,” Alex promises into blonde hair.
“If you find them, don’t tell me,” Kara begs, hands clenched to fists in the material of her pants. “At least until we know if she’s going to be okay.”
Kara swallows. “I don’t know what I’d do to them,” she tells Alex, honestly, staring at the floor.
Is there such a thing as a reverse Black Mercy? Where in place of your utopia is your own customised hell, the version of reality you’d rather die in than live in?
Kara hopes this is that. And that Alex will burst in at any moment to convince her that none of this is real, and she needs to wake up.
But Alex is beside her. Holding her hand. Looking gaunt and tired and afraid, and not like she’s come to save her at all.
CatCo goes haywire in the wake of the bombing; every news outlet in National City does. Hell, probably all across America.
The top of L-Corp exploded, and nobody knows anything. Not who bombed it, not why. Not the body count, the causalities, the ultimate cost of the damage. Not why Supergirl responded faster than she ever has, not why she stayed with the Luthor ambulance.
Except, well, Cat’s pretty sure about that last one.
She wants to be mad that Kara’s been lying to her for so long, letting her run in circles while Kara holds all the cards. And a part of her, the more prideful part, and possibly the more trusting part, is a little furious. But the rest of her… the rest knows that Kara has lost countless people and is perpetually terrified of losing more. Knows that Kara really does care about her, that Supergirl has gone out of her way to help Cat and represent her, that how she handled the whole Kara-might-be-Supergirl thing last time is probably a large part of the reason this happened at all.
And of course, right now, Kara needs everyone on her team. Cat can be bitter and petty about the whole ordeal when Kara’s fiancée isn’t fighting for her life in hospital. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the fight is over, Lena is gone, and it just hasn’t hit the news yet.
Cat’s stomach twists.
Her whole staff are experienced journalists. They can handle themselves for a while.
A small part of her is happy. Happy that there is no triangle, no impending disaster, no cheating scandal. Kara is loved and has every good chance at that American Dream kind of life that real people almost never get.
Except. Except that maybe none of this matters after all anymore. It’s moot and cut short and nothing but loose ends.
Cat bites down on the thought, swallows it.
Kara memorises the sounds of the machines, so she’ll know the millisecond anything goes wrong.
Lena’s hand is cold in hers, still, but at least they’re touching, now. At least Lena isn’t being poked and prodded with scalpels, a dismantled mannequin.
Bodies fail their owners so easily, such traitorously delicate machines of bone and blood. Kara’s never been so horribly aware of that fact.
She’s sitting in a chair by Lena’s bedside, and Alex has stepped out to get an update on the bomber, somewhere far enough away that Kara can manage to not overhear.
Not that she can focus on anything other than the body in front of her.
She counts Lena’s heartbeats. It’s not nearly as comforting as it used to be. Sometimes, the doctor had explained, people’s hearts can beat and they can still have slipped away. Brain dead, it’s called. When a body’s just a body, still humming and ticking and whirring, but vacant. A house in place of a home.
The door opens.
“Alex?” Kara mumbles, pressing her face into the sheet, trying to get a break from her loud mind. Her body begs for sleep, but she’s too scared. Scared of what might change while she’s out. Scared that when she wakes up, all this will feel real, instead of some horrible illusion.
“No,” sighs a soft voice. A voice that isn’t usually soft, but cutting and precise and deft, the surgeon’s knife of communication.
Kara looks up. Her eyes are sore from almost-crying and her throat aches from whispering denials to herself. “Cat,” she croaks. Two words in less than a minute. This is the most she’s talked in ages. “How did you even get in here?”
“I’m very persuasive,” she says. “Also, they’re very distracted by all the reporters.”
The conversation is deliberately not about Lena, and their avoidance is painfully clear, subtext hung up to dry in the air between them.
“I know you’re Supergirl,” Cat announces, in that abrupt, no-nonsense manner she has. It’s oddly comforting, to have absolution delivered on a platter to her like that, when everything else is drowning in uncertainty.
“Do you hate me?” Kara should feel horror, anxiety, guilt, worry. But the entire universe is translating as static, and she’s not been able to feel anything for hours that isn’t something she can only describe as no, no, please no, I’ll do anything, Rao, no.
She wonders what Lena would say right now. Will never know.
Cat’s hand comes to rest warm on her shoulder. “I’ll have you running meaningless errands for months. But… I’m not going to fire you. And I don’t hate you, Kara. We will have to talk about it. Argue about it, probably. But not today. Not for a while.”
“Thanks.” This is the sort of conversation that should have eye contact, but Kara’s too busy watching the rise and fall of Lena’s chest, which is only part-her, part the ventilator.
Cat sighs, and they agree quietly, right then, to stop pretending this matters at all, stop pretending that Kara’s life is ever going to be the same again. “How is she?” Cat asks, finally running a hand over the ivory tusks of the elephant in the room.
“She’s in some kind of coma,” Kara grinds out. “Might wake up. Might not. Might wake up and not ever be the same.” The doctors had said that the brain was an inscrutable thing. Lena could wake up not knowing how to speak, or remembering any of them, or being able to write her own name.
Kara wishes they were on Krypton, where their understanding of neuroscience was eons ahead. Well, on that train of thought, Kara really wishes a lot of things.
Cat pulls the spare chair over from the wall to sit beside her. It’s quiet. Cat doesn’t say she’s sorry, or anything like that. Kara’s kind of glad of it. She doesn’t have it in her to say me too, as if sorry could shake today by the neck and force it to reset, so they could start this all over and Lena would be magically okay again.
“I just want someone to promise that everything’s going to be all right,” Kara whispers, less of a hero than she’s ever been. “That Lena’s going to be fine no matter what.”
“You want me to lie to you?”
There’s a pause. Kara doesn’t want to have to explain herself. To say, she deserves a hundred more years on this planet, she’s better than most people will ever care to know, and she hasn’t experienced enough good yet to be allowed to leave. To say, I should’ve protected her, I should’ve found her sooner, I wish I could’ve met her and loved her decades ago so that we had even a little more time. To say, she can’t die. To say, selfishly, I can’t go from planning a wedding to planning a funeral.
“Then… Everything’s going to be exactly as we want it to be in the end,” Cat swears.
And it is then, that the denial and shock finally boil over into the kind of grief that rents reality in half and turns stars into supernovas, and finally, Kara starts to cry. For everything she has lost, is losing, will never have again. For everything Lena deserves and will never get. For a future dangled in front of them briefly and then heartlessly torn away.
Chapter 11: in which nothing changes
“You’ve got to be so careful with them,” Clark tells her, his hands gripping her upper arms in that firm yet gentle way of his. “They’re fragile. Humans can cut themselves on paper, Kara. Did you know that? Paper.”
Kara nods, twisting her fingers together. Such deadly fingers, fingers with enough power in them to kill a man twice her size with barely a twitch. It’s hard not to hate her body and the things it can do.
She wants to ask Clark how Earth’s people have survived as a species, how most of them are even alive. Wants to ask how she’s ever supposed to touch one of them without being afraid of her love breaking their bones and crushing their veins.
Kara’s never learned how to go into anything any way other than heart-first, but even at thirteen, she can see how this ends. Can see the inevitable ache and tragedy that will come from loving a human when on this planet, she is a god.
Kara wonders if time can undergo mitosis. If seconds can split in two and then divide again into more seconds, until hours are happening all at once. It feels like that now – as if whole eons are being crammed into each minute, infinities passing with each beep of the heart monitor. Rome could’ve risen and fell in the space between Lena’s breaths.
Kara watches her sleep. Or, at least, that’s what she’d like to think she’s doing. The truth, the overwhelming truth, is that she’s probably watching her die. There’s been no change, no change, no change, and a part of Kara at this point is just waiting for absolution, for certainty, to just know.
Her head is in Alex’s lap, seeking solace and familiarity while it all crumbles around her, happiness dissolving like it never existed at all. Her sister’s fingers run through her hair, toying gently with blonde locks, twisting them over and around knuckles, working through tangles.
Cat had left a while ago to make sure no one caught any decent photographs that show Supergirl wearing an engagement ring, but she’d promised that it was unlikely. Kara had been moving so fast, whipped into a whirlwind by fear and confusion, that almost every snap of her is barely a red-and-blue blur.
“Alex,” Kara mumbles, tapping softly against the seam of Alex’s jeans. Even though she can’t see the eldest Danvers from her position, she knows Alex isn’t asleep. Her heartbeat’s too irregular, jumping and thundering as she tries to come to terms with it all.
“I miss her.” Lena’s right there, in front of them, but she knows Alex will understand. That she means she misses the things they should be doing, the things Lena should be saying, misses the versions of themselves that were bright and okay and in love.
“… and then they travel across the universe, back home to Rao,” Kara explains, squeezing Lena’s fingers. The hood of the car is cool beneath her, but she’s not shivering slightly like her girlfriend is. She pulls Lena closer, letting the warmth that flows unfailingly beneath her skin heat her up.
“That’s beautiful,” Lena whispers, leaning back against the glass of the windshield, alternating between staring at Kara and up at the stars. They’ve been working their way through discussing all the Kryptonian traditions that Kara can remember, writing them down – immortalising not just the facts of the various traditions, but the feelings that go along with them; the way the air would smell and the colours of the lights and how people would smile more around certain days. It lessens the weight of the entire culture that presses down on Kara’s shoulders - it is so impossibly heavy to be the last; a full-time job to remember a lost world. She’s so terrified of forgetting even a single thing, of dropping a memory or two along the
“What about you?”
Lena shrugs softly, dragging a hand across her face. “Nothing, really. I believe that when you die, you’re just dead. There’s nothing. It’s not as comforting as a lot of other ideas, I guess, but you know me. Always needing empirical proof of things.”
Kara knows enough about this sort of thing to understand that it isn’t really about what’s true so much as what you need to be true, what you have to hold on to. And so she chooses to believe that Rao looks after her people and her planet, that he will look after her one day, and Lena, too.
After the millionth vague comment by a doctor, Kara googles ‘brain-death’ on her phone. She stops reading somewhere between ‘traumatic head injury’ and ‘unresponsive to stimuli’.
Alex hums old lullabies to her like she used to when Kara was a kid, new to Earth and swathed in so much sadness that it curled her shoulders.
When she was little, it used to stop the tears – a gentle voice and a warm hand, promising that some worlds end, but not all worlds, not this one.
But she’s not thirteen anymore and even Alex isn’t enough this time.
The DEO can’t use the ‘active investigation’ excuse forever when Lena’s not exactly a witness, and eventually, the hospital starts restricting visiting hours. At first, Kara tries to observe the rules: going home, showering, changing, then staring off into space, trying to remember lazy days spent sitting on this exact same couch cushion, watching Community re-runs and laughing about things she no longer recalls.
After about fifteen minutes, she can’t take it anymore, and sneaks back in through Lena’s window. If something happens, Kara wants to be there. For better or worse, right? Even if they never got to say the words in front of their friends – never will – they always sat in the air between them, promises they never had to voice because their trueness existed in three dimensions.
Nothing changes nothing changes nothing changes nothing changes nothing changes.
A part of Kara is quietly angry at Lena, angry at her for being gone, for going, and mostly for leaving Kara behind. Why can’t you just come back? she wants to scream, with the kind of fury that lets her tear concrete blocks in half. She’s angrier at the universe though, for playing that game where it dangles happiness in front of her and then snatches it away. If nothing else, Kara is good at being the one left behind, the last man standing, the one who breaks with the strain of keeping it all alive in their mind.
Cat looks up at her assistant’s desk every so often, as if she expects the girl to actually be sitting there, typing away like everything is exactly as it was. Kara’s area is covered with flowers and cards, people offering comfort and condolences.
It’s hard to keep up business as usual, knowing that Kara’s life is falling apart, that Lena is dying, that the city is imploding a little for every day that Supergirl doesn’t show up, and instead agents in dark uniforms take care of alien crime. To avoid rousing suspicion, CatCo starts the rumour that Supergirl is attending to matter off-world.
If the expression on Kara’s face the last time Cat saw her is anything to go by, Kara might as well have left this planet entirely, anyway, so it’s not even really a lie.
“Is this bored baking or stress baking?” Lena asks as she pushes open the front door, stepping into a haze of cinnamon and cocoa that wraps warmly around her, the way hot chocolate would if it were a breeze.
Kara looks up at her, confused. She’s covered in flour, but Lena decides not to mention it, nor the mess, not when Kara’s eyes have that excitable gleam to them that means thousand-watt smiles and kisses on cheeks and rambling at a mile a minute.
“Neither. It’s Christmas baking, babe. Obviously.”
“Kara, it’s December first.”
Kara rolls her eyes, smirking. “Call Maggie and have her arrest me, then. But I’ve lived on your planet long enough to know that there are no actual laws about how early I’m allowed to start getting excited, Lena. Christmas is my favourite. Krypton never had any holidays like it; where old guys from other continents sneak into your house and give you stuff. It’s awesome. And the most human thing I’ve ever heard. Alex and I make it a huge deal, we have ever since I was a kid.”
Lena slides off her heels and puts her bag down, feeling the tension of L-Corp ease off as she strips away the façade. She walks over to her girlfriend, wrapping her arms around Kara’s waist, even though she knows it’s inevitable she’ll end up doused in cookie mix at some point.
“So all of my Christmases are going to start on the first, then?” Not that Lena minds. She’s never really had anything to celebrate, before – last year, the city had been a mess, and she and Kara had barely seen each other over the holiday season. And every year before that… Lena dedicates a lot of time and effort to not remembering.
“Yep,” Kara hums happily. “But you don’t mind, because you love me.”
Lena tightens her hug, pressing her forehead between Kara’s shoulder blades. “Actually, I love your baking,” she announces.
“Told you so.”
“But that goes without saying.”
Twenty minutes later, Kara decides that it’s Lena’s fault that the cookies burn, even though, technically, Lena reminds her, they’re equally liable because Kara kissed back.
Kara’s gone down to the ground floor to get she and Alex some hot chocolate, but keeps her super-hearing on high alert, zeroed in on Lena’s room.
There’s the beep-beep-beep of the machines, and then – “Hey, Lena.” That’s Alex. Talking to someone who can’t hear her anymore. Her ribs tighten like a boa constrictor around her heart. “I really want to just ask you to wake up,” the eldest Danvers mumbles wryly. “As if that would work. It’s weird, but I almost believe it would. Except that Kara’s already begged you, and you’ve never held out against her pouting for more than point-five seconds, so if she can’t pull you back, it’s not like you’re going to listen to me.” There’s a pause. Kara’s frozen in her tracks, hot chocolates forgotten. “Kara’s brilliant at science, but our medicine is so far behind Krypton’s, and I think she doesn’t really want to understand, not this time. So I won’t tell her. But, um, I know what it means when someone stays like this for so long. I know how your chances dropped by twenty-four hours and again by thirty and even more by forty-eight. I know you’re not going to wake up, because as much as we all wish it, superpowers can’t save everyone and you and I are only human.”
There’s a buzzing in Kara’s ears now, and new tears in her eyes, because it’s one thing to subtly drown out the possibility of something and quite another to have Alex say it aloud. I know you’re not going to wake up.
“And I have no idea how we’re going to survive without you. She needs you and I need you and James and Winn and Jess need you, too. But needing something so badly the world could break and actually getting it are two different things, huh? If you could love something back to life then Krypton wouldn’t have burned, and my dad would be alive, and Lex would still be the boy you grew up with.” Kara can hear the weight in how Alex swallows, as if her throat is contracting around a planet, a wish, an entire reality that must be gulped down with the salt of her tears. “And Lena, I know we only built it as an experiment for R&D, but I have no idea what to do with it now. I can’t give it to Kara, because it would – it would wreck her, Lena – but it’s all we have left of you, and I can’t bring myself to do anything other than keep it safe.”
Kara turns one hundred and eighty degrees on the spot and heads back to the room at speeds only just shy of super, barely slow enough that the nursing staff won’t start asking questions.
Alex jumps when the door slams open, but before Kara can demand what exactly it is that her sister is talking about having built, the machines start to beep oddly, their rhythm changing.
“Alex, is that waking up or getting worse? Alex, bad or good -” Kara all but screams, but then nurses are streaming into the room, their hands hurried but practiced and their faces carefully impassive, and Alex’s arms wrap around her, and Kara has her answer.
Barry’s hand is warm in hers as they walk through the graveyard. Even though both of them can reach speeds high enough to break the sound barrier, their steps have never been slower. There’s no point being fast anymore, Kara thinks. There’s nothing left to outrun, not really; nothing that matters.
They tread lightly so as to not leave footprints in the damp grass. It would be wrong, somehow – to leave a physical impression in the home of all these ghosts.
“Here,” he whispers, pulling them to a stop in front of a marble headstone. Kara stares down at her shoes, ignoring the wilted plumerias in her peripheral vision.
She won’t look, won’t look, won’t look – Lena Luthor, it reads, and Kara’s seen glass shatter and concrete explode and porcelain fragment, but never realised things could be destroyed as much as she is now; broken into pieces too small even for oblivion.
Not with a bang or a whisper or anything at all, just two words on a piece of stone that will be forgotten a hundred years from now.
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
Chapter 12: in which they cannot stop her
Note accompanying this chapter has been removed.
“Why did you bring me here?” Kara asks, in a voice as cracked and dry and ancient as the cosmic skeleton of her planet, the echo of a world, a world, a world, ringing about them in the cemetery. “Why did you take me away from her just to show me this?”
Her stomach is still flopping from the world-hopping device, but she barely feels it, barely feels much at all. If her brain is a radio then every channel is static, static, a receiver in a world with no messages anymore.
Barry sighs, those eyes Kara knows should twinkle all soft and dull. His skinny fingers run fissures through his hair, shoving the brown locks in every direction, and she is vividly thrown back to watching he and Lena argue over the wiring of a teleportation device a million years ago.
“We’re heroes, Kara,” he says. “We always make the good calls. The right calls. And if you’re going to make the wrong call, I want you to make it now. We know she's not going to pull through - that's why I brought you here. Proof. You need to choose, before it gets later and later and later and we cause more damage by fixing something we should really leave alone.”
She knows what he’s trying to tell her. They’re always saying that with great power comes great responsibility, and everyone thinks that means it’s the hero’s job to save as many people as they can, but really, that’s only part of it. The truth is, the real, horrible, gritty truth about being a god is that the real responsibility is knowing who not to save. Which sleeping dogs to let lie. What loves to let go.
But Barry’s stood where she stands now. And he went back. And he saved his mother. And people paid. Everywhere, people paid. Years and years’ worth of damage all done in a moment.
Here, on Earth 39, Lena is dead. Lena died in the L-Corp penthouse in a fiery explosion with no ring on her finger and no flying girl swooping in a second too late.
And soon – in an hour, a day, maybe less or maybe more – Kara’s Lena will follow. Rao is calling her softly, sweetly, and Lena is strong, but Kara cannot expect her to stay, to fight against the fickle, crooked finger of the universe as it calls her on to sunlit tides. Rao will take her somewhere she is loved, where her last name is not a steel trap around her heart, where she is free and whole, and yet (and yet and yet and yet), Kara does not want her to go. She does not want Lena to have peace if it comes at the cost of losing her forever. How many more years will Kara live? A hundred? A thousand? She cannot wait that long.
“Are you saying that you’ll take me back?” she presses, grabbing Barry’s hand so hard it would’ve imploded in a mess of blood and marrow if he were an ordinary human. “So I can save her?”
Barry seems so heavy in that moment that not even Kryptonian strength could shift him. But he nods. “There will be a cost, Kara. I love her, Alex loves her, and I know you love her most of all, but – I don’t know what the ripples will be. You saw what happened to my Earth.”
“I don’t care,” she yells, her voice bouncing off graves. How cruel, she thinks. To always be surrounded by death, death, death, but also to always be safely delivered from it. “I’ve lost so much. I just – I can’t – I can’t. I don’t care what it costs, Barry. Fuck.”
And there it is, what she’s always known, no matter how hard she’s tried to not know it: people like her shouldn’t be allowed to love other people. Because Kara is so good, good, good, until it comes to love. Until someone says, you can save the world or Lena, and suddenly Kara is overflowing with the kind of selfishness that could turn an entire ocean to acid. It’s genetic, really. The same greyness that let her mother save one child while a solar system of children burned.
“Then we need to move now,” Barry says. “The longer we wait, the more the world moves on. The less there is to change, the better.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
“Wait -” he tugs her back. Searches her eyes, looks for something he will not find, not now, maybe not ever again. “It might not work, Kara. Some people – no matter what we do – they can’t be saved.”
“Lena can,” she insists, plaintively, like a child, moored and honeyed in their convictions of fairies and Santa Claus. “Lena can be saved. And if she can’t, we’ll go back again.”
Barry bites his lip to hold back the we can’t she knows sits on his tongue. “Okay, Kara,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say.
/ / /
Alex jumps about a foot in the air when they re-materialise in Lena’s hospital room. “God,” she hisses. “Give me a heart attack, why don’t you?”
“It’s not as if they could knock,” Cat observes, from where she sits in an armchair in the corner of the room, manicured nails clutching a shiny magazine. The page hasn’t been turned in hours, hasn’t even been skimmed.
The radio crackles on, unheard by the others, but an incessant racket to Kara. All her senses are overly heightened, waiting for- for what? She doesn’t know anymore. A miracle? No, Lena didn’t believe in those. But a nod from the universe, maybe, a just this once, Kara, you get to keep someone you love.
“We’re going back,” Kara blurts out. “We’re going back to save Lena.”
“On Barry’s Earth -” Alex starts, but Kara cuts her off.
“It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Once we do it, it will have always been that way.”
“It does matter, Kara. Think about what you’re risking.”
“I could do more damage to this city in the next ten minutes if I wanted to than any time travel could ever,” she says, and Alex looks at her like she’s never seen her before.
“Come with me. Maybe if you won’t listen to me, you’ll listen to her,” Alex murmurs, nodding to the bed where the shell of Lena lies, empty and unable to tell Kara anything, and isn’t that kind of the whole point?
/ / /
“I don’t have time for this, Alex,” she hisses, as they touch down at the DEO. She wonders how she could’ve ever loved flying. Now all she feels is how fast she wasn’t, and the dead weight no longer in her arms, which is somehow still impossibly heavy.
Walking through the DEO is like swimming through a photo album; in every corner is a brighter, shinier version of herself, lingering, cheerfully innocent, bubbling full of futures that will never come to be. Or maybe they will. In other universes, there must be other Karas, happy Karas, Karas whose biggest problem is the prying investigations of Cat Grant and the occasional angry alien.
Alex has Kara’s fingers firmly entangled in hers, tugging her along forcefully, as if she’s the one with the sun’s power within her. Down, down, down they go, deep into the belly of the building where Kara almost never bothers to visit unless she’s searching for her sister or her fiancée.
The eldest Danvers pulls to a halt in front of one of the un-used labs, her face carved so deeply and so beautifully in sadness that the ancient Greek statues would bow their heads in shame. If Kara is a god, then Alex is the mythic hero – not special, not technically, but full of that bravery and goodness and Something that means people will write stories about her someday. Kara reaches for that feeling, the way love for Alex used to whirl and billow and fill her up inside, but the hole in her ribs is too big even for that.
“Lena and I only did it to see if we could,” she whispers. “We didn’t think we’d actually pull it off, and, well – you’ll see.”
She pushes the door open, and the room inside is almost empty, save for a few tools and a discarded pair of safety goggles. Other than the junk, it looks almost exactly like the room where her mother -
A hologram flickers into being, but it isn’t Alura.
/ / /
“Is it comforting?” she asks, twirling Kara’s hair slowly in her fingers, like soft blonde ballerinas. “To be able to talk to her, whenever you need?”
“It is most days,” Kara breathes. “Especially after so long alone. But some days – I remember that it isn’t really her, and it feels awkward. Strange. Like she’s an alien,” Kara laughs. “Sometimes I wonder why I still visit her.”
“Because you love her,” Lena supplies. “Ghost or not, flawed woman or not, she was family. We all cling to lost things, Kara. If I could visit my father, I would. For all his faults, I loved him. Stupidly, and probably too much for what he was, but I did. Kids are like that.”
/ / /
“Hello, Kara. Alex,” Lena says, and her voice sounds different but enough the same that Kara’s wrecked again.
“Hi, Lena,” her sister smiles. Softly, wanly. Alex wears tragedy like a masquerade mask. It fits Kara like a cape, always has.
“Do you have a question for me? It was my understanding we were still in Beta testing.”
“We are. But can you tell Kara here what you told me? The Demise Protocol?”
“Ah, yes.” Lena wavers out of existence for a moment, and if that isn’t metaphoric, Kara doesn’t know what is. “The Demise Protocol. A hologram function to allow agents to pass on their last wishes and testaments to their families post-mortem. I am designed to be a more emotional interactive database than previous incarnations of this technology.”
Kara’s hypnotised, barely taking in a word. The Lena hologram is wearing the same outfit she had on the day they met, and it’s making Kara dizzy.
“You’re the test version, aren’t you?” Alex prompts gently.
“Yes. In the event of my demise, L-Corp will be succeeded through the appropriate channels. My personal wealth is to be divided between Kara, my friends, and the majority is to be given to a range of charitable organisations. Is that the information you were looking for?”
“I’m going to go back and save you,” Kara tells the hologram. It’s not real, not real, not real, but it feels real.
“Do not,” the Almost-Lena says, eyes sharp blue like shards of misplaced tide. “Just like how the remains of Krypton will drift in orbit to one day become a new planet, the same is true of people. Everything I have left will one day form new things, good things, things I do not need to be there for.”
“I need you there. I miss you.”
“I am not yet programmed to respond to that information,” Lena replies, and the illusion is shattered, and in a moment, she has jumped back through evolution, from woman to ghost to a blinking photograph.
“I don’t care what this machine says, I’m still going back. You can’t stop me.”
“I want her back more than anything, Kara,” Alex pleads, tears glimmering in her eyes, clinging to the brown of her irises. “But this isn’t what she wants. She already felt like she had thousands of lives hanging over her because of Lex. I don’t know what she’ll do if she feels at fault for more because you changed the timeline.”
Kara stares long and hard at her sister and the echo, trying to think but instead feeling, feeling, feeling, too loudly and too much to even grasp at the rational.
“Well, I’d rather she be alive and hate me than dead and in love.”