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A Ribbon at a Time

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“Why do you want this job?” the interviewer asks her, and Kara stares at him in disbelief. His hair is slicked back, and whatever product he’s using to do it is too oily for his skin. It’s left a trail of acne along his hairline. Why does he think she wants this job? It pays slightly more than her last job, and so far no one here has tried to pinch her ass - although the day is young.

She’s pretty sure saying that isn’t what will get her hired, but she doesn’t know what else to say. ‘I want to change the world, one package delivery at a time?’ She remembers being thirteen and full of noble ideals - she remembers seeing Kal on the news, saving lives in his stupid skintight suit, and being so excited to follow in his footsteps. She remembers grief slowly transitioning into determination - remembers privately thanking Rao for the gift of her new powers, remembers thinking that in payment for the loss of her world, he’d made sure she would never be helpless again.

Kal is dead. Eliza is dead. Jeremiah is dead. Alex is hopefully alive somewhere, but she doesn’t have any use for the foster sister who got her orphaned before she finished high school. Kara is twenty one years old, and the idea of pretending, even for a single moment, that she still has ideals leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. The world doesn’t deserve any idealism from her.

“Well, I’ve worked at UPS for two years,” she says finally, since the interviewer is looking a little uncomfortable with her continued silence. “A private courier seems like a logical next step. You guys have better uniforms, I hate wearing brown.” Actually, she’s worked at UPS for six months, but she’d applied for the job with a fake letter of reference claiming she was trying to transfer from another UPS over in Washington, and nobody had double-checked.

She gets the job, she finds out a few days later, but she’s pretty sure her amazing interview skills have nothing to do with it. They give it to her because her last manager wrote her a reference letter in which he described her as, “ridiculously strong - you can send her to deliver cement bricks and she’ll just hoist them onto her shoulder and go,” and because when they asked if she was willing to use her own car for deliveries she said yes.

Joke’s on them. Kara does own - and currently live in - a car, but it’s not what she’s planning on using for deliveries.

“Do you know where the new LexCorp building is?” her new manager asks her. His name is Craig, and he’s gay and seems deeply uninterested in her. As far as Kara is concerned, that’s ideal - for one thing, he’s not even looking at her when her stomach does its usual swoop at hearing the name of Lex Luthor’s company.

“It’s L-Corp here,” she reminds him. “You can tell from the giant tacky letter logo they pasted on the outside of the building.”

“You’re so charming - make sure you tell them that when you drop this package off.” He hands her a thick packet of papers, carefully sealed and marked ‘confidential.’ “They’ll want to know that their exterior decorating doesn’t lend itself to your taste.”

“You got it, boss,” Kara says, and heads out the door with a cheeky salute. She walks purposefully through the large ugly parking lot as though she’s heading for her beat-up green pontiac grand am, enjoying the way the sun pulses across the blacktop. Once she gets around the corner of the squat brick building that is now her place of employment, she checks for witness and then shoots up into the sky.

**

Kara was fourteen years old when Lex Luthor finally succeeded in killing Superman. She’d been living with the Danvers for seven months, and she watched the news on their small television, sitting solemnly on the leather couch with Jeremiah Danvers’ large hand resting on her shoulder.

She was fifteen when the courts declared Lex Luthor a hero and refused to convict him - he’d saved Earth from an alien menace. She was still fifteen, two months later, when the legal team behind his defense turned out to be part of a larger anti-alien force called CADMUS.

She was sixteen when the Danvers were murdered. Alex Danvers was seventeen, and she handed Kara $94 in cash that she’d had in her bedroom, her eyes dry and hard. “There’s nothing I can do to help you,” she’d said. “Get out of here before we both end up dead too.” Kara took the money and left.

She spent years afterward going back and forth about how to interpret Alex’s face in that moment. When she was at her best, when she felt able to believe that the world had good things to offer, Kara thought that Alex had loved her in the short time they’d been sisters - that even through her grief, she’d been trying to save Kara the only way she knew how. In her darker moments, she knows that Alex sent her away because she blamed Kara - rightfully - for everything terrible in her life.

But it has been five years since that moment, and Kara doesn’t wonder anymore. She doesn’t even think about it. Instead she thinks about how to meet her caloric needs on minimum wage, and about how to rent an apartment and stay employed with no birth certificate or social security number.

She rarely thinks about the rest of the world at all, if she can avoid it, so she doesn’t know how to feel as she loops above the clouds toward L-Corp. Lena Luthor moved to National City last month to run her own branch of LexCorp, calling it L-Corp to distinguish it from its parent company. Kara didn’t follow the news - in fact, she deliberately turns it off every time there's a clip of Lena Luthor, always talking about the funds L-Corp is donating to a hospital, or the shelters they’re designing for the homeless. She hadn’t ever expected to enter the building.

As she lands, she’s seized with a sudden desire to see Lena Luthor with her own eyes. She doesn’t know what it will accomplish, but she’s going to be within one hundred feet of one of the people who destroyed her life the second time. She wants to close the rest of the gap. It’s the first thing she’s wanted - really wanted - in years, and maybe that’s why she’s so helpless in the face of it. She’s out of practice at wanting things.

The lobby, as she walks in, is undeniably impressive. The high ceiling, the marble floor, the polished wooden walls - it all comes together to form a space that is sleek and modern and pretentious. Kara flashes her brand new courier badge at the security desk, and receives a visitor’s pass that will get her access to the 78th floor.

She steps off the elevator into a spacious waiting room and realizes that Lena’s personal office takes up the entire floor. Ridiculous.

“Can I help you?” the woman behind the administrative desk asks politely, when Kara takes a moment too long to absorb the excessively comfortable looking couches and the waterfall fountain that is taking up an entire wall. Are those koi , does Lena Luthor’s waiting room have a koi pond in it?

Kara snaps back to attention. “Uh, yeah, sorry - I’ve got a confidential package for Lena Luthor?” she holds out her courier badge and the package itself as evidence, and the woman nods.

“I can sign for it,” she says, holding out a hand, and Kara eyes her dourly.

“Sorry, my instructions were very clear - Ms Luthor has to sign for it herself.” That’s utter bullshit, her only instructions had been to make fun of the exterior decorating and those had been sarcastic, but Kara eyes the slim asian woman across from her solidly until she sighs and reaches for her intercom button.

“Ms Luthor, there’s a delivery that requires your personal signature.”

There’s a beat of silence and then a harried voice answers, “I can’t leave this project alone at the moment Jess, can you send him back here with it?”

“Of course,” Jess answers. She directs Kara into a hallway behind her with a brief, “first door on the left,” and Kara treads down the carpet-lined hallway, finally stopping to ask herself what the hell she’s doing.

What does she want out of this? She doesn’t believe in closure. Does she want to - to yell? To hurt this woman? Is she just hoping to see what evil looks like, so she can spend her life a little less afraid of the unknown?

Before she can formulate an answer she’s walking into Lena’s office, and meeting eyes with the most gorgeous woman she’s ever seen. They both stare for a moment.

“Well hello,” Lena says, her voice laden with amusement. “You’re not what I was expecting.” Her eyes linger on Kara’s body. “Serves me right for my gendered assumptions - come in.”

“Package for you to sign,” Kara stutters, finally coming the rest of the way through the door. Lena Luthor looks young. She’s dressed immaculately, with red lipstick and eyebrows that have been plucked within an inch of their life. There’s not a hair out of place, but none of that can hide the fact that she’s barely older than Kara, far too young to have been made the devil’s right-hand man. Kara feels a stab of what might have been sympathy, if not for the fact that Lena Luthor is only half a step left of being a murderer.

Lena takes the packet of papers, and her perfect eyebrows raise. “This definitely could have been signed for by my assistant,” she says. Busted.

“Sorry,” Kara mutters, trying to appear sheepish. She knows that with her big blue eyes and thin frame, she pulls off sheepish well. People find her very forgivable, and she uses it to her advantage often. “I just wanted to meet you in person - I’m a big fan of your work.”

“Are you?” Lena questions, looking even more amused. “Well, lucky you - you’re about to get my autograph.”  She signs Kara’s receipt with a messy flourish, and then adds, “what’s your name?”

“Kara Smith,” Kara answers, the most recent name on her job application, and something flickers interestingly on Lena’s face, before she gives Kara a long drawn out smile.

“Well, Ms. Smith - I hope I see you around here again. Do you think all the packages you deliver are going to need my…. personal touch?” Her fingers trail lightly over Kara’s hand as she gives her the receipt, and Kara realizes abruptly that she’s being flirted with.

She’s in a room with Lex Luthor’s sister. Her own sister might be dead because this woman’s brother went on a campaign against Kara’s last surviving relative. Suddenly, Lena's skin brushing against her own is more than she can deal with.

“Thanks for signing, have a good day,” Kara mutters, and races out of the office just a little too fast to be human.

She takes flight almost the instant she gets outside, sparing only a cursory glance around to make sure no one can see her. Her heart is pounding, echoing loudly in her ears. She can hear the thud and the rush of liquid as blood is pushed through her aorta, it’s so noisy she’s worried that it might give her away, that people below her will hear it and realize that there’s an alien flying above the clouds. But of course, how can they hear it over their own din, the sounds of conversation, of feet beating against the pavement, cars screeching to a last-minute halt at red lights, their brakes protesting. Kara can hear them all, individually, a thousand things clamoring for her attention, and she practically crash-lands onto L-Corp’s large gray rooftop, her breath coming in unsteady spurts.

Sensory overload is the phrase Jeremiah taught her when she first landed on Earth. Understandable, with all the changes to her senses that were brought on by Earth’s yellow sun. She has learned control, inch by painful inch, and incidents like this have become much rarer over the years. They were constant the first year.

It was always Alex who took care of her through them. Jeremiah and Eliza tried at first, but Alex was who Kara wanted. Alex didn’t try stupid things like telling Kara to count backwards from 10, and her body was so much less noisy than theirs, none of the frightening creakiness of age. Alex just lied down next to her on the bed and read a book, and didn’t make a fuss when Kara buried her face in Alex’s shoulder and clung, focused on matching her breathing to Alex’s heartbeat until the rest of the world faded to a bearable level again.

She has to make do without Alex now, but she remembers those early lessons in coping. She picks a sound from below - the steady beat of someone’s heart - and patterns her breathing after it. Breath in, 2, 3, breath out, 2, 3, until slowly, she finds her way back to calm. Shaky, she straightens up and takes off back into the air.

It occurs to her, as she flies back to the warehouse for her next delivery, to hope that it wasn’t Lena Luthor’s heartbeat she’d been listening to. It’s unlikely - there must be 500 people in that building. But the notion that it could have been itches at her. She dislikes the symbolism of it, feels disloyal at the idea that Lex Luthor’s sister could have calmed her the same way her own used to. She tries to push the thought out of her mind, and hopes she won’t have to deliver to L-Corp again.

**

The way Kara has come to see it is that there are pros and cons to being an alien.

Con: everyone she’s ever loved is dead and she’s going to spend the rest of her life in hiding unless CADMUS finds and kills her too.

Pro: she doesn’t get sweaty in the heat.

She does, however, keep a spray bottle of water in the back of her car and occasionally spray herself in the face with it on the way back in from a delivery. She’s developed a thousand little tricks over the years, for playing at being a human. They barely even register anymore. She does them as automatically as breathing.

A week after her encounter with Lena, it is exceptionally hot out, and Kara has just sprayed herself on the way back in from a delivery to a local supply chain. Whatever they’d needed delivered had come in about 12 large boxes, so that Kara had to actually use her car for once. She’s glistening with water, and still sulking about the unexpected use of gas that she can’t really afford, which is probably why Craig starts his next set of instructions with, “clean yourself up, you look like we hired you out of juvie.”

“I’m sorry, am I not upholding the high standards of our fine establishment?” Kara asks with a very pointed look at Craig’s T-Shirt, which bears the slogan “Free Protein Shakes” and has an arrow directed toward his crotch.

“Normally you are free to look as sweaty and surly as you like,” Craig assures her, “but not for this one! See, you have a delivery to L-Corp, and Lena Luthor called to ask for you personally.” He pauses for dramatic effect, grinning wickedly at her. Kara is sure that her face has done everything he was hoping for - she can feel the blood rushing through her skull.  “She says,” he informs her with relish, “that you made such a good impression on her last time, she wants this very confidential document delivered directly into her hands by you and you alone.”

Kara groans, and thunks her head lightly against a convenient wall. “Alright, give it to me,” she says, letting the wall muffle her voice as she holds her hand out for the document envelope. Craig laughs.

“What did you do to make such a good impression?” he asks as he hands it over. “You didn’t even say you’d run into her. And no offense, but aside from the amount you can probably bench press -”

“I think it’s the bench-pressing,” Kara cuts him off. She waves a sarcastic hand down the line of her body. “She seemed to like the look of all this.”

Craig looks delighted. “Are you telling me that Lena Luthor is a card-carrying friend of Dorothy? That's so juicy! Can I post this on my blog?”

“If you get me fired from this job, you have to pay my next month’s rent,” Kara tells him, which ignores the fact that she is still sleeping in the back of her car. She thinks she’ll be able to find an apartment once her second paycheck from this job comes in. She’s close to having rent. Rent-adjacent.

Later though, as she speeds toward L-Corp, she pokes at Craig’s question. Why has Lena asked her back? All jokes aside, Kara doesn’t think she actually made much of a good impression, lying her way into Lena’s office and then fleeing the building when Lena flirted with her. What if Lena saw her crash land on the roof? Or saw her take off from it again? Or even saw her land behind the tree when she first got there? She’s created a multitude of opportunities for a mass-murderer’s sister to discover her identity. Kara curses quietly to herself - what had she been thinking?

This could so easily be a trap. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that if she walks into that office, there’s going to be kryptonite and a dozen CADMUS agents waiting to take her down.

But if she flees now, she’s going to be starting from scratch, without even enough cash to rent an apartment. She told Lena her name - she’s going to need a whole new identity, which will take most of the cash she has. It will take time to find a new job. It will mean another set of weeks, maybe months, where Kara is living out of the back of her car and not getting enough to eat. And Kara is so, so tired.

Alex has been in the back of her mind lately. Maybe she’s been in the back of Kara’s mind for the entire five years, and all Kara ever did was get better at lying to herself. But Kara has been lingering on her for the past week, since her panic attack on L-Corp’s roof. She wonders if Alex would hear about it if Kara got captured. Maybe if Kara really fought back, destroyed Lena’s office, took a couple of agents down, it would make the news. If she killed enough of them, took revenge for herself and for Alex, maybe there could be redemption in that, and Alex could forgive her.

Kara’s surprised at the way that want jolts through her at the thought. She’s so tired of living in limbo. Five years is enough of that for anybody. She thinks maybe, for the right cause, she’s ready to die.

She debates it the entire way there: she can fly to L-Corp and face things head on, or she can fly back to the warehouse just long enough to get her car and go. In the end, she lands behind the same tree and walks into L-Corp.

**

She thinks about just bursting through the window onto the 78th floor. If Lena already knows she’s Kryptonian it’s not like she’d be giving anything away, and it might give her a brief advantage - the element of surprise and all that.

But she’s not sure enough for it. There’s still that niggling hope that maybe there are other options, that maybe she can talk fast enough, or move fast enough, and live through this day. Also, she tries multiple times to count 78 windows up and loses track. It would be an embarrassing anticlimax to come bursting through the 77th floor window into a very startled doctor’s office.

So instead she dutifully shows her courier badge to the security desk, accepts her guest pass, and takes the elevator up.

When the doors ding open, the waiting room looks exactly the same as it did last time, right down to the sarcastic look on Jess the Secretary’s face, and Kara has the wild thought that they should have evacuated the koi fish.

“Um…. Lena asked me to deliver this?” Kara says weakly, holding the envelope out in a clumsy wave and accidentally smacking her fingers against Jess’ desk on their way up. She’s trying for bravado, but it’s new territory.

Jess looks deeply unimpressed by her, but she hits the intercom. “Ms Luthor, your package is here,” she says, putting a light stress on Ms Luthor , as though to reprimand Kara for daring to use Lena’s first name.

‘She’s the same age as us,’ Kara wants to say, but she keeps it to herself, and just listens along as Lena’s voice comes back through.

“Oh excellent, send her back - thanks Jess!”

“I remember the way,” she tells Jess sweetly, because her imminent demise is no reason to let someone be rude to her, and then she walks down the hall, trying not to shake. She doesn’t knock at Lena’s door - just pushes it open and throws her arms up, ready for attack.

There’s a beat of silence, and then Lena’s polished voice. “Are you alright?” Her eyebrow is raised as she directs a puzzled glance Kara’s way. There’s no one else there. No armed men, no kryptonite. No give-away buzz of surveillance equipment inaudible to the human ear.

“I… thought I saw a bug,” Kara says, still confused. She risks things further by pressing her glasses down, and doing a quick x-ray vision sweep of the office. There’s nothing.

“I don’t see it anywhere, I think you’re safe,” Lena tells her, sounding amused. “I hate bugs as well, though I can’t say I usually react quite as - dramatically as that.”

“Yeah, I uh…. it’s a phobia,” Kara agrees, and winces at the phony, high-pitched quality of her own laugh. Lena looks kind of charmed.

“Well, business - is that for me?” she nods at the envelope and Kara dutifully comes forward and hands it over. Lena comes around her desk to take it from her, though she could just as easily have reached across her desk to take it from Kara’s outstretched hand. Kara gets an explanation for why a moment later when Lena leans over her desk to sign the receipt, displaying her backside to full effect. All signs point to Lena being an intelligent woman - she has to be aware of what those pants do for her at that angle.

It slowly dawns on Kara that maybe she hadn’t just been blowing Craig’s question off with a joke earlier, that she might have stumbled across the right answer to it. It’s becoming clear that Lena didn’t invite her into a trap - she might actually have invited Kara back into her office just to show off her ass.

Well. That’s unexpected.

Lena turns back to give Kara the signed receipt, edging in close and letting their fingers brush. “Listen,” she says. “I’m new into town, and I haven’t had much of a chance to explore - do you know where I can get a good coffee around here?”

That’s the prelude to asking her out on a date. Kara’s been here before - she knows she’s hot, in a badly dressed, athletic kind of a way. People stumble through asking her out a lot. 

Despite her occasionally dire financial straits, Kara has never had sex to pay the rent. She’d rather get evicted and sleep in her car, all things considered. She has, on two occasions, had sex for the purpose of using someone else’s shower afterwards.

She has also never had sex with someone who loves the person who murdered her cousin. She has this brief, flash of a thought, that maybe if she says yes she could get into Lena’s apartment, get her alone, and show Lex Luthor exactly what it feels like to lose-

She’s taking too long to respond, and Lena flushes a light pink, barely visible under her pristine mask of makeup. “I just thought you might know the area, since you’re running everywhere delivering things…” she starts to excuse herself.

Part of it is the rush of shame from that thought. Part of it is that maybe after coming within inches of a connection to everything she’s lost, she’s not ready to isolate herself from it again. Part of it is just that Lena Luthor is gorgeous, and Kara is five years into the habit of living moment-to-moment.

For whatever reason, Kara wraps an arm around her shoulders. “Screw coffee,” she murmurs, and pulls her in for a searing kiss.

Lena’s lips move against hers in what feels like protest for a moment, and then just as Kara’s about to pull back and start trying to find a third read on the situation, she melts into it instead, pressing her body up against Kara’s and letting her lips fall open under Kara’s exploration. There’s something almost sweet about the way Lena melts into her, the way she’s letting her hands rest on Kara’s collar and giving over control completely. But Kara’s not looking for sweet - not here, not with Lena. Not ever, really. She doesn’t have room for sweetness in her life.

She pulls back and spins Lena around, pulling her so that now Lena’s back is flush against Kara’s chest, her head lining up to fall back against Kara’s shoulder. Kara leans in to bite Lena’s neck, grabs at her breasts roughly through her shirt, and Lena lets out a shocked, dirty sound.

“This - this isn’t actually what I was getting at with coffee…” she stutters out, clutching at Kara’s arms.

“Is that a complaint?” Kara asks - she wants to growl it out, thinks it would be sexy in this moment to sound a little tough, but instead it comes out breathy, somewhere between flirtation and an actual question. To make up for it, she bites down again, hard enough to leave a mark - she likes the idea of Lena trying to cover hickeys with concealer before she dares leave her office this evening.

“No - oh! No complaints here. I just - I want you to know that I - I’m interested in more than just -“

“I’m interested in this,” Kara interrupts her, and presses her palm between Lena’s legs, rubbing her roughly through her pants. She hopes the message is clear - this isn’t a romantic encounter.

She’s never been pushy about sex with someone before - it feels powerful. She kind of likes it, but it kind of makes her feel sick too. It helps that Lena shudders into her touches, responding with her whole body. There’s no question at all that she likes everything Kara is doing to her.

There’s a couch against the wall, perpendicular to Lena’s desk. It’s white and pristine, Kara doubts that anyone has ever even sat on it before. She spins Lena back around and shoves her toward it, following the push with her own body and moving until Lena’s legs hit the cushions and buckle, landing her on it. Kara wastes no time in dropping to her knees, unbuttoning Lena’s pants. Lena raises her hips to assist, and Kara pulls pants and underwear off in a single motion, letting them pool around Lena’s ankles before moving in with tongue and teeth.

It’s messy and fast. In almost no time at all Lena is crying out and writhing against her. Kara lets her ride out her orgasm before pulling back and standing up.

Lena’s a mess. Bite marks stand out red against her neck, and her hair is mussed. Her thighs are wet, and there’s a wet spot beneath her on the couch that will undoubtedly leave a stain. Her pants are tangled around her feet. Kara is still fully dressed.

She feels an empty kind of triumph, followed by nausea. There’s no real victory in this - fucking someone isn’t conquering them, and there’s nothing she can do to Lena Luthor that will bring back Kal, or Eliza, or Jeremiah. Nothing she can do that will make Alex forgive her. So what is the fucking point?

“I have to go,” she says. “I’m going to be late getting back to work.” She walks out, leaving Lena on the couch.

Chapter Text

“What’s with you? I’m almost positive you didn’t start out this bitchy,” Craig says, sending her an annoyed look.

“I wanted to make a good first impression,” Kara deadpans. “Your grace period is up, sorry.” She needs to pull it back, she’s going to get herself fired. She wishes she could bring herself to care.

She hasn’t been this bad since right after the Danvers were killed. She’s spent five years since then tucking it all away into the back of her mind. She’s refused to think about CADMUS, about family, about anything . She’s let herself live this quiet, boring, broken existence, and ignore all the monstrous injustices of the world around her, and she’s been almost OK.

Meeting Lena Luthor was such a mistake. She should have just let Jess sign for the envelope the first time, or made an excuse and refused to deliver to L-Corp at all. She doesn’t know how to come back from this. She’s been stupider in the days since - she’s been flying lower, where someone could catch a glimpse of her. She’s aching for a fight - not a small one, not a narrow escape. She wants the end she thought Lena Luthor was going to give her. She wants to go out with a bang, and then she wants all of this to be finished, and she wants to walk into Rao’s light and find out that she was wrong to ever stop believing in him.

Instead, she’s slept in the backseat of her car, showered at the gym, and now she’s back at work, a little hungry because she’s trying to save up a security deposit to go with the month’s rent she has safely stowed under her front seat. It never ends, for her - everyone else gets to die, and she just has to keep on going.

“OK, well - you’ve got another delivery to L-Corp,” Craig tells her. “Ms Luthor asked for you specifically again. The boss is really pleased with you - we’re trying to build up a base of regular clients, and it seems like L-Corp might become one now, so I guess you can get away with being a surly little asshole if you keep it up.”

“I’m not delivering that - get someone else to do it,” Kara answers sharply. “You hired me because I can deadlift boxes, give me a heavyweight delivery and send the stupid corporate stuff with someone who dresses better than me.”

She knows it’s too much - he’s going to fire her, or at least threaten to. And he does look pissed for a minute, but then instead his face contorts, awkward and uncomfortable. “Uh, look, Kara - did something happen last time you were there? Because, um, you know - just because she’s rich and we want her as a client doesn’t mean she’s got the right to, you know…. force anything. We look after our employees, so - “

Craig looks like he would rather have his fingernails torn off than continue this conversation, and Kara agrees completely. He’s put two and two together to come up with negative four. And maybe it would be an easy solution to her problems if she let him believe he was right, but she can’t bring herself to play victim to Lena Luthor, not after the way she’d left Lena, messy on the couch -

She winces away from the memory, and for the first time recognizes the sharp pang of guilt that has been lingering among her renewed grief and anger.

In the grand scheme of things, she hasn’t done anything all that terrible. Lena’s family has done more to her than Lena could ever repay, and the chances are very slim that Lena’s hands are clean. She may have been too young to be part of Kal’s death, but she’s obviously involved with Lex’s agenda now. As far as Kara’s concerned, Kal’s blood is on Lena’s hands.

But Kara doesn’t want to be the sort of person who would take payment in flesh. She acknowledges it to herself, and calms a little for the first time in days. She made a mistake. She’s sorry for it.

“No, it’s - nothing like that,” she tells Craig, who is looking at her anxiously. “I’ve been stressed about some personal stuff, I’m sorry. I’ll do better keeping it away from work.”

“OK, well - sorry things are rough,” Craig tells her, looking a little thrown by this abrupt change in attitude. “Thanks for realizing you need to cut the shit, I didn’t want to have to be the one to tell you.” He smiles at her. “I’d kind of like it if we could be friends, you seem chill when you’re not being an asshole, you know?”

“I don’t really have friends,” Kara answers him honestly. “But as long as you don’t try to braid my hair, I’ll do my best.”

She takes the envelope from him, and in the spirit of renewal and rebuilding, actually drives to L-Corp this time in her car.

**

A part of her is hoping that Lena will want to avoid her, and that she’ll be able to just hand the package off to Jess. She knows that doesn’t make sense, since Lena had apparently called and asked for her personally, but she’s hoping for it anyways.

That hope is crushed the moment she steps off the elevator - Jess waves her toward the hallway without even bothering to call back on the intercom. “She said to let you in whenever you got here,” she says, disinterested.

“Oh….OK,” Kara stutters, and heads back. She knocks on Lena’s door this time, peeking her head around cautiously when Lena calls out for her to enter.

“Um… hey. Delivery,” she says, and holds the envelope out in front of her like a shield as she walks in. Lena’s smile at her is tremulous.

“Kara, I’m…. glad to see you again,” she says. This time she takes the envelope without getting up from her chair, keeping the desk between them.

“Yeah, I - sorry, for running out last time,” Kara tells her honestly. “I guess I freaked out a little.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Lena tells her, and there’s genuine remorse in her voice. Kara looks at her, a little taken aback. There are a thousand things that Lena owes her an apology for, but she’s fairly sure that if Lena knew about any of them, Kara would be dead. “That’s not really how I wanted that to go, I just got caught up in the moment. Not,” she added with a little quirk of her lips, “that I regret it.”

She looks like it’s a pleasurable memory. Numerous things recalibrate and recontextualize in Kara’s brain. Maybe from her perspective it had felt like domination, like taking out her anger on Lena’s body. But Lena doesn’t know how complicated things are between them, doesn’t know the storied history between their families. Lena just thinks she had a hot encounter. It’s practically a porn premise - the CEO and the Delivery Girl.

“How did you want it to go?” Kara asks her. Why is it that whenever she comes into this office, she feels like she’s struggling to keep up?

“Well, I mean - you seem nice,” Lena admitted. “I just moved here, and it’s - it’s hard to meet people as the CEO of one of the most controversial corporations in the nation. Either people don’t want to touch a Luthor with a 10 foot pole, or they want to tell me they support my mission of alien extermination. You’re my age, you’re not really connected to my business life… I was hoping to make a friend.”

Kara stares at her. She cannot believe how completely Lena has gotten the wrong end of the stick. Not connected to Lena’s business life? Lena’s business life…. Rao, as though destroying everything Kara held dear and launching her into a life of running and hiding is just Lena’s nine-to-five.

Despite herself, she glances over at the white couch. As she’d predicted, there’s a stain where Lena had been sitting. It’s barely visible, and you probably wouldn’t see it if you weren’t looking for it, but it’s there.

“And the alien-extermination crowd isn’t for you?” she asks, trying to keep her voice neutral. Lena frowns.

“My brother wants to protect humanity,” she says. “I agree with his aims, if not always his methods. The violence, the bigotry that LexCorp’s mission attracts…. those are not things that I agree with, Kara.”

“Yet there they are, at the heart of everything LexCorp and CADMUS do,” Kara answers, and hears the bitterness in her own voice. Lena looks startled.

“Yes… there they are,” she agrees after a moment, her tone soft and contemplative. The silence sits there for a just a moment, each of them lost in private thought, and then Lena turns an intense look onto Kara. “But I thought you said you were a fan of my work - isn’t that why you talked your way into my office in the first place?”

Kara swears inwardly. Just one more reason why lingering around Lena is a bad idea - Lena is smart. Kara can’t make her usual slip-ups and expect them to just pass by unnoticed.

She thinks rapidly, looking for an excuse, and remembers the news footage she’d skipped over a month ago, trying to avoid… “Well, L-Corp’s not the same as LexCorp, is it?” she says. “You’re taking everything your brother has done and trying to turn it around, with your humanitarian goals. His aims, but not his methods, right? I - I see something to admire in that.”

It’s a good lie, she realizes, when Lena’s shoulders slump, and she looks at Kara with soft hope in her eyes. She has accidentally hit on Lena Luthor’s truth.

“I - thank you, Kara. That means a lot to hear,” Lena tells her. The smile she manages is small and real, and Kara remembers that her very first impression of Lena had been of how young she is. “Can I give you my number? I would really like to have you as a friend.”

Kara lets her.

**

She finally caves and admits to Craig that she’s apartment hunting. He has a drinking buddy who will rent to her without checking her credit, and they go around after work on Wednesday to talk to him and see the place.

“Kara, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it would be such a dump,” Craig tells her in an urgent undertone when his friend is out of earshot, and Kara grins at him. The place is a dump - it’s miniscule even for a studio. The kitchen has a mini-fridge and a stove from the dark ages. It’s also where she’ll have to brush her teeth - there’s no sink in the bathroom, just a grimy toilet and a square shower that’s almost too small to fit a person into. If she gets a twin size bed and a very small kitchen table, they’ll both fit, but she’s going to have to choose between having a chair at the table and having the ability to open her front door the entire way.

“I rent by the week,” Craig’s friend comes back in through the front door and tells her. “No lease - just $100 every Monday, and you can stay as long as you want. I’d appreciate a week or two of notice when you move out.”

“Look, Sean, I really appreciate you coming by to show it to us, but maybe -” Craig starts, but Kara cuts him off.

“That sounds great, when can I move in?”

Craig looks shocked and appalled, but Sean just nods. “You can move in tonight if you want, I don’t care. You got payment now for the first week?”

Kara pulls her wallet out of her pocket and brings out five twenties - she’s trying not to look thrilled in front of Craig, who has obviously never had to live side-by-side with mice. She’s stayed in dumpier places than this and paid a lot more - the average rent for a studio in National City is around $900, and even a shit-hole like this would usually be at least $550 a month, plus a security deposit. Sean’s cutting costs by renting under the table, and that suits Kara perfectly.

It feels like a gift from Rao, unexpected and needed. She tries not to get too attached to the idea, tries not to imagine saving up for actual furniture, staying in place for awhile. The apartment is ideal, the private courier job pays better than UPS. Craig next to her looking grossed out and Lena’s number in her phone - those are unexpected bonuses, the closest she’s come to being grounded in other people in a long time.

El Mayarah , she remembers - stronger together. She hasn’t believed that phrase in a long time, not when she’s so intimately familiar with the other side of it, with how weak you become when you are ripped away.

She doesn’t trust in this. Her life is tenuous and can’t afford roots. She’s uprooted, changed her name, and restarted four times in the last five years. It would be the height of stupidity to get attached to anything. But still….. she thinks about the money she’s got under her car seat, no longer needed for a security deposit, and turns back to Craig.

“You want to make an IKEA trip with me? I think I’d like to get a mattress.”

Craig wrinkles his nose. “We are buying cleaning supplies first,” he tells her firmly, and she laughs.

Later, after she and Craig have drunk a six-pack and spent three hours scrubbing down the floor and dancing to Beyonce’s new album, played in tinny quality over his phone, Sean comes back and knocks on her door.

Kara answers, but doesn’t actually let him in. She’s not supplementing her rent in sex - her new mattress deserves better.

That’s not what he asks for though. “Listen,” he says, “I know a lot of people in your situation. And I’m not pushing, not asking for more trust than you’re willing to give, but I just want you to know… if you ever want to reach out, I’m happy to introduce you around. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone can help more than you think.” He lets the silence sit for a moment, just blinks at her…. with a pair of translucent vertical inner eyelids.

All things considered, Kara thinks she’d have felt safer if he’d asked for sex.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says, and shuts the door.

**

‘Get coffee with me?’ Lena texts her a few days later, and Kara agrees, luxuriating in the fact that she can afford to go out and get coffee once in awhile now. When she’d been on minimum wage, meeting her caloric needs had required her entire budget and then some. The place she meets Lena is called Kopi Barrel, and it’s Kara’s least favorite kind of pretentious, which is to say overpriced and there aren’t even any comfy cushions on the chairs. It’s not the kind of menu that has sugary, fun drinks with nutella and pumpkin syrup and chocolate flakes on top. Instead it has about fourteen differently sourced espresso beans with descriptions like “a deeper, nuttier roast, with aftertastes of bourbon and tobacco.”

She orders the cheapest drip coffee available, and ignores the barista who is wrinkling her nose while Kara dumps in six sugar packets and a generous serving of heavy cream. She’s probably the only person in here all week to go for anything but the soy milk. Coffee appropriately doctored, she takes a seat and waits for Lena, watching the thin well-dressed people who come in on a Saturday morning for espresso to go. She takes a smug pleasure in being right - no one else goes anywhere near dairy.

“Kara, sorry I’m late, I got held up at work!” Lena slips into the chair across from her and sets down her bag.

“It’s…. 11am on a Saturday,” Kara reminds her, bemused. “Why did you even go into work to get held up?”

Lena winces. “Technically, I might never have left on Friday,” she admits, and Kara stares at her.

“That’s crazy. You don’t need coffee, you need a nap.”

“I need coffee and then a nap,” Lena says with a wry grin. “Otherwise the withdrawal headache will wake me up. Hold on just a moment, let me go order.”

“You’re going to die of heart failure before you’re 40,” Kara shoots after her, brushing aside the fact that she’d spent the first hour of her morning doing a McDonalds marathon, which was what she called it when she got 2 egg McMuffins at six different McDonalds so that nobody had the chance to notice her eating 12 McMuffins in a row. Alien physiology, it wasn’t the same at all.

“Do you even have an apartment, or do you just live at work?” she asks when Lena sits back down a moment later, balancing a coffee cup and two plates. She shoves one of the plates toward Kara - it has a chocolate croissant on it, and Kara feels the mcmuffins moving over to make room.

“I have a very nice apartment, thank you,” Lena tells her in a dignified tone. Then she breaks off a piece of her croissant and admits sheepishly, “I’ve probably slept in it fewer times than I’ve slept on the couch in my office.”

“So you did get some sleep, at least,” Kara says, unaccountably relieved. It’s not as though Lena’s well-being is her responsibility. She’s about ready to admit that Lena isn’t a monster. She is even tenuously ready to admit that seeing Lena, forming a connection between her present and her past, feels better and steadier than just floating adrift. That doesn’t mean she’s ready to invest herself beyond coffee.

“Some,” Lena agrees with a dimpled smile that makes Kara suspect that some is still less than a reasonable amount. “But enough about my workaholic tendencies, tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Yesterday I got sent to pick up and deliver a box of live lobsters,” Kara dutifully reports, since it’s about the most interesting thing that has happened in her life lately. “Only they didn’t tell me that’s what it was. I just about had a coronary when I heard them skittering around inside the crate.”

She leaves out the part of her story where she has X-Ray vision and was able to just look into the crate. She also leaves out the part where lobsters, under X-Ray vision, look a lot like a little poisonous blue arachnid they’d had on Krypton, one of the few animals that hadn’t been driven to extinction before Kara was born. As a child, she’d been terrified of them.

As an adult, it was still enough to make her screech and drop the box from 100 stories up, sending lobster parts in a brutal spray across the rooftop garden of an unfortunate penthouse.

Luckily, since company policy is that live animals, firearms, and medication had to be declared before delivery, Kara didn’t get in much trouble. She also didn’t offer Craig much of an explanation beyond, “the lobsters are gone,” and a dour glare.

Lena laughs pleasantly at the abridged version of the story that she gets, and they trade idle small talk for awhile. It’s easy - ridiculously easy. They’re the same age, and maybe they’re equally starved for social contact, because they dive into reminiscences about pop music and old television shows with unrivaled enthusiasm and intensity.

Kara’s surprised when she looks at her phone and realizes that almost two hours have passed. “I have to go,” she tells Lena apologetically, “I have an afternoon shift today.”

“I really enjoyed this,” Lena tells her, brimming with sincerity. “It’s nice to have a friend here.”

“Yeah,” Kara says. “I really enjoyed it too.”

**

Things settle. Kara likes her job - she likes that Craig lets her be as rude and sarcastic as she wants, and always seems to think it’s kind of charming. She likes her apartment, and being able to eat regularly. She gets a Costco membership. She gets used to the knowing, kind way that Sean looks at her when she hands over $100 every Monday, and she exchanges polite hallway smiles with the woman who lives in the other second-floor apartment. Kara doesn’t know her name, but she looks completely human - it’s only her body temperature that gives her away as something else, and only someone with extra-human abilities would notice.

She realizes abruptly one morning on her way to work that this is the first time in her adult life that she’s ever had a consistent routine. Not just a job - she’s held down jobs for longer than the eight weeks she’s worked as a courier - but the combination of a job, and an apartment, and acquaintances.

“Hey, you’re gonna turn straight around,” Craig tells her as she comes in through the warehouse, “your favorite customer called again. You need to pick up something from CatCo and bring it to L-Corp.”

Kara laughs. “They are literally eight blocks apart,” she says. “Someone at L-Corp could just walk over and get it.”

“Lena Luthor must be having a good hair day she wants you to see,” Craig says teasingly. He hasn’t let go of the idea that Lena became a regular client because she has a crush on Kara. It’s his favorite joke, and Kara thinks it’s for the best that she hasn’t mentioned her regular coffees and lunch dates with Lena to him. She doesn’t like to see a grown human forgo dignity like that.

CatCo has been a regular client since well before Kara started the job. Usually they call when they have heavy materials they need transported quickly, rather than the confidential documents that make up the majority of Kara’s deliveries. Cat Grant has assistants, and no qualms about making them run around the city on deliveries for her when it’s something a person can just carry.

Kara takes the elevator up, and Winn Schott’s face lights up when he sees her get off the elevator.

“Hey, Kara! How’s it going?” he asks, running a self-conscious hand through his hair. “How’s the delivery bizzz?” He emphasizes the z-sound, and then winces at his own extreme dorkiness.

“No complaints,” Kara assures him, letting the awkwardness slide past. “How’s life outside the dragon’s den?”

“Still terrifying!” he chirps brightly. “Her assistant’s out, I’ve got your pick-up though, hang on -” he grabs a thick envelope out from under a large container of m&ms and gives it to her. Kara’s surprised - she was expecting boxes. The weight of the envelop feels like photo paper. Before she can think too hard about it, Winn diverts her attention with an awkward chuckle. “Hey, so listen, I was thinking - maybe if you wanted to get a drink sometime…” he trails off and eyes her, trying to gauge her reaction.

Kara sighs, and has the wry thought that she’d had no idea being a delivery girl would win her so many suitors. No wonder the UPS uniforms are so ugly - it’s self preservation.

“It would be fun to be friends with you outside of work,” she tells Winn gently, because rejecting him outright seems too much like punching a kitten.

“Absolutely, friends, yes! That would be great.”  He takes her answer with good grace, nodding his head frantically to demonstrate his absolute coolness with the concept of friendship. Kara can’t deny that there’s something appealing about his extreme harmlessness. She can imagine how easy it would be to add Winn to the short list of people she feels safe around, but two friends in eight weeks is already moving at light speed, and she doesn’t feel ready to add a third one. There have to be limits. She manages to escape with her package before he can start suggesting times or places.

She walks the eight blocks to L-Corp. By the time she found a safe place to take off, shot into the stratosphere, and came back down, it would take longer than going on foot. She enjoys the sunshine, and the slow anticipation building in her stomach at seeing Lena, who had canceled their last lunch date when something came up in the office. She’s been busy working on some project, all lit up by it, which is a good look on her. Kara walks past a coffee shop that she knows is one of Lena’s go-to spots, and spontaneously stops to do some mental math. She’s almost reached the point where she doesn’t have to count every dollar to be sure she can feed herself, but it makes her nervous to waste money. Still, she goes in and buys a small coffee to bring with her - decaf , because Lena’s probably stayed at work overnight again, and maybe if Kara can trick her into skipping a caffeine dose, Lena will let herself take a nap on her couch. That would be worth two dollars.

The security guards wave her in without even making her show ID, well used to Kara’s presence at L-Corp now, and Kara doesn’t even stop for Jess’ permission anymore, just gives her a quick wave and heads down the hallway into Lena’s office.

“Hey,” she says, leaning against the doorway. Lena is sitting on her couch tinkering with some little device that looks a bit like a computer mouse, and she looks much happier than she ever looks behind her desk juggling paperwork. Their burgeoning friendship hasn’t really mentioned that first encounter, but seeing Lena on the couch - the couch which still has that stain - brings it to the forefront of Kara’s mind. She can’t help but remember the way Lena tastes, the eager way she’d submitted to Kara’s control.

But then Lena smiles at her, all friendship, and Kara pushes those thoughts aside. They belong to a different, darker path than the one she and Lena have chosen to go down together.

“Kara, come in! That coffee isn’t for me, is it?”

“It is,” Kara assures her with a smile, “and so is this.” She hands over both the coffee and the envelope with a flourish. Lena puts the envelope aside and takes a deep pull from the coffee cup, heedless of the fact that it must still be boiling hot. Then she fixes Kara with a dark look.

“I can taste the difference, you know,” she says.

“I don't have any idea what you're talking about,” Kara proclaims, and then gives herself away when she asks disapprovingly, “when was the last time you slept?”

Lena smiles at her. “I slept,” she promises. “In my bed, for about six hours.”

Humans are supposed to get eight hours of sleep a night, and Kara’s sure Lena knows that, but it's better than she was expecting so she lets it slide.

“What are you working on?” she asks instead, nodding at the device on the table, and Lena beams at her, all lit up with enthusiasm again.

“It's an alien detection device,” she explains, and waves for Kara to take a seat next to her. “See, look,” she places her thumb on a white-lit circular indentation, and after a moment the device blinks green. “That’s the negative response - shows that I’m human.”

“Oh, uh….” Kara’s mouth is suddenly too dry. “How does it work?” She can see what’s coming, and she hopes desperately that Lena will say it takes a blood sample, because if the needle can’t penetrate her skin it will probably give a false negative…

“Just a simple skin swab,” Lena tells her with a smile, and then she holds the device out. “Here, give it a try.”

Kara doesn’t move.

“I thought you were different,” she admits, and her voice comes out flat, a little strangled. She’s glad it isn’t full of all the watery disappointment she’s feeling.  

Lena’s eyes narrow. “What do you mean?” she asks, and Kara struggles to articulate something that won’t give her away entirely. I trusted you , wants to burst out of her, and she’s embarrassed, because up until this moment she hadn’t realized that she did.

“You said you didn’t believe in all the bigotry and violence CADMUS spreads,” she finally manages to say. “Who do you think is going to buy something like this? People who want to hold a Free Ice Cream for Aliens day?”

“I don’t think violence is ever a solution, you’re right. But if humans want to know who among them isn’t actually human, don’t you think they deserve to?” Lena’s voice has picked up, taking on that note of passion that Kara has always found so attractive when she hears it over coffee. She feels sick. Some of that feeling must be showing on her face, because Lena’s expression hardens a little in return.

“I’m a business woman, Kara - ultimately, my job is make money, and this device is going to make L-Corp a fortune.” Lena stands abruptly, moving from the couch back to the chair behind her desk, putting some extra distance between her and Kara. Kara takes the opportunity to shift her glasses, scanning the little device, frantically looking through the wiring. She has time for one well-placed burst of laser, severing what she hopes is the correct wire. “I don’t believe in violence, but like my brother, I do believe I’m doing this for the good of the world.”

Kara manages a smile, and Lena’s shoulders relax a little as she smiles back. “So?” she says, and holds out the device.

Kara’s heart stops. Does it make sense for Lena to still be pushing for Kara to try this device? What does she suspect? There’s something intense, something eager lurking behind the casual mask on her face.

This is a set-up, Kara realizes. Lena asked her to pick up this package specifically because she needed Kara in her office for this. And it’s a good one - if Kara refuses to participate, she’s as good as confirmed Lena’s suspicion. Even if she managed to fry the right wire - and she’s not sure she did - there’s every possibility that Lena will notice later, and figure out that Kara must have done it to protect herself. She’s been well trapped. But another moment of silence will give the game away too, so Kara returns Lena’s smile with an equally fake one of her own, and takes the device.

“Here goes,” she mutters, and places her finger on it, praying that she’s managed to… the light blinks green.

Something flutters on Lena’s face. Confusion? Disappointment? The micro-expressions are gone faster than Kara can interpret them. “See?” Lena tells her, smiling. “Works perfectly.”

The conversation sits heavy in Kara’s chest as she trudges back to work, walking for awhile because flying suddenly seems like a stupid risk to be taking every day. She realizes that without quite meaning to, she’s been picturing a future where Lena knows her secrets. She’s let herself forget who Lena really is, who her brother is. She’s felt like a connection built on coffee and N’Sync is something that could be strong enough to matter in the face of everything else that’s going to batter against it.

She’s been pathetic - she’s let desperation and loneliness make her stupid. She doesn’t have a future. She has this moment, with coffee and friendship and a sense of home, but there’s no way for it to last. There is never going to be a time when Kara gets to stop hiding, stop running.

When she enters the warehouse, Craig has the news playing on the battered television that provides background noise.

“ - two alien criminals apprehended today by CADMUS,” the anchor is saying, and the video clip shows two people with black bags over their heads, being shoved roughly into a car. One of them is injured; the clip zooms in on the clumpy green mess of drying blood on his sleeve.

Kara tries to look away, but her super hearing won't let her ignore the sound completely. It's like someone is whispering in her ear, a steady intimate flow of, “while alien apologists insist that there are very few aliens living among us on Earth, recent capture rates by CADMUS are starting to poke holes in their claims. Live with us now is anti-alien expert Robert Ives, a scientist from the LexCorp extraterrestrial research division whose findings suggest that the alien menace is already here. Welcome, Robert..”

“Kara! Kara?” Craig’s voice breaks through the stream into her hearing, and his face swims into view. Judging by his expression, he’s been trying to get her attention for awhile. “Kara, are you ok?”

“Don’t feel well,” she mutters. “I think I need to go home.”

“I think so too,” Craig says, “you look like you’re about to pass out. I don’t think you should drive, OK? Hang on - I’ll get someone to give you a ride to your apartment on their next delivery, let me see who’s scheduled to go in your direction.”

The news never said what crime either of those aliens committed, Kara realizes bleakly. They probably hadn’t done anything but try to exist as something other than human. But then, that’s all it takes to earn Earth’s hatred. She’s known that since Kal.

Kara knows that she’s the last surviving Kryptonian. It occurs to her suddenly to wonder, though, if either of those people were from planets she knew. They could have been from somewhere she visited as a child; or at least, they could have shared her memories of the cosmos. If Kara really thinks hard, she can remember walking through the famous gardens on Deria 4’s moon with her father. She remembers the way the light of Deria turned lavender through the moon’s artificial atmosphere, how it played along the pale, strange plants, and along her hair, and made everything look like jewels.

“Kara, c’mon, let’s get you into the car,” Craig says, and guides her forward.

When Lena’s device goes to market, it’s going to be easy to round up the rest of the aliens on Earth. It might already be how CADMUS found these two; Lena wouldn’t wait for technology to be market-ready before she shared it with her brother.

Soon Kara will be the only person left on this whole planet who remembers those gardens, and not long after that, she’s going to be dead too. She doesn’t doubt that she’ll be one of the last survivors - it’s the role she’s played her whole life. She follows Craig out the door.

Kara doesn’t even know the name of the woman who’s giving her a ride, but she seems nice enough. She has mousy brown hair, and she keeps shooting Kara worried looks. Kara had been hard to get into the car, she realizes - she hadn’t meant to be. Something about the afternoon has pushed her outside of herself, a few steps left of reality.

Still, by the time they pull up to her apartment building, she’s gathered herself together enough to manage a smile and a muttered, “thanks.”

“Are you sure I shouldn’t take you to the hospital?” the woman frets, and Kara just steps out, letting the sound of the car door shutting behind her act as a response. Sean is outside the building fucking around with the garbage cans, and he gives her a depressed little wave. He’s seen the news too, she realizes, and feels a sense of solidarity wash over her. They’re all facing the end together.

“I don’t know how many more days like this I can see the back of,” she tells him. His eyes widen slightly; Kara has never admitted to him before that she isn’t human, but it feels important to say it today. It feels sickening to hide by pretending to be one of the enemy. “I just…. I’m so tired of this.”

Sean nods. “I know exactly the tired you mean,” he tells her.

She starts to go through the door, and something stops her. She turns back around. “Hey,” she says. “Did you ever visit Deria 4?”

Sean looks startled, looks around a little to make sure no one is listening, but then he smiles a little. “I never did - I remember seeing holos of the moon, though. They were in our science texts when I was a little kid. It’s gorgeous, I’ve always wanted to go.”

Kara smiles, and lets herself be grounded.

Chapter Text

The sound of knocking wakes her, and Kara aims bleary x-ray vision at the door. Lena Luthor is fidgeting in her hallway.

“What….” Kara checks her phone. It’s 3:38 in the morning. The prior day comes tumbling back into her consciousness, clumsy and unwanted. She groans, and rolls off her mattress. Did Lena notice the broken wire in her prototype and show up with accusations? It’s possible the game is up. Abruptly woken in the middle of the night, Kara can’t find it within herself to be frantic. If Lena has found out the truth, then Kara will deal with it however she has to.

She rolls to her feet, flips the light switch, and pulls the chain out of the lock, opening the door.

“Hey,” she mutters. Lena promptly goes pink under the dim hallway light.

“Uh…. do you know, this is actually the first time I’ve seen you without pants?” she says, which is when Kara remembers that she’s been sleeping in her underwear. “That’s a little bit funny, considering...” she trails off, realizing she is venturing too close to forbidden conversational territory

“Hang on,” Kara says, and she leaves the door open for Lena to follow her as she pulls a pair of sweatpants out of the Clean Enough To Still Wear pile and shoves her bare legs into them. She’s wearing a tank top, but this is going to be awkward enough without excessive cleavage, so she digs for a sweatshirt as well. Behind her, she hears the door click shut, and when she turns back around fully dressed, Lena is leaning awkwardly against it looking around.

This is potentially an apocalypse-level moment, but Kara still finds room to be a little embarrassed at having a millionaire in her studio apartment.

“I, uh…. don’t really have any chairs,” she says, “but you can sit on the mattress if you want. Should I make coffee, is this a coffee kind of a 3am conversation?”

“Coffee sounds good,” Lena answers. She slips her shoes off before settling onto Kara’s mattress, which is very polite, and Kara puts a pot of water on the stove to boil, pulling her jar of instant coffee out of the fridge.

She almost speeds the water to a boil with heat vision just from habit, but she remembers in time that her sanctum has been breached, aborting the motion and reaching for a chipped mug out of the cupboard instead. She only has two mugs and one is dirty, so she gives it a haphazard wash and makes a mental note to be sure to hand Lena the other one.

Doing things the human way is so slow. Eventually, maybe decades later, the water boils, and Kara can dump it over the coffee flakes and stir, putting nutella flavored creamer into her own (dirty) mug and leaving Lena’s black.

She settles next to Lena on the mattress, careful not to spill as she leans back comfortably on the wall, and hands over the correct mug. Ignorance seems like the best way to play it - there’s no point in tipping her hand. She doesn’t know for sure yet what Lena is going to say.

“I’m sorry to come over so late,” Lena says. She looks tired and soft in the dim flickering light of Kara’s one bulb, and she’s staring into her coffee mug as though it contains profound wisdom, instead of Folger’s Instant and the UPS logo.

“You must have had something on your mind,” Kara ventures, when Lena doesn’t seem inclined to go further than her apology.

“Yes,” Lena agrees. She’s silent for just a moment longer. “I’ve been thinking about what you said to me earlier, about what my detection device could be used for….”

Kara’s hopes dim. She really is caught, isn’t she?

“I wanted to tell you that I’m killing the project. We’re not going to put it on the market,” Lena tells her.

There’s a beat while Kara’s expectations screech to a halt and switch directions to crash back into reality. “You’re not?” she breathes.

“I’m not,” Lena confirms. “I - I don’t know if you saw the news today, but CADMUS captured two alien criminals…”

“Just aliens,” Kara interrupts, “unless they’ve committed a crime the news didn’t bother to report.”

Lena hesitates, and then nods. “Two aliens,” she corrects herself. “And I thought about you watching it. I thought about how much my device would contribute to that, how one morning you’d turn on the news and see a lynch mob, see people dead or hurt, and you’d - you’d know to hold me responsible. Maybe you already did, for the two today. And I couldn’t bear that, so I - I got in my car and I came over to tell you that I’m not going to do it. The first thing I’m going to do tomorrow is destroy that project.”

“You’re canceling it for me?” Kara asks. She’s grateful, but confused too. The situation is turning back and forth fast enough to give her emotional whiplash. Lena nods, taking a thoughtful sip of her coffee. Her lips twist slightly at the taste, and she sets it down on the floor. Kara has the wild thought that it’s possible Lena has never had instant coffee before in her entire life.

“I’m canceling it because I trust you,” Lena tells her. She looks like she isn’t sure what to do with her body now that she isn’t holding a mug - she pulls her legs up to her chest, resting her arms on her knees. “I … I walk a difficult line sometimes, Kara. I’m a Luthor, but I want to be a good person. Sometimes I think that at the end of the day, it’s not possible for me to be both. I’m frightened of myself a little, frightened of what I might become.”

Kara puts her coffee aside and puts a tentative arm around Lena’s shoulders. She isn’t sure this is the right thing, isn’t used to comforting people, but Lena drops her head into the crook of Kara’s neck and lets Kara wrap her other arm around her in a hug. It occurs to Kara that as much as she’s not used to being comforting, Lena is equally unused to having anyone who will comfort her. Maybe that’s why Kara’s tentative efforts seem good enough.

“You are a good person, Lena,” she says, and she knows that it’s true. Despite everything, despite what Lena is a part of, she’s so good . “If you weren’t, your life would be a lot easier than it is.” Maybe Kara’s would be too. It was a lot easier to see the world in black and white before she knew that the sister of a murderer could giggle with her over coffee.

Lena gives a watery laugh. “That’s one way to look at it,” she agrees. “I don’t know if I can believe in myself that way, Kara, but I believe in you. That’s why when you tell me something I’m doing is wrong, I’m going to listen.”

Kara lets herself hold Lena a little tighter. She’s warm in Kara’s arms, fragile the way that all humans are, and immeasurably precious. She has no idea that when they’d first met Kara had wanted to hurt her - that for an instant, she had genuinely thought about how easy it would be to snuff out Lena’s fragile life.

“I’m not what you think I am,” she says. She wishes she was - in the dim light of 3am, it’s easy to wish for a world in which she could be as good and courageous and kind as Lena Luthor thinks she is. “I’m a very broken person.”

“So am I,” Lena tells her quietly. “But I’m going to keep believing in you, Kara. So if you keep believing in me too, maybe it’ll make up for all the ways we can’t believe in ourselves.”

**

When Kara wakes up, the sun is coming in brightly between the slats of her blinds, creating a mess of light and shadow across her apartment. She knows immediately from the quality of it that it must be at least 10am, which means that she is at least an hour late for her 9am Saturday shift.

The second thing she figures out is that there is the heavy weight of a body slumped across her right side. Lena Luthor is curled over her, her head bent at an awkward angle to rest against Kara’s breast. Her mouth is open, and there’s a spot of drool on Kara’s sweatshirt. Kara smiles, and it feels disconcertingly normal to just be glad that Lena is sleeping, because she knows that her friend is sleep deprived as a long-term lifestyle choice. Careful not to wake her, she rearranges Lena so that she’s lying comfortably on the pillow, and then she gets up and finds her phone.

The screen cheerfully lets her know that it’s 10:38, and that she is in fact almost two hours late for work. She’s got three missed texts from Craig. One was sent at 8:28 that morning and says, “how u feeling? Call in sick if u need 2, u cant lift boxes thru the heat w the flu or u will die lol.” The next one is from 9:14 and says, “guessing u arent coming in today, but plz confirm.” The third one is from 9:52 and says, “are u alive? Ive marked u down as out sick, if i dont hear from u in the next hour im gonna bang down ur door to see if u need ambulance.”

She sends him back a text that says, “Sorry - sick enough to sleep right through my alarm. Think im out for the day, but ill be back for my monday shift,” and does not mention Lena Luthor asleep in her bed, although she’s fairly sure Craig would sell his left testicle for that information.

She turns off the screen of her phone and plugs it in, feeling a little at loose ends, trying not think about 8 hours of lost income that she can’t really afford. It should be OK, if she’s careful. She wasn’t expecting a day off work, or Lena in her apartment. For lack of any other plan, she washes out the coffee mugs from the night before, careful not to let them clank in the sink, although she doubts it would be enough to wake Lena up - she looks dead to the world.

She follows her morning routine, mostly because she's not sure what else to do. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thinks that she could still go into work, get at least a few hours of pay back. She knows she isn't really going to, when Lena is here. Still, she takes a shower, brushes her teeth, wrinkles her nose as she considers her clean clothing options. She should really do laundry later. She shrugs and pulls her tanktop and sweats back on, checks her phone.

‘Ok, get some rest, lemme know if u need anything’ Craig has texted her. It’s a little after 11am. Lena probably meant to be at work for a minimum of 3 hours already, but Kara is reluctant to wake her. She guesses that they’d fallen asleep last night around 4:30 or 5, which means that Lena has still only gotten about six hours of sleep. Lena can afford to take off one Saturday morning. Anyways, Kara is a little tired herself - she doesn’t wear down to exhaustion without sleep the way that humans do, but sleep is refreshing in other ways, and after the emotional ride of the day before, Kara feels justified in lying down next to Lena and pulling the blanket back over herself. Her damp hair begins to soak the pillow almost immediately, and she closes her eyes and prepares to take a short nap.

Lena rolls over as though even in her sleep she has sensed Kara’s return. She latches on, grabbing a handful of the loose fabric of Kara’s tank top as her head settles into her apparently preferred sleep-spot on Kara’ chest. Despite herself, Kara giggles a little, and runs a fond hand through Lena’s hair. Lena’s eyes flutter open, and she directs a sleepy glare upward at Kara’s face.

“Time is it?” she mutters.

“Don’t worry about it - go back to sleep,” Kara tells her. Lena sighs and nods, seeming to accept that, but her eyes don’t close all the way again.

“You showered,” she murmurs, reaching up to tweak at a wet strand of hair. “No fair, I bet I smell funny.”

Given permission, Kara lets herself linger on the way that Lena’s scent is wrapped around her bed. Her sense of smell is as heightened as everything else, and it tends to be the one that gives her the most grief. She doesn’t like the way humans smell, especially when they think they’re at their cleanest. They become a sharp jumble of scented shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and perfume. It’s nicer later in the day, when sweat has wiped most of it away.

Lena smells like herself mostly at this point, with just a few remaining notes of yesterday’s perfume. “You smell amazing,” Kara promises her fondly, and Lena smiles up at her. Loose limbed and pliant and disheveled, she sends a jolt of emotion through Kara that is indefinable and profound. She doesn’t seem like she’s in any hurry to detangle herself from Kara’s side. Her hand, which had been wrapped in the fabric of Kara’s shirt, begins to idly move, playing absently with the fabric and running her thumb across the bare skin of Kara’s stomach.

It tickles a little, but Kara’s afraid that if she draws attention to it, Lena will stop, so she holds her stomach as still as she can. She reaches out and tries a gesture of her own, tangling her fingers into Lena’s hair and scratching her head, the way she might pet a kitten. Lena has about the same reaction the kitten would - her eyes flutter shut, and she hums in pleasure. “Don’t stop doing that,” she demands sleepily. Her hand grows bolder on Kara’s stomach, like she understands that she has been given Kara’s approval. She abandons her hold on Kara’s shirt and slips under the fabric entirely, her fingers moving in soothing strokes, just firm enough to no longer tickle.

Kara sinks into the moment, lets her eyes close as well. Lena is warm pressed against her side, and she can feel sunlight across her body, seeping into her. Lena’s hair is soft, the kind of thick, straight hair that doesn’t tangle as Kara runs her fingers through it. Lena’s hand on her stomach is leaving tingling warmth in its wake as she draws patterns across Kara’s skin. It’s just enough stimulation to keep Kara from falling into sleep, letting her mind float in a liminal, drowsy space. Then Lena’s fingers brush across the underside of her breast, and Kara’s breath catches in her throat. Suddenly, she’s not sleepy at all anymore.

She glances down, and sees Lena looking up at her through her lashes. Slowly, deliberately, she does it again, running her thumb upward, until it is almost close enough to brush Kara’s nipple, until her breast is cupped in Lena’s hand.

“Is this okay?” she asks softly, traces of sleep still lingering in her voice, and Kara manages a nod.

“Good,” Lena sighs, and continues to stroke softly. The motion isn’t hurried, isn’t leading anywhere, but something hot is building in Kara anyways, pooling beneath the surface. “I wasn’t sure, but - I’ve wanted to touch you for ages.

“You have?” Kara asks, a little shy at the revelation. It had been one thing to believe Lena was attracted to her before they knew each other. It’s another to hear it now. Kara has wondered once or twice, when Lena’s head was thrown back in laughter, or when she’s been giddy with excitement, what it would be like to swallow that smile in a kiss. She’s never let herself linger on the thought. On some level, she’s felt that sacrificing that possibility is a just punishment for her crimes - for a mistake she’d made that could so easily have done irretrievable harm.


She gets to keep Lena, gets to keep the smiles and the coffee and the warm beautiful complexity that make up this brilliant woman. She would never have dared to ask for more.

“I have,” Lena confirms. And then her head shifts, tilting upward, and Kara leans in to let their lips meet.

They trade soft kisses, shallow closed-mouth pressing of lips, as Lena’s hand continues to explore below Kara’s shirt. Any escalation would require movement, would require detangling themselves to find a better angle, and neither of them are inclined to make that trade.

Still, when Lena pinches Kara’s nipple between two fingers, Kara’s mouth falls open in a stuttered gasp. She can feel Lena smile against her, and then she does it again, rolling her fingers. “Can we have this off?” she asks, and then she moves at last, pulling Kara’s tank top up. Kara helps, yanking it the rest of the way over her head and off her arms, and then Lena’s mouth is on her, replacing her fingers, and Kara sighs and lets her head fall back and just focuses on enjoying the sensation. Hot, wet kisses over her breasts and stomach, as Lena takes her time drawing a lazy downward path until finally she is mouthing at the edge of Kara’s sweatpants.

“Can I?” she asks, and then laughs at Kara’s hasty nod. “You know, I never got my turn last time we did this,” she murmurs. “I think I’ve been very patient.”

“But I get a turn too, right?” Kara remembers to ask, before Lena’s tongue drives all thought from her mind.

**

Afterwards, Lena falls into a light doze, a testament to how eagerly Kara tried to wear her out. It’s Kara’s turn to cling, holding Lena to her and fretting as the afterglow fades. This was a mistake. There are any number of ways for this situation to play out, and as far as Kara can see, none of them can end well.

Her stomach interrupts the impending panic by growling loudly. Against her, Lena chuckles, and Kara tries to figure out how she’s going to eat a minimum of 5000 calories without Lena getting suspicious.

“I’m hungry too - can we go out for something? My treat,” Lena says. She stretches, leisurely. Despite her fear, Kara is charmed by the way that Lena arches against her to do it - not like she’s being seductive, or even cute, but more as though their bodies have become shared property, as though Lena doesn’t think twice about her right to use Kara’s abdomen as a springboard. Somewhere in the jumble of sleep and sexuality, lines of ownership have been blurred. It’s disastrous, but it’s also a treasure.

Lena cements this impression by rolling over after her stretch and letting her arm flop lazily across Kara’s face. Indignant, Kara bites.

“Hey!” Lena laughs and sits up, reclaiming her arm. “None of that, I’m starving - let me use your shower for 2 minutes and we’ll go, ok?”

“Just use my towel on the rack, I haven’t got a spare clean one,” Kara says, and can’t help but enjoy the view as Lena saunters off naked into the bathroom. Lena’s ass is a work of art, and Kara decides her panic can be put on hold for at least another hour while she gets something to eat.

She takes the opportunity to scarf a bologna sandwich while Lena showers, and feels like she might be able to limit herself to a number of calories that is excessive but not actually alien when they go out.

The panic starts to infringe on the edges of her mind again as she meticulously cleans her plate, making sure there’s no sandwich evidence left to give away her alien appetite. How can she possibly expect to keep her secret if someone like Lena Luthor feels comfortable being naked in her apartment? The little slips are bound to add up. Later , she tells herself firmly. She will deal with it later.

They go to a little diner a couple blocks down the road. It’s practically empty at 2pm, even on a Saturday. Kara has wanted to try it, because it always smells like cinnamon when she flies by, but she hasn’t been able to justify the expense. With Lena paying, she happily orders an enormous platter of cinnamon pancakes, extra bacon on the side.

The diner is brightly lit, with bright green padded benches and shiny linoleum floors, and when the waitress brings Kara her pancakes they come in a thick stack. The whipped cream is not only piled on top, but also sprayed in a thick circle around the plate. Lena gets salmon on a bed of spinach, and they both eye each other’s food with fond exasperation. Kara has to stop and mentally revise her own I could get used to this , because the truth is, she’s already used to it, and it’s possible that everything is ruined.

“You’ve just gone from ecstatic about pancakes to looking at me like I’ve kicked your dog,” Lena informs her quietly. “That’s not how I’m used to you looking when you have food in front of you.” She’s trying to tease, but there’s an undercurrent of hurt in her voice, and it’s unbearable to know that Kara put it there.

“Lena…” Kara starts, and then stops, because she doesn’t actually have a next line. “I don’t know what I want to say, yet,” she admits. “I’m panicking a little about what all this means. I might need some time to sort it out before I can be good at this conversation, and I - I want to be good at it. I want to be good for you.”

“You have been so good for me,” Lena tells her earnestly. “I want to be good for you too. We’re - I mean, we’ve talked about this. Neither of us did half as well on our own as we’ve been doing together, right? I was miserable here until the day you showed up in my office.”

“Me too,” Kara admits. She hadn’t known until Lena how unhappy she has been. These moments of lightness that Lena gives her - they would be a lot to sacrifice in the name of secrecy. She shovels pancake into her mouth, to avoid the obvious conclusion - that no matter how much she wants this, she can’t really have it.


Lena’s canceling her detection device for Kara. She trusts Kara. Isn’t it possible that maybe, someday down the line, she could be trusted in return?

“Can we just let this be the good thing that it is?” Lena asks. “We can eat pancakes, and get coffee, and have sex when we both feel like it, and just see where we end up. It doesn’t need to be anything to panic over, does it?” Her eyes are pleading.  Kara almost has to laugh - a beautiful woman is sitting across from her, buying her pancakes and begging her to accept everything she wants most in the world. And here she is, thinking of saying no. So what if it may backfire down the road? She wants to let herself have it while it lasts.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” she says. The whole world tastes like cinnamon. She grins and offers a bite across the table. Lena rolls her eyes but takes Kara’s fork. Her eyes flutter shut for a moment in bliss, and Kara laughs.

“Eating could be like this for you all the time if you’d just ditch the kale,” she reminds Lena, who raises an eyebrow at her.

“Don’t think I didn’t see you staring at my ass earlier,” she informs Kara. “Either you get that view, or I get cinnamon pancakes everyday - you can’t have it both ways.”

“There is no circumstance on this Earth where your ass stops being sexy,” Kara promises, and hands over another bite of pancake. And yeah - she’s always been willing to enjoy things that are bad for her. Why should this be any different? “Don’t think I’m going to make a habit of sharing my food with you, just because you’re good in bed.”

Lena excuses herself to go to work after breakfast. “I made a promise to you, and I intend to keep it,” she says, and Kara watches her go and lets herself hope.

**

Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes being with Lena is easy, and sometimes just having Lena around makes life easy. Other times, Kara wants to run and never look back. She has a sneaking suspicion that she can’t run, that there are too many things tying her here now. The thought makes her claustrophobic, practically brings on a panic attack, and sometimes she is on the verge of throwing everything she can into her car and taking off, just because she needs to prove to herself that she could .

One Tuesday, after she’s been working at her job for five months and dating - not dating, just a close friendship that involves a lot of sex and cuddling - Lena for almost three, Craig brings her a cupcake at work. “Happy birthday,” he tells her with a grin, and then looks confused by her confusion. “I got it off your paperwork,” he explains, and she remembers that it’s Kara Smith’s fake birthday.

For a moment she imagines telling him that Eliza had helped her and Alex with the calculations once and concluded that her birthdate was actually December 3rd or 4th. She thinks of telling him that it’s a day she uses to reflect, to remember the religious traditions of her people and to grieve accordingly. On Krypton, it was tradition to drop stones into water in memory of your loved ones - the water would slowly wear away at the stone, smoothing them out the way that time smoothed out your grief and left you with something softer. For the past four years, Kara has gone to the beach and thrown rocks into the sea. It would be nice to have someone with her - on Krypton, grief was never meant to be held alone. El mayarah.

She gets herself under control and smiles at him. “Chocolate is definitely the way into my heart,” she proclaims, and doesn’t wait to stuff the cupcake into her mouth, taking a comically large bite. It’s rich , frosted with dark chocolate ganache, the kind of gourmet luxury that deserves to be savored rather than shoved into her mouth at top speed. But Craig is laughing at her, and Anne, the woman who gave her a ride home once, comes over to laugh too, so Kara makes a point of dramatically shoving the rest of the cupcake in, letting her cheeks bulge out like a chipmunk.

Nothing has ever been as dangerous to her secret as having people she wants to trust. But it has been five years, and she thinks that maybe her grief is starting to smooth out.

She has a delivery to L-Corp in the afternoon, which is often a high point of Kara’s work week, even though she and Lena have instituted a strict no-sex-in-the-office policy. This one’s not even ordered by L-Corp - someone else is sending a package to Lena through them, which means Kara will be a surprise.

Jess waves her back when she arrives, but Lena’s not in her office. Well - she’s probably run to the bathroom or something, Kara decides. If she were actually out of the office, Jess would have said so and signed for the box herself.

She sprawls on the couch to wait, idly looking around at Lena’s knick-knacks. There’s something emitting a high pitched technological sound, nowhere near loud enough to be picked up by human ears, but mildly irritating to someone with super-senses. She’s fairly certain it’s new, and she looks around for it, wondering how hard it would be to ‘accidentally’ break whatever it is.

She doesn’t see it anywhere.

There’s a sudden sense of foreboding. What would suddenly be emitting a sound like that in Lena’s office that she can’t see? She looks at the box in her own hands, and then in a spurt of paranoia, pushes her glasses down and tries X-raying it.

The box is at least partially lead-lined, but she can make out a jumbled box of what looks like wiring. She’s almost positive that it’s where the sound is coming from, though she can’t totally pinpoint it. She leaves her glasses off, looking around the rest of the room for anything else that could be doing it. Nothing but the usual L-Corp tech, and then there, in the vent above Lena’s desk -

It’s a bomb. It’s primitive by Kryptonian standards, but it certainly looks capable of doing the trick. The trigger is wired to what looks like a very basic radio, and that’s what’s waiting to pick up the sound being emitted from the box. It’s a receiver.

Kara has a sneaking suspicion that she has just delivered the remote transmitter. It’s a clever enough way to make sure Lena’s in her office. The package is delivered, and the lead lining keeps the signal from reaching the detonator. That is, until Lena opens the box, at which point the signal escapes and the bomb goes off.

Someone is trying to kill her.

Kara’s supersenses go into overdrive. She feels almost calm. It’s the work of an instant to hover above Lena’s desk and pull the cover off the air vent. Only a second longer to sever the wire between the receiver and the trigger with a well-placed burst of heat vision.

She’s got to get rid of the explosives entirely. Kara has a Kryptonian science background that puts her well ahead of the average human, but she’s not a munitions expert. She’s not convinced that she’s fully deactivated the bomb, and even if she has, she can’t just leave a deactivated bomb sitting in Lena’s office. What happens the next time Lena is working on some invention and a spark comes too close to her vent? Kara thinks her best bet would be to take the bomb well out to sea and detonate it, but she hears footsteps across the floor - Lena’s on her way back. If she comes in, how is Kara going to explain how she found the bomb in the first place? She jams the vent cover back on.

Lena has to know that someone is targeting her - they might try again, she has to be protected. But what can Kara tell her? How can she say that she knew the bomb was there? She can't admit to finding it in the vent. Lena’s a tech-genius - maybe if Kara just delivers the box as though nothing is wrong, Lena will open it and recognize a transmitter. She might very well discover the bomb on her own. But what if Kara hasn’t done a good enough job deactivating it? What if Lena opens the box and it still goes off?

She doesn’t have time to make a fully thought out decision. She jams the box into her messenger bag as Lena walks into the office, her eyes lighting up. “Kara! I wasn’t expecting to see you today.” She pulls Kara in for a light kiss and Kara obliges, almost on autopilot. She’s known Lena for five months now, and still, every time she sees her, she thinks all over again that she’s never seen anyone else so beautiful.

When they pull back, Lena smirks at her. “Do you know you have chocolate on your mouth?” she asks.

“Oh,” Kara laughs, rubbing at the corners of her mouth with her finger. “Craig got me a cupcake - did I tell you it’s my birthday?”  

Chapter Text

The plan is simple, Kara decides. Lena needs to know that someone is trying to kill her, but Kara can’t tell her outright without giving herself away. The easiest thing by far would be for Lena to figure it out herself. That means all Kara has to do is go back to L-Corp when Lena’s office is empty, make sure the bomb is completely disabled and harmless, and then leave the package with the detonator on Lena’s desk. Lena will come in the next morning, find a suspicious package, have security do a sweep of her office, and everything will be revealed. And then surely Lena’s security guys will take care of it, won’t they? Lena’s the 23 year old CEO of a branch of the most controversial company on the planet - she must be very used to handling death threats.

It’s almost fool proof, but Kara can spot one fatal flaw: her plan hinges on Lena still being alive by morning. That doesn’t seem like a safe assumption. Kara feels like her head is filled with bees, buzzing in a swarm. She’s trying to keep her thoughts in order, to be logical around the buzzing, but she finds it difficult to tell the difference between her rational and irrational panic. Who would have the ability to get a bomb past the security guards and into Lena’s vent in the first place? Who says they’re going to wait until morning to make another attempt? Kara’s not exactly an expert - maybe there were 19 other death traps in Lena’s office that she’d missed. Maybe Lena’s desk was coated in poison.

“You’re practically vibrating - is this what sugar does to you?” Craig asks her. “No more cupcakes for you, ever.”

“This is good energy,” Kara assures him, though it is definitely not.

“It’s manic energy. Do you realize that your foot is bouncing right now? Do you feel like you have the ability to make that stop?”

“I will make it stop by pouring all this energy into my job, because that is the kind of stellar work ethic I have. I deserve a raise.” The witty banter is a habit she’s grateful to be able to fall back on; it’s easier than coming up with real conversation around the buzzing.

By the time Kara’s shift ends, she has completely lost the ability to think straight. She has kept one super-powered ear on L-Corp the entire afternoon, listening with an edge of hysteria for the sound of an explosion, or a gun shot. It’s draining, to divide her focus for hours at a time. She’s tired.

It’s with inexpressible relief that she takes off from the parking lot of the warehouse and settles herself silently onto L-Corp’s roof. It’s a little after six, and everyone who’s unimportant enough to work normal hours has left. Kara zooms in on Lena’s heartbeat, a comforting and familiar rhythm that stands out to her among the crowd. She follows her hearing with her vision, looking through the layers of concrete and insulation until she finds Lena, though from this distance the view is hazy and incomplete. Kara thinks from the shape of her that she’s sitting behind her desk, working at her computer.

She sighs and settles in. If Lena’s security guards don’t know that Lena is in danger, then Kara will do their job for them for the night. Once she sees that Lena is home safely, Kara can come back and deal with the bomb.

She gives a little explosive laugh. Deal with the bomb. This is her life, this is what she’s gotten herself into. She was supposed to be in hiding. Instead she started literally sleeping with the enemy, and now she’s on a rooftop using her superpowers to watch for potential assassins. It’s crazy. She’s gone crazy.

Below her, the image of Lena blurs and shifts, and it takes Kara a moment to realize that she is stretching dramatically in her chair, pulling her arms over her head and rolling her neck from side to side to loosen it.

She probably slept on the couch again last night, Kara thinks with warm exasperation. Forget assassins - Lena mostly needs to be protected from herself. Somehow, for better or for worse, Kara has taken on both jobs.

The sun slowly sets, and the number of heartbeats echoing through the building below Kara diminishes. Kara eats the emergency protein bar she keeps in her bag, and listens as the last two people on the 8th floor get into the elevator together. That leaves Lena, four maintenance workers, and three security guards.

It’s going to throw a kink in Kara’s plan if Lena decides to spend the night in her office again. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? It’s not like it isn’t a regular occurrence - she’s developing a theory that Lena only leaves her office when Kara makes her.

It’s nearing ten o’clock. The rooftop is a boring place for a stakeout under the best of circumstances, and now that it’s dark she can’t even enjoy the sunlight beating against her. With a scowl, Kara decides that Lena gets one more hour before Kara drags her home herself and then finds an excuse to backtrack. She settles herself more comfortably against the wall and digs through her bag, hoping to find another protein bar even though she knows she only had the one.

She’s checking the clock on her phone for the 80th time in fifteen minutes when she hears footsteps pause on the sidewalk below. Not on the side of the building with the main entrance - outside the maintenance door.

It could be someone coming in for a late night cleaning shift. Kara doesn’t want to stick her head over the wall and just look - she’s not interested in explaining to anyone who sees her how she got onto the roof in the first place. She peers through the building with x-ray vision instead, sees a female figure paused outside the door, doing something with her hands. It’s difficult to make out any useful details through the layers of concrete.

It’s not until the woman pushes the doors open and makes her way purposefully down the hall that Kara figures out what the motion was - she was picking the lock. She turns left toward the service elevator and Kara gets a different angle; she’s able to make out the gun on the woman’s hip.

This is her. This is the person responsible for the bomb, undoubtedly coming to see why there was no explosion. In a spasm of panic, Kara vividly remembers a cartoon Alex had shown her not long after she landed - “there was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom.”

And Lena is still in her office. There is every chance that when this woman finds her there, she’ll pull out that gun and finish the job.

Kara doesn’t really have a plan, but she she jumps over the side of the building, and silently flies after the woman through the forced open maintenance door.

She doesn’t quite set her feet down in the hallway, ghosting along the floor in a motion that is half-running, half-flight. She hopes it looks relatively human on any security footage, but that ship has probably sailed - she doesn’t really think she’ll be able to take down a gun-wielding assassin without using any of her powers. Her only hope is that the security guard isn’t paying his whole attention so late at night. Maybe, if she is very quiet and very lucky, nobody will even notice her.

The service elevator is just closing as Kara reaches it. She curses, and abandons her attempts to look human altogether, speeding back out the door and then vertically alongside the building, counting windows to the 78th floor. She uses heat vision to cut a circle in what she hopes is the correct window, hopes that the noise hasn’t reached Lena across the floor, and dives through. There’s a lot riding on hope tonight. She turns into the dimly lit elevator bay as the red digital display above the elevator switches to 64, and is relieved to see the number 78 painted in peeling white on the stairwell door. She waits, almost vibrating with terror, as the display counts up with agonizing slowness. And then at last, Kara squares her shoulders and prepares to do whatever she has to. The elevator doors open, and she gets her first real glimpse at her opponent.

Alex Danvers is standing in front of her.

She looks startled at first when she sees Kara, her hand reaching automatically for the gun at her side. And then Kara sees the moment when recognition hits, sees the way Alex’s face goes pale.

She’s wearing a black uniform, Kara registers dimly. She’s not taking out her own vengeance on the Luthors, the way Kara had wanted to once - she’s working for somebody. She takes a shaky step forward, off the elevator.

“Kara….” she breathes. There’s something shining in her eyes, some agony that Kara can’t bear to see, but there’s no question that her half-baked plan is in ruins. She’s not going to hurt Alex Danvers. Could never, in a million years, lay so much as a finger on her.

But she’s not going to let Alex shoot Lena, either. That only leaves one person left to sacrifice.

Kara flees, racing back down the hallway faster than any human, and crashes through the door into Lena’s office hard enough to take it off its hinges. Lena jumps to her feet, startled, her chair crashing to the floor.

“Kara, what -” is all she gets out before Kara has swept Lena into her arms and crashed out onto the balcony. She bids Kara Smith a silent goodbye before taking off into the night.

**

She lands outside her own apartment, because she doesn’t know where else to go. It’s not like it makes a difference at this point - Lena already knows where she lives.

Lena also currently has her arms wrapped around Kara’s neck in a stranglehold, but Kara’s pretty sure it’s not an attack. Lena, she knows, hates flying even when it’s in a plane.

She needs to be planning her escape. She should be throwing her meager possessions into her car and then, depending on what she thinks is more of a risk, she should either be driving it to another state, or she should be lifting it over her head and aiming for Eastern Europe.

Not 5 minutes ago, Alex Danvers was standing directly in front of her.

She can’t think about that. She tries to pull her scattered thoughts into something resembling a functional order. Before she thinks about anything else, she has to deal with-

“Let’s go inside.” Lena detaches her arms from Kara’s neck and takes a few shaky steps toward the door, waiting for Kara to unlock it.

“Lena -” Kara starts, as though there’s any sentence she could follow up with that would fix things.

“I already kind of knew,” Lena tells her wearily. “Inside.”

Kara unlocks the door and gestures Lena ahead of her, following her through the dim hallway and into Kara’s apartment. There’s still nowhere to sit but the mattress. Lena has been surprisingly good over the past months about not offering to buy Kara things, although Kara can sometimes see her itching to purchase surprise furniture. The first month they were dating, Lena kept finding casual ways to mention the existence of loft beds.

It would feel awkward to sit together on the mattress now, though. Intimate. Kara has too much nervous energy jittering through her to sit anyways. She leans briefly against the counter, but finds herself up again a moment later. Lena leans against the door and watches Kara twitch. She doesn’t seem inclined to start any conversation, so Kara dives in.

“What do you mean you already knew?”

“Well, I didn’t know, but I suspected. I’ll admit, you threw me off when you passed as human to my detector.”

“I fried the wire,” Kara confesses, and Lena nods once, shortly.

“Which means you have the power to fry wires,” she points out, her voice taut. “Do you have all the same powers as Superman?”

“His name was Kal,” Kara answers. “He was my cousin.” The manic energy abruptly leaves her and she slumps, lets herself sit on the floor. One way or another, this is likely to be the last conversation she ever has with Lena. That hurts. If one thing has been made astoundingly clear by the course of the day’s events, it’s that Kara loves her a crazy, stupid amount.

Lena mirrors her motion, sitting down against the door. She looks wary and exhausted, but there’s something else in her face that Kara wasn’t expecting, some hint of softness. “You haven’t dropped a single hint to me in five months,” she says. “And then suddenly tonight you felt the need to crash me through a window and fly me to your apartment? I feel like there might have been better ways to go about the reveal, Kara.” Her lips quirk in something that could almost be a smile. “Does your airline have a customer suggestion box?”

Shit. She’s smiling. She’s smiling because she thinks maybe Kara just decided to trust her, that this is a poorly planned lover’s confession -

Kara stares at her, and the burgeoning smile on Lena’s face falters. In the chaos and fear and grief, Kara somehow lost track of the fact that Lena still doesn’t know. Well - Kara has to tell her before she leaves, obviously. She decides to rip the bandaid off quickly.

“I pulled you out of your office about eleven seconds before an assassin got there,” she says bluntly, and Lena’s eyes widen.

Kara describes the events of the day as quickly as she can. She explains how she found the bomb, and her subsequent stakeout on the roof, but she leaves out Alex’s identity. She pretends that she hadn’t noticed Alex until it was almost too late, and makes it sound like she jumped straight from the roof into Lena’s office. The security cameras will make a liar out of her almost immediately, but she won’t reveal Alex.

When she finishes, Lena is pale, but she doesn’t look overly panicked. She must be very used to death threats.

“The explosives are still in the vent?” she asks, her voice neutral.

“Unless that hitman removed them,” Kara confirms.

“Alright - that will make things easier to explain without bringing your name into it,” Lena decides. “I’ll have to erase some security footage before I bring things to my security officers. And come up with a story about my door. ” She eyes Kara. “You realize that if you’d been able to go through with your initial plan, we still would have had you on tape finding a bomb in my vent and freaking the hell out?”

“Oh. I…. forgot,” Kara admits, and Lena shakes her head. “Look, I don’t spend a lot of time around bombs, ok? This has been new and alarming territory for me!” She doesn’t ask about the part where it seems like Lena is planning to cover for her. She’s not quite ready to touch that yet. Especially since it may change when Lena goes into the footage and realizes that Kara still won’t trust her with the whole truth.

“Thank you…. for saving my life,” Lena adds softly. And then, looking away from Kara to focus intently on the wall, she adds, “I do understand why you didn’t trust me with this before. I’m a Luthor - it’s a lot to ask.”

“I do trust you,” Kara promises, but she can’t even convince herself that that’s true, so she amends it. “I trust you as much as I know how to trust anybody. I’m cautious from years of nightmarish experience, and you’re not exactly a full-blown left-wing equal-rights-for-aliens activist. But it’s been a long time since I’ve held your name against you, Lena. I swear.”

There’s a long beat of silent. “My mother is the head of CADMUS,” Lena says, and Kara stares at her, stunned. Lena is still focusing on the wall. “The hand holding the puppet strings? It’s hers. There’s - Kara, you’re angry about the violence you see on the news, but you have to understand, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is a secret war raging through our country.”

“I know,” Kara says numbly. “I - they killed my family.”

Lena nods once, doesn’t push for more information about that, though it’s the first time Kara has ever revealed anything to her about her past. Kara is grateful. “Between Lillian and Lex, I’ve been raised at the heart of the violence,” she says. “As I got older, I didn’t agree with it, but I didn’t know how to - how to escape being a part of it. They’re my family. And then I found out, almost by accident, that a woman living in my building was part of a resistance effort.”

“There’s resistance,” Kara repeats. She doesn’t know why she’s stunned by the fact, why it hadn’t occurred to her before. Lena called it a secret war; a war requires two sides.

“There’s a team of people - they call themselves the DEO. They’re not really government sanctioned anymore, but they started out that way. They’re the remains of the government organization that interacted with aliens before CADMUS’ rise to power, before US extraterrestrial policy became so violent.”

“And they’re the ones trying to kill you?” Kara asks, because it makes sense. It makes sense that such an organization would target Lena Luthor, and it makes sense that Alex Danvers would grow up and join them.

But Lena is shaking her head. “I don’t think so,” she says. “The thing is, I realized that this woman in my building was working for them - I think she was planted there to keep an eye on me. And one day my mother told me they’d found this bar that aliens were using as a meet-up, and they were going to gas it, and I thought about a lot of innocent people getting killed for no reason, for stupid reasons. And I went, and I knocked on my downstairs neighbor’s door, and I told them what was about to happen.”

“You joined them. You’ve been on their side this whole time,” Kara breathes. Lena shakes her head.

“No. I - Kara, I wasn’t lying about the line I try to walk. My family wants to do good, and I believe that they have the power to do good. I believe in Lex - I’ve believed in him since I was three years old, and he took the time to love me when no one else would. I pass information on sometimes to mitigate the violence, to curb the worst excesses of Lex’s methods. But I can’t betray him, he’s my brother.

Her voice cracks. Kara watches as she loses some inner battle, as the tears begin to spill silently down her cheeks. But I’ve just betrayed my sister, she thinks, and doesn’t know what to say.

Except maybe she hasn’t betrayed Alex at all. Maybe she’d placed her faith in the right person, and Lena had lived up to it. But if Lena is feeding information to the resistance, then why was Alex sneaking into her office with a gun? It doesn’t make sense. Pieces of the puzzle are still missing.

“It’s not a betrayal of Lex to try and keep him from crossing the line into genocide,” she tells Lena. “It’s the best gift you can give to him. I can’t -” her voice cracks, but she gets herself under control. “I can’t agree with you about him. And I can’t forgive him for the harm he’s done me. But life’s not as black and white as we’d like it to be - loving someone who does harm keeps you living in the gray areas. You’re a good person, Lena, even if you love a bad person. I’ve known that, and I still know it.”

Lena nods once. She doesn’t look as though Kara’s words have fully sunk in, but she doesn’t argue them.  “There’s another piece that I should tell you,” she says instead. “About why I thought you were an alien in the first place.”

“I slipped up somewhere?” Kara asks. She’s betting that it was her rooftop landing, right after the first time she and Lena met. But Lena shakes her head no.

“I was already on the lookout for you,” she explains. “The organization I work with - the DEO - they asked me to watch for any mention of a blonde alien called Kara. They didn’t even know what country you were in, but CADMUS keeps tabs on a lot of aliens, and they were hoping you’d pop up in the registry. They mentioned you specifically - it’s one of the only times they’ve come and asked me for specific information. And then this blonde delivery girl called Kara lied her way into my office, and it seemed like too big a coincidence. But - I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to contact the DEO until I was certain, and they told me you were in hiding, so I thought you’d spook easily if I started asking questions.”

“So you decided to get to know me,” Kara realizes.

Lena looks ashamed. “That’s why I pushed so hard for our friendship in the beginning, yes,” she admits. “But the more I got to know you, the more I realized how incredible you are, how much I could - could care about you. And I don’t even know what they want you for - even if I confirmed that you’re the one they’re looking for, I couldn’t just hand you over to them.  I decided I had to know, and I shoved my detection device at you. I was so relieved when it said you were human. I thought it meant that I could put my subterfuge behind me, and just care about you properly.”

She sounds so remorseful, Kara can’t help the bitter laugh that escapes her. “So neither of us started this friendship out with totally above-board intentions,” she says. “You can stop looking quite so guilty - I think it’s clear that I still win the Asshole Competition. I mean - you have to realize that I was still holding you accountable for your brother when I fucked you on your couch that first time.”

They both flinch as Kara says it. It’s a deeply unpleasant truth to have open in the room, and she regrets it almost immediately. Her guilt has been aching for a chance to come out, to come clean, but just because it’s good for Kara to confess doesn’t mean it’s good for Lena to hear the confession.

“I can understand why you’d take your anger out on me,” Lena says almost neutrally. “And you didn’t do anything to hurt me, really. As I recall, it was very enjoyable.”

“Don’t do that,” Kara tells her. “It’s the worst, most horrible thing I’ve ever done in my life. You don’t have to forgive me for it.”

“I do, though,” Lena says. “Forgive you, I mean. Like you said… it’s not black and white. And I - I trust you not to hurt me now.” Kara shudders under the logic. She thinks it must be the same thing Lena has said to herself about Lex, every time he inflicts another wound. She doesn’t want to be another bad person that Lena loves.

They both fall silent for a moment. There’s a lot to process.

It must be well after 11 o’clock. The lights aren’t on in Kara’s apartment. Somehow leaving them off just seemed like the thing to do, after revealing her secret in an attempt to save her girlfriend from a shadowy hit squad.  Kara isn’t sure what the next step should be. Does she have to run? Lena’s going to find Alex on the security tape. If it comes down to a battle between the two of them, Kara isn’t sure what she can do. Sacrificing herself seemed like an easy third option - staying and dealing with the fallout is harder. She’s not at all sure anymore that Alex is responsible for the bomb, which means there’s a third party involved that could, for all Kara knows, come crashing through her window at any moment.

But - “can I hug you?” she asks, and Lena laughs.

“Always,” she says, and Kara nudges herself across the floor to join Lena by the door, pulling her into her arms. Lena clings immediately, rearranging herself until she is basically in Kara’s lap, her head under Kara’s chin.  “You know, this explains how you manage to eat like crap and have this body.” She runs her hand along Kara’s arm. It’s an excuse to touch, Kara realizes, but that doesn’t keep the genuine thread of envy out of Lena’s voice. Despite Lena’s constant protestations to the contrary, Kara’s fairly sure that nobody actually likes the taste of kale.

“I love you,” Kara says. If this is the last good moment they have together, she wants Lena to know. “I know that’s not exactly the arrangement we agreed to, but I just - however this turns out, I want you to believe me about this one thing.”

Lena sighs, and seems to melt even further against her, like she’s trying to enter Kara’s skin. “I do believe you - I did before you even said it. I see it in your face everyday. No one’s ever loved me like you.”

It’s more tragedy than romance, of course. Lena should have been loved her whole life. Although Kara aches for her, she’s glad for this evidence that Lena does know, on some level, that what Lex shows her isn’t love. Not really. Real love has to do less harm than that, doesn’t it?

And of course, despite secrecy and lies and mistakes between them, Kara’s seen it on Lena’s face, reflected back to her. She doesn’t need Lena to say it to know that Lena loves her too.

They hold onto each other for a moment longer, and then Lena sighs. “As life affirming as this is, we probably have to deal with the bomb in my office, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Kara agrees, but doesn’t make any move to let go just yet. “Lena,” she starts, and then hesitates. “Your contact at the DEO, the one who said they were looking for me - what’s her name?”

“Agent Danvers - Alexandra Danvers,” Lena answers. “Why?”

**

Lena insists on driving them to the DEO. “I think I’ve had enough flying for one day, thank you,” she tells Kara firmly, and steals the key to Kara’s pontiac before Kara can put together an objection.

Kara hasn’t told her why the name Alex Danvers makes her shake, and Lena is being very patient about not asking. She hasn’t even pushed against Kara’s insistence that they contact the DEO before going back to Lena’s office, though Kara can see the questions bubbling behind her eyes.

So it seems only fair that she gets to drive, if she wants. They take the highway all the way out to the edge of town and then drop off it onto side roads that stretch into the desert. Not long after that, they go off the road entirely. Lena keeps glancing at a compass on her phone, her lips moving silently as she does some kind of mental math.

“I’m not actually supposed to know where this place is,” she admits after awhile.

“But you figured it out,” Kara answers. She’s not asking a question. Of course Lena figured it out. Lena is smart , in a constant, cutting way that few people can match.

“I thought it might be important to know one day,” is all Lena says on the matter. She stays silent a few more minutes, and then finally asks. “I’m not going to press for details. It’s alright that there are things you aren’t ready to tell me. But I need to know - when we get there, are you going to be in trouble, Kara?”

“I don’t know yet,” Kara says. She’s not sure why she can’t tell Lena that Alex is her sister. The secret is likely about to come out of the bag, and Lena is already on Alex’s side. Lena, in fact, knows far more about Alex Danvers than Kara does at this point.

She just can’t. Out of loyalty, out of guilt, out of shame, out of habit - there are a thousand reasons why Alex Danvers is something that stays locked up inside of her, invisible and omnipresent. Kara realizes how much she’s been lying to herself, when she thought she’d put the past behind her. Alex has been with her every day for the past five years, a wound lurking just below the surface.

For as long as the drive lasts, Kara can leave her there.

It’s almost three hours before they pull through a barbed wire gate. About a mile past it, a series of squat tan bunkers rise out of the ground, like stunted sentries. They look dilapidated, abandoned, but as Lena pulls closer Kara can see that the guardhouse is occupied.

The guy inside it is comically startled by their approach, pulling out his gun. Seeing two beautiful young women in the car does not seem to lessen his confusion. “Who the hell are you?” he asks, abandoning whatever protocol he is undoubtedly meant to follow. Well - Lena said the DEO wasn’t military anymore.

“We need to speak to Director Henshaw,” Lena says, leaning out the car window. Kara spares a moment to be glad she left it rolled down - she doesn’t think that a military guardhouse would have been the ideal place for Lena to discover that the button doesn’t work.

“How do you know that name?” he demands.

“We’ve been in contact through one of his agents,” Lena tells him shortly. “I’m Lena Luthor - please radio him and tell him I need to speak to him immediately.

The guard squints at her. “Well I’ll be damned,” he says. “You sure are. I’m glad to see you here, ma’am - we’ve had people looking for you.”

Lena’s face remains a mask, but Kara can see that she’s unnerved by this comment. She stays silent as the man exchanges a few messages over his radio, muffled within the walls of his booth. Her hand creeps over to clench at Kara’s thigh, and Kara covers it with her own, doing what she can to provide silent comfort.

After a minute he pokes his head back out. “Wait here, please - we’ve got some escorts coming to bring you in.”

Lena nods, once, and Kara waits for him to retreat before murmuring, “you know that I won’t let anybody hurt you, right?” She tries to sound confident, like she believes that her superpowers are an equal match for an entire defunct military base. She must pull it off at least a little, because Lena smiles at her.

“Ditto,” she says, and Kara smiles too. She might be the one who can fly, but if one of them is cut out to be a hero, it’s definitely Lena.

The escort is less terrifying than Kara was picturing, somehow. It turns out to be four guards, all wearing the same black uniform Alex had on earlier in the night - further confirmation of just who Alex is working for. Kara is deeply relieved not to recognize any of them. She and Lena allow themselves to be led through the maze of tunnels into an elevator that pulls them deep underground.

She does recognize the man who greets them as they come off the elevator. He’s tall, black, and would have an almost avuncular face if his uniform wasn’t so intimidating, but it’s his pointed ears that help Kara place him in her memory. They’d struck her as odd when she was a child, and she’d seen him speaking to Jeremiah in the Danvers’ living room. She hadn’t known humans came with ears that shape.

He’s not even looking at her, though - his focus is on Lena. “Ms Luthor, I’m glad to meet you in person,” he says gravely. “I’m Director Henshaw - let’s go into the conference room, there are some things we should discuss.” Almost as an afterthought, he nods in Kara’s direction. “Ms Danvers, I’m pleased to see you as well.”

“Ms Danvers?” Lena repeats, and Kara avoids her eye as Henshaw leads them through the oddly blue-lit halls.

They settle in a small room with a round metallic table at the center. It looks like the kind of place mission briefings might take place. Lena takes the opportunity to elbow her as they sit down. “Ms Danvers?” she hisses again, and Kara shrugs.

She still doesn’t really know why Alex has been looking for her. Once she finds out, maybe she’ll be able to explain herself to Lena.

Seeing that she’s not going to get any immediate answers out of Kara, Lena turns her attention to Henshaw. “Your agent told me that you’ve been looking for me,” she says, as though that’s the reason that they’ve shown up here in the dead of night. Kara admires how smooth she is. She doesn’t sound frightened at all - she sounds in command.

“We have,” Hank tells her. “We sent an agent to your office earlier to collect you. We’ve been concerned for your safety - intelligence came in that Mr. Luthor was planning an attempt on your life.”

Something in Lena’s face hardens. “Mr Luthor,” she repeats. “You mean Lex…. my brother.” When Henshaw nods, Kara sees the fury that Lena is trying to contain break open across her expression. “My brother wouldn’t try to hurt me.”

Whatever response Henshaw is about to give is interrupted by an abrupt slam. Kara jumps to her feet before she even realizes it’s the sound of the door hitting the wall.

Alex Danvers is standing in the doorway, her breathing heavy. There’s a moment of unbroken silence, and then her face shatters.

“Kara,” she says, and crosses the room to pull Kara into her arms.

It’s the last thing Kara’s expecting - maybe because she hasn’t dared to let herself even consider it as a possibility. Alex’s arms are rough and stiff, hanging onto Kara with the kind of desperation that doesn’t leave room to consider any of the mechanics. It takes Kara a moment to shift them, until she can get her arms around Alex’s back in return and pull her sister against her properly, their faces pressed into one another.

Alex smells like guns and sweat. At least one of them is crying, Kara can tell from the wetness on her cheek, but she isn’t sure which of them. She can’t pull back far enough to find out.

It’s a good moment. A good moment.

“I’ve missed you,” Kara croaks, and just hangs on.

Chapter Text

“We have inside information that Lex is moving ahead with the next phase of a project code-named Myriad,” Alex tells them grimly. “We don’t know what it is - nobody within LexCorp seems to know. Whatever it is, it’s been handled outside the corporation so far.”

“You mean handled by CADMUS?” Kara asks, and Lena shakes her head immediately.

“LexCorp and CADMUS are affiliated politically, but they don’t work together much. For personal reasons.”

“That’s not what our intel has suggested,” Alex says. “For example, you’ve been able to give us insider information on both. How exactly are you saying you find out CADMUS’ plans if Lex isn’t involved in them?”

Alex’s tone is accusatory, and there’s something sharp glinting in her eyes. Lena seems taken aback by it, and Kara’s willing to guess that it isn’t the norm for their interactions. She wonders if Alex’s hostility has anything to do with her. Alex’s emotions seem wound tight - for one thing, she has refused to let go of Kara since she came into the room. Even now, her hand is clenched tightly around Kara’s wrist. If Kara didn’t have superpowers, she thinks Alex would be bruising her.

“I said they don’t work together, not that there are no open lines of communication,” Lena snarls back. “Lex wouldn’t trust CADMUS with anything important to him, and vice versa.”

It’s a tense situation. There’s Alex, who Kara loves and would die for but who is basically a stranger, clinging to her and glaring around the room. There’s Lena, who Kara loves and would go so far as to live for, who is vibrating with misplaced defensive outrage on behalf of her mass-murdering brother. There’s Hank Henshaw, who Kara doesn’t know at all and whose impassive face adds a note of intimidation to the room. If it didn’t feel so life-or-death, it might have felt a little funny. Kara has always been able to find humor in extremes.

“Enough,” Hank says. “This is not what we’re here to discuss.” He eyes Lena steadily, with none of the hostility visible on Alex’s face. “Regardless of anything else, we have evidence that your brother orchestrated the attempt on your life, Ms Luthor. He hired a man named John Corben to assassinate you, and preferably to make it look like the work of an alien resistance group. Mr. Luthor has become aware that our organization is centered near National City - I believe he has also become aware that you may be less sympathetic to his cause than he hoped. He requires uncensored access to National City in the coming months, and you are in his way.”

“He figured out that I’ve been talking to Agent Danvers?” Lena asks. Her voice is tight with misery, though Kara can see that she’s scrambling to get her mask back into place. She wants to reach out to her, comfort her - but that’s not what Lena would want with this audience, and anyways, Kara is held in place by Alex. She’s not about to pull away, not about to do anything that might disrupt the unexpected gift of Alex’s love. Kara’s got her sister back, and Lena has lost her brother.

“We don’t think so,” Hank says. “But he knows you reported that an alien detection device you designed was too unreliable to be put into use, that it consistently gave false positives. You falsified lab reports to back you up - Lex had access to the original reports. Something about Project Myriad requires him to become more active in National City. He isn’t confident you’ll back him up.”

“Those reports were destroyed thoroughly. He’d have to have spies planted within my company,” Lena says. She’s almost found her way back to a neutral expression, but there’s a shakiness in her voice that still gives her away.

“He does,” Alex says. “At least four. Your secretary is one of them - she helped Corben plant a bomb in your office, and was able to tell him that there was a courier who was regularly allowed to bring packages directly to you without any kind of security sweep. When we found out, we thought we were in a race against time to get you out of that office before you opened the transmitter he’d sent you.”

“You’d have been too late. Luckily, I had other protection,” Lena says, with a sideways glance at Kara. She blatantly doesn’t address anything else Alex has just said. Based on everything she knows about Lena, Kara thinks that she is probably more shaken by the idea of Jess’ betrayal than almost anything else that has happened so far. Somehow, through the simple power of routine and familiarity, Jess had made it onto the list of people Lena trusted.

“Is Corben familiar to you?” Hank asks Lena, and she nods.

“Yes - Lex has used him several times in the past for high profile problems,” she admits. “If he found out I was working against him, Corben would be his first call.” Kara thinks that against her will, Lena is becoming convinced. Perhaps she has always known, on some level, that Lex would hurt her if the situation called for it. Self-deception is a valuable coping method, as Kara knows all too well.

Henshaw nods. “We’re trying to track Corben down,” he says. “I think under the circumstances, it would be wise for you to stay here for the night. You must be exhausted, Ms Luthor - there is undoubtedly a great deal for you to think about, but it will hold until morning.”

Lena shoots Kara a look - it’s lost and pleading. “I’ll stay with you,” Kara says at once, and Lena nods.

“Alright. I accept your hospitality, director - thank you.”

“Kara, can I talk to you for a bit?” Alex asks. She still hasn’t let go of Kara’s wrist. Kara’s immediately struck with nerves. She has a bizarre urge to say no - if she never actually talks to Alex, nothing can ruin this moment of reconciliation. Just as their parting was preserved for five years, she wants to preserve this reunion, let it sit in her memory untouchable. Alex standing next to her, a living person, involves more nuance and complexity than Kara is entirely prepared for at 2am after what was, by anyone’s standards, a somewhat trying day.

There’s also the fact that she’s just promised to stay with Lena, who despite her calm expression is obviously shaken to her core.

“I will escort Ms Luthor to guest quarters,” Hank says calmly. “Perhaps Ms Danvers can join her there once the two of you have completed your business.”

“Of course,” Alex says, and Kara sends Lena an apologetic glance before following her sister out the door.

Alex leads her through winding halls into what looks like a science lab. It’s got a couch in the corner, and Kara guesses that this is Alex’s primary workspace. Five months of Lena have made her very familiar with the kind of couches that belong to people who refuse to stop working long enough to use an actual bed. This one has a squashed pillow on one side, and a large quilt folded haphazardly and slung over the top.

Alex finally lets go of Kara’s wrist, and for a moment, Kara wants to grab her hand and refuse to let them separate. With that connection broken, she’s reminded that Alex is a stranger to her now. This muscled, uniformed woman bears only a passing resemblance to the pale seventeen year old Kara remembers. As a teenager, Alex had always been solemn and a little awkward, like she found Earth high school almost as difficult to navigate as Kara did. As an adult, she fills her own skin. She’s gone from cute to beautiful. That odd, sullen anger that surrounded her in her teen years has been pointed toward a cause, and it has transformed her.

Kara reaches out and lifts a lock of her hair. Alex’s eyes flutter shut in response - the level of emotion between them is unbearably heavy, and Kara’s ready to break it. “You cut your hair,” she says a little weakly. “It looks nice this way - shows off your bone structure.”

Alex laughs. “Yeah - makes me look about five years older than I did, which is a plus. Mom would be so pissed - do you remember when I wanted to cut it short sophomore year?”

Kara grins. “Her issue wasn’t with the idea of short hair and you know it. You wanted a mohawk to go with those stupid spiky pants,” she retorts, and then stops, startled by her own pleasure. She hasn’t remembered anything pleasant about Eliza or Jeremiah in years. She's been too busy managing her guilt.

Alex is watching her with unspoken understanding in her eyes. “It’s nice to talk about them with someone who really remembers them,” she says. “Hank knew Jeremiah for awhile, but - he honors their memory. I hate always thinking about them as early martyrs to a cause. Sometimes it’s nice to remember the five hundred ways Mom used to piss me off, and just enjoy being irritated with her.”

“I’m sorry, Alex,” Kara says. “For everything. You lost your family because of me.”

“Kara, no.” Alex reaches for her, grips her shoulders. “It wasn’t your fault at all. It was CADMUS’ fault, and Lex Luthor’s fault. I’m the one who needs to apologize - I should have protected you better. Mom would have killed me for sending you off. You were just a kid.”

“So were you,” Kara points out. “I’ve never blamed you - you probably saved both our lives by sending me away.”

“I should have gone with you,” Alex answers miserably. “I’ve been looking for you practically since the moment you left. But I was seventeen, and a ward of the state. By the time I had any resources to search for you, the trail was impossibly cold. I tried every stupid thing I could think of. I even asked Lena Luthor to find you, I thought CADMUS might have kept some kind of tabs if you hadn’t hidden well enough.” Her eyes narrow. “I guess she found you and didn’t bother to tell me.”

“She was trying to protect me,” Kara explains. “You didn’t tell her why you wanted me - she wasn’t sure it was for anything good.”

Alex laughs, a low ragged sound. “I guess I can’t blame her for that,” she says. “I’m glad you had someone looking out for you, even if it couldn’t be me. Have you been with her this whole time?”

“I met her a couple months ago,” Kara says. “Through my job - I’m the courier they used to blow her up. I didn’t know she knew you until I found you in the elevator. Not even then, actually - I figured you were probably the person who planted the bomb.”

“So you ran to pull her out of harm’s way,” Alex concludes. “You couldn’t have stayed put for five minutes to ask me?”

“I should have. I’m sorry. I never expected to see you again - I didn’t think you ever wanted to see me,” Kara admits. She hears the wobble in her voice and looks away, ashamed. Alex’s grip on her shoulder gets tighter - Kara thinks Alex wants to hug her, but isn’t sure how well Kara would receive it. Kara’s not sure either.

“Of course I wanted to. I never stopped looking for you,” Alex reiterates, her voice fierce. “Kara, you’re my family.” Alex’s voice breaks on the last word, and suddenly both of them are crying, and Kara decides, fuck it , and pulls Alex tightly against her.

“You think our relationship is gonna involve this much crying all the time?” she asks, and Alex laughs wetly into her shoulder.

“I’m hoping we find our way back to the dynamic where you’re perky and irritating, and I’m exasperated but tolerant. That worked well for us for a few years, didn’t it?”

“Funny, those aren’t the descriptors that come to mind for me,” Kara says. “Actually, if I had to pick one word to describe you as a teenager -”

“Nope. Stop.” Alex cuts her off with a firm hand over her mouth, and maybe they’re both trying a little too hard to pretend they still know each other, but at least for now it’s working. Kara is warmed by the familiarity of the gesture. “Listen - the one benefit of being tragically orphaned is that there’s never anyone around who remembers what I was like as a teenager. If anyone asks, I’ve been a badass since birth, got it?”

“Got it,” Kara promises solemnly, and suddenly everything feels a thousand times less overwhelming, because damned if she and Alex don’t have the same stupid coping mechanisms. Her stomach grumbles, and she looks hopefully at her sister. “If this place has a cafeteria and you take me to it, I will tell everyone there that you rescued me from the school playground with your fists of fury.”

“This is a military base, we call it a commissary here,” Alex tells her loftily, and leads the way.

**

“What’s next for you?” Alex asks Kara, as they settle at a table in the nearly-abandoned commissary. There’s nothing available at this time of night but some pre-packaged foods and fruit. Kara has seven peanut butter and jelly sandwiches stacked on the tray in front of her, and some chocolate milk to go with it.

“Well - step one, see how many of these sandwiches I can fit into my mouth at once,” she says, since she doesn’t know the answer to the question Alex is actually asking.

“Not what I mean, and you know it,” Alex says mildly. She pulls open the pack of oreos she’d picked up and pulls one apart, biting into the half with the frosting. “You said you’ve been working as a delivery girl - do you want that to change, now that you’ve found us? The DEO does a lot to help aliens. We could get you better paperwork, forge you an identity solid enough to go back to school on, or whatever you wanted to do.” She takes a deliberately casual bite of cookie and swallows it before adding, “or you could make a life out of helping us here. If anyone has a right to this cause, it’s you.”

Kara,already down to five sandwiches, doesn’t have an easy answer. The idea of staying by Alex’s side, of fighting for a better world, of seeking justice for Eliza and Jeremiah - it’s all tempting, but at the same time, it feels unrealistic. She’s spent five years honing her ability to run away from danger. She’s not sure whether she has it in her to stand up and fight. For herself, for Lena, even for Alex, she thinks she could do it. She’s familiar with the motivation that desperation provides. But for strangers? She’s not ready to martyr herself - perhaps it’s selfish, but she feels like she’s already sacrificed as much as anyone should have to.

The other offer, of a permanent identity and the ability to build a life for herself, feels more within her grasp. If she’d stayed on Krypton, she would have been in her top-level of education with the science guild by now. One of her favorite things about Earth when she first arrived was getting to take classes on so many different things. She liked drawing - she’d been so excited when Eliza told her she could go to school for art, if she wanted to.

She doesn’t want that now, but still - she’s in love with having open doors in front of her.

She puts the entire terrifying subject aside until she’s ready to deal with it, shifting gears to the other topic that’s burning in her mind. “What about Lena?” she asks. “If Lex is trying to kill her, then she’s in real trouble. Can the DEO help her?”

Alex sighs. The commissary lighting is dim, maybe out of respect for the hour, maybe just because powering an entire secret underground base has its logistical problems. She pulls apart the rest of her cookies as she thinks, and Kara is distracted by the graceful lines of her fingers, by the shadows that emphasize the sharp adult planes of her face, by the way that Alex chews at her lip. She soaks in the details.

“We’ll help her as much as we can, but our resources are limited, and billionaires aren’t our priority,” is what Alex finally says. “And I know you won’t want to hear it, Kara, but the truth is that Lena may not be completely on our side. You heard her defending her brother in there, right?”

“She loves him. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s on our side. She’s a good person, she wants to do the right thing,” Kara defends. Alex’s eyes pierce her.

“She loves him, but she loves you too, right?” she asks. “Just as much as she loves Lex. I don’t think it’s down to morality for her, and I don’t think it is for you either - I think you want to have faith that she’ll choose you over him. And to be honest, Kara, I’ve known Lena for longer than you, and I think your faith is misplaced.”

“You’ve known her longer, but I know her better,” Kara says. Alex isn’t totally wrong - Kara does want to believe that Lena would pick her over Lex. But Lena isn’t the kind of person who makes her decisions so simply. She does what she thinks is right, no matter what it costs her.

“It would be easier for her if she did choose Lex,” Alex points out gently. “She could cut ties with us, give him a working alien detector, and go back to her life, if she wanted to. We might be able to keep her alive,  but there’s no outcome here where she chooses you and gets to go back to her cushy penthouse afterwards.”

It’s true. Lena has walked the line between her beliefs and her family as far as it goes. She’s going to have to make a decision. Kara wants to think Lena will choose the right thing. She wants to be confident, to have faith in her. And she does have faith in Lena’s goodness. It’s Lena’s perspective that she’s not sure about. Lena has grown up steeped in some confusing ideas about what’s right and what isn’t.

“I know her,” she says again. And yeah, she does know Lena - that’s the problem.

“Alright,” Alex says. “I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I hope you’re right about her. What I really wanted to say was just that, you know - you’ve got a place here, if you want one. No matter what happens, with any of this, I don’t want to lose you again. I want you to stay in my life, ok?”

For that, at least, Kara can muster up a smile. “Yeah - I want that too,” she says.

**

Kara makes no pretense that she’s going to sleep in a separate room, and Alex doesn’t try to offer her one, just shows her where Lena’s staying and says good night. It’s awkward for a moment, because loving a stranger is always awkward. The sideways glances and stilted conversations feel familiar - it all reminds Kara of when she’d first landed on Earth, and Kal had found her pod. Loving her grown cousin who was meant to be an infant, loving a sister who’d transformed while Kara was in hiding - Kara is growing practiced at this.

They hug goodbye outside Lena’s door and Alex flees, probably as ready for a brief reprieve from it all as Kara is. Emotions are exhausting. Also, still being awake at four in the morning is exhausting.

Kara knocks lightly at the heavy door and then slips into the room. The rest of the DEO has an industrial, half-finished look, with metal beams and places where they’ve let the natural rock serve as part of the base’s structure. Kara was expecting this room to be the same, but it’s surprisingly normal - a small, neat cube, with a linoleum floor and white-painted walls. There’s a twin-size bed with a dull gray blanket, which Lena hasn’t even bothered to pull down. She’s lying on top of it in her clothing, her shoes tossed into the corner.

She looks as though she’s sound asleep, but Kara knows that isn’t true. For one thing, she heard Lena’s heartbeat increase as Kara entered the room. Even if she hadn’t, though, she knows that Lena has never in her life put her thoughts to the side in favor of a night of rest.

For a moment, she considers letting Lena get away with it. She clearly doesn’t want to talk, and Kara’s feeling a little talked out herself. It’s tempting to just shove Lena over, curl up around her, and close her eyes.

But if they don’t talk now, Kara isn’t sure when they’ll get another opportunity. She wants to know what Lena is going to choose in the morning. She wants to be sure Lena knows what Kara is choosing too. She can’t bear the thought of Lena waking up to face her day tomorrow, thinking she might face it alone.

“Hey,” she murmurs, and sits down on the mattress, kicking her shoes off to join Lena’s in a haphazard pile. She reaches out to smooth the hair off Lena’s face, hoping that Lena will understand what Kara means by being gentle. “I brought you a sandwich - you must be starved.”

Lena’s eyes flutter open, and she sighs. “Kara, I just want to sleep,” she warns, and Kara nods, playing along for a moment.

“Alright,” she agrees. “But let’s get you out of your work clothes at least. Might as well be comfortable.”

Lena sighs again, but she doesn’t argue, sitting up to pull her blouse over her head. She tosses it toward the floor, but Kara catches it, folding it into a neat square and tossing it on top of the small set of drawers. They haven’t got anything else to change into tomorrow, and Lena wears her expensive clothes like a suit of armor. She’ll be glad in the morning that she hasn’t let it spend the night settling into wrinkles.

Her pants follow, and then Lena unclips her bra and tosses it onto the stack, heedless of her nudity. There are red marks pressed into her pale skin, where the underwire didn’t fit well enough to last comfortably through a 20 hour day. Kara strips down as well and pulls them both under the covers, taking comfort from the warmth of skin on skin as they settle.

“I love you,” she says, and Lena sighs, her shoulders losing some of their tension.

“I love you too,” she answers, but there’s an odd note to her voice that Kara can’t quite place, and then she presses on as though she’s eager to change the subject. “How was your talk with Agent Danvers?”

“It was good,” Kara answers honestly. “I mean, it was awkward as hell, but how could it not be, right?”

“Right,” Lena agrees drolly. “She’s your….. ex-what, exactly?”

“Not my ex-anything,” Kara says, and Lena goes stiff in her arms. “She’s my sister - my foster-sister, I mean, she’s human. But we grew up together, until her parents were killed.”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Lena turns over in Kara’s arms so that they’re facing each other. Her eyes are wide.

“Oh,” she says. Kara stares at her for a moment, and then bursts into laughter. Lena smacks her on the arm.

“Sorry, I just - I honestly can’t believe that with everything going on, you still found the time to be jealous,” she says.

“I’m very smart, I can multitask,” Lena grumbles. “And you can see where I might come to that conclusion! You were being all secretive about her, and then she came in and wouldn’t stop touching you, and she kept glaring at me like I’d taken a bite of her sandwich or something.”

Lena looks ruffled , her forehead crinkled into something that’s almost a pout. Kara can’t resist kissing her, and Lena hums into it, nudging Kara’s arm in an extremely unsubtle cue that she’d like to be held tighter.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Kara says, because it does seem a little sketchy when Lena lays it out like that. “I haven’t seen her since her parents died. I thought she might blame me for it. I didn’t want to - I didn’t want to say she was my sister until I knew that she still thought so.”

Lena’s arms come around to rub soothingly at Kara’s back, and Kara thinks Lena probably hears everything she is leaving unspoken.

“I’m glad you have her back at last,” she says quietly. “You deserve it. I don’t think my story with Lex is going to get the same happy ending.”

“It doesn’t seem that way,” Kara agrees, since there’s not much point in pretending. It’s not as though it would do Lena any good if Kara could act like maybe Lex isn’t a murderous vindictive dickface.

Lena sighs. “Is it ridiculous that I didn’t see this coming?” she asks.

“You love him,” Kara says in lieu of an answer, because yeah, she doesn’t totally get it. Maybe it’s not Lena’s fault her crazy brother has brainwashed her into thinking that he’s murdered hundreds of people in the name of justice, but - maybe it is her fault a little. Kara likes to think that if her mother or father had done something that terrible, or if Alex had done something that terrible, she would have recognized it. She’d still love them, and some part of her would still grieve their loss always, but - she’d be able to condemn them, wouldn’t she?

Perhaps she should be grateful that she’ll never have to find out.

“I love him, but that doesn’t mean the things he’s done should have been forgivable to me,” Lena says quietly. “I shouldn’t have been so willingly blind. I shouldn’t be surprised that he’d try to kill me when he’s killed so many other people.” She looks up at Kara, her mouth bent crooked with the effort not to cry. “How can you be here holding me, loving me? He killed your family and I forgave him for it.”

“It’s not your fault your brother sucks,” Kara tells her, striving for a practical tone. She doesn’t think Lena has room for any more emotions to be piled on. And anyways, Kara doesn’t know how to answer that - she doesn’t know how she can be here, how she can say goodbye to Alex in the hallway and then curl up with Lena Luthor. She just loves her, and there’s no way to explain it with logic.

“I’ve been trying to walk this line where I can fight him and still love him,” Lena says. “I’m done walking it. Tomorrow I’m going to tell Henshaw everything I know about LexCorp, about CADMUS - I’m going to do what I have to to take him down.”

“Then that’s what I’m doing too,” Kara tells her. Choices made, they cling to each other in the dark.

**

They don’t ever really fall asleep, but they somehow find themselves waking up the next morning. Lena’s phone blares an alarm from her pants pocket on the dresser, and Kara stumbles over to turn it off while Lena blinks blearily.

Kara’s exhausted. Her head feels heavy with the need for more sleep, and she tries to sort through her fuzzy thoughts and remember another time when she’s felt this way. Yes, it has been a rough 24 hours, but she’s not usually tired in such a bone deep way. She’s wondered before if maybe she doesn’t actually need sleep at all, if maybe she could just let Earth’s yellow sun replace it for her -

Of course, it can’t replace sleep if she wakes up in an underground base.

“Take a shower, I’m going to find us coffee,” she tells Lena gruffly, and pulls her pants on. There’s got to be a way she can get above ground for just a few minutes.

She runs into Alex almost the moment she steps out the door. Alex is already freshly showered and in her uniform, looking much perkier than Kara feels. “Hey, I was just coming to get you,” she says. “We’re going to have a briefing in an hour, J - Hank wants both of you there.”

“Alright, we’re up and ready to go,” Kara says. “Do you think I can get off the base for 10 minutes though?”

“Uh… I guess if you want to, you’re not a prisoner here,” Alex says cautiously. “You realize that it’s a 2 hour drive to the nearest dunkin donuts though, right?”

Kara grins at her. “You seem to have forgotten a few basic things about me,” she tells Alex dryly, and Alex stares at her blankly for a moment before she figures it out.

“Kara, no - you can’t flit in and out of our secret base using alien superpowers. There are like nineteen different ways that that’s a terrible idea,” she says, and yeah, she has a point, but Kara has spent years flying around busy cities without getting caught, and she feels confident she can handle an empty desert.

“Come on, it’s going to be a rough day,” she pleads. “I need sunshine, Lena deserves coffee - I’ll bring you back a donut. A good donut. Alex, I’ve gotten very very good at being sneaky in the past five years, trust me.”

Alex crosses her arms. “Part of being sneaky is knowing when a risk isn’t worth taking,” she tells Kara firmly. Kara is suddenly slapped in the face by three years of memory - three years of Alex saying, ‘I’m not sure this is a good idea, Kara’ and then going along with whatever Kara wanted to do anyways.

Alex doesn’t look like she’s someone who can be cajoled into granting Kara’s whims anymore. Her expression is stern and unyielding, and her military uniform is crisply cut.  They aren’t going to be able to find their way back to the people they used to be, Kara realizes with a wave of grief. Nor should they try. They’ve both grown, and they owe it to themselves not to act as though cutting off five years of growth will let them return to a more pleasant past.

But if Kara sticks around, if she joins this fight and stays by Alex’s side, they can build a new relationship. One based on the people they are now.

“You’re right,” she tells Alex with a small smile. “I’ll go get commissary coffee.”

“Nah, that stuff is bad,” Alex says, body language loosening in relief at Kara’s surrender. “I’ve got better stuff stashed away in the lab breakroom, come on.”

There’s no sunshine in Alex’s lab, but caffeine and emotional catharsis do a solid job waking Kara up anyways. She ducks back into the room with an extra mug of coffee just in time to see Lena doing up the last buttons of her blouse.

She looks pale and haggard, and Kara wishes all over again that she’d ignored Alex and snuck off-base to get Lena some coffee and her makeup bag. She thinks Lena would feel a thousand times better if she could just put on her red lipstick.

“Hey,” she says, and holds out the meager offering that she has. “I brought you coffee.”

“My savior,” Lena tells her wryly. She takes the mug and then leans against Kara, pressing her weight into Kara’s body as she takes a small sip, testing the mug’s temperature.

“We’re invited to a briefing. You ready for this?” Kara asks.

“Not even a little, but here we go,” Lena tells her, and then heaves a deep sigh. “You know how much I love having the upper hand. Confused, overtired, and wearing yesterday’s clothing is not how I’d like to start this out, but I guess I have to make the best of it.”

“You’ve got backup,” Kara tells her firmly.

Alex is waiting for them again when they exit, and Kara is glad to be glad to see her.

“Agent Danvers,” Lena says with a nod. “I hear I have you to thank for the drinkable coffee this morning.”

“Yeah, well,” Alex looks a little abashed, scratching at her ear. “I hear I should thank you for looking out for my little sister, so - thanks. Sorry I was a little hard on you yesterday.”

Kara can see the way Lena warms, the way she straightens up and looks like she can breathe again. She’s not walking into a room of enemies; she’s surrounded by potential allies.

“She’s looked out for me in return,” is all Lena says on the matter, before changing the subject. “We’ll have to move fast if any of my information is going to be useful to you. Once Lex realizes that his assassination attempt has failed, he’ll have to assume that I’m with you. I don’t think he realizes the full scope of what I know, but he’ll take steps to hide anything he thinks I can give you.”

Alex nods, shifting gears as quickly as Lena. “Anything you can tell us, we’ll make use of,” she says firmly. “There are some things you know that he can’t hide - the names of major players in his operation, the research he’s doing.”

“And you’re also stopping Corben, right?” Kara asks pointedly, because it figures that once decided, Lena would jump headfirst into doing good and forget to get herself rescued from the crazy assassin.

“I think I know where you can find him,” Lena says, “if we move fast. Lex has a series of properties in the area. I don’t know that we’ll be able to get to him before he goes to ground, though.”

“I can move fast,” Kara points out. “I can fly, in point of fact.” The rest of this will come, but she’s itching to remove the threat to Lena before they do anything else. She’s not going to lose anyone else she loves to Lex Luthor.

The look Lena shoots her way is sharp and terrified. “You’re not trained to take on an assassin,” she tells Kara firmly, and Alex nods agreement. “Anyways - you can’t put your face out there for Lex and CADMUS like that. This all started with your cousin - if you start flying around out there, doing all the things he could do, you’re going to become their number one target. They don’t want any reminders of the good aliens can do.”

“Maybe that’s a good reason to do it,” Kara points out.

“You know,” Alex says with a sly grin, “we could get you into a disguise, Kara. Remember that great outfit your cousin used to wear?”

“You are coming nowhere near me with spandex,” Kara says firmly, and Alex cackles. She’s joking, and Kara laughs with her, but there’s another part of her that can’t help but picture it. The symbol of her first family across her chest, as she fights for justice with her second family by her side.

She’s totally unqualified, Lena’s right. But Alex said they might be able to make a place for her here. Not yet, but someday -

Yeah, maybe that could be OK.