Series: House of El
Fandom: DC comics
Pairing/Characters: Kara Zor-El, Martha Kent, Ted Grant, J'onn J'onzz, Kon-El, Tim Drake
Disclaimer: DC owns them, I’m just playing in their sandbox.
Author's Notes: Wow, it's been a while since I posted fic. Sorry. For those who don't remember, the premise of my House of El AU is that a sixteen-year-old Kara Zor-El came to Earth at the same time as baby Kal-El, and was also adopted by the Kents. You can read this without knowing the AU, but you could also follow my House of El tag and read the other stories, if you'd like!
Word Count: 2,400
Martha awoke from her sleep to the sound of moaning from down the hall. Clark came to mind first, and was the thought that propelled her from bed, but the toddler was asleep in his crib. The moans came from farther down the hall, from Kara’s room.
The teenager was floating above her bed, sheets spilled over the floor and dank with sweat. She thrashed in her sleep, spinning over the mattress.
“Kara!” Martha reached for the girl, only to snatch her hand back when she flung her arm out. Kara could break granite when she wasn’t paying attention. In the throes of a nightmare . . . nevertheless, Martha couldn’t let this continue. She approached again, grabbing Kara’s shoulder and shaking. “Kara, honey, Kara, wake up. It’s just a dream, Kara.”
All of a sudden Kara stilled beneath her hands, and the girl’s eyes opened. Martha saw anguish wash over her as she fell back onto the bed and wept, and climbed in next to her. Martha held her, not trying to get her to speak until after the sobs passed.
“Kara--Kara! Wake up!”
Tugging on her leg, arm, side, voice in her ear--
Kara woke with a gasp, felt herself float even closer to the ceiling before she fell back onto the bed in shock. Ted moved out of the way just in time, but he was back beside her a moment later, one hand on her face and the other on her arm, a worried looked on his face.
Kara took a shuddering breath and tried to calm herself. She was fine, she was in Ted’s quarters, safe in the heart of the JSA. Her Superwoman costume lay flung across a chair near his Wildcat mask, barely visible in the dim light.
“Kara, babe, that was some nightmare.” Ted’s big, calloused hands ran lightly over her skin. “Want to talk about it?”
Sitting up, Kara pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. Ted’s hand moved over her bare back, and she could feel him watching her.
“This ain’t the first time you’ve had nightmares, babe. I get why you have that dent in the ceiling over your bed now.”
Light and smell literally unearthly, sound of her uncle in her ears.
“. . . going to be destroyed, Zor!”
Kara shook her head sharply. Nightmares were--were acceptable, her whole world was gone, but flashbacks? Flashbacks could be a problem. In combat--Rao only knew what an explosion might trigger-- “Ted,” her voice cracked.
“Talk to me.”
She hesitated. No one had ever heard this story. She hadn't known enough English to tell the Kents, and once she learned, they already knew enough. One day she would have to tell Kal, but the thought of putting her memories into words made her cold.
If she waited any longer she’d have no courage left at all.
“I was only a teenager, I wasn’t supposed to know what was going on," she began, keeping her breath as even as she could. Ted watched, but she couldn't look him in the eye. "Father and Uncle Jor-El always had their heads together, whispering, and Mother and Aunt Lara looked more worried every day. So one night before dinner I eavesdropped on one of their conversations . . .”
“. . . you mean the Science Council won’t listen to you?” Her father’s voice, high with anxiety, came from his lab.
The sound of cloth on cloth, synthetic fibers sliding over each other. “They don’t believe me, the hidebound idiots. They continue to dismiss the tremors as the usual quakes.”
“Show them again! The data is there, is undeniable!”
“Zor-El,” stress and exhaustion in Jor-El’s voice. “It’s too late. Rao, it is far, far too late.”
Terror-colors, sweat and chills, as the pause stretches.
“My initial calculations were off,” Jor-El’s voice, cold and too-steady. “We don’t have time to build the necessary ships even to get our family off-planet. I’ve had the AI running a search for acceptable systems.”
“Acceptable systems? Brother! How soon?”
A time she never caught, the unknown. It made Father cry out in distress, made him weep.
“What can we do? Jor, by Rao, we’re doomed! We can’t build anything that will take us far enough away in so short a time.”
“No,” her Uncle agreed. “Not us.”
Jor-El went silent again.
“Brother, what precisely is your AI searching for?”
“A planet. Appropriately habitable. With--” more pregnant than the pause before he admitted his calculations were off. Kara peeked and saw her uncle staring at her father. “With a yellow sun.”
Zor-El and Kara both jerked back in the same moment. “A yellow--”
“It’s their only chance, Zor. If we can find it, a planet with inhabitants who might care for them, they must be armed. By a yellow sun, Brother.”
“. . . ‘they’?”
Jor-El sighed. “We can’t save ourselves. But I have begun to build a ship that might carry Kal-El.”
Kara shivered on the bed, and clutched the sheets tighter to herself. She wasn’t, couldn’t be, cold physically, not under the yellow sun her uncle’s AI found, not on the planet her cousin called home.
Ted wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his head on her shoulder and covering her back.
“. . . while Cadmus has a claim on him, I believe he can and ought to be allowed to function independently.”
Lois nodded, brushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear as she scribbled the quote onto her notepad. Then she flipped the notepad shut and leaned back, sighing. “Thanks, Kara. I know this whole thing has been crazy, with all the imposters running around. I can’t begin to express how much better I feel knowing Luthor’s little ‘Supergirl’ isn’t the only one looking out for Metropolis--you’re a real hero. Luthor . . . God, there is something wrong there and I just don’t know what.”
From somewhere far away, Kara noticed the journalistic hunter-killer expression on Lois’s face. Physically, she stood in front of the reporter on the roof of the Daily Planet building, talking about the four Superman replacements who’d shown up. Mentally, Kara felt . . . elsewhere. She knew she was awake, in a strict definition of the term, though slogging through the morass of getting up every day and protecting a city that wasn’t her own was nightmare enough to make her feel asleep. Now she gave Lois the Daily Planet exclusive interviews, and quotes, and found herself looking for a name next to the woman’s byline that would never be there again.
“Anyway, thanks for the interview, Superwoman. See you later.” Lois gave a distracted wave and headed into the building proper.
Rao, Rao, she couldn’t do this anymore, she didn’t want to, it was all a joke living her worst fears alone left all alone nothing nobody Rao, Rao . . .
Let me come, let me help you. We should be kin, let me come.
Feeling more than language, a voice she had not heard, did not hear--she heard in her mind--old, older than her, weary with her anguish and his own.
Yes, she cried, in her head and not aloud, yes, help me, I am alone, the last.
Presence stronger than her own shattered authority, colored by eons more of life, preceded the arms around her shoulders. Kara turned into that radiating comfort. Her burden was new, jagged. He had borne his long, with no end in sight or mind. Finally, she felt kin, if only distantly, in one who understood.
Her sobs lessened, and Kara looked up at the face that belong to the arms around her. Oh, J’onn. Tears still slipped down her cheeks as she reached up to touch his cheek. I didn’t know, I couldn’t understand, before. Does it ever--can it ever fade?
J’onn covered her hand on his face with his own. “You can be . . . distracted, from the loss,” he said. “The burden and the ache will never go.”
The finality of the spoken word made Kara bury her face in J’onn’s shoulder again.
And yet--Kara had been waiting for the loneliness and the grief to fade. Faced with the prospect that they never would, the torturous paradox of trying to recover from the unrecoverable lifted. There would be no recovering from the loss of all her people. All that remained was learning to carry the burden.
Perhaps a change of costume was in order.
Taking a deep breath, Kara pulled away from J’onn and opened her mind. Come to my home, she offered. Have dinner before going back to your crazy team. It is the least I can do.
“I . . . shall,” he said, almost as if he was surprised at himself. “Thank you.”
Every time she looked up, all she could focus on was the ever-present crack in her ceiling right over her bed. Every house, apartment and dorm room she'd ever been in had that crack. Sometimes it even went so far as to become a dent. She spackled and painted once a year, just to keep the structure sound. Sometimes she went months without adding to the damage. She'd never gone a year without needing to fix the ceiling over her bed.
With the impatience and fuzzy logic of one whose sleep has been constantly interrupted by nightmares, Kara flew out of bed and dragged her blanket down the hallway and into the living room. She suddenly couldn't look at that damn crack anymore. As if she needed another reminder, as if her own mind didn't turn traitor and force her to relive--
--the couch was comfortable enough to sleep on. Or she assumed it was; Kal slept there when he came over with no trouble.
Of course, her cousin could sleep just about anywhere, so she wasn't sure how indicative his sleeping habits were. Besides, he'd only slept there twice. He used to sleep in the guest bedroom.
A hallway floorboard creaked. Kara almost laughed, but she has a terrible suspicion that she'd sound like she'd been exposed to Joker toxin, so she bit her lip to keep it in.
It had taken long enough to convince Kon to live with her. She didn't want to scare him off.
"Kara?" he asked from the hall archway, eyes wide in the dark. She was slowly learning to adjust to Kon's different powers--Linda was a help, but she was an entirely different kind of being. Kon's half-Kryptonian heritage showed itself in unexpected ways, and though Robin had given her a rundown of his strengths and weaknesses, words weren't the same as experience.
He stood in the archway, still. Kara tried to find words, but her nightmares felt like a smothering blanket.
Sharp smile and a cheeky wink, gone in an explosion haloed by a red sun.
Doomsday's misshapen fists pummeling red and blue and black and yellow.
Blue eyes, human with a touch of Krypton-blue in a ring around the pupil, going dark as life left them.
Kon had moved in a month ago. The nightmares started three days later, and only let up once she could hear him breathing down the hall. Sometimes, like tonight, not even then.
Her cousin, her ward, Clark's almost-son, walked hesitantly and unstealthily into the living room. He banged his shin into the coffee table and muffled a string of curses. She'd've laughed, if she'd been able.
Kon stopped in front of the couch, then cautiously sat down next to her, as if unsure of his welcome. Kara had pulled her knees up onto the cushion and sat against the back with the blanket over her legs.
When Kara didn't protest, Kon slid under the blanket as well, grumbled and tugging until it was in place. He stretched out, feet on the coffee table and head leaning against the couch back, one arm lightly touching Kara's. Then, to all appearances, he went to sleep.
With Kon's heartbeat in her ears, loud and slow and strong, Kara settled back into herself. Once she was certain the nightmares wouldn't return, she curled up against Kon, resting her head on his shoulder and dropping back into sleep.
5: Through a Glass Darkly
She just watched, watched Clark’s almost-son fly by Nightwing’s side, watched her Kon in jeans and a t-shirt fight that monster Superboy-Prime. Felt the punches in her gut, strained to reach, to help, when blood flew from Kon’s mouth. But somehow she wasn’t there, and he fell, he fell and she couldn’t help she wasn’t there--!
Kara startled out of her nightmare with a gasp. Robin’s blank white eyes looked down at her and she startled again, jerking away from the sight. Tim muttered an apology and flipped back the lenses.
Boy of few words. Kara sat a minute, trying to orient herself. The nightmare had been so real, a terrifying glimpse of what might have been. But the machines beeped steadily, readouts clear, and Kon’s heart beat soft but steady from the bed in the center of the room. The badly-padded armrest of the couch she’d claimed two days ago dug into her back, counterpoint to the hard squeeze of Robin’s glove on her shoulder. Tim arrived just after she did, shaking and pale, once he’d checked on Nightwing. Nightwing had Bruce, had whoever was left among the Titans and the Outsiders, but Kon’s only visitors were herself and the boy who had been her young cousin’s best friend longer than she’d known him. Tim had seemed frozen in the doorway at first, and Kara stood and went to him, wrapped the fragile Robin in her arms. Other former members of Young Justice had drifted in and out over the last day, including a somewhat awkward Wonder Girl, but neither she nor Tim had left Kon’s side.
They both knew the meaning of the word "comatose," they were just too stubborn to admit it to themselves yet.
“I dreamed . . .” she shook her head as Robin moved back to the chair he’d settled in beside Kon’s bed. He had crease marks on his cheek, and she felt a moment of embarrassment for waking him. He needed sleep far more than she did. “It doesn’t matter. Thank Rao it didn’t happen.”
Tim met her eyes and nodded somberly.