The red sun may have looked different, but it definitely wasn't any less hot, Kara thought as she wiped sweat off her brow. Training on an alien planet with Kal and Conner was definitely not how she had planned to spend this weekend - no, her thoughts on that were more towards flying to San Francisco and distracting Cassie from her finals - but if Kal was going to take them off-world for no-powers training, couldn't he have picked a world that felt a little less like Metropolis in the hottest part of August?
Kara was snapped out of her thoughts by droplets of water landing on her face. She looked up to see Conner smirking as he toweled off from a swim.
"You looked hot."
"Jerk." Kara grumbled as she got up. "There's a lake around here?"
"A little spring over there." Kon pointed towards the north. "Nothing great, but it cooled me off."
"Okay, I totally forgive you for being you." Kara grinned.
Clark stepped out of the woods, carrying firewood. "Okay, I think we've got enough for the night. You two ready to head for the cliffs? I figure we can get a good climb in before the sun sets."
"That sounds...well, it sounds like something I'd be up for once I've cooled off." Kara laughed. "Swim break?"
Clark nodded. "Just don't take too long. We want to get to the cliffs before the sun starts setting."
Kara grinned and tore off into a run. Behind her, she could hear Clark and Conner discussing dinner, but she didn't care. She hadn't showered in two days, her knees were scuffed up from training, and she didn't care about anything right now besides cooling off in the spring. As she rounded the corner, it came into view. It looked gorgeous, a little piece of paradise on this overheated rock. Without another thought, she ran up to the edge, stuck her arms out, and dove into the water.
The rush of cool as her body sliced in the water ended abruptly as the ground rushed up to meet her. In a split second, Kara realized that the spring was far too shallow for diving, probably only about five feet deep. Her hands buckled as she hit the bottom, and she slammed head-first into the muddy basin. She closed her eyes instinctively as she felt her head snap back, and a strange feeling, like a really intense blast of static electricity, shot through her body.
Ugh. I'd better not have bruised my forehead. Kara thought to herself as she opened her eyes. Conner will never let me live it down. And then there's Clark's lectures about safety.
Kara looked up. She was floating about a foot above where she had crash-landed, staring at the bottom of the lake. She tried to swim up so she could check out the damage - but her body failed to make the motion. She looked around, ignoring a growing sharp pain in her neck, and she saw her arms, floating lifelessly in the water. She tried to move them, but nothing happened. It was as if they weren't attached to her body. Kara started to feel a tightness in her chest, an instinctive knowledge that something was very, very wrong. She opened her mouth to scream for help, only for water to flood into her mouth. She closed it quickly, holding her breath, but she knew she could only hold it for so long.
I'm going to die. I'm going to die at the bottom of this stupid lake.
Kara could feel her lungs running out of air. She was about to open her mouth when she found herself being lifted out of the water. She coughed, gasping for air as she reached the surface.
"Kara, quit goofing around. Have you seen the - " Conner stopped as he saw the look of terror in Kara's eyes.
"Don't let go!" Kara yelled. "Something's wrong."
Conner carefully pulled Kara out of the water and lay her down by the side of the river as he called for Clark. Kara took in the air, coughing the last water out of her lungs, but her body was still failing to respond to her instructions. In fact, it dawned on her lying there on the sand, she couldn't feel anything. She could feel the pebble digging into the back of her head, and that sharp pain in her neck any time she tried to turn her head, but below her neck, everything was numb. As Conner ran to get Clark, Kara remembered the reading she had done on Oracle's injury. She couldn't be...
No. I'm going to get off this stupid planet, my powers are going to come back, and I'll be fine. Kara scrunched up her face as a droplet of water slid down the side of her nose, itching like crazy. Rao, why won't my stupid hand move? I just want to scratch my nose.
Clark came into view as he leaned over Kara's prone body. "Kara, what happened?"
"I was swimming, and I hit my head. I can't move."
"Just stay calm, Kara. You're going to be alright." Clark said, but the look of fear in his eyes belied his words. "I want you to tell me if you can feel this."
Clark pressed on Kara's foot, followed by her hand. Finally, he squeezed her bicep.
Clark nodded, trying to mask his growing panic. He moved further up and squeezed her shoulder.
"Yeah, I can feel that. Kind of. On top."
"Okay." Clark said. "We need to get you back to Earth as soon as possible. I'm going to get the ship going, and we're going to build a stretched to get you on board. Just stay calm, okay? We're going to get you back safely."
Kara closed her eyes as Clark and Conner walked off. She could faintly hear them talking as they left.
"She's going to be okay, right?"
"I don't know, Conner. We just need to get her back home now."
Kara felt herself drift off as the pounding in her head increased. Maybe this was just a strange, terrible nightmare. She'd wake up, and everything would be fine...
Cassie knew something was seriously wrong the second she flew in the house. She hadn't seen that look on her mother's face since Diana had died right shortly after Cassie became Wonder Girl.
"Mom? What's wrong?"
Helena put down the phone. "It's Kara."
Cassie's hand flew to her mouth. "Is - is she - ?"
Helena shook her head. "No, she's alive, but it's serious. She was training on this planet, Rigel - "
"Where none of them have their powers. I know! What happened?"
"She was swimming, and there was an accident. Her head, or her neck...they're not sure what's wrong yet. She's en route to Samaritan Hospital in Gotham."
"I've got to - "
Helena nodded. "I know. Go. I'll take off work and be along as soon as I can."
Cassie took off into the sky. This couldn't be happening, she thought to herself. Things had been going so well. Kara had become part of her, and now the girl she loved was fighting for her life. As she soared over the sky, hoping that Gotham would come into view sooner rather than later, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.
iGod, Zeus, or Rao...whoever's listening. Whatever comes next, we can face it. Just don't take her away. Whatever you do, please don't take her.
Samaritan Hospital was a well-oiled machine, devoted to the care of seriously injured Metahuman patients. It was usually the only facility in the world capable of providing the care needed to the superhero population, and only the best in the world worked there. As word came in that a seriously injured Kryptonian was coming in, the hospital sprung into action. Within minutes of arrival, an unconscious Kara had been transfered from the makeshift stretcher used to transport her to a body board that held her firmly in place, her neck safely secured. Her powers had started to return as soon as they had re-entered Earth's orbit, but the hospital was equipped with red-sun lamps to make it possible to operate. And with that, she was whisked away to the ER, leaving Clark and Conner with nothing to do but wait.
"It's my fault."
"Well, it is!" Conner yelled. "I'm the one who told her about the spring. I should have warned her not to dive. If I had..."
Clark put his hand on Conner's shoulder. "Conner, if this is anyone's fault, it's mine. The two of you are safe here on Earth. I might like to train without my powers occasionally, but I never should have brought the two of you along. I put her in danger. She's my responsibility, the only family from Krypton I have left, and if anything happens to her..."
"You were always keeping us safe during training, with all the safety equipment. There's nothing you could have done here. It was just some kind of freak accident."
"You're right. Now all we can do is be here for her when she wakes up." Clark said. And he said a silent prayer that his first instincts were wrong, and this was a lot less serious than he thought.
The doors to the waiting room slammed open, and Cassie flew in, her eyes streaked with tears. She saw Superman and flew over to him, hugging him.
"How is she?"
"We don't know yet." Clark sighed. "She's been in surgery for a while now. We're just hoping for the best."
"My cousin's tough, Cass. She's going to make it."
Cassie nodded at Conner's words, taking a seat next to them. Minutes seemed to pass like hours as people came in and out of the waiting room. Lois joined them, offering support to her husband and his family. Martha was called, but she probably wouldn't be able to make it out until tomorrow. Finally, after what seemed like forever, a doctor came out, removed her surgical mask, and walked over to them.
"Well?" Cassie asked impatiently, wringing her hands.
"We've got her stabilized. The surgery was touch and go for a bit there, but she pulled through. She's a strong girl - a lot of patients with this sort of injury don't make it. We've got her in a coma right now, but we should be able to bring her out in a few days, once it becomes clear that there aren't any immediate complications. Once we completed the surgery, we removed the red sun generators, so her powers are coming back, which should speed up the healing process."
"So she's going to be okay?" Conner asked.
The doctor sighed, his face turning serious. "I think we should talk in private." He motioned to Cassie. "Family only."
"Bull." Lois snapped. "If you've got something to tell us, you're telling all of us - in there, or out here."
Cassie shot Lois a thankful glance, and the Doctor, clearly seeing a will greater than his own, motioned the family into a private room. X-rays and examining charts were plastered on the wall as the doctor started talking.
"As this hospital goes, this is actually a fairly routine case. This type of injury tragically happens thousands of times a year, but this is one of the first cases we've seen in the metahuman population and definitely the first involving a Kryptonian. I understand Miss Zor-El was under a red sun at the time of the injury?"
Clark nodded. "We were training."
"When she dove into the lake, the impact of the collision dislocated her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae - at the center of her neck - and that trapped her spinal cord, crushing it and cutting off blood flow."
"What does that mean?" Cassie asked tentatively, keeping a tight grip on Clark's arm.
"Now, it's important to understand that we don't know how this kind of injury will function in a Kryptonian, but the nervous system seems remarkably similar to humans. In textbook terms, this is what's known as a C4 spinal cord injury, resulting in paralysis from the neck down."
"But she's not human!" Cassie yelled. She turned to Clark. "You can do something, right?"
"I don't know." Clark said. "I don't really know anything right now." He turned to the doctor. "When I've been injured in the past, I've healed much better under yellow sun therapy - concentrated doses of solar radiation. Do you think that could help?"
"It seems as good an idea as any." The doctor said. "We're honestly at a loss here - we've never treated this sort of injury in someone like Kara, so all we have to go on is human standards. And looking at the level of cord damage...well, I don't want to give you false hope. We'll try every experimental treatment we can find, but if this injury follows the cases we've seen in the non-powered population, the odds of Kara recovering from the paralysis are less than 1%. I'm sorry."
Cassie forced her lips to move, trying to process what she had just heard. "Where - where is she?"
"She's in the neuro unit, which is on the third floor, but visitors aren't - "
The doctor was interrupted mid-sentence as Cassie flew out of the room. Conner seemed shellshocked, sitting in his chair with his head in his hands. Clark got out of his chair, walked over to the wall - and promptly put his fist through it.
"Clark?" Lois walked over.
"I thought she'd be fine. She just wanted to go for a swim, and I never thought..."
"Clark, this isn't your fault. You can't prevent everything."
"I couldn't even protect my family, Lois. And now I can't do anything to fix this. Krypton's medical technology, even if they managed to fix this kind of injury, is long gone. This is the first time in a long time that I've felt truly helpless."
Lois embraced her husband. The Els were a tough clan, she thought. She had to believe that whatever came next, they would be able to figure it out together. After all, Clark and Conner had beaten death. If anyone could beat paralysis, it was Kara.
The neurological unit was relatively deserted as Cassie ran through the hallways, checking the names on the doors. A nurse yelled at her to stop, but she ignored the call. It didn't take long before she spied the name "Kara Zor-El" printed on a chart by room 22-A. Sticking her head in, she gasped. Kara was lying in bed, hooked up to what seemed like dozens of monitors. If it wasn't for the metal halo around her head, holding her neck in place, she could have passed for sleeping. God, even now, after coming so close to death, she was so beautiful...
Cassie sat down next to Kara's bed, taking her limp hand and stroking it. "Hey, K. I don't know if you can hear me...but they say you're going to make it. You had us all really scared." Cassie felt herself choke up. "Just...come back to us, okay? I don't know what's going to happen then, but no matter what, I'm there for you. I love you."
Cassie sat there, in the dark, listening to the rhythmic beeps of the heart monitor. As hard as it was to see Kara like this, she had a feeling things were only going to get harder from here.
Time passed slowly over the next few days at Samaritan Hospital. Martha and Helena took up residence at the hospital, and the families worked in shifts, making sure someone was always there in case there was a change. Clark and Conner would leave occasionally when there was a crisis that needed their attention, but otherwise they kept a vigil. Cassie had barely left Kara's side, usually having to be reminded by her mother to get something to eat or take some time to sleep. A few times a day, the doctor would come in, check Kara's vitals, and decide to wait another day before bringing her out of the coma.
It was on the fifth day when the doctor did a quick check of heart rate and decided that it was time. They'd slowly dial back the amount of sedative being pumped into Kara's system, and allow her to wake up. But with this good news came a lot of uncertainty. While they were happy to see Kara alive and awake, she was waking up to the news that life as she knew it was over. As time passed, Kara's family watched anxiously for signs that she was stirring back to life.
It felt like she had the "hangover" she had heard so much about from her friends, only times one million, Kara thought. Her head was pounding, and even the slightest light forced her to shut her eyes tight. Something that felt like metal was digging into her skull. Her head was swimming, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
What the hell happened? I was swimming, and...something went wrong. God, my head hurts. Where am I?
The annoying, persistent beep of the machines around her wasn't going away, so Kara forced her eyes open. It took a minute for her vision to clear, but she could see Clark, with Cassie right behind him, and Kon, Lois, Martha, and Cassie's mom behind them. It looked like she was in a hospital room of some kind.
Oh, great. The whole crew turned out. They must have been panicked. I can't believe I embarassed myself like this.
"Kara?" Clark sat down next to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
Kara opened her mouth. Her lips were chapped, her tongue felt dried out, and her throat was killing her, but she managed to choke out a few words. "Like hell."
"You really scared us, kiddo. It's good to have you back with us." Clark smiled, but there was something in his eyes that worried Kara. "How much do you remember?"
"It was really hot...and I went for a swim. I think I banged my head, and..." It was starting to come back to her. Not being able to swim out of the lake, being pulled out and lying there on the shore, unable to get up. She tried to turn her head, but a sharp pain from the metal thing around her head stopped her.
"Don't try to move, okay? The halo's made out of a Kryptonian alloy, to stop you from moving your head."
"Halo? Kal, what happened to me?" Kara tried to force herself up off the bed, but her body didn't respond. "Am I tied down? Why can't I move?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Kara could see tears starting to roll down Cassie's face, and Clark looked like he was barely keeping it together himself.
"Kara...you hurt yourself pretty badly when you hit your head. You dislocated two of the vertebrae in your neck, and you damaged your spinal cord. The doctor can explain it a lot better than I am when he comes back, but - "
"Am I paralyzed?"
"Kara, we don't know how things will work from here, exactly. I don't want you - "
"Just tell me!" Kara snapped. "I want to know. How bad is it?"
Clark slowly nodded. "Right now, yes. You're paralyzed from the neck down."
Kara felt like she had been shot when she heard those words. No. This doesn't make any sense. I'm Supergirl. I can fly. I can break the sound barrier. Of course I can move. I just need to focus.
Kara focused on her hand, which was lying on her thigh. She just had to move it an inch, just to prove she could. But no matter how hard she concentrated on it, it wouldn't budge. She couldn't move or feel anything besides her head.
"Kara?" Cassie walked over to the bed and took Kara's hand. "We're going to get through this. No matter what, I'm going to be here for you. We're going to get you better."
Kara looked at her limp hand, clutched tightly in Cassie's. Hot tears started running down her cheeks, impossible to wipe away. "How? I can't even feel you."
"I know." Cassie said sadly as she leaned in, avoiding banging into Kara's halo, to softly kiss her on the lips. Kara closed her eyes, wishing the world away. As much as she loved her family, and Cassie, she didn't want to see them - anyone - right now. The last thing she knew, she had been Supergirl, and nothing could touch her. Now, she had been dropped into a terrifying, unfamiliar life where her own body had turned against her. And she had no idea how she could face the future not knowing if things would ever be the same.
Kara was used to life going ridiculously fast. She would get dressed, shower, eat breakfast, and be out of the house in under ten minutes. Running across Metropolis took seconds. If she wanted to see Paris or Tokyo, she could be there in less than an hour. Now, life seemed to have ground to a complete halt. Minutes passed like hours in this hospital bed, broken up only by having someone come in and try to make small talk with her, but she rarely felt like talking. Even with Cassie, who always tried her best to cheer her up. Doctors would occasionally come in, prod at her, and make some comments about how she was healing well. The halo was removed relatively quickly, replaced with a much more comfortable neck brace, but as the days went by and nothing changed, Kara started to wonder exactly what awaited her once she was healed enough to leave the intensive care unit. She had lost count of the number of things she could no longer do for herself, and the list seemed to grow longer every day. More and more, she found herself trying to escape by any means necessary. TV got boring quickly, especially when you had to ask someone to change the channel for you.
Fortunately, there was one escape that never seemed to get old - the private soap operas that went on in the surrounding rooms. Her arms and legs may have been paralyzed, but her eyes and ears worked just fine - and with them, the few active powers she had left. X-ray vision let her peer into the rooms above and to both sides, while super-hearing allowed her to follow the stories of the people in them. It was a welcome distraction from all the unanswered questions of her own life. There was the c-list supervillain considering going straight after losing his leg in a heist gone wrong, the husband and wife superhero team hoping that the transplant would take, and Mr. Terrific battling endlessly with his doctors as they tried to get him to take it easy while recovering from multiple stab wounds. She had become more than a little invested in some of these stories, watching them unfold and hoping for a happy ending - the kind that she was worried would be denied her.
"Anything interesting going on in that head of yours?"
Kara stopped watching the room above her and turned her head as much as she could to see Clark walking into the room. She wouldn't tell him what she was doing - he was the type to care about people's privacy and all that, and she didn't need the disapproving look.
"Not really. Just...passing the time." Kara faked a smile. "Any news from the outside world?"
"I've been working with STAR Labs in Metropolis, trying to get a solar charging chamber into working order. It's tricky, because their technology isn't compatible the Kryptonian tech, but we're keeping at it. Once it's up and running, we can see if it helps to start the healing process." Clark reached up and carefully flicked a lock of hair out of Kara's eyes. "So, the doctors say you're going to be moving to the Rehab program in a few days. That should be a nice change of scenery."
"I guess. I don't know. There's privacy here, at least. There, everyone's going to be staring at me. It's not just superhumans, right?"
"It's run jointly with the Thomas Wayne Memorial Hospital's Spinal Cord Rehabilitation program, so there'll be a lot of people with similar injuries to yours, both powered and not. It's the best program in the States. There's counselors, occupational therapy, outings to help you get used to things..."
Kara sighed. Her family had kept the paparazzi at bay since she was admitted, but she knew that out there, everyone was going to want a piece of her. After all, it was the story of the century - Poor Supergirl, she used to be the most powerful girl alive, and now she can't even turn over in bed or scratch her own nose. She hated the thought of being in the middle of a crowded rehab program, where she would immediately be the celebrity in the room. Right now, she only cared about one thing.
"Can they fix me? Can they make me move again?"
Kara could see Clark stop dead in his tracks. He wasn't prepared for that question. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke again. "We're not going to give up on getting you better, Kara. But this program...it's going to teach you how to work with what you've got, learn how to do things in different ways."
"So, it's going to teach me to be the best cripple I can be?" Kara snapped.
"No, it's - Kara, you can't lie in bed waiting for things to change. A lot of people have done amazing things with injuries like yours, and that's what this program is about - teaching you to reclaim your life."
"What life?" Kara turned her head away and stared out the window. "Conner should have just let me drown."
"I'm really tired, Clark. I just want to sleep now."
Clark nodded sadly. "Get some rest, okay? I'll be back tomorrow." As he walked out, Kara closed her eyes and tried to go to sleep. The world of dreams was a welcome relief.
In retrospect, going to sleep in the early evening may not have been the best idea. Kara had dreamed beautiful, vivid dreams of flying through the sky, feeling the wind on her body, and wrapping her arms around Cassie, and then woken up at 3 in the morning to the darkness of her room and the numbness of her body. She felt like screaming, screaming so loud that the entire city would wake up, but what would that do? She could scream all she wanted, but no one knew how to fix her. She was trapped in a prison of her own body, all because of one stupid split-second decision. Why hadn't she checked the depth, or done a cannonball, or just waded in? It all seemed so simple in retrospect, but in that one critical moment, she had screwed up, and now her life as she knew it was gone forever.
"K?" A soft voice came from outside the window. "Are you awake in there?"
The window slipped open, and Cassie flew inside, sitting at the foot of Kara's bed. "I know visiting hours are over - like, way over - but I was just watching you from outside. Just to make sure you were okay."
"But I'm not okay, Cassie." Kara said, tears beginning to streak down her face again. "I don't think I'm ever going to be okay."
Cassie bent over and stroked Kara's cheek. "You're the strongest person I know, Kara. If anyone can beat this, it's you."
"But that's it - I don't think I can. And no one else does, either. I'm never going to be able to move again, am I?"
"We don't know that..."
"No, but it's a safe bet, right?" Kara asked. "No one will give me a straight answer."
"I don't know what Superman's cooking up the fortress. You never know - "
"Cassie, I can't do this. I can't live like this. I just want it to be over...but I can't even do that for myself."
"Kara, it's going to get better. Just wait until you get out of here, and - "
"Cassie, I need your help. If you love me...Batman keeps a small chunk of Kryptonite in the cave. I saw it the last time I was there. It's in a safe under the computer. I want you to bring it here and open it."
"Kara? Are you asking me to - "
"Just leave it here overnight. By the time the morning rolls around...it'll be over."
"You're asking me to kill you!" Cassie gasped. "I could never - "
"I can't do it for myself, Cassie." Kara said with tears in her eyes. "I wish I could hold on for you, but I can't. I'm just not strong enough."
"Listen to me. You are. I've seen you beat unbelievable odds. I know how terrifying this is, how scared you must be, but the Kara I fell in love with isn't going to give in to despair. She'd look at the odds, and take them as a challenge." Cassie leaned in and looked Kara in the eyes. "When you first got hurt, I said a prayer to whoever was listening that we could handle whatever happened, as long as we were together. I knew that you were the strongest, most amazing person I've ever met. And I still believe in you, even if you don't. Can you hold on, for me?"
Kara slowly nodded. "What if it doesn't get any easier?"
"Then we'll figure it out together. But I can't lose you, K. It doesn't matter what you can move - you're my heart."
Cassie crawled into the bed next to Kara and wrapped her arms around her. Kara felt a stabbing in her heart at the thought that she might never feel Cassie's arms wrapped around her again, but even her comforting presence was something. She closed her eyes and moved her head towards Cassie's hair, sniffing that familiar scent of honey and lilac. She wanted to believe Cassie, but she didn't. As much as she wanted to believe she could have something resembling a decent life in this motionless body, the thought of spending her life like this was terrifying. The sun would be coming up soon, and bringing with it more uncertainty.
Unlike the seemingly endless monotony that was life in Samaritan Hospital's neuro unit, Wayne Memorial's Rehab program never left you much time to breathe. There was a routine every day, and it left Kara with relatively little time to feel sorry for herself. Of course, that was more due to the exhaustion than anything else. The day began with a physical therapy session, usually to work her upper body. Thanks to the red sun watch from the fortress, it was easy for the therapists to turn her powers on and off so they could work her muscles effectively. PT usually managed to be both painful and exhausting despite the minimal feeling she had. The afternoons were usually devoted to occupational therapy, which involved learning techniques to do everyday things. It was slow, frustrating, and often humiliating, but Kara had to admit there was an odd sort of elation when she mastered the art of turning the pages of a magazine with a mouthstick. It was one tiny bit of her independence reclaimed.
"Driving lessons", however, were another story. Somehow, despite knowing exactly what her injury entailed, the idea that she would be using a wheelchair did not enter Kara's mind until the minute the therapist rolled it in. She hadn't regained any movement in her arms, just a slight ability to shrug her shoulders, so the wheelchair was controlled by blowing into a straw. "Sip and puff", they called it. "The devil's contraption" would have been a more appropriate name. She had been practicing driving a basic model for a few days now, and spent most of her time slamming into walls. She had never thought that simply making it through a doorway would be one of the biggest challenges she'd ever encountered.
"You've almost got it." Her occupational therapist, Jen, said encouragingly as Kara kept her eyes focused on the doorway. "Just remember what we practiced."
Kara closed her eyes for a second, running through the control system in her head. A strong puff of air would send the chair moving forward. A hard sip would stop it or reverse it. A light sip would turn it right, and a light puff would turn it left. It sounded easier than it was. Kara slowly, carefully turned the chair to the right, aligned it with the doorway, and blew into the straw, sending it forward a little faster than she had expected. It clipped the doorway slightly, but made it through smoothly. Kara breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"All right! Great job!" Jen said as she came over. "You're getting to be a pro in that thing."
"Yeah, right. Soon I'll be doing wheelies." Kara rolled her eyes, but couldn't contain her happiness at finally mastering that straw. "Good place to stop for today? I hope."
"You've earned some rest." Jen said as she shifted the chair back to manual and started pushing Kara back to her room. "There's just one thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"Uh-oh." Jen was a great therapist and had remarkably good patience, but her 'ideas' usually wound up making Kara's day a lot more stressful. "Okay, I'm listening."
"I run a support group on Thursday evenings for teens and young adults with spinal cord injury, and - "
"I really don't want to give a pep talk, Jen. Just because I'm - was - Supergirl doesn't mean I can inspire them or anything. I'm barely functioning myself most days."
"I know." Jen stopped pushing the wheelchair and walked around, bending down to be at eye level with Kara. "You've been doing really well in therapy, pushing yourself as hard as anyone could ask, but I'm worried about you. This program isn't just about physical healing. The kids in this program are going through something very similar to what you are, and maybe talking with them, sharing what you've been going through might help. I'd really like to see you give it a try, just for tonight."
Kara sighed. "Yeah, I guess so. I'll give it a shot." She looked down at her hands. "I don't think I'll be signing any autographs, though."
"Don't worry. Tonight, you're just one of the gang. No pressure at all."
Yeah, right. Kara thought to herself. She had a feeling the S she used to wear on her chest would make her the talk of tonight's meeting, but she had to admit that she didn't find that a totally terrible idea. Besides Cassie and Conner, she hadn't made too many friends her own age since she came to Earth. She didn't really have a secret identity, and her first attempt at a civilian life had been a complete disaster. While this definitely would have been her last choice for a place to meet friends, at least everyone else in the room would be in a similar situation. She wouldn't mind getting some things off her chest.
"I'm Kara, I'm 16, and I've got a C4 injury from a diving accident."
It was the first time she had said it out loud, Kara realized. Everyone greeted her in the group as she looked around. There was a college-aged girl in a manual wheelchair, a 20-something man in an army uniform with leg braces and forearm crutches, and a muscular high-school aged boy who used a power wheelchair with a joystick. She seemed to have the highest-level injury in the room, as everyone else seemed to have some use of their arms. She willed herself to keep a smile on her face as the others introduced themselves.
"I'm Karen, I'm 19, and I've got a T1 injury from a car wreck."
"Tyler, 24. I took RPG shrapnel to my back in Biyalya. Severe nerve damage and a partial injury at L1."
"I'm Sam. Broke my neck in the football wars. C5/6." The boy eyed Kara with a hint of recognition. "Hey, aren't you - "
"Yeah. That's me." Kara smiled wryly. "I've kind of been keeping a low profile. Or at least trying to."
"If you don't mind me asking..." Karen spoke up shyly. "I always thought you were pretty much invulnerable. How did this happen?"
Kara sighed. She hated talking about, or even thinking about her accident most days. But somehow, Karen seemed like she needed to know.
"It was one of those freak things. I was training off-world with Superman and Superboy, practicing how to survive if we temporarily lost our powers. It was really hot out, and I felt like going swimming. I didn't have much time, so I took a running dive into the water, and - " Kara stopped, feeling herself choke up. "This happened. I spent so much time beating myself up over it. It was one second, and now my whole life is changed."
Karen nodded. "I got a text message, looked at it for a second, and didn't see a deer dart out in front of the road. I swerved to avoid it, and flipped the car. We've got a lot of these 'one second' stories here."
"Man, I don't even remember what happened to me, exactly." Sam shrugged. "It was the last game of the season, the goal line was in sight - apparently I wound up on the bottom of a pile of the opposite team and something got bent the wrong way. I was pissed off at first, yeah, but I made some decent progress in PT. I figure after some more rehab, I'll be strong enough for a manual chair. Then it's off to Murderball!"
Tyler had been quiet until now, but when Sam was done, he spoke. "It's funny. I hear a lot of stories about random accidents of fate. I knew coming in that my story would be different. I knew exactly what I was doing when I threw myself in front of that grenade. I wanted to protect my unit. I just didn't expect to be here. I was fully prepared to die for my country - it's the figuring out how to live part that's trickier." He looked at Kara. "You probably don't remember me, do you?"
Kara eyed Tyler's face. There was something vaguely familiar there, but she really couldn't put her finger on it. "No, sorry."
"It was last year. I was working construction in Metropolis' business district. It was lunch break, and I forgot to secure some girders. The next thing I knew, a half-ton of metal was falling down on me. It was like time moved in slow-motion. I didn't have time to run. But then...out of nowhere, you swept in, and pulled me out of the way. You saved my life. Couldn't save my job after that screw-up, but it didn't matter. Coming so close to the edge like that, I wanted to make a difference, the way you did. So a few days later, I went down to the recruitment station." Tyler shook his head. "It's pretty damn crazy that we both wound up here. I guess I just wanted you to know - I know what you're going through is scary as hell. Hell, it's pretty tough for me, and I'm older and have a much lower injury. But you made a real difference out there while you were flying around. People haven't forgotten that. And the whole world is pulling for you right now. I know I am."
Kara nodded slowly. This had been the biggest challenge of her life, but knowing she wasn't alone did help. She had been spending a lot of time feeling sorry for herself, trying to escape. But knowing that people out there were pulling for her, that she had made a difference in the time she had been Supergirl, made her want to fight. Whatever came next, she was going to face it head-on.
Kara opened her eyes as the whirr of the solar chamber came to a slow halt, and looked around to see the surroundings of STAR Labs. It was the first day of the experimental treatments that could potentially restore some of her movement, and while lying in what was kind of like a super-charged tanning booth for three hours was boring, it was more than worth it.
As the chamber opened, Clark leaned over her. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good. Like I always used to feel after flying close to the sun." She stopped to test her arms, see if she could move anything. No change. "No difference, though."
"It'll probably be a while before we start to see results. But something similar managed to bring me back to life, same for Conner. We'll keep trying. Next time we can turn it up to a higher setting."
Kara nodded as Clark lifted her out of the chamber. He carefully removed the solar conduits attached to her spine and placed her back in the wheelchair, fastening the straps which kept her torso and legs in place.
"We're not going to give up, Kara. We're going to keep working on this. Just...don't lose faith, okay?"
"I won't. I promise." Kara looked into Clark's face. Even though he hadn't really aged, he looked a lot older than he had before she had gotten hurt. She knew how much he was working to help her. "Kal...you know none of this is your fault, right? I'm angry about what happened, yeah, but I never blamed you."
"If I hadn't taken you to that planet..."
"And if Conner hadn't told me about the spring, and I hadn't forgotten to check the depth...It's kind of a zero sum game, right? It happened. It's one of those freak things, and I had to stop being mad at myself after a while. So I definitely didn't have time to blame anyone else."
"I know. But I kept on thinking - I'm Superman. I'm supposed to protect people, but I couldn't even protect my own family."
"Kal...we've helped so many people on this world. Don't second-guess yourself like this. You're supposed to be helping people who can't help themselves, not watching over everyone to make sure they're safe 24 hours of the day. Just because I got hurt doesn't mean you failed in any way."
"Hm." Clark smiled wryly. "And here I thought I was supposed to be looking out for you right now."
"I do what I can, Emoman." Kara grinned. Suddenly, she felt herself getting lightheaded. "Whoa."
"Kara? What happened?"
"...Don't know. Just felt weak all of a sudden."
"It's probably the treatments. We'd better get you back so you can rest."
The scientists at STAR Labs had warned that there might be some side effects to such a concentrated dose of solar energy being pumped into her system at one time, but Kara hadn't expected to feel like she had been hit by an asteroid. She slept on and off for over 16 hours, finally waking up early the next morning. She turned her head to see a kindly-looking older woman who she recognized as Kal's mother, Martha. She hadn't spent much time on the farm in Smallville since she arrived on Earth, but the few times she had been there, Martha had always treated her like family.
"...Aunt Martha? I thought you went back to Smallville?"
"I did, just to tend to the farm. You can never trust hired help for too long. They'll try their best, but they don't know how you like things done. Jonathan never wanted to take a vacation, just because he couldn't bear to leave it." Martha paused. "But as soon as the spring harvest was done, I flew right back. You should have all the family you have around right now."
"Thanks." Kara forced herself to smile despite how exhausted she was feeling. "I'm just really sleepy right now, and - "
"Let me guess." Martha smiled. "You're a little family-ed out at the moment?"
Kara stared at Martha's knowing expression for a minute. She hadn't been even thinking it, really, but there was some truth in it. "I guess. Clark's always here, trying to make sure I'm okay. Conner usually shows up to try to cheer me up with today's Teen Titans antics. And of course, Cassie's here all the time. Even though she lives clear across the country, she comes every day. She's always driving the staff here nuts, the way she's protective of me. For all the things I've been worried about all this time...she was never one of them. But at the same time, it can be kind of overwhelming at times. And the thing is, I always really hate to vent around them. It's really, really hard, but if I talk about it, I'm worried it'll just upset them, and I really don't want to do that."
Martha nodded. "I understand completely. Sometimes, you just need to let it out. You know, when I was young, after Jonathan and I had been trying for a family for a while, I found out I was infertile. Nowadays, there may have been some things they could have tried, but back then, that was it. I was devastated. I went to my Pastor, and he told me that I should try to accept it as God's will, because He works in mysterious ways."
"That's...good advice, I guess."
"Oh, it's rubbish!" Martha laughed. "I didn't want to hear it then, any more than you want to hear it now. I'm a believer in God, but it's not a very satisfying answer, is it? No, I was angry. I wanted to let it out...but Jonathan was just as devastated as I was, and I didn't want to burden him. My friends were supportive, but they were all starting families of their own, and I knew they didn't want to be depressed. So I kept it inside. Of course, years later, Clark came to us, and then Conner and you. But it didn't make it hurt any less when it happened."
"I'm kind of worried if I start talking about it, I'll just start screaming and I won't be able to stop." Kara grimaced. "I'm doing better, but I miss so much. Every time I get used to something, I think about something else, and the pain starts all over again. Everyone tells me that I'm going to be okay, that I'll adjust, but I just don't feel like I'll ever get there."
"I'll tell you what, Kara." Martha looked at her watch. "I don't have anywhere to be for the next few hours. Unload on me. I give you full permission."
"Are you sure?"
"I wish someone had done it for me. You obviously have a lot you need to get off your chest, and I want to give you that chance."
"Okay..." Kara sighed. She wasn't sure where to begin. "What's the most exciting thing you've ever done? I mean, something where the exhilaration was enough to last for the rest of your life?"
"Hm...probably when I climbed the central Windmill in Smallville when I was 14. I was confined to the farm for a month when my Pa caught me, but it was worth it. From up there, you could see for miles around. I could swear I could even see all the way to Topeka, although Pa said it was impossible."
"That's what flying was like for me. Every time I took to the skies, it was amazing. The wind in my hair, the feeling of absolute freedom...I don't know if Kal enjoys it as much as I did, because he came into his powers slowly, and he's been doing it a lot longer. I went from being able to walk on Krypton, to being able to fly on Earth, to not being able to do either. Being grounded like this, knowing I might never fly again...it's like torture."
Martha nodded sadly, letting Kara continue.
"That's probably the big thing. I've lost count of the number of little things. Like, even though I don't actually need to eat because of the solar energy thing, I used to love trying Earth foods. I haven't eaten since I got hurt, because I'd have to ask someone to feed me. Not being able to do things for myself...that's another one. I can't even brush a hair out of my eyes! It's so frustrating - if I had injured my neck an inch higher, I probably would have died. An inch lower, and I'd probably have enough use of my arms to be pretty independent. Instead I'm stuck in this limbo, and I don't feel like I'm getting any better. I keep on looking for just a little sign that there's some hope, any sort of progress, but I've hit a plateau."
Martha reached out and took Kara's hand. "If you ever want something, you just need to ask. No one here would have any problem with helping you out if you want to eat, for instance. Everyone wants to do whatever they can to make things easier for you right now."
"I know, but I hate feeling like I'm asking too much of people. Especially Cassie." Kara paused. "You probably don't want to hear about this, but..."
"Oh, nonsense." Martha waved her hand. "I may be older, but I'm a woman same as you. You're worried about your relationship?"
"Yeah. Cassie hasn't given me any reason to be, but I just wonder - are we going to be able to make this work if I stay like this? She's Wonder Girl, she flies around the world fighting the good fight, and I...don't. Not anymore. Are we going to grow apart? Is she going to want someone who can keep up with her?"
"That seems like something the two of you will have to talk about, but I'll just say this - that girl is insanely devoted to you. I don't know the last time I've seen a young couple this in love. I've known Cassie Sandsmark for a while, ever since she and Conner were first dating, and she's a wonderful person who will do anything for the people she cares about. But then, I'm sure you already know this."
"I do." Kara nodded. "It's just really hard to visualize the future sometimes, when things are so uncertain." She paused. "It's funny. You never know what you're really going to miss. Before my accident, I loved to paint when I was stressed out. It wasn't anything that I did too often, but it was relaxing. I've really missed it lately."
"You know, I once read in a newsletter about a woman who had a very similar accident to yours when she was younger. While she was in rehab, she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and she became a famous artist. Do you think that's something you'd like to try?"
Kara laughed. "I'd probably bite the brush in half. Still super-strong above the shoulders, remember?" She paused a second. "Huh...do you know anywhere around here I could get some spare lumber? Something durable."
"I'm sure I could find something in the Hardware district. Why?"
"I don't know if it'll work yet, but I had an idea. A new way to use something I've still got."
Martha smiled. "I'll see what I can do."
Kara leaned her head back on the pillow, feeling the familiar exhaustion overcome her again. "I'm going to get some sleep. Thanks, Aunt Martha. For everything..."
Martha turned out the lights as Kara closed her eyes. She hoped that by giving her the chance to open up, Kara would be able to find more peace. She turned back to the sleeping girl and leaned over her.
"You're a lot stronger than you know. One way or another, your dreams are going to come true. I know it."
Heat vision was one of the most versatile Kryptonian powers, and it happened to be one of the ones Kara had left. She hadn't thought of many uses for it until she and Martha had talked about art. She might not have been able to paint any more, but what was important was getting the pictures in her mind out there. It took a bit of practice to find the exact right strength level of heat vision to burn the surface of the wood without setting it on fire, but once she did, it became easy to get the hang of it. She had full ability to move her head and eyes, so there was nothing between her and creating the images on the large block of wood sitting on the table. At first, she managed to burn a few simple shapes into it. Then, she worked up to etching a fairly capable design of a cat. As she put the finishing touches on the cat's whiskers, using the lightest possible heat level to create only the faintest whisper of a burn line for each, she thought that she'd have to take a shot at etching the skyline of Argo City one day. One day, but right now, it felt good just to be able to create again.
Wood-burning was a good distraction from the unanswered questions hiding at the back of her mind. Her time in Wayne Memorial's inpatient program would be coming to an end in a little over two weeks, and she had no idea what she would do next. The second and third waves of solar treatments hadn't shown any progress, although Kal and STAR labs felt they could get it up to a higher setting and try again. But more and more, it was looking like she was going to be paralyzed from the shoulders down for the foreseeable future. She'd read about people with high-level quadriplegia who lived mostly independently, with personal assistants and computerized houses, but the idea of being dependent on an AI to regulate her environment seemed pretty scary - especially considering how often some computer-themed villain hijacked the electric grid. Not to mention, the idea of living alone didn't seem very appealing. At the same time, she really didn't want to ask Kal and Lois to move in with them. They were both very active and busy, especially with Lois getting so many assignments outside of the country and Kal never knowing when a crisis would take them off-world. She didn't want to ask them to rearrange their whole lives for her.
Kara wasn't the only one thinking about these questions. Down the hall from the art room, Clark, Lois, Martha, and Conner were discussing the next move too.
"Um, shouldn't Kara be in on this?" Conner asked as he looked around. "I mean, it's her life we're discussing."
"She will be, Conner. No one's going to make any decisions for her." Martha said. "We just want to talk it through first before bothering her."
Lois turned to Clark. "She's your family. If you want us to take her in, we'll make it work."
"I want to do whatever's best for her." Clark looked over the latest reports from STAR Labs. "I just really thought I would be able to help her. I didn't think we'd be in this position. I've never felt so powerless."
"Oh, for pete's sake!" Martha exclaimed. "Clark, you're still blaming yourself over this. She'll sense that, and it won't help. Kara needs support and encouragement right now, not pity and guilt. I don't really think it would be healthy for either of you to be around each other all the time right now, as long as this is still hanging over you."
"You're right." Clark sighed. "I have been having a really hard time letting go of my guilt. I spend so much time protecting others, it's really hard to accept that I just couldn't stop this."
"I was pretty messed up after the accident too, honestly. Blaming myself, second-guessing my actions. Ma convinced me to go talk to J'onn, since he's kind of like the psychologist of superheroes. He helped a lot." Conner paused. "The thing I never told anyone before him - I nearly dove into that spring too. I was about to, but I got a sharp pebble stuck in my foot, and I stopped to get rid of it. Then I just did a cannonball in instead. A tiny little change, and it could have been me instead. I had a really hard time dealing with the randomness of the whole thing."
Martha reached over and patted Conner on the back. She turned back to Clark and Lois. "Kara and I have been spending a lot of time talking lately, and I'd like to ask her if she wants to come back to Smallville with us. The house is mostly wheelchair-accessible - we'd need a ramp, but it's a one-floor farmhouse. She'd be able to get around the town fairly easily, more so than in Metropolis. She doesn't seem to have deep roots in Metropolis yet, from what she told me, so it might be easier for her to start over someplace new, rather than being back in Metropolis and being constantly reminded of how different her life is now. We could come up with a story like we did for Conner, give her a new identity and everything."
Lois cocked an eyebrow at Martha. "Isn't this kind of pushing the secret identity angle a bit far? I know Smallville's a small town, but first Clark's cousin arrives there shortly after Superboy appears on the scene, and now Clark has another cousin who happens to look exactly like Supergirl and have the same injury?"
"It's a small town." Martha waved her hand. "I'm pretty sure most people in Smallville know about Clark already, as many times as he's saved our lives. But they also respect his privacy and aren't going to do anything to harm him and his family. If they do know, they're not telling anyone, and I'm willing to bet that continues now."
Clark nodded. "I'm not worried about that, Ma. But are you sure you can handle this? Would you be strong enough to transfer her from bed to her wheelchair, for instance?"
"I've worked on a farm for all of my adult life, Clark. I've been running the farm myself since Jonathan passed away. I've lifted bales of hay heavier than her. I may be old, but I am anything but frail."
"And if Ma has any trouble, I'll be there to help." Conner said. "Kara and I don't really know each other all that well yet, but she's my family. I want to be there for her."
"Well, then, it's settled. I'll go talk to Kara." Martha stood up.
Kara was lying in bed, resting after a long session of wood-burning when Martha walked in and sat down in the chair at the side of the bed. Kara turned her head to see her.
Martha looked at the cat design on the block of wood. "It looks amazing."
"Oh...it's just a beginner design." Kara grinned. "I think I'm getting the hang of it."
"So you're getting out of here pretty soon. It must be a relief."
"Yeah. Well, sort of." Kara bit her lip. "I'm happy to get out of here, but at the same time...things aren't going to be the same. I really don't know what my next move is. I don't even know where I'm going, really."
"No, they're not going to be the same." Martha reached over to Kara's shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "But this can be a chance to start over, if you want."
"How? Supergirl's finished, Aunt Martha."
"She might be. But Supergirl isn't all that you are. You're Kara Zor-El, and she's still got a lot going for her. An amazing mind, an amazing heart, and a lot of talent. You just need to figure out what you want to do with that. And if you'd like, Conner and I would love for you to come back to Smallville with us. It's a pretty good place to begin a new life."
"Really? Clark told me so much about Smallville. I always meant to visit more, but things were so crazy, and - "
"It can be your home, if you want. It won't be as bustling as Metropolis, of course, but we've got a nice town, a lot of kids your age, and you'd be able to get around pretty easily. I'd need to fix up the house a little for your wheelchair, but we have a guest bedroom that I can make up."
Kara nodded slowly. "I'd like that. I don't really know what there is for me in Metropolis anymore."
"You'll be back someday. I can just see you showing off that art of yours in some fancy Metropolis gallery one day. But for right now, it might be good to get away."
"Plus, no paparazzi in sight, right?"
"Right." Martha nodded. "I'm going to fly back to Smallville to take fix things up, but you call if you need anything, you hear? I'll be out as soon as I can."
"I will. Thanks, Aunt Martha."
"It's nothing." Martha leaned in and gave Kara a quick hug. "And you can call me Ma. All my kids do."
Kara nodded, grinning. It didn't change the facts of what had happened, or make her problems go away, but knowing she had family there for her seemed to make things a lot easier.
Glenn Hayward had been running the Smallville Cinema for 32 years, ever since his father had passed away. He had met most of the citizens in that time, and knew most of their quirks. For instance, when Martha Kent came bearing homemade muffins, it was usually trouble. Because Martha Kent was always polite, but she rarely did anything halfway.
"I thought the kids might enjoy them. I made sure to include a few extra banana nut in your batch. That's Tabitha's favorite, right?"
"Right." Glenn nervously looked at the muffins. "Um, Martha, can I help you with something?"
"Oh, it's about the theater. You see, my niece Kara - from my mother's side - is going to be coming to live with me in a little over a week. She had an accident recently, and she's paralyzed from the shoulders down."
"The poor kid. How did it happen?"
"I'm sure she'll tell you if you ask. It's not really my place. But I'm sure she'd like to see movies when she's here." Martha pulled out a sheet of paper. "I just noticed a few minor changes to the layout of the place that need to be made, to make it accessible. Nothing too major, just widening doorways, installing a ramp at the front. There's a company in Gotham that's going to be picking up the bill for the supplies, don't worry. They have a construction division. The number is at the bottom of the sheet."
"Well, I suppose - "
"Great! Give Trish and the kids my love?"
As Martha walked over to the truck, Glenn saw a stack of muffin baskets in the backseat. Looking down the street, he could see Tom at the diner, Hannah at the dress shop, and Mary at the library holding similar papers and muffin baskets. And it didn't look like Martha was anywhere near done. Yes, when Martha Kent had a mission, it was usually best to just take the muffins and nod.
Kara's last few days in rehab were among her busiest. It seemed like as much was going on as in those first few days. By now, she felt fairly confident in going home. She could dial a cell phone or surf the internet with a mouthstick, drive her wheelchair pretty masterfully, and shrug her shoulders well enough to alleviate any stiffness. And now she had her customized wheelchair, which had arrived that morning. It was a world of difference from the bulky rehab model. It was sleek and painted a gorgeous sky blue on the sides. The cushions were contoured to fit her body, and a pair of molded armrests held her arms and hands neatly in place. The sip-and-puff interface was the newest model, making it much more responsive to her commands. A pair of small switches on the headrest allowed her to recline the chair or tilt it forward. For the tool that was going to be her way to navigate the world for the foreseeable future, it was as good as she could ask for.
There was a fluttering of the curtains behind her, and Kara gently blew into the straw to swivel the chair around as Cassie flew in the window.
"Cassie!" Kara grinned excitedly. "How was Paris?"
"You say that like I was vacationing, not beating up a giant ape and his robot brain partner." Cassie said as she looked Kara over. "But it was fine. God, you look gorgeous."
"Wheelchair chic?" Kara laughed.
"Well, you definitely do pull it off." Cassie said as she slipped her hand on top of Kara's. "But it's not just that. You seem..."
"Happy? I am. Closer than I've been in a long time, at least. I'm getting out of here, I've got a new home to go to - I'm going to be staying in Smallville for a while - and I've got an amazing family looking out for me. I feel like I can do this."
"Smallville, huh? Well, it won't be the first time I flew out to Kansas constantly..."
"Ew! Don't remind me that you used to date my sort-of brother!" Kara giggled. She quickly used the switch on her headrest to lean the chair forward, just far enough so she could surprise Cassie with a kiss.
"You ARE doing better." Cassie grinned. "Anyway! I brought stuff! I had just enough time to shop in Paris. Perfumes, DVDs, chocolates..."
Kara's face fell when Cassie pulled out the box of chocolates. Cassie looked from Kara, to the gift, and then it hit her. "Oh, God, K...I'm sorry. I didn't think - "
"It's okay." Kara looked down at her motionless arms. "It sucks, but I'm getting used to it. But you know...I really do miss chocolate. Do you think you could help me out?"
"Of course! I just don't want to screw it up. You'll tell me what to do?"
"Yeah, just open the box!" Kara grinned. Cassie did, and Kara eyed the assortment of French truffles. One of the perks of x-ray vision - you could spoil the surprise and find out what was in the center of each one. "Third one from the left. It's cherry."
Cassie picked up the chocolate and held it an inch or so from Kara's mouth. Kara leaned forward, taking a small bite. After sampling it, she grinned and leaned forward to take the rest, savoring the taste of cherry and chocolate in her mouth.
"Oh, man. That's so good."
"I knew you'd love them. Do you want another one?"
"A little later." Kara grinned. "Thanks. I sort of needed that."
"It's no problem." Cassie reached over and stroked Kara's cheek. "I know it seems strange now, but it'll get easier. And I'm always here to be your hands if you need me."
"I might take you up on that." Kara nodded. "And since you're here and I'm in a good place right now...I was thinking we could practice some other things."
"Like what?" Cassie leaned in as Kara whispered in her ear. "Oh. Oh!"
"I mean, I'm going to be in this chair for a while, so we may as well figure out how to use it for makeouts, right?" Kara smirked. Blowing into her straw, she scooted the chair forward slightly, knocking into Cassie's knees.
Cassie tentatively sat down in Kara's lap. "Okay, how do we do this?"
"Well, you're going to have to do most of the work, obviously. This chair is probably thin enough so you can straddle me."
Cassie swung her leg over, placing them on each side of Kara's chair. They were now face-to-face, and Cassie leaned in to give her girlfriend a passionate kiss. "Okay, so what now?"
"First, relax. You're not going to hurt me. Second, since I can't feel anything below my collarbone, most of our favorite kissing spots are down for repair." Kara pouted. "But I can still feel my head, neck, and shoulders. So I was thinking...I want you to kiss me everywhere. If I can feel it, I want it kissed. That way, we'll figure out what feels really good. You know, for future use."
"Sounds like a plan." Cassie grinned as she buried her face in Kara's neck, kissing it. She slowly moved her lips up the side, making her way to Kara's ear. Kara let out a small moan as Cassie kissed her earlobe.
"Okay, so that's one." Kara laughed. Cassie worked her way back down, running her finger along the line of Kara's collarbone to make sure of where the line of sensation was. Once Kara nodded, Cassie bent her head down and started softly kissing along the line. Kara bent her head down and kissed the top of Cassie's head. It felt so good to be with Cassie again, to have her kissing her like this. It felt...normal.
"Kara? I finished packing your things, so you should be ready to go when they - Oh!" Martha stopped suddenly when she walked into the room. Cassie and Kara's heads shot up in unison, both blushing beet red.
"Um...hi, Mrs. Kent." Cassie said sheepishly. "We were just - "
"I can see." Martha smiled knowingly. "We're probably going to have to have a talk about house rules in Smallville, but...I'm really happy for you two. I'll just leave these bags here."
Kara eyed Cassie as Martha left the room. "The mood's totally gone, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah." Cassie sighed. "But did that feel good? I want to know how to make you happy."
"It felt great. But you don't need to worry about that." Kara leaned in and touched her forehead to Cassie's. "Just being with you makes me happy. Without you, I never would have survived those first few weeks. Paralyzed or not, I consider myself lucky. Because I've got you."
Cassie wrapped her arms around Kara's neck and kissed her with the passion of an Amazon. Kara didn't know what the future would hold, but she knew that her beautiful warrior would be by her side. And for now, that would be enough.
There were a lot of things they didn't teach you in rehab, things that you had to figure out for yourself. For instance, how to wake up your sort-of brother when he was sleeping late, you needed his help, and calling him three times hadn't worked. It took Kara a few minutes to get the handle on it, but by angling her chair right and using a carefully timed series of puffs and sips, she could swing it from side to side and deliver a pretty decent knock on Conner's door with the side of her footrests. Knocking on doors - solved.
Conner opened the door with a groan that could have easily come from the walking dead. "Nnnn...Kara?"
"Rao, you're sleeping late. What do they do at those Teen Titans parties, anyway?"
"None of your business." Conner thought for a second. "How the hell did you knock on my door, anyway?"
"I have my ways. Anyway! I was wondering if you could do me a favor."
"Sure, I guess. What do you need?"
"I want to do some wood-burning today, and I need someone to bring in the lumber from the back porch. I'd ask Ma, but it's pretty heavy and she seemed tired this morning. Plus, it's not like it would be much of a workout for you."
"Yeah, sure." Conner walked towards the back of the house, and Kara engaged her wheelchair and followed him. "So, how are you liking Smallville so far?"
"Pretty good, I guess. I haven't been out much yet. It's only been a week, so..."
"Well, if you feel up to it, I'll show you around on Monday after school. I'm busy with the Titans today, but this town's got some pretty cool stuff to see."
"That sounds great. I guess I'm still kind of nervous about being out of the house. I know how everything works in here. Out there, not so much."
"Yeah, but you don't want to hole up here forever." Conner walked outside, picked up the stack of lumber one-handed, and brought it into the house. "Besides, I'll be with you, ready to punch anyone who looks at you funny. No one messes with my family."
"I'd like that." Kara laughed. "Just set it down in the garage, okay? Stand it up with the cut side facing me."
Kara looked on as Conner arranged the pieces of wood for her, nodding her satisfaction when everything was in order.
"Have fun, Michaelangelo." Conner reached over and ruffled Kara's hair.
"Hey! Don't mess with my hair! It's not like I can comb it!" Kara laughed, shaking it back into place.
"Okay, okay! Noted! Anyway, I'm off to the Tower. Ma should be around if you need anything."
"I'm good. Once I start burning, I can go for hours. It's kind of addicting."
As Conner flew out of the house, Kara looked at the pieces of lumber in front of her. Placed together like this, there was probably enough room for her to start sketching out Argo City like she wanted. It had always been high on the list of things she wanted to paint, since she remembered it so vividly, and this would do. Focusing in on the central piece of wood, she began burning the outline of the town square into it.
Kara always found it easy to get lost in her art, and today was no exception. She didn't know how long it had been since she started, but it was long enough to burn detailed designed into half the pieces, and her eyes were starting to get tired. Besides, as she noticed when she finally turned off the heat vision, the temperature in the room had to have gone up 30 degrees from all the heat, and her forehead was dripping with sweat. Sitting in front of the air conditioner and watching TV for a while seemed like a good way to spend some time before continuing work. Preferably with a glass of Martha's homemade lemonade.
"Ma? Are you in there?" Kara drove her wheelchair over to the garage doorway, listening for a response. None came, and then suddenly there was a loud bang from the kitchen, followed by what sounded like arguing.
"Is everything okay up there?" Kara drove backwards a bit and focused her eyes towards the kitchen. Using her X-ray vision, she could see the outline of two people. One was Martha, but the other she didn't recognize. It was a man, about Conner's size, but his body language was all wrong. He seemed aggressive, angry. Cuing up her super-hearing, she listened in on the conversation.
"...Are you hearing me, you old bat? Where's the money?"
"...I told you, we have no money here! There's nothing for you! Please, just go!"
Kara gasped as the male figure backhanded Martha, sending her sprawling to the floor. This...person, whoever he was, had broken in while Conner was out and was threatening her family. She could hurt him - badly - with her heat vision, but then he would know exactly who she was and would have no problem exposing all of them. Martha needed her help, and she wasn't going to let her down. Her mind was racing with thoughts of what she could do with the limited movement she had, but she wasn't coming up with any ideas. But one way or another, this creep was NOT laying another hand on Martha.
"Come on, bitch! You've got to have something lying around the house. Jewelry or something. You want to live, give it to me!"
"Get away from her."
The thug turned around. He had the greasy, unkempt appearance of a drug addict, and the sadistic smirk of a sociopath. He eyed Kara with a mix of disgust and amusement. "Wait your turn, Miss Wheelchair Kansas. We can have some fun when I'm done here."
Kara felt her eyes burn with heat vision. She wanted to burn this creep, but she knew it would hurt a lot more than it would help. No, there might be another way...
"I said get away from her!" Kara quickly drove her wheelchair forward, slamming into the back of the robber. He was knocked to the side, away from Martha, but he was on his feet again as quickly. And now he was coming for her.
"What the hell, you crippled little bitch? You want to die?" He snarled as he charged her, grabbing her by the neck. Kara smiled inside. He had done exactly what she wanted. She had to time this perfectly. Too lightly, and he'd still be conscious. Too hard, and he'd die, and she didn't want that on her conscience.
Working the still-super-strong muscles she had in her neck and shoulders, Kara threw her head back, then forward, directly into the forehead of the criminal holding on to her. There was an audible crack as their heads collided, and he quickly fell backwards onto the ground unconscious. Quickly, she used her x-ray vision to scan his head. Still alive, no skull fracture, just a particularly severe concussion. It had worked. She breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"Kara? What did you..."
"It's okay, Ma. He's out. Are you okay? He hit you - "
"I'm fine! Just a bruise." Martha got to her feet and ran over to Kara, hugging her. "You had me so worried. I didn't know what - "
"I'm still invulnerable, Ma. Unless he had a Kryptonite knife or something. I'm fine." Kara looked around. "Do you have any rope around here? We need to tie him up until the police come. He should be out for a while, but we can't take any chances."
Martha nodded and headed to the garage to get the rope. Kara looked at the unconscious body of their attacker, and willed her heart to stop beating a mile a minute. For a minute there, she had felt truly helpless, unable to protect the people she loved. But not anymore. Paralyzed or not, she knew she was still Supergirl inside, and she could find a way to do almost anything. It may not have been fighting Silver Banshee over the streets of Metropolis, but evil had gotten a little reminder than you did not mess with her today.
"Where the hell is he? I'll make sure he never tries anything like this again!"
"Conner, calm down." Martha sighed. "It looks a lot worse than it is."
"Looks worse? You've got a bruise on your face from where a robber punched you! How can it possibly not be as bad as it looks? I can probably track him down, and - "
"You don't need to. He's in jail. Kara took care of it."
Conner eyed Martha quizzically, but she just smiled and turned back to stirring the pot on the stove.
"She's in her room. You can ask her for the whole story if you want. I need to watch so this doesn't boil over."
Conner nodded and made his way to Kara's room, knocking on the door. Sticking his head in, he could see Kara at her computer, using her mouthstick to type an e-mail. She docked it in its holder when she saw him and turned her wheelchair towards the door.
"Hey, Kon. What's up?"
"Do I want to know how exactly you managed to protect Ma and take out a mugger today?"
"It's like I said earlier - I have my ways." Kara grinned. "I guess it's all about not thinking about what I can't do anymore, and trying to think about what I can do with a little creativity. Helps with waking you up, and situations like these."
Conner shook his head as he sat down in a chair near the door. "I don't know how you do it. If I was in your situation, I'm pretty sure I would have shut down early on. I know I try to appear like a tough guy, but I'm not nearly as strong as I let on."
"It's not like I'm Miss calm and collected all the time either. I had my breakdowns - lots of them. But I guess you never know what you're capable of until you have no choice but to face it."
"Well, one way or another, I wasn't here today. And you were, and you were able to save the day. That's amazing. If you ever need anything - seriously - you just tell me."
"I'll keep that in mind. I'm sure I'll think of something cool to extort out of you at some point...bro."
"No doubt in my mind...sis."
Kara grinned as Conner walked out of the room. Suddenly, she heard her e-mail inbox ping. Swiveling her chair around and grabbing her mouthstick with her teeth, she opened the new e-mail. It was from an encrypted address.
Heard about your good work today. I guess it's true - no disability can keep a good hero down forever. You're still Supergirl. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
PS - If you want to talk training, get in touch with me. Batman knows how to reach me.
"The Oracle? Really?"
"The Oracle!" Kara yelled, still slightly incredulous over the whole thing. The previous day's events were still swimming in her mind, and she had read the e-mail more than twenty times just to make sure she hadn't hallucinated the whole thing.
"Wow. That's epic." Cassie grinned as the two girls sat under the stars. "The whole thing is. I bet that guy's never going to live it down when his cellmate finds out he got his butt kicked by a girl in a wheelchair. So...are you going to take Oracle up on her offer?"
"Of course! I did a few missions for her before the accident, so she knows me. I don't know what kind of training she has in mind, but I can't wait to find out."
"If you become some kind of super cyber-hacker, I need you to promise me you'll hack Bombshell's Facebook page. She has it coming."
"Count on it." Kara paused. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about my next move lately. I've been doing a lot of hiding so far, and I want that to change. I've been thinking about giving Smallville High a shot. Conner goes there, so I'd have a familiar face to talk to."
"High school was kind of a disaster last time you tried, though, right?"
"Yeah, kind of." Kara laughed, recalling her ill-fated attempt to blend in shortly after she had come to Earth. "But that was me just putting on a costume and pretending to be normal. I really want to get to know people in Smallville, and this seems like the easiest way. Besides, I'm obviously going to test out of the math and science classes, but I don't really know much about this planet's History, or Literature yet. Besides, if I want to go to art school, I'll probably need a diploma."
There was a silence between the two girls for a few seconds, and then Kara spoke again.
"So...tomorrow I'm going back to STAR Labs. Wave four."
"Wave four? Didn't you say - "
"Yeah, this is it. They think they've taken the level of solar energy up as high as it can go. If this doesn't work..."
Cassie got up and sat in Kara's lap, resting her head on Kara's shoulder. "You want me to come with? For support?"
Kara nodded. "Yeah. But Cassie...whatever happens, I'm going to be okay. Don't worry about me. I'm done living my life like a cure is around the corner. If it comes, great. But if not, I'll move on. I've got my family, I've got my art, and I've got the greatest girlfriend in the world looking out for me."
Kara leaned forward and passionately kissed Cassie under the moonlight. It had been a long, hard road to get where she was now, and she did miss the way things used to be. Maybe the treatment would work, at least somewhat. She would love nothing more than to be able to lift her arms again, and wrap them around the girl who saved her life. But if they stayed motionless in their armrests, she'd find another way of showing Cassie how much she meant to her. Tomorrow brought a lot of questions with it, both the literal tomorrow and the figurative one, but she would face them both with the heart of a hero. Her body may have been paralyzed, but her spirit was not, and she knew that she could take on whatever life threw at her next.