"Hey, are you Lena Luthor?"
Lena's heard these words dozens of times. When being accosted by reporters as a child; when fans of alien genocide want her to tell them what brand of deodorant Lex uses; when she checks into a hotel room or takes a taxi or makes any sort of purchase in person. Such a commonplace, innocuous sentence. And yet, every time she hears it, there's a little jolt, a tension of recognition, of hope and anxiety, because these are the words that have been with her longest, longer than Lena Luthor has even been her name. They're the words she was born with. The first words her soul mate is destined to say to her.
"Hey, are you Lena Luthor?" asks the mailwoman at her door.
She's short and solid and curvy, shiny brown hair in a sloppy bun tucked under her hat, beads of sweat at her hairline and above her lips, full brown lips, their pretty upper curve interrupted by an old, puckered scar.
It happens so often, means so little, and yet, every damn time, Lena can't help the thought flashing through her mind: Is she the one…?
"Yeah?" Lena says, voice too high, breaking mortifyingly in the middle. She clears her throat. "That's me."
The mailwoman doesn't appear fazed in the least. "Great," she says, brisk and professional. "Sign here please." As she extends the clipboard for her to sign, Lena can make out the words 'seat taken?' on the courier's wrist, peeking out underneath her shirtsleeve.
Maybe it's silly to put so much stock in such a fatalistic and fundamentally shallow tradition. Certainly, it isn't too difficult to find dating opportunities where soul marks are irrelevant. Dating opportunities where Lena's last name isn't relevant, on the other hand, are slightly harder to come by. Especially within National City's limited lesbian dating pool. Even more especially when Lena is trying to avoid terrifying bigots.
Considering her prospects, and her overlarge empty apartment, and her holidays spent eating takeaway at her desk, and her nights cuddling her pillow as she sleeps, it's rather hard for Lena to resist the allure of the destined partner, the cosmically ordained match, if only as an unattainable but comforting fantasy. Someone who is suited perfectly for her, who could appreciate her strengths and help her wrestle with her shortcomings, who could disregard her reputation and see her for who she is; someone who could want her in spite of everything.
It is silly. She knows it is. But what can she do, she's silly sometimes. And those damned words continue to haunt her.
"Hey, are you Lena Luthor?"
Lena glances sideways at the well dressed man who'd asked the question, her lone lift mate. He's short and young and probably good looking, square jawed and whatnot.
Since this is her fucking company, she doesn't have to deal with this nonsense a lot, here. Work, her one refuge. This man must be new. How fortunate that she's managed to get stuck in an elevator with him specifically.
She makes a quick internal estimation. Her office is on the 46th floor; L-Corp escalators move quickly. She takes a deliberately drawn out breath, adjusts the straps of her bag on her shoulder.
"No, sorry," she says. "But I get that a lot." The doors ding open just as she finishes speaking, revealing the large sign reading 'Lena Luthor's Office'.
Lena steps out, pleased with herself. She'd timed that perfectly.
Wrist cuffs and detached sleeves were very popular for a while in the early aughts, but have since fallen out of fashion. Since there's usually nothing very revealing in any one person's first sentence to any other, the need to cover up the marks is mostly seen as somewhat anachronistic and puritanical. Lena knew a boy once in middle school whose wrist read 'Blow me in the bathroom?'; he had thought it was hilarious, and since he'd been a very charismatic kid, managed to leverage it quite effectively for social capital.
One interesting consequence of all the bare-armed summers in the information age is the catfishing. During one hospital stay Lena had watched a documentary about a serial soulmate grifter who would tap into various surveillance footage displaying people's marks, track them down, engineer a meeting, say the words and later tattoo the victim's response on his own skin, only to remove the tattoo and start over.
Of course, most people never get their credit card hacked, much less their love life. But Lena prefers to wear only long sleeves in public, anyway. For Lena, walking around with her mark exposed isn't just potentially embarrassing or even hazardous; she's carrying the Luthor brand, quite literally.
"Hey, are you Lena Luthor?"
Lena turns around. Behind her is a tall woman with glasses and dark eyes and a compelling relaxed posture. Her speaking voice had been rich and low and Lena fights not to create a mental image of her arms around her.
"Hi, hello!" Lena stammers, slightly breathless, praying to say the right words. "Um. Yes, I—"
The woman slugs her in the face.
Lena's head snaps sideways from the impact, her feet stumble half a step. She feels the tissue of her cheek crush against the bone. Luckily the woman isn't wearing any large rings and didn't aim for Lena's mouth; none of the skin tears. She's going to be bruised and swollen and hurting, but at least there won't be blood.
Unless the woman is aiming for another round, of course. Lena blinks furiously to clear her spotty vision and brings her arms up. But the woman just shakes out her hand and steps back, then simply stands there, glaring.
She waits for Lena to recover, probably so that her words will land with more impact. "That's for my family's bakery," the woman says then, and turns to go.
"Oh, what happened to it?" Lena asks dazedly.
The woman's eyes flash. "Your brother destroyed it!" she snaps. "Our insurance was shit. We can't start over from nothing. My parents are over sixty and could lose their home because of you."
"Oh," Lena says again. "I'm sorry."
The woman stares at her for a long moment. Then she grimaces, and appears to consider hitting Lena again; but she just turns around and walks away.
"Okay. Have a nice day," Lena calls after her.
Lena walks in the opposite direction for a couple of blocks, completely on autopilot, for no purpose other than to put some distance between the angry attractive woman and herself. Then she takes a cab to her office, where she plops her face onto a bag of crushed ice and sobs angrily for twenty five minutes.
Later, she looks up bakeries Lex had blown up, finds one in National City that had belonged to a large family with dark eyes, and buys a storefront and its building in their name.
Apologizing is as good as an admission of guilt, and according to her lawyers she should never ever do it. According to her therapist, accepting the blame for her family's actions is unreasonable and counterproductive. But the news says she reaps the fruits of her brother's atrocities, and in many ways they're right.
The tedious solution to all of these quandaries is, of course, another press conference, her favorite pastime. To which she shows up with a puffy face and one open eye and a half. The cherry on top of the exhausting overly rehearsed sundae.
"Ms. Luthor, what would you say to those who'd accuse you of attempting to bribe your most vocal critics?"
"If you weren't complicit, why do you continue to pay off your brother's victims? Is that part of a settlement?"
"What can you tell us about the jump in your stocks when your brother's sentence was announced to be extended?"
"Hey Luthor, who punched you in the face!"
It goes on and on.
Once the conference is over Lena gracefully slinks away to a nearby coffee shop. Not too nearby; she skips the closest half dozen and picks a crappy, large chain place. She'd really like to avoid any kind of attention. She sits at the far corner table and orders a pot of tea, drinks half a cup and orders some hot chocolate, extra whipped cream instead.
Lena shamelessly monopolizes the table for over three hours, until long after the CNN live feed has stopped streaming. The café staff can likely sense she'll tip well, and don't pass by her table or drop subtle hints. One waiter with an awful fashionable beard did approach her around the second hour mark. "Hey, are you L—" he managed to say before thankfully balking under the weight of her black-eyed glare and backing away. Lena doesn't know what she'd have done if her intimidation skills had failed her just then.
Twenty minutes past the third hour, a handsome woman in a cheap suit and wavy blonde hair walks in. A nametag clipped to her lapel reads 'CatCo Worldwide'. Lena shrinks back in her seat, attempting to blend into the synthetically cozy background, praying not to be noticed. At least her unfortunate penchant for staring at attractive women has given her a heads up.
The reporter orders nine different kinds of pastries and an iced coffee (in January). Two overflowing trays in her hands, she makes her way over and sits at the table exactly in front of Lena. Of course. And, of course, she looks up, of course catching Lena's eye, of course flashing her the most dazzling, pastry-filled smile Lena's ever had directed at her.
Lena can feel the moment of recognition. The reporter freezes, then resumes chewing much faster, lowering the bear claw and brushing confectioner's sugar from her face. Lena has thrown a couple hundred dollar bills on the table and is rushing out the door before the woman can open her mouth.
Lena almost makes it to the crosswalk when she catches up.
"Hey, are you Lena Luthor?" the pretty blonde reporter asks, reaching out to grab her arm.
Lena grinds her teeth and shakes off the touch, rattling with hurt and directionless fury. "Hey, go fuck yourself!" she spits out.
The reporter stares at her in apparent shock, lightly gaping; the sight fills Lena with grim satisfaction. But then the woman blinks, and takes a bold step forward and further into Lena's space, face blooming into a lovely, slow smile. She aims again for Lena's arm and Lena is too confused now to evade.
"Oh, gosh, I didn't expect—you're so pretty," the woman babbles. "Will you let me see your forearm?" She laughs, short and ecstatic. "Never thought being cussed at could feel so nice."
Lena's been hounded by reporters before, but never quite like this. "What the f—get off me!" she splutters, gathering her arm close to her chest.
The woman promptly lets her go, lifting her hands in the air, palms open. She takes a step back, but she's still too close for comfort. Lena eyes her warily, clutching at her sleeve.
"I'm sorry, that was so rude, I'm just—" The woman shakes her head, as if she can't believe her own behavior. "Look, here," she says gently, placating, and slowly reaches for her own arm. She unfastens her cuff and tucks her fingers beneath it, pulling down. The sleeve gets stuck partway down her wrist, the stiff suit jacket refusing to budge.
The woman shoots Lena a look that seems to have been aiming for apologetic but falls severely short. She's still grinning madly, for one thing. "I've always wondered what I'd do to make you so mad at me," she says as she strips out of the jacket and rolls up her shirtsleeve in quick, practiced motions. "Turns out asking your name was all it took. That's a relief! I was worried I'd be a much worse asshole."
Lena stares at her silently. She might be the one gaping this time. She's having trouble processing this woman's words. Surely she isn't implying that, that Lena is…
"Anyway, hi," the woman concludes cheerfully. "My name's Kara Danvers. I think I might already know yours."
Kara Danvers holds out her half-exposed arm for Lena to shake. And there, spelled in clear block letters in distinct greenish ink:
HEY, GO FUCK YOURSELF!