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I hate flying, I know statistically it's the safest way to travel, but still.

She remembers the heavy headset and her hands trembling as she clips the seat belts together. She remembers the deafening rumble of the chopper lifting off the roof. She remembers the cocky pilot, telling a joke with a charming smile. She remembers his blood, too. She remembers her pitiful attempts at steering that horrendous flying trap, the panic seizing her chest, the body of the pilot heavy and unmovable against the levers.

She remembers the crash and the fire.

She doesn't remember her body being lifted, recovered from the debris of the helicopter. She doesn't remember being transported to a dark anonymous warehouse, at the outskirts of the city. And at first, she doesn't remember her mother's face.

She remembers only the pain.

But maybe those two had always been the same.

Lena remembers waking up strapped to a metal table. The far ceiling, the dim lights, the clinking of the scalpels on the counter. Her nightmares are filled with details.

Everything hurts and she can't move. Even if she could, she doesn't think the pain will just fade away. She moans, writhing violently, assaulted by an awful agony. Her screaming is silent, the plead broken in her throat. She has no control over her body, the immense pain forcing her limbs to trash in hopes of finding a less agonizing position. The bindings restrain her from moving though, adding new bruises to her battered body.

She lays shivering and moaning for what feels like hours. Nobody answers her cries. She only knows pain. She isn't sure, but she must have passed out a couple of times, the darkness a blissful reprieve. The warehouse stays silent except for her laboured breathing. She's stripped of her thoughts, scattered memories that are jumbled pieces refusing to line up. As a way of dealing with pain during her childhood years, Lena had developed the habit of retreating into her mind, hiding between the folds of her mind, solving complex maths equations under her breath or mouthing the words from her favourite Greek poem. But the convulsions of her body draw her away, keeping her anchored to reality.

The door opens suddenly, its hinges grating on Lena's sensitive ears. The bald silhouette of her brother appears behind Lillian's shoulder, both smiling dangerously. Her mother bustles with the IV attached to her arm, pumping something in her system that makes her drowsy. She sees Lex saying something, but his words are lost on her dizzy ears. The pain lingers.

In her dreams, she sees herself dying on that cold metal table.

When she wakes up, she feels numb, and her mother is bending over her chest, surgical mask on her mouth. She blinks heavy eyelids and falls unconscious once more.

The next time her eyes open, she is lucid and in terrible agony. Her chest is on fire, radiating pain at each laboured breath, while her limbs are heavy and unresponsive. A sickly green glow throbs in the room, but she can't find its source. The warehouse is dark and silent.

Lillian speaks to her, saying she's going to be fine, to just give it time, with the familiar cold gleam in her eyes.

Her mother and Lex come and go from her bedside, nodding with satisfaction while murmuring between themselves.

She's always in pain.

Lena knows she should be scared, knows she should escape, but her mind is foggy, constantly tired. Most of the times she is left alone with nothing to do but blink against the agony.

Little by little, her limbs start to feel lighter and she closes her hands, one at a time, testing the strength in her fists. She'll never be able to break free from these bindings. Lillian prods at her chest, measuring her heartbeat, scribbling something on the notepad, features always bathed in green light.

When Lex comes to visit, he speaks for hours, sometimes with a glass of wine in his hands, other times with a portable recorder, circling the table and never sitting down, gesturing wildly. He always had a flare for theatrics. He drones about their childhood, about Superman and Metropolis, about LuthorCorp and National City. But he sounds bored. He wonders if Lena could still beat him at chess or if she ever thinks about the first engine car they worked on together as children, during the haze of lazy summer days. She stays stubbornly silent, memories of her self-centered brother muddling in her mind.

Her chest hurts.

 

++++++++++

 

Lena's looking tiredly at the monitor on the side measuring her stats, when she suddenly understands what's happening around her, the fog finally lifting from her mind.

The rhythm of her heartbeat is different, changed. It still sounds natural, but the line on the screen is all wrong. She lowers her gaze at her chest, filled with the urge to check for herself, struggling against the bindings.

When she sees the green rock lodged inside her chest, she screams until she passes out.

In one of her visits, Lillian unlaces her upper bindings, leaving her arms free to roam. She asks her to sit up and Lena complies, meekly staring. She could touch her mother if she wanted, she could lay a hand on her arm or around her neck and leave a stain. But there's a man brooding behind Lillian, gun drawn and grisly frown. Lena's hands remain on her own lap.

Lillian looks at her proudly, like a mother should always watch her own daughter. It sickens her.

"How does your new heart feel, dear?" Lillian purrs, a pleased smile on her face.

The kryptonite is pulsing, beating like a timer and Lena only feels fear under her mother's scrutiny.

Lillian seems to believe that she is able to shoot kryptonite beams from her newly acquired heart, deadly rays that will turn her into an expendable weapon in the fight against Superman. The heart's light flickers.

She adds her own name on the list of people she is afraid of, right under Lex and Lillian.

She doesn't shoot any rays from her chest at her mother's prodding and Lillian leaves with a deep scowl, displeased. The male guard proceeds to tighten the bindings once again, until her arms bruise.

When she's certain she's alone, many hours later, Lena gathers her courage, swallowing heavily. She concentrates on the energy pulsing inside her chest. Waiting with bathed breath, blinking slowly. She feels the energy creeping up her stomach, rising. Something surges within her and she hears a low mechanical whirring filling the silence. With a sudden lurch, a green beam shoots out of her heart, hitting the ceiling and destroying a dangling bulb. The shards fall like snow.

In the wake of destruction, Lena lays shaking on the cot, even breath lapsing in the silence. The light emitted by the heart falters for a second, leaving her exhausted and empty. She falls asleep shaking.

The next time her mother unlaces her bindings, caressing her with sharp words, Lena's eyes harden, resolute in her decision.

She bides her time, planning carefully the next steps. One shot is all she can afford.

She stares for a long time at the missing bulb on the ceiling, a new spot of darkness easily hid in the dim lights.

She practices shooting beams when she's alone: her second attempt leaves her panting and shaking, but at least this time consciousness doesn't leave her. Another dark spot appears on the ceiling, visible only to her eyes. But she isn't willing to risk a third shot, cautious under her mother's cold eyes. Even if she fears Lex more, his cunning mind more attuned to picking up small details in his sister's behaviour. When he visits her the next day she feigns sleep.

The opportunity to set her plan into motion presents itself a lot sooner than she anticipated.

She doesn't know how much time had passed since her capture and the chopper incident, but she fears it's been so long that no one won't be looking for her anymore.

Lillian and Lex stroll to her bedside, framed by the pale light. The usual stubbly guard is tailing after them. But Lena can feel their complacence. Lex and the other man are sharing a couple of cigarettes, trading jokes: her brother's laugh is still sharp and curt. Her mother's dissatisfaction rests heavily on her long features, acquiring a ghastly appearance in the green glow. As soon as Lena is allowed to sit up, blinking at the loosened bindings, Lillian extracts a syringe from her lab coat to take a sample of her blood.

She should have known not to underestimate her brother.

Still, Lena eyes warily the gun dangling from the guard's holster and decides her first target. While the needle is piercing her skin, Lena draws enough energy in her chest that her hearts lights up lightly, attracting Lillian's attention to the vivid colour. Her mother leans back from her arm to watch her, and the movement grants Lena a clear view of the guard: she releases all the pent up energy in a single shoot, a green beam that races towards the man, exploding at the impact with his torso and making him fly across the warehouse. He hits the wall and falls to the floor and doesn't get up.

Lillian's wide eyes are the next thing she sees, when she charges up for another shot, blasting her own mother in the chest. She doesn't wait for her fall, disappearing among the crates. In her nightmares, Lillian climbs her way back from the pile of broken crates, until she reaches for her, calling her a worthless traitor who deserves to burn in hell.

The two consecutive beams leave her panting, clutching at her chest. The kryptonite is scorching hot under her touch. Suddenly, a gun shot thunders and she drops to the side on raw instincts, falling off the table. But her lower bindings are still tight and they hold under her weight, so Lena crashes down on the floor hard, bringing the table and the medical equipment down with her. A burning trail throbs on her right shoulder.

Over the edge of the overturned table, Lex grins, gun lifted in her direction. There's a proud smirk plastered on his face.

"I always knew you would prove yourself a true Luthor, sis, despite what mother thought."

He scoffs at her feeble attempts at getting up.

"Killing mother was one thing, Lena, but me? We both know that no matter how much you despise me, you're not ruthless enough to kill me."

Lena coughs, vision blurring at the edges. A speck of blood stains her open shirt. Lex's voice taunts her, suddenly closer.

"I suppose I could try to forgive you. Because I know you are in tremendous agony and not thinking clearly."

He loads his gun, readying it for another shot. He pauses, attention diverted for a moment.

"You see," he continues, "Mother believed that she could bend you, break you. That you could be swayed to our cause. The whole point was to leave you with no other options but to aid us in our crusade against aliens. Maybe you could have sold your pathetic force for good act, but now? A Luthor with a heart made of pure refined kryptonite? Oh, what I would give to see you meet Superman. Think he might want to see you in the first place?"

He cackles, gleeful in the destruction happening in front of him. Lena's world finally stops spinning, as the kryptonite burns a hole in her chest.

"So you surely understand, I'm making you a favor if I just kill you now. Spare my dear little sis from all the suffering, all the hate this world is capable of. All the insolent flying jerks that think they are better than us. Better than me, when the only thing I ever wanted was to help humankind."

"Please Lex- Le... nghh…L-Lex...please…I’m s-sorry… "

"Oh, I know. After all, without me, you're left with no one and nothing."

He aligns the barrel between her eyes, clicking the safety off.

"I'll see you in hell, sis."

Lena screams and everything explodes.

 

++++++

 

When Lena wakes up, she's sure she isn't dead because she feels pain. Pain and socks are two of the banned things of the afterlife.

She blinks at her surroundings, recognizing the fallen table where she had been laying for days. It's broken in the middle, split in two with a clean break. She moves to get up, gritting against the pain in her limbs. The bonds around her calves were loosened by the explosion, so she wiggles her way out, groaning and moaning at every painful twist of her battered body. Lillian and Lex are nowhere to be seen.

She tries to push herself to her feet, but the warehouse starts spinning again, forcing her on her knees with a heavy thud. She winces as she feels her shoulder screaming from Lex's bullet graze. A small trail of blood runs on the inside of her left arm, from the broken needle Lillian had pierced her with. With a stifled cry she extracts the syringe from her arm, swallowing an anguished sob. She releases a hard exhale as she straightens up, finally rising. But she lasts about two and a half seconds before she starts shaking again, dropping back into a crouch. Her chest feels uncomfortable.

With a pained cry, she lifts one foot, placing it in front of the other. One torturous step at a time constitutes her hard journey to the door, broken on its hinges by the guard's body flying against it. She doesn't need to look at him to know that he isn't breathing. A weary push at the metal frame and thankfully it gives under her weight. She sags against it, crumbling to the floor. There's another smaller room, much cleaner and filled with the bare essentials: a bed under a small window, a desk and a lone lamp.

Her mind is screaming at her to move, to escape, to run away, to hide and scream and cry for help. But her body doesn't obey her commands, collapsing fully against the wall, depleted of all its energies. She's exhausted and in pain, each movement only bringing a fresh wave of agony. She eyes the unmade bed for a long moment before curling in the corner, between the desk and the wall.

She closes her eyes with a prayer on her lips and tears trapped in her eyelashes.

The sun rays streaming through the window rouse her hours later, their feeble light dancing in the room. Lena breaks in a cough, throat scratchy and parched. She pushes herself on her feet, bracing against the desk, which is littered with papers and a set of car keys. A lucid thought makes her grab both, stacking papers with Lillian's handwriting in her arms and thrusting the car keys in her pocket.

 

She can flee from the warehouse. But she can't flee from her heartbeat.

 

+++++++

 

Her new life isn't easy.

She keeps running, far from National City, forgetting about L-Corp and stubbornly avoiding the news that surely talk about her. She empties the bank account with all her savings and also has success in hacking Lillian's before it gets shut down by greedy lawyers. Like a true Luthor, she doesn't do anything half-heartedly, so she travels for days, until she reaches a place where her name doesn't mean anything, a seaside village in Ireland, a small cluster of homes nestled in between green hills and a strip of sandy shore that gives way to murky green waters.

She ignores the broken memories of her birth mother pushing at the front of her mind.

The landlord from whom she is renting her apartment eyes her warily, taking in the antsy disheveled appearance and the ruined backpack she's holding to her chest. Lena appreciates him for his pragmatic manners, as he doesn't bat an eye at the hefty roll of green pushed his way.

Left alone in her new home, Lena collapses on the couch and breathes.

She spends the first few days hiding, choking back on the sobs and the screams chasing after the nightmares that plague her. She cries herself to sleep every night, shaking and whimpering, listening to her strong unfamiliar heartbeat. Her bruises fade, along with the physical pain. But her scars hurt.

In her dreams Lex and Lillian barge inside her new apartment. They lunge at her and Lena finds herself strapped to the metal table, unable to resist as they claw her kryptonite heart out of its prison with their bare hands. After the first time it happens, Lena calls a blacksmith and makes him change all the locks in the house.

She tries not to think about her old life, the one she left behind, about Jack and Sam, and if anyone knows to mourn her somewhere.

The thoughts about her birth mother push inside her.

She finds solace in drinking sometimes. If the fridge and the pantry are often empty, her alcohol stash is always full with a wide selection of the finest and most expensive whiskey bottles her money can buy on the internet. But she isn't an alcoholic, never an alcoholic, too scared of the memories of Lionel's harsh breath and rough hands.

Still, one glass or two keep the nightmares at bay most of the times and she can't help but indulge herself during the stormy evenings, when the wind is howling and the waves are crashing on the shore.

The alcohol makes her restless, too. Long nights of filling papers at L-Corp make her long for something to distract her brain with. She fiddles around with a few ideas she finds nestled in the back of her mind, drawing complex schemes and tracing diagrams. Anything that makes her busy to keep the dangerous thoughts away.

One night as she sits down at her kitchen table, pencil in hand and idea at the front of her mind, she finds Lillian's notes, tucked away in the front pocket of her backpack. She collects them in a neat stack, before grabbing a random one from the pile. Her own name is circled many times with a red thick stroke. The whirring inside her chest makes itself known and she flinches away from the notes, startled. She hides the papers inside the cover of a random book she grabs from the tallest shelf in the living room. That night, she sees Lillian writing her name on a piece of paper, the ink red as her blood, face bathed in green light.

She keeps her name.

She had to forfeit her surname for obvious reasons. After the chopper crash, every doctor and reporter is quick to declare her early unfortunate demise, no questions asked, even though no body was ever recovered on the site. On the same column, the article talks about the recovery of Lillian and Lex's corpses in an abandoned warehouse in National City, one month later, the cause of their death clear: a kryptonite explosion, probably a dangerous experiment gone wrong.

She spends a long minute staring at Superman's grieving face on the cover of the Daily Planet Online, the Man of Tomorrow showing the courage to mourn his former friend. Lena doesn't share his feelings. Instead, she steals her new surname from one of the many aliases she had in college, a couple of fictional people that granted her the gift of anonymity when she did something crazy.

Lena Luthor dies and Lena Mercer is born in her place with a green heart.

 

+++++

 

The world outside is whispering at her, the suave lure of nature singing in her ears. And while she longs for the empty hills and the chanting woods, the idea of meeting other people makes her falter in her steps. People she could easily injure, if only she had the will. People she could destroy, like those fragile dangling bulbs. People she could kill with a single blast, like she already had.

The idea of her secret being discovered is the last on her long list.

One night, after a few hours wasted tossing and turning between sheets, Lena dons a green hoodie over her pajamas and grabs the never worn coat and scarf she bought in an online shop and braves the outside world.

The streets are empty, her shoes clacking against the weathered cobblestones, strolling aimlessly in the sleeping village. The town is bigger than she imagined, with few houses spaced evenly along the sides of the road. She takes her time, passing by the bar, its sign hung under an old lantern. The wind whips at her face, howling and whistling in the empty alcoves along the coast. From afar, the sand shines under the moonlight, like small silver coins forgotten on the shore, where the waves laps gently, one chasing after the other in an endless loop. A few tiles are lifted on the street, burst of green weeds bravely sprouting from the holes, defying men's works at renovation. The green pulsing from her chest doesn't resemble any of the hues she meets on her path.

Her slow pace guides her down a narrow road, which she discovers leads to the docks. The wooden pier, resisting against the force of the waves, groans under her weight as she reaches its end and turns to watch the sea. She leans against one of the poles, breathing the ocean air deeply, salt crusting her hair.

While the world is silent, Lena feels like crying and she lets the tears collect in her eyes. A beat passes, and she lingers in her sorrow, before she hears the sound of a man clearing his throat near her. She jumps off the beams, spooked by the sudden noise. Not too far from where she's standing, there's a man sitting on a barrel, juggling a bottle of whiskey in his hands.

He doesn't say anything more to signal his presence, but he can't have missed her walking from the docks. Her artificial heart beats wildly in her chest as she stands still, waiting. But the man doesn't stop searching among the waves, lost in the swirl of the golden drops at the bottom of his bottle.

She is thankful for his silence as they both stare at the sea long enough for the sky to become clear again.

 

+++++

 

There's a corner she won't look at, in her apartment.

It's objectively a nice corner, under a wide tall window, with a clear view of the bay and its seagulls playing among the lather. It's the perfect spot for reading a nice book, tucked away from the screaming world, touched by sunlight at almost every hour of the day. Instead of an old rickety armchair, though, her landlord had placed an old rickety piano bench. And a piano, too.

Lena hates him for that.

The piano is... well loved, to put it lightly. A few chords sound weird to her trained musical ear and a few keys are cracked by negligence. She can fix it with the proper tools. And she could play it, given how much time she has on her hands.

But then, she remembers a young bushy haired version of Lex, standing beside her, marveling at the way the melody rose effortlessly from her nimble hands. Her brother never did pick up any instrument growing up, much to Lionel's disappointment. She remembers the gentle tilt of her piano instructor, the feeling of the keys beneath her fingertips. Lillian's annoyed stare, as she excelled in something that Lex couldn't master himself. Her brother always clapped the loudest.

She remembers playing her mother's - her real mother - lullaby on the piano at the Luthor mansion, when she felt lost in the empty hallways.

One night, she sits down at the bench, caressing the chipped wood with a reverence. Her hands are trembling.

Behind her eyes, Lillian's face flashes, bathed in green light. She stands, startled, the piano bench crashing to the floor and flees from the room.

The kryptonite lodged inside her chest feels like a block of freezing ice.

 

+++++++

 

At dinner, on one calm night, Lena pauses while taking a bite, fork in mid-air, feeling a wave of nausea rolling over her. She breathes deeply through her nose, waiting for the bout of vertigo to pass. She's left panting, hunched on the table over her half finished plate.

As she lies in bed, later, her body is caught in the throes of a fever, one moment unbearably hot and the other freezing cold, making her shift and twist in the sweat soaked sheets. A loud whirring throbs in her ears and she thinks her chest may be hurting. But her body is on fire and her mind foggy.

Lena doesn’t quite remember how fever dreams go but she doesn’t think they were this bad. She sees Lillian smiling at her as she kills her with a green ray. But her mother doesn't flinch, shrugs of her signed cardigan and lunges for her throat, stabbing her with a syringe over and over and over. She feels pain. Coming from her bruises, strapped to a surgical table. She sees Lex toying with a gun in front of her eyes, before his face morphs, features stretching and twisting until she's looking at the stubbly guard, who chants like a prayer you killed me you killed me you killed me. His voice trails off, an ugly cackle echoing painfully through her hazy mind. She chases after him, the nameless guard she murdered, begging for his forgiveness, but the pulsing energy in her chest makes her falter, swaying on her feet. She braces against a piano, the one where she learned music, back in the Luthor mansion. Someone shoulders past her roughly, tipping her. When she falls, she can sense a soft hand cupping her throbbing face, a tender trembling brush and suddenly her ears are filled by a mellow soothing lullaby that dangles from the fingertips caressing her cheek, drowning the whir of her synthetic heart. And then the gentle fingers turns into claws that plunge between her breasts and Lena screams, utterly helpless against the pain crashing against her in waves.

She wakes up to Lex staring at her in silence. A bulb shatters somewhere over his head, the sound reverberating between them.

“I'm saving a spot for you in hell.” He says before walking away. Lena wants to run after him but she can’t move, and she cries, feels hot tears tumbling down her cheeks as Lex vanishes from sight, until all Lena can see is the spot where he had been standing.

 

++++++

 

Lena arrives at the shores of wakefulness in bursts of pain, whimpering and crying. The fever still saps at what little energy she feels in her limbs. From the small window on the side, she can see the half crescent shape of the moon peeking from the clouds. She shifts and moans at the stiffness in her neck, needles pricking from every direction. She croaks, voice hoarse and slow like molasses.

“I’m in bed,” Lena notes dumbly to herself. She feels heat in the back of her eyes and an itch in her throat, so she swallows thickly licking her dry lips.

She sniffles as she pushes herself to her feet, staggering under the weight of her own gangly pale limbs. She bumbles in the apartment, feet clammy on the crisp floor. Her head thunders in time with her heartbeat and the green light is pulsing slowly behind the thin cover of her shirt.

Her unfinished dinner still rests on the table, the fork forgotten on the floor. She gulps down a cup of cold tea, the bitter taste tingling on her tongue but shaking some feeling in her hazy brain.

She pushes the dizziness away and rises to her tiptoes, grabbing the farthest book on the shelf. As she opens it, Lillian's notes come tumbling down and Lena spends the night on her living room floor, with fuzzy socks and a blank notepad, surrounded by the proof of her mother's experiments.

Lillian's notes are precise and neat, her elegant handwriting loopy and spotless on paper. Her annotations are detached, essentials with no jottings in the margins: she lacks the passion that usually fuels every scientist's research. Or maybe she simply expresses her passion with pain. She is sterile and cold, hard driven, all traits Lena herself inherited.

Lena's glad for her familiar coldness.

She discovers Lillian was able to stabilize the heart in the chest of the test subject so it could shoot kryptonite beans - her heart, it's her heart and her chest. She is the subject. With a punch in the gut she realizes she isn't the first one her mother tested on. There's the picture of a doctor beside the small smile of a young man, whose name was Adam. Both live only inside Lena's heart now. She rifles through the words, neat equations mixing with scary numbers, and she reads about Adam's agony. He lasted for three minutes and fourteen seconds with the alien rock lodged in his chest.

Lena's alive now because he's dead, another person she killed to add to her growing toll.

The doctor lasted longer, only to perish because of a fever infecting the wounds around his heart. The same fever Lena was trapped in only hours ago.

As a radioactive element, kryptonite emits constantly certain doses of radiations: its decay can't be completely described by any of the known different decays, but the radiations depict enough similarities with the alpha decay of the heavy elements: their extremely high energy is balanced by their short travel length. That makes the isotope harmless for humans, because the rays are screened by the outer layer of dead skin cells. To an average man, the kryptonite would become dangerous only if they decided that eating a green pulsing rock could be a new cool idea of having fun. Lena learned not to underestimate humanity's intelligence, though.

As a human bearer gifted with a space green rock as heart, Lena was immune to the poisonous aspects of the radiation, the kryptonite perfectly in balance with her organism. Sometimes, though, the kryptonite is doomed to sprout excessive doses of radiations, making Lena's body rapidly trying to heal itself, fending off the harmful rays, using all of the energy she has left to spare to defend itself against the poison it's feeding itself off. Thus comes the fever, the nausea and the sickness.

Lillian's notes ends there, the patient's health clearly never a priority to fix.

And Lena pauses, hitting a wall. She's dealing with radiations, poisonous radiations that sometimes become too much for her body to handle.

She sits for a long time, staring at her own messy annotations, adorned with corrections and crossed words. She lets her gaze wander, frustrated at her own incapability, until her attention is attracted by something that is flickering in the darkness, near the table legs. Lena rises to her feet and crouches under the counter, reaching with her hand for the gleaming object. Her hand resurfaces clutching a fork, a solid weight in her hands, its steel reflecting the light as she toys with the cool utensil.

Eureka.

 

++++++

 

A couple of weeks more and Lena decides to brave the outside world without the mantle of darkness, under the light of day. Wearing a black cardigan as armor, she ventures into town, the village lively and bursting with people, each of them bright.

The noise of life covers the low whirring.

She tiptoes in the shadows of the buildings, leaving handprints on walls. Everyone is staring at her. They can see her heart, beating unnaturally. Her world narrows to her own hands and the drumming heartbeat in her ears, like thunder. She isn't ready. She starts planning her retreat to her safe abode, cursing herself for her pathetic weakness. She breaks in a cold sweat, palms clammy.

In the corner of her vision, she sees a looming shadow stretching on the cobblestone right in front of her. But she's still trying to get enough air in her lungs, and she c-can't.

The silhouette barks.

Lena startles, spooked by the explosion of noise. A collared golden dog is watching her, sitting patiently, with his tongue lolling to the side. His owner smiles at her, reassuring her that he's a gentle soul and that he won't bite. Lena stretches her mouth and mutters a reply, letting the dog come closer to sniff her extended hand and let him judge if she's worth the attention. He chuffs, before thrusting his head against her hand, like the trusting fool.

Lena sniffs and gets down on one knee to pet him.

 

++++++

 

Lena Mercer's first official meeting goes inexplicably well.

A knock crashes on her door one afternoon, when she's thankfully sober and not in one of her worst moods. She pauses, nursing a cup of tea over the chemical composition of a recently discovered protein. She's debating about checking the door, when the intruder makes themselves know.

"Hello? Miss?" a croaky elderly voice rises. "I know you're inside, girl."

The woman's words are coated by an heavy Irish accent, which adds a weird rolling sound to the syllables. Lena rises to her feet, alarmed by the unfamiliar voice, and reaches for the door handle.

"Stop acting the maggot, lassie and open this blasted door. I swear on me oul fella that I'll knock it down. During the great war," the voice boasts as Lena opens the door, "I could lift- oh. There you are, lassie."

There's a woman standing on her porch. She's short, scowling and very very real. In her wiry hands, she's holding a brown tray covered by a patterned cloth. The woman doesn't wait for pleasantries and barges inside the apartment, forcing Lena to move out of the way not unkindly. She marches in the middle of the living room and drops what she's carrying over a few papers on the table, before turning to face Lena expectantly.

"Well, what are you waiting for? You shouldn't leave an old woman standing, lassie. Who taught you manners?"

Lena snaps out of her stupor, offering her seat to the lady, who sits down without fuss. She offers her guest tea and biscuits, voice hoarse from disuse. The woman fusses over her, like an instinct she can't control.

"Even my voice sounds better than yours. How long have you been hiding in here?" she chides, tutting "And damn those blasted biscuits, I say. If a fine thing like you stays cooped for days in this gaff it means that either you are hiding an amazing lover or an endless supply of alcohol. So you better bring out the strong stuff, lassie."

She's surprised in finding herself smiling, the memory of the emotion as a comet's tail. Her own baffled expression mirrors the woman's winning smirk.

She still believes it's rotten work wasting concerns on her.

"What's your name, lassie?"

Lena smiles meekly, "I'm Lena Mercer, m'am."

"Oh, forget about that blasted m'am, lassie. My name is Fiadh."

Lena opens her mouth to protest, but Fiadh cuts in.

"Will you stop complaining? Sit down and humor an old hag like me for a quick spell. You better call me Fiadh or you better eff off, okay lassie?"

The threaten brings the smile back on her face, sadness chased away by glinting eyes, a nurturing warmth shining in them.

"Of course, Fiadh." Lena smiles, savoring the name, the Irish familiar on her tongue.

"You better, lassie." Fiadh clasps her hands loudly. "So, I brought you a pie that my dear Eabha cooked this morning, as a welcoming gift."

Fiadh hums, appraising Lena with a long gaze. "You sure looks like you need a few pounds on those bones. What have you been eating? Roots and nuts? That won't do. Give it a quick spin in the oven and you will be good to go, lassie."

Lena thanks her, sipping her tea to hide the smile behind the rim of the cup. There's something about this brass overconfident Irish woman that feels like a breath of fresh air. It's amazing how much lighter she's feeling, only in the span of a short few minutes.

"So, the other day me and my Eabha were taking bets about the newcomer of this town. I'm obviously talking about you, lassie. Why do you spend your days cooping yourself in here? At least your liquor is decent... So, I decided to jump the bone and come ask ya meself. Is it from a broken heart? A family affair? You see," Fiadh confides, staring Lena with her chocolate eyes. "Whoever wins this bet gets to top the other for a whole week. A week! And if you saw my Eabha with your own eyes you would understand why I can't afford to lose this bet, lassie."

And Fiadh winks, joyful and uncaring.

"I am only codding ya, lassie. It's your damn blasted business, ya don't have to tell me."

Despite Fiadh's questions, Lena doesn't utter many words for the next few hours, swirling in an ocean of names and gentle teasing. She doesn't become dizzy, but smiles more times than she could possibly count. Her afternoon flies away in the company of a woman who knows nothing about Superman or kryptonite hearts. It leaves her floaty and cozy.

"But if it's a family thing, lassie, don't tell my Eabha, okay? I'm tired of that old cow winning all our bets and my poor back can't take another round like this."

After Fiadh goes away, Lena heats the pie in the oven and inhales it with a cold glass of apple juice. When she falls asleep that night she dreams about the wind, wild and laughing, toying with the grass on the hills and dancing between the tall trees.

She's a lost starving soul, aching for a human touch.

 

+++++++

 

Life gets better.

She goes out more, both in the daytime and during the night. She accepts Fiadh invitations for tea - always spiked - and meets the famous Eabha, a wise spirit who bakes pies worth dying for. Every time she visits she leaves their home with homemade food. She doesn't mention their bet, returning Fiadh conspiring winks. During the nights, she shares whiskey bottles with the man at the pier, trading few precious words. She even finds a job at the local bookstore, a calm occupation that draws her away from her hole when she risks spiraling in a dark tunnel. She shares most of her shifts with Roisin, a young girl who still goes to high school and spends her afternoons helping customers Lena sends her way.

In the safety of her house, she fills her notepad with ideas and projects, while often nursing a cup of tea. Her pantry is less empty, the liquor cabinet open but less frequently refilled.

Studying Lillian's notes, she develops a serum, a mixture of particles of lead suspended in vials. She prepares a batch of the solution, measuring doses and calculating their reactions. She takes one dosage each time the nausea hits and her heart is about to explode in her chest.

The nightmares don't fade away as easily. They are less frequent, but each time she's left crying and screaming, phantom pains shaking her core. She sees new faces in her dreams, the nameless doctor and Adam joining the line of people watching her with cold eyes. As soon as she wakes up, she reaches for a glass and spends the rest of the nights tinkering with projects.

 

+++++++

 

The man is sitting in his usual spot on the pier, clutching whiskey in his hand. He nods at her briefly, uncorking the bottle as a greeting. Lena doesn't sit on her pole, but chooses a crate near the man.

He lifts the bottle in her direction. "Rough night to be out at sea, uh?"

The waves are crashing against the anchored boats, the winds howling against the cliff and the lather sloshing on the rocks.

"Yeah," Lena croaks, "Looks like a storm is coming this way."

"As always around here, doll." The man hums and takes a long wig from the bottle. As he finishes, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, before offering the alcohol to Lena. They never traded names, so her companion refers to her as 'doll' with a gentle tilt, the nickname stripped of its sexual nature.

"Chin up."

The alcohol burns going down her throat, a different burning from the one in her heart. She tosses the bottle back another time, swallowing the feeling. The man receives the drink from her hand without another word.

They pass their drink between each other a few times more, like old comrades, before Lena hurls the empty bottle at the rocks surfacing from the black water. It shatters with a satisfying sound, the shards disappearing among the waves. Her companion whistles, the alcohol buzzing in his system making him euphoric.

"The environmentalists won't like that, doll. Aren't we supposed to recycle?"

"Well," Lena snorts, floaty, "I say the environmentalists can go fuck themselves."

The man laughs as if he had never heard anything funnier.

As soon as Lena gets home she starts working on a self-sustaining bacteria, designed to feed off the plastic it finds in the water. She falls asleep at the kitchen table and blinks blearily at the sunlight, an incessant pounding behind her eyes. The hangover makes her forget the whirring of her heart for a bit.

 

++++++++

 

She makes another friend in town.

It's a small scrawny kid. He's lanky and awkward with his body, red hair and the most human soul she had ever met. She fears her darkness will taint his light.

He's also an alien. Lena doesn't know this, at first. If she had, she likes to think that she would have at least tried to resist his childish charm, the boy well set in his goal of becoming friends. Maybe she still would have failed.

She doesn't know he's an alien. She only knows it's Friday and that she's exhausted from a day filled with stocking books and avoiding customers. And she knows there's a freckled kid standing on her porch, ringing insistently her door bell. She panics.

"Are you lost?" she asks, as if somebody would ever get lost in a village this small.

The kid blinks his clear eyes and replies, "No. I know exactly where I am right now, m'am."

"That makes one of us." she mumbles. "Then, how can I help you?"

He's here to sell tickets for a lottery that is taking place on the following weekend. There's an annual fair this Saturday and he is tasked with the job of selling tickets. She invites him inside, to earn herself a few more minutes to ponder the best way to politely refuse a child's request. She offers him a slice of lemon pie Eabha had brought her the other day.

"Oh, are you alone?" Lena questions, thinking him to be too young to wander alone.

"Yes, m'am." He scuffles with his feet at the floor, shoulders slumping. That's the catch with children, they aren't able to hide anything, feelings or secrets. "The other kids from school were with me but they soon grew bored and went to play. They left me all their tickets."

Lena hesitates, unsure of what to say.

"But that's alright," the kid continues, "I don't like their games. And they don't really like me because I'm not good at football."

“Still, that’s not right of them to do that to you.”

The child looks at her ponderously, blinks at her, like she's the first person to have said anything of the sort to him. Her urge to reach out and reassure him is unfamiliar as much as it is surprising. She clears her throat, settling on something else to say, "What games do you like, then?"

"Oh, I dunno," he shrugs, looking at the crumbled pile of tickets in his hands. "I liked to do puzzles with my grandpa, but since he's not here I don't like puzzles anymore."

"Mh. We shall find which games you like, then... uh..."

She stumbles, not knowing his name.

"Oran, m'am. Oran Hayles."

"Well, Oran. My name is Lena. It's nice to meet you." she extends her hand, shaking with his smaller one, crumbs of pie falling from their palms.

They chat a little more before Oran has to go knocking on the next door to finish his route and Lena ends up buying three tickets.

 

++++++

 

She ends up going to the fair.

She doesn't have anyone to go with, obviously, but that doesn't stop her from roaming the fair grounds. She recognizes familiar faces swimming in the crowd. Roisin lifts a hand, towering over her small circle of friends. Fiadh and Eabha spot her beside the shooting game stall and chat with her for a good ten minutes, Fiadh complaining about the youngsters who don't know how to shoot a gun anymore. So, Lena has to win for them a small potted plant, rifle tucked under her shoulder like Lionel taught her.

"Ah, just eff off will ya." Fiadh curses good-naturedly as she darts away, dragging a laughing Eabha away.

Lena meets the gaze of the man she shares the pier with: at his elbow there's a petite woman, wearing a dapper dress in the evening chill. They look so similar they could be siblings and he seems sober as Lena watches him smile.

Oran is eating a candy apple near a stall, sitting on a overturned barrel next to a young woman.

Lena doesn't disturb them and moves along in her stroll around the square, thoughts circling on light and darkness and souls. She returns home without saying hi and goes straight to bed, the whirring of her heart keeping her awake for a long time.

Oran shows up again at her porch the following day, saying she won a prize with one of her tickets.

She's recovering from a fretful night, dreams riddled with pain and flames and guns. Still, she climbs out of bed to fix herself lunch as usual.

"Why did you leave?" he asks, with the bluntness typical of children.

He's holding a brown square in his hands, guarding it with attentive eyes. She murmurs a lame excuse as she accepts the box and opens it. She pulls out a black string: it's a necklace weighted by a silver pendant of a flying origami sparrow. Lena lifts it to her eyes to inspect it.

"That's mine!" Oran exclaims, in a burst of excitement. "My mommy makes them at home when she isn't working at the diner."

"It's beautiful," she smiles, gesturing for him to tie the necklace around her neck.

Lena kneels, pushing her long hair out of the way, revealing her pale neck. She basks in Oran's naive happiness, drawing strength from him. The melody of his laughter follows a slower rhythm than the kryptonite pulsing energy.

After that afternoon, Oran starts coming to her house frequently, after school when Lena's not working or during the weekends, when his mother is waiting tables at the local diner. Oran is a voracious reader, so Lena brings him books she buys from the bookstore as often as she can. While he does his homework on the kitchen table, she works on her projects, designing a lighter fireproof resistant material for the firefighters uniforms or a smart robotic sleeve to help failing hearts. She ends up sending her project of the plastic eating bacteria to Dr. Isley as an anonymous sender.

They'll do crosswords, sometimes, Lena encouraging Oran with subtle hints.

"Cycling once again, Lena?"

"Uh, try recycle."

His young age doesn't stop Lena from bugging him.

"A resistant pestilence? It has six letters, but Oran only has four."

"Even Lena has four letters. Maybe soccer?"

"Try again. It has a d near the end."

"Malady?"

And so they keep going, sharing words and smiles until his mother Aileen comes to collect him. Even bundled up against the cold air whipping from the sea, Lena can see she’s pretty in a kind of plain way. Her face crinkles and stretches in a serene smile, a hint of white teeth showing.

While Oran or Aileen are hanging around her house, Lena is cautious in hiding her unnatural green light. She always wears more than one fabric over her chest and always have at least one light on in the room, fearing the power of the revealing darkness.

One day Oran marches inside her home, arms full with scraps and pieces and drops everything on Lena's counter.

"You have to teach me how to fix this."

It's an old music box with an intact frame, but its gears are either misplaced or missing. They spend the afternoon sharing screwdrivers over a cup of tea and a glass of juice, Lena's quiet instructions and gentle nudges align Oran's hands, twisting and tightening small screws and bolts. Lena buys him a small set of tools, teaching him how to feel each component under his own hands.

She dreams, even if it's more a memory of the first engine car she disassembled with Lex.

Oran is smart for his age, and loves to try new things that will keep him challenged, as long as he doesn't have to interact with other people. She comprehends his hesitance, but that doesn't mean Lena won't try to be the responsible adult, for a change.

"Why won't you hang out with your school friends?" she asks him one day, while he's reading on her sofa.

"They are not my friends."

Lena has already prepared herself for every possible scenario, every reply he may give, by having countless mental conversations.

"I know they aren't your friends, but they could be, one day. They are still your classmates, so-"

"I don't like them."

"I know you don't like them, I know, but-"

"It's because you don't want me to stay?"

"No, I-"

Oran's gaze is still fixed on his book, but hasn't been turning any pages since the beginning of this conversation.

"No, Oran, I..."

"Can I finish this book before going away?"

Lena watches him for a long time, thinking about all the other adults in his life who surely pressure him into doing the same. She thinks about Lillian and Lex.

"You can stay, Oran. Don't worry about it. Forget I said anything, you can come whenever you want."

She sits down beside him on the cushions, tucking her legs under her and folding a newspaper on her knees, open on the crosswords section. She feels his gaze burning into the side of her head.

"Kid's query, three letters."

He's almost smart as much as he's curious. After the first wave of awkwardness lifts between them, he explores her home, counting the tiles and touching every corner.

"Can you teach me how to destroy a piano?"

He was doomed to discover the instrument, sooner or later.

"No, leave the piano alone."

"Why?"

Damned kid's query.

"Because I don't wish for it to be taken apart."

She should have never introduced him to the world of engineering.

"Why? Do you know how to play the piano?"

Lena nods.

"Then will you play something for me?"

"No, I haven't played in a long time."

"Why?"

Lena caresses the instrument with a shy reverence.

"I don't like playing for myself."

"If you don't want to play for it for yourself, then do it for someone else."

She may not be worthy of her mother's memory but that doesn't mean Oran isn't.

The Luthors darkness won't ruin his light.

She sinks on the bench, readjusting her sweater and leaving room for the child, who plops beside her without another word, and listening as she strikes the first chords.

The music soars like ancient dust.

Her newly acquired friendships don't go unnoticed around town.

"You are friends with Miss Hayles, doll?"

Lena hums in affirmative as her companion sets the whiskey bottle down on the planks.

"She's a small fine thing, uh?" he continues, aiming for an uninterested and aloof aura.

Lena smiles sardonically, seeing right through his facade and teases him gently, free and unrestrained. "I could introduce you to her, if you'd like."

"Uh. How about that," he murmurs, gaze lost in the waves.

They keep talking about Miss Hayles and Oran for a little bit. When they leave later in the night, the bottle lays forgotten at their feet, untouched.

 

+++++

 

"It's only the two of us anyway, so mommy says that it's okay if you come over."

Lena completely misses what he's saying, his words flying over her, because she's distracted by the feeling of a familiar lump carving itself in her stomach. She lifts a hand to her own chest, sensing the slow rhythm of her heart picking pace, the whirring intensifying.

"Lena?" Oran's voice reaches her ears from far away, as if they were padded by a plastic bag. A bolts travels to her stomach, throat seized by fear.

"Oran, you have to-" she pleads, but the words get stuck. Panic rises quickly, like acid bile, nausea making the room spins. Black spots appear in her vision and her knees, shaking badly, collapse under her unable to hold her body. She doesn't crumple on the floor only because Oran is struggling to keep her upright, his lithe arms straining around her middle. His screams reach her in bursts, muted by the pain spreading rapidly. His head is dangerously close to her heart.

"Lena!"

He half leads and half drags her to the couch, where she sinks, depleted of her energy. She's terrified, incapable of thinking.

The serum is in the bathroom, tucked in the cabinet under the sink. But now it seems unreachable, miles away from her. The kryptonite is hot, Oran's hands burning trails on her forearms.

"Lena! Lena!"

She has to send him away. He has to go away, get away from her. Away. The vertigo abates a little, letting her talk.

"Oran, go away. ugh... go!"

The child screams, scared by her sudden outburst.

"I'll be fine, I-I-" Lena swallows thickly, the motion hurting her jaw. "There's medicine, I-I... bathroom, cabinet under... ngh."

She clenches her eyes shut, suppressing a wince. When she opens them, she's glad to discover Oran went away. But then she feels his socks sliding on the tiles until he's kneeling beside her. He thrusts the medicine forward, closing her clammy fingers around the vial. Lena gulps down the solution grateful, before she faints, embracing the painless darkness.

Her dreams are dark, punctuated by the whirring of her heart.

When she wakes up, she finds herself reclined on the couch, a patterned quilt she doesn't remember owning draped over her legs. She sees Aileen, washing a bronze pot in her sink and Oran's blue eyes observing her attentively.

"Mommy! She's awake!"

Aileen smiles gently at her and feeds her warm soup, while Oran is fully absorbed in his task of ringing the excess water from a cloth and placing it on her clammy forehead, cool fingertips a blessing against warm skin. They tell her she's been asleep only for a couple of hours, the fever coming and going thanks to whatever medicine Oran recovered from her cramped cabinets.

"We couldn't leave you! Mommy always stays with me when my tummy feels hicky."

She smiles wetly, eyes prickling as she thanks them, their gratuitous warmth leaving a coziness inside her. And Lena laughs unabashedly with him, her snort unsophisticated and loud. Her heart is silent and a bit lighter.

And as soon as Lena yearns and hopes for the pale semblance of peace in this forgotten village, her broken heart on the way to mending, the world drops under her feet once again.

While Lena recovers quickly from the kryptonite overload, Oran falls ill.

Aileen calls her on a wet evening from the hospital, her voice frantic and agitated on the phone.

She says he was reading his last book when he suddenly fainted, without any apparent cause, hitting his head on the way down. Lena scrambles for her coat and a few red traffic lights later, she's offering Aileen a shoulder and a tissue in the empty waiting room of the hospital. She hesitantly asks what the doctors think, after the other woman calms down a little.

"He was exposed to radiations." she croaks, sniffing.

"Radiations?"

Aileen nods against her shoulder, voice muffled by the wet sweater. "They don't know exactly what happened, but they agree on the fact that Oran stood too close to an unknown source of radiations for too long. They didn't tell me any details, I don't think I could have even understood, but I think they must be confused too. It's not like there's a toxic waste dump laying around here he could have wandered to," she laughs nervously, blowing her nose in the white handkerchief. "They say he should make a full recovery, given enough time."

She doesn't notice the blood leaving Lena's face, but she accepts her silence as a polite request for more information.

"He was only affected because of his alien heritage. This should help narrow down the possibilities of what caused his sickness."

"A-alien?" Lena croaks, snapping out of her stupor.

"Does that bother you?" Aileen prods, suddenly stiff.

"No, no. I'm just, surprised, I-I mean you-"

"...don't look like the alien type? Yeah, I get that a lot." Aileen sighs, sinking more into the plastic chair. "You may have noticed I'm not an alien and that Oran isn't my real son. I just found him one day in the middle of my parents' farm. His pod crashed, knocked off course and making him land on our farm. He was just a baby. And I was barely out of school and had just got my first job, so taking care of a baby, less an alien baby wasn't exactly in my range of abilities. But I got so attached to him so quickly that I couldn't bear the idea of giving him away to strangers as my parents wanted. Long story short, I moved here with Oran, got a new job and raised him all on my own. I don't talk with my parents since that day."

She lifted her head, pushing hair out of her face.

"I couldn't leave him. He could have landed anywhere on this Earth, but he landed in my ranch, under my window. I felt it was the right thing to do at the time. And I- oh. Lena, please don't cry, he's gonna be okay, shh, don't worry."

She doesn't know when she's started crying.

She lets herself be held in Aileen's arms for a beat, before bolting out of the chair, marching out of the hospital.

As soon as Lena gets home, she locks the door behind and clears the table with an angry flick of her hand. Lillian's notes surface on the table, sitting silently beside a pile of scraps.

Tears keep getting stuck in her vision, streaming down her cheeks, the sobs shaking her frames. She gives up brushing them when she realizes they won't stop soon.

Hours later, she finally brushes with trembling hands a gray jacket before shrugging it on with a sigh. She fastens its laces and its zippers tightly until she can't breath, the rise and fall of her lungs restrained by the lead ingrained in the clothing.

 

++++++

 

Laying in the hospital bed, surrounded by IV lines and machines, Oran never looked more alien, his fiery red hair ablaze in the sea of white. Lena looks up, feeling Aileen's stare on her, the young woman curled up on a chair and holding Oran's hand under the covers. Her face is like stone, but her eyes seem wet.

"Do you want a cup of coffee? I'm gonna go and stretch my legs for a bit."

Lena shakes her head, savoring the comforting hand on her shoulder as Aileen walks past her, ducking in the ward's hallway.

Lena watches Oran slumbering peacefully for a long minute before she sits down at his bedside. She isn't brave enough to reach for his pale little hand like his mother. Her lead shirt is smarting her shoulders at every twist of her body, rough at the seams.

With slow movements, she unties the necklace from her neck, the little silver sparrow swaying from her fingers, still flying. She drops the necklace on the bedside table, winding it around a water bottle.

The tears fall again only when she's strapped in the cockpit of the private Luthor jet she stole months ago, the engine rumbling under her. The sound of her breaking swallows the whirring of her heart.

 

++++++

 

The benefit of living in a big city is the anonymity it can grant you. The more crowded a place is, the more likely its citizens will be busy and distracted, worrying about their own daily lives and not minding your business.

Lena blends perfectly in the background of National City, a mute addition to the city packed streets. Nobody recognizes her face, a Luthor gladly forgotten. She had briefly debated returning to Metropolis, but her family name feels like a rope around her neck, and a wrong step will leave her dangling, feet kicking in the air. Then, what better place for a fresh start than the stage of her own death?

She curses when she reads Supergirl's name for the first time on the newspaper. She hopes to never meet her.

She rents a nice spot for herself in a building with as many balconies as apartments. She chooses a quaint flat on the third floor, down a well illuminated modern hallway and forces herself to find a job, another daily occupation in another bookstore, a shop from one big chain she vaguely recognizes from her college years. She polishes a few projects too, hunched over the kitchen table.

She cries more often than ever. She falls back into her terrible coping mechanism that she had fought against in Ireland, during the first few weeks. All of the worst parts of her nature that she’s prone to are catching up with her little by little. She loses weight, not eating properly and surviving entirely on piles of takeouts and leftovers. She picks up drinking again, but only after she suffers from a nightmare. Otherwise, her cup is always filled with tea, that she spikes every time a pang of loneliness hits her.

The nightmares come back in full force, happening almost every night. She dreams about the warehouse where she sees herself, moving among the debris, crawling towards the green light. But when she capsizes the edge of the metal table, she finds Oran's terrified eyes, kryptonite lodged in his small chest. She wakes up to Aileen's anguished screams.

When she can't sleep, she plays the piano she bought on a whim until the sun peeks from the rooftops, her mother's lullaby transitioning into other songs, any melody Lena can find at the front of her mind. Rifling through music sheets at the store relaxes her, centers her.

"You're very talented at playing the piano." Her neighbour tells her one day when they cross paths in the hallway. It's a blonde girl around her age, who keeps adjusting thick black glasses that frames her fair features. She's smiling over two shopping bags hanging from her forearms. Lena doesn't reply for a long beat, stunned by the fact that somebody is actively addressing her after days of being ignored by everyone. The other girl misinterprets her silence.

"Oh gosh, it's okay. You're not keeping me awake, I promise! I actually can't hear you that well because of these thick walls. Sometimes it seems like you're not even there because you are so silent. But-but I don't mean it in a bad way, like sort of I'm constantly listening to you or keeping tabs on you. That would be creepy. And I'm not creepy. It's just something I noticed, I-I uh. I heard you because I was just walking by your door. Please don't stop because of me. Just, just keep playing. Only if you want to, of course, I'm not ordering you to, but you are so talented and I like listening to you and..."

She curtly thanks her, cutting her rambling, before ducking into her apartment. Lena Luthor would have blushed under the honest praise and maybe even flirted back a little with the cute rambling girl, but Lena Mercer only trembles at the mere notion of having one friend, fighting the desperate longing that gnaws her stomach. Her green heart must keep everyone at arm's length.

She upgrades her lead jacket. The first prototype she assembled in her Irish kitchen was merely functional, the haste and the urge making her overlook many details. She mostly improves its design, building a lighter model, in which all the lead plaques are concentrated over the kryptonite. It isn't even a jacket anymore, but more like a sleeveless undershirt she can tuck under every button-up she owns.

She discovers the lead had actually caused a nasty bruise on her right shoulder, its redness crisscrossing the bullet scar, produced by friction against skin. Instead of an unbearable pain, it's more like an annoying ache, a small injury she keeps scratching at, stubbornly refusing to let it close. It takes her a long time to fix it.

As the days come and go, Lena doesn't let herself get lulled in a false feeling of complacence, remembering her last attempt at peace shattering because of her own negligence.

Her downfall starts in the elevator. She should have learned her lesson the first time, to stay away from anything that lifts off the ground without her direct control.

She's returning home from a soggy and uneventful day, shoulders aching and damp clothes uncomfortable over her lead protection. Rain is another detail she will have to make adjustments for. As soon as she reaches the building lobby, she forgoes the stairs, taking the lift even if they are only a few floors. At the ding signaling the closing doors, a shout reaches her ears, asking her to stall. But she's exhausted and her awful reflexes can't do anything to prevent the doors from closing.

She feels a little bad as she watches the floor numbers trickle by.

It's a slow ride, the opaque metal of the walls blurring the edges of her reflection. As the light moves with a ding on the number three, Lena feels a sudden lurch, not from the cubicle stopping, but deep within her chest.

Her shaking knees last for a grand total of four steps before a wave of vertigo slams into her. She always keeps a vial of serum inside her bag, but Lena is so out of it that she can barely stand, let alone think about searching in her purse. She realizes she's fallen on the floor when she sees a shadow blocking the lights streaming from the ceiling.

"Are you okay?"

Of course, laying on dirty floors is my favourite pastime, stranger. And internal dramatic monologues aren't everybody's thing, it seems.

She feels the shadow's arms snaking around her shoulders and under her knees, scooping her up in one smooth movement that worsens her dizziness. The stranger brings her down the hallway as if she barely weighs anything and when she sees an apartment number that isn't hers, she panics.

"No, no," vision swimming as she grabs at her saviour's arm. "My apartment, me-medicine..."

Apparently she said the right thing, because the stranger ventures further, this time in the right direction.

"I need you to open the door, where are your keys."

In her bag, she relays to the stranger.

"Okay, I'm gonna set you down for a moment. Can you stand?" the timbre is calm and determined, the voice of somebody who is used to acting under pressure.

Lena mumbles in affirmative and in a blink she's holding tight onto the door frame. She staggers, her limbs much heavier once her saviour isn't helping her. When the stranger gets back, a confused and alarmed sound emits from her throat, recognizing her blonde neighbour with her bags in tow. She has exactly two seconds to dissuade her from following her into the apartment, while the other woman ah-ahs, keys held high in her fist like a hard-conquered treasure. Lena bites back a groan, gathering all her quickly depleting energies. She has no idea how she could even try to explain her green beating heart to a stranger. Selfishly, she doesn't want the first human being she interacts with in a long time to think of her as the crazy green rock lady. Plus, she's already making such a nice first impression.

"Ugh... I-I..."

"Let me help you get inside." Lena brushes away the gentle hands, flinching away.

"Thank you, thank- ugh. But I can-" she gasps against the stabbing pain in her chest. "I can handle it now, you can go. Ugh."

She crosses the threshold on wobbly legs, heartbeat going crazy.

"But-"

"No!" Lena practically shouts, halting the protest and blocking the door with her weight. "I know you want to help, but but... ah, I can handle myself. Thank you for your assistance, but I can handle myself ugh..."

Another wave of nausea rolls within her.

"Are you sure?" the steel is gone, replaced by an unsure tone. Lena knows she's being rude right now, a little complaining shit, but in her defense she's in tremendous amount of pain and ready to collapse, chest on fire. The only thing she wants is to be alone and this well meaning stranger just won't go away.

"Yes, I'm sure. Now go!"

As soon as the blonde retreats in the hallway, taking one single step back, Lena slams the door in her face. She gulps down a vial, before face-planting on the couch and succumbing to darkness. She'll apologize to the other girl as soon as she feels a little less like death.

 

++++++

 

Apparently, in addition to being a total disappointment, a pitiful coward and a walking radiation supplier, now Lena is also a fucking liar.

And that's news, right?

Instead of apologizing, Lena flees again. She doesn't go too far, but she still calls in sick at work and starts the engine of her car. She leaves the radio on static for the whole trip.

She slips into the graveyard just as the morning sun dips behind a thick cluster of clouds. Winter hasn't left yet, the morning dew frozen upon the grass and the ground crunching beneath her feet. Her steps are rough and unwavering over the gravel, a familiar path engraved in her mind. The white birch is still there, leaves swaying gently to the silent symphony of the wind. The branches are longer than she remembers, some of them long enough to touch the ground or to caress her father's headstone.

Her hands are empty of any meaningless flowers she may have bought.

Four headstones stand in front of her, each of them carved by the same firm hand. Four graves for four Luthors, as the world wishes to see.

But she's still walking this world of living, trapped in the land of life, while her family slumbers in death, peaceful, six feet under the ground. She's alone in atoning for all their mistakes, alone in grieving and in shouldering all their burdens. Alone in praying for them. Nobody knows Lena struggles every day under their faults, deserving of all the pain they had caused. Her sins too, all the people she had killed, the ties she had cut by running away, all the souls her darkness had tainted.

She thinks about the people, all the people Lex ruined in his madness, the countless victims of his madness. All their names are carved inside her.

God, she killed her own flesh and blood. She killed Lex, the first friend she ever had, the first kind touch she ever felt. She never dreams anymore of their shared childhood, of their complicity under the Luthor's roof, but of his blood, dripping from her fingers. She cries because she loves him.

She's left with nothing, except for graves and guilt.

Sometimes she thinks about Death, about what it would feel like if It came to claim her, too. If one last attempt could finally erase her from existence. But the kryptonite in her body keeps her alive, along with all the death she caused. Living is a punishment in itself.

Nothing can reach them. But they can reach Lena, her nightmares a testament of how much power they still hold over her.

Lionel's headstone has lost its cutting rims, smoothed by the long years of rain and sun. Her hand brushes on the chipped gold letters. Lillian lays beside him, Lex's grave symmetrical on his other side. How ironic, for Lillian not to rest next to her golden child. It's a shame she hasn't learned how to stop caring from her.

There's a last gravestone, a little further down the hill, at the edge of the birch's shadow. She knows what she'll see when she gets close enough, where the letters become visible beyond her tears.

Her name and an empty coffin. Standing and laying underground at the same time.

With a hiccup, she notices the tears streaking her cheeks, hot tears that dig painful tracks. She's openly crying, sobbing so violently that her lungs ache. She clutches at her chest, touching the hard surface of her heart, wishing she could squeeze the life out of it.

 

++++++

She's still hiccuping as she moves towards the gates of the cemetery, feeling empty, like someone had scooped her insides out with a tea spoon. Only when she's outside, tramping along the street, Lena lifts her head from her steps. There's a little stall that sells flowers, for anybody who wishes to pay homage in a more substantial way. The man's eyes crinkle over a pair of thick mustache and Lena finds herself smiling back wetly as she reaches for the bouquet of plumerias she had just payed for.

She doesn't know what's their meaning, but she supposes they could be a nice stand in for an apology.

When she knocks on her neighbour's door that same evening, with her apology clutched in trembling hand, she finds a red haired woman answering at the door. As soon as they lock gazes the woman's stand becomes guarded, her stare turning inquisitive as she scrutinizes her immediately. Lena's trained eye picks up the subtle detail. She's wearing a black sleek uniform, arms crossed like a military officer or an agent. Despite being almost the same height the other woman rises, blocking most of the entry.

Lena has learned to recognise hate, but this time she isn't sure what it's warranted for. She doesn't question it.

"You need something?"

Even her words are clipped, abrasive. Lena doesn't take any offense.

"I'm looking for..." she blushes when she realizes she can't provide a name and the red haired woman frowns at her.

"Looking for somebody you can't even be bothered to learn the name of?"

If Lena had any doubts in the first place, now she's sure she has knocked at the right door. It seems, sadly, that who she's looking for isn't home at the moment so she's left with this angry woman. She huffs, growing annoyed, but she still has the decency to appear ashamed.

"Yeah, about that, I wanted to apologize. Is she here? Can I talk to her?" she asks, thrusting the flowers forward, a weak shield against the incoming assault.

The woman doesn't relent in her rage, narrowing her eyes dangerously.

"She's not here, I'm sorry," she's not, "You'll have to come back later, better never. Bye!" she finishes, shutting the door in Lena's face.

Uh, guess she deserved that.

Another burnt bridge, another person who probably hates her now. And to think she doesn't even know her name.

She stumbles back in her apartment and sinks on the leather piano bench in a daze, even if she isn't in the mood for playing anything right now. It feels like she had just been slapped. She doesn't know why she cares so much for this stranger's approval. She caresses the piano keys, careful not to produce notes.

She gathers her bearing long enough to order takeout and turn on the television on some British baking contest.

She doesn't know how much time trickles away before she's startled by a knock. And there's her blonde saviour, glasses crooked like her smile.

"Hi! Sorry for disturbing you this late, but I wanted to apologize for my sister's behaviour. Alex told me you knocked while I wasn't home. And I understood from what she said - and didn't say - she was a bit... short with you. So... We're sorry about it."

Lena blinks.

"You want to apologize for your sister's behaviour?"

The blonde woman blinks.

"Yeah."

Lena gestures in the air, incapable of articulating any sentence.

"You want to apologize? I should be the one apologizing. For my rude dismissal."

The blonde woman blinks again and tilts her head, a confused expression on her face.

"Why?" she asks, genuine.

"Why?" Lena repeats, baffled, "I was so rude!"

"Oh," something clicks in the blonde's mind, like thoughts aligning. "No, you don't have to. I know you didn't mean to, you weren't feeling well and-"

"But I shouldn't have been so insensitive, you were only trying to help me and I was being rude and- and..." She motions blindly in the direction of the table, "I... I got you flowers?"

The bouquet is still resting where she had tossed it, now ruined, white petals scattered on the floor.

"Uh, I'm sorry."

The blonde smiles gently, as she cradles the broken stems, "These are beautiful."

"They're called plumerias. They were nicer when I got them, but..."

"They sure are well loved," The woman's fingers brushes gently the ruined stems. "Are you feeling okay now?"

Lena lifts a puzzled eyebrow, prompting the blonde to clarify.

"I mean with your sickness, you know..."

"Oh, yeah. Thank you. I've got... I've got a heart disease."

"Oh no," her neighbour moves closer to where she's sitting, "You don't have to tell me, I get it if it's personal."

"No, I want to," Lena hears herself say, surprised by her own boldness, "At least you deserve to know your neighbour isn't contagious, but just plain rude."

"You weren't being rude!"

Lena stares at her, unconvinced. The blonde's blush makes her stomach tingle.

"Okay, maybe you were a bit rude..."

"Only a bit?" Lena huffs.

"Yes, only a bit." They share a small laugh. "What about your heart?"

"I've got a condition," Lena lowers her gaze on her lap, where her hands are fiddling, "It's fine most of the time, but sometimes it acts up and makes me sick. But I'm okay, I have my medicine that helps."

"I'm glad."

There's a lull in the conversation where Lena sorts the takeout containers littering her coffee table, leaving the blonde standing.

"Will you forgive me?"

"There's nothing to forgive," Her neighbour protests, smiling.

"Still, it would make me feel better to know you forgave me."

"Okay," she concedes, "Then I forgive you for your rudeness... uh."

"Lena," she supplies, helpful.

"Well Lena. It's nice to officially meet you. The name's Kara." Kara says, extending her hand with an exaggerated flourish and a little bow, making Lena smile.

"So, since we're over introductions, Lena, will you accept our apology as well?"

Our. She keeps saying our.

"Okay, tell your sister I forgive her. But she wasn't wrong, you know?" Lena tries again.

"No, she was wrong."

Lena panics, feeling the conversation coming closer to its end. She doesn't want Kara to go away, not yet, so she scrambles for anything to add.

"Older or younger sister?" Lena moves on the couch, making room for Kara.

"Older," Kara says, sitting on the cushions, "Oh, I'm actually adopted so that makes Alex my adopted sister. She's protective of me. Always have been actually. Because of that, mostly. And because I...I..."

Another blush rises to Kara's cheeks, as the girl cuts her own rambling.

"You?"

"I... well, I... I sort of went to her crying after I met you so..."

"Crying?" Lena repeats, stomach plummeting.

"Oh gosh," Kara adjusts her glasses, lifting her eyes on the muted television, "I've been having a bad day and-and things kept piling up and you were just the fuse that made everything go boom."

"I made you cry?"

"Yes- I mean, no! I mean, it's okay, don't worry," Kara stammers, waving her hands, "I was upset, it's not your fault."

Lena lowers her gaze, shame burning low. She's thankful for Kara's constant talking.

"I went to Alex's and cried a little. Just a little." Kara sighs, resting more comfortably on the couch. Lena shifts away the tiniest bit, suddenly hyper aware of Kara's movements. "That's why Alex was doomed to be wary of you, because... I cried."

There's a low whirring in the air.

"Golly, I'm sorry, Lena. It's only our first meeting and I've already annoyed you with all this stuff about me. Alex does say I tend to ramble a lot, actually."

She can hear Kara's smile in her voice, despite not looking at her directly.

"Technically, this is our third meeting," Lena cuts in, striving for a relaxed impression, "But since I was a rude little shit, I'd like to consider this as our first meeting. I'm sorry about upsetting you or your sister."

Kara brushes the apology away. "Don't worry. I kicked her out after giving her a piece of mind and threatening to call our mother."

"That sounds scary. The mother card. Still, I'm sorry for making you fight."

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be back in the morning with breakfast. Typical siblings fight."

"Ah, tell me about those."

"You got any sibling?"

Lena freezes, falters, loves, hurts.

"I had a brother. Older."

She steels herself against Kara's inevitable barrel of questions.

"Oh!" the blonde exclaims, bending forward, "General Tsao! I love their takeout!"

A shocked "what?" falls out from Lena's mouth, unbridled.

"Yeah, General Tsao. Takeout." Kara supplies, making a wide arc with her hand, hitting an empty carton and causing it to topple over. Before it falls to the floor, Kara quickly catches it with a sheepish smile.

"Yeah," Lena agrees, all grateful teary green eyes, "I wasn't exactly in the mood for cooking."

"I love their chow mein, it's amazing. But you have to try Aunt Wu next time: their potstickers are to die for." Kara says, animated.

"I'll have to take your word for it," Lena replies, while covering her sniffling. If Kara notices, she doesn't say anything.

"What? You mean you never tried it?" Kara mockingly gasps, drawing another giggle from Lena. "That won't do, Lena. We have to fix that. Why don't we make a night out of it? You can come to my apartment, we'll order Chinese and then we'll watch a movie. This Saturday."

Lena's eyes move from the takeout container to Kara, and she’s surprised to see Kara watching her carefully, as if worried she'll flee like a spooked animal. Oran's face flashes in her vision, and her heart flips once.

"No, I can't, I'm sorry."

“Okay.” Kara gets up, and touches Lena’s arm, palm scorching hot on her freezing skin. “Maybe another time then?” Kara looks at her, perplexed, but Lena can't meet her eyes.

“I-I,” Lena stammers, “I remembered I've got an early wake up tomorrow, so.” She looks up briefly. “I don't want to kick you out, but-”

"That's okay. I'll go. It's late and I didn't mean to impose," Kara says, always smiling, holding onto the frame of her glasses.

Lena holds the door open as Kara strides past her, giving her a beaming wave with her flowers as the door closes behind her. Lena stands until she hears her steps disappear down the hallway.

She tidies up the mess on her coffee table, dumping the leftovers on a plate in the fridge. She checks the kitchen once, noticing the growing pile of dirty dishes and the empty table. She loads the dishwasher, the tingle of the utensils covering the whirring, before collecting all the white petals bleeding on the floor. Making sure nothing is out of place, she pours herself a glass of whiskey, directly from her fancy tumbler.

The inside of her chest is ringing hollow and aching and she feels ill because something happened. In her living room. With Kara. Something sparked within her, the embers of desire.

Suddenly, she falls to her knees on the floor, hyperventilating, black stars popping in her vision as the glass shatters in the corner of her eye. She's clutching at her chest with both hands, sobbing without tears, forcing herself to break the rhythm of her uncontrolled breathing, and squeezes her eyes shut.

Breathe. Breathe.

Her heart is hot, then ice, then hot again, its warmth spreading, burning all her torso. When the kryptonite becomes ice again, the cold brings a stab of pain. She breaks in a frozen sweat, fearing her heart will go into another energy overload.

She's left with a broken glass and a heart made of rock.

 

+++++++

 

Every time she plays the piano, Lena thinks about Kara. About her offer.

She's scared, utterly terrified at making another friend, the memory of Oran carved in her soul. They cross paths in the hallway, sometimes, Kara's bright smiles washing away the awkwardness that Lena feared it would have lingered. They always chat amicably for a couple of minutes, before parting ways. They talk about nothing, small things, like a dog Kara saw in the streets or a new brand of tea Lena is trying.

Kara is gracious and respectful of her decision, never asking for more than the short moments they share, never bringing up that hesitant rain check. Lena covers all her disappointment under a labyrinth of relief. Kara seems genuinely happy to see her each time, face lighting up at the sight of Lena. For her part, Lena survives their encounters maintaining a perfectly balanced mix of awkwardness and eagerness. She forces the happiness down in a little box.

A pattern has certainly emerged, despite the irregular frequency of their hallway meetings. Lena discovers Kara is a junior reporter at CatCo, the kind of job that requires scattered hours without any semblance of consistency. Her boss sounds like a terrible person, though, from what Lena understands listening to Kara's stifled rants, each one of them strictly PG-13: Lena finds her stubborn aversion to curse words charming - how could anyone despise this literal ray of sunshine is above her comprehension.

She buys every CatCo issue she can put her hands on to read all her articles. They are few and obviously all puff pieces, not one of them cover worthy, but Kara tackles each of them with professionalism and dedication.

It's painfully embarrassing how quickly these brief meetings become the highlight of her repetitive days. Kara's enthusiasm keeps the bad thoughts at bay, inevitably leaving Lena smiling like a fool. She's such an idiot.

Despite the crazy hours Kara has, Lena can't stop herself from lingering in the hallway, hoping to catch a glimpse of her blonde neighbour. She takes longer while searching for her keys, lost in the bag, and she forgoes the elevator, taking the longer stairs, where she stops, fumbling with her phone, checking her empty inbox.

Her heart's whirring makes sure their friendship remains a fantasy. Before venturing outside every morning, she always checks that her lead undershirt is tucked in place.

What's worse, Kara always seems to pick up whenever she has a rough night, meeting her in the morning bearing small gifts.

"I got this pastry for my sister, but you deserve it more than her."

"I've got one gross herbal tea for Miss Mercer!"

"I wasn't sure how you drink your coffee, so I got you everything."

She learns that Kara loves food and eating.

Sometimes, when they meet, Kara isn't alone. It's not a surprise, with such a sunny disposition Kara surely has many friends. Every time Lena hears an unfamiliar voice she hurries down the hallway, ducking into the safety of her apartment, shooting Kara a brief fleeting smile. Or if one of her friends come out from Kara's door while they are speaking, Lena finds a lame excuse to make herself scarce, to avoid any interactions. Most of the times Kara is in the company of her sister Alex, who glowers at Lena like a guard dog: what stretches on Alex's face isn't exactly a grimace and certainly not a smile. It's more like a not-frown. And every time Kara nudges her sister, scolding her. Lena smiles, but can't bring herself to find any fault in Alex's demeanor.

One evening, she bumps into Alex as she's entering the lobby. The red haired woman is holding a cake in one hand and a big bag of pastries in the other. Her eyes immediately narrow as she detects her presence, no Kara in sight and Lena tries to make herself smaller. Thankfully Alex isn't alone, but accompanied by a small group of people, most of which Lena recognizes from the circle of Kara's friends. A petite latina nudges Alex with an easy smile.

"Be nice," she warns, as Alex's scowl grows deeper.

"I haven't said anything."

"Not yet." The woman chides, dimples showing as she smirks at Lena.

Lena feels like she should add something to the one sided conversation, but the two women are bickering between themselves, so she dips into the staircase without a word. It looks like they're having some sort of party at Kara's, while Lena sits on her couch, hugging her knees.

The next time she meets Kara in the hallway, they converse serenely, with Kara narrating the last episode of a show she's watching with her sister. At the next lull in the conversation, Lena gathers all her courage in one stammering question.

"Listen, Kara, about that movie night... does this Saturday work for you?"

 

+++++++

 

They strike up a peculiar friendship. And as far as friendships go, this one moves pretty quickly, at least on Lena's side of things, a clear warning about how much starved for affection she was.

The Saturday of their movie night, Lena spends the afternoon pacing nervously, like a caged animal. Before she can convince herself to forego the whole thing, ready to label it as a foolish fantasy, Kara knocks on her door, hair ruffled and white teeth peeking behind a bashful smile.

"Sorry I'm a bit early, but I've already finished editing my article, so I decided to drop by and see if you weren't busy."

They end up ordering Chinese takeouts from both General Tsao and Aunt Wu's, bickering all the time about who has the best potstickers, even though Kara ends up eating most of them. They eat at her table, making a mess of half eaten cartons because Kara's passing her one plate after the other, insisting she "must try their noodles, it's so good," or "you cannot not eat this, Lena. You'll thank me later," and soon Lena has eaten more than she had in a long time, belly aching from munching and laughing too much. On her part, Kara proves herself as a human food disposer, inhaling every scrap Lena can't swallow. Later in the evening, when Lena is feeling a pleasant buzz from the food and the company, they move to the couch, tuning the tv on the same British cooking show Lena was watching. Lena ends up choking on her tea, laughing so hard at Kara's terrible British accent as she mimics one of the strict judges. They're three episodes in when Lena realizes she had already seen them.

In her dreams that night, Lena sees an ocean of golden spikes, an endless field of grain. The only green she can see comes from the flowers, blooming around her.

They meet the following week for a second movie night, this time at Kara's: Lena lets her pick and the blonde reporter settles for a romantic comedy with terrible plot and terrible acting. Lena swears she'll never watch a movie chosen by Kara she doesn't approve (she ends up approving every one of them because of Kara's pout, even if most of them are truly terrible). And then a week later for a third movie night at Lena's, Kara shows up with a huge tub of ice cream, its size probably too big for only two little spoons (they still eat the whole tub and Lena wakes the next day with an aching stomach. She regrets nothing).

They trade phone numbers, so they can chat for the whole day, even when they can't meet. Kara sends her too many cat videos and abuses of emojis, which Lena complains about but secretly loves. Even though sometimes their schedules don't match up for days, their stream of messages never stops.

The bad days are less frequent, fewer and Lena manages them better, because thanks to her improved mood she bounces back quickly, spending less time cooped inside her apartment. Her heart goes into energy overload once and despite taking the vial of serum, she still calls sick at work, energy depleted by the short burst of radiations. Later, when she calls Kara for a rain check on their movie night, letting her know that she's sick, the blonde reporter makes a half noise of protest, before promptly hanging up the call. Lena is still staring dumbfounded at her phone screen when Kara shows up at her door, soup and wool blanket in tow. "Eliza's secret recipe! To cure every illness! From heartbreaks to colds!" she declares, marching inside and preventing Lena from lifting a single finger for the next twelve hours, fussing and worrying over her.

Lena's a bit overwhelmed by all this, but Kara's eager to try anything with her, from eating together at new food places to pestering Lena until she reveals her birthday date. Even though she doesn't tell Kara any of this, she suspects the blonde reporter must have picked up something, because she never pushes Lena too much, sensing her discomfort and quickly making her feel at ease.

Kara's truly fascinating, the kind of person everybody likes, wearing her emotions on her sleeve and Lena finds herself constantly marveling at her blonde friend - friend! The lone word is enough to make her feel giddy. Still, she's a mystery sometimes, one Lena can't fully grasp. Every time she thinks she has understood Kara, the other woman surprises Lena with her thoughtfulness and kindness.

Like an engaging paradox, Lena approaches the issue like a scientist: the most logical step is to make a list of all the details she deems important to the problem.

 

Kara loves going out.

She's not exactly a party animal (dance clubs are a big no for Kara) but Kara has this happy energy inside, all blinding smiles that can't be contained inside four walls. They walk every place, forgoing cabs most of the time.

Kara makes her discover National City under the cloak of darkness. She drags her to the bowling alley, the movie theater, the park and the arcade. They spend evenings in the food district, jumping from one stall to another, hiding their laughter in free samples and takeout food or eating dinner at Kara's favourite restaurants, while Lena tries to convince her to eat more green food.

She discovers that Kara loves the stars, and everything related to space. Only few stars are visible in the night sky, because of the city light pollution, so they spend hours in the astronomy ward in the city museum, blinking against the bright lights of the planetarium.

"They remind me of home." Kara tells her, one day, when she tries to convince Lena to sit through a show about galaxies and nebulae, one they've already seen last week. Lena just squeezes her arm and sits down in the comfy chair.

Kara also loves birds.

Lena already knows Kara's smart (they were able to hold an entire conversation about quantum entanglement and polyatomic anions for an impressive amount of time), but her wide knowledge of birds many species and colours is surprising.

"Did you know birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs?"

"Oh, and a group of owls is called 'parliament'. Pretty weird, uh?"

She won't even eat turkey on Thanksgiving, too.

"Why do you love birds so much, Kara?"

"Well," Kara says, lifting her gaze to look at a wandering cloud, "There weren't any birds on my pla- uh... where I come from, we didn't have birds. Not really."

"No birds?" Lena laughs, shooting Kara a weird look. "Did you live underground or something?"

"Or something."

They have many nights in, too.

Movie nights, game nights, takeout nights, pizza nights, cookie nights and cookie dough nights (because they deserve two different nights).

"Soooo," Kara asks, a crooked smile on her face "About that pillow fort you promised me?"

"I... uh, I," Lena blushes and grins, sharing Kara's excitement, "I may or may not have put together a couple of blueprints the other night."

Kara beams at her, kind and conscientious and so, so caring.

 

Kara loves food, but dislikes everything remotely healthy. She hates kale with a passion.

Lena makes this discovery during one of their early trips in the city. It's Lena's turn to choose the venue for their dinner, so she picks a new vegetarian place that just opened up near her work place. Kara, none the wiser, lets Lena place both their orders.

"You betrayed me, Lena! I'll never trust you with anything else again!" Kara declares, branding her fork like a sword, the green menace stabbed.

"It's good for you. It's healthy. You can't last on potstickers and pizza alone, Kara." Lena masks her laughter behind the edge of her glass, taking a sip.

Kara looks mortally offended, taking her disregard as a terrible affront.

"I'm not kidding, Lena," she says, dead serious, "And your refusal to act as if this isn't a serious matter deeply wounds me."

Lena hums, letting Kara continue her declaration of war on anything that is green and healthy.

"I don't know if I can be your friend if you keep threatening me with these- these... with these evil plants! I will look into withdrawing my friendship proposal, Lena."

At the words, Lena freezes, suddenly scared by Kara's serious look. Her stomach feels like lead, mouth dry.

"But," Kara professes, after a beat, "Since I already sent my offer in the mail, I guess you'll just have to stick around for a bit more." And Kara's smiling at Lena, teasing, smirking. Lena breathes again and smiles in return, all her worries melting away.

"But this, oh I won't forgive this. No matter how much I may like you, Lena, I won't tolerate this evil plant's presence anymore. I'm sure this was invented exclusively to ruin people's lives."

"I'm sure kale wasn't created to ruin people's lives, Kara."

"Still." Kara mumbles, eyeing crookedly the green leaf impaled on her fork.

On the way home, Lena buys her two servings of potstickers.

 

Kara wants to introduce her to her friends,

and they're really nice, Lee! They come to my house for game night each Friday. You could join us? We can pair up against Alex and Maggie! You know Maggie, right? She's Alex's girlfriend. She's great. They're in that honeymoon phase, when they are all about each other. So they always team up. And that leaves me, Winn and James to figure out the rest of the teams. If you came, you could pair with me and together destroy our competition!

Lena can't even think about facing them.

 

Kara loves NSYNC.

It starts with Kara texting one day during her lunch break, saying she is near her work place because she had to meet a source for her current article, and so since she's already here, wouldn't she like to eat with her?

Her coworkers stare at her weirdly, used to her silent and lonely lunch breaks, but Lena ignores them, as she lets Kara inside the staff room.

"We're breaking a few rules, uh?"

Lena hushes her, poking at her with a spoon, embarrassed.

Then, it's Lena, who braves a few blocks to join Kara's on the sunny terrace of CatCo, chatting over their packed lunches, Lena's always much greener. They have lunch together at least once a week, when their schedules align.

During one sunny break at CatCo, Lena receives the first lesson about boy bands from the early 2000's.

"I mean, I love him, I do. But JT's got to be the only one holding up the reunion. Who wouldn't love to see them back together? And speaking of being together, I would go crazy if Britney and JT got together again. Have you seen them?"

Lena doesn't tell Kara she's terribly out of touch with songs and pop culture, the only music she listens to is herself playing the piano, each songs engraved by countless hours of practice at the Luthor mansion. She doesn't tell Kara the part about the Luthor, too.

So, she has no idea who JT is or which ones of their songs passed on the radio. She knows Britney Spears, though, from a weird website she studied for a college physics course.

But then Kara's listing more weird band names she's never heard of and she can barely keep up, nodding along the way.

As soon as Lena reaches home, she downloads as many songs as she remembers from Kara's never ending list and wonders if these songs require an acquired taste.

 

Alex still hates her.

She meets Alex again, briefly, as she crosses paths with the Danvers sisters in the building hallway, caught between an excited wave and a dangerous frown.

Yup, Alex still scares her.

 

Kara is a hugger.

The first time Kara hugs her, Lena's thinking about electromagnetism.

She's stuck on a project she's been working on for a while. It's been weeks and Lena still can't find a solution. She sighs again.

"Everything okay?" Kara mutters, worried at the sight of her suffering.

Kara's typing on her computer, working on her last article, while Lena sits, huffing and groaning at her kitchen table. They had started doing that, too. Working together, sharing space in comfortable silences.

"Yeah," Lena sighs for the umpteenth time, letting the frustration build. "I've been stuck on this fucking problem for ages and I still can't seem to make it work."

Kara tuts at her cursing, but doesn't comment. Instead, she comes closer, peeking at her equations from behind Lena's shoulder.

"What are you working on?"

Lena drops her pencil on the counter, glad for the distraction, and half turns in Kara's direction. "It's just a little thing, an idea I had. I'm trying to design a software that converts mind waves into kinetic energy. For people who can't move properly. They could turn on lights or open windows without having to- oh!"

Kara does the most unthinkable thing then, she leans down and hugs Lena tight. So tight she fears her shoulders will pop out of their sockets. It makes her panic, and hold her breath. Her arms hover awkwardly over Kara's body. She doesn't want to shatter this moment because she made the wrong move.

When her mind starts working again, as she makes the reckless decision to lower her hands on Kara's shoulders, Kara pulls back and puts some distance between them. Lena despairs, moment wasted.

"That's amazing, Lena," she beams, "You're amazing."

Lena freezes.

"It's such an amazing idea. And you're so smart. I'm sure you'll find a solution."

And Kara hugs her again, ecstatic and overjoyed, holding on tight, as if Lena could be the reason for her elation. Lena hesitantly hugs her back.

From that moment, Lena is doomed. Kara's almost always touching her in subtle ways. She's a tactile person, laying a hand on her arm or squeezing her shoulder on the way out. She'll feel her feet being nudged under the table, or when they're walking Kara sometimes links their arms at the elbows.

Most of all, Kara is a hugger. As soon as they meet and right before parting ways, Kara hugs her, no matter how much time passed between their encounters. And Lena's soul, starved, accepts every touch with a jolt, before quickly melting against her blonde friend. She slowly becomes accustomed to her touch, each time relaxing a moment earlier than the last.

Touch is Kara's love language.

It’s almost addictive, being touched.

 

Kara Danvers is Supergirl.

It's more of a hunch, than a certainty. Still, too many details line up in Lena's inner vision to just list as coincidences. Kara is definitely Supergirl. The scientist in her can brag about 80 percent accuracy on the obtained result.

After the hilarity of having a friend abates a little (it never stops, actually), Lena starts filing away facts unconsciously. As she relaxes on her couch, nursing a glass of red wine, she scrutinizes each little detail, one by one, comparing them to what little Supergirl revealed about herself during the few interviews she has given, ticking each element off her imaginary list.

Exhibit number 1, in favor of her thesis. Lena has seen Kara holding five full shopping bags at the same time. In one single hand! She could be super fit, though, so this is probably one of her weakest point in her argument. On to exhibit number 2, then: Kara can eat for four people, without gaining a single pound. She's always hungry, consuming food at an alarming rate, be it a donut or a burger. Yes, Lena concedes to her imaginary adversary, this piece of evidence can't exactly qualify as real evidence. Kara could possibly burn all those calories, seeing her strength (ah, she's super fit... you got that? She's funny even without trying). As a side note, Lena can't seem to get Kara drunk, for all her trials, her blonde friend holds her alcohol really well, never showing a buzz.

Proof number 3 is more sound based. Kara has said more than once than she can hear Lena playing the piano all the way from her own apartment. And Lena finds that... unlikely. She's sure somewhere in her rent lease it was granted that her new home had soundproof walls, the dreams of any people living in the middle of a lively city as National City. And Supergirl does have superhearing in her wide range of powers, so Lena isn't compelled to ignore that. Or maybe Kara just sits outside her door every night to listen to her. Who knows.

Evidence number 4 is probably the one that will grant her victory, Your Honor. Kara is Supergirl because she does weird things. Well, Kara does weird things on a daily basis, like crossing a road just to pet a cute dog or failing miserably at juggling just to make a kid smile. But, you see, these are Weird Things, capital letters. Like disappearing in a middle of a lunch with some painfully fabricated lie, or not answering her phone for hours. Like the following extract will certainly clarify any doubt.

They are watching a movie together, laying snuggled under a pink blanket. Their shoulders are touching, leaning against each other and Lena's low-key having a panic attack. But she's comfortable, cozy and full from their shared dinner, the tv droning in the background. Kara's head is warm against her, heavy, the reporter blinking slowly, trying to fend off sleep. Lena thinks she's adorable.

Suddenly, Kara startles, rising her head so fast Lena fears for her neck.

"You okay?" she asks, but Kara is already up, marching to the door. She halts, freezing like a deer in the headlights.

"Uh, uh, I just remembered I've eaten all the ice cream this afternoon, so I've-I've got to go and buy some more. Back in a jiffy!"

Lena stares after her for a long while, before kicking the blanket off her legs and rising from the couch. She checks the freezer, which is filled to the brim with mint chocolate chip, her favourite flavor. She touches her chest, feeling the outline of the cold rock lodged inside.

Later, when Kara comes home empty handed and a vague smell of smoke gripping to her clothes, Lena's still waiting for her on the couch. She smiles, merely lifting one corner of the blanket, motioning Kara over and patting the spot next to her. Later, when Kara falls asleep, head on her lap, Lena smooths away a streak of soot from her cheeks, touch lingering. When she realizes what she's doing, she retracts her hand quickly, as burned and holds it to her chest. She doesn't move, listening to Kara's light snores.

She freaks out only a couple of days later, shooting up in her bed after a nightmare involving Lex and Superman. She can't be Supergirl's friend. She can't even- she can't. She won't be her downfall.

The whirring of her heart intensifies, the kryptonite slowly pulsing under her shirt. She feels the madness climbing up, energy burning from the inside.

She knows what kryptonite does to Kryptonians. She had seen her brother's works, him spiraling down into his obsession. She won't follow his footsteps, she won't hurt another person, alien or not. She won't. She'll disappear, move out of National City, to the other side of the country, or maybe back to Ireland. She'll destroy her phone, dropping out from Supergirl's life, vanishing.

She won't repeat her mistake, she won't.

In a frenzy, she discards her covers, and starts clawing at her chest. This is all her mother's fault, and her brother's, too. This kryptonite, this cold rock embedded inside her. She should just give up, leave everything behind. Fill that empty casket. Nobody would miss her. She has already died once, what's another time? The handful of people she met as Lena Mercer won't miss her, a pale person disappearing from their lives as quickly as she entered. The only one who'll miss her will be Kara.

Kara.

Her sweet friend, her dearest friend, the one she dreamed about in the throes of loneliness. Her blonde friend who is also Supergirl and in danger, every time she's sitting beside her. Kara, her one friend, who will... cry for her. Look for her everywhere, in case she went missing. Hold her. Make her smile. Hug her. Dry her tears. Eat with her. Laugh with her.

Lena stops, her raw hands bleeding, trembling in front of her. Lena cannot lose her, Kara's warmth addictive, and she's too weak to forget her. Like a soul lost in darkness, doomed to walk in the shadows for all her life, once it sees the light of the sun its eyes can never be the same. She's too much of a coward, too selfish to let her go.

Lena drops her head and cries for a long time, the ugly snot kind of cry, with hiccups and gasps and not enough air in her lungs.

 

Kara's a cuddler when she sleeps. The kind that wraps around Lena like an octopus.

Spending together so many movie nights, sharing blankets and space, it seems fate that one of them will fall asleep sooner or later.

She's been having a rough week, between dealing with another energy overload and discovering Kara's other identity, Lena's losing sleep, because each time her eyes close she's riddled by night terrors. But she can't decline Kara's invite for a cozy movie night, lured by the promise of her favourite Italian takeout food and a Disney movie (Kara shoulders the responsibility of introducing Lena's poor soul to the world of Disney movies quite seriously).

The movie - they're watching The Sword in the Stone this time - has barely started, but Kara's warmth is more alluring than Merlin's magic spells and complaining sugar bowls. She wakes up to a black screen and Kara's fingers carding through her hair, running a lazy path in her dark tresses. Lena wakes up slowly, savoring the delicious pressure on her scalp. She's on the brink of falling asleep again, shifting more comfortably on Kara's lap and closing her eyes again.

There's one tiny detail she forgot about, one green rock that could easily kill her super powered friend if she got too close.

She flees to her apartment, rambling about an early rise tomorrow. She bolts from Kara's lap before the reporter can say anything, running away and slamming the door behind her. Not a literal run. But maybe also a little bit of a jog down the hallway because she’s not sure what she could say to Kara and she can’t deal with this right now. Once she's facing her dark home, she slides against the wall and cries, clutching her knees to her chest.

She's careful, extremely careful from now on.

As soon as she's feeling sleepy, she gently removes Kara's hand from wherever she's touching her (because obviously Kara is touching her in some degree) and fixes herself a cup of tea, three spoons of sugar.

She works long night on her lead undershirt, making sure it won't move if she twists and turns in her sleep, the kryptonite carefully covered. Another week of bitten nails and nicked fingertips pass before she sets down her screwdriver.

The next time Lena falls asleep on Kara's lap, she doesn't think much but lets the reporter carry her to the bedroom, and slips beside her into bed. She immediately scoots closer as she falls asleep listening to a new heartbeat.

The nightmares haven't stopped. Because of course they haven't. And Lena doesn't think they ever will.

They happen even when she's sharing the bed with Kara. And each time her blonde friend rouses and hugs her, wrapping strong arms around her and letting her cry her ugly sobs, while placing careful kisses on the crown of her head. And Lena muffles her whimpers against her strong shoulder, hiding in the crook of her neck, thankful Kara doesn’t push for any more even though it’s obvious how badly she wants to.

Sometimes, when Lena wakes up, disturbed by the noise of the city or the fluttering of a curtain over an open window, Kara's spot on the bed beside her is empty, only the memory of warmth lingering behind. Another clue to add to her Supergirl list, especially when Kara silently climbs behind her, considerate in her silence, reclaiming her previous position of koala hugger.

On a lazy Sunday morning, the sun rays wakes her before the alarm set on Kara's phone. She finds her blonde friend wrapped around her, spooning her, hands linked on her stomach, safely resting over her clothing armor. Lena half turns in Kara's arms, golden curls invading her vision. Kara's still dozing, a serene expression on her beautiful face, hair framing her, highlighting the delicate arch of her lips, so close to Lena she can feel each puff of breath on her neck, each gentle exhale making her ticklish.

She's close, so close that Lena could, if she wanted, she could tilt her head and lean in and-

Oh, fuck.

 

++++++

 

On the spectrum of her panic attacks (using the term scale would be reductive), Lena places 'Crush on Kara Danvers' between 'Mother discovers from socialites that you've been kissing Andrea Rojas for weeks' and 'Lex sends assassins to kill you on a daily rate'. Not bad, for a Wednesday morning.

Sometimes, Kara will look at her with an inscrutable expression, eyes crinkling with affection, like Lena is someone to wonder at. Lena has to look away each time, biting her lip and cheeks warm, blushing like a fool. Deep set attraction creeps down Lena’s stomach, hitting her like a punch to the gut, whenever Kara makes something so undeniably Kara, like rambling for half an hour or sending her the picture of a raccoon with a Santa hat she found online.

Lena also pretends to ignore all the subtle hints, like Kara's hand lingering on her arm for a bit more to be still considered a platonic touch or the gentle caresses Kara traces on her body while Lena feigns sleep.

She feels her hope soaring, heart flipping in her chest.

And that's exactly her doom, isn't it? The elephant in the room.

What stops her from asking Kara out on a date to a romantic restaurant, or a stroll in the park, where they could intertwine their fingers, Kara's warm palm touching hers. She still dreams all these unreachable things.

But she's literal poison for the girl of steel.

So she opens a little box and pushes the butterflies inside, all the exquisite shivers running down her spine. Every jolt she receives when she brushes hands with Kara. Until the box almost bursts, the feelings pushing against thin lids.

She was doomed to develop a crush on Kara from the first moment, after all. For this girl who is literally the personification of a ray of sunshine and Lena's first and only friend.

She spends more nights hunched over Lillian's notes, deluding herself, looking for a way to reverse the process, to remove the kryptonite and live. There's obviously nothing. Not even a glimpse, a word, a line, a comma, an idea. Nothing.

If she wasn't so scared of causing an explosion, of demolishing her home and the whole building (hurting Kara), Lena wouldn't think twice about experimenting on herself.

It's just a crush, she repeats like a mantra. It will go away.

But it's like a bolt of electricity racing straight to the chest, ricocheting inside her cold rock.

She feels it when Kara laughs at something Lena said, a hint of white teeth showing. When Kara ducks her head, blushing under praise. When she opens a selfie Kara sent her, silly face and puffed up cheeks. That always makes Lena giggles.

She fools herself into thinking her heart feels warm.

But she won't risk losing a friend like Kara. For anything. Not after everything else she has already lost.

And, in some ways, she can’t imagine being closer to Kara than she is. She's never felt more warmth.

This is enough.

Lena’s already a little bit in love.

 

++++++++

 

The pain she's feeling is different, raw and tender, but, God, how it hurts. Lena promised to never forget the pain she had felt in the warehouse. Or the pain brought under the Luthor roof and name.

For herself and for everyone who died because of her.

But if this pain doesn't kill her she doesn't think anything ever will.

She's walking towards Kara's apartment, humming a Grease song under breath (musicals are another of Kara's greatest passions). She wants to return a notepad that Kara forgot on her table the other day. She's on her way to the grocery store, so she can just drop at Kara's for a quick spell and leave. And maybe ask if Kara wants to get coffee with her.

The door is unlocked, so she lets herself inside, calling softly for her friend.

"Kara? Sorry for intruding, but you forgot your... oh."

Kara is on her couch, facing away from the door. She's sitting in the lap of a guy Lena doesn't recognise. And they're kissing.

Oh.

The guy notices her and pulls back from Kara's lips with an annoyed expression, leveling Lena with a miffed glare. Noticing his distraction, Kara turns and - in one horrific moment that will always be ingrained in Lena's memory - sees Lena standing in her doorway.

"Lena, hi, what," Kara swallows, adjusts her glasses that have been pushed askew by her previous... activity.

"What do you want?" the man cuts in, clearly irked. Kara elbows him in the chest, gaining a complain, "What?"

"I'm sorry, I had no idea you had company..." Lena's brain struggles to find the words, she can't breathe, she can't concentrate on why she came here in the first place "I wouldn't have intruded."

"No, please, stay." Kara makes a move to rise, but the hands gripping her waist keep her seated, "Mo- Mike, let me up."

"Kara, we were in the middle of something, can't your friend come back another time?" the man - Mike - whines, tightening her arms around Kara's frame. He's still watching Lena from the corner of his eye.

The blonde protests, but Lena interrupts her with a wince, not meeting Kara's eyes.

"He's right, Kara. Really. I should have checked with you before barging inside like this. I apologize."

She does her best to ignore the winning smirk that stretches on Mike's face at her jumbled words.

Somehow she’s still on her feet, no matter how much her knees are trembling, no matter how much she wants to collapse on the floor.

Mike is still glaring at her from the couch. That makes at least two people in the room who wish for the ground to open under Lena's feet.

Lena runs her hands awkwardly down her skirt, straightening out non existent wrinkles, picking at imaginary lints. Her face is plastered into a smile, one she hopes doesn’t look as obviously fake as it feels, as she finally meets Kara's uncertain gaze. She hopes her voice is convincing enough to prevent Kara from following her in her inevitable retreat.

"I apologize," Lena repeats, stumbling as she takes one step back, blindly groping for the door handle. "Nice meeting you, Mike. I'll just text you, Kara," she rushes the sentences as fast as possible, fleeing from Kara's home. As the elevator doors ding on their way down, Lena realizes she's still clutching Kara's notepad.

If she couldn't still see it with her own two eyes, Lena would think her heart just shattered.

 

+++++++

 

That's good, right?

If she's dating Mike, if she becomes his girlfriend, then Lena can forget about her feelings, about her stupid crush and only be Kara's friend.

If Kara's happy then she'll be happy for her, if he's the one her heart has chosen, then Lena will quietly smother her own feelings.

After all, nothing could ever happen between them, not before and especially not now.

As she's laying in bed engulfed by darkness, Lena blinks and listens to the sound of her kryptonite heart. For the first time, she finds the whirring almost comforting.

Shame, annoyance and embarrassment cycle through her, and finally sadness settles heavily in her bones.

If Kara falls in love with him, then Lena-

Lena's phone buzzes near her head. She knows who's calling even without checking, seeing as it is her only non work related number she saved.

Kara's face is smiling at her as she squints owlishly at the bright screen. She tosses the device on her bedside table, leaving the call unanswered.

God, if Kara loves him.

 

++++++

 

Kara is the one who reaches for her, as Lena had hoped and feared.

They go out to a new restaurant that had opened recently and they swim awkwardly, forcing laughs and jokes, Mike's name hanging heavily over them. It's so painful that Lena decides to bite the figurative bullet.

"So... you and Mike?"

Kara freezes mid bite.

"Yeah, you met him, right? Ah..."

Lena takes pity on her, suppressing the urge to cross the table to smooth the crinkle on Kara's frown. She places her hand over Kara's, scrambling for the right words to say.

"Kara, breathe. We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. But, just know that I'm not mad at you for not telling me. If that's what you are afraid of. It's okay, I'm not mad."

When Kara doesn't stop fidgeting nervously, Lena squeezes her hand.

"I'm still me."

Lena's glad she said the right thing, because Kara deflates immediately, shoulders dropping in relief.

"Yeah," she exhales, "Okay. It's not that I didn't want to tell you, it's just..." she trails off.

"It's just?" Lena hums, encouraging her with another gentle squeeze.

"It's just that everyone else expected me to date him because we share so much in common," she says, lifting her eyes to look at the ceiling, "My sister and my friends say it makes sense, since he understands me on a level no one else can."

Lena hides her hurt with a smile.

"And Mike's nice, he is. He's charismatic and sweet. A nice guy." Kara's hand turns in her grip, facing up, intertwining their fingers, "He recently moved from a foreign country, so sometimes he's a bit out of the loop with words and... manners. He's a coworker from CatCo. I was tasked by James to show him the ropes of this job, he's still an intern."

Lena follows attentively Kara's other hands as it starts to fiddle with her pale fingers, the blonde laughing nervously, trying to scatter the stifling tension.

"He's so bad he just understood how to use a printer last week."

Lena doesn't comment, waiting on bathed breath the inevitable continuation.

"It feels right to be with him, easy. He makes me forget about myself for a bit. It's a nice feeling."

Lena doesn't tell her she doesn't think that being with someone you lov- someone you like should make you feel this way. At least, that's not what she feels. When she's with Kara, everything around her is more intense, more detailed, more vivid, like she's hyper aware of every atoms of her body.

But maybe she's wrong, seeing she grew up with the Luthors.

She doesn't say any of this, instead she asks Kara to tell her about him a little more.

Their hands never untie.

At the end of their dinner, Lena has learned that Mike is probably an alien (from a foreign country near my old house seems a little far fetched, hell, Mike's probably not even his real name), and that he seems a bit like a prick, the kind who thinks that everything is owed to him.

Still, she can't bring herself to ruin Kara's radiant smile, the one she's directing at her while peeking from the top of the dessert menu.

Lena doesn't ask why Kara never talked about him before, she doesn't ask how they met or how long they've been dating or if he knows her favourite takeout order, if he knows she cries every time Mufasa dies or that when Elphaba and Glinda sing 'For Good' Kara's reduced to a sobbing mess. If she knows the date of her Alex's birthday, what colour Kara's most loved pajamas is or that Kara likes to steal clothes when Lena's not looking. If he knows the feeling of Kara's fingers brushing gently over her knuckles.

She doesn't ask if Kara loves him.

When she's safely tucked in the walls of her home, Lena plays the piano until she can't keep her eyes open.

 

++++++++

 

A week later, under the shelter of a shared blanket, Kara confesses quietly that she and Mike had a fall out, something about him being a jerk and doing jerk things for the umpteenth time. Lena's heart misses a beat at the news.

"I was only projecting my idea of him, without actually seeing who he was. I kept seeing what he could become one day and not who he is now. And that wasn't fair. I was forcing myself to like him, forgiving his actions and words too many times, thinking I could help him become a better her... person, a better person. I tried so hard, but it just wasn't enough. I guess that, no matter how much you love them, some people will never change."

Kara murmurs into the cover, eyes fixed on the tv screen, burying herself in Lena's side.

That night, she dreams about Lex facing off against Supergirl, the superheroine's body riddled by sickly green hues.

 

+++++++

 

"You know, Lena," Kara says around the third donut she's munching, "It's weird that I've been here so many times and I've never seen you play. After all, it was because of the piano we spoke at first, if you remember."

She does.

"Sooooooooo, will you play something for me?"

Lena lifts her head from the book she's reading on the couch, legs thrown on Kara's lap (she's so glad she decided to wear long pants that morning). Kara smiles brightly.

"Come on! You have to play something for me."

"It's embarrassing. " Lena states, cheeks already warm. The idea of serenading Kara- playing her a song feels too intimate.

"Oh, Lena. I already know all about your embarrassing secrets." If only, "Plus, I'm like the coolest person you can meet, so I promise you I'm gonna be chill about it."

Lena arches one of her chiseled eyebrows.

"You? Cool? Must I remind you the other day, at the coffee shop? Or at the movies, the same day? Or-"

"You know it wasn't my fault! I had to get another bowl of popcorn!"

"So I suppose it's the wall's fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, uh?"

"Mh," Kara says, crossing her arms defiantly, "I was uuuh... I was... distracted."

"Distracted? By what?" Lena repeats, genuinely interested.

"Uuuuuh..."

At Kara's lack of reply, Lena diverts her attention from her book once more to see her friend staring directly at her, cheeks blooming red as strawberries. Lena's eyebrow rises again, interest piqued.

"Hiding something, Miss Danvers?"

Kara's face becomes even redder, blush dipping under the neckline of her sweatshirt.

"I-I know what you're doing, Lena!"

"Me?" Lena smiles, batting her eyelids, the picture of innocence.

"You-You're trying to change the subject!" Kara threatens, pointing her finger, "But I will not be fooled by your evil schemes, you fiend."

Lena laughs at the teasing, the rich sound peppering the air, before she gets up from the couch, forfeiting her spot.

"Okay, you got me." She pats the space beside her on the piano bench, "Come here, Streaky."

Kara groans at the nickname, but sinks on the bench without another protest, silent and ready, watching Lena testing gently a few chords.

"What would you like me to play?"

"Oh," Kara blinks, surprised, "Whatever you want. Uh, maybe your favourite song?"

Lena concentrates on her hands, playing a few notes from scattered scores that pop up in her mind without a precise order. But she can't settle, Kara's closeness making her nervous, more self-conscious about her abilities.

A couple of minutes pass, while she shuffles through different melodies, none of which sounds good enough or important enough for this moment. First a note, then a couple of chord progressions, each of them flawless, but inconsistent in some way.

When her hands settle on a slow low rhythm, she turns to Kara with the intention to ask for more specific instruction. But Kara isn't watching her.

She's observing the keys under Lena's nimble hands, running down the piano, caressing each note with a stroke. The request dies in Lena's throat, the image of Kara so vivid, sat on her piano bench, so close. Her hands are still pressing the same keys over and over, following the slow gentle tempo.

Lena's world narrows to her own pale hands and one melody surfaces among the whirlwind of emotions bubbling inside. The only song she holds dear.

Her mother's lullaby slowly lifts in the air, echoing in the apartment, traveling along floors and bouncing on walls. Lena loses herself in the melody, old and familiar, a memento of her hold life, of her old self.

She plays it once, then twice, the slow timbre and the rich texture intertwining in harmony. The notes rise from her hands, trembling, shivering and finally dissolving in the shimmering air, chasing one after the other. The lullaby softens, stretches, the notes painted by a mournful undertone, hugging the song, embracing its ancient tune. She changes keys, shifting up an octave, then down and then up again, playing another melody, resonant of her mother's lullaby, but different. While her mother sang sweet melodic notes, Lena hangs onto every chord with desperation, with the ache of longing, so familiar and painful. She lets her deft hands dictate the pace, as she shuts her eyes and frowns, lost in the throes of the song.

As the pace slows down, changing once again to her mother's lullaby, Lena lets the last notes rise in the air, feeling the instrument shiver under her hands, the piano strings vibrating in the stillness of the room.

Lena finally breathes, letting the silence engulf her.

Then, a thunder strikes the air.

"Wow, Lena, that was..."

Lena jolts, startled by Kara's words, quiet and reverent, but cracking like thunder in Lena's ears. She blushes, shy and embarrassed under Kara's intense gaze she can feel on her temple. When she shifts on the bench, turning, Lena's face to face with Kara.

She's so close. And she's watching her, blue eyes shining behind her glasses.

They sit still for a long while, Lena's pulse racing, before the blonde lifts one arm. She follows the trail of Kara's soft hand, as it brushes her cheek, tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear. She doesn't dare to move.

She wants to kiss her.

Kara 's eyes keep looking into her green pools, then straying to her lips and back at her eyes again. Finally, Kara crosses the space between them, pressing a kiss to the corner of her lips, eyelids fluttering closed, the plastic of her glasses cold against Lena's scorching cheekbones.

When Kara pulls back just enough to look at her face, Lena sees her mouth slightly open, eyes searching hers again. Lena swallows and waits, heartbeat hiccuping and shuddering in her chest.

With gentle fingertips, Kara caresses her jaw, a timid look crossing her features, while Lena trembles at her touch.

"Lena, I..."

She fears and prays.

"Can," Kara stammers and Lena can hear the tremble in her voice, "Can I..."

Yes.

Suddenly, something buzzes against Lena's thigh, which is pressed against Kara's, and the blonde reporter blinks slowly, before jumping in alarm. She fishes her phone from the pocket and answer the ringing. Lena spies Alex's name flashing on the screen.

"Yeah?" Kara croaks, voice lower than usual, a surge of heat pooling in Lena's stomach.

The conversation is lost on Lena's ringing ears, her green eyes fixed on Kara's pleasant blush, on her lips shaping words, lips that could have, that could have...

"Lena? I'm sorry, I have to go," Kara apologizes, still not rising from the piano bench, "Alex says she has an emergency and she needs my help. I... I'll go, okay?"

Kara smiles at her, not meeting her eyes, before bolting out the door leaving Lena nodding at the empty room.

 

+++++++

 

Lena hates Alex.

A moment later she loves her.

Then she groans and curses her.

Then she freezes, because the woman still terrifies her.

She knows that if she hadn't called, Kara would have kissed her. She watches the piano bench with a weary sigh, blushing behind her tea. They would have kissed if only she hadn't called. She's sure that the so called 'emergency' is actually a superpowered related emergency, so she can't actually bring herself hate Alex for her interruption. But still. They would have kissed. Kara would have pressed her lips to hers. They would have kissed.

She buries her head in the steam rising from the brim of the cup, tracing the outline of the kryptonite on her chest with her free hand.

She's thankful Alex had called.

But they would have kissed.

Lena hates Alex.

 

++++++++

 

They don't speak about the almost kiss. A silent mutual agreement not to mention it.

Lena fears that things will be awkward, that maybe Kara's glad for the interruption, because she's regrets the actions that led to the almost kiss.

She doesn't play the piano. Not yet.

Thankfully, things aren't awkward. When they meet the following day, Kara's smile blinding as always, erasing all of Lena's shadows. They still brush hands, share blankets, explore the city searching for the best dinner spot.

One lazy Saturday evening, Lena is lounging on her couch, alone, perusing the choice of takeout menus Kara subtly left at her apartment. She's down to only two menus, when Kara knocks at her door.

"Come in!"

"We're going out, Lena!"

"Hello to you too, Kara."

"Listen," Kara declares, slamming her hands on the kitchen table over a couple of projects "Dress up because we're going out. With Alex and Maggie. You know Maggie, right? So, Alex asked me to go out with her, because tonight is sisters night. But tomorrow she and Maggie both have the day off, so they wanted to go out and drink. They asked me to tag along but I don't want to third-wheel alone. Soooo, I thought that if my best friend came..."

"Kara, I-"

"But only if you want to! With Maggie there, Alex will be on her best behaviour and I know that even though I keep inviting you to game nights,"

"Kar, you're rambling-"

"But I don't want to pressure you or anything, so feel free to say no, if-"

"Kara!"

"What?"

"I'll go with you."

Kara's smile is the only reward she need.

Surprisingly, Lena has fun, going out with the three of them.

As Kara promised, Alex is on her best behaviour, with Maggie's scolding and teasing leaving an obvious faint blush on the stoic red-haired woman. With a couple of drinks under her tab, Alex engages with her in a conversation about aliens and trans-matter portals, and in depth details on new treatments for cancer. She also notices that Alex is a stubborn drinker, tossing back beers and shots one after the other in record time. Lena admires her ability to stop at the right shot, not drunk, but pleasantly buzzed.

Most of Alex's good mood is merit of Maggie's presence at the bar, the short woman Lena already met in the lobby of her building. The cop is only drinking one beer 'because someone has to drive you home, you crazy kids'. She's charming and sarcastic, and she has Lena in stitches as soon as she recalls the story of Kara-Golden-Puppy-Danvers's idea of a shovel talk. Lena finds herself immediately at ease with her, as Maggie makes her mission to include her in her roster of targets for her gentle teasing. At one point of the night, Maggie ropes them all in a game of pool she and Kara spectacularly lose because they are too drunk to aim and sink something in a hole (she's sure Maggie made a sexual innuendo about it, but she remembers mostly the tips of Kara's ears turning red).

Kara is... very Kara through the whole night.

The blonde never leaves Lena's side. At first using the excuse of not wanting to abandon her at Alex's mercy, but the more the night turns darker and the shadows longer, the more Kara's head burrows in her side, fingers idly playing with hers. She's constantly touching her, warm feeling spreading to her core and Lena's smile never falters the whole night. Kara's drinking a weird looking liquor, a bronze alcohol whose bottle is littered by foreign letters. Lena gracefully refrains from asking any questions.

She spends the night dodging Maggie's amused grin whenever she catches her looking at Kara.

They leave only when they are all drunk enough to find Kara's impression of her boss hilarious, belly aching and glasses empty.

Maggie herds them in her car, winding an arm around Alex's waist, eyes shining with love. During the whole short ride, Lena keeps swatting away Kara's hand, hell bent on finding all her ticklish spots. Maggie drops the two of them right in front of their building, with only a 'don't do anything I wouldn't do!' as goodnight, before speeding off down the empty street.

They stumble together on the stairs, wobbly steps and happy giggles, shushing sounds falling in the empty corners. When they reach Kara's door - the first down the hall - they stop together, breathing and whispering.

There's a lull in the conversation when Kara's blue eyes start shining, wide and intense. Lena's foggy mind sobers up immediately, feelings surfacing, pushing and demanding. They are so close, standing in the darkness of the hallway, Lena a few inches shorter than the blonde and Kara looking at her lips.

Lena's world narrows to Kara, standing in front of her, cheeks rosy and flushed, bathed in the white of the emergency lights scattered in the hallway.

Lena breathes deeply, gathering all her dwindling courage before rising to her tiptoes to finally kiss Kara.

Except, when she leans in, only empty air washes past her, the blonde reporter having pulled away from her. Lena stumbles, embarrassment and alcohol making her unsteady on her feet. She feels the hurt pooling in her chest, dread and shame clutching her. Her head is spinning.

"No, Lena," Kara almost shouts, forgotten whispers, "Please, I want to kiss you. I do."

The blonde swallows heavily and adjusts her glasses before continuing, "Rao knows how long I've wanted to kiss you."

"You want... to kiss me?" Lena repeats, stunned.

"Yes, Lena. I want to kiss you."

"Then why you..." Lena vaguely gestures at the space between them.

"Because-because I want our first kiss to be special. Not in the middle of a poorly lit hallway while drunk because we couldn't say no to Maggie's last shot. Because-" Kara falters, tears welling up in her eyes, "Because I want our first kiss to be memorable. Something we'll never forget. Because I care about you too much and I-I think you deserve better than whatever this is."

"But you want to kiss me?"

"Yes."

"But you don't want to kiss me now?"

Kara laughs lightly, patient and amused, while she grabs Lena's hand.

"No," she brings her hand up to her mouth, lips brushing against Lena's knuckles, "I want to take you out on a proper date. With dinner and a movie. And after all that, one goodnight kiss, maybe."

Kara is looking at her, her warm hands gently cradling Lena's.

"Only one?"

The blonde giggles again, shoulders shaking and she stumbles into Lena, who staggers under her, bracing against the taller pile of muscles (God, she has muscles). Lena blushes, biting her lip, but she feels light and bubbly, soaring.

"Maybe if the date goes well," Kara teases, perched on top of Lena's shoulder, "You may get another."

They stay for a long while, hugging and swaying in the hallway.

"Does tomorrow work for you?" Kara asks, blinking furiously and tilting her head up so that it looks as if she’s speaking more towards the ceiling than to Lena, not brave enough to meet her eyes yet.

"Yes," Lena breathes, sagging against Kara but the blonde reporter pulls back, making her whine at the loss of contact.

"Okay, I'll pick you up at seven?"

"I'll text you my address," Lena smiles crookedly.

At the sound of Kara's rich laughter a tingling sensations warms Lena, like a pleasant buzz spreading inside her. She wants to make Kara laugh again and again. They murmur their muffled goodnights against each other shoulders, Kara pressing another kiss against Lena's blushing cheek, before ducking shyly each in their own apartment.

 

++++++

 

The first time they kiss they are standing under a flickering lamppost in the park, hands clutched between their bodies.

There are comets in Kara's eyes.

 

++++++

 

Their second kiss is stolen under the roof of a bus stop, panting and giggling, as they hide from a sudden storm. Kara's hands are embers wound in Lena's hair.

She drapes her jacket around Lena's shivering shoulders.

 

++++++

 

Lena has never been this happy in her whole life.

She doesn't care if she sounds cliche as hell, she just. She's so happy.

"Hi." Kara says, one day, leaning forward on the counter, while Lena's working her shift.

"Hi," Lena replies, bashful and shy and red.

"Hey you."

Lena smiles at her, "How are you?"

"Good, thank you."

"Good."

"Yeah, great."

“Great,” Lena copies, groaning internally because since when did she become a third grader with a crush on her best friend?

“Good,” Kara lets out and Lena can’t help the laughter that slips from her. She’s thankful for the musical sound of Kara’s laugh follows immediately, joining her. She’s not sure how long she spends actually laughing, and how much time caught up in the sound of Kara’s giggles, but she does know she’d happily do it for hours.

They are a bit ridiculous. Just a little.

They go on many more dates and even if some of them are interrupted by Supergirl duties, Kara is always chivalrous and attentive, finding small ways to make Lena feel appreciated. She's always a dork (But I'm your dork, right?).

Her kryptonite heart is silent, dormant, except when she's watching Supergirl flying on her screen, trading kicks with the raging alien of the week or stopping a robbery in one bank or another. Despite knowing she's practically bulletproof, Lena can't help the worried pit carving in her stomach each time she sees Kara being hit.

She still hasn't said anything about the Supergirl thing, because she doesn't think Kara suspects her knowing.

And because of... well.

Many nights are lost in the throes of nightmares. She lays awake for many hours staring at the dark ceiling, thinking and worrying, Kara's body a warm weight dozing snuggled in her side.

“You need to sleep, Lena,” Kara says, every time she discovers she missed sleep, pulling Lena’s exhausted body into an exquisite hug. “For more than one hour every night.”

“I know,” Lena murmurs, grateful for the strong arms wrapping around her. “It's just that I- that I get…” Scared. “Distracted.”

Life taught her nothing good lasts for a Luthor.

But she's not a Luthor anymore, isn't she?

In the evenings, sitting at the piano bench, Lena prays.

She also gets introduced to the so called group of 'Superfriends'. Kara finally drags her to game night where she meets all her friends: there's Winn - she bonds with the cute hobbit tech guy over software firewalls and electromagnetic fields - and James - James Olsen, photographer, CatCo editor in chief and Superman's pal - and Alex and Maggie. She's happy to see them again, since Alex's stance on her improved greatly.

They don't mention the recent developments of their relationship, both of them agreeing on keeping things quiet for a bit, to slowly navigate the next steps. So Lena is left deflecting Maggie's knowing looks the whole evening, the cop shooting inquisitive glares over the Scrabble board. Lena only shrugs and sips at her whiskey.

But if Lena really thinks about it, her relationship with Kara has only moved at its natural pace. Things are still natural and easy, like before. They still have their movie nights, their silences, their laughs, their trips in National City night life. Kissing is a delicious bonus.

"What are you gonna do with all your projects?" Kara asks her, one weekend, when they're sharing the table for their works.

Lena pauses in her scribbling - her current idea is to teach crows to pick up cigarettes butts for food treats, to clean up cities - intrigued by Kara's question. At this point, Lena's got a steadily growing pile of them, varying in ideas and applications.

She shrugs, "I dunno, maybe send them to some scientists?"

"Have you ever done that?"

"Yeah, once."

Kara hums, interest piqued, "And how did that go?"

"I... don't know." She can only hope Dr. Isley swallowed her pride and read them.

"Why not working on them on your own? Like a startup? It's not a bad idea."

And Lena did think about it, many times. She thought about all the countless hours poured in L-Corp, all her attempts at steering the company in a better direction, to bring it out of the shadows Lex cast. She never has enough courage to search for the latest news about her company.

But she can't risk her new life for pride and selfishness - to be the one to do good in the spotlight. To be good.

"I don't think it would be enough. My ideas aren't worthy."

"Why not?"

"Because they... I..." a shudders leaves Lena, as she sinks in her seat.

"Hey, it's okay," Kara reassures her, touching her shoulder. "I'm sorry for asking."

Lena shakes her head, but Kara doesn't let her speak.

"No, I didn't mean to pressure you. Because, whatever it is you are dealing with, Lena? Your nightmares and everything else? Well, just know I'm here for you. Here, by your side. Because I love you."

Lena's heart misses a beat, Kara's eyes burning with adoration.

"And I will love you enough for the both of us, until you'll learn to love yourself the way I do. The way I see you."

Lena sniffles, even cries a little at Kara's words.

"Well, until then, I'll have you with me, darling?"

"Even for longer, until you'll want me, dear."

"How," Lena laughs wetly, resting her forehead on Kara's, "How did crows and cigarettes led to this?"

"Guess I forgot to mention that I'm quite the big environment fan."

They nuzzle noses until Lena's visions doubles.

 

++++++

 

There's also that thing. That tiny little detail. Kara said she loves her. And she keeps saying that. That she loves her. Lena loves her, too. But she hasn't said it. Not yet. She's sure she's in love with her, she has been for a long time. She just can't bring herself to say it.

Loving someone is opening the doors to let them hurt you. But also trusting them not to.

She's not scared of getting hurt - she's not delusional, she knows a healthy relationship always involves one quarrel or two. But she loves Kara.

And love forgives. It's accepting of any secret one may harbor. It's trusting and hopeful. That's why it's also a fool.

That's the foundation of her debris.

They are making out on the couch. Kara has made reservations in that tiramisu place she secretly loves, but they still have a little bit of time to kill. So they... well.

Lena can barely breathe, not that she can, while Kara's lips are latching to hers, crashing like waves. Lena's upturned each time. Their kissing start slow, capturing lips, drawing slow breaths, smiling against each other. And Kara gives and gives and gives.

Then, Lena's lips part and Kara's tongue hesitantly enters, exploring. She lets out a small gasp at the sensation of Kara. So close. Panting against her skin. Shivering under her hands. Lena moans, overwhelmed.

She lowers her hands, brushing down Kara's toned arms, until she's gripping at her sides. Kara's hands cup her from behind, drawing her closer until she's almost sitting in the blonde's lap. Kara breaks their kiss with a gasp, drawing a whine from Lena at the loss of contact, but soon Kara's lips attach to her pale neck, laying open mouthed kisses along her jaw.

Slowly, Kara's path brings her back to Lena's mouth, kisses growing more and more heated. Kara's fingers tangle in dark tresses, while Lena fists the blonde's pastel shirt.

There are pleasant shivers running down Lena's spine, all her senses heightened, coming undone at the seams under Kara's magic.

The reporter's hands frame her face, pulling Lena to her. Then her fingers dip lower, lower, edging near the hem of her shirt. But Lena's eyes are closed, eyelids fluttering against the reporter cheekbones.

She doesn't feel the fingertips toying with the first button of her shirt.

She doesn't feel the strings discarded, a mere thought.

She doesn't feel Kara loosening her lead undershirt.

But she feels Kara groaning.

She feels Kara collapsing against her, body arching in pain.

She feels her heart whirring.

Lena's eyes fly open, horror stretching on her face as she takes in the sickly green streaks donning Kara's body, running down her arms, falling tears on her face. The poison streaming inside Kara is pulsing, alive, dangerous.

"Le-Lena... what- ugh!" Kara bites back a grunt, pushing against the dark haired woman.

Lena screams at the green light streaming from the folds of the lead undershirt, flickering in slow waves, the same rhythm of Kara's suffering.

She pushes from the couch, rising. She gets tangled in Kara, leaning on her so they both collapse on the floor, Kara coughing and whimpering. She looks like she's being ripped apart. Lena quickly kneels and crawls towards Kara, the desire to help, to dissipate the pain fueling her veins. And clouding her mind.

As her hand brushes Kara's shoulder, the blonde recoils, crying out from the kryptonite closeness. Kara shrinks in agony and Lena scrambles away, spooked, tears blurring her vision. Lena's heart breaks as she watches Kara gulping in a greedy breath once she's far, back pushing against the wall. She claws at her chest, trying to tuck in the lead shirt again, to cover her heart.

"Lena..."

Kara groans as she tries to stop her body from spasming, as she struggles to sit up and reach for Lena. Always reaching for Lena.

And Lena runs away from her.

She runs from her home, from her life, from her second chance. From Kara.

She never deserved someone so good.

She'll always be a Luthor.

 

+++++++

 

Her running comes to an end in Metropolis.

The gate of the Luthor mansion is open, lock broken. As she stumbles inside her old house, she only feels numb.

In her head, she pictured an old house, with paint chipping from the walls and broken tiles hanging from the roof. A crows nest or some animals lairs scattering the grounds.

Instead, the building is well kept and polished, exactly as Lena remembers from her childhood years. It's been only a few months, after all.

Some kids have broken into the grounds, only accessing the garden, a couple of broken bottles laying waste among the unkept bushes. A spray painted graffiti of Superman's logo looms on one wall.

She pockets her keys, glad she still has them. She wonders why Lillian never bothered to change the locks.

The house didn't change and if she closes her eyes, she's able to pinpoint every corner, every turn she spent days exploring of this empty house. She keeps her eyes open.

She tiptoes around the rooms, feeling like an intruder in someone else's house. Her skin prickles, so similar to the feeling of Lillian's inquisitive and disapproving gaze watching her from one corner.

She's dead. She's dead. They're all dead. She killed them.

One door is locked, so Lena doesn't think twice and picks at the lock, which comes undone easily under her hands. On the other side, there's Lionel's study. But as she rifles through the few files littering the desk, she realizes this has been her brother's study in the end. A few articles about Superman are pinned to the wall, while projects of alien guns are covered in measurement and calculations on the wooden surface.

A single photo stands proud, of the two of them smiling at the camera, her younger self climbing back on Lex's back in the vast garden of their mansion.

As she reaches for the frame, a single sound disturb the stillness of the house.

"Lena?"

She freezes and knocks the picture on the floor while turning sharply, well aware of the identity of its owner. The only person who would come look for her.

"Stay back."

She hopes her voice sounds stronger.

She's not looking good: in the opaque reflection of the liquor cabinet, her image is haggard, gaunt cheeks and stormy eyes adding to the already haunted look.

"Lena," the fool enters the study, still clad in the same clothes and ruffled hair from their... "Lena, please."

"Go away!" Lena snaps, smacking Kara's extended arm aside.

"Lena, wait, I'm-"

"I said go away!" Shocked by the harsh tone, Kara stops her attempts, fumbling for words.

They circle around the table, each step Kara takes makes Lena retreat further. The line of Lena's jaw is squared, tight, like a feral animal ready to bolt at the minimal noise.

"Please, Lena, please," Kara begs wearily, "Do you really want me to go away?"

"Yes." Lena trembles. "I do."

Kara refuses, shaking her head, "I don't believe you."

Lena clings to anger, but the hero never steps back.

"If you want me to go," Kara swallows, crinkle showing on her forehead, "You'll have to be more persuasive."

Lena scoffs and titles her head back in frustration, "You know what I can do."

"But I know you won't."

Lena doesn't trust herself, but Kara's still there, and her serene quiet smile never falters, the damned fool.

Love is trusting them not to hurt you.

Lena forces herself to lower her arms at her sides, and clenches her hands into fists to hide the trembling.

The blonde superhero suddenly kneels on the carpeted floor, picking up the same broken frame Lena was looking at from Lex's desk.

"Is this Lex? In the picture with you?" Kara asks quietly, voice low. It makes Lena shivers.

Lena twists towards the bookcase just inside the door, refusing to meet Kara’s eyes and leaving the blonde to stare at the side of her head, all regal nose and sharp jaw and broken eyes.

When she exhales, it's only a trembling sigh.

"You two seem happy. Do you miss him?" Lena huffs, focusing on one random book cover. Kara smiles at the picture, as if she's remembering something "I miss my parents like crazy. I mean my parents from Krypton. They died in its destruction. Don't get me wrong. Eliza and Alex are amazing, and I love them, but I'll never stop missing them."

A couple of moments pass, lost forever, but Kara's always watching. Reaching. Green eyes widen in shock, then closes as her shoulders slump, feeling the edge of the ravine where she's standing. Kara must sense the wave of vertigo that hits Lena, because she resumes talking.

"So, this means you're a Luthor."

Desperation makes Lena bark mirthlessly, "Quite the observation. Journalism may be your thing, after all."

Kara hums, tilting her head, "And you are Lena Luthor."

She is. Not.

"Well, Lena Luthor, my name is Kara Zor-El, nice to meet you."

Lena's eyes roll in forced amusement, movements stiff "Supergirl, uh? Nice disguise, glasses and a ponytail," she scoffs.

"It sounds ridiculous when you say it," Kara bites her lip, cheeks warming, "Alex says it's a bit lame, but if it works for Superman? I was sure you knew about it. You always were so casual and accepting and never complained. Plus, you're so smart, you had to figure it out sooner or later. And you-"

"Stop!" Lena screams, turning sharply to meet Kara's gaze again: her eyes are still clear and loving. "Shut up!"

And Kara - always the chatter - shuts up.

Lena's surprised, taken aback, expecting her to push more, to press, to see the hard steel determination of a superhero. Lena gulps a shaky breath in the stillness of the room, as she's wishing for Kara to keep talking instead. She pushes the prayer down.

"Why are you here, Kara?" Lena asks, voice trembling, despite her attempt to be brave.

Kara's eyes harden, the previous amusement dissolving. She can see Supergirl in the mildly mannered reporter.

"To be with you. I promised I would be by your side, Lena."

Lena shakes her head, "That was before," she spits out, "Now you know I'm a Luthor."

"So?" Kara answers, nonplussed.

"So?" Lena almost shouts, anger flaring again at Kara's nonchalance, "Don't you know what the Luthor name means? Don't you know who they... who we are? We are monsters! Monsters! Can't you hear the people hurting, crying because of our sins, all the people we killed! Look at me! Look!" Lena stomps closer, eyes flashing, "I'm literal poison, my heart is kryptonite! How can you not see? How dangerous I am. And, and," her vision starts blurring, "and did you forget what my brother did to all those people in Metropolis? To your cousin?"

"I'm not my cousin and you're not him, you're not Lex."

"You're right," she growls, snarling, voice rumbling with anger. "I'm not him. I'm even more dangerous than him. And it's all his fault! And Lillian's!"

"You're not them."

"Yes! I am. Them. I'm like them. I'm-" her pain is swirling, giving away to a quivering lip, "I'm the result of their experiments. Their weapon designed to kill you. And Superman. Did you know two people died before me? For me? I exist only to hurt you."

"And yet," Kara replies, a pillar of strength, "All you ever did was made me happy."

Her heart lurches, whirring.

"Kara, I'm poison. Literal poison. How can you say, how can you-"

"No, Lena," Kara shakes her head, leaning forward with all her body, "You make me so happy. My heart is always bursting when I'm with you because you make me so happy happy happy..."

"Everything I touch become tarnished, Kara I-" Lena sinks, folds into herself, "I refuse to ruin you. I won't. I won't succumb to my brother's plans. I should have just stayed away, but you were so charming and radiant and warm and so so loving that I couldn't. I know, God, I know that makes me weak and selfish, but I won't hurt you. I won't I won't..."

"I know you won't."

"Yes, I...I..."

"You won't."

"I will! I already did!"

"I love you."

Love is trusting them not to hurt you.

Something breaks inside her, something crumbles, falls apart from within. She hopes it's her heart. The tears come quickly, anger splintered, vulnerability seeping through the cracks. She can see Kara standing right in front of her, just a couple of steps separating them and when did she get so close?

Wiping at her wet cheeks, Lena pleads, "No, stay back, stay-"

Kara looks like she's torn between a scream stuck in her throat and burning tears. Instead, she gently grabs her hands, holding them between their bodies.

"Please, Kara."

"I'm here. I'm here."

Lena's swaying so badly that when she collapses against Kara the two of them fall on the padded floor, hands searching and shoulders shaking. It takes Lena only a couple of seconds of tense muscles and breath-holding before she loosens and sinks completely into Kara’s embrace. She buries her head in Kara's chest, ducking under the crook of her neck, and giving in to her shudders, the whimpers tearing her apart. Kara tightens her arms around her.

They stay like that for a long time, silent and clinging to one another, while the sobs travel through Lena.

"I'm sorry," she croaks between hiccups.

"You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing."

A new wave of tears crashes against her whirring shore.

 

+++++

 

"You know, Lena. When I first met you I thought you were a robot. I told Alex about this theory I had about you. You know, since I couldn't hear your heartbeat properly. It sounds all jumbled up and distorted when encased in lead."

"A robot?"

"Yeah, a good, beautiful, caring and hurting robot. A special robot."

Silence spreads in the Luthor mansion.

"You thought I was beautiful."

"Mh, but now I know you are beautiful both on the inside and the outside. You're amazing."

More silence.

"...aren't you supposed to say something like, 'You also are beautiful and smart and nice and charming and brave, Kara?'"

"I must not tell lies, Mr. Potter."

"You... you fiend! Using what I taught you against your own master!"

"Your lessons were quite useful, Streaky." Kara grumbles, making Lena giggle.

Lena's laughter is muffled by Kara's chest, where she's still hiding, kneeling on the floor. Soon, she quiets again and hums, tired and cozy.

"We'll find a way, Lena. I promise." Kara lays a soft promise on the crown of her head.

Lena puts her ear on Kara's chest and lets herself be held, lulled by the heartbeat pushing away the darkness.

The kryptonite heart is whirring, but she is Light.