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After a great pain, a formal feeling comes (the Hour of Lead)

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After a great pain, a formal feeling comes

(the Hour of Lead)

 

1.

 

My name is Lena Kieran.

I am from Mullaghmore, Ireland, and my mom was hurt.

 

That was all Lena remembered from before she came to live with the Luthors.

She hadn’t been allowed to take anything from her previous life with her, or at least she didn’t think so. Her memories of what happened between the last day she saw her mother and the first day she became a Luthor have always been hazy. It was like one moment she was out with her mom, feeling a cool breeze on her face while they walked by the beach and the next, she was walking inside a gigantic house and being introduced as part of the family.

Whatever had happened that day, her 4-year-old former self had grabbed onto those words as if her life depended on that – and maybe it did, she wouldn’t know. She couldn’t remember.

She had repeated those words over and over again, for months, while she tried to figure out her new life, while she tried to figure out who she could trust – or a child version of those feelings. This was Lena Luthor, the adult, thinking back to when she was nothing but a lost little lamb, with big eyes and big fears, walking through the corridors of the Luthor mansion. Alone. Afraid. Cold.

 

She had always been cold in that house.

It didn’t matter the part of the day nor the season they were in, she was always wearing long sleeves and she would always feel a chill running up her spine on a daily basis. Maybe her clothes had had an impact on how pale her skin had become, but all the time she just felt… icy. Like she her body was always just a couples of degrees colder than what could be considered comfortable. At one point she had indulged herself in thoughts that she had some kind of sensitivity – and for a brief moment she wondered if she would be able to talk to her mother in any way –. She even had convinced herself that the mansion was always cold because spirits wondered the halls.

Until she made the mistake of letting Lillian overhear her telling this to the cook of the house, a nice man with a round belly who would always let her have the leftovers.

--

It was only a couple of years later that Lena Kieran, the child, realized that those few words wouldn’t help her to go back home and that she had made a terrible mistake: she didn’t know her mom’s name.

It was stupid, Lena – the Luthor – thought. Nowadays, one of the first things parents teach their children is information about their immediate family: it’s a widespread lesson, for safety purposes. But Lena – the Kieran – didn’t live in a big city. The only dangers she was faced with were the occasional visits of a badger passing by, or a curious red fox looking for food and, if they were really (un)lucky, some red deer might show itself in the middle of the roads during the winter months.

She knew her name was Lena, of course. But everyone else on that tiny city called her little pumpkin. They called her mother Miss or darling and Lena, well, Lena called her mother mom. Just mom.

It was lost on her whether she never knew her mother’s name or if she had forgotten it, so focused on her thoughts and confused with all the changes in her life, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the, try as she might, her mind always came empty regarding a name.

When Lena Kieran realized that, she cried. Silently, of course. No one cried in the Luthor manor. Once she had tried to argue that she wasn’t a Luthor, not really, but Lillian had just looked at her, unimpressed. You are here now, the woman had said, and if you’re not able to behave like a Luthor then you should be somewhere else.

She didn’t have anywhere else to be.

So, on the day of her realization, she wept silently the whole night.

When she woke up the next morning, her face was impeccable, all traces of her weakness gone.

--

Lex Luthor was a brilliant boy. that much Lena was able to realize in only a few days of being around him. That wasn’t the first thing she noticed about him, no. The first thing she realized about the older boy was that he was… warm.

Not in an openly and outspoken way, no, he was a Luthor after all. But she could see it in his eyes, that were always shining when he looked at her. She could see it in the small smile that always played at the corner of his lips. She could see it in the way he would look at her, and talk to her, and address her. She could see it in the way he let her in.

Alexander Joseph Luthor was warmth in that icy place, and Lena was never cold around him.

He taught her how to play chess.

They were very different, she soon realized. He loved to play with the Queen, and she loved the Knights. He loved to barge in and plan a massive destructive move, and she was happy enough to plan small but effective attacks. She always lost a lot of pieces, but made his game as hard as it could be with the few pieces she still had left.

She never did beat him, but she could see that he struggled to play against her. And he loved it.

He started calling her Ace not long after that.

-

Lex was the only one that treated her like family.

Well, there was Lionel, who was always kind when he was there, when being the imperative word. He was always traveling, always working and she could never enjoy his presence more than a couple of days in a row. So yeah, Lex became her beloved big brother, the only family she had.

He was there when she started having nightmares every night. After the first few times, he wouldn’t even say anything anymore, he would just go into her bedroom and they would read books together, or he would teach her some science. Then, he would lie down next to her on her bed and continue reading while she slept.

More often than not, the nightmares would come. He would shift her closer to him, put one arm around her while the other still held his book. After a while, he would get up, put some more blankets around her make sure all the windows were closed and not one single air current was passing through.

He always remembered how chilly she was.

-

A few months later, Lena – the Kieran – finally found the strength to ask him if it was possible to find a person if you didn’t know their name.

Nothing is impossible, Ace, he had replied, sounding like he wasn’t talking only about what she had asked – and her heart got a little bit warmer because that was so like him. If something cannot be done, you just have to try harder.

-

And then suddenly Lena was sent to boarding school.

She didn’t know how to feel about that. It wasn’t like she loved the Luthor mansion and would miss it terribly, no. But she had gotten used to dealing with Lillian, she knew the whole staff that worked there and she had developed a routine. Living there was something familiar, and Lena, the Kieran, craved familiarity. And, on top of that, she had Lex.

Being whisked away to a boarding school in Ireland was something new, unknown – and she had always feared the unknown. It had never been a good thing to Lena Kieran when things changed, and the only silver lining she could think of was that this new school was in Ireland – Ireland! My home!

I have never been closer to my mom than now, she had though at the time. Soon she would find out that she had never been more wrong.

Lillian wouldn’t just send her away and leave her be, after all, and on her first attempt at trying to flee the school grounds she discovered that the Luthor matriarch had hired some security guards to keep an eye on her.

That was when she learned that being watched the whole time was worse than being ignored the whole time.

As soon as realization fell upon her that she would be like a prisoner in that school, she felt her body become even colder. Lena started wearing another layer of clothes, just to be safe.

-

Lex was the only one who visited her. Not even Lionel appeared anymore – and that was something that was always in her mind - but Lex was always there, in every holiday, every vacation.

Sometimes he would just appear out of nowhere, and would take her away on an impromptu sibling’s trip, not even the guard’s protests being able to stop him.

It was in one of those trips that she was able to witness the Northern Lights, while he talked excitedly about solar winds, the brevity of beauty and the battle between good and evil, so inherent to human’s nature and as old as humanity itself.

That was one of her favorite memories: the two of them, together, enjoying each other’s company in the middle of the ice and engulfed in darkness. They were surrounded by miles and miles of ice, with just some tents and some lukewarm coffee, and yet, she had never felt warmer in her whole life.

In another one of those trips they went to Japan and, between one gastronomic adventure and the other, they visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. After the visit, while they walked together and Lena thought about the horrors of wars, Lex started talking about how monumental it would be to have absolute control of something so powerful as radiation.

Lena thought it was something incredibly risky to think of, due to the immense destruction it could cause, but he kept talking about all the ways they could improve technology with a better management of those energy emissions. Lena had to agree to that, even though there was a nagging feeling inside her head telling her that that wasn’t quite right.

Finally, there was that one time where they sat the whole night on the balcony of a hotel overlooking the Vltava River in Prague - she was having hot chocolate and Lex was drinking his favorite brand of scotch, a sight that she had come to get used to.

That night he held her while she cried when she first admitted out loud that she couldn’t remember her mother’s face anymore. He embraced her silently for hours until her shakings had subsided and then, when she was almost falling asleep, she heard him say you are a Luthor now, Lena, you need to toughen up and be better.

That was the first time that his presence made her feel colder.

It was also the last time they went on a trip together.

-

And then she finished boarding school, went straight away to university and some day Lionel was dead.

Her feelings were so conflicted that, for a moment, she thought she was going mad.

Throughout her childhood, she had loved him dearly. He was the one who gave her a shelter when she’d lost hers; he was the one who’d vouched for her in front of Lillian. He gave her affection and love whenever he was around. He always smiled gently when he saw her.

 

The days when he got home after being away for some time were her favorite ones. He would always bring her gifts and souvenirs from his trips, but that wasn’t what she loved about it. It was what would come after.

She would run towards him and hold him tightly – those were the only moments she felt bold enough to show such strong emotions in that mansion. He would pick her up and she would immediately smell what she had become to refer to as father’s scent: a mix of expensive perfume, a trace of smoke from his fancy cigars and a delicious whiff of dried fruits and vanilla that she knew came from his favorite scotch. She loved it.

Then, he would take her to his office, where he would immediately light the fireplace for her. She would sit on the carpet – this is not an acceptable behavior from a girl, specially not a Luthor she would always hear Lillian’s voice in her head – and she would look at him, eager and transfixed, while he poured himself a glass of scotch and proceeded to walk around the room, telling her all about his adventures.

She would hear all of the stories behind every gift she got and often she would feel her eyes burning with tears, because the thought of someone seeing something and immediately thinking of her and caring enough about her to buy it and then give it to her just… just… made her chest hurt for reasons that she didn’t understand at the time.

Eventually, she would feel herself getting sleepy and then she would wake up the next day, on her bed, with blankets all around her and a small origami bird on her bedside.

On those nights, she was never old. Not even her recurring nightmares dared to disturb her sleep.

She loved Lionel with all her heart.

--

That was why it hurt so much when she was abruptly sent away to boarding school and he never visited.

At first, she would call him and they would talk, although she could realize something wasn’t quite right. She always asked him if he could come and see her, and he always said he would try, but he was busy. She knew better, though.

Until she stopped asking.

Their conversation became distant and filled with long silences, until he stopped answering her. He wouldn’t pick up, and later he would leave her a message giving some made up excuse.

But she had always been a stupid hopeful person, and she tried writing many letters to him, to no avail. Every week, on the day the mail came, she would be anxiously pacing around her room, only to feel exhausted at night when no letter came back.

All she could do then was cry under her blankets wondering what she did wrong this time, and she hated that! She hated that she was weak and, somehow, she ruined everything she cared about!

It didn’t help that one older girl in boarding school – Veronica Sinclair – looked like a wild animal preying upon younger girls and sniffing out their weaknesses and just wouldn’t leave her alone.

I admit that I may be wrong about you, Luthor she would always say to her. After all, you must have done something really bad to be dumped here in this hellhole.

At some point, Lena started believing her.

At some point, Veronica’s words were the least harmful thing that Lena learned to expect.

(It wasn’t lost on her that she never corrected Veronica when the girl called her Luthor either.)

-

So, when Lionel passed away, Lena Luthor loved him and hated him at the same time. Her resentment was like acid running through her veins, and no amount of clothes would keep her warm anymore, so she just got used to being cold.

(If one thing good had ever come from Veronica, though, was how she taught Lena that the right amount of scotch could numb away almost everything)

Lena had always planned to confront him about the reason he abandoned her once she finished boarding school, but then she went to college straight away and between frequenting several classes and figuring out her new life, time was quickly passing by.

And then it was too late.

That was when it hit her – the one person who might know who her biological mother was and what had happened to her had just died.

And she was so hurt and so angry at herself for failing her mother that she started pulling up all-nighters trying to find out some information on her own. She had learned some hacking and she poached around, trying to dig everything on her adoption as she could without alerting her mother – she knew the family had some high-tech protection system.

One day, she met one funny guy with an accent named Jack and a calm and soft girl named Sam and they bonded over endless hours of lab work and cold coffee. Somehow, she started trusting them and they also helped with her investigation – even though she never shared the details with them.

If they ever felt hurt by her lack of sharing, they never commented on it.

No real progress was ever made, though. It was like her mother had never existed, because there was no information anywhere and Lena didn’t know her name and didn’t even remembered her face anymore and I am so tired.

Lena’s mother could very well have been a ghost – an invisible presence that she could feel, but she couldn’t see nor prove its existence and she started thinking that she was going mad and she was sure that her two friends thought the same thing.

They did their best to not let her only food intake be coffee, scotch and quick sandwiches, both of them always by her side with their opposite behaviors. Sometimes she wondered how they all could get long so well having completely different personalities. Jack was snarky and always inflicted humor in every conversation, even if his humor wasn’t the healthiest one; Sam was always more level-headed and calmer, which didn’t prevent her for giving lectures and showing some tough love when needed; and Lena was… well, a mess, most of the times, but always willing to help first and ask questions later.

None of that made her hurt any less though, and still bitter and angry, all she did for a couple of years was study, try to look for leads about her origin and collect bad choices in her personal life.

-

Until Lex made his way back into her world.

It started with a call, asking her how she was doing, telling her that he missed her and asking if he could visit. Then, he started coming over to the campus, spending tie with her and asking about all she was up to, science-wise.

One day, after she explained what she was researching in her PhD thesis – yes, she was already halfway in the process of getting her first one – he told her how proud he was of her academic accomplishments and how the thing he wanted most was for her to go and work with him at LuthorCorp.

Being the idiot that she was, still yearning love and affection, she thought that maybe this was Lex apologizing for everything, in his own way. Maybe he had realized his mistakes and maybe, just maybe, he had missed her as much as she had missed him.

And that hope, that stupid feeling that made her weak, was enough for her to ignore the way that his eyes were always distant, that his smile wasn’t as sweet anymore and how she still felt old around him, even when they were supposedly having a good time.

It was stupid fucking hope that made her ignore all the warning bells sounding in her mind and, as soon as she got her PhD, she went to work with her brother at 21.

While working in the LuthorCorp labs, she got another PhD at 22 and by the time she was 23, she was already the head of the research department.

She had just turned 24 when she started tracing a plan to resume her investigation about her mother, now that she was able to control her own money and didn’t have to worry about Lillian anymore.

Until the day that Lena Luthor found out about Lex’s crimes.

Fuck.

--

After getting swept up in a whirlwind of shitty events and being thrusted into the spotlight with absolutely no control over her life anymore, Lena was able to start cleaning up after the mess Lex left behind him.

She had no option but success, and all she did was work and plan her company’s next steps.

Her company.

With Lionel dead Lex in prison, Lillian had nominated her as the new CEO of LuthorCorp. The woman told her that her own face was too public and too attached to Lex and that Lena, being practically anonymous, was their only chance in saving their family legacy.

The first thing she did was relocate LuthorCorp to National City. Then, she changed its name to L-Corp and started distancing herself and her company from Lex’s image. The situation wasn’t ideal yet, but it wasn’t chaos anymore so there was that.

Despite all that, Lena still made bad choices in her personal life and Veronica had become a somewhat recurring… presence.

She was still bitter.

The hurt had spread through her entire body and, she had become so used to it that she was starting to believe this was normal.

If all you know is hurt, then how will you realize you are still in pain?

--

And then one late night she found herself in Lionel’s office after what felt like an eternity.

She had flown to Metropolis to sort out some bureaucracy, and Lillian decided it was a good idea to arrange a dinner in their mansion with some of LuthorCorp’s former clients. Lena didn’t want to go, but L-Corp would be benefitted immensely if she could at least get one or two clients back.

Lena went to the dinner, dressed impeccably, and she was the perfect image of the Luthor heiress. She said all the right words and expressed all the correct reactions and at the end of the night, after winning back five clients, Lillian had looked at her with something other than contempt.

Very good, she tilted her head sideways, taking Lena in, and retreated herself silently.

For some reason, Lillian’s praise left a bitter taste on her mouth, and she wandered around the corridors until she found herself inside Lionel’s office, staring at the collection of scotch that was still untouched.

She looked through the several bottles stored there until she found his favorite one. Opening the cabinet glass, she grabbed the bottle and poured herself a generous dose using a regular rocks glass that she found there.

She sat on his office chair and, taking a gulp of the strong liquid, she started going through the drawers of his desk, taking in the room from a very different perspective than when she was a child.

Combing through several folders full of LuthorCorp old documents, she stopped suddenly, her glass midway to her mouth and an incredulous look on her face.

There, hidden between financial reports of several years back, she found an empty white envelope. No stamps, no date, nothing to indicate when it was left there.

The only thing noteworthy was a post-it attached to the back and, in faded pencil letters, there was an address of a post office in Ireland. But what caught Lena’s attention was the asterisk next to it, where she could read with full clarity

Closest one to Mullaghmore.

.

All of a sudden, Lena could feel her pain come back in full force.

--

That had been 5 days ago.

Now, back in National City, Lena parked her car in front of a regular looking house and looked again at the address Sam had given her. This was the right place.

She got out of the car and, wearing jeans ana a T-shirt in an attempt to be as inconspicuous as possible, she walked towards the front door of the house.

Inhaling deeply and felling the cold air fill her lungs and calm her hart a little bit, she closed her eyes for a moment. What she was about to do would probably change her life again and Lena never liked changes.

My name was Lena Kieran. I am from Mullaghmore, Ireland, and my mom was hurt. I need to find her.

And then she opened her eyes and knocked on the door before her, reading the small office board that said

Danvers & Associates

Private Investigation.