If someone had told Lena she’d one day be following an alien superbeing around her kitchen, begging her to dress herself…
… no, it wouldn’t even have fazed her. Life since moving to National City has literally been that strange.
“Please just put it on,” she says again, thrusting the boot toward Supergirl.
Supergirl turns from ransacking Lena’s rented cupboards. She’d moved onto them after experiencing actual, gasping-out-loud, comical-faced horror at finding the refrigerator completely empty. She’d continued to cast nervous glances at Lena until finding the package of crackers, which she now clutches to her chest like a teddy bear. “Why?”
“You do look ridiculous. You – no, no don’t take the other one off,” but it’s too late.
“They pinch,” Supergirl says, wrinkling her nose as she tosses the boot vaguely in the direction of the living room. It hits a decorative vase instead, and the crash makes her shoulders hitch. “Oops.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lena can afford to buy this condo – and all its contents – several times over, but how often does she find herself in Zürich, anyway? She’s saving herself another ten minutes of boredom whenever she has to see her accountant if she rents instead of buying.
The money isn’t the problem, the problem is Supergirl’s pale toes now flexing against the kitchen floor. It feels so… indiscreet, somehow. Lena knows she’s being ridiculous. She knows they have much bigger problems than Supergirl’s sudden complaints about her uniform – how is a person impervious to bullets made uncomfortable by her shoes? they have to be of some specialized material, which, oh, of course they are, she’s so stupid, otherwise it would never survive the elements or even the speeds Supergirl subjects them to – but somehow the sight of naked alien feet unbalances Lena even more than the fact that a Kryptonian followed her home like a puppy.
A cry of joy startles Lena back to the present. Supergirl holds out her bounty tenderly, like a mother displaying her newborn child.
It’s a box of pancake mix.
Lena sent her assistant out to a corner store for the milk and eggs they needed before handing her the list of takeout orders. She tells Supergirl the food won’t take much more than an hour, but there are almost tears in the other girl’s eyes. So Lena makes pancakes.
Supergirl hoists herself up onto the expansive marble countertop and watches. She offered to help, but she broke two bowls trying to get them down from the shelf and managed to lodge a mixing spoon in the ceiling above them, and afterward Lena demurred.
Lena is having wine.
“So you don’t remember anything?” she asks, ladling the batter onto the buttered griddle and listening to the hiss. “Not even your name?”
“Nope.” Supergirl doesn’t take her eyes off the cooking pancakes. “What is it?”
“I – I don’t know, actually.” Lena takes a sip, and then a proper swallow, of her white Burgundy. “It’s something you keep secret. You sure you don’t want me to contact the DEO?”
“You look really nervous every time you mention them.”
Lena sneaks a look at the alien, but she’s watching the pancakes bubble. “It’s nothing. They might think I’m involved in this, somehow.”
Because my brother is obsessed with your cousin, and I’ve had a lot more sympathy for the fact ever since you started flying in and out of my life with regularity. Not that she is… but then, Lex hadn’t been either, had he? Not in the beginning. Sometimes she could coax him to talk about it over the phone when she was in college: “An alien, Lena.” But not with disgust or fear. With wonder. “He makes me think we’re all capable of so much more.”
“My family doesn’t have the best history with yours. This one’s done, by the way. Careful, it’s –” Supergirl pops the entire thing into her mouth off the hot griddle, closing her eyes in bliss. “… right.”
The pancake disappears with a few chews and a swallow, and Supergirl kicks her naked feet in happiness. “Did you ever hurt me? Specifically, I mean, not just family stuff.”
Supergirl shrugs. “Okay, then.”
“I could be lying.”
“I think I’d be able to tell? Unless you can control your baseline biorhythms, but in that case I’m kinda helpless and doomed, anyway.”
Lena squares off, one hand on her hip, the one holding the batter-y spatula carefully away from her dress. “You can remember how to monitor biorhythms, but not your name?”
Supergirl looks slightly wounded. “I’m not picking and choosing, you know.” She points. “That one’s about to burn.”
“Fine, take it.” Lena ladles out more batter. “You’re not calling the DEO. Are you.”
“I don’t remember their number,” through a mouthful of pancake. “Do you?”
No, Lena isn’t exactly on the phone tree. She could leave a message at the front desk, but what if her phone has already been hacked? There’d been a small crowd at the scene when she shepherded the amnesiac alien into her town car. What if one of the many underground criminal organizations who’d love to get their hands on a Kryptonian were now monitoring her? She knows they exist. Her brother personally formed at least two of them.
“Okay,” she sighs, flipping this current round of pancakes. “Let’s establish our parameters. What do you remember?”
Major countries and their capitals. The existence of geographical phenomena like volcanoes and the Grand Canyon. Names of the current world leaders.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
Lena frowns. Lex had theorized the Kryptonians would have mental abilities to match their physical ones, and of course coming from a culture that had mastered space travel… “How many degrees of freedom does a robot need to work anywhere in its work envelope?”
“What are Asimov’s three laws of robotics?”
Supergirl shrugs hugely, uses the pause in the interrogation to stuff three pancakes in her mouth in one go.
So. General knowledge – if a very broad use of “general” – intact. But specifics connected to personal experience, like reading a book or watching a movie, those were trickier.
Things Supergirl also does not remember: name, backstory, why no one ever made her a more comfortable pair of boots, how she gets in contact with the DEO, how she gets in contact with Superman when he’s several galaxies away, how to get to the Fortress of Solitude, what the Fortress of Solitude is, why she trusts Lena enough to get in her car and eat her pancakes.
“You seemed like you knew me,” is all she will offer on that subject. “You acted like we were friends.”
Lena glugs more wine into her glass before taking a long swallow. “I want to be friends,” she half-murmurs into the goblet.
This is true, if not exact. She wants… maybe she owes Lex a note of apology. He’d gone crazy and that was mostly his own fault, but she’d underestimated what it was like. Finding someone to whom the laws of physics and nature were like suggestions; seeing them defy almost everything known about the world, and treat it like it was nothing.
No: treat it as a gift they could give to mere mortals. Like watching the god-anointed kneel before the rabble and ask how they might serve.
Luthor children grow up jaded. They are read their company’s mission statement instead of fairy tales, driven to extra science tutoring instead of Sunday school. The world is something that can be dissected or distilled to its essential parts. Any issues left unresolved, after, you can throw money at: predictable, reliable money, with even more predictable and reliable affect. Very little is allowed to be sacred, or supernatural, in a Luthor childhood.
Her and Lex’s bad luck, then, that Kryptonians tend towards altruism as well as superstrength and flying. The impossible abilities are the lure, but the self-sacrifice is the snap of the trap. No Luthor child can look at all that power, all that possibility, and imagine someone who would help the world instead of rule it.
Someone who would prefer that.
Poor Lillian. If only she’d let them watch Disney movies as kids, maybe her son and heir wouldn’t have killed people trying to figure out Superman’s “secret,” convinced there had to be a darker motive, a hidden agenda, somewhere in that perfect hero act.
Lena is resolved not to follow in her big brother’s footsteps… for once. She is not going to become fascinated to the point of self-destruction. She’s not going to test the illusion, or peel off anyone’s primary-colored suit to try and find the flawed person beneath.
But she’s not above putting on a very nice dress and sauntering a few neighborhoods over when she hears Supergirl is in the area. It’s not like she came to Europe looking for Supergirl, she has a perfectly legitimate reason to be here, namely a tech convention, and… And, well, self-awareness is the safety net when one tightropes across madness, isn’t it? She knew what she was doing.
… she’s a little lost at the moment, though.
“I don’t think we’re going to hear from the DEO tonight, anyway,” Lena says, after Supergirl has eaten the orders from two Chinese restaurants, one French, and a New York-style steakhouse. Plus the majority of the zopf Lena asked her assistant to pick up as an afterthought, thinking the soft, white bread could tide an alien over through breakfast. Lena is not good at mornings, but it looks like she’ll have to brave tomorrow’s to find a local cafe. The care and feeding of an extraterrestrial is turning out to be a bigger investment than she ever could have anticipated.
Good thing she can afford it.
Lena looks up from her – listen, it has been a day, and whatever Lillian sneers about coping mechanisms, she is allowed one – wine to see Supergirl’s sheepish expression.
“I don’t want to upset you again,” she says from where she’s seated on the other couch, bare toes wiggling beneath her folded legs, “but, uh. I mean, if it’s an issue, I guess I don’t even have to sleep? I’m not that tired, so –”
It takes another half-second to click. “Oh, god, no, if you want to sleep, I’ll give you something to change into.” She rises to her feet. She does not wobble. It’s a good thing she kicked her own heels off a while ago, because she hasn’t been eating. Unlike her guest. “Right this way, let’s see what I can offer.”
Lena hasn’t packed her own luggage since that time she tried to run away from home, when she was eleven. She’d stuffed an extra shirt, jeans, and a jar of peanut butter into her backpack before being driven to school, and then tried to lose her bodyguard in the crush of private school uniforms as students swarmed the entrance. She did lose him – she managed to get seven whole city blocks away, flush with triumph, on her own for the first time in memory. And then she spotted the black helicopters branded with the Luthorcorp logo buzzing their way toward the school, and realized if she didn’t want a city-wide manhunt, she had to go back. Now.
She wasn’t running away to anywhere in particular, she’d told Lex later, when he’d forgiven her enough to sneak a dessert from the family meals she was now barred from attending for a month. She just wanted to see if she could.
“So now you know,” Lex shrugged in return. “We can’t.”
Lena doesn’t unpack her own luggage, either. Assistants were glorious things. And if you have to be the prisoner of a legacy, you may as well enjoy the perks.
“Everything’s in there, somewhere,” gesturing toward the bureau of the bedroom where she sleeps nights. Her wine sloshes in her glass, and she brings the other hand up around to cup it as if the soothing gesture will prevent any spills. “Just – oof,” as she encounters the edge of the bed and decides to sit down on it. “Just take whatever you like.”
Lena usually sleeps in either the previous day’s clothes, having dozed off in the middle of reading the latest brief or specs of a new project, or naked. She likes the feeling of cool sheets against her skin, but negligees are an acceptable substitute when she has someone to impress. But there’s always a pajama set or three included in her luggage, because heaven forbid the CEO of L-Corp suddenly feel the need for them, and that need had gone unanticipated.
Supergirl kneels to rummage, her cape pooling on the carpeted floor. She tucks her hair behind one ear before diving in, brow furrowed with intense concentration.
It’s… very cute.
Stop that, Lena tells herself as she drinks her wine.
An exclamation of delight drags her focus back to, well, where it wants to go, but she’s trying to mitigate those Luthor instincts. Supergirl turns from the dresser, holding up a pair of men’s-cut in dark navy, with white piping. They might be men’s pajamas – what kind of host would Lena be if she didn’t have a pair on standby for any male overnight guests.
“They’re yours,” Lena says, feeling expansive. What’s a pair of PJs in the face of countless last-minute rescues, of National City as a whole as well as Lena’s own person. “Did you figure out how to take off the rest of the suit? Let me know if I can help.”
… okay. Okay, no more wine. She puts the glass on the bedside table.
“I think I got it.” Supergirl looks down with a frown, fiddling at her hip. “There’s some kind of catch, I think, right — there.”
Lena has about a split second of warning. She snaps her head to the side so fast she feels a nerve twinge. Not fast or far enough: there’s still a glimpse of naked back in her peripheral vision, a soft curtain of hair falling across it as Supergirl strips off the top section of her suit. She tosses it aside in the same motion and it lands on the bed.
Lena stands up with a quickness that makes her vision go dark for a second. “I’ll put that someplace safe,” she says through the roar in her head. She snags the upper half of the suit with her fingertips as she makes a beeline for the door.
Lena doesn’t stop until she’s in the living room, although, she admits as she presses her hand to her sternum and forces her breathing to slow, Supergirl can probably hear the rapid beat of her heart from outside the city limits, much less several rooms away.
It’s not fair. If she just had a thing for girls with nice arms – well, she does, but she could find those, easily, if that’s all she wanted. She has found them. There was a reason she had an open invitation to any parties thrown by the women’s volleyball team in college.
If it was just that, she would deal with it. Identify the issue, isolate, and target. Either find some way to patch in a solution, or scrub it from the system.
She’s tried. Watching Lex slip further and further away from sanity had stripped all romanticism from the idea of befriending a Kryptonian, or becoming involved with them in general. If she didn’t think that embracing her anger about that would have been just as detrimental in the long run, she might have -– Lex is a murderer and a madman, but he’s her brother. There will always be a piece of her that wants to make Superman suffer as Lex has: slowly, and for all the world to see.
(She wonders, sometimes, why her own fascination never applied to Superman as well. Maybe because Lex claimed him so hard and publicly from the start, and Lena never wanted to test their relationship by encroaching on his hobbies, except with explicit permission. In the end, giving up polo and learning to lose at chess had been an easy exchange for at least one person in the family that loved her.)
But she knew obsession via hatred was no better than obsession via… other emotions. So she did the next best thing available, and buried it under polite smiles and genuine gratitude, forcing herself to say all the right things and mean them. Because she did, really. She believed in Supergirl – her intentions, her capability, the possible future she represented.
She was also still the same person who had watched the footage of Supergirl’s debut on repeat, pausing to scrutinize, rewinding, fast-forwarding, until she knew every angle of every shot of every channel’s coverage. And in the years since she still hasn’t managed to identify the source of how it’d made her feel: equal parts thrilled and longing, and a hunger that is possibly a feature, not a bug.
Lena shakes her head at herself. She’s just… overwhelmed. Anyone would be, faced with the events of the last twelve hours, and Supergirl getting naked in their bedroom. Even if those other people weren’t –
She should call Kara. She can’t talk about what’s happening, of course, it’s still too dangerous, but Lena suddenly craves something normal to ground her. Small talk with Kara feels like just the ticket: how was the flight, how was the conference, how fat are you getting on fondue.
(Maybe they should go to a fondue place for lunch tomorrow.)
And, she thinks ruefully as she digs out her phone, it might restore a measure of her self-respect to be reminded of her hopeless crush that’s at least based in knowing the other person.
No one picks up. It rings for quite a while until it hits voicemail, and on a whim, Lena redials. Still nothing.
“Hi,” she says, feeling awkward at the beep. “I was checking in. I, uh,” she looks down and realizing she’s still gripping the top half of the supersuit. The cape is twining around her ankle like a friendly cat. “Call me?”
It’s not the suavest message, but she hangs up at that. Frowns at the time. A six-hour difference means Kara should be finished with dinner and nowhere near ready for bed. There’s no good reason she wouldn’t –
Lena jumps and nearly drops her phone. Supergirl stands just behind her, looking uncertain with the bottom half of her suit in her hands. She looks almost disheveled out of it, her collarbones exposed by the cut of the button-down. Her blonde hair, more rumpled than ever, appears to know it’s off-duty.
“I’ll take that,” Lena says automatically. What are you going to do, a voice inside her head jeers, send it out for dry-cleaning? But there’s a principle involved, and guests aren’t expected to deal with anything. Even their own messes.
Supergirl hands it over, but it doesn’t clear up her clear unease. “Um,” she fidgets, pushing more hair behind her ear. “I think I should show you something.”
And she’s actually pushing her hair away from her ear – to exposed the DEO-branded device tucked behind it, safe and out of sight.
Lena is on it, no longer nervous about entering Supergirl’s personal space. She knows what to do with herself around unidentified tech, no matter who’s wearing it.
It’s a circular disc resting in the hollow beneath the mastoid bone, only a few millimeters thick and less than an inch across. Made of a translucent material, she can just make out the placement of the microchip inside. She can’t tell how it’s staying attached to the skin, unless…
“Do you mind?” she asks Supergirl, who lets her head fall further to the side in answer. The implicit trust of the gesture makes something uncurl in Lena’s stomach, but she ignores it to place her fingers on the disc.
It doesn’t budge when pushed, and then tentatively pulled at. Not when Lena pries at it, either. The skin beneath the device shifts with her effort, but doesn’t turn red with strain.
“I’m guessing there’s an adhesive of some kind,” Lena says, drawing back. “Something only you – or another Kryptonian – would be able to overpower.”
Supergirl touches tentative fingers to the edge of her ear. “Should I?”
Part of Lena wants to say yes. Part of her wants to strip Supergirl of everything and take it apart: the suit, the mysterious device, maybe even Supergirl herself.
Part of her used to look at the board during games with Lex and think: I could put him in check with ten moves.
She’s always been good at suppressing that part of herself.
“Let’s leave it for now.” She flashes a smile, even if it takes a little effort. “With any luck you’ll wake up with your memories, and you can tell me what it is then.”
Maybe Supergirl could pull it off, but Lena isn’t about to hold her breath.
A cloaking device.
Lena’s eyes open, and she’s completely awake.
She sits up, reaching over to turn on her bedside lamp. Supergirl is in the guest bedroom, but Lena reaches for the robe she’d draped over the foot of the bed, just in case.
Her laptop awakens from sleep as soon as she opens it, and she dives into her protected personal drive. Her hands are perfectly steady.
It was routine for her to have the catalogues of whatever tech conventions she’d attended scanned and saved to her personal files. Most of the inventions photographed and listed would be useless to her, or rendered obsolete by the constant leaps forward in programming, but she liked to have a record. Not of the devices themselves but the people who had created them – the minds that might one day shape the world she lives in.
There. Austin, Texas, five winters ago. A microchip embedded in a small, circular disc.
The inventor’s name is listed, but she can’t quite recall the details of his face. What stuck in her memory was his unabashed nerdiness: he happily admitted to being inspired by Star Trek and wanting to reproduce the technology of that imaginary world. No shame in that, considering how many others had followed the same inspiration and come up with cell phones, tablet computers, and natural language queries.
His ambitions had been a bit more niche. He’d long been fascinated by the cloaking technology used by the series’ bad guys: technology that bent the reflection of light to conceal the presence of massive starships. You could be staring right at them, and see nothing but stars.
But it didn’t have to render things invisible, he’d argued. Moving in a space more limited than the vastness of the open galaxy, why not make people see something else? That way they could bump into whatever you were trying to hide without getting tipped off.
Lena had passed on his device. For one thing, he’d been unable to demonstrate his improbable claims at the time, saying he was still working out the bugs. For another, he admitted he couldn’t seem to broaden its effect to anything larger than, roughly, a square foot, if he wanted to keep the device discrete. It would only be able to disguise, say, a safe embedded in a wall look like a painting, or a small package look like a stuffed toy.
Or make a face look like another face.
Lena sits back at her chair, staring blindly out over the top of her computer screen.
Apparently DEO funding had been very helpful in working out those bugs.
If she’s right, that is. It’s a leap. More intuition and instinct than hard proof.
But if she’s right…
Hadn’t that been Lex’s paranoia? Aliens slipping unnoticed into the human population. Everyone had laughed, because it wasn’t like the really dangerous ones were keeping quiet. And who’s going to forget a face once it’s been flashed for hours on the evening news? Aliens out themselves every day.
But what if it isn’t really their face?
Superman had been notoriously difficult to photograph at first. There was the prize-winning first picture of him in flight, of course, and other distant silhouettes. But he moved faster than a camera shutter, so all that was caught of his face was a hint of jawline or dark hair. He seemed to know instinctively how to angle himself so that even the most agile of cameraphone users didn’t capture anything above the neck. And then, mysteriously, he’d been happy to pose for a half-page picture accompanying Lois Lane’s profile on him.
Just over four years ago.
Lena closes her laptop. Sheds her robe and puts it back by the foot of the bed. Climbs under the covers, turns off the light, and stares blindly into the darkness.
If she’s right, then there’s a reason Supergirl and Superman wear the device along with the suit, instead of without. No technology was fail-safe. If your results were dependent on it working, you minimized how long the technology was in play.
Which means the majority of Superman and Supergirl’s lives were spent wearing their real faces. Living lives completely unconnected to their Kryptonian identities. Possibly – no, in all probability – based in the cities where they were most likely to be found.
Which means –
Lena doesn’t know when her fingers clenched into a fist. She presses it to the center of her chest, closing her eyes. Breathing in and out.
Praying for the second time this night that Supergirl can’t hear how her heart is pounding.
Because this means that Supergirl could be someone Lena knows.
It can’t be just anyone, Lena tells herself, sipping her cappuccino the next morning. What if the tech failed in public, ripped away in the middle of a fight? Supergirl suddenly having a different skin or hair color, years added or taken from her age – that would get noticed. That would get people asking questions.
No, the purpose of the cloaking wasn’t to hide. Just to deceive that littlest bit, provide the elbow room of anonymity for the wearer. So what if Supergirl seemed to have slightly different facial features from that one time you saw her up close? Human memory was worthless.
Meanwhile, whoever Supergirl lived as, that persona was safe. Did anyone ever tell you you look a little bit like Supergirl? Same hair color. Same physical build. But different around the eyes or mouth, completely different nose. And in her day-to-day life Supergirl would laugh and thank them for the compliment.
It makes Lena seethe. Even if it is genius.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Supergirl asks.
She’s on her sixth pastry. As Lena raises her eyes, the shoulder of Supergirl’s borrowed blouse shifts even further away from her neck, exposing a clavicle.
(It had been a bit of doing, finding clothes in Lena’s closet the alien felt comfortable wearing outside. “Why do you have so many v-neck shirts? Why are they all cut so deep?” They’d compromised with a loose-fitting number that fit her arms, and Lena cinched the neck a little higher with a safety pin.)
“I’m fine,” Lena says, automatic.
Who are you? she doesn’t say. Do I know you? Do you know me, would you want me to be the person with you when you’re like this, who are you?
Lena finishes off her drink and sets it back in the saucer with a slight clatter.
She should have insisted the alien put on, oh, a scarf or a hat or something. Those eye-catching primary suits do their own bit to distract from Supergirl’s face, but even in civilian clothing she’s. Well.
She’s stomach-churningly gorgeous. Hair loose in soft, dark amber waves, long muscled limbs – but it’s more than that. She glows.
… not technically, of course, but it’s close. It’s an overcast spring day, but every time the clouds part it’s as if the sun is aiming for the alien, and it hits her with an almost audible sparkle. It catches on her hair, her cheekbones, her hands and smile as she points out whatever’s grabbed her attention among the people walking past them in the street. Who are, to be fair, just as interested in her. Lena can’t blame them.
No one’s going to recognize her like this, but she’s still too conspicuous. Maybe… maybe if she put her hair up? That way she wouldn’t have quite the same air of louche, careless beauty. And something to cover the beaming enthusiasm of those blue eyes – a barrier between you and their fascinating pull. Sunglasses, maybe. Or –
Lena’s phone rings, displaying an unlisted number.
Luthors don’t need anything as pedestrian as a Do Not Call list; breathtaking amounts of money are required to have their personal numbers in the first place. So she knows exactly who’s calling.
“Took you guys long enough,” Lena says as she picks up.
A slight pause: “Good morning, Ms. Luthor.”
“Good middle of the night to you, Agent Danvers.” She’s been on her absolute best behavior when it comes to Kara’s sister… after that first five minutes. In hindsight, those minutes cost her. Alex Danvers is sharp, and trained to evaluate for threats. And Lena is usually better at hiding her… territoriality, when it comes to things and people she’s decided to claim.
But Kara’s always something of a special case, isn’t she?
“I assume you’re calling about –”
“The package,” Agent Danvers cut in. “That fell into your possession. Yesterday. The DEO package.” There’s the slightest hesitation. “We have sources in the city who saw your car at the scene.”
“Sources?” Spies. The DEO is not so much kissing cousins with the CIA as… well. Lena wonders how many American agents are set to specifically observe Supergirl and Superman whenever they touch down outside the United States. There’s probably a designated task force in every country with an embassy. “Did your sources relay back the package’s… condition?”
And she’s not happy about it. Even less so than having to call up Lena and make nice. Lena taps the table, waiting for any kind of follow-up, but there’s none. “Did your sources find any hints at the scene about what could have caused this condition?”
“That is classified information, Ms. Luthor.” (Lena mouths the words almost as Danvers says them, she’s not an idiot.) “Questions have also been raised as to why you didn’t contact us.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude on your busy schedules.” Lena bites her tongue. She has to learn not to let Danvers under her skin, if just for the sake of – “And I wasn’t sure how to contact you safely. As you’ve pointed out, we were being watched. I had no idea of knowing who by.”
“… good point,” Danvers says, grudging, and Lena wonders how many non-American agents were tasked with watching Supergirl, as well.
“Mmhmm.” Lena sits back in her chair, directing the sardonic lift of one eyebrow down at the untouched Spanischbrötli on her plate. Slim fingers enter her field of vision, and she looks up to see Supergirl’s entreating eyes as she reaches across the table. Are you going to eat that? the alien mouths. Lena shakes her head.
“We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.” Even over an international connection, Lena can tell Danvers is forcing it through gritted teeth. She wonders which supervisor is standing over the agent, likely with folded arms, making sure she behaves herself on this call.
“There was some. I’m just glad the package didn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Another pause, and then, in a more genuine tone: “Thank you.”
It warms Lena for the split second before it can occur to her that Danvers, Danvers might know Supergirl’s civilian identity.
Or maybe not, she probably doesn’t quite have that level of security clearance.
But if she was selected to make this call, it might not be because of her prior connection with Lena. It might be because she knows.
And Lena doesn’t.
She has to shut her eyes against the hot wash of rage that inspires. What has gotten into her, why is she – Lena shakes herself and opens her eyes. Supergirl is chasing the last flakes of pastry clinging to her fingers, but absently, her eyes on the passersby. She has one knee bent to her chest with her foot resting on the edge of her chair, a posture Lena was trained out of before entering the first grade. She’s even humming to herself, completely unselfconscious.
It helps, somehow. It gives Lena that inch she needs to calm herself, and modulate her tone when she replies: “You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it for you.”
“… okay, was it really necessary to –”
“When are you coming to pick it up?”
The sigh Danvers lets out also helps. It speaks volumes about the past sixteen hours and how the DEO agent has not enjoyed them. “We can’t.”
“You – excuse me?”
“Not at the moment. The Swiss government is averse to the idea of DEO agents entering the country on official business.” A meaningful pause. “Without their knowing the reason.”
Ah. Ah. Yes that would definitely be. Tricky.
But even trickier would be alerting a foreign government to the fact that one of America’s beloved super-powered aliens was roaming around, unprotected and unaware, within its borders. You never know where that could lead.
“We were thinking, erm, you could mail it back to us? Air post?”
“No, I’m afraid I,” Lena pauses to stitch together the right phrasing: “I’m confused by the postal system in Zürich.”
“… do you need the address, or –”
“No,” Lena drags the syllable out. She glances at Supergirl, who is trading ridiculous faces with a child at the next table, both of them choking on giggles. “I used to know how to send things by air mail. I’ve forgotten.”
That had been an interesting discovery. Lena had mentioned offhand, while they were still in the apartment, about how in the worst case scenario Supergirl could just fly off the next night under the cover of darkness and return to National City on her own, where someone from the DEO was sure to meet her. Eventually.
“I can fly?” Supergirl had demanded, equal parts astonishment and delight.
As it turned out, she couldn’t. But she had a lot of fun bouncing on the couch cushions and claiming she could “feel something about to happen” before Lena made her get down.
“She forgot–” Danvers cuts herself off before she says something too incriminating. Neither of them can be sure if this line is truly secure. Lena can almost feel the anxiety radiating off her, even across the Atlantic. “There’s no… injury or anything, is there?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Damned if Lena knows why, but whatever’s happening with Danvers right now feels like… She keeps batting away memories of Lex’s voice over the phone when she first moved into the dorms at National City University. He refused to stop calling when he heard she had a teensy fainting spell, after she figured out the security code to the research lab and started spending her nights there instead of in bed. It didn’t matter how many times she told him she was fine, he got her security detail to camp out and make sure she stayed in her room each night by tripling their Christmas bonuses. But he also pulled strings and reserved the lab for her twice a week – “during regular hours,” and she’d rolled her eyes, because she knew for a fact he was in Beijing for a conference and it was 3 AM over there this very second – so she forgave him. Eventually.
There’s no relevance to their present situation, but the brain seeks connections, always. Speaking of.
“I don’t think the incident caused any damage,” she says. “As far as I can tell, she hasn’t lost any abilities.” They’re out of “package” metaphor territory, now, but Danvers started it. “She just doesn’t have her usual control.”
The mixing spoon embedded in the apartment ceiling was not an isolated incident, as they learned this morning. Supergirl, casually tossing one of Lena’s flats over her shoulder after finding it too narrow, had sent a spiderweb of cracks running through the bedroom window.
At least the shoe was safe. It was Ferragamo.
The whole thing made Lena burn with curiosity. Supergirl was acting like… well, like she thought she was human. Like there was a time in her life when she’d lived as human – or a better phrase for it might be “without Kryptonian abilities.”
Everyone knew by now that the aliens got their power from the Earth’s yellow sun. Controlling it should have been tied to muscle memory, spatial perception, self-regulation – Supergirl could still climb stairs and speak fluidly, super strength and launching herself into the air should have been grouped into those same neurological spaces. Should have been second nature.
But it wasn’t.
Which made Lena think she’d learned how to do those things after the crucial development phases.
It didn’t make any sense, because Supergirl was so much younger than Superman. Who told them all his planet was gone by the time he arrived on Earth.
None of this made any sense, which should have made Lena that much more eager to get an amnesiac alien off her hands.
Apparently neither of them were very good at “should.”
Another sigh from Danvers over the phone. “God. Why, out of everyone possible, are you – no, I’m sorry, forget I said that.” She must be even more tired than she sounds to make that slip. “I’m truly sorry. You’re being very helpful. I’m not sure how we’re going to thank you.”
“Have your sister return my calls.” Lena must be more tired than she thought. Or stressed, at least, frayed to the snapping point. No response to Lena’s voicemails – yes, she’d left another before going to bed – she could understand, maybe, Kara does get busy with projects she claims are work-related and therefore not up for discussion. But not even a quick text in return? Her social media accounts have been quiet, too. Not that Lena has notifications set up for each of them.
Across the table, Supergirl looks over with a slight frown.
Agent Danvers sounds like she’s choking on something. Well, Lena is being spectacularly unprofessional right now – but this isn’t her job. “Is she alright?” Lena asks. “I can’t get her on the phone.” And she’s an email away from sending a private investigator over to snap some photos through Kara’s window so Lena can calm her nerves. Not that she’s telling Danvers that. She’s not a Luthor, she doesn’t understand surveillance is one of many possible ways of showing you care.
“She’s fine. I told her not to take your calls.”
“Excuse me?” Lena asks, very, very quietly.
“I – I told her you were involved in a sticky DEO issue, and I would rather she stay out of it.” Danver’s light laugh is unconvincing. “I guess I barked a little too loud, I didn’t mean for you to get the cold shoulder, just… you understand. If this situation should go sour, I don’t want her anywhere near it.”
Lena is not going to sulk. She’s not going to protest that Kara is near danger every single day, like the rest of them, just for living in one of the two cities that house known aliens on this planet. She can see it’s a different situation when that do-gooder alien isn’t flying to anyone’s rescue any time soon. She is capable of being a reasonable adult.
“I understand,” she says, absolutely not in the tone of a kindergartner denied their favorite book at storytime. “But you should dial it down. She didn’t even tweet about the night’s takeout.”
If her second fake laugh is any indication of her subterfuge skills, it’s becoming clear to Lena why the DEO uses Danvers primarily as muscle. “Wow, yeah, she must really be busy! I will, uh, check on her in the morning, thanks for the heads up, I should really be getting some sleep myself now, so, uh, bye.”
Lena stares down at her phone as the signal goes dead.
The hell was that?
Lena looks up and reminds herself she has much more pressing matters at the moment. Whatever is going on with Kara will keep.
The amnesiac alien gives her a smile so much sunnier than the sky above them. “What are we doing next?”
Old Town in Zürich is like something out of a storybook: cobblestones and colorful buildings, streets that wind around each other in friendly companionship. Lena remembers a brief holiday spent in the city, shepherded around the Christmas village by nannies while the rest of the family went skiing. Lena was deemed too young. She hadn’t been upset – she knew to pick her battles, even then.
It’d been an unexpected victory for her father to come home early, claiming he’d twisted his ankle on the slopes. They’d gotten hot chocolate at a cafe for dinner. Then they’d taken the car out to these same streets. Her father had kept the secret until they arrived: a store of beautiful handmade and hand-painted toys, the workshop just beyond the showcase. It must have been after hours by then, but Luthors did not operate on any schedule dictated to them.
Lena always has a hard time conjuring the details of her father’s face. She has pictures, both from family photobooks and newspaper clippings. But in her memories he’s always looking to the side, or elsewhere – at some piece of business that has at least three-quarters of his attention. When she tries to think of him, the details are of that workshop: the soft-sharp smell of sawdust and the way it settled over everything in reach, the spin of the wood beneath the dowl, her father’s voice in her ear as he explained the process and its history. Not the words, she can’t conjure those anymore, but the cadence of his tone. The smile when she picked out which nutcracker doll she wanted and the reassuring weight of it in her arms, his hand on her shoulder, as they drove back to the hotel.
The toyshop is long gone, an upscale boutique in its place. That’s exactly what they need right now so Lena does her best, stepping into the clean and well-lit space, not to dwell on shadows and sawdust. The owner – an older woman with a soft wing of snow-white hair – greets them, and Supergirl responds with a flurry of what sounds, to Lena at least, like flawless Swiss-German. Lena only speaks a few phrases, herself. She waits until Supergirl is safely ensconced in a changing room with a her selections before exercising her grasp of the universal language, and sliding her credit card across the counter.
The owner tucks it away for future use with murmured thanks. She doesn’t leave the alien’s side for the rest of their visit, even as the doorbell chimes with new arrivals.
Lena divides her attention between Supergirl, trying on clothes, and the work emails softly pinging onto her phone. It takes her the better part of an hour to realize why this feels odd. She’s not unused to playing the role of the benefactor; it’s not her, it’s not how she likes to connect with anyone worth her time, but it’s a useful script. Some people are worth… other things, and offering Luthor largesse always unlocks that kind of person as smoothly as you please, tumblers thrown back and defenses down. Possibly because all they really crave is money and access, and so they imagine Lena sharing hers is a sign of acceptance instead of a pittance.
It’s a very different feeling this time. Lena doesn’t think she’s ever performed this scene with someone taking such unbridled joy in the process – the process, not what it means or how it’s Lena Luthor there to allow it. Supergirl can’t stop exclaiming over the colors, the textures, the options, switching fluidly between languages as she chats with the owner and then Lena. She’s very concerned about Lena’s input. Again, not like the others, not as if every nod of acceptance is a point scored, each expensive item a victory. Supergirl is very concerned about colors. At first she tries to buy everything matching, until Lena, smothering a smile, explains it’s more fashionable for tops and bottoms to have complementing colors. Given that freedom, Supergirl seems to have a thing for spring colors – greens, pinks, yellows, and now and again a deep navy.
Lena’s not sure what it says about her, that she finds the alien’s deep frown of concentration as she tries to match pieces so endearing. Whatever Supergirl values – or notices – in other people, it isn’t any of this: luxury, access, ease.
Which isn’t entirely unfamiliar. Yes, she’s played this scenario out many other times with very different people, but… there were times when it felt like this, before, weren’t there? Like it was fun? Maybe not on this scale, but when she’d given smaller things, smaller favors, and been rewarded with –
Red and blue, Lena remembers suddenly. Those were the colors she chose for her nutcracker doll, dressed smartly in his uniform and wearing a tall hat, the piping all in gold. Something about those colors has always spoken of order to her, and harmony.
Lena’s assistant is already waiting outside with a car when they leave, ready to take their purchases and drive them back to the condo. Lena isn’t reader to go back, however, and neither is her alien companion.
Supergirl turns her head in the middle of Lena’s question about lunch, eyes narrowed as she sends her gaze across – through? – the buildings surrounding them. And sniffs.
“Is there a body of water nearby?” she asks, and Lena is bemused to hear growing delight.
“The Limmat. It’s a river, it’s not that fa– oof.”
Her arm is almost yanked out of its socket (and for once, it’s dangerously close to not-hyperbole) as Supergirl grabs her hand and surges forward without warning.
She lets the alien find it for herself, which might be a little bit of payback for that. Plus it’s… fun, again. Watching Supergirl try to track her way through the historical buildings and centuries-old churches by scent alone. It’s like being walked by a puppy as it strains on its leash, only this one stops every few minutes to point things out – “Lena, look” – and it’s always something different, and always something you wouldn’t have expected to catch her attention. Simple things. The way the light slants through the clouds in segments. A little girl sharing an ice cream with an even littler girl Lena guesses is her sister, given from how she painstakingly allows the younger one two bites for each of her own. A flight of sparrows over the rooftops.
Lena takes advantage of one of these momentary fascinations to buy them lunch from a cart: two sausages, each a different flavor, and a roll of crisp white bread. Supergirl inhales her portion, and again, Lena feels like she should be paying attention to…
But Supergirl yanks at her hand and they’re off again, Supergirl catching at her whenever Lena’s heel slips in between the cobblestones. It’s only once or twice, but it leaves Lena breathless each time – the way Supergirl slips into her personal space, one arm around her waist to hold her up, sides pressed together, the quick smile she gives Lena before releasing her. Lena wants to say any other Luthor would have your bleeding heart in their hands by now, but also she. Doesn’t. Want to say that. Or whatever might cause that easy smile to slip. It feels safer to say hardly anything, and she feels the words build up to a pressure in her throat that aches, but almost sweetly.
Supergirl gives a little whoop of joy when they reach the river, releasing Lena’s wrist to stand by the bank, leaning onto the barrier with her face uplifted as she takes great gulps of air.
“Rao,” she exhales, and Lena’s skin prickles. The reverence in her tone is as if – “Your world is so new. All this moisture in the air, natural bodies of water still intact. It’s beautiful.”
Lena comes up to stand beside her. The Limmat is beautiful, but always by association in her mind: the history, the culture. She’s never been particularly refreshed by the sight of opaque, churning water, the scraps of froth and litter it sometimes carries. Supergirl looks downright intoxicated.
“We drilled deep into the core of Krypton ages ago,” Supergirl continues, and now the hair rises on the back of Lena’s neck. The alien is still breathing deeply, her eyes now unseeing as she looks out over the water. “Before the sun turned red, even. They hydrodamed everything with a current to load up the power grid. Nothing like this,” she says, softly, and Lena wonders if she’s even aware she’s still speaking. “Nothing free-flowing, untamed. The planet was practically a husk by the time I was born.”
How the hell would she know that? According to Superman’s timeline Krypton should have been long gone, how can she know their world, and even swear by what Lena is guessing is their deity? “That sounds…” Lena searches frantically for something to say when the alien falls silent, desperate to keep her on track, to not slip out of this groove of discovered memories. “Structured,” is the best she can come up with.
It charms an unexpected laugh from her companion. “It was,” Supergirl says, smiling. “But that was beautiful, too. Everything in orbitals and spirals. Earth-people really like angles, huh?” she asks, casting a quick look over her shoulder at the buildings behind them.
“I –” She’s never thought of it before in those terms. “I suppose.”
“Feels sloppy to me,” Supergirl says, candid, and shifts closer to look Lena in the face. “Did you know the Golden Age philosophers wrote twelve treatises on the mathematical perfection of the parabolic arc?”
See, this is why Lena does crazy things like rescue amnesiac Kryptonians wandering through picturesque European cities. She can’t remember the last time someone made her feel under-educated, and she might actually be enjoying it. “No.”
Supergirl nods before confessing, in an undertone, “My father made me read them. He said that everything of beauty could be found,” and she reaches to push away Lena’s hair where it’s fallen over her shoulder, one finger tracing the bared skin of her shoulder, “in the curves of the universe.”
Her palm comes to rest there. Lena stands stock-still – she doesn’t breathe – but the look in Supergirl’s eyes is light years away. Quite literally.
The strains of a violin drift over to them, and her expression brightens. She pulls at Lena once again, this time over to the street performer serenading passers-by. It’s too cloudy a day for many people to be out walking, and so his tips look slim. The joy on Supergirl’s face has Lena drawing out a twenty-euro note to slip into the upturned hat on the ground.
He nods his thanks and then, with quick look to the hold Supergirl has on her hand and a wink, changes over to a waltz. Because no good deed goes unpunished, Lena thinks sourly.
Supergirl in no way shares her displeasure, actually gasping aloud. “Do you have these kinds of songs?” she demands, and doesn’t wait for an answer before sweeping Lena into a practiced whirl, arms around her waist.
“Do you?” Lena manages, because her control of the situation is slipping and no, she’s not sure she likes that. But it’s hard to resist the open grin on Supergirl’s face, or the confidence in her hold. Her frame is perfect, like a student’s – no pressed-close seduction – and the rigid gap between them gives Lena the space she needs to breathe, to keep the world spinning on its axis. Because she is dancing with a Super, and also, there are people watching them. They’re smiling. This is a world she has no knowledge of.
She has no knowledge of the steps the alien is taking her through, either. But after two whole seconds of wrangling with her instincts Lena lets her cotillion training take over, submitting just that touch needed for Supergirl to move her however she wants.
“We danced like this on all the public holidays,” Supergirl says, still smiling. “They’d clear the city square–”
“So you had some angles,” Lena mutters.
“– and open the fountains. It wasn’t real water – just clear elastifuid – but they said it was wasteful even so to keep them running all the time. It was nice to hear them splashing, but they didn’t smell like water, not like this.” She swings Lena around, a hand moving to her lower back to keep her in place. “The grown-ups would open with a dance,” she said as she brought Lena back, “and then each of the adults would dance with one of the children, and then the children would dance with each other.”
Lena wonders if it’s something one would find across all sentient – and bipedal – cultures, to move your feet in triple time and tightly orbit each other in echo of the universe at large. “Your father taught you this, too?” she asks, and gives into a laugh as Supergirl deftly reverses their direction.
It brings the alien to a sudden halt. Lena stumbles and might have fallen, except for being able to catch herself on a Supergirl turned to stone. The violinist’s music stutters and then finishes with a flourish to save face, and Lena hears the scattered applause of observers.
If Supergirl notices any of this, it doesn’t show on her face. “No,” softly. “I would dance with my aunt.” Her grip tightens on Lena to the point of pain, but Lena doesn’t think she’s aware of how much strength she’s exerting, not for a second, as she brings up depthless blue eyes to meet Lena’s. “My family, my world. It’s all gone.”
– god, but Lena is not equipped to play grief counselor, not for –
She pushes all that aside, because this isn’t about her, swallows, and tells herself not to flinch. “Yes,” she says, and refuses to look away. “You’re remembering?”
“Some of it? I…” Supergirl’s brow furrows in confusion, tears welling up in her eyes. “I lost them, didn’t I? I lost it all,” in the tone of a child who expects to be punished, who thinks she’s somehow at fault.
Softly, so they can’t possibly be overheard: “Supergirl –”
But that, finally, is what get the alien to release her. She doesn’t push Lena away, but she comes close. “That’s not my name,” she whispers.
Lena puts her hands up, feeling helpless. “I know.”
“Did I lose that too?”
“No,” and Lena knows better than to make promises on things out of her control, but, “we’ll get you to remember. It will come back to you.”
Supergirl ducks her head so that her long hair falls over her face, and trembles.
Lena reaches out again to capture her hands. Uncurls them from their tight fists, and twines her own fingers through the alien’s. “Let me take you home,” she says, and it’s the same phrase that got Supergirl to climb into her car less than forty-eight hours ago.
It works again this time, and the other girl nods.
The alien is unnaturally quiet on the ride back. She’s quiet once they’re in the apartment as well, letting herself out onto the balcony to curl up in one of the chairs and stare out over the landscape as the light slowly, slowly fades from the sky. She doesn’t budge for the rest of the evening, even when Lena ventures out to ask if she’s hungry. She makes a plate for Supergirl when she quickly fixes something for herself – just eggs and vegetables, plus they picked up more zopf from a bakery – and leaves it out on the counter, just in case.
It goes cold. Supergirl has to be getting cold, too, sitting outside in Lena’s clothes, but she doesn’t show any sign of it. Lena watches her for long hours, sitting just inside the French doors and looking up from her computer every five minutes. She’s five hours past her initial scheduled return to National City and things are already piling up at work. Nothing she can’t manage from here, though.
(It occurs to her this isn’t too different from most nights she spends at home: reviewing emails, cross-checking reports, eating a quick supper. The only difference is the company… which is a pretty big difference. She doesn’t think she minds it. If Supergirl weren’t acting so out of character – well, it could almost be nice.)
Lena gives up and goes to bed around eleven. She changes into sweatshirt and shorts before climbing under the covers. Just… just in case something happens. In case she’s needed.
Lena shifts in her sleep, cotton-mouthed with dissatisfaction.
It takes her a second to find Supergirl – the alien is sitting on the floor by the bed, knees drawn up, chin on the edge of the mattress. She’s in her borrowed PJs, hair loose and streaming over her shoulders. She left the hallway light on and the door to Lena’s room cracked open, and the wedge of light falls over her like a benediction.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers as Lena’s eyes find her. “I can’t sleep.”
“What’s wrong?” Lena asks, struggling up onto her elbows. “You didn’t eat dinner, there’s food in the kitchen – or…” She’s not sure what she could find in Zürich to knock out a Kryptonian. That doesn’t mean she’s not capable of trying. “Tell me what you need.”
… oh, that’s dangerous. Fascination is one thing – even obsession, if she’s being honest – but that’s not… that, right there? That was instinct, that comes from a place inside Lena triggered by very few people. It’s not the objective inquiry of a scientist monitoring their subject. It’s not even the manipulation of a Luthor looking for cracks in the facade. That’s Lena, that’s the only thing she unreservedly loves about the wealth and power she was born into: the freedom to promise whatever you want is yours.
No matter that this is the person least likely to need someone else to give that kind of promise. What can’t Supergirl have?
Supergirl straightens so that she’s sitting upright. “Can I sleep in here? With you?”
Lena’s mind goes very carefully blank.
“If you think that will help,” she says after a pause barely worthy of the name. She reaches across to the other side of the bed, pulling down the corner of the coverlet. “I don’t snore, to my knowledge, but if you do I reserve the right to give you a shove.”
But Supergirl is already shoving at Lena, gently, not moving toward the obvious expanse of empty bed, instead tucking herself into the space on the mattress between Lena and the nightstand. She fits. It startles Lena to realize, but Supergirl is a lot smaller in reality than the figure that looms in Lena’s mind.
Not that there’s more than a centimeter of space left between them. Lena doesn’t need a ruler to measure it – she feels it in the buzz just underneath her skin, the lightheadedness she feels whenever Supergirl shifts.
What is wrong with her? Why does this feel like – do Kryptonians give off some kind of low-level electric charge, or has Lena seriously regressed to adolescence just because of an alien’s unflinching and absolute trust?
Supergirl gives a kittenish yawn of contentment and wriggles a little deeper under the covers, making Lena’s heart seize with ridiculous tenderness.
Tell me what you need.
If she turns her head on the pillow they’re now sharing, their noses will touch. So Lena stares up at the ceiling when she asks: “Is this helping?”
“I would fall asleep in my own bed,” Supergirl murmurs, mouth half against the pillow. Lena can believe it: her words are already slower and slurred. “But I had nightmares.”
She sighs out and Lena holds her breath. One long, deep breath, and then another, and then Supergirl says softly: “It’s dark and I can’t move. I think I’m supposed to be asleep, but – I can feel everything. I have to move, I have to be somewhere, someone is waiting for me, but it’s like the whole universe is pressing down.” Her voice gets smaller and smaller with each sentence, until she sounds very young. “It’s cold.”
She breathes out again, and presses forward – her nose bumps Lena’s shoulder, and then she angles her cheek against it. “You’re so warm,” she says, wondering.
Her eyelashes brush against Lena’s skin as she finally falls asleep.
It takes Lena a lot longer to follow suit. She’s tired. But she wants this – even if she’s not completely sure why – and so she savors it, forcing her eyes open as she listens to the alien’s deep and even breathing, focusing on the warmth that pools between them in the shared space.
She rises from her dreams to float near waking at different points in the night. She’s never slept all that deeply – her brain is too active even when she tries to take it offline, working and processing and trying to present her with its findings – but for the first time in a while she doesn’t wake up completely. She’s anchored: an arm thrown over her waist, a leg bent across her own, a pressure at her back and the sound of someone else’s breathing in her ear. Which shouldn’t calm her, or let her sink back down into stillness. It never has before.
But when her whispered name wakes her up all the way, it’s a gentle process. Like unfolding: opening her eyes to find blue ones inches from her own, breathing in the sunlight spilling in through the window over them both.
Lena feels heavy with lassitude. There’s no urgency, here. No anxious drive to get up and check her phone, her email, see what the world has done when she’s not awake to supervise. Not even the discomfort of someone else in her personal space as Supergirl shifts that much closer, biting her lip as she casts her eyes downward.
… oh. That’s dangerous, too.
“Lena,” Supergirl whispers again, still looking down.
Supergirl clears her throat. She lifts her arm from up under the covers – and Lena watches the sleeve of it fall away from her arm where it’s been ripped down the seam to the shoulder.
Blue eyes meet Lena’s again, and this time she’s awake enough to see the terrible remorse in them. “I, uh, I think I need a new pair of PJs.”
Lena leans forward until their foreheads touch, and laughs.