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How a superhero learns to fly

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Somewhere inside the manor, a door slams. It resonates in her little body and Lena deems it close enough that she might have to worry about it. Words are shouted. Adults words ; and she knows enough of them to understand that Lex acted like a typical teenager again and that Lillian and Lionel are fighting about it. She refuses to think of them as her parents, no matter what she has to say in public, not when she still can’t sleep without her mum’s teddy bear, not when she still quietly calls for her in the middle of the night, hoping that she’ll somehow have gained super hearing and will come pick her up from this awful place. 

Another door slams, echoing in her head like a gun shot. She doesn’t like guns, but they’re everywhere in this house and she knows they can kill people. Lillian has one in her purse, Lionel keeps one in her office, and Lex built one from scratch and is hiding it in his bedside table. She doesn’t want to die. 

The loud shouts are keeping her from sleeping and so she fumbles around until she can find her flashlight and favourite book. Once the two items are safe with her under the cover, she turns on the light and sets to reading. She knows this story by heart, and it’s comforting. It’s a french comic book her mum picked up at a gas station when they were touring Europe in her beat up car. They spent a whole summer driving around and eating weird food. It was their last summer together, and the reason why at five years old, Lena now speaks English, Irish and French ; at least it gives her some value in Lillian’s eyes. 

She falls into the story with ease, reads it twice. When the shouting has stopped and she finally falls asleep, it’s to dreams of a magic potion of her own that would give her the strength to swim all the way back to Howth. 

The next morning, she wakes up properly tucked in bed with her flashlight and book put away on the bedside table. When she gets down for breakfast, dressed in her Sunday best, Lionel makes her an unusual offer ; a day out just for the two of them. They get ice cream twice, mint chocolate chip, and he takes her to a colourful bookshop where he buys her ten comics about superpowered people. On their way home, she decides that Lionel being her father isn’t that bad. 

***

By the time she’s ten, Lena is used to the fighting. It still makes her flinch and run for cover, but at least now, she knows enough to pick up the warning signs. Lillian growing quiet, building her fury before unleashing it. Her father drinking glass after glass of expensive whiskey. Lex is away in college, rarely home anymore, but it doesn’t mean they don’t find a way to fight about him ; or about anything else really.

On a particularly loud evening, when whiskey fumes have chased Lena all the way to her room, she hears a new kind of noise. A slap ; followed by dead silence. 

The silence, she decides, is worse than the shouting. 

She spends the night drifting in and out of sleep, clutching the small Spiderman plushy Lex got her for her birthday, and hoping that if she wishes it hard enough, he will come to life and whisk her away from all of this. 

She wakes up to the offer of a trip to the bookshop and Lillian wearing too much make up like it might hide the swelling of her face. She doesn’t say anything about it and lets her father buy her a truck load of comics instead. 

For her next birthday she’s deemed old enough to receive her own tool kit. She builds a semi functioning Iron Man toy with scraps of metal, and makes the silent promise to herself that when she’ll know enough to do so, she’ll build the suit for herself and get out of here.

***

She’s fifteen and high on the first appearance of an actual superhero when she intervenes for the first time. She’s home from boarding school, with blueprints for an exosuit proudly tucked in her pocket, Lex is locked in his office, and Lillian and her father are fighting about the colour scheme for the Christmas company party. There’s a broken tumbler on the floor and Lillian is holding a heavy book close to her chest. 

For the first time, Lena notices fear in the older woman’s eyes. 

When her father roars "I’m going to kill you," and his wife, unmoving, replies "do it," Lena jumps in between the two of them. She barely avoids the first swing of her father's fist, his hand grazing her cheek as she bends backward out of reach ; she’s not strong enough to stop the second from hitting Lillian.

She barely recognises her voice when she starts screaming for them to fucking stop fighting, to fucking get along. She doesn't recognise the cries as her own until Lex appears to carry her to bed. He doesn't do anything about his parents fighting, just whisks her away from the situation and tucks her into bed with her Spiderman plushy. She wakes up late in the morning to find Lillian sitting in an armchair next to her, her swollen eyes lazily reading one of her comic book. It's the first time that her adoptive mother has done anything like that.

She graduates mid-year, earlier than her one and only friend, and leaves for college without looking back. Before she moves away, her father gifts her a tablet with an unlimited subscription to a comics database. She leaves it home along with her suit's blueprints. There might be an actual superpowered being accomplishing incredible things right now, but superheroes are for children.

***

Her father dies six months into her first year of college. Pancreatic cancer. At least it's over fast. 

The funeral is an excruciating affair. Lex spends the entirety of it mumbling under his breath. He's supposed to take over the company, but he doesn't look fit for it.

When it's all over, Lillian takes her to a bookshop and silently hands her her shiny credit card. Lena doesn't think she'll ever understand this woman.

She goes back to college with all of her comics, her plush toys and the Iron Man toy she built so long ago. Lillian makes her promise she'll call from time to time ; it doesn't seem like such a hard thing to do anymore.

Months fly by in a breeze, the ache of missing her father somewhat lessened by the thrill of connecting with her mother for the first time in her life. Lillian keeps on buying her comic books, sometimes the same one twice. They call each over once a month, then twice. On a business trip in Lena's college town, Lillian makes a detour to buy her ice cream. Mint chocolate chip. They make fun of Lex’s newfound obsession with Superman, but none of them mention is newest weapon contract with the government. 

Things are good for a while ; easy even. She makes a new friend, socialises more, and is on top of everything education wise. Time passes, and she forgets what a slamming door sounds like ; the screaming matches of her parents are no longer the soundtrack of her life. 

Some of her classes are more challenging than others but she loves it, enjoys the way her brain fills with information that she can then apply to the world around her. She studies bioengineering, chemistry, physic, astrophysic, and unfortunately, business. On the side, she takes a pop culture class in which she allows herself to nerd out for two hours a week. As Lex grows to power, it's a welcome reprieve from, well from everything.

Right before she graduates, with an offer from MIT for an extra year there, she meets Veronica. They bump into each other in a café, go on a date, then another. The first time they wake up in the same bed, Veronica is wearing her prized Spiderman t-shirt and nothing else. She’s got blazing eyes and a brazen personality, gets along with Lillian, can keep up with Lex in his rarer and rarer moments of clarity. Lena finds that she fits into her life like no other, makes her feel a type of love that she hasn't felt before. She's different yet uncannily familiar and Lena doesn't understand how until a tumbler of whiskey smashes right next to her head when they fight about her possible attendance at the Luthor’s children hospital superheroes run. She breaks up with her on the spot.

The next month, Lex levels Metropolis trying to get to Superman. He's wearing a suit eerily similar to Lena's design. When she has to take over Luthor Corp, she stores everything away. Superheroes are for children.

***
Re-branding and moving to National City turns out to be an unforeseen mistake. First, there's a massive comic books store capitalising on Superman's image right across LCorp. She sees it every time she so much as glances out the window, even though her office is on the last floor. Then, a month after she starts settling in, a new hero arises, the saving of a plane interrupting her usual TV program. This relative of her brother's nemesis is trademarked Supergirl a hot minute after she shows up, and then she's everywhere. It takes a great deal of convincing from Lillian for Lena to not just outright pack everything and move to a remote island, or at least back to Metropolis. Lillian's argument is that she can't just scrap everything after investing a quarter of a billion in the move and it rightfully outweighs whatever Lena might have to say in return. She gets it, she's an adult now, she has responsibilities.

She doesn't go out of her way to not cross path with Supergirl. She just delegates, a lot. Her mother is the one who goes to charity events where the hero might show up, Sam speaks in her name when her conferences are held in the open, Jess stays behind to answer questions when she has to be evacuated on numerous assassination attempts. She catches glimpses of the red caped superhero, but she never meets her face to face and it's just as well.

That is until her helicopter starts spiraling out of the sky and she doesn't have much choice between dying or being saved. For the first time in months, she spares a thought for her childhood fictional heroes, but it's Supergirl, a very real one, who thwarts her untimely death.

Her vehicle is brought back down without so much as a jolt and suddenly, there she is, in all her glory, the person that she's been trying so hard to avoid. Supergirl is unfairly attractive ; tall, muscled, and with the brightest smile Lena has ever seen. Luckily, the hero attributes her lack of reaction to shock and not to the way she gets lost in her strikingly blue eyes. To her great relief, Supergirl has to fly away rapidly ; to her utmost disappointment it's now all she can think about. 

When before it was mostly easy for her to pretend Supergirl doesn't exist, it's now nigh impossible. She's not just streaks of red in the sky ; she's on her TV, and trending on Twitter, and on a giant poster in the comics shop across the street, and oh, she's on her balcony too. She doesn't say anything at first ; just lets the hero hover awkwardly as she swirls her tumbler, filled with water mind you, she doesn't drink, she just likes the aesthetic.

"I've been looking forward meeting you," Supergirl says after her boots finally touch the ground.

"Is that so ?" Lena finds herself replying with much more confidence than she actually has.

"But I have an inkling the feeling isn't mutual," Supergirl says softly, her voice carrying away into the wind.

"I’m not a fan of superheroes," Lena mumbles into her tumbler of water.

"I can guess why."

Lena smirks as Supergirl leans next to her on the railing. She can feel her unnatural warmth fill the air between them. "Oh you don't know the half of it."

***

Surprisingly, it becomes a regular instance ; them meeting on her balcony late at night. 

"Hard day ?" Lena asks once Supergirl has taken her usual position on top of the railing, looking at the city. It’s something that she’s started to do lately that never fails to give Lena a heart attack even if she knows the hero can fly.

"Yeah," Supergirl huffs. "Things just have a way of catching fire in this weather."

"Not a fan of summer ?" Lena asks, gratefully accepting the transfer of ice cream from Supergirl’s hand to her own. 

"Oh no," Supergirl says with a small laugh, "I love summer. The sun’s kind of my thing you know." She shrugs, and even though Lena can’t see her face, it’s not hard to picture the half smile that must accompany her words. "It’s global warming that scares me."

"You'd survive it," Lena mumbles, shrugging in turn.

"But not the people I love."

Lena doesn’t have anything to reply to that. She's already shown Supergirl top secret blueprints for clean energy devices ; and how can mere words comfort an alien who's already lost one planet ? So she does something inconceivable, she extends her hand, slowly, and puts it on Supergirl's back. The hero leans back slightly, not enough to destabilise Lena with her inhuman strength, but enough to show that she welcomes the small gesture of comfort.

"So, mint chocolate ice cream ?" Lena asks after a small stretch of silence. She's already had ice cream today, a couple of hours ago when Kara Danvers dragged her out of her office weirdly stating that humans need to cool down in this weather.

"Lucky guess," Supergirl shrugs. "Do you like it ?"

"It’s my favourite."

***

The closer she gets to Supergirl, the bolder Lena gets. For starter, she attends her own press conferences now. It does lead to a couple of cuts and bruises, but overall, being more public is good for the company image.

"I’m going to end up thinking you have a death wish," Supergirl says as she descends upon the balcony.

"Nah," Lena mumbles around her busted lips, "I've outgrown this."

"You almost got blown up today," Supergirl scolds, "twice."

"And you rescued me both time. I’m fine."

Supergirl huffs petulantly. Lena doesn't turn around, but the rustling of fabric indicates that the hero probably crossed her arms. "Did you at least tend to your injuries ?"

"Don't worry, Kara Danvers was here before you."

"The reporter ?" Supergirl probs with a strange lilt.

"Well, do you know many Kara Danvers ?"

"No, just this one." Supergirl doesn't say much more for a couple of seconds, but it's not the end of the conversation, Lena knows it. The hero has a strange way of letting things hang in the air when she wants to say something. "We’re friends you know. She talks about you, a lot."

Oh, so that's what this is about. Lena isn't sure she wants to have this conversation. Sure, she's been seeing a lot of Kara Danvers lately ; they have lunches and dinners and go for walks in the park and the reporter has been pestering her about a game night for two weeks straight, but…

"She's certainly insistent in her friendship."

"And what do you think of her ?"

"She’s nice," Lena muses. "And funny. And she’s certainly easy on the eye."

"But ?"

"What makes you think there’s a but ?"

"Isn’t there one ?" Supergirl fires back.

"She’s a reporter," Lena says, though this answer doesn't encompass the extent of her trust issues and personal problems at all.

"So no superheroes, no reporters," Supergirl says in a funnily strangled voice, "it’s a shame."

"It is."

***

"What's it like ?" Lena asks one night. The sun sets earlier now, and they're standing under the stars. It's colder too, and Supergirl has unclasped her cape to wrap it around Lena. None of them lingered on this gesture.

"What it’s like what ?" Supergirl asks, her confusion showing in her voice in a quite endearing way. 

Right, Lena has been having a whole conversation with herself for the past five minutes and the hero can’t read mind. Instead of further explaining herself though, Lena vaguely motions to the book shop below them.

"Having my face plastered on everything ?" Supergirl inquires. "I got used to it."

"No," Lena corrects with a frown. "The fact that people write fiction about you."

"Oh," Supergirl chuckles. "It’s okay, part of the proceeds goes to charity. And it’s not really fiction. I give lots of interviews to help writers and I used to pose for earlier comics so they'd get my "otherworldly face" right. Their words, not mines. There are a couple of inconsistencies, mainly regarding whether I can breathe in space or not and how kryptonite affects me, but overall, it's fine."

"Can you ?"

"Can I what ?"

"Breathe in space."

"No." Supergirl breathes out and looks up to the stars. "I can’t breathe past the Karman line. I can hold my breath for a really long time but it gets useless if the air’s sucked out of me. And synthetic kryptonite does affect me, but pink kryptonite isn't a thing."

"Pink kryptonite ?" Lena asks. She doesn't want to really care about the answer but she does ; comics are just as crazy as she remembers.

"Yeah. It’s supposed to make me gay. Which there's no need for. I already am. Well pansexual is the correct term on this planet I think," Supergirl replies in one long winded breath. "They boat us by the way."

"Boat ?"

"Isn’t that the right word ?"

"I think you mean ship."

"Oh right, they ship us."

"I wonder why that is," Lena muses.

***

"Why are you giving me a drawing of your face ?" Lena asks with a bit more bite than intended.

"It's a comic book," Supergirl announces proudly like Lena can't guess that for herself what with the bright title and sharp familiar colours. "The latest issue of my series. Apparently I have a flying cat now."

Delicately, Lena takes the thin book in her hands ; Supergirl looks much too hopeful for her to reject it. The shiny cover stares back at her. It's the third time she sees it today. First when she walked by the book shop this morning, then when she saw it peeking out of Kara's handbag and had to invent a last minute meeting lest her friend tried to show it to her.

"Hear me out," Supergirl continues, totally unaware of Lena’s inner struggle. "I know you’re not a fan of superheroes, but I figured since you don’t seem to entirely dislike me…"

"I quite like you Supergirl," Lena interrupts with a small smile.

"Cool," Supergirl mumbles, fumbling over her words, "cool. Well since you quite like me, I figured I’d use it to introduce you to comics ! I was never really into them growing up, the seemingly crazy idea of superpowered beings when I was literally just there hiding in plain sight, powers and all. When Superman came out and they started writing stories about him I picked one up by curiosity and it opened a whole new world. They made me feel less alone."

"That’s exactly why I don’t like superheroes," Lena cuts harshly, "and comic books. They open up worlds, make you feel less alone, like everything’s possible, and when you close the book, you realise no one’s coming to save you. No one can bring your mum back to life, no one can prevent your father from beating up his wife, no one will come and whisk you away to warmth and safety. The only thing superheroes ever did to me were breaking my heart and driving my brother to insanity."

Supergirl seems taken aback ; with reason. Lena herself doesn't know what to do with her own display of anger. Supergirl hovers awkwardly off the ground, arms open, caught between moving towards Lena and stepping back.

"I’m sorry," Lena says, shaking her head, "I’m not feeling great. I’d like to be left alone. Please."

"Okay," Supergirl says softly, "I’ll go if you want me to. Just," she stops, looking around for a moment. "If you want me to come back, just say my name." And in a blur of blue and red, she's gone.

Lena stands unmoving for several minutes, shivering in the cold night and working to push back the flashback sound of shouting and slamming doors. When she does get back in her office, she realises she didn’t give back the comic book.

***

She doesn’t have the heart to throw the book away ; but she also doesn’t want to look at it and even less open it. For the next couple of days, she moves it around in her office until it reaches the bottom of her desk’s deepest drawer. Even there, it feels like Supergirl drawn gaze is following her. She doesn't read comics anymore, doesn't let herself be wrapped in the comfort of fictional (or real for that matter) heroes and she's not about to do it now just because Stupidgirl wants her to.

It leaves her extremely distracted and inefficient. Lillian points it out several times with great concern, Sam pokes gentle fun at her on the phone, and Kara stops by for lunch twice as much in the following week. On a particularly sleep deprived day as she guides Kara out of her office after a barely touched salad and gentle concerned probing she has to do a double take to check that Supergirl didn't just materialise in her place ; the reporter is hiding serious muscles under her sweater.

Ten days after the hero's left the comic in her possession, Lena's resolve finally cracks. She exits a particularly dreadful meeting to find that all the screens in the lobby are turned on the news and show Supergirl falling out of the sky and smashing on the ground with potentially deadly force. With no way of contacting her, Lena completely loses her mind. She spends the entire day standing on her balcony waiting for the hero (her hero) to show up while simultaneously keeping an eye on Twitter in case something (anything !) happens. When the sun starts to set and she still has no news, she empties her drawer on the ground, and picks up the comic.

Supergirl and an orange tabby cat sporting matching grins are staring at her on the cover. The hero's crest is clearly visible on her chest and the bright title proudly hovers over her head. Idly, she traces the hopeful letters ; it's been a while. The story is light hearted, it makes her feel warm. Supergirl accidentally turns a street cat super while trying to make a cure for Kryptonite and they arrest bank robbers together. The last panel features them playing fetch in space with Superman's dog and Lena can't hold back the sharp laugh that escapes her ; Supergirl can't breathe in space. This is not what strikes her most though, but the small signature in gold sharpie ; the Super's crest and a name, Kara.

The first thing she does is falling off the couch. The second is googling the frequency of that name. The third is frenetically doodling a pair of glasses on the cover. What's the chance that two of her newest friends share the same name and are both buff and blonde ? She doesn't have time to calculate the probability, but she has an inkling it's not that high, and there’s really only one way to know. 

"Kara ?"

The next couple of seconds are long enough that Lena almost gives up, but before she can slam the comic close, Supergirl stumbles on her balcony. She looks a bit ruffled, and her right arm is in a sling, but overall, she's okay ; Lena still rushes at her side quicker than she'll admit.

"You called ?" Supergirl asks with a pained smirk.

"I did," Lena whispers, holding up the enhanced cover to compare it to Supergirl’s face. 

"Oh, right," Supergirl mumbles sheepishly. "Can you reach out under my cape ? I’d do it but…" she jostles her injured arm. "There’s a pocket with my glasses."

Carefully, Lena fumbles across the heavy material until she can find said pocket ; it's surprisingly large. Before she manages to extract the glasses from this mess, she encounters a smashed Twix, a banged up box of mints and an insane amount of Cheetos dust. The glasses, miraculously, are intact, and she slips them on Supergirl’s face. Kara Danvers stares back at her.

"So funny thing," Kara starts quickly, "I really like you. And I know you have a no superhero and no reporter rule but I figured, quite stupidly I’ll admit, that if I could get you to like either part of me anyway, maybe I’d have a chance. But then I got to know you, like really know you and I realised it was a bit unfair and I needed to come out. I’ve seen you stare at that comic store and I thought it might be a good idea. I’m sorry if it brought back bad memories."

"I…" Lena mumbles, trying to speaks as she processes.

"Anyway," Supergirl cuts, "I’m Kara Danvers. Kara Zor-El Danvers and…"

"I don’t hate superheroes," Lena sighs, "I just. I told you that my mum died when I was a kid, right ?"

"You did," Kara replies with an ever so soft smile.

"Well our last summer together, we toured Europe. She bought me my first comic in a french gas station, Asterix the Gallic. It was about this tiny man and his village resisting roman oppression with a magic potion. After she, after she died, I read it so much that the pages fell out. I hoped for a potion of my own, or any kind of powers really, that would allow me to go back home."

"My powers couldn't bring back my planet either," Kara says gently when Lena takes a minute to gather her thoughts. "Powers or not, there was nothing you could have done for your mother."

"Lionel, my father, is the one who introduced me to american comics. Actual superheroes, mutants, people with powers or above average skills. I grew up in a not so nice house, and I spent my childhood hoping that they would come alive from the pages and save me. They didn't. The first time an actual superhero made an appearance on this fucking planet, it drove my brother to insanity. Did you know I actually designed his great 'Lexosuit' ? I was trying to replicate the Iron Man suit to be my own hero."

"You can still be you know,” Kara interrupts softly, effectively cutting Lena’s spiral with care and gentleness.

"Be what ?"

"Your own hero. There's no time limit for making peace with your life and believing in yourself. There's also no time limit for enjoying nerdy things and drawing inspiration from them. We could do it together if you want. I mean, I don't want to force my presence on your potential healing but if you want me to take this journey with you, I'd like to be there for you. Even just as a friend."

Lena ponders over this for a minute, then for another, even as Kara grows more and more agitated beside her. "I’d like to go to bed," she says eventually. "But tomorrow, I’d like to go to the comic store. As a date."

The smile on the comic's cover is pale in comparison to the one that spreads on Kara's face.

***
"It’s here !"

Her office door bursts open and Lena raises her eyes from her folder just in time to brace herself for impact. A second later, she's engulfed in a warm embrace and a soft kiss is placed on her lips. 

"What’s there ?" Lena asks with confusion as her girlfriend hovers excitedly in front of her.

"Your comic !"

And Kara thrusts a book in her face.

"It’s too close to my eyes love, I can’t see it."

"Oh right."

Gently, Lena pushes on Kara's hand until the book is at a seeable distance. Her own face stares back at her on the cover and she can’t help but smile. "It’s here."

Supergirl and Lena Luthor #1 "Be your own hero"