Actions

Work Header

pain

Work Text:

She comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t have a soulmate when she’s eight years old.

The other children at her foster home are so busy rubbing elbows they haven’t knocked, nursing bruises they don’t have on their skin, wincing at toothaches that aren’t their own, that they don’t notice Lena’s inability to relate to them—don’t notice as she draws herself further and further away from discussions about ‘how do you think my soulmate broke their arm?’ They don’t notice and Lena doesn’t care because this is good, this is better. If having a soulmate meant tolerating their pain as your own…well, she doesn’t think she deserves more pain in her life, she’s quite good as is.

(She’s never felt her soulmate’s pain—she’s never experienced a phantom stubbed toe, a ghostly pain in her head, the whip-like crack of a broken bone and the flare of pain that immediately follows. She’s never had to feel her soulmate’s skinned knees or bumped heads or even silly paper cuts and she knows it’s not because her soulmate is unnaturally careful—she knows because pain is a normal part of life—but because her soulmate doesn’t exist at all.)

When she turns nine years old, she whispers her secret to her foster mother—a kind, bustling old woman who isn’t perfect but at least triesto be—and is wrapped up in a rare hug. “You’re right to be happy about it, Lena dear,” her foster mother says as she pulls away and searches for the rather pitiful lone cupcake she bought to celebrate Lena’s birthday. “The day George died…well, I think it’s better to never have to deal with that.” When she turns back to Lena, her smile is wobbly and her eyes are wet and Lena has enough sense not to mention her foster father and how his absence is felt in every nook and cranny of that old house. “Yes,” her foster mother continues sadly, “yes. Better not to have a soulmate at all than to lose him.”

“Do you think it’s because I’mnot worth loving?” Lena asks, her voice barely above a whisper. But upstairs one of the boys lets out a loud groan as his accident-prone soulmate breaks another bone, and Lena’s question goes unanswered, her foster mother rushing off to comfort the others.

She picks up the pitiful cupcake, murmurs ‘happy birthday’ under her breath, and decides she’ll never think about this topic again.

 

x

 

She’s ten years old when the Luthors adopt her.

Lex—tall, handsome, and regal even at fourteen—tells her that the rumors are true. The adoption isa ploy to win back public favor after Lionel Luthor was ‘less than discrete.’ Lex tells her that she shouldn’t expect affection from Lillian, shouldn’t expect attention from Lionel, but that she could always—always—expect Lex to be by her side, to have her back, to be her pillar.

He tells her that she’s not his sister in blood, but she’s as good as, and he won’t allow her to fall to the wayside—won’t allow her to turn into another one of his parents’ neglected pet projects.   

And she doesn’t. Lex’s doting and careful attention to the silliest things—like how her day has gone—makes Lionel more interested in her. Soon enough, she finds herself sitting with her adoptive father in his study, enveloped in the smell of tobacco and whiskey, lulled to sleep by the sound of Lionel’s voice as he conducts business, woken up hours later by Lionel’s gentle hand on her shoulder, his eyes kind and soft. Lillian, too, takes Lex’s lead, and she takes Lena out with her, introduces her to her friend’s with a wide smile (too wide perhaps to be sincere) and a cheerful, “This is my daughter, Lena.”

(It’s enough to sometimes make Lena forget—forget that it’s not real, forget that save for Lex she doesn’t have a family, forget that she sees Lillian massage her hands and complain of arthritis though she hasn’t worked with her hands in her entire life, that she sees Lionel rub his chest where she swears she’s heard him say his soulmate had surgery, that she sees Lex close his eyes because of a headache that isn’t rightly his.

It’s enough to make her forget that she’s terribly alone—that even in a world where everyone has a soulmate, somehow she has fallen to the wayside, despite all the promises Lex has made.)

 

x

 

She’s fourteen when she receives a letter from her foster mother’s granddaughter.

It’s short, consisting of a few lines informing Lena that Geraldine has passed away in her sleep, that the photo sent along with the letter was among her things and everyone thought it was best to send it to Lena.

It’s worn and slightly faded, looking far older than it actually is, but in the picture, Lena is smiling and holding a pitiful looking cupcake and her foster mother has thrown an arm around her shoulders, her attention on something out of shot—perhaps one of the boys had just cursed or someone had asked her a question, Lena doesn’t remember. Somehow the photo makes something deep in Lena’s chest twist, but when she makes to shove it back in the envelope and hide it in a drawer so that she’ll never have to look at it again, she notices that on the back of the photo, in Geraldine’s careful handwriting, there are three short words: I was wrong.

(Lena, much more alone now that Lex has gone off to college and the novelty of her presence has faded, leaving her forgotten in the eyes of Lionel and Lillian, does not cry at the news of her former foster mother’s death nor does she contemplate what Geraldine could’ve been wrong about.

She just plasters on a smile and gets ready for school, not mentioning the letter or its contents again.)

 

x

 

She’s sixteen the day she feels her soulmate’s pain for the first time.

For the most part, she thinks she’s just lucky that it happens while she’s at home, at a time that Lex is visiting (home for the holidays none of the Luthors even bother to celebrate), the two of them huddled together on the couch watching Star Wars. She’s lucky because she thinks if Lex hadn’t been there to rub soothing circles into her back, allowing her to bury her face into his shoulder and clutch at his shirt, she wouldn’t have survived the experience.

Her soulmate’s pain is not physical.

It’s wave after wave of sorrow and loss, an ache so deep that it settles into the bones and burrows right into the chest. It’s heavy and dark, leaving her gasping for air and hoping for a respite and wondering what could possibly have happened to leave her soulmate feeling so terrifyingly broken, so horrendously alone.

Lena clutches at Lex and feels her heart break for this stranger she believed didn’t exist, this stranger who is struggling to shove the sorrow down and away, who is frantically attempting to keep their head above water, who is being torn apart with each breath. Lena holds onto her brother and she hopes that her stranger finds someone soft and warm and full of love to give to take away some of that loneliness, someone to carry some of that heavy sorrow.

Lena is sixteen the day she discovers the universe had not forgotten about her, that her soulmate is out there.

Lena is sixteen the day she wishes she could’ve stayed in the dark—willing to feel unworthy of love for her entire life—if only to spare her soulmate all of that terrible pain.

 

x

 

(Over the next few years that pain and loneliness and sorrow that takes up residence in her chest never really goes away. It is the only indication that her soulmate is still out there, still suffering, but getting better about hiding it—at pushing the pain away, shoving it deep in the bones where it lies in wait for a weak moment to strike.

And Lena finds herself taking extra care in everything she does—stepping carefully over cracks so as not to trip, avoiding alcohol to prevent the inevitable hangover, taking her time as she makes herself dinner to avoid burning herself, slowly turning the pages of her books and papers to limit the number of paper cuts—lest she cause her soulmate more undeserved pain.)

 

x

 

Sometimes she finds herself blaming her faceless soulmate for missing all of the warning signs.

Lex—her adoring, kind, decentolder brother—falls into madness slowly, the descent years in the making, the resulting crash-landing leaving all those around him bearing collateral scars. Looking back, she thinks it may have started with Lionel’s death.

She and her adoptive father were never particularly close, but after Lex goes off ‘looking to save the world,’ Lionel spends more time with Lena. He takes to having lunch with her when she’s in-between classes, asks her about her professors, chuckles as he debates her newest ideas with her. When she graduates, rather than send her off to work for Lex as initially planned, Lionel gives her a job at LuthorCorp, has her come to every single board meeting, watching her carefully as he assigns her more and more responsibility, clearly waiting to see if she would buckle under the pressure.

But she doesn’t.

Instead, she flourishes, somehow managing to keep up with grad work while spending so much time at LuthorCorp. Lionel beams with pride one evening, telling Lillian that Lena was bornto become CEO. He regales his wife with stories from board meetings, stories of how Lena managed to cow those ‘ridiculous, power hungry men’ into backing down with nothing but pursed lips and a raised eyebrow, how she’s brilliant, keeping up with his most illustrious scientists. He chuckles as he expresses how utterly sure he is that no one is quite suited for running LuthorCorp like Lena.

(What he doesn’t say—mostly because he doesn’t know—is that through it all, Lena worries about her stranger. She worries not because the sorrow and pain of loss has dulled to an ever-present throb, annoying but not overwhelming as it once was, but because she feels nothing else. There are no headaches, no broken bones, no bruises, no soreness—there’s nothing. And Lena doesn’t understand, she doesn’t understand how anyone can go through life so perfectly painless. Even she, with all her caution and all her attention, bites her lip a little too hard sometimes, drawing blood. Even she, despite all her efforts, bumps into her desk, gets headaches from a lack of sleep, and groans when she comes down with a particularly bad case of the flu.

What Lionel doesn’t say—because he absolutely does not know, could not know because she has never let this admission slip past her lips, never allowed the words to take shape—is that through it all, as brilliant as she might seem, deep down she worries that the dull throb of sorrow and loneliness she feels is not her soulmate’s pain, but her own.)

She is twenty-four the day Lionel Luthor passes away, the day she finds him slumped behind his desk, head tilted back against his chair, hand still reaching towards a glass of whiskey. She is twenty-four when Lex returns home, shaking with unshed tears and the sudden weight pressing on his shoulders now that everything has been passed to him. She is twenty-four the day she mistakes the bristle of anger, every word and gesture feeling sharp and intended to cut, for the pain of sorrow.

 

x

 

She’s celebrating her twenty-fifth birthday with coworkers the first time Lex’s madness becomes apparent to the rest of the world—the first time those cracks caused by Lionel’s death begin to grow and crumble.

One of the scientists is mid-toast, praising Lena’s most recent work and the generous funding LuthorCorp is providing for their research, when the bartender increases the volume of one of the televisions at a customer’s behest. The segment, as usual, seems to be about Superman, and Lena begins to tune out until she hears the name Luthor come up again and again.

“…sources claim that Lex Luthor, of LuthorCorp, has been developing anti-alien technology and—” The newscaster cuts himself off as the camera, which had been following Superman from a distance, suddenly pans over to the right, focusing on the figure approaching.

(It’s an image that sears itself into Lena’s mind, an image she can’t escape from that day forward: Lex, her friend, her brother, her pillar, strolling casually down the street, a bright green jewel in his hand, a wide, maniacal smile on his face.)

(She twists her ankle in her haste to get out of that bar, to escape the eyes on her, and for the first time since she was sixteen, she doesn’t spare her soulmate a thought at all.)

 

x

 

She’s twenty-seven when physical pain begins to accompany the familiar ache of sorrow in her chest.

She’s in her office, going through paper after paper that her lawyers brought her, the board having asked her to step in and bring s stop to Lex’s wasteful spending—“He’s going to ruin himself, Miss Luthor,” the executive vice president tells her, “and he’ll drag your family’s company down with him”—when she feels it.

It’s punches and kicks, bruising and achiness, and though it doesn’t last long—though it dulls almost immediately and feels as though she imagined it all just seconds later—it’s enough to make her cancel all her appointments for the day, go home, and fall into bed, drawing her knees up to her chest and burrowing her nose into her pillow.

(The physical pain becomes more of a regular thing from that moment on. Some days she wakes up feeling as though she’s just fallen from incredible heights, others she feels as if she’s gone toe to toe with someone eight times her size. On one memorable occasion, she feels the dull ache of the flu as well as a broken arm, though both only seem to last for about a day.

She goes from believing she didn’t have a soulmate, to hoping to protect them from pain, to wishing the stranger would bother to take more care. She’s tired of waking up with bruises and aches, tired of having them disappear over the course of a few hours, which doesn’t seem humanly possible. Mostly, Lena’s just tired, and she wonders if Geraldine was right after all: perhaps soulmates weren’t worth the pain.)

 

x

 

She’s twenty-eight when Lex kills those innocent people in his latest effort to ‘defeat Superman.’ Twenty-eight when she watches the coverage of his trial from the safety of her apartment. Twenty-eight when the name she was proud to call her own becomes tainted and synonymous with evil and she packs up all her things and decides she needs a new start.

 

x

 

Contrary to what Jess believes, it isn’t that she dislikes National City, even if that’s what her grimaces and impatience might suggest. It’s just that…well, it’s sunnierthan she’s used to, a sort of cheerfulness and gaiety saturating the very air she breathes even if she doesn’t share the same sentiments. But she has to admit, even if it’s something she ensures she never actually voices, for the most part, she actually rather likes the stark difference between Metropolis and National City.

For one, while National City is not her home, it has potential to become so. After all, her picture isn’t plastered on every newsstand here thanks to an absence of the Daily Planet’s efforts to consistently drag the Luthor name through mud, meaning that she enjoys a certain degree of anonymity.

For another, Lillian Luthor isn’t in National City. That in and of itself is enough to make a heaven of any hell.

But the most important difference between Metropolis and National City, the one difference that cements the latter’s place as somewhere she could consider her home, is that fact that Metropolis does not have a Kara Danvers.

And Lena is quite taken by Kara Danvers.

She doesn’t know what it is about the reporter that so draws her in. (It’s her smile, her laugh, her passion and determination to do what’s right. It’s her belief in the good of people, even of people the rest of the world has already written off as villainous.) All she knows is that she trusts Kara Danvers in a way she hasn’t allowed herself to trust anyone else—after all, look at what happened to her pillar, the regal fourteen year old who swore to always have her back.

(Lena has grown up believing that she does not deserve love, that the universe’s choice as her soulmate—a stranger whose experience with pain is unnatural at best—is ultimately a sign. And who could forget that the one person who did love her was driven to madness.

But Kara Danvers dares her to hope. And that danger, the fact that Lena desperately wants to give in, is what makes Kara Danvers so frightening.)

Lena is quite taken by Kara Danvers and National City doesn’t seem so bad.

 

x

 

It takes her an embarrassingly long time to connect the dots.

In her defense, rebuilding a company Lex nearly ran to the ground with his tunnel vision and hatred is much more difficult than she had anticipated. The alien detection device was supposed to be her trump card—it was supposed to guarantee her company’s financial security. She doesn’t quite expect Kara’s words to hit so close to home, doesn’t expect her mother (adoptivemother, she reminds herself) to be the leader of the anti-alien terrorist organization, doesn’t plan to have her last name dragged through the mud yet again.

She’s understandably distracted and busy, frantically attempting to keep her company from falling apart, all the while wondering if the effort was even worth it anymore. She doesn’t think she can be blamed for not noticing the signs.

(Not the signs that Kara is Supergirl—no, that one is terribly obvious, Lena would have seen through Kara’s dreadful lying in her sleep. Sometimes Lena wonders if Kara actually makes any effort to hide it in the first place—“I flew here on a bus,” honestly.

No, she’s referring to the signs that blatantly state that Kara/Supergirl is her soulmate. Something she should have noticed probably that fateful night in her own lobby, when she watched Supergirl get tossed into the L-Corp sign—ironic, really—and she felt the surge of pain in her own body.)

She finally realizes the truth several weeks later. It’s nearing two in the morning, and she’s still at her desk, flitting through papers and downing her second glass of wine. Since discovering Lillian was behind CADMUS (an unfortunate discovery which still makes her shudder, both at the knowledge that her adoptive mother is so twisted and the fact that Kara/Supergirl has so much faith in her), Lena’s spent every waking moment raking through every single report coming in and out of L-Corp, needing to make sure her mother hasn’t soiled the company with her hate. Her laptop is open, streaming a local news broadcast with the volume turned way down, and it’s only by luck (or fate, if she believed in that sort of thing) that she looks up.

And there, on the screen, is an image of Supergirl facing off with what looks to be a human with bright red eyes. The camera shakes a little and Lena abandons her work in favor of turning up the volume, eyes fixated on her laptop. Kara says something, but the human with the red eyes doesn’t seem to care, and with a resounding kick, he knocks Supergirl straight into a wall.

And Lena’s back blossoms with pain.

Nothing much escapes her other than a soft ‘oh,’ unable to move as she watches Kara stagger to her feet, shaking off the impact easily (Lena barely registers that she no longer feels the pain, gone as soon as it came) and shooting forward.

The camera feed gets cut off at that point, returning to the news anchor who swears that they’ll get an update as soon as they can about Supergirl’s faceoff with this newest threat, but Lena’s not listening.

She’s just wondering what Lex would say if he found out that his sister’s soulmate is none other than his worst enemy’s cousin.

(She laughs as she pours herself another glass of wine.)

 

x

 

“Are you planning on telling her?” Alex asks suddenly, pulling Lena’s hand away from where she’s rubbing her side (she thinks Kara might’ve broken a rib after blowing out her powers earlier in the week), her eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“Tell who what?” Lena asks, gently tugging her hand out of Alex’s grasp and busying herself with searching for a clean glass. With a huff, Alex reaches up and grabs one for her, rolling her eyes when she notices Lena’s slight wince of pain when Kara jostles her injury as she attempts to steal back the television remote from Winn.

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Luthor,” Alex says, making Lena chuckle. Their friendship (if it could be called that) took time to grow, mostly nurtured by Kara’s constant attempts to get them to spend time together, her determination to ensure everyone got along. And while Alex’s penchant for using Lena’s last name had been a…well, a sore point between them initially, it’s since turned into something of a teasing nature—something resembling an easy camaraderie that Lena’s never actually had before. “You’re being stubborn and it’s…tiring.”

Then again, Lena thinks, perhaps she still needs some time to get used to Alex’s blunt manner.

“I don’t know what I’m being stubborn about, you’ll have to elaborate.”

Alex’s mouth opens and closes several times before she rolls her eyes and places her hands on her hips—a gesture so lovingly mimicked by her sister when she wants to look tough or imposing. Lena thinks it’s adorable. “Are you going to tell Kara you’re her soulmate or not? Because this is getting painful to watch.”

It’s Lena’s turn to be speechless, turning away from Alex’s pointed glare directed at Lena’s rib, where she feels a throb she’s sure Kara feels ten-fold. She hopes Kara will get her powers back soon, for both their sakes. “I’m not ready yet.”

“What do you mean you’re not ready? You’re soulmates.”

“It’s more complicated than that—”

“—what’s complicated about—”

“—and it’s best to just…keep quiet. For now,” Lena says, ignoring Alex’s interruption. “I’m happy to have Kara in my life as a friend.” She is, she’s undeniably overjoyed. From their weekly lunches, to the nights she spends with Kara and her friends playing board games, to the first (and hopefully many more to come) Christmas they spent together, being Kara’s friend has been…warm, safe, strong. And she doesn’t trust the universe enough to ask for anything more than that.

“What do you think will happen if you tell her? That she’ll stop being your friend?” Lena’s silence is answer enough apparently, because Alex’s expression softens, and she reaches out to squeeze Lena’s elbow, just tightly enough to ensure Lena understands the gesture, the silent promise. “She’ll figure it out on her own. And then you’ll regret not telling her sooner, sparing yourself all the…whatever you’re doing.”

“You’re not going to tell her?”

“No,” Alex grins, “I’d hate to steal your thunder, Luthor.”

 

x

 

Kara gets her powers back the next day while Lena’s busy telling Maggie that the latest threats from her brother aren’t credible or important. Later, Kara refuses to tell Lena what triggered the adrenalin response that ensured her powers returned.

 

x

 

Lena Luthor is twenty-nine the first time she believes she might deserve love after all.

(The universe, it turns out, isn’t as crazy as she first thought—isn’t out to get her like she’d convinced herself all those years.)

This change of heart is thanks to Kara Danvers (or, of course, Supergirl). It’s because of the way she smiles, the way she laughs, the way her eyes widen when Lena bumps into her desk while circling around it to pull Kara into a hug after she talks about Krypton and her family for the first time, both of them feeling the pain of the hard desk and the pain of sorrow and loss at once. It’s the way Kara doesn’t run away like Lena had feared, but instead smiles wider and says softly, “I’d hoped it would be you,” words Lena thinks she should tattoo onto her skin, etch into every crevice of her ribcage, surrounding that familiar ache of loss Kara—and Lena—carry around, a burden that feels manageable now that they’re together. 

(She’s twenty-nine and when Kara kisses her for the first time she understands why Geraldine said she was wrong, understands the preoccupation with soulmates and belonging, understands why there were clichés about love being worth the pain.

She’s twenty-nine and Kara is soft, she’s warm, and it’s as if it’s one mad cosmic joke that her soulmate had to travel thousands of light years just to make it on the same planet as her. She doesn’t know what the odds are, doesn’t care, because it’s all she can do to remain on her feet, all she can do to not pinch herself and reassure herself that this isn’t all a dream.)

Lena is twenty-nine when she presses her forehead against Kara’s, eyes still closed, chest still heaving, and says, “I would’ve waited forever for you. You’re more than worth it.”