Chapter 1: this feeling i have found at last (art)
Lena Luthor is twenty-three years old. To put it plainly, she’s not having the best year.
Her brother has just been sentenced to 32 consecutive life sentences, leaving her in the unenviable position of choosing between becoming a Fortune 500 CEO when she should be shotgunning beers on a beach in Florida, or letting her family name go up in flames once and for all.
Also, all this sitting around in witness boxes and interrogation rooms and tense conferences with the Luthor legal army is doing terrible things to her fitness levels. It would be just her luck if, on top of everything else, she has to weather her mother’s scathing comments about how her ass is getting fat.
Lena pushes herself tiredly off the bedspread she’d faceplanted onto the second she’d gotten home from court to examine herself in the mirror.
Her Lillian-approved pantsuit does a reasonable job of flattering her figure but then again, good tailoring can hide all manner of sins. She smooths her hands over her ass, twisting this way and that to try and get the full picture. If paparazzi photos of her are going to be splashed across every news outlet in the city, she’d at least like to know if she needs to join a gym before some tabloid hound decides it for her on page 6.
She twists once more, glaring at her own reflection over her shoulder. Maybe Luthor Corp will expense her a gym membership. Really, it’s the least they could do.
Your ass isn’t getting fat.
And, oh yeah, there’s that. That voice in her head, thinking thoughts that aren’t her own. That warm, melodic voice that seems incapable of saying anything without an undertone of poorly-concealed affectionate teasing.
Lena huffs, alone in the empty silence of her Metropolis apartment. How would you know, she thinks back with practiced ease, allowing her mind to go that very specific shade of blank that will allow her thoughts to reach her conversation partner, wherever she may be.
The response is immediate. Because no one who worries about their ass getting fat as much as you do would ever actually let their ass get fat.
Lena sighs, unconvinced, padding through her living room to pull a pre-prepared kale salad out of the fridge. She curls up on the couch with as much of the gargantuan stack of handover paperwork as she can face tonight, and wishes to God that for once in her life she didn’t have to do this all alone.
Want me to sing to you? the voice pipes up a second later. I’ve got N*Sync’s entire discography memorised. Two songs in and you’ll wish you really were all alone.
And in the cavernous solitude of her half-packed up apartment, buried beneath a rainforest’s worth of legal paperwork and the astronomical weight of her family’s sins, Lena smiles.
So, yeah. Lena Luthor is twenty-three years old, and in her head she occasionally hears the thoughts of a woman she’s never met. With the way her year is going, that’s really the least of her problems.
Lena Kieran is three years old.
She doesn’t know much, yet. The world is a big confusing place and she is very, very small.
But there are some things she does know. She knows that grapes are yummy and bananas are yucky and her pink jelly sandals are the prettiest things in the world. She knows big dogs are scary and Sundays mean pancakes and when she plays astronaut and gets in her rocket ship she can fly all the way to space.
And she knows that when she wakes up in the middle of the night because somebody’s crying, even though there’s nobody in her bedroom but her, she can go to Mommy and she’ll make it better.
Lena pushes out of bed in the darkness, one of Mr Dog’s fuzzy paws caught in a death grip in her tiny fist, and runs quick quick quick across the carpet to the door. But then she hears it again, the voice.
Zha, the voice is saying. Zha, sokao-vokai. Ukr, ieiu.
Lena doesn’t know what it means. It doesn’t sound real. It sounds pretend, like when Mommy plays monster and makes silly noises before she catches Lena and tickles her and blows raspberries on her belly.
Ieiu, the voice says again. Ieiu, ieiu, ieiu. But the voice isn’t saying. It’s crying. And even if the words are pretend, the sad in them isn’t.
It makes Lena sad too. She reaches up on her tippiest toes and pulls open the door, runs fast fast fast through the black and the more black to Mommy’s open door and throws herself up on the bed.
All of Mommy’s breath puffs out of her in one loud woosh as Lena lands on her stomach. “Mmm, what is it? What’s wrong?” Mommy hums, all quiet like night-time as her arms reach out, lifting the quilt to pull Lena into the warmth of her.
Lena snuggles in close, head tucked against her shoulder, Mr Dog squished tight between them. “Crying,” she whispers, bottom lip trembling, trying hard not to cry herself.
“Why are you crying, baby?”
Lena shakes her head, Mommy’s soft hair tickling her cheek. “Not me.”
“Who’s crying then, sweetheart?” Mommy says, gentle like the hands brushing Lena’s hair back from her forehead. When Lena doesn’t answer, Mommy hums sympathetically. “Did you hear someone in your room again?”
Because Mommy knows, knows about the people that come to Lena’s room at night. Knows about the witches living under her bed, the monster in her closet, the ghost in her toybox. But this isn’t like that, Lena knows. This is different.
She shakes her head, rubbing her cheek against Mommy’s shoulder. “Not there,” she whispers, reaching up her fingers to tap her own forehead. “Here.”
Mommy watches her, like she does when Lena’s playing blocks and almost almost almost manages to get all the shapes in the right holes. “Can you hear someone in your head, Lena?”
Ieiu, the voice sobs again. It’s crying so hard now that the words seem even more silly than before.
Lena nods, burrowing tighter against Mommy in case that will make the voice be quiet. “Not real?” she asks, muffled. “Pretend?”
Mommy doesn’t answer straight away, rubbing warm circles over Lena’s back. “I don’t know, baby. I’m not sure.” She reaches down to cup Lena’s cheeks in her hands, faces close, noses touching.
“There are lots of strange and wonderful things in this world,” Mommy whispers, so soft Lena can feel her eyes start to flutter closed. The voice has gone quiet now, and Lena is warm and safe and nothing can get her, not when Mommy is here.
“You don’t need to be scared,” Mommy says, pulling Lena back into her. “Just because something seems strange, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. You are strong and smart and brave, my beautiful girl, and you can handle anything life might throw at you.”
Lena’s really very sleepy now, and Mommy’s words are starting to go fuzzy at the edges, soft like blankets and warm like cuddles. But she knows when Mommy sounds like this, it means everything is okay. It means Lena doesn’t need to be afraid, because Mommy says so and she knows everything in the world.
“Go to sleep, baby,” Mommy whispers, pressing her lips to Lena’s forehead. “You’re okay. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
Lena sniffles, wrapping a hand tight around Mr Dog’s front paw as her thumb slips into her mouth. She’s very small and very sleepy and she doesn’t know much, yet. But she knows she is safe. She knows that just because something’s strange that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and she knows that Mommy will still be there when she wakes up in the morning to help her figure it all out.
And Lena knows that she is loved. Mommy says she is loved, more loved than all the stars in the sky, and when Mommy says things, Lena listens.
Lena Luthor is six years old, and she doesn’t know anything anymore.
Mommy had lied. Mommy had said always and forever, and now Mommy is gone and Lena’s still here. Here, in this big cold house with these big cold people who say they’re a family even though they don’t feel anything like Mommy used to.
Mommy had lied, and now Lena is all alone. Even Mr Dog is gone, lost somewhere in the blur of the lake to the police station to the car to the Luthors.
Most of the time now, Lena doesn’t feel anything. She just tries to be good, tries to be quiet, tries to do as she’s told. Tries not to do anything to upset her new mother, even though it seems that just being here in this big cold house is enough to do that.
She goes to lessons with her tutor and she practices the piano and she learns to play chess and she tries not to feel anything at all. Not until bedtime, when she can curl up under the heavy quilt with the teddy bear Father bought her for her birthday – not Mr Dog, but good enough – and pretend she’s back with Mommy. In the dark, in the quiet, she can pretend she’s back in Mommy’s bed playing forts and rocket ships and space travel and that everything is okay just like Mommy used to promise.
Lena’s gotten good at not feeling things, now. Gotten good at sitting quiet and pretty and not moving, not making a sound until she’s told to.
But Lena does feel things sometimes, flashes of emotion that aren’t her own, and these ones she doesn’t know how to push down. Hot spikes of anger, cool waves of longing, the sour bitterness of regret. And, most frequently, a sadness so deep it aches in her back teeth.
She’d told Father once, told him how it hurts sometimes. Hurts like it will never stop hurting again. Lionel had only tutted, booked Lena an appointment with their private dentist, and turned away to pour himself another glass of thick dark liquid from that heavy crystal bottle.
The flashes don’t happen very often. Most of the time the voice in Lena’s head is quiet, numb, with only the occasional murmur to remind her that it’s there at all. It’s like the voice is sleeping, maybe. Like it’s dreaming.
But very, very occasionally, the voice speaks.
She hears it when she’s halfway up the ladder to Lex’s treehouse and Lena freezes, swaying a little in the sharp wind. It’s been a long time since the voice has said anything, and she doesn’t want to miss it.
Pai-odh khap, it whispers. To Lena it sounds old. Heavy, almost; the way Mason their elderly driver would sound when he talked about the war he fought in. Lena’s hands tighten around the worn wooden rungs, careful not to slip.
Tuv-u zhadif khap, says the voice and it’s louder now, insistent. Like when Lex said Lena had been in his room and touched his stuff and she hadn’t, it wasn’t her, and she’d cried and pleaded with him until her throat was raw because she had to convince him, she had to. Because her new brother is the only person in the world now who doesn’t look at her like she’s a reminder of something they’d rather forget, and Lena doesn’t want him to go away like Mommy had.
Lena thinks about the words still echoing through her head, about the strange shapes they make in her mind. It sounds like a made-up language. Like when she first arrived at the Luthors and Lex would speak to her in pig Latin, laughing when she couldn’t understand. But he’d begun teaching her too, and now the two of them have their own special code that nobody else is part of.
Maybe this is like that, Lena thinks. Maybe one day, the voice will teach her this strange made-up language too and they’ll be the only ones who can speak it, the two of them against the world.
The thought makes Lena feel warm all over even as the sound of Lillian calling her, the way she barks Lena’s name with disapproval dripping from every syllable, sends shivers down her spine.
Lena doesn’t know if she is still loved. But she knows, if nothing else, that she’s not alone. Not really.
Lena Luthor is ten years old the first time the voice stops saying pretend words and speaks English instead.
Earth, the voice is saying. Earth, Earth, Earth. The word sounds strange, accented and thick, as if the voice is struggling to form the sounds. It’s repeating itself like Lena repeats the names of the presidents, the state capitals, before she sits down for a test.
House, the voice says next. Car. Tree. Sun. Ehsh. No—
The voice cuts off, frustrated. Corrects itself. Sky.
It’s like the voice has never tried to speak English before, Lena thinks to herself as she winds up for her serve. Lillian has her playing tennis with the van der Bilt’s daughter, Esmerelda, as their mothers drink martinis on the veranda and their fathers smoke cigars and talk business. Lena hates tennis, almost as much as she hates Esmerelda van der Bilt.
Of course I’ve spoken English before, the voice in her head snaps suddenly, and Lena is so shocked that Esmerelda’s volley smacks her square in the chest. I’m just— out of practice.
It takes everything in Lena to stay standing beneath the weight of Lillian’s disapproving stare, to not crumple to the grass in shock. Can— can the voice hear her?
Of course I can hear you, the voice says incredulously. What, did you think this only went one way?
Lena doesn’t know what to do. She tosses the ball back to Esmerelda dumbly, returns her sloppy serve with no conscious thought at all. God, the voice can hear her. The voice can hear everything she’s thinking.
Not everything, comes the unconcerned reply. Only when you think a certain way, when your mind is open. And really strong stuff, too. Involuntary reactions.
Esmerelda wins one serve, then another. The ghost of Lillian’s tutting echoes in Lena’s ears. She blinks, shakes her head a little. Anything to snap out of this daze.
How is the voice so cool about this? Doesn’t it care?
Care about what? the voice asks immediately, far too calm in comparison to the way Lena’s slowly but surely losing her mind.
This! Lena think-yells with so much force she almost says it out loud. She clamps her lips together hard, biting at the inside of her cheek. The fact that we’re, like. Reading each other’s minds!
Why would I care? the voice returns, still unruffled. Everyone can do it.
Um, no! Lena winds up for her serve on instinct, slamming her racket down harder than strictly necessary. The ace whistles past Esmerelda’s feet, and the pudgy girl pouts. Lena’s barely paying attention. Everyone cannot just read each other’s minds! That is definitely not something normal humans can do.
A pause, and Lena thinks, finally. Finally, the voice in her head is as weirded out by this as she is.
Wait, the voice says slowly, dragging out the syllable in a low, lightly-accented drawl. You’re— you’re human?
Whatever kind of reaction Lena was expecting to this whole situation, it wasn’t that. Um, obviously, she thinks back, pushing as much outraged confusion into the words as she can. What, you’re not?
Silence, loud and guilty, and Lena thinks, oh my God, there’s an alien in my mind.
Lena thinks, oh my God, I’m really going crazy.
Lena thinks, and thinks, and thinks, and still the edges of her mind are quiet. Conspicuously so; sheepish in the sudden deafening silence. Lena rolls her eyes, tossing a tennis ball absentmindedly in her palm. Are you still there?
Yeah, the voice replies, more unsteady than before. Just— thinking.
Lena almost snorts, incredulous and disbelieving. Catches herself at the last second and disguises it as a cough under Lillian’s hawk-like glare. Isn’t the whole idea that I can hear when you’re doing that?
The voice sounds flustered now, off-guard and unsure. There are ways around it, ways you can train your mind to— Rao, but this isn’t possible, it cuts itself off, and Lena gets the distinct impression that these thoughts are not meant for her. I didn’t think this was possible.
Didn’t think what was—
But Lena never gets to finish the thought. Finds herself in the singularly unnerving situation of being interrupted inside her own damn mind.
Listen, I’ll explain later, the voice says, a hint of urgent desperation bleeding through. But right now I have to— I have to figure this out. Later, okay?
And before Lena even has a chance to think up a response the edges of her mind fall silent once more. When she reaches out, tentative, and tries to feel for the voice, it’s like she’s nudging up against a brick wall.
And that’s how Lena passes the rest of the afternoon and the entire miserable evening. The radio silence lasts all the way through her nightly routine and follows her into bed. It’s only when she’s on the brink of unconsciousness that the empty void springs to life once more.
Are you there?
Lena huffs, burying her face in her pillow. Where else would I be?
She feels the way the voice reacts to the venom in her thought, recoiling slightly. Look, I’m sorry about before, the voice starts, soft and contrite. It just, it took me by surprise, is all. But we could talk now? I mean, if you want to.
And what is Lena supposed to do, say no?
That’s how she ends up listening quietly while the voice tells her. Tells her how it’s standard to be able to hear someone else’s thoughts, among its people. Its people who aren’t human, Lena thinks with rapt fascination and just a hint of terror.
The voice tells her that inter-species telepathy wasn’t believed to be possible, thus the realisation that the two of them are apparently the exception to that rule had prompted something of a freak-out. It tells her about the parts of this bond they share that are within their control, and the parts that aren’t. Promises to teach Lena the difference between thought-types; how to project a message out or throw up a block that would stop listening ears overhearing.
It's a lot to take in, and it’s late, and Lena’s entire body is aching from the gruelling afternoon on the tennis courts beneath the relentless blaze of the summer sun. Her mind is beginning to drift, the tug of unconsciousness increasingly difficult to fight.
She thinks the voice can feel it too from the way the pressure at the edges of her mind softens. Go to sleep, the voice hums. We can talk more tomorrow.
But Lena, contrary by nature and stubborn to a fault, won’t acquiesce that easily. Hey, no, she thinks around a yawn she’s grateful the voice can’t hear. Why are we talking now, when we never did before? How come I couldn’t hear you like this until today?
There’s a long pause. It would seem the voice is choosing its words carefully. I— I was somewhere else, before, it finally answers. Somewhere difficult. I couldn’t talk much.
Lena huffs out a chuckle into her pillow, another yawn overcoming her. We’re not talking, we’re thinking.
Yeah. A beat of silence. I couldn’t think much either.
The sadness in the voice’s tone curls around Lena’s heart like tendrils of ice, burning cold where they touch. She remembers the second-hand ache she used to feel sometimes, the heavy throb of abject misery. It’s still there, she realises, but muted now. Shoved down, as if buried deep deep deep; locked away and secured with an iron will.
She swallows. But you could hear me? Even when you were— wherever you were?
Sometimes, the voice says, small and uncertain. When— when I was conscious.
There’s a pause, and then— It was nice, it all but whispers, before Lena gets the chance to ask what kind of place had kept this person unconscious for years at a time. The voice has warmed a fraction now, a spark of genuine happiness flaring to cover the hollowed-out despair. Hearing you, it— it made me feel like I wasn’t so alone.
Lena’s eyes slide closed as she tugs her quilt tighter beneath her chin. Yeah, she manages to think just before sleep overtakes her completely. Yeah, me too.
Lena Luthor is twelve years old, and she’s learned never to mention the voice to anyone.
She’d made that mistake with Lex, who’d sneered in her face and told her only babies had imaginary friends. She’d made it again with Lillian, who’d marched Lena through an endless carousel of doctors and mental health specialists who’d poked and prodded her, prescribed pills that Lena spat out, and talked in low voices about big terrifying words like psychosis and schizophrenia until Lena got so scared she whispered that she’d made it all up.
And she’d made it one final, devastating time, with Alicia Fleming. Lena had thought Mount Helena boarding school might be different, different to the cold intolerance of the Luthor mansion. She’d thought, perhaps, that the Luthors were unusual in their cruelty. That they were the exception that proved the rule that most people were good, really.
And so, curled on her bunk in the dark with her first and only friend in this strange new place, sharing stories and secrets and hand-over-mouth giggles, she’d told Alicia about the voice.
It had been exciting, exhilarating, to entrust this most precious of secrets to another. Lena had fallen asleep on the narrow mattress with Alicia’s dark hair tickling her cheek, warm and elated at the prospect of having a new friend with whom she could share everything.
And then she’d woken the next morning to an empty bed, to the sight of Alicia’s dark head bent close with the other girls in Lena’s class in the breakfast hall as they whispered and pointed and laughed. To loony Luthor scrawled over the covers of all her workbooks, no partner in gym class and no one to sit with at mealtimes.
So, Lena has learned never to mention the voice to anyone. She’ll never make that mistake again. But really, she tells herself, daydreaming through Mrs Desmond’s sinfully dull history lecture, she doesn’t need to talk to anyone about the voice when she can just talk to the voice.
Lena still doesn’t know her name. The voice is female, she’s sure of that now. Sure from its high pitch, its light timbre, its melodic giggles. But this thing between them, this connection, it comes with conditions. With rules, apparently; chief among them being that they don’t seem to be able to share any identifying details with each other.
Any time Lena tries, tries to think her name or her address or, hell, her social security number, nothing happens. Each time, the voice reports back that she’d heard nothing but silence on her end and whenever she tries to share her own personal details, all Lena hears is static.
She has no idea about the girl’s physical appearance. It’s a little unnerving, to be so intimately familiar with someone she can’t picture at all. Every time she tries to imagine the owner of the voice in her mind, all she sees behind her eyelids is darkness.
But not the bad kind, not the kind that used to terrify her in the early hours of the morning. More like the muted black of the night sky; at first glance empty in its opacity but in reality teeming with light and life and beauty, if only Lena could learn to see it.
So Lena doesn’t know her name. Doesn’t know where she lives, what she looks like, who her family is or what school she goes to. Still doesn’t even know what species she is, and of all the unknowns between them this is the one she ponders the most. The girl (can aliens be girls? Lena isn’t sure, but she doesn’t really have a better descriptor) sounds and thinks and talks like humans do, and from the stories she shares Lena surmises that she probably looks human, blending in enough that her life on Earth seems about as normal as Lena’s own.
And there’s something so familiar, so intimate and comforting about the way this voice shows up in Lena’s mind that she struggles to believe that they can be all that different, really. Even if Lena still doesn’t technically know her conversation partner’s genetic origins.
But there’s a lot she does know. She thinks that they’re probably similar ages, judging by the close resemblance of their school timetables and the voice’s (questionable) taste in TV and music. She thinks they must be in similar timezones or at the very least, the girl probably isn’t in like, Europe or something, since they’re usually awake around the same time.
And she knows other things, too. Things they have been able to share. Things that, if she’s honest, give Lena a better picture of who this girl is than whatever name is written on her birth certificate. Things that mean more to her than a few identifying details ever could.
She knows the girl is adopted, just like her. She knows she has a sister that she loves more than anything, just like Lena loves Lex. She knows the girl is crazy for dogs and pizza and bad pop music. Knows she loves puns and riddles and makes terrible jokes when she’s nervous.
She knows the girl has bad dreams, night terrors and panic attacks that pull Lena from sleep too, brow sweaty and heart thudding. She knows she can soothe them now, after two years of practice, by talking to her quietly, asking questions that draw the girl’s focus away from whatever demons torment her in the dark and put it on Lena instead.
She knows when it’s been too long between snack breaks and the girl’s getting hangry, can send her a gentle thought-reminder to drink a Capri-Sun and eat a cookie. And in return the girl can tell when yet another classmate has refused to partner with Lena in the science lab, has kicked dust in her face on the athletics field or tripped her in the hallway, all without Lena having to say a word.
Each time it happens Lena feels the anger that flares hot in the girl’s chest, feels it nudging up against the barriers of her own mind. Sometimes, when it’s really bad, she even feels a ghostly burning behind her retinas, as if her gaze might suddenly set fire to any unsuspecting soul in her general vicinity. But the fury and the protectiveness are always tamped down quickly, replaced by a warm determined swell of good feeling.
The girl will chat and joke endlessly. For hours, if that’s what Lena needs. She shares snippets of her day, ranks all the food in her school cafeteria in order of least to most edible. Makes up rhymes and silly little songs about Lena’s classmates until she’s sniggering into her elbow even as the tear tracks dry on her face.
This girl, her voice in Lena’s head— she’s just there, unflinchingly so, whenever Lena needs her.
It makes Lena realise that even though Alicia Fleming might have turned out to be just as two-faced and awful as the rest of them, she was not, she was never Lena’s only friend.
It makes her realise that although the girls in her class can hide her belongings, destroy her art projects and smash the photo frame on her bedside table into smithereens, they can never touch this.
It makes her realise that she has something now that no one else can ever break.
Lena Luthor is fifteen years old the day she finally gets up the courage to ask point-blank.
So, why me? she thinks one evening, mind drifting into the familiarity of comforting blankness as she pushes the thought out to wherever she may be.
Hmm? comes the immediate response, confusion filtering into Lena’s mind at the interruption to their easy flow. Lena has climbed up onto the roof of the old sports hall after lights out tonight, has wrapped herself in a blanket and laid back on the chilled tiles as she listens to the voice tell her about the stars. She’s been out here for almost two hours already, caught up in the warm intimacy of the exchange; in the patience with which the voice explains the constellations wheeling above her head, complicated names of galaxies and planets tripping through her mind as light as the tinkle of windchimes on a summer breeze.
But Lena’s been mulling over this particular question for years now, and suddenly she can’t wait a moment longer to hear the answer.
Seriously, why me? she repeats before she can lose her nerve. How come, out of everyone in the world, it’s my voice you hear in your head? How come I hear yours?
It’s— complicated, the voice hedges, unconvincing. I don’t really know how to explain it.
Alone on the rooftop in the wind-tossed quiet of the night, Lena snorts. You know you can’t lie to me, right?
She can’t see it, of course, can’t see whatever real physical reaction her comment has elicited in the real physical person whose thoughts she picks up like a satellite dish. But Lena would lay a considerable chunk of her trust fund on the bet that wherever that person is, she just rolled her eyes so hard she almost fell over.
Fine, the voice huffs a moment later, sounding entirely unimpressed. Lena grins, settling in.
So, back on— where I come from, the voice starts, and Lena sucks in a sharp breath. This thing we can do, this connection, we called it ehwor-ø shesur. I guess the closest English translation would be, um. Soul speech?
Lena listens quietly, filing the strange words away in a deep and secret corner of her heart.
So the idea is that you can hear the thoughts of another in your mind because that person is, um. A part of you, somehow. You’re connected, the voice says softly. Lena’s heart thuds hard in her throat and despite the vast expanse of empty air around her on this rooftop, somehow there’s suddenly not enough oxygen to fill her lungs.
So your shehd, your person, the voice translates, is someone who’s, like, destined to impact your life. To change you, somehow. Make you more of who you are, or whatever.
The voice has turned bashful, almost awkward, as if the girl is trying to downplay the significance of the information she’s sharing. Like she’s trying to mitigate the blast of the bomb she’s just dropped.
Lena swallows thickly, grateful the girl can’t see her flushing cheeks and sweaty palms. So, like. Soulmates? she thinks unsteadily, half-dreading the answer. You’re saying we’re— you’re saying people have soulmates.
No, it’s not— A brief pause while the voice collects itself. It’s not quite the same as your concept of soulmates. My sister told me the closest Earth equivalent is, um. The red string of fate? I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
The overwhelming confusion Lena’s unable to temper within her own mind must translate into the girl’s, because she rushes to explain. Look, I’m not saying that we have to, like, fall in love or something—
Lena gasps, and at the edges of her mind she feels the girl cringe.
Rao, this is weird. I’ve made this really weird. The voice is rising in pitch and speed, frantic in its attempt to explain itself. Okay. Listen. The red string of fate connects people who are destined to meet. They’re fated to be important to each other but it’s not necessarily, like, romantic. Back home, it was normal for your shehd to become your best friend, or your partner. Not every pair would mate.
Mate? Lena squeaks before she can think better of it, and the hot flush of the girl’s embarrassment floods Lena’s mind second-hand.
God, this is bad. I’m doing this all wrong. I’ve never had to— where I come from, you grow up knowing about this stuff, the voice whispers, the ever-present hint of sadness in her tone growing clearer. I’ve never had to explain it to someone new. I’m awful at it. And then, quieter still, I’m sorry.
Lena softens instantly, panic abating beneath the instinctual need to reassure, to soothe her turmoil. Absently, she wonders if she’d ever be capable of intentionally hurting this girl, since any pain the voice in her head experiences cleaves hot between Lena’s ribs as sharply as if it were her own.
It’s okay, she thinks after a moment, willing her pounding heartrate to slow. It’s okay, you’re fine. It’s just— it’s a lot to take in.
Yeah, the voice murmurs, sheepish. That’s why I— that’s why I never told you, before. But I can explain now. A pause, like a deep fortifying breath, before the voice continues. Soul speech, it’s— it’s why we can’t share our names, or anything that would help us find each other. Because it would be too soon.
Lena tugs her blanket tighter round her body. Too soon?
We’re, um. We’re like, destined to meet at a certain time, the girl thinks, some of the bashfulness returning as her worry fades. In a certain way. That’s how it has to happen. If we tried to find each other earlier, we wouldn’t be ready. We have to live first, to become the people we need to be for each other. We have to be ready to meet.
Lena stares up at the dark sky for a long moment. Wonders where this girl is right now. If she’s looking up at the same stars. So you don’t— you don’t know when we’ll find each other.
No. Just that we will.
Is there, like, a maximum age? Lena thinks, injecting some humour into the question as she tries to lighten the mood despite the way her head’s still spinning. A cut-off point?
The girl’s voice has a smile to it again, and despite the chill of the night air Lena suddenly feels warm all over. No. It could happen anytime. I hope it’s soon, though. The saddest stories are those who meet their shehd when they’re already old. They only get a few years together, the voice says quietly, and that sweet cloying bashfulness creeps in again. I want to have a long time, with you.
Heat crawls up the back of Lena’s neck, blooming out through her cheeks. As best friends? she asks coyly, teasing to cover the way her stomach fills with butterflies. Or as mates?
The sound of the girl’s voice morphs into a soft chuckle in Lena’s mind, sweet as honey and warm as sunshine. You’re never going to let me live that one down, huh.
In the darkness, Lena grins. Never.
The presence at the edge of her mind softens then, curling around her soul in pure unbridled affection. I don’t mind, the voice murmurs a moment later. I’m good with whatever fate has planned.
It’s been one hell of a conversation, overwhelming and world-shattering in the most fundamental sense of the word. Lena’s still reeling, which must be why her higher brain function disconnects completely as she forms her next response.
She doesn’t mean to ask it, not really, but it’s not like there’s a whole lot of time for self-censorship between the thought entering her own mind and the moment it shoots off again to someone else’s. Do you even like girls?
A pause, a long one. Too long, in fact. Ample time for Lena to bounce between every dark, doubt-filled, self-loathing corner of her brain like a ping pong ball on steroids. But then, just as she's about to lose her tenuous cool completely—
I like you.
All of Lena’s breath whooshes out of her in one smooth movement, her body softening boneless into the rough tiles at her back. Every scrap of worry, of fear and anxiety and apprehension coursing through her veins evaporates in the wake of those three simple words. Lena bites her lip, heart thudding hard in her chest as she tries her hardest to play it cool. I like you too.
Obviously, the voice returns immediately, and it’s probably supposed to be cocky but the relief shines through like a ray of pure sunlight through storm-tossed clouds.
Lena grins, snuggling deeper into her blanket cocoon. Reaches up the fingers of one hand to wrap tight around the pinkie of the other, eyes slipping shut as she imagines that in this moment, despite all the space and questions and distance between them, they’re linking fingers as well as minds.
So, we’re going to be important to each other one day? she thinks quietly, revelling in the easy companionship of the moment; in the promise of hope for a future that had always seemed so lonely.
She’s not sure how a simple thought can convey all the warmth and comfort and reassurance of a blinding smile but somehow, hers does. Aren’t we already?
Lena Luthor is eighteen years old, and she’s convinced that college is trying to kill her.
Electing to double major in physics and engineering may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but that was before Lena found herself up to her eyeballs in finals and projects and assignments, with so much caffeine coursing through her bloodstream that her hands are trembling and her left eye has developed a near-constant twitch.
Lena sighs. Shoves herself out of the nest of articles and textbooks and hastily-scrawled notes she once called a bed to make herself another espresso. The water has barely boiled when a familiar voice makes itself known around the faint buzzing in her ears.
Lena snorts; a loud, undignified sound that has surely sent shivers down Lillian’s spine from halfway across the country. She remembers the voice can’t hear her.
You’ve never seen me, she thinks back, doing her best to inject a tone of incredulity into her thoughts as she plunges her AeroPress. You have no idea whether I’m beautiful.
The reply is immediate. Yes, I do.
Charmer, she scoffs. If it’s a little weak, a little half-hearted, who’s going to call her out on it? If her cheeks flush pink in an empty room, does her bashfulness make a sound?
There’s a smile in the voice now. Guilty.
Lena sighs fondly, throwing back the espresso like a shot of tequila, barely even registering the burn of the hot liquid. Listen, not to be rude, but I really have to focus on studying tonight.
Oh, I know, comes the immediate reply. I’ve been listening to you recite the states and classifications of the quantum mechanical framework for the past two hours. Since I can’t focus on anything else with you freaking out in my head, I was thinking maybe I could help?
Lena narrows her eyes suspiciously at the pile of clothes strewn messily across her desk chair. Aren’t you a humanities major?
So what if Lena had picked up on that particular detail of her conversation partner’s life, had fixated on it like a dog with a bone. So what if she’d spent her first semester of college batting her eyelashes at every female non-STEM student on the MIT campus, in the hopes that one of them might be her mystery girl.
It’s not like it had worked, anyhow. After three years of scanning the faces of every woman around her own age that crossed her path, hoping desperately for that flicker of recognition that would finally allow the two of them to slot together the way the universe has apparently planned, Lena’s given up. It’s too tiring a process to keep up forever, too filled with disappointment to be tenable long-term. Plus, she’s pretty sure she would have ended up the target of a restraining order if she hadn’t learned to chill with it just a little.
There’s no point trying to look for the girl. Lena will meet her when she meets her. But that doesn’t mean she can’t keep her eyes open.
In her head, the voice chuckles. Guilty again. But I’ve got a pretty, um, wide academic background. I might actually be able to help. Always so cocky, Lena thinks. Always so sure. You might be surprised.
Lena huffs, if only to cover the way the low, breathy smirk of the girl’s tone lands somewhere hot and deep in her body. Fine, she acquiesces about as quickly as she always does. I’m already going to fail since I can’t remember any of it. It’s not like things can get much worse.
Drama queen, the voice chuckles. You’re literally a genius. You’re going to be fine.
Shut up, Lena thinks back, flustered. Is it hot in her room all of a sudden? And the way her heart is pounding and her mouth has gone dry is probably just a byproduct of all the caffeine, right?
I shan’t, the voice returns primly and Lena rolls her eyes so hard it’s physically painful. It’s so embarrassing, the way the voice sometimes speaks like an extra out of some aristocratic British movie from the 1950s. It’s even more embarrassing how secretly into it Lena is.
You’re the smartest person I know, and I know a lot of people, the voice continues, flooded with its usual guileless sincerity. It disarms Lena every time, the depth of this girl’s earnestness. She doesn’t know how to handle it. She has no way to defend against it.
The smartest apart from me, of course, the voice says with a grin a moment later, so predictable that Lena groans out loud. So, let’s do this. You’ve got quantum mechanics tomorrow, right? So. In what year was the EPR paradox proposed?
They move through Lena’s entire syllabus, through symmetry laws and the uncertainty principle and interferometers and black-body radiation and Lena finds that she does remember things, actually. Lena finds that she’s never found physics more interesting than she does in this moment, laying upside down on her dorm bed with her head dangling over the edge, legs kicked straight up against the wall, talking science with the adorable nerd in her head.
Though it feels like no time has passed at all, eventually Lena notices the faint strains of daylight bleeding in around the edges of her blackout blind. God, she thinks tiredly, reluctantly. It’s nearly morning. I should probably get a few hours of sleep before the exam.
Probably, yeah, the voice acquiesces easily. Okay, last question and then you’ll be good to go, champ.
Lena grins, shaking her head as she rubs tiredly at her stinging eyes. As nicknames go, champ really shouldn’t be the one that does it for her, but here they are.
Okay, the voice hums, and Lena could fall asleep to the gentle sound of her in a heartbeat. What name refers to a group of two or more particles in which the quantum state of one particle cannot be described independently of another, though they may be separated by a great distance?
Lena smiles, tugging her fuzziest blanket across her chest. Quantum entanglement, she thinks back without hesitation. When two particles are so inextricably linked that any change to one affects the other equally.
Mmm, unfortunately that’s only half the answer we were looking for, the voice says, deep and ridiculous like a game show host. For the grand prize of getting to go to sleep in peace, what other name is also used to describe this phenomenon?
Lena narrows her eyes, stifling a yawn as she turns her cheek into her pillow. That was the right answer, she thinks a little stroppily. I know it was.
It was half the right answer, the voice insists calmly. There’s also another way we might describe two things so irrevocably connected that the distance between them doesn’t matter at all.
Oh yeah? Lena thinks back, eyelids beginning to flutter closed. What’s that, then?
Warmth and light and happiness blossom at the edges of Lena’s mind, so strong she thinks the girl must be consciously projecting them, casting her emotions out like a net that ensnares Lena readily, completely.
Her voice is soft, tender, like the press of lips against Lena’s closed eyelids. Us.
Lena Luthor is twenty years old when she first realises that she talks to the voice in her head more than she talks to anyone else.
That’s maybe, probably, not a good thing. She’s sure that normal, well-adjusted individuals most likely have social lives comprised of actual physical people that exist in their general vicinity. People they actually meet and see and verbally communicate with, rather than sitting alone in their apartment firing thoughts back and forth.
But, then again, no one’s ever accused Lena of being normal or well-adjusted.
And it’s not like she doesn’t have other friends. There’s Jack, and the endless hours they spend in his uncle’s garage searching for a cure for cancer and singeing each other’s eyebrows. There’s Andrea, at the end of the phone in London; the perfect sounding board for every problem in Lena’s life, from which dress she should wear to this month’s gala to her bi-weekly meltdowns over her doctoral research.
There’s Lex, of course, though ever since the emergence of Superman her brother has been increasingly closed-off and cold, retreating into his research and spiralling ever-deeper into his obsession. And there’s Samantha Arias, whom Lena had met three months ago during one of her consultations at Luthor Corp. She doesn’t know her well, yet, but she has a good feeling.
So. Four friends is plenty, right? Even if one of them is her brother.
But even with four whole friends to split her already scant spare time between, Lena still finds herself turning again and again to the voice in her head.
It’s just, she’s really easy to talk to. It makes sense that they get along, Lena supposes, since the universe had evidently decided they were perfect for each other. But it still leaves Lena breathless sometimes, how effortlessly, how naturally their bond strengthens and grows.
There’s no hiding from the voice. No hiding her fears or insecurities or anxieties, which is equal parts freeing and terrifying. But the girl can’t hide from her either, and gradually Lena has come to realise that this equal exchange they share, this pattern of opening up and receiving openness in return, is actually pretty nice. It lets them be there for one another in a way Lena’s never before experienced.
When Lena’s up half the night fretting over whether her literature review has enough sources, the voice stays up with her. Together, they scour university databases for relevant articles to add in, the voice reading out each citation so Lena can diligently copy it down.
When the girl gets yelled at by her new boss – who is, by all accounts, an absolute terror – for the fourth time in a week, Lena spends the lunch break she should be using to call her supervisor trying to cheer her up instead. She regales her with stories of lab mishaps and minor explosions, puts on her best impression of Jack’s British accent and generally makes a complete fool of herself until there’s a smile in the girl’s voice once more and Lena starts to feel like she can breathe again.
They entertain each other through boredom, through the girl’s endless staff meetings and the interminable hours Lena spends hunched over a lab bench. They share movie recommendations and recipe suggestions, though Lena’s pretty sure neither of them can cook anything beyond boiling an egg. They complain about their colleagues, the weather and the traffic. The voice reminds Lena to pick up tampons and extra chocolate after work. She talks the girl down from her homicidal thoughts about her more annoying neighbours, and in return is soothed through her frequent bouts of road rage.
When Lena’s too tired to keep her eyes open but too wired to sleep, the voice reads to her. When the girl can’t crack the Sunday crossword, Lena lends a hand. The voice sings incessantly, pop classics and rock ballads and old Broadway standards and Lena finds herself humming along to tunes she’s never actually heard for days afterward, driving herself and everyone else in her general vicinity nuts.
It’s just, it’s nice, that she never has to be alone.
Plus, sometimes the voice says things. Things that make Lena’s toes curl in her uncomfortable heels, make her cheeks flush and her heart pound. She does it nonchalantly; drops these little comments casually as if they don’t set a horde of butterflies fighting to free themselves from Lena’s stomach every single time.
You’re my best friend, she whispers once, and Lena has to bite down on her knuckle to keep from crying in the middle of MIT’s central library. I don’t know what I’d do without you comes next, after Lena’s helped her craft her application for a promotion at work, and Lena’s heart doesn’t stop pounding for the rest of the day.
And once, when Lena apologises for boring her silly with the finer points of the research chapter of her thesis that she just can’t get straight in her head, the girl only tuts, her voice full of affectionate disapproval. Please. There’s no one else in the galaxy I’d rather be talking to right now.
So. Lena can’t be blamed for wanting to spend the vast majority of her time and energy with this girl, surely. She’s right, they are best friends, and it’s such a beautiful feeling that she can’t stop herself from latching onto it, from capitalising upon it every chance she gets.
I need coffee, she’s thinking this morning, fighting to keep her eyes open through the monotony of her Lillian-required presence at Luthor Corp’s biannual board meeting. I need it now. Without it I may die.
Patience, young Padawan, comes the immediate reply, and Lena’s heart swells at the utter lack of hesitation in their interactions, the way the voice always seems genuinely pleased to hear from her.
Easy for you to say, she scoffs to cover the gooey feeling that’s taken up residence in her chest. You haven’t been in this meeting for four hours already.
No, I’ve been running around the entire city searching for the one specific salad dressing my boss will deign to allow past her lips, the girl huffs, and Lena stifles a smile behind her hand at the petulance in her tone. If I can do that, you can do this.
You’ve still got the easier job, Lena teases, flicking the page of her information packet right on cue without reading a word of it. At least you can snack en route. This meeting would be torture for you. You’re terrible at resisting food.
Coffee isn’t food, the voice quips. Even though you seem to think it counts as four of your five a day.
At resisting anything edible, then, Lena corrects with a huff. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the time you ate an entire frozen lasagne raw because you couldn’t wait for it to cook.
A long pause and then, touché, the voice concedes, the edges of Lena’s mind brightening with the ghost of huffed laughter. I don’t like waiting for food. But I can wait for things when I have to.
Lena scoffs, shifting in her seat to mask her amusement with a cough as Lillian shoots her a death glare worthy of a place in the history books. You cannot. You’re the most impatient person I know.
Can so, the voice pouts, indignation rolling through Lena’s mind in waves. Slander. Vicious lies.
Oh yeah? Lena dutifully trains her gaze on the sinfully dull PowerPoint one of Lex’s department heads is somehow making even duller, making sure to nod during all the appropriate pauses without really absorbing a word.
Yeah. I’m plenty patient for things that are worth the wait. The words are accompanied by a wave of feeling that suspiciously resembles the girl sticking her tongue out.
Mmhmm, Lena hums, amused and disbelieving. Name one.
It’s quiet for a long moment, so long that Lena actually leans forward in her chair as if trying to reach toward the girl somehow. That earns her a swift kick in the shin from her mother and she winces, biting her tongue.
But then the girl’s presence is back, and the teasing in her tone has mellowed into something softer, warmer. I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you.
Heat rips through Lena’s cheeks like a wildfire, setting her entire body ablaze. Across the table, Lillian must notice her flush because her eyes narrow, face pinching into an expression so deadly Lena knows for a fact it’s reduced multiple grown men to tears.
The girl seems, if anything, to be enjoying Lena’s miniature heart attack. She stays quiet a long moment, waiting patiently as Lena’s brain slowly liquefies in the wake of her complete inability to formulate a response, before finally taking pity.
Plus, I’ve been waiting over a decade for a new N*Sync album, the girl continues easily, her casual tone barely masking her amusement over the way Lena still has not regained higher brain function. Patient as can be.
You might be waiting a while longer, Lena manages at last, latching onto the possibility of a topic change like a lifeline as she wipes her sweaty palms surreptitiously on her skirt.
For which one? the voice shoots back immediately, far too composed for Lena’s taste. She has to tilt the scales on this one somehow, she knows. Has to try and claw back some control.
Well, let me ask you this. Which would you prefer? she challenges, sensing an opportunity to level the playing field. An N*Sync reunion, or meeting me?
In her head, the voice groans. That’s an impossible question to answer, and you’re cruel for asking.
Lena hides a smirk behind her fingertips. What can I say? she returns coyly, valiantly ignoring the way her heart’s still pounding. I’m quite the villain. Merciless by nature.
She sits back in her chair, satisfied at having redeemed herself somewhat in the interminable game of cat and mouse they’ve taken to playing. Reaches out for a celebratory sip of water just as the voice in her head sighs heavily.
Oh, don’t say that, you’re just making the choice harder, she murmurs, voice low and saccharine smooth. And then, at the precise moment Lena takes an enormous gulp of water for her suddenly dry throat— I’ve always had a thing for bad girls.
Lena promptly spits water all over the conference room table, soaking herself, her papers, and the laptops of the men on either side of her. Lillian fixes her with a stare so furious it’s clear she’s mentally writing Lena out of her will on the spot, and the girl in her head doesn’t stop laughing for the rest of the day.
Lena Luthor is twenty-two years old the day Andrea Rojas breaks her heart.
It’s all she can do to stumble into the fancy marble-panelled bathroom at the Ritz before her legs give out, throat tight and mind reeling with the knowledge that her best friend had stolen the medallion Lena believed to be lost forever. That her best friend had betrayed her.
Her head is spinning, whole body throbbing. God, she’s going to be sick.
And, fuck. Just Lena’s luck, that she can’t even fall apart in private. That this pain, like every other tragedy in her life, gets to be felt in front of an audience.
Hey, what’s happened? Are you okay?
The voice is insistent but gentle. Tender, almost, the way no one in her is life anymore. No one but Jack, and Lena’s never deserved him anyway.
Nothing. I’m fine, Lena thinks back. Snaps, really, as much as one can snap inside their own head. It’s just, it’s too much right now. The wave of concern she can feel crowding the edges of her mind, the projection of care attempting to envelop her entirely— it’s too much. It’s threatening to crack what’s left of her fragile defences clean in two, and she still has to get out of here. Still has to find a discreet, expensive bar within walking distance so she can drink herself into unconsciousness.
There will be time to fall apart. But not right now.
She throws up the strongest mental block she can muster. Recites as much Ovid in the original Latin as she can remember in an attempt to keep her mind occupied, to keep her out. Makes it undetected to an unobtrusive bar a few streets away and begins the steady process of drinking herself into oblivion, managing to flatly ignore the ever-present nudge of sympathy, the unflinching support that never falters for a second.
Somewhere around her seventh whiskey she loses her tenuous grasp on Ovid completely and suddenly she’s there, omnipresent and unfettered. Her presence feels surprised, almost; as if she’d been pushing so hard against the locked door of Lena’s mind that, when it finally opened, she’d fallen flat on her face on the welcome mat.
But she recovers quickly. Oh, hey again, comes the voice with all its characteristic cheek. Fancy seeing you here. A pregnant pause, and Lena can almost picture her eyes narrowing, wherever she is. Have you been drinking?
Who are you, my mother? Lena returns petulantly, too tired now to fight her presence. Too tired even to keep her head upright, propping her cheek on one bent elbow as she lolls across the bar.
Sure hope not. The voice is as unphased as ever, damn her. You get fuzzy when you drink.
Lena doesn’t mean to snap so harshly, but it happens anyway. Regret wells in her throat almost instantly, so thick and caustic she fears she may choke on it.
Now, I know you didn’t mean that, so I’m gonna do you a solid and pretend I didn’t hear it, the voice returns evenly and Lena thinks, shit. For the first time in her life, she may have found someone she cannot push away. The stripping back of her evasive bullshit, the unavoidable honesty of her innermost thoughts, and all that. The notion shoots a hot spike of terror straight through her gut.
I’m gonna ask you again, the voice says, gentle once more. What’s wrong?
Lena sighs so heavily she almost falls off her stool, tears prickling unbidden at the corners of her vision. Who says anything’s wrong?
She doesn’t know why she even bothers with these evasive manoeuvres, after all this time. Judging from the abject lack of amusement she can feel rolling through her mind in waves, her conversation partner doesn’t either.
Oh, fantastic. You know how much I love it when you play cute with me, the voice huffs sarcastically, and Lena can’t fight the feeling that the tone should be accompanied by a hand tugging rough through long hair. Give it up, please. I’ve been attempting to watch a movie for the past two hours but every time I try to concentrate, you start moping like the world is ending. It’s very distracting. So, spill.
Lena sighs, head dropping down to the cradle of her folded arms on the bartop, fingers still curled loosely around her whiskey glass. Fucking whiskey. Fucking Andrea.
Someone screwed me over today, she concedes at last. A friend. A good friend. She— she betrayed me.
The response is immediate. Want me to throw her into space? I can do that, you know.
Against her better judgment, against every ounce of pain and duplicity and betrayal coursing through her body, Lena lets out a wet chuckle. Sure. If you can find me, and then find her, by all means.
The voice turns solemn. One day, after we’ve met, I will throw her into space for you. I promise.
Lena shakes her head, flushed cheeks rubbing against the chill of her expensive bracelets. My hero.
Well, when a pretty girl is heartbroken, what else am I to do?
Lena snorts, snotty and wet and undignified and she can feel the way she glows brighter at the reaction, flushed with pride. But then she turns solemn again, thoughts low and sure like the steady press of a hand to Lena’s back, fingers curling warm around her wrist. Seriously. What can I do?
That’s all it takes, apparently, to set Lena off again. Before she knows what’s happening she’s tearing up once more, sobbing into the flimsy paper napkins the bartender shoves in her direction with a wrinkled nose. God, nothing, she manages, the horror of it all rising up again like a tidal wave she has no hope of ever outrunning. This is just— this is just what happens to me, I guess. The people I love betray me. Or leave me. Or both. Maybe it’s what I deserve.
Hey, now— the voice starts but Lena’s already bulldozing over her, suffocating beneath the weight of her scars.
No, I think this is just my lot in life. I’m just—
She pauses to hiccup, loud and unladylike, drawing a few raised eyebrows from her fellow patrons. She crumples as a fresh round of tears overcomes her, dropping her head back to her folded arms again. I guess I’m just unlovable. Like, fundamentally. Biologically, maybe. I repel love.
That’s ridiculous. The voice is firm, unwavering. But it’s not convincing enough.
Is it? Lena thinks desperately, too overcome to care much about how melodramatic she surely sounds. Because it sure seems to happen often enough. She winces, and more tears fall. No one ever loves me enough to stay.
That’s not true.
Lena scoffs aloud, past the point of caring about the attention she’s drawing in the bar. Sure it’s not.
It’s not. The voice is still so sure, so confident. Lena hates it. You are loved.
Lena digs her teeth hard into the inside of her cheek, the bright coppery tang of blood blooming on her tongue. She’s never been good at accepting reassurance. Something to do with a lack of practice, probably. Easier to just rebuff it. You don’t know that. You don’t know anything about my life.
But the voice will not be rebuffed. Its tenacity shoots another twist of apprehension through her gut. I know enough, the voice says, firm yet gentle. Soft yet secure. And I can tell you categorically, empirically, that you are loved.
The whole world is spinning too fast, too bright. How the hell would you know?
A beat of silence, heavy and weighted. How do you think?
Lena stops breathing.
Lena’s pretty sure she stops living, just for a moment. Everything stops; the booze and the hurt and the noise and the spinning and there Lena still is in the centre of it all; the halcyon eye of the storm. Just her, and this girl in her head, and the unthinkable thing that she’d almost just said.
Maybe a minute passes. Maybe an hour. Maybe millennia. Probably, it’s just a few seconds that Lena sits there in the middle of this dim-lit London bar with a mind that, for once in her life, is wholly and utterly silent.
As quickly as it had crystallised, the quiet shatters. Well, the voice in her head declares, so suddenly that Lena jumps. You should, um. You should probably get home, get some sleep. There’s an edge to the voice that Lena hasn’t heard before, quick and anxious and awkward in a way they haven’t been in years. Call a cab, or tap the app or— or whatever. Just, you know. Pull the lever, Kronk.
Lena blinks. What?
You know, the voice insists, a little desperate. The Emperor’s New Groove.
Lena blinks again. Did that string of words really not make any sense, or is she just that wasted? The who’s new what?
Have you— have you never seen The Emperor’s New Groove? the voice asks, and any lingering awkwardness evaporates in the wake of the genuine horror in her tone. God. Right, that’s it. Get yourself home and pull up your Netflix. You’re about to have yourself an education.
It’s possible that in her twenty-two years of life, Lena has never heard the voice sound more serious than she does in this moment. That’s how she finds herself curled in her hotel bed with four different Disney movies – none of which she’s seen – queued up on the wall-mounted TV.
That’s how she finds herself watching an animated llama parade around onscreen while the voice quotes the lines back word-perfect in her head, mimicking the characters and accents so absurdly that Lena laugh-cries the remnants of her mascara all over the hotel pillowcases.
How is it, Lena wonders idly, that in the solitude of her empty room, she’s never felt less alone? How is it that even inside the darkness of her own mind, she’s never felt lighter?
Eventually she begins to drift off to sleep, thoughts of Andrea nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s just the girl – the woman now, Lena supposes. Just her, and her bad impressions and her warm sure voice that soothes Lena up to the precipice, tips her right over the edge into unconsciousness.
Go to sleep, she murmurs, and Lena couldn’t disobey the gentle command if she tried. Sleep, she says again as Lena’s eyelids flutter. Just sleep. You’re okay. I’ve got you.
And despite having vowed to herself only that evening that, after Andrea’s deception, she would never let herself trust anyone again, Lena finds that she believes her.
Lena Luthor is twenty-three years old the day she first meets Kara Danvers.
It’s only her second day in National City, and already she’s a suspect in an attempted murder plot. Lena supposes at this point, she shouldn’t be surprised. She’s inherited Luthor Corp – L-Corp, now – for good or for ill. Ill, unfortunately, is looking to be the more likely.
Lena just sighs. Selects her most intimidating shade of lipstick, and turns around to face the music.
She’s expecting Clark Kent. Has pre-emptively thrown up the mental block she most frequently uses for work, keeping the inner machinations of her family’s company private from the voice in her head. Has already perfected her armour; tailored suit, blood-red blouse, testicle-impaling heels. Men are easy, Lena’s always found. Especially men like Clark Kent. A well-timed quirk of an eyebrow here, a flirtatious smirk there and they’re reduced to a stammering mess, trying desperately to cling onto their gentlemanly reputation. Putty in her more than capable hands.
What Lena isn’t expecting is Kara Danvers.
She’s pretty. Disarmingly so. In fact, it takes every scrap of the decorum training Lillian had all but branded into Lena’s very DNA not to stumble over her words – or her heels – as she leads the two reporters into her new office.
The blonde’s voice, when she finally speaks, is light and melodic. Familiar, somehow, and for one hot sickening moment Lena thinks—
But, no. Kara Danvers’ voice is just a fraction too high. A smidge too bright, a shade too eager. It’s lacking the depth Lena’s used to, the hint of unknowable pain beneath the sunshine veneer.
Besides, there are plenty more pressing issues to focus on right now. Clark Kent is all but accusing her of sabotaging the maiden flight of a suborbital spacecraft and Lena forces her attention away from the demure dress and cardigan set in front of her to concentrate on his words.
His pointed question about her involvement in the Venture’s explosion lands, and Lena sighs. Suddenly she is very, very tired. “You wouldn’t be asking me this if my last name was Smith.”
Kent doesn’t even blink. “But it’s not. It’s Luthor.”
Well, Lena thinks. So much for her fresh start. But she’s never been one to give up on things easily.
“It wasn’t always,” she finds herself saying, almost before her mind has made the conscious decision to share. “I was adopted when I was four.”
The woman, Kara Danvers, sucks in a sharp breath. Lena’s eyes snap to her face, taking in the flush of her cheeks, the brilliant blue of her eyes, the set of her pretty pink lips. She’s still talking as she stares, she realises. Still freely offering up to these two near-strangers, who judge her on the very premise of her last name, some of the most intimate details of her life.
Why the hell is she still talking? It’s this woman, Lena thinks. It must be. There’s something about her that puts Lena at ease. Makes her want to open up, to run her big mouth possibly to the point of her own ruin.
Those guileless blue eyes are still fixed on her face. Lena looks away. Has to. Turns to gaze out of the window, ignoring the stare burning a hole into her profile.
“I’m just a woman trying to make a name for herself outside of her family,” she finishes, cursing herself for getting into this topic at all but committed now, unable to not see it through. “Can you understand that?”
Clark Kent is still staring at her like he wouldn’t trust Lena as far as he could throw her. Although, judging by the muscles straining beneath his unassuming button-down, that might still be quite a ways. But it’s the blonde who answers, quick and genuine. “Yeah.”
Something passes between them then, whip-fast and electric. The air seems to shiver, the hairs on the back of Lena’s neck standing on end and again, she thinks—
But, no. Kara Danvers, aside from being persuasively pretty and a damn sight less judgmental than her Metropolis colleague, is human. And Lena isn’t meant for humans. Or, rather, no human is meant for her.
But much much later, after conference calls and lab supervisions and endless hours of meetings down in legal, Lena’s still thinking about her.
She’s kept her mental block up all day, much longer and stronger than she usually would, for this very reason. Because the way her mind keeps drifting back to sun-soft curls and smooth golden skin makes her feel guilty, somehow. Dirty, like she’s doing something wrong, something she doesn’t want her to know.
It’s ridiculous really, Lena knows. Whatever the bond between her and the voice in her head, she’s still only human. She’s experienced attraction before. With Andrea, with Sam, with Kate Weismann during senior year and Liv Carlton in college. And so maybe it’s never been this strong, this overwhelming, but it’s still nothing new. Nothing inherently bad.
Hell, Lena’s even dated before, for appearances’ sake, even though it’s never quite felt right.
Because really, how could it? And here Lena circles back again to the guilt, to the feeling that she’s somehow betraying something she doesn’t even fully understand. Because even if the woman in her mind is destined to be her best friend and nothing more, Lena’s not sure she could ever truly want another the way she wants her. Wants her so deeply it tugs on her soul, scratching through her veins, clawing at the very essence of her.
So, she keeps her block up. Keeps her mind walled off, focused carefully on other things so that the voice will remain blissfully unaware of the conflict raging through Lena’s conscience. Sits ramrod straight in her office chair, ploughing through email after report after contract until her eyes blur and her fingers numb against the keyboard. That is, until the beeping alarm of her tripped security system almost makes her jump clean out of her skin, fingers darting out to snag her taser on instinct.
Focus shattered, she hurries to shut off the incessant blaring, blinking out of her daze to realise night has fallen through the wall of windows at her back. Lena taps through her tablet quickly, scanning CCTV feeds and warning messages to get to the source of the breach. Her head of security calls up, asking if she wants him to deal with the intrusion, but Lena shakes her head.
Heart in her throat, she makes her way to the roof herself. Because the figure that had triggered the alarm is one Lena recognises. The only one in National City who could have tripped a pressure sensor fifty stories above the ground.
It’s the person that, if she’s brutally honest with herself, Lena had moved to this sun-baked city for. Because she’s brave and bright and good and everything Lena wants to be. But more than that, because she’s in just the right geographic location, is just about the right age, and is just alien enough for Lena, against every ounce of her own better judgment, to begin to hope.
It’s ridiculous, she knows. More so than all the many other ridiculous things Lena does on the daily. The idea that National City’s sweetheart, that Supergirl could be the owner of the voice in Lena’s head, is utterly laughable. That the universe would choose to tether the last daughter of Krypton to the sister of the man who had tried to wipe her species out completely is deplorable. It’s a sick joke; one Lena isn’t sure she’d survive being the punchline of.
And so, she’s tried so hard not to hope. Tried to guard against it with everything she has.
Because hope, Lena knows, is dangerous. Hope is a blade, gossamer-thin and razor-sharp, capable of sliding into the hollow of a ribcage almost entirely without detection. Hope burrows into the heart, pierces right to the centre of cardiac muscle so that if, when it’s removed, its victim is left to bleed out almost without knowing why.
Because it’s not hope itself that’s lethal, but rather its there-and-gone nature. Much like a blade, which takes life not through its insertion into the body but through the exsanguination that follows its removal, it is not the presence but the subsequent absence of hope that kills.
To have hope at all means only that it will one day be lost, one way or another, and Lena’s learned the hard way that it’s better not to open herself up to the possibility in the first place.
But despite all her better convictions, here she still is. Hoping.
And so Lena Luthor takes a deep breath, steps out onto the roof of her skyscraper, and prepares to have her hopes destroyed once more.
Lena Luthor is twenty-three years old the day she first meets Supergirl.
Or, technically, the night she meets her. Darkness envelops the rooftop Lena has stepped out onto, the muted glow of the city lights doing little to illuminate her path. She picks her way gingerly to the edge of the building, toes curling as she chances a glance out over the stomach-churning drop.
There, about fifteen feet below her, is the source of her security breach. Lena’s breath catches in her throat. Supergirl is sprawled across the horizontal bar of the enormous L gracing the side of Lena’s building, laid out as if it were a sunbed and not a huge metal sign she’d had installed only that day. She’s fully suited and booted, one arm slung casually behind her head, cape fluttering out over nothing. Her eyes are closed, the arm thrown across her stomach rising and falling in time with her steady breathing.
She looks comfortable despite the hard metal beneath her, despite her gravity-defying choice of nap spot. She looks peaceful.
Lena tries her level best to keep her shit together. “Comfortable?” she calls toward the prone figure, aiming for teasing disapproval to cover the way her heart has taken up residence in her throat, her stomach somewhere down around her ankles.
Supergirl’s eyes snap open, body jolting so hard she almost dislodges herself from her tenuous perch completely. Her gaze meets Lena’s, bright and crackling in the darkness and suddenly she’s standing right in front of her, heeled boots touching down on the rooftop without a sound.
For a long, inscrutable moment they just stare at one another in silence. Lena’s heart is pounding so hard behind her ribs that she can feel it shudder throughout her entire body but whether her panic is a result of the dizzying height, a quiet awe of the hero she’d spent so long admiring from afar, or the treacherous hope still pulsing through her bloodstream, she couldn’t say.
Absently, she notes how close they’re standing. There’s barely a foot of space between their bodies and at this proximity, the hero is even more striking than her many photogenic media appearances had led Lena to believe. The cut of her jaw is regal, the arch of her brow strong and sure and she’s beautiful, ethereally so. Kryptonian in the most visceral sense of the word; empyrean and impregnable in the faint red glow of the city lights.
At this proximity, her effect on Lena is stronger too. Their eyes meet, the hero’s a bright, captivating blue, and something pulls taut in Lena’s chest. Her heart constricts, her very life force seeming to tense and tighten as if straining to escape her body, to re-join its counterpart and fuck, this is it.
This is it, Lena thinks. This magnetism pulsating through her ribcage, this tremor of something deep and undefined splintering the very fabric of existence around them, it can only mean one thing. It can only mean that here, at last, she’s found the person destined to take up residence in her orbit like a dyad of symbiotic stars. It can only mean that this is, that she is—
Supergirl’s eyes are heavy with the weight of unspoken significance. Lena’s gaze catches just above them, on the tiny crescent of scar tissue beside her left eyebrow and she thinks suddenly of another blue-eyed, brow-scarred, blonde-haired beauty that had also taken her breath away that very morning.
She thinks suddenly that the voice in her head, her person, couldn’t possibly have known who she was, where she was, or which particular building’s sign to choose for her nap tonight, unless—
Unless they’d met before.
Puzzle pieces begin to slot into place in Lena’s mind. Pieces shaped like an unexplained connection between two supposed strangers and the necessity of a human alter-ego and the disguising power of a good pair of glasses.
The tight knot of tension behind her breastbone dissipates into nothing. Well. At least she doesn’t have to worry about the woman in her head being jealous of her newfound crush on cub reporter Kara Danvers.
Absently, dazedly, Lena thinks about soulmates. About distance and probability and the great unknowable expanse of the universe. She thinks about fate, a destiny willingly chosen, and the astronomical odds the two of them must be defying just by standing in front of one another right now.
She thinks about how the curve of Supergirl’s cheek looks like truth and beauty and acceptance and the broad set of her shoulders looks like home. She thinks about how she had met this woman only a heartbeat ago yet there’s never been a moment of her existence in which she didn’t know her.
Lena thinks, and thinks, and thinks, and doesn’t say a word.
Still, a heavy silence swells between them. Still, Lena’s brain is too busy playing catch up to spare any capacity figuring out how the hell to address this, the most highly anticipated event of her life. Still Lena stands, speechless and awestruck.
Supergirl sucks in a sharp breath then, her mouth opening, and Lena braces herself against the profound weight of this moment, the cosmic significance of whatever world-shattering insight the woman in front of her is about to share as the first exchange of the rest of their entwined lives—
“Is that a taser in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”
So, yeah. Lena Luthor is twenty-three years old the day she first meets Kara Danvers, then Supergirl, and then her soulmate, only to find out that all three are one and the same.
It is, needless to say, the best day of her life.
rough kryptonian translations from kryptonian.info:
zha = no
sokao-vokai = please help
ukr = dad/father
ieiu = mom/mother
pai-odh khap = i remember
tuv-u zhadif khap = i will never forget
ehsh = sky
ehwor-ø shesur = soul speech
shehd = person