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Out Comes the Doubt

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Lena has always practiced words.

Looking up pronunciations in the dim light of her bedroom, she had to be careful. Lex would laugh. Lillian would ask. She’d get her notepad, with new words and how to say them taken away. She always had it, indeed, took it out frequently when pouring over Lex’s old textbooks. Physics and psychic were hard. Not to spell- never to spell, Lena hadn’t misspelled anything since she had first begun to write, and even at five, it was terribly embarrassing. She was supposed to be smart, but she only learned to read and write after she came to the Luthors. Naturally, words came typed to her mind, like it was a blank 3D word document or a notebook or, if she thought about it too much it became nothing at all. Lena treated syllables delicately, had her whole life, but no human is infallible, and so, on occasion, occasions that she recalled sharply,

she would speak, confident in herself, her mouth making all the sounds right only to discover that no, that was not how one said the word.

 

“Really?! You’ll take me down the archives!” She was young, excitable, foolish- far too trusting in her knowledge of phonetics. English didn’t give a shit about phonetics.

“What did you just say?” Lex was not excited. He’d been happy a moment ago, but suddenly, his smile turned eerie. Lena already knew what that expression meant; her heart sunk. She was trying so hard- she had been so good lately, even Lillian thought so, it wasn’t fair. She stared at the wall next to Lex’s head. “You know that it’s archives,” he drew the word out only with a k sound instead of a ch, “not archives.”   

“That’s how British people say it,” the lie slipped past her lips before she had even properly thought it. Lex laughed again, but it was a little less patronizing this time. More like an affectionate “Lena, that’s dumb” than a stern or world-changing “Lena, no”.

“No, they don’t.”

 

The moment had taken maybe a few seconds, and once they arrived in the lower levels of Luthor-Corp, it promptly exited Lena’s mind, for the time being. Weeks, months, even decades later, though, she would fixate on it. The problem with remembering memories is that if you make a habit of remembering them, your brain tends to remember. When Kara, still fresh from the phantom zone and latching onto her usual, everything is fine and dandy, mindset, had asked her,

“If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” They were playing 20 questions as per Kara’s decision, assisted by a Nia written Catco article. Lena wasn’t stupid- well, she wasn’t stupid enough to answer with something so pathetic and insecure.

But if she could go back in time and tell her younger self one thing, it would be that the h in archive was silent, that or-  

 

Hannukah, it was Hannukah, not something that Lena typically celebrated, but something she was delighted to be included in all the same. She only wished it had been a little later this year. That perhaps she might get to escape partaking in the Luthor Christmas which was all too publicized and entirely too stock card-y. But she’d take what she could get, and right then, what she had gotten was pretty amazing. Spending some of the holiday away from her mother, better yet, with someone whom she actually considered a friend- it was everything. Lena would not screw this up. She wouldn’t, but

she only really glanced at the item on the list.

“challah?” The house was busy. Nobody actually said anything, but Lena shrunk in on herself all the same because what if somebody had heard. Would they be angry? No, Lena wasn’t important enough to get angry over, she was just a silly little girl whom their precious Tessa had brought back from school. A mis-pronunciation was barely anything, it wasn’t to be expected that she knew well, anything about Judaism. Except, Lena did- she fiercely did. She blinked back tears, and now, she was crying over the idea that there were people who didn’t know the hours spent trying to learn Hebrew, pouring over books, taking in every last kernel of information, and even pestering Tessa when she was particularly brave.

 

After that, Lena made sure to pause, sound-out, and double check that she wasn’t making a fool of herself before she spoke. She also gave up on learning to speak any languages and only checked out manuscripts when she was certain that the mean librarian was there. The mean librarian didn’t make conversation, didn’t seem to judge her for her unhealthy obsessive encroaching on a religion that she did not belong to.

Any logical scientist would have drawn the conclusion that Lena struggled with reading the letters ch and then, producing a sound that didn’t match it. And Lena, ever the logical scientist, would have agreed if not for the fact that it wasn’t just those.

 

“My favorite dinosaur’s the pterodactyl,” Lena had said for her fun fact, specifically she’d said puh-tera-das-tyl. Even the camp counselor was laughing, at a seven-year-old for goodness’ sake.

 

Older Lena would be furious for her younger self and embarrassed- that would never go away. Even when she did get it right though, it was obvious that an effort had been made. It wasn’t diction learnt by way of being a Luthor, but articulation learnt by way of being Lena.

 

“Sabbatical,” she’d said it right that time, she could read the phonetic alphabet dammit.

 

Emphasis was very important. Yet, another lesson learned at the cost of her self-confidence which was really barely anything by then. It only got worse from there. Speaking was harder for adult Lena than it had been for her when she was a child. Stringing together sounds, unprepared left her fumbling, slurring her speech, stumbling and stuttering until she had the good sense to shut her mouth.

 

“Lex has been imprisoned for attempting to kill Superman.”

“Um, I- uh,” she snapped her jaw shut before it got worse. Still, that was okay, a perfectly explicable response to something so shocking.

 

Being a CEO meant interviews, really being the only remaining Luthor, not in jail, was enough on its own. That’s what her PR department was for. But Kara Danvers asked questions that nobody had ever asked. Or at least, asked and meant it.

 

“Hi, how have you been Lena?” she was greeted jovially by a reporter, one she had known for a year, but a reporter all the same. It still surprised her when she didn’t wake up to her personal confessions sitting click-bait like on Catco’s home page.

“How have, me? uh, I-I,” she got stuck in the evil loop of ‘i’s for far too long before Kara rescued her with a story about her sister, Alex, the DEO agent.

 

And it spiraled from there, her worst enemy “how are you?” when it came from Kara’s mouth. Actually, everything- every question and a few statements. And then, Kara wasn’t her only friend because she had Nia and Kelly and shockingly enough, Alex. Brainy didn’t count- he didn’t ask her dumb questions or if he did, he found silence a perfectly acceptable response and often, behaved in kind when Lena questioned him.

 

“So, Lena, my fantastic fashion-expert and friend,” Nia appeared from behind the screen, “thoughts?” It was a very nice dress on her. She looked lovely.

“It’s lovely.” Nia chuckled.

“Thanks, it’s really cute that you use the word lovely so much.” Nia was her friend. Nia was not making fun of her. This was not a judgement. She’d look up synonyms when she got home. “Isn’t the lighting in here cool?” Nia had moved on to marveling at the mirror laden architecture. So, maybe this wasn’t your typical changing room- she was rich, and- and Nia deserved nice things.

“Yeah, it’s lov- fascinating, did you know that um, the guy who- it was mathematically, um.” She snapped her mouth shut. Nia was still looking at her. “I- words.”

“Relatable,” Nia said. Lena was just glad that Nia hadn’t pushed it because- she, she knew this. And there were words in her head: mirrors, angles, something that was like a focal point but not quite.

 

Backup words, Lena had recently discovered the idea of backup words for when scripts weren’t enough or spontaneous answers were required. Her number right now was pi. Her go to for stopping her symphony of filler words- if they could be even called that, was words or words are hard. Her silly answers- the ones for guessing games and knock-knock jokes were potstickers and dielectrics. So, even when her proper scripts wouldn’t load, she had something to keep herself from being a complete fool.

Yes, Lena had always been careful with words, had practiced sounds in the quiet of her bedroom, but she was new to the struggling to respond and even newer to the just, forgetting words all together. And, that wasn’t normal, it definitely wasn’t normal. It was-

She finally had people who didn’t judge her for her Lena-isms as Jack had once put it. Finally. She didn’t have to survive off of the thought of the next time she’d see Kara or get to work in her lab instead dealing with business deals and paperwork. Lena, Lena wasn’t exactly a psychiatric expert- far from it really because her mother, a doctor, scorned the “field of feelings”, and Lena didn’t want to disappoint her further with another ill-fitting interest. She managed to steer clear of it, the idea of self-discovery left abandoned along with any belief in herself. She was scared.

Frightened.

Upset.

Disconcerted. The rest of the synonyms after that didn’t really fit. She opened a new tab, then closed it. Opened a private window instead.

 

Google Search: forgetting words

Dementia, aging -god she didn’t want early dementia, who did- Alzheimer’s. Aphasia, anomia, PPA, she didn’t know any of those words.

Google Search: aphasia

Okay, so it looked extreme…. Brain tumor or disease stood out. Maybe she could come back to this later. Or never.

Google Search: anomia

A board game and a Wikipedia article suggesting that she might be looking for anomic aphasia. PPA didn’t yield any better results- at least now she knew that there was a Philadelphia Parking Association.

Google Search: trouble answering questions

A bunch of articles about kids and then, a reddit thread- r/ADHD. She scrolled down to the bottom. Suggested searches included autism difficulty answering questions and adhd and communication difficulties in adults.

 

A while later, a very, very long while later, more specifically 73 InPrivate tabs later, Lena found herself ordering the book linked at the bottom of ASAN (autistic self-advocacy network)’s about autism page.