Lena meets her father at the funeral.
Most of the other guests have left, patted her on the shoulder and whispered their apologies above her like they will drift down to her ears; Lionel lingers.
When he speaks to her, he kneels down, says, “Lena? My name is Lionel. I’m your father.” Lena stares back—if she talks, she will cry, and she does not want to cry anymore. But after a beat, and then two, she nods.
He stands, and there is a gray, dusty patch where his knee had rested against the gravel. She stares as it as she takes his hand and walks away from the only world she has ever known.
Lillian introduces herself as mother and Lena freezes.
Mother. This woman is now her mother.
Lena is old enough, smart enough, to comprehend death. The finality of it, the way her mother’s eyes had dulled and her grip had loosened, but Lena thinks of her still, and when she does, she thinks of mom, mommy.
It hurts to push that thought aside, to make room for Lillian in the area of her brain where her mother’s heart is still alive, just as it had hurt to zip up the black dress and walk into the church and pretend like things were going to be okay. She understands that too: things might not be okay.
She beats Lex at chess and does not realize until years later that the shock that tugs his mouth open is genuine.
(Lena had always assumed he let her beat him. A small victory for a girl who has experienced so many losses.)
He stands and runs into the kitchen, and she can hear him say something about “—beat me, mother. Who is she?”
She picks up her pink backpack and holds it in her fingers and walks aimlessly until she finds a small, empty room. She sits, legs against her chest and hugs her teddy bear tight.
She wants to go home.
On Tristram, there is no concept of love.
Coincidentally, the planet has been at war with their neighbors for the past four hundred years.
Lex puts his arm around Lena whenever he wants to talk to her, tugs her closer. This warmth, the way he laughs at her jokes, smiles at her successes—he seems like family.
He shows her around the house and tells her about the secret staircase and the room that Lillian never thinks to look in, for when she wants to be alone. He takes her outside and yells, “Catch me if you can!” and runs, runs.
He helps decorate her room; when it is done, he picks up the bear and places it gently on her pillow.
“I think your bear needs some rest,” he says. “It’s been a long day.”
She smiles, and it feels real.
Lex goes to college when she is twelve. He packs up everything he owns into boxes, breaks everything down into chunks, and Lena watches like her life is being broken too.
He says goodbye to their parents first, Lena second, pulls her into that old secret room and puts his arm around her.
“I’ll visit, okay? You know I’ll visit.”
She nods, not trusting her voice. “I— I’ll miss you.” It’s not nearly enough, those words, but Lex understands: he is home to her, not this house. He is home, and he is leaving, and her eyes are staring down at the splintered wood with something like betrayal.
“I’ll miss you too. You’re a good kid, Lee. You’re going to change the world someday.”
He visits six times during his first year, once during his second.
“It’s amazing, Lee, all of it,” he tells her. “My friend Clark and I— The stuff we’re doing is incredible.”
She hugs him, holds him tight. “You better save some room for me, Lex.”
Lionel has his first heart attack halfway through Lex’s third year. He makes it home just in time to watch his father get released from the hospital, but he stays for three days anyway.
He finds Lena tucked in the corner of the secret staircase, one book in her hands, three next to her.
“How many have you read this week?” he says, and she startles, dropping the book and looking quickly up at him.
“You’re still here.”
“I said I’d stay for a few days, didn’t I?”
You did, she wants to say, but you’ve said that before, and you never kept your promise then. Instead, she shrugs. “Nine.”
He does not comment on the shift; rather, he sits down one step above her, nudges her shoulder with his arm. “Impressive. Don’t read too much, or you’ll end up smarter than me.”
Lionel has his second heart attack two years later. He does not survive.
Lex does not come to the funeral—something about an argument with Clark, work he cannot put aside—so Lena once again finds herself alone, in a black dress, gravel in her shoes.
She is taller now, old enough that the mourners speak to her ears, but they still do not meet her eyes, and she stands, hands clasped, cheeks damp, until every last person is gone.
Lillian walks up behind her. “Come now, Lena. And wipe your eyes.”
On Zintha, the only way to express love is through a public declaration.
Public can mean one single witness, but it often means the whole town. Every month, there is a designated day where everybody will crowd into the town hall, squeeze into seats, and whisper amongst themselves, and one by one, each proclaimer will stand and shout their love.
She goes to college and to business school and throws herself into her work like everything depends on it.
Because maybe, she knows, her everything does. Maybe this is her chance to be different, to escape.
She misses one Christmas. The next month, the world ends.
On Arden, love is displayed through the skin.
The primary species possesses the ability to phosphoresce, and doing so is considered the truest way to declare love; depending on the color, different types of love can be demonstrated.
Lex’s trial ends three days before her graduation. She agrees to take over Luthor Corp, effective immediately.
She moves to National City. She renames the company. She meets Kara.
On Karna, they have over three hundred words for love.
Each means a slightly different thing: the love a mother has for her child. The love a friend has for another friend they have not seen in years. The kind of romantic love one feels when the relationship is still new, still budding, and every whisper feels like a bolt of lightning.
Lillian contacts her eight months after she escapes from jail, and Lena wishes she could be surprised, wishes this were a shock to her.
But she is used to this by now, used to the way her mother purrs, of course I’ve always loved you. She meets Lillian at the dock once more, knowing this will be the last time.
“What do you want, Lillian?”
Lillian notes the change—she is no longer mother, not anymore. She laughs, a bitter noise. “How typical. Of course you still think that alien is your real mother.”
Kara shows up and Lillian flees and things happen like they are supposed to, like they always do.
(Always—on all occasions. For example: Lena Luthor has always been half alien. Lillian Luthor has always known this. Things were always going to be wrong, never going to be right.)
She stares—at what, she is not sure. Kara is speaking to her, something about, “let’s go” and “Lena, are you okay?” and she doesn’t move.
She half expects Kara to fly away. It would be easiest, after all.
Instead, Kara takes her hand. “I’ll walk you home.”
Lena has always worked late; but now, she works until every last soul has left, works until she can be as alone in this building as she feels in her heart.
Once home, she nurses a glass of whiskey, as she seems to do quite frequently these days, and wonders if this is why she has never had a true hangover before, this alien part of her.
She wonders a lot of things.
She wonders about how easy school was for her, how learning was like breathing, blinking, living, and if this is a symptom of her alien physiology as much as her blazing green eyes must be.
She wonders about her mother, reaches for the shreds of memory she still has, and tries to fit them into this paradox.
She wonders about Lex, and if he knew.
(She knows he did, can pinpoint the moment: that Christmas. Before: love, and after: hate.)
(She wonders what would have happened if she had gone home one last time.)
Kara knocks on her window.
She always knocks, even after Lena has told her she does not have to so many times.
“When I’m upset,” Kara starts. Her eyes flicker to the glass in Lena’s hand, the tissues on the coffee table—it is an assumption, yes, to claim sadness, but not a wild one. “——I like to go flying. And I know you don’t like to fly, but it helps me, so I thought I’d offer, and—”
Lena nods. “Okay.”
There aren’t many clouds in the sky tonight; instead, the stars shine brightly, especially from up here, past the reach of the city bustle.
Kara pulls one hand free, holds Lena tighter with the other.
“I’m not sure you want to know. But if you do—“ She points, up and slightly to the right, and Lena’s gaze follows. “That’s where she’s from. Your mom, I mean. Right up there.”
“How did you know?” Lena finally asks, once they are back in her apartment. She is standing, hovering by her countertop, letting her fingers tap out unintelligible rhythms against the stone.
Kara stands behind her.
“I asked someone. In the alien bar. But, uh— Don’t worry, I didn’t use your name, or say anything that could identify you, or anything.”
“It’s okay. I trust you.” And then: “Thank you.”
There is a long silence and Kara steps closer, lets her hand trail down the cold-borne goosebumps on Lena’s forearm.
“I also visited, once. When I was a kid. I don’t remember much, but… I can tell you what I do know.”
On Kreno, love can only be expressed through a messenger.
It is often a friend who delivers the notice; but even the most lonely of hearts can love, and the love delivery industry comprises a large majority of the Krenian economy.
Kara tells her.
She is truthful when she says she remembers very little, but Lena clings onto every detail, every word.
“I want to hear about all of them,” Lena says, when Kara is done talking.
“All of what?”
“The places you’ve been. The planets, the people. I— I want to know it all.”
Kara laughs a little, shrugs almost helplessly. “What do you want to know?”
Lena leans against her, lets her eyes trail down Kara’s face.
“Tell me about— Tell me how they show their love.”
On Maltus, it is tradition to proclaim one’s love by climbing a tree and shouting it from the highest branch.
No one knows how the tradition started.
Lena decides she wants to go to the alien bar on a Tuesday night. She does not make it until three weeks later.
So many souls in this city hate her, scorn her, and if anyone has a reason, it is the patrons of this bar. Her name, after all, is Luthor.
And she’s always hated the way fear clouds her lungs and clenches her fists, and she has fought against it, always; but this fear finds its way to her gut and oh, it sticks.
(She would hate herself too, if she were them.)
She tells Kara about her fear, and Kara sighs.
“Sometimes, I feel almost human here. I’ve been here for years, you know? I have a life here on Earth. It’s my home. But sometimes it hits me, and sometimes I— I grab a phone too hard, or slam a door too loud. Sometimes I don’t feel human at all. The bar helps with that.”
And then, Kara smiles, adds, “You help with that.”
Lena kisses her because it is the only thing that still makes sense to do.
When she enters the bar, the barkeeper smiles at her. Two patrons nod.
Kara squeals, runs over, and pulls her to a seat near the pool table. Alex, Winn—they are all there.
Nobody spares her a second glance.
They have been judged, everyone in this bar. They know better than to judge her.
“You saved them,” Kara murmurs. “From Medusa. They haven’t forgotten that.”
(It strikes her then that she had saved herself too.)
She swallows, hard. “Oh.”
She returns to the bar weekly. Sometimes Kara is there, but most of the times she isn’t.
She talks to the bartender, mostly, learns about Mars.
One day, a woman walks up to her, taps her on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she starts, and Lena shakes her head as if to say no trouble at all. “Are you— Are you Lena? I, well. I think I knew your mother.”
On Pandina, giving someone food is considered the most respectful way to declare love.
(“Sounds like you’d like it there,” Lena teases.
Kara laughs. “I can still bring you donuts here, so—“)
There are moments when it hurts. There are moments where she doubts herself, all of herself, every piece and portion and atom, human, alien.
There are times when she stares at herself in the mirror for minutes on end and picks apart each piece: are her eyes alien? Her lips?
Where does Luthor end and alien, alien begin? (She hears the word in Lillian’s voice. She practices saying it, over and over, to try to hear it in her own.)
Kara holds her, when it all becomes too much. She holds her tight, and all Lena can think is how Kara must have practiced this, practiced how to live without bending, breaking whatever she touches.
“I’m scared,” Lena admits.
She loves Kara.
She loves Supergirl too, of course. But she loves Kara more, most.
She scraps the alien detection device—“Guess I shouldn’t have tested it with myself as the control,” Lena says, and Kara laughs—and donates an unprecedented amount to each and every pro-alien charity in the city.
She lives, finally.
She gets dinner with Kara weekly, and then daily, and then Kara all but moves in, leaves a spare cape and a toothbrush in the bathroom.
She goes to the alien bar to talk to M’gann, to talk to her mother’s friend.
She finds one home, lightyears away, off in the depths of the stars. She finds another right where she needs one on Earth.
On Earth, there are many ways to declare love.
Stating it is one of them, but the words feel heavy against Kara’s lips. She loves her, oh, she loves her, but the feeling sticks against the side of her throat and aches like a coming cough: inevitable, maybe, but fearsome still.
Showing it is easier.
Kara takes Lena’s hand in her own and squeezes. She brings lunch on the days when Lena’s meetings carry on endlessly, leaves it on her desk with a little heart drawn on a sticky note.
She flies Lena up to the dusty edge of the clouds and looks down at the myriad of lights and lives below. She does not need to describe how to love on Earth.
No, she can show her instead.