She came out of the public toilet white as a ghost and trembling all over as she tried to suppress her sobs, a bundle cradled against her chest as she hunched her shoulders against the lashing rain. Tucking the baby inside her coat, she splashed through puddles, the dejected sounds of ducks quacking cutting through the sound of the downpour, and she quickly ran to the car she’d parked on the far side of the park, bypassing the lake, the surface roiling as raindrops disturbed it, and she quickly slid into the driver’s seat. Wiping her sodden hair out of her face, she did her seatbelt up with shaking hands, managing to get the buckle in on the third go, and she cradled the baby in the crook of her arm as she steered out into traffic with one hand.
Carefully merging with the city traffic as she made towards the city centre, she kept casting quick glances down at the baby, a jolt running through her when she caught a glimpse of dark eyes staring back up at her at one point. Her whole body was numb with shock, and she quietly sobbed the whole way back to the house she shared with her mom, her heart pounding in her chest as she shifted uncomfortably in her wet trousers, wondering how she was going to explain it. As the stretch of brownstones came into sight, Lena pulled up outside the three that had been connected to form her home, and all but stumbled out onto the sidewalk, her legs weak beneath her as she rushed up to the door with the bundle in her arms. She couldn’t even get the key in the lock, and it took her five minutes of fumbling before she let herself into the warmth of the entryway.
Her shoes squeaked on the polished wooden floor, and she fell back against the door as the heat of the house washed over her, and the baby started to cry. It was the piercing sound of the cries that summoned her mother without a word, and Lena looked up at the appearance of the tall, middle-aged woman at the top of the double staircase, a flicker of surprise crossing her stern face as she rushed down the stairs to greet her daughter. The smell of expensive wood and vanilla washed over Lena, and the empty feeling of the place she called home seemed suddenly less welcoming than usual as her mother bore down on her in a fury.
“Who’s baby is that?” she demanded, a look of distaste on her face as she neared her daughter.
“She- she’s mine,” Lena stammered, her voice cracking as her eyes flooded with tears.
Her mom paused for a moment, looking taken aback by the admission, before her face harded. “What?”
“No,” Lillian firmly said, her eyes flashing with anger, “no. You will not ruin your life like this. Give it to me.” At her mother’s beckoning, Lena shrank back against the door, clutching the baby tighter to herself in panic. “Lena, give it to me.”
“You are not keeping it,” Lillian snarled, taking a threatening step forward. “I will not have this family’s reputation tarnished by you. I can’t believe you hid this from me. You will give it to me right now .”
“I won’t,” Lena croaked, stubbornly jutting her chin forward as she met her mom’s hard stare.
Lillian spluttered in surprise, her eyebrows rising as she drew back slightly, one hand pressed against her chest as she looked at her daughter with contempt. “You always were a disappointment,” she sniffed, “but I never took you for a whore. You’ve brought ruin to yourself, and I won’t let you tarnish our family name with your mistakes any longer. Get out. Get out of this house, and don’t come back.”
A flicker of anger burned deep inside Lena, and she strode past her mom with stubborn determination, quickly hurrying upstairs as she took the squalling baby with her. Bursting into her bedroom on the third floor, she set the baby down on the bed, watching her flail with her tiny fists stretched out, and she rummaged around beneath her bed for an expensive leather duffel bag. Her mom followed her upstairs, bursting into the room with a cold look of anger on her face, continuing her ranting as Lena grabbed handfuls of clothes from inside her dresser, before making her way towards the armoire and rifling through the more casual clothes she owned, tearing anything of use off the hangers and shoving them into the bag.
Her mom’s words fell on deaf ears, but the occasional word hit home. Whore. Slut. Bastard. Skank. Lena flinched every time, continuing her whirlwind of packing, grabbing handfuls of jewelry, wads of cash, resisting the urge to grab the silver pistol hidden in her nightstand, and setting the framed photo of her and her brother facedown as she passed it by on the large desk. The room was overflowing with wealth, the very foundations of the room oozing old money and luxury, from the mahogany wainscotting to the gold chandelier, the crown molding and the antique furniture, and Lena tried to be brave as she reminded herself of what she was about to give up. She had spent her whole life raised in that luxury, everything at the snap of her fingers, whether it be a few thugs to beat up a bully's older brother for her, or an obscene amount of money for a gala she wanted to attend, with young suitors clamouring to fawn over the underage heiress to part of the Luthor family fortune.
“And what about Yale? What about the family business?” Lillian furiously asked, “does loyalty mean nothing to you?”
“I’m not you ,” Lena snapped, “I don’t want to be in the family business. I don’t want to be a part of this family. She needs me. She needs me and I can’t just- I can’t leave her.”
“Your father is rolling in his grave at this,” Lillian snarled, “his little girl, nothing more that a slut. He would put a bullet in the boy that got you knocked up if he could. How disappointed he’d be.”
Lena zipped the bursting duffel bag up with trembling fingers, swallowing the lump in her throat as she tried to hush the crying baby, wrapping her tighter in the sweater as she picked her up in her arms. She looked at Lillian with tears in her eyes, a cold look on her face as she stared at the woman who had raised her, feeling no stirrings of warmth inside, and realising that she was resolute in her decision; she wouldn’t let down her daughter the way her own mother had let her down. She had to do this. She couldn’t just give her away.
“Yeah, well, dad’s dead,” Lena flatly said, “and I’m not one of you.”
“Oh you stupid little girl,” Lillian laughed, the sound devoid of any humour as she watched her daughter with cold anger glinting in her eyes. The sound of laughter died on her lips, and her voice took on a frosty tone as she gave her a haughty look. “Go on then. Go. You’ve always been desperate to escape this life. Let’s see how well you do without your family. Without our name. You can’t outrun your past. You think that you can do this? You’re wrong; you’ll ruin that little girl. Go on … go. Get out, and don’t come back.”
She brushed past her mom, listening to her words follow her as her feet pounded on the thickly carpeted staircase, ignoring the hulking men lurking about as she plunged back out into the cold night. The neat street looked the same as ever, the expensive houses glowing with yellow light spilling out of the windows, a few cars belonging to her mother’s goons parked at intervals along the street, the streetlights casting halos of light over the sidewalk. As she walked down the sidewalk, head bowed against the rain, and baby tucked safely inside her coat, she shivered, the wind snapping branches and rustling the leaves of the perfectly trimmed trees lining the street, and she watched puddles form, reflecting the lights as she hurried down the street. No one came after her, like they had all the other times she tried to run away, and she knew that her mom had meant what she’d said. There was no room for a teen mom in her family. Their pride wouldn’t be able to stand it. If she’d known, if her mom had known, Lena knew she would’ve found herself at the clinic, or at the altar, and she shuddered at the thought of what her mom would’ve forced her into. At least this way, she had made her own decision.
As she walked through, moving through the rich districts of National City, with expensive cars and extravagant houses at every turn, she began to think that perhaps she had been rash in her decision though. She didn’t know how to be a mom. Yet the warm bundle inside her coat kept her putting one foot in front of the other, braving the rain as the inner city wealth of department stores, high end bars, and expensive restaurants turned into the general hubbub of the city. She stopped at the first drugstore she found, buying a pack of diapers, a tin of baby formula and a bottle, pulling a handful of bills out of her bag and shoving everything in, before she walked a few more blocks, leaving behind the bright inner city lights, and walked into the first decent diner she found.
The lights were welcoming, and was hit by the smell of coffee and frying bacon as soon as she stepped inside. Ordering a coffee with a few coins from her change, she hesitantly asked for a bathroom, carrying her bag and the baby through to the door the young man had pointed to, and puzzled through her first diaper change. Drenched and shaking from the tumultuous shock of the series of events over the past hour, Lena made her way to an empty booth and collapsed down onto the vinyl seat, dumping her bag down beside her and holding the swaddled baby in her arms. The waiter brought her coffee over to her table, casting her a mild look of concern, before he went to clear another table.
She stared there for half an hour, nursing her coffee and the baby, wondering how often she would need to feed the baby, wondering if the baby was okay after the surprising birth, if she ought to take her to a hospital, although her mom had no doubt cancelled her health cover already, being as vindictive as she was. A dozen concerns crossed Lena’s mind as she sat there. She had no home, no car, not even a person she could trust, and her bottom lip trembled as she realised just how alone she was. She was still wallowing in her misery and worry when the door opened again, letting in another customer. A tall paramedic, carrying her kit after what looked like the end of a long shift.
“Hey Winn,” the cheery paramedic called out, leaning across the counter to wave at the young guy behind the coffee machine.
“Kara,” Winn, presumably, called back over the hissing sound of the machine as he steamed some milk, “the usual?”
“Yeah, thanks. I’ll be in the booth.”
Lena glanced over at the woman, having nothing else to focus her attention on, realising that she was young, dressed in a pressed navy shirt tucked into matching cargo pants, a patch on one shoulder and a gold badge on her chest marking her as a National City EMT. Her blonde hair was scraped back into a bun, and she gave Lena a warm smile as she took a seat in the booth across the aisle from her, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners. Looking away from her, Lena reached for her cooling coffee, her hand shaking as she raised the cup to her lips and took a sip.
She was freezing in her wet clothes, her damp hair plastered to her skin, and she pushed the edge of the sweatshirt the baby was swaddled in down to reveal the tanned face, dark lashes dusting round cheeks as she slept. Lena tenderly stroked the dark, matted hair, her throat seeming to close up as she was overcome with emotion. Her mom’s words came rushing back to her, and panic seized her heart as she thought about raising a baby by herself. A few hours ago, that hadn’t even been a concern of hers, but in a shocking turn of events, she found herself with a little girl, no home, and no money.
Blinking slowly in surprise, Lena turned to look at the blonde woman leaning across the booth, a friendly smile on her face as she looked at the bundle Lena was cradling. There was a moment of silence, before Lena realised that she was expecting a reply, and she swallowed the lump in her throat, giving the woman a terse nod. Although the young woman looked friendly enough, Lena instinctively hugged her daughter closer to her chest, feeling fiercely protective of her.
“Boy or girl?”
“Girl,” Lena hoarsely whispered.
“Cute. How old is she?”
Pausing for a moment, Lena looked down at the little face, tiny pouty lips parted and two faint eyebrows giving the baby a serious look even in sleep. She wasn’t sure how to reply without arousing suspicion, but she knew that she couldn’t lie to someone and say that she was older than she was; there was still blood and stuff Lena would rather not think about dried to the baby’s skin, and anyone, let alone a paramedic, would be able to tell that she was newborn.
“About two hours.”
“Two hou- are you serious?” the paramedic quietly exclaimed, rising to her feet in one fluid motion and stepping across the aisle. Without waiting to ask, she slid onto the bench beside Lena, reaching out to brush back the edge of the sweatshirt and look down at the sleeping figure. “You should still be in hospital.”
“No,” Lena mumbled, numbly shaking her head as a shiver ran through her, “I didn’t go- I didn’t know.”
The blonde’s eyebrows rose in surprise as she looked at Lena with wide eyes. “You didn’t know you were pregnant?”
“It can happen,” Lena defensively muttered, recalling a TV series she’d once watched on the medical channel.
The paramedic let out a quick laugh, and Lena looked up to catch a wry smile on her lips. “Oh believe me, I know. My first shift as a paramedic, we had this fourteen year old girl, skinny little thing, complaining of abdominal pains. Well, I’m not sure if it was more of a surprise for her, her mother or me and my mentor when she gave birth in the back of the ambulance. Never would’ve guessed just by looking at her, but, well, sure enough, a baby came out of her.”
Lena choked on a laugh, brushing her damp hair out of her face, feeling a little bit better at the lighthearted tone the other girl had taken as she told her story. Still, the laugh was gone just as quickly as it had come, and she sniffed as she blinked back tears that came out of nowhere.
“What’s your name?” the woman gently asked.
“I’m Kara. And how old are you, Lena?”
Her voice shook as she replied, with the sudden fear that she was about to have her baby taken off her making her hold her tighter. She was young - too young to know how to raise a baby she’d had no time to prepare for - and she didn’t exactly look like she was okay .
“And you didn’t give birth in a hospital?” At the shake of Lena’s head, she continued. “You didn’t go and get a check up afterwards? For you or the baby?” Lena shook her head again, her cheeks turning pink as ducked her head. “Do you mind if I take a look at her? Make sure she’s okay? It’s a cold night, and she really shouldn’t be outside. Neither of you should.”
It was with some difficulty that Lena relinquished her hold on the baby to Kara, watching as she carefully cradled her in her hands, supporting her head and smiling as the baby squirmed slightly. A small cry escaped the tiny lips as the tanned face screwed up, and Kara quietly laughed as she crooned soothing things to the baby, while Lena watched with wary interest.
“You cut the cord yourself?”
Blinking, Lena turned her attention from the baby to the paramedic, hesitantly nodding as she watched Kara inspect the baby, the neatly severed umbilical cord protruding from the baby’s stomach, above the waistband of one of the diapers Lena had bought at the drugstore. She hadn’t been able to find her any clothes, and she nervously watched Kara give her a once over, watching goosebumps ripple across her delicate skin.
“She seems fine,” Kara murmured, a look of concentration on her face as she carefully took the baby’s pulse at the wrist, before her blue eyes flickered up to meet Lena’s stare. “And you? You feel okay?”
She watched as Kara’s eyes moved to the bulging duffel bag on the seat next to Lena, holding everything she’d managed to hastily pack, before Lillian had kicked her out of the house with strict orders not to come back. When she met Lena’s eyes again, a sheepish smile crossed her face, and she gave her a pitying look.
“Do you, uh, do you have somewhere to stay?”
“My mom kicked me out,” Lena whispered, too afraid to speak any louder because she knew her voice would crack. As it was, she could feel hot tears fill her eyes, and she looked down at her lap, curling her cold hands into fists as she hunched her shoulders.
Shaking her head, Lena swallowed the lump in her throat, her cheeks burning red with embarrassment. “I don’t know who he is.”
“Oh … okay.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of the barista, and he looked mildly surprised to see the paramedic sitting with the drenched teenage mother, but didn’t comment on it as he set a coffee and a donut down on the table, wiping away a few stray crumbs, before tucking the cloth into the pocket of his apron and walking away. Kara called her thanks after him, still cradling the baby in her arms. Lena reached out for her as Kara tried to clumsily break her donut in half, and she gave Lena an easy smile as she handed her back over, much to Lena’s relief.
Sitting in silence for a few moments, Lena looked up from the face of the baby, already back asleep again, to watch a plate slide across the table top as it was nudged towards her. “No thank you, I’m not hungry,” she murmured.
“You should eat something. They’re the best donuts in the city, I might add.”
A laugh of surprise worked its way up Lena’s throat, and she casually tried to rub her eyes with the damp cuff of her coat, before sighing and picking up the half of the donut sitting in front of her. She took a small bite, the sugary taste filling her mouth, and she seemed to sag slightly in her seat, feeling just a little bit comforted by the small acts of kindness of a stranger. She gently nursed the baby as she ate her donut, taking small bites in between sips of bitter coffee, until the tremors faded and her clothes had started to dry, making her somewhat more uncomfortable as her skin started to itch. She had no idea where she was going to go when she left the diner, but it was nice to sit beside someone and be treated like a person for just a few moments, no judgement in Kara’s voice or eyes when she’d spoken. She didn’t even know who Lena was, who her family was, and although things were far from okay, she felt normal for just a few minutes, despite the newborn baby cuddled up in her arms, and her newfound homelessness.
As soon as Kara had finished her coffee and dusted the last crumbs from her lap, she climbed to her feet, lifting a heavy looking red bag with a white cross on it, no doubt filled to bursting with all manners of medical paraphernalia. “Come on,” she said, jerking her head towards the door.
“I know a place where you can crash for a while.”
Hesitating for a moment, Lena slid along the booth, watching Kara reach out and gather their empty cups and plates and carry them over to the counter. She shouted a goodbye to the waiter - Winn, Lena recalled - and then extended a hand for the heavy duffel bag Lena carried in her free hand, trying to keep the sleeping baby comfortably cradled against her chest. Declining the offer of help, she shouldered the bag and was careful not to jostle her daughter as she murmured her thanks to the waiter, who made a quick appearance to wave Kara off, and slipped out into the cold through the door the cheerful paramedic held open for her.
They were quiet as they walked through the night, halos of orange light from streetlights and neon lights in the windows of other diners, bars and restaurants, broke up the night. The smell of pizza made Lena’s stomach quietly growl as she followed the stranger down the sidewalk, trying her best to shelter the baby from the slightly misting rain, her breath visible before her in the air as she silently wondered where they were going. She had enough diamonds and other precious jewels hidden in her bag, along with as much cash as she’d had stashed in her bedroom - enough for her to get by for a while on her own - and she knew there were a few homeless shelters around the city that would be quick to take in a teenage mother and her newborn, but they would all be full at this hour. For now, she’d have to place her trust in someone she’d known for less than an hour, and hope that her baby would be safe.
She didn’t question Kara when she stopped at a bus stop, standing safely beneath the shelter as they tried to stand on a patch of concrete free of litter or broken glass, the wind finding its way beneath the collar of Lena’s coat as she tucked the baby inside, closer against her body, casting wary looks at the homeless man curled up in the corner of the shelter, and the two teenagers listening to loud music as they smoked and muttered amongst themselves. The sound of laughter spilled out of a bar across the street as drunk people lurched out into the cold, and a siren screamed in the distance as they patiently waited for the bus.
Finally one pulled up, and Kara fished some change out of her pocket before Lena could scramble for her own fare, smiling at the driver, before she ushered Lena in ahead of her. They sat side by side on the night bus, the fluorescent lights dimming as the bus pulled away from the curb and they lurched into traffic. The city passed them by in a blur of bright lights, traffic, and muffled noise from inside the relative warmth and safety of the bus as it followed its route. Kara didn’t say much as they passed three stops, and it was another two before she stood, taking Lena by the elbow to help her to her feet as the momentum of the bus made her stumble slightly, and then they were off at the next stop, thanking the driver and finding themselves out in the cold again.
It was quieter in the unfamiliar area of the city they stood in, a far cry from the clean and tidy areas Lena was used to, with the designer stores, upscale restaurants and corporate offices. Instead, it was like the place the diner had sat in, with the cracked sidewalk, overflowing alleyways beside numerous takeaway and fast food joints wedged in side by side, bookstores and coffee shops dark as they closed for the night, and boarded over windows covered in graffiti. They didn’t dwell as they walked down the sidewalk, passing shadows huddled in doorways, and homeless people sitting outside bars, shaking cups as they held signs. If Lena hadn’t grown up in a family like hers, if she’d been an ordinary rich teenager, she suspected she might’ve been somewhat frightened of the shabbier area of the city she was in, but she was too cold, hungry and tired to even consider whether her Luthor name would offer her any kind of protection here. Her mom didn’t want her anymore, and there would be no one coming for her, so she would have to get used to this.
By the time they came to a well lit building, with yellow lights flooding out of a few different windows, Lena’s eyes were gritty and burning with tiredness. It didn’t occur to her that they were at an apartment building until Kara slid a key into the lock and opened the door to the lobby, holding it open to let Lena inside. The entryway was lit by a naked bulb, illuminating at row of mailboxes set into one wall, someone’s bike partially hidden under the stairs, and the staircase disappearing upstairs.
“I know it looks a little shady from the outside, but it’s a pretty safe area,” Kara assured her with a dimpled smile, shoving her key into her pocket and making towards the stairs.
Lena was silent as she followed her up three flights, trying to conceal her laboured breathing by the time she stopped outside the door that Kara was opening, and as she stepped into the clean apartment, decorated in pastels to try and liven up the small space, she realised that it was someone’s apartment. Not a halfway home or a shared housing place for teenage runaways, but a comfy, lived in apartment, with throw pillows, a stack of well read books and a cluster of family photos scattered around the room. One corner of the apartment was partitioned, no doubt hiding a bed from the main living area.
“This is your apartment?” Lena said, lingering uncomfortably in the doorway.
“Yes, make yourself at home,” Kara said, waving her inside as she dropped her medical kit down onto the floor beside the door. “I know it’s a little small, but I only just finished my training, so I’m working on saving for a new place. But it’s clean, and there’s hot water. The couch folds out into a bed too. You’re welcome to stay for a while.”
Eyebrows rising in surprise, Lena opened and closed her mouth a few times, fumbling for something to say as she stared at the paramedic with a bemused look on her face. “But … you don’t even know me.”
“I know,” Kara said, shrugging half heartedly, “but it doesn’t feel right to let you sleep on the streets with a newborn baby. I mean, I don’t get the feeling that you’re going to rob me, so what’s the harm in helping, right?”
She had to fight back a snort of laughter, with the secret knowledge that she had a collection of jewels worth more than the contents of the apartment stuffed into her bag, and stepped inside, closing the door behind herself. “No, I’m not going to rob you,” she quietly agreed.
“You look frozen. Do you want a shower?”
“I’m okay, thank you.”
Kara cracked a nervous smile as she laughed, a trusting look on her face as she arched an eyebrow at Lena. “You can’t sleep in those wet clothes. Come on, give me the baby and go and get yourself sorted out. We’ll be right here when you get out.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Lena produced the sleeping bundle from within her coat and shrugged out of the soggy garment, hanging it up on the rack holding Kara’s own coats, before she hefted her bag and followed Kara through the apartment. “Towels are on the shelf. Give the water a few minutes to heat up properly before you get in.” Lena nodded and watched her for a few moments, gently swaying as she held the sleeping bundle in her arms, before Kara looked up, catching Lena watching her and gave her a bright smile. “I’m great with babies.”
Nodding, Lena watched her disappear, slowly closing the door, before she hurriedly turned the hot water on, stripped off her clothes, and stepped under the stream of freezing water, heedless to Kara’s suggestion. The water had just started to warm when she’d finished washing the suds off her body, and she was almost unwilling to turn it off, but the thought of leaving her daughter with a stranger narrowly beat her desire to warm up beneath the hot water. Shutting off the shower, she stepped out into the frigid cold of the bathroom and wrapped a fluffy towel around herself, rifling through the duffel bag and pulling out the warmest pyjamas she’d packed, the designer labels almost embarrassing in the tiny bathroom in downtown National City. Dressing quickly, shoving her wet clothes back into her bag, she made her way back out into the apartment, finding Kara sitting on the edge of the sofa, which she’d converted into a small bed already. A bundle of blankets and a pillow were neatly set out for Lena, and a laundry basket had been piled high with a nest of clothes, the little baby nestled in amongst them as Kara gave Lena a sheepish look.
“Sorry, I don’t have much in the way of a crib.”
“It’s perfect, thank you,” Lena said, some of the tension fading as she took in the peaceful look on the baby’s face, and feeling slightly foolish at her worrying beforehand.
“No problem,” Kara waved away her thanks. “There’s some tea on the table, if you want it. I’m going to go and shower.”
She watched Kara disappear into the bathroom, and fetched the tea made for her, sitting down beside the laundry basket with the sleeping baby in it, reaching out to softly stroke her cheek, watching her shift slightly beneath her touch. Lena was still sitting there when Kara reemerged fifteen minutes later, dressed in sweatpants and an old high school track t-shirt, giving her a smile as she dried the wet ends of her hair with a towel.
“Have you thought of a name for her yet?”
Eyebrows rising in mild surprise, Lena paused for a moment, before shaking her head. “No. I haven’t really had time to think yet.”
“It must be quite a shock.”
She let out a snort of laughter, giving Kara her first genuine smile, and she shrugged slightly, “nothing ever really surprises me anymore. Not even going to feed the ducks and … well, ending up giving birth to her.”
“Not quite the little duck you were expecting, eh?”
Letting out another laugh, Lena sighed heavily, feeling a bone-deep weariness set in as she nursed her tea in one hand. “Little duck,” she murmured, her lips curling up into a slight smile as her heart ached ever so gently.
She went to bed not too long after that, murmuring goodnight to Kara, who looked dead on her feet after a long shift cooped up in her ambulance, and with some discomfort at sleeping in someone else’s apartment, Lena tucked herself into bed on the pull-out couch, the laundry basket beside her on the thin mattress, while she listened to Kara’s mattress springs creak as she climbed into her own bed. Sleep came easy to her that night, exhausted after what seemed a long day, but had in fact only been a few dramatic hours that seemed to span an eternity, and she was out for the count before her head even touched the pillows. Nestled up in her laundry basket, her daughter slept just as soundly, and for the first time in her life, Lena fell asleep without the looming threat of her family hanging over her head.