The sounds of National City bounced around in her head like a thousand tennis balls. If she weren’t so used to tuning it out, Kara would’ve been overwhelmed. Still, it was a lot more busy than Midvale.
“Good to be back,” she told no one - or everyone, and no one around her was listening.
Alone she walked the streets lined with skyscrapers of businesses and banks all trying unsuccessfully to block out the sun’s shine on her back.
At 21, going to get her degree in Marketing at National City University had put Kara on the outskirts of the metropolis. That was three years ago, before she moved to actual Metropolis to get a Masters Degree in Journalism. Now 24 and still bright-eyed, Kara wanted to immerse herself in the heart of a city she was ready to call hers.
Sensible boots marked the rhythm of her footsteps as Kara walked with suitcases in hand, a purse perched on her shoulder.
“Fifty? Oh man, Becky’s gonna kill me.” The older gentleman speaking hung on the arm of a friend as they walked away from a stained, green card table.
Neither seemed to notice Kara when they walked past her, but they’d caught her interest. She found a spot to stand on the sidewalk without blocking anyone’s way.
“Everybody plays, everybody wins,” a booming voice entreated from behind the table. “Keep your eyes on the cards, follow the Queen as she dances through court.” A shuffle of cards, a shuffle of hands. “One buck gets you five. Five’ll get you twenty.” A potent smelling cigar rolled between the man’s teeth.
A woman who’d been leaning against a nearby lamppost stepped forward to marvel, almost believably, “Money that fast?” She looked to another man eyeing the table with a hand on his chin. “What d’you think, sugar? Doesn’t look too hard. The Queen’s right…” She picked out the middle card. “There!”
A laugh of glee as the Queen is revealed to the small gathered group of people. “I knew it! Should’ve bet,” she lamented. Her elbow nudged the man beside her. “You should do it. There’s no way to lose.”
The man behind the table began to slowly move the cards again. The second man took a step away from the table. “Sure,” Kara found herself saying. “I’ll bet five.”
“We’ve got ourselves a bet! Now, pretty lady, keep your eyes on the other pretty lady,” he smirked, hands beginning to move quicker. “Okay, Miss. Where’s the Queen?”
Kara moved to stand in front of the table, setting her bags down in front of her. She adjusted her glasses from the end of her nose, reading the underside of the card as easily as the top she saw through. “There,” she pointed out the card to the left.
For a brief moment, the card dealer blanched, but he quickly smiled. “See how easy that was, ma’am? Now, try again. Twenty bucks will get you fifty.”
Kara added a ten dollar bill to the two fives on the table. “Sure, I’ll bet again,” she nodded.
For this next round, the card dealer brought in some fancier moves to try to distract Kara. But it wasn’t enough to keep Kara from seeing the moment the card dealer palmed the Queen in his right hand.
“Now, where’s the Queen?” the card dealer sneered, a jackal ready to pounce. The woman standing at Kara’s elbow quietly laughed into her shoulder, a bit late in covering it with a cough.
Kara didn’t hesitate to reach across the green table and turn the man’s right hand out for everyone to see. He tried to fight her grab, but she was stronger.
“She’s right there,” she said, swiping up the fifty dollar bill from the table with her free hand. “Gee whiz, you’re right. This is easy money!”
“That’s it, that’s all,” the card dealer griped as past losers began to complain. “We’re closing.”
Kara didn’t have to go far to find the older gentleman again. She held out the bill. “I believe this is yours,” she mused. “You know, that man was cheating. Best not to go betting on street corners.”
“You’re kidding, right?” The man scratched the back of his head but took the bill. “Th-thanks. That’s real nice of ya.”
Kara picked up her suitcases again and started off down the sidewalk. “Pass it on,” she called back. “Do something nice for someone today!”
837 Avenue C… “837 Avenue C…” If Kara called Alex within her first hour of arriving in National City, she wouldn’t hear the end of it from her sister. No, she had to find this apartment on her own. Just like she’d found the deal on her own. One bedroom. Kitchen, living room, safe, clean neighborhood. Beautiful views. 1K a month. No pets. “If only I could actually find it.”
Three things happened simultaneously beside Kara. With her eyes on her phone, she still managed to spot a woman stepping out of a sleek black town car. Black hair pulled into a severe bun, an exotic floral print on a sleeved red dress, nude heels accentuating sculpted legs.
At the same time seven feet away, a speeding bike messenger swerved to avoid a cooing pigeon on the sidewalk pecking at an ice cream cone.
The third action was her own as Kara jutted herself forward, dropping her bags. One hand shot out to stop the bike in its path, holding it and the rider up. Her free arm went around the woman who had been primed to jump out of the way, pulling her to the side.
“Oh,” the woman inhaled, looking from Kara to the bike messenger and back.
“S-sorry,” Kara sputtered as she let go of everything at once. The material of that dress had been as soft against her hand as real skin. “I just - you could’ve been knocked into the street-“
The bike messenger was apologizing too, trying to explain the pigeon.
Dark haired and devastating, the woman waved off the biker. “No harm, no foul,” she said curtly, fixing her purse back into the crook of her elbow.
Bright green eyes turned to Kara, pinning her in place as she fixed her glasses and dropped her eyes a moment.
“And you of all have no reason to apologize,” the woman said, the tone turned gentler. “Thank you, Miss…?”
“Danvers!” Too loud, she scolded herself. “Kara Danvers.”
Lips of ruby tugged up into a smile that reached her eyes. “Thank you, Kara.”
A snap of her purse being opened and in the next moment, Kara was being given a sleek, embossed, black business card. “Luthor Corp?” Wait, that was one of the places she had an interview at tomorrow. Maybe even with this woman, who was - Lena Luthor. The Lena Luthor? Oh Rao.
“Give that number a call, day or night, and my assistant will answer. I owe you one,” Lena said as she brushed past her, tacking on, “Kara.”
If her knees could go weak, they just did. Lena was almost out of earshot before Kara managed to call back, “It was nice to meet you!”
Her first day - no, hour in National City and she’d already crossed paths with a Luthor. Clark was right, sometimes these things just find you. Kismet.
Please don’t let my interview be with her, Kara begged the universe at the same time she plead, please let me interview be with her.
The apartment building was nothing like the pictures she’d seen online. Kara suspected those had been taken about twenty blocks away in a much newer building.
“Good neighborhood. Your check cleared so we won’t see each other until the first of next month, eh?”
As the landlord lead her up the stairs (elevator broken), a woman waited at the top for them. “Gary, you said you’d fix the water. My kids can’t drink brown fucking water.”
“I’m working on it. Got best guy in the phone book scheduled,” he announced, not even sparing the woman a glance as he walked on.
“Excuse me,” Kara said quietly, keeping her head down as she walked past and to the end of the hallway.
It took three tries and a hard shove to open the door to the apartment. “Ah! Here we go.”
Kara stepped inside and took it all in with one look. “I, um…”
One bedroom. Kitchen, living room, safe, clean neighborhood. Beautiful views. 1K a month. No pets.
It did have one bedroom, as it also had only one room. With a mattress in it. There was a counter, two cabinets, and a sink. “That’s the kitchen?” No appliances in sight.
“Hard to believe it’s all yours, right?” he said, passing over a set of keys. “See you in thirty days.”
Good grief. If Alex saw this, she would only say, 'I told you so. Didn’t I say you have to go visit the place first before agreeing to rent? Didn’t I say Craigslist isn’t the place to find an apartment?'
On the other hand, if Eliza saw this place, she’d grab Kara and drive her right back to Midvale.
Setting her suitcases down, Kara walked over to the blind covered windows and opened the first one to see- “A brick wall.” And the next, another brick wall. Still, she forced the windows open to bring in some fresh air.
Walking across the room, she looked at the mattress on the floor. The sight made her stomach sink. “Not exactly Emerald City,” she sighed as she sank down to sit on the floor, thinking it cleaner than the mattress.
Taking off her glasses, Kara closed her eyes and rested her head back.
Hundreds of voices invaded her peace, along with sirens and bird calls and the electric hum of the city. ‘So I told Marge-‘ ‘Fucking believe it!’ ‘No, please don’t.’ ‘Step away from the vehicle.’ ‘A number two with brown rice.’ ‘-these numbers aren’t adding up.’ ‘Happy birthday, dear Anna.’ ‘Just hand over the wallet.’
Kara put her glasses back on and centered in on the room she’s in until the only sounds were her own and the water dripping in the bathroom sink.
“You’ve been alone before, facing much worse odds than this,” she reminded herself. The thought should have been comforting, but it brought with it flashes of empty darkness, the constricting walls of her pod, no one to see her light…
A quick shake of her head brushed the memories aside. Kara stood up off the floor and rested her hands on her hips. “Okay,” she began, blowing out a breath, “What’s one thing I can do to make this place better?”
In a minute, she had twenty.
By the time she stopped for dinner, the entire apartment was as clean as it was going to get. Kara had zapped a few roaches with her laser vision until she had a few traps to set out. The mattress from the floor was already down in the alley. And while she’d bought a bed, it wasn’t as if she could just fly it out of the department store like she wanted. So she’d have to wait for delivery until tomorrow. The same went for the rest of the furniture she’d bought.
There was no chance of leftovers after working through the day and into the night. Kara just bagged everything up next to the sink.
Another hour later and she’d found the rusty iron pipes responsible for turning the building’s water brown. Kara briefly thought about fixing it herself. Instead, she ended up taking a few Polaroid pictures and emailing the city’s water department with information of where the problem was. In the meantime, she delivered gallons of water to the woman down the hall and had her own set lining the kitchen counter.
She felt accomplished and independent. “Maybe it’s time to head out,” she mused, walking over to her suitcases. Buried at the bottom was a brown paper package.
Kara undid the bow and opened up the paper to reveal the dark blue suit emblazoned with the crest of the House of El. Kal-El’s voice spoke through her memories, ‘You’ll need a uniform if you’re going to do this properly. When people see it, they’ll know you’re there to help them. They’ll know we’re linked somehow.’
She held the uniform up. It was made from the same material as Superman’s suit, able to withstand almost as much as they could as Kryptonians. Red and gold trim lined the suit from a long sleeved shirt down to a pair of pants she could pull over her pair of boots. The blanket Kal-El had been wrapped in was tied to the shoulders for her cape. Kara allowed herself a moment to realize what she was holding in her hands. It wasn’t just a uniform, but the promise that she too would soon be a hero of the people. A protector of Earth.
Naturally, she smiled as a quiet sound of glee left her and she did a happy dance that waved the cape around.
‘And don’t forget,’ Kal-El’s voice cut into her dance.
“Right,” Kara nodded. “Keep your human self separate from your super self.”
‘Stand up straight. Speak clearly and deeply. Show confidence,’ she remembered, holding her glasses aside as she pressed the symbol to her chest. ‘On the other hand, slump as Kara. Speak faster, stumble in your speech, and pitch your voice a little higher.’
Kara put her glasses back on and held the suit away to show her sweater and chinos. “Is anybody really going to buy this?”
Maybe if she did something different with her hair…
HEEEEEEEEEELP!!!! A voice pierced the night, sounding only a block or two off.
Kara took off into the night, landing in a nearby alley. A fire was blazing in the night, sending down ash into the air.
‘Remember, Kara, keep out of sight. Survey the situation before acting. With your abilities, there’s dozens of ways to solve problems. Choose the one that causes the least damage. You’re like a doctor: do no harm. And above all: think.’
“Right,” Kara nodded, stepping out to join the throng of people. “I got this.”
Surveying the building, it seemed like it was structurally sound enough to hold through the blaze. Kara sniffed the air. Doesn’t smell like a regular fire… more like gunshot smoke…
Firefighters were already shooting water at the heart of the flames as police waved people back as far as they could. “Behind the line. I’m talking to you, people.”
It seems like they’re handling it fine… without me, Kara realized. Fire’s almost out. They certainly know what they’re doing. I would’ve just gotten in the way.
“Catco Media. Let me through,” a nearby voice spoke over an officer.
Catco Media? That was another one of the places Kara had an interview tomorrow. Of course they had someone already on the scene. Who was it? Kara caught the man slipping under the yellow tape. “Jimmy?”
“Hey, watch it, lady,” a man griped next to her.
Kara fell back and decided it was best to just go. Tonight didn’t have to be the night Superwoman began her career. And she really didn’t want to screw up in front of Jimmy lest it get back to Clark.
Casting one more look over the building and making sure everything was in hand, Kara disappeared back into the alley and made her way back to the apartment.
The fire was all over the newspapers the next day. So was a Crime war (National City Daily News), an election centered on rampant crime (Catco Media), and city under siege (Daily Bulletin). Kara sat at Noonan’s reading over the articles as fast as she could. Her interviews at these papers and a few other spots wouldn’t start until the business day did at 9am. Again, she tried not to think about James Olsen’s glowing letters of recommendation that got her in these doors in the first place.
Kara was dressed in a simple suit with her hair half-up. Everything was a little more wrinkly than she wanted, but if that was what kept her from a position, she didn’t want to be working there.
A trio stood at the bar ordering coffee. “Did you hear about Olsen? Son of a bitch was there first, got the story.”
“He’s not even a writer.”
“You’re telling me, I’ve got to edit the damn thing.”
“Oh come on,” the third cut in. “James works his ass off. Gets into the office before six, and god knows when he ever leaves. You two should try it sometime.”
“Six? In the morning? Not gonna happen in this lifetime.”
“Jerry says James heard the fire was caused by a rocket or something.”
“Yeah, and Grant promised him the full story if he can get the facts.”
A line formed between Kara’s brows as she set down her coffee. So she had smelled something off last night. Which meant it was arson. Maybe she could go back to the scene between interviews.
Of course that didn’t end up happening. With so many people around, the only option to get from place to place was by taxi cab or power walking. Kara was sure she left a footprint somewhere back on Jefferson Ave. It was just after lunch that she was walking up to security at Luthor Corp.
“Hi, my name is Kara Danvers? I’m here for an interview with Michelle Li.”
The man behind the desk didn’t stop typing. “Sign in on the sheet there along with the time. Take the third elevator up to the fourth floor. Li’s office is down the second hallway on the left. Just follow the other kindergartners.”
There was a bustle behind Kara as the doors opened. Whoever it was, the man behind the desk suddenly had a smile on his face and was looking right at Kara. “If there’s anything else I can help you with, you know where to find me."
Kara didn’t understand his whiplash demeanor until she turned to walk for the elevators with a visitor’s badge in hand.
“Kara?” a woman called.
Oh no. Kara looked up from the tiles to see Lena Luthor walking towards her in a fitted black suit and red heels. Did the woman not own a single thing loose fitting? Kara’s eyes got slightly wider.
“Kara Danvers, right?” Lena pressed as she reached her. Her hair was down today, straightened and smelling like freesia.
“Oh, uh, yeah - I mean, yes. Kara is me. I am Danvers.” She really was nailing this whole human persona thing without even trying.
The corner of Lena’s red lips tugged up into an amused smile. “Welcome to Luthor Corp,” she said, spying the visitor’s badge hanging on Kara’s chest. “Are you here for a tour?” Lena began walking again and Kara could only follow along helplessly.
“No, I’m here for a job interview actually. With Ms. Li?”
“Ah Michelle, yes. Why don’t you ride up with me?” Lena suggested. The elevator she waited in front of was separate from the others, private.
“Okay,” Kara breathed out.
Stepping into the box, she stared forward and fixed the leather messenger bag on her shoulder. Don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t-
“So what’s the position you’re going for?” Lena broke into her mantra.
“Mailroom clerk,” Kara answered as if she were asking a question. “I - it was one of the full time options that I qualified for to walk in without experience.”
The elevator ticked didn't slow at all, but instead flew past the 4th floor. “Wasn’t that my-”
“Kara, I’m sure we can find something better suited for you here,” Lena said, turning to face her. “Do you have a copy of your resume?”
Brain finally catching up to the rest of her body, Kara opened up her bag and took out a folder. “Of course, here.”
Lena opened the file and pursed her lips as she read through Kara’s credentials, tapping a finger against the back as she breathed in. She didn’t stop reading as the elevator reached the top floor, but instead turned to walk out.
Again, Kara followed. The floor layout wasn’t like she’d been picturing. Rather than plaster walls, there was glass instead. No cubicles in sight but people had their own desks. From the different conversations she picked up on, this was a new team of people. And they all started acting differently as soon as Lena appeared. A few even wondered aloud about Kara.
“You’ve got a two o’clock call with Mr. Luthor, ma’am,” a woman with medium length blonde hair announced, standing from her table next to the biggest office on the floor.
“Thank you, Eve,” Lena said, walking through the door that was held open for her. “Could you see about getting a tray of tea sent up?”
Kara stood looking confused and flustered as Eve looked to her and then nodded to her boss. “Of course.”
Walking into the office, Kara followed Lena back to her desk where official papers were covered by stray pieces of design proposals and the newspapers for the day. Lena took a seat. “Please,” she said, gesturing to the chair across from her.
How in the heck had Kara ended up here with a Luthor? She knew about Lex. She knew the kind of work that Luthor Corp did. And yet, she was sitting there was Lena flipping Luthor. Kara remembered to slouch a little more, pulling her shoulders in as she fixed her glasses.
“It looks like you’ve got a great record. Top five of your class back to high school. Strong test scores, two degrees, published articles,” Lena trailed off as she leaned back in her chair. “So why on Earth were you applying for a mail clerk job?”
Kara blinked. “Well, to be completely honest, I’ve applied to a number of jobs throughout the city,” she admitted. “I-” She watched Lena cross her legs through the glass desk. “I am really hoping for a writing gig, but my writing doesn’t seem to be the kind newspapers in the city are looking for.”
“And what do you mean by that?” Lena asked, looking completely at ease despite the three letters next to her name on the placard: LENA LUTHOR, C. O. O.
“Just that, for instance at an interview this morning at the Daily Bulletin, the editor said people didn’t pay for puff pieces. They read the paper because headlines grab a person about the current dangers.” Kara waved a hand to the newspapers on Lena’s desk.
Lena nodded along, her eyes dropping from Kara’s for a moment to stare at nothing before focusing on her gaze again. “What makes you want to be a writer, Kara?”
“I want to help people. Journalism is something everyone says is dying, but it seems more crucial now than ever,” Kara answered, starting to sit forward as she got into her element and stopped fixating on the woman across from her.
A moment passed by as Lena looked back over the resume again. Eve walked in carrying the tray of tea with two cups. She whispered to Lena, “Detective Sawyer called again.”
“I’ll get to that in a moment,” Lena said, pouring a cup of tea while Eve excused herself and went back to her desk.
Kara listened in on Eve's call from where she sat, curious. ‘I’m afraid Miss Luthor is in a meeting at the moment. I’ll give-’
“Kara?” Lena held out a cup and saucer to her.
“Oh, thank you,” Kara recovered. What was a detective doing calling the Chief Operating Officer of Luthor Corp for? Kara could only come up with bad answers. And yet Lena had only been lovely to her. Lovely, and charming, and attentive, and-
“What if I told you I could get you a position writing at any paper in this city?” Lena said casually. But her smile couldn’t be hid by a sip of tea when the corners of her eyes crinkled like that.
Kara nearly snapped off the handle of her tea cup. “I - Miss Luthor, you don’t have to. That’s-”
“Just think of it as me returning a favor. You did save me a hospital trip yesterday, after all,” Lena pointed out, licking a drop of tea from her lips. “Now, which paper should I call up?”
As easy as Lena picking up her phone and making a call to Cat Grant herself, and Kara found herself with a new job and her other interviews forgotten.
She was still thanking Lena as the other woman walked her to the elevators. “Really, that was very kind of you. I feel like I owe you a favor now.”
“Of course you do,” Lena grinned, crossing her arms over her chest. “Once you’ve been indoctrinated in over at CatCo, give my office a call and we can set up an interview. I need someone I like to break the news.”
Someone she likes? Kara stepped onto the elevator. “What news is that?”
“I’m the new CEO,” Lena announced, waving her fingers to Kara as the doors closed, a wry smile on her face.
“...what the hell just happened?” Kara asked her reflection in the elevator doors.