"I think a sibling will be good for Lex."
Lillian had to put up that front. Had to make it seem like she didn't want the child. But once she laid eyes on her… Lillian was no fool. She had done her research. Lionel was no better to his Irish mistress than he was to her. And Lillian had no doubt that poor woman would feel awful if she knew Lionel was married.
So no, she had no problems with this traumatized four year old.
But. She did throw a bit of a wrench in Lillian's plans to divorce Lionel.
Time drug by. Lena grew, more quickly than Lillian was expecting. The girl was precocious, brilliant, sharp and soft all at once. Lillian was completely enthralled. She was all the best parts of Lex with none of his concerning tendencies towards malice. None of his obsessions.
It was months before Lena woke up with her first nightmare, screaming, and Lillian jerked awake. Lionel snored away, predictably, but Lillian was on her feet in an instant, running down the long hall to burst into Lena's room. Lillian held her and smoothed back her hair and got her a glass of water and dried her tears. Lillian rocked her back to sleep.
She looked down at the sleeping child in her arms. She was far too aware that there were things in the world and in this family that she couldn’t protect Lena from. Lena had grown on her far more quickly than she was expecting.
Lillian took Lena to her first chess tournament when she was six. Lena had been besting a supercomputer for a year now, and was entirely too bored. Lillian pitched the idea half-heartedly at dinner, like she didn't quite care but she would be interested to add more honor to the Luthor name. Lex's eyes lit, a little savagely, and Lillian reflected he was far too like his father, far too soon.
Lionel nodded. "It'd be good to get her out and about. We can get a servant and the chauffeur to take her."
"No," Lillian said, almost too quickly, and Lionel looked at her in surprise. "I looked one up last week, and it requires a parent or guardian be present." She shrugged, off-handed. "It's in Coast City. I thought I'd check up on our beach house there, enjoy a long weekend. There's no need to take the chauffeur from you and Lex."
Lex shrugged, looking disaffected. "Take 'em down, Ace," he told Lena, and she grinned with all the confidence that only a six year old super-genius can have.
Lionel looked much the same. "Be back for the charity gala on Wednesday, then," was all he said. "I'll expect a trophy on your return."
"Of course," Lillian said. She glanced over at Lena, who was beaming. Lillian winked, feeling her heart grow three sizes when Lena giggled and blinked deliberately in return.
The jet touched down in Coast City on Friday afternoon, and Lena and Lillian hit the town in matching sunglasses. "Alright," Lillian said, spreading out the map in the backseat of the cab--she made sure they took a cab, telling Lena that women always needed to know how to get around anywhere they went without a man's help-- "Where shall we go first on our adventure?"
Lena thrust her nose close to the map, squinting and searching until she found the circles she had carefully marked with Lillian on the plane. She was squinting just enough that Lillian realized with a jolt Lena would probably need glasses, and soon. Lena pointed at the amusement park, and Lena smiled. Oh, this child had her heart.
In between Lillian cheering embarrassingly loudly at the quiet stuffy chess tournaments and getting victory ice cream while they sat on the beach, Lena and Lillian learned life skills together that weren't for the rich. Stolen weekends were spent giggling while watching reality tv and cooking shows and blast pop music at the beach house. Lillian encouraged Lena to go out and have fun. Lena introduced Lillian to the concept of a selfie and they made silly faces at the camera, Lena incapable of making a normal one, and Lillian loved it.
Lillian picked Lena up from school once a week when she could, and it was always Lena's favorite kind of day. Lillian was in an old fixed-up car that screams old money but oh was it beautiful, and Lena's delighted smile when she got in the front seat always washed away whatever kind of day Lillian was having. Lena showed off her shop skills Lex taught her and Lillian was a little worried that's not the only thing Lex taught her, but she was always proud anyway.
Lillian stayed with Lionel for Lena, once Lex moved out a few short years after Lena moved in. Lillian was wary of Lex by this point, wary of his wiliness and his bursts of rage, wary of his unfeeling lack of compassion, and he doesn't need her. But Lena… Lena was her light.
"Lena, there is nothing that could make me not love you. Nothing."
Lena was a gangly teenager, in ripped old jeans she hides here at the Coast City beach house, and she'd just crushed another chess tournament, but she's crying. Lillian rubbed her back, covered by an MIT hoodie she also would never wear in the Luthor Manor, and Lillian was starting to panic. Did she kill someone? Wreck their life?
"Please," Lillian said, panicking in full. "Please, whatever it is, just--"
Lillian breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not sick. Not joining Lex. "Oh thank the lord," she said, and Lena recoiled.
"Thank the lord? I tell you I'm gay and your reaction is to thank the lord you don't believe in?"
Lillian was completely nonplussed. "What would you like my reaction to be?"
"I thought it would be--I don't know!" Lena looked every inch the teenager she was, her long hair blowing in the night wind, her fingers still a little sticky with ice cream and a smudge of chocolate by her lower lip. Lillian reached out to wipe it away, automatic and gentle, and Lena relaxed just a little.
"Lena," Lillian said gently. "Why would your being gay upset me?"
Lena huffed, still looking scared. "You've heard what Lex and Lionel say about gay people."
"Yes," Lillian said calmly. "But they're them. Am I them?" Lena shook her head, looking partly chastised. "Lena, my darling," Lillian said, reaching for Lena's sugar-sticky hands, hands that might belong to a fifteen-year-old but had far more age and wisdom, "I love you, as you are. You are still the light of my life. Being gay doesn't change that."
Lena's face crumpled, and Lillian pulled her closer.
"And if you want me to go to a Proud Parade, I will," Lillian said after several minutes, once Lena had calmed marginally.
"It's Pride," Lena groaned into her chest. "Please don't ever say that again. Ever."
"I'll still go," Lillian promised, smiling even though Lena couldn't see her face. "I'll start doing my research too. I won't embarrass you with any incorrect terminology. If you need to have a sex talk, just give me a week to prepare, you shouldn't have to go to a clinic or something when I'm right here--"
"Oh my god!" Lena exclaimed, pulling away forcefully and shaking her head, but she was grinning. "I'm fifteen, just because I've known I'm gay for a little while does not mean I'm having sex with anyone!"
Lillian shrugged diplomatically. "I just want to know you're safe, whatever you're doing."
Lena softened. "Okay," she said. "I'll come to you for the sex talk." Lillian beamed, feeling disproportionately proud about the victory, and Lena made an ick face again. "Just, let's just get it over with okay. Next chess tournament?" Lillian nodded, and Lena looked grossed out. "We're never talking about this again outside of that appointed time, though, to be clear."
"Scouts' honor," Lillian promised, trying not to laugh. "Wait, the gay thing, or the sex thing?"
"The sex thing! Obviously!"
"Had to check," Lillian said, holding her hands up.
"Mooooommm," Lena groaned, and Lillian laughed for real. Lena only ever called her mom when they were really caught up in a moment. Lillian encouraged the distinction in titles. She didn't want Lena forgetting her real mother. That was why she dug up photos and decorated the beach house with them, why she found out what she could about Lena's mother and shared it with her. Lena deserved all that and more.
Lillian's laughter died after a long minute, Lena still grinning against her will, that reluctant smile of hers that was one of Lillian's favorites. Make her smile. That was always the easiest attainable goal she had regarding Lena. Lena knew what she needed better than Lillian. She was always provided for. Lillian fumbled her way around in the dark of the uncharted waters of parenting a child that wasn't technically hers, but that was always the unquenchable lighthouse on the horizon, guiding her way forwards. Lena's laughter always her compass.
"Lena," Lillian said slowly, "I mean it when I say I'll accept and love you as you are. I'll never ask you to change. I'll do whatever you need, be here for you always, but sweetie, you know I can't make it s--"
"I'm not telling Lex and Lionel," Lena said, nodding heavily. "Ever. I just wanted you to know."
Lillian smiled softly. "Thank you for telling me," she whispered. "My grown up girl," she said. "I'm sorry you have to hide this. But I'll do whatever I can."
Lena smiled sadly, leaning into her heavily. "Thanks," she whispered, and Lillian squeezed her tight.
Lillian smiled for real as a wondrous thought occurred to her. "This means I don't have to worry about any more crazy men in the family!"
Lena's laugh echoed down the beach until she cried.
Lillian smiled and watched her as Lena rolled on her back in the sand, doing her best to memorize the moment. She collected these times, held the moments when Lena could act her age without restraint, held them close to her chest like precious pearls. Her most precious possession.
Lionel dies not two weeks after that conversation, and Lillian stood stoic next to Lena, who cried, holding her hand.
Lillian could only summon one emotion, and that was protectiveness over Lena. She glanced at Lex dispassionately, who was staring at the casket with clenched fists, and felt nearly nothing. She was horrified at herself for that, but he was someone different after all these years. Lex had moved out years ago, and was concerning Lillian with every other sentence out of his mouth to boot.
Lena on her other side stood stock still, tears leaking steadily out of her eyes. Lillian squeezed her hand and looked at the casket and felt empty again.
Good riddance of him.
Not that she'd ever tell Lena, who loved him, in a way.
Lena was a nervous but confident sixteen year old headed to MIT, laughing at Lillian still not being any better at cooking despite the decade of cooking shows they had watched in their Coast City beach house. This was their last time in their hideaway the rest of the family never uses before Lillian drove Lena to college tomorrow, and it felt like a stronger kind of love than ever before when Lillian came down the stairs to see her making pancakes for the both of them.
Lillian pushed at Lena with her elbow over pancakes at the table. "You're going to college. We're not keeping track of you so closely. You should let loose, date a girl, take a class in the humanities."
Lena widened her eyes mockingly, her dimples giving her away as she smiled. "Ooh, scandalous," she teased. "I could even take painting."
"Let's not get carried away," Lillian joked, laughing, and Lena grinned. Lena poked at her pancakes, though, and Lillian frowned. "What is it?"
Lena shrugged, shaking her head, and Lillian waited. Lena finally sighed, putting her fork down and her head in her hands. "And if I'm afraid to date a girl?"
Lillian put her fork down too, nonplussed. "Why would you be afraid?"
"Haven't you ever liked someone so much you're afraid of them? Like, they're out of your league?"
"No," Lillian said honestly. "Truthfully, I never did much dating. You know my marriage was practically arranged."
"You've never liked someone?" Lena pried. "Like, really liked someone?" Lillian stopped to think, the last time she'd genuinely felt romantic attraction… well, shit. She was coming up empty. Lena softened, looking at her with something like pity for the first time Lillian had ever known her. "Well," Lena said, thankfully skipping over that topic, "It's scary, okay? And it's doubly scary when it's also a girl, and there are a lot of people out there that don't like it when two girls date, and there are also a lot of people out there who don’t to date a sixteen year old in college."
"Hey," Lillian said automatically, putting a hand on Lena's arm. "You don't have to date if you don't want to, whether it's due to timing or anything else. But don't you dare let what other people think scare you out of it. You are a catch, Lena Luthor. You don't need anyone to tell you that."
Lena gave her a half smile, lopsided. "And if I'm still just…" she gave half a shrug, which Lillian had come to realize was her sign for what Lena had told her was called getting past internalized homophobia.
"Did you know that many other species have homosexual relationships?" Lillian asked matter-of-factly, trying to drown Lena's fears in facts. It had always worked before. Lena raised an eyebrow. "Penguins," Lillian started, and Lena bit back a smile. "Cats," Lillian continued, and Lena suppressed a giggle.
"Okay," Lena said. "I see what you're trying to do, and you're really bad at it, but I appreciate it."
"I thought I was doing well," Lillian said petulantly, as Lena picked up her fork, still giggling. "Made you laugh, anyway." Lena looked up at her, an echo of the shy little girl that came to her a dozen years ago, and Lillian winked. Lena smiled that brilliant smile she so rarely let out, and Lillian's heart squeezed. She was really going to miss this girl. Her other half.
Lena came home for a gala. It was fall break, and she had two days off of class, and she let Lillian bribe her into coming to Coast City for a charity event. Lillian drove and picked her up at the airport late Friday afternoon--Lena had insisted she was flying commercial this time, like a normal college student--in the old car she used to pick Lena up from school in, and went in and waited at the baggage claim, like a normal mom.
Lena emerged into the terminal soon enough, and Lillian felt her chest squeeze in affection. Lena's hair was messy, headphones slung around her neck and skinny jeans and a hoodie, and she looked comfortable in her sneakers, and Lillian's heart sang at the ease on her face. Lena broke into a huge smile at the sight of Lillian, picking up her pace until she reached Lena and slid into a hug readily.
Lillian pulled back, smoothing down Lena's hair with a smile. "You ready?" she asked.
Lena beamed. "Let's go."
They drove around the city in the early evening, Lena's hair longer than Lillian remembered, and got fast food, grinning at each other like they were indulging in some dirty secret. Lena picked up her duffel out of the trunk when they reached their beach house, grinning as Lillian commented how independent she was becoming. Lena was nearly seventeen, and she was growing into her body, her face maturing and her shoulders settling more confidently. They curled into the couch while Lena talked Lillian's ear off over a cooking show all about college and how amazing it was. She got lost down a rabbit hole of celestial bodies and how beautiful they were, and Lillian sat back and watched her gesture excitedly, completely unable to follow but loving watching Lena glow.
"You could have warned me," Lena huffed, sliding up to stand next to Lillian at a high top table.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Lillian said innocently, looking down at her daughter. Lena was positively stunning in a red dress, her hair styled elegantly and her makeup perfect, the result of their Saturday on the town.
"Jack Spheer?" Lena said pointedly.
"Darling, the poor boy can't help it he's in love with you," Lillian said, and Lena huffed again.
"Jack's very nice," Lena said. "I really like him, actually. I just don't like him like that, which you well know."
"I didn't say anything to Jack," Lillian said, and Lena snorted.
"That's sort of the problem. You not objecting seems like encouragement."
"Do you want me to warn him off?"
"No, you'll scare him." Lena stirred her drink--a virgin mojito, Lillian had gotten it for her and Lena had rolled her eyes but accepted it. "I think I'm gonna tell him I'm gay, actually."
Lillian considered this. "Just make sure he won't hurt you is all I ask," she said, and Lena pressed her shoulder into Lillian's.
"He's a good guy," Lena said. "I trust him."
"Okay," Lillian said. "And if he isn't, I'll have him killed."
"Mother!" Lena burst out laughing, and Lillian's chest warmed as she laughed with her. Oh, she had missed this girl. Missed her quirks, missed the way she was open with Lillian, missed the way she wasn't scared of her. Missed her wit at these parties, the way she lit up the room for Lillian. Missed her daughter.
She saw Lena off at the airport with a fake, dramatic show of tears that had Lena laughing, just like when she dropped her off at college. Lena shut the door of the car and blew a kiss through the window, laughing even more when Lillian made a show of catching it and pressing it to her chest. Lillian drove off and pushed away a real tear miserably, chuckling at herself.
Lena was an elegant almost-graduate, and she was refusing to do any travel around the world Lillian came with her, and Lillian looked at this light of her life and thought that her heart might just burst. This girl was all she needed.
They went tto remote locations and big shopping centers and globetrotted in general, leaving gigantic tips and donating to orphanages and every other charity they could find, everywhere they went. They booked out presidential suites and Lena giggled and on her twenty first birthday, spent in Dubai, Lillian gave her a formal lesson in holding her alcohol and not being obsessed by it the way Lionel had been.
Lena went back to MIT after a summer of travel, a healthy tan on her skin, new laugh lines around her eyes, glowing with the excitement of her impending Masters' program.
Lena and Lillian had just hiked up a volcano in New Zealand to celebrate Lena finishing her masters and becoming Luthor Corp's new Assistant Chief of R&D, spent six nights camping under the stars, and Lillian was the happiest she's ever been. They'd been coordinating their workout schedules for the last six months to make sure they could do this, and it had been the most beautiful week of Lillian's life, talking under the stars every night about the deepest of things and laughing themselves silly during their day hikes about anything and everything. Lena had taken up photography, and had taught Lillian the principles in between capturing breathtaking images of the scenery. They had the most beautiful photos the most silly selfies and everything in between and Lillian's heart was so full, full, wonderful.
They stopped in a diner before heading back to their hotel, filthy and grimy and smelling horrible, and the waitress chuckled at the sight of them grinning apologetically but promising a large tip. They were basking in the glow of a successful trip when someone asked to turn on the tv in the corner. And it's Lex.
Lex, going crazy.
The trip was over.
Lillian was interrogated, as was Lena. Lillian's heart ached at the concept of yet another thing she couldn't protect Lena from, but Lena was a woman now, and fully capable of handling herself. Lena had listened intently to her father and his lawyers since she was four. Lena had minored in business. Lena would be fine.
The agent that interrogate them both shook his head. "Are the two of you trying to cover something else? You'll both incriminate Lex to no end but defend each other, and you have a suspiciously perfect alibi?"
"Perhaps he went crazy when he knew both of us were too remote to even hear about him, much less stop him," Lillian snapped, and the agent shrugged.
"Same thing your daughter said."
"Then it should say something we both came to that conclusion while you interrogated us separately."
In the end, only after several more go-rounds, and because there was literally no evidence on either of them, they were let free.
With their assets frozen.
Lena tugged her mud-stained fleece tighter, neither of them having had the chance to do much more than change their under layers and shower. She smiled wryly at Lillian. "Good thing a woman knows how to get around without a man, right?"
And she burst into tears.
"Oh honey," Lillian murmured, and pulledher twenty-two year old not-quite-daughter to her. Right there on the street in front of the FBI building, a million cars and passersby, the pair of them still somewhat dirty, in full view of over a dozen cameras.
Lionel would be furious.
Lillian held Lena tighter, the pair of them defiant.
Lillian talked Lena through the takeover. She was always in the back of Lena's ear, but firmly stepped down from all her positions at Luthor Corp when Lena was tapped to take over. Lena was always on the verge of panicking, but Lillian refused to be there, stubbornly believing in her daughter. "You'll win them over as yourself," Lillian insisted. "And I won't have someone accusing you of corruption keeping me in there. I'm still your biggest supporter."
She did wonderfully.
Lillian was on the phone with her daughter, enjoying the sound of her voice as she sat on the deck of their Coast City beach house. "What's with the smile in your voice?" Lillian finally asked. "I haven't heard you this happy since New Zealand."
"I sort of… met someone," Lena admitted, her voice nervous over the phone.
"Oh?" Lillian glanced down to find she was literally at the edge of her seat. "Like a girl someone?"
"Maybe," Lena admitted, shy. Lillian waited, and Lena sighed, long-suffering, down the line. "It's not like that, okay. At least, not yet. But I really like her. I like being around her."
"Do I know this her?" Lillian asked.
"You might, actually," Lena said. "She's the reporter that's been covering me."
"Covering you or covering you?" Lillian asked, unable to help herself, and Lena groaned.
"That doesn't even make sense," she said over Lillian's chuckles. "I know you were trying to make a dirty joke, but it didn't even work."
"I'll have to try again," Lillian promised, smiling big at Lena's dramatic groans. "But she's the reporter? The one who gave you a fair shake on the alien detection device?"
"Yeah," Lena said, sounding a little distracted now. "I actually scrapped that. She brought up some good points while interviewing me. So, her article is moot now, but," she rustled some papers on the other side of the line, and Lillian guessed she was finding the article again. "We'll end up in the right spot."
"I'm sure you will," Lillian promised.
"Thanks," Lena said softly, and Lillian was reminded with a pang that her brother was in prison, that Lena had been so close to his madness for so long, that Lillian couldn’t protect her from traumas past. "I'm visiting you next week," Lillian announced abruptly.
"What's the occasion? You were just here two weeks ago," Lena said, sounding more amused than anything.
"Do I need an excuse to see my daughter?"
"Never," Lena promised, instantly, and Lillian smiled. She might check up on this reporter Lena liked so much. She might visit Lex in prison, just to be sure he was still there. She might see National City, and see if there were somewhere closer she could hang out, just so seeing Lena wasn't such a hassle. Lena was chattering away on the line, telling Lillian not to dare call a car, Lena would pick her up, CEO high-flying status be damned, and how'd they go get fast food. Lillian felt warmth expand in her chest. They'd take silly pictures the way they always did, and all the damage men had inflicted upon their past would be forgotten for a little while.
But the important thing, what was always the important thing, was making sure that her girl was okay.