Lena was not having a good day—granted, in her life, good days had always been something of a rarity (in other words, they were more scarce than even Lillian's more backhanded shows of ‘approval’), but still—this one easily took the cake for one of the worst days she’d had in a long while.
(Speaking of, cake did sound rather tempting right now…)
Her eyelids had fluttered open about an hour ago, the cold and gloomy cage around her coming slowly into focus, her small pale hands struggling to move exactly the way she wished them to, her balance so incredibly hard to maintain when she finally managed to stand on shaky legs in the tiny space—she could feel her jet-black hair brushing against the hard unforgiving metal above her as tears burned in her wide green eyes and she cautiously observed her surroundings, unable to stop the occasional sniffle from escaping her terrified body.
There was a big dark-haired man sitting a short walk away, looking completely at ease as he leaned further back into his seat and took another oversized bite from the fast-food cheeseburger in his gloved hands, a big black gun strapped to his waist that shone in the dim lighting.
Lena bit her lip even as she could feel her stomach growl—she knew better than to want that kind of food, the ones she saw all the other kids her age eating: burgers and french fries and pizza and noodles. Lillian had strictly forbidden such things from her very first day at the Luthor Mansion, and she found out very quickly that Lillian was not the sort of person you disobeyed. Ever.
She remembers one day in particular, because it’d been one of her first days of American kindergarten, and by all accounts, the whole thing had ended rather poorly once Lillian had gotten involved. It had all begun when one of her new friends, Sam (her only friend, really), had offered to share some of her food during afternoon snack time.
After taking a quick look back at the lunch Lillian had had the staff at Luthor Mansion pack her for the day (celery sticks, a small bottle of water from some ridiculously expensive company, and a glass tupperware of something Lex had called ‘kale’ along with a spotless silver fork that probably cost more than Lena’s entire outfit), she’d readily agreed, already eyeing the grilled cheese and french fries and chocolate milk in Sam’s Superman lunchbox with eager anticipation.
They turned out to be some of the best things she’d ever tasted: the pre-melted cheese between two buttery slices of toasted bread, the crunchy fries practically exploding with flavor and the smallest hint of salt in her mouth, the bordering-on too-sweet flavor of the syrupy chocolate milk on her tongue—she found herself wondering briefly if Lex had ever tried something like this, since it seemed Lillian would never allow such a thing at the Mansion, if he had even the slightest clue of just how good food could be.
After the school day ended, she’d been driven home in the same shiny black car that had dropped her off that morning, her tiny belly feeling full and warm even as the uneaten celery and kale shifted this way and that in her new sleek matte-painted lunchbox. She hadn’t been thinking about the fact that she’d have to set her lunchbox on the counter to be cleaned once she walked through the door, that Lillian might witness its entirely untouched contents (she’d been around quite a lot since Lena had moved in a few months ago—and not out of motherly care, like the young girl had originally hoped, but rather, out of unmitigated suspicion towards her), and then demand an answer as to why Lena hadn’t eaten her prepared lunch for the day.
But it was only Lena's first week at kindergarten (and her second month with the Luthors), so she was therefore none the wiser as she shuffled inside the house with a downturned gaze (careful not to show the giddiness blooming in her chest) and bit her bottom lip in concentration while getting on her tippie-toes to carefully place the metal container on the glossy marble countertop just next to the spotless white sink, which she knew would make it easiest for the nice chef (she didn’t know the tall man’s name yet, but she was determined to find out—he always smiled so kindly at her in a way that made his soft brown eyes crinkle at the edges) to see when he came to cook dinner in the next couple of hours.
Thankfully, Lillian was nowhere to be seen. Yet.
Satisfied, 4-year-old Lena, after slipping off her simple black ballet flats and placing them neatly next to the door (just how Lillian liked it), padded off towards the parlour to start her homework.
(To tell the truth, she’d already finished the addition and subtraction tables for tomorrow and the next day’s homework; but one of the very nice teachers, after seeing how quickly she’d finished the worksheets even while the other kids struggled, had given her multiplication and division while no one else was looking, winking at her secretively and telling her to bring them back once she’d finished.)
She breezed through the multiplication with her lucky No. 2 pencil (there was actually nothing all that special about the yellow wooden writing implement capped with a bright pink eraser, besides the fact that Lex had given it to her) and was nearly finished with the division (she was on 81 ÷ 9) when Lillian came striding purposefully into the carpeted room, thin lips pursed and cold blue eyes blazing with disapproval even as she stood dressed impeccably in a perfectly-pressed black pencil skirt and matching long-sleeved coat over a starch white dress shirt, not a single strand of hair out of place in her immaculate no-nonsense bun.
In her white-knuckled grip she held Lena’s shiny black lunchbox.
Lena’s heart sank.
“Lena,” she said icily, her figure positively towering over the small girl where she sat cross-legged on the carpet.
Lena felt her lucky pencil beginning to tremble in her grip. “Yes, Ma’am?” she managed to squeak, shuddering involuntarily as memories of a bruising iron grip around her wrist began to surface from when she’d last made the mistake of forgetting to address Lillian by her proper title—Thank God she’d remembered this time.
Lillian scoffed, a deft hand moving swiftly to undo the latch of the container, features twisted in a scowl as she swung the lid open to present the perfectly intact contents within to a wide-eyed Lena. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I, um—" the girl stuttered, trying to gain control of her words as Lillian glared. “My friend Sam didn’t want all of her lunch today, so we shared,” she finished weakly, praying desperately she wouldn’t be punished even as Lillian’s frosty scowl deepened.
“What do you mean you 'shared’ ?” Lillian sneered, practically spitting out the last word, her gaze narrowing even further.
Lena gulped. “We, uh—We—"
“Stop stuttering, you useless girl,” Lillian snapped.
“Y-Yes, Ma’am,” Lena replied meekly, her cheeks flushed. “It’s just that Sam gave me the other half of her sandwich, and some of her french fries—“
Lillian’s eyes flashed suddenly with rage, prompting Lena to immediately stop talking. “French fries ?” the woman practically hissed, her gaze almost murderous.
“I only had two!” Lena scrambled to fix her slip, big green eyes practically pleading with Lillian not to be angry. “I promise.”
“Your promises mean nothing to me,” she retorted coldly—Lena felt her shoulders hunch. “Now,” she continued after a brief pause. “What else?”
Lena’s fingers twitched. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t lie to me, girl,” Lillian practically growled, lurching menacingly forwards even as Lena flinched where she sat. “What else did you and this ‘Sam,’ ” she spat out her friend’s name with clear disdain, “‘share' for lunch?”
“Just chocolate milk,” Lena whimpered. “That’s it.”
Lillian’s regal jaw clenched. “‘Just chocolate milk,’” she mocked, shaking her head with a scoff. “You’re even more of a disappointment than I originally thought.”
Lena felt tears beginning to burn in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, you’re ‘sorry,’ now, are you?” Lillian chuckled dangerously, her brow furrowing as a tear traced down Lena’s round pale cheek. “Luthors don’t cry, you mindless wench,” she said, coming quickly closer to Lena and yanking her upwards by the wrist despite the girl’s resultant yelp of discomfort. “And despite my very best efforts to convince Lionel otherwise, you are now one of us.” By then, she’d begun to violently drag a sniffling Lena towards the sculpted marble staircase, leaving the girl’s dark green backpack and unfinished division worksheets sitting messily on the floor of the parlour—then, after practically shoving the unbalanced girl up onto the stark marble steps and ignoring her cry of pain as her cheek connected sharply with the hard edges of the unforgiving alabaster stone, she finally spat: “Act like it.”
And with that, she turned promptly to leave, heels echoing loudly on the polished stone floor as 4-year-old Lena clutched her throbbing cheek with one hand and wiped helplessly at her tears with the other, the marble steps digging uncomfortably into her spine as she sobbed.
So no, Lena thought as she forcibly pulled herself from the painful memory, rolling her eyes at the man sitting lazily in his seat and wolfing down the last bite of his greasy burger just a handful of feet away from her cage, she wouldn’t be making that mistake again. Ever.
Food could wait.
And although she still didn't quite understand what was happening (she thinks she was 9 or maybe 10 years old, by the looks of things), she cursed herself for being so foolishly surprised when the rusty door of the abandoned warehouse (at least, she thinks that’s what that place was) swung open to reveal none other than her adoptive mother, her appearance as immaculate as ever (dressed in expensive black slacks without a single wrinkle and a tan knee-length trench coat) as she eyed Lena dismissively in her cage before striding purposefully over to address the sloppy man who’d only just finished his cheeseburger, having discarded the wrapping by throwing it somewhere over his shoulder into the shadowy darkness.
And yet, it was all rather confusing for Lena—because while yes, it did make quite a great deal of sense that Lillian would be behind her less-than-ideal situation, there also seemed to be something missing. Something big.
For starters, Lillian looked older. Too much older.
Lena had just seen her memories from kindergarten (as best as she could recall), and there was no way her adoptive mother had aged so quickly in 5 years (give or take), no matter how satisfying it was to speculate that maybe karma had finally caught up with her for all the hell she’d managed to put Lena through in the past decade or so.
No, there was no ‘karma’ in this life, and certainly not a ‘God’—at least, not as far as Lena was concerned.
Lena knows she’s not perfect, but she never understood what kind of God allows parents to make kids bleed, to call them ‘fat' and ‘ugly’ and ’stupid,' to make them feel so unwanted that they wish for death even when their life has only just begun.
Sometimes, though, Lena thinks that that might just be her karma, because her real mother was strong and kind and warm and Lena, stupid Lena, just as good as killed her on that fateful day at the beach because she’d been so bloody useless.
So actually, Lena isn’t quite sure if there is a God—sometimes she catches herself thinking that maybe He (or She) really does exist, even as she knows very well that such a celestial being would stay as far away from her and the Luthors as possible… and for good reason, too.
So maybe God exists for other people, for good people—but Lena’s quite sure that God doesn’t exist for Luthors.
Consequentially, Lillian’s unexplainable aging definitely couldn’t be karma, or a sort of divine intervention for her never-ending cruelty—no, the abundance of premature wrinkles and too-stiff movements must have meant something else, because Lena was absolutely certain that God abandoned the lot of them years ago.
Something was wrong, and it had nothing to do with a higher power; of that, Lena was certain.
And to further her suspicion, she didn’t understand why she was locked in a cage, and why that cage was trapped in a dark and creaky old warehouse.
Sure, Lillian had never liked her, but this—she didn’t do this.
She slapped Lena around the house occasionally, or banned her from the kitchens for meals, or mocked her relentlessly for every and any fault she could find with the young Irish-born girl, but there’d never been need for anything so drastic as an actual kidnapping.
Though, Lena thought briefly. Is it kidnapping if it’s your own family?
She wasn't sure.
The point was, Lillian had never been this cruel, or this dramatic. What’s more, the timeline just didn’t quite add up.
And to make things even more puzzling, Lena felt strange… as if she shouldn’t have been a child.
But that was utterly preposterous, wasn’t it?
It’s not as if Lena could remember being an adult, or a teenager, or anything older than 8 or 9 years old… no, it made all the sense in the world that she was still an over-achieving and unnaturally intelligent child, because that was exactly how things should have been.
Except something in her brain was telling her that she hadn’t been that young for a very long time, even as she knew she was being positively absurd for even thinking it.
She misses Lex. She needed him right now—needed him to explain what was happening, to tell her everything was going to be okay, to smile that warm crooked smile of his down at her so she could finally breathe—
She was pulled away from her thoughts as the steady click of Lillian’s sleek black heels grew closer, and her scared green eyes locked with the cold blue of her approaching mother’s, who was looking at her with the faintest hint of a smile, the kind she only ever reserved for Lex.
Lena had never felt so lost in her life as she trembled under her adoptive mother’s familiar cutting gaze.
“Lena,” Lillian addressed her when she was standing just a foot or two away, looking down condescendingly at Lena over the bridge of her angular nose. “How are you feeling, darling?”
Am I dreaming? she thought. I have to be dreaming. This can’t be real, I—
Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud crash! that caused Lena to flinch violently in her cage, whimpering as her head collided painfully with the metal bars just above.
Shutting her eyes in fear, she vaguely registered the sound of Lillian hissing out a curse before the erratic clacking sound of her heels retreated somewhere off into the distance behind Lena’s crouched and shaking figure, presumably to make her hasty escape—Lena didn’t bother being offended that her adoptive mother hadn’t tried to take her with; honestly, she’d probably have been a heck of a lot more surprised if she had.
Meanwhile, Lena allowed herself to curl even further within herself, flinching with every loud clang! and the muffled grunts of pain (which she assumed were from the Burger Man), though she found her ears perking up somewhat when they heard a couple distinct whooshing noises as if someone was… flying?
Now Lena was sure she was imagining things.
Eyes squeezed tightly shut, she clutched her thin shaking arms around herself, the bars of the cage digging almost painfully into her back as the sounds of violence persisted through the abandoned space.
Am I going to die now? she wondered briefly—she didn’t know whether to be grateful or just sad that the thought didn’t scare her all that much.
She was pulled jarringly back to reality as the sounds of conflict raged on around her, only worsening the fear beginning to build in her chest.
“Please,” she heard Burger Man say in a heavily strained tone after a sickening noise of skin hitting skin, like he’d just been sucker-punched.
The assailant (Lena assumed) just growled, the sound sending shivers down Lena’s spine. “Where is Lillian Luthor?” the steely voice demanded, distinctly feminine and very pissed off (Lillian had refused her meals for two days when she’s last used that “crass" phrase, but it felt good to defy her in the safety of Lena’s mind, where she knew Lillian would never see). “Where is Lena?” the woman snarled when Burger Man didn’t answer her first question.
That settles it, she thought faintly, not daring to open her eyes. I’m definitely going to die now.
She didn’t know how to feel about the relief that curled in her belly even amidst the paralyzing fear at the prospect of dying—kids weren’t supposed to want death, she knew; she was supposed to want to live.
Lena didn’t see it, obviously, but Burger Man must have pointed the woman in her direction, or at least gestured towards her somehow, because seconds later the girl’s ears were filled with a large whoosh! as a wall of cool air washed over her, which only caused her full-body shuddering to worsen.
The next time the feminine voice spoke, it was inches from Lena’s cage.
“Lena?” it asked her, suddenly soft and gentle (no trace of the untapped anger and aggression from before) even as she jumped at the sound.
There was a familiarity there, something like friendship delicately underlying those soft words—it almost seemed as if the woman knew her, even as Lena was sure that there was no possible way, because she’d never had a friend like that, a person who would save her and keep her safe.
“Lena,” the woman repeated again, a kind of sadness tinging her tone. “Please open your eyes?”
There was a voice in Lena’s brain telling her that she could trust the woman, which was stupid, because she was quite sure she’d never trusted anyone but her mom—her real mom—in her entire life.
No, people liked to hurt her, she’d found: Lillian, Lionel (though he was kind enough when he wasn’t drinking), even Lex, although her adoptive older brother had quickly become her favorite person on the planet.
Somehow, though, she couldn’t quite fight that voice within her saying that this was safe, that she didn’t have to be afraid right now, even as unforgiving memory carved deep into her bones positively screamed otherwise.
She opened her eyes.
The woman was crouched down, and not really a woman at all—she looked to be about 28 or so, with beautiful long curls of golden blonde hair and sea-blue eyes that glimmered like stars, a wide reassuring grin stretched across her pinkish lips.
Lena’s eyes widened when she took in the beautiful young woman’s attire: sturdy blue material closely hugging her well-built frame, a red skirt reaching about mid-thigh that matched crimson knee-high boots and a long flowing cape on her shoulders, and at the very center of it all, a diamond-shaped red insignia with an S-shaped crest displayed proudly on her chest, exactly like the ones Lex doodled all the time in his extensive research on Kryptonians—this woman was a Super.
“Hello,” the Super blonde woman said, her blue-eyed gaze soft and inviting even as every one of Lena’s better instincts screamed for her to run. “Do you remember me?”
Lena’s brow furrowed. Now she was even more confused.
Slowly, she shook her head.
At that, the Super looked… disappointed? There was a small crinkle formed between her brows, the tiniest hint of a pout on pert pink lips as she looked down at Lena in her cage.
“Uh—Okay,” the Super stuttered, then cleared her throat audibly, shaking her head as she recovered. “That’s okay. My name’s Kara. Let’s get you out of this cage, huh?”
Lena wasn’t quite sure what else to do, so she just nodded wordlessly, far too scared to speak.
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