It’s not like— it’s not like you mean to listen.
It’s not like you wake up in the morning and think, okay, which nearby human bodily processes would make the best soundtrack to breakfast today. It’s just that it’s very hard not to listen, what with the yellow sun powers and the superhearing and the way you can’t lead-line your ears like you have your eyes.
Earth is incessant. Dogs yapping and reality shows blaring and car engines whirring. Intercoms buzzing and incinerators burning and shoots pushing up through the soil.
And that’s without even touching on the humans themselves. Each one a symphony, a cacophony in their own right; cleared throats and wet swallows and varying levels of digestive turbulence that you’d really rather not be privy to.
And the heartbeats, Rao. The heartbeats. Arrival on this planet had been akin to arrival at a drum and bass gig only to find they’d locked the doors and forgotten the bass; just seven billion drummers playing their own individual tempos relentlessly in your ears for the rest of your life.
It’s a good thing you’d learned focus, concentration, compartmentalisation, as quickly as you had. Otherwise you might have had to spend the rest of your earthly existence with Jeremiah’s industrial spec noise-cancelling earmuffs clamped over your skull.
It’s still tiring. It’s irritating. It’s work, constantly, to not be driven mad by it all.
But every so often, your powers grant you enjoyment of a moment so beautiful, so incomparable, that all the other noise seems worth it. The way Alex’s heartrate trips the night she introduces you to her first girlfriend, the way Maggie presses a hand to her back and a kiss to her cheek and you get to hear your sister fall in love. The sound of that tiny heartbeat inside Lois’ belly, far earlier than an ultrasound could ever detect it; the gift of the knowledge that Kal is about to become a father, that you’re about to become an aunt.
And sometimes, rarer still, it’s not a moment but a person that makes it all worthwhile.
First it was Eliza and the way her steady pulse never faltered as she rocked you through panic attacks, through night terrors, through a culture shock so profound you sometimes wished Krypton’s combustion had detonated you as well.
Then it was Alex, and the home encased by rib and flesh that her heartbeat came to represent. The message encrypted in each contraction of cardiac muscle; a Morse code thudding out through the ether to remind you that no matter how bleak it gets, you are not alone.
And then, more intense, more unanticipated, and infinitely more devastating, it was Lena.
It caught you that very first day, as surely as green eyes and red lips and who are you, exactly?
The sound of her heart isn’t markedly different from anyone else’s, not really. The variations between human heartbeats, you’ve learned, are minimal. Indistinguishable without close study and extended exposure.
It’s not that she is a sudden concerto in a city ripe with elevator muzak. It’s more that she’s— unusual. Unexpected.
She’s a mess of contradictions. She addresses you and your cousin with more dignity and poise than you’ve ever encountered in someone of her tender years, yet her arching brow and steady hands belie the adrenaline-spiked thudding of the pulse at her throat. Her tone is unshakeable authority as she addresses a crowd baying for her blood but you hear the stuttering breath she sucks in before she begins, not meant for anyone’s ears but her own.
Her composure, her mask of equanimity is so complete, so impenetrable, that were it not for your superhuman senses you might wonder if she were the one with preternatural abilities.
It fascinates you, the dual stories she tells. The unruffled façade she presents to the world, defences fortified around that most private part of her that is anxious and unsure and real. The part that most people would go home at night and reveal to their families, their loved ones but which, at least as far as you can tell, she never shares with another living soul.
All humans have their disguises but you’ve never before encountered one so well-executed, so captivating as this.
It makes you want to crack through. To strip down and lay bare, not with the intention to wound but rather to soothe. To assuage.
Maybe it’s because of all that, the act and the mystery and the intrigue, that her heartbeat calls to you so. Or maybe her pulse just is that little bit sweeter, that little bit lovelier than everyone else’s.
You’d ask Kal to confirm, but you doubt he’d share the sentiment.
All you know is, it sticks in your head and simultaneously in your chest, hooking in deep behind your sternum. All you know is, hers is one pulse out of the thousands in this city that you’d like to tune into, not out of.
All you know is, it, she, this— it’s going to be important.
You, and her, and her heartbeat, and all the things it can tell you that she never will.
It’s there the first day this thing between you really begins.
That’s what convinces you to stay, actually. When you’ve already overstepped and intruded and nervously rambled about the appetisers at Noonan’s, when your sister texts her cancellation and you’re ready to walk away and give yourself a resounding pep talk on respecting other people’s boundaries regardless of how pretty they may be, that’s what seals the deal.
It’s Kara, of course, your name so sweet from her lips, and don’t be ridiculous, you can’t eat all those apps on your own and then, hesitant and unsure, why don’t you join me?
All of this sways you. But the real clincher is the way Lena’s heartrate ticks up in her chest, fluttering fast as a hummingbird’s.
“Really?” you ask because God knows you’ve already encroached enough and you don’t want Lena, polite courteous Lena, to be cornered into a pity lunch because you can’t take a hint.
But her heartrate ticks up again and it’s not irritation or frustration, you can tell. It’s nerves, and you almost want to laugh out loud because this woman is afraid that somehow you will say no to her.
You hadn’t then, and you haven’t been able to since.
So you sit down across from her and you crack a couple terrible jokes and she smiles at you soft and shy as she tucks her hair behind one ear with a tremble imperceptible to the human eye.
Slowly, as your puns worsen and her wine glass empties, she starts to relax. The hard set of her jaw unlatches; some of the guardedness drains from her eyes. The quick pulls of her breathing lengthen and ease and the anxious quiver in her ribcage finally begins to abate.
She infects you, with her quiet words and her loud laugh and the delicate way she holds her fork to spear a stuffed jalapeño from your plate that you absolutely insist she tries.
If you’d been wiser then, if you’d been paying attention to anything outside of the way the tip of her tongue presses against her teeth when she wants to laugh but seems to catch herself halfway, as though she’s afraid to be happy or, worse, afraid to be seen being happy— that would have been it.
If you’d taken heed, if you’d taken any kind of notice at all, you would have realised that that was the moment you were well and truly fucked.
With time, with practice, it becomes something of a barometer. A makeshift gauge against which to measure her comfort, her tolerance. To assess how much more she can take.
As your friendship blossoms as surely as affection for her blooms in your marrow, you find yourself returning over and over again to the thrum of her pulse.
You can tell from the tempo of that beat – now slower, now faster again – when your distractions have crossed the line from welcome to irritating. When your gentle teasing is necessary, or when it hits too close to home. When she needs to be left alone, and when she really shouldn’t be.
When it’s too much, or – sometimes, rarely – when it’s not enough.
It’s a yardstick of her personal space. You watch her, carefully. Listen as you approach. Slow your pace when your proximity sets off a samba in her chest and back off until it calms. Distinguish that from other occasions, from the heavy pounding of want, of need, closing the space between you to envelop her in your arms.
You’re always watching. Always listening, adjusting. Figuring out how much of what is hers you can comfortably occupy.
You come to rely on it as you stretch into uncharted waters with her and you have to say, your keen observation pays off. With you, Lena softens. With you, she drops the veneer of perfection, of strength and independence and unwavering resilience.
She is all of those things, of course. She never ceases to be. Strong and independent and resilient and perfect. But with you, slowly, she no longer has to be. No longer has to keep reasserting herself to make sure you don’t, can’t, forget it.
She can have bad days. Days when her mother disowns her or her first love dies or the city turns against her all over again. Days when she doesn’t have to raise her chin and soldier on. Days when being Lena Luthor is too heavy of a mantle to bear and instead she can just be Lena, shaking and small and hiccupping sobs into the shoulder of your Catco cardigan.
And in return, you can be Kara. Not a Super. Not the last daughter of the great House of El. Not even a Danvers. You’re Kara, just Kara, and she makes you feel like that’s enough. Like maybe, beneath the compounding layers of legacy and guilt and responsibility and pain, it always has been.
She gives you a soft place to fall.
And you so desperately want, you so desperately try to do the same for her. That’s where her heartbeat comes in, you suppose. That’s where you try to divine what she needs even when she can’t find the words herself.
That’s what you trust when her walls come up and she shuts you out. That’s what you follow even when her tongue cuts sharp and her mouth screams leave and her eyes whisper everyone always does.
Because beneath all her bluster and bravado her heart thuds quick and terrified against her ribs and you know it won’t quiet in your absence, won’t calm in the wake of your reluctant retreat.
Because you know it will steady in the circle of your arms, once she’s exhausted her weak attempts to push you away and collapsed shuddering into your lap, once her breathing settles enough that she can hear the caresses and affirmations and promises you whisper into her hair.
Because her heart says it even when her mind, her mouth, her pride, won’t.
Because her heart says stay.
It helps you save her life.
It helps you do other things, too. Things like reminding your friends not to yell too loudly at game night because you’ve seen the way she flinches at the sound, or switching away from news coverage of her brother before her blood pressure soars to critical levels, or figuring out that she really wants Greek food even though she says Indian is fine.
But, well. The whole saving-her-life thing is kind of a big one.
The first time is basically a fluke. You happen to be flying over L-Corp on your way back to work, just happen to focus your hearing down as you pass, only to pick up the frenetic beat of Lena’s heart almost pounding out of her chest.
A quick burst of x-ray vision grants you the nauseating visual of a man charging straight at her with a baseball bat and you’re there before he can even wind up for a swing, splintering the bat in your grip and knocking him unconscious into the wall.
When you turn she’s staring at you wide-eyed, chest heaving, fingers glued to the silent alarm beneath her desk even as her mouth drops open. Because, of course, she doesn’t know you. Not this you, red and blue and alien and apart.
You stick around long enough to double check your initial assessment that she’s unhurt, to make sure her security team don’t accidentally shoot her when they eventually come busting through the door. And then you leave, and you chalk the whole thing up to another successful day.
So, the first time you get lucky. After that, though—
It’s not like you needed any more of a reason to listen out, check in, but this gives you one anyway.
It becomes habitual, the way one may periodically check a wristwatch. You widen the net of your superhearing, cast it out then cinch it in toward that one specific beat. Listen to its cadence, its rhythm. Compare it to your own to assess its normalcy, its inherent assertion that she’s still okay, she’s fine.
You’ve done this with Alex, on occasion. Once upon a time you did it with James. But never this frequently, never this consistently. Never before has this scratch through your veins, this obsessive need to reassert that that one specific heart is still beating, been quite this strong.
It’s a good thing too, as it turns out. It’s this habit that allows you to intercept her crash course with the ground as she plummets from yet another balcony. It’s this that has your cape whipping out and round her body, shielding her from bullets released from their chambers while you were still halfway across the city. From bullets aimed to kill.
So, it can’t be a bad thing. It can’t be a problem; can’t constitute a habit you should really try to break rather than feed. Without it, Lena would be dead.
And so her pulse becomes the soundtrack to your life. And in the deepest darkest recesses of your heart, the sick and secret fear begins to burgeon that when one stops, the other will too.
You’re half right, as it turns out. In only the most hyperbolic sense, of course, but still.
It’s part of what breaks you.
When the two of you implode, as you were always bound to—
When the wrecking ball of your deception slams through the gossamer threads you’ve spent years weaving between her heart and yours, leaving you untethered; when your secrets and lies spill onto the ice at her feet like a knife to a waterskin— the things she doesn’t say cut deeper than the things she does.
For a start, the very fact that she had managed to lie to you all these weeks, to keep up the charade of your friendship without any part of her affect betraying how she was playing you, scores a wound into you more savagely than you care to admit.
Upon closer examination, once home again and crying messily into the throw pillow that still smells faintly of her perfume, you think it’s the fact that she remained so unaffected by it all that hurts the most. That she could lie to you and manipulate you and deceive you and nothing about her gave it away. Her jaw didn’t clench, her breathing didn’t quicken, her damn heart didn’t miss a beat.
It, you, are just that unimportant to her.
But in the Fortress, once her composure cracks down the centre and she cries and condemns and accuses, her pulse echoes in your ears even more loudly than her screams.
The way her heart thunders in her chest, the ragged heave of her breathing that attests to the hatred bubbling up like sulphur in her throat; it makes you sick to your stomach to hear it.
Because she does— she does hate you.
Isn’t that what it is, this heavy throb of blood through her veins as she stares you down? This staccato gunfire behind her ribs as her lip curls and she spits poison at you till you’re both desecrated?
Isn’t that what it means? Isn’t that the source of all this heat between you?
When she leaves you, encased in Kryptonite-laced ice and sobbing – when she steals from you in order to attempt a crime of which you thought she’d never be capable – it’s not your heartbeat that’s left pounding away in your ears. It’s hers.
It’s part of what breaks you. But it’s part of what saves you, too.
When everything you’ve built collapses into ashes and agony, when you’re starting to believe that you’ll never have her again, that she is yet another in your long list of unwilling goodbyes—
When her cold demeanour and colder eyes, the icy hiss of her tone and impervious indifference of her expression tell you to turn away for good, that there’s no coming back from this— there’s her heartbeat again, whispering for you to wait. For you to stay.
She feigns apathy. She arches a condescending brow at your presence, impassive and unimpressed and she’s trying to make you believe that you mean nothing to her. She’s succeeding.
But beneath it all there’s a tell she’s not yet mastered, one dead giveaway not yet beaten into submission. Beneath her callous disdain and unblinking stare her heart trips out a timorous crescendo in her chest and that’s it. The chink in her armour. The barest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Because despite what you’re sure are her best efforts, she is not unaffected by this. By you. She still feels for you, however negatively, and while there is feeling there is hope.
So her heartbeat is not what fixes that which is shattered between you. But it is what convinces you to stick around and fix it yourself.
In the wake of it all, in the pale grey dawn of a new day for you both, you promise each other honesty. No more secrets, no more lies, nothing hidden between you.
You keep to it, for the most part.
On your side at least, there’s nothing left to conceal. There’s nothing you wouldn’t tell if she asked, nothing you wouldn’t do if she needed it.
And as for her, well. You’re not a mind reader. She could be lying to you still, but you doubt that she is. The year of distance and pain and deceit between you rattled her to her core, that much is plain. You doubt she would (you hope, you pray she wouldn’t) risk it again.
And whatever her mind might remain reticent to divulge, her heart tends to give away.
She doesn’t ask for comfort but when it’s offered, she clings to you like one or both of you might perish if she doesn’t. She doesn’t tell you she misses you but her hands fist tight into the fabric of your hoodie upon your reunion, fluttering pulse slowing to a comfortable thrum the longer you’re in each other’s presence.
And she doesn’t overtly flirt, never explicitly addresses this tension that’s mounting, that’s thickening the air you share. But she still presses into you like she wants to pitch a tent in your bones, from which to watch the bonfire she’s lit in your veins.
And it is mounting, inexorably so, this magnetism between you. This amorphous pull that’s been there from the beginning but that feels increasingly irresistible in the aftermath of the very real possibility of losing one another completely.
You don’t dare act on it.
The ties that bind you to Lena were already undone once by your hand. You’re still on shaky ground, not sure enough yet of the strength of your repaired bond to dare test its capacity to bear weight.
And though you trust her heart to tell you things that she may never vocalise, you can’t extend that faith to this. With this, there can be no doubt. Only action taken in confidence, in certainty.
You will not risk it, this, her, again. Not on anything less than a sure thing.
Her heartbeat may still be the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard.
You’ve experienced it every which way now, in every superlative shade of emotional intensity, and you must admit you have your favourites.
Like the slight skip in its rhythm in the split second after she makes a risqué and deliciously funny joke at game night, the thrill of anticipation in the moment before it’s met with raucous laughter.
Like the way her heart’s jagged pounding, whether from stress or exhaustion or barely restrained corporate wrath, will quiet and slow the moment her eyes meet yours across a crowded room.
And like now, like the way her pulse is gentle and steady in sleep, the softness of its rolling tempo undulating through the peaks and valleys of her dreams.
It’s just another sleepover. They’re frequent now, and welcome. You probably spend more nights together than you do apart.
Lena never articulates the way her apartment, always vast, is cavernous now with the loss of every last member of her family, however heinous they may have been. And in turn, you never tell her that in the wake of the crisis, in the shadow of those months spent with nothing and no one to return to, your own home feels void and desolate now whenever you inhabit it alone.
Neither of you ever say it. You don’t think you really need to.
You just show up at her place, or at her place to bring her to your place. You plod through your nightly routines side by side, and you can’t deny that it sparks a little thrill through you to be included in this. To be the one to see her shed each layer of CEO armour until she’s cosy and soft and warm at your kitchen island, oversized glasses slipping down her nose. To sit at opposite ends of the couch and type companionably on your respective laptops until one or the other of you cracks and coerces the other to come to bed.
She has a guest bedroom, but you don’t. Not on a reporter’s salary. So you start in one bed when she stays at yours the first time, and the topic never comes up when you switch apartments.
You just crawl into whichever bed is easiest that night, her on the left and you on the right, and drift off to sleep.
She’d been especially tired tonight. Something about a crisis in accounting and some last minute corporate backstabbing during the finalisation of an important merger. For once, she’d been the one to prod your thigh with her toes across the couch cushions and tilt her head toward your waiting bed, wiggling until you’d encircled her ankle with thumb and forefinger to tickle mercilessly at her sole.
She’d sped through her night-time regimen – you’d let her have first dibs on the bathroom, you’re nice like that – and you emerge from your shower to find her already asleep with the light still on, quarterly reports spread haphazardly across the comforter.
You stifle a chuckle so as not to disturb her, collecting up her papers and brushing an errant curl back from her face. You linger a moment, not long enough to border on creepy, but just sufficient to feel the warm swell of gratitude in your heart that you still have this. That, after everything, you still have her.
You flick off the lamp and slide beneath the comforter on your side, the stresses of the day sighing out of you. You reach across the darkness to where one of her arms stretches toward you on the mattress. Wrap your fingers lightly in the sleeve of her – your, long since appropriated – sleep hoodie, anchoring your bodies ever so delicately together the way you’ve had to every night since you got her back. Every night since you almost lost her.
Head heavy, fingers grasping at this point of warm contact between you, you let the easy beat of her heart soothe you into unconsciousness.
You can’t say what wakes you.
It isn’t a threat. There’s no sound or light, no disturbance at all. One moment you’re asleep and the next you’re simply not; one of those dream-like transitions that feels just as restful as the slumber you’ve left behind.
It’s still pitch black in your room, still late. Or early, depending on one’s perspective. Lena is still there, peaceful and still at your side. Her fingers have unclenched, the pads tickling the sensitive skin of your wrist where you’ve shuffled closer to her unconsciously, where you’re still holding onto her sleeve.
You shift a little, flexing your fingers to circle her wrist gently, to feel as well as hear the rhythmic thudding of her pulse as she sleeps. But at the movement her heartrate changes, ticking upward just slightly with the increased contact.
Your brow furrows. “Lena?” you whisper into the blackness between you.
She doesn’t answer. She doesn’t react at all. Her breathing continues, steady and slow, a usual marker of deep unconsciousness. Mentally, you shrug your shoulders. Settle further into the pillows to just enjoy the quiet, to bask in the caress of her gentle exhales against your face.
You’re so lulled by the hush and the warmth and the comfort surrounding you that you barely even notice you’re brushing your thumb back and forth over the pulse point at Lena’s wrist, tracing feather-light over the skin. You don’t notice, until her pulse ticks up again, and this time it happens right under your touch.
You bite your lip. “Lena? Are you awake?”
Still no answer. Still, she’s breathing slow. There’s no response at all, save for the way her heartbeat stutters just so beneath your thumb. You wonder then, for the first time, if she knows what you know. If she has knowledge of your intimate knowledge of her, or if she really thinks she has you fooled.
You decide to test the hypothesis further. You loose your fingers from around her wrist, breaking the contact between you entirely, and is it your imagination or does she suck in an inhale just a little sharper than its predecessors?
It’s not your imagination. Superhearing doesn’t make mistakes.
You replace your hand on her body, skimming up her sweatshirt-clad arm to her shoulder. Press your smile into the pillow when her breathing evens again even as her heartbeat doubles its tempo in her chest. It’s the one tell she’s never fully mastered, after all.
Your fingers graze down her side, landing on her waist where, as luck would have it, her shirt has ridden up in her sleep. You’re impressed with her restraint; with the way she manages not to react when your palm lands warm and deliberate on her bare hip. You give her a moment to adjust before flexing your fingers carefully, spreading them wide and greedy against smooth skin.
Lena’s heart takes off like a rocket launcher, pounding so hard against her ribcage that you swear you can feel the vibrations right through the mattress. You’re enjoying this, probably more than you should as she continues to feign sleep under your gentle ministrations, your wandering fingers growing bolder the longer she keeps up the act.
Your hand glides over the smooth planes of her lower back, tracing the divots of her pelvis as it goes and Lena must be all but biting her tongue in half in an effort to not move, to stay quiet, but still she refuses to give in.
As you chart the delicate notches of her spine, you can’t help but wonder why. Why she won’t answer you, won’t open her eyes. Why she won’t give up the jig and face this thing between you head on.
Is it because she doesn’t want it? The way her pulse is hammering beneath your fingers makes that seem unlikely. It’s something else, then. Some other fear that’s holding her back.
The longer you lie there, thinking, exploring, enjoying, the more sense her reticence makes.
Hadn’t a part of you known how the two of you would coalesce, right from the start? Hadn’t it always been this way?
You, and her, and her heartbeat, and all the things it can tell you that she never will.
You take a deep breath. Swallow hard. You’ve trusted it this far, after all. You don’t think her heart, or yours, will lead you astray now.
You extract your hand from beneath her sweatshirt, forcing yourself not to shiver at the goosebumps erupting across her skin in your wake. Raise your fingers to fit themselves against the curve of her cheek instead, to stroke along the cut of her jaw, sliding back to bury themselves in thick dark waves.
Her heart thuds out a heady chorus beneath your hand, in your ears, filling your every sense with nothing but her. You want to make her heartbeat soar, you realise. You want to make her fly.
“Lena,” you whisper, nudging your face closer to hers. You’re sharing the same pillow now. Breathing the same air. “Lena. Look at me.”
Finally, blessedly, she does. In the faint glow of the moonlight her eyes are wide and shining and so, so beautiful.
“Is this what you want?” you whisper, fingers tightening just a little in her hair. Only actions taken in confidence between you, now. Nothing less than a sure thing.
She doesn’t answer, throat working. Her pounding heartbeat shudders through you both.
Your tongue darts out to wet your dry lips. Her eyes follow the motion with something like hunger. Something like need.
“Lena,” you say again, because you’re sure about this now. You’re finally, blissfully, sure. You want her to be sure as well. “Lena, what do you want?”
Still, she’s silent. But then she shifts, one of her hands coming up between your tethered bodies. Before you can wonder what she’s doing she’s reaching out, palm flat, to press firmly right over your heart. You have to hold back a gasp at the unexpected contact, at the way it shoots hot sparks up the length of your spine.
The playing field is levelled at last. That’s the only coherent thought your mind is capable of holding on to when she’s this close to you, when she’s staring at you like this.
Idly, distantly, you wonder if she can feel quite how violently your heart is pounding at her touch, can sense the astronomical effort it’s putting into its quest to migrate clean out of your chest. You wonder if she feels the exact moment your pulse synchronises with her own.
You think that maybe she does, because in the very next breath she surges forward and presses her lips to yours. It’s hot and deep and so perfect you feel tears spark behind your closed eyelids as every blessed atom of existence falls into perfect, universal alignment for one single shining moment.
“You,” she gasps when you at last pull apart, panting. “I want you. Us.” She nudges closer still, every inch of your bodies crushed together, and presses your clasped hands tight into the tiny cavity between your chests. Right between the throbbing of your delirious hearts. “I want this.”
It’s all you can do to slant your mouth back against hers. “Me too,” you muffle out against the alabaster of her jaw and when she sighs and softens even further against you you think that none of the rest of it, none of the years of silent waiting and learning and hoping, matter at all. Not compared to now. Not compared to this.
It’s just you, and her, and both your pounding heartbeats, and all the things that you’ll tell each other for the rest of your lives.