Get in, snap a photo, get the heck out. Simple, really. In, out, in, out, in — Kara wheezed, tripping over her own breath. Then her feet next, clutching the baggy of salt protectively to her chest as she stumbled. After all, it was her only lifeline — her childhood home was otherwise bereft of crosses, holy water and anything else of the ghost-warding variety.
She fixed her gaze down at the tarmac beneath her feet, deftly avoiding the fissures and the occasional bumps lest she emptied its contents into the gaping cracks below. That'd be a veritable disaster; there simply wasn't enough time to go back for more. The sun's rays were already waning and she didn't trust the ageing street lamps to light the way. (And not to mention the supernatural element of her endeavour.)
It was all Alex's fault. With just three simple words — "I dare you.", she'd drunkenly cast an age-old curse on her. Kara had laughed it off at first like Alex did when she brought it up the next day. Ghosts just didn't exist. It's what all the adults said; what the population of Midvale High insisted on, their teenage bravado masking tiny pinpricks of doubt. But they never had a reason to believe there was something more to it. Not like Kara had.
From that day, a countdown began. The one rule that governed this was simple — if you didn't go to her, she'd come to you. Kara had heard whisperings of it all her Earth-life and perhaps that primed her to notice any slight oddity in her midst. Mysterious rustlings, misplaced belongings — Kara hand-waved all of them away. Until one day, while at her desk and hunched over her sketchbook, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
There were moments like this throughout her life that slid its icy edge down her spine, sliced through marrow and nerves and radiating out in some semblance of frostbite. Moments reserved for the seconds before disaster, the brief clarity afforded before a cataclysmic storm. This time, it was the knowledge that she wasn't alone.
She was being watched.
Paranoia coloured her home life from then on. Hiding behind Alex as she checked the closet and underneath her bed, knocking on Eliza's door in the middle of the night — Kara knew they were probably being tormented along with her and she was endlessly grateful that they'd indulged her each time. But the guilt had already seeped in, intermingling with the sheer terror that had taken up residency there. Against the desperate voice in her head begging her to reconsider, Kara stopped, resolving to fend for herself.
It didn't last. Every moment filed away at her psyche until she'd caved. Escaping back to her college dorm two weeks early, Kara declined any future opportunity to visit, armed with a new excuse each time.
Before she knew it, it was summer again. Upon Alex's urging, Kara had packed up and flown home (commercial, not solo which explained her subsequent full-day headache).
No more overactive imagination, no more jumping at her own shadow. The extra year under her belt should've taken care of that.
At least, that's what she hoped for.
But it began again on the third day with a vengeance. One moment she was working on an article of utmost importance and the next, her skin had erupted in goosebumps — something she'd never thought possible.
That was the last straw.
Camel's back broken, Kara emptied their container of salt into a Ziploc bag and hastily refilled it. Rushing out the door, she stomped up the hill like a suburban mom on a warpath and stumbled like someone who'd hoped to extract some level of confidence from replicating their self-righteous fury. Though, Kara supposed she had every right to be. This creature had terrorised her within her own home, ruined her previous summer vacation and was dead set on wrecking this one too.
She continued her upward march, only stopping once she was greeted by what remained of the gates to the Luthor House. In its sorry state, one side was laid out on the ground while the other hung ajar. Deep breaths, Kara reminded herself. Just get in, photo, get out.
She hopped across the threshold and the change was instantaneous.
It was in the air. The stiffness of a long-forgotten attic with (thankfully) none of the offensive odours manifesting into her own personal cage. Every movement felt like swimming through a lake of jello — something Kara normally would've been way more enthusiastic about. But not with the ripples travelling inwards and into the three-storey mansion.
She jerked away from a suspiciously red patch underfoot. Yep, Kara definitely didn't feel welcome here.
The overgrown hedge in the center of the driveway had long since spread its tendrils across the paved road, making itself at home with the thick layers of moss lining the paving stones. Today was clearly the wrong day for her high-top Converse — the first in a long line of mistakes.
Keeping her shoes dry was a whole ordeal and trying not to fall over was a herculean task, but somehow, she did it. Her sneakers touched down on the other side, soles dangerously slick. One hurdle crossed, just another mountain to go. Kara turned her attention to her prize — a set of white double doors with half-drawn graffiti. Eyes tracing the sharp lines and haphazard loops, her gaze screeched to an abrupt halt at a shaky smear of black.
Something was guarding this place and she wasn’t about to stick around long enough to find out.
The brass door knob was discoloured but still smooth to the touch, much to Kara's surprise. It turned with only slight resistance. A potentially deadly one too — Kara winced as its squeak echoed through the cavernous foyer and beyond. With her entrance announced so unceremoniously, she knew she needed to hurry.
Phone in hand, she angled it so that more of the musty furnishings were in view rather than her strained smile and shifting eyes. That's what always happened in horror movies, right? Ghosts appearing in the mirror, in the camera, always right behind you. She jabbed the shutter button, watched as the screen flashed and her deer in the headlights expression appeared in her camera roll. It was done. Now she just needed to get out of dodge, print the darn thing and burn it. Whoever came up with these arbitrary rules should… should step on a Lego!
She was ready to leave, hand twisting the door knob once again when the door slammed shut. And in the wake of it all, Kara was left to gape at the detached door knob in hand. Oh, but it was only just the beginning. A chill swept through the open space and she shivered. She doesn't shiver; hadn’t shivered since she left Krypton.
Along came a sense of foreboding she just couldn't shake and when Kara forcefully cranked her head back up, the door knob clattered to the floor.
A head materialised through the painted mahogany first, revealing striking green eyes the exact shade of kryptonite. Smooth, pale skin framed by her raven locks drew her gaze next, only interrupted by a dark crater on her forehead. Kara felt her behind connect with the cool marble floor. Big mistake. The scene was so much more frightening to witness from below — she loomed over her, hands reaching out. There was so much blood. All over her stark white nightgown and she was getting closer. Close enough for the glint of a sharp letter-opener to catch her eye. It looked… solid, corporeal.
Kara screamed and ran.
Her foot caught an unassuming corner and she tumbled, tripping over the chunk of concrete freshly torn from the wall. She righted herself quickly. No time to worry about structural integrity. Should she just blast a hole through the walls? Barrelling through the hallways, she spotted the weak glimmer of sunlight and took a sharp right. Bad idea. The sitting room greeted her in all its mildewy, inescapable glory.
Frantically, Kara cast her gaze back into the hallway. It was empty. Somehow, she must've lost her pursuer in her own abode. This wasn't the time to question, she needed to get out of here. And the windows were a good place to start.
She swivelled back. Oh no. A familiar figure floated before her. Clutching the bag closer to her chest like a shield, she trembled.
And at that moment, the solid weight of the bag reminded her of its presence. Of its contents. Oh Rao, salt, salt, salt!
Blissfully unaware of her sister's predicament, Alex was triumphantly basking in the warm fragrance of freshly-baked cookies. With Kara around, she never stood a chance. But now that she was out at the most inopportune time, Alex finally got first dibs on them.
She swiped one off the tray, ignoring Eliza's warnings and sunk her teeth into the soft, gooey insides.
"Mom, they taste like the sea!"
A look of confusion formed on Eliza's face, deepening as she took her own sample.
The kitchen was a flurry of motion while both Danvers women searched for an answer. Together, they arrived at the jar labelled 'sugar'. Alex lifted the lid and Eliza dipped her finger in for a taste.
"Is that sugar?" The ghost looked almost offended. She crossed the hasty line Kara had drawn between them with ease. All Kara could do was cower, Kryptonian invulnerability all but forgotten. Oh Rao, oh Rao, oh —
Her eyes burned and her vision was lost in a sudden blinding red. A wave of blistering heat gushed towards her, a mere tickle over her impervious skin. Almost like nothing. But it should’ve hurt. Like what she tended, however inadvertently, to subject everyone to. Jeremiah's chastisement flashed past, leaving behind a trail of guilt. Breadcrumbs she knew better than to follow.
She blinked, taking in the broken glass at her feet and the blackened smear on the last surviving window pane. Her hands found her face. Her glasses! She must've lost them during the chase. Although, that was the least of her worries now.
The ghost gaped at her, evidently just as relieved that she hadn't blasted a(nother) hole into her as Kara was.
"I-I'm so sorry," Hands raised, Kara slowly backed away before that expression could morph into anger.
"Good," the ghost inclined her head, inspecting the damage. "Because you're fixing it."
Kara gulped. "Yes ma'am."
Kara kept to their agreement, tottering up to her doorstep bright and early the next morning. One arm occupied with the various cans she'd picked up from the hardware store and the other precariously balancing a large square of glass — she had super strength, not super balance.
This time, she knocked. With her shoulder at first, eliciting a muffled thud. Then, she waited. Shifting from foot to foot and banishing all thoughts of the chance encounter she just escaped. Though 'escape' itself was subjective. Much like swerving away from a semi-truck and into a bottomless ravine. The jury was still out on which fate was worse.
The wait soon grew excruciating. Maybe this was a sign! To run far away and never come back… or maybe the ghost didn't hear her. A stray thought of an irate spectre hovering over her at night kept Kara rooted to the spot. The latter then.
"H-hello?" She called out. Silence — as if she were the only one there. "Miss um Ghost? Miss… Luthor?" Hyper-aware of each passing second, Kara valiantly repelled every instinct begging her to bolt. Her jitters on the other hand were a lost cause, wearing down the concrete with only the soles of her shoes.
And then, as if to put her out of her misery, the door swung open. The ghost hovered on the other end, beckoning her in.
That was the first good sign — she was cordial, albeit a bit stiff. But definitely not murderous. The ravine was looking great.
She spoke little aside from the perfunctory pleasantries. ("Good morning.", "Did you sleep well?" And an ill-thought-out offer of tea, quickly withdrawn like the ghost did herself, sinking back into the shadowy corner of the sitting room.) Compared to yesterday's happenings, it was like night and day. Almost as if it was all an elaborate dream. The twisted arm of her glasses dug into her skin. Yep, she wasn't imagining things. Unfortunately.
But all good things didn't last. The silence between them lent to the growing sense of unease. It was all an act after all, an elaborate ploy to project productivity and the lukewarm reception from her audience was beginning to feel like she was catching on.
Deep breaths. She stood back, hands finding her hips. Step one: observe.
Cutting the glass into the right shape was the easy part, theoretically. Kara’s gaze fell upon the gaps in the steel lattice where her heat vision had swept through. Everything she'd read online hadn't accounted for this. For good reason too — only two beings on Earth were capable of such damage and Superman wasn't known to clean up after himself. Perhaps she could replace the frames entirely… and in the process put her bank balance in the negatives.
Kara felt it first, skin crawling at the proximity. Her eyes played catch-up next — a swathe of white had appeared in her periphery. And white equals…
She jumped away like a startled house cat, glanced downwards and took another step back. The letter opener was blinding under the mid-morning sun. Almost like the bared fangs of a predator.
"So, what's the prognosis?" An innocent enough question. At least when not paired with a lethal weapon in hand. It sounded more like an 'or else'.
"Great! Fine! Should look good as new!" Her cheeks strained at the intensity of her smile. Kara once read that showing one's teeth was a sign of submission in primates. She hoped it still applied to dead ones.
"You've spent an inordinate amount of time staring into space." The ghost stated, still brandishing the gilded letter opener. Kara swallowed nervously.
"I-I was just thinking. Yep, doing lots of thinking." Which she was! Minus the tiny little fact that her thoughts were going nowhere.
The ghost sighed in response. "It's perfectly fine if you can't. All I ask is for you to cover it up for me. This room is musty enough."
Kara's gaze was drawn down to the sharp, pointy tip again, lingering as she considered her options. Well, she did assure her it's fine but people didn't always say what they meant.
She must've caught it. Traced Kara's line of sight from her bulging eyeballs back to her blade. "Is something the matter?" The ghost's brows drew downwards into a severe look. She squinted, scrutinising every twitch and every quiver Kara failed to tamp down.
Kara retreated. As if her current threat could be hindered by physical space, as if ghosts adhered to the concrete laws of physics and couldn't phase through them at will.
"A-are you going to stab me? Because I'm invulnerable and it wouldn't pierce my skin. Your letter opener would just crumple, I swear! And then you'd get even angrier and turn to other methods and-and possess me? You should know that's a very bad idea, by the way. I'm full of trauma and I'm always hungry! It won't feel good —" An inscrutable expression took hold on her semi-captor, prompting her to hit the brakes on her current line of reasoning. And with a deep breath she didn't exactly need, she re-routed her ramble, settling on a succinct plea. "Please don't stab me!"
The ghost blinked at her. Kara blinked back, anxiously waiting to see if her winding speech had paid off.
"I wasn't going to."
Did that mean… Kara's eyes darted to the door. "But you're going to now?"
"No, why would I?"
"I don't know! You just keep waving that thing in my face!" Her hands flew over her mouth with a resounding smack. Oh, she'd done it now.
The ghost stared down at the gleaming implement in hand. A soft oh floated in the air between them. It quickly disappeared behind her back; she shot Kara an expectant look.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just put it down?"
"I can't." Before Kara could react with incredulity, she released the letter opener from her grasp. Kara braced herself for the loud clatter but it never came. She gasped — it was back in her hand as if she'd never dropped it.
"That's so cool." Kara breathed, feeling her apprehension slip away. She hadn't seen anything like that on Krypton, much less here on Earth. Quantum teleportation without any specialised equipment but one's bare hands — the concept itself held so much potential. Her next words barrelled past her lips like a runaway train, with Kara helpless but to just let it pass. "Can you do that again?"
The ghost obliged with little fuss. Kara observed more closely this time, her glasses pulled down to the tip of her nose. Yep, a clean transition. It was teleported. And thirteen years of training dictated that she needed to know how.
"Is this item significant somehow?"
"I suppose I died with it?" That's it! The change of state from living to dead — an object so closely linked to such an event would effectively exist in both. Quantum entanglement where she least expected it. Simply brilliant. She turned, eager to report her findings.
In an unexpected turn of events, the ghost was now the one avoiding her gaze. Kara got the distinct feeling that she'd prodded at a raw nerve.
"I'm sorry," she reached out on instinct alone, only to close around nothing. A pleasant buzz meandered up her arm as their hands grazed, soft hairs standing on end in its wake.
To be in the same space yet different planes of existence — Kara's heart clenched when she realised their hands could never meet. That no hand could ever meet hers. The ghost winced at the almost-contact. "Sorry about that too."
"It's alright, I've just never spoken about it before." That was the closest to a break of composure she'd witnessed yet. It was humanising — the allusion to a past, the display of emotion far removed from the realm of 'murderous'. Something in Kara clicked right at that moment. She wasn’t an undead entity or just a figment of her imagination. She was real, even whilst non-corporeal. She was just —
It dawned upon Kara that she'd never asked for her name.
"I'm Kara, by the way." She extended her hand into the space between them, slicing its way through the stale air.
She eyed her hand for a beat and for a brief moment, Kara anticipated rejection. But then, she flipped the letter-opener over to offer her the handle. "Lena."
Kara understood the gesture, wrapped her hand around it and shook lightly. "Well, hi there Lena." It wasn’t magical like monumental occasions were often described to be. The dreary atmosphere hadn't lightened one bit and the niggling sensation that she didn't belong remained. It still felt different nonetheless. Perhaps in the face of everything, only the act of it mattered.
Of all materials in abundance within the Danvers household, she settled on cardboard. Her glasses were deposited on her desk and a set of stretches later, she was ready.
The first exercise was easy — laser the vaguely rectangular piece in half. She ran her eyes over the faint line pencilled there, took a deep breath and fired. In hindsight, maybe she should’ve started with something less flammable.
“Dang it!” Kara dropped the piece and stomped on it. The flames licked defiantly at her feet, leaning further and further away. Her bed! She dropped down to her knees and breathed freezing cold air onto the fire instead.
It worked… for the most part. There was no fire for starters. Quite the opposite, in fact. Her own reflection stared back at her through the icy sheen and given the ruckus she’d made, she had about ten seconds before someone caught her standing over her own personal tundra. That feeling returned; Kara felt it against her back, watching and… chuckling?
“Are you okay?” The door clicked open, revealing Alex’s concerned expression. Right on time too. Watching as she took in the state of their shared bedroom, Kara attempted a sputtering explanation only to be cut off. “Why's there ice on the floor?”
There was no point in hiding it. “I was just practising using my powers.”
“Kara,” Alex stepped inside, voice dropping. “You know you can’t just use your powers. You could expose yourself.” The unspoken ‘again’ hung between them.
“I know, but what if I need them? Or if I accidentally set them off? People will get hurt, Alex.” Although the window business with Lena added to that too. No one told her Mike was working full-time at the hardware store now. No, she had to work that out on her own, pitching the gears in her mind into overdrive as she entered his sights. He had positively brightened, flashing his expensive veneers in that wide grin of his — one Kara couldn’t describe as anything but a child on a particularly bountiful Christmas day. A timely conclusion arrived: run.
She barely made it out in time before he asked her out on a second date, glass still uncut.
Alex sighed and Kara knew she'd gotten through to her. "Fine. Just try not to burn anything down."
A quick nod and salute was enough to satisfy her sister. And so, alone and undisturbed, Kara painstakingly perfected her technique. Even melting the ice off the floor with a startling lack of residual scorch marks. Just in time too; Kara felt Lena reappear.
"Your windows are safe with me," Kara said aloud for Lena to hear, wherever she was. Alex only flashed her a weird look as she returned to lounge on her bed, iPod in hand.
"You're early." Lena commented, floating alongside her. The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon when they arrived in the sitting room and whilst bathed in the blinding hues of gold, Kara quickly understood this house's appeal.
That was the perfect spot — the right angle and the right elevation to fully take it all in. Memories of the heated ocean simulations of her childhood came flooding back. Of allowing its warmth to seep through, of feeling safe and protected in its watery embrace. But what drew her out of her reminiscence was a discovery. That Lena in her dubious state of matter was translucent beneath the sun's rays. Resplendent even, and more curiously? She sparkled. Like vampire sparkled. The snickers crept out her throat without her notice. Lena's brows furrowing promptly put a stop to that.
"I had a dream last night about popsicles. Specifically, making them and I realised I could theoretically do the same with steel!" Kara blabbered on and Lena, to her credit, only reacted with a raised eyebrow. Nodding, she signalled for Kara to begin before drifting back into her preferred corner. Kara felt eyes follow her every movement, ears picking up a sharp intake of breath every time her powers came into play.
First step, ice breath the edges. (Kara learned from yesterday's fiasco that her ice had a much higher melting point than its Earthly counterpart.)
Second step, melting down the hardened residue. Her eyes lit up, aimed at the solidified puddle.
"Hold on, are you sure you can control that?" Lena appeared in front of her.
"Of course I can! I practised." Kara huffed indignantly. The red glow re-intensified, coalescing into one concentrated beam. Simple enough, but easing molten steel into the mould? It was as difficult as she'd expected and the vapours erupting upon contact didn't help.
The third step required a deep breath. Letting it gather in the back of her throat, she felt the temperature against her tongue plummet. And then, exhale. The end result was a steel piece, a stark metallic grey compared to the midnight black of the frame.
The final step was welding it in place. Once complete, Kara stepped back to admire her handiwork. Casting a glance over to the darkened corner, she found that even Lena seemed impressed. On to the next one then. Piece by piece, she continued with attempts of conversation peppered in between. The fleeting echo of her voice helped claim her place in the house — a welcome respite from the constant jitters she had from simply existing there.
"Are you the only one here?"
"Really? No ghost animals?"
"Ever had a pet?"
"Mother didn't like them."
This was how their time together went. With Kara exhausting her list of questions and Lena maintaining her vow to brevity. But at least her ghostly acquaintance was humouring her — it wouldn't take much to just phase away into the next room if she truly desired an escape. Regardless, Kara soldiered on, leaving gaps of silence just in case Lena felt inclined to share more.
"So, what do you do all day?"
"Nothing, really." Lena shrugged. Busying herself with her work, Kara waited once more. She swore she heard Lena exhale. And then, at last a breakthrough. "Sometimes I watch the colony of rats in the cellar. They're adorable when they can't nibble at your feet."
Her eyes widened as Kara bounded over in a burst of super speed, begging to meet them too.
"When you're done," she'd promised. Letter opener to pinky swore too.
Kara quickly developed a new routine. Breakfast with Eliza and sometimes a grumpy Alex, mornings with Lena, and the rest of the day frowning at her empty word document. And when Kara felt Lena's presence in the corner, she'd throw in a quip or two for her benefit. Lena hardly reacted despite Kara's best efforts. Maybe she was shy about being caught. Still, she drew closer as time went on. And when her appearances became more frequent, Kara found that she didn't mind the near-constant company much.
Eventually, the frame was completed, now an odd mismatch of colour like an urban camo. Kara moved on to the broken glass panes next and slowly, Lena became more comfortable with her presence. Inching closer until one day, Kara found her peering over her shoulder.
The close proximity helped Kara notice the little things — how she leaned forward, lips parted when Kara geared up to use her laser vision and how she'd catch herself and school her features. Assuming Kara didn't read her cues wrongly, it seemed like Lena returned the burning curiosity Kara held for her as well.
"You can ask, you know." Kara said, attention never deviating from the task at hand. Lena startled, having the decency to look sheepish at being caught.
"Oh well, how do I put this?" She grimaced, taking a slight nibble on her bottom lip. "You're not human, are you?" Kara watched as Lena's gaze darted away, settling on the freshly cut glass in her hands.
"No, I'm an… alien." The word, while unfamiliar on her tongue, was far from that to her ears. She hadn't once broached the topic with anyone else but that didn't stop the other children from taunting her. Or her family uttering it in hushed whispers, perennially on guard against curious eyes and even more curious ears.
Being with Lena was different. It was easy to just let her guard down. In their own little snow globe — its insides obscured by a persistent ominous fog. In an abandoned house over a century old, they stood together, alone. Away from prying eyes where they could just be.
"Forgive me, but why choose Earth?" Lena's voice was strained as if fighting off the urge to probe further. Another time, then.
"My mother never mentioned — there wasn't time. But I assume it's because of the yellow sun. It… imbues me with incredible powers. And you know, we look alike." Kara sensed the drop in mood and reacted swiftly. "Luckily for you. It helps me fix your windows.
Lena snorted a short, two-note laugh. "So, how exactly did a family of extraterrestrials settle into small-town Midvale?"
"Oh…" Kara trailed off, unsure. She hadn't had much practice in breaking the news. "They didn't. It's just me and my cousin." The heavy mood returned as did the itch to just do something.
She extricated her iPhone from its perch in her shallow pocket. One swipe and a few taps later, a picture of Superman posing with his hands on his hips filled the screen. "He's a superhero, you see. And he insists his suit looks great, but it's not! I mean, it looks like he wore his underwear on the outside but he just wouldn't listen!" Kara’s exasperation quickly morphed into hysterical giggles, almost overshadowing the faint lilts of Lena's accompanying hers. At least, if not for the absence of her lead-lined glasses.
"It really does," Lena hummed, bemused. But it wouldn't last. The small smile that had graced her features thinned. Kara stilled.
"Perhaps… would it be alright if I shared something too?" Her voice was quiet, papery thin.
"I know it's not the same but my mother… didn't quite make it as well. She," Lena swallowed but it did nothing to quell the lump in her throat. "Passed when I was four. That's when the Luthors adopted me."
"You're adopted too?"
"Yes." All was quiet for a moment. Within the intermission, they turned their gazes skywards. Watching as the clouds drifted across a panorama of the softest pastel blue, blissfully unaware of the struggles and strife below. It was truly sanguine, enough to bridge the barrier between life and death. And for once, it felt like they were on the same plane of existence.
"To think two families decades apart, with hearts big enough to accept a strange child brought us here."
"Yes, what are the odds indeed?" The cadence of her voice quivered. Sensing something was off, Kara scooted closer ever so slightly. Her skin tingled at the proximity and she was sure Lena could feel it too.
In time, she'd learn about how painfully wrong she was. Lillian Luthor was a tyrant and Lionel Luthor was only fleetingly present. There was a brother too. And a story to accompany it. Kara wasn't privy to the details; Lena never seemed inclined to reveal more.
Over a week had passed since Kara's home improvement project commenced. And with only one mini-fire extinguished in the process too. (In her defense, holding both a conversation and twin laser beams still wasn't exactly a walk in the park.)
And on the tenth day, it was done. Kara stepped back to take in the restored windows, brimming with a sense of accomplishment.
"What do you think?" Kara asked, taking a step closer to where Lena hovered. "I think I did a pretty good job."
"It's better than I expected." Lena nodded her approval.
Kara froze at that. The realisation came swiftly like an intergalactic cruiser. "What did you expect?" She huffed, just as cross as her arms were.
"Oh, more tape definitely. And tarp."
"You set me up for failure?" The faux indignance emerged a little too close to a whine for her liking.
"Not exactly. It's more 'I took a gamble but had the foresight to draw up a contingency plan'. " Lena shrugged, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
Thoroughly stumped, Kara could only scowl back and snipe from a distance. "I liked you better when you were quiet." She really didn't. It was nice to have another friend around. Someone who wasn't her sister, at least. And Kara, ever the horrible liar, spelled it out across her face. Probably with bright neon signs to boot.
"And here you are, having accomplished the impossible task I gave you." The tentative quirk in Lena's lips was an odd one. Reminiscent of that one time Alex offered her a liqueur truffle — rich, indulgent sweetness on the outside and surprise — a river of biting bitterness within.
Another fact she'd gleaned about Lena — she too was a horrible liar.
"And here I am, having surmounted your impossible task." Kara repeated, hopeful for more because really, she wasn't one for the lingering acridity of alcohol. They shuffled out into the hallway and then onwards until the door was in sight. Oh right.
"But your door knob's not fixed yet." Their gazes fell upon the fallen brass knob at their feet, looking sad and limp and terribly forgotten.
"Indeed, my door knob hasn't been fixed yet." Lena must've been the most gleeful victim of vandalism to ever live. And died. Although with how Lena took to chattering with her, flitting around her and matching her at times superhuman pace, Kara couldn't see the latter. The subtle void in her forehead and the bloom of blood at her stomach did nothing to dissuade her — Lena looked positively alive.
Scritch scratch scritch scratch. Kara found that she worked better in pencil than any other medium. Her laptop was banished under a pile of blank copy paper.
The Midvale Surf Scene
She squinted at it, then groaned. The squeaking of rubber against paper filled the room. Eraser dropped unceremoniously onto the tabletop, Kara braced her head against her hands. It was lame, uninspired and definitely not impressive enough to clinch the editor position on the NCU paper. They should've spared a thought for people with boring hometowns. Or people who couldn't return to their hometowns in the first place! What were they thinking? Kara released the pencil from her grip too, letting it clatter in frustration on her behalf.
A presence made herself known behind her.
"Hey, anything cool about Midvale I could write about?" Deferring to a century-old being was currently Kara's best shot.
"Ghosts," Lena's voice croaked back. That was odd. Do ghosts get sore throats?
"Are you okay? You don't sound okay." Kara craned her neck but Lena must've decided to stay hidden because she was nowhere to be seen.
"Yes." And she was gone.
"What’s that?" Lena eyed the sizable thermos in her hands, disregarding the brand new door knob that put a bigger dent in her wallet than Kara ever did to her property. Her eyes chanced upon a conspicuous chunk of concrete from their first meeting. Nevermind.
"You didn't sound too good yesterday," Kara set Jeremiah's old toolbox down. "So I brought some leftovers. It's Eliza's chicken noodle soup." She beamed, proud of herself for sneaking her extra portions away from the prying, albeit bleary, eyes of her sister. (Alex hadn't so much as acknowledged her presence as she stumbled through her morning routine.) So proud that Kara had a slight suspicion that she'd missed something glaringly obvious. Like tying her shoelaces or the dietary habits of the non-living. Oh.
"Did I?" Kara could almost see the question marks bubbling up above Lena; she seemed to pop them on her own quickly enough. "Well, thank you anyway. You're very thoughtful."
Usually, she would've basked in the praise. Just let them sink in and lodge themselves into the waiting arms of her dopamine receptors. Then, she'd reap the rewards — waves of euphoria amplified from the most seemingly inane words. But this wasn't one of those times.
"Um, can you eat it? Do you need me to feed you or something?" Kara observed Lena carefully, ready to swoop in if she looked remotely upset by her actions.
"Oh, I definitely can. If you could just unscrew the lid for me."
Kara did and her senses were assaulted by the potent fumes of nostalgia, like one's childhood memories packed into a single aromatic punch. She was sure Lena felt the same too — she had all but positioned herself over the opening and audibly inhaled.
A smooth hum emanated from Lena's throat, one of more than just plain satisfaction. No, it was more of a chorus — the collective sigh of relief the lands heaved after a long and painful drought. Finally, Lena spoke again. "It's really good. Send my compliments to Eliza."
Kara sputtered. "Did you… How did you…"
"Well, I inhaled it of course." But she didn't. When Kara's head tilted further, Lena's amusement grew, plastered all over her face. Taking pity on her befuddled companion, she explained further. "It's the scent. I can… taste it, if that makes sense."
Turns out, Lena was a greater scientific enigma than she thought. Followed closely was the realisation that her extra portions were still there, its glistening surface beckoning her forward like a mirage. She definitely lucked out today.
Kara slurped eagerly and her face fell. A mirage indeed. It was all a lie. The soup tasted like water, the noodles like rubber. Alarmed, she shoved a piece of chicken into her mouth — tender nothingness. Still chewing, Kara made her displeasure loudly known, as if personally affronted by the gift of flavour being robbed so unceremoniously from her.
"Is something the matter?" Lena joined in the confusion.
Kara swallowed quickly. "It tastes like nothing!"
She finished her meal still, begrudgingly so. Though, the positive attention Lena showered her with every time definitely encouraged her dramatics.
"Do you eat everything you smell?" She asked suddenly, failing to curb her growing curiosity.
"Unfortunately." Interesting — she perked up at that.
"What does that taste like?" Kara pointed at the stained settee in the middle of the room.
"Nausea with no reprieve." Judging by Lena's wrinkled nose, it was truly awful. Kara hopped to her feet, leading them on a tour around the expansive room with her incessant queries.
And when they found themselves back where they started, an errant thought emerged, catching her unawares. There was only one thing left in this room.
Thus came the most mortifying question of them all — "Does that mean you've tasted…" Her cheeks reddened as she shrunk into herself. Too late; Lena's interest was piqued. She prompted Kara to continue.
"Me?" She squeaked, internally begging for the rats below to just carry her away. Her torment didn't last long.
"Charming, but you'd have to try harder than that." Despite the amused smirk, Lena had given her an out — something she wasn't often offered. Kara slurped up the rest of its contents in a hurry, itching for a change in scenery.
And that change panned out to be Lena's front door.
Kara had tried her best to match the tone and shape from memory while pointedly weaving out of any conversation Mike roped her into. Suffice to say that post-installation, she realised she wasn't very successful. The window frame already resembled an abstract artist's wet dream and now Lena was about to have mismatched door knobs too. Maybe she should have stuck around longer. Just pushed past Mike to get a glimpse of the other aisle. But she didn't and now, what's done is done.
"I'm sorry, they were the best I could do." Her mind scurried for a solution but like fresh-faced lab rats in a fluorescent-lit labyrinth of man's creation, the result leaned overwhelmingly towards failure. And she didn't like that.
Lena hushed her before her thoughts could slide further into the abyss. "I like it."
Breath gathered in her chest in the beginning of a scoff. Again, Lena cut her off. "It's unique."
"It's mismatched. Horribly so." She countered.
"Kara, you took time out of your own life to help me despite my lack of one. Nothing could match that."
Kara turned away but she was attuned enough to Lena's movements to realise that she'd drifted closer. "If it helps, Mother would have a conniption at the mere sight of it."
"Is that a good thing?"
"Oh, believe me. It would make my day."
With that, Kara walked through the double doors with a promise. Regarding something she wanted to show her, Lena had said. To thank her for her assistance. She gave them — both old and new — one last glance over.
The fresh replacement caught a direct sunbeam, its cheap gold finish blinking out its own goodbye. Bringing herself closer, Kara inspected it once more.
A sideways glance revealed the original in all its luxurious glory. Just like the rest of the house even in its decrepit state. Her gaze migrated back to her new addition.
Kara turned away before her thoughts could threaten to drown her.
The Beauty of Asymmetry
Only a black smudge remained once Kara was done with it. There wasn't anything asymmetric about Midvale except what she just inflicted upon Lena's home. Midvale was a circle, an ouroboros. It began with birth and ended in death, one leading to the other in an endless cycle; the in-betweens coloured in with the stereotypical happenings of all-American small-town life. But Kara had crash-landed her way into their tight-knit community, sliced right through the belly of the snake. She slithered straight ahead, in direct opposition to the self-cannibalising dance the rest partook in. Kara was the odd snake out, the cheap door knob in an otherwise expensive house.
Her shadow returned.
"Lena, I need some time alone." Kara slumped into her seat.
Still, she was persistent.
"I'll be there tomorrow, okay?" Kara tried again, growing more irritable by the moment.
"Lena, please!" Kara instantly regretted her raised voice as it left her lips. Too late — Lena disappeared.
Burying her face into her arms, Kara groaned. Great. Just great.
The questioning and wiggling eyebrows from Alex that night about what she overheard was just the cherry on top.
Lena was the first to break the silence.
"I'm still not eating you."
The buds bounced along with her gesticulations. "No! They're apology flowers!" Her face was quickly blending in with the potted red roses in hand.
"Whatever for?" Lena seemed more bewildered than anything.
"For being a butt yesterday. I was in a mood — not that that's an excuse!"
There was no shift in Lena's expression. "Kara, I promise you weren't."
Her protests died in her throat with a faint rumble when Lena hovered her hand over hers.
"Really, thank you for the flowers." Lena floated backwards, deeper into the house. "Follow along, I have something to show you. And bring the plant."
Kara trailed closely behind like her personal bodyguard. They took an unfamiliar turn away from their usual haunt, down a long corridor where a family portrait hung. Desperately clinging onto the wall in the centre of the hallway and swaying slightly on its last hook as she passed; Kara couldn’t help but linger to observe. Husband, wife and two kids — a teenage boy and a young girl, Kara noted. The boy's face was scratched out with thin lacerations across the canvas. Anger radiated from the faint scars left behind — the only trace of hostility Kara had gleaned in all the time she'd spent here. If Lena noticed that Kara tapped into her superspeed to catch up, she made no mention of it.
"Just behind this door." Lena raised her hand with a flourish and the door swung open.
A garden. Or what remained of one. She couldn't help but reach out to touch it.
Kara imagined the space was once meticulously manicured, shaped to painful perfection, but what lay before her was more akin to a jungle. The decades of neglect made sure of that. Nature took its course, as it always would. Civilisation could manipulate it however they pleased; claim to hold dominion over the system that birthed them. Arrogance, really. Because one day, when they were long gone, it would return and flourish once more. Or there would be a cataclysmic explosion and everyone dies.
The leaf crumpled in her grasp. "Shoot, I'm so sorry! I got distracted." Her palm shot open but the leaf did not unravel. Lena hushed her kindly, guiding her to deposit the leaf onto the soil bed instead.
"It'll help the plants grow better." With that, she was led away and towards the centre, demarcated by the ring of milky white tiles dotted with regular intervals of triangular royal blues.
"I wasn't sure what exactly I could offer you so I thought I could show you this. I spend a lot of time here just observing. It's an utter mess and yet somehow mystical all the same." Kara was inclined to agree. The carefully selected rose bushes among the wildflowers, weeds intermingling with the exotic plants and various vines and climbers crisscrossed the wooden trellises, dangling off the sides like a band of mischievous monkeys. It was still, but not desolate. In truth, the whole place was thrumming with life.
"Do you want my help with it? Maybe tidy it up?" Kara offered, accustomed to being Lena's Super-Handywoman. And perhaps she could find a reason to return another day.
"No," Lena shook her head, eyes trained straight ahead. "I tried my best to reign them in at first. But they always grow back, again and again, quicker than I could cut them down or dig them out."
She chewed her bottom lip before catching herself. "Sometimes, it's better to just let nature take its course. There's no point in resisting."
They spent the rest of their time together in comfortable silence, marvelling at the scene before them. And when it was time to go, Lena walked Kara all the way to the front door. Her hand was on the door knob — the original one — when she felt the urge to speak.
"You know, my offer still stands. Not for the garden but for those rancid settees and other stuff too. If you'd like." She turned just in time to catch the slight curve of Lena's lips.
"Thank you, that'll be much appreciated."
"Alright, see you tomorrow?"
"Yes, see you tomorrow." She confirmed.
Kara was at it again. The sun had set hours ago and Alex had collapsed onto her bed. And then there was Lena, whom Kara sensed in the corner, pressing close to the wall.
"Heard from Vicky today. You bought roses?" Alex's nonchalance was well-rehearsed. Genuine enough to fool the rest but not her own sister. Kara knew that Alex was on to something and she had a hunch what.
"Yep," she dragged out the single syllable, popping the 'p'. An exaggerated display of reluctance meant to call out Alex's not-so-secret ploy.
"Oh, where did they go?" All pretence abandoned now, Kara heard the rustle of Alex pushing herself upright.
"I… dropped it."
Her hesitation was the cue for Alex to pounce. "Kara, you can literally lift a car and you dropped a measly potted plant?"
"I was distracted. By a cute squirrel." Kara spoke in a measured tone this time. It was on brand; Alex couldn’t argue against that. Offensive blocked, she levelled her gaze once again at the empty sheet of paper.
Lena's amusement carried through the air.
"Alex is being such a…urgh" Kara tore the armrest away in lieu of an actual insult.
"You sure Lena's just a character? Where's she from?" Kara repeated, complete with her exact obnoxious intonation. Even echoing it was grating to her ears.
"I must say —" the backrest was next. "I'm flattered."
"You better be because now my sister thinks I fantasise about fictional characters." The shredded remains were given a brief reprieve while Kara leaned in to whisper, cheeks burning so hot that it felt like a breath of hot flame escaping her lips. "Sexually." Her eyes darted around the room. Nope, nothing on fire. That would've been an awkward moment to discover a new superpower.
Their conversation screeched to a halt.
"A-and she's completely fine with that?" There was something raw and vulnerable about her voice, like prey captured but still desperately clinging onto life. Blood flowing, eyes glazing over at the mercy of the rows of gnashing teeth above.
"Yeah, completely fine." That was when Kara put two and two together. After all this time they've spent together, it'd slipped her mind that Lena was born in another time. One much more hostile to that very idea. "Many people are these days. And I think it'll only be up from here on out." It was the best she could do for Lena.
"That's… nice." Lena's gaze grew distant. Kara continued with her demolition wordlessly, giving Lena the space she desired.
"There's a reason why I live here in this house." Lena began. Dropping the newly-freed piece of timber to the ground, Kara stopped to give Lena her fullest attention.
"After Mother found out, she was positively incensed. She demanded I marry but I refused." Lena paused to collect her thoughts.
"She sounds like a meanie. Maybe I should redecorate the entire house." Kara interjected in the brief silence, earning a chuckle in response.
"Well let's just say one thing led to another and I absconded with my inheritance. Then, I acquired a quaint little beachside property right here in Midvale." Lena made no move to continue. That was the end of the story and Kara didn't press her for more.
Catharsis — The Therapeutic Power of Destruction
This one was spared the eraser. In the days she'd spent tearing apart Lena's mold-ridden furnishings, Kara had felt more at ease. Like some unnamed tension had been released. Which was probably why Junkyard Ed charged for people to go at old cars with a baseball bat. If she could just finagle an interview and maybe some pictures, she'd be all set.
Lena hummed her agreement over her shoulder where she had decided to take up residency for the day. It was cute, Kara thought, how Lena had grown so attached to her like a puppy. Most of the time, at least. Either way, Kara didn't mind too much. So many years alone in the Luthor house with only rats and greenery for company must've been so… lonely.
With that in mind, it was with great reluctance that she called out to Lena to inform her of the change of plans. "Gonna have to take tomorrow off. I'll be back on Wednesday, I promise!"
Kara took the slight whoosh of her curtains as an affirmative.
"Are you talking to Lena again?" Alex grabbed onto her chair and popped her head over her shoulder.
Kara startled out of her seat and up into the air. "No! Shut up!"
She showed up at 8 AM sharp on Wednesday, a return to her usual morning routine — breakfast, pretend to jog, wave goodbye to Eliza and then, Lena.
Except, it wasn't that regular after all — Kara was still sizzling from her botched interview and instead of inviting her in, Lena had tripped through the doors, doubled over and almost breathless. Distraught. The tumult within smoothed over at the sight, replaced by a quiet constriction in her throat. Kara supposed it's true then, that it's the anticipation that kills you. A question hung upon her lips but Lena beat her to it.
"Kara, you came!" She straightened, struggling to regain her composure. Her eyes quickly dulled. A far-away look took hold — Kara sensed Lena slipping away.
"I promised you, didn't I?" Kara reached out, vaguely wrapping herself around her. Lena leaned in too, after a moment's hesitation. As close as she could. It was a ghost of a hug, the only kind possible between the living and the dead.
"You did?" Lena's brows scrunched together in an admittedly adorable fashion. Her frown deepened.
"Yeah, back on Monday." Kara prompted but Lena only shook her head.
"I don't… remember." Kara could hear the grinding of teeth against teeth. "No, it doesn't matter. I'm sorry about that. You can come and go as you please."
"Yeah well, you remember that I won't abandon you too." Lena easily accepted Kara's soft reassurance, leaned just a little closer until a pleasant buzz frothed within her chest.
Hiss. If Kara didn't know any better, she would've chalked it up to the whistling of a kettle. As if this were any ordinary house visit with the promise of tea. Lena withdrew from her grasp, settling a good arm's length away from her.
A chorus of apologies from both sides followed closely behind.
Kara spared the eraser and went straight for crumpling her notes up. It was just an interview, he could've declined. Her phone buzzed angrily in its spot, concurring with her sentiment. The screen lit up, illuminating the spiderweb cracks and a splotch of black painting the top half of the display. He didn't need to stomp on her phone.
The sender revealed itself — Alex. Kara breezed through the next few steps. Swipe to unlock, tap on messages and then came the hard part. Jabbing the screen repeatedly to access her topmost chat, Kara lamented her inability to defend herself without exposing her true Kryptonian identity in the meantime. A shame that LCD screen repairs were way out of her budget too.
Alex [22.29] : hey so snot-nosed joe is actually CSF joe
Alex [22.29] : kid skateboarded down his roof but got too scared to tell the 'rents
Alex [22:31] : is your phone dead
Alex [22:31] : you're awfully quiet
Alex [22.32] : wait are you talking to Lena
Her fingers were poised over the keyboard, ready to throw hands when she felt it again. Lena, hovering behind and peeking over her shoulder. Goosebumps were coaxed out on her neck as the waves of unearthly energy brushed past.
"Lena! Are you reading my texts?" Kara spun in her seat but Lena was faster.
Gone with the wind.
Alex [22:34] : oh you totally are
Alex [22:34] : say hi to her for me
Kara pushed her thoughts on Lena to the back of her mind, focusing single-mindedly on a very insufferable sister.
Kara floated in the liminal space between wakefulness and slumber. Drifting downwards, she felt herself breach the surface. There were no ripples; not even the slightest bit of resistance. Just sinking deeper…
A vague awareness of a dark figure above pricked her mind. Opening her eyes just a crack, Kara took a moment to realise what she was seeing.
"Lena? A-are you —"
Gone with the wind again. They needed to talk.
It was the first thing she brought up the next morning. Simply blurting out "I think we need some space from each other."
Lena froze mid-step. Blinked. And slowly, she turned, a mess of hurt and confusion. "Of course. If that's what you want."
Kara winced. Confrontations were never her thing for this very reason. Still, she powered through, convinced that it'd do them both some good. "Great, thanks." Oh Rao, this was so painfully awkward.
Speaking of pain, Lena's only seemed to compound over time. She looked small and not only relative to Kara's long frame. Vulnerable even, her usual vibrance tempered. The words were drawn out of her, sliding off her tongue in broad brushes and precise strokes alike. Because it'd be a travesty for her only burst of colour to be her lifeblood — drained out into her front.
"It's just," Kara rubbed the back of her neck. "We spend every waking moment together. First here in the morning then in my room and I just thought that…"
The comical widening of Lena's eyes derailed her train of thought. A realisation had struck and with how Lena struggled to articulate it, a sense of unease sparked through her sternum just beneath her skin.
"Your room?" She repeated.
"Yeah, you're just floating over my shoulder all the time and watching me and I didn't mind at first but I just think we really should set up some boundaries." Kara rambled in one single breath. Lena would usually find this act endearing, reacting with mild amusement. Yet she remained solemn, leaving Kara to laugh uncomfortably on her own.
Her subsequent words struck swiftly, like tearing off a band-aid from a fresh wound.
"Kara, I can't leave this house."
She couldn't… leave. Too bad the air in her lungs didn't pay her the same courtesy.