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We won't die secret deaths (anymore)

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“You’ve been trying to reach me again, Miss Grant,” Supergirl announces from the balcony. Cat hadn’t realized she’d left the door open, but the fourth glass of Scotch might be to blame for that. She only started on it after a sudden hankering for imported beer struck her, a stabbing reminder of dinner with Adam.

She looks up and sees that it’s Kara dressed in the suit and cape, without a single sliver of doubt this time. Cat almost wishes she could remain convinced she was wrong, but it’s simply a fact now, as plain as the scar on the girl’s eyebrow.

“I did ask for a phone number more than once, if you recall,” Cat answers, deciding that she’ll play along just a little longer. It’s a reprieve from asking herself exactly why she’s so angry at Kara. A broken date doesn’t warrant this all-encompassing rage, and Cat’s become very good at ignoring all three of her feelings in the face of professionalism. At least until this week. “What were you doing during the solar storm?”

“Keeping the city safe,” Supergirl responds, but instead of her usual confident poise, she’s drawn in on herself a little. The slump of her shoulders and timid set of her jaw only makes it more obvious who is standing in front of Cat. She’s more Kara than the person marching around the office in a terrible sage-colored jumper for about ten minutes yesterday. Perhaps that was the doppelgänger? Cat’s become weary of trying to keep up.

“Well there are no riots in the street, so I suppose that means you did well, Kara.”

Of course Kara opens her mouth to protest, but it’s half-hearted. They are both so exhausted, and the lies weigh so much that perhaps even super strength can’t bear them any longer.

“Consider the story embargoed,” Cat continues without allowing the interruption. “It buys me nothing to have Supergirl exposed as ordinary. If it’s why you pushed Adam away-”

“It wasn’t,” Kara sighs. “And I know you skipped straight to mother-of-the-groom mode for some reason, but I can’t be with someone just to make you happy.” It appears Kara’s recent boldness is not just a fluke. Cat blanches at the starkness of her words, but she respects them all the same. “I don’t know how to make you happy, Miss Grant.”

“If Big Pharma can’t work it out, I don’t think you stand much chance,” Cat reminds her. “A superhero is supposed to provide safety, not sunshine and rainbows. You don’t look particularly equipped for that tonight, anyway.”

It would be so easy to leave it at that, what could be construed as a cheap dig. “Since you’re here anyway, you might as well tell me what’s wrong.”

“Because making me feel better is your superpower,” Kara mumbles, taking a seat on the couch and waiting for Cat to join her. The obvious move would be to take a seat on the couch opposite, but Cat hasn’t built an empire on making the obvious move. The distress in Kara is new, palpable, and calling to Cat like an unreported exclusive.

“What happened?” Cat coaxes, sitting right beside Kara and hesitating for a moment before reaching for her hand. It’s a simple pat of encouragement, a reminder that Cat is human and therefore safe to talk to, but the frisson of excitement at the touch shocks her. It’s a jolt that might have come from Leslie in its sudden power, but Cat can only think about one failure of mentorship at a time.

“There are things I still can’t tell you,” Kara explains, and instead of moving away from Cat and pretending the brief touch never happened, she lays her hand on Cat’s forearm. Even through the black silk of her blazer, the grip stings just a little. “But I need to talk to someone who wasn’t… they don’t understand.”

“Your helper elves.” Cat can follow a thread, even one as purposefully vague as this. “They were frantic with worry, couldn’t hide it for a second. Remind me to institute office poker games, I’ll make another fortune.”

“During the storm I had a chance to see the life I never had,” Kara continues, her smile at Cat’s joke brief and not reaching her eyes. It’s making Cat squirm to see Kara this flattened, on anyone else it would be a bleeding wound at least, something to apply pressure to and stem the flow of pain. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I could tell you how, but I lost everything all over again. Like the cruelest virtual reality you can imagine.”

“Why don’t they understand?”

“They thought I was choosing my old life over this,” Kara is struggling now, but the words won’t stop coming. “They take everything so personally, and I know it’s because they care. But it makes me feel worse. Then to top it all off, the one part of my family I found again for real… she was lost in battle.”

“Who was she?”

“My aunt.” Kara looks towards the balcony. “I don’t know if you remember when I fought that woman in the sky over there, but-”

“I remember everything Supergirl does,” Cat interjects. “It’s my job to know what she’s up to. Why would you fight her? Were you the one who...”

“I didn’t kill her!” Kara rears back then, breaking her contact with Cat. “She was my family. I could have talked sense into her, if we’d had more time. I know I could have.”

“Kara, you could talk Jesus into a life of crime if you put your mind to it,” Cat leans across the space between them. “You’re grieving. What can I do? Funeral expenses…?”

“Who would come to her funeral?” Kara asks. “Even if I wanted to give her a burial with honors, how could I do that? I don’t even know where she is, and I can’t ask the my government friends for help. She’s an enemy to them. They probably don’t care if she’s put out with the trash.”

“Do you remember when I asked you to get me the Star Wars screener for Carter? Three months before the premiere?”

“Yes?”

“And when I asked you to read six years of emails in an afternoon? Or get me a flight during a hurricane?”

“What’s your point?” Kara looks wary.

“You have a knack for doing the impossible,” Cat reminds her. “If you can find out where you need to go to… find your aunt, then I’ll get some private security to help you do the actual retrieving.”

“It’s too dangerous, I couldn’t-”

“Find a way to make it just safe enough,” Cat insists. “I’ll get you the very best, even if they’re just a diversion.”

“Why are you doing this?” Kara whispers, her eyes full of wonder for a moment. “I thought you were still mad at me.”

“I was never mad at you.” Cat stands, walking over to the wall of awards and alcohol that grounds her in one way or another. “I thought I already taught you that trick? I’m angry at myself for not being reason enough for Adam to stay. For not being the reason he was here in the first place. You… got in the way. You keep doing that.”

“I really didn’t mean to hurt him,” Kara promises, following Cat across the room, sincerity radiating off her. “But even more than that, I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“You’ll make a plan?” Cat snaps, uncomfortable with their proximity this time, but powerless to do anything to reduce it. She could no sooner step away from Kara now than she could give up breathing.

“I won’t risk other people,” Kara says firmly. “But you’ve given me the push I needed to solve it by myself. At least I think so.”

“Let me know when it’s done.” Cat stops Kara as she turns away, reaching for her hand but grabbing her hip instead. “Someone other than you should be there for it. These things should be witnessed. No life should pass unmarked.”

Kara looks at her like she finally understands something fundamental. Cat isn’t sure when she decided to give that part of herself away.

 


 

Cat notices the absences more keenly now, the timing of Kara’s trips to the copier or other floors in search of missing work product coinciding too neatly with Supergirl’s emergence on social media then breaking news. There’ll be a conversation, perhaps, about managing Kara’s position here, of not leaving a trail this obvious for even people less astute to pick up on.

It takes two clear days before Kara disappears for a notable spell, and Cat knows the moment Supergirl comes to the balcony that her mission has been successful. Though Kara’s arms are empty, they remain crooked at the elbow, as though she’s been carrying something her body can’t forget the shape of.

“What do you need?” Cat asks, maybe before the dismissed marketing fools have cleared the office. The rest of the floor are watching through the glass walls, though pretending not to, and for the first time Cat regrets her style decisions. “Is she…?”

“I found her,” Kara confirms, sitting on the lip of the balcony wall. When she swings her legs for a moment, Cat sees the damaged child in her rising to the surface. It’s more effort than she expected to suppress the urge to comfort. Not that she would offer the standard platitudes or embarrass herself with awkward hugs, but the impulse remains. “I just need to decide what to do now.”

“There are people we can call. They’ll take care of everything,” Cat shudders at the thought of her own detailed instructions, secured with her will where only Carter or Adam will ever be given access to them.

“It has to be me.”

“Not everything does,” Cat reminds her. “Was there a traditional service? On Krypton?”

“I remember the funeral pyres,” Kara closes her eyes. “But where can I do that in National City?”

“By the ocean?” Cat suggests. “And yes, I’m aware of the coastal ordinances, before you shoot me down. They don’t apply to private beaches.”

“But where… your beach house?” Kara moves to stand, approaching Cat with something like wonder. “Why are you being so nice to me? About this, of all things?”

“Does it matter?” Cat answers, moving away from Kara. They exist now in a world of safe distances, because the touches seem to linger where they didn’t before. The faint flash of red and blue on the freeway beneath them signals another emergency. No doubt Kara will fly away any minute. “I don’t have Carter this week, I can be there tonight. After dark, obviously.”

“I don’t know how to-”

“Then don’t. If you want people there after all, your sister maybe, consider this a one-time inclusion of plus ones.” Cat doesn’t even allow partners at the holiday parties. They make the events a hundred times more tedious, and she encourages her best staff not to be beholden by personal obligations wherever possible.

“Just you,” Kara decides, and she’s tilting her head because whatever emergency is gripping the city has filtered through at last. “If you’re sure you don’t mind?”

“Kara,” Cat turns to her, halting Kara’s launch with just a look. It’s a curious power to possess. “When have I ever done anything I didn’t want to?”

 


 

The roar of the ocean is muted at this time of night, the tide all the way out. Cat doesn’t have much time for her beachfront property, but not having it was never an option. Status is in the symbols, and she has enough to form entire languages should she desire it. The sun set some fifteen minutes ago, and she’s been kicking driftwood into a loose sort of pile to pass the time.

Kara arrives in her now customary whoosh with stumbling footsteps, this time there’s no childlike joy from the simple act of flying on her face. She has the bearing and the black dress of a pallbearer, the bundle in her arms too slight to be a person, but on closer glances there’s no doubt that a woman lies there, wrapped in a funeral shroud.

“You can leave her with me,” Cat offers, gesturing towards the wood already collected. “I didn’t know how much more you’d need.”

“Thank you.”

Kara lays the body out with incredible care, and Cat sits in the sand beside it. She’s the watcher at the wake, she supposes. The guardian of the soul of this woman, whose name she doesn’t even know. Cat dusts the sand from her bare feet, frowns at how it’s ingraining itself in the seams of her jeans. She sits cross-legged, trying to watch the blur of Kara as she gathers wood from all over the beach. The stack grows higher by the second, some structural integrity in the way Kara builds it. She remembers something about a minor in engineering from Kara’s resume, and makes yet another mental note to ask her about that later.

There’s still so much Cat doesn’t know.

“I think I’m ready,” Kara says when the pyre is shaped, sturdy and with a clear platform. Cat nods, getting to her feet and observing the way Kara falters when trying to lift her aunt’s body from the ground.

“Do you need me to help?” Cat offers. She isn’t sure that her meager human strength offers much, but it’s important Kara not feel like hers are the only hands available.

“No,” Kara says, with fresh resolve. A moment later, her aunt is laid out on top of the wood, some of the taller pieces looming over her like the rafters of a small cathedral.

Cat realizes too late that the matches are back in the house. She’s about to offer to fetch them when Kara lowers her chin and lets those ferocious lasers burst forth from her eyes. The wood smolders, and despite the dampness of the night the cautious flames soon catch. When Kara’s eyes return to normal, the tears are flowing freely, and Cat’s impulse to hold her can no longer be held in check. Superhuman or not, Kara is in dire need of comfort, and somehow ended up with Cat as her best hope of providing it; she can’t let Kara down now.

“What was her name?” She asks, as Kara leans into the hug, eyes never leaving the flickering fire. “Is there anything you want to say, some kind of prayer?”

“Rao died along with Krypton,” Kara explains through her tears. “And I’ve never found comfort in the gods you have here. Her name was Astra. General Astra In-Ze.”

“You were close?”

“I thought we were,” Kara confesses, head resting on Cat’s shoulder. Her voice has a strange resonance, partly muffled by Cat’s body. Kara pulls away, but only slightly, just enough for them to stand side-by-side. Cat keeps one arm tightly wrapped around her. “I was able to say goodbye, at least.”

“Is she your father’s sister?”

“My mother’s,” Kara explains. “They were twins. Twins were so rare on Krypton, but the Science Council allowed it.”

“Identical?” Cat hates to ask, but she wonders if that’s the root of Kara’s dejection. Losing any loved one is hard enough, but someone who reminds Kara so strongly of a mother already lost could be devastating.

“Yes,” Kara confirms. “I could always tell them apart. Even without seeing the hair, that was… It doesn’t matter, but I always knew.”

“Of course you did,” Cat soothes. She can feel her own ghosts pulling at her focus, and she won’t let that happen, not tonight.

“Who was it?” Kara asks, as though she can sense them too. “I’m not being mean, but you’re not exactly famous for throwing around compassion. What made you do all this for me?”

“All this?” Cat deflects. “I gave you some space, and a few kind words. I’m not such a monster, am I?”

“It feels personal,” Kara pulls away for real then, wrapping her arms around herself. Her simple black sweater and jeans don’t seem sufficient for the night air. “I’ve been as honest as I can be with you. I’d like to know, if you’ll tell me.”

“Everyone deserves to be remembered,” Cat answers. “I told you that. We shouldn’t have to hide away how these things affect us. At work, perhaps, but not in the life outside it. You’re entitled to feel your losses, Kara.”

“And you weren’t entitled to yours?” She’s relentless. Cat hates and enjoys that about Kara at the same time.

“When my father died, my mother didn’t handle it very well,” Cat explains. “For a long time, I think she blamed me. Maybe she still does, I can’t be sure.”

“How did he die?” Kara asks as gently as she can, but Cat shakes her head. This is not the place for a tale of everyday heroism, of a good man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cat has little patience for cliché, and she can’t help wondering if this is the root of it. She wrote obituaries during her first months at the Daily Planet, and rejected the stock phrases at every turn.

Kara can have so much more than almost anyone else, but she can’t have this. The closest Cat has come - will ever come - is a quip about truth, justice and the American Way. Saying those words almost conjures him up, a waking dream of subtle cologne and the cigarettes he kept trying to quit. The strong hand on her shoulder that she missed at graduation, on her wedding day, and too many times since. That deep voice, the unkempt curls that Carter has inherited, and a reverence for the truth that Cat continues to share.

“It was just another tragedy,” is what she gives instead. “I got through it. You will, too.”

“I think I’d like to be alone for a while,” Kara says. “If you need to go…”

“I’ll be up at the house,” Cat tells her. “Come up for a drink, when you’re ready.”

 


 

When Kara knocks on the kitchen door, Cat does the decent thing and doesn’t acknowledge the small urn that Kara leaves outside on the deck. Seeing the dirt streaking her hands, the sand coating her clothes, Cat steers Kara directly to the downstairs bathroom. She sets the water in the sink running and lays out a towel.

“Take whatever time you need,” Cat tells her, and returns to the kitchen, wondering all the time if she should have stayed.

“Hey,” Kara announces ten minutes later, scrubbed cleaning and holding her sweater in one hand. She’s wearing a simple black tank top, her pants hastily wiped clean of beach debris.

“Is there any point in offering you wine?”

“Do you have cocoa? I can make it myself, or I can just get some on the way home-”

“Sit,” Cat nods to the stools at the breakfast bar. She fetches milk from the fridge, stocked by her housekeeper on instructions sent this afternoon. It takes a while to remember where a pot might actually be stored, but the searching gives Kara time to compose herself.

“Thank you,” Kara greets her with the words the moment Cat leaves the milk heating on the range to fetch a mug. “I don’t really get why you did it, but I really needed someone tonight.”

“I did propose a partnership not so long ago,” Cat reminds her, over the drumbeat in the pit of her stomach that won’t ever let go of the guilt over Leslie, Leslie, Leslie. “Supergirl and CatCo, it could really be something magnificent.”

“Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“Whenever you could be saying something good about yourself, you use the company instead. As if you’re one and the same,” Kara points out. “I mean, CatCo is so impressive, but that’s not all you are, Miss Grant.”

“I’m making you cocoa,” Cat argues. “I think we can drop the formalities.”

“Actually, I think the milk is burning…”

Cat hands over the mug and lets Kara finish the process before it’s ruined altogether.

“Did you want some?” She asks. There’s too much milk, apparently. Cat shakes her head. It doesn’t feel right to have to spike something as wholesome as cocoa. Not with Supergirl - with Kara - sitting down next to her.

“Don’t you ever worry?” Cat forms the question almost without thinking. It’s like being back in the thick of live interviews, her brain racing ahead of her mouth to keep an unwitting subject on topic. “That all of this is too much for one person? I’m sure most people think it’s easier to be exceptional, to be special. But you and I both know different.”

“It’s not like I have any choice,” Kara admits. “I tried hiding it, but that was only ever a way of delaying all this. It wasn’t a solution.”

“But you’re so young.”

“Not as young as you think.” Kara smiles faintly against the mug.

It’s something, Cat recognizes that. The effort to be breezy, almost normal, is the start of Kara climbing back out from under this. It’s the same method Cat used to deal with her ill-fated time on the crime beat in Metropolis, competing with Lois to be the least affected by the worst that humanity could inflict on each other. She hopes Kara never buys into that mentality. Losing her to cynicism would feel like building another funeral pyre, Cat can tell that much already.

“We really will have to talk about your role at CatCo.” It’s a band-aid Cat has to rip off. “I’m not firing you, don’t get upset. But you need a role with more discretion over when you can leave. I’ll bring someone else in for my fetching and carrying needs. I’ve always thought two assistants made more of a statement, anyway.”

“I can’t be her full-time,” Kara is pleading, slightly. She doesn’t entirely trust what Cat is promising, and maybe she’s right not to. There’s no workable situation that completely hides a superhero. “Not yet. I want something to hold on to.”

“There must be something other than your job that makes you happy,” Cat scoffs. Sunny Danvers didn’t get that way by being this dark and twisty all the time. “I don’t know how to make you happy, Kara.” It’s an echo of Kara’s own plea from days before. “Figure something out.”

“What about this?” Kara breathes the words, before leaning across the tiny divide between them and kissing Cat softly on the lips. When she retreats, Cat licks her lips with a nervous flicker of her tongue. She tastes the hint of chocolate, tells herself that’s why she makes the move. She slips from her seat and kisses Kara back in one smooth motion.

“Don’t do this because you’re sad,” Cat warns. The beach house is sterile and cool, out of season she brings nothing of home here, nothing of Carter and the life she keeps just for them.

“I am sad.” Kara couldn’t deny that even if she wanted to. “But I think this helps. I’m not burning anything else down, Cat.” The sound of her name on Kara’s lips gives Cat an undeniable thrill. “You’re not going to be another person I lose. This won’t be something else I see slipping away in my dreams.”

“Kara-”

“Kiss me.” And Cat does. She’s been trying to reach Kara all this time, and only now she’s letting herself be reached. Even if this is just a few misguided kisses for the sake of comfort, that’s enough. It might be just the start of something even more beautiful, but it can be enough, too.

The last place Cat expected to find happiness was at an unsanctioned funeral, but she has learned by now her own gift for finding extraordinary things in the most ordinary of places. She hired an assistant and got a superhero. She extended a hand and got exquisite kisses in return. She taught Kara how to say goodbye, or at least she tried to, and for that Cat will have to learn to say hello to new opportunities, and developments even she couldn’t predict.

“Hey,” she whispers, when Kara halts for a moment, resting her forehead against Cat’s. Kara smiles, the first genuine one for days, and Cat realizes this sad little ending might just be a beginning after all.