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For What Binds Us

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Kara knows that her boss has a phone on her desk. Getting Kara’s attention would be as easy as holding down "2" and waiting one ring for Kara to answer with her standard, "Yes, Miss Grant?" But Kara has long reconciled herself to the fact that Cat much prefers standing behind her desk and dragging out those two (incorrect) syllables. She calls and Kara comes running. There’s a certain predictability to this that even Kara appreciates.

Cat is halfway through the pronounced “Rah!” when Kara comes hurrying around the corner and into her office.

“Yes, Miss Grant?”

Their interplay is like gravity, a universal constant.

“Move my three o'clock to one tomorrow.” She circles her desk to stand in front of it, hip cocked, arms crossed. She drums her fingers against her bicep. She’s planning something or plotting. Kara knows this stance well.

“And I need a reservation at Bacchanal for seven. Book it under Kronsky.”

“Kronsky.” Kara nods diligently. “Got it.”

“Oh, and Kiera,” Cat taps her chin. “Get me the name of the person responsible for Jennifer Aniston’s wedding cake. The lime ganache was inspired. Also, find out if Sting is available to play at a private function in two weeks.”

“Planning a wedding, Miss Grant?” Kara chuckles, amused by herself.

“Don’t be absurd. I’m paying someone to do it for me.”

Kara hears the words, but doesn’t quite make sense of them for a moment or two, and then, “I’m sorry, what? To whom? I mean, who is…” She frowns, frustrated by her own inarticulate spluttering. “Married?”

“Close your mouth, Kiera. Before something flies in there.”

She shuts her mouth with a snap as Cat moves past her and settles on her couch, looking altogether too smug for Kara’s liking.

“I trust you’ve heard of Joel Kronsky?”

Kara is still frowning. “The news guy?”

“News anchor. Emmy-award winning news anchor, in fact.”

“So you’re,” Kara squints in confusion. “You’re marrying Joel Kronsky?”

“Eventually.” Cat stands and walks to her cabinet, all restless energy today. “The engagement will be announced in two weeks.” She slides a finger down her water decanter before picking it up. “I’m only telling you this because you’ll be helping with the party. I’m thinking Swarovski crystals, tear drop chandeliers. We’ll have to have it at Paula’s new gallery, of course.”

“Crystal gallery, of course,” Kara’s saying on autopilot. She wonders what a stroke feels like. “I, um… I didn’t know you two were…”

“And why would you? You arrange my social life. You’re not a part of it.”

Kara blinks, adjusts her glasses. “I... I didn’t mean to imply. I’m just surprised.”

“Yes, well.” Cat shrugs a shoulder, apathetic to Kara’s shock. “He suits my needs accordingly.”

“Your needs? Oh.” She’s floundering. Does she say congratulations? Is that even appropriate? “I wish you all the best, Miss Grant.”

Kara wonders if she imagines the little flicker of displeasure on Cat’s face. “Your endorsement is noted. Now,” Kara looks at her expectantly, and Cat raises her eyebrows. “Don’t you have a reservation to make?”

“Oh! Yes. On that.” Kara rushes out, ignoring the heavy feeling that settles in the pit of her stomach.

Reservations, lime ganache, Sting.

It’s going to be a long day.
______

“It makes absolutely no sense!” Kara lands on the ground with a whump. She springs to her feet to face Alex, who is already coming at her with a high kick.

“I don’t know.” Kara blocks and Alex rolls, grunts and says, “She might be egotistical and narcissistic and possibly a little unstable—” Kara flips Alex over.

“She’s not unstable.”

“But,” Alex jumps up and moves to the edge of the mat. She and Kara circle each other. Under the neon green glow, Kara has a light sheen of sweat on her brow. Alex runs her hand over back of her neck. “Some people are into that whole whip and smirk thing.”

“Whip and smirk?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. She likes the power. She’s good at giving orders.” Alex charges forward, and Kara veers to the left.

“J’onn is good at giving orders.” Kara says it lightly, but there’s a bit of bite underneath it. She has no idea why she suddenly feels so defensive.

“Yeah,” Alex rests her hands on her thighs and takes a few deep breaths, “but he doesn’t look half as hot in a pencil skirt.” Kara laughs and Alex moves in with an uppercut, getting Kara squarely in the jaw. “Maybe this Klumsky—”

“Kronsky.” They’re both on the ground now, with Kara pinning Alex down.

“—will be good for her. Love might melt the Ice Queen’s heart.”

“Love?” She releases her hold and Alex flips them over, getting Kara into a death grip, that marks the end of today’s sparring session. “You think she loves him?”

Alex falls back, and presses a button on her wrist band. The lights in the room change from green to a warm white. “Why are you so hung up on this?”

Kara, who is still winded from the fight, falls down beside her. “I’m not… hung-up.”

“I’m just saying, methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

“The lady dothn’t do anything, except get fired if she doesn’t help plan her boss’s perfect engagement party.”

“You know you only talk about yourself in the third-person when you’re stressed out.”

“Shut up.”

Alex flings her arm out until it hits Kara’s chest with a light whack. “Does this mean I’m not on the guest list?”
______

It rains the morning that Kara’s expected to send out the invitations for the engagement party.

Winn comes in soaked and miserable, and Kara hides a chuckle behind her hand.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Not all of us have super… drying… speed.”

Kara laughs openly now and ruffles his wet hair. “No, but some of us have umbrellas.”

Winn peels himself out of his sodden jacket and drapes it over the back of his chair. “Hey, did you hear about last night’s incident?”

She sits down at her desk and opens up her internal mail. Seventy-seven new messages to get through before Cat arrives. “If you’re referring to the attempted heist at the museum, Supergirl didn’t know that was supposed to be art, okay? Who makes art out of weird trash, anyway? It seemed like a good barrier at the—”

“Um, nooo. No, not that.” Winn waggles his finger at her. “Although, tab that. We’ll go back to it. I’m talking about the thing with Cat.”

Kara stops typing and turns her full attention to Winn. “What thing?”

He grins, with that specific glee one has when sitting on a juicy story, and wheels his chair closer. “Okay, so Frederica in accounting was working late last night and apparently around nine, Joel Kronsky, you know, that guy with the toothpaste commercial smile, from National Today, storms in here and starts a verbal duelling match with Miss Grant. According to Jae-Yoon, the security guy, you could hear them two floors down.”

“What were they… I mean,” Kara gulps and adjusts her glasses. “What was it about?”

“That’s just the thing. Kronsky was going on and on about how he wasn’t going to be a player in this façade, and wouldn’t it be better if they just came clean? And then Cat dragged him into her car and that was that.”

Kara’s heart picks up in that familiar way that she’s come to associate with the ding of the private elevator opening on the first floor. “She’s here.”

Winn grimaces and pats her shoulder. “Good luck.”

Twenty seconds later, the elevator doors part like the Red Sea, and Cat’s stalks into her office without so much as a glare in their direction. Not that a glare would be particularly effective with the giant Armani sunglasses obscuring half her face. The bullpen seems to draw a collective breath. The CatCo grapevine has always been up to the minute.

Cat closes the doors and draws the blinds of the balcony windows. This is rare, but not unheard of. Kara waits to be summoned. She’s familiar with the procedure for hangover mornings.

Except, this particular morning seems to be an anomaly. Almost ten minutes go by. And when not a yell nor a disparaging comment comes flying out of the office, Kara tentatively knocks on the glass door. “Miss Grant?”

No answer. She tries again.

“It’s Kara. I have your coffee and the morning memos.” She can see Cat through the transparent door, hidden in her chair, facing her giant wall of screens.

She’s about to knock again when she hears the clipped, “Come in. Close the door.”

She looks back at Winn for a moment, who gives her a “rather you than me look” accompanied by a thumbs up.

The office is dim with the balcony curtains drawn. Kara closes the door with click.

“Miss Grant?”

“Cancel my morning meetings.” Cat doesn’t turn around. Her voice is raspy—the way it gets after she’s spent the day in board meetings or on a three-hour call. The way it gets when she talks too much or too loudly.

Kara nods, despite the fact that Cat can’t see her and glances down at her tablet, which displays the day’s schedule. “And your 11:30 facial?”

“That too.”

Kara frowns and swipes right, deleting the item from the agenda. It had been particularly difficult getting this specific citrus facial at Cat’s favourite spa. Kara has no idea why anyone would want to cover their face with stinging fruit acid, but she’d worked her hardest to schedule it anyway. What Cat wants…

Now, it seems that Cat wants to be left alone in her office, but she hasn’t dismissed Kara, or shown any signs of wanting her to leave.

“I also need you to get my car ready. And call Renee. Tell her to expect me.”

The last time Cat had called her lawyer this early in the day, was almost a year ago, after a particularly lengthy telephone conversation with her ex-husband. Renee is her family lawyer. Cat never meets her in the office.

Kara swallows, waits a beat, and finally asks, “Is everything all right, Miss Grant?”

“That will be all, Kiera.”

Kara wants to wait, wants Cat to turn around so she can assess the damage. She’s good at that, at just looking at Cat and knowing. She knows every frown, every smile. She knows whether a laugh is born out of humour or malice, whether Cat is sighing because she’s exasperated or because she’s just tired. Cat is made up of expressions, tones, movement—a body of language and code in which Kara has become fluent.

She walks away slowly, waiting for Cat to call her back, to offer some explanation.

When Cat leaves the office an hour later, she doesn’t even look at Kara.

______

The rest of the afternoon plays out as any other.

There’s a convenience store hold-up just before lunch that requires Supergirl’s intervention, but mostly things are slow. James comes around to Kara’s desk sometime after two and brings her a bag of marshmallows. They make plans to go see a movie over the weekend. Winn invites himself. By four, Kara is preoccupied with listening to the elevator ding. She has no idea what could be keeping Cat so long. Of course it’s really none of her business. Cat could be doing a hundred things which Kara is not entitled to know or care about. And yet she can’t quite rid herself of the nagging worry.

When Cat eventually steps through those elevator doors, it’s almost six, and half of the floor is packing up to leave. Winn adjusts the satchel strap over his shoulder and turns to Kara.

“You coming?”

“I think I’ll stay a while. There are a few things I have to go over with Miss Grant.”

“If you’re not here tomorrow, I’m sending out a search party to look for your body.”

“Winn, it’s not like she can physically hurt me.”

Winn makes a face. “I don’t think there’s anything Cat Grant can’t do, Kara.”

Kara’s gaze shifts to the office, where Cat is furiously scrolling through her phone. “I think you’re right.”

Kara stays as the desks around her are deserted. People are going home to make dinner and see their kids, and work on everything they might not have accomplished during the day, when they actually took their full half-hour lunch while Cat was out of the office.

Kara has three stacks of bone white envelopes in a tray on her desk. Invitations to be mailed out. She had taken a chance earlier, and held them back, despite Cat’s explicit instructions the day before that they were to be sent out before noon. Kara isn’t exactly sure why she’d withheld them. Perhaps it was something about how Winn had described Cat’s fight with Joel Kronsky, or the fact that Cat hadn’t asked about them before she left.

Besides, Kara assures herself, it’ll be easier to incur Cat’s wrath and send them out a day late, than to face Cat’s embarrassment if she has to recall them. Part of Kara—an awful, shameful part—sort of hopes they’ll never get sent out at all.

An hour goes by with Cat in her office and Kara at her desk, neither acknowledging the other's presence. Kara focuses on her screen, alternating between half-heartedly replying to the multitude of invitations to events that Cat’s never going to attend, and texting Alex about what to get for dinner (she’s torn between ramen and pho). Kara doesn’t look up, but listens to the way Cat sighs, the way she stops her aggressive typing for a moment to take off her glasses and wipe them clean. Kara hears the soft snick of her heels across the floor as she moves from behind her desk to her couch. She loses the shoes and finds a glass of whiskey. It’s her third in an hour.

“Kiera. Come here.” She doesn’t yell, and if Kara didn’t have super hearing, she might not have heard Cat at all.

She’s strangely nervous as she takes those few steps to Cat’s office.

One glass and Cat’s wittier, sharper, a little meaner. Two and she’s argumentative and impatient. She’ll pick a fight and win after two. Three and she’s honest. Three makes Kara nervous.

“Miss Grant.”

Cat turns and blinks as if she’d forgotten that she’d just called for her. “Oh.”

Kara smiles brightly, as if some of her shine could rub off on Cat. “Can I get you anything?”

“Those invitations.” Cat takes a too-big gulp of her whiskey and pulls a face of distaste. “Burn them.”

“I–” Kara takes a tentative step forward. “Burn them?”

“Or shred them. Whatever. Just get rid of them.”

“All of them?”

“Yes.” Cat sighs, as if too exasperated to come up with a sarcastic retort. “All of them.”

Kara stands there for a second too long, feeling helpless. She’s caught between running off to complete her task (which she imagines will be particularly satisfying) and stepping forward. But then what? How on earth is she supposed to comfort Cat? A few placating words? A hand on her shoulder? The thought makes Kara’s stomach twist up in knots and a strange kind of anticipation. It’s the same feeling she gets when she holds eye-contact with Cat for just a moment too long, or when their fingers brush as Kara hands over her coffee. It’s a feeling she holds close and tries her hardest not to analyse. She likes her job. She doesn’t want to complicate it with… things that are complicated.

She’s saved from having to make the choice when Cat stands, tumbler in hand, and saunters over to the bar counter. “You know he said that I was fooling myself?”

Kara swallows, grounds herself. “He?”

“Joel.” Cat pours the amber liquid into her glass, frowning in concentration as it fills up to more than halfway. “Apparently he had a crisis of conscience.” Cat scoffs and whirls around, and some whiskey escapes the glass. A hundred-dollar spill.

“Maybe you should sit down,” Kara suggests, only to be met with Cat’s most condescending glare. She sits down anyway.

“He said,” Cat points her finger at Kara. “And—and this is the real kicker. He said that he couldn’t participate in a lie. A lie.” She looks at Kara expectantly, as if waiting for a response. “This from a man who still introduces his boyfriend as his college roommate.”

Kara frowns. She sits on the couch opposite Cat, not trusting herself to sit next to her. She might do something stupid like reach out and put her hand on Cat’s shoulder, or her arm, or her knee, right where her skirt is riding up. Kara narrows her focus back to the issue at hand. One confusing revelation at a time.

“Mr. Kronsky is gay?”

Cat hums in confirmation and sips her drink.

“But, you were…” Kara starts awkwardly, “If you knew, then why did you…?”

“Custody.”

“Custody?” Kara says it slowly, as if the word was foreign.

“My odious ex-husband is suing me for full custody.”

“Of… of Carter?”

“No, of our pet Chihuahua.” Cat rolls her eyes and chugs back the rest of her drink. “Apparently, getting married to someone half his age also robbed him of half his brain cells. He thinks that because wife two-point-oh has the luxury of spending her hours arranging fruit baskets and getting manicures that they’d make a better primary household.”

“Miss Grant,” Kara wishes now that she was sitting next to Cat. She wishes that she could reach out and steady her. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Cat says quickly, and clears her throat. “They won’t… I won’t let it happen.”

“Of course.” Kara is equally quick to mollify. “Of course not.”

“The thing with Joel was…” she sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. Kara makes a mental note to greet Cat with Ibuprofen in the morning. “Well, my lawyer thought that it was a good idea to try and equalise the playing field. David’s got his walking mid-life crisis. I would have—”

“Mr. Kronsky,” Kara finishes for her.

“It wasn’t going to be a permanent arrangement.” Cat leans back and crosses her legs and for just a second, Kara’s distracted by how far up her thighs Cat’s skirt has ridden. “An engagement announcement, a few weeks of co-habitation, cutting back on my office hours and by the time the deposition rolled around, David wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Cat runs her thumb along the side of the empty glass. “It’s come to this. For eight years, I’ve dressed my son for school, made sure he had his lunch, read him bedtime stories. Eight years, while David was off playing golf in the Bahamas or sailing yachts in the Greek Isles, making cameos as Carter’s father. Now he marries a Sports Illustrated centrefold and I’m the one who has to prove competence.”

Silence extends between them, and Kara finds she has nothing comforting to say. She feels a bit like a child, peeking through a door into a world where grownups have lawyers and custody battles and the monsters don’t have horns or sharp teeth, and you can’t just punch them to make them go away.

She stands and takes Cat’s glass from her, then fills a separate one up with water.

Cat accepts it wordlessly and takes a sip. She doesn’t bat an eye when Kara sits beside her. “You want to hear the worst part?” Cat lowers her voice and leans forward like she’s about to share something awful. “Carter likes her. My son, my smart, discerning, shy boy actually likes her. He likes that she bakes him gluten-free brownies and that they go horse-riding while David is at work. He likes her and it… kills me.”

It’s not the first time that Kara’s seen Cat drunk. But at this point, she’s usually dispensing advice, or bemoaning the idiocy of her underlings. To see Cat this vulnerable is jarring. She’s almost too real. Raw nerves underneath layers of Chanel and expensive perfume.

Kara’s first urge is to fix it, to stop the hurt. But the suit under her shirt isn’t going to solve this problem, and her urge to use her heat-vision on Cat’s ex-husband isn’t helping anyone.

“Is there anyone else? I’m sure there a hundred people—"

“Who I could trust to be discreet about this? Don’t be so naïve, Kiera. Joel worked because we had something to offer each other. People knew we were in the same social circles. He needed a beard; I needed a convenient relationship. It was perfect.”

Cat lowers her glass onto the table and it clatters against the metal coaster tray. “Maybe he’s right,” she says softly, her eyes focused on the rim of the glass. “I spend more time in this office than anywhere else. More time around these insipid minions than around actual people.”

Kara is not about to mention the fact that CatCo’s employees are very much actual people.

Cat looks up, as if sensing exactly what Kara is not saying. She narrows her eyes, apparently annoyed now.

“God knows I see your pretty little face more often than—” The shift in Cat’s expression is slow and deliberate. Kara’s still half distracted by the fact that Cat just called her pretty to really notice it until Cat straightens and looks at her with terrifying focus that seems to push through the haze of the whiskey. “Kiera.”

Kara fidgets under the intensity of Cat’s stare. “Miss Grant?”

“It’s ludicrous,” Cat murmurs, more to herself than Kara. “It wouldn’t be any better than what he’s doing. You’re so… young. It would likely do more harm than good.” Cat scowls at Kara as if she’s somehow at fault here.

The first inkling of Cat’s idea becomes clear and Kara’s eyes widen. It’s the whiskey talking. Cat isn’t thinking straight. She can’t possibly be implying what Kara thinks she’s implying.

“But,” Cat emits contemplative little noise. “It would make unfair discrimination a conceivable argument.”

“It’s late,” Kara attempts a smile and stands up on shaky knees, hoping to escape before Cat pursues this any further. “I should call your car.”

“Sit.”

And Kara does.

Cat studies Kiera carefully as she bites at the edge of her thumbnail—a habit she picks up when she’s particularly tense. “I should probably preface this by saying that your job here is in no way at stake. Whatever you decide will have no bearing on your employment.”

Kara shifts nervously. “Miss Grant, you’re upset and not thinking clearly. You can’t, you don’t want... me.”

“Oh, Kiera.” Cat’s smile is slow and calculated. “I think you’re exactly who I want.”