Cat Grant is mentally ill.
That she is beautiful and brilliant and more than a little successful doesn’t change that fact. Sometimes, it seems to even enhance it.
Technically, Kara Danvers knows these facts. She’s picked up the prescriptions for assorted medications, the names of which drew worried frowns from Alex when mentioned, she’s heard Cat’s bitter jokes, and even seen a few serious signs, but most of the time she doesn’t really believe them. Most of the time Cat is fully in control, and if she’s acid tongued or bitter, it’s to a purpose. Most of the time, Cat Grant seems far too large a figure to be betrayed by her own grey matter, too intense, too smart, too...
And then she enters her boss’s darkened office after hours one night.
Cat hasn’t left for the day—Kara just spoke to her driver—and she’s not in the meeting rooms. Kara stopped by on the way up from the garage. Given her workload, Cat should be in her office, but she’s nowhere in evidence.
Not at first.
Then Kara uses super-hearing and picks up the too rapid flutter of her heartbeat, the rhythm distinctive enough to be easily recognized. A moment later, she finds the rapid timbre of her breathing under the air conditioning sounds, running fast and shallow. “Ms. Grant?” Kara whispers, senses immediately on alert. The other woman has enemies, more than a few capable of turning violent.
If she’s in danger, it might explain the lack of response.
Tipping up her glasses, Kara begins scanning the room on a wider bandwidth, seeing through the walls and furnishings. She finally spots her boss in the small niche that leads back to a private office and washroom. She’s sitting on the floor, back pressed firmly against the rear wall, arms wrapped tightly around her folded legs, head down, face hidden in her knees.
The body language is so not Cat Grant that Kara freezes. On the verge of panic, she double checks herself to make sure the woman wearing Cat’s clothes is actually Cat. It’s her and there’s no blood or any sign of injuries. She scans further. No one else is in the area unless they can hide from Kryptonian super vision. Which is very unlikely.
“Ms. Grant?” Kara repeats and cautiously moves forward.
Cat shivers and ducks her head, hiding her face more firmly.
Kara doesn’t know what this is, but it’s not normal and not good. She reaches Cat and kneels down beside her in an instant. “Cat?” she whispers, scared now. “Are you hurt?” She doesn’t quite touch the woman, but flutters her hands close, hunting for any sign of injuries. “I can call Supergirl—”
“Don’t,” Cat hisses, her chin snapping up, her eyes wide, pupils blown.
Kara rears back ever so slightly, startled to realize Cat’s eyes and cheeks are glistening with tears. “She can get you to the hospital faster than—”
“Don’t,” Cat repeats, her voice ragged, but hard, almost angry. “Don’t play this game.” She drags in a harsh breath, her voice breaking and making her next words a plea. “Don’t make me play it.”
Kara freezes in the face of the raw emotion directed her way.
“Tomorrow I can probably do it again...” Cat whispers brokenly, her eyes dropping to avoid Kara. “...go back to pretending...”
“Pretending?” Kara whispers, struggling to sound confused, even though she knows exactly what the other woman is talking about. “You’re not talking about—” She starts to deny her ties to Supergirl, but Cat cuts her off.
“Please.” Cat’s voice breaks and her hand lands on Kara’s. “I know it’s my fault for panicking. I should have realized you couldn’t be her all the time, but I can’t...” Her voice fades and she’s silent for a long moment. “Reality’s already hard enough right now...”
Blinking rapidly at the threat of tears, Kara feels like her sternum might crack under the pressure on her chest as Cat babbles, just barely making sense.
“I’m sorry,” she apologizes desperately. “I shouldn’t have pushed. I don’t know how not to push, but I know...I know I screwed up, but please don’t...not now. I don’t know how you made it seem like there were two of you, but please stop. I can’t...” Her voice breaks and she can’t finish for a moment. “Just please stop,” she whispers after a beat.
She’s shaking and as Kara watches helplessly, she wrings her hands together, sharp nails dragging across the backs. Kara’s vision lets her see the ugly tracks that cut from her knuckles to her wrists. “Cat,” she whispers and draws Cat’s chin up, the pressure on her chest increasing at the hurt she sees in hazel eyes.
She did this, she realizes in a sick rush, deliberately made this woman doubt herself to protect her secrets even as she turned to her for support and advice.
Suddenly it seems hopelessly cruel.
“No more lies, not right now,” Cat begs while Kara’s still struggling to process what she’s hearing and seeing. “Please don’t make me.”
Kara can’t do it to her anymore. “I won’t,” she promises, sounding nearly as shaky as Cat. “But Cat,” she draws the other woman’s chin back up, terrified by the way she won’t meet her gaze, “you need to tell me what’s going on. What’s happened?”
Despite the firm hold keeping her chin up, Cat’s gaze slides away.
“Look at me, Cat,” Kara orders, using what she thinks of as her Supergirl voice. “Look at me.”
Hazel eyes finally swing back to meet Kara’s scared gaze, though there’s a glaze there that Kara has never seen before. Not drunkenness or exhaustion. Kara’s seen both of those. But a broken, lost quality that scares the hell out of her.
But at least, the older woman is listening now, if not tracking well. Kara keeps her voice firm, and speaks slowly and carefully. “You need to tell me what’s going on. Are you hurt? Did someone—”
“Meds,” Cat exhales. “Missed my meds.” Her shoulders twitch and she starts scratching—almost clawing—at her forearms. “Itches,” she mumbles.
It’s a struggle for Kara to stay calm and not simply sweep Cat up and rush her to the hospital, but she’s terrified of making things worse. She catches Cat’s hands, forcibly halting the scratching, though she’s careful not to cause additional injuries. “Did you take them when you realized you’d missed a dose?” She knows a bit about such things, but it suddenly occurs to her, it’s too damn little.
Cat shakes herself, visibly struggling to regain some control. “Two,” she says softly. “Missed two doses.” She pauses, then nods carefully. “Took a dose.” She scrubs a hand over her face, then mutters more coherently, “I took one dose.” She even manages a bit of Cat Grant frostiness when she mutters, “I know not to double up.”
“Good.” Kara pats her shoulder lightly. “I can take you to the hospital,” she offers, hoping Cat will agree. Instead, she shakes her head. She’s Cat Grant after all. Kara wonders how much of her refusal is rooted in the way the paparazzi will doubtless report the story. She’s under no illusions it would stay secret.
“I’ll be fine. Just need to take it easy for awhile.” Cat swallows hard and straightens her shoulders fractionally. She’s trying to pull herself back together, though it’s a shaky effort at best. Kara’s retreat from the need to lie seems to help. “I’ll be fine.”
Kara wants to argue, but she’s uncertain what’s best. “Is it okay if I call someone? A doctor. To see what she thinks.” It’s hardly Alex’s specialty, but Kara trusts her judgment and there’s no risk of a flashy headline. “She won’t tell anyone anything. I promise.”
Cat is silent for a long moment then finally nods.
Kara steps away and calls Alex, quickly explaining the situation. When she’d done, Alex carefully questions her for details she’s never thought about. At some point, she searches Cat’s desk and finds a discarded prescription bottle. The lid is off and it’s still half full. A half drunk glass of water sits nearby. She reads Alex the details off the bottle and hears her whistle softly.
“She’s in for a couple of rough days,” Alex diagnoses after a few more questions.
“This is my fault,” Kara whispers.
“What?” Alex asks in confusion.
“When I fooled her, made her think I wasn’t Supergirl. I made her think she was crazy. She begged me not to do that again—”
“You didn’t do this,” Alex argues. “Unusual chemistry did. Her brain doesn’t work like other people’s.”
“But if I hadn’t—”
“Kara, no. Her brain is different. That’s why she has an empire and people hang on her every word...and there’s a price to pay for that.” Alex sighs softly. “Some choices you made may have become the focus of her illness,” she admits, “but they didn’t cause it. Things like this would have happened if she never met you.”
“You didn’t see the look in her eyes, or hear her voice when she begged not to do that to her again.” Kara wipes away a few tears.
“You did what you needed to survive.”
Kara’s too lost in her own guilt to hear the regrets that underlie her sister’s flat tone. “But—”
“Save the self flagellation for later,” Alex orders, then softens her voice as she continues. “Right now she needs you, and you can’t help her if you’re lost in your own issues.”
“She looks so hurt.” Kara rubs at a few more tears.
“She is,” Alex sighs. “Bluntly put, she’s dealing with a chronic illness. One that she manages to hide most of the time, but right now it’s kicking her ass. Now, do you want to help her or wallow in guilt?”
Kara flinches as if struck. “Help her.”
“Okay,” Alex says kindly enough to make Kara realize the blunt words were no accident. “Then you need to understand something, she’s facing two problems. One, she doesn’t have the meds her brain needs to self regulate, so her mood, thought patterns, emotions, they’re all messed up.” She pauses momentarily before trying to explain. “Two, she’s taken these drugs long enough that she’s physically dependent on them. She’s literally in withdrawal.” She falls silent, giving Kara time to consider the explanation.
“The itching,” Kara says at last, remembering a stoner from high school who had a similar issue when he quit everything cold turkey. She can almost hear Alex nodding.
“That’s part of it,” Alex confirms. “That’s a common symptom of detoxing. You may also see other things—nausea, panic attacks, dizziness. She might even spike a fever. That’s all normal. Hopefully it’ll stabilize now that she’s had her meds, but it may take some time...”
“Does she need a hospital?” Kara whispers into the silence.
“Probably not. Two doses shouldn’t cause anything dangerous, but she’s needs to be under constant observation and if you don’t want to—”
“I’ll do it,” Kara says instantly.
Alex doesn’t respond to the immediate answer, simply asks, “Do you think she’ll talk to me?”
It requires some negotiating, and a lot of promises to keep her secrets, but finally Cat agrees. Kara’s about to hand the phone over when Alex says, “And, Kara, I need you to not listen in.”
Kara blinks in confusion. “But—”
“You’ve put me in a position of serving as her doctor, and as such, I have to respect her right to privacy.”
A hard swallow follows as Kara struggles with being blocked out. “But what if I need to know something?”
“I’ll tell you what I can,” Alex promises. “But only with her permission.” Her voice is firm—command mode activated. “Now hand her the phone.”
After doing as told, Kara steps back, deliberately not listening in as Cat speaks to Alex, though she can’t avoid hearing the dull, exhausted timbre of her voice or the slow cadence of her mostly one syllable answers. Finally, she taps the phone for Kara’s attention and hands it back with a tired sigh.
“Alex?” Kara can hear the fear in her own voice as she silently wills her sister to explain everything.
“She’s been through this before,” Alex says, sounding relieved. “Says she’s never had any dangerous symptoms. That’s good.”
Kara can hear Alex’s internal debate. “But?” she prompts.
“It’s no guarantee she won’t this time. Drug responses can be unpredictable.”
Casting a worried look the older woman’s direction, Kara checks on her physical condition as only she can. Everything seems within normal ranges, though Cat’s pulse and breathing are running fast. “Should she be in a hospital?” she asks, afraid of missing something.
She hears a soft sigh, then Alex gives a hesitant answer. “I think she’ll be calmer with you, but Kara, you need to monitor her closely. If she has chest pains, an irregular heartbeat or is straining to breathe or if she spikes a high fever, you get her to the hospital fast.”
“I will,” Kara promises as she glances back toward Cat, who’s still compressed into a tight knot and seated on the floor.
“I’ll keep the phone with me. You call if you have any questions, need anything.” She pauses again. “And Kara, if you need me to come, I will. I just think right now, she’s best off with you. She trusts you and that’s not easy for her. But I also think she’d probably trust me more than a random ER doctor, so we’ll work it out...that includes the DEO medcenter if need be.”
Surprised, Kara sucks in air, uncertain what Alex is saying.
“I’m not saying that because I think anything’s going to go wrong, but because I want you to know you have our full support if you need it...if she needs it.” Alex sucks in a breath. “She’s earned it. She’s been there every time we needed her, willingly risked her life and put herself in harm’s way. She’s one of us now.”
Kara’s throat locks down and she has to blink away a few hot tears.
She’s silent long enough that it must scare Alex because she finally asks, “Do you need me to come over?”
Peering over at Cat where she sits on the floor, arms wrapped tightly around her folded legs, face again hidden, Kara just wants to make things right again. As she watches, Cat looks up, moving slowly, like everything hurts, but there’s quiet trust in her eyes and a silent plea. “No,” Kara says after a long moment. Cat doesn’t deal well with people when stressed. “You’re right. She’s better off with just me.” She straightens her shoulders, accepting this responsibility. “I’ll take care of her.”
“Like I said, if you need help, I’m here. We’re here.”
Nodding, Kara says her goodbyes and hangs up, then goes to crouch down in front of Cat who’s put her head back down by then. “Hey there,” she says gently and reaches out to pet silky hair with a gentle hand. “Can you look at me?”
It takes a long moment, but finally Cat raises her head and takes a deep breath, clearly summoning her reserves. “You heard your sister,” she says clearly, though one hand closes tightly in what Kara realizes is a fight with the urge to scratch her arm. “I’ll be fine.” She waves a hand in a dismissive gesture. “You can go.”
A sad smile twisting her mouth, Kara shakes her head. “She also said you need constant observation,” she points out.
She’s almost relieved by the mutinous look directed her way. “Horrors,” Cat grumbles. “So do I get private restroom privileges or—”
“Cat,” Kara snaps to forestall a Cat Grant style distraction effort. “Now, is Carter at home or should I take you to the beach house?” She knows Cat will never let Carter see this side of her life if she can help it.
Cat withers ever so slightly. “He’s with his dad.”
“The penthouse then.” Kara’s relieved she can keep her closer to the city and the DEO. She carefully scoops Cat up, every touch gentle. In that position, she can feel the way muscles jump and twitch just under Cat’s skin. “We’ll get through this,” she assures the other woman once she’s safely settled.
The only response is a tiny, nearly repressed whimper.
Then she flies.
At the penthouse, she’s careful, handling Cat almost like she’s made of glass until it’s clearly getting on her nerves.
“I’m fine,” Cat growls and starts to push to her feet. Reality suggests otherwise when she wobbles and sinks back down. She doesn’t argue when Kara gets her a glass of water. A bit later she asks for M&Ms.
It gives Kara some insight into long term patterns when Cat mutters, “Sometimes the sugar helps.” She thinks of the sweets that Cat is careful to keep on hand and the patterns of when they disappear and when they don’t.
They’re a tool as much as the meds.
It drives the point home. She lives with this. It’s a constant in her life and has been for a very long time.
Shame curls in the pit of Kara’s belly as she starts to see all the things she’s carefully overlooked or though nothing of.
“Oh, stop with the Bambi eyes,” Cat mutters and turns a sharp, eye-rolling gaze Kara’s way. “None of this is your fault.
“No,” Cat says flatly. Reaching out, she catches Kara’s hand and tugs her down to put them on level. Her hand floats up to run a finger along Kara’s cheek. “This is about genetics and bad wiring.” Her eyes slip closed and there’s shame in expression. “My brain doesn’t work right.” Slim shoulders rise and dip in a helpless shrug. “It sucks, but I’ll survive and right now I can’t deal with your issues on top of my own.”
Kara wants to argue, not for the reasons most might, but because the notion this brilliant, powerful woman, one of the smartest Kara has met on any world thinks of her mind as not working right horrifies her on a visceral level. “On Krypton,” she says after a long moment of miserable silence, “the way your brain works would be considered a gift from Rao.”
Cat snorts. “Some gift,” she mutters, sounding tired and bitter. “Miss a pill, wind up sobbing in a corner.”
“And speak into a camera and inspire people to save the world,” Kara argues, suddenly understanding what Alex was trying to tell her. “Same brain, different day, and maybe you can’t have one without the other.”
Cat has no reply to that, so she simply sinks back into the couch and pops another M&M into her mouth, her gaze growing distant as she considers Kara’s words.
It’s less than an hour later when Cat’s breathing suddenly grows strained and a hand rises to clutch her chest.
“Cat?” Kara says, but she’s already moving.
“I’m fine.” But she doesn’t sound fine to Kara and her heartbeat seems odd, the motion of the muscle strange when Kara peers at it through her chest.
She calls Alex and picks Cat up at the same time, not giving her time to argue. “I’m bringing her in.” Her voice is raw with terror, though she’s trying not to scare Cat. “Chest pains.”
“I’ll have a team on standby.”
Kara touches down at the midtown location mere minutes later. Alex is there with a team and they’re moving the instant Kara has Cat on the gurney. Kara goes with them and no one tries to stop her as she holds Cat’s hand and tries to reassure her.
The whole time Alex is moving, running tests and using words Kara doesn’t understand until her own chest feels too tight and like she might be the one in danger of cardiac arrest.
She quickly loses track of time, knowing only that it feels like forever until Alex reappears and smiles at Cat encouragingly. “It’s not a heart attack,” she assures Cat and Kara at the same time. “Panic attack.” She nods to a nurse off to one side. “We’re giving you something that should help you relax, but it’s very mild.” Cat’s on oxygen and Alex notes how she tenses when she checks the feed. “You want to stay on the oxygen a bit longer?”
Cat nods. “Helps,” she mutters, her stress levels high enough that it takes effort to drag air into her lungs.
Alex takes the time to talk to Cat, asking questions and offering support as she tracks the monitors. Cat’s still stressed, but her body is stabilizing. She’s half asleep when Alex finally pulls away.
Kara follows close on her heels. “Is she really okay?” she asks her older sister. “Because it seems like a lot more than just...”
“Physically, she’s fine,” Alex fills in when Kara trails off. “Nothing in the tests show any cardiac or pulmonary issues and panic attacks can mimic heart attacks. But to be sure, we’ll keep her a couple of days, monitor her closely.”
Kara’s eyes slide closed and she heaves a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“I told you, she’s one of us now.”
Kara understands that the simple words are an answer to a whole host of issues, though she’s relieved when J’onn stops by later to tell her much the same. It won’t be simple, but they’ll work things out.
It takes three days, enough blood tests that Cat complains about being under the care of vampires, and a lot of hours of sleep, but Cat stabilizes.
Kara sits with her nearly the whole time and on the rare occasion she needs to leave her, Alex takes her watch.
Mostly, she sleeps and by the time she’s getting a last checkup and preparing to leave, they’ve discussed none of the issues the “incident”, as Cat calls it, has raised.
Kara stands nearby while Alex goes over Cat’s test results and medication plan. There are strong reminders that she needs to see her regular psychiatrist, but also words of encouragement. As Alex leaves, she gives Cat and Kara both stern looks, then slips out.
Cat’s standing, sure footed and stable, her back to Kara as she changes. She’s never been terribly modest and several days in a hospital gown with Kara helping with much of her bodily care have erased what little she had where Kara’s concerned.
“You okay?” Kara asks.
Cat shrugs, drawing Kara’s gaze to the slender line of her bare back. She’s lost a bit of weight and she resolves to work on that. Cat has none to spare.
“Fine,” Cat responds without looking back. “I was lucky you got Supergirl to bring me in so quickly.”
Kara twitches, confused by Cat’s response, momentarily wondering if she’s had some kind of relapse. “I...Cat?” She listens for her heartbeat, frowning as she hears the way it’s running too fast. “What are you doing?”
Cat is silent for a moment as she shrugs into a button down burgundy blouse that Kara brought her from her closet at the penthouse. Finally, she picks up something from a rolling hospital table and pivots, careless of the way her blouse hangs open in front.
Kara drags her eyes from the strip of pale skin and the delicate curves on display to the thick stack of papers Cat thrusts at her.
“Following the rules,” Cat says and almost manages to keep her voice flat enough to hide any bitterness.
Flipping through the papers, Kara speed reads enough to get the gist. Non-disclosure agreements, waivers, acknowledgments of state secrets and plenty of threats to see her locked away permanently should she release any of the information. She doesn't recognize the signing officer and wonders how they got past Alex and J'onn.
But Cat has no way of knowing any of that. She just knows she's signed on to a prison threat.
“I thought maybe there was finally some trust—some forgiveness,” Cat mutters, her voice thick with hurt. “Obviously I was mistaken.” She turns away again, but Kara can hear the too heavy thud of her heart. “So, as I said, thank Supergirl for—”
“No.” Kara reaches out before she can think better of it. Grabbing Cat’s upper arm, she’s careful not to cause any damage, but she’s insistent as she pulls her back around. “I had nothing to do with this and believe me, I won't let anyone hurt you.” And she holds out the papers with her free hand, a single blast from her eyes enough to incinerate them and send ash fluttering to the floor. “I’ve always trusted you,” she insists, ignoring the way Cat snorts. “I was never scared you’d blow my cover, but that you’d banish me.” She’s silent for a moment, then admits, “And I couldn’t bear that.”
Cat stills, but looks away.
“I’d found a home at CatCo and I didn’t want to risk losing it. When you fired me, I panicked.” She pauses for a long moment. “You know about panic and fear,” she says at last.
Cat pales and swallows hard. “I’d been cycling the night before,” she sighs, raising her free hand to her temple. “That’s when my brain locks on something, keeps bringing it around again, won’t let go...and all I could think was that you should be using your powers to save people, not heating my latté to perfection.” She finally looks at Kara, shame in her eyes. “I was being greedy, keeping you with me—”
“No,” Kara whispers, releasing Cat’s arm to cup her palm along her cheek. “Being Supergirl is wonderful and amazing, but it can’t be everything. You’ve taught me and challenged me and made me better in every way. All of me, not just the hero.”
Cat's eyes tip up and she's visibly fighting tears. “Oh, Kara, every part of you is a hero,” she sighs. “And you’ve done all that and more for me, and what you did for me this time...” She struggles for a moment, then simply whispers, “Thank you.”
Kara doesn’t pause to think, just wraps arm around slim shoulders and pulls Cat into a hug.
Cat turns into her, wrapping her arms around Kara’s torso and clinging tightly.
Leaning her cheek against pale hair, Kara cuddles her close, simply holding her. “It’ll be okay,” she whispers over and over as she feels Cat calm and settle against her.
Wrapping her arms around Kara, Cat rests her cheek against her shoulder. “This will happen again,” she says with quiet fatalism. “No matter how careful or attentive I am, it’s not possible to be perfect.”
Kara doesn’t let go. In fact, her hold tightens ever so slightly as if that would be enough to protect this woman from the vagaries of her own mind. “Then we’ll deal with it,” she promises. “Together.”