Cat hated events like these. It wasn’t the venue or the ambience that bothered her, and in fact, she was known to enjoy a good high society party on occasion—especially if said party was being held to celebrate one of her achievements—no, what bothered her about these particular kinds of events had nothing to do with the organization of the things themselves, and everything to do with the people.
The typical events that she attended or organized were filled with media professionals or political figures, people who knew that attending a party was more about presenting yourself a certain way, and less about personal interaction. But every once in a while Cat was forced to attend a party like this one, an event not centered around politics, but rather, an employee social gathering. She almost shuddered as she thought those words, she really had no idea why the Human Resources Department insisted on hosting these events twice a year, but if she shut them down she would have to read through endless emails from the head of the department detailing the importance of employee bonding.
Even so, the event itself was never too bad. It was always classy, the food and alcohol of good quality, so in the end her dislike for these events all came down to the people, specifically the “friends and family.” The first reason she disliked opening CatCo doors to these outsiders was really rather simple. None of them had ulterior motives in coming to the party, they simply wanted to have a night out with their loved ones, which made the entire event way to personal and charming for her tastes. The second reason was that these outsiders didn’t know her three rules, the rules that every CatCo employee lived and died by. And without the boundary of political and social networking that guarded other types of social events, these guests didn’t always know where to draw the line, and so someone almost always ended up breaking at least one of her rules.
They were easy rules to remember. The first was never to question her commitment to her son, or comment on the fact that her usual cold demeanor vanished completely in his presence. The second rule was never to invade her personal space unless she initiated it first. And the third rule, well, the third rule was that Kara was hers.
Some of Kara’s male colleagues, specifically that IT boy, Witt, or whatever his name was, and James, the wonder photographer, hadn’t gotten that memo right away, but a few well placed glares, accompanied by a possessive hand around Kara’s arm, soon put them in their place. She knew that some of the employees wondered just how far her claim over her young assistant went, but none of them would dare ask, or even speculate amongst themselves. And she liked it that way. The fact that none of them could figure out if her claim was driven by a romantic desire or more simply just a control factor meant that no one could figure out just how to analyze or disrupt the relationship.
Of course it wasn’t completely fair to say that every CatCo employee was aware of this third rule because there was, importantly, one distinctive deviant, and that was Kara herself. The girl was so adorably naïve and trusting that she never seemed to realize what was going on, not that Cat actively tried to make her aware of it. Cat wasn’t sure how Kara would react if she ever figured it out, would she run? Submit? What did Cat actually want her to do? Cat didn’t even know herself, because, for however much she wanted her young assistant, she was also terrified of breaking her. That’s why it was better this way. Kara was loyal to a fault, which meant that Cat never had to worry about the girl doing anything that would interfere with their relationship, even if Kara wasn’t even fully aware of what that relationship was.
It was also why she refused to say Kara’s name correctly, and why she didn't try to learn anything about her background, or life outside of the office. She couldn’t control any of that, the only thing she could control was office Kiera, office Kiera in CatCo, surrounded by employees who were well aware of where the boundary lay. It all played out rather well, except, it would seem, at these stupid employee social gatherings where outsiders flooded into her domain wanting to be all personal and real. It was the one time that the outside world threatened to crash in around her Kara in Cat’s presence, which challenged Cat’s commitment to keeping her claim to the office alone.
Which was precisely what was happening now because, for the first time in the two years Cat had known her, Kara—who looked stunning in her dark blue dress that was, if a little too conservative for Cat’s liking, in a color and style that complemented Cat’s own dark green gown—well, Kara had brought someone with her to the event.
Cat was pretending to make small talk with a board member and her husband, but in reality, she was just using them as a shield while she carefully scrutinized the woman who was with Kara. The woman in question was attractive, Cat had to grudgingly admit, with short dark-brown or reddish hair, it was hard to tell against her black dress suit, and she was standing way to close to Kara. For once Cat actually wished she knew if Kara had any sisters or cousins, but this woman looked nothing like her assistant, so even if Kara did have siblings, this woman was unlikely one of them. For her part, Kara was staring at the woman like she was the greatest thing to ever grace the planet, her admiration clear on her face.
Cat could see both women in profile, and she watched as Kara laughed at something the other woman said, seeming more relaxed in her presence than Cat had ever seen her. Cat felt herself visibly frown. It lasted only a moment, and then her Queen of all Media mask was back in place, but it was long enough to be noticed by her current conversation partners. Mumbling some stupid excuse about wanting to try the shrimp, the pair hurried off in the face of her obvious displeasure, leaving Cat completely without cover.
As she searched around for someone new to pretend to talk to so she could continue to stare at her assistant, Kara laughed again and brought her arm up to lightly brush the other woman’s arm, and this time Cat’s frown was accompanied by a full blown glare. As if she could sense the stare, the other woman turned her head, catching Cat’s eyes. Cat could have looked away and pretended like she hadn’t been glowering at the pair of them, but she was better than that, so instead she held the stare, refusing to back down.
There was a brief flash of confusion, the woman was an outsider and had no reason to know why someone was giving her a death glare, but a moment later a look of realization set in. The woman looked from Cat to the younger woman next to her, and back again, and then smiled slowly in Cat’s direction and put her arm around Kara’s shoulders, the challenge clear in her eyes.
Kara didn’t even react to the causal contact, something which made Cat’s blood boil. Kara was by nature, jumpy, and it had taken months before the girl had accepted causal physical contact from Cat with ease. Even now, when Cat touched her, while Kara no longer jumped at the intrusion, she still noticed the contact and reacted in some way, whether it was simply by looking at Cat’s hand on her arm, or getting adorably flustered. But this woman, this woman had placed her arm around Kara and the younger woman acted like it was the most natural thing in the world, and that behavior, here in Cat’s territory, was unacceptable.
The other woman was smiling at Kara who was babbling away happily about something or other, but she had positioned herself so that she could see both Kara and Cat at the same time. Cat felt her hand tighten dangerously around her glass as the woman casually tucked a stray strand of hair back behind Kara’s ear, all the while keeping her eyes locked with Cat.
That was going too far. Maybe her glare wasn’t working, but Cat was not about to let the challenge go unanswered. She didn’t know who this woman thought she was, but she was about to learn not to mess with Cat Grant.
Downing the last of her drink, Cat placed the empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter, and then stalked closer to the two women, a cold smile frozen on her face.
Hearing the approaching heels, Kara turned her head slightly, meeting her boss’s eyes with a surprised, if nervous, smile. This was one of the things that Cat liked about Kara so much. Everyone else was either afraid of Cat, or saw her as competition, but Kara was neither. Sure, Kara got nervous in her presence, but Cat knew what fear looked like, and Kara had never once looked at her that way. So when Kara smiled at her, Cat knew the girl actually meant it. Somehow, despite two years of being called the wrong name and endless scathing remarks, her assistant still looked at Cat like she was a person, like she was someone that Kara was genuinely happy to see.
“Miss Grant!” Cat was gratified to see that Kara had instantly straightened up in her presence, stepping forward in a move that forced the other woman to drop her arm away.
“Do you need anything? I can start looking through the layouts for tomorrow if you want…” Kara trailed off, looking at her boss expectantly.
Cat almost considered it. Sending Kara off to do something would be a clear show of power to this other woman, an obvious sign that Kara was hers, and not to be messed with, but no, that would only be a temporary fix. She needed Kara to stay and introduce her to this woman. She needed to learn about this woman and figure out just what their relationship was. It was one thing for Kara to have a private life outside of work, as much as Cat hated the thought, but this woman needed to learn that at CatCo, or any CatCo event, Kara was off limits. Cat needed to make sure that this woman, if she was indeed a date, learned to stay away from future events, and so instead of just sending Kara away for this one night, she had to make her stance clear.
“No, Kiera,” and now Cat saw the other woman glare at her behind Kara’s back as she addressed the younger woman by the wrong name, “the layouts will hold until tomorrow morning. I just came over so you could introduce me to your,” here she paused, looking over the other woman as if deciding just how little she was worth, “friend,” she finished finally, offering the woman an icy smile.
Whatever misgivings Cat may have had about appearing to take an active interest in Kara’s personal life, disappeared an instant later as Kara beamed at her, clearly happy that Cat had actually sought her out for something other than work.
“Maybe I should try to learn more about her,” Cat thought. “If she smiled like this just because I greeted her at a social event, how much more would she smile if I just made even the slightest effort to get to know her better, or offer her a compliment?”
But no, Cat knew she couldn’t do that. Her attachment to her assistant needed to be kept to the strict confines of work. To exceed that boundary by too much would be dangerous, both for herself and for the younger woman. And besides, she already knew Kara way too well. Sure, she didn’t know about Kara’s family, or what she did after work hours, but she knew other things. She knew that when the two of them were working late and had to order food that it was always a good idea to get extra pot-stickers when they ordered Chinese, or to avoid any lobster or crab dishes because Kara hated the thought that those creatures were killed specially for each order, rather than simply being mass prepared like other animal dishes. She knew that Kara hated loud, sudden noises, which was why she would send Kara out for coffee, or to deliver some documents, whenever she had a meeting with the sports news department, who seemed unable to have a simple conversation without yelling out sports terms at regular, if unpredictable, intervals. She knew that Kara loved being out in the sunlight, so on particularly bright days Cat would work on her balcony, and insist that she needed Kara by her side because her desk outside the office was too far away.
And she also knew that Kara didn’t like small spaces, and that it was best not to touch her, or stand too close when in an elevator, and to always let Kara have the window seat if they were traveling to a meeting in the back of her private car. Not that the girl would complain or say anything, but Cat hated the strained look that would appear in Kara’s eyes when she felt trapped. It was a look completely different from her usual, happy and open personality, and it was a look that made Cat both want to hold her closer, and afraid to ask if there was a deeper reason behind her discomfort.
“Just this once,” Cat decided, “tomorrow I’ll be her powerful, uncaring boss again.”
But Kara was still smiling at her, making it hard to hold onto that resolve.
“Miss Grant, this is my sister, Alex Danvers,” Kara looked over her shoulder as she waved the other woman forward, “Alex, this is my boss, Miss Grant.”
The woman, Alex, had smoothed her face back into a pleasant smile before Kara had the chance to see the glare, although her eyes still told a different story. Even so, Cat felt herself relax.
So she was the sister, not a date. Looking back over the past few minutes, Cat realized that none of the interactions between the two women had been exactly sexual in nature. The physical contact had been causal and intimate, but not flirtatious, and years of growing up together would explain why Kara was so relaxed about it. The glare she had been receiving was also slightly different than the one she had been giving. While her glare was jealous and possessive, the look from the other woman, while also possessive, was more protective.
“Alex,” Cat said graciously, extending her hand.
“Cat,” the other woman responded, earning a slight frown from her sister at the informal greeting.
The handshake was firm, both women testing each other, smiles plastered on their faces for Kara’s benefit, but their eyes telling a different story.
The message from Alex was clear, to her, Kara was mine to protect, and from Cat, just as clear, mine to have and to hold.
Kara of course, was completely oblivious to the battle that was being waged for her, and instead, seeing that Cat wasn’t going to say anything about the way Alex had addressed her, Kara began grinning at them both in that very Kara way.
Looking from Alex to Kara, Cat felt her face soften slightly, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw the same thing happen to Alex.
The moment was broken when Alex’s phone dinged, and the softer tone that had momentarily overtaken her face was instantly replaced with a business-like mask, a mask Cat could recognize in herself.
“I need to take this, it’s my boss,” Alex had said, giving Cat a curt, slightly warning nod, and smiling at Kara before excusing herself to take the call.
Cat didn’t miss the fleeting look of worry on Kara’s face, and wondered briefly just what it was that the older Danvers sister did that could cause Kara’s normally optimistic face to crease in just that way.
Trying to distract the younger woman, who was still staring after her sister, Cat decided to bend her ‘no getting to personal with Kara’ stance just a little more for the evening.
“You two don’t look very much alike,” she commented, trying to keep her voice light, “did your family have a blond milkman who came around for frequent visits or something?”
“Great, Cat. Try to make a joke, and instead you insinuate that her mother was having an affair…”
Kara’s attention snapped back to her, and she blushed slightly, although whether it was because of Cat’s comment, or the fact that Cat was giving her attention, the older woman couldn’t be sure.
“Actually, we wouldn’t look alike,” Kara replied, her voice also keeping a lighter tone that didn’t match the following words, “we’re not actually related. The Danvers are my foster family, they took me in when I was fourteen after my parents died in an explosion.”
“Oh,” Cat cast around for something to say, but she was captivated by the look in Kara’s eyes. The blush had faded and Kara was now meeting her gaze steadily and without her usual nervous lilt, and for once, Cat didn’t feel like she was talking to a young, innocent, breakable woman. Instead, despite the soft smile that graced Kara’s lips, Kara’s eyes held pain, true pain, and Kara wasn’t breaking eye contact, or getting flustered, no, her gaze was steady and confident.
“She wants me to know,” Cat realized, “She wants me to see that she can be strong.”
Through the sadness Cat could see that strength, as well as a hardness that she hadn’t thought the younger woman was capable of, something tempered by loss, and… and here Cat paused in her thoughts, it was almost as if there was something beyond the loss, but whatever it was, Cat couldn’t even begin to figure it out.
“Sorry about that,” the older sister said, coming up behind them and placing her hand protectively on Kara’s shoulder, giving Cat a look that clearly said that she better not have tried anything while Alex was away.
The hardness vanished the moment Alex returned, but there was still just a hint of concern on Kara’s face.
“Anything to worry about?” Kara asked softly.
Alex smiled gently at the younger sibling, the earlier business mask gone, “No, just a routine matter,” she assured her sister, at which point, Kara’s face finally relaxed completely back into her usual, open and happy smile.
Kara began to turn back to Cat, but at that moment they were interrupted by Jake, or Joe, or Josh (maybe?), that pompous man from marketing. He was a self-important imbecile, but it was a good idea to keep him happy, so Cat gritted her teeth and smiled at him, accepting his invitation for another drink.
As she walked away from the Danvers sisters she couldn’t help herself and looked back, just once. Kara looked slightly disappointed that she had left them, a thought that brought a pleased smile to Cat’s lips, temporarily displacing her fake grimace of professional interest. Even though Kara looked like she was back to her usual, puppy dog self, however, Cat couldn’t help but remember the strength in her eyes as she had spoken about her family.
“I was afraid of breaking her,” Cat thought, “But maybe I don’t have to be.”
The moment was over way too soon for Kara’s liking. She had finally gotten the two people she cared about most in the world, the two people that made her feel safe more than anyone else, even her cousin, together in one place, and then that stupid, god’s-gift-to-man Jason from marketing had had to come swooping in just as Cat was finally showing some interest in her personal life.
She had been so glad when Cat had come over. She was hoping the other woman would realize that Kara had chosen her own dress specifically after seeing the one Cat had chosen to wear. Although Kara’s dress was much more conservative, considering her scars it had to be, the dark blue was the perfect shade to compliment the green, both with a slight metallic sheen that placed them in the same color pallet without overlapping each other. The cut as well was simple, elegant, exactly the style Cat preferred. If Cat had noticed, however, she hadn’t given any indication, not that they had spoken long enough for her to do so in any event.
Cat had left the event soon after, keeping to her policy of coming late and leaving early, not giving Kara another chance to talk with her, and she and Alex had left shortly after that. If Alex had any thoughts about Kara’s boss, she kept them to herself.
Now, alone in her apartment once more, Kara carefully stripped off her dress and reached for her pajamas, an oversized CatCo t-shirt and a pair of cotton pants. Thinking of Cat, she paused uncharacteristically, before turning away from her clothes and slowly walking over to her floor length mirror, keeping her head down. She normally got changed as quickly as possible, not liking to be exposed for too long, and she only looked in the mirror once fully clothed. But thinking about her boss, about how beautiful she had looked tonight, Kara couldn’t help but contemplate the difference between the two of them.
Taking a deep breath, Kara raised her head, forcing herself to keep her hands at her sides instead of wrapping them protectively around herself, which was her normal reaction whenever she was faced with her scars.
Her first year on earth had been hell. Her shuttle was found by a black-ops branch of the government, and she had been surrounded by military personal with kryptonite the moment she had landed. Thirteen-year old Kara hadn’t stood a chance. They had moved her from her small, cramped shuttle, into a second small space, deep underground in a facility lined with lead, which, she would find out later, was to keep her cousin from finding out about her existence. They had kept her there for the next year, the kryptonite ensuring that they could keep her under control, even as they tested and experimented on her, practically dissecting her while she was still alive. They would take away just enough of the kryptonite to ensure that she would survive these proceedings, and would heal quickly so they could move on to the next test, but never enough for her to have any real power.
Kara learned to speak English from overheard conversations about what they were going to do to her next, and from barked orders telling her to get on the table, or to stop screaming. She was thirteen and she should have broken, but she didn’t know about the phantom zone, and the time delay. All she knew was that she had to escape and find Kal-El, because it was her job to protect him.
It had taken her a full year, but eventually she had gotten her chance. One of the guards had gotten lazy and forgotten to put the kryptonite cuffs on her before moving her from her cell to the operating room. The operating room was, by necessity, flooded with artificial sunlight to keep her alive as they worked on her, even as the normal kryptonite cuffs kept her too weak to fight. The entire walk to the room she had kept her head down, praying that he wouldn’t notice his mistake. And then, stepping foot into the sunlight without kryptonite for the first time since she had landed a year ago, she had run.
She didn’t know what her powers were, but she let her rage and fear course through her, and, feeling her emotions give rise to strength for the first time, she let it overwhelm her. Later, she would realize that she had killed five people, moving so fast the, by then complacent guards, had no chance to react or defend themselves. Even now she couldn’t find it in herself to be sad about their deaths. Sometimes it bothered her that she didn’t feel bad about being a murderer, but even so, it was always her lack of compassion that bothered her most, not the actual act of killing itself.
As she blasted through the roof of the compound and rocketed away, covered in blood that for once, wasn’t hers, her haywire power surges were enough to finally alert Superman to her presence.
And then there had been Alex. Alex was the person who had taught her that humans could be kind, Alex, far more than Superman, had saved her. There were still moments after a bad nightmare when she would wake up and feel only fear at seeing Alex’s face, the face of a human looking down at her, looking so much like a Kryptonian but with that distinctive human smell, and the heartbeat that was slightly faster that the typical Kryptonian cadence. But Alex would stand back and speak softly, and Kara would remember that not all humans were monsters.
There had come a point, several years after coming to live with Alex and Eliza, when she had had just such a night. When she had finally calmed down, however, Kara was struck by the deep look of pain that had crossed Alex’s face.
“My fear of her hurts her more than my memories do me,” and that was the moment that Kara realized she was strong, and more that just physically.
“I survived,” she told herself, “after everything I lost, everything I lived though, I survived. I will not be broken.”
That was the moment she had found the strength to move away from her safe haven, to go to college, and finally, to get a job at CatCo, which was where she had found her second safe human, Cat Grant.
It hadn’t been instantaneous, but eventually Kara had realized that Cat had a certain possessiveness about her when she dealt with Kara. Kara was fine with physical contact, as long as she was prepared for it, but even with her acceptance of what had happened to her, it couldn’t completely erase the mental conditioning that had taught her to fear small spaces, or that physical contact meant pain. Alex had been the first person who was able to touch her unexpectedly without her flinching away, and Cat was the second.
When Cat touched her Kara felt safe because Cat’s touch wasn’t trying to be reassuring, or helpful, instead it was possessive and powerful. Reassuring touches were all well and good, but at the end of the day, that’s all they were, token signs of affection. In Cat’s touch, however, Kara felt at home. Cat’s touch was full of a promise that she wouldn’t allow anyone else to have her, that Kara was cared for and wanted, and above all, safe.
Cat thought she didn’t know, and this made Kara smile sadly to herself sometimes. Cat thought that because Kara smiled at her brightly, that she didn’t see or understand just what it was Cat wanted from her. What Cat didn’t realize, however, was that the reason Kara was able to smile so carefreely in her presence, was specifically because of the way Cat saw her, not in spite of it.
But looking at herself in the mirror, Kara didn’t know if that would be enough. Just because Kara wasn’t broken, didn’t mean that she could look at her body without feeling anything. Her scars didn’t look that same as typical human scars, which she supposed was due to the mix of sunlight and kryptonite. They weren’t raised, and when she would run her hand across them, her fingertips could feel no discernible difference between the scared and unscarred skin, except for the fact that the scared skin was slightly more sensitive, but they were still visible. They looked like someone had drawn henna across her skin in blue ink, and, she supposed, if you didn’t know the story behind them, they could actually be considered somewhat beautiful. But she did know the story. They had never drugged her, and so she could remember each moment, each cut, and she knew what lay behind every scar.
She didn’t think Cat was so shallow that she would reject Kara because of her scars, no, what worried Kara was that Cat would reject her because she thought Kara needed something else, needed someone who would be gentle. It was why she was waiting for Cat to figure out what she really wanted from Kara, whether she was ready to move beyond the office. Because once Cat had made up her mind that she truly wanted Kara, that she wanted all of her, Kara had a much better chance of being able to convince Cat to look beyond the scars. But if Kara pushed it, moved too fast, all Cat would see was a woman who had been hurt, and Cat would run to avoid breaking her, not giving Kara the chance to show her that she would not be broken so easily.
Sighing, Kara turned away from the mirror and got dressed. Tonight she had shown Cat a glimpse of her strength, and, she hoped, maybe, just maybe, it would be enough to make Cat reach out to take more of her.