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Something Out of a Memory

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Cat tries not to let her distaste show on her face as she reads over the details for the contract. Sticking to jobs that someone asks her to pull has made work a lot steadier over the years, but she could do without having to meet with the most arrogant bastards the world has to offer. Just once she wishes she could send a middleman to negotiate these things, but then she'd have to pay them for their services and their silence. And that's money out of her pocket.

"The protections on this thing must be quite impressive," she says as she studies the limited information available. "Only a master can get through?"

The man across from her, Cat doesn't remember his name, looks confused. Undoubtedly he hadn't expected questions from her. This kind of man never does. She blames it on action movies, too many details cut out for time and level of interest. No one ever realizes how much planning goes into those heists.

"I hear they paid top money for their security," is all he offers, and Cat bites back a sigh. She's going to have to pry the details out of him with a crowbar at this rate, and then probably spend weeks verifying the information for herself anyway.

"So you put this kind of price tag on it without knowing anything beyond they spent a lot? Not even the name of their security provider?"

Thankfully he misses the sarcasm in her voice, subtle as Cat can be. She'd been more direct, once, but that hadn't worked out well for her. Nowadays she sticks to quiet and contained. Both in her presence and the jobs she takes. It means she doesn't make as much, but hey. This way she attracts less attention, and takes fewer risks. It's a trade off.

The job on the table now goes against all of that, but Cat's still tempted to take it. Not just for the frankly obscene payout offered, either.

She hasn't had a real test of her skills in years. Not like this one promises to be. Mid-level thievery and company secrets just don't have the same demands on someone with her talents. It's too much like working an office job, and she'd sworn never to be stuck in one of those. And lately, her usual jobs have been a little too close to that for comfort.

"I don't know exactly who they went with, just that it's a major security provider with a great reputation. Something about they've never had a major incident, and none of their minor incidents went unsolved."

It's not a lot of detail, or a particularly believable party line from the security company. No one is infallible, Cat's learned that lesson the hard way. But it means they're discreet, and likely have the political power and capital that means they can back up the claim without anyone voicing a contradiction. That might make things fun.

After a solid half hour of trying to get any more information out of the man that she can, Cat takes one last look at the papers on the table in front of her. The number of zeroes in the amount offered is frankly ridiculous, and if Cat hadn't researched her contact she'd worry he wasn't good for it. But he's wealthy enough to wave off this kind of money without noticing, and between the amount and the thrill, Cat can't say no.

With a handshake, the deal is struck.

***

Step one is casing the place, without looking like she's casing the place. The necklace is held in a smaller museum on the outskirts of town, somewhere upscale and quiet without being run down. It makes loitering more difficult, but Cat's a professional. All she needs is a single walk past and she's spotted the perfect perch to study the entrances from. After that it's just a matter of getting in without anyone seeing her, and that's child's play by now.

Sipping her coffee and sparing a grateful thought for insulated mugs, Cat settles in for a long day of nothing. With as few details as she'd gotten from her contact, there's no telling how long she'll have to stay tucked away up here, watching for subtle details to fill in her knowledge of the museum. At least the exhibit is on permanent display for the calendar year, one of their main attractions. It makes it a little harder to get to it safely, but also means Cat doesn't have a tight time limit.

Rushing leads to mistakes, and she's too professional for that.

On the third day of surveillance, Cat gets an unwelcome surprise. She'd set up nice and early, just like she always does, and settled in to watch the security team arrive and switch shifts. Shift changes are always a weak point, and Cat's been wondering if she can take advantage of that here.

Today, all thoughts of the job and jewels go flying out the window, and Cat has to grip her coffee mug with both hands to keep hold of herself and her reactions. She should never have taken this job, she's a fool who once again got lured in by a pretty façade. What on earth was she thinking?

Because standing below her, not 100 yards away, is the woman who taught her everything she's learned about caution. And she's currently the head of security for the museum Cat's planning to rob.

***

Cat gets absolutely no useful info for the rest of the day, and barely makes it back to her apartment before she gives in to the rushing of emotions in her chest. Ten years, ten long years, and she still hasn't gotten over Kara.

Oh, there's plenty of anger there too, mixed in with the longing and fond memories. But if Cat had to decide which is winning out, she couldn't. It's too complicated, just like everything always was with Kara.

Damn her, how is she even here? The last Cat had known she had a comfy job in Kansas somewhere, working with her cousin at some start-up they'd dreamt up together. Safely out of the way and nowhere near where Cat plies her trade these days. If she'd heard even a whisper of Kara leaving the flyover states and heading for National City, she'd have gone to France or somewhere in a heartbeat. Anywhere but where Kara is.

"How the hell am I supposed to do this?" Cat asks her empty apartment as she paces, wishing she could afford to down half a bottle of wine. Damn her 'no alcohol on a job' rule, no matter how good a rule it is.

But what else is she supposed to do? How can she even complete the job when the head of security would recognize her on sight? There's no casing a place when you've got a weakness like that. If Kara steps foot in that museum, the entire plan is blown. There's no way Kara would ever believe she's there innocently, not after what she knows. So how the hell is she supposed to do this?

***

It had taken another week of scrambling for any kind of plan, and then two more weeks to get set up for it. Cat still wonders if this could all come crashing down around her, but she can't give up now. If she backs out on the contract without at least making an attempt, her reputation is ruined. And quite possibly, her life.

While his name still escapes her, Cat knows the man who hired her is as ruthless as he is rich. Having someone out there who knows as much about the plan as Cat does is a liability. At least while Cat is actively trying to finish the job, she's safe. And once she's stolen the necklace, she has nearly as much to lose as he does.

But if she cancels before she's even made an attempt at it? What's to stop her from going to the authorities and ratting him out? After all, she won't have done anything illegal at that point, or at least nothing that a DA wouldn't wave away for a chance to take down someone like him. And that makes her vulnerable. Even if the DA doesn’t buy it or can’t act due to lack of proof, it still puts his name on their radar. Not a place he’d like to be, and not something he’d likely overlook.

So even though it's probably madness, Cat's come up with a plan. There's no guarantee it will work, but it's worth a shot. And remembering how trusting Kara used to be, Cat has hopes that it might all be okay.

Which is why she's currently standing outside the museum, dressed in a professional suit and carrying a business proposal. If she can't case the place without being spotted, then she's going to make sure she's seen.

"Hi, I'd like to speak with either the museum director or whoever is currently in charge of security budgeting," Cat says to the woman sitting at the front information desk, pasting on a bland smile. "My name is Cat Grant, and I'm hoping to partner with your museum for some consulting work."

"Cat?" The voice is familiar, practically unchanged, and Cat steels herself to act more than she's ever acted before as she turns to meet equally familiar eyes. "Oh my god, it is you."

"Kara!" Cat says, her smile shifting to shock as she searches for words. "I didn't expect to see you here."

"I could say the same about you." The surprise on Kara's face is shifting to suspicion, and Cat knows she has to act fast.

"I've recently started up a consulting firm for museums and similar locations, to advise them of any potential security or logistical weaknesses," she says as she pulls out a brochure. "I've been out of the business since that last close call, but life has been boring and I miss using my skills. This seemed like a better option than any of the alternatives."

Except for the bit about being out of the business, it's all true. Cat had spent the last two weeks feverishly getting everything set up to officially start a company. She has fake paper trails going back at least six months, thanks to some people who owed her favors, and she'd just received the finalized paperwork the day before. Now all that's left is to see if the ruse works.

Still suspicious, Kara does at least invite Cat back to her office instead of chasing her out the door. It's a good start, and Cat breathes a sigh of relief at making it this far. She hadn't been sure she would, but it seems like Kara is just as willing to see the best in people as she was ten years ago. 

"Why now?" comes the question as soon as the door is shut, before they've even had a chance to sit. "It's a bit of a coincidence that you started this company just as I started as head of security here. I can't take a risk like this without more than a brochure, Cat."

Turning to face Kara, Cat steels herself to show far more of her emotions that she has for literally ten years. It's an uncomfortable thought, but anything less won't be enough. "You know it's been ten years since, well, since everything," she starts, taking a visible breath to settle herself. "In fact, three months ago was exactly ten years, and that means the statute of limitations was officially up. I couldn't risk starting anything like this before then, but I've had the idea for about three years now. I live two neighborhoods over from this one, and this is the closest museum to me, so it's where I started looking."

Also mostly true, and Cat’s incredibly thankful that the timing worked out so well for this job. Had it been any sooner, she wouldn’t have such a ready excuse. As it is, there’s no telling whether Kara will believe her, but Cat’s hoping she does. There will be a thorough check of her story, Cat’s sure of that, but she’s gotten everything tied up well enough that they shouldn’t find anything. 

After the close call ten years ago, when Kara noticed one too many discrepancies about Cat’s stories and confronted her about them, Cat had gotten out of the jewel business. At least at the level she used to frequent. Flashy scores and high stakes were her calling card, and she’d left anything remotely similar behind until she’d been contacted for this job.

The restrictions had chafed, but Cat knew the importance of not risking too much when the potential for loss was too high. And now, it’s working in her favor. There’s been no chatter of someone like Cat working for the last ten years, nothing that can be traced back to her. As far as the people Kara will ask about her, she hasn’t existed since that last attempt.

“How long have you been in National City?” Kara asks when she’s had a minute to think over Cat’s response. “I thought you were headed for Metropolis after, well. After everything.”

“That’s what everyone was supposed to think,” Cat says wryly, remembering how much trouble she’d gone through to give that impression. And how much money she’d spent to make it believable. “But I headed for Gotham first, figuring I could hide there for a bit. If I wasn’t committing crimes, a lot gets overlooked there.”

That part is entirely true, and Cat has the contacts to prove it. She hadn’t dared risk even the smallest of crimes for months after she moved, and there’s an entirely legitimate group in Gotham that serves ex-criminals wanting to get out of the game. They don’t usually reveal details, anonymity part of why people will trust them, but Cat’s already contacted them and given permission to answer any questions Kara has. It’ll make the rest of her story that much more plausible.

“After Gotham, I traveled for a bit, never really staying in one place,” Cat continues, weaving just enough truth from her life together with falsehoods to give the impression she wants. “I couldn’t settle anywhere in case anyone was still looking for me, but I made it work.”

“How, if you weren’t still in the business?” Kara interrupts to ask, looking a little skeptical. Not that Cat blames her, ten years is a long time to fly under the radar.

But thankfully, Cat has a story for that too. “Low rent areas and living off what money I’d made before. It was a step down, and not one I enjoyed, but when you don’t have money coming in you can make money stretch further than you’d think. I’d pay cash up front for a room for a few months, then make a little more helping people with their books. And before you give me that look, entirely legally. Organizational advice, nothing more. I wasn’t about to risk restarting my countdown clock.”

It’s the weakest part of her story, but cash means no paper trail, and few places that accept cash are going to remember a random woman who stayed there five years ago. Cat has a few people she’d contacted who’ll vouch for her more recently than that, but for the most part following that line of investigation would turn up nothing, so she’s not sure whether Kara’s going to follow it.

Looking thoughtful, Kara glances down at the brochure one more time. “You really mean it about going legit?” she asks, sounding hopeful.

It’s nearly enough to break Cat away from her story, knowing she’s going to hurt this woman once more, but she’s committed now. “I really do,” she says, pouring every bit of her acting talent into the words. “When you confronted me back then, it scared the shit out of me, Kara. I’d always been confident in my skills, and I’d gotten cocky. I didn’t think anyone could ever catch me, but then you saw through my stories. It was the closest I’d ever come to being caught, to losing everything. I never wanted to come that close again, and that meant leaving those risks behind for good.”

Or at least for ten years, Cat thinks to herself as she watches carefully for Kara’s reaction. This will be the make it or break it moment. Technically speaking, she hasn’t done anything illegal at this point. Kara has no reason to call the cops on her, and she wasn’t lying about any thefts traceable to her being outside the statute of limitations. So there’s no real risk of jail if she’s not believed.

There is, however, a very big chance that Kara would realize why she’d visited the museum today and make any further attempts at the necklace impossible. And there’s no telling whether what Cat’s done so far would count as an attempt to her client, especially if she’s not risking jail time to ensure her silence.

So despite years of avoiding risks and laying low, Cat’s quite literally staking her life on this particular risk paying off.

“I, you know I’m going to have to check this all out,” Kara says, looking conflicted. “I want to trust you, Cat, but I can’t take your word for it anymore. You understand, right?”

Rather than act offended, Cat plays the part of the reformed ex-thief who understands her shady past might be an issue, but swears she’s worked past it and just wants a chance to succeed. “Of course I understand. I’d expect anyone I approached with a proposal like this to check on me. If they didn’t, that’s enough of a sign they aren’t taking security seriously enough for me to start with recommendations right then.”

Kara laughs at that, and Cat feels her heart clench a little at how honest it sounds. Here she is lying to the woman, banking on their past together to sell her story, and Kara’s honestly amused by it all. Just in time for Cat to hurt her all over again.

“I take it you’re prepared, then?” Kara moves past the moment, unaware of Cat’s internal struggle.

“Of course, I brought a packet.” Cat knows she needs to refocus, not let the past get to her, and she mentally shakes her head as she digs through her bag. “I included a number of references, but I couldn’t remember or track down everywhere I stayed for the past ten years. So I only have the last couple years here, as well as a list of what cities I was in and how long I was there.”

“You’re gonna make me work for it, huh?” Kara jokes, taking the packet and flipping through it quickly. “There’s not a lot here.”

“There’s not a lot to my life over the last ten years,” Cat says with a shrug. “Plus, if I laid out every movement for ten years, most of which I have no proof for beyond my memories, can you honestly say it wouldn’t look more suspicious than a relatively empty file?”

“You have a point. I wish it wasn’t a good one, but you’ve got me there.”

“Hopefully, after this I have a starting point for more details to add,” Cat says with a smile. “I know it will be difficult to get my foot in the door with the past I have, but I really do want to use my skills to make sure places like this are protected. The better protected they are, the less likely it is some young idiot will put their life and freedom at risk pulling the things I used to pull.”

Kara studies Cat carefully for a moment, and Cat wonders what it is she’d said that tripped another line of suspicion in her ex. She’d played the part perfectly, what could she possibly have done to get that look? “Ten years made you a lot more selfless than I remember,” she says eventually, and Cat mentally curses.

Ten years hadn’t taught her much in the way of selflessness, to be sure. Cat was still looking out for herself first and foremost, which is why she’s in this office lying to the woman she’d been hopelessly in love with ten years ago. But it was the part she’d decided to play when she thought up this ridiculous idea in the first place, and now it’s the one thing threatening to bring it all down.

“Well, you can’t expect me to admit to potential employers that I really like the challenge of breaking into their buildings,” she says, thinking fast. “I’m not interested in the risks that come with stealing, or breaking in illegally, but I love solving the puzzles. And if using the skills I earned means I get paid, and stops some young idiot, then that’s a good thing in my book.”

Cat hopes it’s reasonable enough, mixing a bit of the old Cat who loved risks and regaled Kara with stories of base jumping with the Cat she’s pretending to be now. Ten years is a very long time, and people change. Cat just hasn’t changed as much as she wants Kara to think.

Another moment passes before Kara relaxes, still studying Cat carefully. “I guess it would be a bit of a problem in getting people to trust you to improve their security,” she says eventually. “Security departments don’t like hearing that someone relishes the challenge of cracking all their hard work.”

“That’s why I practiced my sales pitch so much,” Cat says with a laugh, hoping to move past the awkwardness. “I hadn’t realized I was slipping into my little elevator pitch with you. After all the time I’ve put into making this company a reality, I swear I dream in statistics and sales pitches.”

Kara’s mostly relaxed now, and Cat pats herself on the back for avoiding what could have been a very bad moment in this interview. She’ll have to watch herself a lot closer moving forward if Kara takes the bait, lest she slip up and spoil the game before she has the prize.

After that it’s just a matter of exchanging contact information, and then Kara leads her out of the museum. Cat’s amused to note that the path out is the same way they’d taken in, which is definitely a more roundabout path than necessary, but one that keeps her away from all the main exhibits and security features. She won’t get much from this trip in the way of casing the place, but hopefully it won’t be necessary. 

It does point to Kara at least being very serious about her job, and if her team is the same it’ll make the whole thing more difficult. Especially since Cat will have to find actual security flaws and plug them in order to maintain some level of trust for long enough to get a full plan into place.

***

Cat gives it a week before she starts to get worried. It’ll take Kara time to check on her references, let alone all the additional digging she’ll have to do. A week is the absolute minimum amount of time for something so major.

But as one week becomes two, she starts to worry.

She can’t watch the museum at all while she waits, knowing that if Kara spots even a glimpse of her anywhere in the neighborhood it’ll blow her story completely. She can, and is, visible around her own neighborhood to cement her image in people’s minds, but that’s it. She can’t do anything else without risking the whole thing coming down around her ears.

It ends up being almost three weeks before she gets a call from an unknown number, and Cat debates the wisdom of taking a shot of liquid courage for a moment before answering in her best professional voice. “Cat Grant Consulting, how can I help you today?”

The business voice itches, but it seems to do the trick when Kara laughs from the other end of the line. “Wow, even after the sales pitch you fed me in your interview, I didn’t think I’d ever hear you sound so professional.”

“It comes with owning your own company,” Cat says with a laugh of her own, trying to cover up any kind of nerves that could show through her voice. “I’ve been waiting to hear back from you before reaching out to any other museums with anything more than an initial introduction so that I don’t get double booked, but answering like I work in an actual office seems to go a long way.”

She has, in fact, been contacting other museums in the area while waiting for Kara, so it’s not even a lie. It also makes her itch, knowing that she’s giving some of her old targets more information about her than feels wise, but Cat knows it’s a necessary layer to her scheme. If Kara was thorough and contacted other local museums, which after three weeks Cat is almost sure of, for none of them to recognize her name would be just as dangerous as protecting her secrets.

“Yeah, Snapper over at the Museum of Natural History said you’d called,” Kara says when she finishes chuckling, confirming Cat’s theory. “You were really serious about going with us first though, huh?”

“Only because I got through an actual interview.” Should she be nervous right now? Is this a test? It’s so much harder to gauge over the phone when she can’t see Kara’s face. “I’d thought it would take a lot longer to get any kind of traction for this kind of work, but once I had someone actively considering hiring me, I didn’t want to start off my new company having to turn work down rather than overcommit. There’s only one of me, after all.”

“As if one of you wasn’t enough,” Kara mutters, probably not intending for her phone to pick it up. “All of the checks came back clear, and other than a few clarifying questions I want to go over, I’ve got the okay from the higher ups to negotiate a contract. We’ve got some new pieces coming in for next year’s displays that we want to make sure are as protected as they can be.”

“Future displays will be difficult to get right,” Cat warns as the half-heard sentence rattles around her mind. She’d thought she heard it all, but surely there was something missing, right? Surely Kara hadn’t said what Cat thought she’d said.

“Oh, I told them that, don’t worry. But you can help with general security gaps, and those are the biggest areas of weakness.” Kara sounds very sure, and Cat has to take a moment to realize she’d learned the trade very well, if that confidence is any indication.

After all, Cat had certainly never mentioned that to her. Even pretending to be a jewel trader, she’d never let on how familiar she was with security systems. She’d been trying to be careful, not wanting to risk pushing Kara away if she learned what Cat did for a living. And then she’d done it anyway, but now with the added complication of months of lying on top of it all.

“I can stop by tomorrow if you’d like,” Cat offers, rustling some pages like she’s checking her calendar. “Or if that doesn’t work for you, I have Thursday afternoon clear.”

She’s got the whole week clear, but there’s no way she’s admitting to that.

“Tomorrow works, I can clear my schedule whenever works for you. Early would be better, before the museum gets busy, but if you need afternoon then I can be flexible.”

Pushing down very unhelpful memories of just how flexible Kara can be, Cat takes a second to ‘check’ before confirming for ten in the morning and finishing the call.

That out of the way and a lot of relief shining through, Cat once again pushes away the temptation of her alcohol cabinet and settles instead for a long soaking bath. There’s no way she’ll make it through tomorrow with the knots of tension currently taking up residence in her shoulders. One look at her, and the game would be up.

***

“Right on time,” Kara greets her when she shows up the next morning, a smile on her face and two coffees in hand. “I didn’t know if you changed your coffee order, so sorry if it’s wrong.”

“No, it’s still the same,” Cat says as she takes the drink, touched by the gesture.

God, how had she forgotten that Kara was this wholesome? Not just getting her coffee, but remembering her order after 10 years? That wasn’t normal, was it? Regular people didn’t just remember something like that for an entire decade.

Kara still follows the more circuitous path around the museum to her office, and Cat is once again impressed by how thoroughly she’s taking security. It’ll make her job harder, of course, but even with that Cat can applaud a job well done. There’s no shame in admiring someone else’s skills, only in using them as a benchmark to continuously better your own.

“First, all of the contacts you provided that I could reach did confirm your story,” Kara says once they’re settled. “Not everyone answered, and some of your contacts look like they moved years ago, but everything else that I could verify, I did. The group in Gotham in particular had a lot of good things to say about you.”

Once again, Cat is thankful for former her for having the foresight to set up immediate character witnesses after the close call. It’s probably not fair to betray their trust like this, but hey. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and at this point Cat’s gotta go through with this.

“I’m glad at least some of the information was still good,” she says as she pushes away the tiny flash of guilt. “But you mentioned you had a few questions to clarify.”

“I did, yes,” Kara says as she begins shuffling papers on her desk. “You said you were in Houston about six years ago, there was a set of antique diamond jewelry stolen in Austin during that time. The police never solved it-”

“And you want to know if I did it, or if I know who did,” Cat finishes, cursing. She hadn’t realized one of her chosen cities was that close to a jewel heist right during the time she put it down. Then again, this might be for the best. If there was a complete absence of anything even remotely suspicious, her story might seem too clean. “I didn’t, and I don’t know who did. I stayed away from the business as much as I could. If you have any of the file, I might be able to help, though.”

Selling out one of her fellow thieves would probably put a target on her back, but compared to the one Cat’s under now, it’s a safe risk. Especially if they haven’t been caught after all these years. One more theft tied to them can’t hurt, and it’s not like the word of a former thief herself would hold much weight in court.

Assuming Cat actually showed up in court, of course.

“I do, actually,” Kara says as she hands over a slim file. It’s mostly just pictures and a rough overview of the presumed methods, but it’s enough for Cat to spot a few things. 

“It was probably The Rook, based on how the security feed was cut,” she says after a minute. “This kind of magnet was his specialty, though I’m surprised he left it behind. Usually he was better about cleaning up after himself.”

“He tried,” Kara says as she takes the file back, looking apologetic. “He was actually caught leaving the premises and sentenced to life in prison after all the charges were added up.”

Ah, it had been a test. Cat isn’t sure why she’s surprised, she’d known Kara would check thoroughly to make sure she could be trusted. She just hadn’t expected a complete lie to figure into the equation. Even one like this, short-lived and designed to check Cat’s honesty.

“He always was a cocky little ass,” Cat says to cover her surprise. “He tried to hit on me at least six times when I was starting out. Had to threaten to steal some of his own jewels to get him to back down.”

That surprises a laugh out of Kara, and has them both relaxing a little at the familiar witty retorts from Cat. It almost feels like old times.

“That actually brings me to my second point,” Kara says when they’ve composed themselves. “It’s been a decade since you were in the business, as you put it. Obviously you haven’t kept up with all of the old players, so how can you be certain you’ll still be able to help us out? Won’t technology have advanced a lot while you weren’t working?”

Grateful she has an answer for this, Cat nods her understanding while offering a slightly self-deprecating smile. Not enough to ping any suspicions, but enough to convey she feels a little sheepish about admitting this. “The hands-on information, yes, I might be a little behind on. But I kept up with the advancements in theory. I didn’t pay too much attention to who was still in business and who got caught, that way people didn’t connect too many dots I didn’t want connected, but studying the tech kept me from going out of my mind with boredom all those years I couldn’t do much. It’s one reason I had the idea for this consulting firm. If I spent all that time learning how things worked, why waste the knowledge? Especially when statute or no statute, the chances of finding work I did enjoy after a ten year employment gap is slim otherwise.”

Kara nods, and Cat’s grateful that she’d seen that question coming in time to prepare her answer. It’s too easy go give something away if she doesn’t pay attention, but she also doesn’t want to sound too rehearsed. The sales pitch excuse will only work so many times.

“Well, the owner wants to meet you, but then we should be able to talk compensation and timeline,” Kara says after sending a few texts, presumably to said owner.

Suddenly it’s all very real, and Cat pushes her nerves down where she can ignore them as she stands, following Kara’s lead. Getting Kara to trust her was both the easy and the difficult part, now Cat has to convince someone she doesn’t know.

Oh, she’d done her research. It wasn’t even out of character for the mask she’s wearing now, as any consultant worth their salt would want to know as much as possible about potential employers well before hitting the negotiation table. What they looked for in a company, what they could afford to pay, all the little details that put negotiations on a much more even footing. Especially for a new company like Cat’s. She doesn’t have the reputation to demand a high fee, not that it’s important to her for this job. But she can’t demand nothing, either. Besides being a stupid business decision that could blow her cover, it’d also be a sign that she’s not capable of performing at the level a job like this demands.

This time Kara leads Cat through the main areas of the museum on the way to the owner’s office, and Cat is careful to keep her attention on Kara at all times. Any glancing around like she’s casing the place could trip mental alarms, given that she hasn’t officially been hired to do so yet. She’s too close to reaching a safe plateau that she can’t risk slipping now.

Kara very clearly notices the attention as they walk, and Cat charts the slow rise of a flush up the back of her neck the longer they walk. It’s a familiar sight, and she can’t help wondering if Kara is still as easy to fluster as she remembers. There’d been nights she spent hours tracking just down deep that blush could get before Kara broke and did something about it.

It’s a warm thought, but Cat pushes it away the closer they get to the office. Or at least tries to, but ten years has done wonders for Kara’s beauty, and even focused on a job Cat isn’t blind to that. It doesn’t help that they hadn’t ever officially broken up, though Cat supposes that’s a moot point given the fact she’d literally fled town without looking back.

“John, here’s that contractor I was telling you about,” Kara says as she knocks, peeking her head around the door before opening it wider and waving Cat inside. “The one who can test our security before that ancient pottery display we’re getting next season.”

“I can’t make promises for a display that isn’t set up,” Cat warns him just as she’d warned Kara, “but I can do general security upgrades and make sure the basics are all covered. Most of the intermediate as well. And for anything advanced, that’ll probably need to know more details about specifics than I’m sure you want to hand me at the outset.”

“Ah, yes. Kara did mention your… history,” John says as he stands to shake her hand before sitting back down behind his desk. “I admit I was skeptical of the coincidences, but Kara assures me she’s done a thorough background check of your actions over the last ten years and didn’t see any causes for concern.”

That causes a spark of guilt, knowing Kara is basically staking her reputation on Cat’s hiring, but there’s not much she can do about it now. She can only push ahead. “I spent ten years making sure my past mistakes didn’t drag me down, all I want to do now is make sure that continues. And speaking frankly, sir, as I’m sure Kara’s already filled you in on all the specifics, I want to do more with my life than just move from state to state avoiding notice. I have these skills, and there’s a much safer way to use them to make money.”

Thankfully John seems amused by her honesty, which Cat had figured he would be. From what she knows of him he’s a straightforward and to the point kind of guy. A little honesty, or pretend honesty, will go a long way towards getting on his good side.

“It might not be the kind of money you used to pull in, but I’m sure we can come to a suitable arrangement,” he says as he leans forward onto his desk. “I also understand you’re hoping to use our museum as a test case and reference for future museums you work with, is that correct?”

Perfect, now they’re getting to it. “Yes, sir,” Cat says, straightening in her own seat. “Which is why I am prepared to offer a ten percent discount on my standard rate in exchange for the rights to that referral.”

“Twenty-five,” John says without hesitation. “Our name carries more weight in museum circles than any other in town, without the assurances of an institution like ours you’ll have to discount your standard rate just to get in the door anywhere else, before they consider a referral.”

He’s probably not wrong, not that Cat cares. Unless she can somehow pull of the jewel heist without blowing her cover, this company of hers is a one-trick pony. But she can’t cave that easily.

In the end they settle at a nineteen percent discount, and Cat smiles victoriously as they shake on it. There are still official papers to sign and specifics to hash out, but the first major hurdle is out of the way. She’d given a little more ground than she wanted to going in, but John was an excellent negotiator and when it became easier to fold than keep arguing in circles just to keep up appearances, Cat gave in graciously.

The rest of the afternoon is spent signing papers and reviewing the basic information Kara had gathered for her, and Cat is touched once more when lunch shows up before she can even consider asking about a break. It’s just as good as the coffee from that morning, and Cat’s conflicted feelings get that much harder to ignore.

Finally it’s all done, and Cat gathers her things to leave for the day. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Kara asks hopefully as they head for the exit.

“You might,” Cat teases, giving the museum a few glances as they walk past various exhibits. “If you do, don’t say anything though. Your team doesn’t know me as well as you do, and I’ll need to see how quickly they pick up on someone out of place.”

“That’s why you didn’t want all the security details ahead of time,” Kara says with dawning understanding. “You want to come at this blind.”

Truthfully, Cat would rather have every last detail she can wrangle out of the security systems. With that, she could probably have the gems tonight and be done with this whole mess. But again, too much too fast and she’ll give herself away. Slow and steady will have to do it.

“If I want to make sure I spot any holes in the security, I need to see it without preconceived notions,” she says instead. “Anything else might lead to missing things, and if I want that referral I just gave away almost twenty percent of my fee for, I can’t afford to miss things.”

Nodding gravely, Kara doesn’t say more on the subject as they reach the front entry. The security team will know there’s been an outside consultant hired, but they won’t know any details of her work, or even necessarily who she is. Cat knows the value of light makeup and a casual demeanor, not to mention clothing choices. She’s been fully suited up for all of her meetings so far, and it’ll be interesting to see who spots her when she’s in jeans and a t-shirt browsing the exhibits.

It’s not the typical thrill she gets from showing off her skills, but at this point there’s nothing typical about this job. So she might as well settle in and enjoy what she can.

“I’ll at least have a progress report by next Friday,” Cat says once they’re outside, away from anyone who could overhear. “Possibly sooner, but I might not stop by for a few days to let memories fade a little. I also need to see how much information I can get from public channels.”

“We made sure specifics weren’t included in any public filings,” Kara says, looking offended at the thought they might have missed something so basic. 

Smirking a little, Cat lets a little of her old swagger back into her bearing as she leans closer. “People who know what I know don’t need specifics to find specifics,” she whispers into Kara’s ear before she can talk herself out of it.

Pulling back, she’s not surprised to see the flush rising once more up Kara’s neck and into her cheeks, even as she kicks herself for indulging in the moment of weakness. Her goal is the jewels, not getting close to her ex-girlfriend.

“I, uh, I guess we’ll see,” Kara stammers out when Cat’s pulled back. She’s breathing a little heavier, and Cat swears she sees Kara’s eyes linger on her lips for a moment before she shoves her hands in her pockets and rocks on her heels. “And I will see you when I see you.”

“So you will,” Cat teases before turning to head off, not looking back. She already knows Kara will still be standing there watching her as she leaves. She can picture it clear enough, there’s no reason to ruin her exit and look back to prove it.

God, what is she doing? Cat’d just told herself to stop with the borderline flirting. She has a job to do, and it isn’t helping the situation.

Or is it? A tiny voice deep in her mind points out as Cat gets closer to her neighborhood. If Kara is distracted by old attraction and personal history, will she miss more than if she weren’t? Or is that just wishful thinking from the part of Cat that’s still just as attracted to her after all these years?

After all, the plan could backfire. Kara wasn’t an idiot, she’d put together small pieces of Cat’s stories once before. If Cat lets her in too close this time, who’s to say she wouldn’t see through her story again? Maybe it really isn’t worth the risk.

But Cat can’t deny the temptation is still there. It’s almost ridiculously easy to slip back into old patterns and thoughts. Especially when Kara seems to have the same problem. From the flushing at Cat’s teasing, to bringing her food and coffee, it’s almost like the last ten years didn’t happen.

Heading up to her apartment, Cat’s almost too lost in thought to notice the subtle signs that things aren’t right. But she’s been a professional for too long to be truly out of it, and as she pushes open her door, Cat keeps her hand on her phone and a line clear to run back down the hall at a moment’s notice.

When she gets the door open and sees the chief enforcer for the man who hired her, Cat almost bolts. Only the fact that he’s clearly alone has her walking into her apartment, projecting an air of nonchalance. 

“I didn’t expect to see you before the job was done,” she says, dumping her jacket on a chair. Her phone, though, she keeps in her hand. She’s careful not to say anything incriminating or leading so he doesn’t think she’s trying to get an incriminating recording, but if Cat has to cut and run she needs the phone for at least the first steps.

“Just a status check,” he says, shooting her phone a glance before looking back at her. “It’s taking longer than we thought.”

“There were complications, but I’m on track,” Cat says, switching to confidence from the earlier nonchalance. “I’ve been hired by a museum to verify their security is solid, so our project will take a little longer.”

No specifics, no details, but enough for him to make the connections Cat wants him to make. And more importantly, his boss. If he’s impatient enough to send his minion to check on her, Cat wants to be very clear of what she’s offering. With inside access like a consulting job, her chances of success have skyrocketed.

“Sounds time consuming. Well, we won’t expect you to work on our commission any time soon then,” he says, picking up on the clues and responding in kind. Still nothing specific, nothing that could be used as proof of anything. “I hope you can get around to us eventually, though. It would be a shame if we had to work with another contractor due to project delays.”

The threat is just as understated as the rest of the conversation, and Cat knows it’s dead serious. She has time, but she better not be stringing them along. And even if she isn’t, clearly her current employer isn’t a patient man. Cat doesn’t have that much time.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to stike a good balance between my time commitments.” Cat is still pretending at nothing but confidence, so she walks into her kitchen to grab a bottle of water. Offering one to the minion in the other room gets her an unimpressed look, and then he’s heading for the door. 

As he turns the handle to her door, he gives her one last look. “I’m glad we’re all on the same page, then.”

And with that, he’s gone.

Cat waits five minutes to be sure, then does a thorough check of her apartment for any listening devices or other spyware he’d planted. It’s not incredibly likely, since leaving any trace behind could be a liability, but she hasn’t made it this far by getting complacent.

Once her sweep is done, Cat sinks onto her couch with a deep sigh, wondering not for the first time if she’s gotten in over her head with this job. She doesn’t have any choice but to see it through, but she almost wishes she hadn’t taken it in the first place. No matter how many zeros that check had.

But she did, and now she’s in it til the end. Cat just hopes it’s a successful end.

***

After the unpleasant shock of her little reminder visit, Cat waits two days before heading back to the museum to check on their security setup. Dressed in a casual pair of jeans with a shirt that’s just small enough to show off a flash of skin at her waist, Cat puts on an air of a casual guest. She pulls her hair up into a loose bun that looks nothing like her professional stylings of her previous visits, and her makeup is casual to the point of non-existence.

Kara spots her immediately when she enters, but other than a swallow and tiny nod, doesn’t acknowledge her in any way. Exactly as Cat had warned her.

None of the other guards on duty spot her as she wanders from room to room, making mental notes of possible weak points and ranking them from easily solved to more difficult. She’ll have to fix the easy issues, much as it sucks for her ultimate goal. But if she leaves a few of the harder ones in place, she’ll have a way in. Even if it means more work on her end.

Even when she gets far too close to areas that have nothing to do with the displays, none of Kara’s team says anything or even seems to notice. She’ll have to check with Kara in her report to see if that’s deliberate instruction or not, but it’s not a promising sign for the security team.

Now, if it’s more a matter of silently tagging her and passing on observations to team leads, that’s different. After all, she hasn’t done anything too blatant yet, and it’s her first visit. Maybe the guards have instructions to watch but not act until there’s more proof. Reasonable, but also risky.

In a pinch, a single good walk through a museum would be enough to get Cat inside and the job done. She’d have to do plenty of research outside the building, but it was possible.

All told, the day is fairly productive. Cat gets a good sense of the building and it’s strengths, as well as spotting several weaknesses she can potentially exploit when it comes time to move. After just a few hours she has a solid map of the layout in her head, and as soon as she gets home she’ll be sketching it out from memory to compare to the blueprints she’ll eventually get.

Cat doesn’t dare plan out her heist on paper, just in case the wrong eyes see it, but she’ll be able to do a lot of her prep work openly as she works on an upgrade proposal to give Kara and John. That part makes this particular job a lot easier than any of her previous jobs, and Cat hopes that edge will help things run smoothly. It should at least help her come up with a dozen backup plans for when something inevitably goes wrong.

It takes another three visits for any of the guards to recognize her, and Cat is immediately approached with a quietly spoken request to follow him as he puts together her suspicious behavior over her last few visits. So it wasn’t a great sign for the team after all. If he approached immediately when noticing something suspicious, that means he and everyone else on the team had missed three full visits worth of suspicious behavior.

Not a great start.

Kara graciously thanks him without giving anything away, waving Cat into her office so she can ‘have a private discussion’ about her behavior. It’s almost impressive how little she gives away, and Cat gives her a mocking round of applause as the door shuts and the guard walks away, looking supremely proud of himself. Ah well, Cat will fix that eventually.

“I didn’t think it would take them this long to notice you,” Kara says tiredly as she comes around her desk to sink into her chair. “I know they’re well-trained, they should’ve spotted you a half-dozen times that first day alone.”

“They’ve gotten complacent,” Cat says with a shrug. “No one really expects a museum to be robbed. Especially not the smaller ones. Which is frankly shortsighted and lazy thinking, given how much easier it is to get into the smaller locations. The budget for security is rarely on par with the more world famous locations.”

“I feel like I should be insulted by that.” In contrast to her words, Kara looks equally amused and resigned, slumped back in her chair as she looks at Cat. “Any chance you have a complete presentation ready to go in that bag of yours?”

“Sorry, I don’t have it all compiled yet,” Cat says with a smirk. “I’ll need to add today’s observations to the mix, but other than that I should be ready to go soon. Everything else is just waiting for me to tie a bow on it.”

Raising her eyebrows at Cat’s smug look, Kara lets out a sigh as she tips her head back against her chair. “I’m not going to like this presentation very much, am I?”

Tipping her head to the side, Cat considers what she’ll have to say about the security levels. “I think on one hand you’ll like it very much, because it will point out areas you can easily remedy,” she decides on eventually.

Kara clearly doesn’t miss the other side of that, and the groan she lets out has Cat’s smirk widening. 

“Well, just let me know when you want to have that meeting and I’ll make sure John and I are free. Clearly that takes priority over anything else we have going on.” Kara isn’t wrong about that, but Cat is still surprised at how easily she decided to make the meeting a priority. For herself, Cat could see. But for John as well, that’s interesting.

“It will take me at least a day to get everything tidied up,” Cat says after thinking over her current progress. “I just received the last bit of information from public sources that I’d like some time to go over, but it won’t take me long. So perhaps this Friday?”

Pulling a small calendar to her, Kara flips to the day in question and looks over what’s jotted down there. “I have a solid four hours free that afternoon, I can check to make sure John clears it as well. Fridays he usually takes it easy anyway, so it shouldn’t be hard. If it takes longer than four hours, I’ll deal with it then.”

“Oh, the meeting shouldn’t take longer than that,” Cat says with a straight face, holding it until Kara looks up at her. “The follow up meetings and actions plans, however…”

That gets another groan, this one over the top enough that Cat knows it’s for show. As is the way Kara leans forward to bury her head in her hands, shaking her head back and forth as she does. “I’m never going to get out of meetings, am I?”

“It isn’t all bad,” Cat says, waiting until Kara looks up at her. “The roof access points are all very well secured.”

Kara stares at her for several long moments, then goes back to burying her head. “You got onto the roof to check them in person, didn’t you?” comes the muffled question, and Cat can’t help but laugh.

“I did, but don’t feel bad about that. Mid-level museums like this almost never have the kind of protections that could stop someone from getting onto the roof. The fact that all accesses from the roof are secure is well in line with the security standards for your building and budget.”

Cat leaves out the bit about the single vent whos sensor is mis-aligned just enough to be a liability, already keeping it in mind as a potential access point. She’d prefer not to come in through the roof if she can avoid it, just to keep her exit as simple as possible, but without at least three possible plans in play she’ll never feel comfortable enough to make an attempt for the jewels.

Looking relieved that at least there’s one bit of good news, Kara flips a few pages in her calendar to check something else. “Okay, so meeting with me and John this Friday, we’ll probably have to have a longer meeting to come up with specific action plans and get you the information you need to suggest fixes that fit the budget and our situation. Then we definitely need some remedial courses for my teams. I’d like to get on that sooner rather than later…”

“The lax attention from your guards is probably the single most concerning item on my list,” Cat agrees. “You’ll have to wait for the full presentation for the rest of my findings, but the sooner I can meet with your guards, the better.” Meeting with the guards will give her the opportunity to spot weak links in more ways than just their attention span as well. It’s a long shot and far too risky for Cat to count on, but there’s always a chance that one of the guards is bribable.

It would put her in the unfortunate position of having to trust someone else with the ultimate success or failure of her plan, but Cat doesn’t rule it out. At very least, it’s possible one of them could be bribed to take a bathroom break at exactly the best moment. Then they wouldn’t need to know any specific details, and if Cat’s acting is good enough she might be able to convince them it’s just so she can get into a storage closet or restricted area with a date to show off a little.

“Will Wednesday work for that meeting?” Kara asks, checking over her team’s schedule. “I have a lighter guard schedule that day, but my team knows that any security briefings on their days off take priority. And I pay them double overtime for them, so they don’t mind coming in as long as I give them enough of a heads up.”

Pulling out her phone to ‘check’ her own schedule, Cat pretends to move a few things around before looking up and nodding. “Wednesday is doable. Earlier in the day before it gets busy would be better, since some of what I’d like to show them will require walking the museum floor.”

“I’ll send out the email now, then,” Kara says as she spins to her computer. “Is 9am too early for you?”

“9am is too early for everyone,” Cat says with a mock shudder. “But I can be here.”

“So you’re still not a morning person, I see.” Kara looks awkward the second the words leave her lips, and Cat weighs her options before giving a mental shrug and deciding to roll with it.

After all, if she were actually a contractor intending to improve the museum security, she wouldn’t hold back from flirting or discussing their past. Not when they’ve both already shown the interest is still there, even if the rest of it is in the past. So she should stick with that reaction. To make it seem more natural.

“There are a few things that can get me out of bed, but I definitely prefer to stay in bed when given the chance.” The hidden meaning in her words can barely be called hidden, and right on cue Kara starts to flush.

Focusing on her computer and the email she’s sending out gives Cat the perfect angle to see just how red Kara gets, even if she won’t meet her eyes. It’s exactly what Cat was hoping for, and before she can think about it, her mouth is opening. “Are you free Tuesday night before that meeting?”

Oh, bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. But the offer is out, and Cat can’t take it back now.

“I- to go over your presentation?” Kara asks, finally spinning to look at Cat.

Taking a deep breath, Cat decides to just go for it. She could take the offered out, but she doesn’t want to spend an evening with Kara just going over ten way to say ‘you should keep an eye on your surroundings’ when there are better things she could be doing.

“No, not for business,” she says, leaning forward to hold Kara’s gaze. “My idiocy and mistakes cost us a relationship ten years ago. That doesn’t mean I want to let how we left things then dictate how we act now. If you don’t agree, then fine. I know a half-redeemed career criminal trying to stay legitimate probably isn’t your idea of a good partner, and I’d respect that. But I’m trying not to let my past rule my future, with work or with anything else.”

Kara doesn’t look away, but Cat can tell she’s torn. “I don’t know,” she says eventually, still not looking away. “I don’t know if this is the right time to revisit that part of our lives.”

“Okay, then I won’t bring it up again,” Cat says instantly, sitting back in her chair. She isn’t going to push, and not only because of her cover. She’d meant what she said, if Kara didn’t want to see her outside of the museum, then Cat would leave it be.

“You don’t, that’s not what I meant,” Kara says, running a hand through her hair. “I don’t disagree about letting the past dictate how we act now. But the timing, Cat.”

Ah, right. “You don’t want to risk it being a trick.”

Kara looks guilty, and Cat knows she’s right. “I didn’t say that,” she tries, before stopping to search for words.

“Kara, it’s okay,” Cat says with a wave of her hand and a smile back on her face. “You’re the head of security at a museum, and I’m a former thief who specialized in getting into museums undetected. You’ve done your checks and everything came back clean, but I can’t blame you for being careful. In your shoes, I would probably do the same thing.”

“I want to trust you, and I do trust you,” Kara says, reaching a hand out to rest over Cat’s where it’s resting on the edge of her desk. “But I have to remain objective. And it’s hard enough for me to do that remembering what was between us. Bringing that relationship back would just make it harder.”

“I shouldn’t have asked,” Cat says, even as her heart races at the feeling of Kara’s hand over hers. “You’re absolutely right, it’s not the right time, and I apologize.” Kara raises one brow at her, and Cat gives her a look to match. “Oh, don’t give me that look, I fully intend to ask you the same thing once I’ve got your museum squared away and secure. But after ten years, I’ve learned the value of patience.”

That gets a small laugh out of Kara, and Cat tries not to react when she pulls her hand back. “Now that, I’ll have to see to believe.”

“Then it’s a date,” Cat says with a wink that sets Kara to blushing again. “Tuesday after this contract is done, you and me. We can have a picnic in the park under the old statue.”

They’d visited that statue early in their relationship, when Cat was throwing money around trying to impress Kara with all the wealth she’d built up from her heists. She hadn’t realized until that trip that Kara preferred simpler dates, so they’d left the high-end restaurant in favor of the park. It had been their best date, and Cat knows they both remember it well.

That trip had also been the first time Kara started to question how she had so much money to spend, and probably marked the beginning of the end of their relationship. There’s an odd symbolism in the memory, Cat thinks to herself as Kara eventually nods her agreement. It was one of the best times in their relationship, but it was also the moment Kara’s doubts took seed, even if she hadn’t realized.

And this time, unless Cat manages to pull off the impossible, that date will never happen. But at the same time, Cat wishes it would. God, does she wish.

***

A month later, Cat knows her time is running out. She’s fixed all of the simple issues with the museum’s security, and a fair few of the higher level problems as well. She’d introduced a few new weaknesses as well, just to make sure she could pull off the job, but it’s taken her the full month to be sure it’s doable.

Given the chance, Cat would prefer another month to plan and make sure the job was foolproof. But she’d had another visit over the weekend from the blockhead minion who threatened without threatening, and she knows her time is too short to afford that level of caution.

With the added pressure of the time limit, Cat had forgone anything fancy. While she has at least three different escape routes planned, she’s hoping to walk in and out of the museum as herself. With a month of solid work under her belt, there’s practically no suspicions around seeing her in the museum at all hours of the day. So she’d ‘forgotten’ a file in the small office Kara’d set up for her, and charmed her way past the front guards to retrieve it.

The jewel display in question is almost on the way to her office, so it’s just a small detour that Cat can wave off as checking back on a note she’d made earlier in the day if someone asks. Not that it’s likely, while the patrols are randomized thanks to Cat’s improvements, she’d carefully made sure the program used had a down time of fifteen minutes she could activate at any time. So the only issues are the cameras.

Cat has a plan for those, though it’s risky as hell. With the system improvements she’d helped implement it would be impossible to take control of the feed, so Cat isn’t even going to try. Instead, she’s going to disrupt it, get into the case and take the necklace while replacing it with a replica, then close everything out and be safely in her office by the time the guard watching the feeds comes to investigate. It’ll require split-second timing and a lot of luck, but Cat’s desperate. She needs this to work and she needs it to work now.

And if by some chance things go wrong and she can’t get past the case security before someone shows up? She has a plan for that too, though she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Cutting the feeds goes off without a hitch, and Cat has just moved to disable the sensors with a carefully placed magnet when she hears a voice from behind her.

“I really wanted to believe you.”

Spinning, Cat’s heart drops as she sees Kara standing in the corner of the room, having clearly stood from her hiding place tucked out of sight. Cursing herself for skipping a sweep of the room, Cat wonders how the hell she’s going to talk herself out of this one. Especially when it’s just another repeat of their past, this time with Cat caught red handed. “Kara, I-”

“No, Cat,” Kara interrupts, “you can save it. I wanted to believe you, but you taught me better than that ten years ago. I didn’t expect you to take this long to prove me wrong, though. Or to go as far as you did to make me believe your story.”

“It wasn’t all about the story,” Cat says as she thinks furiously, wondering if she can get to her backup plan before Kara makes a move. With the cameras cut she’s running out of time, but she doesn’t have the element of surprise. “It wasn’t right of me, but that doesn’t mean iI was trying to hurt you.”

Kara scoffs at that, a sharp sound of hurt that cuts right through Cat, remembering the last time she’d heard it. Dammit, will she never learn?

“Story or not, you still used my feelings against me, didn’t you?” And she isn’t wrong, exactly, but Cat still hates how she makes it sound.

Shaking her head, Cat starts to inch her hand down towards her hidden insurance policy for the night, hoping if she moves slowly enough she won’t telegraph what she’s doing. “I didn’t have a choice, not after I took the job in the first place. And I didn’t know you were here until after I’d already accepted.”

“You could’ve just walked away and done the right thing!” Kara’s voice is loud in the stillness of the museum, and Cat winces. Wherever the other guards are, whatever the reason they haven’t come running already, she’s sure they’d have heard that. “I’m the guard on duty tonight,” Kara says when she sees Cat’s glance. “James is on the door and Winn comes in at midnight in case something happens, but I wanted to give you one last chance to explain before this all ends. You at least owe me that.”

Cat isn’t sure if Kara’s just bluffing, but that doesn’t seem much like her style. Then again, though, this doesn’t either. Cat wouldn’t have believed Kara had the skills to lie to her for almost two months without slipping.

Guess ten years really does change someone.

“If you want an explanation, I have that,” Cat says, deciding to do something that feels like the wrong choice and be completely honest. “The money I got offered for this job, I couldn’t turn it down. You’re right, I lied about the last ten years, but I did get out of the jewel business. And it did chafe, not being able to use my skills. So when I saw the paycheck for this job, I was sunk. Once I was in, that was it. If I tried to back out, if I can’t deliver, I’m done. The man who hired me is too powerful to risk being linked back to a theft like this. And I might be able to hide from the feds, but hiding from him is an entirely different story.”

Kara doesn’t look convinced, but Cat has what might be a solution for that. “Look, I have my phone in my pocket here. I need three seconds to grab it and play something for you, that’s it.”

Cat debates going for her backup plan, but with the way Kara tenses she knows it wouldn’t work. She needs to explain a little and hopefully lower Kara’s guard so she can get out of here. Because no matter what’s on her phone, Cat knows it won’t be enough to change anything. Kara’s not going to let her go with the jewels, and Cat isn’t going to walk out of here empty handed.

So instead of reaching down into her pants pocket, she moves one hand to her jacket and pulls out her phone. The recordings are saved under a false app, but it isn’t long before Cat has them pulled up and the newest one selected.

“How’s that other project you were working on? It’s taking up a lot of your time lately, isn’t it? We can be a little patient, but patience wears thin after a while. Makes certain people start to wonder if you’re actually going to find time for our project, or if you’re going to leave us high and dry.”

“I’m still confident I can fit your request into my schedule very soon. It’s a fine balancing act, but I assure you I’m still working on your project.”

“Good to hear. You know how cranky my boss can get when things aren’t moving quickly enough for him. He likes to yell about it, maybe throw a few things. Usually takes going to a shooting range to watch some of us work on target practice to calm down.”

“I doubt your aim needs any work, so I’ll see how soon I can fit your project into my schedule. If I lighten the load on my current work, I should be able to have results by this weekend.”

“Sooner would be better. Weekends are his favorite time to get out for a bit and take in the sights. Be a shame if he had to fit you into his schedule then.”

By the time the recording ends, Kara is staring wide-eyed at Cat’s phone, face pale even in the dim lighting. “God, Cat. What the hell have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”

“A paycheck, that’s what,” Cat snaps back as she tucks her phone away, using that movement to get her hand close to her pants pocket. “It was supposed to be an easy job, get in, get out, get paid. One last big score after ten years of practically nothing, and I’d be done with the whole business. But when I saw you, it got a lot more complicated. I couldn’t exactly case the place when you’d recognize me in an instant, could I?”

The frustration in Cat’s voice shakes Kara out of her shock, and she looks at Cat with anger of her own mixing with her surprise. “So I’m the one to blame here? Not you for taking the job in the first place?”

“It’s jewels, Kara. I’m not stealing food from children or money from destitute old widows. I’m taking rocks that one person put a value on and giving them to someone who will pay me a large amount of money because they’ve also put a value on them. But at the end of the day, they’re just rocks. Insurance will pay for them, and so will the man who hired me.” Cat has no illusions about her work, she doesn’t think it’s some noble crusade against the rick and what they consider to be worth something. She’s a thief, plain and simple, and she doesn’t care what others think of that.

Except when it’s Kara, for some completely ridiculous reason.

“You could still change your mind,” Kara tries. “Insurance or not, there are other options. I’ll say you came to me when you started, that you brought me the name of your contact and all the evidence you have, and we can use that to get him locked up and keep you safe.”

It’s almost naive, Cat thinks as she shakes her head. She doesn’t have proof, she doesn’t have anything that will take the man down. She doesn’t even have the jewels in her possession to prove a crime has been committed. No DA would work with her on a case like this, and Cat would just make the consequences come that much faster.

“Maybe if it were anyone else, you could convince me,” she says sadly, hand moving slowly to close the last of the distance towards the cylinder in her pocket. “But not even you can convince me to throw away my safety on something that’s never going to happen. I’m sorry, Kara.”

Kara’s eyes widen as Cat pulls out the tube, aiming it her way and pressing down on the nozzle with a single quick movement. The gas that sprays out isn’t harmful, but it is enough to have Kara stumbling the second it reaches her face. She makes a few moves towards her phone and walkie, likely to call James in, but the gas works too quickly. She’s drooping before she can get her hands to work, and Cat quickly crosses the room to catch her before she falls, consciousness already starting to fade. “I’m sorry,” she whispers as she eases Kara to the floor. “I don’t have a choice.”

As soon as Kara’s safely down, Cat moves back to the display holding the necklace and picks up where she’d left off. She feels a little light headed from what gas lingered in the room, but she’d taken the antidote before coming back inside, so she powers through.

It takes her a little longer to get through the security on the case, but by the time she’s lifting the glass away to carefully grab the necklace, Cat’s head is a lot clearer as the museum’s airflow carries the lingering traces of gas away from her. And just in time too, because if Kara was suspicious of her, she can’t go back out the front door. Not when James could be watching for her to leave without the all clear from Kara. No, she’ll have to go through the roof hatch after all.

Heading for the roof, Cat pauses for one long moment as she looks at Kara’s still form, wishing it could have gone differently. Kara will wake up in about an hour with a terrible headache, and likely all traces of affection towards Cat gone completely.

“Maybe it’s for the best,” Cat whispers to herself as she lingers. “I probably would’ve just messed it all up again anyway.”

With that thought and one last look, Cat heads for the hatch and the fresh night air. She’ll have to get her things out of her apartment quickly if she’s going to be gone before someone calls the cops. At least she has a go bag, a long habit from her time moving around to stay off the radar, but there are other things she wants to grab if she has time. Then she’ll have to make a call and get this necklace into the buyer’s hands so she can be done with all of this mess once and for all.

***

A week later, Cat is sitting on a bench eating her lunch when she hears someone walk up behind her.

“I didn’t think you’d still show.”

Turning to face Kara, Cat’s surprised to see she’s alone. “And I didn’t think you’d come without cops.”

Kara shrugs, walking around the bench to sit next to Cat. They sit in silence for a while, staring at the statue they both remember from that fateful date. What Kara’s thinking, there’s no way for Cat to tell. But she can’t stop remembering how happy they’d been ten years ago.

“You tried to give me everything on that date,” Kara says after probably half an hour of silence. “Restaurants, hotels, all the high end trappings of a life you shouldn’t have been able to afford.”

“And it was this park that actually impressed you. Not the restaurants, not the sights, not the fancy dresses. Just sitting in the park, talking to each other.”

Kara sighs, still not looking at Cat. “The necklace is long gone, isn’t it?”

“I wasn’t going to stick around with it,” Cat confirms. “I handed it off that night, and a new rich asshole owns it now. The cycle of life continues.”

Kara laughs at that, even if it sounds a little pained. ‘I- you aren’t wrong. The original owner of that piece is the worst. He wouldn’t even let us appraise it when we put it on display. He offered to carry the insurance on it himself, so John didn’t insist. After all, why argue when you get a free museum display out of the deal.”

Cat hadn’t known that, and she turns to stare at Kara, wondering where this is all going.

“So really,” Kara continues after a moment, continuing to stare at the statue, “the museum has no proof that the actual necklace was ever in the building. And since we didn’t carry the insurance on it, we have no liability either. There’s a woman who handles the legal side of things that made sure of that. Lucy knows her stuff, and anything she writes up is air tight.”

“Which means?” Cat asks, head spinning as she wonders if Kara is saying what she’s actually saying.

“Which means since there’s still a necklace on display that looks identical to the one we received, the museum has no evidence a crime has been committed.”

She is. Kara is actually saying that she didn’t call the cops, that she didn’t turn Cat in. Even after catching her red handed taking the jewels, she’s letting it slide.

“Why?”

It’s not a very good question, but it’s all Cat can manage at the moment. She’s still staring at Kara, brain going in circles around and around itself as she struggles to come up with an explanation for such an abrupt turn of events.

“Because you caught me before I could fall,” Kara says as she finally turns to face Cat. “You were home free the second that gas hit my face, but you still made sure I didn’t get hurt. And you’re sitting here, staring at a statue from a ten year old memory. I’m choosing to believe not everything was a lie.”

“It wasn’t,” Cat says without thinking, heart pounding. “It wasn’t all a lie, it wasn’t all a cover. Lying to you was the hardest part of this whole mess.”

“And the part about getting out after one last job, was that a lie?” Kara’s never stared at her this intensely, and Cat has to remind herself to breathe.

“No,” she says quickly, knowing it’s the truth. “With the money from this take, I never have to pull another job again. No more risks, no more lies, no more thefts.”

Kara continues to stare at her for another moment, before turning back to the statue and leaning closer into Cat’s side. “Then it’s a good thing your final test of our security system pinpointed those flaws. Your company will have a strong referral, if you want to continue with security consultations. To keep yourself from getting bored, and all.”

Shocked into silence, Cat lets herself lean into Kara as well, sitting there for a few minutes in comfortable silence as they let themselves adjust to the new possibilities. 

It’s still too soon to say, but Cat thinks this new path in front of her is going to be an interesting one. And she can’t wait to see where it goes.

After all, she would hate to get bored.