2 Months Later
“Are you sure this is okay?” Adora asks Catra, feet slowing almost to a standstill on the sidewalk.
Catra glances back at her, hand on the handle of the door of the skating rink, and grins. “Yeah, c’mon, you’re gonna love it.”
She hauls open the door and extends her hand to Adora. “I know you’re worried, but I promise, it’ll be fun!”
Adora takes Catra’s hand and follows after her girlfriend. She feels more unsure of herself here, than she maybe ever has in a rink. But an ice rink is an ice rink is an ice rink, and everything is unfamiliar-familiar in the way that things get when you’ve been in and out of them since you were a little kid. There are the same rubber mats on the floor, the same smell, the same vending machines.
And although she didn’t meet Catra until college, she has an outsized place in Adora’s mental map of hockey. In Adora’s mind, hockey is interwoven with Catra so fully that when Catra was gone, Adora’s ability to enjoy it crumbled into ruin. But since their reconciliation, she’s surveyed the damage, and figured out how it might be repaired, shored up. And this is Catra helping her do it.
Adora isn’t sure if Catra realizes just how much she’s helping, just by being her, just by asking casually one night over their video call if she wanted to come to her practice when Adora was here this weekend. But that’s part of the reason why this works so well, isn’t it? Catra might not have any idea how much it means to Adora that she invited her. But she did invite her.
She’s visiting Catra for a long weekend, and the weekend feels entirely too short already, even though it’s only Friday evening. And really, all she wants is to go back to Catra’s apartment and just…touch Catra, the way she can’t when she’s at school and Catra is hundreds of miles away doing her stateside ICL work. They trade off visiting each other every two weeks, and Adora is getting very familiar with the drive. She still has to finish her PhD, and Catra’s post-doc is in another city, but at least they’re within driving distance.
They’re making it work, for now.
And this is what Catra does on Friday nights. So here they are, at a skating rink, equipment stuffed into a bag slung over Catra’s shoulder.
And Adora hasn’t been this nervous about hockey in a long time.
Catra waves at the person at the counter, and Adora follows her to the stairs down to the rink. The cold air wafts over her, and her ears are filled with the sound of voices and the scrape of skates on ice.
Catra says, “I asked them if you could come last week, and they said it was cool!”
“Okay, if you’re sure…” Adora trails off, and takes in the sight in front of her.
There are a little over a dozen women, some on the ice warming up, some still lacing up their skates and chatting with their friends. One looks up as they approach. “Hey Catra!” She calls, “Is this the girl you’re always going on about?”
Adora’s face flushes. She mutters under her breath to Catra, “Always going on about?”
Catra glances at her and smiles slyly. “Only good things princess, I promise. C’mon, they’re gonna want to meet you.” She walks over to a bench and sits down next to the woman who had just spoken. “Hey Katie, how’s it going? This is Adora.”
Adora stands next to the bench, smiles and gives a little awkward wave at Katie. “Hi! Uh, Catra said you guys were cool with me joining you for the night?”
Katie gives an easy laugh. “Of course! We’d always welcome another person, gives some of us old farts more time on the bench, which believe me, we need.” She sizes Adora up. “So, former Olympian, huh?”
Adora goes even redder, if possible. She hisses across Katie at Catra, “You didn’t tell me they knew about that!”
The corners of Katie’s mouth twitch into a smile, but Adora ignores her for a second.
Catra rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “What, did you think nobody would recognize you? Any woman who makes time in her life to do Adult Classic is almost guaranteed to follow women’s pro hockey.” She pauses, then tacks on, “And it’s hard to keep the fact that your girlfriend went pro to yourself…”
Now that she thinks about it, Adora does have to admit that Catra is right. It doesn’t make it less weird though. She turns back to Katie. “Yeah, uh, it was a while ago though. I, uh, I’m a grad student now.”
Katie sticks out her hand and grins. “Don’t downplay it. I’ve seen your footage, She-Ra.”
Adora smiles back, even though inside she’s buzzing with nerves, and shakes Katie’s hand. The other woman’s grip is crushing. She scoots past Katie and Catra to sit down.
Catra hands Adora her skates, which she had put in her weekend bag with no small amount of apprehension this morning before getting on the road.
Another woman who had been lacing up her skates, twists around and looks back, eyes wide. “She-Ra? Wow I kinda thought everyone was just pulling my leg.”
Adora blushes furiously. “Uh…hi?” She scratches the back of her neck. “Yep, that’s me.”
The other woman hikes up her knees to her chest and spins around on the bench to fully face Adora. “I was a senior during the Olympics, and our team had watch parties of all the US games!” She starts bombarding Adora with questions, about her former teammates, the games, and what kind of food they ate in the Olympic Village.
Adora does her best to answer rapid-fire while she puts on her skates, but after a couple minutes there’s a whole circle of people listening and occasionally asking their own questions. Adora doesn’t love being the center of attention, but it was probably unavoidable if she’s being honest with herself instead of self-deprecating.
Catra is sitting next to her with a huge grin on her face, and Adora can tell she’s been waiting to be able to show her girlfriend off for a while. It makes her feel warm in her chest to see the way Catra looks so proud.
After a few minutes of this, Catra breaks in. “Alright alright, give her some space guys!”
“C’mon Catra, it’s not every day an actual Olympian comes to our practice!” One person pipes up, and there are general noises of assent from the group.
Adora clears her throat. “So, uh, yeah, I’m Adora, and Catra said I could join you guys while I’m here over the weekend?”
Someone pipes up, “I call her for my team!”
Catra shoots back lightning-fast, “She’ll be on whatever team I’m on, end of discussion,” which makes Adora’s heart swell and elicits groans from the other players. She’d been hoping…and clearly Catra has too.
As Adora finishes tying her skates and stands up, déjà vu hits her like a tidal wave. Here they are, getting ready next to each other, surrounded by the bone-deep familiar sounds of a hockey team. She sneaks a glance at Catra. Catra’s hockey team, even if it’s not Adora’s.
Her girlfriend is just finished tying her laces, moving with the automatic smoothness of someone who has done this exact thing ten thousand times before. She tucks them in, and glances over at Adora.
Adora blushes at having been caught staring, but she smiles and gently knocks her skate into Catra’s. “Just like old times, right?”
Catra cocks one eyebrow and smirks at Adora. “Not quite like old times…” She stands up, and pecks Adora on the cheek. Adora turns into it, trying to turn it into a real kiss, but Catra dances away a second later. “Save it for later, princess,” Catra giggles, and sneaks another peck on Adora’s other cheek.
One of the players calls out, “Get a room!”
Catra is the one blushing now, and she ducks her head sheepishly. “Oh my god these guys are the worst. Prepare to be chirped to death.”
Adora snorts, and stands up. She holds out her hand to Catra. “Ready to play?”
Catra takes it. “Absolutely.”
Adora can’t help but catalogue the way Catra’s body is pressed against hers, but unfortunately now is not the time.
Katie tosses Catra two red pinnies, which she catches one-handed. She hands Adora one, and pulls the other one over her head. “I already told them what position you play. They’re pretty excited to play with you, Adora.” She pauses for a second, then amends, “I’m really excited to play with you.”
Adora reaches out and gives Catra’s hand a quick squeeze. “Me too,” she says quietly.
When the blade of her skate hits the ice, Adora’s nerves drop away, and she feels more than sees Catra follow her. She pushes into the ice and sprints away from Catra, partially to do a couple warmup laps, but also because she knows with 100% certainty that Catra will chase after her.
She practically flies around the rink, Catra first hot on her tail, then neck and neck, then pulling ahead just a hair before skidding to a stop in an avalanche of shredded ice. Adora nearly bowls into her, but does her own (almost as) clean stop a split second later. She grins at Catra, and Catra grins back. Her cheeks are flushed, her breath is a cloud at her lips, and the look in her eyes feels like a warm bath on Adora’s skin.
They’re interrupted by a couple wolf whistles from the team, and someone calls, “Damn, you sure we can’t break them up?”
Katie laughs and calls back, “Next time you bring your girlfriend to practice we’ll talk. Oh wait, you don’t have one.”
There’s more laughter, and Adora glides to center ice and takes up her position.
When she glances to the side, Catra is right there. She meets Adora’s eyes and lifts her chin, a smile playing around her lips and fire in her eyes. And for once, Adora’s instincts are exactly right. Catra is on her team now, and everything clicks together all at once. She…does love hockey. And maybe there’s space for her to find it again, with Catra firmly at her side.
4 months later
Adora wakes up and everything is blissfully, dreamily perfect. The sun filtering through the curtains feels good against her skin, and her body is lethargic and deliciously exhausted from last night. Catra’s legs are tangled with hers, and she instinctually curls towards Catra’s body even before she’s fully awake.
When Adora pries open her sleep-laden eyes a couple minutes later, she can’t help but admire the play of the sunlight on Catra’s skin, the way the sun catches in her hair and makes a halo of it. She snuggles closer and lets her eyes slide shut again.
Five minutes later, Adora sits bolt upright, heart pounding. Today is the day.
Her sudden motion wakes up Catra. “Morning,” Catra says, voice gravelly. Adora would like nothing better than to sink back down next to her and continue where they left off last night, but now that she’s awake, she won’t be able to focus on anything except her thesis defense. Still, she turns, because despite her nerves Catra in the mornings is her favorite.
In the mornings, when she wakes up, Catra’s voice is raspy from disuse and her hair is mussed and her eyes are heavy with sleep. She props herself up on one elbow, which makes the strap of her tank top slip off her shoulder, and Adora is riveted to the slope her neck and shoulders make. If it wasn’t today…
But it is, and that can wait for tonight because now that Adora’s brain is fully online, she won’t really be able to think of anything else until her committee tells her the results.
She swings her legs off the bed and stares at her feet on the floor.
There’s a shuffling sound behind her, and then Catra’s arms come around her waist from behind, and her forehead is pressed into Adora’s shoulder. It’s comforting, grounding. “You’re going to do great, Adora,” Catra says quietly, “They’re going to love it, don’t worry. They already love your work. This is just a formality.”
Adora lets out a shaky breath. “I know. I think. I just won’t be able to relax until they tell me for sure.”
“I know,” Catra mumbles, “I just thought you could use a reminder.”
Adora closes her eyes and leans back into Catra just a little. “I do. Thank you.”
Adora gently extricates herself from Catra and stands up, which is enough to get Swiftwind to perk up his ears from his place on his dog bed. She turns back and tucks a lock of hair behind Catra’s ear. Catra gazes up at her with so much love, and faith, and care, that it makes Adora’s heart ache.
She can’t resist tracing Catra’s jaw with her fingertips before gently tilting Catra’s chin up and leaning down to kiss her softly, just for a moment. Well, maybe a little longer than a moment. When she draws back, Catra’s eyes are still closed and her head remains tilted back, no trace of tension anywhere in her body.
Adora murmurs, “I’m going to start the coffee. Want any?”
Catra’s eyelids flutter open. “Yeah,” she says softly, then clears her throat and says more assertively. “Who do you think I am, anyway?”
Adora snorts. “A coffee addict, that’s who.”
“Takes one to know one,” Catra says cheekily.
Adora pulls a sweatshirt over her head. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Yep,” Catra says, now getting out of bed too.
“Oh, you don’t have to—you can go back to sleep…” Adora starts, but Catra interrupts her.
“It’s your big day, and you’re already jittery Adora. I’m not gonna sleep in while my girlfriend is making me coffee. Also, I know you’re not going to eat breakfast unless I make you.”
Adora will admit that this is probably true. “I’m still going to make us coffee.”
Catra laughs, “That is kind of your job.”
Which it is, whether she’s staying with Catra for the weekend or vice-versa. Partially this is because Adora, despite much effort, still burns the pancakes every time she attempts them, and Catra has decided that coffee is the one thing she’s actually decent at. And partially because Adora is naturally an early riser, and it is much easier to convince Catra to get up and spend time with her if she comes back to bed with a caffeinated beverage in each hand. And morning sex is really nice.
And Catra isn’t wrong about Adora’s current state of nervousness, and she also knows that being up with Adora will help. Adora isn’t sure what she did to deserve this kind of care.
Adora does make the coffee while Catra mixes up batter and starts heating up the cast iron pan that she brought after one disastrous attempt to use Adora’s cooking wares for a whole weekend.
Coffee is easy, but Adora is much pickier about it than Catra and brings her own beans whenever she goes to visit Catra for the weekend. A few minutes later, Adora hands Catra her steaming mug with a kiss right as Catra pours the first round of pancakes, and Catra asks, “Wanna shower while I’m making the rest of these?”
“Okay,” Adora nods, and gulps down half her coffee before going to do just that.
When she comes back into the kitchen fresh from her shower, hair wrapped in a towel on top of her head, Catra is just flipping the last of the pancakes onto a plate. She carries the loaded plate to the table and glances back to Adora in the kitchen. “Can you grab the syrup and stuff?”
Adora brings everything to the table, and they sit down. She forks three pancakes onto her plate and practically drowns them in butter and syrup before digging in. She’s nervous, yes, and she definitely would have gone without breakfast if Catra hadn’t been here, but Adora has never been one to refuse food that is placed in front of her. And Catra’s pancakes are perfectly light and fluffy and delicious.
Catra watches her. “So, today’s the day.”
Adora washes down her pancakes with a gulp of milk before saying, “I can’t believe…” she trails off. What is there to say? She’s finishing her program this term. After today, theoretically, she will officially be Doctor Adora Sherman. She can’t quite believe it. She refocuses on Catra. “Thanks for coming up, it…I’m just really glad you’re here.”
Catra smiles softly. “Of course I was going to come up. It’s not every day your girlfriend earns her PhD.”
Adora glances at her watch, and her heart-rate spikes. “Fuck. We have to get going like, now.”
She practically flies back into the bedroom and throws on the outfit that she’d carefully picked two weeks ago, which is hanging on the back of the door, all freshly ironed and clean. She went with a cream colored blazer and matching pants, and heels that make her feel like she’s a high-powered businesswoman or something. They make her feel confident, is the point, and she needs all the confidence she can get.
Catra comes in after her a minute later, holding a couple gold bracelets out to Adora. “For luck.”
Adora pauses her frenzy and picks one of the delicate, simple bangles out of Catra’s palm. “Where did these come from?” She asks, slipping them onto her wrist one at a time. They’re beautiful. One is hammered gold, the other shiny and smooth. They look good on her wrist, and also conveniently distract from the tan line where she usually wears her watch.
Catra shrugs, carefully casual. “I thought you could use something special. Something new.”
Adora swallows. “They’re beautiful, Catra.”
Catra lightly grasps Adora’s wrist, the one the bracelets are now on, and turns it over palm up. She brings Adora’s hand to her mouth, and presses a kiss to that soft skin on her inner wrist. It gives Adora butterflies in her stomach, it makes her heart melt, it makes her eyes flutter shut. Catra says, voice low, “You deserve beautiful things. And today is a big day. It was a good opportunity.” And then Catra meets her eyes, and now Catra blushes. “Oh my god Adora, shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Adora says with a little smirk.
“You’re thinking and it’s so goddamn loud, shut the fuck up.”
“I love you,” Adora breathes through her smile, and she loves the way that Catra has to look away.
“I love you too, idiot,” Catra mutters, then meets Adora’s gaze again. She reaches up and straightens Adora’s collar. “You brilliant genius who is going to kick ass at her dissertation defense.”
Adora’s eyes widen. “Oh shit, we really have to go now.” She grabs her backpack with all the materials she’ll need, and they hurry out of her apartment, down the stairs to Adora’s car.
It’s a short drive to the Physics and Astronomy building on campus, but Adora’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel the whole time. She’s tense, and her stomach is a ball of nerves. She’s ridiculously glad that Catra had said yes when Adora had asked her to come up this weekend. This would normally be an off weekend, where neither of them was visiting each other, and Adora had hesitated when picking the date of her defense. But this had been the only day for the next two months that her whole committee had been free, and she’d just had to go with it.
She’d hesitated before asking Catra too, because when they decided on the visiting schedule, they’d agreed that it would be unfeasible to see each other every weekend. They both have lives, after all, and Adora has school still and they both have friends, and whenever she’s with Catra all Adora really wants to do is spend time with her. But she’d asked anyway, because she’s trying to be better about asking for things. And Catra had immediately said yes, followed by, Of course I’ll be there, no matter what the schedule is. It’s just a schedule, we can always break it.
Which was a very good point, and something Adora had flagged in the back of her head to remind herself. And so even though she saw Catra just last weekend, her girlfriend is in the passenger seat, texting up a storm.
To try to get her mind off her imminent defense, Adora asks, “Who’re you texting?”
Catra responds, “Uh…Glimmer, actually.”
Adora was surprised just how well Catra and Glimmer got along at the end of last winter. But it seems like they’re too similar not to be friends, once they’d gotten over themselves a little. And they’re antagonistic as hell to each other, but it’s clear that they have fun trying to rile each other up. At the root of it, Catra and Glimmer genuinely like each other and enjoy being friends.
“What’re she and Bow up to this weekend?”
Catra looks unexpectedly cagey at this. “Just, you know. Chilling? Doing chill things?”
Adora shoots her an inquisitive look, but she has much bigger things to think about than this at the moment.
After a minute, Catra says, “Bow says good luck.”
Adora eyebrows go up. “You’re texting both of them?”
Catra slips her phone back into her pocket and nods. “I’m done though. You have my full attention.”
Adora pulls into the parking lot of the Physics and Astronomy building, parks, and gets out of the car. She grabs the satchel containing her notes, water bottle, and a snack, and then she and Catra walk into the building that almost feels like a second home at this point. Adora has certainly stayed here enough late nights for it to qualify. Catra unloads Swiftwind out of the back seat.
They arrive outside the lecture hall. There’s already a piece of paper taped to the door that says, Thesis Defense in Progress. Do not Interrupt.
At the sight of it, Adora’s heart feels like it’s going to leap out of her chest. She takes a deep breath, then another, then another—Swiftwind bumps his nose against her knee, and she automatically reaches down and scratches behind his ears, just where he likes it.
Catra drops the leash to the ground, and her hands go to Adora’s shoulders. “Hey, Adora, look at me for a second.”
Adora’s eyes shut for a moment, brow furrowed, and then she meets Catra’s gaze. She tries to relax, and can’t quite manage it.
Catra squeezes her shoulders gently, and then her hands slide down Adora’s arms until they find Adora’s own, sweaty palms. She says quietly, “You’re going to do great, okay? You know your own research, and you’ve been practicing your presentation for weeks. You have this. And I’m going to be sitting right here until you’re done.”
“Okay,” Adora whispers, looking down at their linked hands. Her eyes are getting all watery, which isn’t great because she’s about to walk into a lecture hall and present her dissertation to her committee. But she can’t help it.
Adora would have gotten her PhD done, eventually. But she would have played it safe like she was doing before last winter, so safe that hardly anyone would have cared or bothered to read her thesis. She knows that her struggle pre-Amundson-Scott was half perfectionism and anxiety, and half the fact that she’d taken out all the parts of her research that she really cared about, leaving her feeling unmotivated and dispassionate about it. And in academia, passion is the thing that pushes you forward, keeps you sane and happy and motivated. Adora loves astronomy more than anything, and she hates to think of what her career would have looked like without the wakeup call that Catra had given her this winter.
But today she’s walking into that lecture hall to present her thesis. And she’s proud of it, really, actually proud. Yes, she’s really fucking anxious, but she knows she’d be ten times more so if she didn’t know Catra and Swiftwind will be waiting outside the whole time.
Things just feel better with Catra in her life, in a way that Adora doesn’t totally understand but wholeheartedly embraces. She feels more grounded, has fewer anxiety attacks.
There are some things that Catra actually does, like making breakfast so Adora doesn’t forget, or talking her through a panic attack. But there a multitude of small ways that are just how Catra is, that make Adora feel a little more grounded, a little more comfortable in her own skin, a little more like the best version of herself that she wants to be. Catra makes her want to be that person.
Adora whispers, “You’re so good to me. I don’t—“
“Hey,” Catra interrupts, because she knows exactly what Adora was going to say. “Remember what we’ve talked about. It’s not about deserving. Now go in there and knock their socks off.” Catra kisses her, then says cheekily, “For luck.”
Adora’s surprised laugh breaks the heavy net of anxiety that has been growing all morning. “Okay. I’m doing this. I’m doing this.”
She drops Catra’s hands, and gives Swiftwind a good pet before picking up her satchel again. She smiles at Catra, and this time it doesn’t feel forced. “See you on the flip side.”
And she walks into the hall.
Catra glances at her phone. It’s been an hour and a half, which means Adora should be almost done. There are half a dozen notifications from Glimmer and Bow. She opens their group chat.
The separate one she’d made a couple weeks ago, to coordinate, that Adora isn’t in.
Bow: Is she done yet? I’m hungry :’(
Glimmer: Oh my god Bow, she’s defending her thesis! Be patient!
Bow: This cake just looks really good and I want to give Adora her present already! We haven’t seen her in like a month!
Glimmer: I know I’m so excited!!!
Glimmer: Catra, is she done yet?
Bow: Now YOU’RE the one being impatient
Catra scrolls through the messages and rolls her eyes fondly. Bow and Glimmer are undoubtedly sitting right next to each other in Adora’s favorite pub, munching on bar fries or something.
She texts them. maybe if u waited more than 2 minutes b4 asking she will be done when u ask
Bow sends a crying emoji immediately. I’m just excited!!
Catra is about to respond, but right then, Adora bursts out of the lecture hall, beaming.
Catra stands up immediately, letting the phone clatter to the bench she’s been sitting on. “So?” she asks excitedly.
Adora rushes to Catra, picks her up by the waist and swings her in a circle. She exclaims, “I passed! I have a fucking PhD!”
Adora sets Catra back down and Catra instantly embraces her in a tight hug. “I knew you would. I knew you would,” she says into Adora’s shoulder. When she pulls back, there are tears in Adora’s eyes and Catra blinks and discovers that her eyes are wet too.
“I’m so proud of you,” Catra says, quieter but just as intense. “I think the only person who’s read your thesis who doubted you was you, but I’m still so fucking proud.”
Adora sighs in relief. “I just…didn’t want to hope.” She wipes the tears off her cheeks, but Catra knows they’re tears of relief.
Swiftwind is tangled up in their legs now, infected by their energy, and he pants and wags his tail and looks absolutely adorable until Adora kneels to pet him. (Okay, Swiftwind has grown on Catra.)
Catra smiles and watches Adora coo over Swiftwind for a minute. Then she asks, “What do you want to do to celebrate?”
Adora glances up at her from the floor and blinks slowly. “Oh god, I think I just want to sleep for a million years.”
Catra isn’t going to be deterred by Adora’s unintentional plan-dampening. “What? No, you deserve one drink at the PUB. I want to celebrate you!” She says coaxingly.
Adora yawns, and scratches Swiftwind for a few more seconds, but then she nods. “You know what, you’re right. We should celebrate. I’ll rally. How many times do you get your PhD? I mean, I guess if I got another degree or something…” She trails off. “If I’d thought about it earlier, maybe I could have organized a happy hour or something…whatever. It’ll be just fine with the two of us.”
Catra nailed her. She knew Adora wouldn’t think to organize anything, when she was so caught up in prepping for her big day, but she also knows Adora, and knows that she’d probably wish something had been planned. “Yeah, it’ll be fun!”
She picks up Adora’s satchel and loops it over her shoulder. “Ready?”
Adora gets to her feet and picks up Swiftwind’s leash. “Yeah, let’s go get a drink.”
When they walk into the pub, the room is instantly filled with cheers. Adora stops short and blinks for a second, and Catra can practically hear her processing the scene in front of her.
It’s not just Glimmer and Bow here. It’s everyone from the station that Catra could reasonably entice to come to Madison. Bow, and Glimmer, and Scorpia and Perfuma but also Mermista and Sea Hawk, and somewhat surprisingly, Spinnerella and Netossa. Catra had reached out to everyone she knew was back in the states, which isn’t everyone but is certainly enough for a decent group.
Adora turns to Catra, hand over her mouth. “Did you do this?”
Catra just smirks, places her hand on the small of Adora’s back and leads her to the bar. She leans on the bar and flags down the bartender. “Hey my amazing girlfriend here just defended her thesis and passed with flying colors. Make her something good.”
Adora blushes. “You weren’t even in there, you don’t know—“
But Catra turns Adora’s jaw towards her so she can kiss her. It’s not the greatest kiss, because Catra is smiling too much, but she can’t help it. “I do know, actually. Because I know you. Flying colors, you hear? And don’t forget, I’ve read it.”
Adora grins and wrinkles her nose. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Maybe,” Catra says cheerfully, “You like it though.”
Adora lets out a little huff of fond laughter. “Yeah, I do.”
The bartender slides a drink over to Adora. It looks extremely fancy to Catra, which is appropriate. She hands him her card. “And open a tab while you’re at it. Can we get some fries too?”
Adora picks up the drink and takes a sip. “Oh man, this is really good.”
Catra grins. “I thought it would be.”
She and Adora head back to the group. Right before they reach their friends, Adora turns to her. “Thanks,” she says quietly. “This is…perfect.”
Catra grins and squeezes her hand. “You’re welcome.”
6 months later
“Flight to McMurdo departing in ten minutes!” A voice over the loudspeaker says.
Adora lets out a relieved sigh.
Glimmer, who is standing next to her reading a sign about penguin colonies, says, “Finally, I’m about to sweat to death.”
Adora agrees with that statement. She’s uncomfortably warm, which is to say she’s boiling. They’re already geared up in their standard-issue overcoats and pants and all the associated layers, because while the flight is somewhat heated, it is not what anyone would call temperate.
Plus, the bulky cold weather clothing takes up a truly astronomical amount of space, and Adora prefers to actually bring clothes to Amundsen-Scott instead of one very large, very red coat. So while the International Antarctic Centre has many informative and lifelike descriptors of Antarctic life, they’d elected not to keep the temperature below freezing, and Adora can’t wait to be on a plane the temperature of a refrigerator truck.
Adora glances around the International Antarctic Centre wing of the airport for Catra’s familiar mop of hair, but she doesn’t immediately spot her. She turns to Glimmer. “I’ll catch up to you! I don’t want Catra to miss our flight.”
Glimmer rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “Just say you want to go make out with your girlfriend behind the Ice Age mammals display. But don’t take too long, okay? They’re not gonna hold the plane for you, and Bow and I do not want to be stuck with both of your luggage until the next flight.”
Adora sputters, but Glimmer is already heading back to where Bow is camped out with all four of their duffel bags and a scalding cup of coffee he’s frantically blowing on to cool it enough to chug before they board.
“I’m not—I wasn’t going to—Glimmer!” Adora calls after her, but Glimmer just waltzes away, and after a second Adora lets it go. Glimmer loves teasing her and Catra, and honestly Adora wouldn’t have it any other way. She stands on her tiptoes to scan the room a second time across the maze of informational displays.
There are parents and kids everywhere. The Christchurch museum is a popular destination for families, and Adora can see why. There are interactive displays, games, and even a mock-up of an early 20th century field camp that kids can play in. All of which mean that the room is crowded enough that Adora still hasn’t spotted Catra.
She wanders through the exhibit, skimming informational signs that she and Glimmer hadn’t gotten to. She’s just reading one about penguins (there are no penguins at the South Pole which frankly Adora finds personally offensive) when she’s tackled into a bear hug from behind.
Adora takes a step forward to catch herself, already laughing and unwinding familiar arms from around her waist. “Catra!”
Catra squeezes her tightly, then lets go and grabs her hand. “Okay we have like, ten minutes. Which means…” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively at Adora, and Adora snorts.
“I am not making out with you behind the ice age mammals.”
Catra’s expression twists into one of glee. “Oh is that what you want to do?”
Adora blushes. “I mean—you said—“ she fumbles.
But Catra puts her out of her misery before she can dig herself too deep of a hole. She pecks Adora on the cheek and then tugs her in the direction of the life-size models of mammoths and saber toothed tigers. “We have a few minutes, and then we’ll be stuck on a plane for hours.”
Adora hisses, “There are children, Catra!” although she lets herself be led without resistance.
Catra just shrugs. “They can look away.”
She doesn’t really care about the children, but it’s also a little fun to let Catra convince her to go along with it. Catra is always doing this. She’ll give Adora that look and then drag her into a dark alley or an empty hallway or even the bathroom when they were at Bow and Glimmer’s place for game night (Bow and Glimmer had complained about that one). Maybe it’s just because they got into the habit last winter. But Adora goes willingly, eagerly, every time.
The next thing she knows, Catra ducks behind the wooly mammoth and Adora follows. It’s kind of cramped back here behind the diorama, and they’re not really all that hidden, and Adora definitely thinks they aren’t supposed to be back here, but Adora is almost immediately distracted by Catra’s mouth on hers, and Catra’s hands sliding up the back of her shirt, and all her thoughts fly out the window.
What feels like no time at all later, Adora’s phone starts buzzing in her back pocket. She pulls it out and disentangles herself from Catra. “Hello?” She asks, breathless.
Bow says, “You two better get over here, or you’re actually going to miss our flight. And then I’ll be stuck carrying your bags.”
Adora grins sheepishly at Catra and says to her phone, “Sorry, we got, uh, sidetracked. Be right there.”
She hangs up, and Catra cackles. “Someone’s in trouuuble!”
“Yeah, both of us, you’re the one who dragged me into the nearest dark corner,” Adora teases.
Catra wiggles her eyebrows. “But you didn’t exactly refuse.”
Adora grins. “No. But c’mon, we have to get back.”
They hurry back through the exhibit back to the main airport. It’s not exactly a regular airport; the only flights are to and from McMurdo, and instead of having any kind of boarding pass, they just tell the attendant their name and show their ID to board.
Bow is already standing up, his bag slung over his shoulder. His expression melts into one of relief when he sees the two of them. “Phew, I was getting worried you guys weren’t going to make it. Everyone else has already boarded.”
Glimmer stands up from where she’d been sitting on her duffel bag, and hauls it up too. She gestures at the two remaining bags. “You guys pack the heaviest I’ve ever seen, geez.”
Adora grins and hauls her bag over one shoulder. It is heavy. She’d refined her packing list after last winter, and this time she’s confident that she has exactly what she’ll need for the next six months and nothing extra.
Catra’s packing style is a lot closer to “pack the necessities and then cram everything else you can fit in”, which is how she’s always done things. Both styles result in the densest bags either of them can manage.
Bow nods and grins at the three of them. “The Best Friend Squad goes to Antarctica, second edition is a go!” They start off in the direction of their gate.
The PA system crackles to life once again. “Last call to McMurdo!” The four of them break into a run. “Will Glimmer Brightmoon, Catra Rom—never mind, we see you.”
The people at the gate watch in amusement as the four of them skid to a stop in front of the podium next to the door to the tarmac. The attendant rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “You’re cutting it pretty close.”
Adora pants and wipes sweat from her forehead. She’s about to die from all the clothes she’s wearing, and puts her bag down for a moment to unzip another layer. “Sorry—“ she says, out of breath, “My—fault—“
Glimmer snorts. “These two are dumbasses, that’s why. Glimmer Brightmoon.” She shows the attendant her passport, and gets a nod in return, and then she heads out the door into the sunny New Zealand afternoon.
They board the plane, and find a spot that will fit all four of them, their bags, and Swiftwind. This plane is a lot bigger than the one from McMurdo to Amundsen-Scott that they’ll take tomorrow, and it has a lot more people. Adora doesn’t spot any familiar faces.
She and Catra nestle themselves into a corner with their luggage. Not a minute after they’re all settled, she hears the boarding doors close, and the plane engine starts up.
“I can’t believe we’re already going back,” Catra says after a minute.
“Me neither,” Adora mumbles, “feels like the last six months went by in no time.”
That’s not quite true. There had been plenty of moments when Adora had curled up in her bed, alone, with Catra hundreds of miles away, when time had seemed to crawl by. But it had also been crammed with so many things, that she can’t quite believe it’s really half a year later already. She continues, “Do you think they got the accommodation request?”
Adora can hear Catra’s grin in her voice. “I can’t believe we’re doing this again, like we’re back in college.”
Adora perks her head up from where it had been resting on Catra’s shoulder and laughs in surprise, “Oh my god I didn’t even think of that!”
Catra wrinkles her nose. “Really? Pushing our twin beds together? I still can’t believe the winter wing has nothing except singles.”
“It’ll be fun!” Adora says brightly, then frowns. “Well, except for the crack between the mattresses. Remember when you got stuck that one time?”
Catra groans. “I thought you’d forgotten about that one.”
Adora smirks. “I’d never forget about you freaking out about an arm when it was actually just your own arm falling asleep. My abs were sore from laughing so hard.”
“You love me though.”
Catra glances down and laces their fingers together. “Yeah, Adora. I really fucking do.”
Adora lifts their entwined hands up and kisses the knuckles. “I can’t wait to spend all winter with you.”
The plane’s engines pick up, and they start trundling down the runway. Adora snuggles closer to Catra. It’s been almost exactly a year since she first arrived at Amundsen-Scott. Adora supposes the fact that she’s going back a second time means that she’s one of those crazy people that somehow actually likes living in the most inhospitable place on the planet. Every passing minute, instead of feeling nervous for the winter ahead, she feels more settled. She’s looking forward to getting to the South Pole. She’s looking forward to working with Catra again, this time without the tension of last winter. She’s excited to see all their friends, especially the ones who hadn’t come back to the states for the summer season. She’s excited to push two twin beds together and make a tiny room into a home.
Catra’s fingers relax in hers, and Adora realizes she’s asleep, lulled by the vibration of the engine. She glances over at Bow and Glimmer. Bow is reading a book on his kindle, and Glimmer is also asleep already with her head in his lap. Bow meets her eyes and smiles, and Adora smiles back.
She’s getting sleepy too, now, and it’s a long flight. Adora lets her eyelids drift shut. They’re on their way home.