On the first day of the rest of her life, Catra woke up with the light of day creeping in through the tent seams and Adora wrapped around her back. When she spoke, Adora’s voice was gentle but alert. She’d been awake for a while. Catra could tell. She knew what Adora sounded like sleepy.
‘Are you awake?’
‘Getting there.’ Catra stretched carefully, loathe to dislodge the blanket enveloping them both. Her body ached. Not as much as it might have, given what she’d put it through. Her heart ached more. A good pain: the pain of a muscle finally put to its proper use. ‘You didn’t have to wait for me.’
‘Yes, I did. Today, I did.’
Catra rolled over on the spot. It was harder than it should have been. She’d forgotten how to share a bed with someone else.
‘You’re here,’ she said.
Adora’s hair was still down. Her eyes were bright, right on the verge of spilled tears. Before yesterday, Catra wouldn’t have believed a body could hold so many tears without bursting. Now she knew. Now they both knew.
‘Always. I’m never leaving your side again.’
‘Figuratively or literally?’
Adora blushed. Catra began to purr, which only made the blush deepen.
‘Figuratively.’ Adora raised one hand and wiped away the tear Catra hadn’t bothered hiding. ‘Today, maybe literally.’ The hand moved upwards, into Catra’s hair, massaging her scalp right behind her ears. ‘What are you going to do with your hair?’
Catra pressed her head into Adora’s hand; pressed her whole body into place against Adora’s front. It was so easy to fill the space. So easy to minimise the distance between them.
‘Grow it out. Cut it all off again. You know, keep you on your toes.’
‘Ever consider a ponytail?’
‘Have you seen how thick my hair gets?’
‘I think it would look good.’ Adora cleared her throat. ‘I know it would look good, actually.’
The tiniest pause. ‘Ask me another day.’
Catra let it go. That’s what rest of her life meant. There would be another day, and another, and another, until the whole series of them blurred into each other, until she had not just a good day, not a good week or month or year, but a good life. And it’s not that she was naïve enough to think there wouldn’t be bumps along the way.
But they would keep another day.
‘Can I kiss you?’
Catra blinked away her thoughts. Adora’s face was so close she could only focus on one of her eyes at a time, one blue-grey iris or the other. Her lips were parted.
‘Always,’ Catra said.
The camp was quiet in the way of an early spring morning. Further away, Catra could see people going about the business of dismantling it, moving it all back to Bright Moon or Thaymor or wherever else they came from. No one seemed to be in a hurry. It was as if all the urgency had been sucked out of the world.
One tent over, Bow sat by a campfire, humming to himself over a black iron pan of fried dumplings.
‘Good morning! Breakfast?’
Adora grabbed a plate and bent to the task of assembling breakfast. Catra met Bow’s gaze across her back and tried not to laugh.
‘Sleep well?’ Bow asked, handing her a small earthenware cup of tea and, once Adora finally relinquished the implements, a plate of dumplings.
‘Never better,’ Catra said, truthfully. She took a bite, paused, focused on not purring. It was absurd. She hadn’t purred in years, and now the slightest thing was setting her off—but the food was good. The air was clear. Adora was smiling at her. She made an exception.
‘You know,’ Bow said, ‘I think this whole war could have ended much sooner if you’d focused on your cute side.’
Catra threw a dumpling at him. He plucked it out of the air and shoved it in his mouth.
‘And I should warn you,’ he said, mouth full, ‘Frosta got up very early this morning. She’s threatening to have the designs for the ice monument on your desk by evening.’
‘The what?’ Adora said, finally looking up from her plate.
‘The monument. To your love,’ Bow clarified.
Catra spat out a mouthful of tea. ‘The what?’
‘Well, it did literally save the world. Your love, I mean, not the monument. And it was beautiful, and she’s such an impressionable child, and also, I may have signed off on the plans.’
‘You people are all insane!’
Catra reached for more ammunition. The plate was nearly empty. Glimmer chose that moment to emerge from the tent she’d shared with Bow, yawning. She paused, surveying the scene in front of her.
‘That was quick,’ she muttered. ‘Come get me when there’s a truce again. I think I’ve had enough fighting.’
‘Food fights don’t count,’ Adora volunteered from the other side of the fire.
Glimmer blinked at her. ‘As long as I can eat some of it.’ She took a seat next to Bow and rested her head on his shoulder, to all appearances intending to go right back to sleep.
‘Truce?’ Bow said, grinning.
‘Truce,’ Catra agreed. The log she was using as a bench was growing uncomfortable. She propped herself up, depositing her legs in Adora’s lap as she went. Adora’s eye-roll was practically audible. ‘Is it weird,’ she added, ‘to… find that weird? After all this time? We’re just… not fighting.’
‘Not fighting anyone?’ Bow said. ‘Or each other?’
‘Well. Both, I guess.’ Catra examined her claws. ‘You’re lucky, obviously. Fighting you was embarrassingly easy.’
‘Hey!’ Glimmer said, eyes flashing open. ‘That’s not true.’
‘Yeah? Name one time.’
Adora snapped her fingers. ‘Easy. The time with Mara’s ship. I pinned you to the wall with that cage thing—’
‘What? I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Yes you do! It was amazing, I was all, “ha, it was fun distracting you!”, and you were like “oh no, once again I have been outwitted by my staggeringly attractive nemesis!” and then we all escaped—’
‘No, seriously. No idea what you’re talking about. Where was this supposed to be?’
‘The Valley of the Lost!’
‘Oh. Oh. Yeah, sorry, that was Double Trouble. Not me.’
Catra almost laughed at the look of betrayal on Adora’s face, then reminded herself she was trying not to laugh at people so much. ‘I can let you pin me to a wall with a cage some other time, if it would make you feel better?’
The sound of Glimmer choking on her food distracted Catra from the exciting new variety of blush blooming on Adora’s face. Bow rubbed her back for her as the fit subsided, and the four of them lapsed into meditative silence.
‘Is it weird,’ Bow ventured after a while, ‘that we can joke about it?’
‘Better than agonising over it,’ Adora said quietly.
‘Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.’
‘Can I ask you both something?’ Glimmer said. ‘Something—personal?’
Catra glanced at Adora, got a shrug by way of response. ‘Sure.’
‘You really did—you never stopped loving each other? The whole time?’
Adora reached for Catra’s tail, twining it gently around her wrist. ‘Never.’
The words came easily. ‘I’d have jumped off the edge of the world before admitting it. But yes.’
‘That is beautiful,’ Bow breathed. ‘Although, technically, world doesn’t have an edge.’
‘You never said.’ Glimmer looked at Adora, smiled, looked away. ‘Not once.’
Catra grimaced: Adora’s hand had tightened around her tail.
‘Take it from me,’ Catra said, running one foot along Adora’s thigh, feeling her relax again. ‘Sometimes it just seems impossible. To admit it to yourself. Never mind anyone else.’
‘How about you guys?’ Adora said, and the brightness in her voice was entirely unfeigned. ‘Are you…’
‘Uh, duh?’ Catra said before either of the other two could so much as blush. ‘Have you seen the way they act around each other? Wait, are you telling me they weren’t already a couple?’
Glimmer cleared her throat. ‘We had… other things on our minds. Recently. But—’ She glanced sideways at Bow, smiled, reached for his hand. ‘Yes. Now we are.’
‘Well, hey, good for you!’ Catra let her grin show teeth. ‘And you’re in luck, because I know the best ice love sculptor in all of Etheria—’
She caught the dumpling in her mouth. Bow stared at her.
‘And that,’ Catra said, ‘is why you could never beat me in a fight.’
‘It’s weird,’ Catra said, afterwards. The two of them were up on a hill, overlooking the meadows where they’d made camp. It still looked unreal, the colours all too bright. Like a painting. ‘I keep… counting.’
Catra twined her fingers with Adora’s and brought her hand to her lips. ‘Kisses,’ she said, breathing a line of goose bumps along Adora’s knuckles. She cupped Adora’s cheek with her other hand, tilted her head to the side. ‘The number of times I’ve cried.’
‘What are you at?’ Adora said, lips quirking where Catra’s thumb rested at their corner.
Adora kissed her. Somehow it still came as a surprise, every time. Every time but that first time.
‘I think that number should be higher than the other one,’ Adora said. ‘Don’t you?’
The shiver went all the way down Catra’s spine and to her tail. Before she could stop herself she was pushing Adora over, straddling her, pinning her arms above her head the way they used to do when they were younger. Adora’s breath caught.
And Catra would have forgiven her, in that moment, if there had been a flash of fear in her eyes. A sign of discomfort. She would have gotten off Adora. Apologised. They’d have talked it through. The second number would have gone up again.
Perhaps, another day, there would be. A bump in the road. A burr in the cloth. Catra wasn’t so naïve to think there wouldn’t.
But it would keep another day.
‘I think,’ she purred, watching Adora’s eyes fall to her lips, ‘that I want to lose count.’