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the roots that sleep

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grayskull city, april 2006

 

“Catra?” Adora pokes her head into the room, glancing back and forth around the edge of the door. She doesn’t see Catra, but that doesn’t mean much—both of them know every hiding place and dusty corner of the three-story house, and Catra’s much better at disappearing into them. “Catra, c’mon,” Adora says, stepping the rest of the way into the room. She closes the door as quietly as she can behind her. “I know you’re in here. Talk to me?” Catra doesn’t appear. Adora walks into the center of the room and sits down, crossing her legs the way they do when their teacher reads to them at school. “I’m not going away,” Adora says. “So you should talk to me, or I’ll start singing.” A reluctant groan emanates from under the old wooden chest in the corner, and Catra emerges, crawling out on her stomach. The chest is low to the ground, and even tiny, rail-thin, five-year-old Catra barely fits under it. She won’t be able to hide there in a few months, with the way they’ve both been growing lately.

“I hate it when you sing,” Catra says, pouting. She mirrors Adora’s position, crossing her legs and facing Adora from a few feet away. Adora grins at her.

“I know,” she says. “That’s why I said it.” Catra huffs, trying to look annoyed and mostly failing.

“Leave me alone,” she says, crossing her arms.

“No.” Adora scoots closer to her, bumping their knees together. “We’re best friends, so if you’re in trouble, I’m in trouble, too.”

“You’re not my best friend,” Catra says. “You’ve only been here for a month. I’ve been here forever.” Adora blinks, unsure how the time they’ve each spent in the group home is related to their friendship.

“Well, you’re my best friend,” Adora says. “So I’m staying.” Catra rolls her eyes, but doesn’t protest. Adora isn’t sure if it’s because she’s accepted Adora’s presence or if she’s just sick of arguing with her. “I tried to sneak you some food,” Adora says after a minute. “But I think Kyle saw me, and I didn’t wanna get in trouble if he told.”

“Bet you wouldn’t get in trouble anyway,” Catra says. “Weaver’s never mean to you.” That…isn’t true. Their guardian is excellent at making Adora feel small, and stupid, and only useful when she’s doing what Ms. Weaver wants—but at six years old, Adora doesn’t really have the words to explain the way Ms. Weaver talks to her, and it’s true that Adora never gets locked up alone in the upstairs room without dinner, so she doesn’t argue.

“I have an idea,” she says after a minute. “I got a granola bar from the nurse at school. You can eat that.” Catra doesn’t quite smile, but her scowl lightens.

“Thanks, Adora,” she says, looking down at her lap. Adora grins.

“Who’s your best friend?” she says. That gets a smile from Catra, even if it’s accompanied by an eye roll. Then there’s a quiet creaking noise, and Catra goes tense.

“Hide,” she says, jumping to her feet. Adora stands as well, blinking in confusion. “That was the stairs. Ms. Weaver’s coming, you have to hide!” Adora glances around the room, looking for a good place. Catra doesn’t wait for her to figure it out. She grabs Adora by the shoulder, drags her over to the empty closet, and shoves her into it, closing the door behind her. Moments later, the door to the room opens.

“Catra,” Ms. Weaver says, voice cold. Adora presses her face to the slats in the closet door so that she can see the room. “What are you doing?” Catra, who is standing in the middle of the room, crosses her arms and glares up at Ms. Weaver.

“Nothing,” she says. “There’s nothing to do up here.” Ms. Weaver makes a humming sound that somehow manages to be skeptical and intimidating at the same time.

“Would you like to explain why the door was unlocked?” Ms. Weaver asks. She steps further into the room, to where Adora can see her through the closet door. Her hair is pulled back severely, flawlessly, and she looks at Catra with vaguely uninterested disgust. A lump of discomfort forms in the pit of Adora’s stomach.

“You probably forgot to lock it,” Catra says. “I don’t know.” Ms. Weaver hums again.

“I see,” she says. “I must have, because otherwise, someone else must’ve unlocked it from the outside, and no one in this house would bother to do that for…you.” Somehow, she turns the word you into an insult. Catra flinches at Ms. Weaver’s tone, but doesn’t respond. “Speaking of the other children,” Ms. Weaver continues, “you’ve been getting closer to Adora.” She pauses, but Catra doesn’t speak. Adora wonders where this is going. “I want to nip this trouble in the bud,” Ms. Weaver says. “Let me be very clear, Catra. Adora is…special. I will not let you hold her back.”

“Hold her back?” Catra asks, sounding smaller than Adora has ever heard her before.

“I will allow your…friendship,” Ms. Weaver says distastefully, “so long as it does not hinder Adora. But if you ever stand between her and success, I will take her away from you. Is that clear?” Catra nods silently. “I’ll be back to let you out before bed,” Ms. Weaver says. “Behave.” She leaves the room, and the lock clicks into place behind her. Adora emerges from the closet, hurrying over to Catra. Catra stands motionless. Her crossed arms flex, like she’s trying to hold herself, and her gaze is fixed on the floor.

“Catra?” Adora says, setting a hand on Catra’s shoulder. Catra looks up at her, and Adora sees a sheen of tears over Catra’s mismatched eyes. “Catra,” she says again. Catra shakes her head, the first few tears beginning to fall.

“I don’t want to lose you,” she says. “You’re my best friend.” Adora pulls her into a hug, wrapping her arms around Catra’s bony shoulders, and Catra holds her just as close.

“You won’t,” Adora says over Catra’s quiet crying. “She can’t take me away from you. And if she tries, we’ll…run away.” Catra laughs wetly and pulls away from the hug.

“Run away?” she says. “How?” Adora pauses. She hadn’t really thought about that. They probably wouldn’t get very far.

“Okay, we won’t run,” she amends. “I’ll just protect us from her.”

“Protect us,” Catra echoes. “Like a superhero.” She says it sort of mockingly, and Adora feels the sudden need to defend herself.

“You don’t know,” she says. “I could be a superhero.” Catra snorts.

“Oh, really?” she says.

“I totally could!” Adora’s heart isn't in the bickering. Catra isn’t crying anymore, and all Adora wants is to keep her happy. “I would be—super tall, and super strong, and I would…have a sword.”

“Superheroes don’t use swords, dummy,” Catra says. “They have technology.” She stumbles slightly over the word, but looks almost proud of herself for knowing it. “Or just superpowers.”

“Well, I use a sword,” Adora says. “And I have superpowers.” Catra rolls her eyes.

“Fine, superhero,” she says. “Use your superpowers to get out of here before Weaver comes back.”

The door, of course, is locked from the outside, so Adora ends up climbing out the window and trying to scale the side of the house to escape. It doesn’t work. She falls, and breaks her ankle, and Catra is the one who gets in trouble for it all. She’s put on dish duty for two weeks, shoving her unprotected hands under near-boiling water for an hour every night while Ms. Weaver forces her to rewash any dish that she doesn’t deem clean enough. By the end of it, her hands are permanently pink, chapped, and a little bit swollen. It takes them weeks to recover.

Adora’s ankle won't heal quite right. Years later, it will hurt occasionally, when it gets too cold or she pushes herself too hard, and it will always remind her of the guilt that festers in her stomach at six years old, watching from the kitchen door as Catra burns herself.


university of bright moon, september 2020

 

“Are you okay?” Bow asks, clearly noticing Adora’s limp as they head for the locker rooms.

“I’m fine,” Adora says, gritting her teeth as her ankle twinges particularly badly. “It’s just my ankle. I think I worked too hard.” They’re at the gym on campus—which, since UBM is known for its athletics, is massively overfunded and stuffed to the gills with fancy, brand-new equipment. For Bow and Adora, it’s a dream. For her bad ankle? Not so much.

“Ouch,” Bow says, wincing sympathetically. “Hey, you never told me how you broke it in the first place.”

“Didn’t I?” Adora says. She doesn’t elaborate—not that she ever does. Bow and Glimmer know she was in foster care for the first sixteen years of her life. They know that she was in a  group home, instead of a traditional foster home. They don’t know much else.

“You know, someday I’ll convince you to tell me all your deep, dark secrets,” Bow says. He’s joking, but Adora recognizes the genuine sentiment behind the words: you can open up to me. Instead of addressing it, Adora bumps their shoulders together and grins at him.

“Good luck with that,” she says. “Meet you out front in a few?” Bow nods, and they part ways, entering the locker rooms.

Even the showers are new and fancy. Adora really loves college.

She towels off and dresses quickly. However fast she is, Bow will already be waiting out front for her, since he doesn’t like showering at the gym. She doesn’t want to keep him waiting, so she ties her still-wet hair back messily and grabs her bag.

She’s double-checking her locker to make sure she hasn’t forgotten anything when a voice from behind her says, “Hey, Adora.”

Every nerve in Adora’s body sparks. The voice is impossible—subtly raspy, teasing, familiar. Adora turns around and meets mismatched eyes, blue and yellow-gold, surrounded by freckles and short, messy hair. She tries to speak, but her lips move soundlessly, unable to form words.

“The tattoo’s new,” Catra says, when it becomes clear that Adora isn’t going to rediscover her voice anytime soon. Adora’s hand goes up automatically, touching the part of the tattoo on the back of her neck left exposed by her ponytail. The rest of it, stretching all the way down her back, is covered by her t-shirt. “You’re still doing that dumbass hair poof, though,” Catra observes. “Some things don’t change.”

“Catra—you—I—what?” Adora splutters. Catra grins, an achingly familiar mischievous glint in her eyes.

“The hair poof,” she says. “I told you in third grade that was a bad look. And yet here you are.”

“Here I am?” Adora echoes. “Here you are! How are you here?”

“I’m sparring with a friend,” Catra says, stepping over to a locker near Adora’s and opening it. “Y’know, something cool, instead of lifting weights like my brain is made of muscle.” She shoots Adora’s biceps—which Adora is proud of, thanks—a judgmental look, though there’s something mixed in with the teasing judgment that Adora can’t quite identify.

“I—but…” Adora kind of feels like she’s the victim of a practical joke. “You’re…you go to UBM?”

“Not according to my psych professor,” Catra says. “But it’s not my fault he doesn’t take ‘your class is full of annoying men’ as a valid excuse for skipping.”

“How have I never seen you around before?” Adora asks, shaking her head. Catra pauses for a moment before answering.

“I’m technically a freshman,” she says. “I took a few years. Didn’t feel like going straight from school to school.” She turns and looks at Adora, and that’s when it finally clicks in Adora’s brain. This is Catra, standing in front of her. Catra, her best friend, her whole world for a decade of her life, her—her—

Adora hasn’t seen Catra in four years.

Catra,” Adora says. She steps forward, reaching out to pull Catra into a hug. She’s stopped before she can even get close by Catra’s hand slamming into her shoulder.

“Whoa,” Catra says, taking a step back. “What the fuck, Adora?” Adora blinks at her. Her shoulder aches where Catra shoved it.

“…Right,” she says. “Sorry. I know you didn’t—I just, it’s been four years.”

“Right,” Catra says. “Four years. You’re basically a stranger, and I’m not big on strangers touching me.” Adora flinches. Basically a stranger.

“I know,” Adora says. “I…sorry. But you did say hi.”

“Yeah, hi,” Catra says. “Not please smother me.” She turns back to her locker. Adora just stares at her, speechless once again. She hasn’t imagined this moment, hasn’t let herself think about what it would be like to see Catra again for the past four years, and so she can’t think of a single thing to say. Or, rather, she has far too many things she wants to say to pick just one.

She really wants to say I’m sorry, wants to beg for forgiveness, but instead, she says, “You were the one teasing me like we’re still in high school. Why’d you talk like that if you didn’t want a hug?” Catra looks back over at her. She holds eye contact for a long moment, unflinching, until Adora looks away, feeling heat rising in her face.

“Like you said,” Catra says. “It’s been four years.” It’s exactly the kind of non-answer Catra is fond of. When they were kids, Adora would’ve been able to interpret a real meaning out of Catra’s face and tone. Now, it just leaves Adora confused. She isn’t used to doublespeak anymore.

Adora’s phone buzzes in her pocket, breaking her out of her Catra-induced daze, and she suddenly remembers Bow waiting outside.

Shit, I need to go,” she says. Catra gives her an amused look.

“Oh, you swear now?” she asks, teasing. Adora rolls her eyes.

“I’m twenty years old, Catra,” she says. “What the fuck do you think?” Catra laughs, delighted, and somewhere in Adora’s chest, a muscle that’s been tense for four years relaxes. “Look, I have to go,” Adora says as her phone buzzes again. “But we should hang out sometime! Catch up and all that. I mean, if…you want that?” She tacks on the last sentence when Catra gives her a disbelieving look. Catra doesn’t look any more convinced by the question, so Adora adds, “I really missed you, Catra.”

“Did you,” Catra says. It’s not a question, and Adora feels, again, like she’s missing something.

“I did,” Adora says firmly, meeting Catra’s gaze. “I do.” Catra is the first to drop eye contact this time. For a moment, the two of them are wrapped in an intensity that Adora hasn’t felt since they were sixteen, like the world has gone dark and the two of them are the only people in a spotlight. Then Adora’s ringtone cuts through the air, and the moment shatters.

“The old white lady marimba ringtone?” Catra asks. “Really?” Adora quickly declines the call, blushing slightly.

“New phone,” she says. “I haven’t gotten around to changing it.” It’s a blatant lie. “I really need to go, my friend is waiting for me. But—I live in Eternia Hall. Come find me soon, so we can catch up.”

“I’ll think about it,” Catra says. It’s the best Adora is going to get from her, so she shoulders her bag and heads for the locker room doors. She pauses once, looking back over her shoulder at Catra, and immediately whips her head back around when she sees that Catra is taking her shirt off.

Back muscles.

Residual warmth still in her cheeks, Adora hurries out the front doors of the gym building. Bow is waiting, and he heads right for her when she emerges.

“What took you so long?” he asks, then frowns when he sees her facial expression. “What happened?” he says. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I think I just did,” Adora says. Bow looks at her blankly. “All those dark secrets you were asking about? I just ran into one of them in the locker room.” Her eyes go wide. “Oh shit, I didn’t get her phone number!”


grayskull city, may 2006

 

“My superhero name would be She-Ra,” Adora says. “And I would be able to heal people, too.” Catra flops over on the top bunk, looking down at Adora over the edge of the bed.

“That’s stupid,” she says. Adora laughs.

“You’re just jealous that you aren’t a superhero,” she says, and sticks her tongue out at Catra. Catra huffs, irritated.

“Superheroes are lame,” she says. “Only you and Kyle like that stuff. I’d be a supervillain, they’re way cooler.” Adora frowns.

“But then we’d be enemies,” she says. “I don’t want us to be enemies.”

“Our secret identities could be best friends,” Catra says. “And our super-selves could be enemies. That’s a compromise.” They’d learned about compromise at school. It’s supposed to be a good thing, but the one Catra has made doesn’t seem to make Adora any happier.

“I still don’t like that,” she says. “You get to be a superhero, too.” Catra rolls her eyes.

Fine!” she says. She rolls the rest of the way off the bunk and falls to the floor, landing easily on her feet. She’s learned lately that climbing and jumping are easy for her, and being small is good when it means she can get higher up in a tree than any of the jerks she goes to school with. “But I’m not your sidekick, alright? Sidekicks are even lamer than heroes.”

“You don’t have to be my sidekick,” Adora agrees. “We can be a team. Like the Justice League.”

“I don’t know what that is, because I don’t read stupid comic books,” Catra says. She crawls into bed next to Adora. The mattress is too small for the two of them, even with their tiny five-and-six-year-old bodies, but Adora doesn’t complain when Catra accidentally knees her in the leg. In fact, she very pointedly says nothing, until Catra groans in annoyance and says, “Fine, tell me about the stupid Justice League.” Adora considers it for a moment.

“Nah,” she decides. “Do you want to hear more about my sword?”

Whatever,” Catra says, secretly not annoyed at all. She likes it when Adora talks about her imaginary superhero self, even though it’s totally lame. The whole fantasy stems back to that night in the room upstairs, to Adora promising to protect Catra. Even if that night had ended in two weeks of pain for Catra, it had been worth it to know that, no matter what, Adora will protect her, won’t leave her. Catra’s decided that that night is her favorite memory, and She-Ra is a part of it.

“It’s a really big sword,” Adora says, sounding proud of herself. “And I can turn it anything I want, so when I’m just being me, Adora, I can wear it as a bracelet. But when the world needs She-Ra, I can turn it into a sword and say the magic words, and I turn into her.”

“What are the magic words?” Catra asks. Adora blinks.

“…I don’t know,” she says. Catra snorts.

“Loser,” she says, and she’s about to say more when the stairs creak outside. She leaps out of Adora’s bed and shoots back up the ladder, so that she can pretend to be sleeping when Ms. Weaver opens the door.

Adora may have promised to protect her, but She-Ra isn’t real.


an apartment complex in bright moon, september 2020

 

Catra is already in a bad mood when she gets home. Sparring with Scorpia had gone well, but Scorpia had wanted to talk, like she always does, and after running into Adora in the locker room, Catra hadn’t been in any mood to talk. Luckily, Scorpia has to run some errands before coming home, so in the apartment, it’s just Catra and—

“Holy fuck, Entrapta, did you kill the microwave?” Catra asks, staring at the pile of screws and metal strewn across the kitchen counter. Entrapta turns and grins at her, that mad-scientist light in her eyes that tells Catra to back away slowly.

“It didn’t heat my lasagna to the same degree that it usually does,” Entrapta says, spinning a screwdriver through her fingers. “It was five degrees colder than usual, Catra!” Catra takes a second to process that.

“Do you take your pasta’s temperature every time?” she asks.

“Plus, it turns out messing with microwaves can be incredibly dangerous,” Entrapta says, ignoring the question. “Radiation, high voltage, possibly lethal! Very exciting.” Catra slowly retreats down the hallway towards her room.

“I’m…gonna leave you to that,” she says, really hoping her roommate won’t die in the next hour or two before Scorpia gets home. Catra just doesn’t have the patience to talk Entrapta out of her crazy, especially not right now. Not after seeing Adora.

Adora.

Catra punched things at the gym for two straight hours, and she still has to consciously restrain herself from slamming her bedroom door at the mere thought of Adora. Adora, who still has her stupid hair poof, which has started to look bizarrely good on her, who now has chiseled biceps that definitely weren’t there in high school, who has a tattoo on the back of her neck that leads down past the neck of her t-shirt and who knows how far down past that. Catra couldn’t even figure out what it was of.

How the fuck did I notice all of this in two minutes?

Catra groans loudly and falls face first into her mattress. The position isn’t exactly comfortable, and she curls onto her side instead, looking across the room at her bookshelf absently as she replays her interaction with Adora in her head.

Adora had been shocked to see her, which checks out. Adora had been happy to see her, which does not. Catra had intended to greet her, make a few vaguely rude comments, and get out of there. She’d even had them pre-prepared, since she’d known when she committed to UBM that Adora probably went there. And then Adora had looked at her, and the plan had gone straight out the window.

Adora had looked at her like Catra mattered to her. Like she was reuniting with a long-lost friend by luck, instead of running into someone she had never wanted to see again. And Catra had just gone with it. She had tried her best to be mean, to be cold and standoffish and heartless, and all she had managed was prickly. Adora had tried to hug her, and Catra wanted her to.

God, she’s so fucking weak.

Catra rolls onto her back and glares at the ceiling. She’s supposed to be done with Adora. She has been done with Adora, for years now. She hasn’t even talked about her in therapy for months. She’s over it, all of it: their childhood, Catra’s changing feelings in high school, Adora’s broken promises, the unanswered letters, the hole in her chest that Catra has been trying to fill for years. None of it weighs on her anymore.

And yet, Catra is thinking about going to Adora’s dorm room—and not to yell at her, or punch her, or even look for closure. No, she just wants to take Adora’s offer to catch up.

Catra sleeps for a bit, making up for the early start she’d had that morning at work and the particularly intense sparring session she’d had with Scorpia. She dreams about Adora. The dreams are disconnected, jumbles of remembered sounds and sensations from the decade they’d spent in that house together. Most of the memories are older, from their early childhood. Most of them are about She-Ra, which is strange. Catra doesn’t think about She-Ra very often.

“Catra!” Catra is jerked from a half-conscious doze into full awareness by her door flying open and Scorpia swooping into the room with a grin. “I brought sushi!” Catra sits up, yawning and trying futilely to flatten her hair. Her bedhead is almost worse with short hair—it’s thin enough at this length to stick straight up, and it really, really likes to.

“Scorpia,” Catra says. “I’m sleeping.”

“It’s dinnertime!” Scorpia flips the light switch, and Catra ducks her head, flinching away from the light with a hiss.

“It’s nap time,” she says, flopping back onto the mattress. “Go away.” In her peripheral vision, she sees Scorpia’s smile drop. She turns the lights back off—though light keeps streaming in from the hallway through the open door—and sits down on the edge of Catra’s bed.

“Hey,” Scorpia says. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Catra rolls onto her side, staring at the wall.

“Uh huh.” Scorpia sounds thoroughly unconvinced. “So come eat sushi with us, then.” Catra groans.

“I never should’ve let you get this used to my bullshit,” she mumbles. “Other people would just leave me alone.”

“Well, I’m your best friend,” Scorpia says, with that annoying spark of pride in her voice that she gets every time she has an excuse to talk about their friendship. “I’m not other people.” Catra is glad she’s facing the wall, so she can hide her half-smile.

“I know,” she says. Reluctantly, she rolls onto her back and looks up at Scorpia. The whole emotional-vulnerability thing has never gotten easier. Two years of therapy—and living with Scorpia, which is a therapy session every day in and of itself—and her heart still beats louder when she’s honest. “I, uh, I ran into Adora at the gym today,” she says.

“…oh,” Scorpia says, her eyes sympathetic. She sets a hand on Catra’s shoulder. “Are you okay, wildcat?”

“Don’t call me that,” Catra says automatically. There’s no bite to it. “And…I don’t know. It was weird. She was acting…well, kind of normal. She wants to hang out.” Scorpia’s hand tightens slightly on Catra’s shoulder.

“Is that a good idea?” she asks. Catra stares up at the ceiling. Is it a good idea? For the first three months Catra was in therapy, Adora had come up more often than Ms. Weaver had—not because what Adora had done once was at all comparable to what Ms. Weaver had for years, but because Catra cared so much more when it came to Adora. But that was all almost two years ago, and Catra’s doing better, now. She has a family in her two best friends, a home, a job, classes. She’s pulled herself back up from the worst moments of her life and rebuilt everything better than it was before.

She’d like to believe that Adora can’t break her again.

“Probably not,” Catra admits. “And I don’t…really want to see her, but I know myself. I’m going to end up wanting to eventually. I might as well bite the bullet.”

“Catra…” Scorpia shifts, lying down on the bed beside Catra. Catra leans into her side, just a little bit. Enough to find comfort but maintain plausible deniability. “If you want Entrapta to kill her, just say the word.” Catra laughs.

“You won’t help?” she asks.

“Oh, no.” Scorpia shudders. “Can you imagine me lying to the cops about murder? We’d all be in jail before Entrapta could plan our escape.”

“Yeah.” Catra sighs and pulls herself away from her friend, sitting up. “Anyway. You said something about sushi.” Scorpia grins and hops to her feet.

“I sure did!” she says as Catra stands. “I got your favorites because you seemed upset at the gym earlier…oh.” Scorpia blinks as the connection between Catra’s earlier aggression and her current evening-nap-slash-depression-session clicks. “Anyways! Your favorite sushi place! Let’s eat!” She throws an arm around Catra’s shoulders and drags her out of her room, down the hall. Catra lets the contact warm her up, chasing the familiar ache from her bones.

Adora or no Adora, Catra will keep her little corner of the world. Even if it still has microwave parts on the counter.


grayskull city, december 2011

 

“Hey.” Adora frowns in her sleep, which makes Catra grin. Even asleep, she’s worrying. Catra leans in closer, bringing her face only inches from Adora’s. “Hey!” she hisses, louder this time. Adora’s eyes fly open, and when she registers Catra’s presence, she jerks away, shifting farther up the mattress.

Catra!” Adora says, her voice far too loud in the silent bedroom. “What are you doing?”

“You gotta shush,” Catra whispers. “Don’t wanna get caught being up past bedtime.”

“What’s going on?” Adora says, thankfully quieter this time. “Why are you awake?”

“It’s Christmas,” Catra says. She raises her watch and clicks the button on the side that lights up the tiny digital display. 12:02 AM makes it officially December 25th.

“Since when do you care about Christmas?” Adora whispers. Catra shoves her lightly.

“Shut up or I won’t give you your present,” she says. Adora’s eyes light up in the darkness.

“You got me a present?” she asks, smiling at Catra with an emotion that Catra hasn’t seen on her before.

“Course I did, dummy,” Catra says. “Now get out of bed so I can give it to you before Lonnie wakes up.” It’s an empty threat—Lonnie, across the room in her twin bed, sleeps like the dead—but Adora listens, slipping silently out of bed and onto her feet. Catra reaches up above them to her bunk. She lifts the mattress and pulls out the gift from underneath it. “Sorry I couldn’t wrap it,” she says. She hands it over to Adora, suddenly feeling embarrassed by the whole thing.

“Catra, oh my God,” Adora whispers. She turns the wooden sword over in her hands, staring at it with wonder.

“I know it’s—it’s not right,” Catra says. “It’s not big enough, and it’s one-handed instead of two, and—not magic, but…I figured the wrong sword is better than no sword, and She-Ra can make it work.“ Adora grabs Catra with her free hand and pulls her into a hug. Catra squeaks in surprise, but returns the embrace immediately.

“I love it,” Adora says. Catra is a little taller than Adora for the first time in the past five years, so Adora’s voice is muffled in her shoulder. “Thank you.” Catra pushes away the embarrassment in her chest.

“You’re welcome,” she says. Adora steps back from the hug, lifting the sword again. The look in her eyes is a little bit crazed, and Catra wonders what, exactly, she’s unleashed here.

“It’s seriously perfect,” Adora says. She gives the sword a few practice swings, and it makes a swooshing sound as it cuts through the air. Catra subtly steps back and out of the danger zone. “How did you even get this?” Catra shrugs.

“I have my methods,” she says, because it sounds a lot cooler than I stole Kyle’s lunch money for two weeks. Plus, Adora probably wouldn’t approve of the truth.

“Well, your methods are great.” Adora swings the sword harder.

“Maybe be careful with it,” Catra says. “Like, hide it, and don’t swing it around in the middle of the night.”

“You were the one who woke me up,” Adora says, but reluctantly lowers the blade. She slips it under her own mattress and turns back to Catra with a smile. “Thank you, Catra. Really.” Catra shrugs, glad that the darkness of the room is concealing the blush she can feel building in her cheeks.

“Yeah, well, whatever,” she says. “Can’t have She-Ra without the Sword of Protection, right?” Adora darts forward and kisses Catra’s cheek.

“Right,” she says. “We should go back to sleep now.” She hops back into bed and wraps herself in her blankets like she was never up in the first place. Catra’s always been able to see better in the dark than Adora, though, and before Adora flops onto her side to face the wall, Catra sees the rush of color in her cheeks. Catra isn’t sure what it means. She climbs back up into her bunk, heart racing with something she doesn’t understand yet.

In the morning, they all get presents from Ms. Weaver. Socks, sweaters, notebooks. Functional, cheap things. Catra wouldn’t be mad about it—she knows Ms. Weaver doesn’t have enough money to buy them all something nice, and she can’t be upset with her new hat, since her ears always get cold in the winter—except Ms. Weaver buys Adora an iPhone. Catra isn’t even mad about the blatant favoritism; they’ve all learned to live with that.

She’s mad because, although Adora assures her that she likes Catra’s present more, she’s been one-upped. Shown, once again, that someone else will always love Adora better than Catra can.


university of bright moon, september 2020

 

“I’m gonna find her Instagram,” Glimmer announces, pulling out her phone.

“Glimmer, no,” Adora says, sitting bolt upright from her bed—where she’s been moping (Bow’s word) for a solid hour now—and grabbing for her roommate’s phone. Glimmer evades her easily.

“Why not?” Glimmer asks. “It’s not like there’s a whole lot of Catras running around campus. This way you can find her and text her!”

“I—“ Adora sighs and flops back down onto her bed. It’s not like she hasn’t considered looking for Catra on social media over the past four years. For the first two years, she’d discouraged herself with the knowledge that Catra wouldn’t have any, since Ms. Weaver had never let them waste their time on the internet. After Catra’s eighteenth birthday, though, Adora didn’t really have an excuse. She’s just…afraid. Afraid that Catra will be unrecognizable, or worse, that she’ll be the same. That fear is addressed, Adora supposes, since she’s seen Catra in person now.

“It’s not that I don’t…want to talk to her,” Adora says. “It’s just complicated.”

“But why?” Glimmer asks, setting her phone on the bed and looking over at Adora. “You’ve been all floppy and depressed for an hour, and the only thing we’ve managed to get out of you is that you saw a girl named Catra and she made you sad.”

“She didn't make me sad,” Adora says, then reconsiders. “I mean, she did and she didn’t. It’s complicated.”

“We’re here to listen,” Bow says. He’s sitting on Adora’s bed, too—off to her right by her shoulder, where Glimmer is left of her feet. “You don’t have to talk about it, Adora, but we can tell you’re really upset, and we just want to help.”

“I know,” Adora says. Her two best friends look at her with identical concerned looks on their faces, and the knot of old pain that’s been sitting in her chest for four years relaxes slightly. She sits up. “Catra is…” Adora pauses. Where to even begin? How is she supposed to compress everything Catra was and still is to her into words? “You guys know that I was in a group home before—before Mara,” she says. Glimmer nods, and Bow sets a supportive hand on Adora’s shoulder. “That’s where I met Catra,” Adora says. “I was there for ten years, until I was sixteen. Catra was there…pretty much her whole life, and the whole time I was there. We—we were…best friends.” Best friends. The words have never felt less significant. “But she’s not, like, just some childhood friend,” Adora says. “She was—we were—“ She huffs in frustration, unable to find the right words.

“Adora,” Glimmer says. “It’s okay. We get it.” She shoots a pointed look at Bow, as if to say we all of people. Adora shakes her head. Bow and Glimmer are each other’s family, but it’s not the same.

“This is why I said it’s complicated,” Adora says. “It’s—she was my best friend, and I was in love with her in high school, she was why I realized I was gay, but it was also—our guardian, she wasn’t a good person. She never physically hurt us”—she pauses, reconsiders; remembers Catra’s hands at five years old, cracking and bleeding at the joints, some of her skin coming off in patches—“never physically hurt me, but she was really, really good at making you hate yourself. And we were all just kids, so no one knew what was happening or how to deal with it, and she turned everyone against each other. But not Catra and I. We took care of each other.” Adora stops, out of breath.

“Adora…” Glimmer looks pained.

“It’s okay,” Adora says. “We can talk about my—my childhood another time. The point is, until Mara, Catra was…my person. But when I left…” Adora swallows hard, trying to push back the sob in her throat. “I had to leave,” Adora whispers. “I had to. And I tried to find her a way out, too, but she didn’t want it. She told me she never wanted to see me again.” Bow’s hand on her shoulder turns into a side hug, and she leans into his chest as her tears begin to escape. Glimmer joins the hug on Adora’s other side.

“But you want to see her,” Bow says after a moment. Shakily, Adora nods.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, of course I do. It’s Catra.”

“Well, let’s find her Instagram, then,” Glimmer says. Adora laughs and releases her friends so she can wipe at her eyes.

“Thanks, guys,” she says. “Okay, yeah, let’s find her.” Glimmer grins victoriously and grabs her phone from the foot of the bed.

“Catra spelled how it sounds?” she asks. Adora nods. Glimmer taps and scrolls for a few long moments, then looks up with a frown.

“I can’t find any that go to UBM,” she says.

“Let me see,” Adora says, grabbing the phone. Searching for Catra has only brought up a few accounts—it isn’t exactly a common name—but of the available profiles, not a single one has Catra as the profile picture. Adora considers it for a moment before tapping on a profile that has an image of Garfield as its profile picture. The profile only has thirteen followers, and the bio reads catra. 19. i hate this app but it’s better than the bird one. There’s three posted photos—a well-lit, Pinterest-y photo of a stack of pancakes, a photo of the Grayskull City skyline that was clearly taken from an airplane, and a blurry, out-of-focus picture of an unrecognizable object that seems to be on fire.

“This is probably her,” Adora says, showing the profile to Bow and Glimmer.

“Uh,” Bow says. “She seems…interesting?”

“Check her tagged,” Glimmer says, setting her chin on Adora’s shoulder to see the screen. “Maybe there’s photos of her there.” Adora taps on the little portrait icon and waits impatiently for the feed to load on the slow dorm wifi.

“Oh, there’s one,” Adora says, tapping on it. It’s posted by someone named s.c.o.r.p.i.a. that Adora doesn’t recognize. In it, Catra stands between a tall woman with short, pure white hair, and a short girl with purple hair that falls past her waist and out of frame. Catra is wearing a cardboard birthday hat and scowling. “That’s her in the middle,” Adora says, holding the phone up for her friends. “I don’t know the other two.” Glimmer makes an appreciative noise in the back of her throat.

“Well, now I get why she was your gay awakening,” she says. “Wow.” Bow frowns thoughtfully at the photo.

“Is it just me, or are her eyes two different colors?” he asks. Adora smiles reflexively. She loves Catra’s eyes.

“Yeah,” she says, looking back down at the photo. “She got bullied for it when we were little, but it stopped after she…” Adora pauses. That particular story ends in nine-year-old Catra sending an older kid to the emergency room with a scratched cornea, and she isn’t sure she’s ready to explain the casual, consequence-less violence that filled so much of her childhood to her two best friends, who grew up going to charter schools that gave out free iPads. “Anyways,” Adora says. “Heterochromia. Yeah.”

“Cool,” Bow says, not questioning Adora’s change of subject. He’s cool that way. “What’s she like?”

“And can I have my phone back?” Glimmer adds. “I’m guessing you don’t want to DM her from my account.” Adora hands the phone back to Glimmer, who turns it off and draws her legs up onto the bed, settling in for the answer to Bow’s question.

“What’s Catra like?” Adora repeats. Both her friends nod. “Uh…” Adora hesitates. The truth is, she doesn’t really know anymore. The Catra in her memories and the Catra from the locker room are two different people, and the one in her memories is complicated. “She’s—she was…really funny. Charismatic. Like, she could say the meanest stuff to people, and it would hurt, but you would feel kind of…charmed while she did it. And she was loyal. When I got outed, she destroyed the guy who outed me’s car—which I totally did not ask for, by the way, but she knew it would make me feel better and just did it. Without getting caught, so I guess she was sneaky, too.”

“I’m gonna be honest, Adora,” Bow says. “You’re kind of making her sound terrifying.” Adora considers that for a moment.

“I mean, she was,” she says. “But not to me. She never hurt me. Not until the end.”


grayskull city, july 2013

 

The moment Adora steps into the house, she knows something is wrong. It’s a sixth sense she’s developed in the seven years she’s lived here. She can feel it in the air when Ms. Weaver is angry.

Wordlessly, Adora slips her hand into Catra’s. Catra has a tense expression on her face that Adora knows mirrors her own. Sunburned shoulders brushing together, they step out of the entryway and into the living room.

Ms. Weaver sits at the table, Adora’s wooden sword on the table in front of her. Adora recognizes the look on Ms. Weaver’s face, and drops Catra’s hand immediately. They can’t afford to provoke Ms. Weaver right now. She’s already furious.

“Adora,” Ms. Weaver says. “Catra. Would either of you care to explain this?”

“It’s mine,” Adora says before Catra can speak. “It’s mine.”

“I see,” Ms. Weaver says. “And how long have you had it?” Adora pauses. The question could be, probably is, a manipulation. Ms. Weaver could’ve known about the sword the whole time, and if Adora lies, she’ll get in trouble for that, too. But if she only just found out, Adora admitting that they’ve been hiding it for a year and a half will make everything worse.

“Why do you care?” Catra says, before Adora can respond. “It’s just a toy.” Ms. Weaver’s gaze shifts from Adora to Catra. Catra doesn’t even flinch.

“I care because you lied to me about it,” she says, standing and picking up the sword. “I care because it’s a violation of my trust. I let you go out tonight, without supervision, and you repay me by hiding things in my house.”

“You let us go to a park to watch other people set off fireworks,” Catra says. “There were cops there! And what does that have to do with the sword?” A sharp crack cuts through the air, making Adora flinch. Ms. Weaver lowers her knee and sets the two halves of the wooden sword back on the table.

“Do not talk back to me,” she says to Catra, in a tone that has never been directed at Adora but chills her to the bone despite the summer heat. “Sleep upstairs tonight.” Catra grits her teeth, but lowers her gaze to the ground, accepting her fate. It’s going to be a rough one. Ms. Weaver put locks on the window upstairs after Adora broke her ankle, and there’s no air conditioning up there. The room heats up like a blast furnace in the summer months. Catra’s in for a long night.

Ms. Weaver looks over at Adora, her gaze cold. “Adora,” she says, her voice grating in a way that sets Adora’s teeth on edge. “This is…disappointing. I have put quite a bit of trust in you, and you’ve chosen to waste it on…” She gestures vaguely at the broken pieces of the sword. “A childish game? Aren’t you too old for something like this?”

“I am,” Adora says. The words taste bitter in her mouth. “I am. This was just a mistake. It won’t happen again.”

“You’re right,” Ms. Weaver says. “It won’t. Clearly, I can’t trust you with the freedoms I’ve allowed you. I’m taking you off the soccer team.”

“What?” Adora says, eyes widening. “But—that’s—“

“It was a privilege,” Ms. Weaver says. “One that you’ve failed to earn.”

“But…” Adora shakes her head. “Coach says I’ll be good enough to play in high school. He—he thinks I could get into college playing soccer.”

“Adora,” Ms. Weaver says. She strokes Adora’s cheek with one hand. It’s a gesture that was comforting when Adora was a child, but now makes her stomach churn. “You can’t even manage an allowance without indulging in childish nonsense. What makes you think college is for you?” Adora stares at her, speechless. Her teachers, her guidance counselor, her coach, have all told her to think about college. She doesn’t have the best grades in her class, but she makes honor roll, and only skips class when Catra asks her to, and she’s good at soccer. Really good. She could do college.

Couldn’t she?

“I’m not saying this to hurt you,” Ms. Weaver says, lowering her hand from Adora’s face. “You just need guidance. Someone to prevent you from making these childish mistakes.” She gestures at the broken sword on the table. “Dispose of this,” she says, and walks away.

“Adora,” Catra says, stepping forward and throwing an arm around Adora’s shoulders. “You okay?” Adora shakes her head slightly, clearing her mind. Without an athletic scholarship, there’s no way she’ll ever be able to afford to go to college.

“I’m fine,” Adora says. Ms. Weaver’s probably right. Adora wouldn’t like college anyway, and it’s not like a lot of kids from this part of Grayskull end up going away to school. She would never fit in somewhere like that. It’s for the best.

“Okay,” Catra says. “What do you wanna do with the sword?” Adora blinks at the broken pieces. They hurt to look at, more than they should. It’s just a stupid toy. It’s her favorite present she’s ever gotten (though there isn’t much competition for that spot), and it’s a daily reminder of She-Ra, of Adora’s promise to protect Catra, but it’s still just a cheap piece of wood, broken in two on the table in front of her.

“I don’t know,” Adora says. “I don’t wanna throw it out.”

“Well, I can duct tape it back together, but I can’t promise it’ll still give you superpowers,” Catra says. Adora smiles.

“That’s okay,” she says. “She-Ra will have to figure out how to be a hero without a sword.” She thinks about it for a moment. “Why don’t we bury it?” she says. Catra raises an eyebrow at her.

“You wanna go dig a hole in the yard when Weaver’s already pissed at us?” she asks.

“Yes?”

“I’m in.” Catra grins at her. “I’ll get a shovel.”

Ms. Weaver has disappeared into her own corner of the house, and the other kids are nowhere to be seen, so it’s easy enough for them to slip out into the yard. It’s dark out, but hot all the same. Fireworks are going off all over the city, falling cinders mixing with the stars. Catra digs a shallow hole in silence as Adora watches, holding a piece of sword in each hand.

“This kinda feels like a funeral,” Adora says aloud once the hole is deep enough and she’s setting the sword pieces inside. “It’s sad.” Catra snorts.

“You’re the one who wanted to bury the broken toy,” she says. “Gonna give a eulogy, too?” Adora rolls her eyes at her.

“It is sad,” she says. “Like you said earlier, She-Ra’s gonna lose her powers.”

“She-Ra’s not real, Adora,” Catra snaps. “You know that, right?” Adora flinches back at the sudden venom in Catra’s voice.

“I…yeah,” she says. “I was just—I don’t know, messing around.”

“Well, don’t,” Catra says. “She-Ra’s not real. The sword was just a toy. You can’t protect anyone, Adora.”

“Catra…” Adora reaches out for her hand, but Catra bats her away.

“Don’t,” she says. “I just…don’t you think we’re kind of old to still be pretending you’re a hero? We’re not kids anymore.”

“I know that,” Adora says.

“Cool,” Catra says. “So just—bury the sword. Let all the hero shit go with it. Alright?” She doesn’t wait for an answer before walking away.

Adora buries the sword alone, feeling small. Catra had seemed more sad than angry, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt to be spoken to like that. Of course Adora knows that She-Ra isn’t real. But she can protect Catra. She promised Catra she would, and she does. Doesn’t she?

Adora doesn’t realize she’s crying until her tears start to fall onto the freshly turned dirt at her feet.


university of bright moon, september 2020

 

Four days after the locker room incident, Catra finds herself outside Eternia Hall, building up the courage to go in.

The evening after Catra ran into her, Adora had followed Catra on Instagram. Catra had hesitantly followed her back, unsure what would come of it, but nothing had. Not a like, not a comment, not even a weird meme in her DMs. Radio silence.

Catra’s mad about it. Those aren’t the words she used when she described her predicament to Scorpia, of course—she had told Scorpia she was going to go make the mature choice and initiate a conversation with Adora—but in reality, Catra is just pissed. Adora had seemed so interested in being a part of each other’s lives again—after choosing to leave Catra’s in the first place—and now she’s just going to give Catra a follow and call it good? Catra isn’t going to take that.

So here she is, outside of Adora’s dorm building, quickly realizing that she has no idea where in the building Adora lives. It’s three stories tall.

God damn it, Adora.

With a reluctant groan, Catra walks into the building. She isn’t familiar with it, or any of the dorm buildings, for that matter. She has two friends, and both of them live off-campus with her. Catra doesn’t even know where to start looking for Adora’s room.

The first floor of the building seems to be mostly shared spaces—couches, chairs, a ping-pong table, a TV. There’s a few students hanging around, but none of them pay attention to Catra. She leaves the area and slips down the only hallway leading off from it. It’s lined with rooms, and Catra hopes that none of them are Adora’s, because she doesn’t feel like checking. Finally, Catra reaches a staircase and heads for the second floor.

The first thing she sees is a large sign proclaiming the second floor to be Second Eternia, Substance-Free! A smaller sign beneath it lists quiet hours from eleven to six. Catra immediately turns around and heads for the third floor—not because it’s unlikely that Adora would live on the nerd floor, but because Catra doesn’t want to be spotted on the nerd floor.

The third floor looks the same as the second, but without the sign. Catra drifts down the hallway, glancing at the closed doors around her. They’re unremarkable, but for the number on each one. Then, around halfway down the hall, Catra comes across a door with a whiteboard hanging on it.

Best Friends Squad Headquarters!!!! is written on the whiteboard in…is that glittery dry erase marker? Catra didn’t even know those existed. Surrounding the words are a multitude of doodles. Catra steps closer to the door, trying to figure out what the little pictures are meant to represent. She’s squinting at what looks like a stick figure with two or three extra limbs when the door swings open.

“Aah!” the person who opened the door shouts, jumping back in surprise. He’s a black guy, around her age, wearing jeans and a white crop top with a heart on it. “Oh, man. You scared me!”

“Uh,” Catra says. “Sorry? I’m just looking for a friend.” The guy grins at her.

“No worries,” he says, opening the door wider. “Adora’s in here. Adora!” he calls over his shoulder.

“How do you know who I—“

“Catra!” Adora pops out of nowhere, appearing behind the guy with a familiar, panicked look in her eyes. She’s wearing a black tank top, and her hair is down. “You’re—here!” She looks back into the room. “Catra is here!”

“I…am,” Catra says. “…what is going on right now?”

“C’mon in,” the guy says, stepping out of the way. “I’m Bow. I’ve heard so much about you!”

“You have?” Catra asks, walking into the room. It’s pretty standard, from what she knows about college dorm rooms—which is admittedly very little. It’s bigger than Catra would’ve expected, but it’s also a triple: there’s three beds, one of which seems to be a mattress set up in a bay window. On the middle bed, a third person is sitting: a pretty Asian girl (who looks even shorter than Catra) with sparkly hair that’s somewhere between pink and purple.

“No he hasn’t,” Adora says, cutting Bow off as he tries to respond to Catra’s question. “He hasn’t heard anything about you.” Catra turns to look at her and raises an eyebrow.

“He knew I was looking for you,” she says.

“He’s—psychic,” Adora says. Catra doesn’t even engage with that one.

“You wanna introduce me?” she asks, gesturing to the girl on the bed.

“Oh!” Adora says. “Right. Catra, that’s Glimmer, my roommate, and that’s Bow, my other roommate. Guys, this is Catra, my…she’s Catra.”

“Glimmer?” Catra asks, ignoring both Adora’s verbal stumbling and the odd cocktail of feelings that it creates in Catra’s chest. “Is that, like, a really on-the-nose nickname?” Glimmer frowns at her, her gaze turning from curious to irritated.

“Anyways!” Bow says. “Catra, it’s so cool to meet you! Adora hasn’t shut up about you since the other day.”

“That is completely false,” Adora says. Catra’s happy to note that Adora is still a terrible liar. “I just—told a few stories. That is all.”

“You told seventeen stories,” Glimmer says. “I counted.”

“Seventeen, huh?” Catra says, glancing at Adora. “You better have made me sound cool, princess.” Adora seems to be rendered speechless. Her face is pink, and she opens her mouth several times without making a sound. Catra decides to give her a minute to recover.

“You probably have so many stories, too,” Bow says, sitting down next to Glimmer. Catra wonders if he’s had too much coffee today, or if he’s just always this enthusiastic. “You guys grew up together! That’s so cool.” Cool…is maybe not the word Catra would use for their childhood. She wonders how much Adora has told her friends about Ms. Weaver.

“I have all kinds of embarrassing stories about Adora,” Catra says. “Where do you want me to start?”

“This is a nightmare,” Adora says very quietly. “This is my worst nightmare.”

“You invited me,” Catra says, shrugging. “Oh, I know,” she says to Bow and Glimmer. “Did Adora ever tell you guys about She-Ra?”

“About what?” Bow asks, leaning forward like he’s at a concert.

“It was this game she made up when we were kids,” Catra says. “She would pretend to be a superhero named She-Ra, with super strength and healing powers and shit. It could’ve been, like, normal kid shit, but the thing is, she put so much thought into it. She made up an outfit—which, by the way, had this weird-ass skort thing that was the worst—and she even went as She-Ra for Halloween once.”

No,” Bow says.

“Yep.” Catra grins at the memory—Adora in her thrift-store clothes and plastic tiara, shouting about the honor of Grayskull—but the smile isn’t as mocking as her tone would suggest. It’s a good memory, stupid tiara or no. “Best part? She got, like, legitimately offended when people didn’t know who she was supposed to be.”

“Please,” Adora says. “I will pay you to stop talking.”

“Can we go back to the skort?” Glimmer says. “What’s that about?” Catra laughs just thinking about it.

“She-Ra’s outfit was just—I can’t even explain it,” she says. “She had a tiara, and this tunic kind of thing, and shorts under a skirt but it kind of looked like all one piece.” Catra shakes her head. “Not even the giant sword could make all that look cool.” Bow and Glimmer both stare up at her, smiles frozen on their faces.

“Giant sword?” Bow echoes, his enthusiasm melted away.

“Yeah,” Catra says. “She-Ra had a huge broadsword with all these weird marks on it. It was the one cool part of the whole thing.” Neither Bow nor Glimmer are smiling at all now; they’re both looking at her, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “What?” Catra asks. A moment later, Bow breaks out into high-pitched laughter, like he’s auditioning to be a mad scientist.

“Nothing!” he says. “Absolutely nothing. We’ll be going now.”

“We will?” Glimmer says.

Yes we will.” Bow and Glimmer glare at each other for a moment like they’re having a whole argument through eye contact. Catra notices, for the first time, how closely they’re sitting together. Between that and the ease with which they communicate without words…

“It was nice meeting you, Catra,” Bow says. He and Glimmer both stand, their disagreement apparently resolved. “I hope we see you again!” With that, they hurry out of the dorm room, leaving Catra and Adora alone.

“What was that about?” Catra asks, turning around. Adora is staring at her. If Catra still knew how to read Adora, she would say the look in her eye was hurt.

“Uh…nothing,” Adora says.

“You’re still a shit liar,” Catra says. Adora just steps past her, grabbing a grey hoodie off of the bed in the window. She ties her hair up before she puts it on, and Catra gets another glimpse of that tattoo on her neck. She still can’t identify it, but when Adora lifts the hoodie over her head, her tank top rides up slightly, and Catra sees another flash of ink above Adora’s waistband. Either Adora has two separate tattoos at either end of her back, or she has one that extends all the way down her spine.

“It doesn’t really matter, Catra,” Adora says as she turns around, both her tattoo and her absurd biceps now covered by the hoodie. “What are you doing here, anyway?” Catra has to think about it for a moment, recovering from Adora’s insane friends.

“I was just coming over to”—confront you about being a coward and refusing to DM me on Instagram—“see if you wanted to get coffee or something. Then your friends started talking and I got caught up. Why? Not happy to see me?”

“No,” Adora says. “I mean—yes, I’m happy to see you. And yeah, Bow and Glimmer are…well, you met them. They’re like that.”

“Especially Bow,” Catra says. “Do you give that guy speed or something?” Adora laughs.

Catra hadn’t even realized she’d missed that sound.

“He’s always been like that,” Adora says. “He’s a good guy.” Catra makes a noncommittal sound.

“How often do those two sexile you?” she asks. Adora makes a choking noise.

“How often do they what?”

“I mean, they’re clearly dating, right?” Catra says, frowning. She’s good at reading body language—they both are, it was a survival skill growing up—and she’s sure she didn’t misread cues. “And you three live together. So unless you’re taking part…”

“Oh God,” Adora says. “Oh God. I forgot how much you suck.” Catra snorts in amusement even as the words set off a quiet pain behind her ribs. “They don’t sexile me,” Adora continues, not even noticing Catra’s hurt—though Catra supposes she doesn’t get to be mad about that, since she’s hiding it. “They’re not dating.”

“Bullshit.”

“They’re not.” Adora sighs heavily. “Believe me, I get why you think that. I don’t really understand their relationship, either. They’ve been best friends forever, neither of them have ever dated anyone, they hang out with each other’s parents for fun. They even have a weekly one-on-one dinner that I’m not invited to.”

“So they are dating,” Catra says. “They just…don’t fuck?” Adora makes another embarrassed, scandalized noise. Catra feels a victorious rush at the fact that she can still get under Adora’s skin this easily.

“I’m gonna be honest, I don’t really think about my best friends’ sex lives that often,” she says.

“Your best friends,” Catra echoes. “Not just roommates, huh?” The question is loaded. Catra was Adora’s best friend.

“Yeah,” Adora says. “We met right after I moved to Bright Moon. We got close in high school and all ended up here.” Adora doesn’t pick up on the nuance, and it doubles the ache in Catra’s chest.

She replaced me that quick. It shouldn’t surprise Catra, not after the way things ended between the two of them. It surprises her regardless, because Catra still hasn’t replaced Adora. She doesn’t think she ever will.

“Cool,” Catra says aloud, letting her tone turn cold. “Well, I have class soon, so I have to go. Rain check on the coffee thing.” Adora’s eyes widen slightly in surprise, then narrow.

“You’re a shit liar, too, you know,” she says. Catra looks away, and Adora sighs, clearly exasperated. “Sorry,” she says. “I’m not trying to—whatever. Start a fight. I just…please don’t make excuses.” Catra is speechless. Adora had never called her out like that before. Even in the last two horrible months before Adora moved out of Ms. Weaver’s house, when they had been tearing each other apart, Adora hadn’t cut through Catra’s—admittedly—passive-aggressive bullshit the way she just did.

“Yeah,” Catra says after a long moment. “Sorry. It’s just weird.”

“It’s weird for me, too,” Adora says, and Catra grits her teeth to stop herself from snapping. Adora isn’t allowed to be uncomfortable. She was the one who left Catra, and she’s the one who wanted to reconnect. This whole situation is her fault. “Hey,” Adora says. She’s smiling weakly at Catra. “How about we just…get that coffee and figure it out from there?”

“Sure,” Catra says. She wishes it wasn’t so easy to say yes to Adora.