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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.

Chapter Text

grayskull city, august 2016

 

Adora wanders back into the room she shares with Catra feeling like her skin is buzzing. Not even Ms. Weaver’s hissing anger when Adora got home could bring her mood down. She isn’t sure she’s ever been this excited in her life.

“Catra?” Adora says loudly, looking around the room. Lonnie’s bed is empty, as it’s been since she got sent to a regular foster home last year. Catra isn’t in her usual spot at the foot of Adora’s bed, where she’s taken to sleeping on particularly bad nights over the past few years. She used to sleep next to Adora, but sometime between burying She-Ra’s sword in the backyard and starting high school, she moved down to the foot of the bed. Adora can’t imagine it’s comfortable, but Catra seems to prefer it, and Adora is afraid that if she questions it now, Catra will figure out how Adora feels about her these days.

“Catra?” Adora says again. Again, there’s no response. Adora stands on the bottom rung of the ladder to look into Catra’s bunk, and there she is, lying on her side and facing the wall. “Catra,” Adora says. “I’m back!”

“I noticed,” Catra says to the wall. Adora’s grin falters.

“Don’t you want to hear about Mara?” she asks. Catra just grunts and curls into a ball. Adora climbs the rest of the ladder and sits down on the edge of Catra’s bed. “She was so…cool,” Adora says. “She’s been through so much school to be a lawyer, it’s crazy. She didn’t tell me much about her work, but it sounded really cool. And she told me all about Bright Moon, which sounds amazing.”

“Good for her,” Catra says, not sounding happy for Mara at all. Adora frowns at Catra’s back. She can’t quite read her friend’s emotions like this, unable to see her face.

Catra,” Adora says. “Why are you all grumpy?” Catra groans in annoyance, but rolls over and looks up at Adora.

“I’m not grumpy,” she says. “I just don’t care about your sister.”

“Half-sister,” Adora corrects. “That’s why she didn’t know about me til now, remember?”

“No, I don’t,” Catra says. “Because I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.” Adora is the one to look away this time.

“Why are you being like this?” she asks. “Mara matters to me. She wants to be my guardian, Catra. She wants me to move to Bright Moon with her.” Adora pauses, letting herself imagine it for a moment. “The schools are so much better there,” she says. “I could get a really good education. I could go to college.” Catra laughs. The sound is mocking and cruel, and it cuts Adora to the bone.

“Like Shadow Weaver would ever let you leave,” she says. The nickname surprises Adora—they don’t talk about She-Ra anymore, and that’s the name they used for their guardian in their fantasy world, where she was a supervillain. “She’s never gonna let us go. You’re lucky she even let you see Mara in the first place. And college? What a joke.” Adora clenches her jaw and stares at the floor below them.

“It’s not up to her,” she says. “It’s up to me. Mara said it would be easy for her to get custody of me no matter what Ms. Weaver does, if that’s what I want.” Catra shifts behind her.

“Is that what you want?” she asks. “You want to leave?”

“I…” Adora is at a loss. “The schools in Bright Moon are good,” she says after a moment. “And Mara could help me with college applications, and she said if I get in she can pay for it. I wouldn’t have to take loans. And she’s…she’s really nice, Catra. I think she would be really nice to me.” She looks back over her shoulder. Catra doesn’t meet her eyes. Instead, she sits up and vaults over the side of the bunk bed, dropping to the floor soundlessly.

“Cool,” Catra says. “Sounds great. Good for you, Adora. Have fun with that.” She walks away. Adora stays where she is, sitting on the edge of Catra’s bunk.

The truth is, Adora knows exactly what she wants. She wants to move to Bright Moon with Mara and start over at a new school, where she wasn’t outed but she doesn’t have to be afraid of being out, go to parks where there’s no danger of finding a used needle on the ground, live in a house where she doesn’t have to watch her every move and word, make new friends that she isn’t hopelessly in love with. She also wants Catra.

She already knows that she can’t have both.


the rebellion, a coffee shop on UBM campus, september 2020

 

“Physiology,” Catra says, raising her eyebrows at Adora over the rim of her coffee cup. “That’s not what I expected from you.”

“What did you expect?” Adora asks.

“Didn’t really expect either of us to go to college in the first place, honestly,” Catra says. “But, I don’t know, something geeky and pretentious and stupid. Literature or something. Not, like, actual science.”

“I didn’t expect to go, either,” Adora admits, looking down at her drink. She doesn’t like thinking about just how underconfident she used to be. She loves college, and she almost didn’t go at all. “Mara got that out of me pretty quickly, though. She was sure I could do it.” Catra hums in acknowledgement.

“Mara,” she echoes. “She still paying for all this?” Adora looks up at her sharply, and suddenly realizes that Catra doesn’t know.

“Catra…” Adora’s fingers tighten around her mug. “Mara’s…Mara’s dead.”

“Wait, what?” Catra leans forward in her seat. “What happened?” Adora takes a deep, shaky breath. She hates talking about losing Mara. Bow and Glimmer know not to bring it up, and most of her newer, college friends don’t know she ever had a sister at all.

“She…” Adora licks her lips. “Senior year of high school, she…” Catra leans forward and extends a hand, gently peeling Adora’s fingers away from her now-squished coffee cup. She grips Adora’s hand firmly until Adora meets her eyes.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Catra says, and Adora relaxes.

“Thanks,” she says. “Mara is…a sensitive subject.” Catra of the past would’ve pushed. There were no boundaries between them back then; they couldn’t afford them. This Catra just nods understandingly. They sit in silence for a moment before Catra seems to realize they’re holding hands and yanks her hand back with a scowl. Adora wants to laugh at that, but she isn’t sure if they’re there, yet, so she just moves her hand back to her coffee cup and hides her amusement behind a sip.

“So what about you?” Adora asks. “What’s your major?” Catra shrugs.

“I’m undeclared,” she says. “Not sure what I want yet. I’m really only here because my friends wanted me to ‘try something new’ and ‘stop wasting my potential on manipulating my coworkers at K-Mart’.”

“Sounds like you have good friends,” Adora says. Catra rolls her eyes, but there’s a small smile on her face.

“I do, actually,” she says. “They’re…I mean, they’re dumb, but they try.” Catra’s tone is warm, honest. It gives Adora whiplash. Seeing Catra’s familiar face and hearing unabashed, sincere happiness in her voice is…

“I’m glad,” Adora says. “I’m glad you’re happy. You deserve that.” Catra raises an eyebrow at her.

“I know I do,” she says, and that makes Adora smile.

“That’s good,” she says. “That’s so good, Catra.” Catra looks at her for a long moment, contemplative, like she's taking measurements.

“Ms. Weaver did a number on you, too, huh,” she says. She’s almost whispering. Adora understands the impulse. Mentioning, even thinking about their guardian, feels dangerous, even four years on—two, she corrects, for Catra.

“My therapist sure thinks so,” Adora says.

“Mine, too.”

“You go to therapy?” Catra snorts.

“What, you think I got this well-adjusted all on my own?” she asks. “As soon as I moved in with Scorpia, she started dragging me to two sessions a week.”

“Scorpia?” Adora says, frowning slightly. “That’s the tall girl with the white hair, right?” Catra stares at her, and Adora’s face turns bright pink as she realizes what she’s just inadvertently admitted. “I, uh, might have stalked your tagged photos on Instagram,” she says.

“Psycho,” Catra says, grinning. “Yeah, that’s Scorpia. She’s—it’s a really long story, but she kind of…saved me, after I aged out of the home. We’ve been friends ever since. She helped get me into college.”

“She sounds amazing,” Adora says. “I’d love to meet her sometime.” Catra’s smile slips, and she drops her gaze to the table.

“Maybe,” she says. Adora hesitates. Maybe clearly means no, and in the past, she would’ve let it slide. She wants clarification on what exactly Catra’s issue with the idea is, but if she pushes…Catra’s never liked to be pushed. “I just think we should take it slow,” Catra says. “If we’re gonna be in each other’s lives again, I think we should do it slowly. I can’t just jump back into being friends with you like it’s no big deal.” She meets Adora’s gaze. Adora is pinned, unable to look away. There’s an intensity behind Catra’s mismatched eyes that feels like a solid pressure against Adora’s ribcage. “You really hurt me when you left, Adora,” Catra says.

“I…Catra, I…” Adora takes a shaky breath. She knows this already. She’s known this the whole time, but having Catra sit there and say it…

“Whatever,” Catra says, looking away. “We can talk about something other than our mutual childhood trauma.” Her tone is flippant.

Of course she copes with humor. It’s Catra.

“Okay,” Adora says. “Uh…you cut your hair.” Catra rolls her eyes.

“Observant,” she says. “You just notice?” Adora feels herself flush pink in response. It’s annoying. Catra’s teasing never used to get to her, but now it puts her off-balance without fail.

“Shut up,” Adora says. “It looks good, is all. I never would’ve pictured you with short hair, but it’s”—hot—“nice.”

“Thanks,” Catra says. There’s a long, awkward silence. Adora can think of a million things to say, but all of them involve their history somehow.

She’s saved from the situation by the sight of a familiar face across the coffee shop.

It’s Mermista. Adora makes eye contact and waves with a smile. Catra turns, looking over her shoulder to see who Adora is waving at. Mermista heads towards them, iced coffee in hand. “Who’s that?” Catra says to Adora. Adora doesn’t have the chance to answer before Mermista is across the café and strolling up to their table.

“Hi, Adora,” Mermista says, that ever-present note of disinterest in her voice.

“Hey!” Adora says, tipping her chair back. “It’s been awhile, huh? How’s Sea Hawk?” Mermista groans loudly, and Adora winces. She thought the two of them were on again, but apparently that was last week’s gossip.

“He’s so annoying,” Mermista says, rolling her eyes. “I can’t believe you guys let me date him.” Adora laughs awkwardly, very aware that Mermista and Sea Hawk will be dating again in two weeks at the most.

“Anyways,” Adora says. “Mermista, this is Catra. She’s my—uh—she’s an old friend.” She winces at her own verbal stumbling. “Catra, this is Mermista. We had a lab together last semester.”

“Right,” Mermista says, looking over at Catra with a curious look. “I think I’ve seen you around. You’re friends with Scorpia, right?” Catra blinks.

“Uh, yeah,” she says. Mermista nods.

“Interesting,” she says. “You should tell her that Perfuma—that’s the botany girl that she has comparative religions with?—is totally interested.”

“Uh.” Catra glances at Adora, eyebrows raised. “I will, I guess.”

“Cool.” Mermista’s phone dings, and she sighs heavily. “Okay, well, I have to go. It was nice seeing you, Adora. Text me sometime. Bye, Catra.” She walks away without waiting for a response, already on the phone and speaking in another language.

“You have…interesting friends,” Catra comments after a moment.

“Hey,” Adora says. “Mermista’s…” She can’t actually think of a defense. Mermista is kind of…odd.

“You said she’s dating a guy named Sea Hawk?” Catra asks. “That can’t be real.”

“I don’t know his real name, actually,” Adora says, frowning. “I’m not sure anyone does.”

“Oh no, I was talking about her being straight,” Catra says. “Is my gaydar broken? I swear she had gay vibes.” Adora makes a choking noise in the back of her throat.

“Uh, no,” Adora says. “She’s—not straight. No.” She grabs her coffee and tries to cover her panic by taking an impossibly large sip. It doesn’t work. Catra leans over the table, smiling that devious grin that used to make Adora’s heart shake in high school.

“Are you speaking from personal experience, here?” she asks. Adora does her best to swallow her coffee without choking on it. It takes a moment.

“I, uh,” she says. She can feel her face turning pink. “We—hooked up a couple times, that’s all. And that isn’t really public knowledge so, y’know, don’t tell anyone?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Catra says. “I don’t know who I would tell, anyway. I’m just impressed. I figured you’d be, like, looking for a wife and kids and a picket fence and all that shit. And yet here you are, having casual sex. I’m proud.” Adora’s face is getting even warmer.

“Uh, no,” she says. “Maybe in, like, ten years? I’m just so busy right now that it makes more sense to hook up with people than try to have a serious relationship.” She shrugs. “Guess that’s one lesson I kept from the Fright Zone.” Never get too attached. It’s pretty much the way of life in the neighborhood of Grayskull City that they grew up in. Kids they went to school with for years would drop out, go missing, die, and no one with power would ever do anything about it. It was a waste of time to care. Adora always had trouble with that—the not caring—but she realized after leaving just how much she had absorbed the attitude anyway.

“I guess,” Catra says, her teasing tone fading. “I’m surprised you kept anything at all. I figured you’d wanna forget where you came from. Seemed like your friends didn’t know too much, since they kept asking about our childhood.”

“They know I’m from the Fright Zone,” Adora says. She looks down at her now-empty coffee cup. “I’m not ashamed of where I grew up, it’s just—they don’t get it. It’s my therapist’s job to help me deal with all of it, not theirs, and they’re never going to understand. They both come from money, and even if they didn’t…”

“They didn’t grow up with Ms. Weaver,” Catra says, nodding. “That’s a whole other kind of childhood right there.”

“Yeah.” Adora looks up at her. Those mismatched eyes meet Adora’s evenly, an understanding look in them. The kind of understanding forged in shared pain. “It’s…nice,” Adora says, “talking to someone who gets it. Really gets it.” Catra’s eyes flick away, and a muscle in her jaw flexes. Adora recognizes it from years ago. Catra is gritting her teeth.

“Yeah,” Catra says after a moment.

“Sorry,” Adora says. “You said no more childhood trauma talk.” Catra snorts at the phrasing, shaking her head. She looks back over at Adora, half-smiling, and Adora’s mouth goes dry, caught once again in Catra’s gaze.

Adora’s phone buzzes against the table, making her jump. She knees the table hard, knocking over her empty coffee cup. Luckily, Catra is holding her own drink, and avoids the consequences of Adora’s actions.

“Oh, shit,” Adora says. “I have class in five minutes.”

“You have an alarm set for that?” Catra asks, raising her eyebrows.

“It’s really helpful! It’s just like the bell schedule in high school.” Adora stands, grabbing her phone and her bag from beneath her chair. “I really gotta go,” she says, looking over at Catra. She feels a pang of something in her chest, some—deep, reaching feeling that she doesn’t recognize. She doesn’t want to leave. “But here’s my number, okay,” Adora says, grabbing a loose scrap of paper and a pen from her bag. She scribbles her phone number out and sets it on the table in front of Catra. “So—text me, or call me, or something. I wanna see you again. Okay?” Catra glances down at the phone number, then back up at Adora.

“Okay,” she says, the slightest note of hesitance in her voice. “I’ll do that.” Adora grins. It goes stupid and wide, and she knows she looks like an idiot right now, but—she had a mostly civil conversation with Catra. It’s been four years since that happened.

“I’ll see you around, weirdo,” Catra says. Adora says something similar and probably stupid, puts her backpack on, and wanders out of the coffee shop, heart pounding in her chest.


east bright moon high school, october 2016

 

There’s not very many people.

At Adora’s old school in Grayskull City, there were so many students that most of them had to share lockers. It wasn’t so bad; Adora shared with—Adora shakes her head, pushing the thought away. It’s not important anymore.

Here, at East Bright Moon High School, there are so few students that the hallways feel empty. Or, rather, the buildings are big enough that the students are far apart. Buildings, plural. Adora knew that high schools with multiple buildings existed, conceptually, but actually being in one is a completely different experience. They’re given fifteen minutes between classes because some students have to go to different buildings for their lockers.

Which is what Adora is trying to do. The lady in the front office had been kind enough, handing Adora her schedule and a map and a note explaining that it’s her first day and she’s probably going to be late to every class she has, but Adora still finds herself completely and utterly lost. She’s in a long, curving hallway with yellow walls lined with lockers and classrooms, but the numbers on the rooms don’t mean anything to her, and she kind of wants to cry.

“Hey,” a voice says from in front of her. Adora looks up, blinking away the smallest beginnings of tears, and focuses on the person in front of her. He’s black, a little taller than her, wearing a grey rugby shirt and jeans, and he looks deeply concerned. “Are you okay?”

“I’m—new,” Adora says. “And lost?” He smiles, and Adora is instantly comforted. He just seems…nice.

“Hey, that’s okay,” he says. “I swear they built this place to be a maze. I can help you out.”

“Bow?” a voice calls from behind him. He glances over his shoulder. A short Asian girl with short pink hair is approaching. “Hey,” she says as she steps up beside the boy—Bow?—and glances at Adora. “We’re gonna be late.” Bow waves a hand dismissively.

“It’s cool, Glimmer,” he says. “Your dad never marks us late. Plus, we’re helping a new student!”

“We are?” Glimmer looks over at Adora.

“Hi,” Adora says, hoping she doesn’t sound as anxious as she feels. “I’m Adora. I just moved here.”

“You’re lost?” Glimmer says, a little smile on her face.

So lost.” Bow and Glimmer both laugh, but it’s not a mean sound. They’re not making fun of her.

“We’ve got you,” Bow says. “Do you have your schedule?” Adora nods and holds out the piece of paper. Glimmer leans into Bow’s shoulder to read it as well. “Hey!” Bow says with a grin. “We’ve all got drawing together. That’s our first class! We can take you there once we find your locker. Plus Glimmer’s dad teaches it, and he’s awesome!”

“Okay,” Adora says, almost in a whisper. They’re both being perfectly nice, but Adora is worried all the same. She’s kind of always worried.

“Alright,” Glimmer says. “Your locker number is…” She scans the paper, then smiles. “Three lockers down the hall from me and Bow! I guess the universe wants us all to be friends, huh?” Adora doesn’t know what to say to that, but neither Glimmer nor Bow seem to expect an answer from her. They just wave her forward as they start down the hallway, back the way Adora came from. Adora falls into step beside them, feeling a little less like a criminal who’s snuck in somewhere she doesn’t belong.

In the back of her mind, she hears Catra’s voice, from the last time they spoke, saying you’re never going to belong there, Adora. They’re all going to hate you.

“So, what kinds of clubs are you going to join?” Glimmer asks Adora. “Or are you a sports type?” Adora pushes Catra’s voice away and focuses on Glimmer’s instead. Catra doesn’t matter anymore.

(Not even Adora believes that, but it’s a comforting lie.)


university of bright moon, october 2020

 

Catra is on her fourth lap of the track when she hears someone calling her name. She jogs to a stop and pulls out her earbuds, glancing around for the source of the sound.

“Hi, Catra!” It’s Bow, waving from the edge of the truck with a smile on his face. Catra waves back and walks over. Bow is dressed for a workout, too, wearing a cropped tank top—Catra is sensing a pattern here—and running shorts.

“Hey, Bow,” Catra says. “What’s up?”

“Here for a run,” Bow says. “But you’re here, too! Wanna run together?” Catra considers it for a moment. She’s normally pretty solitary when she works out, with the exception of sparring with Scorpia, but she’s in a good mood today, and Bow is nice.

“Sure,” Catra says. “But I don’t talk when I run, and if you can’t keep up, I’m not slowing down for you.” Bow grins, and there’s a hint of competitiveness in it that Catra hadn’t expected.

“Works for me,” he says. “Let’s go.”

Catra expects to outrun Bow easily. She’s always been fast, and since she recovered from her car accident, she’s been working on endurance as well. She’s already run a mile this morning, but her usual route before she started college had been seven miles.

She isn’t expecting Bow to be fast. He’s significantly taller than her, and he moves like—like a fucking gazelle, honestly. His strides are long and effortless. He soars more than he runs. Catra can keep up, but she can’t maintain the pace like he can, and a mile and a half in, she stumbles to a stop next to their water bottles on the bleachers, panting heavily. Bow glances over his shoulder at her, surprised, and comes to a stop as well before walking back over to her.

“Jesus fuck, dude,” Catra pants. “Are you trying out for the Olympics?” Bow laughs. He’s breathing heavily, too, but he doesn’t look anywhere near as half-dead as Catra feels.

“Sorry,” he says. “I just get in the zone sometimes.”

“Way to make me feel bad about myself.” Catra is kidding. Mostly.

“It’s the testosterone,” Bow says. “I’m basically filled with steroids.” Catra sits down and shakes her head.

“You wanna keep running, knock yourself out,” she says. “I think I’m gonna sit here till I can see in color again.” Bow laughs again and sits down beside her—although he leaves a good five or six feet between their bodies, which Catra appreciates.

“I’m done, too,” he says. He pulls his legs up onto the bleachers and begins to stretch out—which Catra should probably do, too, if she wants to be able to walk tomorrow. Slowly and painfully, she drops from the bleachers onto the grass and stretches her legs out in front of her. “Does the no talking rule extend to the cooldown stretches?” Bow asks after a minute. Catra glances back at him. He seems to be serious, which is…weirdly considerate of him. If Catra said yes, he’d probably be quiet and leave her alone until they both left.

“Nah,” Catra says, returning to her stretches. “You can talk.”

“Cool,” Bow says. “Because I’m curious! Adora has told us a bunch of stories about you, but they’re all from when you guys were kids, and I wanna know about you now. So, what’s your major? What are your hobbies?”

“Undeclared,” Catra says. “Hobbies…I like drawing, I guess.” She doesn’t know why she told him that. She doesn’t talk about it much. It’s personal.

“That’s awesome!” Bow sounds genuinely psyched about the concept of Catra drawing. Catra wonders if it’s exhausting being that excited all the time. “Me and Glimmer and Adora all took art classes in high school, but none of us are, like, talented, you know? And we didn’t really keep doing it. What kinds of stuff do you draw?”

“Just kinda whatever,” Catra says. “People mostly, I guess.” She switches positions, stretching her quads.

“That’s so cool,” Bow says. “Hey, you’re undeclared, maybe you could be an art major.” Catra snorts.

“I wanna have money someday,” she says. Bow doesn’t try to give her a pep talk about following her dreams, which Catra is immensely grateful for. She’s heard that kind of thing more than often enough.

“Well, it’s up to you,” he says. “Hey, this isn’t, like, relevant, but why the sleeve?” Catra’s left hand darts over to her right arm, gripping her own elbow. Most of her arm, from just below her shoulder down to her wrist, is covered in a black sleeve, like the ones basketball players wear. It sticks out, given that her other arm is bare, and she’s wearing a tank top.

“It’s, uh.” Catra considers making an excuse, and, surprising herself, considers telling him the truth.

She hesitates long enough that Bow says, “Hey, it’s cool. You don’t have to tell me.”

“No, it’s okay.” It’s Bow’s willingness to let it go that helps Catra make her choice. She peels the sleeve down, wincing at the amount of sweat it’s collected, and pulls it off. She stands up and straddles the bleacher bench so that she’s facing Bow. She holds her arm out between them. In the mid-morning, overcast light, her scars are oddly colored: patches of mauve and patches of off-white, which actually stand out from her tan skin more than the purplish-red marks.

“Whoa,” Bow says quietly, looking down at her arm. “That’s—pretty intense.” Catra turns her arm, showing him the far fewer scars on the inside of her forearm and bicep. The worst of it is on the outside of her arm, which had been closest to the heat. “How’d it happen?” There’s something in his tone…a half-made assumption that Catra needs to correct, if she’s right.

“How much has Adora told you about our childhood?” she asks. Bow shrugs.

“You were in a group home,” he says. “Your guardian was…bad.” His eyes fall back to her arm momentarily, and Catra’s suspicions are confirmed.

“She was,” Catra says. “Ms. Weaver was…” She doesn’t have the right words. Well, she does, but they’re never good enough to make anyone understand. Adora had been right, last week in the coffee shop. It’s good to have someone who really gets it.

“Did she do that?” Bow asks. Catra’s eyebrows raise in surprise. She didn’t think he would have the guts to ask.

“Car accident,” Catra says, lowering her arm back to her side. “Almost two years ago, now. Weaver had nothing to do with it.” Not true, really, but it’s complicated.

“Those…look like burn scars,” Bow says slowly. “Did the car catch on fire?”

“Something like that.” She doesn’t want to get into the details right now. She pulls the sleeve back on, covering the marks. Bow accepts the deflection, picking up his water bottle instead.

They sit in companionable silence for a bit, stretching and cooling down from their run. Catra likes Bow’s presence, she decides. He seems like a good guy.

“I’ll see you around,” Catra says once her muscles have settled from actively screaming into a dull ache. She pushes herself up from the bench and knows immediately that she's going to be limping tomorrow.

“Wait,” Bow says quickly. Catra glances at him, eyebrows raised. “You should text Adora,” he says. “She keeps asking me and Glimmer if she should DM you, and it’s getting really annoying. She wants to see you again.” Catra looks away. She wants to see Adora again, too, and that’s exactly why she hasn’t used her number yet. It scares her, how much she wants to see Adora again.

“Yeah, maybe,” Catra says, picking up her water bottle.

“Catra,” Bow says. He sounds firm in a way that Catra hasn’t heard from him before. “Look, she really cares about getting to know you again. She cares a lot, and I think you do, too. So I think you should text her. Either to let her know you’re not interested or…” He lets the sentence hang. Catra sighs, kicking at the ground absently.

“You’re a psych major, aren’t you,” she says. In her peripheral vision, she sees Bow grin. “You people are so fucking annoying. Fine, I’ll text her, whatever.”

“Awesome.” Bow hops to his feet, lacking all of the early-onset soreness that Catra is dealing with. “I’ll definitely see you around, then. Bye, Catra.”

“Bye.” He jogs away, which pisses Catra off. Why the fuck does he still have energy?

As she limps back towards the parking lot, where the car she borrowed from Entrapta is waiting, Catra pulls out her phone and composes a text to Adora.


grayskull city, october 2016

 

“Catra?” Catra turns around, trying to make her eyes focus on whoever’s saying her name. Once they do, she grins and stumbles forward.

“Lonnie,” Catra says. The letters of the name don’t come out quite right, twisting and slurring in Catra’s mouth. She slaps a hand down on Lonnie’s shoulder. “Hi, Lonnie.”

“Hi,” Lonnie says, pushing Catra’s hand off of her shoulder with a grimace. “Fuckin’ Christ, how much have you had to drink?” Catra thinks about it for a moment.

“Uh…” She doesn’t have an answer. Lonnie sighs and shakes her head.

“Where’s Adora?” she asks. “Shouldn’t she be keeping track of you?”

“No,” Catra says. “She’s not my—my fucking keeper. She isn’t the boss of me.”

“Clearly.” Lonnie grabs Catra by the shoulder and leads her through the smoky room they’re in towards the back door of the house. “What are you even doing here? I know Ms. Weaver didn’t let you out for a Halloween party.”

“I snuck.” The words are funny, and Catra giggles as Lonnie pulls her into the yard and slams the door behind them. The pounding music fades from an all-encompassing roar to a distant pulse. “Snuck out, snuck—here. Sneaky.” She giggles again. Lonnie rubs at the bridge of her nose.

“Right,” she says. “Okay, you’re done for the night. Give me your phone, I’ll call Adora to come get you.”

“Nope,” Catra says, popping the p. “Adora’s not here anymore.”

“What are you talking about?” Lonnie says.

“Adora’s gone.” Catra lifts the cup in her hand to her lips, only to remember that she finished her drink ten minutes ago. “She left! She has a secret sister, did you know that?”

“A sister?” Lonnie frowns at her. “What are you talking about?”

“She has a sh—a sh—a secret sister named Mara,” Catra says. “And Adora went with her and moved to Bright Moon. Isn’t that nice?” Catra spits the last word out like a curse.

“Oh,” Lonnie says quietly. “Shit, Catra, that’s…that sucks.”

“Doesn’t suck for her,” Catra says. “She gets to live in a nice house and go to a fancy school. Sucks for us. She left us. She thinks she’s too good for the Fright Zone.” Catra leans in towards Lonnie, grinning. “But I’m not good enough for anything, right?” Lonnie gives her a look that strays a little too close to pity.

“I’ll drive you home,” Lonnie says, grabbing Catra’s arm. Catra looks down at the contact and notices that she’s squeezed the red plastic cup in her hand into pieces. When did that happen? Lonnie leads Catra around the house and onto the street, over to a small, tan car that looks older than either of them. She pulls out her car keys, and Catra remembers learning about drunk driving in middle school health class. She snatches the keys out of Lonnie’s hand.

“Catra, what the fuck?” Lonnie says, exasperated.

“No drunk driving,” Catra says. “You could—kill someone. Go to jail.” Lonnie takes a deep, measured breath.

Catra,” she says. “Between you and me, who do you think is safer to drive?” Catra thinks about it for a moment before remembering that she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet. She hands the keys back over. “Thank you,” Lonnie says. “If you puke in my car, I’ll beat the shit out of you.” Catra laughs and wonders if she can make herself vomit. Losing a fight sounds good right now.

Lonnie drives Catra back to Ms. Weaver’s house. The car is quiet except for the radio playing quietly. Lonnie doesn’t try to start a conversation, and Catra decides not to make herself vomit. Instead, she just leans back in the car seat and thinks about Adora—which feels like getting beaten up anyway.

Two weeks, now, since Adora left her. Catra doesn’t think she’s going to make it another one, let alone fifty or sixty years. But hey, she always did expect to die young.

“You probably can’t get yourself in there, huh,” Lonnie says as the car comes to a stop. Catra looks out the window, and there’s Ms. Weaver’s house, as cold and imposing as ever.

“I have to sneak,” Catra says. “I snuck out.” Lonnie groans.

Fine, whatever,” she says. “We’ll go in the back.” She gets out of the car, comes around the side, and half-drags Catra out of the passenger-side door. They head around the back of the house, Catra’s arm around Lonnie’s shoulder, stumbling with every other step. “You got keys?” Lonnie asks as they approach the back door.

“Nope.” Catra grins. “Shadow Weaver doesn’t trust me with them. I might start sneaking out.” She laughs.

Shadow Weaver?” Lonnie says. “You know what, whatever.” She grabs the doorknob, and it turns in her hand. “You’re lucky it’s unlocked,” she whispers to Catra as they step into the house. “I’d leave you on the porch if it wasn’t.” Catra giggles, then covers her mouth with one hand. They can’t make noise. Ms. Weaver might wake up.

Somehow, Lonnie gets Catra up the stairs. She starts to turn down the hallway towards the bedroom she used to share with Adora and Catra, but Catra shakes her head.

“Upstairs,” she says, trying and failing to whisper. “I’m sleeping upstairs.” Lonnie sighs, but turns back to the staircase. Catra summons the last of her coordination to get herself up the stairs.

“Fuck, I hate being back in this house,” Lonnie says quietly as she unlocks the third floor room.

“You left, too,” Catra says. She wants to laugh, but it isn’t funny. “Everyone leaves. ‘Cept me. I’m the one Shadow Weaver hates the most, and I’m the one no one else wants.”

“Catra…” Lonnie seems like she wants to say something, but then she opens the door, and her attention is drawn across the room. “Oh, shit, Catra,” she says. “You’re dead.”

The window on the far side of the room, the one that’s been locked shut since Adora fell and broke her ankle a decade ago, is broken. The bottom pane is shattered. There’s broken glass spilled across the floor.

“I snuck,” Catra says, smiling at her handiwork. “Out the window, but it was locked, so I had to break it first.”

“Catra…” Lonnie shakes her head. “Ms. Weaver’s going to kill you. Why would you do that?”

“Why not?” Catra stumbles forward, over to the corner of the room that she usually sleeps in when she’s stuck up here. “What is she going to do to me? Everything already sucks.” She sits down in her corner, and the movement sends the room tipping back and forth on its axis. Lonnie is staring down at her from across the room with the kind of expression most people reserve for dying animals.

“Look, I’m gonna leave,” Lonnie says after a moment. “I don’t want to get caught. But…I don’t know, just take care of yourself, Catra. If Adora isn’t here to anymore, you gotta do it yourself.”

“I don’t wanna talk about Adora anymore,” Catra mumbles. “I hate her.”

“Okay,” Lonnie says, stepping back out of the room. “Good night, I guess.” She closes the door, and Catra lies down in her corner, waiting for sleep to come.

It comes quickly, and Catra dreams of Adora.

It feels like only moments later when she’s woken up by a deluge of freezing cold water. Catra sits up abruptly, gasping in shock, and her stomach rebels against the motion. Through squinted eyes, Catra can see Ms. Weaver standing above her, that familiar disapproving frown on her face.

Her nausea overwhelms her, and Catra rolls onto her hands and knees and vomits.

When she’s finished, she sits back on her knees, gasping for breath. Between the icy water that’s soaked her hair and the sickness, she’s shivering violently. She can’t stop shaking. She manages to turn in a small circle on the floor, looking up at Ms. Weaver above her.

“Clean that up,” Ms. Weaver says. “And board up the window. Or don’t. I suppose it’s your choice, since you’ll be living up here from now on.”

“Wh—“ Catra’s throat is sandpaper-dry. “What?”

“Move your things after you’re finished with your mess.” Ms. Weaver shakes her head. “You’re disgusting. I won’t have you dirtying a room that other children may someday use.” She wrinkles her nose, sneering down at Catra. “Honestly, Catra, you’re no better than an animal. This is a better place for you.” With that, she walks away. Catra leans against the wall and starts to cry.


university of bright moon, october 2020

 

“How do you even do that?” Adora calls. Far above her, parallel to the ceiling, hanging from the horizontal portion at the top of the climbing wall, Catra laughs. She lets her feet slide off of the footholds so that she’s dangling by her fingers, fifteen feet up in the air.

“Told you I’d be better than you at this,” she says, and lets go. She drops onto the two-feet-thick blue mat on the ground and turns the impact into a roll. Watching her makes Adora’s knees hurt.

“You didn’t tell me you practice,” Adora groans. She flops backwards from her sitting position so that she’s lying down, splayed out on top of one of the giant beanbag chairs that dot the center of the gym floor.

“You were the one who assumed you’d be good at it because you work out,” Catra says. “Lifting weights doesn’t make you good at everything.”

“Clearly,” Adora says. Catra walks over to the beanbag Adora is on and stretches out on her stomach a few feet away from Adora, propping her chin up with her palms.

“It’s fucking ridiculous that UBM has a rock climbing gym,” Catra comments. “Why do they have so much money?”

“Have you seen our football team?”

“Yeah, and I hate everyone on it.” Catra’s immediate and deadpan delivery makes Adora laugh. Catra’s good at making her laugh. They’ve hung out three times in the past two weeks since Catra first texted her, and Adora has laughed herself stupid every time. Catra just gets her in a way that, for as much as Adora loves them, Bow and Glimmer never quite have. Catra’s humor is sometimes a little bit dark, a little bit angry, in a way that Adora understands, having grown up in the Fright Zone.

And that’s not to mention the inside jokes.

“I mean, same,” Adora says, turning her head to look up at Catra. “But they bring in money, so…” Catra hums thoughtfully. Adora just looks at her, entranced by her mismatched eyes and the way her hair falls over her forehead, the slight sheen of sweat on her face, the freckles that dot her cheeks.

“Something on my face, princess?” Catra asks. Adora turns pink, suddenly realizing she’s been staring.

“You’re sweaty,” she says. “It’s gross.” Catra cackles.

“You’re one to talk,” she says, reaching out and messing up Adora’s hair poof. Adora bats her hand away, rolling her eyes.

“You still call me princess,” Adora’s mouth says, with absolutely no input from her brain. Catra blinks at her and frowns.

“I…guess, yeah,” she says. “I can stop, if you want.”

“No,” Adora says, far too quickly. “It’s okay. It just surprised me, I guess. That you remembered She-Ra, and that you used to call me that.”

“I remember a lot of stuff, Adora,” Catra says, almost cautiously. “The princess thing is just…an old habit, I guess. Besides, it still feels like it fits.”

“Does it?” In her head, the nickname is tied to She-Ra, and Adora hasn’t felt like She-Ra, like a hero, in a long time.

“Yeah,” Catra says. “It does.” Her tone brooks no argument, and Adora lets the matter lie. She has something else on her mind—a question she’s been meaning to ask.

“Hey, Catra?” she says, looking back up at the ceiling so that she can work up the guts to ask. “Do you…want to come to Mermista’s Halloween party?” There’s a long, silent pause, and Adora begins to panic. “I know we said that we were gonna take it slow, being in each other’s lives again, and I know that inviting you to a party where all my friends are gonna be isn’t really doing that, but—Mermista’s parties are always really cool, and I—I want you to meet my friends. I think I’m ready for that. And it’s totally cool if you aren’t! If you don’t want me to meet your friends, or if you don’t want to come to Halloween—“

“Adora,” Catra says. “Look at me.” Preemptively wincing, Adora looks over at her. Catra is watching her with an amused look. “It’s cute that you’re nervous and all, but I’d love to go to the party.” Adora feels the big, stupid grin that Glimmer has dubbed her Catra-smile spread across her face.

“You would?” she asks. Her voice comes out soft, awed.

“Yeah.” Catra sits up, putting more space between them, and Adora mirrors the motion, trying to close that gap once more. “I don’t usually do anything for Halloween. October is kind of a…rough month for me. So it’d be cool to change it up for once.” That…disappoints Adora, for some reason. Catra is only coming because she wants a change of pace, not because she wants to see Adora.

Adora shakes the thought away. Catra wouldn’t be here if she didn’t care about seeing Adora.

“Okay then,” Adora says. “I’ll text you the details next week.”

“Sounds good.” Catra smiles back at her, which makes Adora’s whole body feel floaty. “Hey, you wanna do matching costumes like we used to?” When they were little, they wore matching Halloween costumes every year. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Superman and Lex Luthor, Batman and the Joker. They had a theme, clearly, which was Adora’s fault. Catra would always complain about wearing dorky superhero costumes, but she always went with it, in the end.

“Sure,” Adora agrees. “Got any ideas?” Catra thinks for a moment, then her eyes light up.

“Yeah, I’ve got one.”

Chapter Text

a house in the whispering woods, outside of bright moon, october 2020

 

“Okay, wait, let me guess,” Perfuma says, looking Catra and Adora up and down. “Um…well, Bow and Glimmer are Pokémon trainers, so are you…also Pokémon trainers?” Catra glances over at Adora, smirking.

“Your friends have no taste, princess,” she says. Perfuma frowns, more sad than disapproving, and Adora tries to run interference.

“We’re not Pokémon trainers,” Adora says to Perfuma. “We’re—did you ever read the Percy Jackson series?”

“No,” Perfuma says.

No taste,” Catra says again. Adora sighs.

“We’re characters from the books,” she says to Perfuma. “And Catra is just an asshole, so don’t mind her.” Catra snickers and doesn’t protest.

“I’m going to go greet Mermista,” Perfuma says, clearly trying to leave the conversation. “I’ll see you two around.”

“See you,” Adora says. Perfuma walks away, and Adora turns to glare at Catra. Catra just smiles at her innocently. Normally, that would fluster Adora right out of being irritated with her, but the effect is mitigated by the green contact lenses Catra is wearing. They make an odd contrast with her skin tone, and Adora finds herself missing Catra’s real eyes. “When you said you were okay with meeting my friends, I didn’t think you were going to bully them,” Adora says. Catra shrugs.

“What can I say?” she says. “She didn’t know our costumes.”

“We aren’t exactly recognizable,” Adora points out. “Unless you’re, you know, a giant nerd.” Other than Catra’s contact lenses, they’re dressed in matching neon orange t-shirts, which Adora has paired with denim shorts, despite the October chill. Catra had tried to convince her to curl her hair for the occasion, but Adora flatly refused, and they settled on the compromise of a Yankees cap and a ponytail. Catra, for her part, is wearing loose jeans and Converse, and twirling a ballpoint pen between her fingers. The only out-of-character element is the black sleeve Catra wears over her right arm, but she wears that whenever she isn’t wearing  long-sleeved shirt. Adora isn’t sure why, and hasn’t worked up the nerve to ask.

They really do look like giant nerds.

“Guys!” Bow appears in front of them, Glimmer in tow. They’re dressed as Pokémon trainers who Adora has been told are called Ash and Misty. “We brought you drinks!” He hands each of them a red plastic cup. “C’mon, let’s go!” Adora glances at Catra and holds out her hand.

“Getting into character?” Catra asks with a raised eyebrow. She takes Adora’s hand, though.

“Just don’t wanna lose you in the crowd,” Adora says, blushing. Catra smirks at her, but laces their fingers together as they leave the entryway and head deeper into the house.

The party is mostly taking place in the gigantic living room, where all the furniture has been pushed up against the walls to make room for a dance floor. There’s probably a hundred people in the living room alone, talking and dancing and drinking. Music pulses through speakers suspended at strategic points from the wall and ceiling. Catra whistles lowly as they step inside the room, eyeing the vaulted ceiling and the orange spotlights crisscrossing the dance floor.

“Mermista lives here?” Catra says, glancing at Adora. “How much money does she have?”

“She actually lives on campus,” Adora says. “Her dad bought her this place her first semester, before she decided to live in a dorm.” Catra looks stunned.

“That’s, like.” She shakes her head. “That isn’t a human amount of money.” She sounds upset. Adora understands. It makes her angry, too, that someone can have that much money while kids like them grow up in the Fright Zone.

“Yeah,” Adora says, keeping her voice quiet enough that the only person who can hear her over the pounding music is Catra. “I don’t think Mermista is going to keep much of it when she takes the throne.”

“When she what?” Catra stops walking and turns to stare at Adora, their joined hands dangling between them. Adora winces. Oops.

“Right, so, I’m not supposed to tell people this,” she says. “But, you know Salineas?”

“Salineas like the island country where rich assholes hide their money?” Catra asks.

“Yeah.” Adora leans in, keeping her next words as quiet as possible. “Mermista is, uh, kinda the princess of Salineas.” Catra stares at her blankly for a solid five seconds, processing.

“…You know what?” she says finally. “I’m going to drink instead of dealing with that.” She raises her drink in her free hand and chugs the entire thing. Adora watches a stray drop of alcohol trail its way down Catra’s neck, shining in the flashing light.

“Guys!” It’s Bow again, reemerging from the crowd, this time without Glimmer. “Come dance with everyone!” His eyes fall to Catra, and he frowns slightly. “Wait, Catra,” he says, “are you binding your chest?” Catra blinks at him.

“Uh, kinda personal, don’t you think?” she says. “I don’t think we know each other well enough to talk about my boobs.” Adora opens her mouth to intervene, but Bow beats her to it.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m just making sure you’re okay to dance. If you’re binding with bandages or tape or something, you could hurt yourself.”

“I’m good, Poké-boy,” Catra says, relaxing. “I borrowed a binder from a friend. Don’t worry about it.” Adora had noticed that Catra looked different than usual, but she hadn’t said anything, even though all of the safe binding stuff is drilled into her mind from the year and a half she spent reminding Bow of it whenever he forgot. But she hadn’t wanted to say anything, because then Catra would know that Adora has noticed what Catra’s boobs usually look like, and that felt like an admission.

Then again, Bow has more or less just admitted to that exact thing, and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal at all.

“Awesome!” Bow says, grinning. “Just take breaks if you need, okay? You’ll probably get tired quick.” Catra gives him a thumbs up. “Let’s go dance! We should try to find Glimmer!” He heads back onto the dance floor. Adora looks over at Catra, raising her eyebrows.

“Shall we?” Catra asks, grinning. Adora squeezes Catra’s hand and smiles back.

“Let’s dance.”


grayskull city, october 2018

 

“Don’t forget anything,” Ms. Weaver says. Catra grits her teeth, shooting a glare over her shoulder at her guardian in the doorway of the third floor room. Beyond the finally-replaced window, a storm is pouring its wrath onto the city. “You won’t be coming back to get it.” Catra turns back to her packing, shoving one last t-shirt into the box she’s filling before closing it.

Two more days, she thinks. Two more days. She has an apartment lined up, and a job at a coffee shop that pays just enough to make rent and think about buying food. She has a high school diploma, to everyone’s surprise. She has two more days of Ms. Weaver before she never has to see her again.

Catra moves to her desk, gathering up the small collection of art supplies she’s managed to collect over the years. The nearest art supply store is miles out of the Fright Zone, in a far nicer neighborhood of Grayskull. She only started making it out there after Rogelio got his hands on a car. She could never afford the nicest things, but she’s proud of what she has earned.

“You plan to continue that hobby?” Ms. Weaver asks from the doorframe. “A word of advice, Catra, don’t drag your childish obsessions into adulthood.” She pauses. “Do you plan on being an adult?”

“It’s not a—“ Catra cuts herself off. It’s not worth it. She knows she’s good at art, and it makes her happy. It doesn’t matter what Ms. Weaver thinks.

Two more days.

Ms. Weaver clicks her tongue disapprovingly, but doesn’t comment on the art supplies further. Catra boxes them up quickly and efficiently. She’s more careful with them than she is with most of her belongings, though that’s a low bar. She fills the box she set aside for them quickly and moves on.

Next up are her sketchbooks. She lays down on her stomach and reaches under her cot, dragging out the box that she’s kept there since she moved up here two years ago, after Adora—

Catra takes out the box of sketchbooks. It’s an ancient, beaten up cardboard box—the one that she slept in as a baby, from what she’s been told. She’s heard she was an inconsolable child, always crying, and biting the moment she grew teeth.

She doubts sleeping in a cardboard box helped her with her infant emotional problems.

The box is filled with Catra’s work, now. Filled sketchbooks, spare scraps of paper with doodles that she’s proud of, the notebook from the time she tried to learn calligraphy, even a few paintings. It’s a big box, and it’s stuffed with the only things Catra has ever been proud of.

“Still dragging that box around like a trophy, I see,” Ms. Weaver says. An explosion of thunder punctuates her words. “So proud of the fact that no one wanted you. It’s no wonder Adora left you behind.”

Two more days.

No, not two more days. Catra is done now.

“Is this fun for you?” Catra asks, standing up and meeting Ms. Weaver’s eyes. “Do you get off on tearing people down? Is it fun to abuse the children you’re supposed to take care of?” Ms. Weaver starts to speak, but Catra talks over her. “Because I’ll tell you what it looks like to me. It looks like you’re a pathetic old woman who nobody will ever love, and you know that. You know just how fucking sad your life is, and the only little bit of happiness you can find is in making everybody else as broken as you.” She picks up her box. “And you know what? Adora didn’t leave me, she left you. Because you actually loved her, and that was enough to drive her away.”

“Catra,” Ms. Weaver says. It sounds like a warning. Catra doesn’t heed it.

“I hope you burn in hell, you sick fuck,” she says. “We’re done here.” With her box in her arms, she shoves her way past Ms. Weaver and out of the room.


mermista’s mansion, october 2020

 

“I think I need to take a break,” Catra shouts into Adora’s ear. They’ve been dancing for a few songs now, and Bow was right: Catra is running out of steam a lot more quickly than usual. She isn’t tired, really, just a lot sweatier than she would normally be and very out of breath.

“Sounds good!” Adora shouts back. She throws an arm around Catra’s shoulders and starts pushing her way through the crowd. Adora’s had more to drink than Catra has, and while she doesn’t seem drunk, she has gotten really…affectionate. The arm around Catra’s shoulders, pressing her into Adora’s side, is actually more space than Catra’s had in a good few minutes.

Catra doesn’t know how to feel about the touches. It’s nice. She’s missed Adora, and the easy physicality their friendship always had. But their friendship, on Catra’s end, also always had other feelings, and the way Catra’s stomach twists when they’re dancing and she can feel Adora’s muscles through her shirt stray dangerously close to that other territory. She wants the touch. She just doesn’t want to want too much.

Adora leads Catra off the dance floor and down a much less crowded hallway to a door. They spill out of it as one and into the night air. It’s chilly, and Catra instantly gets goosebumps. Adora, wearing shorts, somehow doesn’t seem bothered at all.

“C’mon,” Adora says, her breath hot against Catra’s ear. “There’s a bonfire.” Catra frowns as Adora starts to lead her down a path into the woods.

“A bonfire?” she asks. “Is that…safe? Or legal?” Adora laughs and doesn’t answer, which doesn’t reassure Catra at all. Through the trees, she can see an orange glow, and there’s the faint smell of smoke in the air. Catra reaches for the hand dangling from her shoulder, grabbing on for comfort automatically.

She doesn’t like fire.

She doesn’t feel like getting into all that with a tipsy Adora, though, so she just holds Adora’s hand tightly and walks towards the glow. The path through the trees is a short but chilly one, and Catra presses closer to Adora’s side, shivering. Adora’s practically radiating heat. Catra can feel it through both of their clothes.

There’s only one person at the bonfire when they get there: a tall-ish guy in a pirate costume. Both his hair and his hipster mustache seem to be dyed purple. Catra has never seen him before in her life, and he doesn’t seem like the kind of person she would want to talk to, but Adora is already grinning and waving.

“Sea Hawk!” she says, a little too loudly. “Hey!” Sea Hawk? This is the guy that Mermista is dating?

“Adora!” Sea Hawk replies, just as loudly. “You made it! And you brought a friend!” His eyes fall on Catra. “You must be the lovely Catra,” he says, executing a small bow. “Mermista has told me about you!”

“Uh,” Catra says, glancing at Adora questioningly. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“It’s wonderful to meet you!” Sea Hawk looks back at Adora. “Could I ask for a favor, Adora?”

“Depends,” Adora says. “Does it involve setting something on fire?” Sea Hawk thinks about that for a moment.

“Only if maintaining a current fire counts as setting a fire,” he says. “You see, Mermista has exiled me to bonfire duty as revenge for—well, anyways, I was hoping you could keep an eye on the fire until people start coming out here.” Adora glances at Catra.

“You good with that?” she murmurs. Catra suppresses a smile at the gentle way Adora asks, checking in with Catra despite not even knowing that she doesn’t like fire. She considers it for a moment—she’d really rather not be anywhere near the bonfire, but if it means spending time with Adora? Alone with Adora, while it’s cold enough to press herself into Adora’s side without being called out on it?

“Sure,” Catra says. Adora grins and looks back at Sea Hawk.

“You heard the lady,” she says. “Good luck with Mermista.” Sea Hawk winces.

“Yes,” he says. “I’ll need it. It was good to meet you, Catra.” He heads back up the path towards the house, leaving Catra and Adora alone by the fire.

“C’mon,” Adora says, walking them over to a wooden bench ten or fifteen feet away from the fire. It’s made out of a split, polished log, with no backrest. Catra settles in next to Adora, still holding onto her hand, and presses their sides together, from their hips to the place where Catra’s head rests against Adora’s shoulder.

Adora’s so warm. So much nicer than the fire, no contest. Catra decides not to untangle everything she feels at that thought, and instead closes her eyes, enjoying Adora’s body heat against her skin.

“I didn’t know alcohol made you so cuddly,” Adora says quietly. Catra hums. They had never drank around each other before. They hadn’t had a chance to, in Ms. Weaver’s house. It wasn’t worth the possible consequences. Of course, after Adora left, Catra had thrown the consequences out the window—along with a brick.

“You’re one to talk,” Catra says. “I don’t think you’ve stopped touching me for like an hour.” Adora stiffens slightly.

“Uh, sorry,” she says. “I get like that. I’ll stop.” She tries to pull her arm back from around Catra’s shoulders and leans away. Catra tightens her grip on Adora’s hand.

“I didn’t say to stop,” she says.

“Oh.” Adora adjusts, pressing their bodies together once more, and Catra sighs happily. She isn’t tired—she’s actually kind of hyped from dancing still—but she’s relaxed. They sit quietly for a bit. Adora seems just as content as Catra to just be there.

After awhile, Catra has to pull away and stretch. She can’t quite get a full breath with the binder on. Adora lets her go without protest, watching as Catra stretches her arms above her head and contorts her body this way and that, trying to breathe comfortably.

Ugh, this binder shit’s uncomfortable,” Catra mutters as she twists her back. “I don’t know if this worth it for the costume.”

“You look really good,” Adora offers. Catra shoots her an amused look.

“You prefer me without boobs, princess?” she asks. Adora turns a wonderful shade of pink.

“I—have absolutely no opinion on your boobs,” she says. Catra laughs, discomfort forgotten.

“If you say so,” she says. She leans back, planting her palms on the back of the bench and leaning back. It’s a much more comfortable position for her lungs, and she can look up at the sparks the fire is sending into the sky. They’re still too close to the city to see the stars, but the sparks almost look like them, if Catra squints. “It was nice of Bow to check in about the binding,” she says after a moment. “He’s a good dude.”

“Yeah.” Catra can feel Adora’s eyes on her. She wonders if Adora is drunk enough to not notice that she’s staring. She wonders why Adora is staring. “I was kind of afraid he and Glimmer wouldn’t, like, get you. You’re, y’know, mean sometimes, and I was worried they would take that personally. But Bow seems like he gets it.”

“He’s probably used to it at this point,” Catra says. “We go running together pretty often.” Adora shifts next to her, facing Catra more fully.

“You do?” she asks. Catra glances over at her. Adora’s little confused frown is…well, adorable.

“Ran into him one morning,” Catra says. “Made a habit of it.” She raises her left hand, rubbing at the sleeve on her right arm absently. Bow is one of the only people to have ever seen what’s underneath it. She still isn’t sure what about him convinced her that she could show him the scars. He’s just… “He’s a really good guy, Adora,” Catra says. “I’m…glad you have him in your life.” Their past aside, Adora deserves a good life. Catra is long past wishing hurt on her oldest friend.

“Yeah,” Adora says. “If I meet your friends, I’m sure I’ll think the same thing.” Catra doesn’t answer. She still isn't sure if she can bring Adora into that part of her life. Maybe not ever. She just—the first time she’d lost Adora, it had destroyed Catra. Every single good thing in her life was tied to Adora somehow. Even Catra’s art, that box of work she had been so proud of, was full of drawings of Adora. Once Adora was gone? There was nothing left for Catra.

Right now, Adora is a part of Catra’s life again, a good part. But she’s separate from everything else good: Catra’s job, the classes she enjoys, the art she does in her free time, and most importantly, Catra’s friends. None of it belongs to Adora at all. Catra doesn’t want to give it to her. She doesn’t want to have to find a new home again.

Adora seems to accept that Catra isn’t going to respond. She copies Catra’s position, planting her hands on the back edge of the bench and leaning back, looking up. She doesn’t try to reinitiate the cuddling, either. Catra figures they’re both sobering up a bit in the night air—not that they’d had much to drink to begin with.

“The sparks are really pretty,” Adora comments after awhile. “Like tiny fireworks.”

“Mm.” Catra closes her eyes. “I don’t really like fire.”

“Really?” Adora is looking at her again, Catra can feel it. “It’s scary and destructive, I figured it would be right up your alley.” Catra snorts.

“No,” she says. “It’s…a long story. I don’t wanna get into it.”

“Okay.” Adora finally looks away from her. “If you ever do, I—I got you.”


grayskull city, october 2018

 

“Catra!” Catra ignores the call of her name, stomping down the staircase to the ground floor of the house, box of art in her arms. Her cheek stings. Ms. Weaver had slapped her when she caught up with Catra on the second floor. “Catra!”

“Will you just fuck off?” Catra shouts over her shoulder, walking towards the door. “I told you, I’m done with you! Leave me alone!” Fingers dig into her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. Ms. Weaver looks angrier than Catra has ever seen her—which is saying a lot, seeing how Catra has been the only child in the house for almost a year.

“You will not walk away from me,” Ms. Weaver hisses, spit flying in Catra’s face. “Not until you admit the truth.”

“What truth!” Catra jerks her shoulder out of Ms. Weaver’s grasp. “Are you fucking crazy?”

“Adora didn’t leave me,” Ms. Weaver says. “She left you. She knew you loved her and it disgusted her.” Catra can’t help but laugh.

“Sorry, is this a homophobia thing?” she says. “You know every fucking kid you ever raised in this house is some kind of gay? Rogelio and Kyle have been fucking since they were sixteen! They’re dating now that they moved out!”

“You—“ Ms. Weaver’s hand flies out again, but Catra dodges this time.

“Adora’s gay, too,” she says as she backpedals across the room. “I know you’re completely checked out of everyone’s lives except your own, but she got outed our freshman year. Remember when I smashed up that car?” She pauses in her backwards movement, making eye contact to deliver her next sentence. “That was me protecting her. That was me loving Adora better than you ever could.”

“I’m her mother, you insolent child,” Ms. Weaver says. Catra laughs.

“No, you’re not,” she says. “I bet she hasn’t thought about you since the minute she got out of this house.” She kicks the front door open. “And I won’t, either.” She runs out the door, into the thunderstorm. She runs to the old car that Rogelio left for her when he moved out. Balancing her art box in one hand, she fumbles her keys out of her pocket and into the driver’s side door. She tosses her box into the passenger seat and turns the key in the ignition before Ms. Weaver can even get to the front door. Fuck her clothes, her pictures, her laptop, all of it. She doesn’t need anything from that house. She’s never going back.

Catra peels out of the driveway and down the street in the pouring rain.

She’s losing her bravado now. She had screamed in Ms. Weaver’s face, and it had somehow been just as satisfying as she’d always imagined and not satisfying at all. Ms. Weaver hadn’t backed down, or cowered, or even flinched. Instead, she had tried even harder to hurt Catra. She had slapped her. She’s never hit Catra before.

Catra’s cheek really hurts.

Catra spins the car around a corner. She’s crying, and gasping for breath, and there’s rain dumping down on the windshield faster than the wipers can fight it. The insides of the windows are fogging up with Catra’s breath. Catra takes a hand off the wheel, reaching out to try to wipe the fog from the windshield, and the right-side wheels of the car hit a puddle. It’s deep, and it sends the car careening to the side. Catra grabs for the wheel again as the car goes up over the curb, but she’s too late.

With a crunch, the car stops.

Catra can’t tell if she passed out or not. It feels like she just blinked, but when she opens her eyes again, her head aches worse than it ever has in her life, and she has to peel her face off of the steering wheel. The airbags hadn’t deployed.

Catra pushes the driver’s side door open, undos her seatbelt, and falls out of the car sideways onto the pavement. It’s cold, rough, and wet beneath her. Her head is spinning too badly to stand, so she crawls instead, dragging her body a dozen feet from the wreck.

Once she has some distance, she takes stock. All her limbs seem to be working. It’s her neck, back, and head that hurt, but she doesn’t think she’s broken any of them, either. Maybe her skull is cracked. It feels like it, but she’s marginally less dizzy now, so it’s a problem for another time.

Slowly, Catra pushes herself to her feet. She has to lean against a building to stand, but she can almost focus her eyes now, and her feet are back under her. She squints through the still-tilting world at her car.

It’s wrapped around a lamppost. The entire front end is destroyed. A thin trail of smoke is drifting from underneath the crumpled hood.

Her art.

Catra stumbles forward. Her art is still in the car, and the car is smoking. It might catch fire soon, and Catra’s art is in there. She can’t let it burn.

Catra is only a few feet from the car when the brightest light she’s ever seen flashes in front of her, and thunder roars overhead. Catra turns her body, hiding her face behind her right arm, just as the car lights up in a ball of fire.

The light vanishes, and Catra’s world goes black.


mermista’s mansion, october 2020

 

Adora looks up from the drink she’s nursing as Catra steps into the kitchen, returning from the bathroom. Adora smiles automatically. Nobody should look that good in neon orange.

“Hey,” she notices suddenly. “You have your real eyes again.” That’s probably a weird way to phrase that, but she’s a bit busy being struck all over again by Catra’s blue and gold eyes.

“Yeah, I took my contacts out,” Catra says, clearly amused by Adora’s phrasing. “They were itchy.”

“It’s good,” Adora says. She isn’t sure why she’s still talking. She’s a little tipsy still, sure, but not nearly drunk enough to justify the way she’s been acting tonight. Catra is just…so there, and so pretty, and apparently a few drops of alcohol is enough to turn all of Adora’s extremely loud thoughts into words. “I like your real eyes better.”

“…Thanks, I guess?” Catra goes to the fridge and grabs a bottle of water. Out in the living room, the party is winding down. It’s well past midnight now, and most people had drifted out to the bonfire before leaving altogether. The kitchen—now thoroughly divested of alcohol—is empty for the first time in hours. It’s just Adora and Catra in here, in a way that suddenly feels much more intense than sitting by the bonfire alone a few hours ago.

Or maybe that’s just Adora, staring at Catra’s freckles and the line of her jaw.

“Hey, Adora?” Catra says, closing the fridge and stepping over to stand in front of Adora. “I…had a really good time tonight. Thanks for asking me to come.” Adora grins her Catra-smile as the alcohol in her drink makes her chest feel warm.

“I had fun, too,” Adora says. “I’m really glad I ran into you in the locker room, Catra. It—it means the world to me, having you around again.” Catra looks away.

“Yeah, whatever,” she says. Adora can’t figure out if she sounds upset or just embarrassed by the sappiness, and doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. She opens her arms and steps away from the counter instead.

“Hug?” she asks. Catra rolls her eyes, but steps forward into the embrace, wrapping her arms around Adora’s waist. Adora presses her palms against Catra’s back and closes her eyes. The couple inches of height she has on Catra allow her to rest her chin on Catra’s head. She can feel Catra’s soft breath on her neck. It feels more intimate than it has any right to.

Finally, Catra pulls away—but not all the way. She shifts backwards in Adora’s arms, meeting Adora’s gaze without breaking the embrace. Adora’s mouth goes dry, and she can feel her heart start to beat faster.

The way Catra is looking at her…

Adora leans in and kisses her.

It lasts only a moment before Catra stumbles backwards, out of Adora’s arms, and covers her mouth with one hand.

“Shit,” Adora says, realizing what she’s done. “Shit, I’m so sorry, that—that wasn’t okay. I didn’t ask. Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“Adora—“ Catra lowers her hand, which isn’t good, because now Adora’s staring at her lips. “What—what was that?”

“That—was me being an asshole,” Adora says. “I should’ve asked, I’m really sorry—“

“Shut up.” Catra raises a hand, and Adora shuts her mouth immediately. “I’m not mad at you. I just want to know why you did that. Are you that drunk?”

“I—“ Adora hesitates. How much of her behavior tonight has been because of the alcohol, and how much has been because the alcohol is a convenient excuse? Plausible deniability, if Catra gets upset at Adora touching her? “No,” Adora admits. “I’m not that drunk. I just…really wanted to do that, and I guess I’m just drunk enough to not think to ask.” Catra nods slowly, gaze fixed on Adora. Adora can’t read her emotions. All she can do is wait for Catra to speak.

“I’m not that drunk, either,” Catra says. “So I…I mean it when I say that—you can do it again. If you want.”

Chapter Text

university of bright moon, october 2020

 

The moment Adora closes the door of her dorm room behind her and turns on a lamp, Catra is kissing her again, pulling Adora’s hat off and undoing her ponytail.

Fuck, that Uber ride was way too long,” Catra breathes against Adora’s lips. Adora wholeheartedly agrees, but doesn’t bother speaking. She slides the fingers of one hand into Catra’s hair on the back of her head and uses the other to press against the small of her back, bringing Catra closer to her. Catra goes with the motion easily, planting one foot between Adora’s and pressing their bodies together from head to toe. The contact makes Adora’s fingers curl, scratching at Catra’s scalp and digging into her back. In response, Catra makes a kind of whimpering noise into Adora’s mouth that Adora feels everywhere.

Okay, we should probably stop for a minute.

“Wait,” Adora says breathlessly, pulling away. “Wait just a second.” Catra groans loudly.

Why,” she says. “That Uber ride was forty fucking minutes long. I’ve been waiting.” Adora winces.

“Yeah, I know,” she says. “I just—I wanna make sure.” Catra huffs with frustration, but steps back just far enough that Adora’s brain starts working again. “I know this started when we were both kinda buzzed,” she says. She averts her eyes from Catra’s, because if she gets one glance of wide-blown pupils surrounded by blue and gold—“But I’m not drunk anymore,” Adora continues. “And—I still really wanna do this, if you do.”

Do this?” Catra says, teasing. Adora shuts her eyes briefly.

My God, she’s annoying.

“I want to fuck you, Catra,” she says. “Is that clear enough for you?” Catra inhales sharply, her smirk vanishing. Adora can feel her tremble in the places their bodies are still touching.

“I—yeah,” Catra says, breathless. “Yeah, that’s clear. Let’s do that.” Adora smiles and starts to move in again. “You sure your roommates won’t come back?”

“They’re sleeping over at Mermista’s,” Adora says. “She has like a million guest rooms. Do you really wanna be talking about Glimmer and Bow right now?” Catra grins at her.

“Someone’s eager.” Adora doesn’t respond to the comment. She reaches out, settling her hands on Catra’s hips, and starts to push lightly, stepping forward. Catra takes one step back as Adora pushes, then another, then her back is up against the wall on the other side of the room, right next to the open closet doors. Adora takes a final step forward, pressing Catra into the wall with her body.

“Anything else you wanna say?” Adora asks, looking down at Catra. Catra is staring up at her, pupils blown, slightly agape. Adora grins at the image, more than a little smug, and that’s what it takes to break Catra out of her stupor. She reaches up, presses a hand against the back of Adora’s neck, and pulls her in for a kiss. Adora obliges happily, kissing Catra and nipping at her bottom lip until Catra gasps against her. Adora moves down to Catra’s neck, kissing over her jawline, her pulse point, the place where her shoulder begins, until Adora finds a spot just above her collarbone that makes Catra whine. Adora moves her right hand away from Catra’s waist, grabbing onto the edge of the closet doorframe, and uses the leverage to press even closer to Catra as she runs her teeth over the spot.

Fuck,” Catra gasps, arching up against Adora. Her hands slip away from where they’ve been resting on Adora’s shoulders and slide down her arms. She digs her nails into Adora’s right bicep where it’s flexing as she grips the doorframe. Adora sucks a mark onto the spot on Catra’s neck, listening intently as Catra makes quiet noises above her.

“Fucking shit, why do you have so many fucking muscles?” Catra says as Adora pulls away. She’s still clutching onto Adora’s arms. “Just—so fucking unnecessary.” She sounds both angry and turned on, which is a combination Adora hasn’t heard before, but one that she’s definitely enjoying. “What do you even do with them?” Adora grins.

“This,” she says. She lets go of the doorframe and returns both her hands to Catra’s waist. Without hesitation, she picks Catra up into the air. Catra yelps in surprise and latches onto Adora with all four limbs, wrapping her legs around Adora’s waist and her arms around Adora’s neck.

“What the fuck,” Catra says. “What the fuck.” Adora laughs. She sounds smug and she knows it, but the way Catra is looking at her? She can’t imagine a better ego boost.

Adora returns to kissing Catra’s neck, leaving another mark just below her jaw. Catra is tugging at her clothes, grabbing handfuls of Adora’s t-shirt and trying to drag it up her back.

Who am I to deny her?

Adora pulls them away from the wall, carrying Catra over to her bed in the bay window. She sets Catra down and breaks their contact just long enough the shut the blinds before crawling onto the bed in front of Catra. Catra is on her immediately, straddling Adora’s lap and pulling at the hem of her t-shirt. Adora raises her arms cooperatively, and Catra peels Adora’s shirt up and over her head, throwing it to the floor.

Catra tries to go for Adora’s chest immediately, but Adora catches her by the arms and says, “Hey, you too.” Catra gives her an irritated look, but allows Adora to pull off her shirt as well, revealing the chest binder she’s still wearing—and the top of the black basketball sleeve. Adora reaches out, settling her fingertips on the edge of the sleeve, and looks hesitantly at Catra. She isn’t sure why Catra wears the sleeve, but it seems like it’s important to her. Adora wants to respect that.

“Can I?” Adora says. “It’s okay if you want to keep it on.” Catra gives her a strange look.

“You don’t even know why I wear it,” she says.

“No,” Adora says. “I don’t.” Catra takes a deep breath, and it’s shaky, but not in the same, pleasant way her breathing had shaken earlier.

“Okay,” Catra says. “You can take it off. Just…please don’t ask.” That qualification only makes Adora more curious, but she shoves it down. Catra is setting a boundary. Adora can, will respect that.

“Okay,” Adora says. Carefully, she peels down the sleeve. She does it quickly, like tearing off a bandaid, and only when it’s scrunched up at Catra’s wrist does she let her eyes fall on what’s been revealed.

Catra’s arm is covered in scars. They’re uneven in both color and distribution, falling mostly on the outside of her arm, an off-purple color against her tan skin. Lighter, less vicious-looking marks fall on the inside of her arm.

“Can I touch?” Adora asks, glancing up at Catra’s face. Catra is gritting her teeth and breathing heavily, staring at the marks on her own arm. Adora reaches out, cupping Catra’s cheek gently. Catra’s eyes jump to Adora’s. She looks panicked. “Hey,” Adora says, slowly and firmly. “Do you want to put it back on? Do you want to stop?” She holds Catra’s gaze, and Catra’s breathing slows down.

“No,” Catra says. She sound shaky, but sure. “No, leave it off. I trust you.”

“Okay,” Adora says. She pulls the sleeve off of Catra’s wrist and drops it to the floor beside them.

“You can—you can touch,” Catra says. Adora hesitates, makes eye contact with her to make sure she means it. Catra meets her gaze, unflinching and confident, and Adora looks back down at the scars. She runs her hand over them, not lingering too long on any one mark. They’re rougher than the skin around them, and raised slightly, but that’s about it. They’re just another part of Catra.

Adora looks back up at Catra’s face. The playful, fast-paced mood from before is gone now, and she doesn’t crave its return. The intensity is still there, though; if anything, it’s gotten stronger. Adora has never wanted so badly in her life.

She leans in and kisses Catra. Gently, this time; it would almost be chaste if they weren’t both shirtless. When she pulls away, she rests their foreheads together, and Catra gasps quietly as a few tears escape. Adora isn't sure what caused them, but she doesn’t think too much on it. She just reaches up and wipes them away, touching Catra as gently as she possibly can.

“Still okay?” Adora asks once Catra’s breathing has settled again. “That was pretty intense. We can stop if you need to.” Catra lifts her head away from Adora’s and shakes her head slightly.

“No,” she says. “I want to.”

“Okay,” Adora says, smiling. “Me, too.” She reaches for the bottom of Catra’s chest binder, then pauses, frowning. The thing looks kind of impossible to take off. Catra snorts, amused at what Adora assumes is a very confused expression on her face.

“Maybe I should take care of that,” Catra says.

“Yeah, probably.” Adora knows when to admit defeat. She leans back on her elbows, giving Catra space to do her thing. Catra grabs the bottom of the binder and peels it upwards and over her head in one smooth motion. She casts it to the side when she’s done, and it joins a growing pile of clothes on the floor.

“Now,” Catra says, leaning down towards Adora with a predatory grin. “I think we were doing something.”


grayskull city, october 2018

 

Catra wakes up slowly. Her head is pounding, but it feels…distant, like it’s happening somewhere else. Her right arm feels warmer than the rest of her body. When her eyes drift open, it’s to a white ceiling and a dimly lit room. She takes a deep, slow breath as she remembers the car accident, crawling away from the wreck, remembering her art and going back…a ball of light and fire, and then heat, and then darkness.

“You’re awake.” The voice knocks the wind out of Catra. Slowly, eyes wide, she turns her head.

“Ms. Weaver,” Catra whispers. Her voice comes out as a croak. In a chair at her bedside, Ms. Weaver looks at her with that perfectly familiar disappointed expression.

“You crashed your car,” Ms. Weaver says, tone flat. “It appears that soon after the crash, the wreck was struck by lightning. You were caught in the fire.” Caught in the fire? Catra shifts, tries to sit up, but her body doesn’t want to cooperate. She looks down, trying to take account of her injuries.

“How badly…” Catra’s throat rasps and her voice dies. She doesn’t hurt much, which she imagines is due to the IV in her left hand, but she can still feel all of her limbs. She can’t be that badly hurt, can she?

“Your arm was severely burnt,” Ms. Weaver says. “You probably have a concussion. Everything else is superficial.” Catra looks down at her arms. Her left is bare—scraped raw from crawling across the pavement, but otherwise undamaged. Her right…it’s covered in bandages as far as Catra can see. She wonders what lies beneath them.

“Why are you here?” Catra asks, wincing as the words scrape the inside of her throat.

“I’m listed as your emergency contact,” Ms. Weaver says. “You’ll want to change that before you leave.” She stands. “Speaking of which, I’ve already signed your discharge papers. You’ll be allowed to leave in the morning. I don’t expect to see you again.” Catra hears the subtext.

Don’t come back.

Ms. Weaver walks towards the sliding glass doors on the other side of the room. Catra watches her, head buzzing with the pain drugs and definite concussion. Ms. Weaver slides open the door. She pauses before stepping through and looks back at Catra.

“I paid your hospital bill,” she says. “You’re welcome.”

Ms. Weaver walks away.

Catra lets her head drop back down onto her pillow. She stares up at the tiled ceiling. The room is quiet and still, and the warmth in her right arm has become a burning itch.

She wishes Adora was here.

Unbidden, Catra starts to cry. She doesn’t sob or gasp for breath, but two steady trails of tears make their way down the sides of her face, into her hair. She doesn’t bother trying to move her arms and wipe them away. She’s too tired. She’s just so fucking tired.

There’s a quiet knock on the glass doors. Catra tilts her head to the side. Ms. Weaver had left the door open, and now someone else is standing in the doorway: a tall girl with short white hair, maybe a little older than Catra herself. She’s wearing khakis, a nondescript dark red polo shirt, and a concerned expression.

“Hi,” the girl says. “Uh…are you okay?” Catra looks back up at the ceiling.

“Who are you?” she asks. In her peripheral vision, she can see the girl enter the room.

“I’m Scorpia,” she says. “Do you need me to call a nurse? Are you in pain?” Catra snorts. That’s a complicated question.

“I’m fine,” she says. “I just woke up.”

“Okay, we should definitely get a nurse, then,” Scorpia says. She hurries across the room and hits a button on the side of Catra’s bed that Catra hadn’t noticed before. “It’ll probably be a few minutes. I can’t give you painkillers or anything, I’m just a volunteer. Pretty much all we do is hand out jello and talk to people, but if you want to talk to me while we wait? If that’d keep your mind off of it?” There are way too many words there for Catra to process right now.

“I don’t hurt,” she says, which is mostly true. Her head aches, but not nearly as bad as it had before. Her arm is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt. Her body isn’t the reason she’s crying. “I just…don’t know what to do.”

“Oh.” Scorpia looks confused, which makes for two of them. “Okay, well, do you wanna tell me about it? I’m a pretty good listener.” Catra considers it. She looks over at Scorpia, who is sitting in the chair Ms. Weaver had vacated now. Scorpia meets Catra’s gaze, and her eyes are open and honest in a way that reminds Catra uncomfortably of Adora.

Fuck it. What does Catra have left to lose?

“I turn eighteen tomorrow,” Catra begins. “And there isn’t anyone left in the world who cares about me.”


adora’s dorm room, october 2020

 

Adora is humming quietly. Catra doesn’t recognize the tune, and Adora’s only humming intermittently anyway, in between planting gentle kisses on the scars on Catra’s right arm. Every time, Catra half-flinches. She had told Adora she could touch them, and it hadn’t bothered her while they were fucking, but now, Adora is wrapped around Catra’s back, tracing aimless patterns on Catra’s stomach with her fingertips and kissing Catra’s scars. Catra doesn’t not like it, but it’s—it makes her feel too many things. It makes her heart twist in a way that it shouldn’t after a casual hookup.

The sex, also, had been too…intimate. Too gentle. Adora had held Catra too softly, whispered phrases that were too kind and too awed in her ear. Catra knows that that’s just what Adora is like; it’s probably just her constant need to make everyone around her happy manifesting itself. It had still made Catra cry.

And Adora had been gentle about that, too, pausing and kissing Catra chastely, brushing her tears away until Catra had calmed down.

Adora plants another soft kiss on the worst of Catra’s scars, the angry red patch just below where her bicep meets her shoulder, and Catra can’t stand it anymore. She can’t let Adora treat her like she loves her. Catra turns over in Adora’s arms, pressing her scarred arm into the mattress where Adora can’t reach it.

“Hey,” Adora says, smiling when Catra meets her eyes. Catra feels her face get hot.

“Hey,” she says back, less giddy than Adora and more shy. Adora is undeterred. She just shifts forward, kissing the patch of freckles on one of Catra’s cheeks. Catra can’t stop the smile the kiss provokes, and Adora grins back, resting their foreheads together and just looking at Catra. “What?” Catra asks after a few moments of uninterrupted staring. Adora turns a bit pink.

“Sorry,” she says. “You just—you’re beautiful.” She doesn’t stop staring. Catra is the one to break eye contact, turning her face into the pillow.

“You get this sappy with all your hookups?” she asks. Adora stiffens slightly, her body suddenly no longer relaxed and soft against Catra’s. She doesn’t say anything, and Catra is too afraid to look up from the pillow. She thinks she might’ve hurt Adora, and she hadn’t wanted that. She doesn’t want to make Adora feel unwanted, like Catra doesn’t appreciate the attention. the kindness. She just…can’t deal with how much she does want.

“You want some water or something?” Adora asks quietly after a moment, her body relaxing again. Her voice is just as soft as before, and Catra pulls her face out of the pillow, looking up at her. Adora is still smiling.

“Yeah, okay,” Catra murmurs. Adora leans in and kisses Catra for real. Catra can feel Adora smiling into it, and every feeling she’s trying to push down into her stomach surges up into her heart again. Then Adora is pulling away and slipping out of bed. Catra closes her eyes for a moment, gathering herself together before she opens them. She watches Adora walk across the room, headed for the small fridge, and allows herself to indulge, eyeing Adora’s perfect skin, her defined muscles, her—

—giant tattoo that stretches down her back.

“Holy fucking shit, Adora,” Catra says, sitting up. “Is that what I think it is?” Adora turns immediately, alarmed by Catra’s sharp tone.

“What?” she asks, then her eyes widen slightly as she realizes what’s going on. “Oh! Right. Uh…” She turns again, so that Catra can see the tattoo. “It’s…yeah, it’s what you think it is.”

Tattooed down Adora’s back is the Sword of Protection. She-Ra’s magic weapon. The hilt begins below Adora’s hairline on the back of her neck, and the crossguard rests where her neck meets her shoulders—just below where a t-shirt would fall. The blade is drawn in detail, with strange, geometric etchings running down either side of Adora’s spine. It comes to a point just above Adora’s tailbone. It isn’t shaded or colored in, but the line work is detailed and flawlessly done. It must’ve cost a lot.

“That’s the—that’s She-Ra’s sword,” Catra says. Adora exhales slowly and turns around. She walks back over to the bed and sits down on the edge, facing away from Catra.

“The Sword of Protection,” Adora murmurs. Catra reaches out, tracing the lines of the tattoo with her fingertips. “I got it when I was eighteen, right after I finished high school. Bow and Glimmer took turns coming with me to get it, since it took a couple sessions.”

“That’s why they reacted so weird,” Catra realizes. “When I first came over and I told them about She-Ra. They freaked when I told them about the sword.”

“Yeah.” Adora looks over her shoulder at Catra. “I didn’t tell them what it was from. I…haven’t really told them anything about…what it was like for us. In the Fright Zone, like I said before, but…in that house, specifically.”

“I picked up on that,” Catra says. Absently, she follows one of the geometric shapes beneath Adora’s shoulder blade with a fingertip, and enjoys the way Adora shivers beneath her touch. “I get why. They’re very…shiny, I guess. Don’t wanna make ‘em sad.”

“Something like that.” Adora goes quiet, and Catra finishes tracing the tattoo with her fingers. She lets her hand drop to the mattress and examines the tattoo instead. She wonders how she didn’t recognize it earlier, just from the bit of the hilt that’s always visible beneath Adora’s ponytail. It’s intimately familiar.

“Who did the design?” Catra asks. “It’s really close to how we used to imagine it.” Adora winces.

“Um,” she says. “Actually…” She grabs her denim shorts from the floor and digs her wallet out of them. Perplexed, Catra watches as Adora pulls a folded piece of paper out and hands it over. Catra unfolds it.

It’s notebook paper, though the blue lines are faded and wrinkled. In the center of the paper, taking up most of the page, is the same sword that’s tattooed on Adora’s back. Not only that—it’s the same picture of the sword. Down to the nonsense shapes drawn down the sides. Adora’s tattoo is sketched out in blue ballpoint on this old, crumpled bit of notebook paper. In the corner of the page is a note. It says Here you go, you giant nerd.

In Catra’s handwriting.

“You drew it,” Adora says. “When we were twelve.” Wordlessly, Catra holds out the paper, and Adora takes it back. “I kept the drawing when I left,” she says. “I know I probably should’ve, like, asked you for permission before I got your art tattooed on me, but—“

“Adora,” Catra interrupts. “I’m not worried about permission. I just—you got my drawing from a game we used to play tattooed on you. That’s a lot.”

“…Right,” Adora says. “I mean, it was—it is kinda about you. But mostly not.”

“Explain.” Catra can’t—she can’t—Adora got a tattoo for her.

“Okay.” Carefully, gently, Adora folds the paper back up and slips it back into her wallet. Where it’s been since they were twelve, apparently. “So, Mara died during my senior year. In January. I knew that I wanted something to remember her by, and I guess I had started thinking of her as…my She-Ra, kind of. She-Ra was what I wanted to be for you, to protect you, and Mara did that for me. She saved me, Catra.” Catra grits her teeth against the familiar ache that comes with the reminder that someone saved Adora. Someone wanted Adora.

Nobody had wanted Catra.

“So, it’s for Mara,” Adora says. “And it’s for me, too. It’s a reminder of who I want to be and what I want to do for other people. And it’s…for you. For where I came from. Who I came from.” She looks over at Catra, so earnest that it makes Catra flinch. “I didn’t think I would ever see you again. I thought this was going to be the closest I would get.” Catra looks away, unable to look Adora’s honesty in the face.

“I’d take that water, now,” she says. Adora accepts the deflection. She gets up and heads across the room to the mini fridge. Catra scoots up the bed to sit against the wall, tipping her head back as she watches Adora dig through the fridge.

Adora got a tattoo for me. That’s just—too much to deal with right now. It’s almost four in the morning, for fuck’s sake. She can try to process her emotions healthily tomorrow.

Adora reemerges from the fridge with a bottle of water and a bottle of bright blue Gatorade. Unable to help herself, Catra cackles.

“You’re such a fucking jock,” she says, continuing to laugh even as Adora frowns at her. “Who keeps Gatorade in their fridge? Just, casually? Do you have protein shakes in there, too? Do you buy the sixty-four bottle packs from Costco?”

“The protein shakes are Bow’s,” Adora says defensively, which sets Catra off again. It’s just too funny. Her best friend, the girl who read Spider-Man comics religiously until she was fifteen, who had a horse girl phase in middle school, who jumped interests from superheroes to Victorian-era romance novels in tenth grade, is a gym rat.

“You’re such a bitch,” Adora says as she settles into bed beside Catra and hands her the water bottle. Any bite the words could’ve had is immediately negated by by Adora leaning over and kissing Catra on the cheek. “It’s cute.” The compliment sets off another string of weird feelings in Catra’s stomach. She just takes a sip of her water and hopes they go away soon.

She can’t afford to feel those things for Adora. Not again.


grayskull city, may 2019

 

There’s a quiet knock on the bathroom doorframe. Catra looks up from where she’s rubbing an anti-scarring cream into her right arm and sees Scorpia, hovering uncertainly just beyond the threshold.

“Hey, wildcat,” she says. Catra groans at the nickname. She really wishes Scorpia would just call her Catra—or at least find a nickname that doesn’t make her cringe. “Can I help with that?” She phrases it like she’s asking for permission, rather than asking if Catra needs help. Catra notices the difference. In the three months they’ve been living together, since Catra—having lost her job before starting it, since she couldn’t work right after the accident—lost her old place, Scorpia has more or less figured Catra out.

“Sure,” Catra says. She rinses her hands off in the sink and hands the bottle of ointment to Scorpia, leaning back against the sink and extending her arm. The burns are scarred over, now—even the worst one just below her shoulder. The doctors don’t think the scars will ever go away, but Catra is doing her best to make them fade. She doesn’t care that they’re ugly, really; she doesn’t even care when people stare at them. She’s just sick of people asking, like they’re entitled to her life story because her arm is a little fucked up.

“How’s Entrapta doing?” Catra asks as Scorpia starts to rub the ointment into the scars on her forearm. She knows Scorpia had been out getting coffee with Entrapta. Catra’s only met her once or twice, but Scorpia’s close with her.

“She’s good!” Scorpia rotates Catra’s arm, getting the much-lighter marks on the inside of her forearm. “Yeah, she told me all about her latest robot. Apparently her name is Emily and she’s a good friend.” Catra decides not to comment on Entrapta’s habit of befriending her robots. She imagines it comes from being a child prodigy who’s been more or less locked in a robotics lab since she was nine. “She’s actually thinking about moving.”

“Moving?” Catra says. “Where? Why?”

“Apparently she got a job offer,” Scorpia says. “The University of Bright Moon is offering her a lot of money to do research there. Apparently that basically means she gets paid to build whatever she wants? Plus, it’s away from her parents, so…” She doesn’t finish the sentence, but Catra understands. She’s never met Entrapta’s parents, but if Entrapta has been metaphorically locked in a lab for twelve years, it’s her parents who hold the key.

“Sounds pretty great,” Catra says, her mind drifting. Bright Moon. Where Adora is. Probably, at least; she might’ve left for college, but Catra doubts it. Adora had been so enamored with the idea of Bright Moon before she moved. Catra can’t imagine that changed after she moved there. Adora’s probably attending UBM, actually.

“Yeah,” Scorpia says. “I was thinking that we could go with her.” Catra tenses, pulling her arm out of Scorpia’s grasp.

“Go with her?” Catra says. “To Bright Moon? Why?”

“I mean…” Scorpia shrugs. “It’s not like we have a whole lot keeping us here, right? My only friends are you and Entrapta. Neither of you have jobs here, and my volunteer position ends in a couple weeks. So why not? I can get us all a place in Bright Moon.” Catra had learned shortly after leaving the hospital that first, horrible night that Scorpia has a frankly absurd amount of money, all inherited from some dead relative. She could could rent them a nice place in a good part of town.

“I hate Bright Moon,” Catra says, looking away.

“What? Why?” Scorpia asks. “It’s such a nice city! They have all those nice parks, and the Whispering Woods are right nearby, and—“

“I’ve never been,” Catra interrupts. “I don’t—it’s not the city that I hate. It’s…” She looks back over at Scorpia. Scorpia is staring at her with wide, curious eyes. Catra doesn’t know if she can trust her with this, with her past. But…she’s been living with Scorpia for months, and every time she’s reached out to lean on her, Scorpia has been there. Without fail. When Catra is bitchy, or unfair, or lashes out, Scorpia is there.

She’s a better friend than I deserve.

“Hey,” Scorpia says. “We don’t have to move, Catra. I just thought it could be fun.” And now she’s trying to let it go, make Catra comfortable again.

“There’s…a girl in Bright Moon,” Catra says. “I had a friend back in foster care. Adora. She’s…I don’t know. She was mine.” She takes a breath. “And she left. She moved to Bright Moon with her sister and I…I told her I never wanted to see her again.”

“And you’re worried about running into her,” Scorpia says. Catra nods. “It’s a really big city, Catra. Chances are—“

“I don’t care about chances.” Catra shakes her head firmly. “Chances were against us being in the same group home, chances were against us being there for so long, chances were against her putting up with me. It’s just how the world works. It puts us together. If there’s a chance of me seeing her, I will.”

“Okay,” Scorpia says, apparently not going to question Catra’s extremely faulty logic. “But—just for a minute. If she wasn’t a factor, if she didn’t live there, would you go?”

“Yeah,” Catra says immediately. “Of course. Why would I want to stay here?” She hates Grayskull. She’s moved out of the Fright Zone now, into an area of the city where people don’t often get stabbed, but she still hates it. It’s smoggy, and crowded, and it rains too much.

“So, I mean, it’s up to you,” Scorpia says. “But if you would be happier somewhere else, I don’t think you should let Adora hold you back.” Catra flinches. She hasn’t heard Adora’s name from someone else’s mouth in months. It’s an unwelcome reminder that Adora is real, that she’s out there somewhere, still living her life without Catra in it. That she isn’t just a distant, surreal figure in Catra’s mind, a memory to be angry with and to miss. But on the other hand…Scorpia is right. Catra spent ten years of her life making decisions with, because of, or for Adora. It’s high time she started making them for herself.

“Okay,” Catra says. “Okay, let’s move to Bright Moon with Entrapta. Fuck Adora. I wanna be happy.” Scorpia grins.

“I would totally hug you right now if your arm wasn’t all greasy,” she says. “But I will hug you later.”

“That a threat or a promise?” Scorpia just laughs and picks up the scar ointment from the counter.

“I’ll clean up in here,” she says. “Can you order us dinner? Ooh, can we get Indian food from that place by the hospital?”

“I don’t know why you’re asking me,” Catra calls over her shoulder as she wanders out of the bathroom. “You’re paying.” She heads out into the living room to look for the takeout menu they had printed out a few weeks before.

Catra feels…lighter. She’s been carrying around Adora’s ghost for almost three years. It was her only comfort in that last year in Ms. Weaver’s house. Even on the worst nights, sleeping in the third floor room, she could return to the memories of their childhood, the better memories of their first two years in high school, when Catra was first falling in love. But Catra doesn’t need that comfort anymore, and carrying around her feelings for Adora every day when there was nothing left to be gained from them has left Catra exhausted.

Scorpia is right. It’s time for Catra to let go. It’s not like she’s ever going to see Adora again.


adora’s dorm room, october 2020

 

Catra sleeps over. It would be stupid to get an Uber back to her apartment; it would be morning by the time she got back. More morning than it already is, at least. Instead, she borrows a tank top and shorts from Adora—just in case Bow and Glimmer get back while she and Adora are still sleeping; she doesn’t think she’s close enough with either of them for them to see her naked—and curls up in Adora’s window-bed. Adora crawls in after her in her own pajamas, and Catra can’t resist. She folds herself into Adora’s arms, resting her head on Adora’s chest. Adora holds her without complaint. Catra falls asleep to the steady, distant sound of a heartbeat beneath her ear.

She doesn’t get enough sleep. That’s more or less guaranteed, since they go to bed at nearly five in the morning, but she’s surprised by how rested she does feel by the time her eyes drift open again and find Adora lying beside her, staring at her.

“Good morning,” Adora whispers, thoroughly unashamed of being caught staring. Catra rolls slowly onto her back and stretches, pushing her hands far above her head and pointing her toes.

“Morning,” she says to Adora once she relaxes back onto the bed. “No roommates yet?”

“Nope,” Adora says. “Bow texted a few minutes ago. They just woke up, and they’re going to have breakfast before coming back. We have awhile.”

“Cool.” Catra thinks about sitting up, but decides against it. She settles on her back and lolls her head to the side, meeting Adora’s gaze. If Adora wants to stare, Catra can, too.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Adora says after a moment, turning pink. Catra laughs.

“Really?” she says. “You’re shy now? After you—“ Adora lashes out, trying to clamp her hand over Catra’s mouth. It effectively cuts off Catra’s words, but only because she starts laughing as she dodges Adora’s flailing hands. Catra reaches out, grabbing at Adora’s face in return, and almost immediately, they’re wrestling in the bed, like they used to constantly as children.

Only now, Adora has a significant advantage in the muscle mass department. She pins Catra easily, and Catra doesn’t try too hard to get out of it. She lets Adora grab her wrists and press them down against the pillow by her head. She just grins up at Adora instead of fighting, enjoying the sight above her: Adora, hair loose and glowing in the morning sunlight coming in through the blinds, smiling down at Catra.

“Can I kiss you?” Adora asks after a moment. Catra almost makes another smart comment about Adora being shy, but hesitates before it can escape. There’s more to that question than just a kiss. It’s a question about what they’re doing, here. If Adora can just kiss Catra because she feels like it, or if there are rules.

“Are you trying to start something?” Catra asks, raising her eyebrows. Adora’s hesitant smile becomes a confused frown.

“Do I need to be?” she asks. Catra feels her own smile slip away, and Adora picks up on the shift in mood. She releases Catra’s wrists and sits up, getting off of her. Catra sits up as well, drawing her knees up to her chest. “Did I do something wrong?” Adora asks. “Did you not…” She trails off. Catra sighs. Communication is important, she reminds herself. Just because she doesn’t want to talk about this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

“What do you want here, Adora?” Catra says. “What do you want this to mean?”

“I…” Adora frowns, working her jaw soundlessly for a moment, like she’s trying to decipher something. Then her face clears. “You called it a hookup,” she says.

“You get how that’s not an answer, right?” Catra says, frowning. “I asked what you want.” She doesn’t know what she wants to hear. If it’s a hookup, it’s easy. They go back to being friends. Catra goes back to policing her emotions around Adora, keeping them platonic, simple, safe. If Adora wants something more…

“That’s what I want,” Adora says, nodding decisively. “I—I wanted to hook up. And I want to keep being friends again, too.”

“Okay,” Catra says, relieved and heartbroken. “Cool. So you probably shouldn’t kiss me again.” Adora’s face falls.

“That’s—“ She hesitates, clears her throat. “Maybe we could…do, like, a friends with benefits thing? Because I—I care about being your friend again more than anything, Catra. But I also…want to kiss you again.” Catra hesitates. This is dangerous territory for her. She knows that. Having sex with Adora last night had catapulted Catra straight back into all the feelings she had done her best to leave behind. Feelings that could ruin their friendship a second time. But…it had also been indescribably good—being that close to Adora, holding her in the afterglow. It’s something that Catra wants to feel again.

“Okay,” Catra says. She can do this. She can be Adora’s friend, and sleep in her bed, and not fall in love with her again. She’s strong enough now.

“Okay,” Adora says, smiling. She’s still glowing in the sunlight, and her gray tank top is slipping down her shoulders, and Catra is enraptured.

“In the spirit of benefits,” Catra manages to say. “I think you should come over here.”

Chapter Text

catra, scorpia, and entrapta’s apartment, november 2020

 

“Adora, I asked for the rosemary,” Catra says. Adora narrows her eyes, staring determinedly into the spice cabinet in Catra’s kitchen. Rosemary. What does rosemary look like? Is that a powder? “Adora?”

“Nothing is labelled, okay?” Adora says, admitting defeat. She turns around to look at Catra where she stands by the stove. Catra shoots Adora a judgmental look.

“And you don’t know what rosemary looks like?” she asks. Adora pouts. Catra rolls her eyes. “That’s not even, like, a weird one. That’s literally a completely normal herb.”

“Listen,” Adora says. “I have a meal plan, okay, and Mara never made me learn to cook.” She surprises herself with how easy it is to mention her sister. Catra hums quietly in response.

“And Shadow Weaver never put you on dinner duty,” Catra says. Adora blinks in surprise at the nickname. Catra doesn’t even seem to realize she’s said it, and Adora decides not to bring attention to it.

“No,” Adora says. “She didn’t.” They still haven’t talked about their past—not in any detail, at least, and certainly not about the end. Not about the things they said to each other before Adora left to live with Mara. Adora doesn’t know how to feel about it at all.

Catra abandons the stove for a moment. She steps over to the spice cabinet, pressing her body up against Adora’s as she reaches over Adora’s shoulder to grab the rosemary. Adora’s mind goes blank. It only takes Catra a moment to grab the bottle she needs, but when she steps back, Adora is turning pink. Catra smirks at her.

“Seriously?” she says. “That makes you blush? We literally had sex an hour ago, Adora.” Adora’s face gets warmer.

“Shut up,” she mutters, without any real heat. Catra just laughs at her, which is a sound Adora hears all the time these days, but still can’t listen to without her heart skipping a beat.

“You’re an idiot,” Catra tells her, darting in to kiss Adora on the cheek before she turns back to the stove. Adora reaches up, touching her face with her fingertips. She doesn’t know how to feel about that, either. They’ve hung out practically every day in the past two weeks, and hooked up three times—not counting that first time on Halloween—and Adora has started to figure out the rules of Catra’s affection. They can hold hands, hug, even cuddle any time, without any intention of going further, but Catra will only kiss Adora when it’s leading into something more. In the hours afterwards, though, in which they’re usually cuddling or eating, Catra gets a bit more affectionate. She’ll do things like kiss her on the cheek or press their bodies together for no other reason than to fluster Adora—things that she normally wouldn’t do when they’re just hanging out. It doesn’t…not make sense. In Adora’s head, she understands the silent rules. But her emotions still get tangled up, especially when hooking up while Catra’s roommates are out turns into cooking dinner together. When is she allowed to be attracted to Catra? When is she allowed to want to kiss her? She doesn’t want to screw up.

The front door opens, and someone shouts, “I’m home!” Adora freezes in place. She looks over at Catra, expecting to be either hidden or kicked out. Adora isn’t supposed to meet Catra’s friends. But Catra barely even looks up from the stove.

“Hey, Scorpia,” she calls over her shoulder. “Did you grab the groceries I asked for?”

“Sure did!” A figure comes around the corner into the kitchen—the tall, white-haired girl that Adora recognizes from Catra’s Instagram, carrying a bunch of reusable fabric grocery bags. “I couldn’t find the usual kind of tofu, but I figured since you aren’t using it tonight—“ Scorpia freezes in place, finally spotting Adora.

“Uh,” Adora says. “Hi.”

“Oh right,” Catra says. She turns away from the stove for a moment. “Scorpia, this is Adora.”

“Oh,” Scorpia says. “Oh.” Adora doesn’t know what to say to that. Apparently, Scorpia has heard about her.

“Yeah.” Catra walks over and grabs one of the bags from Scorpia. “Adora, this is Scorpia, my roommate.”

“And best friend!” Scorpia adds. Catra scoffs loudly, but doesn’t protest the label. Against her will, Adora feels a pang of jealousy. I used to be her best friend. She shoves it away, internally embarrassed at it. They’re not in middle school. Catra is allowed to have more than one friend.

“Nice to meet you,” Adora says, smiling politely. She isn’t sure if this is the kind of situation that calls for a handshake, or a nod, or if she should just wave awkwardly from her corner of the kitchen.

Scorpia solves the problem by crossing the kitchen and pulling Adora into a hug.

“This is so cool!” Scorpia say as Adora’s feet lift off of the ground. “Oh man, it’s so nice to finally have a face to the name! Catra’s talked all about you since you guys started hanging out again—“

“Scorpia,” Catra interrupts. “Put her down. Let her breathe.”

“Oh!” Scorpia sets Adora back on the ground and steps back. Adora tries not to gasp for breath too desperately. “Sorry,” Scorpia says. “I’m a hugger.” Clearly. Adora coughs.

“That’s cool,” she says. “What has Catra told you about me?” Adora wants revenge for the first time Catra met Bow and Glimmer, when Catra had gotten all smug over Adora telling them a few old stories.

“Scorpia,” Catra says, before Scorpia can respond to Adora’s question. “Can you call Entrapta and try to drag her home for dinner tonight? It’ll be ready in an hour or so, and I’m putting too much work into this for her to miss it for her robots.”

“Sure!” Scorpia says. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Are you staying for dinner, Adora?”

“Uh…” Adora glances at Catra. She isn’t sure if she’s allowed. Catra doesn’t seem upset that Adora has met Scorpia, but there’s a difference between running into one of Catra’s roommates and being invited to dinner with her best friends.

“If you want,” Catra says, meeting Adora’s gaze. The answer feels…loaded. Catra is using her double-meaning tone, but Adora doesn’t know what the layers are. She doesn’t know what minefields she’ll walk into no matter what she says.

“Okay,” Adora says after a moment. “I’ll stay. It smells too good in here to leave.” Catra smiles slightly and turns back to the stove.

“Sounds great!” Scorpia says, and wanders out of the kitchen, leaving the groceries on the counter. Catra steps away from the stove and pushes them to one side, clearing a space. She whips out a cutting board and a knife and sets them in the spot before turning to Adora.

“Stir or chop,” Catra says, gesturing between the stove and the cutting board. Adora doesn’t even hesitate.

“Chop,” she says, going for the knife. Catra laughs at her.

“Still obsessed with sharp objects?” Catra asks, handing Adora several very large carrots. “Small coins, try to make them the same width.”

“I don’t know what you expected,” Adora says. “My Instagram username is sword_lesbian.” Catra just laughs again and shakes her head, turning back to the stove. Adora starts her own work, chopping the carrots. A peaceful silence settles over the kitchen. Whatever Catra is creating on the stove simmers. Adora is just about to speak, say something to break the growing, painful intimacy of the moment, when Catra starts to hum.

Adora vaguely recognizes the tune. She can’t place it, but it reminds her of high school—maybe they listened to it back then. What she does recognize, though, is the habit. Catra always hums to herself when she’s happy. Adora used to fall asleep to the sound.

All of a sudden, Adora feels everything. She’s with Catra again, and they’re standing in the kind of comfortable quiet that takes years to develop. The room is warm, and Catra is humming. Adora would be perfectly happy if she could stay right here for the rest of her life.

That isn’t a thing she’s supposed to feel anymore.

“Fuck!” Adora drops the knife on the counter, grabbing at her thumb. She pulls it away from the cutting board immediately, not wanting the blood that’s already welling up to get onto the food.

“What?” Catra says, turning, and Adora immediately regrets her outburst, because Catra isn’t humming anymore. Catra’s eyes fall to Adora’s bleeding thumb. “Adora, what did you do?”

“Cut myself,” Adora says, peering at her thumb. It’s bleeding a lot.

“Yeah, obviously,” Catra says. With a deep sigh, she shuts the stove off. “Okay, come on. There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom. Let’s get you cleaned up.” Adora cups her other hand beneath her thumb, trying to catch the blood before it drips onto Catra’s floor. They cut through the living room to the bathroom. The door is open, and when Catra hits the light switch, a small, blue-grey form shoots across the floor and out the door.

“You have a cat?” Adora asks, glancing over her shoulder as the cat disappears into Catra’s bedroom. “How come I’ve never met it before?”

“That’s Melog,” Catra says, opening a cabinet and grabbing a first aid kit. “He’s shy. Don’t take it personally. Now c’mon. Sit.” She points at the toilet lid. Adora sits down and holds up her thumb, which now has a concerning amount of blood on it. “For someone who loves swords, you’re shit with knives,” Catra comments as she grabs a piece of gauze and starts wiping away the blood.

“They’re two completely different things.”

“A knife is just a tiny sword.” Catra drops the gauze in the trash can and pulls Adora’s hand over the sink to clean the cut.

“Okay, sure,” Adora says, “but—“ You were humming and it reminded me of home and made me realize that I’m falling for you again. “—uh…” She escapes trying to think of an excuse when Catra turns the water on. Adora hisses as it hits the cut.

“Sorry,” Catra says. “Gotta clean it.” Adora nods, gritting her teeth. Finally, Catra closes the faucet, and Adora exhales in relief. Catra grabs another piece of gauze and dries the cut quickly. She says nothing as she wraps it in a bandage. She’s quick with her movements, but still gentle, and it makes Adora’s chest tighten with emotion. Catra hasn’t taken care of her in…a very long time. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it.

“All done,” Catra says, a tone in her voice that Adora can’t identify. She looks up from Adora’s hand to meet her eyes. “You good?”

“Yeah,” Adora says, half-whispers, unable to ignore the intimacy of the moment, the way Catra is still holding her hand, how close those mismatched eyes are to her own. “I’m good.” Am I allowed to want to kiss you right now?

“Good,” Catra says. She hesitates for a moment, then kisses Adora’s palm. “I’m taking over knife duty. You can stir.” She lets go of Adora’s hand, and Adora can breathe again.

“I make one mistake,” Adora says. Catra just rolls her eyes and puts the first aid kit away. Adora’s hand is tingling where Catra kissed it, and she makes a fist, trying to hold the feeling tight. She doesn’t know when she’ll get to feel it again.


grayskull city, november 2014

 

“I can’t believe you got away with that,” Adora says, the moment they turn a corner and the school building disappears behind them. She looks over at Catra beside her. “How did you get away with that?” Catra just grins, that slightly unhinged smile that makes Adora’s stomach do backflips.

“Please,” she says. “Like anyone at that school is smart enough to pin it on me.”
“I mean, everyone knows what he did,” Adora says, her stomach twisting in an altogether different and unpleasant way. Coming to school and realizing that
everyone knew she was gay—something she’s only known for a few months—had…well, it hadn’t been the worst experience of her life, seeing who she’s lived with for the past eight years, but it had come close. “And nobody else would’ve done what you did for me.”

“It wasn’t because I like you,” Catra says. They make another turn, and they’re walking by the river now. It’s not the shortest route home from the high school, but they both like the river—even if it’s full of trash and lined with factories that have been abandoned since manufacturing moved overseas. Catra hops up onto the wide, low ledge that stands between the concrete footpath and the riverbank. “I’ve always wanted to break a car window with a baseball bat.” Adora laughs, even though it doesn’t seem like Catra is joking. They walk in silence for a bit. Catra sways back and forth as she walks on the ledge, swinging her feet out to the side before putting them back down. She’s humming quietly, which settles the last of the anxiety that’s been in Adora’s chest since she realized she’d been outed three days ago.

“How’d you know?” Adora finally asks. Catra glances at her.

“How’d I know what?” she asks, jumping over a gap in the ledge where a staircase cuts through it and leads down to the river.

“That it was true.” When Catra had found Adora crying in the bathroom that first, horrible day at school after the outing, she hadn’t asked if it was true. She had just held Adora close and asked who she needed to go after.

“I’m your best friend,” Catra says. “Of course I knew. Don’t you know?” Adora blinks

“Don’t I know what?”

“Seriously?” Catra stops walking and turns to look at her. “I’m gay, too.”

“What?” Adora says, staring at Catra. Catra makes a scoffing noise.

“You seriously didn’t know?” she asks. “I’m disappointed. You should know me better.” She doesn’t sound like she means it. They start walking again. Adora’s head is spinning.

Catra is gay. Adora had only realized she was gay because of the way Catra made her feel, because of the way her heart twisted when Catra crawled into her bed at night. Adora has had a crush on Catra since before she knew what a crush was. And Catra is gay, too.

Catra hops down from the ledge as they reach the turn they have to take away from the river. She bumps her shoulder into Adora’s.

“Pretty quiet there, princess,” she says. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Adora clears her throat. “Just…thanks. For breaking the car windows. For…looking out for me.” Catra gives her an odd look.

“You don’t have to thank me,” she says. “It was fun.” She smiles. You’re welcome, Adora translates mentally. Catra never says what she means, but luckily, Adora always knows anyway.


adora’s dorm room, november 2020

 

“I don’t understand how you drink that shit,” Catra says, eyeing the blue gatorade that Adora’s holding with distaste. “It’s like soda but with no redeeming qualities.”

“I am an athlete,” Adora says, pointing the bottle at Catra. Catra snorts in amusement. Adora’s cute, like this. She gets goofy sometimes after they hook up, and while Catra relentlessly mocks her for it, she secretly really likes it. It’s a side of Adora that most people don’t get to see. Adora is funny, sure, and perfectly willing to say or do dumb stuff to make her friends laugh, but only Catra gets this: truly, completely, unfiltered Adora.

“You sure are, babe,” Catra says. The pet name slips out before she can stop it. Adora’s eyes widen comically in response, and she just looks so cute that Catra can’t help but kiss her. She usually doesn’t, when it isn’t leading directly to sex, but they’re still naked in Adora’s bed, so Catra excuses it. It’s fine. It’s close enough. It won’t confuse things.

“Mm.” Adora makes a soft, satisfied noise as she pulls away, and Catra’s heart twists in response. Adora is looking at her with—with tenderness, and it’s confusing. This was supposed to be the easy route: hooking up, being friends, writing off the way Catra wants to see Adora all of the time as sexual attraction. This way, Catra could overwrite the memory that first night together, the way Adora had been so gentle with her, with the memories of meaningless, casual sex. And that had worked, for the most part—Catra has made sure every time they’ve hooked up since has been rough, purely physical, as impersonal as it could be with someone she’s known for fourteen years. That was what allowed Catra to invite Adora to dinner with Scorpia and Entrapta: the knowledge that they’re just having fun. Rebuilding their friendship, yes, but—there wasn’t the same risk anymore. Catra didn’t have to worry about falling so hard again. She’d slept with Adora, and it had meant nothing. She’d proved to herself that she could do this. She could do casual and simple. She could be friends with Adora without letting Adora become her world again.

Only now, Adora is smiling at her, so much kindness in her eyes that Catra aches with it.

Adora’s phone buzzes on the nightstand. She shifts away from Catra, setting down her drink so she can grab the phone, and Catra shifts backwards as well, putting space between them. The moment is broken, and she doesn’t want to risk it returning.

“Hello?” Adora says, pressing the phone to her ear. Catra can hear faint chattering on the other end of the line, but she can’t make out the words. She can watch Adora’s responses, though, and she sees tension appear in Adora’s face the moment the person on the phone starts talking. “Oh,” Adora says. She takes a deep breath. “Okay. Okay. Um, what can I do?” She listens for another moment, and her face falls even further. “How long do I have?” Pause. “I could come during Thanksgiving?” Pause. “Okay, I’ll—I could make it this weekend. If you’re sure.” Pause. “Thank you.” She hangs up and drops the phone on the mattress. Her hands are trembling as she presses them to her face and breathes slowly.

“Whoa,” Catra says, setting a hand on Adora’s shoulder. “Hey, what’s going on?” Adora shakes her head, rubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“It’s a long story,” she says, “and a lot to deal with.” She drops her hands to her lap, and Catra jolts when she sees that Adora is tearing up.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she whispers. She scoots closer on the bed and moves her hand from Adora’s shoulder to her cheek. “It’s—going to be okay. Do you want to talk about it?” Adora leans into Catra’s palm, meeting her gaze with glossy eyes that look more grey than blue in the dim light coming through the gaps around the blinds.

“Mara had a grandmother,” Adora says quietly. “On her dad’s side. We’re not related by blood. Her name is Razz. She’s eighty-seven and she’s—she has Alzheimer’s. Mara put her in assisted living about a year after I moved to Bright Moon. This summer I had to put her in hospice care. In Grayskull, since it’s cheaper there.” Catra’s heart sinks. “That was the hospice place on the phone. They…don’t think she has much time left.” Adora looks down. “If I want to see her, they said—this weekend could be my last chance.”

“Oh, fuck,” Catra mutters. “Adora…I’m sorry.” Adora nods and takes a shuddering breath. She wipes at her eyes, dashing away tears that hadn’t had a chance to fall yet. “Are you guys close?”

“Yeah.” Adora shifts, leaning into Catra’s side, and Catra wraps an arm around her, holding her tight. “She lived with us when I first moved. She was in the early stages back then. She seemed totally fine most of the time. We spent a lot of time together. Even after Mara put her in the home, we would go have brunch with her every weekend. She couldn’t tell us apart half the time, but it didn’t matter. We had fun.”

“I’m sorry,” Catra says again. She doesn’t know what else to say. She’s never experienced anything like what Adora is describing. “Are you going to go see her?”

“I don’t know,” Adora whispers. “I should, I know I should. She deserves that. Even if she doesn’t recognize me. Right?” Catra shakes her head, speechless. She doesn’t know. “I just…I don’t want to remember her that way.” Adora pulls her knees up to her chest and clutches at her own legs, trying to hold herself together. “I wanna remember—baking pies together and family dinners and her giving me shit for how miserable I was in the dress I wore to junior prom. I don’t wanna know what she looks like while she’s dying.” Catra wraps her other arm around Adora, too, hugging her as tightly as she can.

“I don’t know what you should do,” Catra whispers. “I don’t know. But…whatever you decide, I’ve got you.” Adora leans into Catra’s embrace, and they shift sideways, until Catra is lying on her back and Adora is curled up against her chest.

“Thank you, Catra,” Adora whispers. Catra kisses the top of her head gently.

“Of course,” Catra says. “Just tell me if there’s anything I can do.” She runs her hands through Adora’s hair, running her nails lightly over her scalp the way Adora had always enjoyed when they were kids. Adora sighs softly at the feeling, and Catra feels it when she finally relaxes, going limp against Catra’s body.

“I think I’ll go,” Adora says after awhile. “I…I want to see her again.” Catra hums quietly in acknowledgement. She isn’t sure what to say. “Can I…ask you something, though?”

“Yeah,” Catra says. Adora shifts, lifting her head from Catra’s chest to look her in the eye.

“Would you come with me?” she asks. Catra stiffens, her hands pausing in Adora’s hair. “I just—I hate going back to Grayskull, and I think—I think I’ll want someone there when I see Razz.” Catra exhales slowly.

“Adora…” She looks away, unable to meet Adora’s pleading gaze. “Would you really want me there? I don’t know Razz. I don’t know anything about your life after…” She doesn’t finish the sentence. “Maybe you should ask Glimmer or Bow.”

“No.” Adora shakes her head. “They would understand about Razz, but you’re—you’re kinda my best friend, Catra.”

“I am?” Catra asks. The words make her insides twist. “Even after…” All this time, how things ended last time, the people you’ve found who love you better than I do.

“Of course,” Adora says. “I don’t want anyone else back in that city with me.” She smiles hesitantly up at Catra. “So…would you?”

“…Okay,” Catra says. “Okay. I’ll go with you.” Adora smiles wider and shifts upwards. She presses a kiss to Catra’s mouth before Catra can stop her, and it—it confuses.

“Different, way smaller favor?” Adora says, moving back down and settling her head on Catra’s chest once again. Catra mumbles something in response. She can’t hear it over the pounding of her own heart in her ears, but it must be an affirmative, because Adora says, “Would you hum for me? I’m kind of…” She lifts a hand, and Catra sees that she’s trembling slightly. The phone call must’ve set off her anxiety.

“Yeah, I can,” Catra says. She’s been easing Adora out of anxiety attacks since they were in middle school. It’s been years, but all her old habits are still there like muscle memory, waiting to be used.

“Thank you,” Adora whispers. Catra says nothing. She starts running her hands through Adora’s hair again and picks a random tune, some half-remembered song that was on the radio when they were kids. She hums quietly, and Adora presses closer to her chest, like she’s trying to feel it, as well as hear it.

Eventually, Adora’s breathing becomes slow and quiet. She’ll be embarrassed later that she fell asleep, even though she inevitably does when Catra hums for her. Catra lets the tune die, listening to Adora’s quiet breathing instead.

Adora had kissed her, and it hadn’t been a lead-up to sex, or an indulgence in the afterglow. It had been—a thank you? Catra isn’t sure. But no matter what it meant, Catra still felt the pull. That deep-seated tug in her chest, always reaching out for Adora. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction. Catra has been lying to herself, saying it does.

The only thing it’s about is Adora.


an empty parking lot in bright moon, may 2017

 

“Clutch in,” Mara instructs. Adora hesitantly obeys, reaching out with her left foot and pushing in the third pedal to the left at her feet. Mara gives her an encouraging smile, and Adora smiles back nervously. “Other foot on the brake while you turn the car on, okay?” Adora tries to look down at her feet—which is a hopeless pursuit, of course; the only thing she can see from her angle in the driver’s seat is the steering wheel. “Adora,” Mara says, drawing Adora’s attention back up. “You’re gonna screw this up, okay? That’s fine. It takes awhile to get used to.”

“I know,” Adora says, even as the notion makes her shudder internally. She’s not supposed to mess things up. She finds the brake pedal with her right foot and pushes it in.

“Okay,” Mara says. “Turn the key.” Adora does. The engine catches. It’s an old car, so it doesn’t exactly roar so much as groan tiredly, but it catches anyway. “Alright,” Mara says, grinning at Adora. “Now comes the hard part.”

“Great,” Adora mutters. She grips the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles go white.

“You have to press the gas and release the clutch at the same time,” Mara says. “The timing will be hard to get right for at least three months, so don’t worry if you mess up. Go on, give it a shot.” Adora takes a deep breath and lets it out slow as she presses on the gas.

The engine roars. Adora’s eyes go wide in surprise, and she lets up on the clutch immediately. The car lurches forward hard enough to make Adora’s seatbelt lock, and then the engine dies abruptly. Adora sinks back into her seat, a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. She drops her hands from the steering wheel to her lap and waits, to be yelled at or lectured or given Mara’s version of that cold, disapproving stare that Ms. Weaver had been so good at.

Mara starts laughing.

“Y’know, for a first try?” she says, sounding amused. “That wasn’t too bad.” Adora hesitantly looks over at her. Mara is leaning against the car door, smiling and shaking her head, but the smile isn’t…mocking. It isn’t upset. It’s just amused.

Adora looks down at her lap. Mara seems to notice her confusion. She reins in her laughter and turns in her seat, facing Adora with a frown.

“Hey,” Mara says. “What’s wrong?”

“I just…” Adora takes a deep breath. She can trust Mara. Mara is her family, and she hasn’t been cruel to Adora once, in the eight months Adora has lived with her. “Back home—back in Grayskull, I would’ve gotten in trouble for that.”

“For what?” Mara asks. “For stalling the car? Why? You’ll get it right eventually.” She sounds incredulous. Adora just shrugs.

“I should’ve done it right the first time,” she says.

“Adora—“ Mara sighs. “No one does anything right the first time.”

I’m supposed to. Adora doesn’t say it out loud.

“Do you want to keep doing this today?” Mara asks gently. “If you’re upset, we can try another time.” Adora thinks about it for a minute, checks in with herself to see if she can keep going. Her hands are shaking slightly in her lap, and her mind is trying desperately to run away, down a rabbit hole of guilt and fear and disappointment in herself.

“I don’t wanna keep going,” Adora admits, which feels like another failure in itself. “Not today.”

“Okay.” Mara smiles at her. “Well, let’s switch seats and we can grab takeout on the way home for dinner. How does that sound?”

“Pretty good,” Adora says. They get out of the car and switch seats. Mara turns the car back on and puts it in gear easily, pulling out of the empty parking lot and out onto the road.

Adora wonders if Catra has learned to drive yet. She wonders if one of the other kids taught her how, or if Ms. Weaver took that task on herself, and if so, how much abuse Catra had to live through from the the passenger seat. That’s what Adora abandoned her to, after all. If Adora had stayed, maybe she could’ve prevented some of it.

Adora’s hands are shaking harder now. She shoves them under her thighs and forces herself to breathe. She pushes the thoughts of Catra away. Adora made her choice; she has to live with it. That seems to be what Catra wants her to do, since not one of Adora’s letters has gotten an answer yet.


a dormitory parking lot, university of bright moon, november 2020

 

“I figured I would do all the driving,” Adora says as she climbs into the car. “I wasn’t sure if you could drive stick or not.” Catra glances down at the gearshift as she fastens her seatbelt.

“I can’t,” Catra says. It’s a lie. Catra can drive manually just fine. Rogelio had taught her before he moved out of Ms. Weaver’s house. But it’s a convenient excuse to avoid telling Adora the truth—that Catra doesn’t trust herself with passengers. It isn’t a rational thing, really; Catra is a competent driver. Her accident had been the result of a lot of factors, not the least of which being that Catra had been driving more recklessly than she ever had before or has since, but it had shown her just how easy it is to fuck up. She nearly got herself killed that night. She isn’t going to risk doing that to someone else.

“That’s cool!” Adora says, slamming the car door. “I like driving.” She glances back at the backseat, where each of them has a duffel bag with enough clothes for the weekend trip to Grayskull City. “You’ve got everything?” Adora asks, glancing at Catra. “I’m not turning around.” Catra rolls her eyes.

“I’ve got everything,” she says. “Get a move on. I thought we were trying to get there before dark.” Adora laughs and turns the car on.

“Fuck off,” she says. “I’m letting you pick the music, so you have to be nice to me for the next four hours.” She backs the car out of the parking spot and points them towards the road that will take them off-campus, onto the freeway, and eventually, to Grayskull City. Catra spends a moment connecting her phone to the car’s speaker system and finding a good playlist before she taps on the first song. She keeps the volume low, but Adora starts nodding her head to it regardless, mouthing the words but not quite singing along.

She looks like an idiot. Catra smiles at her anyway.

“There’s the turn,” Catra points out three songs in, when they’re coming up on the freeway entrance that will put them on the road to Grayskull City. Adora changes lanes, and they head towards the giant green traffic sign declaring Route 76, Grayskull City 254 Miles in giant letters. Catra shudders slightly as they pass under it. “I haven’t been back since I moved to Bright Moon,” she comments offhandedly. She isn’t really expecting a response.

“I don’t go back much, either,” Adora says. “There’s nothing there for me. Not anymore.” Catra looks at her out of the corner of her eye. Adora is watching the road, jaw set and gaze steady, but Catra notices the way her knuckles go white around the steering wheel. Adora doesn’t like driving straight towards their past any more than Catra does.

They still haven’t talked about it, really. They haven’t dealt with the way they left things when Adora moved, or what happened between them just before that. Catra hasn’t brought up the letters or asked for an explanation. She knows that they should talk about it, but—things are good, right now. They’re friends again, and they’ve met each other’s friends. They hang out and mess around like they used to, and then they go back to Catra’s and fuck, and it’s—Catra doesn’t want it to change. Right now, it’s close enough to love that Catra feels like she matters, and far enough from it that she doesn’t have to be afraid. Her feelings are on a precipice, and a conversation about the past would either push them over or break them completely.

Catra doesn’t want that. She wants to stay in this car with Adora on the edge of something forever.

Chapter Text

a park in grayskull city, november 2020

 

“It’s so weird being back here,” Catra says. Adora glances to her left and watches as Catra wanders off the gravel path they’re walking on. She jumps up onto the knee-high brick wall beside them and walks there instead. Off to their right, where the wall isn’t, is a children’s playground with a merry-go-round—wrapped in caution tape, complete with a sign marking it as unsafe for use. To their left, the wall presses up against a grassy hill, the top of the wall and the beginning of the grass level with one another. Adora watches Catra walk on the wall and recognizes the behavior from years spent walking along the river together. Catra always liked taking any opportunity to be tall.

“It is kinda weird,” Adora agrees. She hasn’t been back to Grayskull since she drove Razz up from Bright Moon in August, and that had been a short trip. She’d dropped Razz off and driven back in the same day, not wanting to spend any more time in the city she grew up in than she had to. Now she’s here for more or less two days: the rest of the evening today, tomorrow to visit Razz, and the morning the day after that, before they drive back to Bright Moon in time for class on Monday.

“I don’t know, though,” Adora continues, thinking aloud. “It’s—kind of good, I think. Coming back here with you. It feels like…I dunno, closure?”

“Closure,” Catra echoes. She doesn’t sound convinced.

“Yeah.” Adora takes a deep breath, tasting the familiar, ever-present smog that floats over the city. It’s thick here, even with the light, misty rain attempting to wash it away. This park is on the outskirts of the Fright Zone, where the pollution is always worse. “I don’t know. I never really got to let this place go.” Catra says nothing for a long moment. Adora watches her unabashedly, observing the way Catra’s steps are smooth and uncertain without her even looking at the thin wall beneath her. She moves with a natural grace that Adora, in all her athleticism, has never been able to copy.

“I don’t blame you for wanting to forget about it,” Catra says eventually. “But…you still have good memories here, right?”

“What?” Adora says. “Catra, of course I do. I grew up here. We were best friends here. I have a lot of good memories.” Most of them involving you. Adora doesn’t quite have the guts to say the last part aloud. “Don’t you?” Catra tucks her hands into the pocket of her hoodie and shrugs.

“I do,” she says. “Not…not really after you left, though. I…wasn’t doing very well, for awhile.” Adora says nothing. Catra doesn’t talk about the years they spent apart, ever. Adora knows she moved out of Ms. Weaver’s house, befriended Scorpia and Entrapta, and goes to therapy now. That’s about it. “Lonnie was already gone when you left.” Catra looks down, kicking a pebble off of the wall. “And then Rogelio aged out, and he took Kyle with him. Ms. Weaver didn’t try to do anything about it. She didn’t really care.” Catra looks over at Adora, mismatched eyes dull and tired. “I was alone in that house with her, Adora.”

“Oh,” Adora whispers. “Oh, God.” She stops walking, turning to look at Catra, and Catra mirrors her. “God, Catra, I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” Catra says. “Look, I…I understand why you left. I’m not angry at you for it. I’m—I have a lot of weird feelings about it, and I probably always will, but I don’t hold it against you anymore. You don’t have to be sorry.” It isn’t forgiveness; Adora doesn’t miss that. But it’s something close enough.

“I’m…still sorry,” Adora says softly, “that I couldn’t protect you.” Catra flinches. Adora thinks she’s struck at the heart of it, with that. “I—when I left, I never wanted you to get hurt.”

“Yeah.” Catra looks away. “Well, that makes two of us.” She starts walking along the wall again, heading towards the edge of the park, and Adora hurries to catch up. “So, you want closure from the Fright Zone, huh?” Catra asks. “Would it help to know that Kyle and Rogelio and Lonnie are all fine?”

“They are?” Adora asks. “You still talk to them?”

“I talk to Lonnie sometimes,” Catra says. She hops down off the brick wall, drifting a little closer to Adora’s side. “And I follow them all on Instagram. They’re all living together on the other side of the city.”

“Huh.” Adora considers, for a moment, asking if they can get in contact with their old housemates, go visit them during this trip, but she decides against it. Putting down new roots in Grayskull doesn’t exactly qualify as the closure she’s looking for. “Are Kyle and Rogelio still…whatever?”

“They’re together for real now,” Catra says. She frowns. “I’m pretty sure Lonnie is involved somehow, too, actually, but I don’t really wanna ask them about it.” Adora blinks once, twice, and decides to simply not process that bit of information.

“And they’re all okay?” Adora asks. “They’re happy?”

“Yes?” Catra shrugs. “Their lives don’t look like ours, but they seem like they’re having a good time. And they’re not in the Fright Zone anymore, so…” Adora nods, understanding. Getting out of the Fright Zone is a massive achievement all on its own. The neighborhood they grew up in eats people, swallows them whole and never lets them out again. She’s glad Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio escaped.

“We should probably head back to the hotel,” Adora says, glancing at her phone for the time. “I want to shower before we get dinner.”

“Sounds good.” Catra looks up at her. “Race you to the street?”

“Sure.” As soon as the word is out of Adora’s mouth, Catra is off, shooting up the path like a bullet from a gun. “That’s cheating!” Adora shouts after her, breaking into her own sprint. Catra just laughs ahead of her, high and squeaky, echoing through the park.

If Adora closed her eyes, she could swear she’s fifteen again, breathing in smog and chasing Catra’s laughter through the park.


mara’s house, january 2017

 

“Adora?” There’s a quiet knock at her door. Adora takes a deep breath, scrubbing at the tears on her face with her blanket. “Adora? Can I come in?” Adora sits up on her bed and forces herself to breathe slowly, lowering her heart rate. She can’t do anything about the redness of her eyes and face, or the ache in her throat that is sure to make her voice hoarse, but she can at least not actively sob.

“Come in,” Adora says. She speaks quietly; she’s pretty sure that if she speaks up, her voice will crack. Mara pushes open the door, peering into the room with a concerned frown.

“Adora,” she says, stepping inside. “I just wanted to check in. You seemed upset after everyone left.” She doesn’t comment on the fact that Adora has clearly been crying.

“It’s dumb,” Adora says. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not dumb.” Mara sits down on the edge of the bed, looking over her shoulder at Adora. “Nothing you feel is stupid, okay?” Adora shrugs. Mara has told her that before, but it never really feels true. “You don’t believe me, huh?”

“I believe you.” Adora pulls her knees up to her chest, leaning back against the wall behind her bed. “I just…it’s hard.”

“Can I tell you what helped me believe it?” Mara says. Adora nods. “I think of feelings as little spies.”

Spies?” Adora echoes. She must sound a bit incredulous, because Mara laughs.

“No, let me explain,” she says, waving a hand. “It isn’t as dumb as it sounds. They’re little spies, okay? They come to you with information. They have something to tell you, but they never come right out with it, so you have to tie them up and ask them questions until they tell you what they mean. Then you let them go, and you know what?” Mara smiles at her. “Most of the time, they go. Once they’ve told you what they need to, they don’t really stick around.”

“That’s…” Adora shakes her head. “…a really weird metaphor.” Mara laughs again, shaking her head.

“Yeah,” she says, “it is. But it fits. So. What’s going on in there right now?” Adora takes a deep breath, trying to find the words for what she’s feeling. This is the part she always struggles with—figuring out how to name the sensations in her chest.

“I feel…bad,” she says, starting broad. Mara nods, not questioning or judging. “I feel like…I wasted everyone’s time. I feel guilty.” She stops, uncertain where to go from there.

“You feel guilty for wasting people’s time,” Mara repeats, tone neutral and calm. “This is because of the birthday party?”

“Yeah.” Adora hugs her knees tighter. “Everyone…brought presents.”

“That’s what most people do at birthdays.” The words could be sarcastic, biting, but they’re not; they’re gentle.

“No,” Adora says. “Not for me.” She takes a deep breath. Little spies. Everything she’s feeling right now has something to tell her. She just has to figure out what. “Back in the Fright Zone, the only person who ever got me gifts for my birthday was Ms. Weaver. And…sometimes my friend. But no one else.”

“Okay,” Mara says. “Do you think that’s why you feel guilty? Because you’re not used to getting presents?” Adora shakes her head, changes her mind and nods, pauses and reconsiders.

“That’s not…all of it,” she says. “Everything I got was so expensive, too. And I just feel like people have to have something better to spend their time and money on than me. I shouldn’t be taking so much.” Mara exhales slowly.

“Adora…” She reaches out, setting a hand on Adora’s arm where it’s wrapped around her legs. “Do you trust your friends’ judgment? Do you think they’re smart?”

“Yeah,” Adora says, “of course.”

“So then they know exactly how much you’re worth,” Mara says. “All the time and money and love that they give you is because they know you’re worth it. I know it can be hard, but you should trust them in that.”

“No.” Adora shakes her head. She can’t fault Mara’s logic, but her conclusion feels wrong all the same. It doesn’t make sense. No one should be putting so much into Adora. “I must’ve—I must’ve tricked them. I don’t know. They’re wrong.” Mara shifts on the bed, scooting backwards to sit right beside Adora against the wall.

“Can I ask something?” Mara asks. Adora nods. “Do you ever feel guilty about being here with me? Like I shouldn’t be trying so hard to take care of you?” Adora flinches. She wants to lie, but she can’t. She’s a terrible liar.

“…Yeah,” Adora whispers. Her eyes fill with fresh, unbidden tears. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, you haven’t done anything wrong, okay?” Mara says. She slides an arm around Adora’s shoulders. “Little spies, right? You don’t have to feel guilty about feeling guilty. That’ll make it pretty hard to interrogate the first feeling.” Adora leans into Mara’s side, resting her head on her sister’s shoulder. Mara squeezes her tightly. “I’m going to suggest something,” Mara says, “and I want you to think about it, okay? You don’t need to have an answer right now.”

“Okay,” Adora whispers. She’s already bracing to be told that she should leave, go back to the Fright Zone, move back in with Ms. Weaver. To be told that this was all a big mistake.

“I think you should think about going to therapy,” Mara says. “You’re dealing with a lot of difficult feelings, and I want to help you with them, but I don’t always have the right tools for doing that. A professional would.”

“Therapy?” Adora repeats. The concept is—she’s only seen it on TV shows and in movies, stressed-out businessmen laying on leather couches and getting hypnotized. Nobody in the Fright Zone has ever gone to therapy.

“Yeah.” Mara bumps her head against Adora’s. “Just think about it, okay? I think it might help. I went when I was a teenager, and it helped me.”

“…Okay,” Adora says. “I’ll think about it.”

“Okay.” Mara squeezes her tight one last time and lets go. She clambers off the edge of the bed and stands, turning back to look at Adora. “I’m going to go make some tea, do you want any?” Adora nods, standing up as well.

“Ginger,” she requests. “Can we put off cleaning up from the party and watch Netflix instead?”

“You got it,” Mara says. Adora follows her out of the room.

Adora falls asleep on the couch between episodes five and six of the sitcom they’ve been watching together. She wakes up thirsty late that night, and finds herself in her bed, with the sheets tucked in around her and a glass of water already waiting for her on the nightstand.


a hospice care center, grayskull city, november 2020

 

“Mara, dearie!”

“Hey, Razz,” Adora says, not bothering to correct the name. Catra follows Adora into the small room, staying mostly behind her. She isn’t clear on what exactly she’s doing here. “How are you today?”

Catra closes the door behind them and turns, getting her first look at Adora’s not-really great-grandmother. She’s a tiny old woman, probably under five feet if she were standing, and she looks even smaller in a hospital bed. The pink sweater she’s wearing swamps her, and where it’s rolled halfway up her forearms, Catra can see papery skin, dotted with sunspots, stretched over rail-thin limbs. She’s wearing glasses, too, giant ones that make her eyes look absurdly huge. A cannula is hooked haphazardly around her ears, and the oxygen pump in the corner hisses quietly in an uneven rhythm.

“You’re just in time, Mara,” Razz says, grinning up at Adora. “I couldn’t wait much longer to start the pie!” There’s a spark in her eyes, even through the haze of dementia, that makes Catra instantly like her.

“Are we making pie today?” Adora asks. She settles into a chair by Razz’s bedside. Catra hovers awkwardly for a moment before slipping into the second chair, perching uncomfortably on the edge of the seat.

“Of course we are, silly,” Razz says. “We made plans last week! And you brought a friend, too.” She turns her gaze to Catra, peering through her glasses. “Are you helping us with the pie, dearie?” Catra glances at Adora uncertainly.

“Razz, this is a friend of Adora’s,” Adora says, stepping in. “Do you remember Adora?” Razz frowns deeply. “It’s okay if you don’t,” Adora says quickly. “Don’t worry about it. This is Catra, okay?”

“I know that, dearie!” Razz looks back at Catra with a toothy smile. “Of course I know who Catra is. She’s come to visit many times!” Catra’s eyes go wide, and she shoots a panicked look at Adora.

“Did you tell her about me?” Catra hisses, hoping Razz is at least a little bit deaf.

“No!” Adora whispers back. “I don’t know what’s going on! Just go with it, okay?” Catra growls wordlessly at her, but looks back at Razz with a plastered-on smile.

“Hi, Razz,” she says. “How have you been?”

“Oh, I’ve been wonderful, of course,” Razz says, smiling at her. “I went berry picking with Loo-Kee yesterday. We picked four buckets of blueberries.”

“That’s great, Razz,” Adora says, drawing Razz’s attention again. “Have people been nice to you here? Is the food good?”

Adora and Razz talk for awhile. Catra allows herself to space out a little bit. She doesn’t want to listen to Razz. She doesn’t want to care too much about this old woman when she’s about to die. Besides, neither Razz nor Adora try to pull Catra into the conversation, so Catra is content to drift.

Eventually, Catra hears Adora say her name and tunes back into the conversation. She glances over at Adora, who is looking at her.

“What’s up?” she asks, blinking. “I was paying attention.” Adora smiles, and the affection in the expression makes Catra’s heart twist.

“I need to go talk to the nurses about something,” she says. “Can you keep Razz company for a minute?” Catra glances over at Razz, who is watching them through her glasses with a thoughtful expression.

“Yeah,” Catra says. “I can.”

“Thank you,” Adora whispers, holding Catra’s gaze until Catra nods in acknowledgment. Adora looks over at Razz. “I’ll be right back, okay?” she says. “I’ll see you in a minute, Razz.” Razz just smiles at her, and Adora gets up and leaves the room. Catra looks at Razz, who is staring at her with an appraising look in her eye that makes Catra shift in her seat uncomfortably.

“Catra,” Razz says. “You’ll take care of her, won’t you? My Adora.” Catra freezes.

“What?” she whispers. This whole time, Razz has only called Adora Mara. And now…

“She needs love, Catra,” Razz says. She’s holding Catra’s gaze intensely, and for the first time, she seems fully present, conscious. There’s clarity in her eyes, and Catra can’t look away. “Adora needs love. Please give it to her. I won’t be here to.”

“Razz—“

“Take care of Adora,” Razz says again, firmly. With a lump in her throat, Catra nods.

“I’ll take care of her,” she whispers. “I’ll take care of Adora. I promise.” Razz settles back against her pillows with a satisfied smile.

“Thank you,” she says. “I knew you would, of course.” She tilts her head, like she’s listening to something in the distance. “I should have known from the letters. I’m sorry.” Catra stands up, her blood running cold.

“The letters?” she repeats, staring down at Razz. “What about the letters, Razz? What are you sorry for?”

“Letters?” Razz says. “You wrote me letters? Well, that’s very kind, dearie, but it’s hard for me to read now. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

“No,” Catra says. “No, you said you were sorry about some letters. Were you talking about my letters? The ones I sent to Adora?” Razz just stares at her, eyes blank and clouded. The dementia has gripped her again. “Razz,” Catra says again, trying to bring back the lucidity of a moment ago. “The letters.”

“Letters?” Razz says. “I didn’t know you wrote me letters.” Catra sits back down in the chair, slumping over in defeat. She had been so close to an answer, and now it’s gone. She won’t get another chance at it, either; she can’t ask Adora.

“Hey, guys.” Speak of the devil. Adora appears in the doorway, a small smile on her face. “What’d I miss?”

“Mara, dearie!” Razz exclaims, sitting up straighter. “It is so good to see you!”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Adora says, crossing the room to stand beside Catra at Razz’s bedside. “And I have good news!”

“Good news?” Razz asks, eyes twinkling. Adora smiles down at her.

“You’re getting blueberry pie for dessert every night from now on!”

“Oh, pie!” Razz says, like the idea is just occurring to her. “We were going to make a pie today, Mara! But it’s late, now…” She glances off to her side, out the small window of her room. It overlooks a dirty street and an empty lot beyond a chain-link fence. It’s not dark outside, but it’s raining heavily, and everything looks grey.

“I know it is,” Adora says. “Catra and I have to leave now, okay?”

“Okay,” Razz says, looking back at her. “But you have to come back tomorrow! We still need to make pie!”

“We’ll come back,” Adora lies. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Razz.” Catra stands from her chair and follows Adora to the open door.

“Goodbye, Mara,” Razz says. Adora gives her one last smile and steps out into the hall. Catra lingers for a moment, looking back at Razz, searching for any sign of the clarity she had seen for a moment in Razz’s eyes.

There isn’t one. Catra turns away and follows Adora down the hall.


grayskull city, december 2016

 

Catra builds the fire pit over the place where they’d buried the sword.

Ms. Weaver is out of town for a few days, and she’d spent a solid hour lecturing Catra on everything she is and isn’t allowed to do. Catra’s pretty sure lighting something on fire in the backyard falls under the not allowed column, but she doesn’t really give a fuck. Kyle and Rogelio are out somewhere, probably taking the opportunity to go on an actual date. Catra is a little bit drunk off the liquor she stole from a grocery store last week, and there’s absolutely nothing and no one around to tell her to stop.

She builds a little circle out of stones around the patch of ground where the grass still grows unevenly—a consequence of digging it up and turning it over a few years before. She doesn’t know if she really needs a fire pit to burn a few pieces of paper, especially when it’s done nothing but rain for weeks and the grass is a darker green than she’s ever seen it before, but better safe than sorry. Even if she kind of wishes the fire would catch and burn the entire goddamn house down.

“Alright then,” Catra mutters to herself once the circle is complete. She grabs the first envelope from the stack beside her and holds it over the pit. It’s addressed to Adora, as every letter in the stack is, and on the front of the envelope, in spidery handwriting that Catra doesn’t recognize, return to sender is written. As it is on every envelope, every letter Catra sent last month when she realized that she didn’t want to live without Adora.

She hadn’t gotten a single response. The letters aren’t even opened. Adora, apparently, wants to live without her.

Guess she’s getting her wish.

Catra pulls a cigarette lighter out of her pocket with her other hand and flicks it to life. The flames dance along the edge of the envelope for a moment before it catches. Catra holds onto it until the fire brushes against her fingertips, then she drops it into the fire pit. It smolders on the damp ground, puffing out smoke. She watches it for a moment before grabbing the next letter and lighting that one, too. She sets it on top of the remains of the first letter, building a little fire on the ground.

Catra burns her way through all six letters in a manner of minutes. When they’re gone, she stares at the pile of ashes sitting in the middle of the fire pit, feeling even more empty than she had before. The ashes are already cold, and the last words Catra ever tried to say to Adora have been torn from the world unheard.


a hotel room in grayskull city, november 2020

 

The moment the hotel room door closes behind them, Adora’s shoulders slump. Catra watches her closely, noting the way Adora’s breath catches like there’s a weight on her chest.

“Adora,” Catra says, setting a hand on Adora’s arm. “You okay?” Adora laughs, brief and loud, and the sound is a little bit broken, a lot concerning.

“Nope,” Adora says, voice shaking. “Not really.” She looks back at Catra with wide eyes, and Catra’s heart breaks for her. “Can we just—can we lie down for awhile?”

“Yeah,” Catra murmurs. “Of course. C’mon.” She peels off her jacket and lets it drop to the floor. She can hang it up later; it isn’t important right now. Adora walks over to the bed in the middle of the room, Catra following close behind.

They had opted for a room with one bed, instead of two. It was a lot cheaper, and neither of them are exactly swimming in money at the moment. Besides, it isn’t like they don’t share a bed on a regular basis.

Adora kicks off her shoes and lays down. Catra follows suit, and the moment she’s stretched out on her back, Adora is curling up against her side, pressing her face into the crook of Catra’s neck. Catra twists around, rolling onto her side so that she’s facing Adora, wrapping her arms around her back. Adora presses closer, tangling her fingers in the hem of Catra’s shirt.

“How can I help?” Catra asks in a whisper after a few moments, when it becomes clear that Adora’s anxious, shaky breathing isn’t about to slow down. “What can I do?”

“I don’t—“ Adora takes in a breath that sounds like a sob. “I don’t know. Talk to me? About something else.”

“Yeah, okay.” Catra pauses, running through topics in her head, trying to think of something to talk about. One of Adora’s hands comes up, tracing the scars on Catra’s arm. Catra doesn’t wear her sleeve nearly as much around Adora anymore, and with her jacket gone, the scars are left mostly uncovered by Catra’s t-shirt.

“Can you tell me how you got these?” Adora asks. Catra’s eyes widen, and she focuses on Adora’s face again just in time to see Adora wince. “I’m sorry, I know I promised I wouldn’t ask. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

“Adora,” Catra interrupts. “It’s okay.”

“It is?” Adora’s tone is desperate, searching, like she’s asking for something, needs something.

“It is.” Catra lifts one of her hands from Adora’s back to trace the line of her jaw instead. “I can…I can tell you about them, if you want. It won’t cheer you up, though. It’s not a happy story.”

“I don’t care.” Adora shakes her head, brushing against Catra’s hand. “I don’t need to be happy, I don’t think I can do that right now, I just—I need to be thinking about something that doesn’t hurt right now.” Catra nods slowly. She doesn’t quite understand, but it makes a strange sort of sense, what Adora is saying. “Tell me?” Adora whispers. Catra takes a deep breath.

“Two days before my eighteenth birthday, I wrapped my car around a lamppost.”

Catra tells the story. She doesn’t drift too far into the details, doesn’t list the things Ms. Weaver said to her or the things she said in return, doesn’t explain just how empty she felt lying there in that hospital bed, alone in the room and the world. She talks about the argument in generalities, sketches the crash with a few clipped sentences. Doesn’t mention the months-long recovery process. It’s been two years now, and it still makes her skin crawl when she talks about it.

Afterwards, Adora stares at her with wide, watery eyes. They look bluer than usual in the grey, rainy light coming through the window. Catra represses the urge to shift uncomfortably in Adora’s arms. The expression strays a little too close to pity for her tastes.

“Told you it wouldn’t cheer you up, princess,” Catra says.

“Catra…” Adora pushes herself up off the bed slightly, leaning over Catra’s side. She presses a kiss to the worst of the scars, right where Catra’s bicep meets the muscle of her shoulder.

Adora kisses Catra’s scars a lot when they sleep together. It’s the one bit of tenderness Catra can never quite escape. Usually, it feels like an acknowledgement, sometimes an attempt to sooth. Now, it feels…

“I’m sorry,” Adora whispers against Catra’s arm. Her voice is broken, quiet, filled with enough guilt to make Catra tremble. “I’m sorry.” She sounds wretched.

“No,” Catra whispers. “You don’t have to be sorry.” Adora kisses Catra’s arm again and shakes her head when she pulls away.

I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m sorry, Catra.”

“Adora, you didn’t do anything,” Catra says. She’s desperate to make Adora understand, to get that horrible guilty look off of her face. “This wasn’t your fault, okay? There was nothing you could’ve done.” That’s not the right thing to say. A few tears finally break free, rolling down Adora’s face and falling onto the scars on Catra’s arm.

“I’m sorry.” Adora can barely manage the words this time. Her voice is so quiet that Catra has to strain to hear it. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I—“

“I forgive you,” Catra says. Adora stops speaking and stares down at Catra. “I forgive you, Adora. It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Adora whispers again, but it sounds like a question this time, like she’s asking, begging for the answer. Catra turns fully onto her back, pulling Adora on top of her and tangling their legs together.

“I forgive you,” she says. She holds Adora’s gaze until Adora relaxes on top of her, sighing so deeply it sounds like it hurts. Catra leans up and kisses Adora, as gently as she possibly can. Adora barely returns it, and when Catra pulls away, she sees exhaustion in Adora’s eyes. “Okay?” Catra whispers. Adora nods, eyes still half-lidded from the kiss.

“I’m okay,” Adora says, voice hoarse. “I’m tired.” Catra reaches up, gently tugging Adora’s hair tie away and letting her hair fall loose around them both.

“Sleep,” Catra says. “It’s okay. I’ll be here when you’re ready to get up.”

Chapter Text

a hotel room in grayskull city, november 2020

 

Adora wakes up first.

It takes her a moment to remember the day before. Visiting Razz, going back to the hotel room, hearing the story behind Catra’s scars. Breaking down. Falling asleep in Catra’s arms. Waking up again later that evening to eat takeout in the hotel room and barely speak to each other before falling back asleep.

The barely speaking had mostly been Adora’s fault. She had been burned out, exhausted even after her nap. She wasn’t sure she could handle any conversation, let alone one that might stray back into their pasts.

Adora feels a little better now. She stays in bed for awhile after she wakes up. Catra is wrapped around her back, making quiet sniffing sounds in her sleep, and it helps ease the residual anxiety in Adora’s chest. She isn’t tired enough to drift back asleep, but she feels drowsy and peaceful here all the same. Catra’s scarred arm is thrown across Adora’s side, and Adora traces her fingertips over the marks on her forearm. They don’t spark the same awful, clawing guilt in her chest that they had the night before.

Eventually, Catra shifts behind her, rolling onto her back. Adora follows suit, turning onto her other side to look at Catra.

“Mm.” Catra opens her eyes slowly, meeting Adora’s gaze blearily. “Morning.”

“Morning.” Adora wants to kiss her. She doesn’t think she’s supposed to. Catra had kissed her last night, but that had been…different.

“How’d you sleep?” Catra’s voice is raspier in the morning, and her hair is sticking out all over the place. It’s adorable.

“Pretty good,” Adora says, keeping her voice as quiet as Catra’s is. “I—I feel a lot better than I did last night.” Catra smiles at her, almost imperceptibly, like she’s still too sleepy to manage a real expression.

“That’s good,” Catra says. “Should we get up soon? It’s a long drive back.” Adora sighs quietly. She’s reluctant to leave this bed, to break the peace she feels here, stretched out next to Catra beneath the blankets. But Catra’s right, it’s a long drive home.

“Probably,” Adora says. She shifts onto her back and props herself up on her elbows, trying to work up to sitting up fully. Slowly, she sits up the rest of the way, rubbing at her eyes and yawning as she does so. Beside her, Catra stays on her back, looking up at Adora.

“Can I say something about last night?” Catra asks. Adora feels her stomach drop, but nods anyway, keeping her anxiety off of her face. “You kept saying sorry,” Catra says. “You know that this“—she gestures at her scars—“isn’t your fault, right? Like, at all.” Adora looks away. “I said I forgave you because it seemed like you needed to hear it, but there isn’t anything to forgive you for.”

“Yeah.” Adora looks down at the blankets wrapped messily around their bodies. “I know it isn’t—my fault, but…if I hadn’t left, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

“Adora, that’s kind of stupid,” Catra says. Adora flinches at the words and looks back at Catra, who is watching her through narrowed eyes. “All the bad shit that happened to me after you left wasn’t your fault, especially the mistakes I made. Most of my life isn’t actually about you, believe it or not.”

“No, I—“ I was supposed to protect you. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make it about me. That isn’t what I meant.”

“I know.” Catra sits up, bringing herself to Adora’s level. “I get that this guilt thing is an issue for you. But don’t take responsibility for my mistakes. It’s—I don’t know, condescending. I don’t like the way it makes me feel.”

“Okay.” Adora takes a deep, shaky breath, fighting the wave of guilt that’s trying to build in her chest at the idea that she’s made Catra feel bad. Guilt about feeling guilty isn’t exactly constructive.

“Hey.” Adora opens her eyes again at the sound of Catra’s voice. Catra reaches out and sets a hand on Adora’s thigh. “I’m not mad at you,” she says. “I just don’t want you to do it again. Okay?”

“Okay,” Adora says. “I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.” Catra squeezes her leg and then lets go, climbing off the bed. “I’m taking first shower, though. Do you wanna go steal a bunch of food from the hotel breakfast?”

“Sure,” Adora says. She watches as Catra grabs some clothes from her duffel bag and disappears into the bathroom.

She wonders if she’s still allowed to kiss Catra’s scars. That isn’t about guilt. It’s about…acknowledgement. Acknowledging that Catra has been through things Adora wasn’t there for, will never understand, that she isn’t the person Adora once knew, and that she's beautiful now, too.


bright moon, february 2018

 

Adora’s the only one home when the doorbell rings. She feels kind of weird, answering the door at Glimmer’s house. She lives here now, sure, but it isn’t home.

When she opens the door, she finds Bow on the other side. He grins at her as he says “Hey,” and Adora manages to work up a weak smile in return.

“Hey, Bow,” she says. “Glimmer’s not home right now.”

“That’s cool!” Bow says. “I’m actually here for you.”

“Me?” Adora shakes her head. “I’m…not really up for going out.” She’s barely gone to school in the past month, let alone hung out with her friends.

“You don’t have to talk at all,” Bow says. “I just need a running partner.” For the first time, Adora registers what he’s wearing: running shoes, athletic shorts, and a tank top that she recognizes from outfits he’s worn before—although it didn’t used to be a crop top. That seems to be happening to a lot of his clothes lately.

“I’m not sure,” Adora says.

“Please?” Bow smiles at her, the understanding one he uses whenever his friends are upset. He’s been using it on Adora a lot recently. “My top surgeon finally cleared me to start working out again. I just wanna go on a run with my best friend.” He knows Adora well. Calling her his best friend never fails.

“Okay,” Adora says, and Bow bounces on his toes, grinning victoriously. “I have to go get changed, I’ll be down in a minute.” She steps aside, letting him enter, and leaves him to wait in the entryway of the house while she goes up to the guest room—now her permanent bedroom—to change into workout clothes. She has a hard time finding them in her half-unpacked bags. She hasn’t worked out since she moved into Glimmer’s house, since—

Adora shakes her head, batting the thought away, and heads back downstairs to find Bow. He’s standing where she left him in the entryway, scrolling on his phone, and he looks up as she walks in.

“Let’s go,” Adora says, nodding at the door. Bow offers her one last quick smile, and they head out.

Adora lets Bow take the lead. He’s a better runner than her, partly because of the testosterone, but mostly because he puts a lot more time into it than she does. Running always reminds Adora of soccer, and she tries not to think about that particular missed opportunity too much. It still stings sometimes, even if paying for college isn’t really a problem anymore, with her inheritance. She hopes she can play again someday, even if it isn’t competitively.

Bow doesn’t take them too far. They’re both a little out of practice. Adora hasn’t been exercising at all since Mara—since Adora moved into Glimmer’s house, and Bow had to take six weeks off after top surgery. They would usually do ten or twelve miles together on a day like this, with moderate temperatures and the slightest mist of rain. Instead, Bow leads them about three miles to the edge of the Whispering Woods and then another half-mile up a hill. When he finally slows to a stop, Adora is panting for breath. She recognizes the spot they’re in: they’ve come up here for picnics with Glimmer before.

“Feel any better?” Bow asks once he’s caught his breath. They sit down on the ground side-by-side to stretch out.

“A little bit,” Adora admits, reaching out to touch her toes. “This was a trick, huh? Trying to cheer me up?” Bow smiles at her.

“You caught me.”

“Thank you,” Adora says. It’s scary, sometimes, how well Bow knows her. He knew exercise never fails to cheer her up, and he knew she wouldn’t be able to refuse if he framed going running as a favor for a friend. And it had worked. Adora doesn’t feel good; she isn’t sure she’ll ever feel good again. But she feels better.

“No problem,” Bow says. They stretch in silence for awhile. Eventually, Bow leans backwards, resting on his palms and looking up at the sky. The sun is starting to come out. It never really gets cold in Bright Moon, not as cold as it had gotten in the winter back in Grayskull City, but Adora still basks in the growing warmth. She mirrors Bow’s posture and closes her eyes.

“Are crop tops, like, your thing now?” she asks, opening one eye to see him in her peripheral vision. Bow laughs.

“Why not?” he says. “I finally feel comfortable wearing them. Besides, I worked hard for these.” He slaps his own abs with one hand. “Might as well show them off, right?”

“Right.” Adora opens her eyes fully, looking over at him. “Well, they suit you. You seem…I dunno, more comfortable than you used to.” Bow moves with so much confidence now. Most of it came before his surgery. He’s come a long way from the sixteen-year-old kid Adora met just a year and a half ago, who never came to school without at least two layers on and his shirt tucked in. She’s proud of him, but she feels stagnant in comparison.

“I am. Uh…I’m guessing you don’t wanna talk about…y’know.” Bow’s voice is soft, but the words still make Adora flinch.

“Not really,” she whispers, drawing her knees up to her chest. “What is there to say?”

“I mean, a lot, probably,” Bow says. “But only if you’re ready to.” Adora rests her chin between her knees and stares down at Bright Moon below them. She can see Glimmer’s house from here, but not her own. Not Mara’s.

“I just…don’t know what to do,” Adora whispers after a moment. “My whole life, I’ve only ever had two people that I was really, fully known by. And now I have none. Mara is gone.” Bow reaches out, setting a hand on Adora’s shoulder. For a moment, Adora thinks it’s raining again, before she realizes that there are tears on her face.

“No one’s going to replace her,” Bow says. “I know that. But, Adora…you don’t have to be alone, okay? You can let people in. Glimmer, her parents, me. Or someone else, if you want. Just…don’t let this isolate you.” Adora nods slightly.

“I know I can trust you guys,” she says. “It’s just…it’s hard, a lot of the time, to explain how I’m feeling or—or why I feel that way, or the way I grew up, even. And it’s just easier not to try.” Bow is quiet for a moment.

“Did you know,” he says eventually, “that I was out as trans at school for two years before I came out to my dads?” Adora looks over her shoulder at him, frowning.

“I didn’t know that,” she says. “Were you afraid of their reactions? They’re—I mean, they’re your dads.”

“I wasn’t afraid,” Bow says, shaking his head. “I knew they loved me, and would never hurt me. I knew they would probably be insanely supportive. And they are, now. You’ve met them.” Adora has. George and Lance’s house is covered in pride flags, and they had asked Adora for her pronouns when they first met her.

“I would’ve thought they’d be the first people you’d tell,” Adora says. “Other than Glimmer, at least.”

“It was easier not to.” Bow shrugs. “Telling them meant dealing with the fact that they would never really get it. They understand everything else about me, but they’re never going to understand how I feel inside. And that was scary. From most people, I just need acceptance, but from them, I wanted understanding, and there’s just no way to get that. There’s no way for them to understand. I didn’t want to confront that.”

“But didn’t it suck?” Adora asks. “Pretending to be someone else at home?”

“Yeah, it really, really did,” Bow says. “Which is why I eventually told them. The point is, I get it. I may not ever understand how you feel, or where you’re from, and that sucks. It does. But it’ll still feel better to let people see you than hide inside yourself forever.” He smiles at her. “I would know.”

“You sound like my therapist,” Adora mutters. “Thanks, Bow.” She leans into his side. He throws an arm around her shoulders, squeezing her tightly.

“Of course,” he says. “I’ve got your back, Adora.” They sit like that for a long moment before Adora shifts backwards and he lets her go. She climbs to her feet, shaking her legs out to warm them up again. It’s going to be a long run home, and she’s definitely going to hurt tomorrow.

“You ready to go?” Adora asks, looking down at Bow. He hops to his feet beside her, mimicking her motions and shaking his own legs.

“Yeah,” he says. “Wait, one question, though.” She raises her eyebrows at him. “You said there were two people who have really known you. Mara is—Mara is gone, but…who was the other one?” Adora looks away, flashing back for a moment to curly brown hair, mismatched eyes, a squeaky laugh, running through a different city with someone else on days rainier than this one.

“Just…someone from back in Grayskull,” she says. “An old friend. We don’t talk anymore.” Bow eyes her like he knows there’s more to that story, but Adora doesn’t want to talk about it. She starts to run instead, headed for the path back down the hill.


grayskull city, november 2020

 

“It never fucking stops raining here,” Catra says. She leans her head against the car window, feeling the vibrations of the engine through the glass. Outside, through raindrops streaking down the window, the dirty gray buildings of the Fright Zone pass by. “God, it’s depressing.”

“Yeah.” Adora hits the defrost button on the dashboard as the inside of the windshield starts to fog up. The windshield wipers thwump thwump thwump back and forth rapidly, but it doesn’t improve the visibility. It reminds Catra of the night of her accident. They’re on the other side of the Fright Zone from where she crashed, but it’s still too close for comfort.

“Sorry we had to drive through here,” Adora says quietly, drawing Catra’s attention away from the raindrop she’s following with her eyes as it slips down the passenger’s side window in fits and starts.

“Why are you sorry?” Catra asks, stretching in her seat. “You didn’t decide to do construction on the only other highway out of the city that points us towards Bright Moon.”

“Yeah, but…”

“No guilt, Adora.”

“Right.” Adora glances down at the dashboard. “We’re gonna have to stop for gas before we make it out of the city.” Catra grabs her phone from the center console and opens her maps app.

“There’s a gas station after the next intersection,” she says. The wheels on Catra’s side of the car catch a puddle by the curb, and the vehicle lurches. Catra’s heart drops, and she grabs onto the little handle above the door, holding on so tightly that her fingernails dig into her palm.

“Sorry,” Adora says, once she has complete control of the car again. “I didn’t see it.”

“It’s okay.” Catra releases the handle, taking a deep breath to ease the anxiety in her chest. Moments later, they pull off the road, into the gas station parking lot. It’s almost completely empty, and Adora pulls the car up to a pump before turning the engine off. “I’m gonna go see about some shitty coffee,” Catra says, unbuckling her seatbelt and climbing out of the car as fast as she possibly can. “You want anything?”

“No thanks,” Adora says. She has a concerned look, and Catra doesn’t feel like dealing with that right now, so she half-walks, half-bolts for the doors to the little convenience store attached to the gas station. She only gets a little bit soaked by the rain on the way in. She shakes her head, spattering water off of her hair as she enters. The guy behind the counter is on his phone, and he barely glances up as Catra enters, clearly not paid enough to give a shit.

Catra glances around the small store. It looks like every other convenience store she’s ever been in. She zeroes in on the small, self-serve coffee machine at the back and hurries over to pour herself a cup.

Once she has her coffee in hand, she drifts over to the aisle with the chips. She isn’t even hungry, really, but she will be later on in the drive, and she knows Adora loves chili cheese Fritos. Catra scans the shelves, sipping her coffee absently, and that’s when she hears the bell above the door ring again.

She thinks nothing of it, doesn’t even look up, until a voice beside her says, “Catra.”

Catra’s blood runs cold.

No. No fucking way. The universe doesn’t hate me that much. I don’t even hate me that much.

Catra turns, and there’s Ms. Weaver, standing beside her in the convenience store aisle.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” Ms. Weaver says. “I thought you were determined to get out of the Fright Zone. Not as easy as you were expecting?” Catra’s fingers tighten around her coffee, and she barely restrains herself from squeezing the paper cup into a ball. There’s already a panic attack trying to build up in her chest.

“I’m just visiting,” Catra says through gritted teeth. “I moved out of town awhile ago.”

“Oh?” Ms. Weaver says, raising an eyebrow. “Where to?” Catra doesn’t owe her an answer, doesn’t want to give her an answer.

“Bright Moon,” Catra’s mouth says, without her permission, and Ms. Weaver almost smiles.

“Ah, I see,” she says, nodding. “Still chasing after Adora. You haven’t learned that you’ll never catch up?” Catra grinds her teeth so hard her jaw goes numb. She’s about to—she isn’t sure. Either punch Ms. Weaver in the face or start crying.

The bell above the door rings, and Catra’s eyes automatically flick over. Her whole body relaxes when she sees who it is.

“Adora,” she calls. “Over here.” Adora sees her, immediately breaking into a smile, and that does more than it probably should to help Catra fight off the incoming panic attack.

“Hey!” Adora says, crossing the store in a few confident strides. “I was just coming to look for you, since you were taking…awhile.” Catra can see the moment Adora recognizes Ms. Weaver. Her eyes widen slightly, a look of pure shock flashing across her face, then they narrow, harder and angrier than Catra has ever seen. She looks scary.

“Hello, Adora,” Ms. Weaver says, smiling. Adora doesn’t return the greeting. She goes to stand next to and slightly in front of Catra. It’s such a familiar position that for a moment, Catra could copy and paste this scene into a thousand times and places in the past. Ms. Weaver towering over them, Adora standing in front, trying to protect, and Catra, eyes down, waiting to be hurt.

Adora’s hand slips into Catra’s, and Catra snaps back into the present.

“How are you, Adora?” Ms. Weaver asks. Adora ignores her. She looks at Catra, the iron in her eyes vanishing for a moment.

“Do you want to go?” Adora says quietly. Catra takes a breath. She doesn’t want to go. Leaving would be too much like running away.

Or would it? Ms. Weaver wants to talk to them. Catra can’t imagine why. To manipulate them, probably; to insult Catra. To try to tear them apart again. Maybe leaving would just be taking what Ms. Weaver wants away.

“I need to pay for my coffee,” Catra mumbles. Adora squeezes her hand tightly.

“Let’s do that,” she says, and starts to walk, tugging Catra behind her. Ms. Weaver stares at them as they skirt past her, and Catra kind of wants to see her face as they walk away from her, but she also doesn’t want to ever see Ms. Weaver’s face again.

Catra pays for her coffee with the spare change she has in her pocket. The guy behind the counter keeps glancing between Catra and Adora at the register, and Ms. Weaver behind them in the aisles of the store. Catra figures their little fucked-up family dynamic is the most interesting thing that’s come through here in weeks. She can’t exactly blame him for staring.

As they head for the door, Ms. Weaver steps towards them slightly. “Adora,” she says, a note in her voice that sounds almost pleading. Catra tries to keep walking, but Adora’s hand in hers pulls her to a stop. Beside her, Adora looks over her shoulder at the woman that raised them. “We should speak some time,” Ms. Weaver says, stretching her face into a smile that might’ve tricked Catra into feeling loved, once. “I don’t ever visit Bright Moon, but—“

“Ms. Weaver?” Adora interrupts, her voice calm. Ms. Weaver quiets, waiting for Adora to finish. “If you ever come near me or Catra again, I’ll get a restraining order.” Adora faces forward again and walks out the door of the convenience store. Still holding her hand tightly, Catra follows.

The moment they slide back into the car, Catra starts to laugh.

“What?” Adora asks, but her own smile is breaking through. Catra keeps laughing, only verging a little bit on hysterical, and Adora starts to laugh, too, loud in the enclosed space of the car. “Shut up,” Adora says through her laughter, batting at Catra’s arm. “I need to drive! Do you want her to come out here and see us losing it?” That only makes Catra laugh harder, but Adora manages to regain control of herself enough to start the car and pull out onto the road. It’s still dumping rain, but Catra can’t quite be upset by it, anymore.

Finally, Catra stops laughing. When she does, she feels a little empty instead, the last of her stress gone from her body. She reclines her seat halfway and puts her feet up on the dashboard, stretching the muscles in the backs of her legs.

“You good?” Adora asks, glancing over at Catra as she pulls onto a freeway entrance. “Did she…say anything to you before I came in?”

“Nothing worth repeating,” Catra says. She laces her fingers together behind her head. It isn’t worth repeating, but what Ms. Weaver said had struck a nerve.

Leaving the Fright Zone hadn’t been about Adora. Moving to Bright Moon had been specifically not about Adora. Going to college hadn’t been about Adora. Catra spent a decade planning her life around Adora; she knows how it feels to make that mistake. She knows she’s gotten better at making decisions for herself. Adora is back in her life now, and Catra is still doing just that.

Only…is she? She’s here, in a city she never wanted to come back to, because Adora had asked her for a favor. A favor she probably wouldn’t have been upset over if Catra had refused. She had Adora over for dinner with Scorpia and Entrapta after promising herself she wouldn’t do that, wouldn’t let Adora all the way in. Catra’s set rules for herself about when it’s okay to touch Adora, when it’s okay to kiss her, and yet Catra kissed her last night, breaking all of her own rules, solely because Adora was upset.

If every decision that Catra has made for herself has led her right back to where she started, so in love with Adora that she’s willing do anything for her, did any of them actually matter?


grayskull city, october 2016

 

“Adora.” Adora tenses at the voice. She sets the box she’s holding on top of the stack in front of her and takes a deep breath before she turns around.

“Ms. Weaver.” Adora’s guardian is standing before her, arms crossed, the disapproving look she’s had since Adora decided she wanted to go live with Mara plastered across her face.

“Do you have everything?” Ms. Weaver asks, tone flat and cold. It isn’t a tone that she takes with Adora often. It’s usually reserved for Catra. “I don’t want to pay shipping fees if you forgot some sentimental thing.”

“I have everything I need,” Adora says, nodding. She isn’t sure what to say here. Ms. Weaver hadn’t been good to her, necessarily, but Adora has lived in this house for ten years. Ms. Weaver has been the one buying her food and helping her with her homework and checking her report cards.

Ms. Weaver has also been the one restricting that food when Adora’s homework or report cards aren’t up to her standards. Adora is only beginning to realize just how abnormal that is.

“Um, thank you,” Adora says finally. She has to say something. “For taking care of me. I—I mean it.”

“Hm.” Ms. Weaver uncrosses her arms and clasps her hands behind her back, which is somehow an even more intimidating posture. “Do you? The way you’re acting hasn’t seemed very grateful to me.” The way you’re acting. Like Adora has just been moody lately, and not packing up her entire life to move two hundred miles away.

“I’m sorry,” Adora says, looking at the ground. “I am grateful. I’m sorry.”

“We’ll see.” Ms. Weaver walks away. Adora looks down at her pile of boxes. She can probably get them out to the car in one trip if she balances them right. Her whole life in a suitcase, a backpack, and three cardboard boxes. Everything worth taking with her is ready to go. Everything except…

The sound of footsteps catches Adora’s attention. She looks up, down the hall towards the stairs. There, standing on the bottom step, is Catra. She has her arms crossed, too, but it comes off more like she’s trying to hug herself than anything else.

To anyone but Adora looking at her, Catra would seem angry. Her eyes are narrowed; her posture is tense. As she uncrosses her arms and lowers them to her sides, her fists clench. But Adora sees the way Catra holds every muscle in her body perfectly still, like she always does when she’s upset. She sees the slight redness in the whites of Catra’s eyes, evidence of the night before, when she’d slept on the floor of the bathroom to avoid crying in front of Adora.

“Catra,” Adora says. Her hands flex at her sides, wanting to reach out. She doesn’t think the pull in her chest has ever been so strong. She’s never wanted to hold Catra so badly in her life.

“Just go,” Catra spits. The words knock the wind out of Adora. She hunches forward like she’s been hit, gritting her teeth against the hollowness in her chest.

“Catra—“

Go.” It’s a command this time. “Just leave if that’s what you want.” Adora shoves her hands into her jacket pockets so she can’t reach out towards Catra. “You don’t ever have to see me again, alright? Just fucking walk away. Leave me.”

“Catra, please,” Adora says. She takes a half-step forward, and even though Catra is at least fifteen feet away, she takes an answering step back, farther up the stairs.

“Just go!” Catra is shouting now. “Leave, Adora! Fucking leave! I don’t want you here!” Adora stumbles backwards, narrowly missing her tower of boxes. “I don’t ever want to see you again!”

“You don’t mean that,” Adora says weakly, shaking her head. “You don’t—“

“Yes I fucking do.” Catra takes a deep breath, and even from here, Adora can hear the way it shudders. “Leave, Adora. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want you anymore.”

Adora goes numb.

“Okay,” she whispers. “I’ll go.” If Catra wants her to, Adora will go. She pulls on her backpack, hooks a spare strap on her suitcase over her arm to lift it, and picks up her stack of boxes. The front door is already open, and she steps through it.

When she pauses to look back, Catra is gone from the staircase.

Adora kicks the front door shut behind her and carries her things, boxes teetering precariously, out to the car. Mara is waiting in the driver’s seat, and she gets out when she sees Adora coming, popping the trunk open. The moment Adora gets there, Mara takes the top two boxes from the stack.

“You got everything?” Mara asks. Adora doesn’t answer. She piles her things in the trunk of the car haphazardly, not caring to handle her possessions gently. They don’t matter. She isn’t bringing the only thing she really wants with her. “Hey,” Mara says, catching Adora’s arm. “Are you okay?” Adora realizes belatedly that she’s crying. She wonders how long that’s been going on. She wonders if Catra saw.

“Let’s go,” Adora says. She walks over to the passenger side door. Mara mirrors her movement, walking to the driver’s side, but hesitates before she opens the door.

“Adora, if you’re having second thoughts, or if you want to stay, you should tell me,” Mara says. “It’s okay if—“

“I don’t want to stay.” Adora stares at her fingers where they’re curled around the door handle. Her ring finger on her left hand is a little crooked, from where she accidentally broke it playing tag with Catra in fifth grade. “I’m not—I’m not wanted here.”

“What?” Mara leans against the car, frowning at Adora. “Who told you that? Did your guardian say that? I can talk to her—”

No.” Mara hasn’t met Ms. Weaver. That was very purposeful on Adora’s part, and she doesn’t want it to change now. “It doesn’t matter. Can we go now?” Mara stares at her for another long moment, like she’s trying to figure out how Adora is feeling. She doesn’t have any luck. Adora isn’t feeling anymore.

“Okay,” Mara says, pulling open her car door. Adora does the same, and they both climb into the car.

Moments later, they’re pulling away from the curb. Adora stares out the passenger side window at the house she grew up in. For a moment, she thinks she sees a flicker of movement in the window on the second floor, the one that leads into the bedroom she’s shared with Catra for a decade. But then Mara turns a corner, and the movement, the window, and the house all disappear.


catra, scorpia, and entrapta’s apartment, november 2020

 

Catra is tugging at Adora’s hair.

Reluctantly, Adora lifts her head and pushes herself up onto her knees, relinquishing her position between Catra’s legs. She leaves a few gentle kisses on Catra’s stomach and hipbones on her way up, but the tugging is insistent. Adora shifts forward and looks down at Catra’s face—

—and finds her crying silently, her jaw visibly clenched.

“Catra,” Adora says, her stomach dropping. “Are you okay?” Catra nods quickly, not speaking. Her eyes are squeezed shut, with tears leaking out at the corners. Adora shifts over, settling beside Catra, and tries to fight down the panic building in her throat. “I’m sorry,” Adora whispers, even though she isn’t sure what’s happening, what she’s apologizing for. “Did I—was that too much or…”

“No,” Catra whispers. Her voice is shaky. She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes, looking up at Adora. Adora’s chest seizes up at the sight—blue and gold eyes, glistening with fresh tears, squinting up at her through their own haze.

“What’s wrong?” Adora asks. She wants to reach out, brush away Catra’s tears, comfort her somehow. But Catra is crying right after Adora fucked her, and that has never happened before. Adora isn’t sure her touch would be welcome right now.

“Nothing,” Catra says. She props herself up on her elbows, wiping at her eyes with one hand. “Nothing’s wrong.”

Catra,” Adora says.

Adora,” Catra says back, her tone a mockery of Adora’s.

“Catra, please.” Adora isn’t going to let her brush this off. “I want to believe you, but you were crying. Please just tell me what’s going on.” Catra flops down onto her back again, and Adora settles fully onto her side on the bed, putting their faces on the same level. Catra turns her head to look Adora in the eye.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Catra says quietly. “It wasn’t too much. I was just…” She goes quiet for a long moment, and for a moment, Adora wonders if she’ll get an answer. “I think we should stop hooking up.”

“What?” Adora asks, barely a whisper. Catra winces and looks away. Adora sits up, throwing her legs off the bed and setting her feet on the floor. She can’t look at Catra right now, can’t—can’t—

Adora must’ve fucked up. They had sex, and now Catra is crying and saying they should stop. Adora must’ve done something wrong, must’ve hurt Catra, or—or done something she didn’t want, or—

Oh, God.

“Adora,” Catra says from behind her. “Hey. Don’t spiral.”

“What did I do?” Adora asks. “Catra, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t—I don’t—I didn’t mean to hurt you, I—“

“I said don’t spiral,” Catra says. Adora hears her sit up, but doesn’t turn to look. She can’t look. She’s a fucking coward for it, but she can’t look at Catra and know that she’s hurt her again. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t hurt me. I just…it feels like this thing has kind of burned itself out, you know?” Catra presses a hand against Adora’s bare back, right between her shoulder blades, over the sword. “I still want to be just friends again.”

Burned itself out.

“Yeah,” Adora says, her own voice distant in her skull. “Yeah, that’s—that’s cool. Um, if you’re sure you’re okay, I think I’m going to go.” She stands and starts looking for her clothes.

“Adora,” Catra says from the bed. “You don’t have to go.”

“Yeah, no, I—“ Adora finds her underwear and jeans and starts to pull them on. “I just, um, have stuff to do. Homework and—studying, y’know, college. So I’m gonna go.”

Adora.” Catra sounds exasperated, and Adora almost looks at Catra again before she stops herself. If she looks, Catra’s eyes will still be red and puffy, and Adora will still have hurt her. No matter what Catra says, Adora will still have hurt her.

“I’ll, I’ll see you later,” Adora says as she pulls her hoodie over her head.

“Adora, it’s okay,” Catra says. She’s sitting on the edge of the bed now, and Adora can feel her gaze. Still, Adora keeps her head ducked, eyes down and away. “You don’t have to leave.”

“I’ll see you later, Catra,” Adora says again, and slips out of Catra’s bedroom. No one else is home, and Adora is grateful for that. She doesn’t have to look at anyone as she crosses the living room in a haze. Melog is curled up on the dining table, and he chirps at her as she passes, but she ignores him, grabbing at the doorknob with shaking hands. Behind her, Melog jumps down from the table, pressing himself against her calves, like he doesn’t want her to leave.

Adora gets the door open after a moment of fumbling, and Melog runs away through the living room as she stumbles forward and out into the hallway outside Catra’s apartment. She doesn’t risk looking back. She’s afraid of what she might see.

Adora hurt Catra. She knows she did, because the alternative is worse. The alternative, that Catra was telling the truth, and whatever they have has burned out.

It hasn’t burned out for Adora. She’s never wanted anyone like she wants Catra. Every time they sleep together, every time she wakes up with Catra in her arms, every time they so much as make eye contact, Adora could die happy. Every time, it feels like the time Adora got jabbed with one of Kyle’s EpiPens—her whole body pulsing and buzzing at once.

If Catra is telling the truth, she feels none of that. Adora can’t believe that. She can believe that she’s a bad enough lover to hurt Catra and not notice. She can accept that she did something wrong.

She can’t accept that she is wrong for Catra.

Chapter Text

grayskull city, september 2015

 

“You good?”

Adora finishes splashing water on her face and looks up, meeting Catra’s eyes in the bathroom mirror. It takes her a moment to formulate a response as she’s struck once again by how good Catra looks. A fitted suit is definitely overkill for a school dance that most guys wear polo shirts to, but Catra had bought the thing with her last big paycheck from her summer job. Adora knows she had been looking for an excuse to wear it, and Adora isn’t about to complain about it, either, not when she gets to stare at Catra in a suit all night.

“I’m good,” Adora says, drying her hands on her jeans. She had opted for a Hawaiian shirt and black jeans, because it technically meets the dress code for homecoming. They make an odd picture together. Catra holds her gaze in the mirror, and Adora’s mouth goes dry. She grips the edge of the sink, feeling the bass from the gymnasium speakers on the other side of the wall vibrating through the basin. “What about you?” Catra takes a few steps forward, stopping just behind Adora and off to her right.

“I’m doing great, princess,” Catra says. Adora forces herself to breath slowly, calmly, not gasp at the nickname. Catra’s been calling her that for years. She doesn’t know when it started getting under her skin. She turns around, leaning back against the sink, and immediately realizes just how close Catra is standing. Catra seems to realize it, too, if the way her eyes widen is any indication. But she doesn’t back away, and Adora wonders.

“You, uh…you look really good tonight,” Adora says, half-whispers. She’s expecting Catra to smirk at her, make a joke like she always does when Adora tries too hard. Catra doesn’t. She takes another half-step forward and sets her hands on the sink basin on either side of Adora’s hips. Adora can’t stop it this time; she inhales sharply. Maybe she won’t have to wonder much longer.

Slowly, giving Catra plenty of time to pull away, run away if she wants to, Adora raises a hand. Catra doesn’t move, and Adora cups her cheek. Catra leans into the contact, sighing quietly, and that makes Adora’s heart turn over. They’re so close now. Adora could count every freckle on Catra’s face if her brain was still functioning enough to do math.

Still, Adora isn’t sure how far she should push this. How far is safe. How far will bring Catra closer than ever, and how far would send her running away from Adora forever. Adora tips her head forwards, and Catra inhales sharply, but Adora doesn’t quite have the guts to lean in the way she wants to. She bumps their foreheads together instead, resting hers against Catra’s. Catra smiles shakily, narrowing her eyes.

“What’s this supposed to be, Adora?” she asks. Adora opens her mouth, probably to say something stupid. Maybe to ask Catra to kiss her.

The bathroom door opens. Catra jumps away from her so fast that Adora’s hand is left hanging in the air, holding the space that Catra no longer occupies. Three girls enter the bathroom, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They pay Catra and Adora absolutely no mind, heading down the line of stalls instead.

“Catra,” Adora begins.

“C’mon,” Catra says, turning away. “We should get back to the dance.”

Helpless, Adora follows her.


catra, scorpia, and entrapta’s apartment, november 2020

 

Scorpia comes home and walks in on Catra crying. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. Catra can’t even work up the energy to be ashamed; she just looks up at Scorpia from the couch and lets the tear tracks on her face be seen.

“Hey,” Scorpia says, already dropping her things on the table. She’s still dressed for work, red scrubs and ugly sneakers, and she looks exhausted, but she doesn’t even hesitate before crossing the living room in three long strides and sitting on the couch beside Catra. “Hey, wildcat, what’s wrong?” Catra shakes her head. She doesn’t even know where to begin. Scorpia wraps an arm around Catra’s shoulders, and Catra leans into her side, resting her head on Scorpia’s shoulder.

“I…I made a choice,” Catra says, surprising even herself with just how rough her voice sounds. “I made the right choice, but it hurts, Scorpia. It hurts so much.”

“Okay,” Scorpia says. “Okay. I’ve got you, okay? Can you tell me what’s going on?” Catra takes a few deep breaths. Scorpia isn’t quite as good at calming her down as Adora is, but she’s still pretty damn good at it.

“Me and Adora,” Catra begins. “I—didn’t tell you, but we’ve, um, we’ve been hooking up. Since Halloween. Just—for fun. Nothing serious.”

“Oh.” Scorpia’s eyes widen slightly. “Oh. Catra…”

“I know,” Catra says. She presses her palms against the sides of her head, squeezing until it’s just a little bit painful. “I know, it was a bad idea. It was such a bad idea. She was here earlier, and I ended it. That’s why…” She gestures at the tear tracks on her face. She doesn’t mention the part where she started crying with Adora’s head still between her legs, was crying when she broke things off—because Catra had known from the start that this would be the last time. She’d made that decision while they were still in Grayskull over the weekend. She just hadn’t wanted to let Adora go without feeling loved one last time.

Catra hadn’t counted on how much it would hurt to have Adora in her arms and know she never would again.

“Oh, man,” Scorpia says quietly. “Catra, I’m sorry.” Catra half-laughs at the words, the moments they remind her of.

“Don’t be,” Catra says, shaking her head. “I fucked up all by myself.”

“Look, can you…maybe explain what happened?” Scorpia asks. “You don’t have to, but I’m…a little confused.”

“Yeah,” Catra says. “Yeah, okay. We hooked up after that party she took me to on Halloween. We just—she kissed me, Scorpia, and I couldn’t—I’ve never been able to say no to her. And then we agreed that it was just a casual thing, and it kept happening.”

“So what changed?” Scorpia asks. “Why did you end it?”

“I couldn’t do casual,” Catra says. “I thought I could, but I was wrong. She’s—“ Catra breaks off, taking a deep breath to fight back a sob. “It started to feel like high school all over again. Like she was the only thing worth caring about, the only thing that mattered. And I can’t do that again. I won’t. I won’t let my life be about her.” She wonders if she’s making any sense.

“If you think this is the best choice for you,” Scorpia says, voice gentle, “I’ve got your back, okay? I support you.” Catra nods in acknowledgement, managing the ghost of a smile. “So…what happens now? With you and Adora, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” Catra says. “She was upset, earlier, so I guess it depends on her. I—I still want to be her friend, if she’ll have me.” Scorpia gets a look on her face, not quite disapproving but definitely edging past concern. “What?”

“Just…” Scorpia shakes her head. “If you’re worried about falling in love with her, Catra, it might not be the sex that you have to worry about.” Catra frowns at her, confused. “I mean, I didn’t pick up on things changing between you two for a reason. You weren’t acting any different with Adora before Halloween than you are now. I don’t know. You’re really good at hiding things, so maybe I’m wrong, but…it kind of seems like maybe it’s not sleeping with Adora that’s changing things for you, it’s just Adora.”

“But…” Catra’s throat closes up. “I can’t just stop seeing her. I can’t leave her, Scorpia. I’m supposed to take care of her. I can’t do that if I’m not there.”

“I’m not saying you have to ghost her or something,” Scorpia says. “I’m just saying that this is the kind of situation where a person needs space sometimes. So…just take care of yourself, okay? Take space if you need it.”

“Okay.”


grayskull city, september 2016

 

“We’re going to get in so much trouble for this,” Adora mutters. Across the hallway, Catra snorts derisively.

“Don’t be a pussy,” she says.

“You’re the one who was afraid to drink.” They’ve been at the party for a little over an hour, and neither of them has had a sip of alcohol. Adora had abstained partially because she thinks it would make her anxiety worse, and partially because the idea kind of scares her. She isn’t sure what she might admit if she started drinking. Catra had skipped the drinks, too, though Adora isn't sure why.

“Yeah, well, you’re the one who freaked out over the music,” Catra says. Adora flinches. That one hurts. This always happens when they go to school dances—or, in this case, a school dance afterparty: Adora has a good time for the first half hour, then the volume of the music and the claustrophobia of the dance floor sets off her anxiety. She has to take more and more breaks that last longer and longer until they just end up leaving. Just like right now. They’re sitting in the upstairs hallway of the house party, as far from the living room and the dancing as they can get. The hallway is small and dark. Adora’s legs stretch from where she’s sitting against one wall all the way to where her feet press against the opposite wall. Catra is mirroring Adora’s position, feet almost touching the wall right next to Adora’s hip.

“Sorry,” Catra adds after awhile. She sounds like she means it. Adora’s anxiety is a low blow, and they both know it.

“It’s okay,” Adora says. “I just think we should go home soon. Our curfew—“

“Why are you always so worried about what Ms. Weaver thinks?” Catra asks. “Don’t you ever just do what you want?” Adora looks away, down towards the end of the hallway.

“Sometimes,” she says. Catra hums in response. In her peripheral vision, Adora can see Catra moving, crawling forwards across the hall, but she doesn’t fully grasp what’s happening until Catra is already straddling her lap. “Uh,” Adora says, looking up into Catra’s eyes. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Catra smirks at her, putting her hands on Adora’s shoulders, and Adora’s heart starts up a soldier’s marching beat in her chest.

“Why…are you sitting there?” she asks.

“Because I want to,” Catra says. “And I don’t care what anyone else thinks, especially not Ms. Weaver.” The mention of their guardian snaps Adora out of the haze having Catra so close has sunk her into. Adora bites her lip and shifts her gaze over Catra’s shoulder, not meeting her eyes. She can’t look. She’ll do something stupid if she does.

“We should go home,” Adora says. Catra makes a frustrated noise, digging her fingernails into Adora’s shoulders.

“Why won’t you ever stop thinking about what you should do?” she asks. Adora bites her lip even harder, searching for the taste of blood.

“I just don’t want you to get in trouble,” she says. Catra stiffens on top of her.

“Right,” she says, voice cold. “Because it’s always me who gets in trouble. It’s always my fault. It’s always me who gets the consequences.” She leans in, her lips brushing against the shell of Adora’s ear. “I bet you love that, don’t you?”

“What?” Adora breathes, but it doesn’t seem like Catra hears her.

“You love being her favorite,” Catra whispers. Her breath is hot against Adora’s skin, and Adora shivers involuntarily, her spine tingling and her stomach turning all at once. She closes her eyes. “That’s why you’re always so worried about making her happy. As long as you follow the rules, you’re better than me. You can tell me what to do. Isn’t that what you want? To be in charge?”

“Catra…” Adora shudders. She reaches out, setting her hands on Catra’s waist, and pushes back, as gently as she can. She just needs space. She needs to be able to breathe and not catch the scent of Catra’s conditioner, to open her eyes and not see Catra’s multicolored gaze staring back at her.

“Whatever,” Catra says. She climbs off of Adora’s lap. Adora finally opens her eyes to find Catra standing up, towering over her in the narrow hallway. “If you wanna go home so bad, let’s go.” She walks away, and Adora scrambles to her feet to follow.


glimmer’s house, bright moon, november 2020

 

“I’m calling a water break,” Glimmer shouts. Catra jogs to a stop, internally very much agreeing with Glimmer. The four of them have been playing two-on-two soccer for—Catra doesn’t even know how long. It feels like it’s been six hours, but that’s what she gets for playing with two jocks, apparently. Neither Bow nor Adora look like they’ve even broken a sweat.

Catra gasps for breath as she wanders over to where her water bottle is sitting in the grass. They’re in the backyard of Glimmer’s house—which is truly, absurdly large. Not Mermista’s castle-masquerading-as-a-house levels of large, but way too big for a family of three—or four, with Adora there, too. Catra had taken Adora up on her invitation for the game expecting a quick friendly match followed by a lot of sitting in the grass and talking. Instead, she’s just been running and kicking and playing on a team for what feels like forever.

“Nice job out there!” Speaking of teams. It’s Bow, coming up beside her with a huge grin on his face. Catra and Glimmer had insisted that Bow and Adora be on separate teams, and Catra had gone with Bow—and Glimmer with Adora—because they had all figured it would be more fun to play against their closest friend.

“Thanks,” Catra says, accepting Bow’s congratulatory fistbump. “It’s not exactly hard to score against Glimmer, though.”

“Yeah, but you got past Adora on defense,” Bow points out. “And she’s the only one of us that actually knows how to play soccer.” Catra makes a noncommittal noise, her focus drifting over to where Adora is standing, talking to Glimmer. Catra had gotten past Adora. Twice. That shouldn’t be possible. Catra knows fuck all about soccer, and even if Adora hasn’t played since middle school—which Catra doubts is the case—she’s still more athletic than Catra. Catra shouldn’t be winning.

Adora wouldn’t be letting her win. Catra knows she’s way too competitive for that. But every time Catra gets close, Adora won’t quite look at her. Again, Catra doesn’t know much about soccer, but she’s pretty sure refusing to even look at one’s opponent isn’t a great strategy.

It’s stressing Catra out. This is the first time they’ve seen each other since Catra broke things off, and Adora is making it weird. Catra had texted Adora after a few long days of radio silence, asking to get coffee together. Adora had been busy, but had offered soccer at Glimmer’s house as an alternative. Catra is trying not to analyze. She doesn’t want to think that Adora organized a group hangout as an excuse to put space between herself and Catra.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra says aloud. Adora breaks away from her conversation with Glimmer, turning to Catra with wide eyes. “Wanna show me wherever the hell the bathroom is in this place?” She tries to slip another meaning into her voice, tries to say we need to talk. She isn’t sure if she’s successful. She isn’t fluent anymore in the secret language she and Adora used to share.

“Sure,” Adora says. She sets her water bottle back on the ground and starts to walk away from the yard, up the little stone path to the back of the house. “C’mon.” Catra half-jogs to catch up and follows Adora up the path, around the corner of the house and out of sight and earshot of Bow and Glimmer. “It’s right inside,” Adora says, stopping by the back door. “First door on your left. Take your shoes off inside, though, Glimmer’s parents are picky about that.” Micah and Angella, as Catra has been told their names are, are out of town right now, for which Catra is kind of grateful. She hates having to convince old people to like her.

“I don’t actually need the bathroom,” Catra says, leaning against the side of the house. “I just wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh,” Adora says. “Um. Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Catra studies her. “You can’t tell anymore, huh? What I’m really asking.”

“No,” Adora says. “It’s—been a really long time, Catra, and I don’t know if I was ever really good at figuring you out to begin with.” She shrugs. “It’d be easier if you just told me what you want.” The words sting a little bit, but mostly because Catra has heard them in different iterations a thousand times before from her therapist.

“Yeah.” Catra sighs, pushing a hand through her hair. “Look, I just—you’re being weird. It kind of feels like you’re avoiding me even though we’re hanging out.”

“…Sorry.” Adora crosses her arms, holding herself tightly. “I’m not trying to make things worse.”

“There’s nothing to make worse, Adora,” Catra says. “There’s nothing wrong.” The lie doesn’t even sound convincing to her, but she’s hoping Adora will let her get away with it.

“Right.” Adora stares down at her feet, and Catra tries to fight off the wave of guilt in her chest. That’s Adora’s disappointed-in-herself look, and it’s there because of Catra.

“Hey.” Catra steps forward, setting a hand on Adora’s shoulder. “I just wanna be friends again, okay? Can we just go play soccer with Bow and Glimmer and…I don’t know, be us? I just…I don’t want to lose you.” Finally, Adora smiles. It’s small and hesitant, but genuine.

“Okay,” Adora says. “Um. If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” Catra lets her hand drop, because feeling Adora’s shoulder muscles flex beneath her fingers isn’t super helpful while Catra is trying to reestablish their relationship as wholly platonic, but keeps her gaze fixed on Adora’s. “I want you around, Adora. That never changed.”

“Okay.” Adora is smiling for real now, and all of Catra’s frustration melts away. “Well, let’s get back on the field so I can tear you and Bow to pieces, huh?” She gestures back towards the path, and Catra falls into step beside her as they loop back towards the yard.

“As if,” Catra says. “I’ve scored on you guys twice. That’s embarrassing.” Adora steps to the side, bumping her shoulder into Catra’s.

“You won’t score again,” Adora says.

“Sounds like a challenge.”

It is one. Catra goes all out the whole rest of the time they’re playing, and she doesn’t get close to the goal when Adora’s on defense. Catra and Bow get absolutely destroyed, and Catra is laughing the whole time. Adora is, too, even as they play harder and harder against each other, as their trash talk reaches the point of absurdity. It feels just like it used to. It feels like Catra is fifteen again, or ten, or five, playing games and getting overly competitive with Adora in the backyard.

Afterwards, they sit in the grass, catching their breath and drinking water. No one is talking much; Catra and Adora had forced the athleticism of the game up a few notches, and they’re all pretty beat. Catra leans back on one hand, holding her water bottle in the other, and watches Adora stretch out on the other side of the yard. Glimmer, coming back from the house with a refilled water bottle in hand, pauses beside Catra, looks at her, and snorts.

“Nice heart eyes,” she says, and Catra freezes.

“What?” she asks. The word comes out angry. Glimmer frowns.

“You’re just staring at Adora, that’s all,” she says. “Like…” She makes a face, eyes wide and admiring. “You know. Heart eyes.”

“I…” Catra looks back across the yard. Adora hasn’t noticed Glimmer and Catra talking. She’s wholly focused on her stretches, and Catra is—Catra is so, so fucked.

It’s been easy, being here with Adora, because nothing has changed. Catra doesn’t feel any different inside when she looks at Adora. The second round of games were so much fun because Adora was having fun. When Adora had finally looked Catra in the eye again, back behind the house, Catra’s whole body had lit up in response.

Scorpia was right. Catra needs space.

“I need to head home soon,” Catra says.

“Oh,” Glimmer says, surprised. “You sure? We’re ordering Thai food later, and we’ve got a bunch of shitty movies picked out.”

“Yeah, no, I—I need to go.” Catra pushes herself to her feet, picking up her water bottle from the ground. “But I appreciate the invite. I’ll see you around, Glimmer.”

“Catra—“

Catra leaves before Glimmer can finish her sentence, practically bolting from the yard. She doesn’t stop there, either; she loops around the house to Glimmer’s giant driveway and climbs into her borrowed car as fast as she possibly can. She barely has her seatbelt on before she’s turning the car on and pulling away. She needs to leave. She needs to leave now, or Adora will come looking for her, and then Catra will never leave. She’ll never be able to walk away.

Catra has to run now. Before it’s too late.


grayskull city, september 2015

 

“Told you it would be fine,” Catra says as she steps into their bedroom. Adora follows her inside, closing the door behind them as quietly as she can. “Ms. Weaver slept right through us coming home.”

“Or she’s waiting to yell at us in the morning,” Adora mutters. “Look, we can’t take risks like that anymore, okay? No more parties.”

“Why not? Lonnie takes risks all the time.” Catra gestures across the room, to where their third roommate’s bed is empty, still made up neatly from that morning. Adora sighs heavily. It’s true that Lonnie skips curfew a lot—several times a week at this point. Ms. Weaver has never made an effort to rein her in. She’s never really made any kind of effort with the other kids, though, not like she has with Adora and Catra.

“We’re not Lonnie,” Adora says. “Please just listen to me. Please.” Something in her tone must get through.

“Fine, whatever,” Catra says. She tugs her suit jacket off and drops it on the floor carelessly. Her bowtie has been untied for hours now, and she lets that slip to the floor as well as she fumbles with the buttons of her shirt. Adora notes the way Catra’s hands are shaking, a frown beginning to form on her face. “Can you help me with this?” Catra asks after a moment, gesturing at her shirt. Adora swallows hard and nods jerkily. She steps forward, trying to maintain at least a little space between their bodies, but that isn’t exactly possible, given the nature of her task.

“What’s up with you tonight?” Adora asks as she works on the buttons just below Catra’s collarbone. “Why are you shaky? Are you okay?” Catra hums quietly, and Adora can feel her gaze, but doesn’t dare look up and meet it.

“I’m fine,” Catra says as Adora pops open another button. “I took something at the dance.” Adora freezes, her fingers tightening around the front of Catra’s shirt.

“You what?” she says. “What did you take?” Catra shrugs.

“I dunno,” she says.

“You don’t know? Catra—“

“Hey, it’s fine,” Catra says. “It was that nice guy who gave it to me. Y’know, the one who looks just like Principal Hordak if he was a gay teenager?”

“Wrong Hordak,” Adora says. She has no idea what the guy’s actual name is, since everyone just refers to him by his unfortunate resemblance to their school’s principal, but Catra’s right. Wrong Hordak is nice, and wouldn’t knowingly give Catra anything that would hurt her. It’s the knowingly part that worries Adora. Drugs can be cut with all kinds of stuff, she’s pretty sure, and Wrong Hordak is kind of a dumbass. He might not even know what he gave Catra. “Okay, was it, like, a pill, or a tablet, or—“ She doesn’t know what else drugs come in. Neither of them do drugs—or at least, didn't before tonight.

“Does it matter?” Catra asks. “I feel fine.”

“Your hands are shaking.”

“Yeah, well, your hands shake all the time,” Catra says. “They’re not that bad. And I’m not that high. Everything’s just kinda…” She gestures vaguely with one hand. “I dunno. Brighter. Floaty.”

“Catra…” Adora shakes her head. “Please, please never do this again.”

“Sure.” Catra glances down to where Adora’s hands are still gripping her shirt. “You gonna take my clothes off, princess?” Adora feels her face turn red, and she ignores it, ducking her head to keep her eyes on her work. She gets Catra’s shirt off quickly, and is half-relieved, half-disappointed to find that Catra is wearing a white undershirt beneath it. She sets the button-up over her shoulder and reaches out again, popping the button on Catra’s dress pants.

“You can, um.” Adora’s whole face is burning with warmth now. “You can do the rest, right?”

“Yeah, I think I can get my own pants off, Adora.” Catra sounds amused. Adora steps backwards, putting precious inches between them again. She gathers Catra’s suit jacket from the floor and carries it over to the small closet that they share, hanging it up carefully. She hangs up the shirt, as well, although it probably needs to be cleaned.

Something hits her in the back. Adora turns, looking down, and finds Catra’s suit pants on the floor.

“Do those, too,” Catra says. Adora looks up, and there’s Catra, already sitting in Adora’s bed, blankets pulled up to her waist. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”

“Yeah, of course.” Adora hangs the pants up quickly before going to change out of her own clothes. She can feel Catra’s gaze on her back the whole while, and it’s not unwelcome, but it definitely makes Adora nervous. Between the moment in the bathroom at the dance, Catra climbing into her lap at the party, and now asking to sleep in Adora’s bed, this night feels like it’s…going somewhere.

Adora just isn’t sure how much of that is Catra, and how much is the drug in her bloodstream. Was she already high in the bathroom at the dance, when she got so close to Adora that it hurt?

She doesn’t have long to contemplate it. It takes her seconds to change into an old t-shirt and pajama pants, and then she’s crawling into bed next to Catra. It’s a twin sized mattress, far too small for two teenage bodies, but they make it work anyway. Catra seems to fit into every space where Adora isn’t.

Adora glances down for a moment to pull the blankets up over them, and when she looks up again, Catra is staring at her. Adora says nothing at first, returning Catra’s gaze hesitantly. Catra doesn’t speak, doesn’t look away, and eventually, Adora has to say something or she’ll explode.

“What?” Adora asks, half-whispering. Catra reaches up with one hand, following Adora’s cheekbone with her fingertips, and suddenly Adora is aware of every single place their bodies are touching, aware of just how close Catra’s face is to her own.

“Why didn’t you kiss me?” Catra asks. Adora’s heart stops.

“…What?”

“In the bathroom, at the dance.” Catra’s hand falls away, settling into the scant space between their bodies. “Why didn’t you kiss me?”

“I…” Adora can’t breathe. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to.”

“You could’ve asked.” Catra’s eyes are luminescent in the dim moonlight coming in their window, glowing blue and gold. “You still can.”

“Catra…” Adora wants to do it. God, she wants to do it. She thinks she might know what Catra’s answer will be, and even if she doesn’t, the hope alone is worth it. If Catra said yes—if Catra said yes

“You’re high,” Adora says. “I don’t even know if you’ll remember this in the morning.” Something in Catra’s eyes shifts.

“I guess not,” she says. She rolls over, pressing her body up against the wall instead of Adora. “I’m tired.”

“Catra.”

“I want to sleep, Adora. Either kick me out or leave me alone.”

Adora would never kick her out. She’d keep Catra here in her bed until the sun exploded if she could. She doesn’t say that, though. She just goes quiet, focusing on the body heat she can still feel coming off Catra’s back. Even if they aren’t touching, Adora can feel Catra’s presence. That will have to be enough.

Chapter Text

text conversation with catra

4:35 PM, nov. 19 2020

 

Hey! Would you want to get coffee sometime this week?

 

11:54 PM

 

actually

i kind of want some space

sorry

 

Oh

Yeah of course

 

i just wanna be alone for awhile

you didn’t do anything wrong or anything

this is about me

 

Okay

Let me know if things change

 

i will

bye adora


bright moon, november 2020

 

“Hey!”

Adora looks up from her phone, where she’s been rereading her last text messages with Catra. She’s done that about a hundred times since the texts were actually sent last week. It’s probably unhealthy, at this point, but Adora doesn’t know what else to do. Catra hasn’t texted her since, and Adora can’t just not think about her.

“Quit moping,” Glimmer says as she approaches the couch, having caught Adora’s attention. “Have you put your phone down all day?” Adora locks her phone and drops it into her lap, sighing heavily.

“Sorry,” she says. She isn’t trying to be rude. She’s grateful that Glimmer’s family is having her over for Thanksgiving. They have for every holiday since Mara died, of course, but Adora feels honored every time.

“Hey, I’m not mad,” Glimmer says. She sits down on the couch beside Adora. “I mean, I’m a little annoyed, but I’m more worried. This is weird for you.”

“Yeah.” Adora digs her nails into her thighs, focusing on the sharp stinging rather than the fog of anxiety in her mind. “It’s, um, it’s Catra.”

“Oh,” Glimmer says. “Oh. What’d she do?”

“Nothing,” Adora says. “Nothing wrong, I mean. She just asked for space, is all, and I’m…not dealing with it well.”

“I mean, yeah,” Glimmer says. “You’re, like, stupid in love with her, right?”

What?” Adora jerks her head to the side, staring at Glimmer with wide eyes. “I’m not…” Maybe it’s time I stopped lying to myself. Glimmer would accept a denial, maybe even believe it, but Adora wouldn’t. “Yeah, I am. She doesn’t know that, though.”

“…Sure,” Glimmer says. “Why’d she ask for space?” Adora shrugs.

“I don’t know,” she says. “We…had to make some changes a few weeks ago, after the trip to Grayskull, but she said—she said she still wanted to be friends.” Adora shakes her head. “It’s fine. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be ruining Thanksgiving with all this.”

“Adora.” Glimmer gives her an exasperated look. “You’re not ruining anything. I just want you to have a good time.”

“Right.” Adora takes a deep breath and shoves her phone into her pocket. No more pining over Catra. She’s done with that for today. Just for today, though. “Um, should we go see if there’s anything we can help Micah with?”

“Sure,” Glimmer says, standing from the couch. “You’re doing the helping, though. I’m not getting between my dad and his Thanksgiving recipes.” Adora half-smiles, which is the closest she’s gotten to a laugh all day, and follows Glimmer into the kitchen.

“Adora!” Micah calls to her from where he’s peeling sweet potatoes at the counter. “Are you here to help?”

“She sure is,” Glimmer says, heading over to the corner of the counter and hopping up to sit on it, mostly out of Micah’s way. “I got her to actually put her phone away.” Adora winces. She hadn’t realized she was being that obnoxious about it.

“Wonderful,” Micah says as Adora goes to wash her hands. “It’s been so long since you’ve come around. How are your classes going?”

“Pretty good,” Adora says, shutting the faucet off. “It looks like I’ll probably make the dean’s list this semester.”

“That’s amazing,” Micah says. He smiles at her, and Adora feels the familiar rush of mixed shame and pride that always comes with someone else acknowledging her achievements. It’s been four years, and not even the combined efforts of Mara, Razz, Bow, and Glimmer’s entire family has managed to break her of the habit.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” Adora mumbles. “I’m not doing as well as Bow, though. I’m pretty sure he has a 4.0.”

“He does,” Glimmer confirms from her spot on the counter. “That’s why he had to go home for Thanksgiving this year. His dads are throwing him a whole party over it.” Bow has been joining Glimmer’s family for random holidays the entire time Adora has known the two of them. Adora isn’t sure how the tradition started, but it’s one of the quirks of her two best friends’ relationship that she mentally classifies as married behaviors.

“Sounds like he’s earned it,” Micah says. “You’ll have to tell him we miss having him here, though!” Glimmer gets a little smile on her face that Adora has never seen on her before.

“I did,” she says, and there’s an undertone to her voice that makes Adora frown suspiciously. She’ll have to ask Glimmer about it later.

“I think you’re done there,” Micah says to Adora. Adora glances down and is surprised to find a thoroughly peeled sweet potato. She’s peeling the flesh of the vegetable away at this point.

“Right,” Adora says, stopping her motions. “Sorry. I’m just…a little distracted.”

“That’s alright,” Micah says. “You know what would help us all focus on cooking?” Adora exchanges a cautious look with Glimmer. It’s impossible to know where anything is going when it comes to Micah.

“What?” Adora asks. Micah hits the button on the old stereo at the back of the countertop.

“Music!” he exclaims as the opening notes of whatever old Broadway collection CD he has in the stereo begin to play. Adora shakes her head fondly, a real, genuine smile spreading across her face for the first time in days.


bright moon, february 2017

 

“You okay?”

Adora glances over her shoulder and finds Mara standing in her bedroom doorway. She’s wearing a gentle smile, the one she always brings out when she’s worried about Adora.

“I’m okay,” Adora says. She scoots to the side from where she’s sitting on the floor, letting Mara see the pile of envelopes in front of her. “You can come in if you want.” Mara walks into the room and sits down on the floor across from Adora, the stack of envelopes between them.

“What’s all this?” Mara asks.

“Therapy homework,” Adora says. “I…wrote a few letters to a friend back in Grayskull right after I moved. She never answered. I kept writing them, though, just stopped sending them.” She rubs her hands over the fabric of her jeans, absently noting the little spike of anxiety that thinking about Catra causes and filing it away to bring up at next week’s appointment. “My therapist thought it might be a good idea to stop. I’m…trying to move on from everything back there, and writing to no one isn’t really helping me do that.”

“Huh.” Mara picks up an envelope from the top of the stack, turning it over in her hands. There’s no address written anywhere on it, not even a name. Adora hadn’t bothered. She was never planning on sending these ones. They’re only marked with the date she sealed each envelope in the upper right hand corner. “So what are you going to do with them? Send them?” Adora shudders at the thought. There’s so many words in these letters that Adora never had the guts to say to Catra’s face. It would be a disservice to both of them to try to say them now.

“No,” Adora says. “I don’t really know what to do with them, actually.” She could just throw them away, but she doesn’t want to. The things she said in them still matter.

“Well, we have plenty of cardboard boxes in the basement,” Mara says. “You can box them up if you want.”

“Is that allowed?” Adora asks. Mara tilts her head, giving Adora a weird look.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” she says. Adora shrugs, a little embarrassed at her own question.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’m supposed to be letting go, right? And just…putting them away and keeping them doesn’t seem like it counts.”

“Here’s the secret to therapy, Adora,” Mara says. “Healing is what you want it to be.” She smiles. “If you want to keep the letters, do it. As long as you’re not spending all your time thinking about the letters, or your friend, it’s still letting go.”

“…Yeah.” Adora looks down at the stack of envelopes in front of her. “Okay. I’ll box them up.”

“Okay.” Mara reaches out, squeezing Adora’s shoulder lightly. “Want any help?”

“No.” Adora picks up the letters, holding them tight against her chest. “I think I wanna do it alone.”

“Okay.” Mara stands. “I’m gonna go to the grocery store. Do you need anything?” Adora thinks about it for a moment.

“You know those little sandwich cookies that are, like, butterscotch flavored?” she asks. “Some of those.” Mara gives her a weird look. Adora flashes her best I’m-a-straight-A-student smile. She learned it from Bow. It’s unbelievably good at getting them out of trouble when they skip class, and getting Mara to not ask questions.

“Sure,” Mara says, shaking her head. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Bye.” Mara leaves the room. Adora looks down at the letters clutched to her chest. She wishes she had the guts to send them, but Catra hadn’t responded to the three that she had sent, back in November and December. Some small part of Adora’s mind, the part of her that’s been going to therapy and is beginning to realize just how harmful her upbringing had been, wonders if Ms. Weaver is the reason for the radio silence.

The rest of her has chosen to believe that it’s Catra. Catra had told her to go. She had made it clear she never wanted to hear from Adora again. So of course she hasn’t responded to Adora’s letters.

If she had, it would mean that Adora had made a mistake when she left.

Adora carries the letters down to the basement. She finds an empty cardboard box between a shelf of old pottery that one of Mara’s cousins had made and a few bags of old clothes that Adora keeps meaning to donate to a thrift store. She stacks the letters inside neatly in chronological order and folds the box shut, then finds an old roll of packing tape and seals it.

Adora holds the box in her arms for a long few minutes after that. She’s thinking about a moment in middle school, when—looking back on it—Adora was first beginning to fall in love with Catra. Whatever kind of love a thirteen-year-old can feel, at any rate. Adora had stolen two dollars from a classmate’s desk so she could buy Catra’s favorite kind of cookie from the vending machine—the little butterscotch sandwich cookies. Catra had been understandably weirded out when Adora sat down next to her in the cafeteria and piled four little packs of cookies in front of her. She hadn’t asked about it, though, just taken the cookies, and Adora had felt like she had achieved something, like Catra had accepted more than just a minor kindness.

Adora shakes the memory off and leaves the box downstairs. Catra doesn’t want her anymore. She can’t keep wondering what would’ve happened if she had been brave enough to say the things she said in her letters a little sooner.


bright moon, november 2020

 

“I’m gonna get some air,” Adora says to Glimmer. She keeps her voice low; Micah and Angella are sitting on the couch across the living room, whispering back and forth with one another. Glimmer complains about her parents’ affectionate relationship all the time, but Adora finds them kind of adorable. She doesn’t want to interrupt their flirting.

“I’ll go with you,” Glimmer says, shooting her parents an annoyed, grossed out look. Neither of them notice. Adora isn’t even sure they notice when she and Glimmer leave the room and slip out onto the deck. It’s dark out—they ate dinner hours ago, now—and chilly, at least for Bright Moon. Adora grew up in a colder, much wetter climate, so the biting air doesn’t bother her at all.

“So,” Adora says. She finally has an opportunity to interrogate Glimmer about her weirdness in the kitchen that afternoon, and she isn’t about to waste it. “You got kinda weird talking about Bow earlier.” Glimmer gets that smile again, some strange cross between devious and affectionate.

“Did I,” she says. It isn’t a question.

Glimmer,” Adora says. “What’s going on there? Did you guys finally admit you’ve been in love for, like, ten years?” Glimmer rolls her eyes.

“Shut up,” she says, like she always does when Adora points out the obvious between her and Bow. “I don’t know. I finally said fuck it and kissed him a few weeks ago, and now we’re just…I don’t know. Doing stuff.” She rests her elbows on the deck railing and perches her chin in her hands, that little smile still on her face. “It’s really, really good.”

“That’s good,” Adora says. “I’m happy for you guys.” There’s a concern building in the back of her mind, though, and she doesn’t take long to voice it. “So you guys haven’t, like, labeled anything?”

“Not really?” Glimmer shrugs. “I don’t think we need to. We both know what’s going on.”

“I think you should,” Adora says, unable to stop herself. “That’s—important. Having a label. Talking things out. Making sure no one is more invested than the other person.”

“We’ve talked about it,” Glimmer says. She’s frowning now, eyeing Adora with a furrow in her brow. “Are you…upset about this?”

“No.” Adora rubs at her eyes. “Sorry. No. I just want things to go right for you guys.”

“I appreciate that,” Glimmer says. “But what’s actually going on here?” Adora says nothing. Glimmer turns to face her and reaches out, grabbing one of Adora’s hands in her own. “You’re shaking,” Glimmer says. Adora pulls her hand away and shoves it into her pocket.

“Yeah,” she mutters. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Glimmer sighs. “Adora, I’ve known you long enough to notice when you’re anxious. And you’re worried about stuff with me and Bow that doesn’t even make sense. Of course we’re both invested in this. It’s me and Bow.” Adora exhales, leaning forwards against the deck railing. She takes a deep breath, holding it in her lungs until the sting of cold air disappears. It feels good. It centers her a bit—enough to have this conversation, at least.

“It’s, um, it’s Catra,” Adora says. “We…were sleeping together.” In her peripheral vision, she sees Glimmer’s eyes widen. “I thought…I could keep it casual,” she says. “We hooked up a lot, and then we went to Grayskull and things were…I don’t know. Intense. And she told me she wanted to stop.”

“Adora…” Glimmer steps forward and pulls Adora into a hug. Adora leans into it, her eyes drifting shut. She hadn’t realized how much she needed this. “I’m sorry,” Glimmer says when she pulls away. “I’m sorry, Adora. That must’ve really hurt.” It still does.

“Yeah,” Adora whispers. “She just…asked for space. And I’m giving it to her, but it hurts.” Glimmer nods, a pained look on her face. Adora realizes suddenly that there’s tears on her face. “I don’t know what I did wrong,” Adora says. “I don’t know.”

“Hey.” Glimmer takes Adora’s hand again, squeezing it tightly. “I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong, okay?”

“I had to,” Adora says, shaking her head. “I had to.”

“Adora—“

“No.” Adora pulls her hand away, scrubbing at her face. “I fucked up. I know I fucked up. I fucked up, and I hurt her, and now Catra doesn’t want me anymore. I—“

“Adora.” Glimmer is grabbing onto her shoulders now. “If Catra didn’t tell you what you did wrong, you can’t assume that you screwed up, okay?”

“But—“

She should’ve told you.” Glimmer enunciates every word carefully and forcefully. “Look, I don’t know exactly what was going on with you guys, but asking you for space without telling you why is just, like, ghosting with extra steps. You deserve better than that.”

“I think I hurt her.” Adora shakes her head, trying to fight off the image that’s burned into her retinas of Catra crying beneath her. “I think I—“

“You don’t know,” Glimmer says. “You don’t know, Adora, and she should’ve told you what happened. You deserve an explanation.”

“I…” Does she, though? If she hurt Catra—hurt Catra again after everything they’ve been through—she can’t exactly blame Catra for cutting her out.

Adora’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She takes a step back from Glimmer, glad for the temporary escape, and pulls it out.

The moment Adora sees the area code of the caller, her stomach drops.

“I have to take this,” she says to Glimmer, barely above a whisper, and walks away.


bright moon, august 2017

 

“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Adora says as she climbs out of Bow’s car. Glimmer and Bow in the front seats echo the sentiment, and Adora slams the car door behind her before heading up the driveway to her house. Mara will be home by now; normally, she works a few hours later than Adora’s classes go, but it’s the first day of Adora’s senior year. She and Bow and Glimmer had to mark that somehow. They had bought ice cream from the grocery store and sat in Bow’s car in the parking lot, passing the cartons around until it was all gone. Adora feels kind of sick now from how much she ate, but it was worth it.

Adora kicks her shoes off in the entryway and heads farther into the house, a little bit of a smile still on her face. She checks the kitchen first, but doesn’t find Mara there. She wanders down the hallway to the living room instead.

Mara is sitting on the couch. She’s balancing her laptop on her knees with a notebook on her thighs. Papers are strewn across the coffee table in front of her. Adora doesn’t think she’s seen Mara look this stressed before. Mara doesn’t really ever seem stressed, actually. The side of herself that she shows to Adora is steady, level-headed and even-keeled. Unshakeable. But right now, her eyes are tinged red around the edges, her jaw is clenched, and her shoulders are hunched forwards.

“Hey,” Adora says. Mara jumps in place and jerks her head up to see who’s there.

“Adora,” she says, taking a deep breath. “You scared me.”

“Sorry.” Adora hesitates, shifting on her feet in place. She has a bunch of syllabuses to read in her backpack, and while it’s not real homework, she still needs to do it. But going upstairs to her room and doing that seems less important than whatever’s happening right here in the living room. “Is…everything okay?” Mara laughs, short, sharp, and bitter.

“Not exactly,” she says. “I got a call from the police department today.”

“What?” Adora says. “What for?” For a moment, she is completely convinced that the weed she smoked in Bow’s basement last week is about to land her in federal prison.

“Missing jury duty,” Mara says. “Apparently, I got a summons in the mail last week, and was supposed to call the court to confirm. The problem is, I never got the summons.”

“So it got lost in the mail or something,” Adora says. “They can’t get you in trouble for something like that, right?” Mara blinks, a look of realization forming on her face.

“I’m not in trouble,” she says. “That’s not really the problem. The problem is why I never got the summons.” She sighs heavily and leans back against the couch, rubbing at her face with her hands. “It’s Razz,” she says. “She’s been messing with the mail.”

“…What?” Adora shakes her head. “Why?”

“She’s getting worse.” Mara’s voice is flat—not monotone, but defeated. “I mentioned the summons to her, and she told me she threw it out, but she didn’t have an explanation for why. She just looked confused.”

“Jesus.” Adora sits down on the couch beside Mara, her heart sinking. Mara’s right, of course; Razz is getting worse. They knew that already. She’s made a habit of wandering away this summer, going out for a walk and not coming back. She forgets to come home, or where home is, maybe. Adora isn’t sure. “What do we do?”

“That’s what I’m working on,” Mara says. “She isn’t doing well here anymore. Adora, I…I think we might need to have her live somewhere else.”

“Somewhere else?” Adora asks. “Like where?” Mara nods, closing her eyes.

“I’m looking at assisted living facilities,” she says. “For people with these kinds of problems.” Adora is half-expecting it, but the words make her heart clench anyway.

“Would they—would they be nearby?” she asks. Razz needs help, she knows, but Adora can’t—they can’t just not see her.

“Adora, dearie!” The voice comes from across the room. Adora looks up, and there’s Razz, standing in the hallway, a wide smile on her face. “You’re home in time to help me cook dinner!”

“Hey, Razz,” Adora says. She glances at Mara, wondering if she’s broken the news to Razz herself yet. Mara gives her head the tiniest shake. Adora nods just as subtly and turns back to Razz. “I don’t know if I can help tonight. I have a lot of homework to do.”

“Homework?” Razz says. “But it was your first day of school!”

“I mean, it’s—mostly just reading,” Adora says. “But I really should get it done—“

“Adora,” Mara says from behind her. Adora glances over her shoulder and finds Mara looking at her, a sad smile on her face. Her eyes are shining a bit brighter than usual. “Go help Razz. You have the time tonight.” Adora catches the emphasis. Razz won’t be here to need her help much longer.

“Okay,” Adora says, standing from the couch. “Let me put my backpack away, Razz, then I’ll come help.”

“Excellent,” Razz says, clapping her hands together. “Bring your music. I liked that punk band you played yesterday.”

“That was last week,” Adora says. Razz just looks at her blankly, and Adora shakes her head. “Never mind,” she says. “I’ll be right back.”


bright moon, november 2020

 

Catra’s phone is buzzing in her pocket. Both Scorpia and Entrapta glance at her, their faces pale in the light of the TV screen. She grabs at it through the fabric of her jeans, pressing the side button twice to decline the call. It’s Thanksgiving; surely whoever it is can wait.

Her phone buzzes again. She declines the call again, already pulling her phone out to shoot off an angry text message to whoever is harassing her and interrupting her traditional Thanksgiving horror movie night with her two best friends. When she unlocks her phone, though, she finds she’s been beaten to it: the caller has already texted her.


text conversation with adora

9:17 PM, nov. 26 2020

 

Catra please pick up

Please

I need help

Razz is dead


“I need to—“ Catra shakes her head, already standing before she can think of an excuse. She meets Scorpia’s concerned gaze before ducking out of the room. Her phone is ringing again as she steps into the kitchen, Adora’s name on the display. This time, Catra accepts the call.

“Adora?” she says, pressing the phone to her ear. There’s a long pause on the other end of the line, then a shaky, staticky exhale.

Catra,” Adora says. Even through the phone, the emptiness in her voice makes Catra shake. “I’m sorry. I know you asked for space, I just—“ She makes a quiet noise, almost a whimper. “—I had no one else to call.” Catra doesn’t believe that for a second. You have other friends, she wants to say, wants to punctuate by hanging up.

“Are you okay?” Catra says instead.

I don’t know.” Adora sighs into the phone again. “I don’t know. They called and told me. They’re—she’s getting cremated the day after tomorrow.” Catra winces, feeling a spike of pain in her own chest. She had liked Razz. She doesn’t want her to be ash.

“I’m sorry,” Catra says. The words echo off the walls of the dark, empty kitchen, colliding back against her own ears. They’re harsh, dissonant, and she wants to say something else, something kind and soft that will come back melodic, but she doesn’t know how. She doesn’t know the words.

Thank you,” Adora says, instead of it’s not your fault.

“What…can I do?” Catra says. “To help?” Adora stays quiet for awhile, long enough that Catra pulls the phone away from her ear just to make sure Adora is still on the line.

I’m going to spread her ashes in the Whispering Woods,” Adora finally says. “She grew up in a village out there. Would you—would you come with me?”

Of all the things you could’ve asked me for.

“Adora…” Catra closes her eyes.

I’m sorry,” Adora says. “I’m sorry. I know you—you wanted space, and I need to respect that. I just—I just—“ She takes a breath. Catra can hear the anxious wheeze in it through the phone. “I need somebody there,” Adora whispers. “I just need somebody there. I can’t do it alone, Catra. I need someone to—to hold my hand when I say goodbye. And I want it to be you.” She pauses for a moment, and when she speaks again, Catra can hear the tears in her voice. “And I promise—I promise I won’t ask about why you’re mad at me, or what I did, or why you need space. I won’t ask you for anything. I just need you there. I need your help. Please, Catra.”

You’ll take care of her, won’t you? My Adora.

“Okay,” Catra says. “I’ll go, but you have to keep that promise, okay? You can’t ask.”

I won’t,” Adora says. “I promise I won’t. Thank you, Catra.

“Yeah.” Catra’s skin is crawling. “Listen, text me when and where, okay? I need to go.”

Right.” Adora’s voice is still shaking, but she sounds a little less broken, now. “Thank you for picking up. I know you don’t want me around right now, and I just—I—

“Adora,” Catra interrupts. I do want you around, she wants to say. I want you around so badly I don’t know what to do with it. “I really need to go. I’ll…see you later, I guess.”

Okay,” Adora whispers. “Bye, Catra.”

“Bye.” Catra hangs up while she still has the strength to. She drops her phone on the counter. It clatters loudly, but she barely notices.

“Catra?” Catra glances to the side, and there’s Scorpia, hovering uncertainly in the entrance to the kitchen. “Is everything okay?”

“It was Adora,” Catra says. “I—I’ve been avoiding her. Trying to take space like you said, but she…I think she thinks I hate her.” Catra drops her head forwards, covering it with her hands. “I love her, Scorpia,” she says, “and I’m hurting her.” Catra takes a deep breath as tears begin to leak through her fingers. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Catra…” There are quiet footsteps, then Catra feels an arm slide around her shoulders. She leans into Scorpia’s side, hiding her face in her friend’s shoulder instead of her own hands. “It’s gonna be okay,” Scorpia whispers, rubbing Catra’s back. “You guys are really important to each other. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to make things work.”

“We can’t,” Catra says. “We can’t. I can’t be close to her because it hurts me, and I can’t be far away because it hurts her. I just—everything I do hurts. I don’t…I don’t know where we can go from here.”

“You could always just, y’know.” Scorpia leans back a bit from their embrace, offering Catra a hesitant smile. “Tell her how you feel?” Catra laughs.

“Sure,” she says. “And Adora would be nice about it, but I’d still get my heart broken. She doesn’t feel the same.”

“You don’t know that,” Scorpia says.

“I know that it’d be worse if she did.” Catra pulls out of Scorpia’s arms. She leans back against the counter and stares down at the linoleum floor beneath her feet. It’s true that Catra doesn’t know how Adora feels about her. There was something between them in high school, something that wasn’t one-sided. But she doesn’t think she wants Adora to reciprocate. “I don’t…know how to set boundaries with her. We were so fucking codependent growing up, and I think—I think if she loved me, it would only get worse. It already is.”

“You are setting boundaries, though,” Scorpia says. “You stopped hooking up with her. You asked her for space.”

“But I didn’t want to,” Catra says. “And now she needs me and I can’t even think about saying no.”

“Catra…” Scorpia sighs quietly. “I guess I don’t understand why it’s important for you to ask her for boundaries that you don’t want.”

“Because I…” Catra shakes her head, searching for the words. “I have to protect myself. I can’t go back there, Scorpia. I can’t need her again.” She takes a deep breath. “Look, go back to the movie, okay? I’m gonna take a few minutes. I’ll be back soon.”

“Okay.” Scorpia gives her one last concerned look before turning and walking back to the living room. Catra closes her eyes and makes a decision.

This is the last time. Catra will help Adora get through this, help her spread Razz’s ashes and find a way to move on. But then Catra is gone. Not just for a few weeks of space.

For good.

Chapter Text

the whispering woods, december 2020

 

Catra drives past the town entirely at first. It’s a tiny village, over an hour outside Bright Moon, tucked off into the trees away from the main road. She literally doesn’t see the dirt road that leads out to it, and only realizes she’s passed it when she spots a house through the trees. She has to pull over and execute a sketchy three-point turn in the middle of the highway, which is kind of terrifying, since the road bends and winds through the trees, limiting visibility in every direction. She doesn’t get hit, though, so she breathes a sigh of relief as she starts back up the road.

The dirt road out to the village is in surprisingly good condition. Even more surprising, it turns into a paved road halfway through. Catra inches Entrapta’s car down the road slowly as she looks out the windows, wondering where the fuck Adora has given her directions to.

Then she spots a familiar blonde ponytail in a small parking lot. Catra pulls the car in and parks next to Adora’s car. She takes as long as she can without being weird about it to get out of the car, checking her phone and fiddling with the dashboard before she unbuckles her seatbelt. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes for a moment, and finally opens the car door.

Adora is standing a few feet away, leaning against the side of her own car. She looks…tired. Less broken than she had sounded on the phone last week, but more tired than Catra remembers ever seeing her before. Bloodshot eyes, dark circles, sickly pale skin. Catra manages a half-smile over the aching in her chest. It’s the first time she’s seen Adora in person in weeks, and it hurts. Like there’s something stuck behind her heart, trying to force itself through and back to Adora.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra says. Adora almost smiles at her.

“Hey,” she says. “Um…thank you. For coming.”

“Yeah.” Catra lets her gaze drift off to the side. It’s easier than looking Adora in the eye. “Where are we doing this?”

“I figured we’d walk around and look for a good spot,” Adora says. She turns, opening the passenger side door of her car, and Catra notices the small container sitting on the seat. It’s cylindrical, tall, and made of stainless steel.

It’s Razz.

Adora picks up the urn and tucks it under one arm. Catra avoids looking at it. She looks at Adora instead. It hurts to, but staring at the urn is worse.

“What is this place, anyway?” Catra asks as they start walking through the parking lot, towards the sidewalk along the main street. “Who lives out here?”

“Not many people,” Adora says. “I think the population peaked at about twelve hundred when Razz was a teenager. It’s mostly just a pit stop for tourists.” Catra glances around the street. It’s practically abandoned. A lot of the small buildings that line the sidewalks have dusty For Lease signs in the windows. There are no other cars on the street—or people, for that matter—at least in their immediate vicinity.

“Kind of a ghost town,” Catra comments.

“Yeah.” Adora adjusts her grip on the urn, keeping her eyes fixed forwards. “There’s a little park nearby, I think? But I’ve only been out here once before.” Catra, unable to help herself, watches Adora closely. It’s easier when Adora isn’t looking back at her.

“How are you?” Catra asks. “Like, for real?” Adora shrugs.

“It hurts,” she says. “And…it’s easier.” She looks over at Catra, grey-blue eyes distant. “I knew it was coming, I guess. That’s more than I had last time.”

“Last time?” Catra asks, a half-second before it clicks. “Oh. Mara.”

“Mara.” Adora looks away again, down to the sidewalk beneath her feet. “I came home from school late one day. Bow dropped me off. When I went inside, she was dead on the kitchen floor.” Adora lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “They said it was a sudden brain aneurysm. She didn’t hurt.” Her tone changes from the monotone it’s been since Catra got out of her car to something raw, something haunting. “She was already cold.”

“Adora…” Tears are clamoring at the back of Catra’s threat. She never met Mara. She’s seen two photos of her that Adora had showed her, back in the day. But…to just die like that…

“I kind of checked out after that,” Adora says. “For a long time. I didn’t talk, or eat much, or go to school. I quit therapy. I almost lost my scholarship before I even got to college. Bow eventually dragged me out of it, but…” She takes a deep breath. “It’s easier this time. Is it supposed to get easier?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just don’t want that to be what my life is,” Adora says. “People I love dying and caring less every time.” She stops walking and turns to look at Catra. “Is that all it is?”

“No.” Catra shakes her head firmly. “That’s not it, Adora.” She reaches out, setting a hand on Adora’s arm. The same sparks that always come when they touch shoot through Catra’s fingers. “That’s not it.” Adora looks down at Catra’s hand on her arm, and that almost-smile comes back, creasing the corners of Adora’s eyes.

“The, um, the park is nearby,” Adora says, still staring at Catra’s hand. “We should keep going.”

“Okay.” Catra lets her hand fall as they turn to start walking again. It takes everything inside her to not hold on.


grayskull city, may 2015

 

“C’mon,” Catra says, tugging at Adora’s hand. Adora glances around nervously. There’s no one in the hallway right now—class started ten minutes ago—but she’s paranoid that a hall monitor will come around the corner any minute now.

“Catra, we’re gonna get caught,” Adora hisses as Catra tugs her down the hallway towards the back door of the high school.

“Well, if we stay here, yeah,” Catra says, rolling her eyes. “Not if we leave! We’re already marked absent. What have we got to lose?” That doesn’t do a whole lot to settle Adora’s nerves, but she swallows hard and follows anyway. Catra looks happy for once, and it’s making Adora’s heart tremble in her chest. Adora loves Catra no matter what she looks like, when she’s happy or crying or so angry it hurts everyone around her, but she has a weakness for Catra like this. Happy. Laughing. Excited.

They hurry out the back door of the high school and across the back parking lot. Catra lets go of Adora’s hand to hop over the chain-link fence between the school campus and the road. She almost looks like she’s flying over it, floating through the air and down to the ground on the other side with the natural grace that Adora has always been jealous of. Adora clambers over the fence behind her without any grace at all, stumbling when she hits the ground. Catra laughs at her, and Adora can’t even pretend to be annoyed by it. Not when Catra is smiling and reaching for her hand.

“C’mon, dummy,” Catra says, grabbing Adora’s hand again. “We’ve got places to be.”

“What places?” Adora asks. Catra laces their fingers together, and butterflies explode in Adora’s stomach.

“I stole Kyle’s lunch money,” Catra says. “We’re taking the bus downtown.” Adora considers, for a moment, chastising Catra for bullying their housemate. She quickly decides against it. It’s a beautiful day out—sunny, for once, in Grayskull City—and Catra is holding her hand. Adora won’t ruin this for anybody.

“Downtown?” Adora says, following Catra across the street behind their school and through an empty lot to the city bus stop. “What are we doing down there?”

“Whatever the hell we want,” Catra says. She comes to a stop, leaning against the outside of the bus stop shelter, and turns to face Adora. She uses their joined hands to pull Adora close, a bit too close to call friendly. “How does that sound?”

“You, me, freedom?” Adora says. “Sounds perfect.” Catra grins at her.

“Good,” she says. “The bus will be here in two minutes.” She slips her hand out of Adora’s and her body out from between Adora and the bus shelter. Adora pictures herself reaching out, catching Catra by the arm and pulling her back in, kissing her the way she’s wanted to since seventh grade.

She doesn’t. She watches as Catra balances on the edge of the sidewalk, teetering back and forth, humming quietly in the early summer air. The moment is already perfect enough without Adora taking the risk.

The bus comes. They pay the driver with half of Kyle’s lunch money and head all the way to the back, whispering to each other. The bus is almost empty, and the few people onboard pay them no mind. They fall into a seat side-by-side, Catra almost in Adora’s lap. They straighten themselves out, and Catra peers past Adora out the window as the bus pulls away from the curb. Adora stares as well—back at Catra. It’s been sunnier than usual this spring, and Catra’s freckles have exploded, spreading across her face and down onto her neck—more than Adora has ever seen on her before. The grey streaks in her hair that have been there as long as either of them can remember look almost white in the sunlight.

And she’s still smiling.

“What are you so excited for?” Adora asks, drawing Catra’s attention away from the passing buildings. “We’ve been out of the Fright Zone before.”

“Just excited that I finally got you to do something fun,” Catra says, grinning. Adora snorts.

“I’m fun all the time,” she says. “I’m your best friend.” She bumps their shoulders together, hard enough that it feels like a joke, instead of the gentler touch that would match how she feels inside.

“Shut up, idiot,” Catra says, returning the shoulder bump with twice the force. “You’re a loser.” Adora just rolls her eyes and waits for Catra to tell her the truth. “I dunno,” Catra says after a minute. “I guess I just like the idea of running away with you.” Adora’s heart does a funny thing where it stops beating for a solid ten seconds.

“Oh,” she whispers. Catra looks away, crossing her arms across her chest, and Adora recognizes the posture. Catra feels like she’s said too much. “I mean, it’s not like we’re actually running away, though.” She pauses. “Wait, we are going home tonight, right?”

“Of course we are.” Catra rolls her eyes. “Duh.”

“Okay,” Adora says. “Good.”

“I just…like thinking about it, okay?” Catra says. “You and me. I just want one day with just us. No Weaver, no school, no anything. Just a perfect day.”

“Okay,” Adora says, nodding. “I can do that. One perfect day.” She would give Catra anything she asked for. Catra could ask for the moon, and Adora would become an astronaut to bring her dust.

“Cool.” Catra rests her head on the front of Adora’s shoulder, turning to look out the window again. “I knew I kept you around for some reason.”

“Cause you like me.”

“Shut the fuck up.” Catra’s tone is soft, and Adora smiles. She looks at the window, but she doesn’t focus on the passing buildings. She focuses on the faintest reflection of Catra’s face in the glass.


the whispering woods, december 2020

 

“It’s pretty crazy that all this is back here,” Catra says. She turns in a slow circle, taking in the park. It’s rundown, overgrown with plants, but at one point, it was probably a really nice place. There are old gravel paths running across the wide expanse of grass, cracked stone steps leading up to an abandoned botanical garden, and, in the center of the lower level, a fountain. The fountain is the only thing that looks like it’s been maintained in the past twenty years. It’s covered in moss, but still running, water spouting out at the top and trickling down three tiers, about fifteen feet, before falling back into the base.

“I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up here,” Adora says. Catra glances over at her. Adora is staring at the fountain. “I should’ve asked Razz.”

“Yeah.” Catra pauses, uncertain how to help. “Where do you wanna…” She gestures vaguely at the urn in Adora’s hands.

“I don’t know.” Adora turns the urn around in her hands. “Maybe in the fountain?”

“Sure.” Catra’s eyes are drawn off to the side by a flash of movement, towards the entrance to the park. There, sitting on a bike, is a middle-aged man in a cop uniform. He’s watching the two of them, and Catra feels the tingling beginnings of an adrenaline rush. “Adora, there’s a cop watching us,” Catra says, just loud enough for Adora to hear her a few feet away. “Are we, like, allowed to put ashes in the fountain?”

“Uh…probably not?” Adora surreptitiously glances over her shoulder. The cop hasn’t moved, but he’s watching them closely. “Could you maybe distract him for a minute while I do it?”

“I can,” Catra says. “But I thought you wanted me there with you. When you…you know.” Adora looks down at the urn, stretching her fingers across its surface.

“I do,” she says. “You are with me. Even if you’re off distracting a cop, you’re…y’know. Here. That’s what I need.” Catra’s throat tightens with an emotion she doesn’t want to try to identify.

“Okay,” she says. “I’ll go cause some chaos.” She wants to reach out, step in, hold Adora in her arms. Anything to make her feel better.

She doesn’t. She shoots one more glance at the cop and walks away from Adora, setting off towards the stone steps up to the abandoned garden. Her peripheral vision tells her that the cop has entered the park now, and is walking parallel to Catra, watching her closely. Catra hops up all six steps in two long strides and wanders into the garden. She can almost tell where the pathways used to be, but the old garden beds are so overgrown that she’s climbing over leaves and vines with every step. She’s almost to the back of the first row, heading towards the metal fence between this section of the garden and the next, when she hears a whistle being blown. She turns and looks over her shoulder. It’s the cop, standing at the top of the stairs.

He lets the whistle fall from his mouth and calls, “You can’t be back here.”

“I can’t?” Catra says. “There wasn’t a sign.”

“This part of the park is closed,” he says, shaking his head. Catra flicks her eyes over his shoulder to where Adora is standing by the fountain. Adora is shaking the last of the ashes out into the water.

“Alright,” Catra says. “I can go. I was just looking around.” She starts walking back up the path. The cop steps aside to let her pass, his arms crossed over his chest and a stern look on his face. Catra kind of wants to make fun of him—getting a power trip from blowing a whistle at a twenty-year-old-girl for being in a public park is massively pathetic—but she figures it’s better not to provoke him when they’re about to get away with it.

“Success?” Catra asks as she approaches Adora, back in the main area of the park. Adora puts the lid back on the urn.

“Success,” she says.

“Good. Let’s go before that guy figures out I was fucking with him.” Adora half-smiles at her, and they head for the exit from the park. Catra chances one last glance over her shoulder, and finds the cop still watching them suspiciously. “He’s giving us a look,” Catra mumbles to Adora. “Maybe we should hurry.” They speed up, walking quickly out of the park and onto the street. The moment their shoes hit pavement, Adora breaks into a jog. Catra takes a half-second to be confused before hurrying to catch up with her.

“Why are we running?” Catra asks, keeping pace with Adora. Adora laughs shakily.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Feels right, though, huh?”

“…Sure.” Catra speeds up, shifting from a jog into a run, then into a sprint. Adora is laughing behind her, right at Catra’s heels.

They run all the way back up the street and stumble to a stop in the parking lot where their cars are parked. Adora leans against the side of her car, the empty urn in one hand. She’s still laughing, and it’s starting to infect Catra, too. She cracks a smile for the first time since she drove into the Whispering Woods.

“Do you feel any better?” Catra asks, once Adora has calmed down. Adora takes a deep breath and wipes at the corners of her eyes, where a few tears have gathered.

“I do, actually,” Adora says. “Razz would’ve loved that. Distracting the cops to spread her ashes.”

“Yeah.” Catra wouldn’t know.

“It kind of felt like high school again,” Adora says. “Running from cops, looking for trouble. You know.” Catra nods silently, not trusting the lump in her throat. It had felt like high school. It had felt like everything Catra is trying to stop feeling. “Can we, um…” Adora ducks her head. “Can we maybe talk about…everything back then? I know I—I promised not to push you on the…other stuff, and I won’t. I just…don’t you think it’s past time we talked about it all?” Catra nods again, clearing her throat and hoping her voice won’t shake. If this is the last time she’s going to see Adora—and she’s planning on that being the truth—she’d like a little closure, first.

“Yeah,” she says. “It probably is.”


grayskull city, may 2015

 

“We’re going to get kicked out,” Adora whispers. “We really don’t belong here.”

“Sure we do,” Catra says, grinning at Adora as she pulls her into the little shop, right off the main street in downtown Grayskull. “What are they gonna do, kick out two sweet, innocent kids?”

“You couldn’t look innocent if you tried.” Adora glances around the inside of the shop. It’s a formal clothing boutique, filled with brightly colored dresses and duller suits. Adora gravitates towards the suits immediately. She doesn’t dislike dresses, but they tend to draw the wrong kind of attention: men look at her when she wears them, and she pretty much never wants that.

“Adora!” Catra says, following Adora across the shop. “We’re definitely going to get kicked out if you run in here.”

“Look at this,” Adora says, stopping by the piece that had caught her eye. It’s a white, two-piece suit displayed on a mannequin, carefully pinned together at the front without a shirt underneath. Catra raises her eyebrows, looking almost impressed.

“Good taste, princess,” she says. “Hey!” She waves a hand at an employee, and Adora practically explodes with embarrassment.

“Catra,” she hisses, grabbing at Catra’s arm. “Quit it!”

“My friend here wants to try that thing on,” Catra says, gesturing at the mannequin and completely ignoring Adora. “Do you guys have another one in the back or something?” Adora closes her eyes, ready to die. When she reopens them, the employee is eyeing them with a mix of curiosity and suspicion.

“You know what?” they say. “Why not. I’ll go grab it.” They disappear through the racks of clothing, and Adora turns to Catra with a glare.

“What?” Catra says. “They’re gonna let you try it on.”

“I…” Adora shakes her head. “You bother me so much.” Catra grins at her, a mischievous glint in her eyes that Adora doesn’t trust one bit.

“Love you too, princess.” It takes Adora off guard. They almost never say that to each other. But Catra’s tone is teasing, and Adora writes it off as a joke.

The employee returns moments later, a garment bag slung over their arm. They lead Catra and Adora to the back of the shop, where little changing rooms are set up, hand the bag over, and disappear with a smile and a suggestion that if they need anything, they should ask. Adora glances over at Catra nervously, balancing the garment bag over one shoulder.

“Go on,” Catra says, gesturing at the changing room door. “Have fun.” Adora adjusts the bag on her shoulder and heads inside.

She changes quickly, but it takes her a few minutes to adjust the jacket the way it had been on the mannequin. Her proportions are a little different. Eventually, though, she gets the front pinned shut, and looks at herself in the mirror.

She does look awesome. She also kind of looks like a child dressing in grown-up clothes. The suit isn’t tailored to her, but it isn’t just that. Her face is still lined with baby fat, and she can see the places that her posture is awkward and uncertain. The suit doesn’t quite fit, in more ways than one.

Adora pokes her head out of the changing room. “Catra?” she calls when she doesn’t see her friend.

“In here!” The voice comes from the room next to Adora’s. Adora steps out of the changing room, glancing around uncertainly. She isn’t sure if she wants anyone to see her. That feels like something she isn’t quite ready for yet.

“Did you find something too?” Adora asks, standing outside Catra’s changing room door.

“Nah, I’m just in here because I like the ambiance.” The door swings open, revealing Catra, standing there with a crooked grin. “Hey, Adora,” she says, and Adora’s mouth goes dry.

Catra has found her own suit. The jacket and pants are a maroon-ish color, and the shirt is a dark pink. A black bowtie hangs loose around her neck. It all looks a bit strange paired with Catra’s black Converse, but if Adora hadn’t already known that she was gay, she sure would now.

“Uh…wow,” Adora says. Catra smirks at her. “That’s…wow.”

“You don’t look half-bad yourself,” Catra says. She steps forward, poking at the exposed skin beneath Adora’s collarbones. “Pretty sure that wouldn’t pass dress code.”

“Yours would,” Adora says, running on autopilot while she tries to process Catra in a suit. It really shouldn’t pass dress code. It shouldn’t be legal. Adora is going to pass out.

Catra’s fingertips are still resting against her chest.

“Maybe I’ll buy it, then,” Catra is saying when Adora manages to reconnect with reality. “I have that summer job, right?” She shrugs. “I could wear it to homecoming or something, since we can’t go to prom yet.”

“Right,” Adora whispers, unsure if that will kill her or if she really, really wants it. Catra in a suit. Catra in a suit, dancing. Maybe dancing with Adora. “We could go to homecoming together. If you want.” The words fall out before she can stop them, and she feels her face grow warm as the air between them thickens. Catra stares back at her, eyes wide.

“Are you asking me out, princess?” she asks. Her voice is quiet. Adora blinks, swallows hard, feels her palms begin to sweat. Waves of tingling warmth are rippling out from where Catra’s fingers are pressed to her skin. Adora doesn’t have an answer. Not one she’s brave enough to say.

“Not like that,” Adora whispers, and hates herself for it.

“Well, duh,” Catra says. Her hand drops back to her side. “Let’s change out of these things before someone expects us to actually pay for them.” She disappears back into her changing room. The door clicks shut behind her.

Adora stumbles back into her room, her whole body still reacting to Catra’s presence. Her breaths are shaky, her hands are trembling, and it feels like the mirror image of a panic attack—all of the tics, all of the adrenaline, but exhilarating instead of scary.

Adora takes her time changing out of the suit. She wants to have her breath back when she goes out to face Catra. She checks her phone while she’s killing time, half-expecting an angry text from Ms. Weaver asking where they are, but it isn’t there. Their perfect day hasn’t been interrupted yet.

“Took you long enough,” Catra says as Adora steps out of the changing room. Adora just smiles awkwardly. She’s still a little unsteady. “C’mon,” Catra says. She loops her arm through Adora’s and tugs her towards the exit from the shop.

“Where to next?” Adora asks as they spill out onto the street. “Should we go home?”

“We’ve got tons of time,” Catra says, checking her phone. “It’s only noon.” She puts it away and looks at Adora with her eyebrows raised. “Where do you want to go?”


the whispering woods, december 2020

 

“So,” Catra says. She crosses her arms, leaning back in the passenger seat of Adora’s car. It’s starting to rain outside, and they had both figured this conversation might take awhile, so they had taken shelter.

“So,” Adora echoes. She’s sitting in the driver’s seat, staring at Catra while Catra stares out the windshield. “Where do we start?”

“I don’t know, Adora,” Catra snaps. “This was your idea.” In her peripheral vision, she sees Adora shrink backwards.

“Sorry,” Adora says, her arms coming up around her chest to hug herself. “I wasn’t—we don’t have to do this.”

“No,” Catra says, pinching the bridge of her nose. “No, I’m sorry. I lashed out.” She sighs, lowering her hand, but she still doesn’t look Adora in the eye. “I guess we start with the end, right?”

“Okay.” Adora goes quiet, and Catra tries to think of what to say. She’s never pictured this moment before. She’s never imagined that she would get any kind of closure, let alone closure from Adora herself.

“I tried…so hard, for so long, I tried to hate you,” Catra says eventually. She watches the raindrops trail their way down the windshield. “And it just made things worse.” She turns her head, meeting Adora’s eyes. They’re almost all grey in the watery daylight in the car, the blue washed out of them with the rain. Catra stares into them, unflinching. Adora deserves to hear this next part without any barriers between them. “I never hated you, Adora,” she says, slow and deliberate. “I don’t now. And I’m sorry for how hard I pushed you away at the end. You didn’t deserve that.” Adora seems to deflate. Her shoulders relax, and her arms fall back to her sides.

“Really?” she whispers. Catra nods. Adora closes her eyes, a look coming over her face like she’s just been blessed. Like she’s being saved.

“I’m sorry, too,” Adora says after a few moments. Her eyes drift half-open, gazing at Catra through her lashes. “I didn’t…really understand what I was doing. How much it would hurt you.”

“We’ve been over this one before,” Catra says. “You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

“Not for leaving.” Adora’s eyes open the rest of the way, fixing on Catra’s. “For…how things ended. I should’ve tried harder to stay in contact with you. I should’ve done more.”

“Yeah.” Catra looks down, spite brewing in her chest. “You could’ve replied to my letters, at least.” There’s a long pause.

“Catra,” Adora says, her voice shaking. “What letters?” Catra looks back up at her and finds Adora leaning forwards in her seat, eyes fixed on Catra.

“The ones I sent you a couple months after you left,” Catra says. “You returned them. Not exactly trying to stay in contact.”

“Oh,” Adora whispers. “Oh, shit.” Catra frowns. Something is wrong here. She had wanted—she doesn’t know what she wanted when she brought up the letters. An apology might’ve just made her mad. But she wasn’t expecting this. Adora looks like she’s going insane.

“What?” Catra asks.

“Catra, I never got any letters,” Adora says. “Oh, oh fuck. Okay.” She takes a deep breath, running her hands over her hair anxiously. The movement knocks several strands from her ponytail out of place, and they hang over her face. “Razz used to mess with the mail. She would throw things out or send them back. It was a symptom of the dementia. I didn’t think it was happening that early on, but…” Catra feels a chill.

“When we were visiting Razz before Thanksgiving, there was a moment,” she says. “She was kind of lucid for a minute. It seemed like she knew who I was, and she—she said she was sorry about the letters.”

“Oh my God.” Adora leans back against the car door. “Catra, I wrote letters, too.”

“…What?” Catra wishes suddenly that they weren’t in the car. She’d rather be in the rain—which she hates—than trapped in here, where it suddenly feels like there isn’t enough air.

“I sent you three,” Adora says. “But you never responded, and I thought…I thought you meant it. When you told me you didn’t want me anymore.”

“No.” Catra shakes her head. “No, I—I never got the letters. I didn’t mean it, Adora. I didn’t mean it.” A realization dawns on her, and her heart clenches with anger and pain. “Ms. Weaver always picked up the mail. She must’ve…” She doesn’t finish the sentence, too overwhelmed by the sight of her own pain mirrored in Adora’s face.

“I wrote to you,” Adora whispers. “I still wanted you. I didn’t want to lose you, Catra. I never did.”

“I didn’t want to lose you, either.” Catra leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees and burying her face in her hands.

“God, I’m so sorry,” Adora says. “If I had known you were reaching out—I never would’ve given up. Never. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Catra says. “I didn’t…I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t bothered at all. I told you to go.”

“But I should’ve known,” Adora says, shaking her head. “You were just—hurting, and lashing out, and I should’ve known better.”

“You’re not a mind reader.” Catra lifts her head, looking over at Adora. “I didn't exactly communicate how I was feeling very well.”

“You were fifteen,” Adora says. “You didn’t know how.”

You were sixteen,” Catra says. “If I can’t be blamed, neither can you. We were both too young and too codependent to handle it well.”

“I…” Adora trails off. “I’m still sorry. I can’t stop being sorry.”

“I forgive you,” Catra says. She means it, this time. Adora had tried.

Adora had tried.

“Thank you,” Adora whispers. “I—I forgive you, too. For the things you said to me at the end.” Something in Catra’s chest shifts, like a door clicking shut. She hadn’t known she wanted to hear that.

“And the rest of it?” Catra asks. Adora looks at her blankly. “All the stuff before that?”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” Adora says. “You didn’t hurt me until the end.”

“Bullshit,” Catra says. “Yes I did.” Adora flinches back at the steel in Catra’s tone. “I messed with your head all the fucking time. I wasn’t a good friend.”

“I…” Adora shakes her head, mouthing silent words. “But…I loved you. It didn’t…”

“I hurt you,” Catra says. “Don’t rewrite our history. I hurt you all the time.” Adora grips at her legs, digging her fingernails in until her knuckles turn white.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay. You—you hurt me.” The words are a blow in Adora’s voice, but it’s a good kind of hurt. “But I hurt you, too.” Adora lifts her hands from her lap, and Catra sees that they’re shaking. “We just—we weren’t always good for each other back then.”

“We weren’t,” Catra agrees. We aren’t.

“Catra?” Adora says. She reaches out, taking one of Catra’s hands in both of her own, trembling ones. Catra allows the contact. Adora shakes around her. “I love you, you know.”

Catra looks up. Adora is staring at her, eyes wide and open. It’s not something they made a habit of saying to each other when they were young, let alone when they got older and the space between them began to blur. And the space has never been so blurry as it is now.

“Adora…” Catra takes a deep breath. Adora smiles at her.

Catra breaks.

She reaches out with her free hand and grabs the front of Adora’s shirt. Adora makes a surprised noise, but it’s cut off as Catra pulls her forward into a kiss. It’s messy at first, desperate, as Catra presses forward with her lips and tongue and teeth and Adora tries to catch up. But then one of Adora’s hands leaves Catra’s, and Catra feels it land on the back of her head, gripping at the short hair there and pushing her closer. Adora gasps against her mouth, and their fingers lace together where their hands are resting on the center console between the seats.

“Catra,” Adora whispers when Catra pulls away to gasp for breath.

“Shut up,” Catra says. “Just—“ She pulls her hand free of Adora’s and climbs over the central console, fitting her knees on the seat beside Adora’s hips, straddling her lap. She grabs Adora’s shirt with both hands and pulls her in again. Adora lets her, leans up towards her. She grabs at Catra’s waist with one hand and the back of her arm with the other, fingers sliding over the places where Catra’s scars are hidden beneath her hoodie. Catra bites at Adora’s bottom lip, and the quiet noises that elicits crash against Catra with enough force to make her dizzy.

Catra’s heart is pounding. Adora had tried. Adora had cared, had—had wanted Catra, some way or another. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe that makes this okay. Maybe it’s okay for Catra to want her.

“Catra,” Adora whispers again, pulling back enough to look up at Catra. “Catra.” She says it with a gentleness that no one else has ever used for Catra’s name. Catra would do anything to hear that over and over again.

She would do anything.

“No,” Catra says, shaking her head. “No, no, I—“ She throws herself out of Adora’s lap, climbing shakily back over the center console.

“I’m sorry,” Adora says, then frowns, reconsidering. “You—you kissed me. I thought we weren’t doing that anymore.”

“No,” Catra says again. Her heart is speeding up. She’s starting to feel sick. The pleasant dizziness of of kissing Adora has turned into a horrible, light-headed daze. “No.” She fumbles, her fingers scrabbling uselessly against the cupholder as she searches blindly for the handle of the car door.

“Wait,” Adora says. “Wait, please.” She reaches out, and Catra flinches back, away from the touch. “Please don’t run.” Catra finally finds the handle and wrenches the door open. She stumbles out onto the pavement, her legs shaking beneath her.

“Stop it,” Catra says, raising a hand, palm out. Adora stares up at her from inside the car. “Please stop. Stop—texting me, and calling me, and—and—just stop. We’re done, okay? We’re done.” She stumbles away to her own car before she can see the look on Adora’s face.

Catra makes it out of the parking lot, back to the main road, and about eight miles up the highway before she has to pull over and cry.


grayskull city, may 2015

 

“So what do you think?” Adora asks. “Was it the perfect day?” Catra pauses in her quiet humming and makes a thoughtful face. They’re sitting in a park in downtown Grayskull. It’s a far cry from the parks in the Fright Zone: neatly kept grass, paved paths, families and children everywhere. They’re sitting side-by-side against the trunk of a tree, drinking slushees they had bought from a  gas station with the last of Kyle’s lunch money.

“Yeah, I think so,” Catra says after a minute. “Was it for you?”

“Definitely,” Adora says. It comes out softer than she intends it to, and she clears her throat, adding on, “I’ll have to skip school again. Maybe without you slowing me down next time.” Catra snorts and rolls her eyes.

“Love you, too,” she drawls. It’s the second time she’s made that joke today. It’s doing strange things to Adora’s heart.

“I never said I love you,” Adora says, trying for teasing and missing the mark considerably. Catra glances over at her, eyes glowing in the shade of the tree.

“But you do, right?” she asks. Adora’s throat tightens.

“Yeah,” she whispers. “I do. I love you.” Catra almost smiles at her.

“Cool,” she says. “Let’s never get this mushy again.” Adora half-smiles back and ducks her head. Catra’s words are dismissive, but Adora knows she doesn’t mean it. Not when her eyes are that warm.

“Sure,” Adora says. “But, um, before we stop…”

“Yeah?”

Can I kiss you?

“Nothing.” Adora shakes her head. “Never mind.”

“Okay, weirdo.” Catra drains the last of her slushee and sets the cup aside on the grass. “I’m gonna take a nap.” Without warning or asking, she leans over sideways and sets her head in Adora’s lap. Adora tries to hide her gasp with a yawn. Catra doesn’t acknowledge it either way. She just lies on her side, facing away from Adora, and closes her eyes.

They stay like that for a long time. Adora works up the nerve to play with Catra’s hair, tracing the streaks of gray with her fingertips and marveling at how soft it is beneath her touch. Catra makes quiet noises in her sleep.

Adora savors the growing warmth in her chest. Most of the time she’s afraid of it. What she feels for Catra is—she doesn’t think she’s supposed to feel anything this big at fifteen. It’s terrifying. But right now, at the end of their perfect day, with Catra sleeping in her lap, it isn’t scary at all.

It feels good. Adora thinks she likes loving Catra.

Chapter Text

catra, scorpia, and entrapta’s apartment, december 2020

 

“Okay, so,” Scorpia says, looking down at her clipboard, “I’m in charge of prepping vegetables and doing dishes, and Catra is cooking dinner, and Entrapta is making lava cake for dessert?”

“Tiny lava cakes,” Entrapta corrects, nodding seriously.

“Works for me,” Catra says, tipping her chair back. “Did we really need a house meeting to plan that?”

“It’s Christmas dinner,” Scorpia says, pouting. “It’s important. Besides, we haven’t all hung out in forever!” Catra winces. That’s sort of her fault. She’s been working her ass off since that horrible trip into the Whispering Woods: picking up extra shifts at her job, studying harder, working out more than is probably healthy. She’s paying an absurd amount for a membership at an off-campus gym, though—she hadn’t wanted any more locker room run-ins—so she might as well use it.

“Yeah,” Catra says, looking down at the table. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay, I just—“ Scorpia is interrupted by the doorbell. Catra frowns and exchanges a confused glance with her roommates.

“I’ll get it, I guess?” she says, standing from the table. “Somebody order food or something?” She gets negative responses from both her roommates, and, with a confused shake of her head, walks over to the door. She doesn’t bother checking the peephole to see who it is, and the moment she opens the door, she regrets that.

It’s Adora.

“Hi,” Adora says. Catra stares at her. Adora looks tired again: there are dark circles under her eyes, and her hair poof is a little flatter than usual. She has a small cardboard box tucked under one arm.

“Hi,” Catra says back. “Uh…” She glances to the side, where Entrapta and Scorpia are still sitting at the table.

“Right,” Scorpia says, getting to her feet. “We’re, we’re going to, um…”

“Are we leaving?” Entrapta asks, standing as well. “Do you two need privacy?”

“…Yeah,” Catra says. The question is a little blunt, but she can appreciate that about Entrapta sometimes. “Thanks, guys.” Scorpia shoots her a quick look of concern before she and Entrapta disappear to their respective bedrooms, and Catra turns back to Adora.

“Sorry,” Adora says, glancing past Catra towards the empty table. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

“Not really,” Catra says. “Just Christmas plans. Roommate traditions and such.” Why am I making small talk with her?

“Oh, that’s cool,” Adora says. She’s trying for a smile, but it isn’t quite materializing. “I’m just at Glimmer’s for the holidays. They throw great New Year’s parties, at least.”

“Right.” Catra grips the doorknob in her hand, wondering if she can get away with slamming the door in Adora’s face. “Adora, why are you here?” Adora nods, her weak smile vanishing.

“I know, um, you don’t want to see me anymore,” she says. “And I—I’m gonna respect that.” Her voice cracks. “If you don’t want me around, I’ll go. But I just…wanted you to have something first.” She shifts the cardboard box into both of her hands, holding it out to Catra. Catra looks down at it.

“What is it?” she asks. “A Christmas present?”

“No,” Adora says. “It’s the letters.” Catra’s eyes snap back up to Adora’s. “I sent you…three, I think? And those are gone. I don’t know what Ms. Weaver did with them. But I kept writing you after that, and kept the letters, and I said a lot of stuff that…I don’t know.” She shakes her head. “I didn’t send them back then because it felt like a cop-out. Telling you stuff in writing that I wasn’t brave enough to say in person.”

“Adora—“

“Please hear me out.” Adora takes a deep breath, straightening her shoulders. “I’ve been thinking about it since—since the Whispering Woods, and these belong to you.” She holds out the box, and, helpless, Catra takes it. “You can do what you want with them,” Adora says. “Read them or throw them out or—whatever you want. They’re yours. It just…if I’m never going to see you again, it…it matters to me that I at least tried to say those things to you. Because I still mean them. Whether you hear them or not.”

“…Okay.” Catra doesn’t know what else to say. The box weighs next to nothing in her hands. Adora gives her another half-smile from across the threshold.

“I guess this is it, then,” Adora says. “I guess we’re…we’re done.”

“I guess so.” Catra’s lungs ache. This is why she had run from the car in the Whispering Woods. She can’t handle a goodbye.

“I, um, I hope you stay happy, Catra,” Adora says. “I hope you have a good life. I hope you have good friends.” She smiles—a real smile for the first time since she knocked on the door. “I’ll be thinking about you.”

“Adora…” Catra can’t manage another word.

“Bye,” Adora whispers. She reaches out across the threshold, and for a moment, Catra prays that Adora will take her hand.

Adora grabs the doorknob, gently pulls the door closed, and disappears.

Catra sits down on the floor. She hugs the cardboard box against her chest and waits for the tears to come.


grayskull city, october 2016

 

“Have you seen my Horde hoodie?” Adora asks, digging through her closet. Catra grunts wordlessly in response and kicks her feet in the air. She’s sitting on the top bunk in their room, legs dangling off the side. The hoodie in question—which Adora had bought to wear to the one and only high school football game either of them have ever attended—is easily the softest, biggest, and most comfortable article of clothing in Adora’s wardrobe. Which means, of course, that Catra has seen it. It’s buried at the bottom of her backpack right now.

“What are you going to do with a Horde hoodie at school in Bright Moon?” Catra asks. “They don’t know our football team. You’ll just scare off all the rich kids.” Adora glances over her shoulder, giving Catra a look.

“It’s my favorite hoodie,” she says. “I want it with me.” Catra crosses her arms and looks away.

“You’re…really doing this?” she says. “You’re leaving?”

“Well, yeah,” Adora says. She straightens up and turns around in Catra’s peripheral vision. “You’ve known that for weeks. I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” Catra has been pretending it isn’t happening for awhile now. “But…” But I love you. But I want you to stay. “Can you come over here for a second?”

“Uh, sure.” Adora crosses the room, stopping a few feet away from Catra. “Why?”

“Because.” Catra reaches out, hooking her fingertips into the front of Adora’s shirt. She tugs. Adora’s eyes widen, but she follows the pull anyway, stepping closer to Catra.

Catra has taken a lot of risks with Adora. Flirting, and dancing, and homecoming last year, when she had practically begged Adora to kiss her. Adora hadn’t. She’s never returned Catra’s advances, but she’s never outright rejected them, either. Catra has been left in this in-between space for years. Months will pass with Adora saying and doing nothing to close the distance between them, and Catra will be sure that she’s alone in how she feels, and then Adora will look at her. A wide-eyed, worshipping look that Catra has never been able to quite understand, one that confuses her and blindsides her and makes her heart leap with stupid, useless hope.

Catra knows Adora cares about her. Adora has always cared. The question is how much, and Catra doesn’t know how to ask that. All she can think to do is show Adora how much she cares, and hope Adora understands.

“Catra?” Adora says. She's standing right up against the bunk beds now, scant inches between her and Catra. Adora has grown tall over the years. Catra is still above her from her position on the bunk, of course, but when she lifts Adora’s chin with her fingers, she doesn’t have to lean down far to kiss her.

It’s strange, for a moment. Catra has never kissed anyone before. She doesn’t think Adora has, either. Catra leans down a little too quickly, and their teeth click together. The moment Catra softens the contact, Adora gasps, breaking the kiss almost before it’s begun.

But then Adora leans back in, and it fits. Pleasant chills run across every inch of Catra’s skin. Adora’s lips move over hers, a little rough, a little awkward. It’s the best thing Catra has ever felt in her life.

After a long few moments, Catra pulls away. In front of her, Adora relaxes, shrinking an inch or two as she shifts off of her tiptoes and back onto the floor. Adora grins at her, and Catra has to duck her head to hide her own smile.

“Wow,” Adora says, eyes wide. Catra pushes lightly against Adora’s chest—but not hard enough to push her away.

“Don’t ruin it.”


catra, scorpia, and entrapta’s apartment, new year’s eve 2020

 

The box of letters stays under Catra’s bed for almost a week. She puts it there after dragging herself up from the living room floor with the help of her two best friends, kicks it back against the wall, and decides to figure out what to do with it later. Later becomes tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the day after that. The box stays under her bed while she and her friends exchange presents in the living room, through Christmas dinner and the days afterward when Catra lies in bed and listens to the songs she liked in high school, picturing Adora closing the door between them, over and over again.

Eventually, her curiosity gets the best of her. Scorpia and Entrapta are gone, attending a New Year’s party hosted by some classmate or another. They had invited Catra along, but she isn’t exactly good company right now.

A few minutes after her roommates leave, Catra drags the box out from under her bed. She sits on her bedroom floor and stares at it for a long few minutes. It’s sealed with packing tape, old enough that it’s turned grey and peeled up at the edges. Catra doesn’t know what she’ll find in the letters. She isn’t sure she’s ready to find out. But the longer the box stays beneath her bed, the less she thinks about anything else, and she’s trying to let go of Adora, not pine over her forever.

So she opens the box.

There are five envelopes inside. They aren’t addressed, but each has a date written in the upper right hand corner in Adora’s cramped handwriting. Catra picks up the earliest one—January 6th, 2017—and, before her nerves can fail her, rips it open.


Hey, Catra,

 

You haven’t answered any of my other letters, so I guess I won’t send this one. I probably should’ve listened when you said you didn’t want me around anymore, but I’m stubborn, you know that. I don’t want to stop talking to you.

I miss you a lot. That’s probably stupid to say, right? Of course I miss you. You’re my best friend. But I’m the one who left, so I don’t know if I’m allowed. Am I allowed? I hope so, because it feels like someone cut a hole in me, I’m missing so much.

I guess I can be honest here, since it’s not like you’re ever going to read this. God, it’s even scary to write . I don’t know why I’m so afraid.

I’m in love with you. I have been since before I understood what that even meant. I don’t know when it started exactly, and I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t really want to, honestly, even if I never see you again. I don’t think I would know who I was if I felt any differently about you.

I really wanted to help you, you know. That was my plan. Go with Mara and help her get you out of that house, and Kyle and Rogelio, too. It wouldn’t matter how far apart we were, so long as you were safe. Even if you hated me forever, I would’ve saved you. But you didn’t want my help. And it hurt more than I thought it would to have you hate me, so I don’t want to try anyway and make things even worse.

Maybe things can’t get worse. I don’t know. Maybe I should’ve stayed.

Mara doesn’t like it when I talk like that. She says that I made the right choice for myself, and that being selfish is okay sometimes. I don’t know if she’s right. I still feel like I failed you.

It’s late, so I guess I’ll stop here. I just wanted to write down that I loved you. I wanted to say it once.


The letter slips from Catra’s fingertips. It floats down to the bedroom floor, where it settles soundlessly, instead of crashing down in a way that would justify the ringing in Catra’s ears.

I’m in love with you.

But Adora left.

Numbly, Catra grabs the next letter in the pile. She tears it open with shaky hands and scans the letter inside, picking up miss you and love you and thought about calling you last week, but it’s mostly just a journal of Adora’s time in Bright Moon, her adventures with Glimmer and Bow, her home with Mara and Razz. It burns all over again to be reminded of just how much of Adora’s life Catra missed out on.

The next two letters follow the same pattern. I made a playlist of new songs I’ve heard that I think you’d like, Adora says in one letter. I went camping out in the Whispering Woods with Glimmer and Bow. There were so many stars, Catra. You don’t even know how many you can’t see from the Fright Zone. I wish you’d been there, she says in another. Catra reads through pages and pages of Adora’s life, written to Catra, interspersed with wistful asides imagining life if Catra was still in it.

It’s eerily close to what Catra’s own thoughts looked like for months. Much happier, of course, than Catra’s life had been in those months immediately after Adora left, but similar all the same. Catra had wished so often that Adora had stayed. She had reached out to her left and found nothing, looked to the empty space beside her with a joke already on her lips.

And all the while, two hundred miles away, Adora had been looking to her right and doing the same.

The last letter is dated March 25th, 2017. Catra tears it open and finds a single sheet of paper inside.


Dear Catra,

 

I stopped writing to you a month ago. My therapist thought it wasn’t healthy, and I agree. But I’m breaking my own rules here because I didn’t say goodbye in my last letter, and I think I need to.

I kissed a girl at a party last night. It freaked me out, mostly because it wasn’t you and I’ve only ever pictured kissing you. But it was nice, and I didn’t feel guilty that it wasn’t you. You made it pretty clear when I left that you didn’t feel the same way I did.

But even though I didn’t feel guilty, I still wish it was you. I think I might always feel that way. I’m not sure.

I think I’ll always be thinking about you. Not in the way I am now, because it’s not healthy right now, but in general. You made me so much of who I am. I think all my favorite parts of me are the parts you helped shape.

I’m kind of happy these days. It’s still weird to think that. I thought I was happy back home in the Fright Zone, but I wasn’t. Shadow Weaver really hurt me, I still don’t understand how much. But now I am happy. I like my life, I like my friends, and I still wish you were here.

Someday I might be really happy. I’ll fall in love with someone. I don’t know. But I’ll be really happy, and I’ll still be thinking about you. No matter how happy I am, my life would be better with you in it. But I guess that’s not happening.

I wish you had kissed me because you loved me. I kissed you because I love you. I don’t know if it would’ve changed anything if you knew.

Goodbye, Catra. I hope you’re happy, wherever you are.

 

I love you,

Adora


There’s a knock on Catra’s doorframe. She looks up from the letter, eyes wide, and finds Scorpia standing at the entrance to Catra’s room, one hand still raised.

“Wildcat,” Scorpia says. “Are you okay?” Catra drops the letter to the floor, raising both hands to her face instead. She scrubs at the tears on her cheeks, wishing for the millionth time in her life that it wasn’t so damn easy to make her cry.

“I’m fine,” Catra says. Her voice cracks. “I’m just—reading the letters Adora brought.” She takes a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “Why are you here? I thought you and Entrapta had that party.”

“Entrapta got a little overwhelmed,” Scorpia says. She steps into the room, sitting down in front of Catra. “She’s in her room calming down. Catra…”

“I’m fine,” Catra says again. It still isn’t convincing.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Scorpia asks. Catra shrugs.

“She just…said some things in the letters,” she whispers. “And I don’t…” Know how to feel about them, or cope with them, or fit them into the story I’ve been telling myself for four years. Adora isn’t supposed to love Catra. Adora left because she didn’t love Catra. Whatever strange, tangled mess their relationship had been in high school, it had been so because of the attraction between them that eventually led to them falling into bed on Halloween. That’s what Catra has believed. That’s what Catra has had to believe.

But Adora loved her. Adora had always been planning to come back for her.

“What did she say?” Scorpia asks. “Should I…” She gestures at the letter, and Catra pulls it back, holding it closer to her chest. The words are hers. Adora gave them to her.

“Just…” Catra shakes her head. “She—she said she loved me. Back then.”

“Oh.” Scorpia pauses, rubbing at the back of her neck awkwardly. “Well, that’s good, right?”

“I don’t know.” Catra tips her head back and closes her eyes, trying to stop herself from crying. It doesn’t work. Tears leak out of the corners of her eyelids and slip down into the hair at her temples. “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Scorpia says. Catra feels a hand on her knee, recognizes it as Scorpia’s comforting, clumsy touch. “I mean, you love her, right?” Catra nods, eyes still shut. “Does she still love you?”

Catra thinks about Adora sitting across from her in a coffee shop, saying that she’s glad Catra is happy. Adora kissing her on Halloween in Mermista’s kitchen, as gentle as can be before Catra pulled away. Adora sitting across the dinner table in Catra’s apartment, trying her hardest to impress Catra’s two best friends. Adora standing up to Ms. Weaver in Grayskull City, protecting Catra one more time. Adora closing the door between them because Catra had asked her to go.

Adora handing the letters over and saying I still mean them.

“Yeah,” Catra whispers, opening her eyes.

“Okay.” Scorpia half-smiles, squeezing Catra’s knee. “So…do you wanna do something about that?”

Yes.” Catra drops the letter to the floor, freeing her hands to bury her face in. “But I can’t, Scorpia. I can’t.”

“Why not?” Scorpia asks.

“Because I—I—I’m scared.” The words are torn out of Catra’s chest, and it feels like they left a hole behind.

“What’s going on?” Catra looks up and sees Entrapta in the doorway, watching Catra and Scorpia with wide, curious eyes.

“Just having a breakdown,” Catra says. She coughs to clear her throat. “No big deal.”

“She read Adora’s letters,” Scorpia says, looking up at Entrapta.

“Oh.” Entrapta glances back over at Catra. “Did she say something mean?”

“Nope,” Catra says. “She said she loved me. Which fucking sucks, because it means I could—I could have her, if I wanted.”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” Entrapta says. “All available data suggests that you want a relationship with her. You spend the majority of your free time with her, you help her with her problems, you have sex with her—“

“How do you know about that?” Catra interrupts, frowning. Entrapta blinks.

“Am I not supposed to?”

“…Whatever.” Catra sighs heavily. She’s done crying, now, but she doesn’t feel any better inside. “I…do want that, it’s just…I’m afraid it’ll go wrong again. It—it hurt so fucking much when Adora left, and—even before that, things weren’t good. And it would be so easy to go back there. I don’t want her to be the only good thing about me.” Entrapta stares at Catra for a long moment, tilting her head curiously.

“I don’t think that’s likely,” she says eventually. “But if you’d like, I can tell you if I notice any concerning patterns in your relationship.”

“I can do that, too,” Scorpia says quietly. Catra hasn’t even finished processing what Entrapta said, but she turns her gaze to Scorpia anyway. “If it seems like you’re moving too fast, or getting in too deep, I can tell you.” She smiles. “You’re not alone anymore, you know? Not even in this, if you don’t want to be. You’ve got us to fall back on.”

“Yeah,” Catra says. “I know. I just—if I start, with Adora, I don’t know if I’ll ever want to stop.”

“I don’t understand,” Entrapta says. “Why would you stop? Why do something you don’t want?”

“Because…” Catra doesn’t have an answer. Not a good one, at least. Because she’s scared, and she always runs when she’s scared. She runs before she gets hurt, because for ten years the only person she had to patch her up was Adora, and then Adora left. There was no one left to turn to, and so Catra learned to run.

Except there is someone to turn to, now. There’s Scorpia, and Entrapta, and there’s Adora, too. If Catra stops running away.

“You promise?” Catra asks, looking between her two best friends. “If it seems like I’m—I’m getting too caught up in her, you promise you’ll tell me?”

“We promise,” Scorpia says. “But you can ask Adora for that too, you know. I kinda doubt she wants things to go back to how they were when you were kids any more than you do.”

“…You’re right,” Catra realizes. Strong boundaries are nothing compared to everything Adora has tried to do for her before. Catra’s been thinking about Adora as an addiction, a temptation, the sun that she can’t fly too close to. But she isn’t. She’s a person.

A person who loves Catra, just as much as Catra loves her.

“I need to go,” Catra says. She pushes herself up, getting her feet underneath her and standing unsteadily. “I need to—“ She picks up the letters from the floor, trying to fold them with shaking hands.

“I can clean this up,” Scorpia says, standing as well. She holds a hand out for the letter. “Don’t worry, I won’t read them.” Catra hands the letters over without protest. She doesn’t have time to put them away. She has somewhere to be.

“Entrapta, can I borrow the car?” she asks.

“Sure,” Entrapta says. “Where are you going?”

“Glimmer’s house,” Catra says, already heading for the bedroom door. “I’ve heard she throws great New Year’s parties.”


grayskull city, october 2016

 

“What was that for?” Adora whispers, and the edges of Catra’s world start to crumble.

What was that for? Why does Adora think Catra would kiss her? Because she loves her. Because she wants her to stay. Because she isn’t sure she’ll remember how to breathe if Adora isn’t there. But apparently Adora doesn’t know that.

If Adora loved Catra, she would be feeling the same way Catra is right now—shaky hands, aching heart, tingling skin. She would be kissing Catra again, not staring up at her curiously and asking stupid questions. She would be unpacking her bags, forgetting all about leaving and promising to stay. If Adora loved Catra, she would never leave.

“Nothing,” Catra says. She pushes Adora’s chest, harder this time, sending her stumbling back. “Just—I’ve never kissed anyone, and it’s not like I’m ever going to see you again, so I figured I would get it out of the way.” She forces her face into something resembling a grin. “What, did you want it to mean something?”

“Catra…” Adora crosses her arms over her chest, holding herself tightly. Catra recognizes the tic—Adora does it often when she’s upset—and represses the pang of guilt she feels at the sight.

“Whatever,” Catra mutters. She hops down from the bunk bed and keeps her eyes down, hoping to hide the way they’re growing misty. She starts to step to the side—she needs out of this room right now, away from Adora and the sad look on her face—but Adora catches her by the arm. The touch burns.

“Catra, listen,” Adora says. “I’ve been talking to Mara about how Ms. Weaver treats us, and she thinks there’s a chance she could get Ms. Weaver’s foster license taken away. She could get all of you out. It—it wouldn’t be easy, and everyone would have to testify, but it could work. You could get away from her, and we could…we could…” Adora smiles, and the hope in it makes Catra’s stomach churn. “We could be together.”

Be together. But not in the way Catra wants. Adora doesn’t want her like that.

“Fuck you,” Catra says. Adora flinches and pulls her hand back.

“…What?” Adora whispers. Catra shakes her head, feeling tears start to leak out despite her best efforts to hold them back.

Fuck you,” she says again. “I don’t need your help. Don’t—don’t fucking try to save me. I don’t need you.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Adora says. She’s reaching out again, and Catra jerks back out of reach. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I don’t want your help,” Catra says. “Just stay away from me, Adora.” She stumbles away, and this time, Adora doesn’t chase her. Catra can’t leave, though; it’s too late to leave the house, and there’s no spare bed in Kyle and Rogelio’s room. She could sleep on the third floor, but Catra hates that room.

Catra rips open the door to the bathroom that adjoins her and Adora’s room and hurries inside. She closes the door behind her, not daring to look back at Adora’s face. The moment it’s closed and locked, she collapses onto the floor. She holds a hand over her own mouth, swallowing back the sobs that are trying their best to escape, and puts her back against the side of the bathtub, drawing her knees up to her chest.

She stays like that forever, breathing in wheezes between the waves of aching in her chest. Eventually, Adora knocks on the door and asks if she’s okay. Catra doesn’t answer. Her head is numb from crying, and she doesn’t trust herself to speak.

Catra sleeps on the bathroom floor, and in the morning, Adora leaves.


bright moon, new year’s eve 2020

 

Glimmer’s house is packed. Catra gives up on trying to count the cars in the driveway. She just parks a ways up the street and checks her reflection in the rearview mirror. It’s really obvious that she’s been crying, and almost as obvious that she hasn’t been sleeping well. But she can’t really do anything about that now, and it isn’t like Adora will care.

Catra doesn’t bother knocking on the front door. There are people spilling out across the front yard and around to the back, where Catra had played soccer a few weeks before. They’re of mixed age—many close to Catra’s age, some much older. Probably a combination of Glimmer’s friends and her parents’ friends.

Catra slips inside, glancing around, but she’s quickly realizing that she isn’t going to just find Adora. The house is packed, dimly lit, and there’s music playing in another room. She takes a deep breath, trying to settle her nerves, and adds her shoes to the huge pile next to the door. The no-shoes-in-the-house rule even goes for parties, apparently.

“Catra?” The voice is familiar, but it’s not the one Catra was hoping for. She turns hesitantly around and winces when she makes eye contact.

“Glimmer,” Catra says, dropping her gaze to her feet. Glimmer looks pissed. “Uh…hi.”

“What are you doing here?” Glimmer asks, stepping closer to Catra. “I’m pretty sure nobody invited you.”

“I’m looking for Adora.”

“Seriously?” Glimmer snaps. “Haven’t you hurt her enough already?” Catra flinches back, shoulders curling forward defensively. It’s true, and she knows it, but—

“I’m here to apologize,” Catra says, barely loud enough to be heard over the music. “I know I fucked up, I just…”

“Uh-huh.” Glimmer crosses her arms, looking thoroughly unimpressed. “You know, I haven’t seen her smile since Thanksgiving?” Catra grits her teeth.

“I know,” she says. “But I don’t owe you an apology. I owe that to her. So just…tell me where she is.”

“Glimmer?” It’s Bow’s voice. He appears at Glimmer’s side, and his eyes widen when he sees Catra. “Oh,” he says. “Uh…”

“I know,” Catra says. “You guys hate me, I get it, alright? I hurt Adora. But I’m here to try to fix it.”

“Catra…” Bow sighs, looking pained. “I get that, but you might not be able to fix it. She’s—she’s really upset.” Catra nods, closing her eyes against the ache in her chest.

“I know,” she says. “But I don’t know what else to do.” She opens her eyes, and is surprised to find her vision clear, not blurred with tears. “I love her. I have to try.”

“You love her?” Glimmer echoes, tone scathing. “Bullshit. You don’t treat people you love like this.” Despite herself, Catra laughs.

“You really don’t know anything about how me and Adora grew up,” she says. Glimmer’s the one who flinches, this time. “It doesn’t matter. If Adora doesn’t believe me, that’s up to her, but I want to give her the choice.”

“I saw her out on the deck a few minutes ago,” Bow says.

Bow!” Glimmer hisses, turning to glare at him. He doesn’t look at her. He’s staring at Catra, eyes narrowed. It isn’t the open, curious, friendly look she’s used to from him, and Catra realizes suddenly that it isn’t just her relationship with Adora that she’s screwed up lately. She’s also lost herself a friend.

“Thanks, Bow,” Catra whispers. She doesn’t know if he hears her over the music, but he nods silently as she steps past him, headed for the deck door she can see across the room. If, by some miracle, Adora lets her in again, then Catra can worry about making things right with Glimmer and Bow.

She worms her way through a mass of unfamiliar bodies on the way to the door. She doesn’t recognize anyone at the party. She wonders how many of them are actually Glimmer’s friends, and how many are just party crashers.

It’s cold out on the deck. Catra shivers slightly and pulls her jacket tighter around her shoulders. It’s a little less crowded out here—Catra can actually see who’s around her, instead of a blur of movement and color. She scans the deck, looking for a familiar face.

There.

Adora is facing away from Catra, but Catra would recognize her form anywhere. She’s leaning against the railing, wearing a white dress shirt tucked into jeans. Her hair is down. Her sleeves are rolled up to her elbows. Adora is standing alone, and Catra realizes that this might be the best moment she’ll get. She crosses the deck with her knees shaking beneath her and her heart in her throat.

“Adora,” Catra says, stopping a few feet away. Adora turns slowly, and Catra flinches when she sees her face. She looks like Catra’s own reflection—bloodshot eyes underscored by dark semicircles, paired with hunched shoulders and a tired frown. Catra clears her throat. “Hey.”

“Catra,” Adora says. “What…” She shakes her head and doesn’t finish her sentence.

“I read your letters,” Catra says. Adora’s eyes widen. “Is…there somewhere we could talk?” Adora closes her eyes and swallows hard.

“Okay,” she whispers. “Okay, follow me.” Adora steps past Catra, and their shoulders just barely brush together. Catra’s skin buzzes beneath her jacket where their arms meet. She falls into step behind Adora as she leads them off of the deck.

Adora leads Catra through the packed house, pushing her way through the crowd easily, and Catra trails in her wake. Up until a month ago, Catra would’ve reached out and taken Adora’s hand, allowed herself to be pulled along, but that kind of ease is gone from them now.

They come to a stop in front of a door, which Adora unlocks with a key from the key ring in her pocket before opening. She steps aside and gestures for Catra to go first. Behind the door is a rickety staircase going down, and Catra feels like a doomed character in a horror movie for a moment before she rolls her eyes at herself and starts climbing down the stairs. She hears Adora close the door behind them and follow her down.

The stairs let out into a small basement. The floor is made of concrete, and several long cracks run through it. It’s cold beneath Catra’s feet, even through her socks. Across the room is a decrepit-looking and clearly disused washer and dryer set shoved up against the wall. Old lightbulbs buzz from the ceiling. It all strikes an odd contrast with the rest of the house, which is sleek, modern, and expensive.

“Nice place,” Catra comments, turning around to face Adora. Adora crosses her arms, keeping her gaze fixed on the floor between her feet.

“Micah and Angella talk about renovating it every year,” she says. “I like it down here, though. I used to come down here when I was anxious.”

“Feels just like home?” Catra asks. She doesn’t mean the words as a jab; she’s trying to be genuine. The room does feel a little bit like the Fright Zone—rundown, cold, washed out and unwelcoming. Her tone must not convey that, though, because Adora’s frown only deepens.

“What do you want, Catra?” Adora asks. She lifts her head, but her eyes stay firmly fixed a little bit to Catra’s right. “Why are you here?”

“I told you,” Catra says. “I read the letters.”

“So what?” Adora says. “Are you here to just—I don’t know, rub it in?”

“What?” Catra flinches. “Adora, no. No, I—do you really think I would do that?”

“I don’t know, Catra.” Adora sounds exhausted—not just exhausted. There’s something else, too. “You tell me, because I have no idea what you want anymore.” Catra finally recognizes the tone of Adora’s voice. It takes her off guard. It’s an emotion she’s almost never heard from Adora.

“You’re mad at me,” Catra says.

“No,” Adora says. “No, I—“

“You’re mad at me.” Adora falls silent. “It’s okay. Be mad at me.”

“You just…” Adora sighs. “You keep…letting me in, and then pulling away again, and pushing me away, and I don’t know how to…it hurts. It hurts, Catra, and it isn’t fair.” Catra closes her eyes and lets the words sting, but she doesn’t savor the ache the way she would have, once upon a time. “And now you know how I feel,” Adora says. “How I’ve—I’ve always felt. And you’re here, and I don’t…know why you would be. You’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t want me.”

“Adora…” You’ve never been so wrong in your life. “There’s…a lot I need to say. But I promise, I’m not here to hurt you.” Adora doesn’t look like she believes that, but she nods anyway. Catra turns away for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts, and takes the opportunity to climb up onto the old dryer, sitting down on top of it with her heels resting against the front. She always feels a little safer in high places, and she needs every bit of comfort she can get right now.

“Okay,” Catra says, looking Adora in the eye. “Since Grayskull, I—I have been jerking you around. You’re right that it wasn’t fair. I take responsibility for that. I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Adora says. Her tone is curt. It isn’t forgiveness.

“I want to…try to explain why I acted that way,” Catra continues. “Not to make excuses. Just—I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you, and I don’t—I don’t want you to think that. If you don’t want to hear it, I can go, but I really want to tell you some stuff.”

“…Yeah.” Adora finally uncrosses her arms. “You can explain if you want to. You don’t have to go.” Catra exhales shakily. That’s one hurdle down, at least. Adora is willing to listen.

Now for the next several hundred obstacles: telling Adora the truth.

“I’ll start at the beginning,” Catra says. Her throat is dry. “I was in love with you in high school.”

“…What?” Adora whispers. Her eyes are wide, and she’s looking directly at Catra for the first time since they came down into the basement. “What?”

“Yeah.” Catra looks down at her feet, swinging them absently in the air. “I—when I kissed you, that last night before you left, that was why. I loved you. I wanted you to stay.” Adora takes several steps forward and braces herself against the washer to Catra’s left, leaning down on her forearms like she can’t hold herself up anymore.

“You…” She shakes her head. “I wanted—for so long, I wanted that to be true.”

“I know,” Catra whispers. “I read all the letters. I know you loved me. I—I think maybe I always knew that there was something back then, but…you left. And I couldn’t believe you would love me and still leave.” Adora crumples forwards, leaning over the washing machine and burying her face in her hands. “And that’s the problem,” Catra says. She can’t stop now, or she’ll never get it all out. “That’s the problem. I didn’t—I don’t know how to love someone in a healthy way. You were the only person I ever loved, and I pushed you away because I couldn’t imagine that what was right for you might not be what I wanted. I only ever thought about you. I wanted you to only think about me.” Catra looks over at Adora. “I don’t want to be like that again. I don’t want to go back there.”

“Yeah,” Adora says. “Yeah. I remember. I don’t want that either.” She lifts her head from her palms, gazing up at Catra with a desperate look in her eyes. “That’s why you ran? You didn’t want to—to relapse, I guess?” Catra nods. “So what do you want? Why are you here? What changed?”

“Something you said in one of your letters,” Catra says. “You said that—you could be happy without me, but you would be happier with me. I think that’s true for me, too. You left, and it hurt, and I don’t know if it ever stopped hurting, but I learned to live around it. I liked my life before I saw you in the locker room, but I liked it more after that.” She pauses, considers, decides to take the risk. She reaches out and takes one of Adora’s hands in her own. “I want to be as happy as I can be. I want to be with you. For real, this time.”

“For real?” Adora asks. “Do you mean…” Catra laces their fingers together.

“What do you want, Adora?” she asks. Adora stares down at their joined hands.

“I love you,” she says, and Catra’s heart turns over. Adora looks up at her. “I want…to be able to say that and know that you know what I mean.” She lifts their joined hands and presses a kiss to Catra’s knuckles. “I want you.”

“I love you, too,” Catra whispers. It feels like throwing herself off a cliff. But then Adora smiles, and Catra is on solid ground once more.

“Say that again,” Adora says as she steps sideways, stopping between Catra’s legs. Catra scoots forwards on the dryer, bringing their bodies into contact, and Adora’s free hand falls to Catra’s hip.

“I love you,” Catra says again. Adora is definitely crying a little bit. She leans in, but Catra shifts back. She still has a few things to say. “If we’re doing this,” Catra says, “I’m gonna need—boundaries. Strong ones. And I’m gonna need you to help me keep them. I’ll need…to take it slow, and I’ll probably freak out at some point and think things are getting bad again. I’m gonna need space, and days alone, and—“

“Anything,” Adora interrupts. “Anything you need, Catra.”

“Not just me,” Catra says. “I think you should go back to therapy.” Adora flinches, but Catra keeps talking. “I know you stopped after Mara died, but Adora, I know you, okay? Your anxiety is—really, really bad, and I can see that. And I think we both still need to get better at communicating. I just want you to think about it.“

“Okay,” Adora says. Catra blinks in surprise. “I think it might help, too. Honestly, I…probably shouldn't have ever quit.”

“…Huh.” Catra slips her hand out of Adora’s and wraps her arms around Adora, pulling her a little closer. “That was easier than I expected.”

“Yeah, well, like you said, you know me. You know what I need.” Adora smiles at her. “Anything else we need to talk about first?” Catra pretends to think about it.

“Nope, I don’t think so.” Upstairs, the general buzz of the party abruptly changes into a chant. Catra can just barely make out words—numbers, counting down from ten. “Feel like waiting til midnight?” Catra asks. Adora’s eyes flash.

“Absolutely not,” she says. She grips Catra’s hips in her hands and this time, when she leans in, Catra doesn’t pull away.

The kiss is not sweet. Some part of Catra wonders if it should be. They’re starting over, more or less, and maybe they should start this version of themselves with something gentle, something kind. But then Adora’s tongue is in Catra’s mouth, and whatever part of her brain was conscious enough for philosophizing shuts off.

Catra digs her fingertips into Adora’s back and pushes, trying to drag her closer. Adora responds by pressing forward, closer to Catra. One of her hands slips down to Catra’s thigh, tugging her leg up and around Adora’s waist. Catra gasps slightly at the movement, and immediately feels Adora smirk against her lips.

Catra isn’t about to be outdone, though. She tries to tug Adora’s shirt up in the back. Her fingers scrabble uselessly over the fabric—it’s too tightly fitted for her to find any purchase.

“God fucking damn it,” Catra mutters, pulling away from Adora’s mouth and opening her eyes. She changes tactics, going for the buttons on the front of Adora’s shirt instead, but her hands are trembling, and Adora is kissing her neck now, which really isn’t helping. Catra only manages to get the top three buttons open before Adora pulls back and catches Catra’s hands in her own.

“Whoa,” Adora whispers. “I thought you said you wanted to take things slow.”

“We’ve already fucked like six times, it doesn’t count.” Catra tries to tug her hands free and go back to the buttons, but Adora doesn’t let go.

“Still,” Adora says. “I don’t want our first time as girlfriends to be in Glimmer’s basement. I want to do this right.” Catra rolls her eyes, but she has to suppress a smile.

Girlfriends.

“I don’t remember you asking me out, princess.”

“Oh, sorry.” Adora smirks. “I figured it was implied by you being in love with me for like ten years. Was I wrong?”

“I’m breaking up with you.” Catra rests her arms around Adora’s neck. “You’re fucking unbearable.”

“I love you, too,” Adora says, which draws an audible sigh of contentment from Catra. She leans up, pressing their foreheads together and closing her eyes. Adora’s hands have moved again—they’re tracing gentle patterns on Catra’s back now, and Catra has never been so comfortable in her life.

“You’re humming,” Adora murmurs after awhile. Catra opens one eye and finds Adora mirroring her—eyes closed, soft smile on her face.

“I am,” Catra realizes. “Well, y’know. I’m happy.” Adora’s eyes drift open. This close, they look vibrantly blue.

“Yeah,” she whispers. “Me, too.” She leans in again, and this time, it is sweet. Adora’s hands stay where they are on Catra’s back, and her lips stay gentle against Catra’s. Catra just holds onto Adora’s shoulders and tries not to be overwhelmed. This might be the most gently anyone has ever treated her in her life.

They stay like that for—Catra doesn’t know. It feels like hours. They kiss, and hold each other, and occasionally pull back to grin like idiots and stare into each other’s eyes. It’s just as overwhelming as it’s always been—more so, knowing that Adora loves her back—but Catra doesn’t run from it, this time. She stays in Adora’s arms, lets the fear wash over her, and then lets it go.

“We should probably go upstairs eventually,” Catra whispers after awhile, pulling back to meet Adora’s eyes. “Don’t wanna wait until your friends come looking. I’m pretty sure Glimmer is out for my blood.” Adora winces.

“Yeah, they’re…mad,” she says. “Sorry about that.”

“Dude.” Catra shakes her head. “Adora, they’re mad because I fucked up and they love you. What are you even apologizing for? You’re mad, too, remember?”

“I was,” Adora says. “I don’t…think I am anymore.”

“Adora…”

“I kind of get it, you know?” Adora says. “I…I was never brave enough to tell you how I felt. So I understand why you didn’t say it, either.”

“I didn’t have to push you away so hard, though.”

“No.” Adora half-smiles sadly. “You didn’t.” Catra looks away, stomach clenching with guilt. Moments later, she feels Adora’s lips against her cheek. “C’mon,” Adora says, stepping backwards out of Catra’s arms. Catra misses her presence there immediately. “Let’s sneak up to my room before anyone comes looking.”

“Your room, huh?” Catra smirks.

“Not like that,” Adora says, rolling her eyes. “It’s just—I don’t know. It’s late, and I just…want to hold you, I guess.” She turns a bit pink. “If that’s okay.” Catra hugs herself tightly and fights the smile trying to spread across her face.

“That’s okay,” she whispers. “That actually sounds…really good.”

“Okay.” Adora holds out a hand, smiling herself.

Catra reaches out and takes it.

Chapter Text

grayskull city, january 2030

 

“There you guys are,” Adora says as she approaches Glimmer and Bow. “I didn’t realize how crowded this place is.”

“It’s nuts,” Bow agrees, glancing around. The gallery is packed with people—men in suits, women in fancy dresses. The three of them stick out a bit, between Adora’s white suit, Glimmer’s sparkly pink hair, and Bow’s cropped tuxedo shirt and jacket.

“Yeah.” Adora can’t stop the proud grin that spreads across her face as she takes in the crowded room, and she doesn’t bother trying. “Have you guys seen Catra?”

“I think she got pulled down that way,” Glimmer says, nodding off to her left. “Some rich guy wanted a personal tour.”

“Can you blame him?” Adora says, glancing around the gallery again, eyes skimming over the paintings on the walls. She’s seen them all before, of course, in various stages of completion, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less impressed now.

“Yeah, yeah,” Glimmer says, rolling her eyes. “Your wife is amazing and talented and shit. Go tell her about it.”

“Okay,” Adora agrees, thoroughly satisfied with that plan. “I’ll see you guys later.” Bow and Glimmer echo the sentiment, and Adora heads off in the direction Glimmer had indicated, still smiling a little bit.

Her wife is amazing and talented, and she can’t wait to tell her about it.

It doesn’t take Adora long to find Catra. She sticks out from the crowd, too—for a lot of reasons, actually, but partially because she’s dressed a little less formally than the rest of the people in the gallery. Catra is wearing a dark red dress shirt tucked into black pants, her long hair up in a ponytail. She’s wearing boots instead of dress shoes, and her sleeves are rolled up just below her elbows. The faded scars on her right forearm are a muted pink in the dim light of the gallery.

She looks beautiful, and Adora stops to stare for a moment before she approaches.

Catra is talking a tall man in a suit, gesturing at the painting in front of them. It’s one of Adora’s favorites, actually. To most people, it’s probably less impressive than some of the other pieces around it: it depicts the inside of a room and an open window. Some furniture, a set of bunk beds with the top bunk unmade. Pieces of paper tacked to the walls, their details almost impossible to see. Dust floating in the sunbeam from the window, casting a haze over the floor. It’s a beautiful painting, of course, but it’s one among many that Catra has made.

Adora, though, remembers that room. She remembers the papers on the walls, because half of them were hers. The bottom bunk is made neatly because that’s the way she always left it when they were kids.

Catra finally notices Adora staring and grins at her, gesturing her over.

“Hey,” Adora says as she approaches.

“Hey.” Catra slips her arm into Adora’s. “Adora, this is Eric. He’s thinking of buying some of my pieces. Eric, this is my wife, Adora.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Eric says, nodding at her. He has a slight accent that Adora can’t quite place. “It must be an honor to be the muse of such a talented artist.” It takes Adora a moment to decipher his meaning, but once she does, she shakes her head.

“I’m not,” she says, and gestures around the gallery with her free arm. “This is all Catra. I just make sure she doesn’t work herself to death.” She glances over at Catra, who has a small, grateful smile on her face. “It’s still an honor to be with her, though.” An honor to be with her, to take care of her, to stand here beside her and see all the incredible things Catra has made with her hands.

“Of course,” Eric says, seeming a bit puzzled. He checks his watch and frowns. “I have to be going, but Catra, I’ll be in touch regarding purchasing some of your work.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Catra says, smiling. “It was nice to meet you, Eric.” He returns the pleasantries and walks away. The minute he disappears into the crowd, Catra’s polite smile slips, and she sighs deeply as she turns to face Adora.

“I am so sick of being nice to people,” she says. Adora laughs.

“Aw, but you’re so good at it,” she says. Catra just groans. “He seemed nice, at least.”

“He was fine,” Catra says. “But the last guy kept trying to talk to me about football, and the lady before that asked me if my lesbianism had biased me against celebrating the male form.” She gives Adora an imploring look. “I want to go home. Or at least back to the hotel.” Adora blinks several times, gives up on making sense of either of those lines of questioning, and instead focuses on Catra’s request.

“Are you allowed to do that?” she asks. “Just leave your own show early?”

Allowed?” Catra snorts. “Who’s gonna stop me, the art gallery police?” Adora rolls her eyes.

“No one’s going to stop you,” she says. “I just figured that since you’re getting so many interested buyers, you might want to stay for awhile longer.”

“Nah.” Catra grins at her. “They can email me. And if they don’t, I can just freeload off your fancy physical therapist salary forever.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Adora says. “You’d make a terrible housewife.”

“I didn’t say housewife, I said freeload,” Catra corrects. “I’ll cook, but I’m not cleaning.” Adora shakes her head, smiling fondly.

“I’ll call us an Uber,” she says, pulling them back on topic. “If you want to go hand out business cards one more time, I can say good night to Glimmer and Bow.”

“Yeah, guess I better network or whatever.” Catra sighs heavily. “Alright, meet you out front in five?” Adora nods, and kisses Catra’s cheek before she walks away. They’re not as obnoxious about PDA as they once were—those first few months after they’d gotten together in college had been unbearable, according to Glimmer—but Adora refuses to let any little goodbye like this one pass without something to mark it.

Adora calls an Uber, then finds Glimmer and Bow again. She says both her and Catra’s goodbyes. Glimmer and Bow plan to stay at the gallery awhile longer. Catra doesn’t really show anyone except Adora her works in progress, so most of the paintings are brand new to them. Adora hugs them both before she heads out to the front of the building, slipping out the glass doors and into the darkness of the city streets, where she’s greeted by a blast of freezing air.

Catra is already outside. She’s standing at the edge of the curb, hands jammed in her pockets, silhouetted by the light coming from the streetlamp across the road. Adora approaches her, a familiar strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. It’s always there when they come back to Grayskull. There’s just too much history in this city for either of them to quite sleep easy.

Adora’s really looking forward to the flight back to Bright Moon tomorrow night.

“Hey,” Adora says, stepping up beside Catra. Catra glances up at her.

“Hey, Adora,” she says, and immediately shivers. Adora takes off her white and gold suit jacket, slipping it around Catra’s shoulders. “You’re gonna be cold now,” Catra says, rolling her eyes. She pulls the jacket tighter around her body.

“Uber’ll be here soon,” Adora says. She’s tired, suddenly, and when she checks her phone she realizes it’s almost ten o’clock. They’ve both been up since early that morning, Catra preparing for the show and Adora making sure she ate food and sat down for at least a few minutes every hour.

“Did you have a good time?” Catra asks. She leans into Adora’s side, and Adora takes the hint, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“I did,” Adora says, and kisses the top of Catra’s head. “I’m really, really proud of you, Catra. That was amazing.” Catra hums quietly, and Adora can’t see her face, but she knows what’s there. She memorized the little smile Catra gets when Adora makes her happy years ago.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m cool, I know,” Catra mutters. Adora smiles, but doesn’t respond. Neither of them are awake or warm enough for banter.

They stand like that for a few more minutes until their Uber shows up, arms wrapped around each other, staying warm in the freezing Grayskull winter air.


grayskull city, january 2030

 

“Ugh,” Catra says as she collapses onto the hotel bed, her feet hanging off the end with her shoes still on. Adora laughs at the dramatics and shakes her head. She kicks off her own shoes and undresses quickly, leaving on her underwear and the tank top she’d worn under her button-up. She’s way too tired to keep wearing pants.

“You planning to sleep like that?” Adora asks. Catra just groans again, pressing her face into the pillows. Adora smiles fondly and wanders over to the foot of the bed. She tugs Catra’s boots off for her, dropping them to the floor, and Catra rolls onto her side, pulling her feet up onto the bed. Adora lies down beside her, facing her, still smiling.

“Hey,” Catra says after a moment. Adora shifts forward and kisses her. Catra’s fingers find the hem of Adora’s tank top, tangling in it, one hand slipping around and under to press against Adora’s bare back.

“Hey,” Adora responds when she pulls back. Catra smiles, but there’s a hesitance to it that makes Adora’s eyes narrow.

“Can we talk?” Catra asks. Adora slips an arm around Catra’s waist and tugs her closer.

“Of course,” she whispers. “What’s up?” Catra nods and closes her eyes briefly.

“I think…” She opens her eyes, and her gaze flickers back and forth between each of Adora’s. “I think I might be ready to get rid of the bed in the studio.” Adora inhales sharply.

“Catra…”

Catra has had a bed in the studio since the two of them moved in together after Catra finished school. They pay rent on a second apartment back in Bright Moon, a rundown shoebox of a place, so that Catra has somewhere to work—and, when she needs space, somewhere to sleep without Adora beside her or on the couch in the other room. She doesn’t use it when they fight; most of the time, Adora doesn’t know what makes her wife need a night or two alone. Catra always comes home in the morning and kisses Adora in the kitchen until she forgets how to breathe, just to make sure Adora knows she hasn’t done anything wrong.

It isn’t the most financially sound solution, but it’s worked for them. Every year, Catra spends less and less time sleeping in the studio. It’s been months since the last time she needed that kind of space. But Adora hasn’t thought about getting rid of it.

“Are you sure?” Adora asks, searching Catra’s face carefully. She’s determined, jaw set and eyes narrowed, but something about her expression is making Adora hesitate.

“I’m sure,” Catra says, and Adora knows her wife well enough to know that she doesn’t completely mean that. “I don’t need it anymore.”

“Okay.” Adora shifts, reaching behind Catra and gently tugging her hair free of the ponytail. It falls loose across the pillows, and Adora takes a moment to roll over and put the hair tie on the nightstand before she turns back to Catra. “But do you still want it?”

Catra’s resolve crumbles.

“Adora…” Her expression twists with something resembling anguish, and Adora wraps her arms around Catra, pulling her closer. Catra buries her face in Adora’s chest, and Adora rolls onto her back, pulling Catra mostly on top of her.

“Sorry,” Adora whispers, though there isn’t really anything for her to apologize for. The question needed to be asked. She just doesn’t like to see Catra upset.

“S’fine.” Catra goes quiet for awhile. Adora runs her fingers through Catra’s hair absently where it’s settled across her back. The lamps in the hotel room are dim at best, and Catra is warm and solid on top of her. The combination has Adora half asleep before Catra speaks again.

“I do still want it,” Catra says finally, her voice a puff of air against Adora’s chest. “It’s…well, y’know. It’s comforting.” Adora makes a quiet noise of agreement. She doesn’t get it, necessarily, but Catra has explained it to her before. She needs the reassurance of somewhere to be that belongs to her. Not her and Adora. Somewhere that’s just hers.

“So then why get rid of it?” Adora says. “You don’t want to get rid of the whole studio, right? We can afford it, and you love having somewhere to work alone.”

“I do, I just…” Catra sighs and adjusts her position, resting her cheek against Adora’s collarbone. “It just seems dumb. It’s our four year anniversary next month. I shouldn’t need somewhere to hide from my wife.”

“Catra…” They’ve already talked about Catra’s shame over needing her own space twice—once when they first moved in together and started renting the studio, and again when they got married. Adora doesn’t know how to convince Catra that a little space doesn’t make her feel any less loved.

“It’s not just that,” Catra says. “I mean, what if we have kids? That seems like a great way to fuck a kid up, having one of their moms rent a separate apartment to sleep in…”

Catra is still talking, but Adora can’t hear her anymore. Her ears are buzzing with what if we have kids.

“You want to have kids?” Adora whispers, lifting her head from the pillow to stare down at Catra. Catra blinks at her. “With me?”

“Duh, with you, idiot,” Catra says. “Who else? Fucking—I don’t know, Scorpia?”

“You want to have kids?” Adora says again. There’s some huge warmth growing inside her, pushing at the back of her ribs. Catra flushes pink.

“I don’t know,” she says, averting her eyes from Adora’s. “I don’t—I’m not sure yet, if I want that. But…I mean, it’s something I’ve thought about. Haven’t you?” Adora honestly has not. She still wakes up sometimes and has to remind herself that she isn’t twenty-three and fresh out of college anymore. The concept of children is so—so distant and abstract, and she isn’t sure if it’s something she wants. But the fact that Catra has thought about it? Has thought about it with her?

“I love you,” Adora says. Catra finally looks at her again, still pink, and smiles.

“I love you, too.”

“And I don’t think you spending a few nights away a year is going to traumatize our hypothetical kids.” Catra sighs.

“When you say it like that, it sounds dumb,” she says. Adora grins and pulls her closer, pressing a kiss to Catra’s forehead.

“It’s not dumb,” she says, settling back onto the pillows. “We should talk about whether we want kids, and if—if we do, you just wanna make sure you can be a good mom. That’s amazing, Catra. That’s—so good of you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Catra traces absent patterns on the fabric of Adora’s tank top where it lies against her stomach. It tickles a little bit, but Adora isn’t about to stop her. “I guess it would be fine if I kept the bed.” Adora hums in agreement. “I just…I don’t want what Shadow Weaver did to me to cheat another person out of a normal life.”

“What do you mean?” Adora says. Catra props herself up on her elbow and frowns down at Adora.

“She’s the reason I’m like this,” Catra says. “If it wasn’t for the way we grew up, I wouldn’t need to run away sometimes.”

“No, I know that,” Adora says, nodding. “I just mean that…I don’t feel cheated.” Catra blinks at her, and Adora searches for the right words. “If I could go back and save us from the way she treated us growing up, I would in a heartbeat. We didn’t deserve that. But here, now? I don’t feel cheated at all.”

“How can you not?” Catra whispers. “I…” There are tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. Adora reaches up and cups Catra’s face in both her hands, pulling her down until their foreheads are touching.

“You think I could be any more happy with this?” Adora whispers. “You think I want anything more?”

“You should.” Catra’s voice cracks. “You should, Adora, I—I leave. I leave.”

“But you come back,” Adora says. “And while you’re gone, I’m—I’m happy.” Catra shifts backwards in surprise, lifting her head to look Adora in the eye. “You leave because it’s what you need to do to take care of yourself. That makes me happy, Catra. I love knowing that you’re doing what you need to to be okay.” Catra drops down from her elbows and presses her face into the crook of Adora’s neck.

She cries for awhile. Adora holds her tight and doesn’t let her own tears fall. She’s never quite broken the urge to be strong for the people she loves.

“I believe you,” Catra says eventually, a few minutes after her tears have stopped. Her voice is muffled against Adora’s skin. “I believe you, I just—I can’t—“ She sighs in frustration. “My brain won’t believe it with the rest of me.”

“I know,” Adora says. “You know I know.”

“Yeah.” With a reluctant sigh, Catra rolls to the side, off of Adora and onto her back. She wipes at her eyes with the heels of her hands. When she lifts her hands away, she turns her head to the side to look at Adora. Adora notices that her eyes are bloodshot—from exhaustion or crying, Adora isn’t sure.

“Maybe we should deal with all this shit before we start talking about kids,” Catra says. Adora half-smiles.

“Probably,” she agrees. “We’ve got time.”

“Yeah.” Catra looks down at herself, her rumpled dress clothes, and sighs heavily. “I should change. God, I’m so fucking tired.”

“We’ll sleep in tomorrow,” Adora says, watching as Catra drags herself to her feet and starts working on the buttons of her dress shirt. “Our flight isn’t until tomorrow night, anyway.”

“Sounds good.” Catra drapes her shirt over the back of the office chair in the hotel room, along with Adora’s jacket, shirt, and pants. They can deal with their clothes in the morning. “Are you actually going to sleep in, or are you going to sneak out at seven in the morning to work out?” Adora rolls her eyes.

“I’ll stay,” she says, trying and failing to inject exasperation into her tone.

“Good.” Finally undressed, Catra returns to the bed, slipping under the covers this time. Adora shimmies under beside her and reaches out to wrap her arms around Catra’s waist. “Nuh uh.” Catra pokes her in the forehead. “I’m being big spoon tonight. Turn around.”

“Ugh, fine,” Adora says, rolling over. “You’re so annoying.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Catra’s arm slips around Adora’s waist, and Adora presses backwards into the contact, threading her fingers through Catra’s where they rest against her stomach. “Turn off the lamp and go the fuck to sleep.”

Adora manages to reach the lamp by the bed without breaking the contact between her body and Catra’s. She flicks the switch and plunges the room into semi-darkness, illuminated dimly by the city lights outside their window. She falls asleep to Catra humming behind her, nose brushing the back of Adora’s neck.

An hour later, she wakes up and remembers that both of them still need to brush their teeth, but that hour of sleep is some of the best she’s ever had.