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lost in the heat of it all

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It’s a little too late when Catra realizes she’s in love.

It should’ve been a normal day, by all means. In the morning she trudges up the pathway into her high school, one earbud dangling out of her ear as she adjusts the left strap on her backpack. At her current pace she’ll likely be late to her first class, but she can’t quite bring herself to care. It’s Friday, the weekend only hours away, and any worries and concerns are making their way into oblivion.

She strolls through the hallway, watching as last-minute stragglers hastily shut their lockers closed and jog towards their next class. It amuses her to no end that people care so much, because life has a funny way of eventually showing you exactly where you belong. You can only fight so much before life puts you in your place, and every little struggle, every little triumph that you had, is rendered meaningless when that happens.

It’s better to just not fight it at all.

That’s something she realized long ago. She’s a lazy, loud-mouthed underachiever who on her best days manages to stay awake in class and on her worst gets enough detention to last her a month. Why fight it? Why fight it when her destiny just seems to be bound that way?

Readying herself for the verbal lashing that she’s sure will be thrown her way, Catra schools her face into a neutral expression before pushing the classroom door open. She makes no attempts to hide her entrance as she saunters towards the back of the classroom, tossing her backpack onto the ground before slumping into the nearest chair.

“Catra.” Weaver’s voices cut through the silence.

“Yes?” Catra feigns an air of nonchalance as she pulls her gaze away from her phone. She almost laughs at the expressions that meet her, ranging from annoyance to fear to downright shock.

“You’re almost ten minutes late.” Weaver’s face is impassive. “Detention, for all of next week.”

Catra rolls her eyes. “Would you believe me if I said my car broke down?” On the inside, she’s silently seething, furious at the fact that Weaver gave her a week’s worth of detention for tardiness and furious at herself for expecting anything less. Everyone in school knows that Weaver is always looking for an opportunity to punish students, and Catra never fails to fulfill that twisted desire.

“You don’t have a car.” Weaver appraises her coolly. “I know you ride the bus, Catra. If you’re going to make an excuse, at least make a valid one.” She turns towards the rest of the class. “Now, did anyone have a question on last night’s homework?”

A couple of hands immediately shoot in the air. Catra takes that opportunity to slouch back in her seat again, closing her eyes and trying her very hardest to not think about all the shit Weaver’s likely to make her do next week. Just last month she had the traumatizing experience of cleaning the restrooms on the second floor, even the boy’s, and she thinks she’d rather gouge her eyes out than have to do that again.

Her eyes fly open seconds later when she hears the short but insistent buzz of her phone on her desk. She reluctantly leans forward to look at the message she’s gotten, already knowing who it’s from even before checking the name of the sender.

Friday 8:18 AM - are you alright?

Catra instinctively looks up, her eyes meeting Adora’s worried ones. Discretely but surely Catra raises her middle finger, watching in some kind of perverse pleasure as Adora visibly flinches.

Satisfied, Catra turns back towards her desk when her phone buzzes again.

Friday 8:19 AM - i’m worried about you catra

Catra grits her teeth, unable to resist the urge this time to text back. When Weaver’s back is turned, she reaches for her phone, furiously typing back her first response to Adora in days.

Friday 8:21 AM - what i do isn’t ur business anymore

She steadfastly avoids Adora’s gaze after this and is relieved that she receives no further texts from her for the rest of the class. As soon as the bell rings she jumps out of her seat, slinging her backpack over one shoulder before racing out of the classroom. A cowardly move, maybe, but the one thing she cannot deal with right now is speaking to Adora after what had happened. After her betrayal.

Catra almost laughs at herself. Betrayal. Like this is some kind of James Bond movie and Adora is a villain, when in fact this situation could not be more different than that. Because Adora can’t be a villain, can she? How can the person who is universally adored by all, who led her team to a state championship, who is getting a full ride to one of the most prestigious universities in the country be anything akin to evil? No, the villain in this story cannot be Adora; it’s the person who opposes her, who refuses to be happy for her well-deserved success.

Catra shoves down her bout of self-loathing and decides to skip her next two classes. She may be on the edge of delinquency with the way she’s going about her classes these days, but she can’t really bring herself to care. Nothing seems worth caring for these days, anyway.

The next couple of hours go by fairly quickly. Catra makes herself at home underneath the bleachers and scrolls mindlessly through her phone, willing her mind to go numb and forget the cerulean blue eyes that held her gaze earlier today. She’s not as successful as she hopes, her thoughts flitting back-and-forth from her last conversation with Adora to its aftermath.

FOUR DAYS AGO

“Catra!”

Catra barely has a moment to ready herself before a pair of arms launch around her, squeezing her tightly around her waist before letting go. “Adora,” she says, half-laughing as she speaks. “What the hell?”

“You wouldn’t believe what I just found out,” Adora’s eyes are glistening with excitement, and she refuses to look at the other students in the hallway who shoot curious glances their way. “I just – I –”

“Slow down,” Catra says fondly. Although she would never admit it out loud, she thinks it’s so cute when Adora gets tongue-tied in her excitement. “You’ve got time.”

“Right.” Adora nods. “Okay.” She takes a deep breath. “So I just got out of a meeting with Coach.”

Catra raises an eyebrow. “Hasn’t she praised you enough?” About a week ago, the school’s soccer team, captained by Adora, brought home the state championship. Word quickly spread about how Adora had scored four goals in the championship game, and nowadays she can barely get to her classes without throngs of people clambering around “our resident hero,” as Adora’s coach has repeatedly called her.

“Stop it,” Adora playfully swats at Catra’s arm. “No, really, she gave me the most amazing news. I honestly couldn’t believe it when she told me.”

“So tell me.” Catra’s never been the most patient person, and Adora’s circumventing is frustrating the living hell out of her. “What’d she say?”

Adora claps her hands together. “I got an athletic scholarship!” She actually squeals, and for a moment it’s the unfamiliar sound that shocks Catra more than the news itself. “A full-ride, Catra, to actual fucking Georgetown. Can you believe it?

Catra’s blood suddenly runs cold. It’s like she’s been drenched in bucket of ice – unexpected and sucking all the warmth out of her body. “You got what?”

“I know!” Adora grabs Catra’s hands and jumps up and down, an enormous smile breaking across her face. “It’s, like, completely insane. When I didn’t hear back from them I thought they weren’t interested, but I guess I impressed the scouts during the playoffs.”

Catra’s not really listening anymore. She’s vaguely aware that Adora’s still talking, but there’s now a buzzing in her head, growing louder and louder until Adora’s voice is drowned out completely.

“So you’re going then.” Her words cut off Adora mid-ramble, and even she’s surprised at how cold they sound. “You’re going to accept.”

“I mean, yeah.” Adora smiles at her again, still completely oblivious to Catra’s tone and how stiff her body’s become. “And even better, you wouldn’t believe how close it is to Towson. It’s only an hour drive, so we’ll still be able to see each other all the time.”

“You think so?” Catra makes sure that the bite in her voice is unmistakable this time. “You think you’re gonna even remember me once you’re off at your fancy private school, with your fancy friends and your fancy fucking scholarship?” She wrenches her hands out of Adora’s and tries to ignore how quickly the other girl’s face falls.

“Catra,” Adora says quietly. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”

“How the fuck can I be happy for you!” The hallway has become dead silent at her outburst, but Catra doesn’t even notice. “We were supposed to go to Towson together! And now you’re what, leaving me to go to some fucking private college meant for one-percenters?”

“This is an amazing opportunity, Catra,” Adora’s voice is steady, but it’s belied by the fact that it looks like she’s on the verge of tears. “I can’t just let it go. I’m sorry.”

“Like hell you are.” Catra throws her a vicious glare. “You promised me, Adora. You fucking promised that we’d go to Towson together.” Her voice cracks on the last word, and she suddenly realizes with acute clarity that her hands are starting to shake, that the remaining people in the hallway are staring at them wide-eyed, that Adora is reaching out to her with clear pain etched on her face. “No. Don’t you fucking touch me.” She turns around, curling her hands into fists as she storms away, the aching in her chest tightening until she feels like she can no longer breathe.

Over the next week Catra does an excellent job of avoiding Adora at school, taking long, winding routes to all her classes and bolting out of her seat as soon as the bell rings. She eats lunch in one of the empty classrooms, furtively looking up when she hears approaching footsteps and hating herself at the slight disappointment she feels when she realizes it’s not Adora. While the other girl wasn’t successful in cornering Catra at school, she does still continue to deluge Catra's phone with texts. Catra ignores them all and only reads them once the messages seem to completely stop, unable to curb the urge to see if Adora is suffering just as much as she is.

Monday 1:48 PM - catra pls

Monday 1:48 PM - i’m sorry. i shouldn’t have shoved it in your face like that

Monday 1:49 PM - it’s just that i was so happy, i didn’t think abt anything else. all that mattered at the time was being able to share that news with you

Monday 1:49 PM - i’m so sorry that I hurt you. you have to know that wasn’t my intention

Monday 1:50 PM - can we pls talk?

Tuesday 3:45 PM - i’m outside of your house. pls come to the door

Tuesday 3:52 PM - catra??

Tuesday 3:53 PM - pls. i just wanna talk. that was literally the worst possible way that conversation could have gone

Tuesday 3:53 PM - i just wanna explain

Tuesday 3:53 PM - at the time i rlly thought i’d be going to towson. you got accepted, they offered to cover my room n board, it was a perfect fucking thing

Tuesday 3:54 PM - i wasn’t actively trying to deceive you catra. i would never do that

Tuesday 3:55 PM - and i never would’ve considered georgetowns offer if it took me away from you. but we’re still gonna be so close by. we can talk and meet up all the time, literally if we meet in the middle it’ll be like a thirty min drive for each

Wednesday 1:05 AM - so youre just never gonna speak to me again

Wednesday 1:05 AM - you’re completely valid in how you feel. like im not gonna deny that. but is even the smallest part of yourself not happy for me. you’re my best friend in the whole fucking world and you dont seem to give a shit

Wednesday 1:07 AM - im sorry. ignore that. its late and you know how i get at night. no filter

Wednesday 7:07 AM - it’s hard to explain what im trying to say through text. can we meet. our usual place after school?

Wednesday 3:55 PM - im here. ill wait for you

Wednesday 4:28 PM - catra

Wednesday 6:05 PM - so you’re not coming ig. its almost evening now and its getting dark so im going home

Wednesday 10:44 PM - im gonna give you space. when you wanna talk im here

Wednesday 10:44 PM - good night

Thursday 12:42 AM - wait one last thing

Thursday 12:43 AM - i just need you to know this. i will never ever leave you behind. no matter what i will always have your back

Thursday 12:43 AM - im not just gonna up and forget abt you like you seem to think

Thursday 12:44 AM - don’t you know how important you are to me

Thursday 12:44 AM - ok im done. pls stop shutting me out. we can figure this out

Thursday 12:45 AM - talk soon

Rather than feeling satisfied like she’d expected, Catra feels hollow. Empty. Her eyes sting, and she turns away from her phone, unable to look at it and the messages anymore. Eventually the light from her phone fades and she’s completely enveloped in darkness. She shuffles slightly in her bed, trying to get comfortable, trying not to let the tears fall, trying not to think of the fact that she’s completely, totally alone.

PRESENT

The sound of a group of girls laughing breaks Catra from her thoughts. She turns around and sees the girls soccer team jog onto the field, their ponytails swishing back and forth as they begin their warmups. Her eyes immediately flit to the beginning of the pack and is unsurprised to see Adora there, talking animatedly to one of the other girls.

For the tiniest moment, Catra allows her gaze to travel down Adora’s body, from the well-fitted jersey to those lean, toned legs. She flushes as she realizes what she’s doing but still keeps her eyes fixated on Adora, who’s started to bark orders at the rest of the team.

“No slacking, Glimmer!”

“Chin up, Rachel!”

“Keep those legs moving, Scorpia!”

It’s strange to see Adora so in her element, Catra thinks. She’s seen Adora practice before, and of course was present at most of her games, but she didn’t pay the attention then that she is now. Soccer isn’t her favorite sport in the world and so she often just came as moral support, zoning out for periods of time then cheering manically for Adora when she scored a goal. But for some reason at this moment, Catra can’t take her eyes away from Adora, watching as the other girl commands the field with fluid grace and precision that’s impossible not to notice.

There’s such an intensity to Adora – a raw, powerful intensity that Catra was always aware existed but never quite noticed. When they were together, just the two of them, Adora always seemed much more mellow, more eager to please and go along with Catra’s whims than anything else. On the field she is the indisputable leader, her words and actions captivating every single person within her radius.

She deserves this, Catra thinks bitterly. She deserves to get that scholarship to Georgetown. She’s going to fucking go places. The hollowness returns, this time in full force. Her heart was already torn to shreds last week, but it feels like it’s being shattered again, battered and battered until the pain won’t ever leave her body.

Of course she’s happy for Adora. Of course – Catra loves Adora more than anyone in the world, and seeing her best friend happy and successful matters to her more than almost anything. But not as much as the fact that they stay together, that they weather the storm together, that they go to college together as fucking promised and they look after each other for the rest of the lives.

And now Catra’s all alone. Because as much as Adora says that they’ll still be friends in college, that they’ll talk, that they’ll meet up regularly and act like nothing has changed, it will have. Adora will find her new rich, preppy friends and within a couple of months Catra will be nothing but an afterthought. A faded memory of a loudmouthed, combative teenage girl that Adora was best friends with during her adolescent years. It’s better this way, Catra reasons. She’s just saving both of them from future pain, really. Adora can start forgetting about her now and Catra can go off to her mediocre college, get a mediocre job, have a mediocre life. It’s destiny.

The thought doesn’t do much in numbing the pain. Catra looks up again and freezes when she realizes that Adora is looking directly at her. The other girl’s eyes are shining, and Catra inwardly scolds herself for not hiding herself better while she was thinking. Her eyes widen in panic when she realizes that Adora is heading her way, so she quickly tosses her backpack on before rapidly making her way out from underneath the bleachers and towards the school building.

“Catra!”

She speeds up.

“Catra, stop!” Catra groans, knowing that there’s no way to escape this confrontation as Adora catches up to her. Fucking athletes.

She turns around, meeting Adora’s gaze coolly. If this is going to happen, she’s going to stand her ground with confidence, not act like some heartbroken thirteen-year-old.

“Hey Adora,” she plasters on her fakest smile. “What can I do for you?”

“I…” For a moment, Adora seems lost, but she quickly composes herself and meets Catra’s gaze just as steadily. “Have you been getting my texts?”

“I responded to one this morning, so yeah.” Catra rolls her eyes.

“Right,” Adora laughs awkwardly. “Of course. But the ones before that? I sent you some stuff, I’m not sure if you read it or not.”

“I did.” Catra says simply.

Adora takes a step forward. “And?” There’s a hopeful glint in her eyes, a pleading that brings back the pain in Catra’s chest in full force.

“And what?” Catra forces herself to laugh once, coldly, cruelly. “There’s nothing to really say.”

Adora’s eyes flash. “Oh, really?” She challenges. “So you’re just gonna forget that we were friends for over fifteen years. You’re gonna forget that we said we would forever be in each other’s lives, that no matter what happened we would have each other’s backs. You’re just gonna forget all of that?”

“Sounds about right,” Catra shrugs. “Are we done here?”

“Fuck you, Catra,” Adora is seething now. “How can you do this?”

“How can I do this?” The façade Catra had been putting on completely slips away and she jabs a finger into Adora’s chest, hard. “No, how could you fucking do this? You promised me that we’d go to Towson together. You’re the one who broke that promise. Not me.”

“I know that!” Adora closes her eyes for a moment, as if drawing from some unknown deity for strength. When she speaks again, her voice has become noticeably quieter, softer, her words clearly chosen with careful consideration. “I feel horrible about it, Catra, but this doesn’t mean anything has to change between us. I’ll literally be across town – we can meet up all the time and tour those cool sights in D.C. like we always planned. And if you ever need me, I’ll just be a phone call away.”

Catra scoffs. “You and I both know that’s not the same,” She shakes her head. “You’ll never understand how I feel, Adora, because you were always better than me. Even before this. I was always the one who might lose you, not the other way around. Do you even understand how that feels?” She pauses for a moment, trying to find a way to express it into words. “You’re fading. It’s like you’re moving into light, but I’m rooted in the same spot, and I’m watching you become something else. If everything in your life gets fucked up, I’ll always be here in the darkness, ready to pick you back up and make you feel whole again. But if my life becomes a mess, who the fuck do I have? You’ll be gone. You’ll be in the light, and all else, all the shit that you leave behind, will become all but a distant memory. You going to Georgetown is the first step to that. I’ve accepted it; you might as well too.” She turns around, this time fully intending on ending the conversation, when an iron grip clutches her wrist.

“No.” Adora’s voice is low. “When will you get it, Catra? You say I’m going to the light? There’s no light without you.” Her voice breaks, and her hand falls away. “Why aren’t you letting me even have a say in this?”

I’m saving us, don’t you see that? Catra wants to scream, to shake Adora until she comes to her senses, sees that the hopelessly optimistic worldview of hers will only end up shattering both of their hearts. There is no place for naivety in this world, not really, and while Catra once found Adora’s guilelessness charming, right now it’s only serving to irk that actual living fuck out of her.

“Give it up, Adora,” she snaps, losing all patience. “You say you need me, you and I both know that’s not true. I was the one always bringing you down, holding you back, and I guess you fucking realized that too. Because as soon as someone offered you an opportunity to get away from me, you took it without a second thought.”

“Stop it,” Adora hisses. “Stop it. Don’t turn this into something it isn’t. I’m going to Georgetown because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I can’t pass it up, but it has absolutely nothing to do with getting away from you. Would I be working so hard to get you to talk to me if that were the case?”

“Oh, please,” Catra waves a hand dismissively in the air. “Just trying to assuage your guilt, I’m sure. Like I said, in three months I’ll be an afterthought.”

“You think you could ever be an afterthought to me?” Adora chokes out a laugh, almost disbelievingly, and shakes her head. “I love you more than anyone on the planet. You make me better, you push me harder, you give me the truth when I can’t see it or refuse to. You give life a splash of color that it wouldn’t otherwise have – you’re ferocious, sharp, always looking to circumvent the system and make your life your own. You inspire me, Catra. Don’t you see that?”

Catra stares at her, the way her shoulders are slightly heaving, the way the glint in her eyes has hardened almost imperceptibly but enough to show that the other girl is not backing down. Her eyes trace along Adora’s neck, where small beads of sweat have gathered, down those ridiculously toned arms, then finally again to her eyes, the depth of feeling swirling in there, the absolute intensity with which they pin Catra in place.

Catra almost breaks. A rush of emotions fills her, hotter and more abrupt than ever before, and she can’t stop the memories from flooding through like a dam that’s finally been opened. Adora sending her that brilliant, exalted smile after each game; Adora propping herself onto one hand and unabashedly staring at Catra as she speaks, eyes gleaming; Adora leaning over to look at Catra’s phone, her hair ever so lightly brushing the exposed skin of Catra’s shoulder while the scent of her laundry detergent envelops Catra in its entirety; Adora in her gown at prom, her blonde hair falling ethereally around her shoulders and her cheeks glittering with hints of perfectly applied makeup. She’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, and Catra suddenly feels like she can’t breathe.

I think I’m in love with Adora.

Catra turns on her heel and runs. It’s the only thing she can do, isn’t it? Add this on top of the shit show that’s already going on between them – oh, by the way, I know I just said it’s better off if we never speak again, but I’m also maybe slightly the tiniest bit in love with you.

All the breath is stolen from her lungs when she feels someone tackle her waist from behind. The grass immediately hits Catra’s face in full form, and she splutters as she flips her body around to spew some choice words at her attacker.

But she’s immediately struck silent by the sight of Adora’s face looming only inches above hers, her hands on either side of Catra’s face, her hipbone pressed almost intimately against Catra’s, and her mouth, oh god that mouth, only inches above her own.

“Stop. Running. From. Me.” Adora says it between gasps for air. Her eyes are blazing, strands of hair falling out of her ponytail and framing her cheeks, and Catra doesn’t think she’s seen Adora more beautiful in her life.

Catra kisses her.

For a moment there’s no response, and the tightening in Catra’s chest returns, this time with full-fledged panic. She attempts to scramble out from underneath Adora, but before she can, Adora’s mouth captures hers and Catra’s mind goes blissfully blank.

When they break apart, Catra notes hazily that the other girl’s pupils are almost completely dilated and that she’s breathing heavily enough for Catra to smell a hint of mint and something unmistakably citrusy coming from her mouth. Probably those orange Tic Tacs she’s always eating.

“Catra,” Adora says breathlessly. She runs a hand down the side of Catra’s face, and she instinctively leans into it, basking in the feeling of Adora’s cool fingers tracing her cheekbone almost reverently.

“Adora,” she teases back, and her heart lurches at the sight of the other girl’s face breaking into one of her patented, eye-crinkling smiles.

For a moment they sit in silence, just basking in each other’s warmth, when Adora reaches down and tangles one of Catra’s hands in hers. “Stay.” She says it so quietly that Catra almost misses it. “Stay.”

Catra swallows. There are unspoken words there: with me. Stay with me. She wills her thoughts to go quiet for a moment, to ignore the insecurities and doubts that loom at the edges of her mind, and instead she focuses on Adora’s face, the unconcealed hope that resides there, the fondness in those bright eyes as she squeezes Catra’s hand.

For the first time in a while, Catra feels like she wants to fight destiny.