‘So,’ Glimmer says.
Adora can’t believe it’s still the same day. It’s like a joke. Hey, how about we spend the day defeating the intergalactic armies of Horde Prime and restoring magic to Etheria? Sounds fun, but what’ll we do after lunch?
Not that Bow is done with lunch. If the raised voices drifting up the bluff behind her are any indication, it’ll be a while yet. She finds herself smiling again.
‘So,’ Glimmer repeats, more pointedly. ‘Catra?’
Adora shakes herself, rewinds the conversation, looking for context. Maybe the view distracted her. But that’s the extent of Glimmer’s question: Catra? Adora looks out over the alien jungle of new—old—Etheria and thinks about what to say.
Her first instinct is to close herself off. Laugh. Ask what Glimmer means. Change the subject.
Her second is to remember she doesn’t have to do that anymore. The thing that exists between her and Catra, it’s not a secret any longer. Not unless she wants it to be, and she realises—giddy, heart beating wildly—that she doesn’t want it to be.
‘Yeah,’ she says, smiling so wide it turns the word into a laugh. ‘Catra.’
Catra, who takes to cooking as effortlessly as she’s always taken to everything, who meets Adora’s gaze across the meal they’re sharing with Bow and Glimmer, who laughs with only her eyes; who bats away Glimmer’s questions, asked with a sideways look and a giggle, about what exactly happened down there, as if it weren’t obvious to anyone watching Adora watching Catra; who, Adora is sure, is fixating on the same question Adora has been pondering for hours, the question she’ll only get to think about once in her entire life, and which she consequently turns over in her mind, When will I kiss you for the second time? When will I kiss you, again?, until Catra takes her hand after lunch and Adora’s heart lurches like she’s a teenager joyriding through the woods and she lets herself be led back up the bluff, to a sublime view she doesn’t spare a second glance.
She feels—unhurried. A new experience. Catra doesn’t seem in a rush, either, and so Adora takes all the time she wants, studying the way the wind ripples Catra’s hair around the edges, the way she can feel it even without touching it, short and fuzzy beneath her fingers. Her freckles stand out a little more, now, under the newer sun; or maybe Adora is simply paying better attention. Maybe there are dozens of things she has yet to learn about Catra’s body, like tiny perfect brushstrokes that no one else would ever see. Maybe she’ll learn to paint, now that there’s time, and commit her discoveries to canvas.
It’s a thought that contains everything that will follow.
‘Have I ever told you how’—Adora isn’t good at this, her mind supplies several words, but they all seem fake, somehow, and it’s not that Catra isn’t beautiful, attractive, gorgeous, but the word Adora wants is—‘breathtaking? You are?’
Catra’s breathes in, sharp. Her tail fluffs out.
‘I'm sorry! Was that—should I not have said that, um, is it not—are we not—’
‘Stop. Don’t you dare apologise. I just—’ Catra's voice shudders, but she doesn’t stop. ‘Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to hear you say that? To hear you... talk to me like that? I feel like I'm dreaming.’ She snorts. ‘Except my dreams were never this good. Daydreaming, maybe.’
Adora’s heart is drumming contradictory beats, embarrassment and confidence and pure, pure happiness. ‘Since always. Right?’
Catra huffs out half a laugh. ‘I meant every word I said in the Heart.’ She says it almost like a challenge.
‘Including the part where you called me an idiot?’
‘Especially that part.’
‘But I'm—’ Adora stumbles over her next words. Maybe she understands Catra. Maybe they’re daydreaming together. She pushes down the part of her screaming that she can’t say things like that, can’t admit them or they’ll be real. ‘But I'm your idiot?’
‘You don’t get to doubt that. I won’t let you.’
Adora touches Catra, right at the place where the fabric of her top meets the soft fur of her shoulder. Catra doesn’t move. No, that’s not quite right—her body doesn’t move, but her tail flicks lightly at Adora’s side, and she doesn’t question it, she pulls Catra into her, fits her neatly in the arc of her arms. Her hands end up on the small of Catra’s back, supporting her.
‘Is this okay?’ she murmurs in Catra’s ear.
‘You know it is.’ Catra’s voice, muffled against Adora’s neck, is ever so slightly irritated.
‘It’s nice. Hearing you say it.’
Catra nuzzles closer. That’s an unseen advantage to her short hair, Adora thinks: much easier to hold her close without sneezing.
‘Fine,’ Catra says. ‘This is okay.’
‘Your ears look bigger with your hair like this,’ Adora says a minute later, because she’s already thinking about Catra’s hair and she’s not entirely sure what else to say.
‘No, it’s good! I like your ears. They’re so expressive.’ Adora runs a finger along the edge of Catra’s right ear, which twitches in response, as if proving her point. ‘I like how they perk up when you look at me,’ she adds, with only a little of the smugness she’s feeling.
Catra groans. ‘Please tell me this relationship has settings other than “insecure” and “insufferable”.’
‘Pretty sure I know which of those you prefer.’
‘I’m leaving now.’
‘Nah. You’re not. You love me! You—’
‘I really am—’
‘You always have!’ Adora grins even wider when Catra shoves her away, mock-furious, and wider still when she takes the time to really look at her, the girl she loves; the way her ears lie flat in embarrassment, her gaze averted except when it escapes, darting back, as if Catra can’t stop looking at Adora any more than Adora can stop looking at her.
‘Can I ask you a stupid question?’ Catra says suddenly. Her hand is on Adora’s hip, thumb tracing the hard outline of her pelvis. There’s a tiny tension where her tail whips at the ground.
‘You can ask me as many stupid questions as you want, if you keep touching me like that.’
That has the intended effect. Catra smiles. Her tail stills. ‘I’ve only got one,’ she says. ‘We’re—in love. For—’ Adora can all but hear her swallowing the word forever. ‘Like, long term in love. That’s what we are. Right?’
Adora’s expression softens. ‘Now who’s being insecure?’
Catra’s tail twitches again. ‘Shut up.’
‘Yeah, Catra, that’s what we are. I told Glimmer already, and it’d be really embarrassing to walk that back.’
‘Oh, well, in that case…’
‘I’ve loved you all my life,’ Adora blurts out, because it hurts to see Catra even the tiniest bit uncertain. ‘I know it probably didn’t always… seem that way. But it’s true.’
Catra sighs. ‘It’s okay. You don’t have to say that just because I did.’
‘I know. I know. And I'm not. I think it was different for me. Like—’ Adora pauses, thinks, and then kisses Catra instead of thinking. Catra isn't expecting it and it's awkward, their mouths don’t align, their noses bump. Then Catra’s lips twitch and Adora’s heart skips a beat. It's one thing to see Catra happy. Another to feel her happiness in the shape of her smile against Adora’s own lips. She thinks it's maybe the best second kiss she could have asked for.
‘You were saying?’ Catra murmurs, so close Adora can taste the words.
She’s pretty sure Catra doesn’t need reassurance anymore, but Adora wants to finish the thought anyway. She’s never said it out loud before.
‘If someone had asked me a week ago if I loved you, I'd have said no. Or a month ago. Or a year. Or five years. But—Catra, how I felt about you, the core of how I felt about you, never changed. I can trace it as far back as I can remember. And if that's true, then... it was always love. I was just a dumbass about it until recently.’
‘Say that again.’
Adora rolls her eyes. ‘That I was a dumbass?’
‘No,’ Catra says, luminous eyes fixed on Adora, and her voice is gentle, so gentle it breaks Adora’s heart in the good way. ‘The part where you loved me as far back as you can remember.’