Chapter 1: Late night callin'
Got excited about this as a oneshot but now I feel it deserves its own little multi chapter story, lets see where it goes. I wanted to do something that explores a modern AU and I based this off the baseline of my mutual's marvellous AU idea , taking the characters and the universe to play around in and forge my own divergent story.
Catra will have her deadname called in this, and I've included that because it brings exposure to something that happens to trans persons and often, I would know.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Hello?” a sleepy female voice answers.
“Catryan?” Adora asks as her heart skips a beat. Wait, who's that girl?
“Huh, no t-this is Catra, w-who is this?” The voice answers, speech slurred.
Tempted to go into a long explanation of her precarious circumstances, Adora thinks better of it. She shuffles on the spot for a moment, trying to keep her body warm in the bitter January breeze and exhales a deep sigh that forms a frosty cloud cast in bright orange by the bus stop light.
She doesn’t know Catra or how she is related to Catryan. Did he get married? Her heart skips another beat. It's been almost thirteen and a half years out of the fifteen she enlisted for. Guess things moved quite a bit back home, huh?
“I… uhm Is Catryan there?” Adora repeats, a bit more downtrodden than just moments before. She scratches her head. No reply.
All she wants is to get somewhere warm. The bus driver had kicked her out when her wallet came up empty, and over the last hour of contemplation, the cold hasn’t been kind to her injury. There are good days and bad days. Today is bad, especially with the sub-zero temperatures. Not wanting to aggravate it further by freezing her ass off on one of the public benches nearby, she dumps her olive coloured duffle bag (that contains all she owns) on the ground and uses it as a makeshift beanbag. Not feeling the pressure and artificial textures around her right knee is such a relief. She sighs again, watching the white cloud drift off with the chilly wind. Adora can feel the heat flush into her face, the warmth that precedes a bawling breakdown. She really needs a friend right now.
“N-No he’s out” Catra says at last. Likely story. “Can I take a message for him?”
She can’t blame the girl, though. A call at quarter past midnight isn’t socially acceptable. Its sketchy as fuck and Adora knows it, but she has no choice. She’s lucky someone picked up at all. What if nobody had picked up? What if his phone number had changed? She has no answers for those questions.
“Uh, this uhm, Well, “she stutters, not sure how to articulate what needs to be said without going into details. ”This might sound weird but we used to be friends in highschool and m-uhm, I just returned to civil life and got no roof over my head. I don't know where to go and hoped I could crash at his place, just f--”
“Shhh Finn, mommy is on the phone, you go back to sleep.”Catra croons away from the phone, only audible faintly before returning with full volume. “Sorry what were you saying?”
Catra looks into the empty hallway. Finn’s been fast asleep for hours. She needs time to think. Why does Adora think it’s okay to call like she hasn’t been gone for almost fifteen fucking years? In the middle of the night, no less? The phone buzzes warm against her ear, her childhood friend, long thought to have moved on, speaking at a more and more frantic pace.
“I… Sorry I didn't know…” Adora’s words tumble out of the speaker “Could you just tell him I called and uhm,” the phone cracks, the voice gone for just a split second, “I don’t know. This is so stupid...I’m sorry for bothering you Ma'am.”
Catra’s heart tightens up with long forgotten pain reawoken, her breath hitching as she rushes to push choked words past the lump in her throat, stop the call from ending. “Wait…”
“Yes?” The reply shoots out at lightning speed.
“Adora?” She risks, waiting for a reply longer than she likes.
“How do y--”
“Hey, Adora.” She croons, making it as clear as possible who she is.
A confused ‘Catryan?’ is all she receives in reply.
It’s not really something she wants to get into right now. The phone isn’t a proper format for it and it's not how she imagined that conversation to go down either. It's not that she spent a lot of time thinking about her and how she’d come out to her after the first few months, when it became clear she wouldn’t come back. All she wanted then was to forget so she could move on. But she had thought about it, had thought about it day and night before Adora signed up while she didn’t. Before the argument. Before never saying goodbye.
“I… uhm--” Adora begins.
“Shouldn’t you be on duty or the middle-east somewhere?” She snaps, unable to contain the flare up of over thirteen years built up resentment. ”It’s really late.”
She’s got some nerve after all of--
“I know it's been a long while since we t-talked,” Adora sobs into the phone, ”but I’m kinda on the street at the moment. I’ve been dismissed because of medical reasons an-and--” Another sob, her words hitching “--I got nothing, Catra...I-I don't know what to do. I’m freezing.”
Catra’s gut twists. What is the dork expecting her to do about it? Finn doesn’t need much but it's not like she’s swimming in cash from her part time pediatric work after the bills and mortgage.
“D-Do you need money?”
She’d support Adora of course with whatever she got spare. It's not like she needs it for anyone else in her life. A fact that by itself makes her shoulders slump and forces a sigh past her lips unwittingly. It’s been hard, all alone.
“It’s complicated…” Adora states, dragging the word out. She always did that when she wasn’t sure how to say what she wanted to say. Nice to see she hasn’t changed that much. ”Do you still live in Brightmoon?”
Catra hesitates for a moment. Is it wise to give out your address to someone you haven't seen in years? If Adora is really broke then mayb--... she shakes her head. No, Adora would never do that to her. Despite their differences in the past, she’s certain of that.
“Yeah, not far from school.”
Another long pause. Catra is patient. It's a skill that translates well from working with children.
”C-Could I just crash on your couch for the night?” Adora finally asks.
Catra can basically hear the tears rolling down the goobers cheeks. She’s always been a big sap. It's what attracted her to the beautiful blonde in the first place. Still there is a part of her that voices reservation, a part that doesn’t want to be hurt again the way Adora had hurt her.
“I’m not sure its a good--”
“Please.” Adora bawls into the phone, cutting her off. “I-I don't know where else t-to go or what to do…”
She wants to say no, wants nothing more to do with Adora. She has moved on hasn’t she? She’s adopted Finn, built a life for herself, and tried to forget. She doesn’t need Adora anymore, doesn't want her.
Beware of missing chances; otherwise it may be altogether too late some day.
Incidentally it was mere weeks after Adora had enlisted that Spinny cracked out that nugget of wisdom . Her quasi godmother didn’t know at the time, but Catra made sure to let her know just how much it hurt to hear. Not anymore though. She’s going to dive in the deep end for once.
Catra takes a deep breath, then exhales all her doubt for a split second.
“Alright. Need the address?”
“I’ll text you so you won’t forget, I know what you’re like.” She offers, “see you soon.” She ends the call quickly not trusting her heart to continue with all the adrenaline coursing through her veins.
She can offer Adora a room, help her back to her feet. Afterall it was Catra who stuck the note with that special phone number in her pocket that day, over a decade ago, asked for her to call if she’d ever get out and needed something. She wouldn’t turn her back on such a promise, no matter how long ago it was made.
Yes, she can give her a room and a bed, see how things go.
Catra places her thumb on the mobile screen, pauses, her heart heavy; swipes the call-duration screen away then double taps the caller Id and makes an entry for the new number. She swipes that away, too, opens the messenger app with another double tap and begins typing one handed. Catra really needs the other hand on the corner of the hallway dresser right now.
00:24 | 23 Crescent boulevard. Got enough charge 4 Google Maps to get u here? |
00:24 | I’ve got 11% Should be fine |
00.25 | omg did u not charge ur phone again? |
00:25 | :))) |
00:26 | Ur such a dork. Still lots of milk and sugar? |
00:27 | :) |
00:27 | Alright, see u soon |
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update 12.07.2021: I know you guys have been waiting for like FOREVER on a next chapter on this, and i just wanted to make clear for anyone reading that its DEFINITLY on the way. College exam time has been busy, had to move house, moved job, lots of stuff to do and trying to keep up with 2 WIP fics is just HARD. But its coming, promised. Sometimes soon.
Chapter 2: Knock, Knock
Holy smokes, I know you've been waiting absolute AGES for chapter two after I teased i'd turn this into a multichapter fic. I'm super grateful for everyone's patience. Usual life stuff's been happening, job change, house move, college exams, the lot. Most of that lies in the past now so I finally, finally, found the quiet to sit down and write this properly instead of trying to just rush it out.
I hope you'll like it and you will definitely not be having to wait this long again for the next chapter Dx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Adora's eyes wander across the small property. No sound, no motion, no lights. Hand diving into her pocket, she grabs her phone, swiping its display to check the time. She’s got barely enough time to register the numbers before being glared at by the flashing battery symbol and the device deciding that now is the best time to shut off.
It's one in the morning, more or less. Hard to say with the crack running straight across the display. Either way, street’s empty, curtains closed and all lights are out. Only tall street lamps are dripping their orange glow onto the road.
Lumbering down the little pathway leading up to the door, she makes it about halfway before her right leg voices its complaints again, reminding her of that annoyance she will have to put up with. Forever.
As is custom, she bites her cracked lip. Not enough to break the sensitive skin, just enough to overshadow the complaints from her right foot, to distract from the sting that shouldn’t be there. Still, it forces her to a halt... again.
Adora allows her eyes to explore the little house, drawn to the veins of leafless ivy raking across its side, the neglected garden and lawn, the Chevy Cruze that looks like it had more owners than it has doors and has seen at least twice as many years. Continuous dripping from one of the gutters sends ice cold splashes of meltwater drumming like a tired heartbeat on the decaying leaves that clog the drain. It isn’t a tiny home but also doesn’t appear spacious.
Letting her shoulders slump with the weight of second thoughts, Adora takes her bag of feigned courage and slogs her way up the little steps to the more sheltered porch. The wood creaks as her weight shifts onto it, jolting her heart with the volume of a foghorn in the silence of the night. Adora leans on the railing to support her unbalanced weight. She always has to. She curses when her tired fingers catch painfully on flakes of peeling paint.
She comes to a halt at the door -house number 17- balls her fists and wipes the cold sweat onto her trousers before softly tapping the door.
Catra stands silent, eyes fixed, ears and tail twitching at the sounds coming from her front door. Phone clutched to her chest, she rubs her fingers across its dark display, over and over.
Can she really go through with this? Open the door to her painful past after so long? Let Adora back into her life? It would be easy to just walk away from the door, to just ignore the sounds and pretend Adora does not exist, just like she hasn’t existed in her life for over a decade. It seemed like an act of mercy when she agreed earlier, but having had some time to think it through, the decision leaves a bitter taste in her mouth after all. But why?
Adora left her all these years ago. She wouldn’t listen , was so fixated on a delusional quest of self validation that Catra became an afterthought - with all its nasty consequences. Adora wanted to be a soldier, a hero, just like those ridiculous propaganda posters advertised. See the world . Do your part . Big ol’ uncle Sam in stars and stripes pointing with demands . Can she really blame Adora for it though? She believed it herself. All of it. And for way too long. Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? Denying it would just turn her into the world's biggest hypocrite. And she isn't about to apply double standards.
Unrooting from her anxious paralysis, Catra’s eyes and hands wander to the dresser in her entrance hall, seeking out the little black leather purse. They flick through it with purpose and memory, pulling the little cut-out from the safe pouch inside.
She stares at the photo, her and Adora, a selfie taken the day they went to the recruitment office together. She remembers it vividly, how she feigned the happy smiles for the sake of Adora’s big day. The day Adora decided to disregard her continued concerns and placed the greater good above their lifelong friendship.
No, that’s wrong. This picture was taken before that moment. It’s not a keepsake of the day Adora left her, it's a keepsake from the countless years of friendship and… love Catra, no, Catryan had for her. That’s got to be worth something. It has to be for Adora, too. Why else would she come to her after all these years if not for the shared memories and trust they once had?
Catra bites her lip, her eyes flicking between the sort-of memento mori she kept all these years and the door beyond which a ghost threatened to enter and haunt her. She takes one last reassuring look at the picture and then her mind fills with clarity as she hurries to the door and unlatches the security bolts one by one, and against the better judgement that screams at her like a deranged psychopath. Finally, her fingers unhook the security chain and pull the door ajar, her tail flicking behind her from side to side.
Keep it together.
Adora’s eyes snap to the door, tracing the sharp metallic sounds as her heart leaps into her throat like a frog thrown into a hot frying pan. When the door opens and allows the light to frame her old friend against the gap, her mind goes blank.
Catryan has always been a bit of a nerd. A geek of the classic variety. Skipping school for the latest World of Warcraft expansions was as much on his repertoire as flipping out on Teamspeak about hackers on Call of Duty. He was strong headed and opinionated. A bit of an ass really. And absolutely not the same person that peeked out from the gap. Catra’s eyes shone in the same mesmerizing turquoise and gold but everything else about her was different .
Gone is the rough mane below his face, the ruffled short hair, the un-sporty figure that was almost stereotypical ‘gamer Catryan’ and the wide, draping and dull clothes he used to wear. The woman standing in that gap instead is just… wow.
A loose red blouse, temptingly half unbuttoned and tugged into well fitting black and gold trimmed pants. Her hair is long now, too. Up in a ponytail with some shorter strands and bangs hanging seductively across her sleek feminine face.
It's a sight for the gods and the gods alone. Adora feels the heat rise to her cheeks for the infraction of staring at what is clearly not meant for mortal eyes. Despite all of this she pretends to look respectfully at Catra, if only to save some shreds of her shattered dignity.
Certain to have stopped breathing for a few seconds and heart pounding furiously as she tries to take everything about her old friend in, she struggles to push words past that sudden lump in her throat.
“Hey, Adora.” Catra cuts her off, tail flicking behind as she cocks her head. “Come in, it's freezing.”
“T-Thanks,” she stammers in reply, grabbing her duffle bag without taking eyes off Catra for even a second. Adora steps into the entrance hall, instantly feeling overwhelmed by all the things to see and to take in, her old friend, the room and décor, thinking about what to say next, the days ahead. Should she be making chit chat? No, that feels wrong after such a long time.
I know I've been gone for thirteen years, but how's the weather? Ha-ha.
She scratches the back of her neck, just underneath her own ponytail. What do people say in these situations? Should she just dump her stuff and ask where she can crash? No, that seems rushed and like she just wants to use Catra’s house like a hotel. Wait, that was the plan, wasn’t it?
“Your boots,” Catra scolds, pointing at the floor and ripping her straight out of the spiral that she just embarked on.
Adora looks at her, brows knitted and like a deer caught in headlights. “Boots?”
“You got snow and mud on them?” Catra continues rhetorically. “Would be cool if we could keep nature on the other side of the door.”
Adora’s eyes snap downward to investigate, horrified at the little stones, grey slush and mud she has dragged into Catra’s home.
She rushes to take her boots off and unceremoniously drops her duffle bag. A split second later, that same duffle bag reminds her with a muffled wet splosh that it had in fact been used as a seat earlier by some dumb blonde, who can now only watch in horror as it uncaringly splashes more grey slush across the parquet flooring.
“Ah F-” Adora almost curses, catching herself in the nick of time. “shi-whoops, sorry, give me a second,” Adora groans, the facepalm implied, trying to scrape the slush haphazardly back to the bag with her boots only to spread it out further in the process. This is definitely not working.
Catra sighs again, letting her shoulders slump with a roll of her eyes, then giggles. “It’s fine you idiot, let me help you.”
Again Adora’s breath hitches. The melody of Catra’s raspy voice, so unlike Catryan’s, flows like honey into her ears. A song she has missed out on her entire life without ever having heard it before. Wait what?
Catra smirks as Adoras cheeks turn red while her brows remain tangled in confusion. It's a common reaction to the changes Catra has been going through and she is used to it by now, relishes it in a way, in fact. Catra knows she is attractive and it's a welcome change to the years of anxiety and distance to society she went through. The years of self doubt, self loathing, insecurity and fear. It feels like a reward now to see reactions like Adora’s, like she went to college for years and then finally one day realised that she passed . And it changed everything for her. Adora’s cheeks are not red from the cold, and Catra knows it.
With a self satisfied smirk, Catra kneels down and unties the boot laces, pulling up one trouser leg. Then, she freezes, her stomach turning into a washing machine on a spin cycle.
Adora knew it was going to happen. It's a common reaction to the change she had gone through, but she is used to it by now. She looks down to meet Catra’s two coloured, pained eyes, and softens her own in reassurance when her friend opens her mouth again, the beautiful melody shifted to a discordant minor key.
“A-Adora, your leg… what-”
“I know,” Adora sighs, squeezing her eyes shut. Try as she might, she can't prevent the images from the past flashing across her consciousness in a violent, distorted replay. She is used to this, too. But it doesn't make it any less disruptive or disturbing. Her eyes scrunch for a moment, trying to banish the waking nightmares haunting her. To her dismay, Catra drops the fabric like a hot potato and pulls back.
“No, please.” Adora grits her teeth, then relaxes her face. “It’s fine, it’s nothing you did. I’m getting better at dealing with it, the memories I mean,” she lies.
“This happened during duty, didn’t it?” Catra implies with sorrow in her voice. Although she feels this would certainly warrant an ‘I told you so ’, it would also be highly inappropriate. And pointless.
Adora was perfectly aware of the risks and is perfectly aware of the consequences military service can entail. Saying as much would just add insult to injury. Adora isn’t dumb and it’s certainly not Catra’s place to judge whether the sacrifice was worth it. What she really feels is compassion. Sympathy. Shock. It pains her that, despite all the pompous blustering and bravado Adora liked to display in the past, she got seriously, life threateningly injured during service. She didn’t deserve that, despite Catra having used this very argument to dissuade her. Despite Catra using it to mock and warn her. Unsuccessfully. No, pointing this out would not only be inappropriate and pointless, it would also be petty and rude.
Adora nods, grimacing.
“How-” Catra begins in a rash and thoughtless spout of morbid curiosity before zipping her lips shut and delivering an internal scolding. This might be as sensitive and painful a subject to broach.
“It’s complicated, really,” Adora sighs. No shit. “Can we talk about it another time?”
“Yeah of course,” Catra agrees in a heartbeat, glad to move past the subject for now.
“Thanks,” Adora says, a genuine smile flashing across her face. “I mean it. For letting me stay and all.”
“It’s no big deal really.” Catra lies.
Brushing the concerns and worries at the back of her mind aside, she raises the fabric again with steady hands and pulls the boot off gently. She tries not to gawp at the lifeless synthetic materials, plastics and metals that glare at her in place of warm soft skin all the way to her knee. It’s not the first time she has seen prosthetics up close, in fact it's not that uncommon in her area of work, but seeing it on someone she knows or… knew so dearly hits... different .
Oh Adora, She laments in silence, What happened to you?
After taking the second boot off, brushing intentionally more than once against Adora’s real leg, she places them on a little rack with a rubber mat underneath while Adora mops up the slush and water she has left in her wake. Once the impending floor repair is averted, Catra invites her to follow.
Trailing on tip toes after Catra through the dim hallway, Adora stops at a door with little pictures stuck to it. They are not crude but she can tell they were drawn by a child. Arranged in a crescent pattern around a colourful name tag plaque.
The pictures cover nearly half the door, various doodles of presumably himself, of Catra, a woman with purple pigtails and one with flowers in her hair. The latter two, Adora doesn't know. Her eyes then wander to the hook on the plaque from which dangles a yellow, white and purple magicat collar with black leather woven throughout.
“I hope we didn't wake him.” Adora whispers.
“Them,” Catra comments, her tone dry as dust.
Adora’s forehead wrinkles up like the Appalachians. The thought of Catra having… a child seems wild already, but children ? Plural?
“Them?” She tries to clarify in disbelief.
“Them.” Catra reaffirms, lifting her hand with a single digit that points out Adora’s mistake. It takes a moment for the slow and rusty cogwheels to get into gear, but they do click together, eventually.
“Ohhh… them.” She rubs her temples. “Sorry, I get it now. I didn’t mean to offend. I’ve not had much contact with…you know... that kinda stuff.”
“That kinda stuff ?" Catra mocks.
“You know what I mean.”
“Stop picking on me,” Adora whines with an exaggerated gesture.
Catra can't help but let slip a snicker. Adora has always been easy to tease. She can’t tell a joke if it hits her in the face. It's adorable and she’s such easy prey.
“Still want that coffee?” She asks, placing hands on her hips and letting her tail sway casually. “No offense but you look like shit and you might be better off sleeping than putting matchsticks in your eyes right now.”
“Yeah I-I guess you are probably right,” she agrees, yawning as if on cue.
“We can catch up tomorrow if you are still around, Adora,” she replies, the layers of veil covering the real question for once not lost on Adora.
“Yeah I think I would like that, Catra.” She suggests in return, a fond smile lighting up her face. “Let's catch up tomorrow.”
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Chapter 3: Swiftwind
First of all, apologies for taking so long on updating. Life got in the way as it does. Honestly, not a day went by where i didn't feel bad for not updating and felt like i keep disappointing you. It's something I really work hard on, I know you're eager for the next chapters and i promise to do better by you. It felt a bit difficult to start writing again and i hope the quality meets your standards, if not please do tell me in the comments
With that out of the way, i hope you enjoy the continuation.
Cw: implied violence, swearing
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The ceaseless rattling, vibrating and monotonous sounds have always been like sleeping pills for her, but after hour 45 and with scarcely an ounce of sleep, it is worse than ever. Just five minutes rest would be godsent, but there is no time for that in her schedule.
Adora leans down, flicks open the rubber latch on the little white storage hatch to her right and snatches her laminated map along with the attached trusty pair of marker pens.
Today, she has used the red one too often for her taste already, but there is nothing she could do about having to add another few question marks along the eastbound highway AH1. It would mean another few stops, more dreary delays, sizzling in the sun and even longer until she can hit the sack again. The real sack with pillow, cover and linen. Maybe she’d be able to grab an hour in between, crammed into her seat, especially with that amount of red question marks.
With a groan, Adora returns the map and pens to the storage compartment after amending the original ETA to FOB Plumeria -possibly an added three or four hours- and hoists herself up through the scorching circular hatch. Even with gloves, she can’t hold on too long. But being out top beats the poor visibility from inside, even if it means looking into an oven rather than revelling in the fridge-like chill of the air conditioning unit inside.
Pinning the tan coloured scarf across her face to avoid getting the fine sand and whatever else nasty shit lingers in the air into her mouth, she carries out her routine 360 check in case anything changed while the map distracted her. Over the thunder of Swiftwinds powerful engine and the rattling of its tracks, the unmistakable whine of a cheap motorcycle catches her attention to the back left. It’s trying to pass the convoy and turns the blood in her veins to ice.
Fuck no, you ain’t.
Diving back down, she seizes the stock of her carbine and flicks the headset to local comms.
“Kyle, company on our six, make ‘em understand they can’t pass us.”
Coming back up, she flicks the headset back to channel two to alert the rest of the platoon.
“Alpha, this is Alpha 1. Be aware we got a motorcycle trying to pass. We are handling it, but keep an eye out for your three and nine. This smells like a rehash of Bamizay.”
The other commanders acknowledge, but Adora is already tuning the mundane radio etiquette out in favour of bringing the M4 up and extending her trigger finger along its side. With a cursory glance to her right, she verifies that Kyle has swung the ol’ Ma Deuce around. He’s still a tad stiff, but she isn’t expecting anything else from his initial few weeks on deployment. Aside from being spindly and awkward, he’s a good buddy whom she can rely on.
“He’s not slowing,” Kyle comments on the local channel.
Adora takes her left hand off the carbine and waves at the motorcyclist to keep his distance. He doesn’t seem to get the message. Not only that, but he’s speeding up and Adora’s gut does somersaults when he closes the fifty yard perimeter she had assigned to keep free. Giving him one last chance, she points at her carbine and reaffirms her gesture to halt.
“Give him the final warning Kyle.”
He pulls hard on the Machinegun’s charging handle, spanning the bolt in place and dragging the next round in its path, all in one swift and trained motion.
It is true that the rules of engagement state they shouldn’t open fire unless fired upon, but these rules also make exceptions for reasonable suspicion. Not adhering to the orders of a tall blonde on top of her sixty tons steel-warhorse qualifies for suspicion in her books. In accordance with that, Kyle flicks the safety off and squeezes the trigger for a brief volley of bullets into the sky. No risk to the rider but doubtless an explicit threat: ‘Come any closer and the next rounds wont miss’.
He doesn’t get the memo.
Fuck you, don’t force me to do this.
With the bike about to invade the twenty-five yard limit to the rear of her tank, she isn’t going to take chances.
Back the fuck off, don’t make me do it.
Her left thumb flicks the safety to single fire and her index finger settles on the trigger as she peers through the sights, planting the little red dot squarely onto the man’s chest. Just like in practice, she exhales one third and tenses up the three little muscles needed to end a human’s existence. The trigger gives and-
Adora darts up.
Nauseous. Disoriented. Sweaty.
She’s in a room, a bed - not on deployment. Catra’s spare bed, to be exact. Her head feels hazy, just like hot desert air shimmering above the scorched sands. It was just a nightmare. But it felt so real, so vivid. Even her clammy skin still feels as if coated by the lingering grit carried along in the desert winds.
Taking a few ragged gasps and cupping her head -just like her psychiatrist said- Adora brings her body back under control. She tames and adjusts her breathing, her heartbeat and the shaking. It works, despite the misgivings about breathing mumbo jumbo she expressed during her sessions.
“Just a dream,” she tells herself, maintaining the exercise. “Just a dream.”
At first, it felt silly to talk to no one, to talk to herself like she is just some outside observer calming down a little girl. But this, too, is something her therapist advised her to do. She can’t deny that it helps.
But it’s also a lie.
It wasn’t just a dream.
It’s a memory.
It was real.
Adora groans, dragging out a curse as if it serves to drive out the specters that haunt her and a few more moments pass before she opens her eyes in earnest and escapes the ghost of the past. For now.
She isn’t supposed to dwell on the past; the therapist told her. Rather than second guessing her decisions, second guessing things that cannot be changed any longer, Adora should concentrate on building a new life while accepting and processing her history.
“Easier said than done when your history doesn’t ever fucking let you forget about it,” Adora grumbles into her palms.
Driven from nauseous and disoriented to irritable and moody, she flings the cover to the side and sits up to go through her morning routine of re-attaching the prosthesis. Normally it’s not much of a bother. But now, in the cold season, stretching the chilly silicone liner over her residual limb causes her skin to prickle with goosebumps. Minor discomforts aside, however, the procedure doesn’t take long.
With a drawn-out sigh and a rub of her eyes, Adora unplugs the charger and grabs her phone with the small folded note that is tucked beneath it. She checks the time first. Overslept - at least by military standards. But it’s not like any of that matters anymore. If anything, she deserves a few more minutes in a soft, warm bed. It’s been a rocky few days and there is no need for her to be up at a specific time anymore.
Tossing the phone back on the sheets, she unfolds the note to an elegant-looking handwriting on its inside:
You still looked out of it when I had to go to work, so I left you sleeping.
There is some food for you in the fridge and cupboards.
Help yourself, but don’t touch the Lucky charms or Finn will never forgive you.
There are fresh towels in the bathroom for you. I suggest you use them.
I’ll be back around 5, don’t worry, Finn is at school and clubs and you won’t have to babysit.
P.S. I put your phone on charge. It’s got a crack running across its screen, y’know? Maybe get a new one?
Text me if you want and call if there is an emergency.
P.S.S. DON’T CREATE AN EMERGENCY. PLEASE.
Hope to see you at 5, if you are still here.
“Get a new one?” Adora mumbles in disbelief, shaking her head.
The notion of getting rid of her long-term companion is ludicrous. It has seen her through years of service and it would also require money. If Anything, she’d get the screen replaced. Maybe. To be honest, even the thought of fixing it aches like a punch to the gut. The crack, this flaw, its damage, scratches and wear has grown on her. It has charm. It has history. Just like herself. In a way, it’s a reflection of her. Sure, it doesn’t work as well anymore, is hard to read, sometimes crashes and is years behind the newest model - but it’s unique. It shares Adora’s history with her. It’s a part of her.
She snorts. The idea that someone as broken as her could remotely have any charm is absurd. Nice try lying to yourself though, 10/10.
Replacing the screen feels like an erasure of her companion’s identity, and, in extension, her own.
But maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing altogether.
“I’ll think about it, ok?” she yields, then places the note back on the bedside table like a precious keepsake.
Following Catra’s suggestion, she takes a warm shower - something that feels like luxury - and helps herself to a meagre breakfast.
While the cupboards and fridge are decently loaded, and she certainly feels like digging in like there is no tomorrow, she doesn’t want to abuse Catra’s hospitality as a free banquet. With this in mind, she settles in the kitchen for a stale bagel topped with some cream cheese and a good cup of instant coffee. It won’t satiate her, but it will do for now.
Taking a bite occasionally and sipping away on the black brew, Adora whips her phone out again, throwing a few texts Catra’s way. Obviously, she thanks her for the note and the food first and then reassures Catra that she has no plans of bolting out the door. Yes, she will still be here when Catra comes back. But there is also something that’s eating away at her conscience. It’s something she put off way too long, dreaded it in fact and still does. Yet, taking the advice from the nagging voice of her shrink reverberating through her skull, today is as good as any to tackle this challenge. It’s not like she’s got anything else on her hobo agenda.
She puts her phone back down, letting her eyes drift from the compact kitchen across the counter and out the frosted window. It’s still early and it’ll be hours before Catra gets home. She has plenty of time to get this done.
But time isn’t really the issue.
Feeling uncomfortable and with a rising tightness in her chest, Adora shifts her weight in the wooden chair. Does she really need to take care of it? It’s not like there will be any consequences if she doesn’t, is there? She could just ignore it forever and nothing would come of it, right? No, this has been eating away on her for months. Almost a year, actually. Ever since she set foot on her home soil again, no longer a member of the armed forces, dishonourably discharged after thirteen and a half years of loyal service. That's what you get for asking the wrong questions.
Adora Fought her way through the ranks, commanding her own squad - but it was a struggle. Despite copious advertisement campaigns, the army wasn’t ready for female frontline personnel. They say they are, but the reality is different. She saw it every day, felt it every day. And when the opportunity presented itself, they didn’t hesitate one second.
Adora sighs, then pulls her hand to her chest, rubbing away the irritating tingle that is spreading throughout her sternum. She didn’t really have a choice though; it was the right thing to do, asking uncomfortable questions. Maybe if she had done so earlier instead of putting her head down and just following orders, then… then maybe she wouldn't have to take care of things now.
Her phone buzzes, startling her back to the present as it wanders along the table towards the edge and threatens to throw itself into the abyss lest Adora gives it the attention it deserves. She grabs it just short from tumbling off and unlocks it with a heavy-hearted swipe of her thumb. Then, within the blink of an eye, the rain clouds in her mind make way for a sunny spell.
9:45 | on my break now, glad you got some rest :3 |
9:45 | though, I should have thrown those bagels out, they are a few days over their best before Dx |
To be fair, Adora was aware of the out of date-state of the bagel, but being unable to spot any mold on it, it seemed prudent to get rid of them before they grew any. Food is food. Unable to contain her lips from forming a smile, Adora takes a chunky bite from her bagel and begins typing.
9:46 | Naw, it’s okay, they are still good, delicious even! (～￣▽￣)～ |
9:46 | As long as I don’t find your corpse on the kitchen floor when I come home... |
9:47 | Pffft, I’ll be fine, I’ve had WAY worse |
9:47 | How’s work? |
9:48 | Challenging, I’ve got a migraine that won’t go away and we have this one magicat girl which decided today is the day for the annual caterwaul contest |
9:48 | Oh, so you work in a kindergarten? |
Truth be told, Adora never pictured Catryan… She stops her mind in its tracks and mentally as well as physically smacks herself. Adora never pictured Catra as someone interested in children. But then, what does Adora know about her? Being honest with herself, Adora never thought about having children or taking care of them before. Her mind squarely set on enlisting, she paid no mind for what comes after. Having a normal life, a family, a home seems such an alien concept to her. But she can't deny that she craves someone in her life, someone to share her life with, or whatever is left of it.
9:48 | Not quite, we are a centre for children taken from families for abuse and neglect and orphans. Kinda an in-between stage until they can go into foster care or adoption. |
9:49 | That sounds like a demanding job. I couldn’t do it, I’m terrible with children =P |
9:49 | Yeah, it has its challenges, but it’s also very rewarding |
9:50 | Have you worked there long? |
9:50 | A fair while, yes. Back then it was more or a less a spur-of-the-moment decision to keep a roof over my head |
9:50 | Raz ended up having a trainee position just at the right time and i was quite desperate for a job, I'll catch you up on it all tonight after you’ve met Finn |
An uneasy feeling runs through Adora’s gut, flipping it like a pancake. There it is again, the knowledge that Catra has a child and Adora wasn’t even aware until last night. It’s eating away at her with every mention, and yet she doesn’t know why. Nor does she dare bring it up, not via text message.
Is it because she wants to be involved? That she expected somehow it would be her and Catra in this position together? It would be a lie to say she didn't have feelings for Catryan back then, even if nothing serious ever came of it. At least now she knows why. She can't deny that there is something to this idea, that she feels her and Catra’s life would have had a far more positive spin if they would have had each other to lean on and for support. It's never too late, is it?
She rolls her eyes, shaking out her cold and clammy fingers. It’s not any of my damn business, actually.
Yes, it is. I care deeply about her.
Now that’s presumptuous, isn’t it? She scolds herself. You’ve been out of her life for over a decade. If you really cared so ‘deeply’ about her, then why did you leave her behind?
Adora scoffs, then frowns. She’s got no comeback for that.
9:51 | So what are you up to today? Just chilling, staying warm? :P Feel free to use the TV and my ‘flix |
Sitting on the couch and watching Tv all day sure sounds pretty great. Better than what she has planned, that’s for sure. But she can’t indulge in that offer. Every day she puts it off further, the weight of her heart grows heavier. She can’t keep ignoring it. She needs to get this obligation out of her way before it eats its way out of her chest and kills her.
9:52 | Still alive? Or did the bagel finish you? |
9:53| I was thinking of visiting the pals, not sure if I should though. Might do more harm than good. |
9:53 | I guess you mean your army mates? Why are you not looking forward to it? |
9:53| Got some unfinished business to deal with |
9:54 | Are you in trouble? >:| |
9:54| No it’s not like that, I just don’t imagine they’d be happy to see me |
9:55 | Alright then, well, if you decide to go, let me know when you are back home. There is a spare key in the basket at the entrance. DO. NOT. LOSE. IT. >:) |
9:56 | Break is over soon, don’t get yourself in trouble and you better be home when I get back.|
9:57 | Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll be here. Have fun. |
9:57 | I mean, as much fun as you can have at work |
9:57 | I didn’t mean ‘have fun’ as in, sarcastically or anything |
9:57 | `(*>﹏<*)′ |
With that last string of awkward messages sent, Adora chucks her phone on the table and throws the rest of the bagel into the bin while pouring the coffee down the drain. Her appetite is gone.
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Chapter 4: With a little help from my friend
Wow, for once you didn't have to wait months for an update! And its a big one.
I tried for the first time, in the opening, to incorporate some music and lyrics being listened to. When Adora pops her earbuds in, feel free to listen to : With a little help from my friends to enhance the mood. Let me know in the comments how I did with that <3
For now, please enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bored with meandering along the same sidewalk and her attention drawn by a figment of her imagination, Adora comes to a lumbering halt and turns heavenward. At first she believes to have been right, just imagination, an illusion, a secret wish. But then they crystallize against the bright white backdrop and a tiny flake lands on her flush cheek, melting on contact. Then another, larger than the one that came before. And another, even bigger. Captivated by a sudden spurt of childhood glee, the ghost of a smile crosses her lips while her tongue unfurls as far as it can reach.
Adora closes her eyes, stretches and stretches, her arms leaning backwards to balance being on tiptoes and then, as the thick, icy stars chill her tongue, she is teleported back for but the briefest moment. Her frozen lashes lift, allowing starry eyes to drift -tinted with a carefree childhood- and her body twirls like a leisurely ballerina along the sidewalk with Catryan strolling at her side, forming a lump of snow into a ball. It’s a perfect moment. Magical. Filled with nothing but wonder, joy, and laughter. And with another blink of her weary eyes, all of it evaporates back into reality as her false leg slips on the icy ground and she takes a rough tumble into the few inches of snow. She feels the pain, knowing full well that this will add a couple of bruises to her already worn body. But it's by far not enough pain to make her utter a sound. Not anymore.
Serves you right for being a starry-eyed girl, Adora. You need two healthy legs for proper balance, duh.
Rising with care, methodically, like learned in rehab, she dusts herself off and collects the earbuds - wiping them clean while peering at the impression she left.
At least I got to make a snow angel.
Her therapist would be so proud of her positivity, the way she turned misfortune into a new memorable experience, a sign of her healing psyche. Not a moment later, she snorts with derision at the idea. Nothing positive about it, just another reminder of why everything sucks. With the corner of her lip curling down, she pops the earbuds back in as the next song begins to play.
What would you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
and I’ll try not to sing out of key
Great, what a nice and lively song. Perfect lead tune for an album to complement her piss-poor life experience. Checking her phone for the time, and a different song, she leaves it playing as the refrain kicks in. Maybe today is going to be a positive day after all. Maybe today she will have a little help from a friend.
What do I do when my love is away?
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day?
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
This morning, when Adora set out to relieve herself of that lingering burden, she expected to feel apprehensive. She also expected to go back and forth on her decision as much as she would go back and forth in town to avoid actually doing it. In no way did it cross her mind that it would be an easy stroll in the park. But this? This is different. Much, much different. Adora isn’t feeling apprehension. She is feeling dread. And not the kind that you jokingly mention when you 'dread' an exam. No, it's the kind that chills you to the bone and makes you throw up your breakfast.
Every step closer to her destination had her heart inch closer to her throat and her gut add an extra knot. By the time she was close enough to see the target, dread morphed into panic and her legs turned from leaden to featherlight, carrying her away as fast as possible without drawing attention.
Not that it really matters. The streets are mostly abandoned. People are still at work or smarter than Adora and staying indoors where it's warm. Yet here she is, on attempt number three, retracing the same footsteps in the snow she has left behind on the previous attempts while freezing her tits off.
This time, however, would be different. This time, she called in reinforcements.
Wholly out of options, she had risked a shot in the dark. Adora never expected her to come, to have time. Everything about this meeting is last minute, and it's damn near a miracle she received a ninety-six percent likelihood for her to meet right now. The other four percent uncertainty was attributed to 'traffic circumstances'. It all sounded too good to be true at the time and it isn’t until Adora can physically see the purple pigtails through the car window that she actually believes her luck. Today might indeed be a positive day.
And what a car it is. Sleek. Futuristic. Coated in cool metal gray with pearlescent turquoise detailing. It's a style and type thoroughly fitting to its owner and something thoroughly out of Adora’s league. With the car coming to a stop, Adora is already bouncing with anticipation. Barely allowing her friend to exit the car unhugged, she doesn't hesitate a second more and throws herself at Entrapta as if she is the last lifebuoy in a raging sea.
“‘Trapta,” she beams, her voice straining as she scoops the pig-tailed girl into a bear hug, car door still wide open behind her. “You have no idea how much it means to me that you came!”
“Lieutenant Grayskull,” Entrapta huffs. “Good to see you, too.”
Not having seen her friend in a couple months, she just wants to keep hugging her forever. But the exoskeleton strapped to Entrapta’s entire form is making her body voice its objections to even more bruises. It has changed a lot from the barebones version she received about a year ago. There is a lot more tech and utility attached to it now, including an entire second set of artificial arms neatly packed away behind her shoulders. They used to freak Adora out a bit when Entrapta first showcased them, but she got used to it with time.
Back then, when they were airlifted back to the states, the diagnosis would have been soul shattering for anyone. But not Entrapta. No, she’s a fighter, always has been. She saw her paralysis as an opportunity, a way to turn her misfortune into new purpose. Having received an experimental skeleton unit from japan - barely a month into rehab and paid for by Uncle Sam - she began modifications and optimizations. Before long, she had created an astonishing feat of engineering, returning her lost body functions and even enhancing them. It is also thanks to Entrapta that she has a fairly fancy looking leg prosthesis now. 3D printed with custom detailing and not the still abundant world war two ones that are barely a leg up from ol’ Blackbeard's pegleg. An act of charity that Adora still doesn’t comprehend to this day.
As inspiring as recalling Entrapta’s resilience is, It doesn’t take long for the negative thoughts to come back to Adora like a sea swell, reminding her of everything she has to catch ‘Trapta up on and in particular, the reason for asking her to come in the first place.
“You don't have to address me like that,” she mumbles. “Drop the Lieutenant. It's just Adora.”
Entrapta’s eyes defocus and drift for a moment, as they always do when searching for an explanation that yet eludes her. “But that is your rank,“ she states eventually, eyes filled with bewilderment.
“It isn’t,” Adora clarifies, chin dropping to her chest. “Not anymore.”
The simple truth of this statement is still aching in her chest months later. Will she ever be able to accept it without looking back? Is it even possible to move on from something like that? The career she built her life around, pulled from under her feet, taken in a sudden and unfair manner?
“You have been promoted then?” Entrapta cheers before continuing matter-of-factly. “That's so exciting! Based on performance data, you definitely were the most deserving. Are you…” Entrapta pauses for the briefest moment, lowering her piercing voice to a hushed whisper. “Are you in Intelligence now? Is that why you dropped the rank? Are you on a secret mission right now?”
“No Entrapta, I wasn't promoted,” she rejects with gritted teeth, her cheeks burning as she tries to stop ‘Trapta’s wide-eyed enthusiasm in its tracks. Averting her eyes, she examines the little patch her boots have cleared of snow before finally continuing. “I'm not in the military anymore.”
“But that makes no sense!” Entrapta protests. “Your duty time hasn’t run out yet. You have one year, five months and six days left until-”
“They threw me out!” Adora barks, cutting her off.
“I’m confused,” Entrapta admits, her voice having slowed to a crawl. “Why would they do that?”
Adora pinches the bridge of her nose. “Sorry, ‘Trapta, I don't mean to be rude, but I really don’t want to go over this right now. It’s not why we are here.” She sighs. “I don’t have all the answers myself.”
Unfortunately, like a computer hung up in a loop, her friend is ignoring all inputs while making her own deliberations. One hand stemmed into her side and chin held in the other. “There is a limitation on dismissal of commissioned officers, did you...” Entrapta pauses, stroking her chin in before taking a sudden step back with her second set of robotic arms warding Adora off. “You didn't commit any crimes, did you?”
“What?” Adora answers, aghast, jerking her arms up defensively in turn. “No, of course not. Who do you think I am?”
Crossing her arms to a more relaxed but still on-guard posture, Entrapta shifts weight to Darla’s left support leg. “Then you’ll have to explain how it is that you are no longer an officer.”
Adora balls her fists, bracing herself for what is coming - something she isn’t ready for just now, not prepared for- the inevitable fall from grace in her friend's eye. First it’ll be pity, then the judgement and finally, the disbelieving look in her eyes that declares this to be the last time they will speak to each other. It wouldn't be the first time. It won’t be the last. And there is no way around making this sacrifice if she is to receive help to pacify her mangled conscience. But that doesn’t mean she has to be happy about it or gentle. No, far from it. Too long has she bottled her feelings up, made amends and apologies when in truth, all she feels is a raging fire inside that wants to burst free.
Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, she finally opens her eyes and herself, carefully avoiding to look directly at her friend.
“It’s so unfair,” she begins, voice already breaking. “Everything has been so unfair. I’ve given everything to them. EVERYTHING!” she seethes, brushing a teardrop from her cheek. “First, I gave up my friendships. Then my youth. My innocence. My fucking leg. And how did they thank me?” She leaves a brief break for emphasis, pacing back and forth.
“They paid you a salary?” Entrapta interjects, eyebrows raised.
“I’ll tell you how they thanked me,” Adora continues with renewed fervour, feeling her heart being twisted by rampant fire. “They took EVERYTHING FROM ME! And then they threw me out. No medals. No handshake. Not even a salute. After everything I went through for them. Do you know how that feels?” She asks rhetorically, shooting glances at Entrapta’s car and robotic skeleton. “No, of course not.”
“I understand you’ve had a difficult time, Ad-”
“Do you? Do you really understand how difficult it's been? I killed for them, Entrapta. I left my childhood in some godforsaken sands halfway across the globe. I ordered people to kill and I’ve sent good people, joes and janes, friends to their deaths. FOR THEM!” Adora bellows, her hands shaking as she gesticulates wildly. “Because I somehow believed that there is something good in this world worth fighting for. A greater good, an ideal that we represent.” Taking a pause for breath, Adora continues quieter, sombre. “Turns out I was just a stupid little girl. A fool, serving a government that is as false and corrupt as the ones we toppled.”
“Your charged emotional reaction is understandable. I know what you, what we went through. I've read all the mission reports in detail. Several times. Including our last mission. I was there with you. But this doesn't explain why YOU are no longer in service while I and several others still are.” Entrapta reasons, trying to approach Adora with her usual methodical calm. “No offense.”
“Fine, you want the truth? I. DON'T. KNOW.” Adora snarls, anger spiralling from the pit of her stomach as she holds her arms out wide as if addressing an auditorium for answers. “I served thirteen years for them and I don't even know why they got rid of me,” she explains, her previous fiery attitude wilted to self pity. “I know it sounds like conspiracy lunacy, but the case against me was fabricated. I don't know who, but someone wanted me out after I started asking uncomfortable questions about our last mission. After I asked about the lack of reconnaissance, questioned the rejected air support, and how the insurgents fucking knew we were coming when the route was changed last minute.
They wanted me gone after I was no longer a subservient puppy following their commands without question. They court-martialed me under some bogus charges, blamed me for everything that went wrong that day, and then made a case that I've always been an irresponsible do-no-good and should have been dismissed long before ever becoming an officer. They stripped me of my rank, my pension, my benefits. Everything. I’ve nothing left.”
“Adora that’s…“ Entrapta begins with an uncharacteristically soft tone. “...that sounds terrible. I’m sorry.”
Adora expected to be mocked by her. To have some basic facts or statistics thrown in her face that would justify the decisions made against her. She did not expect whatever that just was, and with her expectations subverted, her anger filled tirade is stopped dead and replaced with nothing but shame as the reality of how she just talked to her only supporter sinks in.
“Wait... You believe me?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?” Entrapta assures, raising an eyebrow immediately after. “Do you want me to not believe it?”
“No, I mean… You are the first person who actually does.” She clarifies, eyes wide with disbelief and heart pounding into her throat.
“Why would anyone not believe you? Your track record is immaculate. You are the model soldier,” she states analytically, then pulls out her PDA with one robotic arm while the other frantically taps around on the display. “The data doesn’t lie. If anyone's word is in doubt, it’s whoever has been accusing you.”
“Wow, uhm. Thank you Entrapta.” Adora says before tacking on a few more mumbled words. “Sorry for yelling at you. That... not knowing what its like business, I... I didn't really mean that.”
“No harm done. It appears you’ve had a lot bottled up. Plenty of studies have shown that this is extremely unhealthy. I’m glad I could be of help for some of that psychological distress to be reduced.”
“Yeah, you’re not wrong about the unhealthy part.”
“You know, I was thinking - if you want, I could make some enquiries...,” Entrapta emphasizes the last word with air quotes before continuing. “...And see what's been going on behind the scenes.”
Dumbfounded about what ‘Trapta is getting at, she repeats the word and mimics her air quotes.
“Hacking, Adora,” she clarifies, eyes glazed over with dullness. “I mean hacking.”
“Woah Entrapta. No. You can’t.” Adora emphatically places her hands on Entrapta’s tiny shoulders, eyeing the robotic arms with a hint of worry. “That's going to get you into so much trouble. I can’t have that on my conscience, too.”
“That's why I called it enquiries,” Entrapta clarifies with renewed air quotes, a distinct sparkle in her eyes. “I thought you would understand that I gave it a hidden meaning. Did I do the air quotes wrong?”
“No, that's not the point.” Adora shakes her head, arms crossed. “You can’t hack around in the defense ministry.”
“Yes, I can.”
“How?” Adora asks.
As Entrapta prepares her reply, the hint of a sly smile creeps across her face. “Because I work there.”
“Define ‘work there’” Adora scrutinizes, using air quotes of her own to lend emphasis.
Mimicking her gesture in return, Entrapta replies with almost casual indifference. “Work there as in: I’m in charge of cyber security.”
“When did that happen?” Adora blurts out, feeling a knot form in her belly. “I mean, wow, congrats,” she adds, forcing a smile as her eyes narrow. “It’s just… Last I remember, you were my trusty EOD and maintenance engineer, you know?” One of us small guys.” Adora chuckles halfheartedly, shooting glances while angling away from Entrapta. “Now you work in the pentagon for the big brass?” The dress-uniform-wearing-paper-warriors who always got us into trouble?” She concludes, paying a lot more attention to the expensive-looking car, the one of a kind robotic skeleton. The Datapad.
Adora can feel her heartbeat thumping in her chest, sending those familiar adrenaline surges through her veins. Maybe calling Entrapta was a mistake. Just how long has she worked for the Pentagon? It would definitely have been during the trial. Just how did Entrapta pay for this and if she didn’t, why did the DoD?
Adora mentally scolds herself. What the fuck ‘Dora, that’s a whole load of conspiracy bullshit. There is no way ‘Trapta is involved in any of this. You are fucking losing it.
“Well, not exactly.” Entrapta corrects, casually leaning back against the lantern post she parked next to. With total trust and zero flinching, she crosses her actual-arms while her robotic ones automatically prevent her from falling over, providing support. “I suppose it would look this way and if I’m not mistaken, you might come to conclude…” Entrapta breaks mid sentence to give Adora a bitter smile “... erroneously, if I might add in advance, that I have somehow been involved in all of this and ratted you out, testified against you or some other sort of betrayal.”
Adora can’t help but lower her head, looking like a wet, sad puppy for even assuming something like that about one of her most loyal and rational janes.
“Don’t feel bad about thinking that. Within your current mental framework, it is one of several logical conclusions, and I wouldn't expect you to consider and statistically analyse all of them.” Entrapta says, pointing at Adora before returning to her cross armed pose and tilting her head. “No offense.”
“To extrapolate, after the battle, I was left incapacitated for frontline service, despite Darla. No offense to you, too, baby,” she apologizes, patting her femur support. Anchoring her attention back on Adora, she continues to illustrate her points with hand gestures -utilizing the freedom her robotic arms give her. “But since I, too, am a commissioned officer they couldn’t discharge me from service of course, that would violate ten U.S.C. paragraph 1161 and none of them want to fight that legal battle just to lose,” she explains with her fingers tapping away on the datapad, presenting the legal statute in question for Adora to read. “So they found me some boring desk job in the pentagon, that kind of job people get to gather dust and quit of their own volition or become catatonic corpses.”
“That's, uhm, great?” Adora risks, eyebrows raised. “I’m so happy for you?”
“I hope not,” Entrapta laments, her eyes glazing over. “The desk job was very stifling. Paper and documents have their place in proper research of course, but what I was doing there wasn’t research.” She sighs before proceeding. “It was paper pushing. Boring forms, requisitions, and pointless data entry. I was about to lose my mind after five minutes.”
“Yeah, okay, that sounds rough.” Adora admits.
“That is an understatement.”
“It’s not where you ended up for long, though, right? How did you end up being in charge of cyber sec?”
“On a boring afternoon, still the first to be exact, I designed Emily.” Entrapta states ceremoniously with a knowing grin.
“Wait, who’s Emily?” Adora quizzes with pursed lips, her head tilted to the side. The wide grin on Entraptas face was proof that she expected this exact question.
“My super smart Artificial Intelligence algorithm that lives inside my computer network, of course.”
“Yeah, of course.” She says, rubbing the base of her neck. “Your… What?”
“Artificial Intelligence.” Entrapta repeats, expecting some form of reaction. When Adora just stares at her, she closes her slack mouth and continues, “Neural Network. Machine learning. Self improving algorithm. Come on Adora, I thought I had a positive influence on you over all these years.”
Adora shrugs, her hands remaining tightly stuffed in the warmth of her red jacket’s pockets. “You know me. I’m the brawn.”
Entrapta sighs before going into her slow mode talk. “I’ve written lines of code to make a computer do what I want. I allowed it to learn over time and created an AI. No offense, Lieutenant, but I think it would take too long to explain this in any more detail based on your level of tech competency.”
“Hey, I may not know all this advanced stuff, but I know my way around the basics, no need to be so condescending.” Adora sulks, her eyebrows crinkling.
“Baaaasics, Suuuuure,” Entrapta coos as her robotic arm pats Adoras’ hair poof. “Anyway, Emily could do my desk job for me from day one, so I went exploring instead.”
Spurred by Entrapta’s final words, Adora’s breath hitches. Now things are becoming interesting. “Where did you go?”
“I think it may be easier to ask where I didn't go,” Entrapta teases, her wide, knowing grin making a return. “Within minutes, I circumvented the primitive firewall and exposed several key weaknesses in the DoD’s mainframe setup. Add a few minutes more and I was inside the most secure and encrypted files with a little help from Emily.” Entrapta beams, her hands reliving the insane speed at which she types code. “I downloaded files on a plethora of amazing science and defense projects. Adora, they are working on a space laser!” She grins almost maniacally, to the point where Adora begins to worry about the birth of a super villain. “A laser in SPACE,” Entrapta crescendos before returning to an entirely analytical tone. “Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.”
“Yeah, I can see why.”
“Oh, wait until i tell you about the other proje-”
“No, no, no, STOP.” Adora talks over her, making sure to not hear a word. Within a split second she closed her eyes, turned her head away and lifted her arms like they could block the sounds from Entraptas mouth traveling into her ears. “Do not tell me anything.”
“But whyyyyyyy?” Entrapta wines in reply, her face crestfallen. “It’s the most exciting bit of my story!”
Adora comes up slowly from her warding posture, her heart still racing laps for a world record. “I really don’t think it's a good idea for me to know about classified projects.” Adora explains. “I’m in enough trouble as it is, I don’t need some men in black visiting me to make me and my knowledge disappear, thank you very much.”
“Well, that's a ridiculous fairy tale, but you have a point. Better for you to have plausible deniability.”
“And for you to not lose your security clearance for being a blabbermouth.”
Entrapta is about to raise her index finger in dispute, but is left with her mouth agape and no words to object. “Mistakes may have been made.”
“I don’t wanna know.” Adora says, holding her hand up while distinctly looking away from her friend as if mere eye contact would make her complicit in whatever Entrapta has been up to. Trying not to continue down this route any further than they already went, Adora attempts to steer the conversation back on course and, as soon as common courtesy allows, back to the reason for being here in the first place. “You were explaining how you ended up as head of cyber-sec.”
“Oh, yes.” Entrapta agrees absently while paying intense attention to her datapad. “Bear with me, I just have to, uhm, quickly delete a few publications and forum entries I may or may not have made regarding some totally fictitious rail gun project that I got carried away about. Where was I? Ah yes. I was browsing through all these futuristic projects and a lot of them were placed on hold due to physical limitations, funding issues and so on. The usual bureaucracy.” After brushing the last word off with a flick of her hand as if it were a pesky bug, she continues. “I was bored, so I started to correct and complete some calculations and documents.” Entrapta explains, dreamy eyed. “Someone seems to have gotten wise that I was in the system and eventually the existing cyber sec team -if you can call it that much- paid me a visit.”
“That can’t have been a nice meeting.”
“Actually, they were quite civil about it. I made them look so bad and highlighted so many flaws that they asked me to help them fix all the loopholes. They called it a 'bug bounty'. I didn’t know it at the time, but they have an ongoing program that rewards ethical hackers for finding issues with their security.” Entrapta explains.
“That sounds pretty sensible.” Adora admits.
“Yes, so I cashed the seventy-five thousand dollars reward and was also put on the cyber sec team. After that, it didn't take long before they put me in charge of it all, obviously. I enjoy a lot of freedom with my work now, they even let me assist with the space laser and other science projects!”
Adora nearly stopped listening after the seventy-five grand. A sum of money that, in her current circumstances, is enough to make her legs weak and her heart skip a beat.
“That's... that's great, Entrapta. I’m happy for you.” She says. And she means it, even if her teeth are clenched while saying so. It’s hard not to feel a hint of jealousy with such sums being thrown about while she has so little. “You really earned that reward and the position.”
“Thanks,” Entrapta smiles. “I don’t really need most of it. Do you need money? Is that why you wanted to meet?”
Adora would be a filthy liar if she’d say she isn’t tempted. “No, Entrapta, it's alright, it’s your money, you earned it. Did you get this cool car with some of it?” Adora tries to deflect, hoping her willpower is strong enough to last.
“Oh that? No, not really. I had to buy a couple parts, but I mostly designed and built this from scratch out of spare parts from the DoD’s research division.”
“That's pretty damn impressive.”
“Thanks, again. I think.” Entrapta says. “Can you explain to me why Emily is telling me that you are trying to divert the conversation from the money? That would indicate you’re uncomfortable talking about it because you are in dire need of it but don't want to ask.”
How the fuck… Adora can feel her cheeks flush, prompting her to look away. Of course she would love a bit of cash, but it's not right. She’s not sunken that low to beg for her friends' well earned money.
“Is your AI a mind reader? If so, please stay out of my head.” She chuckles.
“There is really no reason to deny the offer, Adora. I don’t need that much money. And no, she just automatically interprets your behaviour.”
“It’s not my place to ask for it, Entrapta, even if I'd need it. I promise it’s not why I wanted to meet up.”
“Firstly, I believe you. Second, you are wrong, teeeeechnically you haven't asked for it. I offered, and teeeeechnically I also don’t need your permission to give you some of my money,” Entrapta says, smiling coyly all the way through.
“No, no, no. I can’t accept that Entrapta.”
“Of course you can.” Entrapta affirms absently as she types away on her PDA. “I'm also not giving you a choice.”
“No more talking, Adora.” Entrapta cuts her off. “Emily says you'll be more inclined to accept if it's just a small amount, so I’ve deposited two thousand dollars into your account. She says it's enough to help you on your feet for now, but not so much that it makes me appear like I'm flexing.” Entrapta emphasizes the final word by slowing down her usual waterfall speech, before tagging on “Whatever that means. I'm also unblocking your card and reopening your bank account -You really need to stop using Wells Fargo though, their security is abysmal, and that's putting it mildly.”
“Entrapta, you… “Adora begins, struggling to keep the tears from welling up and a thick lump in her throat. “I don’t know what to say. I… I can’t take thi-”
“There is no need to say anything,” Entrapta cuts her off. “As far as my linguistic endeavours have shown, the appropriate thing to say would be a simple thank you. But I've also learned that pointing that out makes me apparently seem like I expect your gratitude. Just to clarify, I don't.” Entrapta pauses to look up from her datapad with one of her enthusiastic smiles plastered across her face.
It seems like a perfect opportunity to get another word of protest out, but Entrapta just holds up her index finger. “You needed help. I was capable of giving it. Maybe see it as an initial severance payment for your service, if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
Adora knows her engineer well enough to understand when she has lost. She couldn’t overrule Entrapta about the extra skirting cages for Swiftwind or the modified mine plating, and she won’t be able to overrule her about this. And to be honest, deep down, she is fine with that. A little cash injection is definitely something she doesn’t want to turn down, but it feels wrong to accept it without resistance. It’s just another of those weird mind games normal people play, you are expected to refuse even though everybody knows you don't mean it and you end up accepting it, anyway. But if you don’t go through this game, it’s somehow rude and inappropriate? What a load of bullshit.
Maybe that's why she and Entrapta have always gotten along so well. It doesn’t take much to see how both of them are a bit different, a bit weird in their own ways, a bit more detached from typical people and their activities. And typical people have definitely gone out of their way to tell Adora about this. But she doesn’t care, and nor does Entrapta.
Noticing the lack of conversation, Adora startles out of her distracting thoughts to glance at her friend, who must have noticed her mind-excursion and waited politely.
Moments later, she resumes her busy work on the datapad, throwing a question at Adora offhandedly before facing her with a quizzical expression. “Does it make you more comfortable?”
“What?” Adora knits her brows.
“Thinking of it as the severance paycheck you never got?”
“Not really,” Adora admits, offering a friendly smile with it to assure Entrapta that it’s fine.
What follows is a slightly uncomfortable silence. But she appreciates Entrapta not pushing back. They both know that this has nothing to do with rationality, with logic. Adora is going to feel uncomfortable about it no matter what, but at least with the money Entrapta loaned her, she could grab a few more sessions with Dr. Mara. And it’s definitely a loan, regardless of what Entrapta says. Adora will pay her back as soon as she’s back on her feet.
“I’ll pay it back, Entrapta, promised.”
Entrapta nods in acknowledgement and after a few more moments in which both mutually and non-verbally agree that this back and forth is finally over, Entrapta’s curiosity breaks the silence, catching on to the specific location Adora has chosen for this catchup.
“Why did you want to meet here, Adora?” Entrapta asks, nodding in her direction, then pointing past her.
Adora turns and looks solemnly towards the decorated half height wall. “I wanted to pay them a visit for a while.”
“Have you not seen them since?”
Adora shakes her head, grimacing. “I’ve been meaning to but never could since…” Unable to bring herself to finish the sentence, she looks at Entrapta with all the sincerity she can muster. “I could really do with your help.”
“I have to admit, I don't know how much help my particular skill set is going to be.” Entrapta admits, wringing her hands together as she avoids Adora’s eyes. “People aren't really my strong suit.”
“You don’t have to do anything, ‘Trapta. Just being here as my backup is enough.” Adora assures her before shifting her body to indicate the space next to her with a nod as she shoves her hands into her pocket. “Do you mind if we just…”
“Sure.” Entrapta agrees, leaning forward as her exoskeleton’s extra arms fold away. “I think I’d like that.”
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