Catra had no problems saying no - usually. But, apparently the one time she really wished she could say no, she couldn’t bring herself to. Damn Scorpia being too nice.
Her roommate and closest friend, Scorpia was one of the sole reasons Catra had any hope in humanity anymore. A big woman with an even bigger heart, everything Scorpia did was full to the brim with good intentions. Even, unfortunately, getting Catra a set of 10 swimming lessons as a gift.
The two got drunk on a ‘semi-regular’ basis, and around the 7 drink mark, a good number of Catra’s secrets, and the entirety of her inhibitions, went barreling through the second-story window, her filters long gone. Apparently, at their last drinking session, Catra admitted that she hated being afraid of water and wished she knew how to swim. So as soon as Scorpia’s next paycheck rolled around, Catra was handed the gift card. On top of it all, Scorpia made her promise that she wouldn’t give back or exchange the gift card until she had at least given the whole thing a proper try.
Which led to where she is now. Standing in front of the Seaworthy Swimming Centre , Catra waited in line, clutching a beach towel she didn’t even know she owned to her chest. All too soon it was her turn. The receptionist looked thoroughly displeased to be there, fiddling with navy hair and not taking her eyes off the computer screen.
“In for a casual swim?” she drawled. Catra fought the urge to roll her eyes; this afternoon was already going to be horrid, she didn’t need to make it worse by starting an argument with a receptionist.
“I have a lesson,” Catra replied, handing over the gift card. The receptionist took her eyes off the screen long enough to grab the card and scan it, reading whatever notice had popped up before handing it back.
“Lesson starts in 15 minutes, at the pool all the way to the left. You’ll be in with Adora.”
Catra bit back her half-hearted ‘thanks’ at the sound of that name.
“Adora?” she repeated. “Last name?”
“Uhh, Grayskull. Why?”
Catra gulped. “No reason,” she lied, heading through the gate before she decided to spontaneously combust.
The truth was Catra did know her. She hadn’t seen Adora since she dropped out in freshman year, but Catra doubted much had changed about her over the past 8 years.
The mere thought of breaking rules in school sent Adora into a tizzy. Straight As across the board, teacher’s pet, and extracurricular out the wazoo, the two could not have been more different in school. Sure, they talked when they were outcast kids on the playground, but that stopped as they grew up and found themselves in different circles. Once Catra stopped school, she never heard from Adora again. Until now, apparently.
But Catra couldn’t hide in the change rooms forever. Huffing, she unlocked the stall door and stalked out of the bathroom. Catra knew it wasn’t going to go well. Between an awkward interaction with someone she hasn’t known since school, gut-wrenching fear of water, and the fact this was all happening in a public place, she may as well pour herself a stiff drink now. Let’s just get this over with, she thought.
Following the receptionist’s instruction, she padded down towards the shallowest pool, stomach-churning at the mere sight of the rippling water. Biting back nausea, all Catra could hear was bright laughter. She looked up from the cement, almost dropping her towel.
No way, that can’t be her. Can it?
In retrospect, Catra realised that a lot can change in 8 years. But she hadn’t expected Adora to look like that .
Her hair was a lot longer than Catra remembered, tied up in a bun that was slowly falling apart and showing off the undercut underneath. There was no trace of glasses. Instead, she could see defined muscle peeking through her white swim shirt. Catra barely paid attention to anything else but the face-splitting grin on her lips, the bright laughter echoing in her ears as a child kicked the water hard enough to splash Adora in the face. Did her smile always look like that?
Catra almost didn’t register that Adora was wrapping up the lesson, bidding the child goodbye with a high five as they scrambled out of the pool. Effortlessly, she glided through the water, reaching for a sheet in a plastic sleeve. Blue eyes narrowed at the writing.
“‘Catra’?” she mumbled, obviously designed to be quiet, but Catra could hear it even from where she stood.
“It can’t be, right?” the blonde continued under her breath, not even noticing that Catra was slowly padding across the concrete towards her. Even when she stood right on the edge of the pool, Adora didn’t look up. Catra smirked.
Well, this was certainly odd. Ever since she started as a swim teacher, Adora had had her fair share of weird experiences, but this flew straight to the top.
Catra Alvarez, resident troublemaker of Etheria High, 8 years later in the flesh. And, oh boy, she had changed. Adora didn’t remember too much about her freshman year anymore, but she did remember seeing Catra’s long mane in the hallways. Now it was cut short, but no less messy. Her figure was clothed in a maroon one-piece, and Adora had to stop herself from staring at the toned skin on show. Instead, she gave her best smile.
“Hey! It’s been a while,” she greeted. Oh Gods, why the hell did I say that? That’s so stupid -
“You could say that,” Catra laughed, low and raspy, and Adora could feel those mismatched eyes watching her as the blonde leaned against the edge of the pool, letting her legs float out behind her.
“So, I’m sure you’ve been told that your lesson will be with me,” she started. “What’s your swimming skill like?”
Catra scoffed. “Does drowning count?”
The teacher’s face fell instantly.
“Oh, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t realise-”
“Relax, Adora” Catra cut in. “It’s fine. You didn’t know.”
Adora nodded slightly, mulling her words over before trying again.
“Can I ask what made you want to try this?”
Catra sat crisscrossed at the edge of the pool, right beside Adora’s arms. Was she really about to tell Adora this? Yes. Did she want to? Not exactly, but Catra did need to be honest with her if she was expecting this to work. Plus, this was Adora’s job. It’s not like she was going to tell anyone about this - there was confidentiality or whatever involved. That, and it was Adora.
“Well, I got drunk, told my friend I hate being afraid of water, and wished I knew how to swim. She bought me 10 lessons, told me to at least try it before giving it back, and here I am.”
Adora’s eyebrows raised, nodding along with what Catra was saying.
“Got it. So-”
Adora shifted slightly to the side, placing her hands on the edge and hauling herself out of the water, careful not to splash Catra. Catra managed to stare at those gorgeous arms for only a few seconds.
“The first step in teaching you how to swim is to get you comfy in the water,” the blonde continued, sitting beside Catra and crossing her legs. “So, follow my lead.”
Catra was fully expecting Adora to jump right on in. Instead, all Adora did was ease her feet, down to her ankles into the water, before looking to Catra with a small smile.
Right. It was her turn now.
The brunette sighed, gingerly unfolding her legs and hovering her toes above the water.
“Just my feet, right?” Catra mumbled.
“Just your feet, and only keep them in for a long as you feel comfortable.”
She took a long, deep breath in, and on the exhale lowered her feet.
This wasn’t horrible.
The water was cool, caressing each inch of the submerged skin, each ripple lapping up at her ankles from the children splashing at the other end of the pool. They didn’t have a care in the world. If only Catra had-
“I like your hair.”
Catra had to turn her head to look at Adora to process what she had said.
“It’s a lot shorter than it was in school. Suits you though.”
Catra chuckled once, smirking in reply. “You actually remember stuff from school? Well, aside from the homework.”
Adora returned the small laugh, and the crushing band around Catra’s chest loosened just a little.
“You make it sound like I was a massive nerd!”
“Uh, that's because you were. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get valedictorian or head of the student council or something.”
Adora’s silence was all too telling.
“Oh wow, of course, you did.”
“Not Valedictorian!” Adora defended like it made a difference. “Well, I mean- Student body president, yes. And I got captain of the soccer team, but I missed out on Valedictorian.”
“You always did try to cover too many bases,” Catra mumbled. “Still, pretty sure the only people that peak in high school are quarterbacks with half a brain cell.”
Adora chuckled under her breath, shaking her head with a smile.
“You’re right,” she hummed, shifting forward slightly until her shins were submerged. “Try to go a little deeper when you’re comfy, okay?”
Oh, yeah. Catra had almost forgotten this was a swimming lesson. Her hands gripped the sides of the pool, her pinky being brushed by someone else’s. The simple touch sent warmth across Catra’s skin, and a glance down confirmed that she wasn’t imagining the blonde’s hand brushing against hers.
“Take your time,” Adora mumbled. “There’s no rush.”
Catra set her focus on the cool water lapping at her ankles, and the feeling of Adora’s pinky against hers. Somehow gathered enough nerves to shift forward, letting the water come up to her shins. The warmth of Adora’s smile made the chill of the water worth it.
The end of the lesson came before Catra was ready (even though she was Adora’s last one for the day, and she had managed to squeeze Catra in for an extra five minutes). She hadn’t learned anything. Most people would call that a waste of time and enough of an excuse to not come back, and while that was true Catra still found herself at the counter booking herself in for the same time next week.
As the grumpy receptionist booked her in, she saw Adora in the kiosk. Her white swim shirt was discarded, showing off a longline bikini top and a tan stomach that might as well have been carved from marble. Black swim shorts did little to hide long, toned legs, her towel in both hands drying her hair. Strong arms flexed as she tossed the towel over her shoulder, taming golden hair with her fingers. It took everything Catra had in her not to stare.
“Same time next week?”
Catra’s face flushed red, averting her eyes to the counter and nodding. She only managed it for a few seconds, her eyes drifting back to look at Adora. Adora, apparently, had no such qualms about her staring.
She gave Catra a wide grin, before the receptionist (Mermista, her name tag read) printed out an appointment slip, and handed it to Catra. Ocean eyes flicked to the computer screen, and Adora smiled. They flicked back up to stare at the brunette, and Catra could have sworn she saw Adora wink.
“I’ll see you next week.”
The next lesson was more successful, at least by Catra’s standards.
When Adora had told her at the start of the lesson that their aim for today was to have her stand in the shallow water, Catra almost threw up. She expected the blonde to grab her, pull her in, and only help her when it looked like she was about to drown. Instead, Adora hopped out of the water and sat beside Catra on the ledge.
She talked to her, about stuff that didn’t make sense to the lesson whatsoever, but things that kept Catra’s mind off the feeling of the water surrounding her legs. She asked Catra what she had gotten up to since their freshman year. Catra managed to mumble about the business internship she landed, working her way up the ranks to where she was now. Adora beamed at her the whole time. The bottom half of her legs dangled in the water, Adora swinging hers back and forth in the water.
“Think you can give this a try?” the blonde asked. Catra crooked an eyebrow, watching the rhythm and following.
“This feels stupid,” she grumbled. Adora laughed brightly, and Catra’s breath came a little easier.
“Yeah, I know it does,” she hummed, “but that’s okay. I’d rather something feel stupid than scare you.”
It wasn’t until then that Catra noticed. She hadn’t even been thinking about her fear, only the frivolity of it all, and the way Adora’s hair shone in the late afternoon sun. She blinked, looking down at the water. Catra could see it in its entirety; there was nothing in there that could surprise her, grab her, drag her down until the surface was out of reach.
“Do you want to try standing up?” Adora asked. Catra froze and shook her head.
Adora’s smile stayed constant, eyes trained on Catra.
“That’s alright, you don’t have to if you’re not ready.”
She didn’t stay on the ledge for long, arms flexing as Adora eased herself into the water. It wasn’t deep. Adora was taller than her, but not by much, and the water sat at her hip bones.
“I’m not gonna make you get in until you’re comfortable,” she started, “but I am gonna splash you.”
Catra didn’t have time to respond before the first wave hit her.
It was tiny, only brushing the tops of her thighs, enough to catch Catra off guard but not to frighten her.
Now I’m all wet.
Ignoring the double entendre that flicked through her mind, Catra instinctively splashed back.
Adora’s frame went still, evidence of the splash covering her whole torso, eyes focused on nothing in particular. Shit, I should not have done that. Yes, the whole thing was weird, but Adora knew what she was doing regardless, and she had just gone and splashed her with water when she was just trying to help. Gods, would Catra have to go and find another teacher-
“So it’s like that, huh?”
Catra looked up, and Adora was grinning. This time, the splash hit the bottom of her torso, and Catra held nothing back as she sent a wave of water back towards Adora. It wasn’t until her shoulders were wet that Catra realised that she was laughing.
“And here I thought cats didn’t like water,” the blonde mused, smirking. Catra groaned.
“And here I thought you’d leave the embarrassing shit we did as kids back in freshman year,” she shot back. Adora shrugged, that smirk still firmly in place, and Catra hated how good it looked on her.
“Well, maybe I'm not as much of a goody-two-shoes as you remember."
“Sure you’re not,” Catra purred, shifting forward from the wall to splash her teacher (her teacher!) once more before she felt the sensation of falling.
Reeling back, Catra took stock of the situation. She had almost slipped off the wall into the pool but caught herself at the last second to keep her where she was. Even for an almost slip, she saw Adora’s hands out and waiting.
Adora isn’t going to let me fall.
“You okay there?” the blonde breathed, snapping Catra’s eyes from Adora’s hands back up to her face. Blankly, she nodded and got a winning smile back.
“Okay, that’s good,” she hummed, “you gave me a bit of a fright there.”
Catra gave a humourless chuckle, looking back down to the water. It couldn’t hurt her, not like this. Besides, she was only going to get her legs in, nothing else. Why did she have to be so stupidly afraid of something like this? Even with the reasoning, it didn’t stop her stomach from churning. She couldn’t remember much about the incident anymore, but the feeling refused to leave her alone. The feeling of her head spinning, hands trying to grip something, anything through the water. The edges of her vision turning black as the air left her lungs.
The softness of her name and Adora’s hand on hers brought her back to the present.
“Where did you go?” Adora breathed, blue eyes searching her face with utmost care.
Catra shook her head, focusing on the feeling of Adora’s hand on hers.
“Sorry,” she muttered, making a point to avoid looking Adora in the eye. “I think- I just panicked. Brains can be a bitch sometimes, y’know?”
Adora’s eyes didn’t leave her face once.
“I understand,” she hummed, and Catra got the feeling that Adora knew, maybe more than she was letting on. “I know this is scary, but do you think you can try standing?”
Catra looked down into the water and saw a human lighthouse staring back. Every part of her gut screamed not to do it, that she knew what happened to her last time. A soft voice in her mind managed to cut through it all. Just try .
“I think so,” she muttered. “Can you-” Catra huffed, shaking her head and sealing her eyes shut, “this is stupid, but could you hold my hand?”
She couldn’t see Adora’s face, but Catra didn’t need to look at her to know that Adora was smiling. She could feel it, as if Adora’s smile was the sun itself. Catra’s stomach flipped.
“Of course I can,” the teacher hummed. Her hands held Catra’s the way you would a porcelain figure, raising them off the concrete poolside. “Can you open your eyes for me?”
Anything for you- wait, what?
Catra would deal with that later. For now, she did as she was told, opening her eyes and looking straight at Adora. The gnawing in her stomach began to creep upwards, halting when Adora squeezed her hands.
“You’re gonna slide down to me on 3, alright?” the teacher hummed. She waited for Catra’s nod, before counting.
Catra squeezed her eyes shut and gripped Adora’s hands, shifting her weight forward and feeling herself fall straight down. She felt the water swallowing her whole, the chill immediately enveloping her. The breath left her lungs, her entire body going stiff, hands reaching for something, anything to ground her as she fell.
Then everything stopped. The breath came rushing back into Catra’s body, the fear stopping as soon as it started. Her feet were on the ground. She looked down at herself, her reflection staring back, and saw the top of the water nestled in the crook of her waist. A gentle squeeze on her hands brought Catra back to reality.
“You did it,” Adora breathed, voice weaved with awe. The brunette looked up from the water, and the sight of Adora, with the widest smile she had seen in years, stared back at her.
“Catra, you did it! Look at you go!”
It seemed so simple. Every time she walked through the centre, she saw children diving off blocks, swimming countless laps with ease. Here Catra was, standing in waist-high water, and ecstatic. Yes, children were doing things she could never dream of, but Catra doubted the crippling fear plaguing her mind would be in there. Amongst the trivia of it all, Catra found herself laughing, quiet enough for only her and Adora but loud enough to lighten her whole chest.
“You should be proud of yourself, Catra,” the teacher hummed, accompanied by a gentle squeeze of her hands.
Catra smiled. “I am.”
Yes, the water only came up to her waist, but this was the deepest water Catra had been in for 15 years. The fear was overshadowed by sheer pride, and the bubbling feeling in her stomach she refused to think about yet. That, coupled with Adora’s sheer excitement made the lesson worth it.
Where Catra first found herself dreading Friday afternoons, she now looked forward to the day. Yes, it was the end of the workweek, but also the day she got to spend half an hour in the water with Adora. A half-hour that made her week. Lesson after lesson, Adora would make nonchalant claims, things she told Catra she would be able to do by the end of the lesson. Adora kept her word every single time.
Lesson 3 let Catra break a new record, with Adora’s help of course. When the blonde offered her hands and asked if Catra wanted to try to go further into the water, she somehow felt safer than expected. She placed her hands in Adora’s, letting the blonde guide her into the water from the safety of the edge.
“We’re gonna try putting your head under today,” she said, as nonchalantly as ever. The initial sentence made Catra’s stomach churn. Adora, as patient as ever, never gave Catra any pressure, simply guiding her through the motions of things she already knew. Hands intertwined, Adora guided her in walking through the water, spewing words of praise when Catra let the water come up to her shoulders without realising.
Next, Adora held a cup clearly made for a child, scooping the pool water inside.
“You better not make me drink that,” Catra grumbled, eyeing the cup with narrowed eyes. Adora, however, simply smiled and shook her head.
“Of course not,” the teacher chuckled, gesturing for Catra to sit on the built-in bench. “I’m not going to just throw you into the water, we need to work up to getting your face wet.”
Catra took her bottom lip between her teeth, holding back the admission that she wasn’t a stranger to getting her face wet.
When Adora grew closer, Catra’s cheeks flushed. She sat on the built-in bench of the pool, with Adora now standing right before her, close enough to touch. Somehow, everything that Catra had learned today slipped her mind. The image of Adora hovering over her looked better in a hidden storeroom somewhere in the centre, a hand on the wall behind her keeping her trapped as Adora closed in. The mere daydream was intoxicating.
“Catra? Are you alright?”
Catra blinked, Adora’s face not far from her own. Whether from the remnants of her daydream or a trick of her eyes, but she could have sworn that Adora’s face was flushed pink.
“What makes you think I’m not?”
The response slipped out before Catra could stop it, some part of her mind still locked in the image of Adora’s frame pressed against her in a dark room. Adora’s eyebrows quirked upwards, her face watching Catra intently.
“In that case,” the teacher started, Catra spotting Adora’s hand moving out of the corner of her eye. “Are you ready?”
Catra let a smirk creep up her lips in response. “Oh, I’m ready for anything.”
Adora mirrored her smirk, and Catra was not expecting what came next. She had completely forgotten about the cup. Full of water, Adora raised the cup above Catra’s head and slowly poured the water out. An uncharacteristic shriek escaped Catra, her entire body tensing from the cold water pouring down her spine. Adora, however, was laughing.
“I’m sorry!” she chuckled, placing the cup to the side and watching Catra carefully. “You told me you were ready! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” the brunette grumbled, shaking the remnants of water out of her hair. “It was just cold.”
Adora paused, moving away to check something on a sheet (her lesson plan maybe?).
“Catra, you do know that this is a heated pool, right?”
Shit. Catra looked back down to the water, hiding her reddened cheeks from her teacher.
“Shut up,” she huffed, and Adora only laughed harder.
Catra was almost halfway through the 10 lessons Scorpia had bought for her, and if she had been caught budgeting to see if she could afford to continue, it definitely wasn’t to keep spending time with Adora.
The night before her fourth lesson, Scorpia had stood in the doorway to her room, and presented a half-full bottle of whiskey. Catra didn’t need to be asked twice. The amber liquid flowed freely between them both, Scorpia talking endlessly about the plans she had to surprise her girlfriend, Perfuma for their anniversary. She had worked at a flower shop, and Scorpia had recruited the help of a friend to place an order on her behalf, filled with all of Perfuma’s favourite flowers to surprise her with. Catra hated to admit it, but it was actually kind of cute.
When Scorpia (inevitably) asked about her dating life, one drink Catra immediately shut it down.
“You know me,” she drawled in between sips of whiskey. “I’m busy enough trying to keep my boss’s ego in check and run everything for him. I don’t have time for dating, let alone the emotional stability for that shit.”
From there, the conversation drifted to therapy, the way it always did, and the drinks kept flowing. Scorpia let Catra charge ahead while she nursed her own drinks much slower. Usually, they went two for two, keeping pace with each other through the night until someone blacked out, passed out, or emptied their stomachs out. Unhealthy, they knew, but they were functioning adults the other 6 nights of the week. Besides, rules were made to be broken.
Scorpia was nursing drink number three when Catra hit the miraculous seventh drink. Her filters were well and truly gone, her inhibitions were on the way out, and just like last time, a secret that Catra would never say sober left her mouth.
“Bro,” she slurred, splayed across their couch, her arm thrown over her eyes. “I have a massive fucking crush on my swim teacher.”
Scorpia had to put down her glass before she dropped it. “You what?! ”
Ugh, I know!” Catra groaned, now hiding her face in both hands. “I mean, it wasn’t intentional, cuz like, I knew her in school and she was a massive goody-two-shoes, and I haven’t spoken to her in almost a decade and-”
“Wait, you knew her in high school?” Scorpia asked next, Catra still rambling about something she couldn’t make out instead of answering. “Dude!”
“What?!” Catra cried, fling her hands back onto the armrest. Her platinum-blonde roommate pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaling heavily. Thank goddess she was only tipsy, not drunk.
“Alright; let me get this straight,” Scorpia started.
Catra scoffed quietly, before giggling under her breath. “Scorp, we can’t get it straight. We’re both lesbians.”
“Yes, wildcat, I know that,” she assured her. “Anyway. You’re telling me that you have a massive crush on a raging goody-two-shoes, who you used to know in school, who is now somehow your swimming teacher?”
“That’s not even the worst part!” Catra cried, sitting up with surprising velocity. “She got hot! ”
“You’re kidding,” Scorpia gasped. “She got hot? How hot?”
“Dude, she’s like- tall, blonde, buff. Man, if I could take a photo and show you I totally would, because damn .”
“Do you still have her social media?” she asked.
“She didn’t have social media when we were in school,” Catra explained.
Scorpia’s smile shifted to an uncharacteristic smirk. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them now.”
Catra’s eyes bulged out of her head, furiously grabbing her phone and flicking through various apps.
Scorpia merely laughed and poured the pair of them another drink. Eventually, they managed to find a profile with few posts, but numerous tagged photos. It was safe to say, Catra’s earlier statement had been proven correct.
When Scorpia asked about her lesson later that day, Catra didn’t answer. She didn’t want to start crying again. Adora had meant no harm, she knew that; and even thinking back on it now Catra knew that it wasn’t Adora’s fault. The only one to blame was Catra.
The start of the lesson had all gone swimmingly (excuse the pun). They had started practicing Catra’s floating on the water, arms and legs spread out wide like a star. Adora had stood with her, hands ghosting over Catra’s back. To help her feel more comfortable, Adora had told her, but even that didn’t help the redness spreading across her cheeks.
It was towards the end of the lesson when it all went wrong. It had been a simple enough drill, she had been progressing well and it shouldn’t have caused any trouble. Catra was perched on the side of the pool, the water only deep enough for her to put her head underwater without smashing her legs against the bottom. They had practiced this in the shallow water, the cumbersome angle of Catra’s legs making Adora suggest they use the deeper water. All Catra had to do was let herself fall into the water, then use the wall to pull herself out.
Adora had been right there. The blonde was treading water and beaming up at her with that stupidly large grin. Catra had felt safe ; safe wasn’t something she had felt around the water in the years following the day it had swallowed her whole.
“You’ve got this!” Adora called up to her. Catra believed her, wholeheartedly trusted that she would be okay, up until the second when her body hit the water.
Everything happened so quickly; everything Catra’s therapist had taught her after the incident left her memory, and she may as well have been the petrified, 8-year-old child trapped under the water’s grasp.
The water surrounded Catra, and her chest began to collapse around her racing heart. Something that didn’t exist coiled around Catra’s ankles, dragging her down to the bottom as she sank, her futile attempt of kicking doing nothing to bring her to the surface.
Don’t breathe. Her lungs began to burn, every drop of blood in her body boiling underneath her skin. Her muscles turned to lead, unable to move even an inch. Her vision became blurry under the water, the edges all fading into black.
Don’t breathe. Don’t breathe. Don’t breathe!
Catra’s eyes closed.
The water rippled over her skin, enveloping more of her. The ripples grew bigger, parting through the water and pushing it aside as something took its place. A hand, reaching for Catra. The grip found her wrist, something that felt like an arm wrapping around her waist and holding her tight. Catra was rising. She had never moved so fast through the water before, half of her mind wandering if whoever held her was a siren, while the other reminded her that sirens didn’t exist. But whoever it was, they were beautiful.
The moment they broke the surface, Adora watched Catra gasp desperately for air, mismatched eyes cloudy and furiously scanning her surroundings, chest heaving and limbs shaking under her touch.
“Catra, it’s me,” the blonde assured her, keeping her voice soft and her frame steady while moving the pair through the water and to the wall. “I’ve got you, you’re safe. I promise.”
Wild, heterochromatic eyes landed on the blonde holding her afloat, her chest rising and falling at an alarming pace. When Catra’s arms flung around Adora’s shoulders, the blonde pulled her closer. If Catra started to cry into her shoulder, Adora didn’t say anything.
“Deep breaths,” she tried, thinking of anything she could say to bring Catra comfort. “You’re safe now, I’ve got you.”
Adora said the same phrase over and over again, mumbled into Catra’s hair. Her arms kept her pressed to the blonde’s toned frame, even when Catra lifted her head from Adora’s shoulder, eyes tinted red and avoiding her gaze entirely. They ended the lesson early that day.
Adora did not expect a text from Catra that night. They had traded numbers after Catra’s first lesson; rather, Mermista had written Adora’s number on Catra’s appointment card so they could communicate directly rather than consistently playing phone tag with the centre’s phone line. Even still, the pair had never used it; they never had a need to. At least until now.
[Message from: Unknown Number]
sorry about today
To say the message caught her by surprise would be a grave understatement. Why was Catra apologising? There wasn’t anything she had done wrong. This was Adora’s fault, not hers. The second Catra had begun to sink, Adora’s heart sunk with her. The teacher had put too much faith in her student, something that could have ruined Catra’s goal of ever learning to swim.
She was half expecting the conversation to lead into Catra stopping lessons altogether. After all, Catra had said her roommate had only asked her to give it a try before stopping; there was nothing standing in the way of that anymore. Nevertheless, Adora picked up the phone and saved the number into her contacts.
[Message from: Adora G.]
hey! no need for you to apologise,
you’ve done nothing wrong
I’m so sorry I put you in that position today
Those cursed ellipses came and went, came and went, too many times for Adora to keep track of. She hated that she tried to count. Still, any self-control, any wondering of what her roommates would think if they saw her didn’t stop Adora from clutching her phone, eyes fixed on the bubbles before Catra’s next message finally came through.
[Message from: Catra A.]
i think it was the change
that messed with me the most
[Message from: Adora G.]
from land to water?
[Message from: Catra A.]
like the shallow pool is fine
i can actually feel the ground
[Message from: Adora G.]
I understand. you’re not alone in that
it’s actually more common than you think
[Message from: Catra A.]
nice to know i’m not super messed up
The somewhat startling humour should have surprised Adora, but it was oddly comforting to her that it didn’t. Catra had always found darker things funny, something she had almost forgotten, until almost every lesson was sprinkled with them. Turns out, some things hadn’t changed from high school.
Adora wondered what had changed. She knew that she had, rather dramatically, going from a teacher’s pet with a dream to move to the big city and change the world, to a swimming teacher at her hometown’s local pool. Small talk had only brushed over Catra’s success in the previous 8 years, and Adora found herself wanting more.
[Message from: Adora G.]
of course not.
you’re braver than you think.
[Message from: Catra A.]
see you next week?
Even though Catra didn’t even acknowledge her last message, Adora’s heart soared at the thought of keeping a student, but mostly at being able to see Catra again.
[Message from: Adora G.]
absolutely. I’ll see you then!
By the time the next lesson came around, Catra didn't know whether to fear getting into the water or be grateful she wasn't alone. Clutching her towel to her chest, the brunette padded through the complex, trying to keep her breathing steady once the smell of chlorine hit her nose. Adora was there, waiting outside the water, still dripping wet and smiling softly at Catra. She expected pity, sympathy, anything but the soft look the blonde was giving her now. The teacher didn’t make any mention of last week, at least not out loud. She went back to the things that Catra knew, things that were safe; climbing into the water from the wall, walking through the water while keeping her head dry, having Adora too close but not close enough, a cup of water being poured over her head. Catra couldn’t help but feel defeated.
Before she could spiral any further, she felt Adora’s fingertips brush against hers underneath the water.
“Are you up to try something new?”
Catra wasn’t sure how to answer. Last time she had dived in, literally, and it had turned around and bit her back. Now, she wanted to try, but she was afraid. That was the worst part of all; she was a grown woman, afraid of jumping into a pool like she was a child, and nothing she seemed to try was working.
“Hey, stay with me, okay?”
Adora’s voice crept in through the cracks of her walls, their fingers intertwining. She looked up, seeing that Adora’s smile had lessened.
“It won’t be anything like last week. We’re going to practice blowing bubbles.”
That got Catra’s attention.
“Bubbles?” she asked incredulously, eyes narrowed and eyebrows lifted. Adora’s smile widened, nodding.
“Yep! Your breathing is very important in swimming, so we need to get you into good habits!”
Catra frowned. “Wait, I thought we were doing bubbles.”
“Well, we are,” Adora started. “When you breathe underwater it comes out as bubbles. I can show you?”
Catra managed a nod, watching Adora crouch into the water, tipping her face forward and breathing. Surely enough, bubbles spilled through the water from her mouth. When Adora popped her head up, she found Catra giggling under her breath.
“What are you laughing at?” the teacher asked, quirking an eyebrow and grinning.
“You!” Catra admitted. “I had forgotten that the water did that.”
“Did you not blow bubbles into your drinks as a kid?” Adora asked, jaw-dropping when Catra shook her head.
“Seriously? Okay, well that’s your homework for the week.”
Catra’s frown only deepened, watching the blonde with an air of confusion and amusement. How the hell was this going to work?
“I’m meant to have homework without going into a pool?”
“Do you drink?” Adora asked, so casually like she paid it no mind. Catra’s mind went wild. Immediately, it picked apart every word that had left Adora’s lips, twisting it this way and the other in a way that made it seem like Adora was asking Catra out for a drink. Her mind imagined it before Catra even gave it permission. The two of them, tucked in the corner of a cozy bar with dim, warm lighting, drinks on the table, and hands idly placed on one another like being with one another came as easy as breathing. Adora, somehow, still smelt of chlorine.
Damnit. These stupid daydreams were going to make Catra a fool of herself soon. She blinked, focusing back on Adora, and nodded.
“Good,” the teacher continued, seemingly unfazed by Catra’s impromptu trance. “So, at home, just grab a straw and pop it in a glass, then blow.”
“I mean, sure,” Catra relented. She didn’t know how that was supposed to help, but it wasn’t exactly much of a chore to do. Plus, making Adora smile would be worth it.
“Alright,” the blonde hummed, beaming brighter than the light through the windows. “Now that homework is sorted, do you think you’re up for giving it a go?”
Catra expected pity. It’s what she assumed every other teacher would do, especially after seeing her freak out last week. Hell, Catra expected to see pity from Adora from the start; being met with the kindness and sheer understanding the blonde had shown her gave Catra whiplash. And yet, here she was. Just as kind and understanding as the first time Catra set foot in Adora’s class.
“Sure,” Catra answered eventually. She could daydream about Adora later, maybe when she wasn’t wasting lesson time that her best friend had bought for her.
“Great!” the blonde cheered. “Just to start, I want you to try just putting your mouth in, okay?”
Adora counted her down, and the pair crouched into the water together, the surface resting just above their lips as the two blew into the water and bubbles surrounded them. It seemed so trivial, but it didn’t stop Catra from smiling underneath the water. Blue eyes stared into Catra’s the whole time.
When they rose, Adora’s grin was wide and bright.
“Good job!” she praised, and it took everything in Catra not to blush. It was such a simple thing, a simple task that even children learning would be able to perform. Yet, the look that Adora gave her made Catra feel like she had climbed a mountain with her bare hands.
“Okay, this time we’re going to do the same thing, but we’ll let the water go up to our cheeks, alright?”
Surely enough, the pair of them did the same thing again, just as the teacher had described. It seemed that Adora didn’t even think about taking her eyes off Catra. The sight of the blonde, with messy, curled, and wet hair, arms chiseled from gold, and bright eyes that rivalled the sky took Catra’s breath away. It was horrible timing.
She gasped, and the water she was meant to be blowing out flooded into Catra’s nose and mouth. Oh, goddamnit. The brunette straightened her legs and keeled over, coughing uncontrollably to rid the water from her lungs. Adora immediately sprung into action, darting to Catra’s side and trying to help the water escape with the aid of a few slaps to the back. Eventually, Catra managed to breathe normally, her hand reaching for Adora’s for a reason she couldn’t place.
Adora’s hand shifted from the light slaps to clear the water, to a light trace along her student’s spine. The touch almost burned her. Adora knew she shouldn’t be doing this; casual affection in someone in her class, let alone a very attractive woman around her age that she used to know? There was so much wrong in all of it. Yet, it felt so right. The touch felt so natural, like they hadn’t been out of contact between their playground days and now. The way Catra reached for her hand, and held it, didn’t go unnoticed.
“Are you okay?” the teacher asked softly, hawk-like eyes watching Catra’s every move. When the brunette nodded, Adora found herself breathing much easier.
“Yeah,” she replied, raising her head to look up at the blonde. The smirk was an oddly reassuring sight. “Just got thirsty for a second there.”
Every muscle in Adora’s body wanted to roll her eyes, give Catra a playful shove and make the woman laugh. Instead, she simply sighed and allowed herself to smile.
“You’re meant to swim in the water, not drink it,” the teacher chuckled, withdrawing her hand from Catra’s back and immediately missing the feeling of her skin.
“You can’t tell me what to do, dummy,” Catra smirked, removing her hand from Adora’s before lightly digging an elbow into her side. “Now, you gonna teach me how to breathe underwater or not?”
“Catra, that’s not how it works.”
“We can’t prove that until we try it,” the student hummed, a delicious smirk creeping up her lips. This woman was going to be the death of Adora.
“Catra, no. ”
By the end of the lesson, Catra was blowing bubbles without swallowing anything, and her gaze was fixated on the sight of Adora the whole time.
Another four lessons went by before Adora had the time to process it. Catra’s progress swept her off of her feet, and even thinking about how far she had come made Adora’s chest swell with pride.
Catra admitted that she had been practising her bubbles in her drinks, even in the bathtub, just like Adora mentioned last week. Adora couldn’t stop smiling for the first five minutes of the lesson. Once they started working with a kickboard, Catra’s body effortlessly fell into a streamlined position and glided through the water. Adora couldn’t stop staring.
“Wait, can you show me how to do the arms again?” Catra had asked one lesson. Adora had walked her through it, sat down, and demonstrated it a few times, but it never seemed to stick. Maybe a more...physical approach would work.
“Uh, y-yeah! I can do that,” she had assured her student. The blonde approached, carefully, moving to stand behind Catra. “Is it okay if I hold your arms? Move them so I can show you better?”
Catra’s response had come as a stutter, something that was odd for Catra.
“Y-Yeah. Y-You can do t-that.”
Well, that was weird. Adora chose not to say anything, reaching for Catra’s arms and gently clasping her hands around her wrists. God damn it if only she could hold her hand.
“Is this okay?” Adora checked, thankful Catra was facing forward and couldn’t see her spreading blush.
“Y-Yeah,” the brunette hummed, voice less shaky but the stutter still present. Instead of bringing it to light, the teacher simply led Catra to straighten her arms, raising one to the sky with one by her side and guiding her arms into large circles. If Catra could feel her back pressed to Adora’s chest, she didn’t say anything.
“Wanting a refill there, love?”
Adora blinked, looking up at the bartender. It took her a few seconds to remember; she wasn’t at work. She was out at a bar, her roommates somewhere she couldn’t see, and Adora was sitting alone thinking about her student. Adora nodded and passed over her glass. She needed that drink.
Adora sighed, slumping back as much as she could in her chair. One bonus at least was that there were no sleazy old men in the bar that she needed to fight off, but there were still places Adora would much rather be.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
That can’t be her; can it?
As it turns out, it could be her, and it was. Catra Alvarez waltzed towards the bar with a confidence Adora had never seen before. Clad in leather boots, ripped jeans, and a biker jacket, the look on Catra’s face said it all; she looked good, and she knew it.
“C-Catra! U-Uh, hi,” Adora greeted, suddenly very aware of how underdressed she was and that she was tipsy at the absolute worst time.
“W-What are you doing here?” the blonde asked, face immediately paling. “I mean- not that I’m not happy to see you! I am, and you can absolutely do and go where you like, but I’m just- I’m really surprised to see you and-”
“Adora. Relax,” Catra purred, and Adora’s blush had nowhere to hide. Mismatched eyes flicked to the empty chair beside the blonde, and Adora could have sworn that Catra’s cheeks mirrored the redness of her own.
“Do you mind if I sit?”
The blonde looked at the empty chair, her confusion evident when she looked back to the brunette.
“You’re not here with anyone?” she asked. If Catra caught her teacher smiling as she replied ‘no’, she didn’t say anything.
“I’m third-wheeling hardcore right now,” Catra admitted, hands pulling the seat out and closer to Adora before she sat. The smirk on Catra’s face, the look in her eyes, all of it sent Adora’s heart racing. “Figured I’d come say hello.”
The bartender slid Adora’s drink across the table, but it wasn’t enough for her to look away from the freckles on Catra’s face.
“Would you like a drink?” the blonde mumbled. “My treat.”
Catra’s smirk shifted into a smile, small but genuine.
“I’d like that.”
Words tumbled effortlessly from her lips to the bartender, something with whiskey in it but Adora didn’t entirely hear what it was; even though her eyes couldn’t look away, Adora was never good at reading lips. She simply slid her card across the bar, and looked back up to Catra’s eyes before she got-
This was not good. Adora knew catching feelings for someone she used to know was a bad idea, and the fact that Catra was her student made it all the more inappropriate. Even inappropriate didn’t cover it; it was downright wrong.
She had reason to hope, at least somewhat. Her manager had met her boyfriend after he told her stories of cars and old boats he had set on fire whenever he visited. Adora had no idea if those stories were real, or how the hell it managed to get Mermista to go on a date with him, but they had been together for 2 years already.
But this was a student . Yes, Catra was an adult, but it wouldn’t be right for Adora to give her special treatment because she had a crush on-
“You know, when you told me you had gotten captain of the soccer team, I almost didn’t believe you. Well, until I caught you in that.”
What? Oh, wait.
Adora looked down at herself, and the scrappy varsity jacket in their high school colours, a captain’s patch embroidered on the sleeve. Catra hadn’t caught her staring; or at least didn’t mention it. Adora’s exhale came easier.
“Yeah, you caught me,” she chuckled, offering a quick ‘thank you’ when the bartender returned with their drinks and her card. “Former soccer nerd and dumb jock at your service.”
“Dumb jock, huh?” Catra asked. “And yet, you were one of the smartest kids in our grade. How does that check out?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Adora admitted. “Gifted kid burnout, maybe? I didn’t really end up doing college, but that’s another story.”
“Well, we have time,” Catra mused. “We’ve got drinks, I haven’t got anywhere to be unless you do?”
Adora’s smile was the widest it had been in a long time.
Catra leaned back in her chair and raised her glass.
“Then, we have 8 years of catching up to do. Next round is on me.”
Adora stayed behind in the bar when her roommates left to go home; she wasn’t even tired. Catra, as promised, paid for their next round of drinks. Adora bought the round after. One by one, they swapped cards across the bar, sipping from straws and recalling stories from the 8 years they had spent apart, and even the stories of the times they were together.
Turns out, they had both changed tremendously. Since Catra already knew about Adora’s work, she immediately asked about her hobbies. She didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t Adora being a personal trainer, only working as a swimming teacher on the side.
It made sense; after all, Adora was ripped. Her eyes still worked. But when two drink Catra was confident enough to ask the blonde to prove it, and drunk Adora was confident enough to take off her jacket and flex, the brunette’s drink almost made its new home on the floor. She didn’t even hear Adora say anything, even though her lips moved. Hell, the blonde even had to wave at Catra to bring her attention back to the present. She stuttered out a reply between long sips of whiskey, but whatever she had said was enough to make Adora laugh.
Adora already knew that Catra worked in business, but every story Catra told her about her job made her only want to hear more. She had ended up a personal assistant to a local politician; something Catra apparently hated to admit. Even so, they worked well together. Somehow, smaller cases and businesses asking for grants had ended up on her boss’s table, all of the research Catra had done on said clients neatly tucked away. Of course, Catra had a self-imposed reputation to uphold.
“You should be very proud of yourself,” Adora hummed. Catra had rolled her eyes in response, lips quirking up as she took another sip of her drink.
“Thanks,” she mumbled eventually. “Means a lot. Especially from you.”
Adora frowned. “From me?” Catra nodded, and that only seemed to confuse Adora more.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Catra, of all things, laughed to herself. Her cheeks were flushed red, shrugging and gesturing with her hands to help her find the words.
“I don’t know!” she started. “I guess, you were always so good when we were kids. Not the ‘good in school’ kind, but just- good. Kind. I guess, knowing if you think I’m doing a good job, I must be doing at least something right.”
Adora had seen her blush. Even tipsy, she had been staring at Catra all night. It must have been the alcohol , she told herself, unable to believe that merely looking at her would be enough for Catra’s cheeks to flush. It wasn’t enough to make Adora look away. In fact, it did quite the opposite; everything in Adora screamed for her to lean forward, and press her lips to Catra’s.
It shouldn’t have surprised her when Adora started leaning forward. What did surprise her was that Catra wasn’t moving away; she was moving forward.
The scent of leather and some kind of fruit she didn’t know made Adora dizzy, the two girls letting themselves be drawn together and-
The two ripped themselves apart, eyes wide and locked before finding where the bartender stood over a destroyed bottle of what looked to be vodka.
“Well,” Catra mumbled, “looks like someone needs a taxi, and it’s not us.”
It was a stupid statement, and she had only said it so that the two of them didn’t have to sit in complete silence after whatever what that just was. Adora’s laugh was a welcome sound either way.
“I don’t know,” the blonde chuckled, “I think I may need to head home pretty soon.” She turned back to Catra, letting a genuine smile make itself known. “This has been fun though.”
Catra, oddly enough, felt inclined to agree.
“It has been.”
She almost made a joke about Adora having to get up super early for her workout, how she needed to go to bed to get her beauty sleep, but the words were halted by a single thought.
You don’t need beauty sleep. Not one bit. You’ve always been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Catra couldn’t say that. So, she didn’t; she just bit her lip to keep the words from slipping out, while watching Adora throw on her jacket, check she had everything she needed before looking at Catra and smiling.
“I’ll see you on Friday?” she asked, almost shyly. Dork.
“That you will,” she hummed. “You better text me when you get home so I know you’re alive.”
Adora grinned at Catra and mumbled in agreement. Then, with a sheepish wave and the sight of yellow retreating into the crowd, she was gone.
The pang of loss at watching Adora go was something Catra did not expect. Groaning, she turned back to the bar, ordering a double shot of whiskey. She was not dealing with this tonight.
Catra’s last swimming lesson arrived before Adora was ready. Her technique wasn’t perfect, honestly, it was far from it, but Adora didn’t care. Catra was in the water. It was already leagues ahead of where they were 10 weeks ago when she was worried Catra would throw up purely by looking at the water. Seeing how far she had come made Adora proud, but the bitterness always came with the sweet.
She had arrived early, Adora could feel Catra staring from a nearby bench, trying her best to keep her attention on the child diving under the water and retrieving sinking toys. Catra smiled the whole time. The blonde didn’t need to look to feel it, and luckily her back was to the woman to hide her flushing cheeks. When Adora bid the child goodbye, she was acutely aware of the soft footsteps padding across the concrete, towards the edge of the pool.
Adora gulped and gave herself permission to look.
Catra, as always, was a vision. The same maroon one-piece hugged her figure, her towel slung around her hips. Her hair was a mess, the kind Adora could imagine Catra having early in the morning, with sleepy eyes and a lopsided smile. Adora blinked and looked back down.
“Here we are,” she had hummed, eyes focusing on her lesson plan. “Hop in.”
Catra gracefully slid into the water and gave a slight smile to the blonde.
“Ready when you are.”
The lesson unfolded without a single trouble. For the first time in her life, Catra could say she knew how to swim and mean it. It was trivial, but even mulling over the words in her mind as she showered sent her chest aflutter.
I’m really going to have to thank Adora, huh?
Adora. Catra wouldn’t have been able to do anything she had done with her. True, she was a teacher and it was her job, but it went deeper than that somehow. She wouldn’t have been able to laugh with anyone else the way Catra had with Adora. She wouldn’t have been able to splash anyone but the blonde or ask any other teacher to hold Catra’s hand before she submerged into the cool grasp of the water.
After diving into the water, and almost drowning, Catra figured any other teacher would have given up on her. But not Adora. Adora had never given up on her. In the last lesson, Catra could tell there was no pressure when Adora had asked her if she wanted to try it again. That was why she said yes.
Adora hovered on the surface of the water, a determined look on her face as she called up to Catra.
“You’ve got this, Catra.”
It was softer than the last time, gentler. There was something there that she couldn’t place, but Catra heard it as clear as day when Adora told her “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
Catra’s response came without thought.
Adora had simply smiled, and nodded.
Adora held true to her word. When Catra dived in, every muscle in Adora’s body had been coiled tight, ready to dart towards Catra if she needed help. When she realised that Catra had done it, Adora’s laugh could be heard throughout the entire centre.
Catra emerged from the change room, shooting a text to Scorpia that she was on her way home and-
Strong arms reached out, stopping Catra in her fall before it even started. Looking up, and of course, it was a familiar face.
“Sorry about that!” Adora chuckled, face flushed red as she set Catra back on her feet. “Are you alright?”
“Uh, yeah,” Catra admitted, stowing her phone away. “Just- I guess I was just distracted. Wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Is everything alright?” Adora asked.
There you go again. Being too good for this world, and probably too good for a date with me.
“Yeah,” Catra lied. She tried to think of anything else to say, something that would keep Adora talking to her, for as long as she could. All she managed was, “Walk with me?”
It was bold; far bolder than anything Catra expected herself to say. She fully expected Adora to say no. Instead, the blonde smiled and nodded.
The pair wandered out to the parking lot side by side, and the mere thought of Catra’s hand being so close to hers made Adora’s heart race. Say something, you idiot! her mind scolded, not wanting to let this slim chance slip away. Hell, for all Adora knew, this would be the last time she saw Catra again. She couldn’t chicken out. Not this time.
“Can I ask you something?” the blonde managed, forcing the words out as the pair closed in on Catra’s car.
“I mean, you just did,” Catra purred, smirking. “But you can ask me another one.”
Come on, Adora. It’s just one sentence, eight words, it just can’t be that hard.
“Adora?” she heard Catra mumble. “Hey, what’s up? Are you-”
Catra was silent for a beat, then two, and Adora didn’t even realise she had closed her eyes until the feeling of Catra’s hand in hers made them shoot open.
“Say that again,” the brunette breathed. “Please, tell me that I didn’t mishear it.”
Adora’s heart soared, intertwining their fingers with a beaming smile. She wasn’t going to keep Catra waiting.
“Will you go on a date with me?”
Catra moved quicker than Adora apparently. The second the last word left her lips, Catra had promptly pressed her own to Adora’s.
Catra is kissing me. Catra is kissing me!
When Adora’s brain had finally caught up enough to kiss back, Catra had finally pulled away laughing.
“You’re such an idiot,” she cackled, her voice dripping with a fondness that took Adora’s breath away. “I can’t believe it took you so long to figure it out.”
Adora furrowed her eyebrows, jaw dropping.
“Wait a minute, were you flirting with me?!”
“I mean, I have been for the past 10 weeks, but thanks for noticing-”
Catra’s words died in her throat, cut off by a peck that felt almost too soft to be real.
“So, it’s a yes for the date?” Adora asked, a cocky smile stretching across her flushed cheeks. Catra rolled her eyes, hauling herself up to sit on the bonnet of her car, bringing Adora closer.
“Yes, dummy,” she chuckled, arms winding around the blonde’s strong frame as she stood between Catra’s legs. “Now, shut up and kiss me properly.”
Adora’s blushing smile, and the sight of her leaning to kiss the brunette gently, was the most beautiful thing Catra had ever seen.
If anyone saw them there, kissing and laughing together on the bonnet of Catra’s car, they didn’t say anything.