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A Series of Jams

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Catra glided into her colleague’s office with a travel mug of gourmet coffee in hand.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Trouble greeted cheerfully.

“A ‘thank you’ gift for last night,” she replied, bestowing the mug deferentially on their desk. “From the Black Garnet.”
The attorney’s eyebrows raised. “They have the best brews in the city.”

She smirked wryly. “I know how to treat my friends.”

The word hung in the air a bit: friends. That was actually the first time she’d said that to them out loud. A butterfly fluttered in her stomach, and she found something to feign interest in on the bookcase in the corner of the room.

“Well, it appears you do,” they responded without hesitation. “I won’t turn away a delectable present like this, of course. But you didn’t owe me any thanks, Kitten. I did the job the Horde pays me for, and I wouldn’t leave my Kit Cat in hot water.”

She released her breath with relief.

“Maybe I wanted to anyways,” she retorted and sauntered out of the room.

Settling into her desk for the morning, she found a message from Lucia at the top of her email inbox.

See me.” was all the body said.

Not cryptic at all, she thought with a scoff. Knowing there was no advantage to prolonging the inevitable, she headed to her sister’s office.

“There you are, Catra,” the frigid woman said from behind her desk. She postured herself like she was perched atop a throne. “I received word of your accomplishment last night. That is fortunate for you.”

Leave it to the director to be a bitch even when her employee, her fucking sister, did something right.

“Whatever part you may have played, I’m sure the legal team took care of most of the heavy lifting for you,” she continued. “But now I’ll expect you to begin development immediately. The units have to be available by January first.”

It was currently May. That was a dangerously tight schedule to construct such a large building.

“Well, I better get started right away, then,” Catra replied with only half an effort to keep her teeth from gritting.

Lucia gave a single wave and proceeded to act like the younger woman wasn’t even in the room anymore. It took all her self-control not to slam the door shut behind her when she left.

She shouldn’t be surprised. Her sister was always like this. She would never admit that Catra had done something good – not in work or in their personal lives. Still, she couldn’t let her witch of a sister ruin her victory completely. She redirected her irritation towards starting the mile-long list of preparations now under her responsibility. High-rise condominium complexes don’t just build themselves, after all.

***

Catra arrived at practice with her two roommates and felt genuinely excited to enjoy the recreation that night. She ribbed Kyle good-naturedly while gearing up and shot a few playful challenges at Lonnie – who fired them right back. Most of the team was already circling the track and stretching various body parts when the warehouse door swung open, casting a long shadow across the space from the setting sun outside. The figure was tall and appeared to have long billowing hair, but their face was indiscernible silhouetted against the doorway.

That was fucking weird. Visitors weren’t allowed to just show up to practices. They’d have to contact the team in advance to get permission. Entrapta would have mentioned something if they were expecting a guest tonight.

The mystery arrival walked straight towards the center of the track, where Entrapta was getting her tablet ready with the night’s practice plan. Once they neared the outside track boundary, enough of their features came into focus for Catra to recognize her.

She was going to puke. What the fuck was Lucia doing here?

Her tall, slender sister strode regally towards their coach, still wearing her business attire from the office earlier that day. A crafty smile stretched wide across her face, and Catra saw her reach a hand out to shake Entrapta’s. A short moment later, her roommate was blowing her whistle to call everyone back to the center for discussion.

“Well, everyone, it looks like we have a surprise visitor today,” the purple-haired woman began with attempted politeness. “For those of you who haven’t met her before, this is one of our founding skaters, Shadow Weaver.”

The players murmured to one another. Two veteran skaters who had been on the team during Lucia’s time, Octavia and Huntara, whistled appreciatively for their friend. Lapping up the attention, the older sister motioned for silence with a wicked grin.

“Now now, it’s good to meet the future of our team. Fright Zone is my legacy, and I hold it dearly.”

Her words spread like molasses over the group. To Catra, the venom hidden underneath them was palpable.

“I happened to hear about your little scrimmage against the Alliance a few weeks ago,” she went on. “And how you have a legitimate game against them in just over a week. Of course, I couldn’t turn my back on an opportunity to offer my guidance to my successors. After all, our long-standing rivalry against the Alliance is very serious.”

There was that nauseous feeling again. What was she trying to pull here? Entrapta fidgeted uncomfortably beside the dark-haired woman. Catra could see the girl’s mind racing to find a solution to such a thorny situation. She didn’t like seeing her friend put in that position almost as much as she absolutely hated the fact that her horrible sister had invaded her safe space.

“That’ll be great!” Entrapta exclaimed with a hint of strain tracing the edge of her voice. “We’d love to have you join us tonight. It’s always great to have additional eyes for feedback.”

And here Catra thought she was going to be able to enjoy herself for a change. She kept as much distance as physically possible between herself and Lucia. Hearing that name again – Shadow Weaver – unleashed a wave of additional resentment she hadn’t felt for almost a year now. When she was still a teenager, she used to watch her sister’s practices. When it was just her and Lucia at home, she didn’t have any choice but tag along, of course. Still, that was how she’d fallen in love with the sport, and she’d even idolized the older girl for a while. The memory brought her more disgust than fondness now that she’d finally realized her sister would never be proud of her. She could chase her shadow – through derby, through work, and even across the earth – and Lucia still would never acknowledge her with love or, at minimum, respect.

Catra used to think “Shadow Weaver” was so clever and impressive. Since Lucia’s actual name meant “light” she’d chosen the opposite for her derby persona, hoping to strike fear into the hearts of her foes. Her actions on the track matched the nickname. Shadow Weaver was known for taking unnecessary opportunities to not only win but actually torture her opponents. She too had been a jammer and the team’s captain for a time – a similarity that Catra both secretly revered and loathed. Often Shadow Weaver would knock the other team’s jammer out of bounds and force their progress backwards down the track. She’d block and bully them until they were flustered before rushing off to steal maximum points for herself. The actions were legal but unnecessary. The younger sister admittedly savored the opportunity to play them against an opponent on occasion, but they’d been Shadow Weaver’s signature moves.

It quickly became obvious during the practice that Lucia was overstepping their coach. She hijacked some of the drills and changed them from what Entrapta had originally planned. When the overalled girl tried to instruct a skater, Weaver would sidle over to advise them differently. Catra’s frustration was ready to bubble over, but she was trying not to give her sister any reason to torment her at work. The more invisible she was here the better it would be for her later.

The final straw happened when the skaters were scrimmaging against one another at the end of practice. Catra was up to jam, and she choose to play all her classic strategies to avoid slipping up in front of Lucia’s sharp vigil. When Catra tapped her hips to end the jam, the black-haired woman called everybody to her.

“Okay, everyone, that was a perfect example of ineffective jamming strategy,” she announced with a gesture towards their captain.

Was she fucking serious?

“Catra missed the opportunity to score another four points because she took a passive approach to her jamming. She’s reactionary and lets the other jammer control the pace of the jam.”

The woman selected a few skaters to use as models while she demonstrated her points.

“Instead of wasting energy in a foot race, take more forward-thinking methods with your enemies. At the turn, Catra should have knocked the opposing jammer down or out of bounds. She had the perfect opportunity and missed it. I suppose that’s expected since she hasn’t been skating as long as I did.”

The jammer’s shoulders quaked with rage from the humiliating statements. Catra felt the eyes of multiple skaters on the team sending hesitant glances in her direction. This fucking bitch was undermining her team’s respect for her! She knew she didn’t need to take an unnecessary risk like swinging at her opponent when there was so much open space available for them to avoid her hit. Then she’d lose speed and potentially fall or go out of bounds herself. A dick move like that wasn’t worth giving up her lead position or her upcoming points. She didn’t have to be the same player as her sister. She had her own style, and it obviously worked. She didn’t land the role of captain because of her family heritage. She was voted into that position based on her own skills and hard work. Who the fuck did Lucia think she was to come in here and try to take all of that away from her?

By the time Shadow Weaver finished her explanation, the practice time had run out. Catra stormed away to de-gear. The team was going out for drinks again that night, but there was no way she’d be caught dead with them this time. Huntara had already invited her old teammate to come along, and Lucia had agreed with a high-pitched tinkle of repulsive laughter.

On the way out the door, Lonnie grabbed her shoulder to stop her.

“Hey, that was out of line, what she said. We know your whole strategy is–”

“Sorry, but I’ve really gotta go,” Catra managed to growl before shrugging out of the girl’s grasp.

“Sure, boss,” the pivot trailed off behind her.

At the corner of the block there was a bus approaching. She boarded and didn’t really give a fuck about where it was taking her. Almost as an afterthought she sent a text to Scorpia. It would spare her from a torrent of worried phone calls later.

I’ll get home my own way. Don’t wait on me.

***

Catra took her third – or was it her fifth? – shot of vodka. Her new “friend” at the bar was cheering her on and keeping the liquor coming. The room started to spin, the lights blurring into streaks.

“I’ll be right back,” she slurred to him and stumbled up from her stool. “Gotta–”

Where even was she? She pushed open a door and was blasted with delightful cool air. It was great out here. She should be where here is. She walked – and maybe tripped a few times – down the sidewalk and may have bumped into a couple people here and there.

***

Adora left the convenience store with a plastic bag containing a handful of abstract essentials. Her apartment was only a couple blocks’ walk from there. Just a few other people were passing along the sidewalk at this time of night. She herself was out this late because she’d remembered the items after getting home from practice. Normally she might have waited until the next day, but she was still feeling restless after her loss at the board meeting. It helped to move her body and distract her mind.

Up ahead, a drunk was haphazardly stumbling down the sidewalk. She was about to cross to the other side of the street to avoid an unwanted confrontation when she recognized the floundering person.

“Catra?”

She jogged up to stabilize the other girl, who was still wearing a smelly jersey from the earlier practice. Had she gone out with her team after? Probably to celebrate the property she’d won for the Horde...

“Catra, who’s with you? Is Scorpia nearby?” she asked, tilting the girl’s chin up to look her in her unfocused eyes – which were different colors after all. She might have gotten lost in them if she wasn’t also struggling to hold the other woman upright.

“I’m alone,” she drawled. “Like always. Fuck everybody.”

While believable, that information was not very helpful.

“Let me get you home. Where do you live?”

The dark-haired woman giggled and gave a melancholy sigh. “Far, far from here. Had to get away from them. All judging me. Never g-nough.”

Adora looked around anxiously, as though the solution to this situation would simply be hiding behind a nearby bush. Acknowledging that they couldn’t just stay here in the middle of the sidewalk, she heaved Catra’s arm over her shoulder and helped her wobble to her feet.

“Come on, I’ve got you,” she muttered.

The rival jammer sniffled near her ear while they walked in the direction of Adora’s apartment.

“Wait…” the intoxicated girl slurred. “You’re Adora! But Adora hates me now…”

Deciding it was easier to humor her than try to silence her, Adora answered. “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who hated me,” she replied wryly.

Did Catra just choke back a sob? “No, I– I didn’t see the -hic- note…And you were right, too. I am despicarblrh.”

Adora’s heart sank slightly when she finally deciphered the last word the other girl said. “I probably shouldn’t have said that. I was upset about the property, and my feelings were hurt because I thought you’d purposely ignored me. But that doesn’t make it okay to call you that. I don’t actually think you’re despicable.” With an ironic smile she added, “Hopefully.”

“I’m worthless,” Catra argued with a lurch to the side in which Adora barely recovered before they both toppled to the pavement. “My– my sister -hic- always says so. And it’s true. I always work so hard, but -hic- it doesn’t matter. She’ll never give a fuck.”

Adora’s heart ached hearing those words. She was sure Catra wouldn’t have just volunteered this information if she wasn’t so intoxicated. Sober, Catra never appeared vulnerable. She was arrogance incarnate, always taunting and smooth-talking. But it seemed that underneath that façade was this broken and defeated version of Catra. It’s no wonder she was so guarded, especially around somebody as unfamiliar as a stranger from her rival team.

Beyond the absolute tragedy of the girl’s admission, Adora also couldn’t help making the connection that Catra’s insecurities seemed very similar to her own. She lived with that constant fear of failing and never living up to the expectations of the people that mattered in her life. Those anxieties fed the negative voices always whispering in the background of Adora’s thoughts and spinning the horrific nightmares when she slept. If Catra went through all that, the Alliance captain felt immense sympathy for her.

Having resisted an intense urge to stop in the walkway and simply hold the other girl for comfort, they did finally reach the two-flat Adora currently called home. She tried her best to keep their clatter up the stairs to the second floor to a minimum so as not to alert Glimmer and Bow. Their concerned questions were the last thing she wanted to deal with right now. She just needed to get the dark-haired woman comfortable and then check that she wasn’t too dehydrated from the liquor.

She clumsily managed to guide Catra’s unsteady body down across the cushions of her small couch. When she tried to step away, the inebriated skater refused to release her grip on Adora’s wrist.

“Please,” she moaned. “Don’t go.”

Adora knelt beside the couch to place herself closer to the other’s feverish face.

“Don’t worry,” she reassured her softly. “I’m just getting you a blanket and some water. I’ll be right back.”

Hesitantly, the fingers twitched open enough for her to slip her hand free. She hurried to the closet where she kept her extra blankets and hastily filled a glass from the sink in her kitchen. When she returned only seconds later, it was hard to tell whether the Fright Zone jammer was still conscious or had drifted into a drunken sleep.

“Catra? I’ve got you some water. It’s best if you have some before you sleep.”

There was an indecipherable mumble from the couch. The body sprawled there stirred mildly. Adora squatted down again and helped guide the glass towards Catra’s lips. She was panting a bit, her face flushed from the alcohol still running through her body. Some sweaty strands of hair had plastered against her cheeks and forehead. Absently, Adora brushed them aside, and it only occurred to her to be surprised by the action afterward. She sat transfixed, watching the girl’s lips which were parted slightly to receive the precious gulps of water. What would it be like to feel those lips against her own, she wondered? Would they be soft and gentle or perhaps brash and commanding like the version of Catra she was used to meeting?

Catching herself in the fantasy, her cheeks burned at the realization that the subject of her reverie was lying only inches away from her. She nervously consoled herself that the other woman was far too drunk to have any awareness of her feelings or behavior.

When it was clear Catra was finished with the water glass, Adora set it on the coffee table so it would be within reach if the girl needed more during the night. Her unexpected guest had already begun to snore softly beside her. With an amused smile, she slipped quietly down the hall to pass the night in her own bed. With a faint spark of excitement, she secretly hoped that there might be a “next time” where they could sleep in the same room instead. It took some time for her body and mind to calm down enough to fall asleep. Not in her wildest dreams could she have anticipated that tonight she would run into Catra, who would need her saving. And not only that, but she encountered a Catra who seemed melancholy about the possibility that Adora might hate her – which really threatened to elicit the opposite effect from the Bright Moon representative. Finally, she’d learned more about the real person Catra kept safely hidden inside.

She would have to handle those revelations carefully and held the faintest hope that the very intoxicated woman would somehow remember any portion of their interactions tonight. Otherwise, Adora wouldn’t know how to bring up any of it in the daylight. She sighed in resignation and decided there was no reason to dwell on it further right now. Instead, she drifted off peacefully to images of rosy cheeks and enticing lips surrounded by wavy brown locks of hair.