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A Series of Jams

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Lucia reappeared at the next Fright Zone practice. This time she didn’t try to hide the fact that she was there to overrule the practice plan. Entrapta wasn’t normally one to let people boss her around, but Catra suspected she was trying to find the best course of action to balance her authority as coach and her friend’s need to maintain a smooth relationship with the Horde director. Catra appreciated her roommate’s discretion but felt guilty about the negative impact it was having on their team’s experience.

Catra wasn’t the only person her sister criticized in front of the others. At one point she asked Kyle if he’d passed his minimum skills test yet since he was skating so poorly. That riled up Rogelio, who she benched from drills because she felt his “behavior was too aggressive.” When they moved from warm-ups to the strategy portion of practice, Shadow Weaver attempted to force her old habits onto the entire team.

“When you’re facing an opponent, don’t just stand in their way like a curtain waiting to blow in the breeze. You need to incapacitate the threat for the long-term. Make sure that every hit you land has enough power behind it to keep the person down for a while, if not the rest of the game.”

One skater nervously raised their hand. “Excuse me, Shadow Weaver. Aren’t egregious hits illegal?”

She grinned malevolently. “It’ll only be deemed egregious if you telegraph it that way or hit outside of the legal target zones. Control your body language and facial expression leading into the hit so that it appears less powerful than it actually is. As long as you’re making contact with a legal area, you shouldn’t receive a penalty.”

The players murmured to one another. Catra’s hands twitched with irritation. They didn’t need these dirty tactics to be the best team in the area. They just needed to perfect the techniques they were already using. At that moment Shadow Weaver released them to practice hitting with partners. The captain ended up partnered with Lonnie. As usual, the pivot came with an attitude ready to test the other skater.

“Cat, this is getting out of hand. You need to step up and do something. We all know Entrapta is letting this happen ‘cause that bitch is your sister.”

“What the fuck could I do about it,” Catra growled, careful to keep out of earshot of Lucia. “You know she basically owns me. If I piss her off here, I could be jobless. Not to mention screwing over Entrapta and Scorpia if they have to pick up my slack on the rent.”

The jammer didn’t appreciate having to admit how powerless she was against her sister, especially to her biggest rival on the team. Still, it was the lesser of two evils compared to having the woman think she was too cowardly to confront their team’s new tyrant. Since it impacted her life outside of the sport, her hands were tied.

“I don’t know,” the gym owner responded. “Sounds like an excuse to me.”

“Fuck off,” she muttered back.

***

Back home, Catra was too ashamed to bring up the uncomfortable practice with her roommates. She feigned exhaustion and hid in her room instead. Lonnie’s words kept echoing in her mind. She was making excuses. And it was pathetic that she still depended on her sister even after she tried to escape from her influence by moving out. Why couldn’t she just ditch that wicked person for good? The older sister who’d pushed her out of harm’s way and taken the damage herself disappeared so many years ago.

***

“What? Where are you taking her?” the older teen screamed at the uniformed strangers.

Two large men were restraining each of their mother’s arms while she twisted and fought to get away. She even resorted to biting at one of them, but he expertly kept her head pointed away from his limbs.

“You need to come with us,” a woman in a gray suit was instructing them in a gentle voice. “We’re going to get your mother help, but we can’t just leave you here alone.”

“Like hell you can’t,” the black-haired girl spat.

“Legally, we can’t, honey.”

The woman had tried to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but Lucia jerked away from her touch. “Don’t act like you know us. You can’t take our mom away!”

“Your mother isn’t herself right now. You have to see that. She was trying to hurt you both. Would your mother normally want to do that?”

The teen refused to answer that question. This was the worst incident they’d ever experienced, but it definitely wasn’t the only one. Instead, she looked over at the younger girl, who was cowering behind her own knees on the couch.

“This is your fault!” she shouted at her younger sister. “You called them! You idiot!”

Tears welled in the smaller girl’s eyes. This wasn’t what she wanted. She just wanted somebody to help them. She didn’t want their mom taken away in restraints. She didn’t want to go with this strange lady. She didn’t want her sister blaming her yet again. She just wanted everything to be okay.

 Nothing was okay. Even when it was better, it wasn’t okay. She figured she’d never known what it felt like to have a good life – a happy life – and now she never would.

***

With preliminary work started on constructing the new condo building, Catra began scouting more locations for the Horde’s next conquest. While visiting a dilapidated four-story site to the west, she ran into an increasingly common acquaintance.

“Oh, hey Catra,” Adora said before the Horde liaison fully registered who was standing in front of her.

“Why am I not surprised?” Catra sighed. “Of course you’re always after the same properties as me.”

The blonde fidgeted sheepishly. “Yea, it seems so. But it’s kind of nice to see a familiar face. You sorta disappeared on m- everyone last time. Did you get the award from your coach?”

Catra’s ears had pricked at that potential slip-up. The rival captain was already speaking with her like they were friends. Catra wasn’t feeling very excited for new friends today. She’d been sleeping poorly since her sister started invading their team’s practices. Every night now her dreams were filled with vivid recollections of terrible moments in her past. The two straight hours of verbal abuse were a lot more triggering than the short meetings interspersed through her otherwise solitary work days had been.

“Uh, Catra?” her companion cut into her thoughts. Right, the trophy.

“Oh, actually, she’s my roommate. Our coach, Entrapta. I have two roommates.”

“That’s awesome! I’m kinda similar. I get my own space, but I rent the apartment from Glimmer and Bow.”

“Sparkles and Crop Top own that place?” she asked, supposing she shouldn’t be too surprised if the girlfriend ran her own nonprofit. Generational wealth, she assumed with indignation.

“Yea, that’s the only way I could ever afford a place like that,” Adora replied, scratching the back of her head with an embarrassed smile.

This girl trusted way too easily to just freely talk about her financial situation like that. Still, the Horde representative couldn’t resist probing a little more.

“I thought you’d bought it through your trust fund or something,” she quipped mildly.

The Bright Moon rep actually snorted when she laughed at that, a sound of pure light-heartedness. “You’re joking. I grew up near the Salineas building. We never had money like that.”

That revelation surprised Catra the most out of anything she’d discovered about her rival so far.

The blonde continued, “Of course I wanted to get the land for Glimmer and Bright Moon. But I also really cared about making things better for the kids who are growing up like I did. Things weren’t always great, and it would’ve made a huge difference to have a place like that after school – somewhere safe and fun. If I’d had that, maybe I would have made more friends. I mean, Glimmer’s the best! But she was my only friend for a long time.”

Catra couldn’t help staring at the other girl, as though seeing her for the first time. She’d been telling the truth that night at the café. She really wasn’t a princess. The evidence had always been there: the old gear and shabby boots. She was more similar to Catra than she’d ever realized. Was that why she kept trying incessantly to be on friendly terms with her? The Fright Zone skater definitely hadn’t tried to reciprocate the behavior – pretty much the opposite. And there were still miles of differences between them. For one, the fact that Catra drove everybody away with her ire and pain. She found the news that Adora grew up without friends surprising. This girl was the epitome of outgoing and trying too hard. Catra, on the other hand, was friendless because she was unlikable and isolated because of her family situation. With an internal scoff, she was confident Adora hadn’t grown up with a violent, hallucinating drug addict for a single mom.

“Sorry, I should shut up. That was a lot of extra, boring details you didn’t ask for.”

“It’s not boring.” The words escaped before she realized she was speaking.

“Huh?”

Too late to go back now, she supposed. “It’s not boring to talk about yourself, dummy. But I guess this means I’ll have to stop calling you Princess or whatever.” At least she could bring the situation back around to less uncomfortable territory.

The taller girl gave a shy smile. “I don’t mind if you do it. As long as you know it’s ironic now. And it doesn’t spread to anyone else.” She scrunched her nose at the last part.

Catra laughed lightly. It made the other woman’s shoulders relax a bit farther, and she chuckled along with her.

“It’s pretty funny when you aren’t hating me,” she teased.

That brought the mood down a few notches. The dark-haired woman shuffled in place.

“That’s just because I’m a natural asshole. Some people get used to it; everyone else fucks off,” she stated darkly.

The blonde took a step closer and bent over comically so she could look up into Catra’s eyes, which had taken up a mission to bore a hole into the ground.

“I don’t know about getting used to anything like that,” she said. “But I haven’t fucked off either.”

Her blue eyes drew Catra back out of the spiral of memories that had started creeping hold of her again. When the taller woman looked up at her, all the negative voices that spent so much time reminding her how worthless she was fell silent. There was just Adora. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt a level of peace like that. It still didn’t make sense that a silly upbeat girl like this would keep trying so hard to reach her. But she couldn’t help wanting to believe in her words. The rational part of her brain, the part that had to harden itself and sharpen its claws in order to shield her from pain all those years, reminded her that it was impossible to trust anyone – let alone a stranger she just met a month ago. At least she could admire the blonde for actually wanting to try in the first place. That was a compromise she could content herself with for now. There weren’t many people in her life that were like that.
“Not yet,” she chuckled and lifted her eyes to release the other from her contorted position.

“Maybe it’s your turn to get used to somebody. I can wait,” Adora said smugly.

“That’s your prerogative, Princess,” Catra harnessed the mood shift to summon back some of her usual bravado. “In the meantime, I’ve gotta get to my next viewing. Company time and all.”

“Yea, same actually.” There was the head scratching again. She was so sweetly, stupidly predictable.

“You’re probably right, by the way.”

“About what?” Those bright blue eyes flickered in curious anticipation.

“It would make a difference. For kids like us.”

She stepped out the door and strode away before she could regret admitting anything like that out loud. She couldn’t afford to entertain ideas about children’s arts centers. Things weren’t so perfect. No matter how great an addition it would be for the neighborhood, Catra needed to concentrate on her own survival first. She shook the dreams that Adora instilled out of her head. Even if she liked Bright Moon’s plans better, knew they were better for the greater good, it was the Horde who paid her bills. It was the Horde she owed her service to. Even though the company had unsavory objectives, they were the ones who’d bought her education in exchange for her continued loyalty. If she left, she’d owe thousands of dollars in fees for all the training they’d invested in her. She was barely surviving as it was. Right now, there was no room in her life for helping others. She had to take care of herself, because nobody else ever would.