“I promise I’m fine, guys. You enjoy the party. I’m gonna be too out of it to know if you’re here anyways. Remember, I hit my head. It hurts to even open my eyes right now. Now that they’ve got pain meds in me, maybe I can nap.”
“Adora, Are. You. Sure. We would be by your bedside in an instant,” Bow countered worriedly through the phone.
“Parties are lame without you. We really don’t need to go,” Glimmer added. The two were on speaker inside Bow’s car.
“I’m so sure. Really.” Adora didn’t bother holding back her loud yawn that burst forth at that moment. “If anything changes, I’ll definitely call you. But there’s no reason for you to be here right now.”
She chuckled nervously. “If they take me into surgery later, on the other hand…”
“We’ll be with you the entire time,” Glimmer finished the thought, her tone gentle and reassuring. “Our phones will be on us all night long. Call for anything.”
“Alright, alright,” Adora conceded. “Now go relax a little. For me.”
Once the call disconnected, she leaned back against the hospital pillows and closed her eyes to block out the bright light of the clinical patient room. Not long after, her phone dinged to signal a new text had arrived. It was probably another of her teammates checking in out of concern. She almost ignored it, but something inexplicable encouraged her to brave prising open her eyelids to be sure. When she saw the contact name across her lock screen her heart thumped in her chest.
Where are you?
Her brain nearly crashed. The directness of the question sent butterflies rushing through her stomach. Her fingers acted on autopilot while her mind struggled to catch up.
She added the room number in a second text before she could convince herself that it was too weird to mention. To her surprise, it was the right thing to say – at least this once – because the response came quickly.
Be there soon
Catra hadn’t even asked what the blonde’s condition was or if she wanted company. She was coming, immediately. The Alliance captain’s heart was racing, fighting directly against the immense exhaustion pressing down against her temple.
Goosebumps prickled Catra’s arms as she navigated the stark white corridors of the hospital. She hadn’t been to these places often, and the few times she had formed terrible memories. She associated the antiseptic smell and bright LED lights with fear of loss and loneliness. Stuffing the anxious feelings deep down in the pit of her stomach, she strode up to the next nurse’s station.
“Hi, I’m looking for Room 359.”
The nurse took in her curious appearance. Her hair was still wet from the sweaty helmet, and she’d just thrown a jacket over her Fright Zone jersey. She probably looked ridiculous standing there.
“It’s past visiting hours, but what’s your relationship to the patient?”
Shit. She hadn’t even thought of that. Truthfully, she wasn’t anybody to the blonde. Her rival? The reason she’s in the fucking hospital in the first place?
“Um, girlfriend,” she blurted out, surprising herself. The nurse raised an eyebrow. “She got hurt in our game. I just got out.”
Her voice steadied with false conviction the more she spoke. Play cool, Catra. You’ve had to talk your way through trickier shit than this.
The nurse’s expression softened sympathetically. “You must be very worried. Don’t worry. She’s in good hands now. Let me get you a wristband.”
With Adora’s name and a barcode now printed on a plastic bracelet clamped around her wrist, the jammer rounded a final corner and spotted the room she sought. Now that she was finally here, she had the opportunity to feel completely terrified. What in the actual hell was she doing? Her flight instinct was soon overruled by that image of the blonde jammer slamming into the concrete track again.
She bit her lip and knocked softly on the door. It was ajar and swung open slightly at her touch. Catra peaked around through the crack and spotted the other skater lying in a hospital bed. Where was everybody else? She couldn’t imagine Adora’s obnoxious friends would ever let her come to a place like this without them. Had they just stepped out? Now that she remembered their existence, she felt extremely grateful they weren’t here the same time she arrived. That would have been mortifying. She really hadn’t thought this extremely impulsive visit through.
When she sat in the stiff wooden chair next to the bed, it made a noisy scuff across the tile floor. The blonde stirred at the disturbance. Once her eyes detected Catra’s figure they shot open. Forgetting her injuries, she tried to sit up quickly but was met with excruciating head pain right away. She collapsed back into the pillows with a loud groan.
“Whoa, watch it, Princess,” Catra leaned forward, worried but not really sure what to do.
Once the dizziness passed enough for her to open her eyes again, the patient smiled weakly. “You actually came.”
With a mock scoff she hoped would cheer the other girl up, Catra replied, “I may be despicable, but I’m definitely not a liar.” She gave a smirk so the blonde would know she wasn’t bringing up the previous accusation seriously.
“GOD, will you ever let me live that down?” Adora exploded, but her lips curled up despite herself.
“Obviously, never,” Catra retorted with a light chuckle. The pleasant sound brought forth the blonde’s full smile, and they enjoyed the easy silence for a moment.
“So, uh, what’s the diagnosis?” the Fright Zone captain transitioned uncomfortably.
“Oh, definitely concussed,” the other began with a cynical laugh. “Still waiting to x-ray the rest.”
She gestured towards her ankle which was currently covered in a thin blanket. Catra grimaced.
“Is it hurting?”
“Not too much if I don’t try to move it. It’s more scary than painful,” she replied honestly. “If I broke it…”
“Hey.” Before her brain caught up, Catra already placed a hand on the blonde’s shoulder. There was a hospital gown covering it, but she could still feel the firm muscle beneath. She swallowed back the flustered feelings creeping into her cheeks before continuing. “It’s gonna be okay. You’d be in a lot worse shape if it was broken. And the fact they’re taking their sweet. ass. time. is a good sign.” She gritted out those last few words and hoped indignantly she was speaking the truth about the hospital’s apparent inefficiency.
“You think so?” Adora asked timidly.
“ ‘Course, Dummy. Now where are those annoying friends of yours? I thought you guys were joined at the hips. Or did they beat me to chewing out this hospital for taking so long on those x-rays?”
Adora chuckled lightly at that. “No, I told them to go to the after party. There was no point in all of us waiting around forever. They said they’ll come in a moment’s notice if I need them, though.”
Catra locked eyes with her seriously. “Is that really what you wanted? To be stuck in a hospital room all by yourself?”
The blonde wilted under the question and looked down at her own lap. “Well, I figured I’d sleep through a lot of it…”
The shorter woman continued watching her silently. Finally, Adora added meekly, “I did feel better that you came.”
“Well now I guess you’re stuck with me. No way you can wait here completely alone. That’s fucking ridiculous.”
Adora smiled warmly at her, and her heart nearly leapt up her throat. “I can live with that,” she said.
Catra busied herself by rifling through her jacket pockets to hide her blush. Her fingers landed around the small MVP award from the earlier game. She withdrew it but kept it hidden in her fist.
“Give me your hand.”
Surprised, the blonde inched her hand over the side of the bed towards the dark-haired woman. Catra nervously took it in her empty hand first. It took a great deal of willpower to keep her limbs from shaking as she gingerly placed the item in the other’s open palm. Adora’s shy anticipation shifted to polite confusion.
The Fright Zone jammer jumped in to explain. “They have another one of these waiting for you, with your coach. But I didn’t deserve this one. It’s better with you.”
The rival captain contemplated the trinket in her hand. She considered her words before speaking. “Catra. You do deserve this.” She turned her hand to press the award back into the other woman’s; but she let it rest there, their fingers grazing. “I may have missed the last part, but I saw you play tonight. You are valuable.”
Catra stared down at Adora’s hand over top hers. The weight was gentle and reassuring. The small areas where their skin touched felt hot and brilliant like the sun’s surface. Valuable. That’s how she’d described her. When she’d grown up feeling anything but. Replaced by drugs for her mother, resented by her sister, and struggling not to become a burden on the few friends she managed to make. Her fingers clasped tightly around the other girl’s, and she buried her face against the side of the bed.
She wanted desperately to embrace this acceptance, but first she needed to take responsibility for her faults. Deep down she knew she didn’t’ deserve any of this woman’s respect or openness. While she remained hidden against the blankets and anchored by the confident hand reciprocating her grasp, she began.
“It’s my fault you got hurt tonight. My sister – she’s a real cunt – she helped form the Fright Zone. She’s retired, but she’s been butting into our practices since the last time you guys beat us. She started pressuring everyone to play dirty. The one who hit you – she’s not like that, not really. But she and Lucia were friends. I think she didn’t know better than to trust her. And well…I should have gotten rid of her a long time ago. Everybody else was afraid to, since she’s my sister – or because she’s my boss. ‘Trapta didn’t wanna cause me trouble at work, but that meant causing her trouble coaching. I’m the captain. I should have stepped in. I should have stood up to her before she hurt you.”
She barely croaked out the last words, fighting back tears. A moment later fingers laced gently through her matted hair. She shuddered at the kindness in the touch. The tears won out in the end, and her next words came out shakily.
“I’m so sorry, Adora.”
The woman shushed her softly. “There’s no way I’d blame you for that.”
Catra sobbed into the covers and grasped the other girl’s hand. She clung to it as though it was the only thing holding her from being swept away in the tidal wave of her feelings of guilt, now mingled with relief. Meanwhile those comforting fingers continued combing through her dark hair. After allowing her some time to release her overwhelming emotions, Adora broke the silence, her voice sure but gentle.
“Catra, you aren’t responsible for what other people do – even if it’s your own sister. And that jammer acted on her own out there. Nobody held a gun to her head. Maybe she didn’t mean it to go that far – hopefully she didn’t. But none of that is your fault. You’re only responsible for yourself.”
Finally wiping her snotty face on her jacket sleeve, Catra attempted to compose herself and turned to face Adora. She didn’t sit up, however; because that would mean pulling away from the consoling touch on her head.
“I need to make this right,” she said grimly.
She’d forgotten she was still holding the other girl’s hand until it gave her a gentle squeeze then.
“Feeling better already,” the blonde replied.
“Idiot,” Catra laughed weakly.
Adora continued running her fingers through Catra’s thick dark hair. She couldn’t believe she was actually touching the woman - and not just out of necessity like the night she found her drunk and stumbling down the road. The warm pressure against her leg brought feelings of companionship and comfort, a welcome contrast to her present situation and environment. After a few minutes she heard the soft breathing that indicated the fellow skater had drifted into sleep. The patient suppressed a giggle but couldn’t hold back the grin that accompanied it. Even though it should probably have been the other way around – her dozing under her visitor’s watch – she felt grateful that the woman felt safe enough to let her guard down with her. This wasn’t a Catra who was incoherent and out of control. This Catra chose Adora’s company. Not willing to extricate either of her hands from this rare gift of physical contact, Adora carefully leaned closer to the sleeping woman and rested her own eyes. The gentle rasps beside her quieted all the noise in her aching head.
Catra was startled awake by the sound of a stranger entering the room. For a moment she was confused by her surroundings, but she quickly spotted Adora asleep above her, jaw hanging open in a ridiculous expression. It was silly and adorable. As she sat up more, the MVP award clattered to the floor from between their entwined hands. Determined not to release that one warm connection, she reached down with her free hand to rescue the prize.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the person said quietly. “We’re ready to perform x-rays now.”
“Geez, what time is it?” Catra retorted groggily.
“About 11:45,” the man replied apologetically. “It’s been one hell of a night. Someone else came in with a stab wound, and it was really critical for us to get them stabilized right away.”
Her annoyance fizzled out at that. “Hope they’re alright.”
The x-ray technician braced himself with an awkward half-smile. “They should pull through, but they’re in for a rough couple of weeks.”
Catra looked protectively at the muscular woman still sleeping beside her. “Maybe a bad fall isn’t so bad after all.”
“The preliminary exam has her down for a moderate concussion and a sprained ankle. But let’s be sure on that second part now. We’ll have to wake her to move to the x-ray room, I’m afraid.”
The Fright Zone jammer felt suddenly out of place, sitting there with Adora’s hand in hers. Should she wake her? How would she do it? What would cross the current boundaries between them when they’d had such few interactions? On one hand, they were technically enemies – both in business and gameplay. On the other, Catra had definitely just cried all over the girl’s leg and then passed out on her. That definitely wasn’t embarrassing.
She settled on trying a few gentle tugs on the hand laced in hers.
“Hey. Adora. Come on, wake up, dummy.” She spoke quietly, feeling self-conscious of the stranger readying a wheelchair nearby.
The blonde stirred at the sound of her name but didn’t reach true consciousness. Catra used her other hand to jostle the girl’s shoulder a bit. She was hesitant to upset the concussion.
“Adora.” Her voice rose with a hint of frustration. “Princess.”
Adora’s eyes fluttered open, Catra’s face mere inches away after reaching over to shake her. A dumb smile edged across her lips, and her cheeks colored a light shade of pink.
Catra flew back into her chair as if she was fleeing a ghost. She stared pointedly at the ground opposite the blonde’s gaze.
“About time, idiot. They’re here to do your x-ray.”
Why was she so flustered? Damn. This girl was so stupid. And amazing. Fuck.
“You always sleep like a boulder?” she added in a pathetic attempt to regain her cool.
Adora replied slowly, a touch of humor in her voice. “Well, I think some of that is probably the head injury or the drugs. But uh, Catra. I’ll probably need to take my hand with me.”
What? She risked a glance sideways and realized she was still gripping the woman’s hand tightly. With a hiss she threw it down and retreated farther into her chair, pulling her knees up against her chest. The other jammer laughed loudly, the sound wafting through the room like a cool breeze on a summer day. Even amidst her embarrassment, it eased some of the tension in Catra’s body.
“You two are cute,” the tech broke in. “Let’s get you in this chair, Adora. We’ll be back in a flash.”
The technician wheeled Adora into the x-ray room and draped a lead apron over her torso. As he took images of her ankle from different angles, he made light small talk.
“So, it seems like you’ve got a keeper back there. Your girlfriend’s been keeping watch over you all night?”
The label filled her chest with hope and interest.
“Oh, uh, yea, I guess you’re right,” she blustered.
He laughed. “I bet nobody messes with you under her watch.” Then he remembered her ankle sympathetically. “Well, aside from this.”
“I play roller derby,” she said with a loll, her brain still a bit fuzzy and now distracted with fantasies about an alternate reality where Catra was her girlfriend. “We hit each other.”
“I see. Well, we’re all set here. Let’s get you back to Girlfriend.”
When they re-entered the room, Catra was pacing anxiously by the window. She shot them an expression of agitated anticipation.
“It’ll take a little while for the doctor to review your x-rays. They’ll come speak to you once they’re ready. In the meantime, press the call button if you need anything else.” The technician helped Adora back into the bed before saying with a wink at Catra, “She’s all yours.”
The woman’s jaw actually dropped as she watched him leave. It wasn’t until Adora broke the silence that her brain managed to work again.
“Sorry, he uh, assumed we were dating,” she said with her trademark fidgeting.
Catra eased into her chair from earlier.
“Actually, that might be my fault,” she began sheepishly. “I had to lie at the front desk to get in after visiting hours. They won’t let you in unless you’re somebody who matters. But the easiest way to get away with something is to act like you’re supposed to be there, right?”
“Quick thinking,” Adora replied with a false casual air. The more this misunderstanding dragged on the more she was wishing it was true.
After some time, the doctor came in to inform them the ankle was miraculously only sprained.
“Your biggest worry is going to be that concussion,” the doctor explained. “I want at least two weeks of rest and restricted screen time. Your brain needs a chance to heal. Do you need a note for work?”
Adora was crestfallen. “I guess I should get one, to be safe. Our HR might need it for records or something. But can I skate?”
The doctor eyed her skeptically. “Make an appointment with your primary physician in two weeks, and see how your injuries are doing. No skating until then, at the very least.”
The jammer sank back into her pillows dejectedly.
“But you’re free to go home now, as long as you aren’t the one driving.”
At this, the doctor directed their gaze at Catra, who shuffled nervously.
“Oh, I drove,” she offered meekly.
“Perfect. The nurse will be in soon with your discharge papers.”
When it was just the two of them again, Adora spoke up.
“I wouldn’t ask you to give me a ride. You’ve already done so much more than you needed. I’ll call Glimmer and Bow.”
Catra looked at her pointedly. “It’s way past midnight. And if they were at the after party, I’m not sure they should be the ones giving you a ride. I’m already here and whatever.” Staring down at her feet as she kicked them absently, she added. “Plus, I kinda owe you from before.”
Adora rubbed her eyes sleepily as they hiked into the deserted parking garage. A few cars sparsely littered the level they were on. She wobbled a bit whenever her head started spinning, and she already had a slight limp from the ankle sprain. Catra had resigned to steadying her by the arm. The later it got, the more delirious the taller woman was feeling.
“Maybe this isn’t such a great idea,” Catra muttered uneasily beside her.
“Well, I’m not much of a threat like this at least,” the blonde joked, not understanding her reasoning.
“No, I mean…” At that, she gestured at a small motorcycle parked before them. “You’re not gonna fall off or something?”
Adora’s eyes widened. “OH…”
She eyed the bike curiously. “I don’t suppose those have seatbelts…”
“No, dummy!” Catra smacked her forehead with her free palm, not releasing the skater’s arm from her other hand.
Adora turned and smugly raised an eyebrow at her. “But I can hold on to you?”
That did cause Catra to drop her arms, and a hint of red creeped into her cheeks. “Yea, I mean that’s the only way you can really fit two people on this thing to begin with,” she mumbled back.
“It’ll be fiiiiine,” Adora dragged out the last word. “Let’s do it!”
“Actually…” Catra jogged ahead and began rifling through a saddlebag on the Rebel. After a moment she pulled out a tie down strap. “I knew it was a good idea to keep one of these around.”
Awkwardly she helped the blonde onto the back of the motorcycle before hurrying to jump in the seat in front of her. She clumsily fed the strap around the other woman’s back and cinched the two of them together by the waist. Adora’s chest pressed warmly against her back when she pulled the lock tighter.
“Oh, shit,” she muttered, remembering the girl was still only in a tank top and shorts.
She loosened the strap enough to wriggle out of her jacket.
“Here, you’ll need this,” she ordered.
The taller girl gingerly snaked her arms into the jacket sleeves, which were a bit too short on her. Once she’d zipped the coat shut, Catra cranked the strap securely into place again. The twilight breeze sent a chill over her now bare arms, but she ignored it. Meanwhile two arms laced their way around her waist and hugged with a surprising amount of strength considering how out of it her passenger seemed to be by now. The shorter woman fired up the engine and kicked the bike into first gear.
“Keep hanging on, Princess,” she called over her shoulder.
She heard a faint squeal behind her, accompanied by an extra squeeze around her middle. At that signal she set off towards the two-flat she still remembered from that hungover morning she’d been forced to borrow a dress.
Adora nuzzled her face into Catra’s wiry shoulder. She smelled like the musky odor of derby but with a mellow undertone of mint. The latter scent seemed familiar, and the blonde reasoned it must be specific to the shorter woman. It did feel like it matched her personality. It was alert and gave an impression of maturity, much like how Catra usually carried herself. The passenger inhaled deeply before the motorcycle took off and the wind obliterated any smells around them.
Her heart skipped a little. This was her first time on a motorcycle, and she felt nervous about how exposed they were atop this speeding machine. The fact that Catra was in control reassured her though, and she soon relaxed into the ride. She had to admit, it was pretty hot to be pressed against the back of a gorgeous woman who owned a – honestly, fucking cool – motorcycle in the empty streets at night. She wanted to savor every moment of the journey, but her ailments eventually got the better of her. It was wise that Catra had tied them together; because her grip slackened as she drifted in and out of consciousness again.
Catra noticed the difference in her passenger’s hold and was relieved when they finally pulled up outside her building. She put the bike in park and carefully disconnected their two bodies. She was forced to wake the exhausted woman because she didn’t know if or where she had a key to her apartment. To her surprise, Adora did produce a key along with her phone from a tiny pocket in the hem of her shorts. She then proceeded to drop both in the street with a clatter, but Catra had no problem retrieving them. Crouching down gave her an idea.
“Hop on, Princess,” she said with a nod toward her back.
The other jammer must have been out of it because she complied without hesitation. She crashed into the Fright Zone captain and nearly sent her sprawling, but the smaller woman managed to recover her footing. With a strained grunt, she lifted the blonde with a muscular leg crooked in each of her arms.
“Wow, you’re strong,” Adora mumbled sleepily.
That was all the encouragement she needed. Catra stubbornly plodded up the flight of stairs to the front door of Adora’s unit. She kept her teeth clenched to prevent any involuntary groans of effort from escaping so close to Crop Top and Sparkles’ doorway. She strained forward to bear more of the other woman’s weight over her back while she freed her hand to fumble with the key. They bumped into the walls a couple times traveling down the modest hallway to the bedroom. She found a full-sized bed inside, the covers in disarray from the previous night’s sleep. She was grateful it wasn’t a particularly tall bed frame as she eased the delirious skater over the edge and onto the mattress.
“Alright, final stop, Your Highness,” she muttered, no bite in the words as she gasped for breath. “I’ll see you around.”
“No!” came a distant squeak from the bed. “Please stay. It’s so late. You said it yourself.”
The dark-haired woman raised an eyebrow, hands on her hips. “Weren’t you ready to pass out?”
“I’m injured.” The words came out as a pout. It was so pathetic; it was actually adorable. “What if I need help?”
“Then you call Sparkles from downstairs,” she retorted, but internally she was intrigued at where the other woman was going with this argument.
“They’re sleeping. But you’re already here.”
“Don’t I need to sleep, too?” she asked wryly.
“You can,” Adora groaned insistently. “Just here.”
“You don’t say.” Catra was smirking now, but she was grateful Adora couldn’t see from within her mess of bedding.
She took in the cozy bedroom. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration. She appreciated its simplicity and the fact that it wasn’t exploding with frills or sparkles. She bet her skates the same couldn’t be said for the unit below them – gross. Atop an old dresser lay a few stray books and a leatherbound folder that she guessed by the shape contained a college degree. A couple small picture frames dotted the space. A hamper of dirty clothes sat politely out of the way in a corner. She’d never set foot in the space before, yet it oddly gave her a sense of “home.”
The dazed woman on the bed interrupted her musings. “I don’t want you to go.”
That was the final nail in the coffin. Catra feigned annoyance, but her mind was made up. “Alright, fine. Move over, Princess. You’re taking up this whole bed.”
“You put me here,” she heard a sassy mutter back, but the blonde gingerly slid her injured body to one side of the bed.
Catra crept around to the other side and stiffly curled up as close to the edge as she dared. She felt hyper-aware of her proximity to the woman across from her. They were both still in their dirty jerseys, but it was way too late to bother with anything else. Not to mention the thought of Adora needing help changing nearly made her head explode. No, she would just stay right here, thank you. It was so she could hear if Adora called for help, she rationalized with shaky conviction. That was why she hadn’t gone out to the couch. It would have been irresponsible. Yes. She was doing what was most practical here.
It seemed like Adora had no trouble falling back into a deep sleep. It didn’t take long for her raspy little snores to drift over to Catra’s ears. She stared at the weary jammer a while, taking in the halo of golden hair that had tumbled down to frame her cheeks. She noticed the way her brows furrowed slightly as though she still carried her worries even in sleep. Her jaw had relaxed, and the silly way her smooth lips parted had Catra imagining that the girl actually drooled in her sleep. She wouldn’t mind. For Adora it seemed endearing in a way.
Catra watched over her this way for a long while. Despite her own exhaustion – she had played a full game plus covered the loss of a teammate and stayed up half the night in a damned hospital – the idea of laying inches away from beautiful, stupid, muscular goddess Adora set her heart racing. She lay there memorizing the curves of her cheeks and the sound of her breathing. She took in the details of the room and even the feel of the bed underneath her. Every nuance of this insignificant moment would be etched in her mind.
The dark-haired woman had certainly experimented with a rendezvous or two over the years, but nothing before this made her feel like such a flustered child. What was different about Adora? They didn’t know each other that well, but they’d shared some weirdly personal experiences already. There was something comfortable and familiar there. It was hard to process when she had spent so much of her life not fully belonging anywhere.
Eventually she did drift off, lulled by the soft unguarded snores of the woman beside her.