Actions

Work Header

A Series of Jams

Chapter Text

******************************

“Why wasn’t this report brought to my desk two hours ago?”

The woman’s tone was cold as she skimmed through the pages with a critical eye. Lucia always had that tone with her these days. Her jet black hair billowed down past her shoulders and danced just above the report Catra had stayed late yesterday and come in early today to complete. She poured countless hours of research into pinpointing the best location for Horde LLC’s next acquisition. She read and reread the document six times before handing it in because she knew the woman in charge of her would sniff out even the tiniest incorrect detail and shove her face into it. It hardly mattered that Lucia was also her older sister. If anything, it only gave her reason to treat Catra even worse.

Catra resisted the urge to fidget under her sister’s condescending stare. “There were a few details I needed to confirm with the agent this morning, and I had to work around their schedule,” she explained.

It was only half true, but it was the most professional information she could present that would be believable. She knew all too well that honesty was never something that Lucia rewarded. Only perfection was accepted by her icy sister.

Lucia’s raised eyebrow relaxed ever so slightly. One of the many knots in Catra’s stomach unwound. Her sister would let the excuse slide for now. “When are you visiting the property?”

“I have an appointment with the Thaymor agent at 8AM tomorrow. So I’ll be going there directly before I come to the office,” she recited the details smoothly and efficiently now that the immediate threat had dissipated.

The older woman glanced over to her computer monitor to compare with her own schedule. Content with what she found, she tossed Catra’s laboriously written report onto a stack on her desk. The subordinate sister fought from wincing at how carelessly her work was handled.

“Very well. Report back to me immediately with an update.”

“Of course,” Catra responded coolly with a slight bow to her head. She knew the steps to this dance her sister required. “You’ll be the first to hear anything, as always.”

Lucia waved dismissively towards her. “Fine. Go on then. I’ll be waiting for tomorrow’s answer.”

Catra released the rest of the breath she’d been holding. Just as her hand reached out to the handle of the private office door she heard, “Oh and Catra…”

She froze in place, the hair on her arms bristling with dread. The voice continued even though she hadn’t turned to face it.

“Try not to mess this one up. I won’t have you drag my hard-earned reputation through the dirt due to your own incompetence. I may have gotten you this job, but I will take it away if you prove that my trust in you was misplaced.”

Catra bit into her cheek to distract her from the way those words tore through her. She couldn’t afford to lose this job. While most people may have been shocked to have their sister speak to them this way, she knew this threat wasn’t empty with Lucia. She always meant what she said – especially her most venomous words. From gritted teeth she forced out a reply. “I’ll get the property.”

“Good. I’ll expect nothing less.”

***

Catra clenched her coffee mug so tightly it shook in her hands. She tried to concentrate on how white her knuckles had gotten instead of the rage threatening to erupt from her at any moment.

“Morning, Kitten,” a playful voice hummed behind her.

The surprise caused some of the tension to involuntarily escape her body. She glanced over her shoulder and made eye contact with her work friend.

“Hey, Trouble,” she replied, the anger deflated out of her voice.

“Looks like you’re having another wonderful day here in paradise,” they observed.

Rowan, or Double Trouble as Catra knew them from outside the office, was usually her pocket of sanity in this stressful company. It had been a major stroke of luck that their head legal advisor also happened to be her teammate in the Fright Zone. Or maybe it wasn’t luck at all. Roller derby had a way of connecting people in unexpected ways. Either way, it didn’t matter. What was important was that there was always somebody around to talk shit about her sister and make sarcastic comments about the other unbearable people in this office. Trouble always seemed to know the perfect thing to say to bring Catra back to herself. Maybe that flawless intuition was what made them such a great lawyer too.

“Stay clear of the dark empress if you can,” Catra replied dryly. “She’s feeling extra bitchy today. Threatened to fire me again.” She scoffed. “You’d think she could at least be more creative when dragging me down.”

“No fun at all,” they giggled. “Oh well, I guess I better handle this situation Robert dragged us into. See you tonight though.”

A hint of a smile peeked out the corner of Catra’s mouth as she watched Trouble trail their arm behind them in a regal wave while walking down the row of cubicles. Always a dramatic exit with them.

The rest of the day passed smoothly enough. Catra stayed busy preparing for her appointment the next morning. She made phone calls, compiled analyses, and assembled a folder of information to bring with her. It was all fairly routine, but she still triple-checked her results at the end of her shift. Too much was at stake for her to be careless in her work. Nothing would catch her off guard.

***

Traffic home was congested as usual. Luckily the trip to her current apartment wasn’t as far as her old home would have been. With her venerable 2005 Honda Rebel she easily weaved between the cars that were trapped in a standstill and cut across the handful of blocks home. The motorcycle’s size made it easy to park relatively close to the building’s crowded entrance too.

As she crossed the threshold of the apartment unit, she spotted a patch of purple through the doorway to the kitchen.

“Hey, ‘Trapta,” she called lazily.

“Oh, hi Catra!” a shrill, chipper voice replied. A pair of goggles and a manic grin surrounded by two long purple pigtails slid into view. “Is it that late already? It feels like I just started!”

How could she even look at her computer screen while wearing those things? Entrapta never did quite make sense, but she was a good person. Her pigtails showed obvious signs that she’d forgotten to shower for a couple days again. Catra made a mental note to have Scorpia help corner her after practice tonight. There was no way she could stomach breakfast in the same room as that kind of funk.

“I’ve been gone about 8 hours already,” Catra shook her head with a soft chuckle. “You better get your gear ready before Scorpia gets home.”

“Oh I will, definitely,” Catra could already hear the other girl’s mind wandering as she spoke. “right after I finish this next line of code…”

Knowing that she wouldn’t get anywhere reasoning with her roommate in this state, Catra instead grabbed a can of tuna from the cupboard and started spreading the salty deliciousness over a pile of crackers. Part of Derby 101 was to never go to a two-hour practice on an empty stomach - especially when she knew it wouldn’t be a regular practice.

“Hey, ‘Trapta,” she called vaguely. “Tonight’s the scrim with those rich dweebs, isn’t it?”

“If you mean the Alliance, then yes, that’s tonight.”

“Great. I really need to hit somebody today,” she punctuated the sentence by crunching down on a cracker piled with tuna.

The font door opened with its signature creak.

“Hey, guys, I’m home!” an upbeat yell greeted from the next room.

“Imm here,” Catra called back with food in her mouth.

A tall broad-shouldered woman with long red hair that was streaked with platinum blonde highlights trundled in. “Ooo, tuna!”

Catra rolled her eyes but slid the plate towards her other roommate.

“You’re the best, Wildcat!” Her eyes sparkled as she double fisted the meaty crackers.

“You’re cheerful as always, Scorpia,” Catra observed idly. “I hope you’re ready to smack down some snotty North-siders.”

“Yes! Double yes!” She waved so excitedly that the other girl was amazed tuna wasn’t flying across the room right now. “I am so ready for tonight! Lonnie and I were talking about it at the gym during work. There’s this girl on their team who’s obsessed with mermaids, and Lonnie said she can’t wait to crush her soul with our walls. Ha ha, what a thrill.”

Scorpia was a trainer at a gym owned by another of their teammates, Lonnie. Lonnie was strong and fit and competitive as hell. She and Catra had somewhat of a frenemies relationship between them. But honestly, Catra worked twice as hard and achieved twice as much thanks to the constant pressure from Lonnie. At the end of the day, the team was family – the way Catra thought family should actually be. It definitely wasn’t remotely like her real family.

Energetically Scorpia recounted the rest of her day in detail until it was time for them to grab their gear bags and head over to their league’s practice space.

***

The three roommates walked into the old warehouse that was full of the scent of dried sweat and the clatter of skate wheels and plastic pads shuffling around. Entrapta, their current coach and strategist, headed over to chat with the referees and the other team’s captain. The northside team had arrived earlier than Catra would have expected since they were coming from the opposite end of town. Maybe the upper class didn’t have to work nine-to-fives every day.

As she and Scorpia made their way to where their teammates were gearing up, Catra sized up the enemy. All the Alliance players matched from head to ankle. They had the same white gear, purple jerseys, and black bottoms - just like dorky little clones. She snorted at how predictable they were. There were a few faces she recognized from previous games. That annoying short girl with pink glittery everything was back with her overly cheerful boyfriend. Nearby there were two people that oddly gave off pirate vibes – one of them must be the girl Lonnie’s gunning for. But there was one player she definitely didn’t recognize. A taller, lean girl with a blonde ponytail was gearing up next to the sparkly one and grinning at whatever they were talking about. She still matched the rest of the team, but her skates didn’t look as new and expensive as everyone else’s. Her expression was soft and warm.

Whatever, Catra thought. She was about to lap circles around all of them – old or new.

“Hey, Wildcat,” greeted a lanky nervous guy with blonde hair. He was flanked by his taller and much more muscular boyfriend, Rogelio.

“Sup, Grief,” she replied smugly.

“You know my nickname’s supposed to be Master, Catra. Master Grief. Grief just makes me sound pathetic,” he said indignantly.

“If the shoe fits,” she teased with a snicker to let him know she wasn’t serious. Not too serious, at least.

Rogelio grumbled beside his boyfriend.

“Calm down, Dragon Tales,” she said, sticking her tongue out. “I don’t mean any harm.”

The shorter man dragged his palm down his face in exasperation. “’Dragon U Down.’ I don’t even know why we make up names if you won’t get them right.”

“Aw, it’s just so you know I care.”

Catra didn’t bother watching his predicted eyeroll but instead sat on the ground and began emptying the contents of her bag in front of her. She donned helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, skates, and wrist guards. She double checked that her laces were snug and her wheels were all spinning correctly before standing up. Immediately a wave of confidence surged through her - one that had been missing before the skates became an extension of her body once again. She rolled in a few circles by the bench and tested her stops. Nothing in the world made her feel as powerful and free as when she was wearing skates and playing derby. The Catra who stressed over her shitty job and cruel sister was gone for now.

Entrapta walked back to their bench and waved Catra over to her. When she rolled to a stop next to her roommate-slash-coach, the purple-haired woman pulled a sharpie out from her overalls and began scrawling on Catra’s upper arms. On each arm she wrote Catra’s number, 666, as well as a “C” to designate her as captain for the game. When she glanced over, Catra noticed the new blonde girl was wearing the captain’s mark as well. Of course, the Alliance players all had sleeves with their numbers on them; so they wouldn’t need to write on their bodies with marker. The competitive nature in Catra activated. She would definitely outscore this stuck-up team.

On the bench before the game was about to start, Catra was in the first lineup with Scorpia, Lonnie, blonde boy Kyle, and Rogelio. As usual, Lonnie had on the pivot’s stripe to partner with Catra’s jammer star. If necessary, Catra would pass the starred helmet cover to Lonnie, who could take over as their team’s scorer. It hadn’t been needed too often, Catra was proud to say; but when it was the right strategy Lonnie always came through. The rest of the time Lonnie blocked with the other three, and they kept the other team’s jammer from passing their bodies for points. The blockers block the other team’s jammer from scoring while also creating opportunities for their own jammer to get by. Every blocker that a jammer passed from the opposing team was worth a point. The more laps you’re able to make, the more points you score.

“Take the back if you can,” Catra instructed to their focused nods. “Scorpia, you take the inside lane as usual so you can carve a hole for me.”

“And the three of us will hang back and trap their jammer in a tripod,” Lonnie chimed in.

“Like parts in a perfect machine,” the captain replied coolly. “We know what we need to do to win. So let’s just stick to what we do best.”

They nodded and bumped fists in the center of their huddle. Just then the official who would be their Jam Timer whistled to alert everyone that the first jam was about to begin. Catra’s line hustled onto the circular track to claim the places they wanted. Scorpia comically pretended not to know where she was supposed to be while actually setting herself in an ideal position to sweep the other team’s blockers aside. Catra joined the Alliance’s jammer behind the jam line, where they are initially separated from the blockers. She stood just to the right of the girl, who turned out to be that same captain from earlier.

“Hi,” the Alliance captain greeted with a friendly smile. “Good luck tonight.”

Catra couldn’t have rolled her eyes any farther back into her head if she tried. “I don’t need luck, Princess. You’ll see.”

A little swoop of amusement shot through her when she saw the girl’s expression droop. Puh-lease, how cliché to wish your enemy luck before a game. The girl’s disappointment was quickly replaced by a cocky grin, and she pressed her body into the side of Catra’s. Her shoulder edged in front of Catra’s, which would make it easy to pin her back once the jam started. Ugh, maybe this girl wouldn’t be such a pushover. She was their captain. But Catra’s a captain too. She spun around the girl’s back and returned the shoulder move on her opposite side. On the way Catra spotted the name “She-ra” on the back of her jersey. What kind of dumbass derby name is that?

At that moment the whistle blew to start the jam, and Catra used her inertia to shove her opponent far to the right before she raced back towards the inside boundary line. Just as planned, Scorpia had plowed her body into the opposing blockers and driven them all away from the left side. Catra raced through the narrow opening. Speed and cunning had always been her greatest strengths as a jammer. The jam referee skating alongside her chirped and signaled that she was in the lead jammer position. She was in control – just like she always loved being.

To her surprise, a streak of purple with a yellow trail came into view beside her. How the hell had that “She-ra” girl gotten past her line’s defenses so fast? Nobody was ever as fast as Catra, but this annoying girl stayed only a few paces behind. They circled the track aggressively and were quickly approaching the backs of the blockers.

“Stop N Rob!” Catra shouted to her teammates.

As rehearsed, they rushed to get in front of the Bright Moon blockers. Catra twisted her body mid-stride to throw her hips into her opponents first and immediately tapped her hands on her hips to indicate that she wanted to call off the jam. Her assigned referee spotted her signal and whistled the end of the jam. Two fingers shot in the air to declare how many points she’d scored. Four points would have been better than two, but as she glanced at the other team’s jam referee she confirmed that they hadn’t lost any points to the enemy either. She had done her job correctly, as had her line.

She high-fived them on their way back to the bench. “Good work, you guys. What happened with their jammer though?”

“Dude, she’s a fucking tank,” Lonnie groused. “She plowed right past us. You’d never know just looking at her.”

“Is that so…damn.” Maybe this game was going to be more challenging than she thought.

As the game continued, some jams they faced She-ra and others they were up against that mermaid girl instead. She went by “Kraken Skulls.” Catra snorted to cover up the fact that she actually thought the name was kind of fucking clever. Kraken and She-ra both followed the strategy of pushing and bullying their way past Fright Zone’s blockers; although She-ra had more graceful footwork to partner with her strength. Mermaid girl had her boyfriend in her line though. He got tons of penalties from pulling stupid moves to defend her from blockers – usually while yelling, “ADVENTURE!” like an idiot. You can’t just flail your arms around like that. Ugh, he better not injure any of Catra’s teammates with that recklessness.

Since this was just a scrimmage on a weeknight and not an official game, halftime was extremely short. Both teams managed to keep the score very close and had even switched leads a few times. As the game clock ticked its final minute, Catra lined up on the track against She-ra for one last jam.

“Ready, Princess?” she sneered at her opponent.

“Ha, you bet,” was the reply.

When the whistle blew, She-ra surprised Catra by funneling her towards the Alliance’s waiting blockers. The four players swarmed around Catra’s body and stood their ground while she shoved and darted around them. Just as she managed to finally break free, she heard a sharp double chirp of the whistle. She-ra was lead jammer. Catra’s stomach dipped. The Fright Zone only had a one point lead, and Catra just lost lead jammer status to the other team. She skated at break-neck speed towards She-ra’s well-defined back. She needed to pressure the other jammer to end the jam before she could bring her team ahead in points. Or at least Catra had to match pace and points with her so they couldn’t make up the current point difference.

Catra’s lungs and legs ached as she pounded the concrete floor behind the other girl. There was no way she’d let this arrogant pretty jammer get the best of her in her own space. Catra had trained too hard to let the Alliance win tonight. She collided against the opposing blockers the same moment She-ra rammed into her own. Catra wriggled her hips and tried squatting under the butts of her enemies in order to get around them. She growled in response to how resilient their tripod blocking formation was holding against her. She stole a fleeting glance at her teammates who were struggling to contain the bulldozing She-ra.

Three consecutive sets of four whistle tweets signaled the jam was over. She hadn’t seen She-ra tap her hips to end the jam. Had they just run out of their two-minute time limit? That wasn’t the most important detail though. Frantically she spotted the jam referees for both teams. Her ref held up one finger. The Alliance’s referee held up four. Fucking shit.

The obnoxious Alliance players cheered and hugged in the middle of the track while Catra’s teammates skulked back to their bench. Before Catra could catch up to them, the blonde jammer rolled up beside her.

“Hey, you played amazing,” she said breathlessly, a huge smile across her face. “I really had to try my best tonight. That game could have gone either way.”

Different emotions warred inside Catra. The other girl’s compliment lit a small flame inside her chest, warming a corner of her she hadn’t felt in a while. But she was also humiliated for losing the game that should have been to her advantage. This “She-ra” was clearly new to the Alliance; whereas Catra had been practicing with her team in this space for two seasons now. It was also difficult for her to believe when people thought positively of her. Lucia definitely reminded her at every opportunity how much of a fuck-up and waste of space she was. This stranger knew nothing about her!

Instinct took over for her mouth. “Jeez, well if that was your best then I’m going to be pretty bored next month at the real game.”

She-ra’s smile faltered, and she subconsciously put some distance between them.

“Keep practicing, Princess,” Catra called over her shoulder as she turned away dismissively. “Enjoy your little victory though.”

She shoved down the pang of guilt gnawing the edge of her stomach that made her want to turn to see the look on the other girl’s face. That must have really put her in her place because she didn’t have any retort. Catra tried to convince herself that it made her feel better, but a small part of her didn’t buy it. She was quiet gearing down while her teammates vented their complaints to one another about the outcome of the scrimmage.

Chapter Text

“Adora! Hey,” Glimmer put a hand on her shoulder, bringing the stunned skater out of her trance. “You okay?”

The blonde consciously willed herself to smile before facing her best friend.

“Yea, just a little bummed,” she replied distantly.

The pink-haired girl’s gaze followed Adora’s wistful stare. She arched an eyebrow at her friend.

“That was their captain, right? Wildcat? What did she say to you just now?”

Adora’s frown returned. “I tried to tell her how great she played, and she blew me off pretty hard. I wonder why? That game might have been the most fun I’ve ever had.” And it was fun because of her, she didn’t add out loud.

Glimmer scoffed. “Those Fright Zone thugs are just rotten sports.”

“Thugs?” she retorted. “They’re just like us.” Just like me, at least.

The shorter girl crossed her arms and didn’t withdraw. “You know this is a rough part of town…”

“This ‘part of town’ is where we’re supposed to be trying to help the community,” Adora reminded her crossly.

She didn’t like the way her friend made assumptions about people based on their status. She knew Glimmer didn’t realize what she was doing, but it didn’t make it okay. As if she could read Adora’s thoughts, she other girl cautiously touched her elbow.

“You’re right, of course,” she said. Her tone softened from before. “I’m sorry, Adora. It just bothers me when people act like assholes. Especially to you – you deserve that least.”

“Aw, Glimmer.”

They hugged affectionately.

“Is there a Best Friend Squad hug happening without me?!” a third voice cut into their moment.

Adora saw Glimmer roll her eyes.

“Bow, we don’t always have to hug as a trio. You and I do plenty without Adora,” she chuckled at that second part.

Moment over. Adora stepped back from her friend with her hands waving defensively. “Aaaaand let’s keep it that way!”

Bow’s large puppy eyes drilled into her though.

 

“Okay, fine,” she sighed.

Adora held her arms out, and Bow gleefully jumped to fill them. Glimmer patted his shoulder with an expression that said, “You’re ridiculous, but I love you.”

Hugs completed, they made their way back to the visitors’ bench to gear down.

“Adora, that was an amazing point grab at the end!” Bow gushed excitedly.

The captain blushed and scratched at the back of her head. Her helmet got in the way, but it was force of habit when she felt flustered. “Ha, it wasn’t just me though. You guys did that awesome roadblock that got me lead!”

Glimmer interjected, “That’s right, we were pret-ty great.”

Bow wrestled his arms around his girlfriend’s waist and tickled her as punishment for her cheekiness.

Falling back into the regular easy banter with her best friends raised Adora’s spirits after her hurtful encounter with the Fright Zone captain. She stole one last disappointed glance across the warehouse and caught a glimpse of the haughty skater silently stripping away her battered padding. The mahogany jersey shifted between her pointed shoulder blades, and her dark hair was matted against her neck with sweat. She was definitely beautiful.

But not very nice.

***

The sweaty trio walked sleepily up the steps to the two-flat apartment that Glimmer and Bow owned. Adora’s friends paused outside the door to their ground floor unit so they could continue talking to her before parting ways.

“Tomorrow you’re going to look at our potential site for the arts center, right?” Glimmer asked with a lazy yawn.

“That’s right,” Adora replied. “I’ve got an appointment at 8:30, which means the trains are going to be packed.” The last word came out as a groan.

“Would you like me to give you a ride instead?” Bow offered.

“No, no. It’s really out of your way. I’m used to this!” she put on a brave face at that and started up the steps to the second unit that she rented from her friends. “We should get some rest, and I’ll talk to you guys more tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Adora!” they chorused.

The blonde flipped on the lights to her living room with a soft click. The room was modest with simple furniture and sparse decorations. Glimmer often argued that it was too sterile and unwelcoming, but Adora found the simplicity comforting. She wasn’t really a “glitz and glam” type person, and lots of decorations without real purpose felt too extravagant for her. She already knew she wouldn’t have afforded to live in this type of space in this location if she hadn’t been cut a major deal on rent by her friends.

“You’re doing us a favor! This space would have just gone unused otherwise,” they had reassured her. “Plus who wouldn’t love to be neighbors with their best friend?!”

It had only been a few months since she had moved back to the city of Etheria. She and Glimmer were childhood friends before, and when Glimmer offered her a position at her non-profit Adora jumped at the opportunity to repay her friendship from the past. She really owed Glimmer a lot.

This thought reset the girl’s focus, and she dutifully got ready for bed. Tomorrow was an important day for her to start fulfilling her obligations to her friend. Glimmer and Bright Moon, the organization she'd founded, were counting on her.

***

Adora yawned as she swayed from her grip on one of the many straps hanging in the aisle of the subway car. She clutched her pleather binder to her chest with her free arm so that she wouldn’t drop it when the other passengers jostled around her.

She transferred to a bus that let her off a few blocks away from the building she was scheduled to visit. She checked the time on her mobile phone and saw she was about ten minutes early. She sighed in relief and took a second to adjust the ponytail she always wore to keep her fine yellow hair managed. It was quick and functional, just like the rest of her modest work attire. Today she had opted for a white blouse and gray slacks.

The walk was easy, and before she realized she arrived outside the vacant two-story building. It was a good size and had a large parking lot. Even with the potholes, this was a rare find compared to all the high-rises and parking garages that were springing up in the area. Adora had followed up on numerous leads before settling on this location to pitch for Bright Moon’s new children’s arts center on the south side.

Bright Moon already had an established presence in the northern neighborhoods where Glimmer had connections, but she had requested Adora’s help in expanding into new neighborhoods that didn’t have the same financial advantages that the north side had. Adora already knew the area and its unique culture. People here actually cared about community. It wasn’t as aloof as the wealthier neighborhoods where people hid in their condos and didn’t associate with one another. It was something she missed in her current life, but she was starting to find a lot of community within the Alliance team now. This sport was perfect for satiating her competitive personality and athleticism, but it also helped fill the void in her heart that yearned to belong somewhere.

Besides her strong motivation to help her best friend, Adora truly did feel a passion to succeed in improving a small part of these neighborhoods. She would have loved having an arts center nearby when she was younger - a place to be curious and playful and safe. Buoyed by her conviction, she let herself into the unlocked gate and headed inside.

Voices echoed around the corner of the hallway she was walking. Fluorescent lights whirred and flickered overhead, and there was a faint musty smell in the air. When she came upon the conversing people, she nearly doubled over in shock. Standing in front of her in a crisp black blazer and matching slacks was the Fright Zone captain who had just spurned her the night before! Her hair was pulled back in a clip that let it stay slightly messy while appearing intentional. A thin layer of eyeliner made her already captivating eyes pop. Were they two different colors? That was intriguing.

Wildcat turned and caught the other woman gaping at her. Her eyebrow raised in amusement, and she brought the newcomer to her associate’s attention.

“I think you next appointment is here, Nevan,” she interjected silkily.

Adora hurried to regain her composure and tore her attention off the derby player so she could greet the man across from her.

“Hello, I’m Adora Grayskull from Bright Moon,” she blurted out, extending her hand to shake. “I believe we spoke over the phone yesterday.”

Nevan, the real estate broker, reciprocated her introduction before finishing his existing conversation with the other woman.

“I’ll have to see to my next appointment, Catra; but I will be in touch once I have an opportunity to share your offer with the property owner. Always a pleasure doing business with the Horde.”

“Thanks, Nevan. Don’t hesitate to contact me even if it’s outside business hours. We’re eager to move forward with this process.”

Wildcat – Catra was her real name, it seemed – walked past Adora to leave. The woman threw her an arrogant smirk once her back was to the real estate agent. Their shoulders brushed slightly because Catra didn’t change course to avoid the slightly taller woman. A chill ran through Adora.

Snapping back to the task at hand, the Bright Moon representative launched into her proposal to purchase the property and convert it to a community arts center. Their offer was a reasonable price, albeit not the most competitive. She put a lot of effort into convincing the broker of the intrinsic value behind this exchange. Once she completed her presentation, she handed him copies of the materials she’d brought with her.

Nevan’s response was friendly but noncommittal. “Thank you for putting together all this information for us. I can see your perspective about the community impact and the kind of legacy the owner could be creating with this sale. However, I will let you know that we just received a much more substantial financial offer from another buyer. I’ll present both proposals to the owner, as is required; but there is a high probability this land will be developed into a new housing complex instead. That is certainly a necessity for a growing community as well.”

Adora’s pulse quickened, but she tried to keep her tone neutral as she asked, “Is there a certain style of housing complex being suggested?”

“Brand new luxury condominiums,” the broker replied jauntily.

Her stomach sank. It was just as she feared. Those condos wouldn’t be benefitting the native community here. They were reserved for people who have larger wallets and would eventually elbow the current residents out of this neighborhood. This had to be stopped.

“Thank you for letting me know,” she told him with conviction. “I’ll take this information back to my director and see if there’s anything we can add to improve our chances. Of course, please do let me know what your client has to say about our offer.”

This was turning out to be a bigger challenge than she originally expected. And what twisted bad luck that this girl who was already inexplicably hostile towards her was at the center of her work problems, too. Why did it have to be her?

***

“No way! Wildcat is trying to buy up your arts center?” Bow exclaimed from beside the track.

The Best Friend Squad were seated in a circle gearing up before practice. This was the Bright Moon representatives’ first chance to fill Bow in on the details of the day’s obstacles.

Glimmer scoffed. “No surprise somebody like that works for a corporate nightmare like the Horde.”

Adora fidgeted with her knee pads. “We don’t really know her, Glimmer. Just because she was rude to me doesn’t make her the devil. I’m a total stranger to her, and they’d just lost that scrim.”

“Very true,” Bow jumped in before his girlfriend could protest. “Her life could be a lot harder than we know.”

Their pink-haired companion brooded silently between them, reluctant to admit that they were completely right.

“Well, we can’t let them get that property, no matter what,” Glimmer finally stated. “Those condos could ruin the lives of so many families.”

Bow stroked his chin pensively. “Maybe you can get help from the local council. Start a petition, change the zoning so it can’t be used for housing? Put the property in a public status to protect it.”

Adora’s and Glimmer’s jaws dropped in unison. Glimmer’s brain caught up first, and glee took over the woman. She tackled her partner in a wild hug.

“Oh, Hunny, you’re brilliant!” she squealed.

Adora focused on lacing her skates while her best friend showered the other player in kisses. Some of the worry that was knotting in her stomach eased as she turned Bow’s suggestions over in her mind. At least she would have an idea where to start at work tomorrow. She also couldn’t help wondering more about Catra. The woman was an enigma, and there always seemed to be this layer of swagger encircling and shielding her from the rest of the world.

Standing up and stretching on her skates, she began to circle the track and warm up her various muscles. The breeze tickled her cheeks and ruffled her ponytail against her back. Some more of the day’s tension bled out of her body. At least one thing always grounded her and cleared her mind. Adora felt grateful there was practice tonight.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, they asked for a second meeting?” Lucia slammed a fist down on her desk. “I thought you said this purchase was a done deal.”

Catra’s fingers twitched tensely behind her back. Taking a breath to subdue her nerves she replied, “That was the impression Nevan gave me at our meeting yesterday, but he called this morning and said things might have changed. Apparently they got another offer from some self-righteous charity trying to turn it into a daycare or something like that. Now the seller wants to talk to us again himself.”

She watched her sister pace behind her large glass desk. A vein in her forehead was bulging furiously. It was time to rein this situation in quickly before it turned volatile for Catra.

“Let me handle it,” the subordinate continued with more assuredness than she actually felt. “I have a good relationship with Thaymor, and they’ll be present at the second meeting. This guy just needs to be reassured that his business is well-invested with the Horde.”

“As if our reputation didn’t already precede us,” the director spat venomously, but at least her anger appeared to be focused on the stranger who owned the property instead of Catra herself. “It’s a wonder how idiots like that even come to own buildings to begin with. No connection at all to the powers that actually matter in this city.”

“He’ll know soon enough,” Catra placated with a small bow.

“That he will,” came the cold reply. “Keep me informed.”

***

Back at her cubicle, Catra googled this mysterious challenger, Bright Moon. The organization’s web page revealed that they had founded a number of community centers in Etheria. She noted all the locations listed so far were in the northern neighborhoods where the wealthier residents lived. It seemed Bright Moon had set its sights on her territory now? They’ve got another thing coming, she thought derisively.

The “About” page revealed that the nonprofit was owned by, to Catra’s amazement, that glittery pink girl from the Alliance derby team.

“Sparkles…”

But did that mean? Is that why She-ra –she said her name was Adora - was meeting with Nevan yesterday? It wasn’t too much of a leap that she worked for her friend’s organization. Catra rubbed her temples in frustration. Of course she’d be the one messing with Catra’s actual life now, putting her job at risk. Spoiled north-siders never knew when to stay out of other people’s business.

Catra reflected on her encounter with the other skater yesterday. She hadn’t looked like a pretentious rich person. She just looked…nice. Her hair was in that same ponytail that she had during the scrimmage, only now a small poof above her forehead was visible with no helmet covering it. Usually Catra thought that would look extremely dorky, but with Adora it was actually kind of cute. She knew she managed to fluster the other woman for a second time when she left yesterday. It gave her a small tickle of satisfaction to know she could manipulate somebody with her words and body language.

“You’re in a good mood,” her daydreaming was interrupted by a familiar voice.

Double Trouble leaned against her desk with an amused smirk on their face. “Did somebody finally demote your sinister sister?”

Catra snickered and shook her head. “If that ever happened, I’d buy the whole floor pizza.”

She hummed pleasantly. “No, it’s not such a good day actually. I have to have a second meeting for that land I’m poaching. Apparently somebody actually thinks they can get in our way. Sis is pissed.”

“That’s unusual,” Trouble replied thoughtfully. “Well, I know they won’t last long against you, Kitten.”

“Thanks, Trouble.”

The welcome interruption reignited some of her earnestness while she prepared for the second meeting.

***

Catra pulled her Rebel into an open space in the small parking lot adjacent to Quicky Convenience. The business’s name always made her eyeroll. She entered through the main door since it was closest but headed across the front of the store towards the attached deli. On her way, a small man with familiar blond waves ducked out from an aisle of snacks.

“Oh hey, Catra,” he called pleasantly.

She waved lazily. “Hey Kyle. Your boyfriend here right now?”

At the sound of her voice, Rogelio lumbered up to the deli counter, wiping his hands on a dirty apron cinched around his waist. He cocked his head at her with a grin. The guy never spoke unless he had to; and oddly enough, he communicated just fine without speaking.

“Hey, ‘Gelio. Can I get my usual? It’s been a shitstorm of a week.”

He nodded stoically and returned to the kitchen in back. Some clattering lilted out over the sound of the rickety ceiling fans that were creaking and shaking precariously at full speed overhead. There was no air conditioning in the building, and it was always a little stuffy when she walked in. Still, it felt like visiting a relative’s house. Something about it was comforting – even if Catra would never admit something like that to these two idiots from her team. She didn’t really need to, though; because it was already understood.

Kyle, Master Grief when he was on the track, came over and sat in a matching chair at the wire frame table she’d claimed while waiting for her food. His striped button-down shirt betrayed some sweat from the morning’s work, and his tie hung a little too low over his belt. He always projected this impression of being perpetually flustered no matter what setting he was in. But that just made his friends want to look out for him, even if they teased and harassed him to oblivion while doing so.

“What’s going on with your week?” Kyle asked sincerely. “Are you still upset about the scrimmage?”

Ugh, she’d actually managed to forget about that for a couple hours. Dragging her fingers down her cheek she answered, “Maybe. But also there’s some bullshit at work. Actually, it seems like those Alliance losers might be the ones causing my bullshit at work.”

When Kyle only met her statement with dazed confusion she continued. “I ran into their captain yesterday at a new location I’m scoping, and now today I find out there’s some nonprofit trying to steal it from us.”

“Yeesh,” Kyle grimaced. “I bet your sister’s pissed.”

“Understatement of the year,” Catra groaned back. “One more setback and she’s definitely going to tear me to shreds.”

A large hand rested surprisingly gently on her shoulder. She looked up to find a sympathetic expression on Rogelio’s face as he delivered a tray with a messy sandwich covered in melted cheese. Some French fries and other assorted ingredients poked out from inside the cheesy bun.

While she ate, Kyle prattled on with random stories about interesting customers he’d encountered throughout the week. Rogelio grunted or chimed in occasionally. The hot food and easy company relieved some of Catra’s stress so that she was able to jump back into her work when she returned to the large office building.

She stayed late gathering more information for the morning’s meeting with the property owner. When she glanced at the time on her work monitor, she nearly exclaimed. She was going to be late to practice!

When Catra got back to the apartment to retrieve her gear, she saw a note from Scorpia on the counter.

Sorry we had to head out, Wildcat! Hope to see you there! – Scorpia

With an exasperated moan, Catra grabbed her gear bag lying inside her bedroom door and darted back to her motorcycle. It fucking figured this was happening. It’s just been that kind of day.

***

“Watch it, Cat!” Lonnie yelled.

The short muscular woman was sprawled backwards on the floor after Catra slammed into their wall of blockers too fast and hard. Lonnie swatted aside the hand she offered to help her up.

“What’s up with you tonight? First you miss warmups, and then you try to kill us!”

Catra’s rage boiled. Her teammate acted like she’d purposely run them all over. Sure, they were supposed to knock each other down – correctly. But Catra had misjudged her pace and hit them at the wrong moment. Her gut lurched with worry and guilt that she might have hit somebody in the spine. But apparently everyone only thought the worst of her, even when she tried. The jammer ripped the cover off her helmet and whipped it at Lonnie’s chest.

“You do it then, if you think you’re so much better!” she roared and raced off the track to where her bag was waiting.

“Trust that I will!” Lonnie shouted back from across the room. Catra could faintly hear her continue grumbling at a regular volume. “What’s her fucking deal? She just stormed off like that!”

Blinking back angry tears, Catra ripped her pads off and threw everything haphazardly into her bag. She stomped out of the warehouse and hid around back where there was a waist-high brick wall separating the walkway from a trash-filled creek. Sitting on the wall, she hugged her knees to her chest and struggled to force air into her tightening lungs. She couldn’t hold in the tears anymore and choked back the sobs wracking her body. Catra hated the way her body would hijack control in moments like this and wished she could just beat this response out of her. But this had been happening for years, and it had never worked to fight once it got this far. She rode out the tears, gasping and shaking until they eventually subsided. She realized she could once again hear the chirp of crickets and water lapping at the bricks a short distance below her bare feet. She hadn’t bothered with shoes when she stormed out of practice.

The weary woman inhaled with raspy quivering breaths and wiped a bubble of snot into her shoulder. It finally felt like she was present in her own body again. She concentrated on the coarse rub of the brick against her thighs and the light breeze ruffling her shaggy hair.

After some time, her ears pricked at the sound of a set of footsteps approaching. She remained still and refused to acknowledge the other person. A familiar voice grunted as she climbed clumsily onto the wall next to Catra. She was within reach but gave the smaller girl her personal space.

“Hey, Wildcat,” Scorpia said gently. “I hoped you’d be back here.”

Catra snorted. “That makes one person.”

“You know, we missed you in there,” her friend continued. “And Lonnie wasn’t really mad at you. I think she was a little freaked out when she fell like that. You know.”

The jammer pulled her knees up again in an attempt to hide the pain on her face.

“She acted like I meant to do it,” she hissed from behind her folded limbs.

“Nah, she doesn’t think that,” Scorpia attempted. “I mean, maybe she did at first. But she had a chance to calm down. Maybe you should try talking to her now. Clear the air?”

Catra turned her back to her roommate, curling into a tighter ball. Suddenly two big muscular arms were wrapping around her, knees and all, and squeezing tightly.

“You know I’ll always believe in you, right?”

The imprisoned girl squeaked in surprise and protest. “Personal space, Scorpia!” she yowled.

Finally Scorpia yielded to her protests and let go. Catra’s cheeks were on fire from embarrassment – and mild asphyxiation. Stupid Scorpia. But she’d never let Catra down since they met. She’s even the one who convinced Catra to move out of her house and finally feel like she had some control over her pathetic shitty life. She sighed in defeat, realizing her friend had her best interests in mind.

“Alright, Scorpia. Let’s go find Lonnie.”

***

“Geez, Cat, I’m past it now. I know you’re not that kind of asshole,” Lonnie scrunched her face over her glass of beer. “Just like, take care of yourself, okay? And if something’s up you can talk to us. We’re like family and shit.”

Catra shuffled nervously atop the bar stool next to her teammate. Fright Zone often went to the bar to hang out after practices, even on work nights.

 “Yeah, I guess,” she conceded. “It’s mostly work shit. A lot’s been riding my ass this week, and I guess it fucked with my game tonight.”

The dreaded girl bumped their shoulders. “Next time let’s do it differently.”

“Sure,” Catra agreed sheepishly.

“Alright, time for shots!” the pivot announced, slapping the counter.

***

Scorpia guided a floppy Catra into the car while Entrapta rode her motorcycle back to their apartment. The tech genius didn’t exactly have a license, but her love of machines meant she understood how to operate the bike. Plus the huskier roommate was better equipped to manage Catra’s dead weight.

The dark-haired girl swayed dizzily and belched a combination of beer and liquor into her friend’s face. The larger woman merely placed her gingerly in the backseat with a sympathetic smile.

“Sco-hic-orpia,” Catra drawled at her. “Yer the best. I’d -hic- lost without you.”

Her red-haired companion smiled. “I love you too, buddy.”

***

It was way too bright out. Catra’s head throbbed as she rode to work that morning. Anyone who tried to make eye contact with her in the office aisles was met with a tired glare. It had taken everything for her to leave her lumpy mattress that morning. But today was her meeting with the property owner. It was either face the day or lose everything. She slouched groggily into her desk chair. Slowly she gathered the files she would need for the meeting. The words threatened to bleed together on the pages.

“You’re a wreck, Kitten.”

Double Trouble slid into the space beside her. She didn’t have the energy to look up at them and merely groaned in response. A cardboard mug slid onto her desk a few inches away.

“You need this more than I do,” they said from above. “I’ll just have my assistant fetch me another one. Good luck today, Kit Cat.”

A few sips of the scorching hot liquid brought some life back to the hungover woman. The bitterness tingled on her tongue. It surprised her that Trouble drank straight black coffee. Then again, nothing ruffled them – apparently bitter drinks included. She said a silent thank you to her imperturbable friend.

***

“Catra Capitán, Acquisitions Liaison for Horde LLC,” the woman said, extending her business card to the stranger who greeted her with Nevan of Thaymor. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

The man returned her pleasantries but appeared out of place in such a formal setting. Her sister had been right. This guy was a fish out of water, in over his head trying to deal in commercial properties. Catra artfully placed her metaphorical claws in the sweaty man, articulating with precision what he saw to gain from doing business with her corporation. The process would be so easy for him. All he really needed to do was sign, and the rest would be handled separately.

“Would your plans help the people in this area?” he finally managed to ask her.

She paused at the question. Obviously the Bright Moon proposal had made some impact on him, and he actually cared about shit like that.

Thinking quickly, she replied, “Yes, it certainly would add a lot of value to this community. Many of the buildings here are poorly maintained, unappealing, and most importantly dangerous. As we make efforts to renovate property in this area, it’s going to promote more business from the residents and even visitors. The economy here will improve, and it ripples through many other facets. Housing, education, and public recognition are just a few to start. Plus, the homes here now are over-crowded. In large cities like Etheria, creating more residential housing is always a necessity.”

The owner fidgeted a bit, digesting her words. She watched his thoughts play out clearly on his face. He’d be a terrible gambler. Catra knew she was getting through to him.

“Look,” she added smoothly. “I know you also got an offer for a children’s center, is that correct? That does sound lovely too. Just remember that those children will still need a suitable place to live. And there is no shame in looking after your own interests in the process. Think about which offer will best meet your needs, too.”

That was just the right push. His expression relaxed dramatically, and their smiles grew in unison.

Nevan nodded supportively. “I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Salineas. Both offers are perfectly respectable, but you need to take your interests into consideration.”

Catra made a mental note to buy the broker a drink next time they met. They were maneuvering this seller perfectly.

The man hesitantly opened up. “You’ve made a strong case, Ms. Capitán. I’m definitely feeling more confident in this agreement than I was before. I was taught to always sleep on an important decision. So I will have Nevan give you my final decision tomorrow.”

That wasn’t exactly the response she was angling for, but she was careful not to betray any of her thoughts. She gave the owner her sweetest smile.

“Certainly, Mr. Salineas. That is an admirable business practice. I’ll eagerly await your answer. And please, you can call me Catra.”

“You represent your company well, Ms. Catra,” he declared jovially. “I hope they give you a big promotion soon.”

She chuckled politely. If only he knew how little the Horde valued her. But she was proving her worth just the same. Eventually they would all have to recognize how much she did for them, for Lucia.

 

Chapter Text

“Thank you so much. This is going to mean a lot to the community,” Adora gratefully assured the couple standing in the doorway to their apartment.

With Bow’s direction, she’d done some research and learned that she could petition the neighborhood’s board to take control of the private property. They would exercise a power called eminent domain, which argues that it benefits the community more to convert the land for public use. That would prevent the property from being bulldozed for residential housing. But she needed a minimum of 500 signatures to even bring it up for a vote. The determined young woman had been traversing the entire area since, knocking on doors and stopping strangers for signatures.

Most of the responses had been fairly positive. Once she explained the ramifications of a luxury condominium high-rise moving into their multi-generational community, people were quick to sign anything that would help prevent it. After a day and a half of pounding concrete all over the city blocks, she had nearly gotten the number of signatures she needed. She was desperate to submit the petition as soon as possible because she had already received a courtesy call from Nevan at Thaymor Real Estate. She knew the owner was planning to meet with Catra again today to learn more about the Horde’s purchase offer. What if he accepted, and she was too late? She pushed the worry from her mind. She didn’t have time to fixate on possible disasters today. She had to keep working – for the residents, for Bright Moon, and for Glimmer.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She saw a new text message from Perfuma.

Just got 10 more at this hot dog stand.

A flicker of hope arose in Adora. She was so grateful to have such good friends on her team. A few of the Alliance skaters had volunteered their help on their days off from their own jobs. She wasn’t the only one gathering signatures – which was how she was so close to their goal already. She really owed them.

Amazing! We might make it today! she hastily typed back before walking up the stairs to the next stranger’s door.

***

A bell jingled as Adora pushed open the door to The Historian, Bow’s café bookstore near the center of town. It was a popular location in the evenings and was across the street from a subway stop. At 1:30PM on a weekday it was quiet and solitary. Bow looked up from a display he was busy setting on one of the sales counters.

“Adora!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “I didn’t expect you this early. Were you in the neighborhood?”

“I was close enough,” she replied breezily. “I’ve been out trying to get these signatures. Luckily, some of the team’s been helping too. We’re nearly there.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Extremely.”

He chuckled. “Sit down, I’ll hook you up.”

“Thanks, Bow,” she said gratefully.

The blonde slumped into a plaid armchair not far away. The shop was full of plush cushions and seats for patrons to hang out and read the books while they snacked or drank coffee. It really was the perfect hangout, she thought. Bow was good at making people feel comfortable, included. He was meant to own a business like this where people gathered and enjoyed themselves.

Not too much later, Bow reappeared with a panini and some baked potato chips. There was a glass of iced tea on the tray next to them.

“My hero,” Adora sighed and dug into the meal.

The taller man ruffled his curly black fauxhawk away from his forehead and eyed her thoughtfully.

“Adora, I know this project means a lot to you, but I hope you’re taking care of yourself too. You look pretty exhausted.”

She paused before taking the next bite of this absolutely phenomenal sandwich and frowned in consideration.

“It has been busy the last few days,” she admitted. “But we’re on a time limit for this. It won’t take too much longer to get past this hurdle. Then I should be able to slow down.”

She scratched the back of her head and chuckled a little. “At least, that’s what I hope!”

Bow wasn’t completely reassured by her statement. “Well, you’re not off the hook for tonight. We both know Glimmer would have a fit.”

“Tonight? Oh! The concert,” she registered. “Of course I’ll be at your event, Bow. I wouldn’t miss it.”

His hands nested on his hips and he smirked. “It’ll be good for you to relax and have fun.”

“Right,” Adora echoed, her attention drifting.

An event surrounded by strangers, flashing lights, and competing noises wasn’t exactly what she would classify as relaxing, but she couldn’t imagine letting down her sweetest friend. Even though she met him through Glimmer – like all the rest of her friends, now that she thought about it – Bow had quickly become one of her closest confidantes. He was encouraging, insightful, and tried not to judge anybody else. He was the perfect match to Glimmer, who could sometimes be stubborn and impulsive. Her heart was pure, though; and she was a loyal friend. She had definitely proved that to Adora throughout their lives. She loved both her best friends so much.

As the woman finished up her late lunch, Bow reminded her when they were leaving their apartment that night if she wanted to carpool to the show. She assured him she wouldn’t forget and set back to her duty of collecting signatures.

Just before the council’s public office space closed for the day at 5PM, she submitted all 500 signatures and heaved a huge sigh of relief. Maybe she could actually enjoy the evening after all.

***

Catra was about to shut down her work computer for the day when her cell rang. It was Nevan from Thaymor Real Estate, but she wasn’t expecting his call until tomorrow. Something wasn’t right.

“This is Catra,” she answered promptly.

“Catra, glad I caught you,” Nevan said. “There’s something new I wanted to warn you about.”

That word. Warn. Her stomach did a somersault, but she waited for him to continue.

“Bright Moon just dropped off a petition to convert the property to public land. All sales have been put on hold until the residential board can review the case and make a decision. You’ll want to present your side of the situation. Have your legal team reach out to us and the board’s office directly.”

Catra inhaled with a shocked hiss.

“It surprised me too. Somehow they managed to scrape together the 500 signatures needed to bring a petition to the table – in only two days. Can you believe that?”

Considering who was behind a move like this, Catra was starting to think she could. Her nails dug into her leg. She was squeezing her knee with all her strength to prevent her fury from spilling out of her lips instead. This wasn’t the time or place. Nevan was still trying to be her ally in this situation.

“Thanks for the heads up,” she replied once she felt she had enough control over her emotions to speak. “I’ll get our people on this tonight.”

“Any time. You’re one of our best clients, after all.”

After the line clicked, she furiously typed a text to Double Trouble.

Looks like I need you, after all.

Her phone rang a few breaths later.

“Trouble.”
“What’s wrong, Kit Cat?”

“They filled out a fucking petition. I need you to take them down in front of the neighborhood board.”

“Juicy,” they replied silkily. “That definitely throws a wrench in your sister’s schedule, but don’t worry, Kitten. This will be child’s play for my team. We’ll still get our prize. Let me get a few balls rolling tonight so Sissy Meanest doesn’t blow her top in the morning.”

“Thanks, I owe you,” Catra sighed with some relief.

“Don’t wait up for me,” Double Trouble sang before ending the call.

It still took her a while to will her legs to carry her out of her cubicle and go home. This was way more than she needed to deal with right now. Fuck that damned Bright Moon. Fuck Sparkles. Fuck Adora.

***

“You mean the same week the Alliance and their captain beat you in derby they also interfered with your work at the Horde? Fascinating.”

Scorpia noticed Catra’s anger bubbling under the surface and cut off Entrapta before she could continue making oblivious commentary about their friend’s difficulties.

“That’s okay, Wildcat!” she interrupted nervously. “You already said Double Trouble’s handing it, and they’re the best lawyer money can buy!”

The shorter woman’s shoulders lowered a bit at the reassurance. That was Scorpia’s cue to plow forward.

“You know what? We should do something fun tonight, as the Super Pal Trio! The three of us haven’t been out in ages!”

“Scorpia, we go out three times a week,” Catra cut in dryly.

“Oh, practice doesn’t count, silly,” the red-haired woman retorted. “Look. There’s a band playing at this coffee shop. Let’s go to that. It’ll be nice!”

“An opportunity to observe new social interactions,” Entrapta mused from behind her laptop across the room. “Perhaps this would be a beneficial experience.”

“That’s the spirit,” said a bolstered Scorpia. “There should also be free snacks!”

The purple-haired girl squealed in delight. “Do you think there’ll be tiny snacks?!”

“Ha ha, maybe,” the other woman chuckled. “So what do you say, Catra?”

The shorter woman groaned plaintively. “Do I have a choice?” she finally muttered.

“Absolutely not!” her friend shouted gleefully and lifted her off her feet in a crushing hug. Catra hissed in response.

***

Adora stood shuffling her weight from one foot to another in the bookstore. A small stage was set up over on the café portion of the business, and a modest group of people had already gathered. They made conversation with drinks in hand as they waited for the set to begin. She felt a little nervous in the unfamiliar setting. She’d been to a few shows with Glimmer and Bow over the past few months, and she usually enjoyed them once the music started. She just hadn’t figured out what to do during the time before when she was expected to contribute to the entertainment by talking.

For an added layer of awkwardness, Glimmer had insisted on helping dress her for the event. They’d compromised in the end. Adora agreed to wear a dress as long as Glimmer found one that wasn’t too over-the-top. The result was a loose linen dress that dipped in a modest v-shaped neckline but had fluttery sleeves that let her arms wave freely. The burgundy garment billowed over the belt cinching her waist before the rest flowed easily to her knees. It did feel pretty without drawing unwanted attention, and it was comfortable to move in. She drew a hard line at high heels and instead wore a pair of her own worn-in boots that hadn’t clashed too horribly with the rest of the ensemble. And nobody could negotiate the ponytail.

Glimmer hurried up to her with two drinks in hand. The low lights in the room bounced off the sparkling beads that were stitched all over her purple crop top and matching skirt. She handed one glass to Adora excitedly.

“Let’s move closer,” she gestured. “Bow said they’re about to start.”

Adora followed her shorter friend and took a few deep draws of her mixed drink. Finally, she convinced her body and mind to relax a bit. The lights dimmed, and the crowd gave an eager cheer.

***

The “Super Pal Trio” arrived late to the concert. A local electro-pop group that had a decent following was on stage at the back of the coffee shop that was apparently also a bookstore. The shelves had been cordoned off so the concert-goers couldn’t wander around the merchandise. Catra regretted choosing the leather jacket when she felt how warm it was inside the venue. At least it was sleeveless, but it still made her chest feel somewhat restricted. She’d paired the jacket with ripped leggings and some combat boots. Scorpia hadn’t really told her what sort of band they were going to see, but it was what she felt comfortable in.

Entrapta immediately cackled and raced to the tables lined with food samples, which earned another eyeroll from Catra. She accompanied Scorpia to the drinks line, which was short because most people were by the active stage at this point. Her eyes wandered the crowd casually, but then she spotted them.

“You have got to be kidding me,” she growled.

“What’s that, Wildcat? Here’s your drink.”

Catra snatched the glass that was handed to her and chugged it down.

“Uh, you alright, Catra?”

“That fucking girl’s here!” Catra shouted over the music.

Her taller friend followed Catra’s outstretched finger and started. “Oh, wow! This is getting a little too crazy, don’t you think?”

The other woman’s shoulders shook with annoyance.

“Hey,” Scorpia interjected. “Maybe this is like a sign or something.”

When her friend looked more confused than irritated, she continued. “Maybe the universe or whatever is saying you should get to know this girl. I mean, you did run into her like three times this week. Maybe she’s not as bad as you think! Ooo, you should talk to her here!”

“What?!” Catra screeched. “I’d rather die.”

She turned and ordered another drink. “Come on, let’s just watch the stupid show already,” she muttered.

Scorpia shrugged about her rejected suggestion and followed. Entrapta checked in a couple times to ask the one who planned their outing various questions about the band or the crowd’s behavior. Then she would vanish again, no doubt to line her overalls pockets with more tiny food. Catra had emptied the second drink and was feeling much livelier. Her body subconsciously bounced along to the music, and eventually a mischievous grin spread across her face.

“You know what, Scorpia?” she said over the current song. “I think I’ll try your little plan after all. Maybe I can use this to my advantage to win that property. Like you said, it’s fate, right?”

“That’s not what I-” her friend tried to intervene, but Catra had already walked away. “Oh dear.”

***

“Hey, Adora,” Catra purred close enough for the Alliance jammer to hear over the music, which was louder over here than where she’d been watching with Scorpia.

The blonde woman jumped and turned to see who’d spoken her name.

“Catra?” she asked incredulously.

Hm, it seemed she bothered to remember Catra’s name when they crossed paths the other day too. Why did that fact send a tiny surge of warmth through her? Shaking the thought aside, she leaned closer.

“Care to dance, Princess?” she offered her hand with a smirk.

Adora eyed her a moment. “You’re teasing me, right?”

“So rude,” the dark-haired woman replied airily. “I guess I should have just asked somebody else.”

When she pretended to scan the room for another dance partner, she heard the blonde girl growl before grabbing her hand and leading her away. The casual touch sent a spark up Catra’s arm and made her stomach do a quick flip. The woman from her rival team firmly took hold of her shoulders and forced their eyes to meet.

“It’s hard to read you,” she began, then deliberately unfurrowed her brows. “I’d like to dance, but it didn’t seem like you would want to.”

Her honesty slapped Catra out of her train of thought, which had been plotting the best way to manipulate this girl to stop fucking up her whole life. Looking away nervously, she struggled to put together a snarky response.

“It’s not polite to make assumptions,” she settled on saying.

Adora’s penetrating gaze didn’t waver. It was as if she was trying to literally read Catra’s mind. What was up with her? Searching for anything else to look at, the Fright Zone player took in her rival’s current attire. She was dressy but not in an overly flashy way. The dress looked comfortable and hinted at the toned shoulders that barely peaked out from its open neck. Her arms were firm and smooth – her legs even more so. The boots…didn’t quite match the rest but humorously seemed like the one piece that actually reflected the girl’s personality. She seemed a little stiff in the probably borrowed clothing. Catra had liked the dress – it was flattering – but she found she liked the broken-in boots more.

“I thought you might’ve already assumed something about me that you didn’t like,” Adora finally interrupted her wandering thoughts. The girl bit her lip nervously.

Wait, Catra was supposed to be strategizing, not daydreaming about stupid boots. Hold on. Adora said Catra made assumptions? Having a conversation was a little trickier with alcohol.

“Like what, Princess?” she blurted instead of choosing her words carefully.

“Like that I’m a princess,” the blonde woman frowned. “I’ve never been that.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You’re the star player of the elite Alliance team. What’s with your name anyways?”

“What’s with ‘Adora’?”

“No, no. The derby name: She-ra.”

“Oh.” Realization set in. The taller girl paused and considered whether it was safe to divulge her reason to her would-be enemy. Wishful thinking won out. “As a kid I always loved super heroes. It was my biggest dream to become like them someday. They always find the right thing to do, and people can depend on them to help. Since I’m a woman, I decided to do a feminine play on the word ‘Hero.’ Instead of He-ro, I’m She-ra.”

She fidgeted as if bracing for Catra to make fun of her, which made the taunt fade before it reached her lips. Adora risked a glance and visibly relaxed when she discovered Catra wasn’t even suppressing a snicker. It was like seeing the real, honest Adora for the first time. She was innocent and beautiful. Without noticing earlier, Catra realized they were already swaying slightly to the song she completely forgot was playing. It felt nice, just her and this kind-of-silly but endearing stranger.

It took a moment, but Catra’s real brain finally kicked back in. She was supposed to be fixing her property buying situation.

“Hey,” she cut in bluntly. “Why are you trying to get me fired?”

The other woman looked stunned. “Get you fired?”

“Duh. You blocked my sale with a petition?”

Adora seemed genuinely remorseful, which only annoyed Catra more. “I didn’t – obviously I couldn’t have known your job would be at risk. I was just doing my job, helping the community and my friend.”

The shorter girl snorted. “Princess She-ra saving the day by giving kids a painting class.”

“Hey!” Adora’s voice hardened with indignation. “That center would be a huge resource for children who don’t have anywhere else to go. And I couldn’t let all those people get bullied out of their homes by some condo!”

What sucked was she wasn’t wrong – about any of it. But Catra was too stubborn to back down from her accusations.

“Sure, whatever you say.”

Catra turned to leave, but a strong hand grabbed hold of her wrist. It was gentle enough to avoid hurting her, though. There was only enough power behind the grip to request that she stay. She looked back into those flashing blue eyes, and the air caught in her throat.

“Please,” Adora began mildly. “Let’s talk about something else.”

Catra shifted awkwardly, but her opportunity to make a grand exit had already passed.

“Or less talking, if you want,” the girl offered quickly. It was annoying how much she was trying.

With a sigh, Catra spun back to face her apparent dance partner. She was too frustrated to push any other topics; so they danced silently a while. Her brain got fuzzier as her drinks from earlier were coaxing her towards sleeping soon. She had never been a heavyweight when it came to alcohol, which could be inconvenient at times. This was definitely one of those times.

Catra’s fuzzy brain liked the way those powerful arms lightly circled her neck with their warmth. Her fuzzy brain also edged closer because Adora’s perfume smelled nice. Her fuzzy brain even reached out and brushed a stray wisp of blonde hair out of the girl’s face with a smile. And it wasn’t the cocky smirk that sober Catra would have chosen to stay in control of the situation. She wasn’t sure what Fuzzy Brain was up to anymore, but luckily Scorpia came over to say they needed to go since she taught a morning class at the gym on Saturdays. Fuzzy Brain tried not to leave, but Scorpia wouldn’t be beaten that easily. Her beautiful blonde enemy faded farther and farther away as they left.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

“Sure, whatever you say.”

Adora’s heart sank as the woman she’d been dancing with turned to leave. Panicking, she reached for the other’s wrist without actually registering what she was doing. Oh no, that was probably too far, she thought with dread. But Catra merely stared down at her restrained arm, where Adora’s hand had frozen instead of letting go. She needed to say something now that she’d already come this far.

“Please,” she tried tentatively. “Let’s talk about something else.”

The other woman just continued to stare blankly. Adora had no idea what was running through her mind, but she hadn’t left, right?

“Or– or less talking, if you want,” she sputtered on, unsure which option would suit her companion best.

Catra sighed deeply, and Adora thought she heard her mumble, “Whatever.” But the attractive woman turned back toward her and resumed their dance posture.

Wow, that actually worked. Some of the hope that had threatened to be crushed entirely just moments ago began to grow inside her again. Maybe her instincts regarding this mysterious acquaintance weren’t completely wrong.

Adora kept her mouth shut, worried she might accidentally say the wrong thing again, and that she wouldn’t be able to persuade the short-tempered woman to stay a second time. To her surprise, however, the Horde representative seemed to relax quite a bit as they danced. Admittedly she did seem a bit drunk, and Adora wondered how much of any of her behavior tonight was a result of that. It made her uncomfortable, considering her only other verbal exchange with Catra had gone so poorly. How could she know if Catra actually wanted to be here, standing this close to her? Actually, had she gotten closer? The taller girl felt the heat rise in her cheeks once she made that realization. There was definitely more surface area of their bodies touching than before.

“You smell nice,” the other slurred, and her leather jacket skritched as she leaned her face in towards Adora’s neck.

Okay, it was definitely getting extremely warm in this room. “Uh, thank you,” she replied, finding it difficult to hide how flustered she felt.

Catra reached up a hand, her nails painted a prominent black, and brushed aside a few strands of hair that had escaped from Adora’s ponytail and fallen against her cheek. The gesture was surprisingly tender, and she felt her ear burn red from the touch as the yellow whisps were tucked behind it. The blonde was completely overstimulated at this point. Her heart raced a million miles per second. The placid expression on the other girl’s face was only intensifying her buzzing feelings, but she also couldn’t bring herself to break away their eye contact.

An eternity or possibly only a few seconds later, an idea occurred to her. She wanted to be able to communicate with Catra when she was sober again.  The Alliance skater edged them both closer to one of the snack tables, where she grabbed a napkin and a pen from a Historian mailing list sign-up sheet. Quickly scrawling the digits to her mobile number, she slid the napkin into a pocket of the other girl’s jacket with a silent wish.

That was when a much larger woman approached them, saying something to Catra about having to leave. The smaller girl made up a few ridiculous arguments intermingled with some escaping giggles. Her friend seemed embarrassed, which confirmed for the Bright Moon employee that this was probably uncharacteristic behavior for her.

“You’ll get her home okay?” Adora asked with concern.

This elicited a smile from the burly woman. “Don’t worry,” she belted with a laugh. “This isn’t my first round with a drunk Wildcat.”

The blonde managed a tight grin in return. “Alright. Take care, both of you.”

“You’re so sweet,” Scorpia beamed.

YEAH she is,” Catra slurred from her friend’s shoulder which was now supporting her.

Adora blushed.

“See you soon, I hope!” the friend called while dragging the other girl away.

The jammer shyly made her way back to her friends but found they were dancing very intimately near the stage. She waited from a distance until the song finished before she cut into their time together. When Glimmer spotted her, she raised a questioning eyebrow.

That was unexpected.”

Adora looked down at her own feet and hoped her cheeks didn’t appear too red in the dim lighting.

“It was…nice,” she replied.

Her friend’s expression softened a bit. “That’s good,” she said sincerely. “Did she apologize for the other night?”

The blonde fidgeted her fingers around the bottom seam of her dress. “Actually, no. But the children’s center did come up. I guess that’s giving her a really hard time at work…”

Glimmer tried to be more tactful than she’d been about the Fright Zone captain the last time. However it’d happened, her friend obviously seemed to care about her. “Well, you can’t really control that, right? Don’t blame yourself for how a company like that treats their employees.”

Adora’s expression said that she wasn’t completely convinced, but she responded, “Yea, I guess you’re right. I tried to explain why it was so important, but she didn’t really want to talk about that tonight.”

“It could be a sensitive topic,” the pink-haired girl assented.

The set came to an end, and the Best Friend Squad worked together with a few of Bow’s employees to clear up after. While her body was set to task with idle cleaning, Adora’s mind wandered back to the more exciting part of the night. Catra had actually said more than one complimentary thing about her. Was she like that around anyone when she was that drunk, or were those words reserved specifically for Adora? She was anxious for an opportunity to find out after the rival jammer recovered. It was getting much harder to deny how attractive she found her. The ripped leggings she had on tonight highlighted the curves of her hips and hinted at what she might see underneath. Flustered, she swept that section of floor more furiously as if to banish the thought from her mind.

***

Saturday dragged by, and Adora continuously checked her phone, only to find there were no new notifications. Every time she made the same discovery yet again, she groaned in frustration with herself for imagining what she wanted but didn’t actually exist.

Later in the day she went with her friends to a cookout hosted by one of the Alliance teammates. They lived on a quiet cul-de-sac near the suburbs, and everyone brought their skates to take advantage of the freshly laid asphalt and lack of parked cars in the road. Someone set up a stereo with music, creating a private outdoor roller rink for the partygoers. The jammer was finally able to keep her mind busy for a while during the festivities; but as the evening wore on, she found herself checking the lifeless mobile device again.

“Are you like expecting a call or something?” a monotone voice interrupted her brooding.

Mermista and her boyfriend had wandered over to discover the blonde fixated with her phone. They were a few years older and seemed way more laid back in comparison to Adora’s restless intensity. She admired that and felt a little envious. They had always been polite towards her, which she appreciated.

Biting her lip, Adora answered, “Not exactly. I tried giving somebody my number yesterday, but I’m not sure they actually want to talk to me.”

“How debonair!” Sea Hawk (his actual name was Jordan, but he always preferred to go by his derby name because it matched his girlfriend) exclaimed. “Is this a love interest?”

Her cheeks instantly caught fire, spreading all the way out to her ears. “Uh, probably not.”

“Sea Hawk,” the older girl groaned. “You’re totally embarrassing her. Ignore him, Adora. He’s an idiot.”

“I beg your pardon, dearest,” he protested dramatically. “I was only supporting Adora’s romantic overtures! That’s what good friends do.”

She dragged her fingers through her dark bangs. “How are you so annoying? You don’t just put somebody on the spot like that.”

Adora chuckled sheepishly as the center of their argument. “It’s no big deal, really.”

Mermista paused from mussing Sea Hawk’s hair into his face. “Well, whoever it is must be pretty lame because anyone would die to talk to you. You’re like, super cool.”

The younger woman’s heart swelled to receive such a compliment from somebody she respected. “Aw, thanks Mermista. Sea Hawk, you too. I probably just need to give up while I’m ahead.”

“Come play this game with us,” the muscular girl encouraged. “We actually needed one more on our team.”

“To ADVENTURE!” her boyfriend chimed in as they each took one of Adora’s arms and led her away.

***

Sunday was as excruciatingly long as Saturday had been – only without any events in the evening to distract Adora from her wild speculations. She slept fitfully that night.

“You’re such a spoiled Princess. Are you trying to get me fired?”

“Adora! Why didn’t you come?”

“You can’t blame yourself.”

“She was waiting outside for her friend, and that’s when they attacked her.”

“I needed you!”

I didn’t mean it. I would have never let that happen if I’d known. How could I have known? I should have known. I should have known.

Adora jumped out of her nightmares, drenched in sweat. She panted in pace with her frantic heartbeat. It had been a while since she dreamed about that day; although it was never far from her thoughts while she was awake. She cradled her head in her hands and sobbed quietly. How could she ever erase guilt that great? She would be atoning for that day the rest of her life. She had to do everything in her power to make up for her devastating failure. Even then, she’d likely never forgive herself.

***

“Adora, thank goodness you’re here,” Glimmer rushed towards her when she arrived at Bright Moon’s main office.

“What’s going on?” She had a bad feeling, as if her nightmares had been foreshadowing whatever unpleasant news her friend was about to reveal.

“The Horde’s legal team just faxed us a pile of paperwork. They’re fighting back against your petition.”

That was the bomb she’d been waiting to drop all weekend long. With a pang, she couldn’t help wondering whether Catra had been involved or if this move was out of her hands.

Glimmer nudged her shoulder, and she realized guiltily that her friend had transitioned from disconcerted about the situation to worried for her. “Adora, hey. We’re gonna be okay. The next thing I was going to say is that you should give Netossa a call. See if she can help us out.”

That’s right. Their teammate ran a law firm with her wife. They both played for the Alliance; although Netossa socialized with the Best Friend Squad a little more often.

“Good idea,” the taller friend gulped, trying to recover some composure. “I’ll do that now.”

***

“Yea, send me a copy of their fax. I’m sure I can represent you guys. We’ll get started on a rebuttal today.”

“You have no idea how grateful we are,” Adora breathed into the mouthpiece of the phone.

“Don’t sweat it, kid. We deal with this all the time. Leave it to me.”

After she scanned all the paperwork to Netossa’s business email, she leaned back in her wheeled desk chair with a sigh. What a way to start the week. She thought submitting a petition in only two days had been stressful, but this was ten times worse. The only bright spot during that period was the concert at the Historian, but Adora couldn’t be sure if that wasn’t actually going to be another wound her heart would need to heal from. If Catra was behind this attack against her mission for the community, that more than canceled out a random night of intoxicated flirting. Considering the cagey woman hadn’t responded to her note all weekend, she didn’t feel very hopeful that her feelings were reciprocated.

Chapter Text

Two Weeks Later

Catra paced anxiously in Double Trouble’s private office, the advisor watching her serenely from behind their desk. Their hands steepled in front of their chin in quiet study. Trouble was pristinely dressed as always – a freshly ironed designer suit, diamond cufflinks, and white hair set in its unwavering pompadour. The acquisitions liaison was also showcasing some of her best attire today, in light of the neighborhood board meeting that was taking place in a few short hours. That night the board would be discussing the outcome of the property the Horde needed for their condo development.

At her colleague’s recommendation, Catra had chosen a more neutral stone colored suit with white blouse underneath. The lighter tones would be less menacing than her preferred black wardrobe. Her hair was mostly subdued in a bun at the back of her head. She’d removed the black nail polish that morning, which made her hands feel uncomfortably naked. But it was a small price to pay to ensure victory.

“Okay, run me through it one more time,” she said.

The attorney gestured with their hand as they spoke. “It’s quite simple, actually. Those Bright Moon rookies thought they could take over the territory using eminent domain. But they aren’t offering anywhere near enough compensation compared to what we could make through the condominium profits. Not to mention, they have no right to take the land away if there are other options.”

They patted the stack of papers on their desk with a wry grin. “And I found plenty of alternatives. Of course, they’re much pricier and not in as prime of a location. I can see why they had their hearts set on this one.”

Yea, that’s why I chose it too, Catra thought grimly.

“But no matter,” they continued, a pleasant lilt in their voice. “I’ll present my arguments and supporting evidence, the proposal will get dropped, and Bright Moon will only be able to cry about it. You can just sit back and enjoy the show.”

“I hope you’re right,” the anxious woman replied. “There’s no way they could get around these rules or whatever?”

“Not that I can see. Our case is pretty watertight. And obviously this isn’t my first time at this.”

She willed herself to stop pacing and breathed in deeply to relieve some of her bristling tension. “Okay. I trust you.”

***

Catra strode into the large meeting room of the municipal hall alongside Double Trouble. Her set jaw betrayed none of the roiling uneasiness she felt inside. One thing she’d learned long ago was to hide any weakness when facing an enemy. She was here to do a job, and all her energy was hyper-focused on accomplishing that task. Failure was not an option tonight.

“Wildcat!” an outburst poorly disguised as a whisper came from somewhere to her right and interrupted her thoughts.

Scorpia and Entrapta had taken a couple seats on the side of the room the Horde was designated to speak from. The taller woman was waving excitedly. To her surprise, Entrapta actually hadn’t smuggled in her goggles after Catra’s 10-minute telephone argument with her shortly before the meeting. The tech wizard was not convinced that they would attract unwanted attention and be inappropriate in a setting like this. Still, she’d humored Catra’s request. The corner of her lip curled up a tiny bit at that discovery.

The two Horde representatives settled behind a table and chairs at the front of the room, Trouble’s documents organized and readily available. Movement from the opposite side of the walkway caught her eye. A sharp-dressed woman with a voluminous white fauxhawk that spilled down to her right shoulder was mirroring their preparations at her own table. She was all business and reeked of lawyer. Next to her, looking uncomfortable and out of place, was none other than Adora. Tonight she was wearing a modest peach dress with quarter-length sleeves. Their eyes met, and the girl’s expression changed from distracted to pained. Catra’s stomach coiled guiltily; which annoyed her because there wasn’t any reason for her to feel guilty. What right did Adora have to look at her like that? The dark-haired woman looked away first and pretended to clarify something with her colleague.

Their business wasn’t first on the meeting’s agenda; so they had to sit and languish through all the other monotonous discussions before it was their turn to present. The Bright Moon side opened first with some warm and fuzzy sob story about how the children needed this property. The way the attorney wove her words together was impressive, though. Catra thought she might have been a good choice to represent the Horde if they didn’t already have Double Trouble’s talents at their disposal. After the woman returned to her seat, it was their turn to speak.

Double Trouble regally stepped to the front of their table and recited their rebuttal with all the conviction and punctuated feeling of a Broadway performer. They really were the best legal representation money could buy. Catra resisted smirking, which might have compromised the impression she needed to make with this neighborhood board. She did, however, steal a glance at the Bright Moon table. The blonde girl was biting her lip, eyes clearly mesmerized by the legal director’s presentation. Not looking too good now, is it, Adora? she thought with bitter satisfaction.

The Bright Moon lawyer was no rookie. She brought a lot of evidence to the platform and never seemed ruffled by the Horde’s counter-arguments. However, as Catra watched the expressions and body language of the people they had to convince, it gradually became more apparent the majority of the leaders were favoring their side. Trouble had been right. Their position was rock solid. When it was finally placed to the vote, 9 out of 10 board members sided in favor of the Horde. The chairman clacked his gavel and stamped the verdict on some official paperwork.

That was it. They’d won. Catra finally allowed her shoulders to relax a bit and breathed out a deep sigh from her seat. Trouble signaled her to accompany them up to the board table. They shook each member’s hand and offered their gratitude. She observed the Bright Moon team doing the same a few strides behind them. Suddenly she itched to say something to gloat over her victory and dispel all the dreaded suspense that had been eating her alive the past few weeks. Once they were out of earshot of the officials, Catra bridged the space between herself and her rival.

“Well, I guess all that trouble was for nothing in the end, huh Princess?” she snarked.

The other woman hit her with a ferocious glare. “How can you be so despicable?” she spat.

That was a strong reaction. Catra almost faltered but smoothed her features in time. “Despicable? That’s pretty dramatic, don’t you think? Or did you forget my job was at stake here?”

She hadn’t noticed until now, but there were actually tears welling in the girl’s sky blue eyes.

“I get that you were doing your job, but it’s how you go out of your way, and even seem to enjoy, rubbing it in! You treat me – us – like your enemy. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when you ignored my note after the concert. But this definitely confirmed how you really feel about me. Message fucking received. Hopefully we can stop meeting like this now.”

Adora stormed off to find her attorney and leave. Catra was left in stunned silence. What the hell was she talking about? Something about a note? How Catra felt about her? That definitely gave the impression that she felt something about Catra. Her stomach drooped. And whatever those feelings had been, they definitely just went up in flames a few seconds ago. Why did that revelation make her feel like she’d lost something? Could she actually be disappointed about poisoning her brief and fleeting connection with the rival skater?

***

Back at the apartment, Catra shrugged off the congratulations of her roommates and retired to the solitude of her bedroom. She caught sight of the outfit she’d worn to the coffeeshop event strewn amidst the rest of her dirty clothes on the floor. Something compelled her to pick up the jacket, remembering gloomily the reassuring weight of two arms draped over its collar. A flicker of white peeking out from one of its pockets caught her eye. She pulled it out to examine it properly, and her heart sank. On a battered napkin square there was a message hastily scribbled in small, slightly slanted curves.

Let’s talk later

394-128-3098

She reverently placed the napkin on her bedside table and sank stiffly into the mattress. That was the note Adora was talking about. She thought Catra knew about it and purposely didn’t contact her. That Catra’d been leading her on and purposely hurt her feelings just to get her way. Hadn’t she though? The truth in that statement stung.

Maybe I am despicable…

She couldn’t get the images out of her mind – the purity of the girl’s smile when she felt safe enough to open up about her interests, the mischievous glint in her eyes when she lined up next to Catra at the jam line, and her complete revulsion towards the Horde agent just a couple hours ago. She curled her body into a tight ball and let out a soft whimper. Other memories began intruding too.

Catra’s mother stumbled into her bedroom and collided with Catra’s dresser. A few figurines and other decorations clattered from the top at the impact. The woman’s dilated pupils were distant, set in a gaunt face. Her right arm was pockmarked with scars. The veins in that limb had been blown out for some time now, and new marks were making a home on the remaining arm.

“You’ve gotta hide me,” the woman slurred without recognizing that she was speaking to her own daughter. “They’re at the door. I heard them.”

Catra sighed and led her by the arm towards her closet. There were already a few pillows and a blanket nestled in one half since this was a fairly common occurrence anymore. Her mother gratefully sat on the floor inside and pulled the blanket over her head.

~~~

“You’re such a fucking idiot!”

“Why do you hate me so much?!”

“You let Mom hide in your closet all the time like a total weirdo!”

At that a traumatized woman burst out from behind the closet door, hair askew and eyes darting wildly. In one hand she held a stiletto heel from a pair that Catra never wore and forgot were even buried in her closet. Her mother waved the pointed end around like a shiv to indicate that she wanted both teenage girls to keep their distance. It was clear she didn’t recognize them again.

“Mom!” Catra pleaded. “It’s just us. We’re not going to hurt you.”

“You can’t take me! I don’t wanna go!” she croaked back. “I know who you really are – who you work for!”

She launched for the smaller girl, likely because she was the one who’d spoken to her. Catra winced and looked away instinctively, but her body couldn’t understand to move to safety in time. At the last possible second, a dark blur shoved her to the ground, and she heard a garbled yell above her. Her older sister was wrestling with their hallucinating parent, fighting to claw the weapon from her hands. Their mother’s eyes were wide with unadulterated terror, and she was wrestling as though her life depended on it. Catra sobbed and prayed neither of them would get hurt.

The pair tumbled over the corner of Catra’s twin bed and pitched onto the floor. The one glimmer of hope was that the shoe clattered away from them. The younger daughter frantically scurried on hands and knees toward the discarded object and clutched it in her arms. She bounded out of the room to look for the phone. She had to call for help before something worse happened.

“Get back here!” her mother garbled through entangled limbs from the other room. “You can’t lead them back to me!”

The teen grabbed the landline off the receiver and pressed those three specific numbers. The line connected immediately.

“9-1-1, state your emergency.”

“Help!” she wheezed. “My mom, she doesn’t understand. She’s trying to hurt us! You’ve gotta help Lucia!”

***

Adora couldn’t face her flatmates after the board meeting. She sent Glimmer the devastating news of her failure by text and locked herself in her apartment to hide from the world.

We’ll figure it out. We always do, right? Glimmer’s reply flashed on her phone screen in the dark. A second text arrived shortly after.

Do you want to talk about it?

The blonde girl sighed and clicked open the messenger.

Adora:

I think I’d rather be alone right now.

I’m so sorry…

For letting you down

Glimmer:

Don’t be ridiculous

You didn’t let me down

Try to take it easy on yourself

I’m here if you need anything

She locked the screen and set the phone down on her bedside table. She burrowed face-down into her pillow. Finally, there was nobody around for her to need to pretend, and the tears were allowed to come.

They kept coming until she finally collapsed from exhaustion a few hours later. Then sadness gave way to fear and pain when the nightmares claimed what little peace she had left.

She dreamed of running. No matter how hard and far she pushed her legs, she never got any closer to her destination. She was running out of time. If she didn’t make it, the bad thing would happen. She had to be there this time.

Then there was the girl from the rival roller derby team. She laughed derisively while Adora kept struggling to move.

“How could you actually believe I’d be interested in you?” she sneered. “You’re such a disappointment.”

“I’m trying!” Adora shouted back with a sob. “So hard…”

“You’ll never be good enough,” the scathing woman leaned forward to breathe in her ear. “I know it. You know it. And Glimmer knows it. Everyone knows.”

“No!” the real yell startled Adora out of the nightmare. She shivered on top of her blankets. She’d passed out earlier without actually getting into the bed. She lay there the rest of the night, but her mind wouldn’t calm enough for sleep to resume.

***

Adora avoided Glimmer at work the next day. Luckily, the director had multiple meetings scheduled and was busy herself. They carpooled to practice along with Bow, as usual. Adora rode in the backseat and let the other two chatter about random small talk in the front. Whenever they’d glance at her she’d force a weak smile and try to appear her usual self.

She felt lackluster during the warmup drills. Her mind was elsewhere, and her body didn’t have the motivation. Finally, in a partner drill, Glimmer cornered her. The goal of the drill was to constantly vie for position in the front while also trying to hold their partner back behind them. As a pivot blocker, Glimmer was more effective at the blocking portions in the front. Still, Adora was the star jammer on their team. When the shorter player repeatedly outmaneuvered her captain, it was obvious something wasn’t right.

“Adora,” she began earnestly. “It’s okay to be upset about what happened yesterday. I am, too. But I hope you understand that I don’t blame you.”

“Maybe you should,” the taller girl muttered while trapped behind her shoulder.

Glimmer flipped around so they were facing one another but didn’t give up her forward position.

“I’m serious, Adora. This isn’t your responsibility. You did everything you could. They just won this time.”

Her friend was avoiding eye contact, bottom lip clamped between her teeth. The nervous habit was one of her easiest tells. Glimmer gave up on the exercise and squeezed both the girl’s shoulders instead.

“Look at me.”

Reluctantly, blue eyes drifted up to meet her pink ones.

“You’re my best friend,” she said with a consoling smile. “I know you, and you work harder than anyone else I’ve ever met. I watched you do everything that could have possibly been done. You definitely did better than I could have. There’s no way I would have gotten all those signatures in time! Adora, you were amazing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The jammer collapsed into her for a tight hug. She returned the squeeze and rubbed one of Adora’s shoulders, which quivered slightly.

“I’m here,” she cooed over her friend’s hunched back.

A few feet away, Bow and Perfuma were partnered for the same exercise. They quietly rolled over and added their bodies to the lopsided embrace.

“You’re not alone, Adora.” Bow offered, having overheard some of his girlfriend’s comments.

Perfuma chimed in. “We’re all here to help. We are our best selves when we support one another.”

They backed away to offer space when their captain was finally ready to move. She wiped her eyes with a section of forearm that was only mildly sweaty. Sniffling and bleary-eyed, she grinned at the circle of friends.

“Thanks, you guys. You really are the best.”

The rest of practice, Adora felt free to push her body and savor the rush of endorphins that came from exerting herself. It was nice to feel in control of something again. These were skills she knew and could perform well. To make the experience even better, she got to do it all alongside her friends, who had proven many times they had her back – on and off the track. Few things could compete with the warmth she felt in that moment.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

When Catra opened her eyes, she didn’t recognize the scenery around her. There was a short table with a half-empty glass of water waiting on a cork coaster. A small armchair and a floor lamp sat beside a small window across from her. The sunlight beaming in through the window was boring into her eyes, which must be what woke her up to begin with. She was still extremely tired. The next thing the woman noticed was that she was actually lying on a couch rather than in a bed. There was a crick in her neck from being wedged against the armrest for so long.

Slowly, because it made her feel sick to move any faster, she rose into a vertical position to better take in her surroundings. There was a hall and a doorway that seemed to lead to a kitchen. She saw tiled floor and some cabinets with possibly the edge of a card table peeking out.

The place seemed peaceful enough. A few birds chirped outside, which gave her hope it was still early enough for her to get to work on time; otherwise Lucia would murder her. What worried her was that she had no recollection of where this was or how she’d gotten here.

Next she took inventory of her own body. She still had all her clothes on, which she was extremely relieved to confirm. Had she called somebody to come get her? She patted her various pockets until she found her phone. The battery was barely clinging to life, a low charge icon flashing in the top right corner of the screen. The clock read 6:26AM – there was still over an hour until she was expected at work. She checked her text and call history.

Scorpia had sent a few texts asking about her general well-being and confirming that she was nervously taking Catra at her word that she didn’t need help. A couple hours after that, there was a final text stating she was going to bed but would call for help if she didn’t hear from Catra by morning. Before moving on to the next portion of her search, she shot off a quick text to her roommate.

Alive and okay for now. I think.

She hadn’t made any calls all night. There were no charges to any of her accounts, other than the couple of drinks she’d ordered before a stranger started buying her shots. Oh shit. Was this his home? She wracked her brain for any clues of what happened, her anxiety mounting again. The rest of the night was a complete blank.

Just when she was considering her options for how to get out of this place immediately, she heard the faint beeping of an alarm coming from down the hall. Now she was in full panic mode. She leapt from the couch – and immediately coiled over from the pain reverberating through her head. An involuntary groan escaped from her throat while she willed her body to recover.

Quick footsteps padded up the hall towards her.

“Oh, Catra, are you alright?” a young woman’s voice asked worriedly.

She recognized that voice. Managing to turn towards the direction of that sound, she found a girl in a loose tank top and pajama pants with a nest of tousled blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. How the fuck was Adora here? Slowly panning her eyes over the room again, she spotted a small framed picture she hadn’t noticed before. The photo featured Adora and her two annoying friends at some beach. They were laughing and soaking wet in their swimsuits. This was Adora’s apartment. But how and why was she here?

The blonde was kneeling beside her by then, a gentle grip on her closest arm. She gingerly guided Catra back up to the couch to sit.

“Is the hangover pretty bad?” she asked sympathetically, grabbing the glass of water from the table. “Take this while I get you some ibuprofen. Do you drink orange juice?”

Catra’s hand grasped the glass while the rest of her brain sputtered to catch up with what was happening. None of this made sense. The last time she’d seen Adora was at the board meeting, and she had made it pretty clear she never wanted to see Catra again. Only later did the Horde employee discover the blonde’s previously unnoticed message and realize how badly she’d screwed up. That note should still be sitting on a table next to her bed. She hadn’t even entered it in her phone so far. She couldn’t have called Adora – she knew she didn’t from the call history. She was still puzzling when the taller girl returned with a couple red pills and a fresh glass filled with orange juice.

The hungover skater felt too flustered to say anything in response. Instead she mutely took the pills from the other woman’s outstretched hand and swallowed them in one large gulp. When Adora remained sitting next to her – she could feel her watching – Catra grew increasingly more uncomfortable. After an excruciating minute, her hostess broke the silence that was hanging in the air.

“I’m, um, not sure how much you remember from last night. I found you out on the sidewalk, pretty drunk; and you couldn’t tell me how to get you home. So, um, I couldn’t leave you out there, of course.”

She scratched the back of her head nervously and kept her eyes pointed away from the dark-haired woman.

“Oh,” was all Catra could manage at first.

That made as much sense as anything could. She’d hopped that bus from practice to an unfamiliar bar in a random neighborhood. Actually, she had no idea what part of town she was in anymore. She was riding the bus line a long time while she brooded about that humiliating practice. Just thinking about it, the way Lucia demeaned her in front of her entire team, made her lips curl angrily. She clenched her hands into fists at her sides. Damn her wicked sister.

A rustle to her left suddenly reminded her that she wasn’t alone. Embarrassed, she felt obligated to offer some partial explanation at least.

“Sorry,” she began. “And, uh, thank you. For helping me.”

That was when the light blue eyes tilted up to lock with hers. Her words caught in her throat for a moment. Was it normally this overwhelming to have Adora truly look at you? Pretending to cough so she could recover and make it seem like she hadn’t just gotten flustered, she caught her train of thought again.

“I had a pretty bad day yesterday, and it led to some…less than smart choices. I’m not really sure where I ended up, or how much I drank.” She sighed. “Not my best move, to be honest.”

Adora’s face was soft and compassionate. “Bad days bring that out in us sometimes,” she offered kindly.

“Yeah. I guess they do.”

Catra looked down at her hands in her lap. Then she remembered the responsibilities that still waited for her.

“Actually, where are we? I probably need to leave for work.”

The blonde almost looked disappointed, in the same way a child is when they find out their playmate has to go home. “We’re in the Alwyn neighborhood, near the Pink subway line.”

Catra’s head spun. They were all the way on the north side of Etheria. Not the northernmost area but still probably 40 minutes by train from her apartment. And traffic would be unbearable by now to order a rideshare instead.

“Shit,” she muttered. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it on time.”

“Could you take some sick time?” Adora offered.

The shorter woman shook her head. “There’s too much I have to get done today. I’m just going to get my ass chewed for being late. There’s no way I can make it home and back to the office in under an hour. Fuck.”

“Do you need something specific from home?”

“Seriously?” Catra looked at her quizzically and gestured at her dirty Fright Zone uniform. “This isn’t exactly business attire, Princess.”

The blonde actually rolled her eyes at her. “So nothing besides clothes?”

Catra raised an eyebrow. “I could survive at work from what I have saved in the Cloud. So I guess mainly clothes.”

“Hang on,” the other responded, getting up and walking down the hall. She called out to continue the conversation. “I have some clothes I was going to donate because I outgrew them. There might be something your size.”

She returned with a cream-colored dress and light brown sweater. Her expression actually seemed embarrassed as she held them out towards her guest.

“These don’t seem like your usual style, but it’s all I have that isn’t t-shirts or sweats. Better than getting in trouble at work?”

The hair on the back of Catra’s neck bristled. She had got to be kidding. A dress?! Cheeks flushed, she seized the clothes out of the other girl’s hands.

“Where’s your bathroom?” she grumbled.

“Down the hall on the left,” the blonde responded with a suppressed chuckle.

Catra reappeared wearing the light-colored dress. It did fit her well and trickled down to her knees. At this point, she was sure her cheeks were fire engine red from embarrassment. She hadn’t worn a dress since she could put clothes on by herself. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but she felt strangely exposed in the garment – and in front of her rival, no less. Her rival who’d rescued her last night. She was going to die; she knew it.

“You look really good!” Adora encouraged. “I knew it would fit.”

“Yea, thanks a lot,” Catra muttered irritably. “You just saved my ass, but now I gotta go before this humiliation ends up being all for nothing.”

“Alright,” the other said, still smirking appreciatively. “You know the way?”

“Yea, I know the trains. I’ll get by. See you around, I guess.”

“Yea. See you.”

***

Double Trouble was cackling uncontrollably in Catra’s cubicle. They’d doubled over her desk and pounded it with their hands. There might even be tears in their eyes? The woman groaned and buried her face in her arms on the desk.

“Oh, ha ha, you have got to tell me the story behind this,” they roared. “Please. I’ve never seen you dressed so Spring Picnic Chic before.”

Catra growled, still refusing to look at them. “I got really drunk after practice last night and didn’t go home. I had to borrow clothes or I’d be late.”

“So you stayed with the owner of these clothes?” Catra kicked herself at how perceptive the legal advisor could be. “Delicious. Is this somebody I should know more about?”

“There’s nothing to know,” she screeched.

“If you say so, Kitten. But look up for a second.”

Wondering why, she looked at her friend. Trouble’s phone was out, and it made a shutter click sound.

“For whenever I’m feeling blue,” they said triumphantly.

“Hey!” she swiped at the phone, but the attorney pulled it away in time. “I can’t believe you!”

“Gotta run, Kitten. But I’ll be back to savor this again live as soon as possible!”

***

Finally back in her own room, Catra wasted no time stripping out of the borrowed clothing. She tossed the unfamiliar dress into the farthest corner possible with a huff. Pulling on an old band tee and some shorts, she plopped onto her bed and released a long sigh. What a fucking day. Nearby she noticed Adora’s note, still sitting where she’d left it on her table. She stared at it in contemplation a long moment, then finally took it in hand and began typing the number into her phone contacts. Then she stared at the new name in her phone for an equally long time. After an unknown passage of time, she typed out a message and hit send before she could change her mind.

***

Adora had just gotten home from work and was scanning her kitchen for something to eat. She wasn’t really a cooking type of person, but she rarely ate out either. It wasn’t in the budget. The empty glasses from that morning sat rinsed inside the sink. They prompted her to wonder whether Catra had made it to work in time after all. She was also silently kicking herself for not sneaking a photo of the woman in her dress, blushing and bothered and completely adorable. She chuckled at the memory though.

Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket. There was a new message from an unknown number. Confused, she opened it to get answers.

Unknown

Hey, everything worked out today. Guess I owe you one.

This is Catra btw

Adora’s eyes widened. Catra had saved her number. And was messaging her. And was acting relatively nice?

She responded quickly.

Adora

Hi! Glad to hear you made it on time. No worries, it’s what anyone would’ve done, right? I bet your coworkers really enjoyed seeing you today (tongue-sticking-out emoji)

Unknown (Possibly Catra)

It was a riot…

There was a pause.

I’m not sure everyone would help an enemy, and especially bring them home with them

You’re probably a special kind of princess

Adora stared at that word: enemy. It told her how the other woman viewed their relationship. It hurt a little to see it stated that way. She had a feeling that she was going against her better judgment, but she decided to try one more time with her derby rival.

Adora

Aw, you think I’m special?

Catra

What?

Ugh

Special as in a weirdo, duh

The blonde laughed when she read the messages that came in quick succession. She could tell she’d broken the girl’s cool façade with that comment.

Adora

Suuurrrreeeee

Catra

UGH you are such an IDIOT

They continued chatting back and forth throughout the rest of the evening. The Fright Zone captain kept up her abrasive attitude, but Adora was starting to pick up on the soft edges around what she said. They didn’t talk about anything serious. The blonde didn’t want to put on too much pressure and drive the other girl away. Instead, she enjoyed the banter consisting mostly of insults and teasing. It was fun talking to Catra.

She tried to shield herself from getting too attached after one chat, though. There had been a lot of negative experiences directly caused by her new conversation partner. It felt like she’d met so many different sides of Catra at this point, and she was still trying to figure out how they all fit into one complete person. Still, she picked up her phone the moment it vibrated every time, and she smiled more that night than she had any of the others that she’d spent alone in her apartment.

Chapter Text

Adora stood in front of her bathroom mirror fussing with more makeup than her usual basic eyeliner routine. She sighed when she took in her poor execution after a while. She snapped a selfie and texted it to Glimmer with the caption “SOS.”

Glimmer

Omg come down right now

The blonde jogged downstairs to the ground unit, her purple Alliance jersey and black shorts already on. She found Glimmer and Bow wearing their uniforms as well. Her best friend was seated in front of a full-length mirror and finishing up her own makeup. She dusted her cheeks with glitter and sat back to admire her work.

“Alright, Adora, get your ass over here. You poor, sad thing.”

As she went through applying various products that Adora had no idea how to use, Glimmer met her eyes.

“You don’t normally bother with makeup for games,” she said with a smirk. “Is this because you’ll be seeing a certain someone today?”

The captain fidgeted in her seat. “Um, I thought it couldn’t hurt?”

Glimmer chuckled mischievously. Bow joined them and took a seat on a nearby couch.

“Have you run into her since the board meeting? I thought things went pretty bad then.”

Oh, shit, right.

“Actually,” she laughed nervously, her hand reaching for the back of her head until Glimmer swatted her arm back away from where she was applying makeup. “Yes, we did. We, um, talked a bit; and it turns out the reason she didn’t reach out sooner was because she didn’t even know I gave her my number. She’s texted me some.” That was a major understatement, but she was embarrassed to share more.

“Oh wow!” the man exclaimed. “Well, that’s great, right Glimmer?”

His girlfriend nodded idly, concentrating on her work. “Uh-huh. I suppose, as long as she’s treating you better.”

“I’m still feeling it out,” Adora admitted.

“Just remember, this is a big city. So don’t settle for somebody who always acts like a dick,” warned the pink-haired girl. “How’s this?”

The jammer checked her reflection in the large mirror. The makeup was subdued but flawlessly executed. She grinned shyly.

“It’s perfect.”

***

Catra returned to the bench with her teammates. They’d just finished their warmup on the track set in the center of the large auditorium. Fans were trickling into the bleachers in anticipation of the game that was starting in a few minutes. She stretched alongside her linemates and took the initiative as their leader to offer them some motivational words and last-minute strategy review. Her numbers and the illustrious “C” were already drawn on her arms, but Entrapta came around with a Sharpie to touch up anyone’s numbers that had smeared during the initial drills.

During her stretches, Catra scanned the audience out of curiosity. There wouldn’t be anyone there to see her, but occasionally she would recognize a regular from previous games. A few anonymous children sometimes asked the players for autographs next to their headshots that were printed in the program after the game. Instead, she spotted someone she would have rather missed entirely. Fucking Lucia was here. She couldn’t contain the groan that seeing her terrible sister one more day than necessary elicited from her. Lonnie, being the most attentive member of their group after the captain, traced her gaze up to the retired skater.

“She’s not important,” she stated seriously.

“I know that!” Catra snipped, standing up before anyone else. “I’m grabbing my water.”

As she rolled away from her teammates, she reprimanded herself to force down her anger and anxiety. She didn’t have time for any of that shit today. She had a score to settle with the fucking Alliance. And she wasn’t about to choke in front of Adora. Speaking of, she glanced across the space and caught an appreciative view from behind of two very fit legs performing a footwork warmup, sliding side-to-side near the Alliance bench. With a smirk, the worries slid away to make way for the quiet thrum of excitement she felt right before every game.

***

Both teams lined up for the first jam, 30 seconds counting down on the game clock.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra jeered next to the opposing jammer.

“Hey, Catra,” the taller girl returned with just as much cheek dripping from her voice.

“Ready to be dethroned, Princess?”

“I was actually going to ask if you were ready for a stunning view of my back,” Adora quipped back.

Catra’s stomach did a little flutter. And was Adora wearing extra makeup today? Her face was practically glowing under the auditorium lights.

“Five seconds!” the jam timer shouted.

They assumed their ready positions. The whistle blew, and Catra feinted left before darting all the way to the outside lane of the track. Scorpia slammed between two Alliance blockers and created a small opening where they were previously standing. Catra shot through the gap, grabbing her teammate’s jersey and using it to wrench herself forward and increase her momentum going through. The shirt whip gave her just the advantage she needed to slip past the remaining two blockers and claim lead. The double-chirp of the referee whistle sounded to her left. She chanced a look back and found that, as expected, She-ra was only a few feet behind her. It was a slightly better lead than the first jam she’d ever skated against the captain, at least. Her line was better prepared this time around.

With little time to spare before her opponent would reach the pack of blockers, Catra called out instructions.

“Lonnie, play O! Road block!”

Her teammates lined up in front of the opposing blockers to contain them, but Lonnie swung back and drove into the side of the farthest left player right as Catra raced past them. She tapped her hips furiously and heard the whistles signal the end of the jam. Her jam referee held up all four fingers. Adora’s referee held up one. She’d managed to pass Lonnie while the pivot was playing offense in the back. It was an acceptable first jam. They were still catching their stride against the other team, but they’d asserted their dominance from the beginning.

Like the previous scrimmage, the first half of the game was tight and riddled with lead changes. Scorpia, in keeping with her derby name Cool Whip, offered Catra multiple opportunities to catapult off her body and gain advantage over their opponents. Adora somehow managed to be even more unstoppable than their previous encounter. Was she just born unnaturally muscular? That stupid mermaid boyfriend was just as annoying as last time and still way too penalty-heavy. They eventually went into half-time 2 points behind the Alliance.

Catra was returning from the restroom when someone gruffly locked a hand around her wrist and tugged her aside. She was suddenly staring into the flashing green eyes of her sister. Lucia’s grip was so tight it threatened to bruise.

“Don’t let that She-ra make a fool of you,” she instructed coldly. “This team’s reputation rests on you.”

“I’ve got it under control,” the captain growled back. “I sure as hell don’t need any help from you.”

Lucia’s voice lowered threateningly, “Easy, Catra. Remember who you’re speaking to.”

“Oh right, my boss. Guess I’ll see you on Monday,” she retorted and ripped her arm free to storm away.

The first jam of the second half, Catra got trapped behind a pyramid of blockers and was forced to pass the star to Lonnie in order to make up for lost time. She-ra scored 20 points that jam. The Fright Zone captain stormed furiously back to their bench.

“Your affect appears more irritated than earlier,” Entrapta discreetly remarked to her. “Did something happen during halftime?”

“Something repulsive tried to give me a pep talk,” she grumbled.

“I see. Well, I need you performing at optimal level if there’s any statistical possibility of us recovering from the current point margin. Perhaps Scorpia could give you a massage?”

“No!”

“Alright, suit yourself. Instead, you could try thinking of how delighted you usually are when you crush your opponents. That always puts you in a good mood!” the purple-haired coach cackled abrasively.

Despite Catra’s initial irritation with being called out, she knew Entrapta was right. She’d lost her cool, and it was costing them this most important game. The jammer rewound her memory back to the starting lineup, taunting Adora until the 5 second warning. She remembered the way her line executed their strategy perfectly, and she left her rival picking up her scraps.

She inhaled a deep calming breath. Okay. She was back in this game.

Her next jam, Rogelio and Kyle trapped two Alliance blockers along the left side of the track, while Lonnie deftly contained the mermaid jammer behind all of them. Meanwhile Scorpia distracted the remaining two opponents with big hits, allowing Catra to skate through the middle unscathed. She made two passes before the other jammer even broke free of the pack, and she finally called off the jam after securing her 10th point, thanks to a quick offensive play from her line. That cut their point deficit for the total score in half.

By the final jam, Fright Zone was only behind a single point. They hadn’t managed any lead changes during the second half, but they kept their losses minimal in hopes of making a final comeback. Catra and Adora were the obvious choices for both teams to send for the final showdown.

Adora looked at the other girl meaningfully while the timer counted down. “Hey, no matter who wins today, I really enjoyed playing against you. You’re seriously one of the best jammers I’ve ever met.”

The compliment flustered Catra too much to respond. Unfortunately, that was the moment the whistle signaled the start of the jam. She-ra reacted first and tore towards an opening her pivot was trying to hold for her. Catra chased after her in a panic. A sickening sense of familiarity was taking hold of her. She looked to her linemates, but the strategy they decided on the bench wasn’t working out. Kyle, the idiot, had gotten knocked out of bounds. Rogelio and Lonnie were busy trying to keep the blonde jammer contained. Scorpia was yo-yoing between helping them and trying to make distinct hits to disorient the Alliance blockers for her captain. Catra timed her strides with one of Scorpia’s attacks and managed to graze past the opposing wall. Two whistle bursts chirped beside her.  She’d gotten lead.

Catra zoomed around the track with everything her legs could muster. Her second pass through the pack did not go so smoothly. Sparkles’ boyfriend got in a lucky hit that pushed her out of bounds, and she had to circle back behind them and begin her efforts over. That gave She-ra enough time to join them and start forcing her way past the Fright Zone defense. The tall blonde broke free first, and Catra followed a few feet behind after Rogelio took out two of her captors. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and her lungs were on fire. She had to regain her advantage.

The next pass, both jammers appeared more fatigued after their earlier struggles. Both groups of blockers absorbed them into their defensive formations. Catra fought to wriggle her hips around each different opponent to ensure she’d get credit for all of their points. All she could do after was count on her teammates to carry their part. The three sets of whistles cut in to end their skirmish. The game clock reached 0:00. Catra whipped her head around to find the jam refs. As she had ensured, her official held up four fingers. But she needed to know Adora’s score.

Another four points waved from the referee’s hand. That meant the final score would be:

Alliance: 129

Fright Zone: 128

Shock, soon replaced by devastation, crashed into the red-uniformed captain. They’d lost again. She’d lost, to Adora. And worse yet, Lucia saw everything. She couldn’t push that 20-point failure from earlier out of her mind. It was thanks to her damned sister that she fucked up so badly. But that was still her responsibility to bear. She was weak for letting that reprehensible woman get under her skin to begin with. This loss was because of her.

As though reading her thoughts, an icy voice interrupted from behind her. “That star pass cost you the game.”

“Leave me the fuck alone!” she spat at her sister before stalking away to the locker room.

“That temper of yours is a weakness!” the other called after her.

Catra ripped the soaking wet gear off her body as quickly as possible, fearing that Lucia would pretentiously follow the team into the private room. She needed to get out of here, immediately. She could feel the storm building in her chest, and soon it would tear out of her without any consideration of where she was or who was around.

She didn’t even have time to spit some of that venom towards her enemies on the way out. With a pang, she considered that Adora would probably look for her after the game. She couldn’t face her now.

***

Adora shared multiple group hugs with various teammates and shyly accepted congratulations and compliments about her performance in the final jam. After a couple minutes’ celebration, she stole a glance at the opposing bench. She couldn’t find #666 amongst any of the skaters gathered. The announcer broke into the echo of noise to begin announcing the Most Valuable Players from the game.

“For the Alliance, today’s MVP is number 01, She-ra!”

The blonde rolled into the center of the track to accept her award. A small homemade trophy comprised of various upcycled skate parts was placed in her hands. She smiled shyly at the cheering audience.

“And for the Fright Zone’s Most Valuable Player, number 666, Wildcat!”

More applauding and whistling ensued, but after some time it became clear that nobody was coming to accept the prize. Adora herself scanned the room in hopes of sighting the missing jammer. There was no sign of her.

“Well, it seems Wildcat may have had some personal business to deal with. The Fright Zone coach can accept the award on her behalf.”

Disappointedly, Adora posed for a photo with her award next to Entrapta rather than her vanishing rival. The short pigtailed woman seemed even more uncomfortable than she felt and scurried away as soon as each of the photographers finished their shot.

Even after gearing down and mingling with a few of her teammates, the blonde still never spotted the girl she was hoping to speak to. She felt a little worried that something more serious might have happened. She tried sending the dark-haired woman a text message asking if she was alright.

Catra

Fine

Went home

No other messages came after that. The afterparty celebrating with her team was still a lot of fun, but not as fun as it would have been with one hot-tempered jammer present.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

“Attention everyone,” the Alliance coach called, beckoning the players to come off the track for a huddle. “We’ve got a new game to potentially add to our schedule. I just heard from the Fright Zone this afternoon. They want a rematch in 2 weeks. They offered to provide the venue; so we’d just need to be available that Saturday.”

The players murmured, some out of excitement and some to brag about their past two victories over the rival team. However, both games had been close - down to the last jam.

“How many of you would be available that short-notice?” their trainer continued over them.

A majority of the skaters raised their hands. Adora tried not to be the first arm to shoot up or seem too eager. She could already feel Glimmer and Bow’s eyes on her back. To her relief, Netossa and her wife, Spinnerella, rolled over to claim her for their group in the next practice drill. She could avoid her friends’ teasing a while longer.

A fringe of the lawyer’s wavy white hair draped down from her helmet. Her much taller wife had her long hair tied in a ponytail under her lavender helmet. Spinny usually blocked in the lineup when Netossa was out jamming as Thrash Action Lawsuit. Whenever Adora had to jam against Spinnerella in practices, the other attorney was one of her toughest adversaries. If the blonde wasn’t careful, she’d be knocked flying with a well-executed hip check.

“Hey, She-ra,” Netossa said in a laidback tone. “I heard from Glimmer that you guys are gonna be needing help with another property?”
Oh, of course, they had work-related business. “Yea, that’s right. The Horde is trying to buy another site out from under us, same as last time.”

Meanwhile, Adora lined up alongside Spinnerella to block against Netossa for their first rotation of the warmup. Even jammers needed some blocking practice for the moments they pass their star helmet cover to the pivot. From that point the jammer becomes a blocker, and the pivot takes over jamming. Luckily, Adora had a lot of power in her body and could receive hits almost as well as she gave them.

“Got it,” Netossa replied from behind the other two while she darted side to side and attempted to slip past them. “Well, now that I know the kind of tricks their legal team has up their sleeves, I can be better prepared this time around.”

“And you have me to help, Darling,” Spinnerella added from beside Adora. She whispered in her teammate’s ear too quietly for her spouse to hear, “Last time she supposedly thought I was too busy to ask me.”

“Too true, Spinny. Everything works out better when we’re together,” the jammer replied with a flirtatious wink. “I really am sorry about the way things went last time, though. They have a lot of resources at their disposal.”

The jammer remembered all too well how masterfully the Horde attorney crushed their previous defenses. “It wasn’t your fault. Not that I know anything about law, but you sounded pretty convincing to me. If there’s anything I can do to help more this time, just tell me what to do!”

The older woman chuckled and wedged her thigh between their tightly seamed hips. “Girl, you’re doing plenty. Let the rest of us share some of the burden now and then. I’ll get in touch for details tomorrow.”

They rotated positions every couple minutes when the coach gave them a whistle signal. Netossa was not as muscular as Adora but challenged her with high-precision footwork at lightning speeds. She and Spinnerella had been playing longer, and she knew exactly how to position her body to neutralize Adora’s strong impacts. Each iteration was closely matched and left the trio breathing heavily by the time they were dismissed for a water break.

Practice was enjoyably rigorous and the perfect distraction to keep the blonde’s thoughts off her work conflicts for a couple hours. It wasn’t until she was discarding her sweat-laden gear in her quiet apartment that her thoughts circled back to the approaching legal battle. First, she would need to hustle to get yet another petition to bring to a completely new neighborhood board. Then she would need to rely on Netossa to help them from there. Mildly admonishing herself, she couldn’t help drifting by the thought of seeing Catra at another board meeting. The last one had been a sour experience for the Bright Moon representative, but now she felt she’d been chipping away at the rival liaison’s negative attitude towards her. Perhaps this time they would have a friendlier exchange – which meant a better opportunity to scope out that well-fitted suit she vaguely remembered with appreciation.

Then again, seeing Catra at the meeting would mean one of them would once again part having lost something meaningful. That was tension she could gladly do without.  Instead, there was a derby rematch to look forward to. That was a battlefield where nobody needed to feel guilty or worry about the outcome of their careers. Not to mention low-cut jerseys, short shorts, and feats of agility.

Yes, some things were better than an expensive outfit. Plus, both teams would be invited to the same after party, and the best after parties led to dancing. Pleasantly, Adora’s final thoughts before sleep claimed her were visions of a pair of stunning legs and sharp eyes guiding her through a crowded room filled with flashing lights and rhythmic beats.

***

Any positive feelings Adora had the night before were soon squashed during the next workday. Once again, she was out gathering signatures to file a petition for eminent domain of the new building Bright Moon wanted to purchase. However, she was in a different neighborhood and did not have as many people available to help her with the door-to-door visits. She was quickly realizing that many of the people in this sector of Etheria were not as open to speaking with strangers. It was a struggle to get half as many signatures in the same amount of time. After what felt like her hundredth unanswered doorbell, she dejectedly opted for a lunch break at a nearby deli. It was connected to some sort of convenience store. They really called it ‘Quicky’? she thought with a snort.

A bell tinkled over the door as she entered the humid sandwich shop. A couple other people were seated at various metal tables and chairs eating their own lunches. A quiet murmur of chatter joined the chorus of creaking ceiling fans in the room. There was a burly man running the register and also ducking into the back to prepare the food; so Adora had to wait behind the current customer before she could order. Deciding on the Italian sub from the menu, her eyes wandered the room while she waited her turn. She started to pick up on snippets of random conversations until her ears locked onto a voice that seemed familiar for some reason. Following the sound, her eyes landed on a messy bun that was floating above a black blazer. The woman in question was waving an arm with swagger as she chatted with a sweaty blonde man who looked like an overly nervous traveling salesman. Since he was sporting a crooked nametag across his chest, she assumed he might work at the attached “Quicky Convenience.”

But could it really be her? Here, of all places? She couldn’t just approach a total stranger when she hadn’t even seen their face. Anxious, she remained silently queued in the order line. At last, it was her turn to order, and she could focus on something other than that silvery voice a few feet away. She was slightly surprised when the cook merely gestured at the total displayed on the register rather than tell her how much she owed. When she finished paying, she couldn’t resist the urge to glance over at that occupied table one more time in an attempt to identify the back of the stranger’s head again. Except, she didn’t find the dark messy bun. Two mismatched-color eyes stared back at her critically. There was no longer any doubt that she’d once again bumped into Catra at such an unlikely location.

“How in the fucking world,” the woman stated distantly as she remained half-turned in her seat.

The man she’d been speaking with by default stared up at the Bright Moon employee with confusion. Actually, he looked vaguely familiar. Had he been the Fright Zone blocker she frequently targeted for weaknesses in their defense? Oh, and then the deli cook was the one who had strong hits she tried to avoid at all costs. That explained a few things. Apparently two of Catra’s teammates happened to work here.

“Wow, ‘how’ is right,” Adora finally sputtered back.

The Horde representative recovered first. A smirk played across her face as she twisted the rest of her body around to face the newcomer. She crossed her legs and leaned back in her seat as though she was perched atop an impressive throne rather than a rickety deli chair.

“It’s starting to look like you’re following me, Princess.”

Adora scratched behind her head nervously. “I was out here for work and just stopped at the closest place for something to eat, and –”

Catra rolled her eyes and gestured across the table at her companion. “Have a seat, dummy. Kyle, here, was just leaving anyways.”

“I was? Oh, right, I was. Time to get back to work,” he adjusted quickly when his teammate shot him a pointed glare. “See you tonight, Catra.”

Hesitantly, the Bright Moon worker shuffled into the newly vacated chair. An empty tray sat in front of the other woman, confirming that she had been there a while already.

“Hey there,” Adora offered weakly.

Catra leaned over the table to eye her more closely. “I happen to know we’re ridiculously close to the property I’m about to buy. Does that mean you’re meddling in my plans again?”

Adora’s eyes fled her gaze and focused on a napkin holder instead. “I don’t think you have much to worry about, since it hasn’t been going very well so far,” she muttered before glancing back up to add, “not that it was ever my goal to make you worry.”

She sighed and buried her face in her hands, elbows propped up on the same table that Catra was still leaning over. The more confident woman studied her quizzically. This wasn’t usual Adora behavior.

“Hey,” she started in more softly this time but made an effort to keep a disinterested expression on her face. “You might as well talk about it if it’s clearly fucking with you so badly.”

A blue eye peaked out from between two splayed fingers. Slowly, the blonde extricated herself from her self-made hiding place. It was surprising to hear a hint of concern in the Horde liaison’s voice – especially when the topic in question was the building both their companies were fighting over. The yellow and blue eyes didn’t give off their usual leer.

Adora gave in to the invitation. “I’ve been out all morning trying to get signatures for another petition, but people out here aren’t very interested in strangers in suits coming to their door. And if I don’t get enough signatures, then I’m letting everybody down again. And even if I do and everything goes exactly right and we win the decision and the land, then you’ll be in trouble. And you already barely want to talk to me as it is, and –” She finally paused to inhale, but instead of continuing she groaned and buried her face again. “It’s just impossible to make everything right.”

The shorter woman watched silently from across the table. The blonde was really losing it. Who would have thought she’d be so intense about all this work drama? Sure, Catra was taking the legal battle pretty seriously as well. After all, her life would be pretty fucked if she failed. Was Adora in the same boat?

“Hey, um,” she started in cautiously. “I get it. Everybody counting on you, no good choice to make. It’s rough.”

The Bright Moon employee shifted to listen, and Catra’s eyes darted away to stare fixedly at some unimportant object. She could barely force the words out without meeting the other girl’s eyes. That would be too much.

“There’s a lot at stake here. For both of us, I guess. But, uh,” her hands betrayed her by fidgeting with some of the trash on her discarded tray. “I can tell you don’t want to fuck up my life. So that’s one less problem for you to worry about. I guess.”

Now it was Adora’s turn to stare at the person sitting across from her. She replayed the conversation in her head, back to the part where she vomited everything that had been on her mind in about fifteen seconds. With some warmth in her cheeks, she realized she’d included her fear that Catra wouldn’t want to talk to her anymore. That definitely wasn’t something she meant to say out loud. What a mortifying way to admit how she felt. Shit.

But Catra just told her she wouldn’t need to worry about her no longer speaking to her. Wow. Okay. Maybe the Fright Zone captain actually was starting to like her to some degree – enough to know she wasn’t an enemy anymore. That was definitely encouraging.

The Horde representative watched as the blonde’s expression lightened with comprehension. The comprehension part took a while, she thought with some amusement. What an idiot, but she found it more endearing than obnoxious. She took that opportunity to stand and grab her empty tray. At the same moment Rogelio emerged from the kitchen with Adora’s food and nodded a polite request for his teammate to make the delivery so he could see to the next customer in line. Catra obliged casually.

“Well, here’s your lunch, Princess,” she transitioned, hoping the teasing nickname would lighten the mood a bit. “I’ve actually gotta get back to work now, or else things won’t get done on time.”

The taller woman looked disappointed but quickly shoved the expression down to replace it with a cheerful smile.

“Yes, we all know you’re a very busy woman,” she quipped back.

It concerned the Horde liaison how Adora’s default response to negative feelings was to feign happiness. Then she also felt surprised when she recognized her concern. Still, she wondered how often her rival had to use that defense. Sure, Catra had caught the slip of real emotion, but that was because she was actually fucked up and knew it. She’d been guarding her feelings and carefully reading those of others in order to survive for most of her life. She wasn’t so sure an unbroken person like any of Adora’s perfect little rich friends would have even noticed the brief reveal.

Her tone was soft but serious. “And maybe you’re too busy. It’s not worth killing yourself over some dumb building. It’s not the end of the world. And your boss Sparkles is supposed to be your friend. She should get that, too.”

“Sparkles?” Adora’s expression morphed from awestruck to confused.

“You know, the pink glittery one. Short, annoying –”

“Oh, Glimmer! She’s not annoying though.” They both raised an eyebrow towards the other but for differing reasons.

Catra turned her back and headed for the exit. “I said what I said. See you on the track, Princess.”

Adora watched the other woman disappear through the glass door, the bell tinkling behind her. Insulting Glimmer had definitely been in character for the Fright Zone captain, but she’d also tried to console Adora about work stress. The effort alone was enough to lift her spirits because it seemed that Catra actually cared about her feelings. This was exactly what she needed after the difficult morning. As she bit into the delicious fresh ingredients of her deli sandwich, she hoped her opponent-turning-friend would continue to deliver pleasant surprises.

***

Chapter Text

Rematch Day

The Fright Zone skaters circled the track menacingly as the announcer called each player’s name and number in numeric order. When it was her turn, Catra took a speed lap around the track before rejoining the others. Her muscles already loose from the team’s warmup a short while ago, she took strong confident strides around the “diamond” – the most direct skating path around the oval track. She enjoyed these moments in the spotlight, with the crowd cheering specifically for her. As a jammer and team captain, this was one of the few environments where she actually felt recognized for her abilities. Her cunning, strength, and agility were skills she had worked long and hard honing; and she was absolutely fucking proud of them.

After the skaters were introduced, the coaches stepped forward to be announced as well.

“Today Fright Zone coach, Frank Einstein, is joined by retired skater herself, Shadow Weaver!” the man’s voice boomed through the venue’s sound system.

Entrapta gave a cheerful wave while the taller figure next to her stepped forward with a malevolent smirk and basked in the applause. The familiar weight of anxiety settled back onto Catra’s chest when she was reminded of her sister’s presence.

The team returned to their bench, and the announcer wrapped up with an explanation of basic rules of gameplay. It was nearly time to line up for the first jam.

Lucia summoned their team huddle before Entrapta could begin her usual instructions. “We’re changing the rotation today, everyone. Our first line out will be Octavia’s. Huntara will pivot.”

Catra’s jaw dropped. She’d opened every game since she was voted in as captain. Octavia looked surprised but not about to turn down the opportunity to be in the coveted position. The best players always skated the first jam.

It was Lonnie who broke the stunned silence of the group. “Hold up. Our captain always jams first.”

“Not this time,” Lucia leaned into her personal space with smug nonchalance. “We play whoever is going to give us the most advantage. Octavia has earned this placement.”

The rest of the team muttered disapproval, but the Alliance players were already behind the pivot and jam lines on the track. With no further time to argue, Octavia’s line took up positions amidst their opponents. Catra could see the surprise on Adora’s face when she discovered it wasn’t her fellow captain situating beside her. The blonde actually turned toward the Fright Zone bench, and their eyes met. An enormous chasm erupted in Catra’s chest and flooded with humiliation, anger, and predominantly resentment. She glared back at the jammer and willed her thoughts to travel telepathically across the distance. Focus on the jam, you idiot.

“Five seconds!” came the jam timer warning.

Adora finally broke eye contact and adjusted her footing beside Octavia. The whistle blew to signal the start of the jam. Rather than outrun the Alliance jammer, Octavia slammed into Adora’s side and sent her flying out of bounds. The moment the smaller girl’s skate crossed the boundary line, Octavia turned around and raced in the opposite direction of gameplay. A player hit out of bounds wasn’t allowed to reenter in front of any skaters they hadn’t passed yet – meaning she would have to come in behind Octavia, however far backwards she ran.

She was seriously going to recycle Adora at the beginning of the entire game – Shadow Weaver’s trademark play. She made it about twenty feet before She-ra caught up to her. Octavia was more muscular, but the Alliance captain had the advantage when it came to speed. With a smug grin, the blonde squatted and ducked away from another telegraphed swing from Octavia and left the woman stumbling for balance while she took off towards the pack of blockers. With the Fright Zone jammer trailing far enough behind, the Alliance blockers were able to give their full attention to creating offense and get Adora through as lead jammer. Crop Top did a particularly nice trap with his hip and managed to keep Huntara’s reach away from She-ra.

It took a lot of effort for Catra to stifle the smirk threatening to reach her lips when Adora scored all four points on her first scoring pass and called off the jam before Octavia reached the pack. It served them right for benching her.

Next Lucia did send up Catra’s line against the Mermaid jammer. Entrapta had asserted that they had more experience against that group than Double Trouble’s line. Catra was confident her sister was battling between her desire to win and her disgust with the younger sibling. It seemed winning took priority. Just like anything else before me, she thought bitterly.

“Hey there, Sushi,” she snarked at the other jammer when they took their positions behind the jam line.

“Excuse me, what?” the girl replied flatly.

“Well, you’re like a fish, and that’s one way to eat them, right?” she retorted with a snicker.

The whistle blew just as Mermista began launching into her tirade about mermaids not being remotely like fish, but Catra didn’t stick around to listen – as hilarious as that prospect sounded.

“UUUUUGGGGHHHHH!” she heard from behind her before the sound of wheels began clacking against the floor.

Too easy, she thought gleefully.

Scorpia blasted through the Alliance wall of defense, her arm reaching behind for Catra to grab hold. She strode in cadence with the whip and used it to increase her speed right past the remaining opponents. There was a double tweet of a whistle beside her. She wasted no time circling the track to begin scoring points. Rogelio distracted a couple of the opposing blockers while her other three teammates fought to contain Mermista from completing her initial pass. Catra was able to skirt around the remaining Alliance blockers and took off for her second scoring pass.

By this point Mermista knocked Kyle aside and used the opening to break free. She was about fifteen feet behind Catra.

“Stop and Rob, Lonnie!” she called ahead.

The other three barricaded in front of the Alliance blockers to keep them from rolling forward while Lonnie slammed into them from behind and forced them sideways and off balance. At precisely that moment Catra whirred by and tapped her hips to end the jam. She checked to see if the other jammer had gotten any points at the last moment, but Rogelio had swung around to fill the space Lonnie left behind and caught the mermaid girl before she could pass any of their hips. With a grin, she high-fived her linemates and silently congratulated herself on reclaiming the lead for her team.

Who earned what now, you bitch?

***

By halftime, Shadow Weaver’s prejudice against Catra had set the Fright Zone farther behind than their usual experience with the rival team. Refusing to acknowledge her own contribution to their current predicament, she heatedly gathered them for another huddle once they had switched benches with the Alliance.

“You aren’t playing aggressively enough,” she hissed at them. “I want to see their skaters lying across the track in this next half, or I will start benching those who fail to take the opportunity.”

Jabbing a finger towards Octavia she added, “You! Handle that She-ra jammer!”

Catra finally had her fill and cut in, “Back off, Lucia. Your cheap moves are making us play worse, not better. It’s not worth racking up penalties on one of our primary jammers. This shit already wasn’t working.”

“Oh, now you want to pretend you’re a leader for this team,” the elder sister scoffed derisively. “My strategies haven’t been working because of lackluster efforts and belligerent disregard from obstinate people like you.”

Weaver turned back to Octavia and glared penetratingly at her. “Do as I say.”

With that she walked away from the bench and assumed the team meeting ended as a result of her exit. Octavia glanced uneasily over to her captain. Catra stared at her severely.

“Remember who actually leads this team,” she growled to the jammer. “We run Entrapta’s plays, not some vet who thinks she knows better with outdated tricks. And we don’t play dirty.”

The captain rolled back a couple steps to fall in line beside her purple-haired roommate. “It’s time we play how we’re supposed to. We were better with our real coach.”

The shorter woman fidgeted beside her.

“Entrapta, what’s the plan?”

***

Weaver returned to the bench in time for the second half to begin. Tension was thick amongst the Fright Zone skaters. Double Trouble went out first against – was that the Bright Moon lawyer? Catra catalogued the random realization for later confirmation. The Fright Zone jammer shoulder-checked their opponent on the way from the jam line and used the extra moment they gained to juke past the Alliance blockers. They slipped smoothly into lead and scored three points in relation to the Alliance’s one.

The half wore on, and the burgundy team managed to close the gap between the two scores. Thanks to Lucia’s changes, Catra was still primarily facing the mermaid line instead of She-ra’s. With ten minutes remaining, she heard her sister laying into Octavia to up her aggression in the next jam. The skater was noticeably uncomfortable with being yelled at by her former teammate. Even though she usually thought Octavia was a bit of a dumb-face, Catra felt some pity for the skater. She knew all too well what that felt like.

The jam whistle chirped, and the larger Fright Zone jammer swung forcefully into the Alliance jammer’s side. The impact caught her by surprise, and her legs crumpled unnaturally to the side. She slammed hard into the floor, her head bouncing from the impact. Catra’s shout of protest was drowned out by a chorus of whistling from the referees. The other skaters evacuated the track while the paramedics on site rushed over to inspect the downed player. Concerned murmurs traveled through the audience.

The color drained from the Fright Zone captain’s face. Worry knotted in her stomach as she tried to see past the huddle of bodies around the fallen woman. Her ears strained to pick up on any part of their conversation, or any sound of that familiar voice; but they were too far away. Her arms shook with clenched fists as she waited, transfixed on that kneeling group. After what felt like an eternity, another pair of EMTs jogged up with gurney. They began carefully helping the injured skater into the seat. That was when she finally saw her. Adora was awake, but disoriented. Well, she was disoriented until they repositioned her left leg, and her face contorted with pain. Catra thought she heard a plaintive whimper from across the space. That noise broke all semblance of collectedness she had until that point. She gaped miserably as they wheeled the other woman away to the ambulance parked outside. Applause echoed through the auditorium in support of the hurt skater’s anticipated recovery.

Meanwhile, the officials had huddled to discuss the outcome of the events that caused the injury. They called over the coaches and captains from both teams to announce their decision.

“We’ve determined that Red Eight’s actions were egregious and demanding expulsion from the remainder of the game. Please have Red Eight remove all gear and evacuate the benches.”

Catra nodded solemnly beside Entrapta. She was too angry to relay the news to their jammer. Instead, she marched up to Lucia, who was trying to appear nonchalant near the next lineup of skaters.

“You get the fuck out of here right now, or else I will instead!” she shouted within inches of the other’s face and pointed towards the exit. “Then you can deal with losing two jammers at the same time!”

The taller woman crossed her arms and chuckled. “Are you seriously threatening me, little sister?”

“Seriously? Sister? You lost the right to claim that title a long fucking time ago,” the younger growled.

“You better take control of your tongue before it says something you’ll regret,” Weaver responded coldly.

At that moment, Catra’s linemates rolled up beside her with stony expressions.

“We really think you should be going,” Lonnie leveled at the older woman, placing a reassuring hand on their captain’s shoulder. “You’ve cost us enough already.”

A few others echoed in agreement behind them. Lucia’s eyes darted from face to face, searching for support, but found none. With a venomous hiss, she uttered, “Fools,” and spun on her heels. She stormed away without a backwards glance.

After her older sister disappeared amidst the crowd of spectators, Catra turned to face her team. To her surprise, a variety of expressions of reassurance and admiration looked back at her. Lonnie’s hand, which was still resting on her shoulder, gave a soft squeeze.

“Welcome back, Cat,” she said with a grin.

***

The Fright Zone had to deal with the pressure of finishing the game while short a jammer. However, the Alliance had the same issue to even the playing field. The south side team took the win by ten points in the end. MVPs were announced, and there was no question that absent Adora would receive the award for her team. Catra was declared the MVP for her own team once again. She felt hollow accepting the award by herself. It seemed inappropriate to receive the title when she’d failed to stand up to her own sister in time to protect her team – to protect Adora. It was her fault the blonde wasn’t standing here beside her. Standing – was her ankle broken? That agonized expression was etched into her memory. And she’d watched it, her head ricocheting off the hard ground. Helmet or not, that was seriously dangerous. Catra felt like throwing up. She quietly ducked out after the requisite MVP photo and de-geared.

As soon as she was back in her regular clothes, she slipped her mobile from her jeans pocket and checked for any new messages. There were none. Instead, she typed a message of her own.

Catra

Where are you?

She waited a while before a response came through.

Adora

Crystal Clinic

Room 359

Catra

Be there soon

She stared at the text that was already sent. Why had she said that? She would look even stupider if she bailed now. And admittedly, deep down, it’s what she actually wanted to do.

Scorpia spotted her on the way out of the locker room. “Hey, Wildcat, congrats on another MVP! You completely deserved it. We won because of you!”

“I, uh,” Catra stuttered distractedly, caught off guard.

“You ready for that after party?” her friend asked.

That question set her back on track. “Actually, I’m not going,” she said evenly. “I’ve got something I need to take care of. But you guys have fun. Drink one for me.”

With a warm quirk of her lips, she stepped out the door and headed for her Rebel.

Chapter Text

“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.

Catra

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.

Adora

Crystal Clinic

Room 359

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.

Catra

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.

“Hey.”

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.

Chapter Text

“Adora! Adora?”

Catra groggily tried to discern the yelling coming from down the hall. It wasn’t Scorpia or Entrapta. It was also uncharacteristically bright for her room. She cracked her eyes open; she couldn’t have been sleeping long, considering how difficult that was. The first thing she saw was the purple fabric her head was laying across. It was warm against her cheek, and a moment later she noticed it was rising and falling evenly. The words “Alliance” were printed across the jersey. The pieces started falling into place.

Adora. The hospital. Staying the night.

“Adora!” a deeper voice called a second time.

Adora’s friends.

With an internal shriek she bolted upright. The turbulence caused the blonde to wake with confusion, and she shielded her temples with a soft groan.

“Shit, sorry,” Catra hissed meekly, caught between concern for the injured woman and her own urgent flight response.

Too late.

Glimmer and Bow burst into the bedroom noisily – until they discovered both individuals sprawled on the bed. The two friends gaped, taking in the bizarre scene. Catra paled in mortification, frozen and staring back at the people standing in the doorway. Meanwhile their eyes darted back and forth between the two women on the bed. In the end, they settled on their ailing friend.

“Adora, we’ve been so worried,” Bow began gravely. “You never called us to come get you, and we tried to reach the hospital –”

“And they said you’d left hours ago with your girlfriend,” Glimmer finished accusingly, crossing her arms and glaring at them.

“Sorry, guys,” Adora replied weakly, a hand still pressed to her forehead. “I was barely conscious when they let me go. It was so late. Catra offered to drive me home so you guys wouldn’t have to come out there.”

The pink-haired woman’s gaze leveled at Catra instead, no amusement visible.

“I think you guys can handle things from here,” the Fright Zone captain broke in awkwardly. “I should get going.”
She had to squeeze between both Adora’s friends to escape the bedroom, but that was far less intimidating than sticking around for any more of this horribly embarrassing conversation. She kept up her borderline-run all the way to her motorcycle outside. She didn’t even pause to check her phone for fear of Sparkles or Crop Top watching her from inside the building. She would just deal with whatever situation met her at home.

***

The three friends were silent awhile after Catra’s hasty exit. Glimmer and Bow seemed slightly embarrassed for ruining their flatmate’s company while also still plenty confused about the entire situation. Finally it was Bow who spoke up.

“Adora, are you and Catra dating now?!”

“No!” the blonde shrieked, pulling her comforter up to hide her bright red cheeks. “That was just a lie so the hospital would let her visit so late at night.”

Glimmer’s earlier irritation quickly subsided as the far more tempting opportunity to tease her best friend took precedence.

“But why do you think she would care about doing something like that?” she asked with a wry grin. “You don’t bail on all your friends to spend the night in a hospital with just anybody.”

A squeal erupted from underneath the covers. “GLIMMER!

“Alright, alright,” Bow stepped in. Careful to avoid her feet while sitting at the foot of her bed, he added kindly, “She does have a point though, Adora.”

The captain tore the blanket down to glare desperately at her friends. “I. Don’t. Know, you guys. I was pretty shocked, too. She messaged me right after I got off the phone with you two.”

“That’s pretty quick after the game, considering we rushed out to check on you right away,” Bow commented.

Adora chuckled nervously in response. “Yea, I almost didn’t check my phone. I was so tired.”

The blonde appeared to zone out for a bit, perhaps reminiscing about the events from the night before. It was difficult to focus with a fresh head injury.

“Well?” Glimmer finally reminded her after joining her boyfriend on the bed. “What happened then?”

“She came straight there,” Adora recalled with admiration. “And apologized for me getting hurt. She thought it was her fault.”

They all frowned at that idea.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Bow said.

“She wasn’t even on the track for that jam,” Glimmer added.

“She feels responsible as the team captain. And,” Adora paused, wondering if she should reveal Catra’s more personal details to her closest friends. She decided to play it safe for the sake of staying on her crush’s good side. “And she said she should have stepped in before anyone took it that far.”

“That does sound like something a captain should have done,” Glimmer stated hotly, folding her arms again. “That was really fucked up, what that jammer did.”

Adora’s shoulders hunched sadly. “Yea, it really was. But it was somebody else who pressured her to do that, not Catra.”

“Come to think of it, it looked like she was yelling at that new coach after they decided to eject that jammer,” Bow added. “She seemed pretty mad.”

A tiny wave of excitement rippled through Adora. Could Catra have blown up because of her getting hurt? Of course, they had just lost one of their primary jammers. That would be another reason to tell off her sister. She had been the one who was pushing the dirty plays. Adora stuffed down her selfish idea. The second reason made much more sense.

“Anyways,” Glimmer interrupted her musings. “What did they say at the hospital?”

“Just a sprain for my ankle, but it really hurts to walk on it right now.” Adora winced from the memory. “And a moderate concussion. Oh damn, I think my paperwork is still in Catra’s motorcycle bag.”

“Her what?!” both friends exclaimed in unison.

“She brought you home on a motorcycle? When you were barely conscious?!” Glimmer’s indignation was bubbling again.

“Calm down, Glim,” the blonde pleaded. “She was extremely careful. She even tied us together because she was worried about me letting go.”

Her audience both raised an eyebrow at that last part.

“Uh, sounds interesting,” Bow offered warily.

“It was totally safe, guys. And she didn’t even let me walk up the stairs outside. She carried me the whole way,” Adora added with admiration.

The couple watched her daydream with bemused expressions. Glimmer recovered soonest.

“Well, it’s been a pretty exciting 24 hours for you. You better keep resting. And don’t even think about coming to work tomorrow. I’ll talk to HR about your medical leave.”

Glimmer, but we have way too much going on right now. The doctor just said I need to limit my screen time and rest.”

The shorter woman leveled a stern gaze at her friend. “None of which you can do at work. Adora, it’s final. You rest, and call us if you need anything.”

“We’re just glad you’re home safe,” Bow added reassuringly. “We’ve got your back, Adora.”

Adora deflated back into her bed and sighed deeply. She knew she was lucky to have friends who cared about her well-being. She was even luckier to work for one of those friends and know she wouldn’t be in trouble at her job.

Fine,” she conceded finally.

***

Catra parked near the front door of her apartment building. Most of the residents were still home this early on a Sunday. She had to wedge her motorcycle in between two parked cars, but she managed. When she stepped quietly through the door to their unit, she found Scorpia sprawled unconscious on their living room sofa. That was abnormal. Entrapta was typing away on her laptop in the kitchen, which was normal.

“Catra! You’ve returned,” she called cheerfully, as if it wasn’t the crack of dawn on a weekend. “We were concerned for your safety. Scorpia especially.”

She gestured at their sleeping roommate. Catra spotted the dark circles under the woman’s eyes.

“Sorry,” she replied in a hushed tone, heading closer so their conversation wouldn’t require shouting across the living space. “Did you guys wait up for me?”

“I believe Scorpia did. Looking over the data from your previous independent journeys, I presumed you would be fine and return when you were ready. Of course, Scorpia doesn’t always care about the data.”

“She worries a lot for people she cares about,” Catra conceded ruefully. “I was, uh, busy and forgot to check my phone for a long time. I didn’t even look when I rode home this morning. Figured it was too early to bother, heh.”

“Yes, I’ve been working out here for one hour and thirty-seven minutes; and she’s been sleeping that entire time. Any responses to Scorpia’s messages during that timeframe would have been ineffective.”

There was some rustling from the living room.

“Wildcat?” Scorpia’s voice echoed over to them.

“In here,” Catra responded with a weary grimace.

“Catra! You’re safe!” her friend shouted when she got to the doorway and could see the latecomer for herself. “I texted and called so many times when you didn’t come home.”

“Sorry, Scorp,” she apologized weakly. “I was helping somebody out, and then I ended up falling asleep, too.”

“Oh, so that’s why you couldn’t come to the after party!” the taller woman switched tones easily with the explanation. “Who was the friend? Somebody we know?” She chuckled jovially.

“Uh, not exactly…” Catra prayed her cheeks wouldn’t betray her right now, but she could already feel her flustered feelings rising back up again.

“So we do know them? Oh man, what a treat. Now you’ve gotta tell us!”

The jammer suppressed a groan. She knew Scorpia would not let this topic go now that she’d latched on. Smearing a palm across her face in an attempt to cover her frustration and embarrassment, she answered, “That captain from the Alliance. Adora – er, She-ra.”

“WHOA, Catra, I thought you were enemies because of work! I remember you danced with her a couple months ago, but you said that was just a plot to trick her! You actually like her, don’t you?”

Catra screeched back, “It’s not like that! I had to take responsibility after Lucia got her hurt. I went to the hospital to atone for my bad leadership with our team.” She resisted the urge to keep rambling. She needed to make them understand her motives weren’t romantic at all. While she was at it, her own heart could use some convincing as well. It needed to calm down right now.

“That’s pretty kind, Wildcat, but I’m not sure you needed to go that far?”

Entrapta chimed in. “Your involvement in Purple 01’s injuries was extremely negligible. After all, you actively discouraged Octavia’s actions, and data shows she is an autonomous adult. She bears the majority of the responsibility, followed by Shadow Weaver for consistently inciting violent gameplay for the last two weeks.”

The captain balled her hands into fists at her sides. “I should have stood up to her from the beginning.”

She turned to her seated roommate earnestly then. “I’m really sorry for putting you in that position. I was afraid of how she would punish me at work. I’m basically a coward. You never should have had to deal with that.”

The purple-haired woman patted Catra’s hand mechanically a few times. Physical contact wasn’t an area where she was particularly comfortable; so the effort was a testament to her relationship with the other girl.

“I can provide a lot of credible evidence that you are not a coward, Catra. However, my sociological observations would support your strong need to maintain peaceful relations with a woman who is both your primary connection to family ties as well as your direct employer. You were behaving predictably for any human in your situation.”

Catra placed her free hand over her friend’s and smiled warmly. She swallowed back the tears threatening to well in her eyes. She still felt guilty for all the trouble she’d caused Entrapta, after everything the woman had done for her and the team. Her commitment to the Fright Zone had dramatically changed their competitive capabilities for the better, and it was her income as a technical genius that had secured this home for them. Letting her sister threaten that relationship had been a huge mistake. Still, hearing her roommate offer forgiveness in her own way lifted a huge weight from her shoulders.

“Now that we’ve established the obvious, that Wildcat’s an incredible leader,” Scorpia interrupted, “how about spilling the details from you spending the whole night with Adora?!”

Catra recoiled with embarrassment, but she was trapped in that part of the kitchen with the red-haired woman still occupying the doorway.

“UGH, there are no details! When I showed up, nobody else was there to wait with her. That’s super fucked up; so I stayed until they got her test results forever later. She needed a ride home, and by then it was really too late to ride all the way across town to get here. I left her place as soon as I’d gotten some sleep.”

“Oh wow, you stayed the night at her house too? Damn, Wildcat, you don’t mess around when you pick up women.”

Catra hid her face in her hands again. “Oh. My. God. I didn’t pick anyone up. I gave an injured person a ride home from the hospital!”

“Whatever you say,” Scorpia laughed. “But you sure are acting flustered for that being all it was.”

“There does appear to be increased blood flow in your cheeks, indicating a strong emotional response,” Entrapta contributed.

“I’M GOING TO BED!” Catra interrupted and pushed past her broader roommate toward the hallway.

“Well, it’s fine if you do like her!” Scorpia called after her. “She seems really sweet!”

Catra groaned loudly as she slammed the bedroom door behind her.

She flopped face-first onto her bed and whimpered quietly into the pillow. She did not need this when she already felt so overwhelmed and confused. The flustered woman didn’t know what to make of her behavior from the last night. Why had she even gone to the hospital in the first place? Her friends’ arguments contradicted the pathetic reasons she’d already been feeding herself. Of course, she had felt responsible for Adora getting hurt. There was more than that, though. She hadn’t been that worried for another person in about ten years. She’d needed to make sure the other jammer was okay. She was excited to keep her company and take her home. It had hardly taken any persuading to stay the night in the other woman’s bed. Meanwhile it took hours to calm her nerves enough to sleep when she’d much preferred staring at every detail of the blonde’s relaxed features.

How the fuck had she gotten herself into this situation?

And worse – what was she supposed to do going forward?

Chapter Text

Adora sprawled dejectedly across her couch, daytime television playing absently in the background. As instructed, she avoided actually watching the screen so that she could support the healing process. She felt completely restless, as this was her fourth day home from work already. Normally she would blow off her energy through derby practice or gym visits. However, since her head spun whenever she moved too quickly and she still walked with a slight limp, she was powerless to take advantage of any of her typical anxiety-reducing techniques.

That left her irritably listening to tv shows, podcasts, audiobooks, whatever in an attempt to keep her mind busy and away from spiraling. Those distractions were nice – for about a day. Adora couldn’t remember the last time she’d had this much time to do nothing.

Catra had generously texted her photos of her doctor’s note so she could send it in to work. Unfortunately, that is also what sealed her fate for two weeks of this torture. With that thought, she wistfully wondered what the dark-haired woman was up to just then. Of course, she was busy at her own job like any non-injured person would be. She shook the temptation to text the other woman out of her mind. Maybe she would just make some more soup. Glimmer had brought her a variety of flavors from the store, knowing the blonde had limited cooking abilities even when she was at her best. There wasn’t a lot to mess up with pouring a can of goop into a bowl and microwaving it.

She sighed deeply before raising a spoonful of liquid to her lips. Guiltily she wondered how things were going with her project at Bright Moon. One of the organization’s more experienced volunteers had stepped in to cover while she was gone. Other than that reassurance, Glimmer refused to give her any other updates about the property battle, stating it would “compromise her ability to focus on healing.” At this stage, she knew the technical details would predominantly be handled by Netossa’s legal practice, preparing for the upcoming board meeting to decide the fate of the property. Still, it felt terrible not to be there to support the plan she’d started. If she was being more honest with herself, it felt even worse to know it could be handled without her. She set the still-full spoon down and leaned back against the sofa cushions. She wasn’t feeling so hungry right now, after all.

***

Catra wasn’t concentrating on Double Trouble’s preliminary explanation of the material for that night’s board meeting, where they would be fighting Bright Moon over a second property. The lawyer would handle everything, as expected; but they also knew how the acquisitions liaison preferred to be fully informed herself.

“Excuse me, Kitten. Are you even on this planet right now?” the attorney interrupted their own speech when they realized they’d lost their audience.

“What? Sorry, Trouble,” Catra replied guiltily. “I’m under a lot of stress right now. You don’t have to go through all of this with me now if it’s not necessary.”

“Anything I can do?” they asked openly.

Catra gave a rueful chuckle. “I doubt it, unless you have the power to strike somebody with lightning.”

“Ah, the wicked exec-sister, I presume.”

“She’s been a complete nightmare since that game,” the woman confessed.

“Yes, I’ve noticed she doesn’t like to have her authority questioned in any situation.”

“Maybe winning this tonight will get her to back down, even a little.” She bit her lip stubbornly.

“Well, no worries there, Kitten. Tomorrow morning you’ll be able to deliver this deed with a pretty bow to dear sister. You have my well-wishes.”

“Thanks, Trouble. Let’s go ahead and get over there.”

***

Of course Adora wouldn’t be here. She should have expected this, as it had only been a week since she got hurt in their game. Still, seeing a random stranger accompanying the white-haired Bright Moon attorney caught Catra off-balance.  She kept her composure externally, never one to let an unwanted surprise ruffle her smooth façade. However, on the inside she felt even more distracted than earlier. Between Lucia’s relentless harassment at work and the sudden absence of the one person she’d been missing for days, it was impossible to lock down a train of thought. Instead, her mind kept wandering back to that quiet bedroom, lying on a rumpled comforter across from that mesmerizing figure.

Trouble went through the motions debating against the other legal team when it was the Horde’s turn to take the floor. Time dragged on whereas it had seemed to go so quickly the previous session. It just didn’t have the claim over her attention like before. Finally, the pound of a gavel startled the Horde liaison back into reality.

“The case for eminent domain has been deemed unsubstantiated. The Horde will be free to complete their private purchase of the property in question,” came the decision from the board leader.

Trouble cast Catra a conquering grin when they were out of sight of the board table. She tried to return the expression as convincingly as possible. It definitely was good news, for her especially. She was certain she’d have been fired if she came back empty-handed tonight. Yet for some reason, she couldn’t summon the energy to care very much at the moment. She’d been carrying this feeling ever since that fateful day when she snapped on her sister and went chasing after Adora at the hospital. Sure, she was still obligated to serve the Horde. She just cared less about the consequences should she fail. Maybe she felt like she didn’t have much left to lose after all. A price definitely couldn’t be put on all the emotional abuse she was suffering from answering to Lucia every day.

They shook hands with everybody after the meeting. The Bright Moon lawyer eyed her scrupulously when it was their turn to exchange pleasantries. The fire in that look surprised her a bit, and she found her own stomach squirming from her lack of conviction in the role she’d played tonight.

***

The next day, after delivering the “good news” to Lucia and receiving another backhanded acknowledgment, Catra went out to visit the original Salineas property and check the progress on construction. There were a few hiccups that needed her direction, but otherwise they had managed to stay fairly close to schedule so far. She knew she would have to continue monitoring the work closely to prevent it from derailing, but the assessment had proved relatively stress-free. It felt good to busy herself with actual work and get some distance from the poisonous words that had been thrown at her a couple hours earlier.

Since she was in the area, she decided to stop by Rogelio’s for lunch. As she stood in line to order during the busy time, she couldn’t help thinking back to the last occasion she’d eaten there. It had been a shock to have Adora walk through the door, clueless to the deli’s significance in Catra’s world. That was the first time she’d seen the blonde feeling truly defeated. Any of the encounters before, even when she’d lost, the Bright Moon employee had always carried a sort of righteous fire and passion. Catra had found herself worrying about the kind of unrealistic burden the other was placing on her own shoulders.

Adora had missed the board meeting last night. Was she doing any better with her injuries? Only semi-consciously, Catra pulled out her cell phone and opened an outdated text conversation from the blonde. She typed absently into the device.

Catra

Still playing hooky?

A few seconds passed.

Adora

UGH I’m being held against my will

I can’t stand it here

A wild idea popped into the Horde employee’s head. She checked the GPS in her phone inquisitively, then looked at the current time. It was kind of risky, but at this point she wasn’t in the mood to care very much.

Rogelio had just walked back to the counter and greeted her.

“Hey, buddy. Can you make mine to go this time? I’ve got a few things to add, too.”

***

Catra parked in front of the two-flat that was becoming increasingly more familiar. The logical side of her was fighting the path the rest of her body was taking. What the hell was she doing here? She only had about 30 minutes of her lunch break left – not that anybody really monitored her comings and goings from the office. Her strategic mind had already crafted a handful of excuses to justify her whereabouts if anybody broke routine to question her. With far too much food for one person to eat alone in tow, she cut the engine and set off towards the front door.

A pair of quizzical blue eyes greeted her shortly after she knocked.

“Catra?” that comforting voice asked in surprise. “How – why? Isn’t your job super strict?”

“Nice to see you too, Princess,” Catra teased back. “Do you make everyone stand outside in the heat when they go to the trouble of bringing you lunch?”

The blonde sputtered adorably, fumbling to open the door wider and step aside to let her in.

“N-no, of course you can come in,” she stammered hastily. “I’m just very surprised?”

The shorter woman swaggered into the living room and claimed a seat on the sofa. “Even ‘prisoners’ get meals, right?”

With a smirk, she began unpacking the contents of the paper bag she’d brought on the coffee table. She’d gotten her usual super sandwich for herself, but she remembered Adora ordered the Italian sub the last time. As a bonus she had Rogelio throw in the fried mushrooms that were a hit with customers. Adora eased dazedly into the cushion beside her.

“Is this the same thing I ordered that day?” she asked, dumbfounded.

“I’m pretty sure that’s impossible if you already ate it, dummy,” Catra chose to deflect the question with snark.

“You know what I mean!” Adora leaned over to bump her shoulder into the other’s with a laugh.

That laugh alone made this entire insane mission worth it. Catra wouldn’t dare let it show on her face, but she was practically glowing inside from the confirmation that she’d truly impressed the blonde. The bit of roughhousing also sent a spark of excitement through her body. It reminded her of the muscular curves of that body she’d seen lining up on tracks before a jam – the same body currently hiding beneath an oversized sweatshirt during this recovery day at home. It would be much better if the bothersome article of clothing would disappear.

Realizing her cheeks were getting steadily hotter, she made a point of unwrapping her sandwich with unnecessary focus. As they ate, she let Adora chat away about her week at home and all the stir-crazy feelings connected with it.

“So Sparkles hasn’t told you anything about stuff at work?”

“Every time I try to ask, she refuses!” Adora huffed. “I’ve even tried to casually trick her into mentioning something, but she hasn’t fallen for it yet.”

Catra cackled. “You’re absolutely ridiculous. You get a free pass from responsibility, and you’re trying to sneak back in? Dummy.” She returned the blonde’s playful shoulder bump from earlier.

“I can’t stand not knowing what’s going on! What if they need me?” Adora’s expression fell and she added quietly. “Or what if they don’t?”

Seeing the taller woman deflate so suddenly made Catra ache inside. She felt compelled to defend her from those negative inner voices.

“Hey. They definitely need you,” she said softly but with resolution. “I’m pretty sure you set a world record for gathering petition signatures. You work harder than any sane person should.”

Adora looked up at her in appreciative surprise, and Catra continued while facing down those penetrating blue eyes.

“You honestly work too hard, from what I can tell,” she said earnestly. “And I’m not even around you much. You can’t take on everything yourself.”

The woman beside her bit her lip, conflicted emotions warring on her face. After a moment she said, “I’m not really sure I could forgive myself if I didn’t try with everything I had. I can’t stand letting people down – letting myself down.”

Adora looked down and began fidgeting with her hands in her lap. Her vulnerability was foreign and honestly a bit terrifying to the Horde employee. Stronger than Catra’s feelings of discomfort, though, was the pull she felt towards the hurting woman beside her. What was it about her that made Catra want to reciprocate her blind trust? There really wasn’t a logical explanation. Still, lowering her walls a little to meet Adora’s fears seemed like the best way to help her in that moment.

“Look. I can say from a lifetime of experience that how hard you try doesn’t matter when it comes to other people appreciating you. I’ve spent all these years trying to live up to my sister’s expectations; and even when I do everything right, she still treats me like shit.”

At this point Catra wasn’t sure where Adora’s gaze was pointed anymore because now she was the one staring fixedly into her own lap. “I know Lucia is a special brand of asshole. But I’m just saying that people either choose to like you or they don’t. And if that’s true then, how will you even be able to enjoy anything if you’ve killed yourself trying to please everyone else?”

Adora leaned back farther into the sofa, the movement causing Catra to look instinctively in her direction. The blonde was looking at her with a tenderness she’d never experienced from anyone else – not even her mother. Catra froze, unable to break the eye contact. All the painful thoughts and anxiety that had started brewing inside her from the conversation dissolved. The taller woman seemed to be contemplating her company seriously.

Finally, Adora said, “I can’t imagine what that must feel like. I don’t understand why anyone would treat another person like that, and it’s even worse that it’s somebody you deserve to be close with like your own sister. I can honestly say there must be something seriously wrong with her; because –”

Adora paused mid-thought. Neither spoke, mesmerized in the moment.

She managed to pick up the idea again. “You deserve so much more than that. Catra, you’re brilliant. I’ve seen the way you can command an audience, and you’re a master strategist even in the middle of pure chaos. Why somebody would actively try to crush that out of you…she’s broken.”

The hurricane of emotions whirling inside the shorter woman was overwhelming. This was how Adora saw her, and it was dazzling. She couldn’t believe she deserved a fraction of that praise, but a small piece deep inside her had been desperately yearning for it as long as she could remember. Out of all the people to find it in, she never would have predicted it would be this new rival. That word felt ill-fitting these days. What was Adora to her now?

“You’re probably right,” she muttered with a wry chuckle. “I’d say we’re both broken. Kinda comes with the territory, considering how we grew up.”

Catra glanced up to check the other’s response. When she found only patient anticipation, she swallowed a large gulp of discomfort and plodded on.

“My mom, she uh.” She scratched her head nervously. “I don’t really talk about this with people. My mom raised us alone. Except, she didn’t really do that too well. All my memories of her include her number one love: heroin.”

There was a sharp intake of breath beside her but no other interruption.

“Usually that just meant fending for ourselves, but sometimes – sometimes she’d forget who we were. When I got old enough to understand, I learned that she’d hallucinate. It made her paranoid. She’d try to hurt us.”

“Shit, Catra.” A tentative hand rested on her shoulder.

“Obviously we made it through all that. But Lucia was always angry. And she’d blame things on me, say the bad stuff happened because I was stupid.”

The hand gripped tighter around her arm. It didn’t hurt. If anything, it was like an echo of the way Catra felt inside when she thought about those bitter memories.

“One time things went too far, and I had to call emergency services. They took our mom away to rehab. We bounced around foster care until they decided Lucia was old enough to handle me on her own. We both hated the fucked up foster homes, but she hated me even more when I became her burden. Still, I don’t really know if any one thing solidified her loathing because it’s just kind of always been there.”

“Catra, I’m –” The blonde considered her words carefully. “Thank you for trusting me with this. I’m just sorry it ever happened. You’ve been through so much.”

“Eh, who hasn’t, right?” she forced out a laugh in an effort to shrug off the heavy topic. “Whatever. The point was supposed to be that you need to chill the fuck out with work. I, uh – that was a weird example, I guess.”

“You definitely lost me on that point,” Adora agreed with her own nervous chuckle.

The tension hung in the air between them a while longer as they absorbed the gravity of Catra’s revelation.

“So, if she already treated you that way, how did you end up working for her, too?”

The question cut into the Horde liaison, as it was one she frequently abused herself over. It took a moment for her to pull her emotions together to answer evenly.

“It wasn’t my first choice, obviously.” She leaned forward and propped her elbows on her knees. “I stupidly tried to get into graphic design first. Took out the loans, learned the hard way there weren’t enough jobs to go around for creatives in this damn city. I couldn’t survive on my own.” Her hands curled into fists as she reminisced about those days. “I was getting evicted when Lucia offered me the job with the Horde. She’d managed to get in tight with the right people there, and now she could pull her own strings. I really wasn’t qualified, but she worked me into their upward mobility program. They trained me, and I signed my life over to them until I could work off their school fees.”

It took a moment before Adora weighed in. “It doesn’t seem worth it though. Couldn’t you leave now – do what you really wanted instead? They don’t actually own you.”

Catra stiffened at the challenge in those words. “Uh, they basically do, Princess. There’s no way I could afford the penalty fees for quitting early. I’d lose my home again.”

“There’s gotta be some other way though,” the other woman insisted. “You can’t keep putting yourself through this. You said yourself, there’s no point in trying for people who will never care about you.”

“This is different,” Catra hissed, fighting to ignore the hypocrisy in her own logic. “I have obligations. Not everything can be magically solved because you snap your fingers. You don’t owe your job anything.”

“You don’t know that,” Adora retorted indignantly, her voice raising to match the anger that was flashing in her eyes.

Something inside the dark-haired woman broke then, her indifference taking control again to protect her from getting hurt. She scoffed. “Right, I don’t.”

“Anyways, you’re better than the Horde. Catra, there’s always another option. Something other than this.”

“Yeah, fuck you,” Catra said, standing up. “Like I haven’t tried to come up with other options already. I didn’t tell you all that for you to go and tell me how I’m a fuck-up, too. The way I choose to handle things is never right, after all.”

The blonde shot to her feet then, worried hurt in her eyes. “Catra, no, that’s not what I –”

“Worry about your own problems instead of trying to butt into mine.” She started walking towards the door. “I’ve gotta get back to my job. This was a mistake.”

“Catra, wait!”

She shut the door with a bang and strode down the stairwell. Fury and shame boiled inside her. She should’ve known better than to open up to Adora. She shouldn’t have let all those encouraging words get to her head. They weren’t real anyways. Clearly Adora didn’t know shit about who she really was. She hated the girl for giving her hope. She hated herself more for falling for it, if only briefly. Nothing in her miserable life was ever going to change; she needed to get back on track with what actually mattered. She rode back to the office in a rage.

Chapter Text

Adora couldn’t get the argument with Catra out of her head. She was trying to wrap her brain around what had gone so horribly wrong. She supposed Catra’s feelings were already bristling after putting herself in such a vulnerable position. The blonde wondered how many people she’d confided in regarding her childhood. The confession started warily, the words seeming to come with great difficulty. The longer the woman talked, though, the more the story spilled out of her – like it had been bursting for release. It felt like the greatest privilege to be trusted in that moment. How had she fucked things up so badly right after?

She replayed the words each of them had said.

“It doesn’t seem worth it though. Couldn’t you leave now – do what you really wanted instead? They don’t actually own you.”

“Uh, they basically do, Princess. There’s no way I could afford the penalty fees for quitting early. I’d lose my home again.”

Adora remembered what it was like when food was tight as a kid. Still, her grandmother made sure they always had a roof over their heads. She really didn’t understand how it would feel to have nowhere to go. She thought about how dangerous and unpredictable the streets could get in Etheria. How would somebody feel safe sleeping? She felt a pang of guilt over how she’d managed to gloss over this admission when Catra was sharing such a private memory.

“There’s gotta be some other way though. You can’t keep putting yourself through this. You said yourself, there’s no point in trying for people who will never care about you.”

“This is different. I have obligations. Not everything can be magically solved because you snap your fingers. You don’t owe your job anything.”

It was true Adora couldn’t take Catra’s problems away herself. She could barely afford her own situation, let alone wipe away somebody else’s debts. It seemed pretty hypocritical to tell somebody to “just fix” their problem without being able to offer a solution.

“Anyways, you’re better than the Horde. Catra, there’s always another way. Something other than this.”

Shit. That seemed pretty judgmental, now that she considered her words. By that point she’d gotten worked up by Catra’s assumptions about her and let her temper take control. Isn’t that exactly what she had been doing to Catra though? Damn, it was starting to make sense…

“Yeah, fuck you. Like I haven’t tried to come up with other options already. I didn’t tell you all that for you to try to tell me how I’m a fuck-up, too. The way I choose to handle things is never right, after all.”

After this reflection, it occurred to Adora that maybe all Catra’d wanted from her was – not necessarily sympathy, but – acknowledgment. Instead she kept pushing with her uncontrollable need to fix things. Catra was an adult, and she wasn’t asking to be fixed. She was opening up so Adora could really see her, and Adora failed in basically every way possible.

She buried her face in her hands and let out a melancholy sigh. Her heart weighed heavy in her chest. Would she be able to make this right?

***

When Catra finally got home from work that night, she was still restless and irritable. Stupid fucking Adora and her stupid fucking self-righteousness. Just another person passing their judgment without actually doing anything to contribute to the situation. It was always the same, and she was stupidest of all for daring to believe otherwise.

She tossed her work portfolio onto the desk in her bedroom, and it knocked haphazardly into some books and other items. One binder in particular caught her attention. Pulling out the chair to sit down, she picked up the folder and flipped through the pages. A flash drive clattered onto the desktop. In the past, she carried the tiny device everywhere with her. All her projects, ideas, and templates were saved inside. The binder, her graphic design portfolio, contained printouts of her best designs. Looking over her past creations brought on a surge of nostalgia. It felt like a piece of her had been missing for the past few years, since she’d accepted her position at the Horde.

As that itch grew, she decided to flip open her notebook and plug in the external device. Her greatest achievements and unfinished experiments flooded to greet her. Her old software, previously an extension of her everyday life, lay dormant and unused. A sense of longing blossomed within her, and she found herself reviewing her lunchtime argument from a new perspective.

“It doesn’t seem worth it though. Couldn’t you leave now – do what you really wanted instead? They don’t actually own you.”

She snorted. The Horde as good as owned her. Still, fantasizing about a career change did have its allure. She closed out her saved files and opened up the web browser instead. Maybe it would release some of her work-related tension to daydream over the hire ads. Catra scrolled through a number of listings that held absolutely no interest for her and scoffed. At least she could prove she was right when she said there were no other options.

That was when one particular advertisement caught her attention.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Bright Moon was looking for a PR director. They wanted somebody familiar with advertising and design who could responsibly manage their public image. Catra would die before lowering herself to work for Sparkles, but she clicked on the application out of professional curiosity. There was a job description at the beginning; and if she was being honest, it sounded like a dream. She supposed compared to working under Lucia, even somebody as obnoxious as Sparkles would still feel like an improvement. Not to mention seeing Adora every day…Her stomach did a flip, remembering their argument guiltily.

Even so, she idly started filling in the fields of the virtual document. When she reached the end, she typed her signature but couldn’t ultimately hit the send button. With a growl she stormed away to shower instead. The fantasy had lost its appeal.

***

“This report is abysmal, Catra,” Lucia bellowed, banging on her desk to emphasize the point. “I won’t tolerate this sort of sub-standard work from you any longer. And if you fall any further behind on the construction for the Salineas property, you can count yourself demoted from the project.”

Catra’s lips tightened as she swallowed the sharp reaction she wanted to fire back at her boss. Instead, she offered calmly, “The electrical team has already been scheduled to work alongside plumbing to make up for the delay. The projected completion date has not changed.”

“Well that should have been clearly stated in your report,” the older woman snapped back. “Honestly, I can’t hold your hand through every minute task in this operation. If you can’t handle the most basic responsibilities, maybe you weren’t suited for this position after all.”

I did put it in my report, you bitch. You didn’t even read it.

“I can send you an updated report this afternoon, if you’d like,” Catra replied, keeping her tone as even as possible.

The last thing she wanted was to give her sister any indication that her words were having an effect on her. She just had to hold it together until she could get back to her cubicle. She could pretend to be invincible for at least that long.

The department head smiled wickedly. “You do that. And in the meantime,” she leaned forward to slide a paper toward Catra across the desk, “sign this acknowledgment that we met today for a verbal warning about your job performance.”

The acquisitions liaison was blindsided by her last statement. “Excuse me, what?” her voice came out a little too shrill.

That was all the bait the elder sister needed. She coyly ran a circle around the document with her finger.

“You know our company’s discipline policy. The first stage is a verbal warning, which will be documented in your employee file. I know I’ve been lenient with your mistakes in the past, but I can’t keep side-stepping official procedure. This project is too important, and you’ve forced my hand.”

Catra practically shook with indignant rage. This was completely unbelievable. Even for Lucia, this was a new level of bullshit. They both knew that Catra had followed every policy to the letter on this project. A routine setback that was out of her control was an expected part of project management. There was no way it justified a fucking write-up in her record. Her mind was racing to come up with some sort of defense against this latest abuse, but she was too surprised and too angry. Slowly, she leaned forward and took the pen Lucia was offering with that same infuriating smile. Stifling a growl, she scribbled her name on the designated line.

“Was there anything else?” she asked between gritted teeth.

“That’ll be all for now,” Lucia chirped cheerfully. “I’ll be waiting for that corrected report.”

It was fortunate Lucia had a soft-closing office door, or else Catra might have shattered the glass with a slam. She walked robotically back to her desk and sank into the revolving chair. Her black-painted nails dug furiously into the skin of her palms. Perhaps they even drew some blood, as a sharp stinging pain penetrated the shrill ringing between her ears. She fought to steady her panicked breathing and tried to concentrate on physical features around her.

There was a faint buzz from one of her desk drawers, where she’d left her phone before the impromptu meeting with Lucia. Catra pulled out the device to distract herself with whatever new notification was waiting for her. Her breathing paused when she saw there was a new voicemail from Adora. She held her curiosity in check long enough to connect her Bluetooth earpiece. This day was bad enough without drawing more negative attention if the wrong person spotted her spending too much time on her personal phone during work hours. She could face her computer without any indication her attention was elsewhere. At last, she was able to press the playback button.

“Hey Catra. I, uh,” there was a nervous intake of breath before the next words spilled out. “I wanted to apologize, for the other day. I thought about what I said, and it was really fucking stupid. You were trying to tell me what was going on in your life, and all I focused on was trying to change things I have no control over. That wasn’t fair to you. I get why you were so mad. I would be too. I understand if you don’t want to talk. Take whatever space you need. I’m just sorry.” She gave a nervous laugh. “Really sorry. Um, okay, that was it. I’ll just be here. Uh, bye, then.”

Catra stared blankly into her computer monitor, but her mind was in another place entirely. She honestly hadn’t been expecting any sort of apology. Those had been rare for her, as few people actually cared what she thought or felt. Well, except for Scorpia, who would smother her with ridiculous apologies over every minor thing. Scorpia wasn’t like regular people, though; she knew. Adora’s nervous words bounced around in her mind. She actually had recognized a lot of the reasons why Catra lost her temper that day. Did Adora really understand? That hopeful thought nestled into her chest like a ball of nettles. The warmth was edged with sharp reminders of past mistakes when she let herself trust in others.

***

The rest of the afternoon was busy and stressful for Catra. She made negligible changes to her original report and emailed it back to Lucia, who offered some dismissive acknowledgment. Throughout the day her mind would wander back to that unanticipated message from the blonde skater. She was still distracted as she circled the track at the start of derby practice. The other players seemed to understand she wasn’t open to conversation.

Scorpia, the one person who would have attempted anyways, was exchanging an animated story with Kyle and Rogelio. Her bellowing laugh echoed across the space. Although the sound might have normally thawed Catra’s icy demeanor a little, tonight it just emphasized her feelings of isolation and inferiority. Even in spaces like this, where she felt valued and respected, she still didn’t really belong.

After warmups concluded, Entrapta gathered everyone to introduce some new strategies and plays.

“One of the ways we frequently lose contact with the other team’s jammer is when we run into their own blockers,” she explained. “We get distracted trying to go around them, and the jammer takes advantage of those openings in our defense. What I propose we practice is going through the other blockers instead of around them!”

The team murmured, anticipating the sort of uncomfortable contact that was bound to follow this idea. Their coach had a point, though. There was nothing to dispute, considering she was a literal genius and poured a lot of research into their gameplay.

“So tonight we’re going to practice blocking through tight spaces between each other!” The purple-haired woman cackled excitedly.

She instructed a majority of the team to stand in various random places within close proximity to one another. They formed a sort of forest of bodies along the track. The remaining few paired up, one player instructed to block against the other while making their way through this gauntlet of obstacles. Entrapta provided feedback if old habits slipped out and the blocker tried to skirt around the inconvenient roadblocks instead of plowing or weaving through them.

When it was Catra’s turn to block instead of jam, her frustration with the drill was monumental. Blocking was already somewhat of a challenge for her. There was no question that she was strong – had she not just carried someone larger than her up a flight of stairs two weeks ago? But she did have a smaller build than a lot of her teammates, and they had their own strength to attest to. Since she rarely needed to pass her jammer star, that also meant she rarely ended up blocking. She felt clumsy and out of practice in the position.

Entrapta wouldn’t let her skip an opportunity to improve; so here she was, awkwardly leaning backwards to hold her drill partner in place. Having to then maneuver around multiple stationary people without losing her mark was nightmarish. She slammed clumsily into a few of the human obstacles. Others she couldn’t budge, which sometimes caused her to trip backwards and fall. By the end of the drill she felt sorer than if she’d jammed an entire half.

Catra understood that part of growing in the sport meant weathering difficult nights like this. It was still hard to shake the frustration brimming inside her by the time practice was finished. The timing definitely sucked; her workday was plenty shitty without derby making her feel even more useless. When her head finally hit her pillow for the night, her irritation had completely erased Adora’s voicemail apology from her mind.

Chapter Text

Adora stepped into Bright Moon headquarters with nervous excitement. It was her first day back from medical leave; and while she couldn’t have been more restless at home, now that she was back she felt out of place. Two full weeks had gone by without a single update about her assignments. Considering how busy a single workday usually felt, she could only anticipate how much information she’d need to catch up on today.

With a deep sigh she made her way to the small office Glimmer had given her. Some of the items on her desk were moved from their usual places, and a few unfamiliar papers had appeared as well. That must have been the work of her fill-in. She powered up the older desktop computer and signed into her Bright Moon email account for the first time since her injury. A flood of unread messages filled the screen. She skimmed through the subject lines and senders until she spotted an email from Netossa and Spinnerella’s law firm. She reread the message a few times to make sure she was interpreting the legal jargon correctly. If she was being honest, it was more wishful thinking than difficulty understanding the text. Crestfallen, she closed the window and leaned back in her chair.

They’d lost the property – again. With a sigh, she rubbed her temples and fought to gather her emotions. The Horde kept beating them. How were they supposed to do any good if they couldn’t outmaneuver this bully? She couldn’t let this keep happening. Too many people depended on her doing her job well.

Flashbacks of pavement pounding under her younger feet threatened to consume her attention. She stubbornly shoved them back into the vault where she locked away those memories. There wasn’t time to break down – not on her first day back. No, today she had two weeks of missed work to make up for.

“Come on, Adora,” she exhaled and slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Get it together.”

“Talking to yourself again?” a voice asked from the doorway.

Glimmer was watching her with a mixture of humor and concern. She added, “Sorry you had to take the train in this morning. It sucks that Bow and I both had to leave early. Was everything okay?”

The question succeeded at distracting the blonde from her internal spiral. “It was totally fine. I’ve been resting for two weeks. It wasn’t even that big a deal.” The last part came out with a snort.

Her best friend leveled a serious gaze at her. “Adora, you literally injured your brain. You can’t be too careful with stuff like that.”

“I guess,” Adora mused before she remembered what she’d been doing. “You didn’t tell me we lost the case.”

“That’s because I know you, and you would have beat yourself up over it all week instead of recovering,” Glimmer retorted. “And it wouldn’t have changed the outcome anyways. So why put you through that? We’ll keep doing our best. It’s all we can do.”

Adora could see that her friend was putting on a brave face despite her own worries. She needed to figure out a way to make this right – and soon.

“Glimmer, I promise I won’t rest until I beat the Horde!” she declared resolutely.

The Bright Moon director sighed and approached the desk.

“Hey, I’m really glad you’re back – it’s not the same without you here. But I need you to pace yourself and make sure you’re okay too. You always push yourself way too hard; and you matter, too, Adora. What I want you to promise is to put your health first for once.”

Adora’s face scrunched uncomfortably, and she bit her lower lip.

“I’ll try,” she managed reluctantly.

“And I’ll be watching that you do. Take it slow today.”

She huffed. “Fine.”

***

Adora skimmed through the list of new locations her substitute had suggested as replacement sites for their community center. She browsed their online listings and checked their proximity to schools and public transportation. After an hour or two of research, her head was strongly protesting all the screen time. It had been a relief to be released back to work, but maybe this concussion wasn’t quite finished with her. She made a few phone calls and acquired permission to visit two of the locations that day. Their entrances had lock boxes with spare keys and didn’t require her to meet with the listing agent just yet. She could browse on her own and follow up if they had potential.

Since recovery for her ankle sprain was progressing much better than her head injury, she decided she’d be more useful visiting those buildings than wincing at a screen. She grabbed her portfolio and headed out to catch the first bus on her route.

***

As Adora walked through the deserted building, her thoughts wandered to the woman who had been occupying them more and more in recent days. They ran into each other so often at these locations that she felt the absence of that coincidence today. That hollow feeling was accentuated by the fact that Catra hadn’t responded to her apology either. It had only been a couple days, and the blonde tried to reason that she must be extremely busy at her job. After all, now she had two buildings to manage instead of one.

That idea didn’t relieve very much of the sting Adora felt about being left hanging. She couldn’t stand waiting and wondering what the other woman thought. Her mind would always jump to the worst conclusions. Catra was undoubtedly still furious with her; maybe she would never interact with her voluntarily again. Adora couldn’t bear to imagine that for very long. Instead, she continued anxiously checking her phone for notifications. While she remembered, she pulled the mobile device from her pocket to be disappointed yet again.

She gave a heavy sigh and dejectedly completed the property tour on autopilot. This had been a thoroughly disappointing day.

***

The next workday had little change from the previous. Adora forced herself to focus on her computer until the throbbing in her head got too intense to ignore. A few of the realty agencies had gotten back to her. One realtor was only available to meet her after business hours. She sighed internally at having to miss a derby practice, but at least she was only missing a non-contact day. Sometimes that felt more depressing than missing entirely – having to watch as the rest of her team participated in regular drills and played without her. She’d be braving the public transportation system after dark, but she liked to think her muscular build made her fairly intimidating to would-be attackers.

The viewing proceeded without incident. The existing structure had some promising features for Bright Moon’s community center. Adora cordially exchanged information with the realtor and made her way out into the night. Her stomach growled angrily and reminded her that she’d skipped any sort of dinner to head straight there from work. Luckily she spotted a convenience store down the road. At least she could grab a sandwich or some similar sustenance.

As she approached the mostly barren parking lot, she noticed a group of four people – it was difficult to tell if they were in their late teens or early twenties – quickly approach a lone man who had just exited the store. The moment he rounded the corner of the neighboring building they surrounded him. His nervous voice carried across the road to her ears.

“P-please, take what you want. I don’t want any trouble.”

One of the strangers snatched the plastic bag from the man’s outstretched hand, and another shoved him back against the brick building.

“Hey!” Adora shouted at them, breaking into a run.

They turned to assess the new voice but smirked when they realized it was a single woman plowing towards them. One of the attackers took the opportunity to rip a wallet from the man’s pocket and push him to the ground. He scrambled backwards with a frightened whimper. By then the derby player reached the group and immediately reached for the man’s possessions.

“Those don’t belong to you,” she growled.

“Fuck off, cunt,” the first thief retorted.

They wrestled with the bag a moment before the blonde shot a punch to his jaw. He stumbled back in surprise, his fingers slipping from the plastic handle. That move sent up a flurry of protests from the rest of the group, and within seconds they converged on the vigilante savior. Adora fought back with impressive gusto, landing a knee into the gut of one, elbowing another across the face. She had taken a few self-defense courses over the years and remembered how to keep a protective stance against multiple adversaries.

Still, four against one weren’t the greatest odds. The man who’d been their original target used the confusion to grab his forgotten items from the ground and flee, leaving Adora to deal with the group on her own. One of the assailants clipped her cheek with their fist, and the world spun. She did her best to shake the lightheadedness away quickly to keep them in sight. Another attacker used her momentary lapse to land a punch to her ribs. Searing pain shot up her right side. She said a prayer that nothing was broken and tried to put some distance between them.

One of the group managed to circle behind her and clubbed her to the back of the head. That strike finally sent her sprawling on the sidewalk. When her face connected with pavement everything went black.

Chapter Text

Catra spent her morning at the Horde coordinating between various contractors and vendors. It was no small task to make sure both the properties she was assigned to manage were on schedule to meet the aggressive deadlines Lucia had set. She took lunch at her desk that day and lost track of time during the afternoon. When she finally realized the hour, she was in danger of missing practice because she’d stayed so late.

She hurried to the elevator that led to the employee parking garage. Traffic wasn’t nearly as busy at that time of day, but she still growled whenever she got boxed in at stoplights. The cars thinned out as she got closer to her neighborhood.

Unexpectedly, a woman ran into the street ahead of her. At least Catra had plenty of notice to slow down on her motorcycle, and that also gave her the opportunity to study the idiotic pedestrian. When she spotted a blonde ponytail, her chest ached at the reminder of the woman she hadn’t spoken to since that unpleasant afternoon. Admittedly, she did want to reach out; but the inevitability of being vulnerable in order to resolve the conflict had been holding her back. The longer the wait dragged on, the guiltier she felt.

She took one last glance in her rearview mirror because it was too tempting not to project her wishes on the random stranger, pretend that it was actually Adora crossing paths with her once again – as though the universe demanded they be reunited.

Except that random stranger really did look a hell of a lot like Adora. She pulled the bike over and turned to look over her shoulder. The woman had approached a group of five on the sidewalk. Four of them appeared to have cornered the fifth. Was he getting mugged? The blonde seized a plastic bag that was in the hand of one of the four, and they began wrestling over it. Catra caught a glimpse of the woman’s face. She was a bit too far away, but that definitely looked like Adora.

“What the fuck?”

She watched the blonde swing at the other person, and they stumbled away from her. Damn, if that wasn’t fucking Adora with a punch like that. Normally she wouldn’t have gotten involved in any sort of altercation on the street. You never knew if anyone was hiding a weapon, and she wasn’t that invested in helping out somebody who didn’t mean anything to her. This time, however, the nagging feeling in her gut about this mystery woman was too strong. She checked for traffic and made a U-turn back toward the group. By the time she got close a full-on fight had broken out between the lone woman and the four others. The fifth stranger was hightailing it away from the rest, the pussy.

Finally, she could recognize that it was Adora. It made absolutely no sense, but she didn’t have time to wonder how Adora could possibly be there. She hastily threw down the kickstand and leapt off the motorcycle to race towards the fight – if it could still be called that now that the blonde had been knocked to the ground and bombarded with kicks from the group. Catra had to fight down the rumbling nausea at the sight of Adora’s limp body quaking at each impact. Thinking quickly, she pulled out her phone and waved it at the group.

“The cops are on the way, assholes! You better fuck off right now!”

A string of curses came from the group before they decided to abandon the beaten woman where she’d collapsed on the sidewalk. Catra dropped to her knees beside her.

“Adora? Adora!”

She jostled the blonde’s shoulders frantically but was afraid to roll her from her stomach just yet. She spotted a scrape on her forehead that looked like she’d connected face-first with the pavement. Worry flooded Catra as she remembered the concussion that had played out only two weeks prior.

“Adora, please wake up!”

The woman groaned from her place on the ground. She blinked wearily but otherwise continued to lie as she was.

“Adora, it’s me, Catra. Can you speak?”

After another groggy moan, “Catra?”

“Yea, dummy.” Her voice cracked with relief when Adora had enough bearing to respond to her. “It looked like you just got your ass kicked in a street fight. Can you tell me what’s hurt?”

The blonde rolled onto her left side with a groan. “Head. Side.” She motioned toward the now-exposed portion of her torso. Since she’d turned Catra could also see the rash across her right cheek and temple from hitting the ground. The wound didn’t seem deep, but it was an ugly mess of blood and dirt. Her biggest concern was the fact that Adora had hit her head again when she may not even be fully healed from the last time.

“I’m gonna call an ambulance,” she declared.

Adora placed a hand on her wrist. “I’m okay. Give me a minute. Please.”

Catra bit her lip and sat beside her helplessly, not daring to move her arm away from Adora’s gentle grip. After an eternity – or maybe a few minutes – the injured woman slowly pushed herself into a seated position. Both hands shot up to hold her head, Catra’s following close behind to guide them away from the blood.

“You don’t want to touch that right now,” she explained softly. “We need to clean up those cuts on your face.”

At last, those light blue eyes met hers. They were a bit dizzy still, but they seemed genuinely relieved at the same time. Was that how she felt about seeing Catra or just help in general?

“Your head,” Catra prompted, concerned.

“That definitely didn’t do me any favors,” Adora answered with a grimace. “I might be sick again.”

She turned gingerly onto her hands and knees, indicating she was ready to attempt standing. Catra hurriedly supported her arm on the left side, away from the other unconfirmed injury around her ribs.

“Careful. Should you be doing this?”

“I’m fine. I’m She-ra,” the blonde responded distantly.

She staggered a bit, and the sharp movement forced an involuntary hiss from her as she braced a hand against her ribcage.

“Anything feel broken?”

Adora poked tentatively at the spot in question. She winced but otherwise maintained composure. “Maybe not. It fucking hurts, but it’s manageable.”

“How did you get here? Did you drive?”

“Trains,” the blonde mumbled back.

That fucking figured. There was no way Catra was going to cinch Adora up to her to ride on the Rebel this time – not with her ribs in question. She knew they were miles from Adora’s place, and she didn’t know how wise it was to make the trip while in her current condition anyway. Glancing furtively at their surroundings, she realized they were only a couple blocks from her own apartment. She fished her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. Shit, Scorpia and Entrapta were definitely at practice already. She wouldn’t be able to call for a ride from them either.

“Hey Adora, I’ve got a safe place we can go; but can you walk?”

“Mm-hmm,” the other squeaked out before a half-stifled whimper.

“Okay,” Catra continued directing her while simultaneously checking the street signs to make sure her Rebel would be safe for the time being. She couldn’t find any parking restrictions in this area. That was one less thing to worry about at least. “I’ll carry you again if it gets too hard.”

“You’re She-ra’s She-ra,” came a silly little mumble from beside her, which brought a tight-lipped smile to her face. That idiot still managed to be a dork even in a battered state like this.

Adora’s steps began to falter as they neared the apartment complex.

“I’m sorry,” she groaned. “Maybe I need to rest a second.”

Catra assessed the distance and set her resolve. “No need. I’ll take it from here.”

She knelt for the taller woman to climb onto her back again. Catra was careful to get a firm grip around both Adora’s legs before standing as steadily as she could muster. She felt anxious not to aggravate the any of the woman’s injuries. It took a great deal of effort, but she swallowed her strained grunts as best she could. When they crossed the entryway, she thanked the universe that the multi-story building came with a functioning elevator.

She let Adora down onto her own feet before fumbling with the apartment key. The two hobbled awkwardly through the small doorway, and Catra led the blonde to her bedroom. That would be less chaotic than having her roommates burst in to find Adora randomly lying on their couch. The injured woman needed minor assistance getting onto the mattress.

“Thank you,” she managed weakly, squinting against even the soft glow of Catra’s lamp. “Where are we?”

“My place, dummy,” Catra answered kindly. “You can rest here until you feel well enough to get home or admit you need that ambulance.”

The blonde scrunched her nose at that. “I’ll pass.” She attempted to look up into Catra’s mismatched eyes before adding, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t wanna hear it,” Catra cut her off firmly. “I’ll get you some painkillers, and you rest.”

Even amidst a severe headache, Adora still managed to give her that smile that simultaneously melted her insides and sent them fluttering out of her body. Catra hurried to gather the medicine and first aid kit so she could set to work on the facial scrapes. Adora winced a few times despite her gentle touch, but otherwise she kept a brave face through the procedure. Catra admired her strength even though she didn’t want the other to bother on her account.

“Alright, Princess. I think that’s the best we can do for now.” She let her hand graze Adora’s arm affectionately as a form of reassurance. “You take it easy, but tell me if you need anything.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Catra smiled warmly knowing the other had already closed her eyes and couldn’t see it. Idiot.

 

Chapter Text

Adora rolled in and out of consciousness. She could only recall a few coherent moments. The first time she woke, she saw the dark hair and worried mismatched eyes of Catra waiting right beside the bed. Catra leaned towards her the moment she stirred.

“Hey, Adora,” she breathed, a combination of relief and concern written on her features.

“Hey,” she managed back.

“Do you need anything?”

“Merr slip,” she mumbled as the weight of her eyelids won out over the feeling of reassurance knowing that Catra was staying with her.

The next time Catra judiciously held a glass of water up to her mouth and insisted she take a few sips. The cool liquid made her realize how dry her throat had gotten.

“Thanks,” she offered meekly.

“Hush, dummy.”

It was funny how such a derogatory name managed to fill her entire body with warmth when it was spoken by that voice.

The third time she was roused by the sound of raised voices nearby. She hadn’t been ready to open her eyes again, and her ears felt overly sensitive to the energetic conversation taking place overhead. Fortunately, it didn’t last too long; and she drifted back out after she was able to identify Catra returning to the usual seat beside her.

***

Watching over Adora this time went less peacefully for Catra. When she’d stayed over at the Alliance captain’s flat it was with the reassurance of a hospital discharge. Instead of affectionately studying the woman’s features for future reflection, now she was scrupulously checking for any outward signs of an emergency.

Was it safe for her to sleep with a renewed head injury? Could a person puncture a lung without realizing it? Were there external symptoms for internal bleeding?

Her attention shifted constantly between frantic internet searches and her earnest vigil over the unconscious blonde. Of course, random health forums and self-diagnosis sites always promoted the worst-case scenario. Obviously, you must be dying, was the overall theme. Eventually she shoved the phone onto her desk in frustration and decided to just follow her gut.

Two hours passed both quickly and excruciatingly slowly. The sound of voices entering through the front door caught her attention.

“Wildcat! You home?” came Scorpia’s call first.

Catra bit her lip. This was an awkward part she’d been hoping to avoid as long as possible. She didn’t see a way to feasibly get out of revealing her injured guest to her roommates. Exhaling in resignation, she opened her bedroom door to greet the two women.

“Hey guys,” she said in a hushed tone. “I’ll explain more later, but can we keep it down right now?”

“Catra, you’re here! You missed a great practice,” her taller friend bellowed, missing the request at first. “Oh, why are we being quiet?”

The team captain stepped aside to reveal the woman resting on her bed.

“Whoa!” Scorpia exclaimed in a failed whisper.

“Your interpersonal dealings seem to have escalated,” Entrapta peaked around Catra to study Adora’s unconscious form. “Did you engage in activities of sexual intimacy?”

“What? No!” Catra screeched. “She got hurt! I brought her here to rest. So if we could please keep it down?”

“Ohhh. I do observe abrasions to her forehead and cheek. I trust you’ve treated the wounds?”

“Yes, Entrapta. But she hit her head and needs to rest.”

“You must be close if she asked you to help at a time like this, Wildcat!”

“She didn’t ask me, Scorpia. I was driving by and happened to see her get into a fight against four assholes.”

“Wow, how bizarre.”

“Tch, tell me about it,” Catra muttered under her breath. “Anyways, we were nearby; and this seemed like the best option since the idiot wouldn’t agree to an ambulance.”

“Fascinating,” the purple-haired friend responded with a glint in her eyes. “I could try to assess the damage for scie- I mean, if that would help.”

The team captain considered the offer. Entrapta had a bad habit of getting too engrossed in analyzing data to care about the human components of some of her research. On the other hand, she might have the best hope of figuring out if Adora’d broken any bones that night. She shot the sleeping woman a furtive glance before deciding.

“Let her rest for now,” she stated firmly. “But yea, I think that might be a good idea.”

“Great! Text me details so I can read ahead on my computer!” Entrapta ran to her room, cackling with delight.

Scorpia had lingered. “Oh, Wildcat, speaking of computers. Before practice I popped in your room to see if you were already here. You know, because you didn’t come out to ride with us like normal. Obviously you weren’t there,” she chuckled at her own narrative. “But I noticed you’d forgotten to click ‘Send’ on your application. Don’t worry though! I made sure it sent before all your answers disappeared.”

Somehow, her best friend had started speaking an unrecognizable language. What the hell was she talking about – application? On Catra’s computer?

Wait. No, she couldn’t mean–

“You what?!”

“You know, that director job or whatever,” Scorpia continued, obliviously. “Honestly, I’m so excited you’re looking into new jobs, Wildcat. The one you have now has been so shitty to you.” She lowered her voice surreptitiously, “And, I mean, the boss? Heh.”

 Catra couldn’t believe what she was hearing right now. Scorpia actually sent her application to Bright Moon? Panic bubbled in her chest. It really happened. She couldn’t un-send it. How did Scorpia even see it? Hadn’t she folded the notebook shut? Why didn’t she just close the stupid window right after she filled it out? She was a fucking idiot for doing it to begin with. There was no way she’d actually want to work with that obnoxious pastel explosion.

Oh my fucking god. Would Sparkles know?

“Scorpia!”

“What’s up, Catra? You seem tense. Are you worried about Adora?”

Adora. Lying in her bed a few feet away. She was consciously reminded to work on regaining control of her spiraling emotions. Taking a deep breath, she forced a tight-lipped smile to address her well-intentioned roommate.

“Scorpia,” she began again, with an even tone this time. “I appreciate that you wanted to help me, but I wasn’t going to submit that application. Next time, please ask before doing things on my computer.”

The words took a moment to process for the taller woman. As their meaning clicked into place, her expression shifted. “Oh…oh. I see. Uh, sorry about that, Wildcat. I didn’t think–”

“I know,” Catra interrupted before the tidal wave of apologies could get momentum. “It’s okay. It’s just an application. Let’s just remember for next time, okay?”

Her friend deflated, a mixture of disappointment and relief. “Alright. I really am sorry.”

“I know, buddy.” Catra reached out to pat her shoulder. “But right now I need to get back to helping this idiot.” She pointed over her shoulder to Adora. “We’ll catch up more later, okay?”

Scorpia’s watering eyes met hers before she rushed forward to imprison her in another of her spine-crushing hugs. Fortunately, this was a shorter one. Almost as quickly as it happened, the woman flew down the hall to her own bedroom, leaving Catra dazed and disheveled in her doorway. She chuckled quietly to herself before walking back to the desk chair she’d pulled over to Adora’s bedside.

Mistaken job applications could wait for now. A princess still needed her.

***

A new email appeared in her work inbox as Glimmer wrapped up some business from home that evening. Bow had just gotten back from the Historian and was in the process of cooking them dinner. Acknowledging that their time together was limited and precious, she planned to set the computer aside after a few more simple tasks. Bow didn’t usually ask for help with meal prep; which was good considering how terrible her cooking skills were. But she liked to keep him company and chat about their days. Her boyfriend was the world’s greatest listener, and she did her best to return the favor when she could. They could definitely relate when it came to matters of business management and roller derby. She really appreciated having a partner who understood her daily life but beyond that also knew her so well as a person. They’d definitely been part of each other’s lives forever at this point, but Bow was especially intuitive about feelings and other people.

Reveries about the fabulous man in their kitchen aside, she turned back to the unread email. It was a notification about a new applicant for the PR director vacancy. Thank the universe, she thought desperately. They really needed to get somebody capable into that position. Maybe that would finally turn their luck around with expanding their community aid projects. She opened the message hopefully. As the applicant’s answers populated, she gasped in surprise.

“Oh my god, Bow!”

He raced into the room with a spatula in hand, shirt sleeves rolled up and a white apron tied around his waist.

“What happened?” he exclaimed worriedly.

She looked up from the computer screen to meet his eyes. “I just got a job application.”

Her boyfriend transitioned from panicked to perplexed, bordering on annoyance at having been scared like that. “Glimmer, isn’t that a good thing? You are trying to hire somebody right now.”

“From Catra,” she said in disbelief.

Recognition washed over Bow. “Wait. Catra Catra? From the Horde?”

“Yes, Bow. It’s listed in her current employer info. I can’t believe it. Do you think this is some kind of trick? A new angle to mess with us?”

Dinner momentarily forgotten, Bow sat beside her on the lilac couch.

“It is pretty unbelievable,” he started in that tone that signaled he was reasoning through the situation. “But I’m not sure how filling out a job application would help the Horde. If you interviewed her and she didn’t seem good for the job, you wouldn’t hire her. And that’s time taken from her to do Horde things. If you did hire her, the hours would definitely conflict with her current work schedule. She couldn’t possibly do both at the same time. That means she’d have to leave them. Glimmer, do you think Catra wants to leave the Horde?”

“Why would she do that, Bow? She’s been absolutely killing us for months now. I bet they fucking love her over there, ugh,” she threw her hands over her face in frustration.

Bow draped an arm over her shoulders and pulled her into his side.

“Maybe she doesn’t actually like working for them,” he reasoned. “Plus she and Adora kinda have a something going on.”

“Which I am not sure I trust. Adora’s got enough to worry about without somebody like that messing with her feelings. She just got back from medical leave, and she’s always stressing too much about work.”

“Those are all reasons that having somebody else around could be good for her, babe. And that’s up to Adora, not us.”

She let out an exaggerated groan, which elicited ticklish pokes to her side from her boyfriend.

Fine. I know you’re right, jerk.”

“Anyways, does it seem like she’s qualified for your opening?”

Glimmer sat up to shift the laptop screen towards both of them. “Actually, she sounds perfect for it.”

“Wow. Well, wouldn’t it be fair to give her an interview at least? Maybe that’ll answer some of your questions about her motives too. We really don’t know her as a person, but maybe we could put a little trust in the fact that Adora seems to like her?”

“I guess you’re right,” she admitted with a sigh.

She then playfully returned his earlier barrage of jabs to the ribs. “Why do you always have to be so reasonable?” she gritted out between giggles.

“Ah! Glimmer! You know I can’t–” he wheezed between fits of laughter until she relented. “And you know you love my cool intellect in the face of difficulties.”

She rolled her eyes but leaned against him once again, her head resting comfortably against his shoulder. “Yea. I do.”

Chapter Text

“Yea, Glimmer, I promise I’m not hurt too badly. But my concussion feels like it’s back, and I don’t think I could be much use at work today. I’m really sorry.”

Adora hadn’t had time to leave Catra’s the next morning before she realized it was nearly time for her shift to begin. Seeing that she was in no fit state, she at least made the decision to report the absence to her best friend.

Catra watched the phone conversation with only Adora’s side for context. Much to her amusement, she didn’t miss the flush that crossed Adora’s cheeks, accompanied with, “oh, um, don’t worry. I knew somebody who lived nearby and kept an eye on me,” before glancing shyly in Catra’s direction. The blonde couldn’t hide her feelings to save her life. Meanwhile Catra fought back her own chuckle as the show played out. There was no denying that mutual attraction existed between the two of them, despite the rockiness of their previous interaction. But the fact that the air still hadn’t been cleared from that incident was definitely one contributing factor to Catra’s attempts to keep her guard up around the other woman. Only Catra was acutely aware how fragile those attempts actually were whenever Adora smiled or met her eyes.

After a few failed tries, Adora finally managed to end the phone conversation with Glimmer. “Heh, sorry about that. Downside to working for your best friend is that your boss is very concerned when you call in sick.”

“Strange concept,” Catra muttered back with a little more bite than she intended.

Adora’s expression darkened as she no doubt remembered what Catra had shared about working for her own blood sister. She felt guilty that her sharp edges had yet again pricked somebody she actually cared about protecting. The best she could offer in apology was a change of subject.

“Both my roommates are gonna be out most of the day, and it’s time for me to head to work too. Are you sure you’ll be okay here for a few hours?”

When Adora’s nod seemed suspicious she added, “I should be able to give you a ride to your place around lunchtime. So promise you won’t try something stupid like taking the bus by yourself.”

Adora squirmed from her position on the bed. “Damnit, okay,” she grumbled stubbornly.

Catra rolled her eyes to avoid smiling. “Channel being an actual princess for a few hours until I can chauffer your sorry ass home.”

She placed her index finger to the other woman’s forehead and gently pushed her back down into the pillow. “You should be sleeping anyways. You just said yourself you have another concussion.”

The blonde sighed but closed her eyes compliantly.

“Back before you know it.”

***

The morning dragged by at the Horde office. Catra managed to avoid any direct interactions with Lucia, which kept her mood lighter than usual. That also left her with plenty of available focus to be completely distracted by the thought of the Alliance captain sleeping in her bed right now. She did her best to stay busy – which, honestly, wasn’t too difficult – but frequently checked the clock in between tasks.

When she entered the apartment she found Adora somewhat prepared to leave. She was still in the large faded band t-shirt and shorts that Catra had offered during her more coherent moment that morning. She wasn’t too concerned about lending them out, considering she knew where to find them later. Instead, she found it endearing to see the blonde so comfortable in her clothing. It felt more personal getting to see her outside of official work or sports attire.

“How are you feeling, Princess?”

Adora glowed under the question. “A lot better from before, but taking the day off was the right move. I can’t stand looking at my phone longer than a few minutes.”

Catra shuffled awkwardly for a moment before continuing. “Well, if you’re ready, I guess I should get you home before they miss me at work.”

“Oh! Of course, sorry.”

Catra discreetly watched how Adora handled the walk to the elevator and out to the motorcycle. She was taking everything much slower and bit back a wince here and there, but she did seem alert for the time being.

“Are you sleepy?” she inquired seriously.

“I think I’m awake for now, but I’ll tell you if that changes,” Adora answered earnestly. Her nose crinkled in an endearing way. “This thing should be enough excitement for me to last the ride home.”

“So no seatbelt this time?” Catra mocked playfully, hand on her hip.

“Ha, we can go wild and seatbelt-free today,” Adora laughed and gave her a cheesy wink.

Catra snorted and mounted the Rebel, making sure she had stable footing on both sides. “Hop on, Your Highness.”

The motorbike shifted as the second woman cautiously climbed onto the seat behind her. The limited space naturally forced their bodies to press together, and a moment later two arms curled warmly around her waist. It still surprised her how comfortable Adora’s touch felt, considering how rarely she let others get close to her – both physically and emotionally. Roller derby was different because it was competitive and didn’t have any other implications attached.

She threw the Rebel into gear and set off for the north side of town.

***

For what seemed like the first time, Catra accompanied a fully mobile Adora up the staircase to her unit. She’d survived the ride without passing out or bouncing off the back, with only an occasional squeal or death grip around Catra’s ribs.

As they plodded along, the door to the unit below burst open.

“Adora, is that you?”

“Hey, Bow,” Adora called back in embarrassment.

He bounded up the stairs after them. “Glimmer told me what happened. You should have let me pick you up!”

Adora looked guiltily toward Catra first, then to Bow. “Sorry,” was all she managed in a sort of all-encompassing apology to everyone present. “I don’t think my brain is working at full power yet.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Can I help with anything now?” That was about when he seemed to notice his friend’s escort. “Oh hi. Catra, right? I don’t think we were ever properly introduced. I’m Bow.”

“You’re the one who wears crop tops,” she retorted, skeptically shaking his outstretched hand.

“Ha, that’s right. They just feel less restrictive.” He grimaced down at his current semi-formal attire. “Sadly, I have to disguise myself as a put-together business owner today.”

“You are a put-together business owner,” Adora corrected warmly.

The compliment seemed to make him radiate with his usual positivity again.

“Anyways, Adora, should you be moving around like this?”

Ugh, I’m literally headed inside to rest!”

A quiet snicker escaped the Horde liaison as she watched their soap-opera-like performance unfold in the middle of the stairwell. These people were overly boisterous. In some ways, it reminded her of living with Scorpia. Bow seemed like somebody who was as upbeat and genuine as her friend, albeit a lot more focused from what she could tell.

Her lapse in silence brought both their attentions back to her, much to her sudden discomfort.

“Catra, did you get to eat yet?” Adora asked meekly.

The question caught her off-guard at first. “Uh, no, I didn’t. I figured it’d take the whole hour to do this.”

“I was afraid of that.” The blonde seemed troubled to know she was the cause of Catra’s sacrificed lunch.

“I was just going to grab something on my way back,” she added quickly, in an effort to lighten Adora’s cloudy expression.

That’s when Bow cut in. “Excuse me, but the least I can do to thank you for helping my friend is send you off with a proper meal.” He gestured comically towards Adora and added, “Unless you want a can of soup, I don’t think Adora can offer you much in the way of edible food.”

“Hey,” she started defensively before dissolving into laughter. “He’s right though. Bow owns the café where we dan- uh, ran into each other that one time.” Her cheeks reddened, and she looked away shyly. “He’s the best cook I know.”

“How kind of you to say, Adora.” Bow declared approvingly. With a grin, he gave a sweeping bow as though he had just been showered with applause. “Give me five minutes, and you won’t regret it,” he added with a wink at Catra before rushing back downstairs.

Catra’s attention turned back to the woman now leaning weakly against the handrail. She looked much paler than a couple minutes ago. How long had she been struggling without saying anything?

“Come on, idiot,” she said, holding out her hand. “We don’t have to keep waiting around out here.”

Adora grasped the offered hand gratefully, and this time she did let Catra carry some of her weight.

Quieter so there was no chance of Bow overhearing, she added, “If you need help, speak up. Quit trying to do everything by yourself. It’s just stupid.”

Adora’s fingers squeezed tighter around hers, letting her know the message had been received. She smiled to herself and left it at that.

***

The claims of Bow’s unmatched abilities in the kitchen were not empty promises, Catra learned. She hung around Adora’s living room long enough to inhale the sandwich that gave Rogelio’s special a run for its money. The two flatmates chatted animatedly as she ate, mostly Bow sharing random stories about things that had happened at the Historian in the past 24 hours. Adora did more listening, considering the way she occasionally winced from the sunlight, but she chimed in with appropriate surprise or humor at various moments in Bow’s storytelling. Catra was more interested in quietly observing their interaction but did throw in a couple well-timed snide remarks here and there.

When she finished eating it was unfortunately past time for her to make the drive back to work. As she was swinging her leg over the motorcycle seat, her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number but had been working with a myriad of contractors and permit offices by this point. She answered just to be sure.

“Catra Capitán speaking.”

Hello, this is Janice from Bright Moon calling in regards to your application for our PR Director position. We’d like you to meet with us tomorrow for an interview, if that’s okay.

Her mouth hung open while her brain processed the words that had come through the other end. The application that Scorpia had sent without her permission had just landed her a job interview. She found herself irrationally glancing up at the two-flat to make sure Bow or Adora weren’t listening in on her conversation. The lunch she’d just shared with those two unnaturally wholesome people couldn’t have been timed better. If these were presumably the people closest to Sparkles, maybe she wasn’t as unbearable as she’d always seemed.

Taking a deep breath against all the pressure and potential repercussions waiting for her under her sister’s authority, she managed to answer lightly, “That works fine. What time would you like me to come?”