house of cards
a structure, situation, or plan that is insubstantial and subject to imminent collapse, as a structure made by balancing playing cards against each other.
“To be haunted is to glimpse a truth that might best be hidden.”
— James Herbert, Haunted
The events leading up to Catra finding out her apartment is haunted go something like this:
She reads about it in the local newspaper across from Scorpia, a plateful of eggs and toast separating them. Catra doesn’t know Scorpia’s new girlfriend very well, but wow, she can cook.
“It says here that there’s an apartment for rent down a few blocks,” Catra mumbles through a mouthful of bread. “And, check this out, rent is super cheap.” She can’t believe her luck. Not only is it still within relative walking distance to school, but it’s close to Scorpia’s apartment, and if Perfuma is going to be around more often, she might just have to stick around for a bit to eat their food.
(Sue her. She’s already been crashing on Scorpia’s couch for the past few weeks due to having been evicted from her last apartment after not being able to afford rent, and she barely has enough money scraped up to pay her way through grad school and an apartment, so she’s already past the point of saving her dignity by pretending the reason she eats so much of Scorpia’s food is not because of how fucking poor she is.)
“Wow, that is cheap,” Scorpia agrees after she down at the newspaper ad. Perfuma peers over her girlfriend’s shoulder, head tilted.
“That’s really cheap,” she agrees, and then blinks at Catra. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an apartment that cheap. Aren’t you afraid something might be wrong with it?”
“I don’t care,” Catra says after forking the rest of her food into her mouth, seconds away from calling the number at the bottom of the paper. “This is the first apartment within my budget I’ve seen in months.”
Perfuma and Scorpia glance at each other, and then shrug. A week later, they’re helping her carry what little furniture and things she has into her new apartment.
Things are quiet inside. The apartment itself isn’t as bad as she had initially imagined after seeing the price: what she had expected was a shitty apartment, paint crumbling off of the walls, the smell of smoke filtering through the air vents, stains littering the ground, constant cold water. What she gets is still a shitty apartment, but there’s only a couple of stains in the carpet, and the water is warm for at least a few minutes before it turns cold. It’s also a shoebox of an apartment, but all in all, it’s still better than what she was expecting.
(And besides, she’s only here for a few years. The moment she get her degree and an actual job, she has no doubt she’ll be making enough money to get herself a decent place.)
Things start to get weird a week in.
She gets home one night from the arcade she works at, exhausted and ready to set her alarm clock to wake herself up early tomorrow morning to study rather than doing it tonight like she initially planned. She’s too tired to even shower or make herself a cup of noodles for dinner, so she settles on a yoghurt cup she pulls from the fridge.
When she’s changing into some sleep shorts and a t-shirt, the lights cut off, and then flicker back on. Catra blinks, glances around — it’s not raining, and there’s no way she’s late on her payment when she literally just moved in seven days ago — but then figures it may be just something that accompanies buying a cheap apartment, and ignores it.
It doesn’t stop there.
From that moment on, the lights always flicker. Sometimes they’ll cut out for minutes at a time. It eventually starts to frustrate her, because she knows she’s paying on time and shouldn’t be having this problem, but she doesn’t bring it up to the landlord until a conversation with her neighbor informs her that he isn’t having this problem; it’s just her.
(Except when the landlord finally sends a repairman down to check things out, the guy can’t find a single thing.)
It keeps happening, and eventually, Catra just learns to deal with it. It usually only happens during the day anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal.
Things don’t begin to get really weird till two weeks in.
It starts getting cold in the apartment at random times. Being that she moved in at the end of summer, it’s still hot outside, and nowhere near the frigid temperature of her apartment. To make matters even weirder, some places of the apartment are colder than others. There’s one night where Catra’s up studying, and suddenly, the lights flicker. Followed by it is a sudden gust of cool air, almost as if someone’s suddenly turned on a fan and pointed it directly at her. It’s so cold that Catra has to put a sweater on over her sweater and pull on a pair of fluffy socks.
Perfuma and Scorpia come over one night, and they leave a vase of flowers in their wake. Two days later, they’re frozen over, and so is the window they had been placed by. Catra stares at them in disbelief because it quite literally doesn’t make any sense; the space she’s standing in isn’t even cold anymore, but she has no doubt that it once was.
A month in, things are really, really weird.
The doors will shut — sometimes even slam — by themselves. Catra will find drawers and cabinets left open despite knowing she didn't open them herself, and as if things couldn’t possibly get worse, she swears she starts to see someone.
The first time it happens, she’s woken up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and there’s a girl standing at the foot of her bed: she’s young, probably around Catra’s age, with her hair pulled up into a ponytail. That’s all Catra manages to catch before she disappears the moment Catra scrambles for the bedside table lamp and flicks it on.
It happens more after that. Sometimes Catra will be watching TV, glance down at the paper about civil procedures she’s supposed to be reading, and then glance back up. She’ll be there, standing in front of the TV and staring at Catra, before she disappears before Catra can blink. Other times she’ll appear in the doorway of Catra’s bedroom, or standing in the living room when Catra gets home.
It starts to happen so often that Catra eventually resorts to the knowledge that she’s actually lost it. She’s descending into madness, losing her mind, and all she can think is that no one, including herself, will be surprised when she’s deemed as insane.
One night, Catra’s just finished brushing her teeth and is ready to head to bed when she steps into her room. The girl is there again, but this time, she’s facing away from Catra. She doesn’t see her for a moment, so it’s the first time she doesn’t immediately disappear the moment Catra sees her.
She’s almost translucent, a silvery figure peering through the window. Catra stands there for a moment, jaw dropped, because she’s seen enough horror movies to understand what’s happening here. Either she really has lost her fucking mind or she’s staring at a fucking ghost, and the reason for all of the strange things happening in her apartment is literally — or maybe, in retrospect, not so literally — standing in front of her.
Except when she takes in a gasping breath, chest aching from having apparently been holding it this entire time, the girl quickly turns around. Her eyes go wide, and then she disappears as if she were never standing there at all.
And well, Catra throws caution to the wind at that moment, because:
1) She’s seen so many horror movies that she’s lost count, and by now, she’s the type of person to laugh when someone gets killed. She’s not scared of this stuff.
2) She’s probably already going crazy, so it’s not like actually talking to it — to her, maybe — is going to change that.
3) Deep down, she knows that if this is actually a ghost, that it’s not a bad one. She doesn’t get a bad or malevolent feeling from her; in fact, the girl looks more scared than anything else every time she appears. It’s just… an inexplicable instinct she has.
4) If it turns out that there actually is a ghost haunting her, she’d like to have a few words with her for making everything so cold and scaring the shit out of her by suddenly slamming doors or cabinets.
“Hello?” Catra calls out, glancing around the room. “Is there anyone here?”
She quickly jerks her head to the right when she feels goosebumps on her arm a beat later, almost as if someone was standing right next to her, except there’s nothing and no one there aside from a cold, chilling feeling.
“Okay,” Catra mutters to herself. “Okay.”
Two days later, Scorpia has just left when Catra shuts the door and the apartment immediately grows cold. She sighs in frustration, runs a hand through her hair, and then turns around.
“Okay, listen,” she starts. “I don’t know if I’m losing my mind, or if I’m actually being haunted and there’s a fucking ghost in my apartment. I’d like it if you could reveal yourself, but if you want to keep hiding, then just do me a favor and stop— stop making it cold, and slamming shit, okay? I can deal with the lights flickering, but—”
Before she can even finish, all of the drawers to the cabinets in the kitchen fly out. One of them catches Catra in the side, and it doesn’t even really hurt, but she still shouts fuck! in surprise as she clutches her side. The girl immediately appears again, and she looks panicked and far more scared than Catra’s ever seen her.
“I’m so sorry!” she exclaims. Catra watches in utter shock and disbelief, the pain in her side forgotten. The ghost’s voice is high pitched in her panic. “I didn’t— I don’t know to control it, and you were making me nervous and I swear that wasn’t on purpose, I just—” she cuts herself off then as if she’s realizing something, and then suddenly, she’s staring at Catra as if Catra is the paranormal activity in the room.
Then she disappears.
Catra sighs, rubs her forehead, and then thinks, okay. So, I know a ghost. I know a ghost, and she’s haunting my apartment.
“You can come out, you know,” Catra mutters quietly. Now that she knows that there’s actually a ghost here and that she actually just apologized for accidentally hurting her, she’s pretty sure this isn’t as dangerous as it could be. “I’m, uh, sorry for raising my voice at you, and I’d like it if we could… talk.”
I’m talking to a ghost, Catra thinks. I’m actually talking to a fucking ghost.
But it seems like it’s working. A few feet away from her on the other side of the tiny garden table that’s currently acting as Catra’s kitchen table, a silvery figure slowly manifests. It’s not complete, only a silhouette, but Catra keeps talking.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” she speaks, gentler than before, because the girl looked really scared, and Catra knows how it feels to be trapped in a room with nothing but fear running through your veins. “What’s your name?”
The figure manifests enough that Catra can make out her features again, but it’s still not enough for her to look like she’s not a ghost. Her eyes are still wide, and she still looks afraid, but it’s not as much as before.
“I’m Catra,” she continues, and then despite the fact that no one but the people she once called her family knows this, she says: “Actually, it’s Catrina, but if you call me that we will have problems.”
The joke seems to work, because the ghost smiles. It’s shaky, but it’s there, and for some reason, it makes Catra feel more relaxed.
“My name is Adora,” she breathes out. Then, “I think I might be dead.”
No shit, Catra thinks, but doesn’t say. Sarcasm is probably not what Adora needs right now.
“Okay,” she says, carefully. Adora is still staring at her wearily, like she’s not sure what Catra’s going to do next. Eventually Catra sighs, and then glances back at Adora. “I'm not going to, like, exorcise you or something. I mean, even if I wanted to, I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford it.” Adora laughs then. “But I don’t mind if you want to stay here—” (truthfully, she doesn’t think Adora even has a choice)— “I just— could you try and tone it down with the loud noises and the cold spots? That’s going to be really annoying come winter.”
The guilt on Adora’s face worsens. “I don’t know how,” she admits. “It’s— I don’t really know. I don’t know how I ended up here, or how to control it all, and it’s kind of scary, but I promise I don’t slam stuff or make it cold on purpose.”
Admittedly, that makes Catra feel slightly better: the knowledge that the ghost who’s in her apartment that’s been doing weird things hasn’t been doing it on purpose.
“Well,” Catra starts, pulling a chair out. She sits down on it, and watches as Adora attempts to do the same across from her, except all she really does is hover over it. Her mind is a bit of a mess right now, but what she knows for sure, is that 1) there's a ghost in her apartment that most likely cannot leave and 2) if said ghost cannot leave, nor can they control their abilities, the best thing to do would be to help them, right?
(She tells herself it’s not for Adora’s benefit, but hers. If Adora can learn to control her abilities, then it would be better for Catra.)
“Well,” Catra begins again after mulling over this, “if we can figure out a way to stop you from doing all of that… then let’s do it.”
The kicked puppy expression that’s been on Adora’s face throughout the entire conversation suddenly disappears, and a hopeful look replaces it. “Wait, you mean that?” she quietly asks. “You’ll— you’ll help me?”
Catra suddenly laughs, because what is she doing? She’s a closeted lesbian who hasn’t spoken to her family in years because of it, she’s struggling financially through grad school, she lives in a shitty apartment, and she’s just, essentially, offered to help a ghost figure out how to be a ghost.
But the hopeful look in Adora’s eyes is still there, and she’s wearing the first genuine smile Catra’s ever seen on her, and she’s almost blindsided by how beautiful Adora is.
So Catra nods and says, “yeah. I’ll help you figure it out,” because really, how hard can it be?
(Really, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.)
As it turns out, helping Adora is pretty cool at best and funny at worst.
The temperature changes happen because she’s confused, and not really in control of herself. The slamming of the doors and cabinets happen when she gets scared, or when she gets upset with herself. The flickering of the light was her trying to figure out what she can do with her abilities because it was, in Adora’s words, the only thing that didn’t cause too much of a disturbance because it’s quiet and doesn’t really disrespect Catra’s space by touching any of her things.
“I think you’re the worst ghost I’ve ever met,” Catra says one evening, and then when Adora tilts her head and says you’ve met other ghosts? Catra corrects herself. “That I’ve ever… uh, heard of.”
“What do you mean?” Adora asks. Right now, they’re sitting on the couch — or, well, Catra is, Adora is hovering above it, hands in front of her as they attempt to see if she can lift up one of Catra’s shirts.
“Well, for one, you’re really nice,” Catra points out. “You hysterically apologized for accidentally hitting me with a cabinet, you accidentally let me see you like a million times, you didn’t want to touch any of my things out of respect, and you don’t even actually know how to be a ghost. Like, you definitely wouldn’t be in a horror movie.”
Adora looks a little amused then, and she rolls her eyes. “Horror movies are inaccurate, anyway.”
Catra grins. It’s only been three days since Adora finally revealed herself — purposely revealed herself, at least — and since then, Adora’s clearly been nervous and unsure of everything.
(There had been one time, the day after they started whatever this is, where Catra had stepped close to her to grab a blanket for herself that Adora happened to be by, and Adora had quickly backed up, eyes wide. All of the doors in the apartment slammed a moment later, and she had said, “please don’t come near me, I don’t— I don’t want to hurt you again.”
“Sorry,” Catra had apologized, backing up. “But I don’t—again?”
“Yesterday,” Adora stammered. “When I made the cabinets fly out, and one of them hit you. I don’t want to do something like that again.”
What? Catra had thought at first, before it clicked, and she blinked. “Adora, you didn’t hurt me. Like, maybe there was a bit of a sting, but I yelled more out of shock than anything else.” Adora still didn’t look very confident in Catra’s words, so Catra sighed. “Listen, I don’t think you’re going to hurt me, but… I won’t come near you until we get this all under control. Deal?”
“Okay,” Adora had murmured, and that had been the end of it.)
She’d still been quiet afterwards, but Catra feels like she might be on her way to making Adora open up a bit.
“Sorry,” Adora suddenly apologizes, voice quiet. Catra furrows her brows, so Adora elaborates. “For being so… boring, and quiet, I guess. I’m not usually like this— or, well I never was really like that. It’s just… all of this is so new and weird, and I’m just really confused.”
Catra frowns, because although she had been thinking about it, she hadn’t said anything like that. “Can you read my mind or something?”
Adora shakes her head, suddenly looking a little bashful. “I, uh, I tried back when you first moved in, but I’ve never been able to.”
Interesting, Catra thinks, before shaking her head. “Well anyway, don’t apologize for that. I’m sure this can’t be easy for you. And like I said, we’ll figure it out.”
There’s a change in the air then; Adora looks a bit more confident in herself. She nods, and then glances back at the shirt determinedly, stretching her hands out, and then attempts to lift it again. This time it goes more than just a few centimeters; this time, it floats a few feet in the air for a solid few seconds, before there’s a flicker in Adora’s form and the shirt falls back to the table. Catra watches the entire thing in awe.
“See?” she asks encouragingly. “You’re already making progress.”
Adora’s smile is shy, but Catra can see the confidence that’s starting to peek through. She appears as if she’s taking a deep breath, focuses on the shirt in front of her again, but this time, the shirt only makes it a few inches into the air before it explodes into a bunch of tiny pieces. Catra is so shocked that she sort of just sits there, only to turn to Adora, who looks even more shocked than she is. Her facial expression is so funny that even though Catra’s down a sleep shirt now, she can’t help but burst out laughing, even when Adora turns toward her with a big pout on her face.
Catra’s not sure if the reason she’s making friends with a ghost is because of how lonely she is, but she finds herself enjoying talking to Adora. She doesn’t have many friends; after being outed back in her hometown and basically being forced to leave, she’s learned to keep everyone at a distance. Scorpia’s different because she’s a lesbian herself, and she hadn’t left Catra alone for reasons Catra is still unsure of after they met four years ago.
She tells Adora about herself. She tells her that she’s twenty-two years old, about to be twenty-three, and in her first year of law school. That there’s a small cat she just discovered a little ways down the street, and that she would’ve taken them in the moment she saw them if she wasn’t allergic to cats. That Scorpia is one of her only friends (which, she doesn’t elaborate on), and that she used to be a horror movie fanatic, so this is all a little ironic.
In turn, Adora tells her some things, too. She tells her that, as Catra had expected, she’s twenty-four, and had been going to grad school for sports medicine. She’s from a small town called Eternia, she stopped speaking to her family after the death of her twin brother, and she really loves sports. She used to be really good at hockey, and it’s one of the things she misses the most.
“I can tell,” Catra teases her while they discuss it. Adora is sitting on the counter — or, again, hovering over it — and guiding Catra into making some cheap hamburger meat and noodles while they talk. “You’re jacked as hell.”
She fully expects Adora to go quiet, maybe be embarrassed, but when she glances back at Adora, she looks smug. Then she lifts her arm up and flexes, and Catra’s eyes go wide.
(A ghost. She’s attracted to a fucking ghost.)
When Catra asks her about her death, however, Adora frowns. She swings her legs back and forth for a moment, and then shrugs.
“I don’t… I don’t remember,” she murmurs. “I—I remember living here, and I remember some things during it, but I don’t know how I died.”
“I can probably figure it out, if you want,” Catra offers as she pours her food into a bowl, and then grabs a fork. “Look it up somewhere.”
Adora shakes her head. “I don’t think I want to know, if I’m being honest.”
Catra nods, because that sounds fair, and they spend the rest of dinner discussing more lighthearted things that don’t really matter.
She gets home a few days later to see the word REDRUM written in all red on the wall next to the door. Surprisingly enough, she’s not scared, just a little confused, at least until she smells the vinegary smell of ketchup and mutters, “that little shit.”
“What?” Adora laughs from behind her, and Catra whirls around to find Adora a few feet away from her, covering her mouth in her attempt to stifle her laughter. “You said I was a bad ghost, so I thought this would be a good start to being a better ghost. Have you not seen The Shining?”
“I swear to God, if you pull some shit like this again, I’ll— I’ll—” Adora stares at her with a raised brow, resting her chin on her hand and appearing as if she’s leaning against the counter as if waiting for her to come up with some threat she won’t act on, and Catra laughs while simultaneously thinking oh no, she’s actually super annoying and now she’s comfortable with me and she’s probably about to make my life a living hell but really, can’t find herself to be all that mad about the thought. “I’ll call the ghostbusters.”
Adora's laugh is loud and warm and it makes Catra’s heart flutter. “And if they don’t answer?”
“Then I’ll get some salt,” Catra finally settles on. “I’ll enclose you in a circle of salt, and then you’ll be stuck there.”
Adora snickers, and then tilts her head. “Actually, maybe we should see if that actually works. If it’s actually a thing that ghosts can’t cross salt lines.”
(To neither of their surprise, when Catra pours a line of salt from either side of the hallway, Adora is able to cross it with absolutely no problems. Catra’s starting to think that literally every ghost legend she’s ever heard of is a myth.)
Through trial and error, Adora starts to gain more control of her abilities. Doors and cabinets stop slamming, the flickering of the lights only happens on the nights Catra accidentally falls asleep on her couch with a textbook and a pencil in her hand (she always wakes up with the textbook and pencil back on the coffee table, a blanket covering her, and the lights turned off), and soon, the temperature in the apartment stops randomly changing. Despite this, Catra still makes sure to tell Perfuma that she can’t have flowers in her apartment.
“Wait, why can’t you have flowers in your apartment?” Scorpia asks one day. The three of them are situated at a café down the street from Catra’s apartment, but they’re near the back, and it’s not too busy. Catra takes all of this into consideration before she speaks again.
“Because my apartment is haunted,” she says simply, and then takes a bite of her sandwich.
Scorpia blinks in surprise. Perfuma nods, and then rests her hands on the table.
“Memories can feel like ghosts, in a way,” she murmurs. “Sometimes we become our own ghosts, and we haunt ourselves. There was this one time…”
Catra sort of tunes out as Perfuma descends into a speech about what exactly she’s just voiced, a conversation that only Scorpia participates in because that’s definitely not what Catra was talking about. However, after a few minutes they’re still going, so Catra rolls her eyes and interrupts Perfuma when she starts talking about ways Catra can ground herself or focus on moving on.
“Anyway,” she starts, “the ghost’s name is Adora, and we’ve only known each other for half a month, but — don’t tell her I said this — she’s really cool.” Perfuma and Scorpia are both staring at her as if they’ve just seen a ghost, which Catra thinks is ironic. “Care to meet her?”
When they get to Catra’s apartment, she’s definitely a little relieved. Scorpia and Perfuma have been watching her like she’s crazy the entire walk over, and to be honest, Catra feels like maybe she is. Part of the reason that she’s bringing them over is to confirm that this all really is real, but the other part is because, yesterday, while they watched a movie, Adora had said “why don’t you ever bring your friends over anymore? I promise I’ll behave, and if you don’t want them to see me I can disappear for a while. This is still your apartment.”
She had told Adora that the reason wasn’t because of her, it was just simply because Catra quite literally had one friend and, because of proximity, a technical second one, and she tended to go over to their apartment more even before she moved into this one.
But still, she doesn’t want Adora to not trust her, and she definitely doesn’t want Adora to feel like Catra’s ashamed of her, so here they are.
When they open the door, Catra’s in the process of saying so, she’s like, kind of annoying but she’s not harmful at all when she realizes that GET OUT is spelt on the wall again. Catra sighs, glances around the room, and realizes there’s a floating sweater in the living room, frozen as if perhaps it’ll be invisible if there’s no movement. Scorpia looks like she’s about to shit her pants, and Perfuma doesn’t look much better.
“Hey Adora, you said you’d behave,” she mutters beneath her breath. Perfuma and Scorpia still look like they’re seconds away from passing out. “Anyway, this—” she motions to the walls after grabbing a stray wet rag and adding soap to it, “—is ketchup. Adora just likes to pretend she’s a super cool ghost, but really she’s just a bad one. But—” she stops to point to where the sweater is still floating in the middle of the room, “—that’s Adora, and when I say she’s completely harmless, I mean it. Adora, say hi.”
Adora materializes a second later. She carefully makes a point of folding Catra’s sweater and setting it down, before turning to face Scorpia and Perfuma with a small, sheepish smile.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize Catra was bringing friends home,” she murmurs. “But, uh, yeah, I’m Adora, and it’s nice to meet you two. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Scorpia passes out a moment later.
When everything is okay again (Scorpia is woken up, the four of them are sitting in the living room and talking), Catra starts to regret bringing them over, because the three of them get along like a house on fire.
Scorpia shares embarrassing stories from Catra’s younger, late teenage years, and Adora shares embarrassing stories that one would know only from constantly being in the presence of the other for over two weeks. Perfuma asks plenty of questions similar to what Catra asked: what Adora can do (change the temperature, use a small amount of telekinesis, turn invisible, turn other things invisible, teleport), what she can’t (physically hold things, turn herself warm, leave the apartment), why she’s here (she doesn’t know), if she likes Catra.
(Catra flushes at the mention of that question, because she’s still trying to hide her very small, completely in control crush she has on Adora, because 1) she’s a ghost, 2) even if she wasn’t, homosexuality isn’t a common thing, 3) she’s a fucking ghost.)
(But thankfully, if anything, Scorpia and Perfuma have helped her by letting her know that 1) she isn’t crazy and hasn’t just been imagining this entire thing and 2) Adora’s not homophobic or something, because when they mention that they’re dating all Adora does is say you two are cute together before the subject is changed.)
“Yeah,” Adora answers quietly. The mood of the room shifts, and when Catra lifts her head, she finds Adora staring at her with a soft smile. “I haven’t known her for long, but yeah. She means a lot to me.”
(That same, warm feeling from before flutters in Catra’s chest. She doesn’t know how she’s going to ignore it.)
On Catra’s twenty-third birthday, she comes home in the evening with a bottle of wine and a cupcake she’s decided to treat herself to. Elvis is playing from her bedroom, and Catra rolls her eyes. Two days ago, Adora had discovered her old record player, and now she can’t stop playing Elvis’ best hits.
“You’re gonna spend your birthday here?” Adora asks once Catra gets inside, and when she turns around, she finds Adora watching her in surprise. “I figured you’d go out with Scorpia or something. You know, spend some time with people who are actually alive.”
“Nah,” Catra says. “We went out for breakfast earlier, and I’d rather spend the rest of it alone.”
“Oh,” Adora says, frowning, before she straightens up a bit. “Do you want me to disappear for a while, then? Give you some alone time?”
The words are genuine. Catra quickly turns around, shaking her head.
“No,” she quickly rushes out. Adora looks confused. “No, I just, uh, meant…” she trails off a bit, not quite sure how she’s supposed to let Adora know she doesn’t want her to leave (or, get as close as she can to leaving while simultaneously being stuck in the apartment) because Catra had wanted to spend her birthday with her, and that wanting to spend it alone was just an excuse.
As it turns out, Adora figures it out before Catra can start spewing some random bullshit. “Aww, do you like me?”
Catra rolls her eyes, and then throws a pillow in Adora’s general direction. A moment later, the pillow hits her back, and Adora’s laugh fills her apartment. Catra can’t help the smile that curls at the end of her lips.
“I do not like you,” she lies. Despite this, she feels Adora approach her, and she doesn’t have to turn around to know Adora’s probably smirking. “Now shut up, it’s my birthday, and I want us to get drunk.”
“You know I can’t drink, right?” Adora asks her. Catra doesn’t respond, because she’s not too sure why she didn’t think of that, but Adora keeps talking. “Well, guess I’ll just have to pretend to get drunk with you, then.”
Catra chuckles as she pours out a glass for herself. “Good enough for me.”
As it turns out, Catra definitely drinks enough for the both of them. Everything becomes a blur a few glasses in, but she remembers dancing and singing off key, remembers Adora meeting her own off key voice. Remembers Adora turning on the record player again, remembers trying her best to teach Adora how to dance when she learns that the other girl could never quite figure it out. It’s a little difficult because they can’t touch, but Catra thinks she does pretty well showing her the motions.
She also remembers Adora making the cupcake float and singing to her, remembers how Catra had insisted on leaving half of it for her despite the fact that Adora can’t actually eat it. She remembers that there’s a couple of times she stumbled over some things, and one time she fell hard—or, at least, it would’ve been hard, but Adora manages to soften her fall. She can’t lift an entire person very high with her abilities, but she can make Catra float a couple of inches off of the ground for a few seconds, and she uses that when Catra trips over the coffee table and nearly falls flat onto her face. She still ends up bruising her side, but at least nothing is broken.
The next morning, Catra wakes up half sprawled on to the couch, messy and sticky with a blanket on top of her and a pillow beneath her head. The living room is an absolute mess, but Catra thinks it’s worth it to see Adora doing her best to clean up. She’s obviously concentrating really hard, lifting the bigger pieces of trash into the trash can and trying to use her abilities to use a broom and dustpan to clean up the smaller things. Catra thinks it might be the cutest thing she’s ever seen, and she doesn’t tell Adora she’s awake because she’d rather keep watching her, instead.
At least until the burn of her stomach and the pounding of her head sets in, and Catra quickly scrambles off of the couch and to the restroom to vomit into the toilet.
Adora’s cold hand is shocking to feel against her forehead.
She keeps Catra’s hair pushed back as she throws up. When Catra hugs the toilet and leans up a bit, glancing up at the entity hovering close to her, there’s so many things she wants to ask. Adora’s hand is cold, but right now, it’s welcoming against her sweaty and overheated skin. It doesn’t… feel like a hand, but at the same time, it does. Catra thinks that if it wasn’t so cold, she wouldn’t actually be able to feel anything.
But what she asks, after flushing the toilet and leaning against the wall, is: “You’re… you’re touching me?”
Adora nods. She’s staring at Catra with a soft smile, hand still soothing on her forehead. Catra’s eyes flutter shut at the feeling. “Yeah, I am.”
“You’re not afraid you’re going to hurt me anymore,” Catra observes, lips pulling into a smile. “I’m so proud.”
Adora chuckles. A moment later she pulls away, but Catra immediately whines and reaches out. She realizes second too late after trying to grab Adora’s hand that she can’t actually do that, and her fingers sweep through a chillingly cold gust of air. “Put your hand back,” she requests, doing her best to jut out her lip and look pleading. Adora watches her with a bit of conflict, unsure.
“It doesn’t bother you?” she asks, hoovering down on the floor next to her and crossing her legs. Then, she reaches back out almost experimentally, applying a hand to Catra’s forehead, and then sliding it down to the back of her neck. Catra shakes her head, a lazy smile on her lips.
“No. ‘S nice,” she murmurs, staring at Adora through half-lidded eyes. They’ve never been this close before, Catra having been acting on Adora’s request of her to not come too close in case she hurt her. “You could… you could do it more often if you want.”
And Adora just looks so relieved, so happy, that it blows Catra away. “Okay,” she laughs a bit to herself. “I’ll do it more often, then.”
“Mm, good,” Catra hums, and then she shuts her eyes again because her head is fucking killing her. “And Adora,” she starts, “promise me you’ll never let me drink that much again.”
“I promise,” Adora tells her, and it feels a lot heavier than it probably should.
They’re playing a game of checkers on the night of Halloween, ignoring any trick-or-treaters that come by, when Catra realizes that this girl, this woman, this person who isn’t even alive: she’s very quickly becoming her best friend.
They’ve been doing whatever this is for about a month now. Catra always comes home to Adora folding her clothes or cleaning things or simply messing around with her abilities, and sometimes they’ll talk for hours about anything and everything. Other times they won’t talk at all, but Catra will just bask in the knowledge that she’s not alone, that she’s never alone, because even if Adora is resting and isn’t manifesting into her usual form, Catra can still feel her and hear her when she speaks.
And after being alone for nearly her entire life, it’s so, so nice. Catra still can’t believe that this has happened to her; that she’s actually living with a ghost and that said ghost is one of the best people she’s ever met, but if she’s learned anything from this entire experience, it’s that life is full of surprises.
“Thanks,” Catra murmurs, pushing her checker onto another square. She sort of stopped paying attention a while ago, and now she only had four remaining pieces while Adora still has nearly all of hers.
Adora tilts her head, and then glances up. “For what?”
Catra shrugs. “For… for being here,” she murmurs. “I mean, I know it’s not really your choice, but… you could’ve been, like, an actual ghost. Could’ve forced me out of the apartment or something, but you didn’t, and… I really enjoy being with you.”
Catra looks up at her then properly. Adora is already staring back at her; she’s worrying her lip between her teeth, surprisingly soft and cuddly looking. Catra has never wished that they could actually touch more than this moment.
“I’m not even alive,” Adora whispers. “Why do you like me so much?”
“Because you’re— because you’re you,” Catra breathes out. “Because you’re so— you have such a big heart, and we have the best conversations, and I feel like I can trust you with anything, and I’ve never had that before. Because even though you’re always cold, you always make me feel so warm. Because—” she stops for a moment. Adora looks like she’s about to cry. “Because… even if you’re not alive, you’re still here. You’re still real, and you still matter.”
Adora’s face slightly scrunches up for a moment, and Catra knows that if she were alive right now, she would be crying.
“Thank you for not calling an exorcist, or something,” she whispers, voice cracking somewhere in the middle. Catra wishes she could touch her so much. “Thank you for staying here.”
“Well, guess it’s just like a mutual agreement then, huh?” Catra laughs a bit to lighten up the mood, reaching forward to move a checker piece. “You stay here and don’t become, like, one of those creepy ghosts from the movies, and I don’t call an exorcist. Deal?”
It seems to land it’s intended effect, because Adora laughs and nods. “Deal.”
A week later, just to be funny, they write it down on paper, add some things, and then pin it to the fridge.
1.) Adora is a harmless ghost. (that includes using ketchup to write stuff on the walls MY GOD ADORA)
2.) Catra won’t call an exorcist. (not like i can afford it anyway)
3.) Adora won’t watch Catra while she’s naked and showering.
won’t sing the ghostbusters theme song whenever Adora does cool ghost things. (didn’t agree to that)
5.) Adora won’t bother Catra in the mornings by making noises because Catra is Not a morning person. Exception: Catra is late for class and sleeps through her alarm.
6.) Catra won’t bring home a ouija board and try to goad Adora into talking through that again. (that was kinda funny tho)
Like all things, time passes them on.
The weather starts to get colder, and the leaves change from golden brown and red to white, before falling off of the trees. Catra gets busier around Christmas because of midterms, and when she takes her tests and sees that she made above average grades, that all of that studying actually paid off, Adora decides they’ll celebrate by turning the record player to Elvis (like always) and using the dance moves Catra taught her while drunk to start dancing.
(She does, eventually, convince Catra to dance with her, but if she tells anyone that then Catra Will Deny it.)
Scorpia and Perfuma come over on Christmas Eve, and the four of them spend the night together like they’re all just a normal group of friends. For a moment, Catra forgets that everything isn’t actually like that: that Adora is still a ghost, and she can’t do things that most people can.
But that night, she doesn’t think about any of it. They drink, open some of the few presents they have, and watch old Christmas movies. Perfuma and Scorpia cuddle up on the couch, while Catra curls up in a blanket on one of the chairs adjacent to the TV. Adora manifests next to her, floating next to her chair and keeping an arm on the back of the chair because if she actually touches Catra, it’ll probably be too cold to be comfortable. But right now, it almost seems like she’s wrapping it around her shoulders, and right now, it’s enough for them both.
On Christmas, they spend the day alone together lazing around, being that Scorpia has gone back to her home a few hours away and taken Perfuma with her for the holidays, but she likes it when it’s just her and Adora. It’s through Perfuma and Scorpia that they also learn that Adora can’t really make calls: using Catra’s landline phone they realize that if she tries hard enough she can dial a number, but her voice sounds distorted and staticky through the other end. She also can’t really appear on film: when they try with Perfuma’s new camcorder, all that's really there is a gray space, appearing more like a shadow than anything else.
“When’s your birthday?” Catra asks one morning, still a bit groggy from just having woken up. Adora is sitting on the bed next to her, but it doesn’t dip down, and if she laughs too much or thinks too hard, she’ll forget and fall straight through the bed. It’s honestly a little funny to witness.
“January nineteenth,” she says, fiddling with her thumbs. Catra’s eyes widen.
“That’s in like, two weeks! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Adora shrugs. She gets a distant look in her eyes, and refuses to actually look at Catra. “I… I didn’t think it’d matter.”
“Hey,” Catra starts, leaning up a bit. The mood in the room seems to shift. “Remember what I told you back in October?”
Adora nods. Catra can’t believe it’s already been nearly three months since then; can’t believe it’s been over four since she’s met Adora. Time passes so fast with her, and it’s always so, so good. She’s almost always happy now, and considering she’s poor as hell and just barely scrambling to get by in law school, that’s a pretty big achievement.
“You matter,” Catra tells her, reaching for her hand. It’s chillingly cold, and it’s hard to feel, but it looks like it makes Adora feel better, so Catra does her best to intertwine their fingers. “You matter so much to me. You matter to Perfuma and Scorpia.”
Adora’s shoulders heave, as if she’s taking a breath. She looks like she’s squeezing Catra’s hand, though all it really does is make Catra’s hand colder for a moment, but the gesture is still appreciated. “Okay. You matter to me, too.”
Catra takes the words to heart.
On Adora’s birthday, Catra’s stumbles into the apartment carrying a large box. She has no idea whether or not this is a good idea, and when Adora sees her, she knits her brows together.
“A surprise,” Catra huffs, taking a deep breath and then bending over. “For… for your birthday, because— wow, I need to do more cardio.”
Adora laughs. She comes to rub Catra’s back, and it feels like a dry ice cube sliding up and down her skin, but right now, Catra’s thankful for that. “Take a deep breath. I know you're out of shape.”
“I am not out of shape,” Catra huffs, bending over to pick the box back up again. Adora waves her off, and then maneuvers the box over to the side of the room so it’s out of the way.
“You’re completely out of shape,” she argues.
“Coming from someone who looks like she lived at the gym, I feel like me and you have different definitions of out of shape.”
“Catra I've literally never seen you go to the gym or workout. All you do is eat ramen, study for law school, and talk to a ghost. It’s kind of concerning.”
She’s obviously joking, and Catra rolls her eyes. “Listen, I just carried this, like, five hundred pound box up three flights of stairs for you, so stop being mean before I go return it.”
“Wouldn’t it be more work to carry it back down the stairs?”
“One of these days I’m actually going to call the ghostbusters, I swear,” Catra mutters, before beginning to push the coffee table off to the corner of the room. “Now help me clear the living room so you can open your present and we can use it.”
Adora looks a little confused, but she obediently follows the directions. A few minutes later, Catra’s helping her open the box, and a mini hockey set that Catra’s been using all of her extra money to save up for since Adora told her about her birthday is what's inside.
“Oh, my God,” Adora murmurs as they pull everything out. “I— you— you remembered?”
This might possibly be the nicest thing Catra’s ever done for someone, so she’s not quite sure how to act. “Yeah,” Catra nods, rubbing the back of her neck, cheeks a bit flushed when Adora glances up at her. “I—I know you said you miss playing hockey, and that you were really good at it, so…” she jerks her head in the direction of the pieces. “I know it’ll probably be harder for you to play since you can’t actually touch anything, but I figured if you were as good as you say you were and considering that I’ve literally never played any sport that isn’t just running, the playing field would be pretty even.”
There’s a series of emotions that flash in Adora’s eyes. She looks so grateful, so happy, but so wistful at the same time too as if she’s remembering things from when she was alive. Then, it seems to register what Catra’s said, and a fierce competitiveness replaces itself in her eyes. “Oh, you’re going down, baby.”
The pet name makes something swirl with her. It’s warm and wonderful and it’s always there in Adora’s presence now, and she knows exactly what it is but she doesn’t want to accept it yet.
So instead, she lets her own competitiveness surge, grabs a hockey stick, helps set up the two nets, and a moment later, they’re playing.
(Multiple things are broken, profanity usage is off the charts, and boisterous laughter is echoing through the rooms and hall. Catra’s pretty sure she’s going to get a noise complaint in letter form.)
(She couldn’t care less.)
There are times where she’ll read books or watch movies, and there are times where both will fall beneath the horror category. Most times she’ll laugh and make fun of it for being so inaccurate, but there are times, far and few in between, that it occurs to her that ghost stories are rarely happy. That everything she’s ever had that’s always made her happy — it’s always eventually been taken away from her. What makes this any different?
“What’s wrong?” Adora asks one night, long after Catra has gotten settled in bed. She had been trying to make it seem like she’d fallen asleep, but she supposes it didn’t work.
“Nothing,” she mumbles into her pillow. “Nothing is wrong. Go to sleep.”
“You know I don’t sleep.”
“Okay, then go let me sleep.”
She hears Adora giggle, which truthfully makes her feel a little better. “Catra,” she whines, “what’s going on?”
Catra sighs, and then rolls onto her back. Adora is hovering above her, cross-legged. She’s watching her with an open expression, arms crossed over her chest.
“You’re not going to just leave, right?” Catra can’t help but blurt out. Adora blinks in surprise, and then Catra sighs once more and covers her face.
“Catra,” Adora eventually repeats, “where is this coming from?”
“Does it matter?” Catra asks, muffled from behind her arm. Only a few moments pass before she feels something cold against her arm, and when she lowers it, she finds Adora frowning, a hand hesitantly reaching out.
“I’m not gonna leave, Catra,” Adora murmurs quietly. “You’re not gonna lose me. I promise.”
She looks hushed and genuine, eyes soft and filled with tenderness. Catra feels a bit of heat rush to her cheeks, and then rolls over onto her side to muffle her face into her pillow.
“It’s not like I care whether or not you leave,” she mumbles, but it doesn’t work. She feels her eyes start to get watery a moment later, and the worse part is that she doesn’t even know why she’s getting this emotional. “I don’t— I don’t like you that much.”
“Hey,” Adora continues. Her voice is firm and steady. “I’m serious. You look out for me, and I look out for you. Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other, okay?”
“Okay,” Catra forces herself to say, and then all goes silent.
In the dark, and in the quiet, Catra is usually able to fall asleep each night listening to shouts and laughter and traffic and the screech of car horns from the street four stories below, but tonight, it’s different. Now she can’t stop thinking about Adora’s words; about how deep she is with this girl. With this girl who’s still twenty-four despite the fact that her birthday was a few weeks ago, with this girl who’s going to stay twenty-four when Catra turns twenty-four and twenty-five and twenty-six.
But she loves her. She loves her, and right now, everything is okay.
“You’re… uh, you’re not gonna lose me, either,” Catra murmurs, long after the conversation has ended. If Adora were alive, she’d question whether or not she would have managed to fall asleep by now, but…
“Hey, Catra?” Adora suddenly asks. Catra hums, so Adora keeps talking. “I’m… I’m glad this shitty apartment was the best you could afford,” she whispers. She means: I’m glad I met you.
“I’m glad I’m poor, too,” Catra quietly laughs. She means: I’m glad I met you, too. I don’t know what I’d do without you.
The seasons start to change. Spring comes, and with it, beautiful weather. Catra still spends most of it holed up in her apartment, but at least with how grueling school is starting to get, she has an excuse.
(“You’re so smart,” Adora always tells her every time Catra shows her her tests or papers, her face fiercely proud. “You’re so smart, Cat. You’re gonna be so great at defending people's lives, you know? I can't wait to watch it happen.”)
“You’re really attached to that ghost of yours,” Scorpia tells her one evening in late March. They’re roaming along the streets downtown, and Catra keeps her eyes on feet.
“I’m not attached,” she mumbles, but it’s a lie. She’s attached. She’s really attached. The mere idea of Adora leaving actually, physically pains her. Having to be away from her for hours at a time actually makes her a little sad.
Scorpia clearly knows this, but she lifts her hands in surrender when Catra glares at her. No one knows she’s a lesbian, and she’d like to keep it that way. “I’m not saying anything,” Scorpia chuckles, and they don’t bring it up again for the rest of the evening.
Because all of those things, all of the problems that will inevitably arise in the future: that’s not for her to stress herself out over now. That’s a problem for her future self.
In the summer, she gets to relax a bit more. Takes a break from school, picks up a bit more shifts at the arcade to make some extra money. She still dances around the apartment to Elvis with Adora in tow, still tries her best to follow the recipes Adora tries to give her, starts going to the library and bringing books home for Adora to read when she mentions wanting to pick it up again after seeing Catra reading a book.
At night, she twitches beneath the sheets, balled up at her feet due to the heat. She stirs slightly, blinking her eyes open in the darkness of the room.
“‘Dora,” she rumbles, voice thick with sleep. When she gets no response, she raises her voice. “Adora.”
Adora manifests next to her, mirroring Catra’s position. At night, Catra’s come to realize that she looks brighter, almost as if she’s made of pure matter.
Once, when Catra had asked her where she went and what she did when Catra was asleep, Adora had told her that ghosts didn’t need sleep, but it was nice to recharge after using her abilities, so she had found a way to sink into meditation whenever Catra slept. It was sort of like sleeping, and it was calming and quiet and always helped her recharge, and time flew by just as quickly. It was easier to pull her out of it then it would be to pull someone out of sleep, but sometimes she wouldn’t hear Catra if she wasn’t loud enough.
“What?” Adora asks.
“It’s so hot,” Catra mutters, shifting in her half-asleep state so her arm isn’t caught underneath her chest. A siren wails in the distance, and Catra blinks up at the ghost in front of her.
Adora rolls her eyes. “You woke me up to tell me that it’s hot?”
“Didn’t wake you,” Catra mumbles, eyes fluttering shut.
Adora chuckles, and then a moment later, Catra feels the cold, barely there pressure along her back. She wiggles beneath her for a moment, and then yawns. “Thanks.”
She hears Adora murmur you’re welcome, followed by something else. She falls asleep before she can really hear it, though, but when she asks Adora what she said last night, Adora just claims to not have said anything after.
Fall brings what Adora’s deemed as the anniversary for when they first met — ghostiversary is what Adora likes to call it, and Catra can only fondly roll her eyes and call her a loser — and it brings her twenty-fourth birthday.
What it also brings is one of her classmates and former project partner asking her out for lunch after class. He claims her sarcasm is funny, she’s really pretty, and that he’d like to get to know her. Catra stands there, bag slung over her shoulder, gaping at him. She blushes out of embarrassment more than anything else because it seems to set in during that moment that she’s a lesbian who’s in love with the ghost thar haunts her apartment and how it’s so not an ideal situation, but he seems to take it a different way.
“Would it be alright if I called you?” he asks, smile wide. Catra moves her mouth in an attempt to get her voice to work, but nothing comes out.
“I, uh, will have to get back to you on that,” she eventually manages to force herself to say. He looks a little disappointed, but nods, and leaves a moment later.
When she tells Adora about it, she’s a little surprised to find that Adora looks sad. It’s clear she’s trying to hide it, but she doesn’t do the best job.
“Are you gonna go?” she asks, tapping her fingers on her thigh despite the fact that it doesn’t make any noise. “On the date, I mean.”
Catra shakes her head. Then, she takes a deep breath, thinks about how she already knows Adora is okay with it because of Perfuma and Scorpia, then about how she trusts Adora more than she’s ever trusted anyone else, and says, “I don’t, uh, like men like that.”
“Oh,” Adora’s eyes go wide. There’s a sort of awkward silence, and then she hesitantly continues with, “so… do you like… women instead?”
Catra closes her eyes and nods. Last time this happened, it was a lot louder, and she was thrown from what she used to call home.
Except when she opens her eyes, Adora is smiling, and staring at her warmly. She quietly giggles to herself, and Catra is about to ask her what's so funny when Adora shakes her head and says, “me too.”
“Oh,” Catra says in a similar way Adora just had. Then, she feels a breath of relief escape her, because she’s just willingly come out for the first time ever. She just did that, and the ghost she’s in love with likes girls too, and there’s still so many problems with the idea of them being together but still, at least—
“And… and I kind of like you, too,” Adora murmurs quietly. Catra suddenly feels so inexplicably happy, but something in the back of her mind is reminding her that even though Adora likes her, even though Catra loves her, they can’t have this.
But all of those things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because it’s her favorite season of the year, and for the first time in her life, she’s in love, and the woman she loves might love her, too.
“I like you too,” she says after realizing Adora is watching her nervously. “I… I really like you, and I know that everything about our situation is weird and so not ideal, but… I want to be with you, even if we don’t call it anything. I really like you, Adora.”
Adora smiles and lets out a chuckle of both relief and disbelief, runs a hand through her hair that’s always in a ponytail, and then lets out a soft breath.
“I want to be yours,” she whispers. “And I want you to be mine.”
She looks so, so beautiful in that moment, staring up at Catra with earnest eyes, and Catra can’t help it.
“What color is your hair?” she asks quietly. “Your eyes?”
“Blonde,” Adora tells her softly, almost sadly. “And I had blue eyes, but sometimes they were gray, so— so I guess it doesn’t look that much different now.”
Catra takes a breath.
“You’re beautiful,” is the only thing she can think to say, because it’s true. Even without color, even translucent and muted and gray, Adora is still the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. “You’re so beautiful. I’m so lucky to know you.”
“I’m lucky to know you, too,” Adora tells her earnestly.
Catra doesn’t go on the date with the guy. She doesn’t even go on the date with the girl who shyly asks a few months later mid-winter, letting her down a bit more easily and saying that she’s already with someone, because she is. They may not have a name for it, but Catra is Adora’s, and Adora is Catra’s.
Adora turns twenty-six although she still looks twenty four. Spring comes around again, and Adora’s face is just as proud as it had been before when Catra passes her finals with flying colors. Summer follows, and then Catra turns twenty-five in the fall, from which she jokingly whispers I’m finally older than you to Adora when the rest of the city is sleeping, to which Adora says nuh-uh, I’m turning twenty-seven in a few months. Winter comes too, and Adora does turn twenty-seven, and Catra makes sure to get her twenty-seven candles to stick into the cake even though she can’t eat it. It’s more for the thought than anything else.
Nothing changes except for Catra’s age and the fact that she’s almost made her way through the entirety of law school. She still rolls her eyes when Adora plays Elvis in the apartment (and gets a noise complaint from a neighbor who asks her why she plays it even when she’s not home), she still tries her best to follow Adora’s recipes (and gets better if she does say so herself), Perfuma and Scorpia still visit often and the four of them hang out together, and Catra still falls a bit more for Adora everyday. This is how things go for the first year, and then the second, and then half of the third one. This is how she knows she’s in love.
A few weeks after Adora’s birthday, when the weather is just barely beginning to warm up again, is when things start to change.
When she gets home, for the first time in two and a half years, the apartment is empty. Adora isn’t playing Elvis or cleaning or watching TV or anything, and Catra sets her things down, crosses her arms together, and furrows her brows.
“Adora?” she calls out. It’s colder than usual, too, but it’s the chilling kind. The kind of cold that it was two and a half years ago when Adora didn’t know how to control it, not the kind of cold she gets when the weather gets cold outside and her shitty heater fails to keep it as warm as she’d like. “Adora?”
There’s no response. Catra blinks, and then moves to check her room and then even the bathroom. If Adora were meditating, which Catra sometimes comes home to find her doing, she would’ve been pulled out of it by the sound of Catra’s voice. Even if she wasn’t, if she somehow got so deep that for some reason Catra had to actually stand in front of her to pull her out, Catra would’ve seen her meditating somewhere in the apartment. She never disappears when she’s meditating without letting Catra know first.
(There’s an inexplicable feeling of sudden dread that begins to bubble in her chest.)
She ends up calming herself down a little while later with the knowledge that it’s cold in here, so cold that she has to pull on two sweaters again, fluffy socks, and a pair of sweatpants. Adora had told her one day, back in the beginning when she wasn’t quite in control of her ability to lower the temperature, that it was easier for her to move around in colder places. That it was almost as if it gave her more energy.
Maybe she just needs the energy, Catra tells herself. Maybe she did something to drain herself. Maybe she was being a dumbass and tried to cook an egg again.
It’s what she tells herself as she makes herself dinner, and as she eats at the table alone for the first time in two and a half years. It’s what she tells herself while she tries to study, before eventually giving up altogether and abandoning her textbook in her room. It’s what she tells herself as she showers, and then as she pulls on her clothes.
When she turns around, Adora is standing in the doorway of her bedroom.
“Jesus!” Catra exclaims in surprise, before taking a deep breath and shaking her head when she thinks, she’s okay, she’s here. “Jesus, you scared me. Where’d you go? What happened?”
When Adora doesn’t respond for a moment, Catra immediately knows that something is wrong.
“Catra,” she breathes, and her voice is low and quiet. She knits her brows together as if she’s struggling to speak. “There’s… there’s something wrong. I feel tired.”
She disappears without giving Catra a chance to respond. Catra’s eyes go wide, and she immediately glances around the room as if this is just some unfunny, cruel joke Adora’s playing and she’s going to reappear on the other side of the room and say, just kidding, I promised you that you wouldn’t lose me, remember?
But she doesn’t appear again. If anything, it gets colder, and Catra knows that the look on Adora’s face couldn’t have been faked.
“Adora,” she calls out, voice cracking. “You can’t leave.” You can’t leave me. You promised you wouldn’t.
There’s no response.
The next day, Catra can’t focus in class. Adora still hasn’t appeared, but it’s still cold in her apartment. The lights flicker on and off, and when Catra gets home, all of the doors slam and the cabinets fly out.
It’s weird. It’s so, so weird that all of those actions are comforting in the very least, because it means Adora is still here. She’s still present, even if she can’t talk. Catra knows she’s here.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Catra tells her, because she also knows Adora can hear her, “but we’ll figure it out, okay? We’ll always figure it out. I—” I love you, she thinks, but doesn’t say. “Nothing bad can happen as long as we have each other,” she says instead.
The silence is deafening.
Adora doesn't appear the next day, or the next. It’s not until the fourth day, Catra trying her best to curl up in bed and study due to the fact that she’s been putting it off for so long, that she comes back.
“Catra,” she hears, and when Catra jolts up and turns around, Adora’s there. She looks scared, but relieved when Catra turns around, eyes wide.
“Adora,” she breathes out, and then tries to hug her. It’s a little stupid, she thinks, that she tries to do it, but she kind of forgets in the moment that she can’t really do that and swipes her arms through what feels like a gust of cold wind. “Fuck, Adora, I was so scared. I—I thought— please don’t do that again.”
“I’m sorry,” Adora whispers, arms hugging her sides. “I don’t know what happened. I felt—I felt so weak out of nowhere, and I wasn’t even doing anything. I was just folding clothes.”
“It’s okay,” Catra whispers, reaching for her cold hand. Adora lets her. “It’s okay. You’re here now, it’s okay.”
“It’s okay,” Adora repeats, eyes closed. “We’re okay.”
Catra hopes for it to get better. They don’t speak on it again — Adora stays, and for the next few days, everything is okay and normal.
But then things start to happen again. Adora says things like I feel so tired, Catra, and stops materializing. She says it’s too hard sometimes, and that it’d be easier if she could just use her voice. That she’d rather Catra be able to hear her than see her.
“Okay,” Catra tells her, looking at an empty space. “If it’s getting to be too much, don’t worry about it. As long as I can still hear you, we’re okay.”
Except for some days, Catra can’t hear or see her at all. Some days it starts to get cold again, and when she disappears for days on end, Catra curls up and tries her best not to cry and says please give me a sign that you’re still here and takes comfort in the light that flickers in response. Those days, she’ll just talk to her, keep reassuring her that things are going to be okay.
The good days, the days where Adora can materialize and speak to her, are few in between the rest. Catra stops focusing on school, starts going to the library to find books to see if there’s anything she can do to help Adora, even rides on a train that takes her an hour away to one of the public internet libraries to see if it’ll help instead. When she falls behind on her studies, has to retake a test because she didn’t get a high enough score, it’s on a day Adora can materialize.
“Don’t do this to yourself, Catra,” she pleads. “I hate to see you like this. I don’t want you to mess up your future because of this. You’re so smart, and you’re so close.”
“This is more important,” Catra shakily tells her, tears falling from her eyes. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Adora doesn’t reply.
Because Adora wants her to, and because Catra knows that she’s spent so long working for this, she tries to focus more on school again.
She still goes to the library in her free time, still spends hours upon hours searching for anything that could possibly help them. There’s so many book on ghosts, on poltergeists, on the supernatural, and on the unknown. Most of them either don’t help her, or aren’t reliable. She finds a book that details that you can protect yourself from ghosts with salt, which they both already know isn’t true. There’s another one that says ghosts can only communicate through spiritual planes, and another that says all ghosts are evil spirits. All of these things are stuff that Catra knows isn’t true.
There is one book, though, that she reads carefully. It tells her that no ghost is truly an evil spirit — that even poltergeists aren’t truly evil. It tells her that not all people who die become ghosts; that ghosts are rare, and only happen because of an abnormal shift in energy when some people die. It tells her that all ghosts start off lost, and confused, and usually roam the area of their death site for a few years. That when their soul starts being called to the other side, they’ll start fading, forgetting things, before they eventually descend into madness due to not being able to find peace with their deaths and cross over.
It tells her that this is how ghosts become poltergeists. That once a ghost forgets everything, there’s no turning them back. It tells her that the only way to stop the process is by helping them make peace with their deaths, so they can successfully transfer the dimensions between worlds and to the other side.
Catra slams the book shut before she can start staining it with her tears.
A few days later, Catra knocks on the door to Scorpia’s apartment. It’s too cold in her apartment for her to stay; Adora had faintly whispered I can’t control it. I’m sorry, Catra, I’m so sorry, and that had been it.
“Hey,” she whispers when Scorpia answers the door. “Can I… can I stay the night?”
“Of course,” Scorpia tells her. Catra figures she must really look like a mess, because despite the fact that they have a rule that Scorpia doesn’t hug her unless asked, she quickly pulls her into her arms. “What’s wrong?”
She hasn’t cried in front of anyone — anyone but Adora — in years. Maybe not even in the last decade.
But that’s all it takes for Catra to break down into tears, sobs shaking her shoulders. She cries for a long time, cries until her throat hurts and her head throbs with pain, cries until she can’t cry anymore.
“This,” Perfuma starts three weeks after everything’s started changing,“is for you.”
She’s holding a piece of paper in her hands. Today’s a good day — it’s a day Adora’s here, it’s a day Catra can see and hear her. It’s a good day, but it most likely won’t happen again for a while.
“Uh?” she starts after Perfuma steps into the apartment. The taller girl finds Adora standing a few feet behind Catra, and smiles warmly.
“It’s so good to see you again, Adora,” she greets, genuinely happy. Adora tells her likewise. Catra’s not surprised — in the past couple of times her and Scorpia have come over, Adora hadn’t been able to materialize. She turns back to Catra, paper still in hand, and then hands it over.
It’s folded up. When Catra unfolds it, she sees the words Bow Archer, followed by a phone number underneath. That’s all it says.
“Perfuma,” Catra waves the paper questioningly, “what is this going to do to help?”
“Bow Archer,” Perfuma glees as if that’s going to explain literally anything. “He’s an old friend from highschool. We reconnected recently, and I may have accidentally let it slip that I know a ghost. Anyway, turns out he knows a ghost, and,” she waves her hand to the paper, “he seems to know a lot more about this than any of us do. I’d give him a call.”
Catra frowns. “I don’t know if I can trust him.”
“Trust me,” Perfuma murmurs, voice a bit more soft. “If you knew him, you’d understand why I trust him.” When Catra still doesn’t reply, Perfuma nudges her. “Just think about it. It’s not like you have anything to lose from it.”
Yeah, Catra thinks, because Perfuma’s probably right. At this point, she really doesn’t have very much left to lose.
“Hey, do you want to play hockey?” Catra asks six days later. It’s another good day, the first one since Perfuma came over, and Adora seems a little proud of herself for being able to hold her form and talk again. She’s a little more translucent than normal, but regardless, Catra is proud of her too. “We haven’t played in a while, so I’m sure your whole I am super good at hockey and I’ll kick anyone’s ass, even as a ghost, who challenges me mindset needs some feeding.”
She expects Adora to laugh or roll her eyes, but instead, Adora looks confused.
“What do you mean?” she asks, quietly. Catra blinks.
“You… you said I used to be super good at hockey,” Adora murmurs slowly. “I never played hockey before you.”
Catra feels ice in her veins, and for a moment, she can’t breathe. “What do you mean?” she asks with a bit of a nervous laugh. “Of course you did. You told me all about how you used to play when you were in undergrad, and you always kick my ass at it.”
There’s a moment where Adora doesn’t even seem to hear her, before she slowly nods. Catra feels her fingers start to tremble.
“Do you remember that?” she asks carefully. There’s a pause, before suddenly, recognition lights up Adora’s face and she nods again. Catra feels her chest start to ache, and realizes a moment later that she must not have been breathing.
“Yeah,” Adora smirks, and that familiar, competitive look returns to her eyes. “I remember now.”
Except soon, she doesn’t. A couple of days later, when it’s cold and Catra can only hear her, she's distant and a little quiet.
“Tell me about your brother?” Catra requests of her. Adora’s been quiet for a while, simply humming along to whatever Catra’s saying as Catra cooks dinner.
“My brother?” she asks in that similar, confused tone.
“Yeah,” Catra repeats. “You told me you had a twin brother, but you never really told me about him. I figured it might help to talk about him again now.”
Adora doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
“It’s like… it’s like I wasn’t alive before this,” she tells her after Catra accidentally burns her hand on the pan when she realizes Adora is actually forgetting things; that this isn’t just another case of her forgetting where she left Catra’s sweater because she’s always sort of had a shitty memory. “I can never remember what happened before I met you. I don’t even know why I stopped talking to my family.”
“You were alive,” Catra tells her, trying her best to maintain her voice to stop it from shaking. She hates how scared Adora sounds, how terrified, and how it actually, physically pains her that even after all of this time they still can’t touch. She turns around. “Where are you?”
“To your left,” Adora murmurs, and Catra turns toward her voice.
“Look at me,” she says to the empty space in front of her. “You were alive, Adora, and you’re here now. You had a life before this. You had a twin brother, and you stopped talking to your family after he died because he was the only one tethering you to them due to the fact that you’re a lesbian. You loved playing sports and you always make fun of me for how out of shape I am. You were alive.”
“Right,” Adora breaths out after a few beats, but her voice is quieter than before. “I’m just… I’m really tired,” she adds. Catra closes her eyes, shakily inhales and exhales. “Don’t cry, Catra. I’m sorry, I don’t want to make you cry. I hate seeing you sad.”
“I’m not crying,” Catra says weakly, wiping her eyes with the back of her arm. “I’m not. Let's just… can we just not think about it for a while?”
“Okay,” Adora murmurs, and she stays for the rest of the night.
“I’m sorry about the flowers,” Adora whispers one evening while Catra’s getting ready for work. She’s leaving a bit earlier than she needs to so she can stop at the library again, but she doesn’t tell Adora that. She knows Adora would just ask her to stop, to stop stressing and being so sad over this because it kills her to see Catra so sad. “I didn’t mean to freeze them. I just wanted to look at them.”
At first, Catra knits her brows together, but then she remembers. She remembers the flowers from two and a half years ago; remembers that it was one of the earlier signs that she wasn’t alone in her apartment.
“It’s okay,” Catra tells her. “I know you didn’t mean to do any of that.”
There’s a moment of silence that stretches between them, before Adora sighs. “Catra,” she pleads. When Catra turns around, she’s surprised to find Adora manifesting across the room from her. It’s been a while. “I’m so tired all of the time. It feels like I’m fading,” she whispers. Catra runs a hand through her hair because she really, really doesn’t want to think about that again right now. “And yet, somehow, you look even worse than I feel.”
Catra snorts, eyes growing teary. “Gee, thanks,” she mumbles.
Adora chuckles a bit, and then shakes her head. “My point is that this is taking its toll on us both, and it’s clearly not going to get any better. Maybe you should try calling Bow. If there’s a chance he can help us, it’s worth a shot.”
“Okay,” Catra tells her. “Okay.”
Catra’s still wary of the entire thing. It takes her a long time to trust people in general, and this is something that shouldn’t be dealt with lightly. Still, Catra sits down the next day at her table, phone in hand.
(“Today?” Catra had asked that morning. Adora wasn’t there when she woke up, not even her voice. Like Catra had expected, there was no response to her question, and she had taken a deep breath, and then turned on the lights in her kitchen.
“Flick once for no,” she murmured, “twice for yes.”
There had been two flicks.)
Bow’s voice is groggy as if he’s just woken up, but still a little high pitched for someone who’s supposedly the same age as them. Catra doesn’t know what to say for a moment, can’t find it in her to say I need help. I don’t want to lose my best friend. I love her so much and she’s going to leave me.
“I swear,” Bow starts on the other end despite the fact that Catra still hasn’t said anything. “If it’s you punks calling again…”
“It’s Catra,” she eventually forces herself to say. It comes out sort of choked.
“Oh.” There’s a breathy pause, then Bow takes another breath. “You’re the friend with the ghost, right?”
“Yeah,” Catra murmurs, eyes fluttering shut. “That’s… that’s me.”
Bow’s quiet on the other end for a long, long time. Catra feels the tears falling down her cheeks, but she doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. She keeps her eyes focused on the chord of the telephone in front of her, gaze hard.
It feels like hours have passed by the time Bow speaks again. “Do you want to get rid of your ghost?” he asks. His voice is a bit more awake and clear now, and he must take Catra’s silence as an answer. “I know how. It’ll be easy, you don’t even have to—”
“No,” Catra interrupts, squeezing the chord of the telephone. She swears she can feel her heart beating out of her chest. “I don’t want to get rid of her. I want to make sure she stays.”
Bow comes over a few days later. It’s an hour long drive from where he lives, and Catra offers him some cookies Adora taught her to make during their first Christmas together in thanks.
“Oh, it’s cold,” he comments after the initial greeting, glancing around the apartment. “Is it because of her?”
Catra nods, tightening her own jacket around herself. It’s mid-March now, and she mostly only wears winter clothing inside her apartment. “It happens involuntarily,” she explains. “Back when she was first trying to figure everything out, the doors and cabinets would slam when she got scared or nervous, and when she didn’t really know how to control the change in temperatures. That, uh, went away when she got control over her abilities, but now it happens every so often.”
Bow nods thoughtfully. Catra feels a little better when she realizes he really believes her; that he’s taking everything Catra’s saying into account. “How long has she been here?”
“I moved in at the end of the summer of ‘92,” Catra tells him. “We don’t know when she died, but she was still new to the entire thing by then and her birthday is in January, which she remembers experiencing, so it had to have been within that time frame.”
“And how long has it been since she’s started fading?”
Catra doesn’t like that word. She doesn’t like how she never even mentioned the idea of fading to Bow, but he still just knows, as if he’s been here before. She doesn’t like that that same word was said in the one possibly reliable book she read a few weeks ago, too.
“A little over a month.”
“Can she manifest right now? Maybe just talk?”
Catra shrugs. “It’s been getting hard for her recently to manifest, but she might be able to talk,” she says, and then faces the open space. “Hey, Adora,” she starts, “are you listening? Can you talk to us?”
“I’m here,” Adora tells them a few feet away. Catra lets out a sigh of relief.
“Okay, Adora,” Bow gently begins. “Can you describe to me what you’re feeling right now?”
“Scared,” Adora admits. “And… and tired. I’m always so tired now, and there’s a pull that never goes away. I never have any energy to do anything anymore, and that pull just… I want to give into it. It feels like I should, but I also don’t want to leave. I want to stay with Catra more than anything else.”
Bow nods. Nothing seems to surprise him, and everything Adora says seems to be exactly what she expected.
Catra doesn’t know whether that scares or reassures her.
Over two cups of coffee in the living room, the three of them gather around.
“Perfuma said you know a ghost?” Catra asks, a little hopeful. If Bow has more experience than her at this, but still knows the ghost, maybe there’s a chance at helping Adora stay.
“Knew a ghost,” Bow corrects, and Catra feels something within her break. Thinks, well, there goes that. “I, uh, knew one once. Her name was Glimmer.”
She hates the way Bow’s tone gets sort of somber then, the way he talks about Glimmer in past tense. Despite the fact that she’s not sure she wants to know, she finds herself asking anyway. “What happened to her?”
And so, Bow shares his story.
He tells her that he met Glimmer when they were both eighteen, when he was fresh out of high school and looking for a place to stay on his own without the overbearingness of his parents. That when he moved into his apartment, he knew it was haunted within the first week because the ghost — because Glimmer — immediately started messing with him. She’d move his things around, make creepy noises, turn the lights on and off, and one day, Bow had opened the door of his bedroom to find her hovering over the bed.
(“Dude,” she had started, “I’ve been haunting you for two weeks, and you still haven’t left? I’m shocked.”
And then, after he passed out, he had woken up to her over him and staring at him with a look of concern, and she had actually apologized and told him she’d let up on the pranks.)
She had already been a ghost for about half a year by then, so she knew how to control all of her abilities. She always messed with him, but it was always harmless things, like bothering him while he did his homework or tugging the blankets off of him at night.
“I didn’t want her to go,” Bow admits, softly. “And… and that might be selfish, but it’s true.”
“When did it happen?” Catra asks.
“A little less than two years after we met,” Bow murmurs. “I already loved her by then, and she loved me too. It, uh, started gradually, you know? Sometimes she’d disappear for longer than usual, and it’d get cold out of nowhere. There were times where she couldn’t manifest, but she could speak to me, and other times where she couldn’t do anything. Started forgetting things about her life, and felt like there was never a purpose. She said it felt like she was losing herself.”
“And…” Catra swallows heavily when Bow gets quiet. “What happened then?”
“I didn’t want her to go, but I didn’t want her to lose herself, to become something bad, even more,” Bow sighs. “So, I helped her remember her death. Found an obituary, read off the cause and date, things about her life. She ended up being able to cross over after that, and… and she wasn’t there anymore. I don’t know where she went, or whether or not she had the choice to stay, but… I never saw her again after that.”
Catra feels her hands start to tremble from where she’s holding her glass mug. Bow glances sympathetically at her, and then sighs.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I don’t think I’ll really be of any help. All I can tell you is what happened to me.”
“It’s okay,” Catra hears Adora say from somewhere next to her. “At least we… at least we know what’ll happen now.”
“It might not play out the same way,” Bow offers. “You might be able to stay, or maybe— maybe you’ll be given a choice. I don’t know if Glimmer had one, but even if she did, I don’t resent her for leaving. In the end, she didn’t really belong here, and I can only just… just hope that she’s happy, wherever it is that she is now.”
There’s something in Catra that just… stops working. Maybe it’s her heart that seems to stop beating, or her lungs that stop taking in air, or her fingers that are squeezing her glass mug so tightly that by the time she realizes the glass handle has fractured it’s too late, but she doesn’t really hear anything else that Bow and Adora say after that.
She doesn’t know what to do. She can’t understand — she doesn’t want to understand — the idea of Adora leaving her. Adora, who’s become her person, her everything, in the past two and a half years— the idea of her leaving Catra forever—
“Catra,” she hears from somewhere to her left. It feels like hours have passed, but in reality it must have only been a few minutes. Catra doesn’t take her eyes off of the mug in her hands.
“Yeah,” she murmurs, but it comes out a bit distractedly. “I’m—I’m good.”
There’s a moment after where she thinks Bow says something else, but Catra doesn’t quite catch it. Adora’s voice follows, and then soon after, Catra hears the sound of the door opening and closing. Her ears feel plugged. The only thing she can really hear is the sound of herself swallowing. She’s aware time always seems to slow when she’s scared or anxious, but it’s never been like this. The longer the seconds drag, the heavier the weight in her chest becomes.
She feels something sharp and cold on her cheek a moment later, and blinks. There’s nothing in front of her — she doesn’t know why she thought there would be something different.
“Catra,” she hears again, but it’s Adora’s voice this time. “Catra, please— please just breathe for me. Please.”
The quiet desperation in her voice seems to pull Catra out of wherever it is that she was. Catra takes in a single breath, and realizes that her chest is aching as if she hasn’t been breathing. Her face is wet, and it takes her a moment to think, oh. That’s from me.
“I’m sorry, Catra,” Adora murmurs. She sounds so sad and heartbroken, as if she’s accepting their defeat. “I’m so sorry. I wish—I wish I knew you before this. I wish we met before this happened. I wish I knew you before it was too late, and I wish I could stay.”
“Adora,” Catra forces out, pulling her knees to her chest. “Please—”
She feels something cold against her back and around her waist a moment later, and can’t help but take in a shuddering gasp. She doesn’t speak for a moment, just focuses on getting her breath back, before she sniffles and shakily smiles. “Are you… are you hugging me?”
“Yeah,” Adora murmurs. It’s cold, and a little uncomfortable, but Catra doesn’t care. “I’m sorry, Catra. I wish things were different.”
“Yeah,” Catra agrees quietly, leaning a bit more toward the direction Adora’s in. “Me, too.”
Bow and Perfuma refer her to other people who might have experience with this, but none of them are able to tell her anything she doesn’t already know. Catra still spends endless days and nights at the library; the days she spends there start to become more common then the days she’s even able to hear or see Adora, but she can never find anything new.
(She tells herself that the most important thing is that she can still feel her. She can always feel her presence in the room, even if it’s not cold. There’s just an inexplicable feeling of someone else being there, and on the days Adora can’t be heard or seen, Catra has to take comfort in the feel of her presence.)
“Catra,” she hears one night, and she immediately jolts into awareness. She hasn’t heard Adora’s voice in three days, and hasn’t seen her since the day after Bow came over nearly two weeks ago. When she rolls over, she finds Adora — manifested, voice present and all — and feels relief for all of four seconds before Adora speaks again, panicked and scared. “Catra, I— I can’t—”
“Hey,” she starts, immediately sitting up. The alarm clock on her bed reads as just past three in the morning. “Adora, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t…” Adora moves her shoulders as if she’s taking a deep breath, closes her eyes, and then meets Catra’s own eyes. “Catra, I can’t remember how we met.”
No, Catra immediately thinks. She’s never been religious, but she’s been trying everything recently. Please, no. Please, if there’s a higher being out there, please don’t let her forget me.
“It was August of 1992,” she starts after a beat, reaching for a hand she can’t quite hold. Even after two and a half years, the knowledge that she’s never actually touched Adora has only made her feel worse. “And—and you were just really bad at being a ghost, remember?” There’s a bit of relief at the sight of Adora’s eyes, distant and unfocused, slowly clearing as if she’s remembering. “So you accidentally revealed yourself to me like a million times before we actually met, but I just thought I was going crazy, to be honest. It wasn’t until you actually talked to me — accidentally, again — that we… officially met. But I’m…” Catra pauses, using the back of her arm to wipe her eyes. “I’m really glad we did.”
When she glances back at Adora, she finds her nervously staring down at her lap, brows furrowed together in the way that she does whenever she’s thinking really hard. Catra would tease her for looking cute if they didn’t both look like they’re about to burst into tears.
“I’m glad we met too, even if it was too late,” Adora finally whispers. Catra sniffles, and then nods.
“Yeah. Me too.”
“I don’t know what to do, Catra,” Adora sighs, and she sounds so helpless and scared that it breaks Catra’s heart all over again. “I don’t want to leave you. I want to stay here with you, I want to be with you forever and I don’t want anything to change, but I don’t… I don’t want to forget you, either. I don’t know what’ll happen if I cross over, but… but it can’t be worse than the possibility of forgetting you, of forgetting us.”
Catra thinks about the book, then. About what it said; about how it was the only thing that seemed reliable because it told of things — of ghosts — that Catra knows is true because she lives with a ghost. About its warnings: how the ghost would start to forget things, about how it would feel like they’re fading.
She thinks about how she didn’t let herself believe any of that could happen then. She thinks about how now, nearly a month later, she can’t keep denying it for any longer.
She knows that she can’t keep putting it off. She knows that she can’t keep denying or putting off the inevitable, even if the inevitable makes her feel like there’s something in her that’s dying. She shouldn’t, and yet—
“I don’t… I don’t want to think about that right now,” Catra whimpers a bit, laying back down. Adora reaches out as if to comfort her, but all Catra feels is an icy cold gust of wind against her forehead. At least she succeeds in pushing Catra’s hair out of her face. “Can you just… just stay with me until I fall asleep?”
“Always,” Adora tells her.
They fight about it sometime later. It’s the end of March now, and the weather is getting a lot warmer. Catra has her last finals in less than two months, followed by preparation for the bar exam. She’s busier than ever with school, but she had always expected she’d have Adora to help her through this point.
(“You’re gonna do great,” Adora still murmured a couple of days prior as Catra attempted to study. She sounded distant, voice frail and caught in the wind, and Catra had to shut her eyes in an attempt not to let her sudden swell of tears fall. “You’re gonna be a great lawyer, Cat. You’re gonna defend lives, same way I wanted to save them.”)
Catra shouts about how they don’t know if they can trust Bow. How they don’t know if this’ll solve anything. How they don’t know if Adora will be okay once she crosses over.
Adora argues that they can trust him; that she felt it within her, and that she knows Catra felt it too. How even if it doesn’t solve anything, it’s not like they have any other options. How they may not know if she’ll be okay once she crosses over, but by the looks of it, they’ll know she won’t be okay if she stays.
The fight ends with the electricity in the apartment — the entire apartment complex, if the alarmed shouts through the walls coming from her neighbors indicate anything — cutting out, followed by the sound of something shattering onto the floor. When the lights turn back on, Catra sees the glass lamp that once sat on the end table by the couch broken on the floor, and stares at the mess of glass with a frown. She’s not sure if it’s because of everything else that’s happening, but she finds that couldn’t care less about the glass on the floor.
“Why are we fighting?” Adora shakily asks after that. Catra shrugs, moving to pick up the glass with her bare hands.
“I don’t know,” she sighs after staring at the shards in her palm. “I don’t want to lose you.” She takes a breath to calm herself. Despite this, her voice cracks when she speaks again anyway. “Even though it seems like I'm going to, anyway.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t leave,” Catra can’t help but snap almost petulantly. She knows it doesn’t make sense. She knows that this is out of Adora’s control, that she doesn’t want to leave Catra either, but she’s so mad and upset and sad and she doesn’t know what to do anymore. “You promised me that nothing bad would happen as long as we have each other. You promised Adora— you can’t just—”
“—you can’t just— fuck, you can’t just break your promise! You can’t just leave me here all alone and— and—”
She remembers being young, remembers before things went wrong in her life and her family found out she was a lesbian and immediately shunned her. She remembers curling up on her mother’s lap when she was sad, remembers being rocked back and forth and hearing affirming whispered words in her ears. She remembers that touch has always been the thing that’ll comfort her the most. She remembers she’s never actually touched Adora before.
She cries. Even after Adora starts talking again, saying things like I’m sorry and please don’t cry and I wish I could hold you, once she starts, she can’t stop.
In the beginning of April, 1995, Catra calls Bow again.
“I need them,” she whispers into the phone. It’s a bit muffled; Bow must be busy, or somewhere loud. “I need the papers. I don’t know how long she has left.”
“Okay,” Bow immediately tells her. “Have you started looking?” Catra’s silence must give away her answer, because Bow keeps going. “Give me about a week. I’ll have them ready by then.”
“Thanks,” Catra forces herself to say. Truly, she is thankful to him for everything he’s doing; for talking about this all with her, for telling her that when the time came for Adora to remember, he’d figure out a way to gather the papers regarding her death. She wants to express just how thankful she is, but she can’t bring herself to do it when she keeps thinking that by the end of this, she won’t have Adora anymore.
She tells Adora that Bow will be here sometime near the end of the week, and Adora somberly accepts the news just as Catra knew she would. Catra takes off of work during the week and only does the bare minimum of her class work. She just spends time around the apartment, listening to everything Adora says when she can talk, and talking by herself on the days Adora can’t do it herself. When Adora manages to materialize for the last time — in a faded, dim sort of way, where it’s hard to even make out any of her features — they play a short game of hockey, mostly because Adora can’t quite manage to hold the hockey stick for long, and it’s kind of shaky with her abilities, far weaker than it was before. Despite this, she still wins, and Catra feels a bit of warmth swell when Adora undoubtedly makes fun of her for it.
And yet, she can’t help but feel a different kind of sadness at the thought that soon, she won’t have this anymore. Adora pauses in her spot a few feet away from her, still laughing at Catra’s poor hockey skills, and Catra just watches her.
The heartbreak she feels is grueling, and it comes in waves, stealing her breath and appetite and sleep alike. It feels like death, and in quiet moments it chokes the breath from her body until she feels like she’s drowning.
She doesn’t even realize Adora is staring back at her until she’s only a few feet away, watching her with a frown. Catra averts her eyes, taking a quiet breath.
“Sorry,” she murmurs, suddenly feeling guilty. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin the mood, I just…”
Catra trails off then, not quite sure how to continue. Apparently she doesn’t have to; Adora does it for her.
“Just promise me you’ll keep going to the gym,” she says, and Catra can tell she’s trying to remain lighthearted in the sudden somber direction the mood of the room has taken because she motions to Catra’s arms. “Don’t let these arms go back to the noodly state they were in before I convinced you to start working out.”
The words after I’m gone go unspoken. Catra laughs a bit — from disbelief, or genuine humor at the implication of noodle arms, she doesn’t know — and then says, “I haven’t even been to the gym in weeks.”
It’s true. She sort of lost both the motivation and time once Adora started fading, but she’s been a couple of times since then. Still, it’s nothing compared to how she made a point to go at least a few times a week before, and although her arms never quite reached the level Adora’s are, she’s quite happy with how her body looks. Besides, she doesn’t think Adora’s arms would fit her.
“Which is why you need to start going again,” Adora says. Catra opens her mouth to object, but when Adora raises a challenging brow at her, Catra playfully rolls her eyes and huffs.
“Alright, fine,” she murmurs. “I promise.”
The day they’re together for the last time, the weather outside is beautiful. The sun casts a warm glow on those outside, and the breeze is gentle; it’s not too warm, and it’s not too cold. Catra can hear the birdsong just past her window, can feel the warm velvety sunlight on her skin for the brief moment she goes to stand by the curtains.
The time leading up to it is quiet. Adora can’t talk much, but when she does, her voice is fragile and weak. Catra tries her best to talk to her, fill her in on things that she can’t quite remember, both about her own life and her and Catra’s years together. It’s hard to talk about anything without the constant reminder of what’s soon to come, but when Adora asks things such as how did we become friends? or what have I taught you to cook?, Catra couldn’t ever imagine denying her.
“Go tomorrow,” she can’t help but whisper every time she thinks of it. “Please, Adora.”
“I’m barely here, Catra,” Adora says, and her voice sounds like it’s been caught by the wind.
When Catra hears the first knock on the door, she feels like her heart is being ripped out of her chest.
“I’m here,” Bow tells her, a bit out of breath. He’s holding a manila folder in his hands, and there’s a messenger bag at his side. “Is she…”
“She’s here,” Catra confirms, and Bow lets out a sigh of relief. Her throat feels scratchy, like her tongue is caught in her mouth. “She—she says it’s kind of hard to talk right now, but… she’s here.”
“Okay,” Bow nods, short and quick, and takes a step inside. When he opens the folder in his hands, Catra feels her eyes fall shut. There’s a bout of silence that stretches between them for a moment, and then he sighs. “Basically, one of us has to read this—” he motions to the obituary, and then the death certificate, and Catra doesn’t know how he acquired those papers but she doesn’t want to ask. “—and… and that’s it. She should be able to remember once we do.”
That’s it, Catra hears. That’s it. That’s all it ever was, that’s all it’ll ever be.
“If you don’t think you can do it, I can—”
“No,” Catra interrupts, clenching her fists. “I— I can do it.” I can’t.
Bow nods, and then hands the folder over. Catra briefly glances down; Adora’s death certificate says pneumonia. Catra feels her hands start to tremble all over again.
“Thank you, Bow,” Adora whispers from somewhere near Catra. She’s still only a voice right now, but Catra’s glad that she can still voice all Catra can’t. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
Bow smiles, but it’s sort of somber. “Of course. I’m… I’m sorry we didn’t get to really know each other. I think we would’ve been good friends.”
It’s quiet, but the birds outside of the window keep singing. Bow lets out a soft breath.
“I’m gonna go hang out at Perfuma’s for a while,” he murmurs, and then he turns to Catra. “Call me—us, any of them—if you need anything, okay? If not, I'll call you in a couple of hours.”
Catra thinks she nods, but she’s not sure. Bow rubs her shoulder sympathetically, and then turns. Just as he opens the door, Adora speaks again.
“Wait,” she starts, a bit rushed, “I just… I want to know… when I remember, will I cross over immediately? Or will I have some time?”
“You’ll have some time,” Bow reassures them both. “You’ll be able manifest — really manifest — and I think you’ll have about an hour? I’m not too sure because we weren’t keeping count when… when it happened to us, but… you’ll have some time.”
“Okay,” Adora repeats. “Thank you.”
Bow gives them both one last look and a comforting smile, and then closes the door behind him. Catra takes a deep breath, staring at the folder in her hands. There’s a few printed papers, a newspaper, and an old picture.
“Catra,” Adora whispers. Catra closes her eyes, takes another deep breath, and then turns around.
She thinks about how kind Adora has always been. Thinks about how sweet and caring and selfless she’s been, holding on despite the pain and exhaustion it’s causing her just to stay with Catra a little longer. She thinks about how she herself has always been selfish; always been closed off and mean and cold these past few years before she met Adora. She thinks that maybe, for Adora, she could be selfless.
“Are you ready?” she asks, opening her eyes. Adora hums a soft yeah, and then Catra gets settled on the living room floor.
She shuffles through the papers, hands shaking so badly she doesn’t know what to do with them. Her heart feels like it’s going to leap out of her throat when she starts speaking.
“You were born on January 19th, 1968,” is the first thing she says, flipping through the papers. “You lived in a town called Eternia on a small farm with your family: Marlena, Randor, and Adam. You moved here when you turned eighteen, and you went to school on a hockey scholarship to study sports medicine. Your twin died a year later, and you stopped talking to your parents after that.” A lot of this Catra already knows, but she knows that Adora probably doesn’t. “You— you died—” her voice cracks, and she has to pause to take a shuddering breath, “you died on July 29th, 1992,” she flips between the death certificate and a small newspaper article, “there was a small, but bad, pneumonia outbreak in the area.”
Catra’s eyes scan over the newspaper article. She remembers hearing about this; remembers that although she herself managed to avoid it, she knew a few people who had gotten it. For the most part it was contained; those who had it worse had been hospitalized. Still, there was one casualty: a woman who must not have known the severity of her case before she could make it to the hospital.
She supposes she should’ve been made aware that there was someone who died in the apartment just over a month before she moved in, but she’s not surprised that she wasn't. The place was cheap; the landlord just wanted to sell it, and Catra just wanted a place to stay.
It takes her a moment, but she manages to find it in her to voice this to Adora. There’s a picture behind everything else; the quality isn’t the best, and the colors are a bit faded, but Catra can recognize a young Adora next to who must have been her family. She stares at it for a moment, enraptured, before turning it to face Adora.
Then, after waiting a few beats, she takes a deep breath and finally looks up.
Adora is standing across from her. She’s standing, slowly manifesting into view, and she keeps manifesting until she’s no longer pale or gray or translucent; keeps manifesting until she’s solid, standing up and staring down at her hands. At her very solid hands.
Her hair is blonde, just as she had said, and her eyes are so blue, like rivers radiating serenity. Catra doesn't think she’s ever been at this much of a loss for words, because— because she’s seen beautiful things before. She’s sat on the roof at night with nothing but a blanket and the stars to accompany her, she’s seen cherry blossoms and pink petals drifting across a forest, and she’s seen a waterfall in the cliffs with the sun rising in the distance, symbolizing a new beginning.
None of that could ever compare to this.
“You—you remember,” Catra breathes in disbelief. Adora looks up from her hands — her very solid hands — and then nods. There are tears on her lashes, and Catra imagines she doesn’t look much different.
“I do,” Adora confirms with a watery smile on her face. “I remember everything.” Neither one of them moves, before suddenly—
A hand reaching out.
Catra takes it. The remaining papers scatter onto the floor, and a moment later, Catra feels Adora’s lips on her own for the very first time.
It’s a bit messy — tears running down both of their cheeks, hands grasping for anything they can hold onto, but Adora’s mouth is warm. Her hands are warm, and her lips and her body are warm, and she just feels so alive that Catra can’t believe it.
Everything around them seems to stop. It all seems to stop: the misery in the room, the colorful sunlight blooming in from the window, the birds singing outside, the sound of frustrated honks from the cars beyond their window, and it become just this: just them, kissing each other in Catra’s (and Adora’s) shitty apartment. Adora’s smiling, but it’s soft and intimate, in a way that Catra’s only seen her do for her.
“I love you,” Adora whispers against her lips. Catra makes a tiny noise into her mouth, and Adora lets out a soft laugh that fills her with even more warmth. “I love you so much, Catra.”
“I love you too,” Catra says between kisses, even when Adora pushes her so that they’re leaning, and then falling, onto the couch. Adora is on top of her, and her hands are everywhere on her and Catra doesn’t ever want her to stop. “I’ve loved you for so long, Adora. I wish—I wish that—”
“Shhh,” Adora hushes, brushing Catra’s hair off of her forehead. She pulls back for a moment, and her eyes are sad again, but she’s staring at Catra with so much love that Catra can’t believe it. “Let’s just… let’s just be in this moment, for a while?”
“Okay,” Catra agrees, because her heart still feels like it’s being torn in two whenever she thinks about Adora leaving, but right now in this moment, with Adora leaning over her, warm and solid to the touch and so kissable, her heart feels like it’s being mended again. Her heart feels like, despite the pain that’ll come with losing Adora, that these past few years have made it all worth it.
She kisses Adora again afterward, and hopes it conveys all she wants to tell her. She kisses her and kisses her and kisses her, moves her hands along her warm skin, shivers when Adora runs her hands beneath Catra’s shirt and whispers is this okay? to which Catra says oh my God, of course it’s okay, to which Adora runs her nails down her sides and causes Catra to whine and—
“Take—take it off, please, I just want to feel you—” Catra begs when Adora’s teeth scrape against the sensitive skin of her neck. Catra leans up a bit when Adora struggles to peel off her shirt, followed by immediately running her hand over her chest and whispering things like you’re so pretty, Catra. You’re so, so pretty.
Adora takes off her own shirt a few moments later. Catra doesn’t quite mean to, but she snaps the rubber band that’s been holding Adora’s hair in a ponytail for nearly three years, but when Adora’s hair falls and curtains them like molten gold, she certainly doesn’t regret it.
“I love you,” Catra repeats over and over again. Somehow, they make it back to Catra’s bedroom, and she keeps going, even when Adora takes off both of their pants and gently, carefully strokes her skin. “I love you,” she gasps when Adora pushes a thigh between her own, and then as Adora strokes her as they rock together and whispers I love you too after each time Catra says it. “I love you,” she tells her as she comes, and again when she rolls them over and presses kiss after kiss to the beautiful skin she’s not going to be able to see again tomorrow. She says it again when Adora peaks, and then again when they collapse into the sheets, spent and panting and tangled in a mess of limbs.
Adora curls her arms around her and pulls, tugging Catra nearly on top of her. Catra presses even further into Adora in a desperate attempt to make sure they’re as close as possible; lifts a leg over Adora’s hips, curls her arms around her and digs her fingers into her skin as hard as she can without it hurting; breathes her in, and says, “I love you.”
“I love you,” Adora tells her after pressing a kiss to her sweaty hair. “It feels so good to finally touch you, and finally feel you. You’re—you’re so perfect. I’m so glad I got to know and love you, Catra. You’re so sweet and kind even though you’ll always deny it, and you make the cutest little noises in your sleep, and there’s a dip in your eyebrows whenever you’re studying that I’ve always wished I could kiss, and—”
There’s a quiet hiccup that falls from Catra’s lips, and she squeezes her eyes shut, curling impossibly further into Adora’s embrace.
Please don’t leave me sounds far too cruel, because she knows she’s been asking that of Adora for far too long, and she knows now that she can’t. That it’ll do far more harm than good if Adora stays. That Catra’s going to have to learn to not be selfish.
“Wish we could stay here forever,” Catra murmurs into her chest instead, a hand splayed on her bare stomach. Her voice sort of shakes around her words. “I’m sorry that—I’m sorry that I’ve been so much of a mess lately. I mean, you’re the one that’s going to experience God knows what, and yet you’re here comforting me, and fuck, I’m sorry. I tried to stop it. I didn’t want this to happen.”
“Catra,” Adora softly begins, “it’s okay.” There’s a hand rubbing up and down her spine. “I know… I know that it’s scary. And that it’s hard to be the one left behind. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out the way we wanted them to. I’m sorry that we weren’t equipped to deal with the hand life gave us. It’s just… it’s just circumstances that we couldn’t avoid. I don’t want you to feel guilty over not being able to prevent any of it from happening, because I know you spent so long trying to stop it. It just—it just happened, Catra. I don’t think we could’ve avoided it. But I want… I want you to stop treating it like I’m gonna be gone forever. Like everything will be gone forever, because— fuck, Catra, I’m really not good at this—”
Catra shakes her head, cupping the back of Adora’s neck and letting out a shaky sigh. “No, keep… keep going. I understand what you’re trying to say.”
She feels more than sees Adora nod, fingernails digging into her back before relaxing again.
“I’m not gonna be gone. You’re still going to have those moments, and the memories we made here. You’re still going to have them all, and… memories are good like that, you know? You can remember us when you need to. When you miss me, you’ll… you’ll know where to find me.”
She pauses then. Her muscles are relaxed beneath Catra’s, voice soft and honest. Catra just tries her best to focus on her own breathing.
“Once, someone told me that it never seems right to say goodbye. I didn’t understand it then, but I think I do now. I’m not afraid anymore; I’m not afraid of whatever comes next, but I promised you a time ago that we wouldn’t lose each other. I’m gonna make good on that. Whatever happens next; we’re gonna see each other again. This isn’t a goodbye, Catra. It’s just a… see you then.”
From the open window a gentle breeze floats in, soothing their sweaty skin. Catra’s still trembling like a leaf in Adora’s hold. She wants to say so many things to her; wants to ask her when she got to be so wise; wants to ask her how she knows they’ll see each other again; wants selfishly to ask her to stay.
Instead, what she says, in a quiet, childlike voice, is: “Promise?”
“I promise,” Adora says, determined. Catra shivers, and then they lay there, simply holding each other in the time they have left.
It’s not till a little while later, Catra’s eyes fluttering beneath their lids, that she stirs and asks, “how much time do we have?”
Adora shifts beneath her. Her lips part, and she knits her brows together as if she’s trying to think, before she says, “ten minutes, maybe?”
A quiet breath escapes Catra. “Dance with me?”
Adora does. They pull on their clothes, Catra turns the old, vintage record player on, and old music fills their apartment as they get comfortable in a loose embrace, simply swaying to the beat. Catra rests her head against Adora’s shoulder, and Adora rests her head against Catra’s, whispers things like it’s gonna be okay and I’m ready for whatever happens next and promise me you won’t cry when I’m gone, and they remain like that until their time runs out.
There’s not really a buildup. Catra feels Adora start to almost disappear in her hold; feels the warmth begin to fade, but it happens quickly. One moment Adora’s there, arms wrapped around Catra’s waist, and the next she's just not. One moment they’re swaying, and the next, Catra hears the words I love you, and then she’s holding empty air.
In the blink of an eye, Adora’s gone. Catra sort of stands there for a moment, not quite sure what to do. Someone is still singing in the background, and Catra doesn’t know why she expected it to be cold, but it’s not. At least when Adora previously disappeared, Catra always knew she was still here because she could feel her.
This is different. It’s a normal temperature for an apartment, none of the doors or cabinets are spontaneously opening or closing, and the lights are still on. For the first time in so long, Catra can’t feel Adora anymore, and this is how she knows that she’s well and truly gone.
She wants to cry. She wants to scream and yell about how none of it is fair; that life isn’t fair for having them meet when it was too late, that it’s not fair that she was the one left behind. That it’s not fair that Adora’s gone, and the world just gets to keep going like nothing ever happened.
But then she thinks about Adora’s words. She thinks about them, and how hurt she feels right now, and how it feels like there could be endless tears falling down her face but there’s nothing actually there.
She thinks about the promises Adora made her. She thinks about how, even if Adora doesn’t truly come back, she was right when she said Catra will always know where to find her.
“See you then.”
Bow calls her about an hour later. Catra forces herself to answer on the third ring, mostly because she knows that if she doesn’t then he’ll come over and she really just wants to be alone right now.
“She’s gone,” is the first thing Catra says before Bow can even speak. “She’s… she’s gone.”
Bow is quiet for a moment. “Are you…” he trails off a bit, and Catra’s glad, because she thinks she might lose her mind if someone asks her if she’s okay because of fucking course she’s not okay. “Do you want someone to come over? Or—”
“No,” Catra quickly says. She knows that some people might be offended — maybe Scorpia or Perfuma would have — but this is Bow. Bow, who’s the only person that Catra knows who might understand what she’s going. “No, I—no, thank you. I just… I don’t know. I think I want to hang up now.”
“Okay,” Bow tells her. “I’m here—we’re all here if you need anyone.” It sounds like he wants to say more, but he must understand that Catra doesn’t want to hear any of that it’s gonna be okay or I'm so sorry bullshit right now, because he doesn’t say more than that before Catra hangs up.
She doesn’t know how to proceed. She sort of curls up on the floor of the living room where Adora once stood, and wakes up the next morning feeling stiff, exhausted, and cold. She doesn’t dress in black, and she doesn’t cry. Adora asked her not to cry.
Catra forces herself to start going to class again. It’s hard to catch up on everything she’s missed — even harder being that finals will be soon — but she manages to get herself to focus solely on that because of the knowledge that it’s what Adora would have wanted.
Scorpia and Perfuma drag her out of the apartment after a couple of weeks — something about how cooping herself up inside of it, leaving only for class, isn’t healthy — and then encourage her to find a job, considering she was fired from her last one after the insane amount of absences she had. She gets a job at a bookstore, because it’s quiet and warm and smells like rusty old leather. Only quiet, young people or wise, older people frequent there, and Catra likes the environment. She thinks it’s exactly what she needs right now.
Bow starts coming around more. Catra tries her best to avoid all of her friends, but Bow continuously reminds her that he knows exactly what she’s going through, and they start a sad little support group. Although Catra would deny it if anyone asks, his presence makes her feel better.
“I think you should get a cat,” Bow tells her one day. It’s May now, her finals are just around the corner, and she’s been busting her ass off for school. They’re currently holed up in a coffee shop down the street from her apartment, and Catra’s just admitted to how sometimes she finds herself talking out loud as if Adora will reply. After being alone for the first twenty-two years of her life, and then never being alone for nearly three years after that, it’s hard to break out of the habit that someone will always be there to respond to her. “Pets are nice. I used to have one when I was younger, and I’ve been thinking about getting one again.”
“I’m allergic to cats,” Catra tells him sort of gruffly. She takes a sip of her tea, and then turns her attention outside. The evening has come with a vengeance, rain pounding against the pavement and gathering in angry droplets against the windows.
“You’re—oh. That’s… seriously?” Bow asks, and he looks both surprised and amused. Catra stares at him with a frown.
“What’s so funny about that?” she asks, almost challengingly. Bow shakes his head, but an amused smile is still on his lips.
“You just… you know, seem like a cat person. Your name is Catra. Just… a little ironic, I guess.”
Catra stares down at her cup of tea. It ripples gently, and she can see her reflection if she tries hard enough.
“Hey,” Bow starts, and when Catra looks up, she realizes he’s watching her with a kind smile. “If you can’t get a cat, you could always get a dog. Or—or a lizard, or like a bird, or even a plant. Plants are really—”
“Okay,” Catra interrupts him, only slightly amused. She thinks, briefly, that Bow and Adora are alike in some ways. She thinks that they really would have been good friends. “I’m not gonna get a pet, because they’re messy and I don’t see the point, but there’s a little animal shelter down the street I can take you to if you’re interested.”
“Fine,” Bow easily tells her. When they arrive, Bow sort of wanders around near the back, apparently genuinely interested in bringing someone home with him. Catra sort of wanders around in the front, pretending to look at the pictures of all of the animals, only to turn around when she hears someone approaching her. A kind looking lady is standing at the front desk now, hands crossed together.
“Can I help you?” she asks, gently. Catra shakes her head.
“Oh, um, no. I’m just here because my friend wants a dog, or something. He thinks I should get one too, but I’m…” she trails off a bit, hesitant. “I’m good.”
The woman seems to sense her hesitance. Her smile widens a bit, and then she tilts her head. “I can show you our dogs, if you’d like. You can just look around.”
And so, she does.
Bow is on one side of the open area, and there are plenty of dogs running around. He’s playing with a bigger one, and Catra sort of awkwardly glances around because all of the dogs are in his general area rather than hers and… she’s never been good with or particularly fond of dogs. There’s a moment where she thinks she should just leave, only to nearly be knocked off of her feet when a smaller dog — a much smaller one, and after looking at it, Catra realizes it’s a puppy — barrels into her. Catra loses her balance and nearly falls, and she thinks see, this is why I could never stand to have a dog, only to pause when she really catches sight of it.
It’s a golden retriever puppy, and it has a pink collar on it, which means it’s a girl. She’s staring up at her, panting, tongue falling out of her mouth with ears far too big for her own head. Catra, after a moment of hesitation, leans down to scratch the dog’s head, and then when the dog immediately starts licking her hand and nuzzling into her, she crouches a bit on the floor.
For reasons unknown to Catra, the dog is super happy. She’s literally the only dog on this side of the room, and she keeps barreling into her, tripping over her own feet and rolling onto her back. Catra can’t help the soft laughter that falls from her lips, and after a bit of struggling due to how energetic the dog is, she finally catches sight of the name tag.
She-Ra, it reads, and Catra furrows her brows. What kind of name is that?
“She-Ra,” Bow suddenly says behind her, and when Catra turns around, she realizes he’s actually carrying what must be a large, hundred pound dog, and the dog is sniffing Catra curiously. “I like it. Sounds powerful, exactly what a dog that small needs.”
“She probably won’t be small for long,” Catra murmurs, reaching back down. She-Ra is still watching her happily, ears flopping back and forth every time she gets up to bound around.
“I think you should take her home,” Bow says. “I think… I think it’ll be good for you.”
Catra, as much as she wants to deny it, agrees. Having a dog will definitely be a better coping mechanism than alcohol or trying her best to distance herself from everyone.
And when she stares back down at She-Ra, who’s still watching her happily, she thinks that there’s no way she’s going to leave without taking this dog home.
Finals pass by quickly. The stress she feels for it all is enough to nearly rival the stress she felt when Adora first started fading, but it’s all worth it when she finds out that she passed. She starts her preparation for the bar exam directly after, and when she gets the letter weeks later that tells her she passed, she’s standing in the middle of her apartment, tears running down her face. She-Ra is laying down in the corner of the living room, having tired herself out, and despite the fact that Catra still feels so empty without Adora around anymore, she thinks this might be the happiest she’s been since Adora left.
“I passed,” is what she says, hands still clutching the paper that reads as congratulations. The memory of Adora’s lips and hands, warm and soft against her body, rings clear. “I passed, Adora.”
It feels like everything from these past few months have finally crashed down on her. Tears fall from her eyes, and sobs that shake her shoulders follow, but she can only hope that wherever Adora is now, she knows.
Leaving the apartment is quite possibly one of the hardest things Catra’s ever done.
She stays for a long while, even after she gets a well paying job at a law firm and finally, finally stops constantly struggling to pay the bills. She stays for months, getting herself comfortable on her feet, but when the months begin to blur together, she knows she really has no excuse to stay in this apartment with the amount of income she’s making.
The day she moves out, she quietly takes everything in even after she’s moved all of her things into Bow’s truck. She-Ra is staying with Scorpia and Perfuma while Catra gets settled, so there’s no one here.
It’s strange to take everything in. The apartment isn’t completely empty — she’s leaving some of her furniture behind because of how cheap and old it all is — but there’s things that are still missing. Pictures that were once hung up on the wall, the hockey set Catra kept out even after Adora left, the vintage record player Adora used far more than Catra ever did. What was once a home for her and Adora is now just an apartment. She doesn’t think it was much of a home after Adora left.
(When she misses her — which is basically all of the time — she thinks about the memories, like Adora had said. Those memories… they’re precious to have, because in those moments with Adora—that’s who Catra is, and that’s who Adora was, and it’s so wonderful to know that she still has those.)
It takes her hours to finally gather the courage to leave, but Bow doesn’t comment on it when Catra comes down to the truck, eyes swollen and red. Her new apartment on the other side of the city is bigger, and it has a nice view of the street life. It’s far more expensive. It doesn’t have a ghost in it.
She tries not to think about it all as she unpacks her things. Tries not to think about how messy all of her clothes are when she packs them into her drawer because she’s always hated folding clothes, and how for a long while, it was neat because Adora always occupied herself with doing it because she liked doing things for Catra.
She-Ra likes the new place, though. There’s a big park just behind the apartment complex, and Catra finds that having a large, energetic dog means it’s not really an option to not at least somewhat stay fit. She-Ra forces her to go on runs, and eventually, Catra thinks she may as well make good on her promise to Adora and starts going to the gym again.
Eight months after Adora leaves, Catra starts finding the missing person within her that had been lost after Adora left.
“And it’s just like—if I do this,” says Scorpia, gesturing animatedly with both of her hands, “if I tell her this, then it’s like, everything will be, like, forever, right? And I want that. I just don’t know if she does.”
Bow nods and takes a sip of his wine, which he’s drinking out of a snowman mug. “Everything is good now,” he concludes, “and you’re afraid you’re going to ruin it by changing something.”
“But if this does happen the way you want it to, then the change will be good. It’ll be better than good.”
“Exactly,” Scorpia repeats, eyes wide. Catra wearily eyes the glass in Scorpia’s hand, because she’s pretty sure Scorpia’s drunk right now and she’s nearly spilt her red wine onto the pristine white couch four times in the last two minutes. “And it’s weird because legally we can’t even get married, but it’s still the meaning behind it, you know?”
“You know what I think?” Bow asks. “I think you should just go for it. If Perfuma loves you as much as I think she does, then she’ll say yes. And even if she doesn’t—well, that’s okay. You two know each other, and that wouldn’t destroy your relationship. You’ll be able to fix it.”
Scorpia nods slowly. “I… I think you might be right.”
“You just have to think about this on the positive side,” Bow supplies. “Either way, I’m sure things will be okay.”
Catra grabs ahold of Scorpia’s glass before she really does spill it, because the anticipation is about to send her over the edge. She gets up from where the three of them are sitting, and heads to the kitchen to set the glass down.
Around them, the party continues. Music, laughter, conversation. It’s nearly eleven p.m., which means she still can’t leave for another hour because New Year’s Eve parties always last until midnight.
Outside on the balcony, a couple of people Catra doesn’t know are curled up on a couch. It’s begun to snow again, and Catra isn’t sure when it first happened, but she’s started taking comfort in the cold. In the distance, a snowflake drifts in and out of the yellow light of a streetlamp, appearing almost golden. It reminds Catra of fireflies, or sparks of a bonfire. It reminds her of the one hour she got to actually see Adora’s hair in all of the years she’d known her.
Right now in this moment, leaned over the railing of a balcony just outside of Perfuma and Scorpia’s new apartment as everyone waits for midnight, she feels okay. Perfuma and Scorpia are curled up on the couch inside again, Bow is talking to Entrapta, one of Catra’s new friends she met at the law firm, and a few other people — Perfuma and Scorpia’s friends, or Bow’s friends — are here, too. The party isn’t too big, just them, but everyone important to her is safe and warm and happy. It’s strange because she’s caught between feeling empty and sad like she’s been feeling for a while now, but happy, too. Her body feels like it’s full of helium, but her shoes feel like they’re full of rocks.
She closes her eyes and takes a sip of her drink. It’s a bit nice to feel like this—knowing that although she may not feel completely okay, she will one day.
Someday, Catra will be okay.
Maybe not soon. Maybe not for a while.
The late nights are long and frequent, but Catra doesn’t mind. She’s young and still has a long way to go before she can make her way up the ladder, and she’s in new territory she doesn’t quite understand yet, so her schedule isn’t really her own. It’ll take her some time to start being able to juggle everything, but despite this, she loves her job, so she doesn’t mind.
There’s one night that she gets home later than usual. It’s hotter than usual as the worst of the summer heat descends upon them, so Catra undoes the first few buttons of her shirt and pushes her sleeves up a bit even with the night breeze accommodating her. It’s been over a year since Adora left, but she’s doing okay.
She walks a bit quicker than usual after she gets off of the bus because it’s been nearly twelve hours since she’s been home and She-Ra hasn’t been able to relieve herself since then and she feels bad about it. In the lobby of the complex, there’s a short, scrawny old woman, and she’s going off on the attendant at the desk, who looks like he doesn’t know what to do. Catra doesn’t pay much attention to it, and plans on walking straight past.
Then the woman turns around. She’s even shorter than Catra is, and—yes, okay, although Catra doesn’t like to admit this—she is fairly small herself, so for this woman to be even smaller is saying something.
“You!” she shouts, hobbling over. Catra frowns, glancing around and then pointing at herself, and the woman curls her lip. “Yes, you. What is the matter with you?”
Catra takes a step back, blinking in surprise. A few other people in the lobby are watching them in confusion, and Catra has no idea as to what’s going on.
“Your apartment is so noisy, and you aren’t even there. You leave for work, and yet, you leave your music on. Why would you leave your music on if you’re not home? It’s scaring my cats, and I’m this close to calling the police if you don’t—hey, I’m not done—!”
Catra doesn’t care. She doesn’t care at all; she just about runs down the hall, and then to the elevator that doesn’t open on the first press of the button. It doesn’t open on the second or third press either, and although maybe in the right state of mind Catra would be able to process that it’s probably either on its way down or it’s housing someone else right now, she can’t wait. Instead, she darts into the nearby stairwell, and despite the fact that she lives eight floors up, she runs as fast as she can up the steps.
When she gets to her floor, she can hear the music playing from her apartment even down the hallway. It’s Elvis, who she hasn’t heard in over a year, loud and lively and full of spirit. Catra nearly drops her keys two separate times in her struggle to open the door to the apartment, hands shaking with adrenaline, panting from the exertion.
When she opens the door, the music grows louder. There’s a figure — one Catra hasn’t seen in a long time — standing in the center of the room, beautiful and smiling and looking so, so happy.
(“See you then,” she whispers to herself some days. See you then, Adora had told her, that final day while they curled up in bed.)
“I promised you something a long time ago,” she says, and not only is Catra still shaking but she’s crying now too. Her cheeks are flushed and she’s laughing now, breathless. “I never planned on breaking it.”