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i have always known you, you have always been there in my mind

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She heard a child crying.

 

She heard a child crying, and she let go of Adora completely and ran.

 

(Maybe it’s instinct. Maybe it’s because of the small, scared, wounded child she was once, the same child she’s done everything she can to protect. Maybe it’s because she can’t bear to hear someone suffering in the same way she did. But now she’s running towards the sound of the crying, and she left Adora to watch - whatever that was - and -)

 

Catra skids around a corner. It’s almost completely dark, and it has been since she ran straight into the wall of the last memory and came out the other side, and it would be terrifying if she wasn’t following the sound of this fucking child -

 

And of course, of fucking course , the darkness starts to flicker and change around her. Of course she’s back in the Fright Zone, staring at a box she knows she isn’t supposed to remember and listening to her 3-year-old self cry.

 

Fuck .

 

And she must have said that aloud, because the crying from the box comes to an abrupt halt.

 

(She remembers Adora hating it when she cried, hating seeing her suffer. She remembers Adora curling around her on her narrow top bunk, stroking her hair and whispering nonsense in her ear, doing anything to calm her down, to make her feel better.

 

She remembers feeling desperately lonely, feeling empty, wishing she had Adora back, wishing she’d hold her like she used to. 

 

And she remembers that box, and she remembers being terrified, and -)

 

“Go ‘way.”

 

Catra jumps. A head pokes its way out of the box, easing back the flaps, and an uncomfortably familiar pair of mismatched eyes find hers - and then go wide.

 

“Hello,” she says, and the hologram gasps a little and drops back down into the box.

 

Oh, fuck . “Hey, don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you.” I don’t know if I can touch you. I don’t know if I can physically bring myself to come near you. 

 

A whimper comes from the box again, and Catra drops into a crouch on instinct and shuffles closer.

 

Her surroundings start to take shape around her, a section of one of the main arteries of the Fright Zone, not far from the Runestone Chamber and the barracks she grew up in. It’s familiar, and dark, and awfully, disgustingly green. 

 

She hates it.

 

“Where’s mommy?”

 

“Oh.” She breathes out, in again. “Oh. I’m sorry, little guy. I don’t know. I don’t even remember what she looked like. I’m sorry.”

 

The child pokes her head out of the box again, eyeing her mistrustfully, and it makes her heart ache. She’s only three, and already she’s learning how harsh the world can be, and it’ll get so much worse before it can get better -

 

“You crying,” she says bluntly. Not unsympathetically, but sharply, as if she’s had enough of emotions. Catra knows the feeling, the sound, well.

 

“You’re crying too,” she murmurs back. “But we’re crying for different reasons, aren’t we?”

 

The child pouts. “Wanna go home.”

 

“I know you do.” (It shouldn’t be possible, though - she shouldn’t be able to get up onto her knees and grip the edge of the box, this broken, scared little kid shouldn’t be able to see her, to look at her, and she shouldn’t be able to remember her parents - or maybe - maybe Shadow Weaver took that from her, too -) “I know you’re scared. I know this place is horrible. But - if you - if you wait here for a little bit longer, you’ll meet the love of your life. And I think you’ll be happier when you meet her.”

 

“‘S dark.”

 

And I hate the dark . Catra smiles at her, resists the urge to reach out and pick her up and hold her so nothing can touch her ever again. It hurts. “I know it is. It’ll get brighter soon. Trust me.”

 

She pouts again. “Who are you?”

 

I’m you , Catra thinks. I’m you. I’m who you’ll be after your life gets so much worse. And then so much better. I’m you. But that’s probably a bit too existential for her 3-year-old self to handle, so she just gives her a watery grin and says, “A friend.”

 

The child reaches up, getting onto her feet, and touches her ears, then the bridge of her nose. Her palms and the pads of her fingers feel fuzzy, only half-solid. It’s surreal. “Same eyes. Same ears. Who are you?”

 

“Growing up is going to be… intense,” she says instead. Stars, this hurts. “Your life is going to get very good, then very bad, and then you won’t be sure for a long time. And then you’ll fall in love. And then she’ll go away, and things will be bad again for a little while. And then -” - She smiles, settles her hand over the child’s much smaller one - “ - and then, you’ll be happy.”

 

“Catra,” someone says behind her. Adora. She resists the urge to turn around, to sigh in relief, to react in any way ( she’s safe now, she’s away from - that ), and decides fuck it , and takes the little girl in the box into her arms.

 

(She settles there almost immediately, pressing her face into the crook of her neck like she’s hiding there, like it’s so much warmer, so much better than the world spiralling around them, and clings to the back of Catra’s shirt.

 

She forgot how small she was as a child.)

 

“Happy,” the child muses, fiddling with the shortened ends of her hair. “Miss my hair?”

 

“Hm? Oh, yeah, a lot. I miss it all the time. I’m gonna grow it back, though. Adora misses it, too.”

 

“Who’s ‘Dora?”

 

Catra smiles. “You know the love of your life I told you about? That’s her.”

 

“Your ‘Dora?” The girl in her arms leans back, standing on her thighs. If she was real, if she was heavy like a real child would be, it would hurt.

 

“Yeah.” She reaches out to stroke the hair hanging in tufts in her eyes, and the girl leans into the touch. And she wishes, so badly, that this was real. “My Adora.”