Chapter 1: been looking for something
This is really not the AU I expected to be writing, but this whimsical little idea ambushed me yesterday and now I've written the first chapter and planned out the rest, so I guess we're doing this.
The play the characters are performing is The Bridges of Madison County. The first chapter features the first three songs, To Build A Home, Home Before You Know It, and Temporarily Lost. You can listen along to the soundtrack here.
This should be a short, fun jaunt of a fic. I hope you enjoy it!
The call comes as Adora is reaching for the paper towel roll to clean up the chunk of pad thai she just dropped on her textbook, and she swears internally. The caller ID lights up Netossa Malokotela.
“Call from the director!” Adora yells excitedly through her half-chewed mouthful of takeout. The phone rings three whole times as she scrambles to clean the textbook now before she forgets and forever stains into obscurity this extremely riveting paragraph on the biomechanics of a healthy knee. This accomplished, she uses a clean corner of the paper towel to wipe a dribble of sauce from her chin, chucks the now thoroughly used wad into the garbage at the end of the kitchen island, and then hits answer.
“Hey Netossa!” She chirps, already in a good mood. Even if she didn’t get the part (she’s pretty sure she got the part), Netossa is the kind of director who will generously offer her a different role that she thinks she’s better suited for. (She’s pretty sure she got the part.)
“Hey Adora! Got five minutes to chat?”
“Sure do,” she says, pushing her textbook back a little across the counter so she can sprawl out with an arm on the surface. Glimmer pokes her head nosily into the kitchen with her eyebrows raised, asking a clear question. Adora shrugs and wordlessly mouths I don’t know yet at her, and Glimmer responds to this by squeezing her lips into a tight line of anticipation and doing a stoic I-cannot-yell-because-you-are-on-the-phone wiggle.
“Well, first of all, I won’t keep you waiting, we definitely want you in the role of Roberta.”
“Ah!! That’s fantastic!” She shrieks, because even if she was pretty sure she had it on lockdown, it still feels like an incredible rush to hear it.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Netossa laughs, and Adora doesn’t try to tamp down her grin as she watches Glimmer react to the news by doing an aggressive mime routine that seems to be simulating a parade with a marching band.
“It’s definitely a yes.” She’s sure her utter joy is coming through.
“Amazing. This show is going to be something special, I can already feel it. I just called and confirmed with our pick for Francesca, and she’s on board.”
“Am I allowed to ask who you picked yet or are you going to make me wait to find out?” Her smile falters a little. That means Glimmer didn’t get the role she tried out for. It would have been a hell of a summer, for them to have snagged the leads opposite each other, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. She looks at Glimmer, who has stopped the silent mime parade. Adora flashes her an apologetic look, realizing she’ll have figured out from just her side of the conversation that she didn’t get the role. Oh well. Netossa is a good director, she’ll put Glimmer somewhere fun instead.
“She’s new in town, and she’s got pipes like a dream. It’s a shame you ended up coming in for a different audition timeslot, everybody was totally blown away. I guess she’s got a background in theatre from the town she was living in before, I think she’s around your age. I can’t wait for you two to get to sing together.”
“Wow, she must really be good if this is her first show with the theatre and you’re giving her the lead.”
“You’ll find out for yourself at rehearsal. I’ll send you the schedule, but it’s the same as usual, Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons from now until July.”
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night then!”
“Thanks Adora. Can’t wait!” Netossa hangs up the call. Glimmer is sulking a little bit, but trying valiantly not to.
“They gave the lead role to someone totally new?” Glimmer repeats, confirming what she heard Adora say.
“Yeah, apparently she’s some kind of incredibly good singer who just moved to town.”
“Bleh. I thought I had this one for sure,” Glimmer sighs, flopping down into a kitchen chair. “Oh well. Such are the whims of the theatre.” She holds up a dramatic, forlorn arm. Adora laughs at her and pulls her textbook back towards herself with one hand, reaching for her chopsticks with the other.
“I have no idea how I’m going to concentrate on this reading now.”
“You don’t process well while you’re eating anyways,” Glimmer retorts, “I don’t know why you always insist on trying.”
“Hm?” Adora looks up, a noodle dangling from her mouth, having totally failed to process Glimmer’s commentary.
“I said - “ she stops, jumping to her feet. “Oh, there’s my call!” Glimmer strides out of the kitchen, phone already to her ear. “Hey Netossa! Yeah, I heard, you know there’s no theatre gossip safe in this house. You know I just love being part of it.” A pause. “I would love to, that would be great.” Another pause. “Okay, awesome, looking forward to it. See you tomorrow night.” A pause. Then Glimmer’s head pops back out around the doorframe like an especially cheerful and unusually horizontal gopher. “They’re giving me Marian and the state fair singer!”
“You sound happy about that,” Adora says tentatively.
“I’m honestly just relieved she didn’t cast me as Marge.” Glimmer makes a face, and Adora laughs. She can tell Glimmer isn’t really upset, and that she was serious on the phone about just enjoying being involved in the show at all. Adora is genuinely excited about her future career as a physiotherapist - excited enough that she’s attempting to read that paragraph about knees for a third time now - but there’s just something magical about theatre. Maybe it’s sort of a corny thing to think, but she really feels like over the years it’s become her special sanctuary, her space to recharge, her happy place.
Adora is halfway through a really solid belly laugh at a joke Glimmer just told as she strolls through the door into their first rehearsal. She scans the room for familiar faces, smiling at everyone, and then realizes with a jolt that there is a ghost from her past standing solidly inside of her happy place. Her laugh dies a cold terrible death, like campfire embers in the wake of a bucket full of seawater.
“Adora, you’re here!” Netossa bellows from across the basement. This is all wrong. This should be a joyous moment, reuniting with old friends for another brilliant and blazing four month adventure. She should be revelling in the nostalgic mildew smell of the old room they rent out from a nearby church for their rehearsals, not staring down that face and wondering what the hell is she doing here and desperately, desperately trying not to answer her own question with the most logical conclusion. “Come over here and meet Catra. She’ll be playing your Francesca! Catra, this is Adora. She’s playing the other lead.”
Catra stares at Adora like she’s looking down at a burger she just took a bite of and found half of a cockroach.
“But that’s a male role,” Catra says, sounding more shocked and baffled than accusatory.
“You must be new,” Sea Hawk says cheerfully, slinging an arm around Catra’s shoulders. “Netossa’s whole thing as a director is queering up texts by changing out one or two strategic roles.”
“I have the power,” Netossa quips, grinning brightly at Catra, seeming not to realize that Adora is on the verge of catatonic. Glimmer is looking at her weirdly, and she knows she’s causing a bottleneck at the door because she is frozen in place, completely overwhelmed at the sight of her old ex from highschool standing in the middle of this church basement in her sock feet with a script in one hand like she belongs here. “We’ve adjusted some of the lyrics slightly and the character’s name has been changed in the script from Robert to Roberta, with appropriate pronoun adjustments where needed. The biggest change is in What Do You Call A Man Like That?, since it messes with the cadence of the line a little to change it to ‘woman’, but Spinny, our music director, will work with you on that.”
“And they gave the part to you?” Catra says coldly, eyes piercing through Adora as surely and as sharply as a rapier thrust. Adora fumbles over some possible responses to this downright mean comment.
- Oh, and you’re one to talk? You faked your way through every warm-up scale from the ages of fifteen to eighteen and have never, ever auditioned for a lead before, so what gives.
- What the everloving fuck are you doing in Brightmoon Harbor? There is no reason for you to be here. I am clearly having a fever dream courtesy of that leftover pad thai, which I should not have eaten for lunch after accidentally leaving it out overnight on the counter, but I did anyways and honestly was not prepared for how severe the consequences would be.
- I happen to be a much better singer than I was eight years ago, thank you very much, and I’ve got four years with this particular community theatre under my belt and twice that many productions, so who are you to be sniffing at what roles I manage to get cast for?
What actually happens is that Mermista appears behind her, has no patience for Adora’s blocking the entrance to the room with her impression of an especially tongue-tied zombie, and pushes her inside with a move, tall blonde and dorky, I’ve got places to be. Mermista marches her into place and because Adora’s mind seems to be completely out of order, she just sits in a chair and takes a script from someone and continues to stare in astonishment at Catra.
And it is Catra, because obviously Netossa introduced her, and she’d never mistake that voice or those eyes for anybody else, but she can’t stop looking because she’s changed. It’s been - she counts quickly, and learns that indeed counting is on the list of things that are suddenly much more challenging to do, because by the time she realizes the number she wants is eight, Netossa is talking to the group again and everybody is sitting - eight years since she last saw Catra. She’s gotten older; less twiggy, less tired looking.
But oh god, it’s the hair that Adora can’t tear her eyes away from. The last time she saw Catra, she had hair down to her ass, long and thick and omnipresent. She remembers them laughingly pulling long, long hairs off of each other and comparing the colors to see whose it was. How did that even get there, she remembers gasp-laughing, after drawing one out of her bra cup in the middle of English class, pulling more and more like a clown’s handkerchief trick but infinitely, infinitely funnier.
This Catra has shaved sides that fade to a neat buzz just above her ears - a fresh haircut, Adora absently notes, like she was trying to look nice for her first rehearsal - and the top is styled up, rough and fluffy and somewhere between European soccer player fuckboy and bedhead Super Saiyan. It is irresistably, unbelievably attractive, and very, very aggressively gay, and it looks so damn good on her.
Adora lurches her way through the cast introductions, and waits impatiently for Catra to give hers, but it’s curt and to the point and there’s little to be gleaned from it, other than the fact that she just moved here from Los Angeles, which is not a surprise, since that’s where she left Catra all those years ago. Netossa talks again for a while and Adora is trying really hard to pretend she’s listening, but really, she’s watching Catra. Catra. Catra is here, and she’s playing the lead, and Adora is going to have to spend four months of rehearsals shoulder to shoulder with her, no matter how bitter their breakup was, no matter how much Catra still seems to hate her. What other choice does Adora have? She can’t just drop out now. She agreed to this role, she specifically auditioned for it, she was excited for it. It would throw everything into disarray and on top of that make her look like a real asshole in front of people she really likes and respects. So of course she can’t just drop out now.
Maybe Catra will drop out, knowing Adora is opposite her. She has way less to lose, reputation-wise, than Adora does, right? But then, it would make everything awfully awkward if she ever wanted to perform in one of the theatre’s future productions, to nail the audition, accept the role, and then bail. Guilt crawls up and down Adora’s insides at the thought. What right does she have to hope Catra will back down, just because it makes her uncomfortable? She’s allowed to have hobbies, even if they happen to be the same hobbies Adora has, in the same sleepy little coastal town that Adora’s been hiding in since -
What the hell is Catra doing in Brightmoon Harbor??
Adora has successfully managed to absorb absolutely nothing that has been said by any of the creative team by the time Netossa claps and stands up and announces wardrobe is going to call them over for measurements, and they should chill and have snacks and take a break while this is happening.
“Okay, Adora,” Glimmer says into her ear, “it’s free apple juice time. Something is up with your blood sugar. Did you eat today?” Adora allows herself to be manhandled up and out of her seat and led towards the little side table where neat rows of juice boxes and stacks of cookies are waiting.
“I know her,” Adora hisses into Glimmer’s ear, finally managing to assemble a sentence.
“Francesca. Catra.” Glimmer sneaks a glance at said person from across the room, then looks back at Adora and raises an eyebrow, asking her to elaborate. “We. We dated. She was my first girlfriend.” Adora’s first many things, but Glimmer doesn’t need that level of detail.
“Oh my god,” Glimmer finally says, giving Adora the validation she needs that this is definitely something unusual. “The one that dumped you right before you moved away to that place where you had the scholarship? Who blocked your number and all your social accounts?”
“That one. Exactly. Yes. You see why I’m a little freaked out.”
“And she’s playing the lead. In a play that’s like, entirely about your character and her character having a lot of sex.”
“Oh my god Glimmer that is not entirely what this play is about and - oh, fuck, that’s so much of what this play is about. I’m screwed. What do I do? This is going to be awful. We’re going to ruin the whole show. Netossa couldn’t have known. Maybe I should back out. Better now than later, right?”
“No, absolutely not!” Glimmer hisses, violently opening a juice box straw and stabbing it into the foil-covered hole. She thrusts the tiny container of apple flavored sugar water into Adora’s hand. “You can’t quit! She’s the one invading your turf!”
Adora doesn’t have the opportunity to say anything to that; wardrobe calls her over and she goes obediently to the corner of the room where the tape measures are out and flying. She drains the juice box in three greedy gulps - they really do make these too small - and deposits it in a recycling bin on the way. It’s a familiar enough routine by now, put your arms up, hold still, turn this way, okay, and done. Glimmer goes up after her and Bow, who arrived a little later than they did and ended up sitting next to Micah, seems to be trapped in conversation; that’s how Catra manages to catch her alone.
“Nothing’s really changed for you, has it, Adora?”
Adora feels goosebumps rush up the back of her neck at the hateful way Catra says her name. Yeah, it’s been eight years, but she still sometimes daydreams about the two of them running into each other, maybe grabbing a beer and laughing over old stories, catching up. This is really not anything like any of those fantasies.
“Hey Catra,” she says, turning to face her, trying to brace herself for what it’ll be like to stare into those eyes again - but she should know better. There’s no preparing yourself for that stare. She finds blue and amber brown and it’s like taking a deep whiff of an old deodorant you haven’t worn in a few years, like hearing a song that hasn’t crossed your mind since you were eighteen and brokenhearted and listening to it on repeat, like feeling the ocean between your toes for the first time after moving all by yourself to a cold landlocked state for seven months and twenty two days. Past and present clash in a vibrant and inescapable tornado of sense memory, and she has to fight to remember that she likes twenty-six year old Adora, and doesn’t need to mourn the loss of the person she was in highschool.
“What, nothing to say in your defense? I guess you’re used to it by now, being handed things you don’t deserve.”
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” Adora says, and means it. She feels like it should hurt more, maybe it should make her angry, but she feels insulated by the fact that Catra doesn’t know her anymore, hasn’t known her for nearly a decade. Whatever Catra thinks she’s accusing Adora of, it’s based on old data, old grudges, old wounds. And sure, Adora’s got her fair share of those, but she’s been working on healing them for a long time now. Maybe this is the proof that her scabs have finally turned to scars and aren’t so easily ripped open anymore.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about? The fact that they handed you a lead role, even gender-swapped it just for you, when you can’t even sing?” Oh. Ouch. Okay. That one does hurt, even if it’s blatantly untrue. Maybe not all those wounds are finished healing. Adora stiffens, and straightens up.
“Nice to see you too, Catra. I take it back. You have no idea what you’re talking about.” She could throw Catra’s words back in her face about not being that great of a singer. It had crossed her mind earlier. Since when is Catra good enough to handle the intense, operatic belting that some of Francesca’s solos call for? Since when has Catra dedicated herself to training her breath control and perfecting her pitch to that extent?
Adora resists the urge to jab back. It might feel nice momentarily, but this theatre group is important to her. If Catra is really serious about taking this role, then they need to figure out some kind of peace treaty, and fast, for the sake of the group’s cohesion.
“I’m not quitting,” Catra snaps, as if she thinks Adora’s gathered breath was leading into a suggestion that she do just that.
“Neither am I,” Adora counters.
Wardrobe calls Catra over to get her measurements, and that ends that conversation.
Catra doesn’t talk to her again outside of what’s mandatory for getting through the first rehearsal, even though Adora desperately wishes she would.
And then Saturday afternoon happens.
She and Bow and Glimmer arrive to the basement and DT is set up at the piano, playing something jaunty as everybody wanders in. Catra is already there, having a conversation with Spinnerella, the music director, and Adora definitely doesn’t fixate on the silver flash of the ring Catra’s wearing on her thumb and the matching silver ring through her eyebrow as she nods and points at sheet music.
Adora also definitely didn’t choose her most flattering tank top today to wear to rehearsal on purpose. Nope. Definitely not. And she’s absolutely not planning on shedding the short sleeved button up that she currently has on over top of it at the first opportunity.
And if she were doing those things on purpose, and planning them deliberately, who could blame her? If Catra has gotten hotter in the last eight years, surely so has Adora, right? All that time at the gym has to be good for something. She’s allowed to want to (literally) flex on her old ex girlfriend, right? That isn’t petty. It’s totally not petty.
When Spinnerella leads them through a few vocal warm-ups, Adora strains to hear the quality of Catra’s voice through the ringing unison of the crowd, but can’t pick her out as an individual. It does look like she’s actually singing though, and not just faking it like she used to do as a teenager.
Netossa likes to go through things chronologically, so they start with the opening song of the play. Adora doesn’t have a singing part for the first or the second songs, so she can give her full attention to watching and listening to Catra, trying to determine just why Netossa was so thrilled with her audition. DT plays the intro neatly on piano, and the old church basement fills with anticipation. Adora isn’t the only one curious to see what this new girl is made of, but she’s probably the only person who holds her breath the entire twenty second instrumental opening before Catra inhales, and starts to sing.
There’s a boat - the words curl around Adora’s heart, morose and sweet and thrilling - that leaves from Napoli - Holy shit. Catra is good. - every Thursday in the morning. Ice and heat take turns dancing up and down Adora’s arms as Catra pours herself into the song, reaching the high notes effortlessly and embellishing the midtones with rich, confident strength. And a nervous bride can share a bed with her soldier from the States.
Adora is staring openly. She can’t help it. Catra is… incredible. She’s got the music sheet up and is completely focused on it; still, has she been practicing during the week? She fumbles the lyrics a little, but for a first proper swing at it she’s phenomenal. Never in Adora’s life did she think she’d get goosebumps from hearing someone belt the word Iowa.
At twenty-one, a girl begins to grasp the world and how it spins, Catra sings, and Adora feels like she’s the one that’s spinning, caught in the unflinching touch of vibrato like a loose necktie sucked into a piece of whirring machinery in a gory cautionary cartoon about workplace safety.
The ensemble, cued by Spinnerella, all begin to raise their voices in a more-or-less harmonized choral ups and downs, like a religious epiphany. Adora realizes her mouth is hanging open because her tongue is starting to get a little dried out, so she slaps it shut.
All too soon they switch over to the second song, which gives Sea Hawk the opportunity to make his bid for the limelight. Netossa will have her work cut out for her in keeping his portrayal of simple 1960s farmer Bud something closer to the bittersweet and sympathetic man he’s supposed to be, since Sea Hawk is naturally inclined towards something more like goofy and pathetic, but if anybody can do it, Netossa can. Adora glances at the sheets for this song, reading ahead. Bow does a lot of singing in this one too, and then there’s a back and forth between Frosta and Catra, and then it looks like she’ll get to hear Catra sing again.
She’s briefly distracted from her anticipation of Catra’s lines by Sea Hawk and Bow duelling musically as an All-American father and son, looking up to watch them grinning at each other and having entirely too much fun with their back and forth about Bow’s character, Michael, petulantly wanting to be allowed to drive the car.
Catra’s voice penetrates the aggressive, bouncy, male energy with something gentle and wistful and so, so tender that Adora wants to reach out and comfort her. I've got a book I want to read, Catra sings, sounding so desperately delicate about daring to want something as outrageous as the free time to read a book - I've got new recipes to try - and Adora’s heart breaks at the implied subservience rolled into the tentative musing about what she’ll do without her husband and kids at home. Or I might just spend three days sitting here and staring at the sky.
Adora’s brain is scrambled anew. When did Catra get so good? Adora remembers her being good when she tried, when she was relaxed and happy and singing something that came on the radio instead of in the spotlight and under the strict eye of a teacher. This is like that Catra, but older, braver, seasoned.
Fuck, shit, they’re moving to the next song now - it’s Adora’s first solo as Robert-now-Roberta. She’s been practicing a bit around the apartment since Thursday, but honestly this one isn’t her favourite of her songs so it’s gone a little neglected.
DT starts up a low, moody, jazzy tune on the piano, and she tries not to focus too much on getting in character and just think about getting the words and the notes as technically correct as possible. She definitely cannot think too hard about Catra watching. Ugh, she’s sweating. Fuck, shit, and she forgot to take the shirt off and now it’s too late.
No, no, it’s fine. She’s been doing this for four years with this group. Her vocal coach from BMU would be laughing at her right now to see her so freaked out. She’s perfectly capable.
I left eight days ago from Washington, Adora starts, settling into the easy, almost conversational start to the song. She very determinedly does not look at Catra. She needs to focus on the words and on the notes on the paper in front of her, thank you very much. I've got a place there on the sound. Took Route 2 east out of Spokane… oh, this old truck, she's been around. It’s a relaxed opening, nothing too challenging. The song buzzes along at a steady pace, to the point that she wonders if maybe DT is taking it a little too fast, and soon enough she gets to the part where instead of talk-singing her way through a series of landmarks she actually gets to open up and sing a few drawn out lines that really let her fill her lungs.
And I've been looking for something - she really gives it at I’ve, and then knowing she has a few beats to hold the note and look away from her lyrics, she risks peeking up at Catra. Catra is gaping, shock written all over her face. Adora has to look back down again at her sheet, but smug heat warms her chest - at every bridge that I’ve crossed.
She gets through the song without any other opportunities to look up, and nods gamely as she takes the notes that Spinnerella gives her. Just as she finally gets another chance to turn her eyes back to Catra, Adora catches her looking quickly away, mouth clamped tightly and a thoughtful look on her face.
That night after rehearsal, Catra corners her on the way out the door.
“Hey, Adora. Got a second?”
“Yeah,” Adora says immediately. She fishes her car keys out of her pocket and tosses them to Bow. “You guys want to start it up and get the AC going? I’ll be right behind you.”
“Sure,” Bow says, while Glimmer only squints uncertainly around him, expressing her doubts about leaving Adora alone with Catra, who they’ve both heard a few stories about since Thursday night. Reluctantly, the pair of them jog up the steps and out into the parking lot.
Adora hangs back in the stairwell; Catra slouches against a wall, not making eye contact. Adora waits, stuffing her hands in her pockets. She never did get around to taking off that button up to show off her shoulder muscles and her ink, her proof that she’s moved on and become a very cool person in her own right, thank you very much. Oh well, they’ve got another four months of rehearsals ahead of them.
“I owe you an apology,” Catra says, and if Adora had any ideas about what she was going to say, this is really not one of them. Adora raises her eyebrows and waits for Catra to give said apology. The awkward and nervous way Catra twists the simple metal ring around her thumb makes Adora feel guilty for not saying anything, for not immediately absolving her of whatever she’s about to apologize for like she might have done when they were kids. But things are different now. So she waits, until finally Catra says: “You’re a contralto. I had no idea.”
“You and Weaver both,” Adora says, before she can stop herself.
“Fuck,” Catra mutters, scratching the back of her neck and looking up at Adora for a fleeting moment of sympathetic eye contact. “That must have been awful, all those years of her trying to make you do all the soprano roles so she could give you the solos.”
Adora can hear what Catra isn’t saying: no wonder I thought you were a shitty singer back then.
“Honestly it made me realize how much I really liked musical theatre, since I still came back to it after all those years of thinking I was just naturally really bad at it,” she confesses softly. “You can imagine my surprise when at the end of my first college audition for the theatre club, the director asked me why I picked a song so far out of my natural register.” Catra gives a scoffing laugh, and Adora’s heart does a rebellious little flip.
“Well. I’m sorry I called you shit. You actually sound really good.” First of all, Catra just said the words I’m sorry, and that’s not a fight that Adora has ever won. Secondly, that compliment has her feeling all warm and flustered, and even though there’s so much bad blood between them with the way things ended, it makes her yearn for their old friendship.
“You’ve changed,” Adora says, and even though she means it in an affectionate way, as a peace offering, it makes Catra’s face go angry and insulted, makes her body language go suddenly hostile.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Catra says, pushing off the wall and hopping up the stairs without so much as a goodbye.
“See you Thursday,” Adora says, bemused, to the empty stairwell. She didn’t even get a chance to tell Catra how impressed she was with her singing. Damn. Well. There’s always the next rehearsal, and the next, and the next, for four whole months… this is going to be absolute hell.
Chapter 2: there’s an itch, a little hurt your heart retrieves
The songs appearing in this chapter are, in order of appearance, Get Closer (Track 11), State Road 21 (Track 13), and Wondering (Track 7) and can all be listened to here.
Because the songs are such a significant part of the narrative of this fic, I've been toying with embedding links to the appropriate songs directly into the fic itself, maybe with like a little [x] type clickable somewhere near where they start playing within the context of the fic. I'm not sure if this would be disruptive to the flow of reading, so I'd love feedback on whether that's something that would improve the reading experience for you!
Things get awkward when they start working on the blocking.
Adora feels a little guilty (a lot guilty) that Netossa was so excited to have found Catra to play Francesca to Adora’s Roberta, only to have her plans for a sizzling onstage romance turn out to be more of a fizzle. Sure, standing next to each other in the basement rehearsal space and singing their lines without looking at each other is easy enough, and as they familiarize themselves with the music they sound better and better together on a technical level, but… that isn’t the same as chemistry.
And chemistry is what their director is looking for and absolutely not finding, once they start actually practicing the actions and movements that are supposed to go along with all this singing.
It isn’t so bad, singing songs about yearning and passion with Catra when she can get away with just looking at the lyrics or the notes or the wall.
Standing behind Catra and lovingly wrapping her arms around her, pressing their bodies together and tucking Catra’s head neatly under her chin while singing? That’s a different matter entirely.
“I won’t break, you know,” Catra sneers at her quietly, after the third time Netossa gives the direction that it should be an embrace filled with urgency and not… whatever tense, robotic thing Adora is currently doing with her arms.
“Sorry,” Adora says automatically, frustrated with herself as much as with the situation. Netossa doesn’t seem to catch Catra’s comment, but she definitely hears Adora’s apology and can see she’s beating herself up for struggling with this.
“Okay, let’s move on for now. Everybody take ten and then we’ll jump over and go through the blocking for Get Closer.” At the dismissal, Adora pulls away from Catra just a little too quickly, heading for her water bottle at the edge of the room. Maybe the blocking for this next song won’t be so bad - at least Mermista will be doing the heavy lifting of the vocals and Adora can just concentrate on trying not to make a fool of herself every time the script calls for her to make skin-on-skin contact with Catra.
“How are you holding up?” Bow whispers, when she draws up next to him and chugs half her bottle of water.
“This is so awkward,” she mutters. “But if I was gonna quit it needed to be two weeks ago as soon as I found out, so.” She shrugs, fiddling with the flip cap of the bottle. “I guess I just have to accept that this is gonna be weird and unpleasant - “ Bow gives her a look, a strange look that she cannot read - “and just endure it for the sake of the show.” His look becomes more intense, more pointed. It isn’t until she hears the scoff that she realizes the look was trying to say Danger, Will Robinson or, more accurately, she’s right behind you. Adora whirls around and Catra is standing right there, retrieving her own water bottle and scowling at the conversation she’s just overheard.
Shit. Should she apologize, or something? I mean, it’s the truth, it’s not like Catra can’t detect how awkward things are between them.
“Hey,” Adora manages to croak, “I’ll uh. I’ll do better in the next scene. Sorry I’m kind of screwing things up.” Catra raises an eyebrow at her, like she doesn’t believe the sincerity of her apology for an instant.
“You actually read the script, hotshot?” Catra asks, her tone dripping sarcasm.
“Obviously I did,” Adora huffs, trying not to let it show in her face that she’s now doubting whether she remembers what the stage directions are for the song they’re about to practice. This is the first time they’ve gone through the blocking for it. “It’s just us dancing, right? While Mermista sings Marge’s radio solo?” Catra looks at her and then a small smile appears on her lips, a dangerous smile that historically has always meant I know something you don’t know.
“Sure, that’s mostly it.” The smile slides into a smirk. She is planning something. This is bad. Catra’s pranks in highschool were notoriously disruptive (and also notoriously memorable) and Adora doesn’t really care to find out how she’s refined this skill in adulthood. Is she going to trip Adora up or something, make her look like an idiot?
“I’m still not very good at dancing,” she blurts impulsively, as if this confession will forestall whatever disastrous revenge tango is brewing in Catra’s mind. “That’s part of why I was so excited for this play. No dancing.”
“Well, at least you’re playing the dorky Texan photographer and I’m the sultry Italian war bride.” Catra is still smirking. Adora feels like she should be more worried about this, but she can’t stop herself from enjoying the blistering heat of Catra’s undivided attention. “If only one of us has any idea how to dance, it at least makes sense that it would be me.”
“Did you know,” Bow contributes, reminding Adora very suddenly that he’s there, “at the start of filming on Dirty Dancing, the actress who played Baby didn’t actually know how to dance, so all of the scenes they film of Patrick Swayze teaching her how are basically real footage of the process of her learning. It gave a lot of authenticity to the body language of the shots that ended up in the final film.”
“They mention that in the behind the scenes documentary that’s on Netflix, right?” Catra says, to Adora’s surprise. The shift in conversation is so sudden and so benign that she feels caught off balance.
“Yeah!” Bow says grinning brightly. Adora is almost dizzy at the dissonance. Catra and Bow are having a conversation about Netflix documentaries about old movies?
“I’ve never seen that movie. I thought you hated chick flicks.” Adora says, and the statement comes out a little more surly and suspicious than she means it to. Catra’s smile - oh, fuck, and she was smiling - falls away.
“I thought we established this - you don’t know me.” And then she turns her back on them and stalks off.
“Jeez Adora, that was a little… aggressive,” Bow murmurs, when Catra is well out of earshot. Adora sighs and slumps down against the wall, turning her eyes wistfully over to where Glimmer is helping Frosta go over lines.
“I know. I didn’t mean to be. Catra just… pushes my buttons, I guess.” She’s sullenly quiet for a while, and then: “I feel like I keep apologizing to her for small stupid things when she’s really just waiting for a totally different apology. And it’s one she’s not ever going to get, because - “ her face hardens, her shoulders stiffen, but she keeps her voice low “ - because I’m not sorry that I left LA. And that isn’t going to change, no matter how mad she still is at me for it.”
Bow regards her, waiting to see if she’s done, and then takes a thoughtful drink of his own water before offering his two cents.
“It sounds like maybe you’re waiting on an apology too,” he suggests gently. Adora’s jaw clenches. He’s not wrong.
“Well, I should probably give up on any hope of that,” she sighs bitterly, glancing at the clock and putting her water back down against the wall. “Help me do some breathing exercises or something so I’m not a tense mess when I get up there and try to dance in like three minutes?”
“Always,” Bow says, putting down his own water and positioning himself across from her.
When Netossa calls them back to rehearsal, she feels much more relaxed. Whatever that smirking was about, it’ll be fine. If Catra wants to be an ass, she’ll be an ass. Adora just needs to get back into actor mode and keep this all professional - or, well, maybe not professional because she’s not exactly getting paid for this - and it’ll be fine.
“Okay,” Netossa says, directing Mermista to sit in a chair off on one side of their ‘stage’ area and putting Adora and Catra in the imaginary ‘kitchen’ section together. “Roberta has just convinced Francesca to dance with her to the radio. You smile at each other - “ Adora smiles at Catra, and her face feels like cardboard. She can do this. She just needs to focus, get in the zone. “ - Roberta puts down her beer, and then closes the distance and takes Francesca’s hand.” Adora mimes setting down an imaginary beer and kind of wishes she had a real one right now. Maybe if she lets herself look long and deep into Catra’s eyes, she’ll get confused and worked up enough to pretend she’s a little buzzed. Her body is still stiff and awkward despite her best efforts as she takes Catra’s hand. “Micah, your line.”
“It’s your Wednesday night social, coming to you from WGN in Chicago,” Micah says, reading from his script off to the side.
“This is new and terrifying,” Netossa narrates, as Adora wonders if her palm is sweaty and if Catra is disgusted by how theoretically sweaty it is. “You both want each other, but you know this is going in a direction that can’t be undone. A little awkwardness here is fine. Francesca pulls away and opens the drawer - ” Adora discreetly wipes her hand on her pants as soon as Catra’s back is turned towards the imaginary kitchen cabinets. “ - and then she pulls out two candles and puts them in the holders on the kitchen table. Roberta, you’ve figured out what she’s doing and you go to turn the kitchen light off.” Adora walks to the part of the floor marked with tape that indicates the ‘wall’ and pretends the flick the switch. “Roberta, you’re looking at her in the candlelight now and you’re briefly overwhelmed.” Catra meets her gaze across the ten, maybe twelve feet between them and gives her a shy smile, and yes, suffice to say Adora feels overwhelmed. “Good, that’s perfect, both of you. Cue the music.”
DT taps out the accompaniment to Get Closer and Mermista begins to croon the old-timey seduction tune.
“Roberta takes her hand.” Feeling exposed, naked somehow without the cover of needing to focus on singing as she does this, Adora walks back over to Catra and takes her hand. “Other hand on her waist.” Catra is looking at her, gazing long and open into her eyes, and Adora has to actually look down to figure out where her waist is so that she can put her hand there. “Francesca moves in, and just like that, the nervousness vanishes.” Catra comes closer, slipping an arm around Adora’s neck and bringing their faces unbearably near, near enough to evoke memories of giddy stolen moments with the tips of their noses brushing and their bodies entwined, breaths mingling, hands fumbling, hearts hammering. “And now you dance.”
“Relax,” Catra whispers, so quiet underneath the husky drawl of Mermista’s solo that Adora almost thinks for a moment she’s imagined it. “Follow my lead.”
Something in her chest pangs with old longing. Catra tucks her head against Adora’s chest, blissfully relieving her of that intense stare, and they sway and turn to the music. Adora angles her face down to press her mouth against the top of Catra’s head, telling herself she’s just getting into character. Whatever product Catra uses in her hair smells really nice. For how effectively it fluffs up two adorable inches of thick hair, it isn’t rigid and pokey like hairspray or wax. She doesn’t know enough about styling short hair to guess what else it could be, but she decides then and there, spinning in achingly slow circles with this new and fascinating Catra in her arms, that she likes it.
For a moment she relaxes, indulges in the simple pleasure of warm contact with another person. With those piercing eyes buried against her chest, she can forget that this is her both her ex girlfriend and her ex best friend who abandoned her during the worst year of her entire life. This is just a cute girl who she is holding and dancing with at rehearsal, and when she boils it down to that basic truth, she can actually settle into it and feel comfortable in her own skin for the first time in two and half weeks.
And then the music ends and Netossa has to go and ruin it.
“Alright, now you stop dancing. Francesca looks up at Roberta, and after a beat they kiss.” Oh. Oh no. Catra pulls her head away from Adora, and there’s that fucking smirk dancing in her eyes. She knew there was a kiss coming up in the stage direction for this song. Adora completely forgot, she thought she’d have until they were going over dialog to start worrying about all the goddamn kissing in this stupid play. Panic grips at her limbs, but Catra is leaning in, and whatever, this is fine, Adora has done this plenty of times before, right? She’s kissed loads of people on stage for the sake of the script, hell, she’s even kissed some men! It’s called acting! She can act! Yeah! Okay! Kissing Catra. Totally unprepared. It’ll be fine.
It’s going to be so awkward, fuck, okay.
Adora leans down, expecting to keep it short and PG, but then Catra’s hand is on her neck and their lips are touching and Catra’s mouth is soft and hot and eager and her fingernails scrape at the short hairs at the nape of Adora’s neck and Catra exhales a fluttering, urgent breath that tickles Adora’s face and fans the flame that is suddenly erupting inside of her.
You bitch, Adora thinks hungrily, pressing their bodies together. So this was her little planned revenge, deliberately getting Adora hot and bothered. Adora slips the hand she has on Catra’s waist around her lower back, using the press of a forearm to capture her in a possessive hold. To her delight, Catra’s breath hitches a little. The kiss is searing, skillful and intimate and driven by desire.
“That’s it right there!” Netossa exclaims, and Adora has to remind herself that she is in a room full of people who are all looking at her. “Now we transition right into Falling Into You.” DT starts playing piano again and Adora scrambles for the rolled up sheet music in the back pocket of her jeans, hoping she still remembers how to read words.
“How’s that for ‘unpleasant’?” Catra purrs against her jaw, and then pulls away right when Adora needs to start singing, no time for any sort of retort. Adora feels like she needs a lifejacket. She is absolutely drowning in the smug satisfaction that’s coming off of Catra, and she’s not really sure she wants to be saved.
After she somehow manages to get through the next song, they switch over to State Road 21, which calls for pretty much everyone except for Adora, thank fucking god. She staggers back over to her water bottle and her bag and pulls out a textbook. Netossa doesn’t mind if she quietly studies when she isn’t on during rehearsals, a fact that Adora has been taking advantage of to stay on top of her schoolwork for the last four years. It’s a soothing ritual, and she’s already starting to feel a little better as she slides down the wall and sits her ass down on the cold floor. Legs crossed, textbook spread across her knees, she feels much more grounded.
And grounded is good, considering for a while there she sort of felt like she was floating a couple inches above the ground. Catra’s words bounce around in her head like a hyperactive toddler around a McDonald’s Play Place. In this overwrought metaphor, she thinks, her ability to concentrate on the muscle groups of the hand is the ball pit into which the toddler recklessly throws itself. Yes. Good metaphor. Totally works.
(Probably for the best she never finished that degree in literature.)
Big numbers like the one they’re working on right now have a lot more moving parts, so Netossa and Spinnerella will want to go over it a few times, so she’s probably got a good chunk of time that she can actually get something accomplished with. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath in, and then opens them again and focuses back in on her textbook. She reads and manages to absorb some of what she’s reading, even as her fingers tap along to the bouncy beat of the song. Glimmer’s really nailing that country girl accent, and Bow sounds like he’s having a blast playing a stubborn teenager.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Catra approach where all the water bottles are. To Adora’s dismay, she realizes she’s already memorized which of them is Catra’s after seeing her drink from it once. It’s the stainless steel one with band stickers on it.
Adora doesn’t have any parts in this song, and, naturally, neither does Catra.
So she shouldn’t be surprised, really, when Catra plops down next to her.
(She’s very surprised.)
But not as surprised as when Catra glances over nonchalantly, and asks: “Whatcha reading?”
There is a reply that jumps fully formed to the tip of Adora’s tongue: Why, so you can make fun of me for it?
She discards this first draft.
“Studying.” She turns the textbook towards Catra to show her the diagram of the muscle groups, like that’ll explain it better than anything Adora might say.
“Huh,” Catra says, nonplussed. “You change majors and transfer? I thought you’d have graduated ages ago.” Adora puts the book back into her lap, staring at the labels and trying not to let her surprise show on her face.
Abductor pollicis longus.
It doesn’t mean anything that Catra is suddenly showing an interest in her life after leaving LA.
Extensor carpi radialis longus.
She doesn’t have any reason to be angry at Catra for being curious and asking about this, because Catra doesn’t actually know what happened.
Extensor pollicis longus.
This is a perfectly normal kind of conversation and she should be relieved they’re having it, she wanted things to be something closer to normal so that she can get through this show without going insane.
“It’s kind of a long story,” she manages to say. Mentally she makes a note to reach out to her therapist to go back to their old schedule of once a week instead of once every two weeks. Being around Catra is going to be digging up a lot of old stuff, she suddenly realizes.
“Fine, don’t talk to me then,” Catra mutters, sounding actually hurt. She starts to get up and Adora looks up jerkily from the textbook.
“Wait.” Catra hesitates. “I’m not trying to be a dick. It really is a long story. Maybe…” Adora lingers on the thought, presumptuous and needy, before daring to say it out loud. “Maybe we could get a coffee some time and I can tell you about it properly.” Catra regards her with a steely, scrutinizing gaze; somehow Adora finds it in herself to hold that gaze and keep herself open to it. She’s being sincere, and she wants Catra to know that.
“Maybe,” Catra murmurs, and then settles back down next to her. She doesn’t say anything else, and Adora wonders if maybe the question wasn’t just curiosity. Maybe it was an olive branch. Maybe she’s completely fucking up by letting silence hang between them again.
“What about you?” Adora asks gently, tentatively.
(Across the room, Netossa loudly encourages Frosta to really sing like she loves that damn cow, and is literally so proud of it that she thinks she might vomit.)
“What about me?”
“What have you been up to, since… y’know. After highschool.”
Catra laughs gently, and the sound catches on Adora’s heart with the soft certainty of a drifting dandelion seed finding something to cling to.
“That’s… a big question. I think you owe me a coffee before I get into all that. Assuming I accept your invitation.”
“Fair enough.” Adora turns a wry smile on her, and Catra reacts by turning away and picking at a seam on her sinfully tight skinny jeans. She’s not being… bashful, is she? After that fucking kiss earlier today? No, it must be something else. She should think of another question, a smaller, easier one. “I like your hair,” she says, before she can think better of it. That makes Catra look back up again and fix her with another one of those are you being serious or are you being an asshole stares. “When’d you cut it?”
“About a year after highschool.” Catra turns to watch the ensemble going through the blocking for the song again, regarding them absently as she talks. “I was out with some friends and a guy hit on me, and I realized I really, urgently needed to look more gay.” Adora snorts, fighting down proper laughter. She doesn’t want to be disruptive when everybody else is working hard during rehearsal.
“You know that doesn’t stop the really determined ones, right? I once had a dude ask for my number while I was at a gay bar, during Pride.”
“Oh my god,” Catra giggles. “For real??”
“Yeah!” She exclaims in a hiss, trying to keep her voice down. “He was a bouncer from a nearby club or something who had just come off his shift, he was wearing a shirt that said security and he told me he had wandered over because there were so many pretty girls.”
“I literally cannot conceive of being that clueless,” Catra whispers back, and the delightedly scandalized tone of her voice makes Adora feel absolutely giddy. “What did you say to him?”
“I was so dumbfounded, I literally looked at him like he had three heads, looked around, looked back at him, and said this is a gay bar. I’m gay. I only date women. And you know what he said?”
“Please tell me.”
“He said, I know, but I’m really nice, I promise. Like that was the dealbreaker.”
“Oh my god,” Catra wheezes, pressing a hand to her mouth to quiet her cackling.
“He made me repeat it like four times back and forth before he figured out he wasn’t getting my number. And then he asked me if I would introduce him to any of my friends! He kept insisting that really, he’s very nice, and it’s like… guy! Come on! You are in a gay bar during Pride! Please! Have slightly more realistic expectations!” Catra is caught in a bout of silent, shaking laughter, and every word Adora says seems to just add to the hysteria. She trembles with suppressed giggling for a solid fifteen seconds, during which Adora feels herself turning bright red with pleasure and delight at getting this reaction out of her, before Catra finally takes a gasping breath and manages to get ahold of herself.
Their eyes meet.
The silence between them now is soft and fond, full of the good memories instead of the bad ones.
Maybe they don’t have to talk about the bad memories. Maybe Adora can leave those subjects for her therapist, and with Catra she can just pretend they never happened, and build something new, start fresh.
She’s never had a friendship quite like the one she had with Catra. Maybe it isn’t too late to get it back.
“You doing anything after this? I know a place that serves their coffee in mugs the size of bowls and makes these blueberry muffins that are to die for.” She blurts the invitation out before she can second-guess herself. Catra looks away, wraps her arms around herself. When they were teenagers, that used to mean she was nervous, afraid of some consequence. Adora wonders what kind of consequences Catra imagines arising from blueberry muffins and too much coffee, other than the obvious lack of sleep and abundance of bathroom breaks. Still, she braces herself for a no.
“Fine,” Catra mutters, looking stubbornly at the people rehearsing instead of at Adora. The edge of a fickle smile dances at the corner of her mouth. “But I can’t stay out too late. I work tomorrow.”
Adora’s still thinking about their coffee not-date when Thursday rolls around again. They talked, they laughed, and they carefully avoided bringing up the past. Catra didn’t ask again about Adora’s school stuff, and Adora didn’t volunteer it. It was just nice, and simple, and easy. Jokes, stories, and that comfortable feeling of being around an old friend who really just gets you. That’s all it was, right?
Glimmer won’t stop talking about that kiss.
“That was just Catra being a brat,” Adora tells her, but she’s still harping about it.
And it’s Thursday, and she’s still cursing herself for not getting Catra’s cell phone number, because she could have been texting her this entire time, you know? That’s four entire days of potential texting wasted.
But she didn’t want to ask, because what if Catra doesn’t have a new number, and it becomes a conversation about whether or not she still has Adora’s number blocked, and then they have to talk about the breakup and the fallout and really, Adora’s happy to put that off a little while longer.
And now it’s Thursday, and they’re back at rehearsal, and something feels different.
For one thing, Catra isn’t being frosty and brusque with her anymore.
For another thing, Adora can’t stop sneaking looks at Catra. Which, honestly, isn’t new. What’s new is that Catra has started catching her in the act. The way Catra smirks at her every single time makes her think that maybe she should stop peeking at her like a horny schoolgirl. This is stupid. There is so much messy history between them. A friendship is feasible, absolutely, especially if they just never talk about their past ever (ugh her therapist is going to have fun picking that one apart, she can just feel it) but wanting more than that again is just asking for disaster and heartbreak.
“Alright,” Netossa declares, when Spinnerella finishes with the vocal warmup, “we’re starting with Wondering, so Adora, Catra, we’ll get you on stage.” She pushes a chair to ‘stage right’. “Here’s your truck, Roberta.” Adora plops down into the seat obediently and rests one elbow on the imaginary door, gripping the also-imaginary steering wheel at the twelve o’clock position with one hand. Glimmer catches her eye and gives her a wicked grin from across the room, imitating Adora’s driving style and deliberately reminding her of a whole conversation they had about how the placement of hands on steering wheels correlates to whether someone is a top or a bottom. Dammit Glimmer. Now her ears are gonna be red, she’s sure of it. She’s got her sheet music in the hand that isn’t on the ‘steering wheel’, so she focuses her eyes down on it like she doesn’t already have the song committed to memory. “You’re driving back to the Motor Court, fantasizing about Francesca and trying to talk yourself out of the feeling of growing desire. You park and get out right as Francesca says her first line.” Adora nods, and DT begins playing the complentative, broody accompaniment. It’s a good thing she doesn’t actually need the lyrics, because her mind keeps wandering back to the coffee shop.
A little twinge, a little shock, a little whisper at the bottom of your memory, she sings, leaning back in the hard wooden chair and steering like she’s lost in thought about a beautiful woman - which, okay, maybe she is, a little. A sudden wind, a gentle knock, and then a rustle in the leaves. She’s not imagining that she’s Roberta Kinkaid driving late at night in a beat up old pickup, mulling over a confusing dinner with a beautiful housewife. She’s imagining that she’s back in that coffee shop, her lungs full of sweet freshly-baked-bread air, a turkey and avocado sandwich in one hand as she listens to Catra talk and drinks in the sight of her smile.
You hold your breath, you check the lock, you reassure yourself that nothing’s at the window. She’s not in a church basement, she’s not on a dusty country road in Iowa, she’s sitting across from Catra and laughing until she chokes on a bite of sandwich because Catra is the best goddamn storyteller and has so many new stories to tell since Adora last saw her. She’s watching the way Catra’s eyes sparkle whenever she manages to make Adora laugh. She’s looking at her hands, looking at her throat, looking at her mouth.
But you’re wondering. She pours it all into the song, only half aware she’s doing it. You’re wondering. Catra’s creaky laugh hasn’t changed, but the way she pauses and smiles at the end of it, like she’s sharing a secret with Adora, that’s new. You’re wondering what that was.
She takes a deep breath.
Nothing’s gonna happen, Adora sings, trying to say it to herself, trying to commit herself to it.
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” Catra echoes, jolting Adora from her thoughts, reminding her that that’s the cue to park the truck and get out. She goes through the motions, stands on shaky legs, hesitates for a beat before striding away from the chair representing her truck and crossing the stage.
She knows this is the blocking, but it still surprises her when Catra crosses behind her on the stage, drawing her eye. No, shit, she’s supposed to be looking out at the audience, not away from them. Adora jerks her head - her stare - away from Francesca, from Catra, and back out to resume singing.
You turn a key, you flip a switch, you settle back into the blissful unfamiliar. Whatever is happening with her and Catra, it can’t go more than surface deep, because there are monsters lurking there in the depths. Still... You close your eyes, but there’s an itch, a little hurt your heart retrieves. She frowns and wraps her arms around herself, unconsciously mirroring Catra’s expression of uncertainty and fear from their last rehearsal. But you ignore the tiny twitch, pretend the feeling will be gone before the morning.
Catra moves again behind her - supposed to be doing the dishes or something, Adora thinks - and again her eyes drift from where they’re supposed to be. But you’re wondering. She doesn’t mean to, but the soft and mournful and yearning words that are slipping from her to DT’s skillful piano playing aren’t for the audience anymore. You’re wondering. She’s singing them right to Catra. You’re wondering where you are.
Catra looks right at her, and she tears herself away again. Face the house, Adora, face the house, come on. Nothing’s gonna happen.
Together as one, she and Catra say their spoken line. “Nothing’s gonna happen.”
She manages to get through the rest of the song without getting distracted and turning her back to the audience like a total amateur.
At the end, Netossa gives her a thoughtful look, scribbling notes.
“I might change it up a little and have Francesca walk in front of you instead of behind you. I think it really sells the idea that you can’t get her out of your head, but we can’t have you looking upstage all the time.”
“I can do that,” Catra says, and Adora nearly jumps, because she appeared at Adora’s side pretty much out of nowhere. Spinnerella has a few notes for her on the singing, and Adora dutifully listens and tries to absorb them while watching Catra meander off to get water out of the corner of her eye.
It’s hard to tell because she’s looking out of her peripherals, and really genuinely doesn’t want to be disrespectful to her music director by not giving her her full attention, but she’s fairly certain that as she walks away, Catra looks back over her shoulder and winks.
Chapter 3: with sweet understanding
WOOPS this chapter ended up a full three thousand words longer than I meant for it to be. I was planning on each chapter being like 5k words or so, but this one kind of got away from me. I have a song planned for each chapter that represents a step in the process of the development of the relationship, and I really wanted to get the scenes connected to this song all into the same chapter, so... here we are with an 8k long chapter.
The song featured in this chapter is Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, and I specifically encourage you to listen to this version of it, since that's kind of how I imagine the rendition that happens in this chapter. There's also another mention of the opening two songs from Bridges of Madison County, the play the characters are performing in this fic. (Click the link for the soundtrack!)
Adora’s therapist does not, in fact, think it is healthy or productive to pretend that the past never happened.
But, to Adora’s relief, neither does she think that Adora attempting to rekindle a friendship with Catra is a bad idea.
Approach it with honesty, sincerity, and compassion for both yourself and for her, Adora tells herself, reciting the pep talk in her mind as she works up the courage to intrude on the little cluster where Catra is chatting and laughing with Sea Hawk and Mermista. It’s officially been a month since they started rehearsing, and as far as Adora can tell, nobody has managed to get Catra to come out to any of their little crew social get-togethers.
Her mission today is to fix that.
“Mermista, hey!” Adora says, definitely sounding completely natural and non-forced to her own ears, yep, she’s great at this, totally a very good actor. “You’re going to the bonfire next weekend, right?”
“Uh, yeah?” Mermista looks at her like she’s snorting ketchup packets. “You know I don’t let Sea Hawk anywhere near fire unsupervised. And anyways, I’ve never missed a bonfire. Drinking on the beach is an important traditional pastime that I am very respectful of.”
“What about you, Catra?” Yep, so natural, extra smooth, no solid chunks of peanuts in this segue, no sir. “You gonna come to the bonfire?”
“It’s May,” She says, like that’s an answer. “It’s cold on the beach.”
“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Mermista says miserably. “You can’t take theatre kids to public places during the time of year where people actually want to be there and enjoy it. We’d get kicked out before the second Sondheim of the night if we tried to go when it’s warm.”
“You’re just as much of a theatre kid as the rest of us!” Adora protests indignantly. “And anyways, it’s not so bad when you’ve got a big fire and a jacket. Plus it keeps the beer colder for longer.”
“Just how much beer do you usually bring to these things?” Catra asks, her lips quirked up in a grin. Adora thinks she hears a playful challenge in that question, and her heart flutters a little at the thought of an evening with Catra with maybe just a tiny bit of booze to loosen them up a smidge.
“As much as I can carry,” Adora says, maybe exaggerating a little, “which is a lot.” She completes this bold statement with a wolfish grin. To her surprise, Sea Hawk slings an arm around her shoulders and backs up her boasting.
“It’s true! There is only one person in all of Brightmoon Harbor I’ve lost an arm wrestling competition to, and it is none other than the beastly tour de force that is Adora Grey!” She puffs up and preens a little at the praise, glancing at Catra to see what she makes of all this bravado, and is not at all surprised to see she’s smirking and shaking her head.
“I don’t know how I managed to forget what a jock you are,” she sighs, without losing any of the sharpness of her smirk.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Adora counters, smirking right back at her.
“Okay, everybody!” Spinnerella calls, her voice gentle but assertive. “Let’s get started!” DT obediently (and with only a tiny bit of unnecessary flair) starts to plunk out the warm up scales on the piano.
Today Adora doesn’t have a whole lot to do, because they’re focusing on the first two songs again. She doesn’t have any parts in either To Make a Home or in Home Before You Know It, so she settles in again with her textbook, thinking maybe she’ll actually get some studying done this time since Catra is in both songs and won’t be there to distract her.
As if the haunting, bittersweet drift of Catra’s singing isn’t a thoroughly potent distraction.
Adora finds her eyes sliding frequently from her textbook up to Catra’s face. Since she’s sitting where the audience would be, Catra spends the entirety of the first song facing her and singing directly to her, even if her eyes are off on some distant horizon as the character wistfully considers her past and how she managed to find herself married with two children on a farm in America. Adora smiles a little at how Catra’s fake Italian accent occasionally slides into something a bit more Spanish. She won’t mention it to Catra; if it’s something Netossa cares about, she’ll bring it up, but it’s subtle.
The ensemble’s choral chanting as part of the opening song has gotten a lot better, a lot more harmonious. As DT slams the keys and ramps up into the bouncier, faster half of the number, the singers raise their voices along with it in crescendo, and Adora can’t help but feel intensely proud of them all. These people have been her friends and her support group through some really tough years, and it lights a warm beacon of affection inside of her chest to get to watch the process of them mastering a new performance.
The affection persists as they transition into the second song and Sea Hawk prances into his role as Francesca’s husband. Adora watches with fascination as her new friends swirl around her ex girlfriend, as Catra plays wife to Sea Hawk, mother to Bow and Frosta. She laughs softly and quietly when Catra looks down at Frosta in performed confusion and says “You don’t have to marry a farmer!”
It’s so surreal. These are two worlds she never thought would mingle. She shouldn’t be surprised that Sea Hawk and Catra have struck up a weird sort of tentative friendship, since the two of them have the most songs and lines together, after Adora of course. But it feels good, like an extension of that warmth in her chest instead of an intrusion on it, to see Catra there with her friends. Now she just has to get her doing that outside of rehearsals.
After the third repetition of Home Before You Know It, Adora is actually reading her textbook again, but she’s learned to always look up and start watching again whenever she hears Sea Hawk say “You'll be okay here, right?”
It leads into her favourite of Catra’s lines in the song, and she can’t help but want to watch her singing it every single time.
I’ve got a book I want to read -
Adora’s fingertips smooth the pages of secondhand textbook, eyes and ears held fully captive by those delicate syllables. Catra looks so vulnerable when she delivers them.
She really does understand why Netossa cast her.
Idly, she wonders what song Catra auditioned with. She’ll have to ask her.
They reset to go through the song again - there are a lot of complex moves with all the characters coming on and off of the stage around Catra throughout the song, and Netossa wants to really get them right - and the spell is broken, freeing Adora to return to her studies.
At the end of the night, she catches Catra on the way out.
“You should come,” she says, without preamble.
“To the bonfire.” She grins nervously, then tries to tone it down to a softer smile. “It’s always fun. You should come.”
“You’re like a dog with a bone,” Catra laughs. “Yeah, okay, I’ll try. I might have a job that night but we’ll see. See you Saturday.” The dismissal is clear, but she’s smiling as she says it, so Adora lets her go without any sort of fuss.
Glimmer sidles up beside her, looking between the two of them. When Catra vanishes up the steps to the parking lot, she jabs an elbow into Adora’s ribs.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“I see what you’re doing,” Glimmer accuses.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adora says loftily. “It’s good for the vibe of the group if everybody gets along. She should come out to the social stuff. Especially if she just moved here, you know! She could probably use more local friends.”
“Uh huh.” Glimmer raises her eyebrows. “And it has nothing to do with the way you haven’t been able to take your eyes off of her for more than five minutes at a time since the very first rehearsal?” Adora feels herself blushing and looks around to see if anybody else on their way out has overheard.
“Come on, I’m not that bad,” she grumbles, sauntering back to the practice space to urge Bow to get a move on. If Glimmer is going to loudly accuse her of carrying a torch for Catra after all these years, she at least wants to be in the privacy of her own car. “I have to look at her. That’s like, half of the play.”
“Yeah, the other half being making out with her,” Glimmer remarks idly, flicking her eyes up just in time to catch Adora’s choked reaction. “Which I’m sure you’re totally not looking forward to at all.”
“It’s just acting, Glimmer. At the end of the day, none of it is real. Bow! C’mon, I have a test tomorrow morning and I need to crash.”
“Adora, I swear to god,” Glimmer says, the third time she jumps up out of her seat when someone new shows up to the bonfire and deflates back down into it when it isn’t Catra, “I’m going to send you to run laps up and down the beach just to get this nervous energy out of your system if you don’t take a chill pill.”
“What if she doesn’t come?” Adora whines, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her ratty old red bomber jacket.
“Then she doesn’t come,” Glimmer says dismissively. “You’ll survive. Anyways, didn’t you say she might have to work tonight?”
“Yeah.” Adora frowns. If she just had Catra’s number, she could at least expect a text letting her know one way or another if she should be expecting her. “Do you think Sea Hawk has her number? Maybe he knows if she’s coming. She knows where it is, right?”
“Adora,” Glimmer says, putting a heavy hand on her shoulder. “There is only one public beach in Brightmoon Harbor. We are a large group of loud, singing morons. She’ll find us. Relax. Jesus. Drink a beer or do some pushups or something.”
“Pushup contest!” Bow hollers, tugging Adora out of her camp chair. She laughs and goes with him reluctantly to find an open patch of sand. As stupid as it is, it is a good distraction and a way to get rid of some of her excess energy. Bow taps out at number twenty seven and Adora keeps going with a victorious laugh. She counts each one just to rub it in his face, and she’s on a slightly breathless number forty three when a pair of battered black chucks come into view near her face.
“Oh my god,” Catra laughs, and Adora immediately abandons the ‘contest’ in favour of throwing herself back into the sand and grinning up at Catra. “I thought I was coming here to drink with a bunch of theatre nerds, not a fucking fraternity.”
“Hey Catra,” Adora purrs up at her from the ground, warmed up by the exercise and immediately in a good mood to see Catra actually showed, “wanna do some crunches?” She puts her knees up and her hands behind her head, like she’s actually about to do crunches on the beach, and wiggles her eyebrows at Catra. Catra laughs, and Adora thinks maybe she isn’t just warm from the exercise.
“Absolutely not, you weirdo. Is there a cooler I can shove these into?” She lifts up the six pack of hard lemonade she’s got with her. Adora jumps to her feet and dusts the sand off her ass.
“Yeah, you can put them in the one Bow and Glimmer and I brought, there should be space.” She leads Catra over to their section of the circle; Sea Hawk has gotten the fire going already, even though the sun isn’t down yet. She pops open the cooler and determinedly ignores the knowing look that Glimmer gives her, fishes out the first beer she gets her hands around and then gestures for Catra to put her drinks in.
“Oh, good choice,” Glimmer remarks, noticing the hard lemonade.
“Is that sarcasm?” Cata asks wryly, sending Glimmer a quick glance between wiggling bottles into the cooler full of ice.
“No, not at all. I love that stuff. Have you tried the raspberry twist ones? Those are my favourite.”
Adora flops back down into her chair, fumbling to twist open her beer, distracted by the sight of her old best friend and her current best friend having this cautiously friendly exchange, afraid to interrupt. She feels like she’s birdwatching, like she doesn’t want to make any sudden movements and startle them out of whatever this is.
“Not yet. I’d never seen this stuff before moving here. I like it a lot better than Mike’s. I’ll have to try the raspberry next.”
“It’s a local startup,” Glimmer says, sounding as proud of this fact as if she’d founded the company herself. “They use fresh ingredients from nearby farms, I think?”
“Explains why it tastes so good,” Catra says, cramming the final bottle into the cooler and closing the lid. “You’re welcome to have some if you want, I wasn’t really planning on drinking all of them tonight.”
“I might just take you up on that.” Glimmer’s smiling, and Adora is still quietly and halfheartedly struggling to open her beer bottle. “You’re welcome to any of the beer in the cooler, too. The IPAs are all Bow’s and the brown ales are Adora’s, but you’re welcome to whatever you want, we’re all happy to share.”
“Thanks,” Catra says, straightening up and cracking her back. “I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a beer drinker.”
Adora is already learning so much about Catra she didn’t know. All it took was shutting up and listening.
“That explains the lemonade,” Glimmer grins.
“It used to embarrass me,” Catra chuckles, tilting the bottle she’s kept for herself like she’s reading the label, “but I’ve realized what a waste of energy that is. If people get weird about me having preferences, that’s on them.”
“Ugh, I know exactly what you mean! I used to be exactly the same way about - “ Glimmer looks at Adora, notices that she’s been struggling with her beer cap for the entire duration of this conversation. “Adora, honey, that isn’t a twist-off,” she says with a fond, disbelieving smile.
“Oh,” Adora says dumbly, looking at the bottle with an expression of betrayal.
“Here,” Catra says, extending a hand towards her. Adora hands over the beer without knowing how exactly Catra expects to get it open, but trusting that she has some sort of method. Catra tucks her own unopened bottle of lemonade into her armpit and then digs in the pocket of her leather jacket with a free hand, extracting her keys.
“You have a bottle opener on your keyring?” Adora says, unapologetically impressed as Catra reveals this particular ace she’s got up her sleeve and pops the cap off of Adora’s beer in one swift, confident move. It’s hot. How is it so hot.
“Is she gay, or is she just an alcoholic?” Catra purrs, handing the beer back to Adora. “The world will never know.”
“I think I have a pretty solid guess on that score,” Adora says, smirking, and then takes a gulp of the beer to try to wash down the terror that maybe she shouldn’t openly allude to their sexual history in front of other people. Catra huffs a little laugh, popping open her lemonade, but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
“So are you two together?” Catra asks, casual and not meeting Adora’s gaze.
“No,” Glimmer snorts, and Adora is grateful for the immediate rebuttal, because she’s pretty sure her entire body has seized up at the question and she would splutter like an idiot if she tried to answer. “We’re roommates. I’m dating that goober over there.” She points at Bow, who is currently staggering under the weight of Sea Hawk, who he is giving a very precarious piggyback ride down the beach for some reason.
“Oh,” Catra says, following the gesture and looking in disbelief. “Huh. Seriously? I uh. I kind of thought he was gay.” That makes Glimmer laugh.
“I did too, for like fifteen years. He’s bi, though, luckily for me.” If Catra suspects Glimmer is just fucking with her, the soft look that comes into Glimmer’s eyes at this last part should hopefully suggest otherwise. Catra nods, takes a sip of her lemonade, turns her eyes on Adora.
“You’re quiet tonight,” She remarks, and Adora quickly and defensively takes another big gulp of her beer, and then holds it up and points at it like that answers the implied question somehow.
“Just chilling,” she says, feeling old. What is it the kids say these days? Vibing? Is that the same thing as chilling? She doesn’t know. Probably better not to use lingo she doesn’t know. And anyways, she and Catra are the same age. She doesn’t need to impress her.
She desperately wants to impress her.
“Catra, hey!” Sea Hawk yells, “You made it! Come here, I want to introduce you to some of the guys from the band. I think some of the tech crew are coming too.” He dismounts with spectacular lack of coordination and he and Bow end up in a laughing heap.
“Duty calls,” Catra says, and this time Adora is certain Catra winks at her before she wanders off to allow herself to be introduced to people. Adora watches her go, watches maybe a little too long, and takes another long, contemplative sip of her beer as she does it.
“You are so fucking into her,” Glimmer says.
“Am not,” Adora says reflexively.
“Oh yeah? You haven’t even noticed you’ve been drinking one of Bow’s IPAs this entire time.”
Startled, Adora lifts the bottle she’s been taking pulls from and examines the label. Glimmer’s right. She hates IPAs. How the hell did she manage to half finish this without realizing?
“Fuck,” she mutters. She’s really going to get herself in trouble if she isn’t careful. If she can just get a handle on this attraction and shove it down somewhere to deal with later, she should be able to prioritize actually being friends with Catra first.
Still… she tells herself she’s watching Catra on the sly from across the bonfire because she’s happy to see her actually socializing and interacting with new people so easily. Catra was prickly and difficult to get along with for as long as Adora knew her. She’s different now - different in a good way. In a way that Adora honestly never really expected her to be, which is maybe unfair of her.
“You’re still staring,” Glimmer sing-songs, and Adora rips her eyes away just as Bow comes jogging up, headed for the cooler.
“Hey guys, what’d I miss?”
Glimmer reaches for him, grabs him by the shirt, and kisses him very ostentatiously. If he’s surprised, he doesn’t show it - just grins and closes his eyes and kisses back, like he feels blessed by the unexpected attention. Adora realizes with a sudden jolt of love for Glimmer that she’s doing this on purpose to make it very clear to Catra, on the off chance that she’s watching, that she wasn’t joking about being in a relationship with Bow.
“Someone’s feeling frisky,” Bow chuckles against Glimmer’s lips.
“You think I’m bad,” Glimmer murmurs conspiratorially, “Adora just drank nearly a whole bottle of one of your IPAs because she was so distracted with Catra standing here.”
“Oh, is that who those lemonades belong to?”
“Yeah, and she said we’re free to have some if we want.”
“Hell yes,” Bow grins, pulling out one of the lemonades to double check the flavor. “I love this kind. Catra’s got good taste.” He flicks his eyes over at Adora and wiggles his eyebrows as he says that, and she turns bright red.
“You guys, stop,” she wheezes, taking another reflexive drink of her beer and then making a horrified face when she actually tastes it this time.
“Oh my god, you really did drink one of my IPAs,” Bow laughs. “Do you want me to finish that one for you and trade you for one of yours?”
“Yes please,” Adora sighs, handing it to him, and then as an afterthought, “I love you.”
“Love you too, you big gay mess. Don’t get too wasted tonight, okay? You’ll thank me tomorrow.” He reaches into the cooler again and pulls out one of Adora’s brown ales, passing it to her.
“Whatever you say, mom,” Adora says, taking the beer and - successfully, this time - twisting the top off. “I wasn’t actually planning on getting hammered,” she concedes. “I don’t want to make a total ass of myself.”
Adora told herself that the main reason she wanted so badly for Catra to come to the bonfire was so that she could integrate into the group better and make friends, so it really isn’t reasonable for her to feel sulky that Catra has spent most of the night doing just that. She eventually comes back over to where Adora is sitting by the cooler to get a second drink, hangs around and chats for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and then wanders away again when somebody calls her name. It takes another hour or so before she comes back for a third drink, and when she does Adora is distracted, engaged in a rousing a capella rendition of Carrying the Banner with Bow and Glimmer. She’s on beer four (four and a half, if you count that accidental IPA consumption) and feeling warm and buzzy and a little loose, and she’ll probably stop for a while after this one, if not stop entirely for the night.
Catra grins at her and lingers a moment to enjoy the rowdy three person performance, making eye contact with Adora as she pulls her keys out of her pocket again to pop the top off of her drink. Adora grins back at her, putting as much oomph as she can into holding the note at the end of the line they’re singing, pushing her body to make it as loud and strong as she possibly can. The corner of Catra’s grin quicks up with indulgent delight. This is totally how normal people flirt, right?
As the night gets colder, the whole group huddles in closer to the fire. One of the band guys - the big quiet dude she’s pretty sure is named Rogelio? - brought a guitar, and so it becomes an impromptu karaoke night (like they all knew it would) as he works his way through all the songs he knows how to play, a mix of broadway classics and top forty that has everybody scream-singing at the top of their lungs.
Yes, this is definitely why they don’t do this during the summer.
They sing until they’re all exhausted, and then a few people head home and it settles back down into something quieter, a little more chill. Catra has settled into an open chair next to Rogelio, an unsatisfying three seats away from Adora, but at least Adora can enjoy the way the firelight paints her face in orange tones and catches golden-green in her eyes. The night feels like it’s finally winding down; the firewood is all in the pit and won’t last more than another hour or so.
Catra gestures towards the guitar propped up against Rogelio’s chair, asks can I?
Out of some shared instinct, everybody sitting near Catra goes quiet as she takes the guitar and sets it into her lap. She strums a few chords, tapping against the body of the guitar with the heel of her hand to provide the occasional beat of percussion, and Adora doesn’t even try to pretend she isn’t watching.
She realizes after about three bars what Catra is playing, and her eyes go wide right as Catra starts to sing.
Lift up your head, wash off your mascara, here take my kleenex, wipe that lipstick away. Catra’s head is bowed down over the guitar, focused, and she’s singing at the very bottom of her natural range, struggling a little to hit the low, thoughtful notes but still putting a gentle, sincere sort of feeling into the song. Adora swallows hard, watching her fingers with fascination, soaking in the experience of Catra singing the man’s part of this familiar old duet.
Show me your face, clean as the morning - I know things were bad, but now they’re okay. Her voice is a little croaky and raw, so far out of her register, but that doesn’t mar the song in the slightest. Catra reaches the chorus and finally looks away from her own fingers, obviously more comfortable with this part of the song.
Suddenly Seymour... is standing beside you. Her face tilts up and she seems a little surprised to realize everybody around the fire is quietly listening, watching. A bashful little smile flickers on her face. You don’t need no makeup, don’t have to pretend.
Her eyes meet Adora’s, and Adora feels herself smiling, soft and nostalgic. This is a song from their history. This is the past rearing its head finally between them, a piece of music that objectively is tied to a show they were both in during highschool, a show that definitely-not-a-soprano teenage Adora was assigned a lead role in (against all good judgement) and Catra yet again got shunted into the ensemble for. There’s nothing in Catra’s eyes now that looks bitter or resentful.
Suddenly Seymour... is here to provide you - Catra smiles at Adora, and it feels like that smile is just for her - with sweet understanding - Seymour’s your friend.
Adora can’t stop herself. As Catra finishes the line, she finds herself singing the female part, the part she struggled so much with all those years ago and yet still somehow knows all the words to.
Nobody ever treated me kindly, Adora sings, and Catra watches her with a falter to her smile that suggests maybe she’s surprised Adora joined in, contorting her naturally low singing voice into the higher notes that the part calls for. Daddy left early, mama was poor. I’d meet a man and follow him blindly - he’d snap his fingers and me, I’d say sure. It’s a strain, and her voice cracks a little at the top of the highest notes, but the smile is back on Catra’s face, and she’s still strumming along the guitar accompaniment to back Adora up, so she doesn’t think she’s ruined the moment.
Adora does the best she can, but in this relaxed environment she’s not really worried about how stretched and scratchy she sounds because she’s having fun, reliving this memory, singing as Catra plays. Her heart starts to beat faster and her armpits itch with sweat as they approach the part of the song where the two parts overlap, but she doesn’t feel nervous.
Catra looks right at her, holding her eyes securely as she sings: Tell me this feeling’ll last till forever - tell me the bad times are clean washed away.
Adora answers her with a shy smile: Please understand that it’s still strange and frightening - for losers like I’ve been, it’s so hard to say.
It’s really kind of funny, the fact that they’ve switched the roles after weeks of practicing these beautiful powerful duets that perfectly suit Catra’s higher voice and Adora’s lower one. This song would probably sound a hell of a lot better if they hadn’t each picked the worst possible role to sing, but Adora can’t bring herself to care.
Suddenly Seymour! Adora belts -
(Suddenly Seymour - Catra croons under the sustained note - )
He purified me! Adora is grinning now, unsure of why she feels so damn happy. She used to fucking hate this song.
(He purified you! Catra is grinning right back at her, eyes sparkling, dancing with firelight.)
Suddenly Seymour! Adora feels like they’re sharing a secret, like this is what makes Catra pause and grin at the end of every good laugh.
(Suddenly Seymour! Catra leans forward in her chair, her strumming enthusiastic and skillful.)
Showed me I can! Adora empties her lungs into this one, giving it everything she’s got even though her throat is screaming at her for attempting this stupidly high note.
(Yes you can! Catra hollers, like she’s encouraging Adora’s fruitless attempt to pretend she can actually sing a soprano part, even as her own voice hops and breaks as she fails to reach the low notes.)
Learn how to be more - they wail together in unison, a harmony of matching mismatch between singer and song - the girl that’s inside me!
With sweet understanding, Catra sings, laughter in her eyes and a promise in her words.
(With sweet understanding, Adora counters, daring to be hopeful, daring to ask if the promise is sincere.)
With sweet understanding, Catra assures her, leaning even farther forward in her chair, like she’s trying to close the gap between them.
(With sweet understanding, Adora asks again, needing to be sure, needing to to believe that this is real.)
With sweet - Catra starts, and Adora joins her for the final word - understanding -
There’s nobody in the world but the two of them right now, nothing but the thrum of a borrowed guitar and the creak of strained vocal chords and the edge of astonished laughter in every word. They both take a breath.
Seymour’s your man! They scream together, shutting their eyes and lifting their heads to the sky like wild animals. When they finish, everybody else applauds and whoops and hollers. Adora opens her eyes again, and Catra is looking at her. Bewitched, Adora smiles and rises from her chair, crossing the distance between them.
“I didn’t know you knew how to play guitar,” she says, her throat a little scratchy now. Catra hands the instrument back to Rogelio, regards Adora as she takes a sip of her lemonade.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Catra says, and now instead of a rebuff it sounds like an invitation.
“I’d like to,” Adora says, soft and fragile, filled with hope.
Catra shoulders go up, like she’s tensing for a blow. Adora watches as she takes a breath, and then her body relaxes again. The line that appears between her eyebrows as they come together ever so slightly whispers please don’t hurt me.
“Yeah?” Catra says, breathy. Just from the singing, right? Just from the singing.
“Yeah,” Adora says, filled with a sudden, soft certainty. She puts her half empty beer down in the cup holder of a nearby chair, and then offers Catra her hand. “Wanna get out of here?”
It’s dark, and the flickering firelight does strange things to shadows, but Adora is pretty sure she sees Catra’s throat bob with a swallow before she answers:
“Yeah. I’d like that.”
They end up at a Denny’s.
Adora is pretty sure there isn’t a better place in the entire world than an empty Denny’s at one in the morning for a long overdue heart-to-heart.
The server brings them both their coffees. Adora orders a Grand Slam with French Toast, Catra orders chocolate chip pancakes.
“You still eat like a horse, I see,” Catra says.
“I wasn’t aware horses liked bacon,” Adora quips over a sip of her coffee, and treasures the delighted snort Catra makes. Catra’s expression softens quickly into something earnest.
“I was so surprised when you started singing,” she says.
“What, at the bonfire?”
“Well, yes, but I was talking about at that first rehearsal where we went over the songs.” Catra keeps her hands busy with peeling open a little container of milk and pouring it very deliberately into her coffee. “You opened your mouth and this gorgeous, deep sound pours out - “ Adora pulls her own coffee towards herself, looks down at it and hopes Catra doesn’t see her blushing, because Catra’s probably only saying it like that because she’s still a little tipsy, “ - and I was suddenly questioning everything I thought I knew about you.”
“You really did think I just got handed that role even though I couldn’t sing, huh,” Adora says, and manages to say it without feeling bitter or insulted.
“It happened all the time in highschool,” Catra says, a little defensively.
“It did,” Adora acknowledges. “It kind of sucked for everybody involved. No offense, but Ms. Weaver was kind of a terrible teacher.” Catra snorts.
“No offense, she says, like I’d ever be offended on behalf of that piece of shit. Trust me, there’s nothing you can say about her that I haven’t said myself.” Adora tenses, and then makes herself unclench and meet Catra’s eyes. Here they go, digging into the past. She’s not sure if she’s ready, but then, maybe she’ll never be ready.
“True,” she says, carefully. “I’m sure she was even worse as a foster mom than she was as a teacher.”
“Exponentially,” Catra says, opening another container of milk, keeping her eyes on what she’s doing with her hands.
Just a few weeks ago, Adora had promised Bow she’d never apologize to Catra for leaving. But this is different. She can regret hurting Catra without regretting getting out of LA.
“I’m sorry for leaving you there with her,” Adora says, her heart in her throat. She says it and then waits, leaving it on the table like an offering, unsure of whether Catra will accept it or throw it back in her face. Catra flicks her eyes up at her, fidgets with the empty little plastic creamer cup, then sighs.
“It wasn’t your fault, Adora,” she says, to Adora’s complete surprise. Of all the possible reactions she’s imagined, this isn’t one she even considered. “I let myself think that it was for a really long time, because it was just easier to be mad at you, but we were both kids. You made a decision that made perfect sense and I got mad because everything in my life was outside of my control and the ability to lash out and hurt you was pretty much the only thing I had control over.”
Adora tries really hard not to stare at her. It feels like an enormous weight has been lifted from her chest, but what the hell does she even say to that? She takes a breath and opens her mouth, and Catra cuts her off.
“I’m sorry I did that, Adora. I was being selfish and… I regretted it for a long time afterwards, once I got my head on straight.”
“Why…” Adora frowns. “Why didn’t you reach out again, after you changed your mind about being mad at me?” She doesn’t say I missed you. She doesn’t say I needed you.
“I just assumed it was too late. And,” now it’s Catra’s turn to frown in confusion, “I thought you were in Minneapolis. What… what happened, with that?”
Their food comes and they pause the conversation momentarily until the server is gone again. Adora takes a deep, deep breath, and the aroma of greasy breakfast foods in the dead of night bolsters her. She’s going to need all the steadying she can get. She saws off some bacon and some french toast and shovels them into her mouth, thinking about how to start as she chews.
“I never finished my first year there,” she says, after she swallows. She risks a glance at Catra; she looks surprised. “You remember how I was there on a soccer scholarship?”
“Yeah,” Catra says, with a concerned expression that says she can probably guess where this is going.
“I got hurt,” she says succinctly, and carves off a new piece of her meal to avoid seeing Catra’s reaction. “I went too hard during a game and - “ she cuts herself off and gives an exasperated sigh. “No, sorry. My therapist doesn’t like when I frame it like that.” She shoves the forkful of food in her mouth, chews it, tries to reset. She swallows, clears her throat. “During a game I collided with another player and just happened to be really unlucky about how it happened. I shattered a bunch of bones in my leg and I had to have surgery. I lost the scholarship and I had to drop out of school.”
“Jesus, Adora,” Catra exhales. Adora still can’t bring herself to look at her.
“My sister drove thirty hours there and thirty hours back to come get me, because after the surgery we couldn’t afford plane tickets, and she didn’t want me trying to use a bus with my broken leg.” She takes a swig of coffee to steady herself. “I was… in a really bad place for a while. I took some time. She got me to think about what I actually wanted to do with my life. I ended up deciding I wanted to go into physiotherapy and help people. I had a few really good PTs after the accident that did more than just help with the rehab.” She punches her knife into one of her eggs and watches the yolk spill out and pool around the plate, cuts off another piece of toast to mop it up with.
Catra is silent while Adora chews and swallows. Adora still can’t look at her. She doesn’t want to see the pity.
“I did some research into schools, applied for some needs-based bursaries. You know my grades were never good enough for academic scholarships. Mara helped me write this incredible essay, and BMU took me in and gave me enough financial assistance that with some terrifying loans and a hell of a lot of shitty summer jobs, I’d be able to pay for the four year degree I needed to get through before I could apply to their physiotherapy program.”
She takes another drink of coffee.
“And then a month after I moved here to start the semester, Mara got hit by a drunk driver.” She knows there are tears rolling down her face. She’s just come to accept that it’s a thing that happens whenever she talks about her sister. "I uh. I had one professor who actually insisted on seeing the obituary before he'd let me miss a quiz that was happening at the same time as the funeral." She doesn't know why this is the detail she remembers most clearly about that time, but it still makes her feel angry and helpless to remember, even years later.
“Fuck, Adora,” Catra says, and then there’s a hand reaching out across the table, wrapping around the one she’s holding her fork with. “I’m so sorry.”
Adora breathes in, sniffing. She puts the fork down and twines their fingers together, but she still can’t meet Catra’s eyes. All she can do is push ahead, needing to get this all out of the way, needing to answer all the questions so that she doesn’t have to revisit this more than necessary.
“I had a breakdown. Missed a bunch of classes, barely left my dorm room. Nearly fucked up both my first and second tries at college. One of my professors was… really good, really attentive. She got me help. I started seeing a therapist, I talked to the school about accommodations and switched to a lighter course load. I had a couple credits transferred from the one semester I finished while I was in Minnesota, so I had the wiggle room to take some electives. After I started going to the musical theatre club, the director suggested I take advantage and use the electives to get more vocal coaching, just, y’know, for fun. To learn more about how my voice actually works instead of just how some stupid teacher in highschool wanted it to work.”
She needs another bite of food.
But her hand is in Catra’s.
She takes a drink of coffee instead.
“Do you want your hand back?” Catra asks, perceptively. Adora squeezes her grip on Catra a little tighter.
“In a second. Just. I need to finish.”
“Okay,” Catra says, unquestioning and gentle.
Adora clears her throat.
“I met Bow and Glimmer in the musical theatre club at BMU. They helped me through a lot. All in all, it took me six years to get my four year degree. I still go to the gym and work out but I don’t play soccer anymore. I’m… still working through some issues around that.” She doesn’t say that’s why you haven’t seen me wear shorts in the month you’ve been here. “I got into the PT program and I’m finishing up my second year. Assuming all goes well I should graduate in the fall. I’ve already got a position lined up with a sports medicine place in town.” Here, she allows herself a small, exhausted smile. Here, she finally looks up at Catra.
Catra’s eyes are full of patient understanding, of steady compassion. It isn’t pity. Thank god it isn’t pity.
“That’s a hell of a turnaround,” Catra says, her thumb brushing across Adora’s knuckles. This reminds Adora that she promised to release Catra’s hand when she was done, and so she quickly retracts her arm and puts it safely in her lap.
“Sorry,” Adora says, “your pancakes are probably getting cold. I’ll let you eat.”
“Nothing to apologize for,” Catra says, and there is something sad in her voice that Adora can’t quite pin down. “Well. Thanks for telling me all that. You didn’t owe me any of that, I… appreciate it. I can see why you didn’t really want to talk about it at rehearsal.”
“No,” Adora confirms with a shaky little laugh. “I promise it wasn’t anything personal.”
“Honestly,” Catra says, cupping her coffee mug and considering it with a somewhat stricken expression, “I’m surprised you weren’t nastier to me, after I completely cut you off and left you to deal with all of that on your own.”
“Hey,” Adora says, soft but insistent, “You couldn’t have known. It’s like you said, we were stupid kids, and we just made the best decisions for ourselves that we knew how to make.” Catra meets her eye again across the table, and she looks like she wants to trust that Adora is being honest but doesn’t dare to. “That was a long time ago. It hurt like hell but I don’t blame you for it. Anyways, that’s what therapists are for.”
“God I miss my therapist,” Catra sighs suddenly and forcefully. Adora’s eyebrows go up, and she tries not to look too happy about this revelation. She’d been wondering if maybe Catra’s new willingness to make friends could be related to her getting the support of a professional.
“Yeah?” Adora prompts, taking the opportunity to assemble another forkful of drippy, yolky, syrupy goodness and cram it into her mouth.
“I had to go through four different ones before I finally found someone that worked for me,” Catra says, gesturing pointedly with her knife. “She was this short, intense sixty-something butch lesbian who could see through my crap like I was made of glass and never let me get away with anything. Honestly, leaving her was the hardest part about leaving LA. The only good thing left there for me by the time I finally bailed and came here.”
“Why did you move to Brightmoon Harbor?”
“You know the locals just call it Brightmoon. You out yourself as an outsider every time you say it like that.”
Adora grins at her around a mouthful of egg and bacon. She sees Catra deflecting the question and decides to allow it.
“I’m good at outing myself, what can I say?”
“Honestly, I’m kind of surprised you still have all your hair,” Catra says, running a hand through her own. “Always kind of figured you’d do something really gay with it.”
“I apparently leave it all over the apartment of anybody who sleeps with me,” Adora counters, “Like, and I quote, some kind of territory-marking golden retriever. I’d say that’s doing something really gay with it.” Catra snorts and laughs.
“So what, you some kind of fuckboy now? Just how many girls do you want to me to believe you’ve slept with, Miss Casablanca?” Adora nearly laughs eggs out her nose.
“Casablanca?? Did you mean Casanova?”
“Fuck,” Catra yelps, covering her face with her hands. “Can we pretend I didn’t just say that? Let’s blame the alcohol.” Adora cackles.
“No, I’m never letting you live that down. Ever. Sorry.”
“Ohhh my god,” Catra groans, sliding down in the bench seat like she plans to retreat right under the table.
“Casablanca,” Adora says again, laughing that giddy I’m-drinking-coffee-at-two-am laugh.
“I will end you,” Catra grumbles.
“Not before I can eat all your pancakes,” Adora chirps, reaching theatrically over the table with a fork.
“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!” Catra squeaks, jolting upright and fighting Adora’s advancing cutlery off with her own. They giggle and swordfight over the table with their forks until Adora’s grip slips and her weapon ends up on the floor. “Serves you right,” Catra whispers victoriously, as Adora faces her shame and goes to ask the server for a new one.
So, she thinks, on her return journey back to the table, she doesn’t want to talk about why she moved to Brightmoon just yet.
When she plops down into the booth again, Catra is smiling.
“What’s that look for?” Adora prods, already smiling in return.
“Just thinking about that song at the bonfire. I’ve never heard you have so much fun with it before. I never got why you hated being cast as the lead female role until now.”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Adora offers, tossing her last piece of bacon into her mouth. “I didn’t audition for it. I auditioned for the dentist.”
“Oh my god,” Catra gasps, “that would have been hilarious. I can’t believe they didn’t give it to you.”
“That’s a male role,” Adora says, doing an impression of Ms. Weaver. “Adora you simply must stop trying to gender-bend all these roles in classic plays. Not only does it distort the intention of the author,” she lets her voice get warbly and lecturing and extremely comical, “Why, what would all of your peers think of you if you kept finding yourself in roles opposite female characters!” Catra seems to be having a giggle fit as Adora waves around her hands in mockery of their old drama teacher.
“Gee, I wonder,” Catra snorts. Out of nowhere, she sings the first line of one of her solos, the one they had to ‘gender bend’ the lyrics for: What do you call a woman like that? “A lesbian, Francesca,” Catra concludes decisively, “That’s the word you’re looking for.” Adora laughs until she feels like she can’t laugh any harder.
When they finally leave the Denny’s, it’s six in the morning and Adora is thoroughly exhausted.
But she feels good. She feels incredible.
She feels like a dam inside her has broken. So much pressure suddenly relieved all at once, and the wild rush of momentum propelling her forward to something new.
Blinking in the shock of sunrise as they step outside, Adora remembers something important.
“Hey, can I get your phone number?”
Catra grins at her.
“You hitting on me?” She teases.
“I mean, technically we just spent the night together,” Adora counters.
“Touché,” Catra says, extending her hand. “Gimme your phone, I’ll text myself so you have it. I had to get a new number when I ran away from the foster home, since Weaver controlled my phone plan.” This quick admission is the deepest they’ve delved into Catra’s post-Adora past all night, and Adora covets this little nugget of information, but doesn’t push for more.
There will be time.
She has Catra’s number now.
“Do you need a ride back home?” Adora asks, after she pockets the phone. “I live like a fifteen minute walk from here. We could walk there and then I could drive you to your place.”
“Nah, I’ll just get a Lyft. You’re probably too tired to drive anyways.”
Adora waits with her on the curb outside the Denny’s until the Lyft arrives, sitting side by side. At one point, Catra sleepily puts her head on Adora’s shoulder, and Adora’s heart sings.
“I’ve missed you,” Adora whispers.
“I’ve missed you too,” Catra says.
They are silent until the car pulls up.
It’s a comfortable silence, filled with understanding both old and new.
“See you Thursday,” Catra says, sounding half asleep as she gets into the back of the car.
“See you Thursday,” she says, and, “text me when you get home?”
Catra gives her a sleepy salute.
The car drives away, and Adora continues to smile long after it’s out of sight.
Chapter 4: circling in the sky, looking for a harbor
Okay so... I was on seven thousand words for this chapter and realized I still had two more important scenes to add to it, including the chapter's big song, so I've decided to bite the bullet and divide chapter 4 up into two chapters rather than hit you with another even longer mega-chapter, lol. The result of where I ended up splitting it is that this chapter doesn't have any songs in it! I hope you'll forgive me. All I have to offer you is... a lot of yearning. A looooot of yearning. Please enjoy. :)
The following Thursday, Netossa announces that they’ll be starting work on dialog and hammering through it scene by scene for the next couple weeks before integrating the songs.This is the announcement Adora’s been dreading, because it means the romantic touching is about to get a lot more frequent at rehearsal.
Today is all about act one, which follows the progression of building tension between the two leads. Catra seems focused and alert, attentive to Netossa’s direction and clearly just thinking about developing the best performance possible and memorizing her lines and movements. Netossa doesn’t expect them to be off book until mid-June, so there’s no real panic just yet. Adora silently admires Catra’s dedication and determines she’s going to try to keep pace. Once Adora’s past her final exams, she’ll have a lot more free time for practicing on her own, even if she’s going to have to start juggling it with her summer job. Maybe she can even convince Catra to meet up to go over lines.
She’ll suggest somewhere public, maybe, like a coffee shop or a park, so Catra doesn’t think it’s a ‘Netflix and chill’ kind of we should go over lines together. Yeah. That sounds like a good plan.
The prologue and the first scene of act one are all singing, so they skip right into act one, scene two, where Adora’s character makes her appearance.
“Marge, there’s someone coming up my driveway in a blue truck,” Catra says into a mimed telephone.
“If it’s a salesman, don’t you even let him on the porch!” Mermista tells her firmly, and Adora idly wonders why Glimmer wouldn’t want to play Marge, because honestly it’s a really fun role.
Catra leans forward, pretending to cradle the phone between her shoulder and her ear, like she’s craning out the kitchen window to get a better look. Adora accidentally gets a better look down Catra’s loose little shirt and has to forcibly rip her eyes away from the tantalizing top edge of black bra. Come on Adora, be respectful. Jesus. Focus.
“Don’t worry Marge,” Catra is saying, and fuck, that’s Adora’s cue, “I already have everything I need. Call you later.” She hangs up and goes to the line of tape on the floor that represents the door, gestures like she’s opening it. Adora gets up out of the chair she’s in - her truck - and pauses, looking at Catra.
“No, don’t stop there,” Netossa interrupts, inserting herself into the scene and guiding Adora a few steps closer. “You can hesitate a little at the door of your truck, trying to keep your distance and be respectful, but you have a business card you want to give to this woman to prove your legitimacy before you ask her for any favours, so you do have to get closer. You don’t realize how beautiful she is just yet because you’re thinking about Iowans and how paranoid locals always are and you’re just hoping this goes alright, so the first pause at the truck is just a generalized one, and it isn’t until you get here,” she points at where Adora is standing, four feet away from Catra, “that it hits you how beautiful she is, and then you can kind of pause like you’re having a little moment of 1960s style gay panic in your head.” Everybody chuckles. “Okay, take it from ‘Call you later’.”
They reset, Adora in her truck and Catra at the kitchen window on the phone.
“Call you later,” Catra says, hangs up the phone, opens the door and steps out onto the porch. Adora gets out of the truck, rallies her courage, and crosses the distance to where Netossa wanted her to stop. “Good afternoon,” Catra says, as Adora looks at her and imagines that she’s actually seeing her for the first time, struck to have found someone so beautiful and so soft in a place she’d never have imagined could be hiding a woman like her.
“Good afternoon to you, ma’am,” Adora somehow remembers to say. She accidentally makes it a little too openly flirty for repressed vintage lesbians, she thinks - not that she was there, so who knows how brazenly queer farm wives in Iowa might have courted each other back in the day when nobody was looking - and reels it back a little. And maybe, she thinks, that actually suits the character, so agog at Francesca’s beauty that she forgets to hide who she is, forgets to hide what she wants.
“Good,” Netossa says, “but you forgot to give her your business card before you said your line.”
“Reset from Francesca’s ‘Good afternoon’ - and, actually, Adora, it’s kind of handy you wore a button up today, can you pop open the first few buttons? The costume direction has Roberta wearing her shirt unbuttoned at the top and I think having Francesca stealing an eyeful of your collarbones is a good way to communicate to the audience that there’s an instant attraction.”
“Yeah, sure,” Adora says, trying not to choke on her own tongue and hoping she isn’t turning red. She undoes one, two, three buttons, and spreads the fabric open so that her sternum is on full display above the edge of her tank top. “That good?”
“Perfect. So, Roberta, I think that look you gave her in that first try was good, you can go ahead and do that again. Francesca, I want you to be thoroughly surprised by how attractive you find this stranger on your porch. As if you’ve never actually felt desire for anybody in your entire life, and had given up on any hope of actually feeling it, given up on believing genuine attraction was even a thing that existed and that stories about it were all just idealizing the social requirement for marriage, and then, bam, Roberta steps into your world and with a single tug unravels that whole theory.” Catra gives a little laugh at this elaborate and not super practical direction, but she nods like she’s absorbed it all and is willing to give it her best attempt.
They reset. Adora climbs out of her truck, climbs the porch, offers a pretty stranger her business card.
Their eyes meet. Catra’s eyes dip impulsively down and drink in the sight of Adora’s exposed throat and collar bones, leap back up and fix her with an expression of surprise, like this feeling inside of her is something Adora is doing to her. Adora swallows, body frozen for a heartbeat before something inside of her purrs to life at that vulnerable, hungry, confused expression on Catra’s face and she’s talking before she remembers what a bad idea it is to answer that look with flirtation.
“Good afternoon to you, ma’am,” she says, softer this second time, like an apology, like an invitation, like an admission that she did indeed catch Francesca looking at her like that and she’s willing to pretend it never happened if that’s what she wants.
“Perfect, keep going,” Netossa urges. They go through the rest of the porch scene - Roberta is a photographer from National Geographic trying to find a covered bridge in the area but can’t seem to find it, and needs help, and Francesca volunteers to get in the truck with her and direct her to it. They skip over Temporarily Lost, which Adora will sing to Catra in the truck on the drive to the bridge, and go into the blocking for the first bridge scene.
The rest of scene two goes by in a blur until the characters are back in the kitchen, and Catra - Francesca - is inviting her inside for a drink of iced tea.
Adora stands awkwardly in the doorway, watching Catra mime taking her shoes off, letting her eyes roam over the flex of her back and the curve of her thighs as she does it. She’s just getting in character, right? Roberta is supposed to be really obviously attracted to Francesca.
“Is that what you do first when you come in the house? Take off your shoes?” Adora says, her mouth dry, feeling deeply sympathetic for Roberta’s struggle to think of something to say in the face of a beautiful woman inviting her inside.
Catra laughs at her, lilting and teasing, a domesticated woman regaining her agency and her self-confidence one shy glance at a time.
“I guess I do,” Catra says, looking pointedly at Adora’s feet. “Not you, I see.”
“No ma’am.” Adora puffs herself up like she’s trying to say something impressive, like she’s trying to be swaggering and masculine and desirable. “Real cowboy’s supposed to die with his boots on if he can.” Idly, she thinks it’s interesting that they didn’t change the pronouns in this part of the script. Rather than an oversight, it feels like a commentary about Roberta’s relationship with toxic masculinity, about the confusing tension between being someone who loves women and femininity but doesn’t personally feel like femininity fits her.
Catra smirks and raises an eyebrow.
“Is that how you think of yourself, as a cowboy?” She says it like she’s Catra saying it to Adora, idly cutting in that casual way that Catra always used to deploy when she could clearly see right past all of Adora’s bluster. Adora’s mouth twitches into an embarrassed smile.
“Not really,” she concedes. “I don’t know why I said that.” Catra flicks her eyes up at her from where she’s pretending to pour iced tea into glasses, gives her a look that she used to give Adora all the time in their senior year of highschool. Adora remembers with sharp clarity the words that always used to follow that look. You’re such a dork. I can’t believe I’m in love with you.
There’s a pregnant pause. Adora keeps looking at her, her body alight with the old call and response, urging her to smirk and say How embarrassing for you. She feels like she’s forgetting something. Does she have another line? No, it’s Catra’s line.
“Fuck,” Catra mutters, “Line?”
“It’s ‘Oh, the ice!’” Netossa supplies.
Adora tries very hard not to read anything into Catra’s stumble.
At the end of rehearsal, they tease each other for their various blunders, bumping shoulders and giggling as they each collect up their belongings.
“Hey,” Catra says, pausing on her way out the door, “What are you doing this Sunday?”
“Studying,” Adora sighs. “Why?”
“No chance of skipping out on it, is there?”
“Normally I would say yes,” Adora says apologetically, feeling quietly proud of herself for holding this boundary and being responsible even though she desperately wants to give all of her time and attention to Catra, “but I have an exam on Monday and then two more on Wednesday. Sorry. After next week, though, I’m free?” She offers hopefully.
“Okay,” Catra says, nodding, “I’ll let you know.”
“You gonna tell me why you’re asking?” Adora presses, grinning and crossing her arms.
“Nope,” Catra grins. “See you Saturday, Adora.” And then she vanishes down the hall and up the stairwell and into the parking lot, and Adora is left standing there smiling after her, unaware that the exchange has been carefully watched by just about everybody in the room.
“For the last time, Glimmer,” Adora sighs, kicking her (gently!) under the table, “We didn’t sleep together after the bonfire. Please tell me you’re not spreading that rumor around.”
“Look, I didn’t say it,” Glimmer insists, gesturing with her fork and nearly flinging a piece of crepe at Bow, “It was Mermista who was asking me questions about whether or not you actually came home on Saturday night, and I just told her the honest answer, which was no!”
“I don’t think anybody actually thinks you’re sleeping together,” Bow intercedes gently.
“Good,” Adora says, maybe a little crankily, and chews another mouthful of hashbrowns. Glimmer smirks at her.
“Mostly because the tension between the two of you is still as thick as an elephant’s - “
“ - oh my god - “
“ - ass. Jeez Adora, what’d you think I was gonna say? Pervert.”
“You’re terrible. Subject change, please. No more Catra related teasing.” She gets enough of it from her own damn brain, thank you very much. “Actually, wait, hold that subject change. There was something I wanted to ask you guys. Would you be okay if I invited Catra to join us for this?” She gestures at the table, indicating their pre-Saturday-rehearsal brunch ritual.
“I don’t see why not,” Bow says, grinning. “It’s not like we don’t get plenty of quality Best Friends Squad bonding time at home. We could add a fourth to brunch.”
“Cool,” Adora says, looking down at her plate like that’ll hide her sudden, irrational blush. “I’ll ask her today.”
“Hey Adora,” Glimmer says, something dangerous in her voice, something smug and taunting, “You still keep breath mints in your car console, right?”
“Oh, no reason, just. You got the hashbrowns with onion in them today, and rehearsal starts in twenty minutes. Not exactly enough time to drive back to the apartment and brush your teeth.”
If Adora was blushing before, she’s got to be the color of a fire truck by now.
“Thank you, Glimmer,” she grits through her teeth, “that is a very helpful suggestion.”
“I’m sure Catra will appreciate the thoughtfulness,” Glimmer says cheerfully, propping her chin on her fist and giving Adora an entirely too innocent smile.
“You’re an asshole,” Adora laughs, putting her fork down so she can rub her hands against her face like that will make the blush go away. Glimmer is right. The kissing scenes start in earnest today, and Adora has no idea how to mentally prepare herself for it.
When they get to the car, she pops a breath mint. She half expects Bow and Glimmer to serenade her with a rendition of Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid the entire drive to the practice space, but they are mercifully silent on the subject of the mint, and turn the conversation instead to a trailer for a movie that dropped earlier that morning.
Catra’s already there when they arrive, chatting with Frosta about something. Adora drops her bag and her water off in the usual spot by the wall and gets a little closer so she can eavesdrop curiously; it sounds like Frosta is asking Catra for advice on one of her singing parts. It’s… sweet, and she lingers just long enough to listen to the patient and respectful way Catra offers suggestions and talks about techniques. It’s like night and day from the kind of coaching and guidance that she and Catra would have gotten from Ms. Weaver at Frosta’s age. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t totally shock her that Catra is being so good with the cast’s youngest member - she’s got a very personal understanding of how shitty it is to be condescended to by an adult about your singing ability.
Netossa calls a start to the rehearsal before Adora can actually say hi to Catra, but as they meet on the marked out stage area for the act one, scene four, they smile at each other and the softness around Catra’s eyes seems to say hey, nice to see you in a laid back, friendly way that is as new as it is comfortable.
They walk through the blocking for the second bridge scene, and Adora hopes that the way she can’t stop looking at Catra’s mouth the entire time just reads as being in character. Maybe this is what Roberta is thinking at this part in the play, when Francesca shows up unexpected at the bridge while Roberta is trying to take pictures of it for work: I’m going to kiss her. It’s going to happen. There’s no doubt in my mind, no doubt in my heart, I am going to kiss this woman.
At the end of this bridge scene, Catra pretends to cry at the sight of photos from her hometown in Italy - a gift from Roberta, another layer of connection forged between them.
“Roberta, you can see she’s overwhelmed,” Netossa directs. “You open your arms in invitation, but you don’t come at her with it, you let her come to you.”
Adora spreads her arms, palms up as if in supplication.
“Now, Francesca, you go to her, still holding the pictures. You press your bodies together.”
Catra is so warm against her chest that Adora doesn’t need to be cued to wrap arms around her shoulders, to hold her protectively and curl around her.
“Good. Now you two will hold that position and the light will stay on you for several beats before switching over to Bud and Carolyn, so just count to ten in your heads before you drop that pose and get ready for scene five.”
The embrace is more tender and emotional than it is sensual, but Adora’s breath feels shaky and she hopes Catra doesn’t feel the way her heart speeds up. She counts to ten, and the action shifts to Sea Hawk and Frosta’s scene, and she and Catra pull apart. Adora hurries herself with setting up for the next scene, following the blue tape outlines for the kitchen set instead of the pink ones that are for the bridge set.
She’s only on the first part of scene five long enough to say You want a beer for your bath? and then she’s backstage for the duration of a phone call between Francesca and her husband. They skip past Sea Hawk’s song and jump right into the one Adora’s been dreading.
Adora is sitting in the kitchen, pretending to clean a camera.
Catra enters, pretending to be wearing a new dress, and Adora looks up, transfixed.
She’s not wearing a new dress. She’s wearing a tight-fitted (and soft, Adora knows, after that embrace) maroon tank top, black skinny jeans, that silver thumb ring and a necklace that seems to be a tiny brass replica of some kind of animal skull.
“You are… so beautiful,” Adora breathes, and is thankful that this is the actual line she’s supposed to say and not just something she has blurted out in front of a dozen people.
It takes Adora a second to remember that’s what the script calls for - long enough that Netossa says: “Roberta goes to her.”
Obediently, like she’s in a daze, Adora walks to where Catra is standing perfectly still, like she’s afraid to breathe, afraid to speak, afraid to ask for this, afraid to be wanted, afraid to want to be wanted.
“You want to touch her,” Netossa says, and oh, it’s true, it’s so fucking true, “but the way she’s stiffened up makes you stop short of putting your hands on her. You want to be respectful, but still… you say your next line.”
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” Adora asks Catra tenderly, cautiously. She’s got her script in her back pocket, but she knows these words well enough to say them without breaking eye contact to read them. She inhales a deep, shuddering breath. “How did I get here?”
“I invited you,” Catra says, a little nervously. She tries for a smile. “Either that, or the patron saint of Iowa housewives sent you to me.” The watching cast chuckle quietly at the line, but Adora doesn’t smile, doesn’t allow her steady, hungry stare to waver.
I want you, she knows her eyes and body language must be screaming.
“Francesca crosses to the stove, like she thinks she’s can solve this by just cooking a nice dinner, but as she goes past, Roberta, you’re going to touch her shoulder.”
Catra breaks the stare and swallows, moves almost brusquely past Adora, and Adora’s fingertips just barely graze that bare shoulder as she goes by.
“Slower, and more of a lingering touch,” Netossa corrects, and Catra resets back at the foot of the ‘stairs’ and tries again, in less of a hurry.
Adora uses the backs of her knuckles this time as Catra goes past, starting at the top of her shoulder and stroking downwards indulgently, turning her wrist to draw a line down Catra’s bicep with the pad of her thumb. She’s not sure if it’s her imagination, but she thinks she sees Catra shudder.
She has to retrieve her script from her back pocket for the next section, because she still hasn’t quite memorized the long back and forth between Roberta and Francesca about how this isn’t just something Roberta does, seducing housewives when passing through small towns. Her racing heart seems to settle a little more as she has to concentrate on Netossa’s direction and the longer, more complex lines from this part of the script, but then -
“Okay,” Netossa says, “You’re going to use your script as the cues for your behaviour here. You’ll say ‘I never get this close,’ and get nice and close, you’ll say ‘I never touch your arm,’ and touch her arm, and then when you say ‘I never do this,’ you kiss her. Got it?”
Adora nods, feeling dizzy. Catra is looking up at her with a carefully neutral expression, and somehow Adora doesn’t think she’ll be making this rehearsal’s kissing into a competitive game like she did with that first one.
Honestly, at this point that might actually be preferable.
Okay. Here goes nothing. At least she doesn’t have onion breath.
“I never get this close,” Adora says, backing Catra up against where the kitchen counters will be. “I never... “ she looks down at Catra’s body, openly hungry, her hand hovering - “touch your arm,” and she wraps her palm and fingers around Catra’s forearm, sliding the gentle grip up towards her elbow. She looks back up again, meets Catra’s eyes. She brings their faces together, lowers her eyelids, touches the sides of their noses together, and murmurs, “I never do this.” It takes such a small amount of forward movement of her neck to close what remains of the distance between them, to taste Catra’s lips with urgent, trembling tenderness. Catra waits a beat before responding, like she still can’t quite believe this is happening, and when she kisses back it’s like a sigh of relief.
Catra pulls away reluctantly.
“I understand,” she says, but her face is full of confusion, uncertainty. Adora’s heart clenches. Is that expression Francesca, or Catra?
No, no. This isn’t real. None of it is real. Of course it’s just Catra playing the part.
“And you don’t do this either,” Adora says, half statement, half question.
“No,” Catra tells her, “I don’t.” And then she leans in and cranes her head up and kisses Adora, and the second kiss is confident and certain where the first one was soft and questioning.
Adora has kissed plenty of people on stage in a variety of roles and never has it felt like this.
They pull apart again, and Adora unfortunately has to look away to tilt her script towards herself and double check what her next line is before saying:
“If you’re going to make me go to the Motor Court, do it now, okay?” She exhales and slides a hand around to Catra’s back, even though Netossa hasn’t directed her to. She gives a heavy swallow, leans towards Catra’s face and then pulls away again, like she’s fighting with herself. “I think I could leave now if you wanted me to.”
Catra answers with another kiss, sliding her fingers into Adora’s hair and holding her so that she can’t pull away again, kissing her like it’s the end of the world and Adora is the only woman on the entire planet she’s ever loved. Without meaning to, a little whine escapes Adora’s throat, and she finds herself wishing she had a real, solid kitchen set to push Catra up against.
“And the phone rings, interrupting you!” Netossa declares, and Adora leaps away guiltily, only half acting.
This play is going to fucking kill her.
“See you Thursday,” Catra grins at her on the way out, and she’s midway through chugging the rest of her water bottle so she just waves goodbye. She’s so addled that she completely forgets to invite Catra to the Saturday brunch ritual.
“Just text her!” Bow teases her in the car. “You have her number now.”
“I know but we haven’t texted at all,” Adora sighs. “I’ve been busy studying and I knew it’d be a distraction if I started getting into the habit, and anyways she hasn’t texted me either, and maybe she’s not even really a big texter? I don’t want to annoy her, you know?”
“You’re babbling,” Glimmer says glibly. “Text her the invitation or I’ll steal your phone while you’re in the shower and do it myself.”
“You’re a menace,” Adora tells her, pulling into her reserved spot and parking the car. “Fine. I’ll text her.”
(5:43 p.m.) Hey, it’s Adora! I meant to mention today, but Bow and Glimmer and I have this ritual where we get brunch every week before the Saturday afternoon rehearsal, you should join us next week if you’re free
maybe (6:12 p.m.)
i try not to eat out too often (6:13 p.m.)
dont make the joke that i know u want to, ur worse than a 14 yr old boy (6:13 p.m.)
(6:18 p.m.) Hehe I get you, I’m a starving student so I’m always fighting to resist the siren song of my delivery app
(6:18 p.m.) (And NO I wasn’t going to make that joke, I couldn’t figure out how to make it funny)
theres nothing funny abt my sex life, its a vry serious subject (6:18 p.m.)
(6:19 p.m.) Uh huh
(6:20 p.m.) Anyways the place we go to has this insane deal where you can get a $5 breakfast platter if you go before noon, I get it every time, it’s really good
u rly like breakfast foods, huh (6:42 p.m.)
(6:43 p.m.) You already knew this about me, that isn’t anything new. Anyways I gotta reheat this takeout I definitely didn’t order and get some studying done, let me know if you wanna come, it’s fun! I can pick you up at your place if you want
thats so sad… do u still not know how to cook (6:51 p.m.)
dont answer that, ur supposed to be studying (6:52 p.m.)
i see u typing, nerd. put down the phone (6:52 p.m.)
(6:52 p.m.) Lol yes boss. Catch you later
Adora receives a single text message on Monday morning. It says:
good luck w ur exam, nerd (7:33 a.m.)
Catra sends another good luck text on Wednesday morning, too. Adora tries not to overthink the fact that she only mentioned when her exams were once, in passing, and Catra remembered both days. That’s just a friendly thing to do, right? That’s a thing good friends do. She’s just being thoughtful. Right? Right.
(3:55 p.m.) Thank you!! I just got out of the last one for the week and I am So Damn Tired lol
grats on surviving, ur still coming to rehearsal tomorrow, rite? (8:01 p.m.)
(8:06 p.m.) Wouldn’t miss it for the world
if u fall asleep while ur kissing me im gonna blow air so hard into ur mouth u turn into the michelin man (8:07 p.m.)
(8:07 p.m.) Pretty sure that’s somebody’s fetish
everything is sumbodys fetish, u ever heard of the internet (8:08 p.m.)
but ur not wrong, tho, thats definitely a thing theres weird art of out there (8:08 p.m.)
so r u done all ur exams now (8:08 p.m.)
(8:10 p.m.) All my written ones. I have two practical exams next week, but I can’t really study for those so
u got plans for this sunday afternoon? (8:11 p.m.)
(8:12 p.m.) Bow and I hit the gym around 8 on Sundays, but I should be free by 12
lol that would b the definition of ‘afternoon’ (8:12 p.m.)
(8:13 p.m.) Don’t be mean to me, I just wrote two exams and my brain is goo :(
well, if ur free u should come to the food court at the mall around 1 on sunday (8:13 p.m.)
(8:13 p.m.) I’ll be there!! Should I bring anything, or
its the mall adora, not a wilderness hike (8:14 p.m.)
i cant believe im friends with u (8:14 p.m.)
Adora types and deletes the same sentence three times before finally deciding to send it. She knows it’s a loaded phrase. She knows it’ll remind Catra of what they used to be, of what they used to have together. It’s almost like flirting, but it’s just subtle enough for there to be plausible deniability. If Catra confronts her, she can claim she forgot.
(8:17 p.m.) Haha, how embarrassing for you
Catra takes fifteen whole minutes to respond, during which Adora thinks her aggressive sweating might actually eat a pair of pit stain holes through the arms of her shirt. When she finally answers, it doesn’t give Adora any sort of clue one way or another about whether Catra picked up the nostalgic reference, and if she did, how she felt about it. All the text says is:
:) (8:34 p.m.)
Chapter 5: strike up the band
Uhhhhh oops I did it again? The chapter that was supposed to be chapter 4 has now overflowed into three separate chapters worth of content, so... you're getting a double update today. Surprise! Why yes I did in fact do nothing all day Saturday but write, why do you ask.
The main song featured in this chapter is Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer. The other songs mentioned are Man! I Feel Like A Woman! by Shania Twain and If It Makes You Happy by Sheryl Crow.
Next chapter I swear we will finally get back to the music of the musical they are actually rehearsing for, lmao. It's the scene I've been trying to get to for the last 12k words, haha.
The next rehearsal goes much the same way as the previous one.
Catra pretends to pick up a phone, talks to Mermista playing her nosy neighbour while Adora comes up behind her, wraps arms around her waist, and smiles wickedly as she plays the part of dastardly distraction.
“They say she’s a hippie,” Mermista says, gossiping obliviously about the strange photographer woman come to town.
Adora smiles wider, amused by the accusation, and kisses the back of Catra’s neck while Catra half squirms, half melts into the touch.
The phone conversation scene lasts maybe a minute, but it feels like it must be five times that long as Adora obeys Netossa’s direction and teases Catra with relentless touches for the entire duration, touching her arms, her neck, her face, her shoulders.
Then there are the scenes of them lying in bed.
It seems like there are so many of them.
A blanket on the floor serves the role of a real bed, for the purpose of rehearsal, and the discomfort of the rigid floor against her back seems to vanish when Catra is draped over her, kissing her in between every other piece of dialog.
Adora’s script finds a permanent position in her right hand, because she is having a hell of a time remembering her lines tonight.
The mingled relief and sense of loss she feels when finally Netossa sends her and Catra off to take a break while they work through scenes with the other characters is enormous in every sense.
“Draining you dry, am I?” Catra teases, as Adora chugs back water greedily.
“That makes you sound like a vampire,” Adora says, because it’s the first thing that comes to her thoroughly rattled mind.
“How do you know I’m not?” Catra says, baring her teeth.
“I’ve seen you out in the sunlight, so.” She grins, flipping the cap closed on her water and leaning back against the wall.
She wants to grab Catra by the waist and push her against the wall and finish what they started over on that stage.
She has to remind herself again that it wasn’t real. Adora wasn’t kissing Catra.
That was Roberta and Francesca.
Maybe she should drink more water.
“So about brunch,” Catra says, and Adora’s heart sinks. It’s not gonna happen, is it? She must have let something slip today, made it too obvious that she’s attracted to Catra and is being a creep about this whole thing. “What time do you guys normally go?” Oh. Oh!
“We usually go for like eleven. I could pick you up at like ten thirty, ten forty-five? I’m not sure where you live in town, now that I think about it.”
“You know where Mermista lives?”
“Same apartment complex, actually.”
“What! No way! How did you guys figure that out?”
“Funny story actually. I got home one day and there was this big note stuck inside the elevator that said: Whoever it is on the second floor who keeps singing these weird haunting operatic versions of Taylor Swift songs, first of all, why, and secondly let’s be friends. She signed it with her name and her apartment number and I realized it was the same Mermista who plays Marge, so. Turns out we’re kind of neighbours? And I think maybe friends now?”
“Wait, wait, so were you the one singing haunting operatic versions of Taylor Swift songs?”
“Well duh.” Catra smirks as she says this, and Adora’s heart does a little flip and her brain whispers something along the lines of this is exactly why I’m falling in love with her again and she frantically scrambles to think about anything other than that traitorous thought.
“So, brunch, yeah, you’re coming?? I’d love if you came.” Fuck, stupid l-word, get out of there! Fuck, shit, fuck. Luckily Catra doesn’t seem to react to the needless enthusiasm.
“I’m down. Hard to beat five bucks for a whole meal I don’t have to cook myself or wash dishes for.”
“Awesome,” Adora says, grinning even as on the inside she begins to panic about what a terrible mistake she has made. She’s going to see even more of Catra now every week, which is of course what she wanted, except sometimes it’s a terrible idea to get the things you want? Because then you’re just going to become even more infatuated? “So, uh,” she says, trying to think of a subject change because she feels like she’s been looking at Catra a little too long without saying anything, “What are we doing at the mall on Sunday?”
“You’ll see,” Catra says, and now she’s the one grinning.
“Not even a clue?”
“Not even like a little one?”
Netossa calls them over to work on the next scene, and Adora pushes herself to her feet and offers Catra a hand to help haul her up to standing. Catra laughs at her, a soft little snorting noise, but takes the hand.
“No, I’m not saying that reading Francesca as a lesbian doesn’t make sense in the context of the gender-bent version of the play,” Catra says, taking a drink of orange juice and leaning forward a little, clearly enjoying this conversation with Glimmer, “I’m saying it makes the play a lot more sad.”
“Oh, you mean sad like depressing, not sad like pathetic!” Bow says, clarifying the misunderstanding.
“Exactly,” Catra says. “If anything, if you look at her lines, it actually makes more sense to read her as exclusively into women, or, at least, not actually attracted to men.”
“I obviously don’t know Francesca’s lines as well as you do,” Glimmer says, diving into this week’s strawberry crepe, “I’m always thirsty for more bisexual rep in media but also please tell me more about your reading of Francesca as a lesbian.” She’s earnest, too - Glimmer’s lamented a few times in Adora’s hearing that she misses overly analytical conversations about literature since she graduated a year and a half ago and started working as a marketing copywriter.
“Okay, so,” Catra says, reaching across the table and stealing one of Adora’s hashbrowns even though she has a full plate of them in front of her, “When Francesca is singing about her fiance who died in the war, Paulo,”
“ - poor Paulo - “ Bow, who plays Paulo in the flashbacks, contributes helpfully.
“She doesn’t actually say anything about liking him, or him having any desirable traits. She describes his physical appearance, and she says he likes to swim, and then literally says I don’t know why I fell in love with him, like. Pretty clear example of compulsive heterosexuality because you don’t realize there are any other options. You just pick a boy that’s convenient and isn’t awful, and decide you’ll make it work. And - “ Catra’s eyebrows go up as she puts emphasis on this, getting excited about the discussion, “If you back up even before that part in the song, when Francesca is talking about the dreams she makes for herself, before she starts talking about Paulo, her very first dream of what her life could be like is explicitly free of any men. She wants to live by herself in a little apartment above the market square. She even outright says there’s only one chair in this fantasy of hers, and that it wouldn’t be lonely. Like, canonically, she never actually wanted a dude in her life.”
“And the part of the song where she talks about meeting Bud,” Adora adds, her brain whirring, “She pretty much explicitly lays it out that she doesn’t feel anything for him, just that he’s a way for her to escape from war-torn Italy. She even says something like… she figures she can learn to love him? Right?”
“Right!” Catra says emphatically, beaming at Adora. The unadulterated approval makes Adora grin, heart racing like she just scored a goal.
“Oh my god,” Bow says, “I see what you mean about that interpretation making the story so much more sad. When you look at it like that, she didn’t know being gay was even an option until she’s face to face with Roberta and realizing this is what she’s wanted her whole life.”
“And she doesn’t find out until she’s stuck in this marriage with these kids,” Glimmer says, brows pinching with sympathy for this fictional character. “Guys this is so sad, it’s too sad.”
“And then Roberta leaves her,” Catra says, voice suddenly coming back down from excited to something serious and sombre. She doesn’t look at Adora when she says it.
“Roberta doesn’t leave her,” Adora protests, feeling like she ought to defend the character she portrays. “She asks Francesca to come with her, and Francesca chooses to stay.”
“Maybe Francesca didn’t feel like she had a choice,” Catra says, looking at Adora.
Adora holds her eyes carefully, sensing the change in the tone of the conversation. This isn’t fun anymore. How does she get this back to fun? Maybe there isn’t a way to do that - maybe that’s not what she should be trying to do.
“You’re right,” Adora says softly. “She probably didn’t. I guess that’s part of what makes the ending so sad.” Under the table, she bumps Catra’s knee with hers.
Catra smiles at her. It’s a tired smile, a quiet smile. It’s the smile of someone who had her heart broken and has had to make the conscious choice not to let it define her.
“Hey,” Catra says to Adora, nudging her with an elbow, “You want my leftovers when I inevitably can’t finish this gigantic plate of food?”
Adora grins, knowing it for the peace offering that it is.
“I’m going to pretend you haven’t been stealing my hashbrowns this entire time and graciously accept your leftovers.” Catra laughs, then turns to Glimmer.
“So you were obviously an English major or something,” she says, swiftly putting the mood back on track.
“I was a double major,” Glimmer says. “PoliSci and English.”
“Oh my god, you must have so many opinions about things,” Catra teases.
“Why yes, yes I do,” Glimmer grins. “Pick a current event, any current event, and Glimmer’s Semi-Educated Opinions will be open for business, serving piping hot takes of all shapes and sizes.” Catra laughs again, and this time it sounds more relaxed and genuine. She asks about that same movie trailer they were talking about in the car last week, and Glimmer is off like a shot, excited to have someone new to rattle her thoughts off to.
“I like her,” Glimmer says in the car on the way home at the end of rehearsal that night. “I’ve decided you can keep her. Make sure she understands she’s got a standing invitation to Saturday brunch anytime she wants to come.”
Adora wakes up early on Sunday morning and somehow manages to convince Bow to go with her to the gym at 7 instead of 8 with the promise of smoothies afterwards, her treat. She’s too damn antsy to sit around, so she hits the gym and exhausts herself trying not to watch the clock and obsess over what could be waiting for her at the food court of the mall.
She pulls up the soundtrack for the show on her phone and listens to it twice over, trying to embed the lyrics into her brain as thoroughly as possible for when they start including the songs into the scenes again this coming week.
All of Francesca’s lines make her think about Catra, of course. Listening to Almost Real is extra bittersweet and painful, after that brunch discussion of how it changes if you make Robert into Roberta. It’s not exactly good music for pumping iron to, but it makes her feel productive to be doubling down on something that will make her better at her role while she’s working out.
She cools down by going through her physio routine for her leg, a series of targeted stretches and careful strength building. It’s been seven years since the surgery but recovery is a long and not necessarily linear journey.
All in all, the extra long workout leaves her sweaty and tired to the bone, and she wishes she could just bring herself to use the gym’s showers, but the thought of taking her sweatpants off in public still feels insurmountable. She’ll just have to stew in her own filth for a bit on the drive back to the apartment.
As promised, she treats Bow to a drive-thru smoothie on the way, and once she’s back home and in the shower, slurping on a large strawberry banana with added protein powder, she starts to feel good and balanced and settled.
She gets out, dries off, checks her phone - it’s only eleven.
That’s fine, she needs to eat lunch anyways.
She gets dressed in the bathroom, temporarily throwing on some long pajama pants and a soft shirt, and takes her gym clothes and sweat-soaked sports bra to her room to huck the entire bundle into her laundry hamper.
Then it’s back to the kitchen to rummage around in the freezer and see what they’ve got that she can microwave and shove into her face just to get her through to dinner. She sees a pizza in her future, maybe, unless she and Catra end up doing dinner after whatever it is Catra has planned.
“You’re in a good mood,” Glimmer remarks from behind her, and Adora jumps with surprise.
“Am I?” She laughs.
“Excited to see Catra?” Glimmer drawls, leaning against the kitchen island, smirking at Adora as she pulls free a box of Brotheria: Man Meals frozen dinner from her collection of cheap, filling, easy food.
“Yeah,” she confesses, ripping open the box and stuffing the tray into the microwave. She knows you’re supposed to like, poke holes in some of the compartments and cut slits in the others, and some other crap, but she doesn’t normally bother. It’ll still be edible. “Glimmer, do you think I should do something different with my hair?”
“I’m sorry, what?” Glimmer says, her eyebrows raising. “Where’s this coming from? You’ve never once talked about doing anything to your hair in all the time I’ve known you.”
“Uh, I mean, well, Catra made this comment that she was surprised I hadn’t changed it at all? And I keep thinking that maybe I should?”
“Adora,” Glimmer says firmly, “Do not cut your hair to try to impress Catra. I can tell you from personal experience that getting a haircut for anyone other than yourself will make you miserable. And anyways, you should wait until after July at the very least, and do it after the show. You don’t want to have to wear a wig like Catra’s going to. Again, personal experience? Wigs are annoying, especially if you’ve never had to wear one before.”
“I know,” Adora sighs, sitting in one of the bar stools at the kitchen island and pressing her face into the cool counter with a defeated huff. “It’s stupid.” She frowns, staring forlornly at the lone banana in their fruit basket. “But what if I’m not her type??”
“Adora,” Glimmer laughs, putting a soothing hand on Adora’s shoulders and stroking between them affectionately, “you literally dated her.”
“When we were kids! Maybe she only dated me because we were like the only out gays we knew at the time, and we were full of hormones!”
“Was that why you dated her?”
The microwave dings and Adora jumps up from her seat.
“You know the box says you’re supposed to leave it in the microwave for another minute,” Glimmer chides as Adora pops the microwave’s door and hisses in pain when the container is hot to the touch.
“I’m a busy woman,” Adora says, dumping the instant meal onto the counter and then going on the hunt for cutlery. “So that’s a no on shaving off a bunch of my hair.”
“I’m not saying you wouldn’t look hot as hell with like an undercut or something,” Glimmer rationalizes, “but you have to promise me that you’ll wait until at least after the show to do it. If you really think one haircut will be the difference between being just friends with Catra and winning her heart forever, she’ll still be around in August to test the theory on.”
“Yeah, but what if she gets a girlfriend between now and then?” Adora peels up the plastic cover and flinches back from the steam it releases. “Shit, what if she already has a girlfriend? I didn’t even consider that possibility. What if that’s the reason she moved to Brightmoon?”
“She hasn’t mentioned a girlfriend,” Glimmer asks, and then slyly starts reaching towards Adora’s phone where it sits on the counter. “Want me to text her for you and ask?”
“Absolutely not,” Adora yelps, grabbing the phone and stuffing it between her hip and the elastic waistband of her pajama pants, because this pair doesn’t have pockets. “If you want to be helpful, you can help me figure out what to wear to the mall.”
“Oh, let me guess what you’re going for - “ Glimmer pushes up off the island and takes a deep breath, and then croons, Just look at me! At my hands, at my mouth, at my shoulder! It’s a bit funny, hearing Glimmer singing one of Catra’s songs, but not surprising that she knows it well enough to sing off the cuff, since she’s Catra’s understudy for Francesca. Glimmer does a dramatic little spin. Just… please... Look at me!
Adora grins and rolls her eyes and sits down to eat her shitty little meal in a box.
“Some help you are.”
She arrives at the mall food court at 12:45 and doesn’t see Catra anywhere. Sliding into one of the yes, I’m eating in a mall food court alone solo patron bar stools at a long narrow table, she pulls out her phone. It’s relatively crowded. Maybe she just doesn’t see Catra.
(12:46 p.m.) I’m here! I’m sitting at one of those bar type sections. I wish these seats weren’t welded in place. I always feel like I’m way too close to the people next to me. You here yet?
She doesn’t get an immediate response. Maybe Catra’s walking on her way here. Maybe she’s got her hands full or something.
Anyways, she’s fifteen minutes early, so she should just be patient.
Trying to pass the time, she looks around. She doesn’t spend a lot of time in this mall, but it’s nice enough. She’s certainly been in crustier malls. This one is clean, if a little homogenous. The food court smells deliciously greasy, and she realizes too late that she probably should have eaten a second frozen dinner to fend off the temptation of fast food so easily in reach, especially after that workout.
There’s a little section of the food court in the middle of all the tables that’s been cordoned off. Some sort of little square placard on a stand is set up, but it’s too far away to read. It probably just says “under construction” or “caution, slippery” or something. She pulls out her phone and checks it again. 12:57. Still no reply from Catra. It’s fine, everything is fine. Not everybody is obnoxiously (anxiously) punctual.
There’s no way this was some kind of prank, right?
No, that’s stupid. It’s not a prank to trick someone into going to a mall.
Her eye catches on a uniform - a mall cop? No, two of them. And there, walking between them, is Catra. Fuck. Fuck! What the hell did she do to get busted by a mall cop?
Adora stands up rapidly and bangs her knee on the damn metal bar that keeps the seat firmly welded to the table. The spike of pain keeps her in place just long enough to realize that Catra isn’t being arrested, she’s being escorted.
One of the mall cops is carrying a tall stool and the other is carrying a mic stand; Catra is carrying a guitar. Adora is just beginning to put the pieces together when Catra looks over and sees her and grins. Adora gives her a shy little wave, and Catra winks at her. When the strange three-person parade reaches the cordoned off section, Catra sets up in the middle of it with the blessings and assistance of the mall authorities, and then switches on a little amp she’s wearing from her belt.
She looks good. She’s not wearing anything fancier than what she’d wear to rehearsal, but it’s obvious she’s put a little more effort and a little more product into her hair, and she’s wearing more silver rings and necklaces than usual and seems to have eyeliner on.
“How’s everybody doing this beautiful afternoon?” She croons into the microphone, and a few people hoot and whistle, but not many. It’s a mall food court on a Sunday afternoon, after all. Most people just don’t give a fuck. Catra smiles at the reaction nonetheless, a sarcastic little grin like the lousy crowd energy is a private joke between herself and her guitar. She plays a sharp, energized sequence of seven chords one after the other, and it’s immediately familiar. Adora knows what it is before Catra even starts to sing.
Let’s go girls, Catra purrs into the microphone, and then launches into the unmistakable Shania Twain song. Adora watches her with wild amazement, grinning so broadly that her face hurts. Catra throws herself into the performance vocally, smiling wickedly with each word and meeting Adora’s eyes several times, tapping one foot on the lower support bar of the stool. Her guitar playing is even more impressive than it was on the beach, more complex and skillful.
The food court actually claps when she finishes.
“Thank you,” she murmurs into the mic, still with that smile, and then begins to strum again. This time it’s Sheryl Crow, another recognizable song with a distinctive chord progression.
If it makes you happy! Catra sings, carrying the note with more grace and lung power than any mall food court could possibly deserve, It can’t be that bad!
Catra keeps cranking out popular, recognizable old pop songs over the course of the next hour. She’s got a bottle of water sitting on the floor at the foot of the stool but she only takes a quick sip once every few songs. She doesn’t seem to falter at all. Adora is really, genuinely impressed.
“You guys have been a great audience,” she says, when the clock is approaching two. Some people laugh. “Really, I mean it. I’m gonna leave you with something cheerful, and I hope it puts a smile on your face and you all have a great rest of your day.” Adora just smiles and shakes her head in disbelief at this strange and unfamiliar side of Catra.
Catra straightens up for her final song, gets the guitar into position. She looks to where Adora is and, without breaking eye contact, darts her tongue out to her lower lip to moisten it before she starts. Adora feels electricity course down her spine at this tiny movement.
She starts to play the guitar; it’s another immediately recognizable tune, and Adora’s eyes flutter shut briefly as she closes her eyes just to enjoy the gentle, optimistic instrumental opening. As Catra’s voice joins in, her eyes come open again and to her surprise Catra is still looking right at her.
Kiss me, Catra entreats, and Adora doesn’t think she could look away if someone offered her a million dollars, out of the bearded barley, nightly, beside the green green grass.
Yes, Adora wants to say, yes, Adora’s heart says. I will. I will.
Swing, swing, Catra sings, finally looking away from Adora and turning her eyes to other people in the audience, spreading the love around, working the crowd. Swing the spinning step - and holy shit okay she’s looking at Adora again - You'll wear those shoes and I will wear that dress? She sings the line like it’s a question, a suggestion.
Adora just smiles and watches and hopes that all of her feelings aren’t showing clearly on her face, because Catra’s gaze has retreated again, never lingering too long on Adora. This isn’t for her, Adora reminds herself. Catra’s obviously working right now, doing a job with a predetermined set. She might not even get to pick the songs.
That doesn’t stop Adora from thinking about the feeling of Catra pressed against her at rehearsal, of fantasizing about running her fingers through Catra’s short, beautiful hair and kissing her over and over, kissing her somewhere that isn’t a musty church basement surrounded by other people.
Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight, lead me out on the moonlit floor - she’s so beautiful when she sings, her face soft and her eyebrows occasionally pinching or her eyes briefly fluttering shut, and - Lift your open hand, strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance - silver moon’s sparkling - dammit. She told herself she was just going to try to be friends with Catra. Just friends so that they could get through this show without it being super awkward. If she catches feelings, she could ruin the whole experience for all her friends by creating awkward drama behind the scenes. It’s always so annoying when cast crush drama makes things weird on a production. She keeps telling herself she can’t let herself catch feelings.
So kiss me, Catra finishes, smiling and soft and fresh and self-assured and happier than Adora’s ever seen her.
Fuck. She’s definitely caught feelings. This is not just attraction.
There’s actual, wholehearted applause when she finishes - while Adora was distracted, Catra’s performance actually managed to draw a crowd.
“Thank you,” she says again into the microphone, and then switches off the little amp on her hip and hops off her stool. She looks over at Adora and smiles, and Adora smiles back at her dopily, feeling drunk off of that hour-long demonstration of Catra’s versatility and guitar-playing skill. Catra’s smile becomes a smirk; she quirks a brow and then crooks a finger at Adora, clearly saying come here, dummy.
Adora rises from her uncomfortable seat and realizes her ass went numb at some point and she just didn’t notice. She stuffs her hands in her pockets and tries to look cool and casual and like she’s totally not freaking out about how into Catra she is as she obeys the summons.
“Hold this,” Catra says, when Adora is in range, and thrusts the guitar towards her. Adora takes it from her, holding it by the neck, and is briefly and dizzyingly overtaken by the urge to press a kiss to Catra’s cheek while they’re close enough for the handover. Like Catra is her girlfriend, and not her ex girlfriend.
This is so dangerous. She takes a step back, putting another foot between them. Her practiced physical affection towards Catra while rehearsing for the play is messing with her sense of what normal between them is.
“So, what’d you think?” Catra presses, as she unplugs her amp from the microphone and winds the cord back up around a forearm.
“You’re really good,” Adora says earnestly. “I mean, I already knew that, but like. You’ve got a lot of range, style-wise? And you’re even better at playing guitar than I realized.” Is she babbling again? She’s probably babbling again. Catra flashes her a grin, and Adora hopes that tiny hint of a pleased flush is because of her and not just because of the performance she just finished.
“Thanks,” Catra says, and then extends a hand towards Adora. She realizes after a moment that Catra is offering to take the guitar back.
“I can carry it, if you want,” Adora says, feeling somehow possessive and proud, to be the person Catra asks to hold her guitar. She likes the idea of all these people who just watched the performance seeing Adora claiming the attention of this talented musician.
“Sure,” Catra chuckles, hooking the loop of cable over her amp. “The mall guys will clean up the rest. Wanna go get some ice cream? That place in the corner there is actually pretty decent.”
“Sounds good,” Adora grins, realising the guitar has a strap and slinging it over her shoulder so that she’s got her hands free. “My treat?”
“Absolutely not,” Catra counters. “I just worked a paid gig. It’s my treat.” They wander over to the ice cream shop in the corner of the food court and Adora’s heart feels like it’s too big for her chest, like it can’t possibly fit in there and is trying to burst free of her rib cage. She glances down at Catra’s hand swinging loosely by her side.
What if she slipped her hand into Catra’s right now?
Maybe she should just try it.
No, no, absolutely not. She doesn’t want to think about the rush of horrified humiliation she’d feel if Catra jerked away and asked her what the hell she thought she was doing.
She can just. Keep her hands to herself.
Until rehearsal… and then -
“What flavor do you want?” Catra asks, oblivious to Adora’s inner turmoil and cheerfully studying the options.
“What’re you gonna get?”
“Raspberry and triple chocolate chunk,” she says, with such certainty that Adora’s sure she’s ordered it from this place before.
“Uh. Can I get… a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of mint chocolate chip?”
“So conservative,” Catra teases. “Well, if that’s what you really want, princess.”
Adora’s blood freezes as the old pet name slips out of Catra’s mouth. Catra seems to realize too late what she’s said, looking at Adora with a flicker of fear in her eyes, then clears her throat quickly.
“Sorry,” Catra blurts. “Forget I said that. Muscle memory.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Adora says, knowing she sounds stiff and startled, because she is. “Consider it already forgotten.” She’s going to be thinking about it for the next week at the very least.
“Sure,” Catra says, a little shakily, her eyes searching Adora’s face for something. “Chocolate and mint chocolate chip, you said?”
Catra digs a wallet out of her back pocket and orders them the ice cream. The bored looking teenager behind the counter gets the order to them with lightning speed, and then they’re walking in slightly awkward silence to the nearest open table with their ice cream. Adora sits across from Catra, making sure she isn’t banging the guitar hanging off of her back against anything, and then puts a loaded spoonful of the chocolate into her mouth.
“Mm,” she says, closing her eyes with a pleasure she doesn’t have to fake. “This is exactly what I wanted. Thank you.”
“No problem,” Catra says, and she sounds like she’s relaxing a little again after the whole princess thing. “Thanks for trusting me and showing up without knowing what you were getting into.”
“I mean, it’s not like you invited me to a sketchy alleyway or something. It’s just the mall.” Catra laughs a little, takes a bite of her own ice cream and makes her own little noise of approval.
“You should try the raspberry at least,” she says, pushing her cup towards Adora. “You won’t like the triple chocolate because it’s kind of bitter, but I think you’ll like the raspberry.”
“Is it pronounced sher-bert or sor-bay?” Adora asks idly, reaching her little plastic spoon across the table and taking a sample of the vibrant red scoop in Catra’s cup.
“I haven’t got the slightest god damn idea,” Catra laughs. Adora sticks the spoon in her mouth and moans happily. “See, I told you it’s good.”
“You were right. I stand by my choice though. It’s a classic combination.”
“Sure,” Catra says, grinning. She takes another bite, mixing her two flavors together in a way that definitely doesn’t agree with Adora’s principles of ice cream consumption, and then says, “So, all this was to kind of answer part of your question, I guess, about what I’ve been up to since highschool.” Adora nods, but doesn’t say anything - both because she wants to keep eating her ice cream and because she wants to encourage Catra to continue.
Eventually, she does.
“So… I guess I might as well back up to the start, since it’s all sort of… part of the same story. So. After senior year, you moved to Minneapolis, and I was still stuck living in Weaver’s house until I turned eighteen.”
“And your birthday isn’t until the end of October,” Adora says, frowning. “I remember being worried about that.”
“Yeah, well. She was a real bitch. I’m not… I’m not gonna get into details, but I ended up running away and having her call the cops on me. They found me on the street and dragged me back to her. I don’t know why she cared. I think she just didn’t like that it made her look bad, to have a foster kid who vanished while in her care. So anyways… “ Adora watches her, imagines she’s sorting through the memories and deciding which awful things are relevant and which she doesn’t need to relive by telling Adora about them. “It was… a really shitty summer. I figured out how to get out of the house while she was teaching summer school classes, so I’d steal that old guitar you and I found in her attic that one time, and I’d busk during the day. I was really bad when I started, but once I figured out what kind of songs people like, and the good street corners to set up on, it wasn’t too hard to make a little bit of money while Weaver wasn’t looking. I saved up enough cash for a new phone plan and for a first and last deposit on rent - it took a few months - and then I answered a roommate wanted ad I found on a college campus. I tricked the girl into thinking I was a student at her school, paid her my half of the rent out of my busking cash, and then vanished from Weaver’s house again and moved in with my new oblivious roomie.”
“Wait, this isn’t hers, is it?” Adora says, gesturing at the guitar on her back. Catra scoffs and shakes her head.
“No, I didn’t take anything of hers out of the house when I left for good. I didn’t want to give her any ammunition for a police report or something. I made damn sure she wouldn’t find me. I don’t think I left that apartment until November, and then… I was free.”
“Damn,” Adora mutters. “So what then?”
“More busking,” Catra shrugs. “I’d do it when my roommate thought I was in classes. It took her like a solid six months to figure out I wasn’t actually a college student. By that point I guess she liked me enough to keep me around.” She gets a little smile, soft and fond, that tells Adora she liked the roommate too. “Turns out having a manic asshole music teacher with failed dreams of becoming a Broadway star for a foster mother is good for something, because I actually had a decent foundation for learning how to do this well. When it’s just you, you can’t really fake it. So I learned to stop faking it and actually try, and, surprise surprise, it actually paid off. I wasn’t shit like that bitch always told me I was.”
“You were never shit,” Adora says. “You’re good in spite of her, not because of her.” Catra smiles over her ice cream cup at Adora and kicks her gently under the table.
“Thanks,” she says. She eats another scoop of her blended raspberry and triple-chocolate, and then continues the story. “My roommate kind of saved my life. When she found out what I was doing, she introduced me to her cousin who does brand management stuff. He made me a whole website and helped me film some little demo videos to put on it, designed business cards and got them printed for me. All totally for free, no strings attached. Said it was something to add to his portfolio, that he’d been wanting to get into working more with musicians anyways. I thought for a really long time there was gonna be some gotcha, some ulterior motive, but it never manifested.” She shrugs. “Eventually I just figured being way too nice of a person just runs in that family, or something.”
Catra pauses like she’s remembered something, then rummages around in her jacket pocket and pulls out a business card that she slides across the table. Adora takes it with interest and admires it; it has a website address on it that she’ll definitely be checking out later.
“Can I keep this?” Adora asks, and Catra smiles.
“So you do this full time now? You get hired by malls and stuff?”
“Malls, VIP lounges, highschool reunions, sometimes weddings. I did a gig at a tapas place a couple weeks ago, but the pay was pretty awful. What, what are you making that face at me for?”
“I just always kind of imagined if you became a musician, you’d be in like, a punk rock band or something,” Adora confesses with a grin.
“Maybe in another life,” Catra chuckles. “Pop covers are what you have to learn to tolerate if you want to make much steady cash. I get the best crowd responses with a mix of current top forties and hits from the nineties, typically. I adjust it to whatever the place I’m playing at is.”
“Well, you’re really good,” Adora says. “And I can really see how a decade of experience doing live solo performances for an hour or more at a time made you so incredible with the theatre singing, too.” Catra looks up suddenly from her ice cream, eyebrows jumping up. She’s blushing. Adora is definitely sure this time that she’s blushing.
“I don’t know about that,” Catra mumbles, gaze dropping. “It’s not like I had a vocal coach like you did.”
“Catra,” Adora says firmly, authoritatively, “Look at me.” When she does, there’s a certain heady rush to it, to seeing that raw expression on her face that Adora finally knows is real, is for her. “You’re a really strong singer. Francesca’s role is really difficult, and you’ve been knocking it out of the park at every single rehearsal. And what I watched today, that was incredible too. You’ve got stamina, you’ve got stage presence, you’ve got skill. Don’t sell yourself short.”
“Adora,” Catra croaks, blinking rapidly and then wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “I can’t believe you’re going to make me fucking cry in a food court.”
“Sorry,” Adora says, smiling and offering her hand across the table. Catra takes it and then lifts Adora’s hand to dab at her eyes like it’s a handkerchief. Adora laughs, surprised, but keeps her hand limp and allows it. “Is your revenge to make my knuckles soggy?”
“Serves you right,” Catra mumbles. She pauses with Adora’s one hand between both of hers, holding it to her face, and for one heart-stopping moment Adora thinks Catra’s about to press a kiss to her palm. But she doesn’t. She just carefully sets Adora’s hand back down on the table and retracts both of her own, focusing on gathering up another spoonful of ice cream. “Uh. Anyways. What was I saying? Dark past, blah blah blah, I’m the least exciting gig musician ever now. The end.”
Adora knows she’s glossing over how bad that summer trapped in Ms. Weaver’s house must have been. She’s always suspected there was abuse going on there beyond just the constant belittling and neglect that Adora could see at school, but Catra’s never confided in her about it. She isn’t going to ask now.
But there is another important question that’s still gone unanswered.
“So why did you move to Brightmoon?”
Catra hesitates. She meets Adora’s eyes, takes a deep breath.
“It’s not that interesting of a story. It’s honestly just sort of embarrassing. That’s the main reason I’ve been avoiding telling you.” Adora raises her eyebrows, but doesn’t say anything. She does, however, take the opportunity to eat more ice cream. It’s gonna melt if she doesn’t, after all. “Scorpia, my roommate, she met this girl online who lives here. They dated long distance for a couple years, and then one day she finally came to me and told me she wanted to move here to be with her girlfriend. I uh. I had a little bit of a meltdown, but. I at least handled it a bit better than I handled you leaving. After things calmed down, she suggested that I move with her, that maybe they could look for an apartment with two bedrooms instead of one. That… I mean, it was nice of her to suggest, but I know that isn’t what her girlfriend signed up for. And I felt kind of pathetic that she even offered, you know?”
Adora nods sympathetically. Sure, she lives with Bow and Glimmer and they’re a couple, but the three of them have been friends since long before those two figured out their shit and got together. She can’t imagine how weird it would feel if, say, Glimmer moved in with a new partner and offered to bring Adora along because she was worried about Adora feeling abandoned.
“But it kind of jolted me a little out of this rut I’d been in,” Catra continues. “Scorpia and I had a really good conversation about what I want out of my life, and about LA and all my history there, and about fresh starts and loneliness and… y’know, a lot of things. And then I talked to my therapist about all that stuff, and worked through it a little more. And I went back to Scorpia and asked if it would be weird if I moved here too, but like, not to the same apartment. Rent is a lot cheaper here than it was in LA, so I knew I could afford a place on my own, for like… the first time ever. So I thought maybe I’d give it a try. I didn’t have a lot I had to drag with me. I thought it would… I dunno, maybe give me a chance to reinvent myself. Try new things. Pick up old hobbies I never thought I’d get back into.”
“Like musical theatre,” Adora says, comprehension suddenly dawning. “No wonder you were so fucking pissed off when you got to rehearsals and I walked in. So much for a blank slate.”
“Yeah. Exactly.” She swirls her spoon around in the rapidly softening ice cream, plops a big dollop of it into her mouth. Adora tries not to be too obvious about the way the cheerfully glistening tip of Catra’s tongue catches her eye. “I thought about just bailing on the whole thing, but I’d done so much fucking work with my therapist on not just giving up on things that scared me or made me feel overwhelmed. Plus… I mean, I’d been living here for a couple months already when I saw the open auditions and decided to go for it. I’ve never lived by myself before, and I was just… really fucking lonely, you know? Part of trying out for the play was to get back into the hobby, but part of it was just to do literally anything that would help me make some new friends.”
“Well,” Adora says thoughtfully, impressed by the self-awareness this older, wiser Catra has in contrast with the angry, hurting teenager Adora remembers, “I’m glad you stayed.”
They share a smile as soft and as earnest as the pluck of an acoustic guitar. It’s a note that hangs clean and unembellished between them, lingering sweetly in the air.
“Hey,” Catra says into this warm, comfortable moment, “you got any plans for tonight?”
Adora tries to remember. Vague ambitions of ordering pizza and a new plan to look up Catra’s website and methodically watch all of her demo videos are all that come to mind.
“Nope,” she says.
“You should come over,” Catra says, her voice full of what sounds to Adora like friendly affection, nostalgic comfort. “I’ll make dinner. We can go over lines together, if you want. If I know you, you’re already getting nervous about needing to be off book by June.”
“Damn, you beat me to it,” Adora laughs, telling the butterflies in her stomach to please calm the hell down. “I was gonna ask you if you wanted to go over lines together.”
“I win,” Catra chortles, and then, “Is that a yes?”
“You offered me food,” Adora says pointedly, getting to her feet and turning her empty ice cream cup towards Catra to demonstrate her meaning as clearly as possible. “Of course it’s a yes.”
Chapter 6: to know this feeling, to know this moment
Y'all are gonna yell at me for this chapter, I can feel it in my bones.
The central song of this chapter is Falling Into You, click the link to listen along!
“Let me get this straight,” Glimmer says, pinching the bridge of her nose, looking deeply unimpressed. “She invited you back to her apartment and cooked you a meal from scratch after publicly serenading you with a song with lyrics that are mostly just ‘kiss me’ over and over and over, and you didn’t make a move on her?”
“No!” Adora squawks, frankly offended by Glimmer’s interpretation of both the events of the evening and of her own modus operandi. “It wasn’t like that! It was like the night in the Denny’s was, where we just talked and remembered how nice it was to be friends, and she opened up a bunch about her past, and it was - “
“ - Intimate? - ”
“ - vulnerable, like, you know, sort of emotionally loaded? It wasn’t the kind of thing where you just, I don’t know, kiss someone! You can’t just kiss people, Glimmer! You have to ask!”
“So you should have asked her,” Glimmer says drolly, flopping back on Adora’s bed and staring at the ceiling with a why is my best friend a moron expression.
“Look, I’m trying not to be a selfish jerk who thinks with my dick here,” Adora huffs.
“You don’t have a dick,” Glimmer says, a small smile quirking at the corner of her mouth.
“I have several!” Adora exclaims, making a sweeping gesture towards her bedside table, and then turning red as she realizes this was the reaction Glimmer was hoping to provoke. “Anyways the point is that we’ve got two more months until the show, and I don’t want to complicate everything and risk making the rest of rehearsal miserable for everybody else by hitting on her because I think I’m seeing signs that she’s into me when it’s really just wishful thinking. If you thought those first couple rehearsals where she hated me were awkward, just imagine how much worse it would be if she found out I’ve been daydreaming about getting into her pants for real every time we have to touch. It would be unbearable. She might even go to Netossa about it, if she decided it was creepy enough.”
“I know you don’t just want to sleep with her. And I really don’t think the interest is one-sided,” Glimmer says, sitting up and bumping their shoulders together fondly. “Even outside of rehearsals, she’s always up in your space and paying attention to you.”
“Yeah, but that’s just how things have always been between us,” Adora sighs, leaning into Glimmer and resting the side of her head on top of Glimmer’s head. “I think that’s part of why I’m so confused about whether or not she’s sending signals. She and I were obnoxiously close friends way before we both hit puberty and started thinking about girls that way. Her being up in my space doesn’t mean she wants to date me, it means we’re just… I don’t know, falling back into the way we used to be friends.”
“Mhm,” Glimmer says, clearly unconvinced. “So, just to clarify, did her apartment have a dishwasher?”
Adora frowns, confused and surprised by the question and struggling to remember. She pictures Catra laughing and telling a story about a car named Maria, beautifully singing how do you solve a problem like Maria? while elbow-deep in dish suds, washing a plate.
“I don’t think so?”
“Okay, now, how many pots and pans did she get dirty in the process of making you dinner?”
“Uhhh.” Adora frowns even more deeply, rummaging through the memories of the evening.
Catra teasing her for depending on takeout and frozen dinners while she effortlessly chops vegetables, the knife gliding against the cutting board with smooth, attractive confidence.
Catra flashing a grin at her over a shoulder, saying I bet I could teach you if you wanted before turning back to face the stovetop, dropping a blob of butter into a hot frying pan.
Catra dipping a spoon into the sauce simmering in a pot, saying come here and making Adora taste it without relinquishing the spoon, holding her other hand cupped an inch or so under Adora’s chin to catch any drips, then chucking the once-used spoon into the sink.
Catra rummaging around in a cupboard and producing a cheese grater, handing it to Adora with a grin and saying I trust you at least know how to operate one of these.
Catra laughingly saying okay back up, this is a small kitchen as she opens the oven and fills the apartment with a rich, savory smell, extracting the pan from inside and setting it on the stove sandwiched between the saucepan and the skillet.
“Like… five or six, if you count stuff like the cutting board and the cheese grater?” Adora says, hazarding a guess.
“Adora,” Glimmer says patiently, patting her knee, “nobody who has to wash their dishes by hand makes that many dirty dishes for somebody unless they’re trying to impress them.”
“Well, and so what,” Adora says, her face getting hot. “Friends try to impress each other all the time, especially since it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other. Who could blame her for wanting me to be impressed? I’ve been trying to impress her.”
“Yeah,” Glimmer says with a disbelieving laugh, “because you have the hots for her! Like she does for you!”
“Glimmer, I can’t take that risk,” Adora sighs, straightening up and turning her body away from her, wrapping her arms around herself. “It would jeopardize the whole energy of the show and the rehearsals if I said anything to her now.”
Glimmer is quiet for a while, and then she reaches out and starts to rub circles against Adora’s back. Adora sighs again, but relaxes into the calming touch.
“Okay,” Glimmer says gently. “I’ll stop pushing, if you really think that’s the best way to handle this. But will you at least promise me you’ll ask her out when the show is over?”
Adora’s heart twists rebelliously, already in mourning at the idea of waiting two whole months to confess to Catra.
“Okay,” Adora mumbles, dropping her head back against Glimmer’s.
At their Thursday night rehearsal, Catra looks over as soon as Adora comes in the door and abandons her conversation with Mermista to come over, grinning.
“Well, how’d your last practical go?” Catra asks, without preamble.
“Good, I think,” Adora answers, answering Catra’s grin with one of her own, the exhaustion of the day suddenly vanishing. “It was basically like a six hour shift of being a student physiotherapist while a professor supervises and takes notes on how you do, so… I think it went okay? I don’t think I can tell you any details on what I actually did, what with, you know, patient confidentiality stuff, but I think it went pretty well.”
“I’m going to take that to mean you had at least one repressed housewife who moaned just a little too enthusiastically while you adjusted her spine,” Catra says, and Adora laughs and shoves her.
“If that happened, and I’m not going to confirm one way or another, I could never legally tell you,” Adora says, and she doesn’t know how she managed to make that sound flirty, but there’s definitely an accidental throaty croon to the words.
“Ooooo, Doctor Adora, my butt muscles are just so tense,” Catra wails in a comical falsetto, sticking her ass out and hopping towards Adora like a deranged frog. “Please save me from this agony.” Adora giggles, backing away frantically and making Catra chase her butt-first around the rehearsal room.
“I’m not a doctor!” She yelps through her laughter, retreating from the attack of the glutes, unable to fend Catra off without ending up with a palm full of ass cheek.
“Oh my god,” Mermista says, as Adora takes shelter behind her and uses her as a human shield, “are you guys, like, seven?”
“In dog years,” Catra answers, somehow managing to say it seriously, straightening up and menacing Adora over Mermista’s shoulders with just her smirk instead of her rear end.
“Yeah, pretty sure that’s not how that works. Like, at all,” Mermista says, although she’s smiling.
“I can’t believe you’re being mean to me after I had an exam today,” Adora faux pouts, emerging from behind her Mermista shield. “We talked about this. Goo brain, remember?”
Catra snorts and rolls her eyes, but she smiles.
“I have a granola bar in my bag if you need a pick-me-up,” she says, to Adora’s surprise. Adora’s pretend sulking springs into a happy smile at the unexpected thoughtfulness.
“Only if you don’t mind me tasting like granola bar for the rest of the night,” she says, the smile twitching into a smirk. From the corner of her eye she sees Mermista put her entire hand over her face, like she cannot believe what she’s hearing. Adora has to resist the urge to defend herself - what! It’s just friendly banter! It’s not a secret that she and Catra have to make out a lot for the show!
“Well, I wouldn’t have bought a flavour of granola bar I don’t like the taste of,” Catra rationalizes with a smirk of her own. Mermista gives a little groan and mutters something, and then stalks off to flop down next to Sea Hawk and murmur into his ear. Whatever she says makes his moustache twitch and his eyes sparkle. Catra watches this, then leans closer into Adora and murmurs playfully, “What’s her problem?”
“Must be more of a GoGurt kind of gal,” Adora whispers. Catra barks a delighted laugh, and then slings an arm around Adora’s shoulders and steers her over to where her bag is.
It turns out Catra is right; Adora feels much better after the granola bar.
From their perch at the piano, DT catches Adora’s eye and smirks.
“What?” Adora calls across the room to them through a half chewed mouthful.
“The vibe in the room has changed since the last time I was here,” they say, raising their eyebrows meaningfully. Adora risks a quick glance at Catra to see if she’s listening to the exchange, but it looks like she’s chatting with Bow about the blocking for Home Before You Know It.
“That’s because we’re halfway in,” Adora says casually, after swallowing the last of the granola bar, and wanders closer to DT under the pretense of chucking the wrapper in the garbage can by the piano. “Everybody’s more comfortable with the script and their roles.”
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about, darling,” DT murmurs, smirking and flicking their eyes towards Catra and then back to Adora.
“We, uh, hashed out some stuff,” Adora says quietly, hoping it isn’t obvious she’s getting defensive. “We’re friends now.”
“Good,” DT says, nodding sagely, watching Adora’s reaction from under half lidded eyes. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
Adora is saved from more questioning by Netossa calling a start to rehearsal. Spinnerella leads them in the vocal warm up, and then Adora goes to sit and watch quietly as they go through the first scene with both the dialog and the songs, waiting for her part.
Freed from her obligation to study, she takes the opportunity to just enjoy the now familiar performance. Somehow she never gets tired of watching Catra practicing her numbers. It feels like a lifetime since she last got to hear Catra singing, even though it’s only been four days since the food court.
They flow seamlessly without stopping into the scene where Adora appears on Catra’s doorstep, and she’s grateful for the practice they got in after dinner, because the words come to her with ease and she can focus on getting the blocking right.
It feels nice to lead Catra to her ‘truck’ and actually sing Temporarily Lost to her instead of jumping right to the bridge scene. It fills her with an almost cocky self-assurance, remembering that conversation at the Denny’s where Catra called her singing voice deep and gorgeous when she described hearing Adora tackle this song for the first time. She doesn’t put a halt to the song but Netossa has to remind her a couple of times to not smile quite so much - Roberta is supposed to be broody and interesting and contemplative, not a grinning goober.
They get to the bridge scene, and Adora gets to bask in Catra’s curious attention as she sings What Do You Call A (Wo)man Like That, pretending to scope out a good shot while Catra - Francesca - studies her and discretely sketches her profile. Adora listens for the subtle complexity in Catra’s performance of the song, thinking about how much thought Catra has put into analyzing the character she’s portraying. She feels another surge of admiration and respect for her, and has to fight to keep her attention on acting like she’s scoping out a bridge.
Adora slips offstage for most of the duration of You’re Never Alone, grabs a few quick mouthfuls of water and stretches before returning for Another Life, Glimmer’s solo as Marian, Roberta’s ex-girlfriend (changed from ex-wife, in the original). Glimmer’s shower rehearsals have been paying off; the song sounds really good.
Netossa calls for a five minute break and Catra cautiously offers Glimmer some tips for the part of the scene as Marian where she’s pretending to play guitar. Adora stands off to the side, watching the interaction and smiling. It’s more than she ever should have dreamed of, these two wonderful people together in the same room and getting along like this.
It gives her a grain of hope that maybe she can just hold on to the idea of Catra as a dear friend, a long-missed staple of Adora’s life, and set aside all that non-platonic pining until the end of the summer.
Towards the end of the night, with time enough for one last song, Netossa has them set up for Falling Into You, the final scene before the end of act one and the song that leads into Roberta and Francesca finally consummating their relationship after an hour of subjecting the audience to their steadily building desire.
They start from dancing in the kitchen to the radio, and Adora smiles at Catra. She wants to lean down and whisper in her ear, ask if she remembers the first time they did this scene, ask her if she still wants to try to throw Adora off her game by making their kiss entirely sexier than is strictly necessary. But she knows she doesn’t have to, even if it kind of feels like it was a year ago instead of only eight and a half weeks.
So they spin around the imaginary kitchen, and this time around it’s comfortable and playful and sparking with chemistry, and Catra feels right in her arms.
Again, Catra tucks her face against Adora’s chest.
Again, Adora presses her mouth into Catra’s hair, breathes deeply of her scent.
Again, the music stops, and their spinning slows, and Catra looks up at her.
If there’s laughter in her eyes, now, it’s the plummy, Baco Noir laughter of a glass of red wine and a plucked cello string. There’s nothing adversarial or vindictive about it.
Adora cups her cheek and kisses her like she’s the first day of spring, pulls back so slowly that their top lips cling together for just a heartbeat before reluctantly returning to the faces they belong to.
The music starts anew.
Adora sings, whispery and wistful.
What was I saying before, about being lost? She muses, brushing her thumb across Catra’s lower lip. The thing is - I knew where I was, but not where I was going. Why did I walk those mountains? She searches Catra’s eyes, like there’s an answer in them. Why did I ride those ships? Adora furrows her brows together, like she’s trying to express something important to Catra and struggling to figure out how. Why did I watch those horses running wild?
Catra reaches up and touches her face, like she wants to smooth out the wrinkles and soothe the frustrated struggle of Adora’s attempts to communicate this thing hanging heavy in her chest. Adora closes her eyes at the touch, leaning her head into Catra’s palm, and lets her face go slack at the blissful contact. She smiles, opens her eyes again, like Catra’s hand has given her the answer. Now I know, Adora sings, so slow and soft and wanting, so afraid to be vulnerable and say it all honestly but determined to try.
Catra slips her hands away, as if surprised by this delicate openness, maybe a little overwhelmed by it, and Adora catches the hand in hers as it retreats, keeping Catra there. She doesn’t break eye contact, only repeats, with even more vehemence, Now I know. The note rises and swells, and Catra watches without interrupting, hopeful and frightened all in one guarded expression.
All my life, Adora tells her, throwing open the gates of the walls that have so carefully guarded her heart, I have been falling. Catra blinks rapidly, like there are tears there she needs to stop, and bites her lower lip. I have been falling, Adora repeats, filling the words with as much authenticity as she dares, into you. Adora puts the emphasis on you, without fully intending to, and she knows in her heart that she’s slipped and directed that one potent word at the actor, not the character.
Francesca, she breathes, willing her mouth to shape the syllables of that name with the adoration and desire that she’s just put into the last line. Circling in the sky, looking for a harbor. There’s something wary and suspicious in Catra’s eyes, and oh god, Adora just hopes it’s just her playing along with the scene and not real suspicion. Coming into view.
Exposed. She’s so exposed. But she can’t stop now. Her only choice is to keep going, keep pretending that this is all Roberta Kinkaid and not her, not Adora.
All my life, I have been falling - she looks away from Catra briefly, and then back at her with all the blazing intensity she can muster - into you.
Catra pulls herself out of Adora’s grasp, backing away and wrapping her arms defensively around herself. Adora reaches out for her, but lets her fingers hang in the air without breaching the protective distance Catra has put between them.
Whatever this is, Catra sings to her, shaky and terrified, but with her jaw set and her eyes proud, Whatever we do from here, don’t give it a name. Her fingers tighten around her own biceps, and she takes a steadying breath before tilting her chin up and straightening her spine. We mustn’t reduce it to something clear, or simple.
It feels like Catra is looking right through all of Adora’s feigned theatrics, like she’s seeing past every facade Adora has ever put up in an attempt to protect herself. Catra’s eyebrows crunch together and she frowns, issuing a challenge, a demand. I want to believe that we are the first people on Earth to know this feeling.
Her arms come unwound from around her torso, and she takes a step towards Adora. To know this moment, she sings desperately, begging Adora with the press of trembling fingertips to her jawline not to take advantage of her trust. To cross this line.
Adora puts her hand over Catra’s, slides it down and strokes along her forearm, trying to promise somehow that she won’t abuse that trust, she promises, she promises.
Adding up all those minutes, Adora sings, moving her other hand slowly towards Catra’s neck, slow enough that she could indicate if the touch were unwanted - staring through all I saw - Adora’s hand comes to rest on Catra’s neck, fingers splayed so that her thumb touches the underside of Catra’s jaw and her pinky touches her collarbone - how could I know the answer would be you?
How could I know the answer - Catra echoes, overlapping their lines so that they both sing would be you at the same time, and a crack of lightning flickers through Adora’s body as Catra holds her eyes and harmonizes with her, face to face, heart to heart, soul to soul. It’s just singing, Adora tells herself. It shouldn’t feel like a miracle, but it does.
Unable to stand the empty space between them anymore, Adora takes a step into her and presses their bodies together, holding Catra’s face between both her hands with tender reverence as she sings Only you!
- she thinks of an awkward highschool dance in a decorated gym, of a dress she hated, and of Catra making her laugh so hard in the line for punch that she has to run to the bathroom, nearly peeing herself -
All my life, Adora bellows, summoning every ounce of musical skill she has to make it as rich and earnest and clear as she can, I have been falling -
- she thinks of Catra, eleven years old and completely overwhelmed the first time Adora drags her to the public library and produces the dollar she needs to get Catra her very own library card -
All my life, I have been falling - Catra sings in her arms, weaving their confessions into one another, one and then the other back and forth.
- she thinks of being seventeen and so in love that seeing Catra in the hallways makes her feel like she’ll combust if she doesn’t kiss her, and so she kisses her, again and again, even after the visits to the principal's office and the lectures about public displays of affection, because no punishment had ever burned hotter than that screaming love in her chest -
I have been falling! Adora roars, twining her fingers in Catra’s short hair, feeling Catra do the same to hers.
- she thinks of Catra, twenty-five years old now and patiently teaching her an easier way to dice onions, smiling softly and issuing wry but sincere praise when Adora finally gets it right -
Into you, Adora sings, and a moment later, Catra layers her own Into you, over Adora’s sustained note, blending their voices together, completing each other and rounding out the sound, deepening and strengthening each other.
- she thinks of a crowd collecting in a mall food court on a Sunday afternoon just to stop and listen a while to a beautiful, lively guitarist who built herself up out of nothing and forged a path for herself after the world had failed her again and again -
Francesca, Adora sings, and her heart sings Catra.
This is where I land - they sing in unison, and as one they pull away from each other, holding each other at arms’ length so they can look at each other with raw, urgent honesty - you are what I’ve looked for - they both gulp for air at the same time - now is what is true.
Adora sings the final line alone, naked in the absence of Catra’s supporting voice. All my life I have been falling into you.
Catra kisses her.
Adora breathes in, deep and greedy, and wraps herself around Catra, kisses her back.
Catra puts a gentle hand on her chest, holding her in place with the lightest of touches when she pulls away. Their eyes meet. Something has changed between them, Adora is somehow sure of it.
DT is still playing the ending notes of the song, and as Catra backs away, never breaking eye contact, she takes Adora’s hand and pulls her off stage - pulls Roberta to Francesca’s bedroom - to the surging intensity of the piano accompaniment.
The music stops, and the room bursts into applause.
Adora feels like a fish that has been suddenly yanked out of water and landed on the deck of a boat.
Her lungs ache from exertion. She feels a little dizzy. Her heart is pounding.
Catra is looking at her, waiting for her to say something.
Her mind is blank.
“That’s a wrap for today, folks!” Netossa says.
Catra is still looking at her. Still waiting.
“Taste any granola bar?” Adora says weakly.
Whatever was there in Catra’s eyes vanishes, a silver shimmer under a dock gone the moment a shadow passed overhead.
“No,” Catra says, and she smiles, and the smile is half-hearted.
“You were really good,” Adora says quickly, trying again.
“Thanks,” Catra says. “You too.” She backs away from Adora, shoulders tight. “I uh. Gotta run, need to get to bed early. Gig tomorrow, so. I’ll see you Saturday.”
“Yeah,” Adora says, “Sure. See you Saturday.”
She watches Catra go, and wonders why she suddenly feels the urge to cry.
“I have feelings for Catra,” Adora blurts in the car on the drive home.
“I mean… yeah?” Bow says. “We knew?”
“No,” Adora says insistently, “Feelings feelings.” Her grip on the steering wheel tightens until her knuckles go white. “I don’t want to just hold her hand at the movies and have sex on the weekends and bitch about work and talk about TV. I don’t want things with her to be like they’ve been with every other girlfriend I’ve ever had in my life.”
“I don’t think I understand the problem,” Glimmer says gently.
“I want - I want to listen to her analyze every play I ever perform in. I want to hear her opinions about ice cream flavors, I want to take her somewhere neither of us have ever been, somewhere beautiful and totally different - I want her to teach me how to cook, and then I want to surprise her with dinner and buy her a dishwasher and find an apartment for the two of us with a little balcony where she can grow herbs.” Adora’s eyes are full of tears. “I want to know what she’s afraid of most in the world and then make sure she never has to face it alone. I want to learn everything about who she is and who she wants to be, and I want - I want - “ she can’t wipe away her tears with both hands firmly on the steering wheel, so they roll down her face in big, wild droplets as she hangs onto her sanity so that she can finish the drive home - “I want her to want that too. I want her to want me too.”
“Adora,” Bow says cautiously, “Are you sure you don’t want to just talk to her? I mean - maybe don’t tell her all that stuff at once, that might be a little overwhelming, but what I’m hearing you say is that you think she’s really smart, and interesting, and you feel like you have a real connection, and you want to see where that goes. Right?”
Adora inhales a deep, snuffling breath, and then nods, braking at a red light.
“So the next step is to tell her that, and find out if she wants to give a relationship a try,” Bow says. Adora opens her mouth to protest. “I know, I know, you don’t want to have it blow up in your face and create drama for everybody else on the show to have to deal with. And honestly, I really respect that about you. I think it’s a really good quality that you’re trying to be thoughtful about the people around you, and be considerate of all the time and work they put into shows.”
Adora softens, sends a fragile, appreciative smile in Bow’s direction before the light turns green and she has to focus on the road again.
“Thanks,” she croaks. He smiles at her.
“So, let’s talk this out,” he continues. “What’s the best case scenario?”
Adora has to actually consider that. She’s really a lot more practiced at imagining worst case scenarios.
“We all have a really fun time making this show, and then after closing night at the cast party I tell Catra that I’m done with pretend kissing her and would like to kiss her for real now, and she says Gee, Adora, that sounds just swell and we go back to my room and don’t come back out again until November.”
In the back seat, Glimmer snorts.
“We can work on the wording of your confession,” Bow chuckles, “but that doesn’t sound too unreasonable, right? If that’s what you want, then just focus on that - having fun bringing this show to life, and then when everything is done, being honest with Catra about your feelings and then rolling with whatever happens from there.”
“Yeah,” Adora says, taking a steadying breath. “Yeah. Thanks Bow. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“You’d miss the turn into our apartment complex for one thing,” he says, pointing at the upcoming intersection.
“Oops,” Adora laughs, flicking on her turn signal.
That night she lies awake with her phone in her hands, open to the text conversation with Catra.
Sorry things got a little intense today at rehearsal - she types, and then backspaces the whole thing. She looks at the empty box. Tries again.
I hope things weren’t weird tonight during that last scene - she writes. She looks at it for a while, then deletes it.
Do you want to come over some time and drink a bottle of wine and practice kissing - she starts, and then rapidly hammers the backspace key.
She types out a message.
Then she rolls over and tries to sleep.
(12:48 a.m.) Good luck at your gig tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll kick ass.
Chapter 7: melting under blue skies
Uhhhh... oops I did it again? What was supposed to be one chapter is now two. So, there isn't really a song in this one. You'll get the big song number in the next chapter.
This chapter does feature Double Trouble sassily playing Accidentally In Love by Counting Crows in the background while Catra and Adora are making eyes at each other. It also features this bra. I don't know why it matters to me that you know what kind of bra I imagine Adora wearing as part of her costume, but. Here you go, lmao.
“Ugh,” Catra groans over brunch the following Saturday, “These next couple weeks are going to be so busy.”
“Taking a lot of gigs?” Adora asks sympathetically, helping herself to the slice of orange that came with Catra’s breakfast combo because she knows Catra won’t eat it.
“I’m packing them in as tightly as I can, since I know I won’t have the energy to work at all during tech week, and I’m kind of on the fence about booking anything during the week between the first and second performance weekends.”
“I still want to come see one of your shows,” Bow says innocently, “Adora says you’re really good.” Adora glares at him as subtly as she can. “And besides, we’re your friends, we want to support you!”
“Thanks,” Catra chuckles, “but they’re nothing special. This week I’ve got two more food court slots at the mall, a brutal four hour 'ambiance performance' at a gardening center, and then Sunday I’m working at a booth for a local radio station at a car show, and I think a couple other things I’m forgetting right now, which is why I use a calendar app and don’t actually try to retain things using just my brain.”
“Euch,” Adora says, “and I thought my shitty summer job working at the copy center sucked.”
“I honestly don’t know how you do it,” Glimmer says.
“I’ll make it work,” Catra shrugs nonchalantly, “I always do.”
“I was going to ask if you wanted to go over lines again this week, but it sounds like you might be too busy?” Adora says.
“I should probably try to squeeze that in,” Catra sighs. “We’ve only got two more practices after this one before scripts are banned from rehearsals.”
“I could come to you, if it’s easier,” Adora suggests. “Or you could come over to our place, and we could do dinner there so you don’t have to worry about cooking or dishes.”
“I swear to god,” Catra says, a small smile slipping onto her face, “if you try to feed me something that you ‘cooked’ in a microwave - “
“I know how to cook some things!” Adora protests.
“Don’t worry,” Bow says very seriously to Catra, “I’ll help her.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Catra says, waggling a finger severely at Bow and then pulling her phone out of her pocket. “What night works for you this week?”
Adora swallows her mouthful of breakfast sausage and quickly rummages for her own phone. She didn’t actually think Catra would agree to come over. Fuck, fuck, now she has to remember what three dishes she actually knows how to cook. She needs to make a list, she needs to make a battle plan, she needs to go grocery shopping.
“Uhhh. I have the morning shift every day this week so pretty much any day is good for me. We could do Thursday and all go to rehearsal together after?”
“No, Thursday is one of my mall shifts, I wanna chill and rest my voice a bit after that. Wednesday is the garden center gig. Does Tuesday work for you? I’m doing the mall that day too but I think I could handle some line reading afterwards since we don’t have rehearsal that night.”
“Yeah,” Adora says, “Tuesday’s good.” Wine, should she buy wine? No, no, she’s trying not to confess that she’s got feelings. She doesn’t even know if Catra likes wine. She knows she doesn’t like beer. “I’ll text you the address.”
“Cool,” Catra says, putting the date into her calendar and then jamming her phone back in her pocket.
“You guys have fun being responsible leads who study their lines,” Glimmer announces, pulling Bow out the door with her, “we’re going for a long romantic walk down the beach. Thanks for making dinner, Adora!”
The door clicks shut behind them and Adora watches her leave with a smile.
“Well,” Catra says, “Consider me impressed.”
“Yeah?” Adora asks, a little too eagerly.
“It was good!”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“I’m saying you’ve got potential, young Padawan.” Catra smirks at her from across the sofa, whacking her knee with a rolled up script. “You still have much to learn.” Her smirk tempers to a smile. “It was good. Thank you. It’s nice to know I don't have to worry about making dinner after working.”
“My pleasure,” Adora says, beaming. “We should, uh, probably do the lines, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Catra confirms. “Where do you wanna start?”
“Can we go over the act two stuff? I feel like my grasp of act one is pretty solid.”
“Sure,” Catra says, flipping through pages.
By the time Bow and Glimmer get back from their walk, Catra has her feet in Adora’s lap on the couch, and Adora has one arm draped over her shins while they read through their dialog.
Catra looks up at the door as it opens, then checks the time on her phone.
“I should probably head home,” she says reluctantly.
“I’ll drive you,” Adora offers, jumping to her feet when Catra pulls her own away.
The drive is quiet, and Adora genuinely can’t tell if it’s awkward or comfortable.
“See you Thursday,” Catra says with a smile, when Adora pulls up at the apartment complex. Catra unbuckles her seatbelt, but her hand stalls on the door handle like there’s something else she wants to say.
Adora wants so badly to kiss her.
“See you Thursday,” she makes her mouth say instead.
Catra is too busy with work to get together to go over lines again next week, and Adora tells her she understands.
Rehearsals go smoothly, and it’s starting to feel like maybe Adora has figured out how to keep a lid on her steadily simmering desires as they get closer and closer to tech week and the pressure begins to mount.
Maybe she can do this.
Maybe she can kiss Catra with desperate urgency on a Thursday night and smile and joke with her as a friend on Saturday mornings at brunch, knowing she’s an hour away from more kissing, more touching, more romantic singing.
Catra’s playful, almost flirty teasing dies down a little, and that makes it easier to stay focused and keep things platonic. Adora can only assume that her slightly more demure energy is a combination of the approaching tech week and from all the extra work she’s taking on to cover her ass during the busiest crunch of rehearsals.
It’s fine, Adora tells herself, it just means she’s less distracted, right? Less likely to slip and flirt back a little too earnestly, make things weird between them.
She misses it horribly.
On a Thursday night rehearsal with just two weeks to go before tech week, Adora arrives a solid twenty minutes early because she can’t stop bouncing around the apartment, impatient to see Catra again. They’ve been texting spottily and they still see each other at every rehearsal, but it just isn’t enough.
Glimmer and Bow both come to the Thursday night rehearsals directly from work, so she’s alone in her car as she pulls into the parking lot. She switches off the engine, debates sitting in the car for ten minutes or so before going inside, just to not be weird about being there so early, but then decides it’ll be too hot in the car with the engine off, and she doesn’t want to leave it running.
So she goes down into the basement entrance and down the hall to their rented room, slips her shoes off, and notices that there’s already a pair of worn black chucks sitting in the spot where they all leave their shoes before entering the rehearsal space.
“Catra?” She calls, announcing herself before she steps inside. Catra is sitting against the wall in her usual spot, and Adora catches a glimpse of a tense, pained expression before Catra masters it and forces her face into a smile.
“Hey, Adora. You’re early.”
“So are you - is everything okay?”
“The bus schedule is kind of unpredictable, you know. Sometimes I just take the earlier one to make sure I’m not late and then sit around and wait for people to get here.”
“You looked like you were in pain,” Adora says, deciding she doesn’t want to let Catra get away with this particular avoidance. Caught, Catra’s smile turns sheepish.
“It’s nothing, Adora.”
Adora’s eyes follow the line of Catra’s arm and stop at the spot where her hand is cupping the curve of her own neck. She studies the stiff way Catra is sitting, notes how she isn’t turning her head all the way to face Adora.
“Is your neck bothering you?”
Catra blinks at her in surprise, and then drops her hand from her neck, crosses her arms.
“You’re impossible to understand sometimes, you know,” Catra huffs, and even though she’s still smiling it’s a small, uncertain one. “Sometimes I think you’re not paying any attention at all, and then you say something like that, like it’s no big deal at all that you can just tell .”
Adora’s not really sure what to make of that, so she clings to the one part of it that she understands clearly, the one part that she can actually do something about, and decides to cram the rest into the back of her brain to address later. They’re so close to getting through this stupid play. Just two more weeks of rehearsal and then two weekends of performances, and she can untangle just what it is that Catra is suggesting she hasn’t been paying attention to.
“So you’re saying your neck is bothering you.”
Catra looks at her, huffs a little disbelieving laugh before admitting the truth.
“I think I slept on it funny, or something. It’s just - it’s a little pinched or something. It’s not a big deal.”
Adora hesitates, but she wants to help, and this is something she’s actually qualified to help with, for once. She lifts her hands, gesturing towards Catra’s neck.
“Would you mind if I…?”
“You don’t have to,” Catra says, sounding embarrassed. “I don’t want you to think I’m, you know, taking advantage of our friendship to get free neck rubs or something.”
“I don’t mind,” Adora says, hands still raised in offer. “I can help, if you’ll let me. We’ve got time. It’ll make rehearsal easier.” Catra looks at her, holding her gaze with curious scrutiny.
“Okay,” she says, finally, and then shuffles away from the wall, making room for Adora to get behind her.
“Let me just…” Adora murmurs, getting up on her knees and gently taking Catra’s head in her hands. “Try to relax as much as you can?”
“Sure,” Catra says, not sounding relaxed at all. But she takes a breath and goes a little more limp, and Adora carefully manipulates her head from side to side, tilting and turning it in a cautious exploratory way, feeling out where the tension and immobility is.
“Does this hurt?” Adora asks softly, as she finds the direction that Catra’s head resists.
“A little,” Catra answers, her voice almost a whimper.
“Okay,” Adora says, collecting that piece of information and then moving her hands down to feel through the back of Catra’s neck and then her shoulders. “Been having headaches lately?”
“Yeah,” Catra confesses, as Adora uses her thumbs to probe her jaw muscles, finding them tense and - from the soft hiss Catra emits - tender.
“Sorry,” Adora says, moving her hands away to follow the line of muscle from the base of Catra’s skull down to her shoulder, discovering more tension in her traps. “The tightness is all in your jaw and shoulders,” she says, taking her hands away now that she’s done with her quick assessment, not wanting to linger. “You should probably book a timeslot with someone to help loosen you up a little, since that’s what’s causing the neck pain. At least - as far as I can tell, you know, I’m not officially certified yet.”
“Oh,” Catra says, starting to pull away.
“No, I didn’t mean I wasn’t going to help,” Adora says quickly. “I just - it’s not going to be like a massage, it’s probably going to hurt. We don’t have to right now, and it doesn’t have to be me who does it.”
“I mean - if you think you can help, I’m not going to turn you down,” Catra says, and then, “Hey Mermista. Hey Sea Hawk.”
“Sup weirdos,” Mermista says, stepping into the rehearsal space with her boyfriend on her heels. “Whatcha doin?”
“Our resident physiotherapist is fixing my fucked up neck for free,” Catra says casually, and that stops Adora from shuffling away guiltily, to hear her say it like there’s absolutely nothing scandalous or unusual about it. “Isn’t she an angel?”
“Have fun with that,” Mermista snorts, quirking a friendly little smile at Catra before wandering off to the other side of the room, resuming a conversation with Sea Hawk.
“Again,” Adora says, setting herself back on track, “It’s probably going to hurt a little. But you need to tell me if it hurts in a bad way.”
“Got it,” Catra says, her voice more swaggering and certain now that they have an audience. “My safe word is ‘Ow, Fuck, Ow, Adora You Fucking Piece of Shit.’ Please proceed.” Adora laughs, and then puts her hands back on Catra’s neck. They’ve got maybe ten, fifteen minutes, but that should be enough at least to take the edge off and relieve some of the stiffness.
She gets to work, and although she’s incredibly careful and deliberate, there’s nothing sweet or sensual about the touch. Catra hisses in pain a few times, and Adora works through the problem areas without mercy for her quiet whining. She’s focused enough that she doesn’t really see the people who’ve started trickling in, doesn’t really care if they’re watching.
If she had a treatment table, this would be easier because Catra wouldn’t be activating (and thus tensing) the muscles needed to keep her head upright while she’s sitting.
That gives her an idea.
“Hey,” she says, lowering her voice. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course,” Catra says. Adora’s kept her mind professional this whole time, but that instant answer, breathy and delicate, makes those feelings she’s been so carefully pushing down explode out of their container, briefly making a mess out of the inside of Adora’s head. Get it together. Focus.
“Can you lie down and put your head in my lap? It’ll make this easier.”
“Yeah,” Catra says, “Sure.”
Adora very deliberately doesn’t look at anybody else in the room as they change into the more intimate position, sitting back on her heels and propping Catra’s head up on her thighs. Catra looks up at her and the absurdity of the situation makes them briefly grin at each other.
“Stop that,” Adora chides, “I need you to relax your jaw muscles. You need to let your face go slack.”
“You started it,” Catra says cheekily, but she closes her eyes and takes a breath and obediently lets her grin slide away.
“Just try to let your head and neck go as limp as possible,” Adora murmurs, bracing her knees against Catra’s shoulders, cupping one hand under the back of her neck, “just let me do all the work.”
Catra’s face twists into a grin again.
“What?” Adora laughs, wrapping her other hand around Catra’s jaw and getting her thumb into position to try to work out the worst of the tension stored in her masseters.
“I always did want to try being a pillow princess,” Catra quips, clearly unable to resist.
“This is what I get for trying to help you,” Adora pretends to scoff, then, “ready?”
“Yeah,” Catra says, sounding a little nervous, schooling her expression.
Adora digs her thumb into the knot in Catra’s jaw, using Catra’s sudden strangled gasp of pain as an indication that she’s found the right spot.
She works small, relentless circles of tight pressure, carefully monitoring Catra’s reactions but not yielding at the noises of discomfort. When she’s satisfied, she switches to the other side of Catra’s jaw, and is pleased to find that Catra’s head is loose and floppy in her grip. The other side of her jaw seems to be even tighter, and Catra actually gives a little groan as Adora works through through it.
Somebody snickers - it’s Glimmer, Adora realizes, huh, when did she get here - and says:
“What was that you were saying a couple weeks ago, Catra, about desperate cougars who moan a little too much while getting their back adjusted?”
“Shut up, Kyle,” Catra retorts automatically, making Adora snort with laughter.
“Who’s Kyle?” Bow asks. Huh. Guess Bow is here too.
“Inside joke,” Adora says, glancing up at the clock. Woops, okay, only five minutes before rehearsal starts. She should probably wrap this up. “How’s your neck feeling, Catra?”
Sensing that this means they’re done, Catra sits up with a stretch, rolling her shoulders and turning her head experimentally back and forth.
“Honestly, a lot better. Thanks.”
“Drink some water before rehearsal starts, okay?” Adora urges, standing up and dusting off her shins. She offers Catra a hand, and when Catra takes it Adora pulls her up to standing.
“Yeah,” Catra says, seeming a bit like she’s in a daze. “Pass me my water bottle?”
Adora picks it up and hands it to her, and Catra’s fingers touch hers in a way that doesn’t feel accidental.
Over on the piano, DT starts playing something that sounds suspiciously like a Counting Crows song.
On Saturday, Catra skips brunch because she’s exhausted from working a late night gig on Friday and Adora spends the entire meal whining about it.
“Come on, Adora,” Glimmer says, patting her hand, “you’re almost there. One more week of regular rehearsals, and - “ her supportive tone turns wicked, ‘ - then you just have to spend every single day of tech week going through the entire play with her once a night, this time with all the set pieces to push her up against and pretend to fuck her on.”
“Glimmer!” Adora shrieks into her eggs, tempted to try to drown herself in them. Sunny side up wouldn’t be the worst way to go.
When she arrives at rehearsal that night, Netossa grabs her on her way in.
Adora is briefly afraid she’s about to get lectured for her obvious crush and how weird it’s making things for everyone, and how she’s ruining the play and needs to get her shit together, but what Netossa actually says is:
“Adora, wardrobe urgently needs to know your bra size.”
“Uh,” she says, put on the spot, “I don’t know if I can help you with that. I haven’t worn anything but sports bras for like the last five years.”
“I can help,” Mermista sighs.
“Why exactly do you know Adora’s bra size?” Asks Catra, who was in the middle of a conversation with Mermista before everybody in the room started talking about Adora’s tits.
“I don’t,” Mermista says, “but I worked at a Victoria’s Secret for like four years. Show us the goods, Adora.”
“Oh my god,” Adora mumbles, robotically stripping down to her tank top.
Mermista ends up dragging her to the bathroom just to be absolutely sure, since if wardrobe fucks it up they’ll only have two days between the first dress rehearsal and opening night to fix it.
“What’s the verdict?” Catra says smarmily when they emerge from the single stall gender neutral restroom.
“Why, you planning on picking out your Christmas present for Adora early this year?” Mermista calls back, and Catra actually stammers and turns a little red.
“Can we start rehearsals now please,” Adora wheezes. Netossa collects the information from Mermista and fires it off in a text to the costume designer.
At their final regular Thursday rehearsal, Adora catches Catra staring off into space and looking contemplative during a break.
“Everything okay?” Adora asks. Catra’s gaze refocuses and she turns her eyes on Adora. She smiles, soft and bittersweet.
“I’m just thinking about how I’m going to miss this place. It feels totally unreal that next week is tech week, and then it’s the performance, and then it’s all gonna be over.”
“You’ll be back,” Adora reassures her instantly, bumping their shoulders together. “You’re one of us, now. We’re not letting you escape. There’ll be more shows.” She turns her eyes to scan the room - the wood paneled walls, the old piano, the taped-up floors and uncomfortable school style chairs. “I know what you mean, though. I’m gonna miss this too.”
For all Glimmer’s teasing about tech week being a new way to torture herself with her feelings for Catra, Adora finds she’s just too exhausted from the nightly top to bottom run-throughs of the play to feel much of anything.
Like it always does, the shift from the basement rehearsal space to the actual stage and fully furnished set seems to rewind the clock a solid three weeks on the progress everybody has made on the performance. With the addition of props and lights and set pieces and an actual backstage, they’re all re-learning the scene transitions and the blocking as quickly as they can.
She keeps her focus on refining the performance, following direction, and supporting the rest of the cast and crew by doing her best and getting it right the first time whenever possible.
The kisses become routine and the touches become choreographed. There isn’t time to think about how badly she wants, and in a way, it’s kind of a relief. Adora knows she could never sustain this frantic pace for any serious duration of time, but it’s nice to be too busy to feel anything. It’s a tempting state of mind, and a habit she knows she’s fallen into many times before.
And anyways, for all that the addition of the actual stage has shaken things up a little, it’s still become routine, familiar, and no longer quite so shocking. This is her new normal, her new comfort zone; she learns to step into Roberta’s character like a protective suit and, for a while, no longer feels Catra’s touch make contact with the real Adora that is hidden beneath it.
On Wednesday, the first day of dress rehearsal, she wakes up to a text from Catra.
rdy 2 sing a beautiful song with me while I wear a sexy grandma nightie (7:12 a.m.)
Call time isn’t until 6 pm, so Catra is up awfully early.
(8:02 a.m.) I’m so ready. Couldn’t sleep?
She stretches, flops out of bed, and then goes to rummage through her closet for a clean pair of jogging pants. It’ll clear her head to go for a light run. Nothing too strenuous. She just needs to take the edge off. Her phone lights up with a new text as she changes.
i kept having nightmares abt my wig coming to life n strangling me (8:05 a.m.)
Adora snickers, sees that Catra is typing another message, and tugs her socks on while she waits for it to come through.
im obvsly too cool to get nervous abt my first dress rehearsal in like a decade but if i were nervous what kind of reassuring thing do u think u wld say (8:07 a.m.)
Adora smiles softly and fondly down at her phone and sits down on the edge of her bed to type a response.
(8:09 a.m.) I’d say that you’ve got nothing to be afraid of, because you’re talented, hard working, dedicated, and - most importantly - perfectly capable of improvising when I fuck up
(8:09 a.m.) Plus it’s just dress rehearsal, we can fuck up and there’s no audience to see it
yet (8:10 a.m.)
(8:10 a.m.) Yet
(8:11 a.m.) What are you doing right now? Just sitting around your apartment being anxious?
and what if i am (8:12 a.m.)
(8:13 a.m.) I was about to go for a run. Wanna come along?
not rly… exercise is gross (8:14 a.m.)
(8:14 a.m.) We can go slowly :) and I’ll buy you a smoothie afterwards?
deal (8:14 a.m.)
“Oh my god,” Catra squeals with delight, peering around Adora’s shoulder. “It’s a grandma bra!! Where did you guys even find this, an estate sale?”
“Please tell me that isn’t a dead person’s undergarment,” Adora pleads, shrinking away from the offending object. The costume designer - a middle aged man with a moustache and a bowl cut that has always made Adora think of him as Mushroom Man - frowns, unimpressed with her reaction.
“You should be thanking me for not putting you in a bullet bra,” he sneers adversarially. “These vintage replica pieces aren’t cheap, you know.” Adora doesn’t know much about bras in general, but she can imagine what a 'bullet bra' is just from the name. The one she’s being handed is old-fashioned and lacy, sure, but at least the cups are a comfortable rounded shape instead of something pointy.
“Grandma bra,” Catra taunts into her ear.
“Ugh. Okay, whatever,” she sighs, taking the hanger with the bra and holding it a distance away from herself like it's mildly radioactive. “At least I only have like two costume changes. You have to wear, what, like six different dresses?”
“Five dresses and one extremely sultry nightgown. It shows off my shoulders and everything, it’s pretty saucy.”
“Can’t say I’m too impressed, considering I spend most of act two shirtless,” Adora teases loftily. “Speaking of which, I’d better get to makeup. You gonna come keep me company while they doll me up?”
“Only because I’m incredibly selfless and kind,” Catra drawls, following Adora.
“Alright, shirt off,” Starla, their makeup and hair designer commands cheerfully. Without thinking much of it, already in the zone, Adora peels her shirt up and over her head.
Behind her, Catra sucks in a breath.
Adora’s somehow managed to forget that Catra hasn’t actually seen more than a sliver of her tattoos; the top edge of her chest piece is visible and the ink across her right shoulder blade is clear enough when she’s wearing a tank top, but it apparently never occurred to Catra that Adora might have more that wasn’t visible.
“What the hell, Adora,” Catra murmurs, coming around to walk a circle around her and study her bare torso, “just how many tattoos do you have?”
“Like a whole bottle of concealer’s worth,” Starla mutters, with faux-frustration.
“Just four,” Adora says, feeling her face getting hot.
“Just four,” Catra repeats, with a laugh. “Fuck, I’m jealous. I’ve been saving for my first piece for years.”
“Years?” Adora says, raising her eyebrows. “What, are you planning on making your first tattoo like a full back piece or something?”
“No,” Catra sighs, “I’m just constantly having to dip into the tattoo fund to pay for things like unexpected medical expenses or car parts or rent money when the gigs are thin.”
“Hey, Adora? You’re gonna have to change into the bra before I can get started,” Starla interrupts genially.
“Oh, shit, sorry Starla,” Adora says, jumping up out of the chair and grabbing the awful off-white vintage bra. She’s not sure how the audience is supposed to believe that Roberta is an alluring sex goddess while wearing this thing, but then, it wouldn’t make sense for her to be wearing something that wasn’t from that time period. Adora steps away from the mirror - she’s definitely made that mistake before - and then turns her back to the room to strip off her sports bra and pull on the costume piece. Miraculously, it fits (thanks, Mermista) but she struggles with the damned tiny little clasps behind her back.
“Do you need help?”
“Uh,” Adora says, swallowing, “Sure. Thanks.”
She feels only the barest whisper of Catra’s fingertips against her back before the bra comes snug, properly closed.
“There you are,” Catra says, and Adora feels her whole body eagerly anticipating the way that phrase is supposed to end. There you are, princess, is what Catra is supposed to say.
But that’s not what she says, because that’s not what they are to each other.
Adora goes back to the makeup chair and settles in so that Starla can cover her torso in concealer - or foundation? Adora doesn’t really know makeup stuff. Either way, it’s Starla’s job to hide the sprawl of colourful ink that marks Adora as very much not a photographer from the 1960s.
“What are they all?” Catra asks, and Adora realizes she’s asking about the tattoos.
“Well, this one over my heart is, as you can see, a heart,” Adora says, craning her head down to look at it and sure she’s giving herself a very attractive double chin.
“It’s cool. Very conceptual, sort of cyberpunk.”
“Thanks,” Adora grins. “The artist had some flash that was in the same style, I asked if she could do the same aesthetic but as a heart, and, y’know, bigger. This one hurt the most.”
“Was it your first one?”
“No, that’s my shoulder piece, the sword.”
“That one I've seen,” Catra says. “It’s still cool though. When did you get it?”
“First anniversary of Mara’s accident,” Adora says, and her smile fades a little. Catra nods, understanding, and doesn’t pursue that subject further. Instead she cranes her head and regards the colourful piece that starts below Adora’s right breast and reaches down to her hip bone. Adora tells herself that Catra is just admiring the artwork, and not studying the shadows where Adora’s hip disappears below the waistband of her pants.
“This one is pretty intense. It’s like a… nebula or something? I didn’t know you were into space.”
“Believe it or not, after I lost the scholarship and was trying to decide what to do with my life instead, I toyed with the idea of trying to get into some kind of career where I'd be studying space,” Adora confesses, crooking a smile at Catra. She knows Starla is listening in while she steadily covers Adora’s tattoos, but… she wants Catra to know this kind of stuff about her, wants to let her into every part of her life, even if it’s kind of embarrassing to let her guard down in front of theatre people who have known her for four years and never learned these kinds of details about her past life. “I ended up giving up on it because my grades in math and science were always pretty rough. But hey, maybe if physiotherapy doesn’t work out, I can see about applying as a mature student.” She says this to make Catra laugh, but instead of laughing Catra just grins at her.
“You could do it if you decided to,” Catra says, with conviction. Adora feels herself getting red again, which is not great because with her shirt off it’ll be visible all the way down to her sternum.
“We’ll see,” she laughs, sounding a little winded. “I do really like the idea of helping people by becoming a physiotherapist, though. I don’t regret picking that as a career path - or, at least, not yet, since I haven’t actually started doing it. I suppose I’ll find out when I start work in September.”
“So what’s tattoo number four?” Catra asks, leaning casually against the wall and running her eyes over Adora, like she’s expecting the missing piece to manifest with enough scrutiny. Adora wonders if Starla can feel how hard her heart is beating as she skillfully makes the tattooed heart on her breastbone vanish like magic.
“You need the VIP pass to see that one,” Adora says impulsively, wiggling her eyebrows. Starla snorts a little laugh, but Catra actually looks a little flustered. “No, I’m just fucking with you. It’s on my lower back. You’ll see it when Starla finishes with the front of me and I flip over. It’s not a big one, it’s just some lines from a poem I like.”
“Nerdy and sensitive,” Catra trills mockingly, clearly recovered from the shock of Adora’s suggestion that she might have a tattoo somewhere slightly sexy.
“Hey, I’ve got a bunch of cool tattoos, there’s no way I’m a nerd.”
“Sure, sure,” Catra laughs. “Definitely not a nerd at all. Totally not.”
“So what do you want for your first one?” Adora asks, genuinely curious.
“I dunno, it changes constantly,” Catra says noncommittally, shrugging. “I have a few different ideas I’ve been playing with, but there’s never been a reason to get too attached to any of them because I never have the damn money for it. I’d really love to get a full sleeve, but I’m also kind of scared it’ll make people less likely to hire me for gigs, you know? A lot of the more conservative places like the malls and the lounges are still old fashioned enough to think of visible tattoos as unprofessional. It’s bad enough that I have an eyebrow ring.”
“Which, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten around to mentioning, is extremely cool looking,” Adora blurts. “It looks really good on you.” It makes me want to pepper your face with kisses and - no, stop, bad Adora brain.
“Thanks,” Catra says, a grin on her face and a spark in her eyes. “Unfortunately I’m going to have to take it out at some point in the next hour or so. Don’t think dear old Francesca would have been rocking one of these.”
“If I can handle wearing a grandma bra,” Adora snorts, “you can deal with taking your piercings out and wearing a wig.”
“I’ll tell you that you look sexy in a grandma bra if you promise to tell me I’m hot as hell in the horrible farmwife dresses.”
“Deal,” Adora says.
“Alright,” Starla says, leaning back, “flip over and let’s get your back.”
“Speaking of those nightmarishly dowdy dresses, I’d better go get into the first one so I’m ready for my turn in the makeup chair,” Catra says.
“You are the star of the show, you know,” Adora teases, flipping over. With her back to Starla and Catra, she watches Catra in the mirror. She can see Catra’s eyes dropping down over her bare back, lingering where she knows her fourth tattoo is.
“If you say so,” Catra drawls self-deprecatingly, the hint of a flush to her cheeks, eyes locked on the words inked just over Adora’s right kidney.
“I do say so,” Adora counters, feeling bold, feeling excited, feeling ready to take on this rehearsal and give it her all. Catra meets her eye in the mirror, as if only just now realizing Adora can see her.
“Alright, well. I’ll be back in a bit and ready to be made glamorous.” She hesitates, then flashes Adora a grin. “I like your poem.” Then she scurries off.
Adora knows the words on her back by heart; she reminds herself of them whenever she’s starting to feel like she’s losing her way again.
do the right thing
until it changes you
She wonders what Catra thinks of those words.
Chapter 8: and I think I can't let go
WHEW okay, here we are! This is it, this is the song that inspired this entire fanfic, and the scene that lodged itself into my brain and refused to let go until I wrote this thing. The song for this chapter is One Second And A Million Miles, and it was the first song I'd ever heard from this musical. I couldn't stop thinking about Adora singing it to Catra, so. Here we are.
Adora changes into the rest of her costume once Starla assures her the makeup hiding her tattoos is properly sealed and won’t rub off on the inside of her shirts. Luckily for her, there haven’t been any changes to the character’s costume as a result of the gender bend (other than the addition of the bra) so she finds herself in a khaki shirt unbuttoned down the top three buttons, a sensible pair of jeans that might have been right out of Adora’s own wardrobe, and a pair of cowboy boots that make her feel a little more powerful than they probably should.
“Jesus, Adora,” Catra says, when she sets eyes on her. “How do you manage to make that look so good?”
“Yeehaw,” Adora says, shooting finger guns at her and wearing a goofy grin.
“Nope, nevermind, I take it back,” Catra laughs. “I’d like a refund for that compliment, please.”
“You don’t look half bad,” Adora says, and that’s about as enthusiastic of a remark as she can muster for the deeply weird sight of Catra in a modest dress from the 1960s and a long wig styled into a bun.
“Easy tiger,” Catra snorts, dropping into the makeup chair, “you’ll get me all flustered if you lay it on too thick.”
“Okay, no more banter,” Starla decrees, needing to get to work on Catra’s face.
“Yes boss,” Catra says amiably, so Adora wanders off to go check in with Bow and Sea Hawk, strutting a little bit with the extra swagger she is surprised to find the cowboy boots are putting into her walk. Probably the heels, she thinks. She’s not used to wearing shoes with heels.
Under the bright stage lights, stepping out of the set piece for her old blue truck and briefly setting a hand on the hood like it’s an old friend, Adora nearly stumbles at the sight of Catra in her costume.
Adora crosses the distance, digging in the pocket of her jeans for the business card that she extends towards Catra like an offering, like an entreaty, like a bouquet of flowers.
“Good afternoon,” Catra says, and Adora half clings to the porch bannister like she might lose her balance under the weight of how beautiful Catra is. A loose strand of inky black hair hangs in her face; she tucks it behind an ear with a gesture that doesn’t quite disguise the way her eyes are drawn to Adora’s open shirt and exposed skin. Their eyes meet, and the rarity of their color seems to Adora like a vulnerability in this rigid, homogenous farm community just as much as a lingering Italian accent and a dark olive complexion would be. Vulnerable, but beautiful; she wonders if it’s possible for her to know just how beautiful she is.
“Good afternoon to you, ma’am,” Adora says, swallowing down her desire and her fascination.
Everything that has become routine seems fresh and new and terrifying, now that they’re in costume. Adora’s mind has been reset, and it’s all unfamiliar, wonderful, tempting territory all over again.
“I never do this,” Adora says with gentle urgency as she daringly closes the gap between the two of them, pushing her luck, praying that the stars align and she hasn’t been imagining the chemistry between them. She kisses Catra like it’s the first time, cupping her face with such careful tenderness, like this really is the first time Catra has kissed a woman, and Adora is just the unbelievably lucky fool who she’s trusted with this experience. Catra gasps against her, trembling and hungry and afraid and wanting, and the only opinion Adora has about those boring, unflattering dresses is that she wants to rip them off of Catra and free her from their starched cotton chastity.
What was I saying before, about being lost? Adora sings, and her fingertips hold to their place against Catra’s arm like breaking the contact between them will send her back again to that place where Adora was lost, lost, lost and drifting without her.
This time as they whirl into the desperate refrain of Falling Into You, Adora stays rooted firmly in the present. Her mind doesn’t wander, can’t wander, because the way Catra is looking at her when she sings all my life is as intimate as a caress, like it’s just for Adora and Adora alone.
Catra draws her up the staircase to take her to bed - a real staircase set piece that’s on wheels but doesn’t actually go anywhere, of course - and the lights go down. They linger alone on the top step, together in perfect privacy here twelve feet above the stage and wrapped in darkness. Catra is still holding her hand, and Adora doesn’t dare release it.
Adora’s heart is thumping.
Catra’s face is right there.
Nobody can see them.
They have maybe one moment before the curtain finishes going down and the house lights go on.
Catra leans towards her. Adora can just barely make out her eyes in the darkness, but she can feel Catra’s breath against her mouth.
It’s brief, it’s fluttering, it’s a stolen moment grasped in the final heartbeat before the curtain touches the stage.
Catra kisses her.
The house lights come on.
Catra just kissed her. While they weren’t in character.
And Adora can’t pretend not to know anymore.
Catra is smiling. She looks a little smug. She looks like she’s waiting for Adora to say something.
Adora swallows and attempts to do just that, to say something. Something like yes and later and I’ve wanted you for so long.
“Get your asses down here so we can change the set,” Mermista says from the bottom of the staircase. Adora looks at Catra. Catra raises an eyebrow, smirks just the tiniest bit.
“A girl can only be so patient,” she whispers into Adora’s ear, and then she releases Adora’s hand and prances down the stairs.
Adora follows, legs wobbly and head dizzy.
Backstage, people are slapping her back and applauding her performance, unaware that her entire world changed in a secret moment of darkness at the top of a fake staircase. Glimmer presses Adora’s water bottle into her hand, and she gulps frantically like she’s just walked a hundred miles in the desert.
The mood is electric; everybody is excited and feeling good about their first dress rehearsal. Nothing has gone wrong so far. Energy levels are the highest they’ve been all tech week. People are laughing and boisterous as they run around managing props and costume changes in anticipation of act two. Adora feels like she’s underwater. She looks around for Catra, wandering as if in a dream, and finds her in the dressing room, halfway between the pink dress she wears at the end of act one and the sleeping gown that she’s wearing at the start of act two.
Which means she’s standing there in her underwear when Adora turns the corner and finds her. She doesn’t seem miffed or embarrassed or even bashful. She smirks.
“Hey Adora,” she says, stepping out of the pink dress.
Without really thinking, Adora takes a step towards her, takes the nightgown off the back of the chair, and bends down and holds it open for Catra to step into more easily.
“Here,” she says, and this one word feels like an accomplishment. Her throat feels hoarse, but not from overuse - from underuse, like the words she really wants to say are scraping furiously somewhere just below her tongue, howling to be let loose.
But there’s no time, and there’s no privacy. There are at least two people watching this exchange right now.
“Thanks,” Catra says laughingly, and she puts a hand on Adora’s stooped shoulders to stabilize herself as she steps into the nightgown. Adora draws it up her body and realizes just how close they’re standing when this brings her brow nearly brushing up against Catra’s thighs and then her stomach as she slowly straightens up and brings the garment with her. Catra huffs a little laugh at her when Adora holds up the shoulders so that she can slip her arms in under them.
“There you go,” Adora says a little shakily, “all ready for act two.”
“Should I return the favor?” Catra asks, reaching for the front of Adora’s shirt. Adora realizes with a sudden throb between her legs that her costume for the start of act two is shirtless.
Catra leans in close as she methodically undoes the buttons of Adora’s shirt.
“Did you really not know?” Catra murmurs in her ear. Adora’s eyes flicker around the dressing room; they’re definitely not alone. Mermista is pretending not to be watching from one corner, and Mushroom Man has appeared to fussily pick up Catra’s pink dress and place it on a hanger.
If they were alone, Adora would be pressing her up against a wall and shoving a thigh between Catra’s legs and kissing her until she forgot how words worked.
They are not alone.
The last of Adora’s shirt buttons comes undone under Catra’s fingers, and Catra’s knuckles graze Adora’s stomach as she spreads the shirt open.
“I wondered if - if maybe.” Adora whispers, knowing that the act of whispering backstage summons eavesdroppers as surely as talking at normal volume would. “I was afraid to be wrong.” Catra’s cocky smile turns softly sympathetic.
“Me too,” She confesses.
Adora wants to say what now, but Netossa appears to give them some notes and they’re pulled apart and carried away in her wake, intercepted by Bow and Glimmer and their buoyant energy.
In a blink, the intermission is over and Adora is set up in bed with Catra, just off stage in a bed set piece that, like the stairs, is on wheels. Her shirt is off, hanging over the bedpost, and she’s sprawled out victoriously with Catra wrapped around her almost-naked torso in a clear signal that they are post coitus.
They wait in this pose in silence while Glimmer belts out the bouncy country tune that opens the second act. Adora has an arm wrapped around Catra, and Catra is, damn her, idly stroking Adora’s bicep with a thumb.
She feels a brief, irrational surge of jealousy that Roberta gets to have Catra like this before she does. Emphasis on irrational.
Bow is singing now, hollering magnificently to the twanging guitar and bouncing fiddles.
Adora’s pulse in her neck feels like a bass line at a club.
Catra’s head is against her chest and tucked down, so Adora can’t see her eyes, but she lifts the arm she’s got around Catra’s waist to gingerly touch her face. Cautious so as not to ruin any of Starla’s makeup work, she touches Catra’s chin with her fingertips and brushes her lower lip with a thumb.
There’s so much she wants to say, but Netossa runs these dress rehearsals as if they’re the real thing, and there’s absolutely no talking permitted when you’re in the wings.
Catra lifts a hand and gently takes Adora’s fingers, guides them up and kisses each one, slow and soft in the dark while everybody is focused on the performance happening on stage.
Maybe, for now, they don’t need words.
Frosta starts singing. Adora half listens, knowing she needs to be ready to reset to the exact pose they’re supposed to be in for when the bed is wheeled into the spotlight immediately following the county fair song. She smiles as Frosta nails the delivery on I ate seven corndogs and I think I might die, and softly touches Catra’s lips with the barest edges of her fingertips.
Catra kissed her.
Catra wants her.
Catra’s been waiting for her to figure it out and make a move.
The song happening on stage starts to reach its end, and Adora settles her arm back around Catra’s waist, hoping she’s not too addled to remember her lines.
The bed gets pushed out onto the stage with them already on it, and Adora launches into her song while propped up on the pillows and looking down tenderly at Catra.
Her voice feels full to her with emotion, with hope, with astonishment.
She shouldn’t have worried about forgetting her lines. She’s practiced them with Catra so many times over that they feel like they’re written into her very flesh.
They follow the narrative of Roberta and Francesca’s stolen days together, Francesca opening up about her past, Roberta opening up about her future.
Adora thinks the feeling of joyous, giddy pressure inside her chest can’t possibly get any more brilliant or heady. She floats and smiles and sings her way through act two, playing a Roberta who knows Francesca wants her, who knows their connection isn’t just something she’s imagining, something she’s hoping is real. She touches Catra with the soft confidence of a new lover, reverent and self-assured.
“I love you, Francesca,” She says as Catra finishes singing Before And After You, blurting the words as Roberta as surely as she blurts them as Adora.
Catra reaches for her, and Adora tangles their fingers together.
“And I love you,” Catra says, stroking her palm along Adora’s forearm with her free hand, looking down at the movement and then back up at Adora’s eyes. “More than my own life, I love you.”
A fearful, pregnant silence hangs between them.
These are dangerous words.
Francesca is married, and Roberta is leaving tomorrow morning.
Does she dare ask for what she really wants? Can she be so selfish?
They both know that the right thing to do is to go back to their lives and pretend this never happened, to treat it as a brief diversion and not allow it to knock everything out of alignment in a single moment of impulsive passion.
They know it, but..
For the first time in my life, Adora sings, into a perfectly silent theatre, her voice trembling with terrified hope, I am not outside the moment, with a camera in between me and the world I think I know. Catra - Francesca? - stills, sensing that something is different about this confession. The lack of musical backing leaves Adora exposed; it is the ultimate vulnerability. For the first time in my life, I am somehow part of something.
Adora pulls Catra up off the bed and towards her, wanting to make this entreaty on even ground. You surround me, she croons, bowing her head like Catra is a font of rushing waters and she can hardly stand against it. You connect me. She reaches for Catra’s hands, rubs her thumbs against Catra’s palms. And I think I can’t let go. Tears come to her eyes as she admits this.
They have to let go.
Letting go of each other is the right thing to do. It’s the sensible thing to do.
But she doesn’t want to be sensible.
For the first time in my life, you have opened up a channel, Adora sings, holding Catra’s hands, lowering herself slowly to her knees, because this is as much of a proposal as any she could ever make. There is nothing to contain us, she says, at last lifting her head and lifting her eyes, still brimming with tears, to meet Catra’s, we are joined and we are free.
Adora lowers her voice to a husky near-whisper, allowing herself to be caught in Catra’s eyes. Now, now, she discards Roberta entirely. She sings as Adora, and she hopes Catra can feel the difference.
For the first time in my life, I am risking something precious. I am asking you, Francesca - she holds the note of that final syllable, holding the name and letting it ring out through the eerily quiet theatre. She takes a deep breath, filling her lungs in preparation for the intensity of the following line.
She squeezes Catra’s hands tightly; they’re shaking.
She puts her shoulders back, her chest out, her chin high. She’s still on her knees, and although she’s asking, although she’s begging, she isn’t ashamed.
Adora asked this of Catra, once upon a time when they were seventeen and self absorbed and set on different paths. This time, she hopes it will be different. She’s willing to ask again.
Come with me! Adora bellows, and at last the music stirs to life on the final word, strings and piano pacing urgently behind her words like a wild animal working up the courage to jump a fence.
Catra pulls her hands out of Adora’s at the impossible request, backs away. Adora rises smoothly to her feet, chasing her across the bedroom and catching her wrist.
I can’t tell you I know what the future will be, Adora sings earnestly, drawing Catra back into her orbit, turning her to bring them face to face again. Who knows anything? She bunches her eyebrows and gives Catra a goofy grin, and Catra struggles not to smile, rolls her eyes, and blinks through her fearful tears. I just look at those eyes - oh, those eyes, those eyes - you’ve got so much to see - let me show you, she sings eagerly, gripping Catra’s hands like she’s begging her to give in to temptation, tumbling over anything she can think of to promise her, babbling excitedly - there’s crowds and camels and hillsides to climb! Catra huffs another little laugh at her, and that makes Adora smile, like maybe this is working, maybe it’s possible to actually convince her this time -
All I know is in all of the time, Adora sings insistently, releasing Catra’s hands and backing away from her, spreading her arms wide and making herself open, her face open, her singing open, her heart open, from man’s first breath to God’s last warning -
This is her thesis statement, her entreaty, her best argument that this time, Catra should come with her, should be with her, should trust her to make it work no matter what they face along the way.
You and I are just one second! Spinning by in one split second! Life is full of all sorts of terrible things. Who could hold it against them if they chose to cling to something that makes them happy, cling to each other if that makes them happy? You and I have just one second! And for all that life can be horrible, there are good things, good things that Adora wants to share with Catra, wants to see with Catra by her side. And a million miles to go!
Adora can’t quite read Catra’s face, but she doesn’t look away from Adora, doesn’t pull back again. She looks like… like she wants so badly to believe her.
I don’t need to be rich, I don’t need something new - Adora sings, trying to stave off the doubts that are inevitably swirling in Catra’s mind.
(I don’t want to go back to a world without this - Catra sings, her face crumpling as Francesca confesses that she wants this as much as Roberta does.)
All I need, all I’ve needed my whole life was you, Adora insists, taking a step towards her, asking, begging.
(If I left this behind - Catra’s shoulders slump and she tears her gaze away guiltily, weighed down by her obligations, by her shame, by the life society says she’s supposed to be leading.)
Please just look at me, Adora interrupts, not wanting to see her go down that path, and Catra’s gaze draws back up as if Adora has lifted her chin with a hand. You were born with a wanderer’s soul! This is how you begin to be whole. She is urging Catra to be selfish, to take something for herself and to admit without shame that she wants it. Nothing bad will happen if she allows herself to admit her ambitions, her dreams, her hopes. The stars keep burning, worlds keep turning -
And you and I! They sing together, at last in unison, at last wrapping the same words in their layered voices, Are just one second! Adora spreads her arms open, inviting Catra in, and Catra comes to her, wraps her arms around Adora’s neck, smiling in the dizzying relief of letting herself imagine happiness, just for a moment. Spinning by, in just one second. Adora holds her waist, picks her up, and spins her once, jubilantly. You and I have just one second!
And a million miles - and here, Adora is singing alone again; Catra falters, slips back out of Adora’s grip again, turns her back on that beautiful dream even as Adora sings - to go!
Found and lost, Catra sings, sad and bitter and warring with herself, Torn in half - before and after you...
Adora clenches a fist, releases it, stares forlornly at that turned back.
Come with me, Adora begs, lungs and diaphragm straining to make her notes as clear and pure and powerful as she can make them.
Open heart, Catra sings, curling in on herself, sinking down to the floor, Open door - before and after you…
Come with me, Adora tries again, in open lament.
Catra shakes her head, looking suddenly up to the sky. The tears on her face catch the light; Adora’s heart clenches for her.
How do I go? Catra asks mournfully, asking the heavens and then dropping her head into her hands in disgrace. Tell me - she looks over her shoulder at Adora almost accusingly - how do I go? How do I go with you?
Adora takes a tentative step towards her, riddled with guilt.
How do I pack a bag, close a door, turn a key, walk away? With Catra’s tear-streaked face turned directly on Adora, her eyes sharp and devastated, Adora thinks she can hear the echo of the heartbreak she must have felt to be abandoned by Adora at seventeen and offered the nonsensical choice to go with her to Minnesota with no solid plan beyond come with me. Catra huffs another laugh, sad and bitter, and looks at Adora with an old ferocity. Look at where I am and who I am and tell me - is there something I don’t know?
Adora goes to her, kneels down, cups her cheek in a hand. Catra curls in towards her, as if unable to resist the physical indulgence even as she’s trying to talk herself out of giving in to Adora’s begging. How do I go? How can I go with you? She keens, pressing the crown of her head against Adora’s neck.
Adora wraps herself around Catra, pulls them both gently up to standing, facing out towards the audience with Catra’s back pressed to her front. She wraps her arms across Catra’s chest.
I can’t tell you I know what the answer will be, she sings solemnly, gently. It’s impossible. But this thing, this is bigger than what we can see. Catra turns in her arms, meeting her eyes. Adora’s heart picks up with nerves as she finds the courage to make an outrageous statement, eyebrows scrunching and a smile on her face as she declares: This is destiny!
Catra looks up at her like she’s crazy - and like Catra feels even crazier for wanting to believe her.
We are tied! We are locked, we are bound! Adora shifts a hand to Catra’s face, cradling her cheek. This will not be reversed or unwound! Her voice ramps up in volume and intensity as she decides to commit to this insanity, to sing it like she really holds it as some fundamental truth. Whatever fate the stars are weaving, we’re not breaking - and here, the most important promise Adora can make - I’m not leaving!
Catra looks like she’s going to start crying again; she clings to the collar of Adora’s shirt like she’s hanging on through a storm.
And you and I, Adora sings to her, wanting to press their foreheads together but not wanting to literally yell in her face, which is what this great swelling part of the song effectively calls for - are just one second! Spinning by in just one second! She pulls away, sucks in the breath she knows she needs for this; Catra’s hand moves from her shirt to her forearm, still gripping tightly, desperately. You and I! Have just one second!
When Catra sings the next line by herself, Adora’s heart soars.
Catra is smiling through her tears - daring to want, daring to dream, daring to hope - as she belts:
And a million miles to go!
All my life, Adora answers, and now she’s crying, crying with relief, crying with love, I have been falling!
(All my life - Catra echoes, her eyes never leaving Adora’s - I have been falling!)
All my life I have been falling, Adora hollers a second time, every syllable of honest admission a sweet catharsis unlike anything she’s ever felt.
(All my life I have been falling, Catra sings back, reaching for Adora’s face, holding it like something precious.)
Into you, Adora sings, seizing the hand and pressing it against her heart, like she needs Catra to feel how much it’s calling for her, And I -
- have just one second - they sing together, coming together so tightly and then apart again, like the tides, like breathing, like the endless turn of the seasons -
And a million miles - Adora sings, feeling like a young god in the embrace of Catra’s arms and Catra’s voice - to go!
Come with me, Catra concludes decisively, and then seizes Adora’s shirt again and tugs her in for a kiss, a kiss that is everything, a kiss that is a thousand apologies and a thousand promises, an aching oath and a whispering, delicate wish.
Catra starts to drag her back to the bed; Adora descends upon her, picks her up by the thighs so that they don’t have to stop kissing, and carries her the rest of the way to the bed. Adora sits on it heavily and Catra pulls Adora’s open shirt down her shoulders, pushes it free of her arms. Adora kisses up Catra’s neck with long, greedy motions, once, twice, and then takes her by the waist again and flips her over onto the bed, covering Catra’s smaller body with her larger one. They continue kissing as the music swoons, and the lights go out. It’s all carefully choreographed, orchestrated and planned; they’ve gone through the sequence dozens of times.
But in that only tiny moment Adora knows they have between scenes when the lights are off, she places a delicate kiss of her own making to Catra’s eyebrow where her piercing is missing, so that Catra knows it is for her, and not for Francesca.
They’re in near perfect darkness, but Adora doesn’t miss that flash of a smile, and she knows that like her kiss, Catra’s smile is just for her.
“Oh my god, you two were incredible tonight,” Glimmer exclaims as they burst out into the cool evening air through the heavy auditorium doors. The stars are out, crickets are chirping, and Adora is covered in damp sweat.
“Thanks,” Adora says, distracted but pleased. “Catra, you want a ride home?”
“That’d be nice,” Catra says.
“Why don’t I drop you two off first,” Adora says to Bow and Glimmer, “and then you can both shower first while I take Catra home?”
“Sure,” Bow says, and if he finds anything suspicious about that arrangement he says nothing about it. Glimmer enthuses about how successful their first dress rehearsal was the entire drive back to the apartment, and it’s a relief because it means Adora doesn’t have to try to make conversation.
As soon as Bow and Glimmer disappear inside the building, Adora reaches her hand across the console and offers it to Catra to take. Catra laughs softly and twines their fingers together.
“Dummy,” Catra mutters affectionately as Adora turns back out onto the road, steering one-handed.
Tech week in general is exhausting, but today has been… a hell of a day.
“I was going to wait until after the show to say anything,” Adora says, checking her blind spot before turning onto the main road.
“Ah, so that was your big plan,” Catra teases, squeezing Adora’s hand. “You probably should have flirted a little less, then. You know you’re not subtle, right?”
“Come on,” Adora says, her mouth twitching up into a grin, “coming from the girl who was absolutely shocked to learn her feelings were reciprocated when you finally confessed you liked me in senior year and I told you I’d been crushing on you since I was like thirteen.”
“Well, I didn’t know how you read you, back then!” Catra counters.
“You’ve always known how to read me,” Adora chuckles.
“Not always,” Catra says softly. Adora wants to look at her but there are other cars around. Wouldn’t be good to let herself get distracted - and Catra’s place isn’t far. “I started to get suspicious at the bonfire.”
“Shit, you figured me out that early? Okay, maybe I’m not very subtle.”
It’s the most beautiful sound Adora’s ever heard in the world.
“That isn’t a bad thing,” Catra says.
“So… what now?”
“Well,” Catra sighs, “if this were literally any other week, I’d say you should come up to my apartment so we can talk it through and then, best case scenario, you’d stay the night and I would make you pancakes in the morning and you’d find some wonderful way to thank me.” Adora grips the steering wheel a little tighter and focuses very hard on the road, trying not to let her thoughts (and her car) veer off suddenly at that notion. “But I am seriously so exhausted that I think I’m going to be unconscious within about three minutes of getting inside, so I’m going to be a boring grown up and veto that for now, because there’s also the very real possibility that we’d keep each other up all night, and then tomorrow’s dress rehearsal would be a complete disaster.”
“That sounds sensible,” Adora agrees, and she’s honestly a little relieved, because she’s also extremely fucking tired right now and mostly just running on residual endorphins.
“How about Sunday night?” Catra suggests, suddenly sounding tentative and shy, like she wasn’t the one that made the first move today. Their performances on Friday and Saturday are at 8 p.m., but on the Sunday they do a matinee. “You could come over for dinner after the show?”
Adora gives Catra’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“That sounds good,” she says. She wishes she weren’t so tired. She feels like she ought to have better words, words that aren’t just stolen from the lines of songs. “I’d like that.”
“Cool,” Catra breathes, relaxing a little. “Sunday, then.”
When they pull up outside Catra’s apartment, Adora turns off the engine and unbuckles her seatbelt, and leans across the car to kiss Catra goodnight. Catra exhales hard and heavy into the kiss, twining her fingers in Adora’s hair and holding her there for a few breaths after she pulls away.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for so long,” Adora whispers against Catra’s lips, her eyes still closed as she cherishes the moment.
“You’re making it really difficult to leave this car,” Catra whines, touching their foreheads together. Adora opens her eyes reluctantly, but is happy to see Catra’s when she does.
“Sunday,” Adora promises breathily, and then impulsively kisses Catra’s eyebrow again. This makes her giggle and push Adora away.
“Stop being cute before I change my mind and invite you up,” Catra laughs.
“Do you need me to say ‘yeehaw’ again?” Adora grins.
“No, I don’t think I do,” Catra snorts, affection in every crease of her face. She puts her hand on the door handle, hesitates. She smiles again, soft, open, relieved. “Goodnight, Adora.”
“Goodnight, Catra,” Adora says, and then darts across the space between them again to sneak in one last kiss before settling back into the driver’s seat. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Text me when you get home.”
Chapter 9: for sure there's a change in the air
First thing's first, this chapter is spicy. It will contain sexual content. The fic is rated mature for a reason.
Secondly, uh, you may notice the final chapter total has yet again gone up. The stuff I thought I'd get into one chapter is once more being split into two. Remember when I started writing this and said it was going to be a "short, fun jaunt"? Ha ha! Foolish me.
(11:48 p.m.) Home safe :)
thx for texting me, sry i didn’t reply… as predicted i was asleep instantly (8:12 a.m.)
(8:13 a.m.) Good morning
(8:13 a.m.) I was just thinking about you
gay... what were u thinking about me (8:13 a.m.)
was it saucy (8:13 a.m.)
(8:14 a.m.) Just that I wish I were waking up beside you
ur not just saying that bc u want me for my pancakes, are u ;) (8:14 a.m.)
(8:14 a.m.) Why can’t it be both…
so greedy! (8:15 a.m.)
ur lucky i like u (8:15 a.m.)
(8:15 a.m.) Oh yeah? Tell me more ;)
i cant believe ur fishing for compliments and its not even 9 am yet (8:16 a.m.)
(8:16 a.m.) Hey, you’re the one that texted me first, it’s not like I woke you up to demand you say nice things about me :P
i wish u were here to do that (8:16 a.m.)
u could wake me up whatever time u wanted for whatever stupid reason if it meant i got to look at you (8:16 a.m.)
(8:20 a.m.) I want you to know I have tried and failed like three times to come up with a reply to that
i like how u still type in full sentences when ur flustered (8:20 a.m.)
are u blushing rn (8:20 a.m.)
(8:20 a.m.) Maybe
good girl (8:20 a.m.)
(8:20 a.m.) Fuck
too much? (8:20 a.m.)
(8:20 a.m.) No
(8:20 a.m.) No you’re good
(8:20 a.m.) I just wasn’t expecting it
(8:21 a.m.) But I liked it
i feel like maybe i should ask how much youve played around with that sort of stuff since the last time u and i did anything like this (8:21 a.m.)
(8:21 a.m.) Uh… a decent amount… it’s possible I have a whole drawer full of stuff for it
hot (8:21 a.m.)
i have a few things too (8:21 a.m.)
(8:22 a.m.) I’m going to be so totally distracted during rehearsal today thinking about this conversation
do u want to change topics? i can always grill u on what new kinks uve figured out u have some other time (8:22 a.m.)
(8:22 a.m.) Fuck, Catra
(8:22 a.m.) I want you so badly
use ur words, princess :p (8:23 a.m.)
do u want me to stop? (8:23 a.m.)
(8:23 a.m.) ...no
good girl (8:23 a.m.)
(8:23 a.m.) Fuck
(8:23 a.m.) I’m going to need a cold shower before I go out in public today
(8:24 a.m.) And maybe also to rub one out real quick first
lol, ur cute (8:24 a.m.)
i wish i were there to help u with ur little problem (8:24 a.m.)
(8:24 a.m.) Ugh… you’re coming to Mermista and Sea Hawk’s mini potluck thing this afternoon right
mhm (8:24 a.m.)
(8:25 a.m.) I was supposed to spend the morning with Bow and Glimmer making cookies or something for it
(8:25 a.m.) But I really just want to bail on the whole thing and spend the day with you
ur friends would be sad and miss u, princess… and besides, i have to make the taquitos i said id bring (8:25 a.m.)
(8:26 a.m.) Mmm… you’re making me hungry
i knew it, u do just want me for my cooking abilities (8:26 a.m.)
(8:27 a.m.) Maybe I should just drive over to your apartment right now and I can prove otherwise… Bow and Glimmer can make the cookies just fine without me
ur so hot when ur horny out of ur mind (8:27 a.m.)
i have another idea (8:27 a.m.)
(8:27 a.m.) Oh yeah?
i dont know how soundproof ur walls are, but (8:27 a.m.)
i could call u (8:28 a.m.)
while u touch urself (8:28 a.m.)
(8:28 a.m.) ...oh, fuck… I… think I have my headphones with the mic on them somewhere, let me look
thats my good girl (8:28 a.m.)
(8:28 a.m.) Hhhh fuck
did u find them (8:29 a.m.)
(8:29 a.m.) Yes
how wet are u rn (8:29 a.m.)
(8:29 a.m.) So fucking wet
good girl (8:29 a.m.)
call me when ur ready (8:29 a.m.)
Adora started a call that lasted 47 minutes.
(1:25 p.m.) If you keep looking at me like that I’m going to jump you in front of everybody and damn the consequences
lol u wouldnt dare (1:25 p.m.)
neways u shouldnt be on ur phone at a party, its rude :p (1:25 p.m.)
(1:26 p.m.) Does a totally booze-free mini potluck even count as a party?
(1:32 p.m.) Jesus christ I forgot what a tease you are
me, a tease? no that doesnt sound rite (1:32 p.m.)
(1:33 p.m.) We should definitely have just skipped this stupid potluck. I can’t stop thinking about this morning
good (1:35 p.m.)
i like knowing im on ur mind (1:35 p.m.)
i cant believe u were gonna wait 3 months to make a move (1:35 p.m.)
and now u cant even wait 3 days (1:36 p.m.)
(1:38 p.m.) Tonight when I kiss you on stage I’m going to be thinking about the way you sound when you come
fuck (1:40 p.m.)
me too, princess (1:40 p.m.)
me too (1:40 p.m.)
The final day of rehearsal is exquisite torture.
They kiss in secret at every opportunity, few though they are, and touch each other in passing with the thinnest of excuses.
Adora fumbles a few lines, to her embarrassment, but Catra just keeps it moving along and saves her every time it happens.
Tonight when Catra sings Look At Me, Adora watches from the wings while shrouded in darkness and can feel herself falling in love.
A breeze starts to blow, and then what do you know, something’s different, I can’t quite explain - Catra is bubbly, filled with wild joy. Her voice peals out across the stage like a foal running for the first time on shaky legs, reckless with an unknowable, visceral glee. Like a sound in the back of my brain, but undefined.
Adora smiles softly, hidden outside of the light and allowing herself the indulgence of open adoration for this incredible woman.
A shift in the light, or the sun just got brighter, Catra is beaming, and Adora can’t help but think that Catra is the sun, Catra is the one that got brighter, For sure there’s a change in the air! It’s like something I wasn’t aware I’d left behind!
Adora breathes steadily, like the air itself is sweeter for having been touched by Catra’s voice while it’s so light, so lilting, so genuinely happy.
She looked at me! And it wasn’t the look I expected - no, she looked at me… like she really could see. Catra flicks a small little glance off in the direction she knows Adora is standing, smiles all the brighter even though Adora knows she isn’t visible.
Quietly - Catra turns her attention back to the audience, cupping her hands around something invisible and precious and holding it against her chest - but this stranger and I, we connected. When she looked at me… what on earth could that be?
Putting on an expression of distracted awe, Adora strides out into the stage, touching the camera hanging around her neck like she expects it to answer the thousand questions burning her heart. She spins around, admiring her suddenly new perspective of this little town in the middle of nowhere.
Has she stood in this spot? Adora wonders aloud, feeling dizzy and filled up with thoughts of Catra and little else. Has she tasted this water? Has she walked on that bridge - she lifts a hand, as if she feels a light gust of wind, and turns to follow the bluster with her head - with her hair blowing in this breeze?
She scans the horizon, knowing that for once she isn’t searching for some abstract goal, some vague promise of satisfaction or feeling of success. Her longing is for something real, someone real.
I am looking for the light, Adora sings, I am looking for the light - I am looking for -
Catra swirls through, taking center stage, and Adora gladly recedes, yielding the scene to her. There’s the light I’m looking for, Adora thinks, right there in Catra’s eyes.
I start to forget what I look like and yet - Catra sings, brimming with an almost innocent thrill - all it takes is one second, one day! All these things that I’ve hidden away, one glance reveals!
Adora is smiling again. Is it possible? Is all this really for her? This joy, this earnest pleasure?
The ache and the buzz of the girl that I was, before now, before him, before them - ! She touches her own face, like she’s expecting to look as different on the outside as she feels on the inside. It’s remarkable just to remember how it feels!
As she watches, Adora’s throbbing thoughts of getting Catra into bed melt away, replaced by visions of date nights and birthday celebrations and lazy mornings that stretch out endlessly into the horizon.
Adora can wait three more days. She’s already waited the better part of a decade.
Brightmoon Harbor Review: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Brightmoon Harbor Community Theatre
Brightmoon Harbor, CA - Peter “Peekablue” Prince, Brightmoon Herald Arts & Culture Critic
Running for two consecutive weekends this July, Swift Winds Theatre Troupe (SWTT) brings the 2014 Tony Award winning musical The Bridges of Madison County to the stage here in Brightmoon Harbor. The play tells the story of a tragic, doomed romance set in 1965 Iowa between Francesca (Catrina Delgado), an Italian war bride and Roberta (Adora Grey), a wandering photographer for the National Geographic.
Director Netossa Malokotela brings her usual nontraditional take on an otherwise straightforward narrative by switching the main romantic lead, Robert Kinkaid, to a female character instead. Although it requires some suspension of disbelief to buy into the idea of an unaccompanied, free-roaming female photographer working for National Geographic in 1965, Malokotela brings her usual finesse to adjusting the script and emphasizing certain existing parts of the play - such as the native Iowans’ deep distrust of Kinkaid’s presence within their community - to convince the audience of the viability of her vision.
Although there are several subplots that run throughout the course of the play, primarily the county fair escapades of Francesca’s earnest but ‘dumb as a post’ husband Bud (Cecil Hawke) and two children, Carolyn (Frosta Paningajak) and Michael (Beauregard Williams), the two leads are truly the stars of the show, stealing away the attention from the secondary characters with their blistering chemistry and soaring musical numbers.
If accolades are deserved for this production, they are surely owed to musical director Spinnerella Malokotela for the masterful coordination of the band and the truly impressive performances given by Delgado and Grey.
Although Grey has been performing with SWTT for four years now, this is only her third time being cast as a lead character; in her role as Roberta Kinkaid, she demonstrates the powerful strength of her unusual contralto singing voice and brings that startling depth to bear on her portrayal of Kinkaid as a bold, creative woman who doesn’t flinch from breaking traditional gender roles but lacks a sense of direction until she meets Francesca.
Delgado, Grey’s counterpart and romantic opposite, balances the rich, yearning uncertainty of Grey’s performance with a Francesca who is at times soft, at times sharp, and always unwaveringly sympathetic. Delgado, a newcomer to Brightmoon Harbor’s theatre scene and recent transplant from Los Angeles, demands the audience’s full attention in every single scene she steps into. Her transformation from a housewife determined not to wish for anything better into a fully-rounded person who can actually give voice to her desires is at once captivating and heartbreaking. Delgado’s vocal skill is transcendent and haunting, balancing technical mastery with stirring emotion so effortlessly that many audience members, this reviewer included, left the final number of the show with tears in their eyes.
With their first weekend performance a rousing success, SWTT will be bringing The Bridges of Madison County back to the stage at Brightmoon Harbor Community Theatre for one final weekend, running from Friday, July 23rd, through to July 25th. Tickets are available at the door for $15, or online up to an hour before the performance for $13.50 at www.swiftwindtheatretroupe.com/tickets.
Catra takes Adora’s hand as soon as the car is locked and doesn’t let go - not while she’s leading Adora through the foyer of her building and waving her key fob to beep them through the front door, not while she’s punching the button for her floor number in the elevator, not while she’s unlocking her apartment door.
After three days of performances, Adora is so tired she’s looped back around to hyperactive and then down to exhausted and then back to hyperactive again about five times today. Her body feels like it’s full of electricity and thumbtacks and cotton candy as Catra pulls her into the apartment and shuts the door behind them. Adora packed a bag this morning and giddily informed Bow and Glimmer she’d be staying the night at Catra’s; this bag is dropped, forgotten, the moment Catra backs her up against the door and kisses her.
They end up on the couch. Adora is shirtless, and she’s not quite sure when that happened, and she’s sitting down and Catra is in her lap, kissing her, kissing her, kissing her. She runs her hands greedily through Catra’s hair, glad that stupid wig is gone. Catra grips her by the back of her neck right at the base of her skull, hard, and Adora has no complaints about this whatsoever. She moves her hands down to Catra’s waist and then slides her palms around to seize that gorgeous ass she’s waited so long to touch, and then she uses that grip to pull Catra against her while she rocks her hips up to the momentum of their kissing.
Catra groans against her, and everything is right in the world.
Adora’s mind dissolves into a blissful firework display as Catra pulls her by the hair and tilts her chin up, tracking hot, open-mouthed kisses down her neck. Adora is still grinding her hips up encouragingly against Catra’s, settled somewhere into a state of thoughtless euphoria, when Catra’s mouth reaches just below her collarbone and she splutters in disgust and jerks her head away.
They both remember at the same time that Adora’s torso is still caked in makeup and makeup sealer, and their bodies quake with exhausted, nearly hysterical laughter.
“Can I use your shower?” Adora asks, sliding her hands up from their perch and along Catra’s back.
“Only if I can join you,” Catra purrs.
It takes Catra a moment to notice, but as soon as she does she leans back and takes her hands from Adora’s shoulders.
“What?” She asks, eyebrows furrowed in sudden concern.
“I - “ Adora stammers, trying to get her anxiety spike under control, “I’ve been so busy with the play and so distracted with how much I was looking forward to this, I forgot to warn you.”
“Warn me about what?” Catra asks, frowning. Adora’s hands slip down, and she twists the hem of Catra’s shirt in her fingers nervously. She looks away, embarrassed.
“My leg,” she says quietly, so quietly she’s worried Catra will make her repeat herself. “The one I injured, I - it’s - it’s really not… it’s not pretty to look at. You might not want to see it.”
“Adora,” Catra says gently, “It’s not gonna bother me. I still wanted you while you were wearing cowboy boots. I’m pretty sure not even the gnarliest scar could deter me.”
Adora tries to clear her throat, tries to make herself breathe evenly again. It isn’t just a scar, she can’t bring herself to say. Even after the surgery, her left calf is distinctly misshapen, like something took a bite out the muscle mass and then twisted what was left until it only barely still looked like it belonged on a person at all. Therapy has helped, but it still makes her feel nauseous sometimes to look at it and really accept that this is her body now and will be for the rest of her life.
“Adora,” Catra says again, carefully interrupting the gathering storm of her thoughts, speaking with just enough firmness to draw Adora’s eyes back up to her own. “I was just joking about having to be in the shower with you. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can shower without me. You don’t have to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Adora lets out a shuddering, relieved breath. She leans in and kisses Catra, soft and thankful.
“I just - I just have to have some time to kind of. Mentally prepare myself?” She says, pulling her hands away from Catra’s shirt and instead weaving their fingers together, missing the feel of Catra’s hands against her. “Like I said, I… I kind of managed to forget that that would be… part of this.”
Catra studies her with a thoughtful little frown and then leans forward to press a kiss to her forehead; when she pulls back, she’s still frowning.
“Do you… prefer to keep your pants on, or?”
Adora feels herself getting worked up again and leans in to press her forehead against Catra’s chest, wrapping her arms around Catra’s waist. Okay. It’s… it’s probably a good idea just to get some things out into the air.
“I sleep with pajama pants on,” she starts, talking into Catra’s torso, anchoring herself with the smell of her. “Sometimes if I wake up and I see my leg right away, before I’m totally conscious and ready for it, it can bring on a panic attack. I haven’t had one in a while, but part of that is just because I work around the things I know can cause them.” One of Catra’s hands settles against her bare back, rubbing a soothing circle just above the edge of her sports bra, between the straps. “I don’t shower or change at the gym, and I don’t wear shorts… pretty much at all, anymore. I’m… working on that. I want to be able to, eventually. It’s a lot of internalized stuff about shame and failure.” She feels Catra nod; the soft circle of her hand doesn’t slow its steady, grounding touch. “So when it comes to…” she doesn’t want to say girlfriends, doesn’t want to scare Catra off by putting that label on her before they’ve talked about it, “people I sleep with,” she settles on, “I can usually be okay if we’re under the covers, and I change into pajama pants before I fall asleep.”
“So showering together is definitely off the table,” Catra says, like the most important thing to her is that she understands what Adora needs from her, and more than anything else that makes Adora want to cry.
“Maybe,” she croaks, managing to keep it together. “It’s not something I’ve done with other people.” Catra isn’t just any person. Catra isn’t someone new she’s afraid will only ever think of her as Adora With The Gross Leg. She trusts Catra - trusts that seeing the old injury won’t change the way Catra thinks of her. “But we could try. Maybe - maybe not tonight, but. I’d like to try at some point.” She likes the idea of showering with someone else - showering with Catra, specifically - even if it’s logistically tricky with managing her stupid complicated feelings about being naked.
“Okay,” Catra says, and Adora feels Catra’s lips press against the crown of her head. “But you don’t have to, okay?”
Adora takes a deep breath and nuzzles closer into Catra.
“Okay,” she sighs. “Thanks.” With anybody else, Adora thinks, she’d probably be worried that she’s ruined the evening. She’s not really worried about that with Catra. If nothing else, the last four months of rehearsal have taught Adora that Catra’s much more patient than she used to be.
Adora takes another breath and pulls back so she can meet Catra’s eyes. She tries for a smile.
“I think I will take that shower now.” It’ll help her to reset a little, get back into the zone.
“Sure,” Catra says, reaching out to brush some of Adora’s hair behind her ear. “I have a towel you can use. Help yourself to the soap and the shampoo and stuff, obviously. I might start dinner while you’re in there.”
“You’re an angel,” Adora sighs happily, kissing her and then unwrapping her arms from around her so that she’s free to escape Adora’s lap. Catra doesn’t climb off right away, though. She holds Adora’s eyes with a barely-there smile, inhales like she’s going to say something, cuts herself off. Wondering what’s happening inside that beautiful head, Adora reaches up and cups Catra’s cheek with one hand; Catra turns into the touch and kisses Adora’s palm.
“Go shower, princess,” Catra murmurs, eyes half-closed and tone full of affection. The pet name jolts Adora awake faster and more effectively than a shot of espresso, and it puts an instant grin on her face. She used to hate when Catra called her that, but now it just makes her feel -
- feel loved, if she’s being honest with herself.
But it’s way, way too early for that word.
“Yes ma’am,” she murmurs hungrily in reply, just for the pleasure of the tiny smirk it puts on Catra’s face. A smirk is definitely preferable to whatever expression Catra was wearing before - it had looked just a little bit too much like pity for Adora’s tastes. Catra slides off of her lap and goes to find the towel; Adora retrieves her overnight bag from its position beside the front door.
When Adora emerges from the steamy bathroom, feeling refreshed and stabilized and excited again, the apartment is filled with the smell of cooking. She finds her way into the kitchen and comes up behind Catra at the stove, pressing their bodies together and wrapping arms around her and kissing the back of her neck. Catra hums in pleasure.
“You put on a shirt,” Catra remarks.
“For now,” Adora promises, kissing below her ear. “Didn’t bother with a bra, though.”
“Good,” Catra murmurs approvingly, “less work for me later.” Adora kisses her neck again, slides her hands down her thighs. Catra closes her eyes briefly, exhaling with a decadent little sound of pleasure. “You’re gonna make me overcook the brussel sprouts,” she warns.
“Is that what’s cooking? It smells good.”
“It’ll taste good, too,” Catra says with a grin, “if you don’t distract me. Do you remember where the plates are? You could set the table instead of pretending to be the world’s most beautiful apron.” Adora feels her cheeks turn hot at the compliment, and she hides her eyes in a brief surge of giddy, overwhelmed delight against Catra’s shoulder before she pulls away.
“I think so. This cupboard up here, right?”
“That’s the one,” Catra purrs, and Adora notices her watching languidly as the process of reaching for the plates makes Adora’s shirt hike up.
“Don’t burn the spinach,” Adora quips, smirking.
“They’re brussel sprouts!” Catra laughs.
“Whatever you say,” Adora says cheekily, quickly kissing the side of Catra’s face before taking the plates to the little table at the end of the kitchen that’s just big enough for two people.
“If you keep insulting the honor of my vegetables, I’m not giving you any extra sauce,” Catra declares. “And it’s pretty fucking delicious sauce so I promise you you’ll regret it.”
“What’s in it?” Adora asks, enjoying the steady feeling of warmth in her chest as she puts the plates down on the table.
“It’s a reduction of golden raisins and cheap champagne, and some spices and stuff,” Catra says, keeping her attention on the stove now as she juggles three different pans. “I discovered it like a year and a half ago and it’s pretty much my favourite thing to have with just about any kind of pork.”
“That sounds amazing,” Adora sighs, returning to the kitchen to get them some forks and knives. “You want me to do dishes after, while you have your turn in the shower?” This makes Catra twist around to look at her, the look in her eyes somewhere between surprise and delight.
“Would you?” Catra says softly, like Adora has offered something more significant than just washing some pots and pans. “That would honestly be super nice.”
“You’re making me a sauce that has champagne in it,” Adora retorts, kissing her cheek again as she slips past. “It’s the least I can do.”
She goes to put the cutlery on the table, but Catra grabs her by the shirt and kisses her with so much ferocity and hunger that Adora nearly drops her handful of silverware.
Adora is quietly humming Home Before You Know It and drying the last pan when a warm, clean smell hits her nose and then Catra is wrapping her arms around her waist.
“Mm, hey gorgeous,” Adora murmurs, smiling and craning her neck to look back over her shoulder at Catra. Her breath catches. “Are you naked?”
“No,” Catra says, smirking, “I’m wearing a towel.”
Adora swallows hard, the rise and fall of her chest suddenly heavy with desire and anticipation. Catra’s hand slips under the waistband of her pajama pants and strokes a hungry touch along her hip bone, and she inhales sharply through her teeth.
“Yeah?” Catra purrs.
“Yeah,” Adora confirms, low and rough and eager.
She puts the pot down in the drying rack and turns to face Catra. Catra smiles at her, one finger hooked into the elastic waist of her pants, and backs towards the door that Adora knows can only lead to her bedroom.
Adora gladly allows herself to be pulled inside.
Chapter 10: maybe I'm being selfish
The song featured in this chapter is Who We Are And Who We're Meant To Be - enjoy >:D
(Gentle reminder, enthusiasm is a lovely thing but please don't swear at or jokingly threaten your fic authors in comments~)
Two more chapters to go after this one!
Adora wakes up half off the bed, a wet spot of drool under her cheek instead of a pillow, her knuckles brushing the floor and her ankle suspended over open air.
It takes her a second to remember where she is, and then another second to remember why.
She groans as she shuffles back into the bed, away from the edge she was so close to tumbling over, and backs right into a solid warmth.
“Mnrg,” Catra grunts preciously. Adora rolls over to face her, wiggling the corner of the blanket out from under her hips so that she can rejoin Catra below the covers.
On the off chance that Catra is still sleeping, Adora doesn’t say anything, just burrows her face into the crook of her neck and settles back in.
“Pancakes?” Catra murmurs blearily.
“No,” Adora declares petulantly, wrapping an arm around Catra’s waist. Mm. Catra is naked. That’s nice. “Stay.”
“Mkay,” Catra replies.
Adora is back asleep again within moments.
The second time Adora wakes up, it’s movement from Catra that pulls her from sleep. The bed shifts, and Adora’s eyes crack open just in time to see Catra sit up and stretch.
Adora watches, transfixed.
Catra catches her, and smiles.
“Hey, Adora,” she says, her voice rough from sleep and her skin bathed in golden sunlight. Her short hair is an absolute wreck; there is the tiniest, faintest suggestion of a hickey on her right thigh. She is beautiful.
“Hey,” Adora says, smiling up at her in a daze. What does she even say? She can still hardly believe this is real. She’s waking up in Catra’s bed. Catra, who she thought she’d lost forever nearly a decade ago. Catra, who she’d missed as ferociously and desperately for years as if she’d died and not just ruthlessly cut Adora out of her life.
What does it mean when you go through the process of mourning someone and then they come back to you?
What does it mean that part of Adora always hoped, always wanted to believe Catra wasn’t gone from her life forever?
She wonders if this is the way a sapling feels about the warm touch of sunshine in spring, having endured the harshest depths of its first winter with nothing but the hope that someday summer would return.
“What time is it?” Adora asks, because that seems like a safer thing to wonder out loud while whatever is between her and Catra is so new and so undefined.
“It’s almost one in the afternoon, if you can believe it,” Catra chuckles.
“Holy shit,” Adora laughs. “Guess we were both tired after this weekend.”
“And we were up late,” Catra reminds her, quirking a smile down at her. There’s a sparkle in her eyes that Adora wishes she could bottle and wear on a chain against her heart.
“I’d say we earned it,” Adora murmurs, and puts a hand on Catra’s thigh, rubbing her thumb against the faint mark. She wonders, now, what it would take to make that mark darker, more vivid, more clear. Catra inhales, the noise serving as soft but clear punctuation.
“You hungry?” Catra asks.
“Yeah,” Adora says, rising from her sprawl, sliding her arms around Catra’s waist and pressing their naked torsos together. “But not for pancakes.”
“Never thought I’d see the day,” Catra murmurs, and Adora can hear the smirk on her face even though she’s got her eyes closed and her mouth against Catra’s neck. She raises a hand to cup one of Catra’s breasts, slides the other down her back. Catra gasps, putting a hand on the back of Adora’s head. “God, you’re insatiable,” Catra murmurs, sounding thoroughly pleased about it.
“Fuck now, pancakes after?” Adora proposes in a low growl.
Catra answers her by climbing into her lap and fisting a hand in her hair, pulling her head down until her mouth is level with the breast Adora isn’t currently teasing with her hand.
When Adora is finished with her, the mark on the inside of her thigh is noticeably darker and no longer the only one there.
They don’t end up having the promised pancakes until two thirty.
“Mermista invited me over for samosas and bourbon,” Catra says casually, checking her phone as Adora returns from the kitchen with a topped up glass of water for them to share.
“That’s quite the combination,” Adora grins, putting the glass down on the nightstand and admiring the way the light catches the sheen of sweat on Catra’s forehead and chest. Her eyes linger on the sight. Catra just came for the - fourth? fifth? - time today, but Adora is still pent up and pondering different methods of addressing that. “You guys hang out a lot?”
“Like once or twice a week, usually, since that note in the elevator.”
“Guess you’ll have to come up with some excuse not to go over tonight,” Adora grins, thinking about her overnight bag and the things she packed from her bedside table that she still hasn’t gotten to use.
Catra looks up at her, a flicker of something uncertain in her face.
“Yeah, I guess so,” she says, after a moment of hesitation, and then taps out a reply on her phone. Adora doesn’t have much time to think about her reaction before she tosses the phone back onto the bedside table, reaches for Adora, and starts kissing her hip bones where they peek out above the edge of her loose pajama pants.
Later, after Catra has thoroughly drained the last of Adora’s stamina by fucking her senseless with her own strapon, Adora is lying awake with Catra draped over her chest, running her fingers through Catra’s hair, and muzzily thinking about showers, and nudity, and Catra, and trust, and insecurity, and her leg.
She thinks Catra might be asleep until she stirs in Adora’s arms and cranes her head up to kiss the underside of Adora’s chin. It makes Adora smile.
“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Catra asks, her words whispering into the dark, as soft of a brush against the calm of the night as her kiss was against Adora’s skin.
“Nothing in particular,” Adora answers vaguely, and that’s sort of true. All that big stuff feels… scary to talk about, when they’re like this. She feels like talking about trust and intimacy when they’re naked and curled around each other is somehow more terrifying than talking about it at a food court or a Denny’s. Like it’s a demand, an expectation. She doesn’t want to rush it, doesn’t want to tumble into the territory of too much at once like Bow warned her about during that confession on the drive home from rehearsal.
“I call bullshit,” Catra murmurs fondly, her fingers finding Adora’s forearm and stroking up and down in a way that makes Adora melt back into the pillows.
“Mm,” Adora hums, letting her eyes slip closed as she tries to think of a way to be both honest and careful. What’s something that’s true but also safe to say at this stage? “I guess I’m kind of thinking about... how nice it is that you and I settled back into our friendship so easily, even though it’s been so long.”
Catra’s fingers on her arm slow to a stop, and Adora is suddenly drawn back into her body, sharply aware that her pajama pants are off and hanging off the edge of the bed. All it would take is for Catra to shift and move the covers a little, and -
“Sorry,” Adora says, as gently as she can make the words through her sudden discomfort, “do you mind if I get up for a second just to put my pants back on?”
“Yeah,” Catra says, sounding a little distant, “no problem.” She peels herself off of Adora, and by the time Adora’s back in the safety of her soft flannel pajamas, Catra has rolled over and seems to be asleep.
Adora doesn’t think anything of it.
Adora has an afternoon shift at the copy center on Tuesday and she’s officially out of fresh changes of underwear, so Tuesday morning she reluctantly gets dressed and leaves Catra’s apartment for the first time since the Sunday afternoon show.
“I have to stop back at my place to get some new clothes,” she tells Catra, “but I could come over again tonight if you wanted?”
“Mermista’s gonna come over tonight, I think,” Catra says, hanging back in the open door of her apartment. “She’s really into the idea of this new bourbon she has and she wants us to try it together.”
“Oh, okay,” Adora says, trying not to look too devastated. Catra’s allowed to spend time with her friends. Of course they couldn’t just hole up together the entire week and fuck each other into oblivion. She shouldn’t be selfish. “I could come over Wednesday afternoon? I’ve got the morning shift tomorrow.”
“I ended up taking a gig Wednesday,” Catra reminds her.
“Oh,” Adora says, feeling kind of stupid for having this conversation out in the hallway, because now she’s getting keyed up and bummed out and she knows it’s stupid but she just thought - she’s not sure what she thought.
“I’ll be done and home by six or seven,” Catra says quickly. “If you wanted to come over.”
“Should I… pack an overnight bag?” Adora asks, now uncertain.
“Yeah,” Catra says, and smirks. Adora isn’t completely convinced the smirk is sincere, but she’s going to make herself late to work if she lingers much longer.
“Okay,” Adora says. “See you Wednesday.” She glances quickly down the hallway just to make sure there are no snooping neighbours, because she doesn’t want to accidentally out Catra in case any of the other people in the apartment building are bigots, or something, and then when she’s sure all is clear she leans in and presses a quick, shy kiss to her lips before heading for the elevator.
Something has gone weird between them, and Adora isn’t entirely sure what it is.
“I think maybe I just need to give her more space?” Adora muses worriedly, reaching for another french fry and realizing the cardboard container is empty. “Maybe I was too pushy about monopolizing her time? I mean, I thought she wanted to spend the whole week together, but maybe I misunderstood her? Maybe she was pissed when she couldn’t hang out with Mermista on Monday?”
“I think you might just be overthinking it,” Glimmer says, handing Adora the remnants of her own french fries. Adora takes the greasy offering and tries to soothe her fears by stuffing three of them into her mouth at once. It doesn’t even take the edge off. “I mean, you’re seeing her again tomorrow night, and she invited you to stay the night again, so…”
“Fuck, no, no she didn’t,” Adora mutters, sinking into the uncomfortable plastic bench seat. “I just sort of invited myself, and she rolled with it. Maybe she doesn’t even want to see me at all.”
“Adora,” Bow says sharply, “you’re being ridiculous right now. Take a deep breath, okay? Breathe with me.” Adora sulkily allows Bow to guide her through a breathing exercise in the middle of a McDonald’s, and she does feel a bit better after. Still, it’s hard to stop her brain from trying to chase down answers to the problems she’s not sure she’s just imagining.
What if her pant leg hiked up while she was sleeping and Catra got a good look at her and decided she can’t handle it? Maybe the pants are the problem, and it’s weirder than Catra expected it to be and she’s realizing it’s just too awkward? What if -
“Adora,” Glimmer says, yanking her out of her thoughts. “Drink your damn milkshake and get out of your head. You two have been aggressively flirting and circling each other for literal months. If there’s some sort of problem, Catra can be a grown up and just communicate about it, okay? And if you’re really that worried, just talk to her. What was that thing your therapist told you about how you’re supposed to be approaching this?”
Adora sighs and leans back in the seat, pushing the milkshake across the table from one hand to the other.
“With uh… honesty, and sincerity, and compassion,” she mutters.
“And what do you always tell me about listening to your therapist’s advice?”
“...that it makes me feel better and she’s usually right about everything, and I regret wasting time being too proud to accept help.”
Glimmer reaches out across the table and takes her hand; Bow does the same with her other one.
“You’re worked up because this is important to you,” Bow says softly. “And that’s not a bad thing. You’re allowed to be worried about getting things right when you’ve been given a second chance. But you should also remember that you and Catra are both different people now. You’ve got better tools than you did as kids for coping with stress, and you’ve had relationships with other women and learned more about yourself and your needs and about how to communicate about those needs.”
Adora clenches her jaw to keep the tears in.
“Okay,” she chokes out, squeezing both their hands so hard that the pair actually flinch. Oops. “I’ll just text her and ask if something’s up. Or maybe call her? But maybe not tonight, since she’s supposed to be hanging out with Mermista right now.”
Glimmer looks at her, long and hard and scrutinizing, and then says:
“You really like her, huh?”
Adora sighs, pulling her hands out of her friends’ so that she can bury her face in them.
“I think I’m in love with her again.”
Maybe she never completely fell out of love with her to begin with.
(7:04 a.m.) Good morning… hope you had fun last night with Mermista. I woke up thinking about you
hey... yea, mermistas always fun (10:28 a.m.)
maybe too much fun, i might be a little hungover (10:29 a.m.)
(10:35 a.m.) Yikes. :( Need me to pick anything up before I come over? Aspirin, gatorade…?
im not THAT hungover (10:38 a.m.)
n i have aspirin at my apartment, dummy (10:38 a.m.)
arent u at work right now (10:39 a.m.)
(10:40 a.m.) It’s a slow day, and I get off in 20 minutes anyways
(10:45 a.m.) What time is your gig today?
starts at 4 (10:46 a.m.)
(10:46 a.m.) Is… something bothering you? Idk if it’s my imagination but you seem like you’re upset about something
im fine (10:57 a.m.)
im just tired (10:57 a.m.)
some gorgeous beefcake has been blowing out my back two to three times an hour for the last couple days, so i havent been getting as much sleep as normal (10:58 a.m.)
(10:59 a.m.) Lol
(10:59 a.m.) Do you still want me to come over tonight
yes (10:59 a.m.)
definitely (11:00 a.m.)
(11:02 a.m.) Okay well, my shift just ended so I’m gonna drive home and shower and change, so just let me know if you want me to bring anything to your place. Also I could pick you up at your gig if you wanted, save you from taking the bus with your guitar. I know you hate doing that.
sure (11:17 a.m.)
let me send u the address (11:18 a.m.)
Adora pulls up outside the VIP movie theatre entrance and cranes her head to see if Catra is anywhere in sight. She doesn’t need to look too far; a figure separates from the crowd of people outside the theatre and from the neck of the guitar poking up behind her head like an antenna, it can only be Catra.
Adora’s breath catches; the tight uncertainty and fear that’s been broiling in her chest is briefly washed away how completely, totally overwhelmed she is by how stunning Catra looks. She’s wearing black dress pants, a vibrant crimson blouse unbuttoned enough to show just a little bit of black bra, and a sleek, shiny pair of black and white spectator shoes.
“Hey, Adora,” Catra says, tired but smiling, as she pops open the back door of the car and slides the guitar into the back seat.
“Hey,” Adora says in reply, and the warmth in the look Catra gives her makes all of her fretting over the past two days seem absolutely stupid and insignificant. “How’d it go?”
Catra closes the back door, opens the front passenger door, and hops inside. She’s even more beautiful up close. She’s got sharp black wingtip eyeliner on, and something slightly glossy on her lips.
“Pretty good. The VIP lounge serves cocktails so people are a little more liberal with their money. The base pay isn’t as good, but the boozed-up preshow crowd make up for it in tips.” Adora’s awe must be showing on her face, because Catra crooks a little grin at her, and says, “What?”
“Can I kiss you?” Adora asks, her heart pulsing in her ears. She knows they’ve just spent several days making each other come in every imaginable configuration, but this is different - they’re out in public, within view of one of Catra’s employers, and things have seemed a little weird between them. She doesn’t dare just kiss Catra without asking.
Catra’s face softens.
“Yeah,” she says, and smiles in a way that says, you idiot.
Adora leans across the console and delicately cups her face, kissing her as gently as she dares. She pulls away and lingers for a moment in Catra’s side of the car, studying her eyes from up close.
“You’re beautiful,” Adora exhales. Catra smiles again, and the expression seems caught between something bashful and something wry.
“You offer to drive me home just so you could hit on me?” She teases. Adora grins, but settles back into her seat and starts the car.
“And so what if I did?” she says playfully, even if the truth is that she would gladly drive Catra to and from all of her gigs just to make her life a little better, even if there weren’t a very likely possibility of sex at the end of the journey.
They chat idly about nothing in particular, and Adora allows herself to believe that she must have just imagined whatever weird vibe Catra was giving off earlier in the week.
Glimmer is right. Adora should just trust Catra, and trust her to tell Adora honestly if something is wrong.
That night after dinner, Catra pushes Adora up against the kitchen counter and very firmly reassures her without using any words that everything is absolutely the way it’s supposed to be.
“It’s kind of funny, you know,” Adora comments the next morning, frying up eggs and bacon because this is one of the few things she’s competent at cooking, happy to be able to take over in the kitchen and give Catra a break from the task, “all the parallels between us and the characters in the play.”
“Yeah?” Catra drawls, looking up from her laptop at the tiny kitchen table. Glimmer excitedly linked the group chat to a glowing review from the local newspaper on Monday morning, and when Adora admitted she hadn’t read it yet Catra had insisted on pulling it up and reading it out loud to her. “Like what?”
“Well, like us sneaking around during the dress rehearsals, kissing in the dark and trying not to get caught.” Adora grins. There’s something wonderfully naughty about a secret relationship - is this a relationship? they still need to have that conversation - even if she’s looking forward to being past that after the show is over. “Or like, the fact that as soon as they figure out the yearning is mutual, they basically just shack up and have a bunch of mindblowing sex for four days.”
“Mindblowing, huh?” Catra chuckles, looking at her laptop screen again.
“Speaking of which…” Adora starts cautiously, wearing a little smile and keeping her eyes on the eggs, which are nearly done. “I brought that rope I mentioned. If you… still want to give that a try?” Deciding breakfast is ready to serve, she turns off the burners and assembles a plate for Catra, trying not to let her nervous eagerness show as she brings it over and sets it down at the table beside the laptop.
When she finally meets Catra’s eyes, there’s something delicate and frightened there in her face. It reminds her of that night by the bonfire when Catra allowed Adora to lead her away from the group, tentatively trusting her to have good intentions.
“I don’t switch for just anybody, you know,” Catra says with a smirk, and Adora gets the feeling that Catra is trying for cocky even if she doesn’t achieve it convincingly. Adora wants to touch her face but worries at the presumptuous intimacy of that reflex; she settles instead for taking Catra’s hand.
“You don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with,” she says, echoing Catra’s words from the first night.
“It’s not that,” Catra says, discarding the attempted facade of swaggering confidence. “I still want to try it. You made it sound…” she trails off, grins a private, shy little grin at her plate of bacon and eggs, traces her fingertips up Adora’s forearm, “...really appealing.” Goosebumps race up Adora’s arm from the teasing contact and from the soft, bashful air of Catra’s admission. It had been a very fun conversation when they’d talked about it over text on Saturday morning. “I just… I want you to understand that it means something to me, okay?”
Adora swallows hard, nods.
She takes her hand from Catra’s and touches her cheek like she’d initially wanted to. Catra sighs softly, leans into Adora’s palm.
“Okay,” Adora says, holding eye contact and hoping her sincerity shows on her face. “I promise I won’t take it for granted.” She feels warm and touched and terrified all at once that Catra wants to give her this gift of trust. Adora wants nothing more than to be worthy of it.
Adora works in perfect silence, interrupting the sacred rise and fall of Catra’s breathing only to check in periodically with soft, pointed questions about Catra’s comfort.
She kisses the column of Catra’s throat like Catra is untouched snow and her lips are moonlight.
The movement of Catra’s chest is the metronome to which Adora’s fingers keep time, laying the steady structure of her rope like a conductor guiding the orchestra to crescendo with deliberate, slow sweeping motions.
When Catra’s arms are secured behind her back, Adora holds her gently, securely, and leaves her like that for a while, gives her time to adjust and settle into the feeling of being trapped. Adora feels more calm than she has in weeks; her emergency shears are in the overnight bag, just in case something goes terribly wrong, but she knows these knots and knows she could have Catra out of them in a matter of heartbeats if need be.
Catra is soft and pliable against her, her lips slightly parted. Adora drinks in the sight of her like this, resplendent in surrender, and presses approving kisses to her ear, her jaw, her cheek. She loves how much the blindfold has helped to melt away Catra’s inhibitions about expressing herself; she leans needily into Adora’s touch, gasps unguardedly at the whispering friction of the rope.
Catra whimpers, and it’s the most divine note ever sung.
One more check-in, and then Adora resumes.
It’s Catra’s first time; a simple chest harness is all they need. Just enough that when she inhales deeply, the expansion of her torso comes up against gentle, reassuring resistance, and when she breathes out she knows she isn’t truly trapped.
Not trapped. Not bound. Not captured.
Adora wants her to feel like she’s being embraced.
Adora wants her to feel safe.
Adora wants her to feel loved.
After, as she cradles Catra in her arms and gently presses a glass of water into her freed hands, Adora thinks that maybe her meaning came through - that just maybe the soft, bewildered look of bliss in Catra’s eyes is the look of someone who understands how intensely loved she is.
They decide they should both be responsible and get a full night’s sleep before the fourth performance on Friday, so Adora goes home to her apartment on Thursday. She kisses Catra without hesitation at the door when she leaves. The kiss is nothing like the kinds of kisses they were exchanging at the start of the week; the urgency has faded away, replaced by something more comfortable and easy. The thought makes her grin.
“What?” Catra asks, fond and teasing.
“Nothing,” Adora laughs, shaking her head. “It just occurred to me that this weekend’s performance will probably be even better than last weekend’s, now that we’ve gotten it all out of our systems and we can actually focus on the play.”
“Oh,” Catra says, and her smile falters. Then it jumps back into place again. “Alright, well. See you tomorrow, Adora.”
“See you tomorrow,” Adora says with a grin. She’s pretty sure she skips all the way to her car.
hey, u awake (7:01 a.m.)
(7:04 a.m.) I am now - everything okay? More pre-show nightmares about your wig?
lol, no (7:05 a.m.)
i wanted to ask u smthg (7:05 a.m.)
(7:05 a.m.) What’s up?
are we keeping this secret from everybody else? (7:06 a.m.)
i didnt tell mermista bc I wasnt sure (7:06 a.m.)
but it kinda sounds like u dont want ppl to kno (7:06 a.m.)
(7:08 a.m.) I mean, I told Bow and Glimmer, but they won’t gossip, if that’s what you’re worried about? Like, for the sake of concentrating on the show it’s not a terrible idea just to kind of keep it on the down low
gotcha (7:08 a.m.)
Something is off about Catra, and this time Adora is sure it isn’t just her paranoia. She’s been avoiding Adora since she arrived at the theatre for their call time. If she’s worried about the rest of the crew catching on and teasing them for finally getting together, she’s overcompensating in entirely the wrong direction - it seems like everybody notices the sudden lack of banter between the two of them, and everybody keeps asking Adora if something is wrong with Catra.
And she doesn’t know, because Catra won’t talk to her, and there just isn’t really any time to track her down and force it out of her when they’re literally putting on a play in an hour.
And then when the play starts, everything is wrong.
Catra recites her lines almost mechanically, follows her blocking with an almost exhausted air of defeat. Maybe she didn’t sleep at all last night?
When the time comes for Adora to start touching her as part of the script, she feels Catra actually flinch a little.
She corners her at intermission.
“What’s wrong?” Adora demands.
“You’re so oblivious sometimes,” Catra whispers, lifts her hand like she’s going to rub her face, then yanks it away. “I can’t talk about this now. I’m going to wreck my makeup.”
“Catra,” Adora entreats, reaching for her. “Whatever’s bothering you, you can tell me, okay?”
“Don’t,” Catra snaps, and Adora’s hand stills midair. Pain, familiar pain, sears through Adora’s ribs at the tone.
“Okay,” she says, backing away. “After, please talk to me? Okay? Just, tell me if I can do anything?”
“You can leave me alone for five minutes so I can catch my breath and not completely fuck up the rest of my songs,” Catra says limply. Adora retreats, finds Mermista, sends her after Catra instead.
Instead of making Catra feel better, the conversation seems to result in Mermista suddenly becoming cold and sharp towards Adora for the rest of the intermission.
“Whatever it is,” Bow whispers to Adora, squeezing her shoulder, “you can deal with it after the show. It’ll be okay. I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t talk through. Hell, maybe it has nothing to do with you. Maybe she got some really rough news from back home, or something?”
“Yeah,” Adora nods. “Okay. Yeah. You’re right. I’m probably just being self-absorbed, it probably has nothing to do with me.”
Intermission is going to end soon. Bow and Glimmer and the rest of the county fair characters get set up on stage, and Adora has to lie in bed with Catra curled over her, waiting in the dark to be wheeled into the spotlight.
A week ago, this was a moment of bliss. Baffled, hurt, and unsure of what the right thing to do is, Adora lifts her hand in the darkness to touch her fingertips to Catra’s face like they did during this moment in every show until this one. Catra trembles against her and goes rigid; she drops her arm, ashamed, back to where it needs to be for the scene.
The members of the ensemble push them out onto the stage as a gentle, plucking guitar plays. Adora’s heart squeezes miserably thinking of Catra’s confident, energetic guitar playing. She’s in so much pain at the thought that she nearly misses her cue to start singing.
Maybe you sleep so peaceful, she croons, looking down at Catra where she’s draped across her, face hidden in Adora’s makeup-coated chest, cause you haven’t got a worry in your head. The words of this soft, adoring song feel like a perversion in her mouth, knowing that something is wrong and she’s failed, somehow, in her promise to keep Catra from getting hurt again. It turns her tone unintentionally from one of loving bliss to melancholy anticipation, as if Roberta can’t even enjoy the pleasure of Francesca in her arms without remembering that they can’t actually be together, no matter how much they both want to believe it could be possible.
And maybe you keep your eyes closed, she sings to Catra’s hidden face, running her fingers through the long black wig and feeling weirder about it than she ever has before, So you’ll never have to get out of this bed.
Catra is breathing irregularly against her; not enough that anybody in the audience would see, but with the two of them pressed together, it’s impossible not to notice. Adora feels helpless. All she can do is keep singing.
Well you don’t have to make the toast, or get the kids to school. Just rest your head and stay here close to me. Maybe, maybe she can use this opportunity to try to soothe whatever is bothering Catra? She rubs a hand up and down Catra’s back in slow circles, even though this isn’t the choreographed move. There’s nothin’ in this world today, but who we are and who we wanna be.
Catra presses her face harder to Adora’s skin; Adora can feel the flutter of her eyelashes as she blinks rapidly against her.
Maybe I’m being selfish, Adora sings, and she’s frowning deeply - not because the character is doubting herself, but because she’s worried about Catra - I should get my things and walk out of that door.
At the line, Catra gives a tiny, imperceptible sob.
Adora reaches for her chin, lifts her face up at an angle where the audience won’t see it. There are tears in Catra’s eyes. Fuck.
But maybe we both deserve this, she sings doggedly, pressing her eyebrows together and leaning towards Catra-Francesca, touching her face tenderly with the backs of her knuckles (and subtly wiping away tears at she does) - And besides, how could I keep from wantin' more?
Catra takes in a deep breath, seems to steady herself.
And lyin’ here with curtains drawn, Adora offers her a little smile, hoping to bolster her, to reassure her, your hair across my chest - I can’t think what else I would need to see. She cups Catra’s hand in her face, giving her one last shield of privacy from the audience to gather herself before she has to sing. There’s nothin’ in this world today but who we are and who we want to be.
Catra sings, and somehow she manages to get the soft wordless notes out without her voice cracking or revealing anything of whatever is going on beneath the surface. They sing together, harmonizing, and it’s… acceptable.
They fumble their way through the rest of the play. Everybody knows something was off tonight; several people remark that the first Friday back after the week off is always kind of a disaster, so whatever.
Adora does not feel whatever about it, but by the time she’s changed out of her bra and shirt and pants and boots, Catra - who just has a single dress she has to shuck - has caught a ride home with Mermista and Sea Hawk.
Catra doesn’t answer any of Adora’s text messages.
On Saturday morning, while Adora is anxiously staring at her phone and putting cereal in her mouth on autopilot, Glimmer gets a phone call. She takes it in the other room, and then returns to the kitchen with a frown.
“That was Netossa,” Glimmer says. “I’m playing Francesca tonight. Apparently Catra is sick.”
Chapter 11: it all fades away
Whew, we're almost there, folks! There's going to be one more chapter after this one!
The song from this chapter is It All Fades Away.
Adora waits in the airlock of Catra’s apartment building, holding the takeout bag and looking at her phone like she’s waiting for someone to let her in, until one of the apartments’ actual residents leaves and Adora can slip through the keyfob-access-only door before it closes behind them.
She arrives at Catra’s door at exactly 12:15 in the afternoon, and knocks. There’s no answer, so she knocks again. Then she calls, and of course nobody picks up. Then she knocks louder, and says,
“Catra it’s me. Are you feeling okay? I brought you some phở.”
The door opens, and Adora is hit with a wash of relief until the person behind it who comes into view is definitely not Catra.
Suddenly embarrassed, she cranes her neck around to double check the number on the door, but it’s definitely Catra’s place.
“Uh, hi,” she says, looking up at the tall, muscular butch goddess of a woman standing in Catra’s apartment. “Is Catra here?”
Is it possible Catra dealt with whatever is going on in her head right now by hopping on Tinder and finding someone to have a fling with? Adora’s stomach tightens in a knot at the thought.
“Adora, right?” The woman says, and although her posture is stiff and she is very obviously blocking the door, her voice is a lot more gentle than Adora expected.
“Uh,” Adora says, surprised. “Yeah. Do I know you?”
“No. I’m a friend of Catra’s. She talks about you a lot.”
“Oh,” she says, and then lifts her bag of steaming takeout. “Can I come in? I brought lunch, in case she’s, you know, too sick to cook, or - or whatever.”
“No,” the door guardian says, “I can’t let you in right now. She wants to be alone.”
Except that she obviously doesn’t want to be alone, because there’s another person in her apartment. So that just means she doesn’t want to be around Adora.
“Will you at least tell me what’s wrong?” Adora entreats, feeling her throat start to get hot and scratchy. “She won’t talk to me and if it’s my fault, I can’t fix it if I have no idea what’s going on.”
The stranger studies her, frowns.
“That’s not my place to tell you, Adora.” She hesitates, looks down at the bag. “You do get that she’s not actually sick, right?”
“I - I mean I kind of figured.”
“But you still brought her soup.”
“It’s phở,” Adora says weakly. “Catra likes phở.”
“Yeah,” the stranger agrees, smiling just a little. “She does.”
“You’re Scorpia, aren’t you?” Adora says, finally piecing this imposing woman’s identity together from the protective way she’s keeping Adora in the hallway and the soft way her eyebrows crease in worry when she talks about Catra.
“That’s me.” Scorpia smiles just a tiny bit more. Adora regrets that this is how they met. She’d been looking forward to meeting Catra’s old roommate from LA.
“Good,” Adora says, “I’m glad.” That seems to make Scorpia confused.
“Because Catra’s obviously hurting right now, and I - I care a lot about her. I don’t understand what’s going on but I just want her to be okay, so I’m glad she’s got someone here she trusts who’s taking care of her.”
Scorpia gives her that careful look again, like she’s studying her. It’s not as inherently distrustful as Catra’s sharp scrutiny but Adora knows when she’s being assessed.
“I’ll make sure she gets the phở,” Scorpia finally says. “Thank you for bringing it. You should go now.”
“Okay,” Adora says, handing over the bag defeatedly. “If - if it’s something I did, will you tell her I’m sorry?”
“You shouldn’t apologize if you don’t know what you’re apologizing for,” Scorpia remonstrates kindly, and then the door closes again, and Adora is left adrift once more.
She cries silently in the hallway outside Catra’s door for ten minutes, and then gathers herself together and heads back to her car.
When Adora arrives at the theatre for her 6 p.m. call time, she still hasn’t gotten any texts from Catra. She’s distractedly checking her phone for the third time in five minutes, watching with an ache in her chest while Starla does Glimmer’s makeup for the role of Francesca and waiting for her turn in the makeup chair, when Sea Hawk appears at her elbow.
“Adora!” He says, a little too loudly. “I’m just stepping outside for a quick smoke before the show. I have a question about my lines I wanted to run past you.”
He’s already dragging her towards the back door of the theatre before she can even splutter we literally don’t have any scenes together or since when do you smoke?
When the heavy crash bar door shudders shut behind them, Sea Hawk’s obviously fake grin falls away.
“Adora,” he hisses, looking around even though they’re alone in the alley behind the theatre where the smokers go, “Now, I promised my dearest Mermista that I wouldn’t interfere, but I can’t help but feeling that something strange is afoot here.”
“Sea Hawk,” Adora says urgently, “if you know what’s going on with Catra, I need you to tell me.”
“Aha!” He says, like he’s trying to solve a murder mystery, “So you profess to being ignorant of the cause of her distress?” Adora likes Sea Hawk. Really she does. But sometimes this wordy theatre kid bit gets on her nerves, and this is one of those times.
“No, I have no idea what she’s upset about. She won’t talk to me!”
“Adora, I must ask,” he says, gripping her shoulder and giving it a squeeze, leaning in and lowering his voice like he’s terrified of Mermista catching him at this (which he probably is), “Was it truly your intention to sleep with her in secret and then pretend it never happened?”
“I - “ Adora’s mouth flops. “What?” She glares at him, hurt and insulted and confused all at once by the accusation. “No! No, that wasn’t what - why would you think that? When have I ever done something like that?“
“Well, technically, if you had, we wouldn’t know,” he rationalizes.
“Yes you would!” Adora hisses angrily. “This is community theatre. Everybody eventually finds out who slept with who! There’s no such thing as secrets! Jesus! Where did you even get this idea??”
“From Catra, last night on the drive back to the apartment,” Sea Hawk says, suddenly intense and serious. Adora feels like she’s just taken a bullet to the chest. “The question perhaps you ought to ask yourself is where she got that idea from.”
“Fuck,” Adora blurts, backing up against the brick wall of the building, already scrambling for her phone. “Fuck!!”
“Oh, you’re being loud now,” Sea Hawk murmurs. “Alright, well, I’m going to run, because Mermista - “ he doesn’t finish the sentence, just zips back inside and leaves Adora to her meltdown.
“I’m such a fucking idiot,” Adora mutters furiously to herself, “I’m such a fucking idiot.” She dials Catra’s number, presses the phone to her face, blinking through tears. It rings and rings, and nobody picks up. It goes to voicemail. She hasn’t left any voicemails yet, but it’s worth a shot, right?
“Hey, Catra - “ she starts, knowing her voice sounds shaky and frantic, “I think there’s been some kind of - some kind of miscommunication? About us? I just, I - I’d really prefer to have this conversation in person, because I’m thinking about our texts now, and about how maybe I just wasn’t reading your tone right, and - I’m really sorry, Catra, I’m really sorry, I obviously fucked up huge, and that’s - that’s my mistake for I guess assuming you could sort of read my mind, which you obviously can’t, and it’s dumb that I ever thought that, and - “
“Adora?” Bow asks, sticking his head out the back door and peering into the alley. She ways him away with a gesture.
“Catra, I just, I really didn’t want to mess this up, and now I already have, and I - you mean so much to me, and I was trying to be careful - and - and maybe that’s just a dumb excuse, maybe I was just being a coward, because I was scared of being too much, and too needy, and - “ she swallows, and Bow hasn’t left. He mimes a makeup application, frowns worriedly at her. “And I have to go, because the show is starting in like half an hour, and I still have to do makeup, and I miss you and this sucks without you and I’m just - I’m just so sorry, Catra. Please just text me, okay? I can come over tonight after the show and we can talk about this and - and I really have to go, okay, but last week wasn’t what you think it was, it wasn’t just some fling, I really - fuck, I really have to go, but please text me?”
She hangs up the call. She stares at the phone, fighting the impulse to call again, and again, and again, until finally Catra picks up.
Instead, she allows Bow to wipe the tears from her face and then lead her back inside.
Glimmer does quite admirably as Francesca, considering the blanket of misery that her co-star is doing her best to perform through. Her voice is rounder and softer than Catra’s, and her Francesca is a little more flustered and giddy, and that paired with Adora’s total lack of heart during her scenes makes for a pretty subdued love story. If the members of the audience came tonight hoping for the intensity described in the newspaper review, Adora can only imagine they were sorely disappointed.
When the show is over, she can’t get to her phone fast enough.
There’s one new text message from Catra.
Her heart stops.
She opens the text app.
ur fucking shit at communicating of course i cant read ur mind (9:37 p.m.)
That means Catra listened to the voicemail. Adora frantically types out a response.
(10:14 p.m.) Can I come over?
She checks her phone every ten seconds or so as she frantically changes out of her costume. It takes her a few minutes, but eventually Catra responds:
fine (10:19 p.m.)
but u better have a good fucking explanation (10:19 p.m.)
Adora gives her utmost apologies to Bow and Glimmer for ditching them without a ride home (“It’s fine, Adora,” Glimmer says, “my dad can drop us off.”) and then hammers out a quick text to Catra. She’s already got her car started before she hits send.
(10:19 p.m.) Omw
She stops outside Catra’s door, taking a deep steadying breath.
God, she fucked this up so thoroughly. She feels so guilty. She feels so stupid.
She counts in her head. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi.
She hears the bolt slide, and then the door is open, and there’s Catra. No Scorpia anywhere in sight.
Catra is wearing pajamas and she’s obviously been crying. Adora wants to crush her in a hug, but hesitates. Catra steps aside and gestures: a wordless come in.
Adora shuts the door behind her.
“Catra,” she starts, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I - “
“Wait,” Catra says, cutting her off. “Let me talk first.”
“Okay,” Adora agrees, because she will give Catra literally anything she asks for if it will begin to undo the harm she’s caused.
“If you’re just here to try to convince me to do the last show tomorrow, just turn around and leave, okay? Look, I thought I could do it, I thought I could just push through and focus on the play, but last night’s show obviously proved me wrong. I just.” Her voice cracks. “I can’t do it. I can’t be so close to you knowing I don’t actually get to have that.” Adora opens her mouth to contradict her, but Catra stops her with a sharp hand movement. “I’m not done. The other thing I want to say is if you’re just here to say you’re sorry that I’m sad, that you feel bad because I was stupid enough to catch feelings when your intention was only ever to fuck me, you can take that apology and shove it up your ass.” She swallows hard, the flash of anger reflected in a tightness in her jaw. Adora wants nothing more than to try to soften that clench of pain, to dispel all these things Catra has somehow convinced herself of. “I don’t care if you’re just here because you feel guilty and you don’t like that feeling and think an apology will make you the good guy again.”
“Catra, that’s not - “
“I - yeah, I read you loud and clear.” Adora frowns, her concern clear in her voice.
“Okay. Good. So. Say whatever you wanted to say that you couldn’t say over the phone.”
Adora takes a deep breath.
“Okay. Uh. First of all, I don’t know where you got the idea that all I wanted was sex.”
Catra’s eyebrows take an Olympic leap up her forehead.
“I’m sorry, what? You said - you said we were just friends! You literally said you just wanted to get it out of your system so that you could focus on the stupid fucking play!”
“I - no!” Adora skims quickly through her memories of the last week. Okay. Maybe she did kind of say those things? “That - I mean, that wasn’t what I meant! Why didn’t you just talk to me instead of deciding that that was what I meant?”
“I told you it meant something to me.” Catra says, soft and bitter, “And then I asked if you wanted it to be some dirty little secret and you said yes, Adora! What am I supposed to think, when you don’t want to be seen kissing me in the hallways, when you won’t hang out with me with my friends in case they guess that we’re sleeping together, when you fucking say we’re just like the doomed couple in the goddamn play who fuck a bunch and then literally never see each other again? What was I supposed to think, Adora?” Catra is crying now, and Adora urgently wants to go to her and wrap her up in her arms, but she doesn’t think that would be welcome right about now.
“I don’t - I wasn’t - I wasn’t thinking - “ Adora stammers.
“Obviously,” Catra snarls, and Adora shrinks away from that sharp, angry word. It’s just like when we were kids, she thinks in a sad, reflexive flash. Suddenly Catra’s face fills with guilt, with regret. That weighs more heavily on Adora than the snapping itself - it makes her wonder if maybe she and Catra make each other worse, not better.
“Adora,” Catra says, deflated and sad, “Don’t look at me like that.”
“Catra,” she murmurs, rubbing her face just for something to do with her hands, “Look, I’m really sorry. I really fucked this up. I never meant to make you think any of those things, and I feel like shit that you did, and I wish I hadn’t been so fucking chickenshit, I - I just - “ she forces herself to look up, to meet Catra’s eyes. She’s guarded, wary. “I had it in my head that you’d get freaked out and overwhelmed if I was too sappy all at once. I was trying not to push for too much too soon, but I also guess I was just… scared, so I let myself use that as an excuse to avoid actually having a conversation with you.”
“And what if I don’t believe you?” Catra asks, her voice sounding wrong, somehow, too neutral, too disconnected. “What if this just seems like you saying whatever you think I want to hear so that you can fuck me tonight, have your perfect final night of the performance tomorrow, and then leave me in the dust again like - “ she stops herself, trying to strangle that poisonous thought, but it’s too late. It’s already out into the air, already hanging between them.
Was Catra lying, when she said she didn’t blame Adora anymore for making that choice back at the end of highschool?
Adora is hurt, dizzied by the accusation. She opens her mouth to say something, doesn’t know what, but Catra beats her to the punch.
“Fuck, I’m sorry,” she blurts. “Adora, I didn’t mean that.”
Adora swallows hard, takes in a deep breath, fights back tears.
Honesty. She’s supposed to be approaching this with honesty, and, and - what else? Compassion?
“Okay,” she breathes. “That uh. That hurt. But I get that - that there’s a lot of history here - and that I said a bunch of really stupid things without thinking about how they sounded.”
“Just tell me what you want, Adora,” Catra whimpers, like she’s afraid of the answer but she needs it, like it’s an inoculation or a trip to the dentist.
You, is the immediate answer, but Adora realizes now how that could sound like she’s just objectifying Catra, thinking of her as a trophy to be claimed and used and discarded.
“I want to be your girlfriend,” Adora says. “I want to hold your hand in front of everybody and - and carry your guitar for you, and make you laugh, and - and I really want to hug you right now, if maybe, that would be okay?”
Catra lets out a long, long, shaky breath.
“Do you mean that?” She asks.
“Of course I mean it,” Adora whispers, mentally working herself up towards the precipice of a confession. “Catra, I never stopped loving you. Not really. That was what I thought I was hinting at, when I said - when I said we’d fallen back into our friendship so easily.” Catra looks stricken. Maybe not the reaction Adora was hoping for, but she can’t stop now. “I loved you even when we were just friends, even before we hit puberty and started thinking about sex. I don’t know how you could ever think I’d be able to just have sex with you and be okay with that. I’m - I’m kind of a whole-ass gay disaster around you, Catra. Just ask Bow and Glimmer. I haven’t talked about anything but you since the first day I walked in and saw you there at rehearsal.”
Catra just looks at her.
And then, voice trembling, she says:
“Okay. Come hug me now please.”
Adora rushes across the distance between them and envelops Catra in her arms, holding her maybe just a bit too tightly, pressing her face into Catra’s neck. There’s a moment of hesitation, and then Catra’s arms come around her back and grip just as tightly.
Neither of them says anything for a while; they just cling to each other desperately, holding on against the buffeting winds and crashing tides of their emotions.
“Have you eaten dinner?” Adora whispers, eventually, and the question means I love you.
“No,” Catra says. She sniffles, then rubs her face against Adora’s shoulder. “Thanks for the phở, by the way. It was really good.” Adora thinks maybe this means I love you too.
“Want me to order us some takeout?” She murmurs softly. “We could put on a movie or something.” And then she presents the ace she’s got up her sleeve, hoping it secures her another hour or two with Catra to just… be with her, and maybe talk things out a little more. “I could rub your neck. I never did finish getting all that tension out of your jaw.”
Catra gives a shaky little laugh.
“God, that hurt so much. You really weren’t kidding when you warned me.”
“I can be a little gentler if I’m taking my time,” Adora reassures her, pulling away a little out of the hug, kissing her forehead. Catra sighs and then turns to look up at her.
“You can order food and we can pick a movie but first I need absolute, sparkling-fucking-clear clarity, okay?” Adora nods, and Catra continues. “Am I your girlfriend?”
“If you want to be.” Adora says, hope taut in her lungs. “I’d really like you to be.”
“Okay,” Catra breathes. “So we’re dating.”
“We’re dating,” Adora parrots, and even just saying the words makes her smile, makes some of the ache of the day recede. She cranes her neck forward and gently kisses Catra’s eyebrow - their established signal that this is just them, and not their characters.
At long last, Catra smiles.
“And do you… not want me to come back to the show tomorrow night? I know I… kind of made a scene, with bailing on it tonight. I wouldn’t blame people for thinking I was being - “
“You were sick,” Adora interrupts quickly. “Netossa said you mentioned something about food poisoning. As far as anybody cares, that’s the truth. You don’t have to do the show tomorrow, but if you want to… I would be really happy to have you there.” She cautiously lifts a hand to stroke Catra’s face. “Plus you wouldn’t want to miss the wrap party after. Everybody missed you today, not just me. You’re part of the crew. You’re their friend, people like you.”
Catra’s smile grows, fragile and sheepish, and she leans into Adora’s touch.
“Yeah.” Adora rubs her thumb against her cheek with the utmost of care. “And besides… if you’re okay with it, maybe… tomorrow we could tell everyone we’re dating?”
“After the show is over, I assume,” Catra says, and Adora can hear that edge of unhappiness hiding folded between her words.
“I actually meant before,” Adora says softly. “No more sneaking.”
Catra flashes her a look that Adora recognizes. It’s the same look Catra gave her on that first night when she offered to do the dishes while Catra showered.
“I’d like that,” Catra says, so quietly, fearfully hopeful that Adora’s resolve breaks and she leans in to kiss her. Catra kisses back; there’s no heat to the kiss, just tenderness. Adora closes her eyes, feeling some of the tension leave her shoulders.
“Anything else we should clarify?” Adora asks, when they pull apart.
“I think that covers the most important stuff,” Catra says. “You want to order dinner?”
“Sure. What are you in the mood for?”
“Literally anything,” Catra says, and then gets a thoughtful look. “Actually, one last question. Are you… okay with me calling you princess in front of other people? I know you used to hate that.”
“I hated it for like maybe a month, tops, when we were sixteen,” Adora says with a grin, rubbing Catra’s lower back with the hand that’s still settled there. “I like it when you call me that.” She feels herself blushing as she forces herself to admit: “It makes me feel pretty, when you say it like it’s a good thing.”
“You are pretty,” Catra reassures her, leaning in to kiss her jaw. Adora sighs happily at the touch. “Pick whatever you want for dinner. I’m gonna see what our options are for movies. And I’m gonna text Netossa.”
They end up getting a heaping styrofoam container of lemon pepper fried calamari and vegetable fried rice. Adora doesn’t really remember what movie Catra ends up picking; they’re asleep, curled up in each others’ arms on the sofa under a blanket, within the first twenty minutes.
Adora gently wakes Catra up when she comes to and realizes the credits are rolling.
“Hey,” Adora whispers.
“Hey,” Catra says back, groggy but affectionate.
“It’s late, and call time is at one tomorrow. I should head home.”
“Okay,” Catra says softly, stretching up to press a kiss to her lips. Adora’s eyes slip shut, and she wishes she could just stay, but she didn’t bring a change of clothes.
“Can I take you out to an early lunch tomorrow before we have to be at the theatre?” Adora asks, when the kiss ends for too soon for her liking.
“As long as it’s lunch, and not brunch,” Catra says wryly. “We’re reaching my upper limit on breakfast food consumption.”
“Deal,” Adora says, and then sits up and captures Catra’s face for another kiss. “Before I forget… I had this idea for the final curtain call,” she murmurs, when they pull apart, “but I wanted to get your approval first.”
Adora pulls the car into the theatre parking lot, glancing over at Catra.
“You okay?” She asks. Catra looks nervous.
“They’re not all gonna be mad at me for missing yesterday’s show, are they?” Catra asks, in a voice so small Adora just wants to cradle her and tell her everything is fine.
“No,” she says instead, and smiles knowing it’s the truth. “They’ll be happy to see you.” She leans over and kisses Catra in the bright warmth of the early afternoon sunlight.
“Okay,” Catra whispers against Adora’s lips.
Adora takes her hand as they cross the parking lot.
When they push open the door, all the assembled cast and crew turn as one.
The backstage erupts in cheers, and five different people come running to wrap Catra in hugs and demand to know if she’s feeling better.
Adora notices Mermista hanging back. They catch each other’s eye.
“Sorry I like, assumed the worst of you, or whatever,” Mermista says, in a low voice. Adora smiles and shakes her head.
“I was an idiot,” she says. “I’m glad she had you on her side.”
“Obviously,” Mermista scoffs. “Aside from me, she’s the coolest person here.”
“No disagreement here,” Adora says, grinning.
Once Catra escapes the enthusiastic hugs and check-ins (two of which are from Bow and Glimmer respectively) Adora firmly takes her hand in front of everybody and then kisses her cheek. There are several gasps and shrieks and the people who swarmed for hugs begin instead to demand details.
“Ugh, finally,” DT drawls from across the room, and everybody laughs, and just like that they remember they have a performance to put on and everybody is back to work, running around getting ready for the final show.
Adora thinks this might be the best performance she’s ever given. The words and gestures come to her sure and sincere and natural, her voice resonates clear and powerful through the theatre, and every move she makes and note she reaches for is in perfect synchrony with Catra.
There’s just one thing missing, one thing left to do, one message she feels her heart burning to convey.
At intermission, she wraps herself around Catra from behind right there in the middle of the dressing room, and whispers in her ear:
“Act two, scene five. I’m singing to you, okay? Not Francesca. To you.”
Catra’s huffs with surprise. She knows what the scene is. She knows what the song is.
“Okay,” Catra says, a little breathlessly.
Adora reluctantly peels herself off of Catra and allows her to change for the second act. As they’ve done so many times before, they wait in the darkness in the wings, curled together in bed.
Tonight, as they listen to the bouncy county fair scene and anticipate when they’ll need to be back in position, they hold hands. It feels like the best thing in the world.
Act two, scene five.
Adora is nowhere to be seen as Francesca watches her children grow up, graduate, get married. She attends her husband’s funeral. She tearfully thanks Marge - Mermista - for her unwavering friendship through a secret affair neither of them can name. She moves on. She gets old.
And once more, she is alone in her kitchen.
The phone rings.
“Johnsons’,” she answers, sounding tired. No answer.
“Johnsons’,” Catra says again, confused. Still no answer. “Is someone there?”
Nobody is there. She hangs up the phone.
Adora enters from the other side of the kitchen, lit by a ghostly blue spotlight - a spectre of Francesca’s imagination. Her flattering button ups are replaced by a drab sweater vest; spectacles hang from a chain around her neck; her hair is up in a messy bun instead of hanging loose and wild and free. She walks through the kitchen like she doesn’t see her own surroundings; Catra watches her, bewitched by the vision of a lover long gone.
When they’re standing just a few feet apart, Adora stops. She looks up, looks at Catra as if she really sees her, as if she’s really there. They hold each other’s gaze. Adora smiles softly, sadly. Catra puts a hand to her mouth and stifles a noise of old longing, the keen of a broken heart.
Adora looks away again and steps out of the light, vanishes.
She reappears on a new set that shares the stage with the kitchen; Roberta’s study, filled with boxes and mementos and so much junk accumulated over a lifetime of endless wandering, endless searching for meaning.
There is a phone conversation, sad and wistful, about retirement, about something terminal, about a phone number from a woman named Francesca who never called. Adora hangs up the phone and begins to shuffle through her boxes of stuff, stuff, so much meaningless stuff. She sighs and looks up, looks across the stage at the kitchen that exists only in her memory.
Her eyes find Catra and stay there.
They aren’t supposed to do that. She’s supposed to be looking at the stuff in her study. But Adora doesn’t care. Netossa can fuss at her later. It’s a small tweak, a tiny change in direction.
There was something in the desert, she starts to sing, gently musing about her life, all the good things she knows she ought to remember, ought to treasure, There was some place wild and green - and a child in a village I passed through. She runs her fingers over the envelope she’s holding, but continues to stare at Catra in the kitchen.
Francesca is supposed to be mostly shrouded in darkness during this scene - Roberta’s lament is normally the main focus of this song - but somebody up in the lighting booth has noticed Adora’s lingering gaze and has made the executive decision to improvise, lighting Catra in a soft ethereal blue so that the audience can see what Roberta is so fixated on.
There are places I have travelled, and so many things I’ve seen, Adora sings, sweet and soft and sad, and it all fades away… but you. The music starts up at this last word, an almost hopefully nostalgic guitar strumming as Adora rises to her feet, still clutching the envelope, and walks away from the collection of boxes.
I was sliding down a mountain, she sings, a little more forcefully now, her eyes on where she’s going instead of on Catra, looking around the kitchen set as if she’s trying to understand why this place, of all her memories of magnificent and wondrous places, is the one she recalls with such clarity that it feels like she’s right back there whenever she thinks about it. I was burning in the sun. I was crying with amazement at the view.
She circles around the set, touching surfaces, shadowing Catra by just a few ghostly paces as Catra moves wearily from sink to stove, from stove to cupboard, from cupboard to table. I was capturing a moment, but when all is said and done -
Adora intercepts her so that she and Catra are at the front of the set, standing a few feet apart, and now, once more, she looks directly at Catra. Catra looks back, even though she’s not supposed to, but with the otherworldly blue light on her it just looks like Robert’s vision is invoking an old memory of Francesca looking back at her. Well it all fades away, Adora sings, holding Catra’s eyes, willing every ounce of herself into the words, but you.
In a daze, she reaches for Catra. Catra turns from her, walking to the sink as if to do dishes, as if Adora isn’t there. It all fades away, Adora sings, pursuing her at a sedate, patience pace, It all fades away. She wraps her arms around Catra from behind, presses them together, frowns. It all fades away but you.
Warm and sombre and filled with deep regrets, the piano joins the guitar. A moment later, the sharp, wistful sound of a mandolin joins in. Adora squeezes Catra once, then loosens her arm enough for the memory of Catra to slip away from her once more, crossing to the other side of the kitchen. The music carries Adora’s feet as she moves to the front of the stage again, singing to the audience like she’s begging for their help in understanding just what went wrong.
I have sailed across the oceans, past the cities and the farms, on a never ending quest for something new. She sings to them, with a bitter shake of her head at her own foolishness.
She turns back to look at Catra, who looks up from where she’s wiping the kitchen table clean to freeze and hold Adora’s eyes again.
And the only thing that mattered, Adora sings earnestly, was the four days in your arms! And it all fades away - she stalks towards Catra, now with more urgency - but you.
Catra comes around the kitchen table so that they’re both at the front of the set where the audience has the best view of them. Adora reaches her and extends her arms, like she wants to hold her again but knows she isn’t real, and instead sinks to her knees. It all fades away, she sings forlornly to the stage floor, then straightens up in her kneeling position taking hold of the hem of Catra’s dress with shaking hands. It all fades away. She stares up into Catra’s eyes, willing her to believe these words. Adora has missed her for eight long years. She’s changed, she’s grown, she’s made other amazing friends, but Catra has always been - and will always be - special. It all fades away but you.
The music dances, swelling with Roberta and Francesca’s unfulfilled love, smothered in its cradle. Catra’s eyes shimmer with tears that only Adora can see. Tonight, she's pretty damn sure they’re good tears.
Adora presses her forehead to the edge of dress she has in her hands, takes a deep breath like this scrap of fabric is the only thing tethering her to this life anymore.
She rises to her feet slowly, letting her fingers uncurl with obvious reluctance. She would stay on her knees, but she really does have to be standing to get the power she needs for the next notes.
As the music lifts up and up, so sad and so honest, so longing and so pure, Adora sucks in as much air as she can fit into her lungs and then launches into a wordless aria - the most vocally challenging piece in all of Roberta’s songs, a solid thirty seconds of sustained notes that have no lyrics but become progressively more and more powerful and intense as the character empties all of her life’s regrets into a beautiful, devastating bellow.
She’s supposed to deliver this to the audience; instead, she sings it to Catra, tears in her eyes and desperation in her body language even as she’s throwing back her shoulders and just about dislocating her jaw to deliver the most raw and soulful sound she can achieve.
Catra has slowly reached one hand towards her face throughout this, but has never broken the appearance of being only a memory, only an illusion summoned by Adora’s own mind. Adora reaches her own hand towards those outstretched fingers, never making contact.
There is one thing that’s eternal, that cannot be torn apart - there is one thing that remains forever true, Adora sings to her, her face open and her heart on her sleeve. Past the thinking! Past the breathing! She clutches her own chest, Past the beating of my heart! It will all fade away but you!
She tears herself away from Catra and walks back to the edge of the stage, facing the audience like she was technically supposed to be doing this entire time. Sorry Netossa.
It all fades away! She feels a hand slip tentatively around her waist.
It all fades away! Catra presses herself up against Adora’s back.
It all fades away but you. Adora wraps her hands around Catra’s forearms, holding her there, closing her eyes as if she’s desperately trying to cling to the delusion that she’s here.
It all fades away! She sings mournfully into the audience.
It all fades away! She opens her eyes, and as she does, Catra slips her arms away again. Adora doesn’t turn to look at her, this time, as she vanishes.
It all fades away… Adora sinks down to one knee, looks at the envelope she’s still somehow holding. But you. She hangs her head, tightens her grip angrily around the paper, then relaxes it again in resignation. But you.
Slowly, she rises to her feet, crosses back over to Roberta's study.
But you, she sings to the damned envelope, placing it delicately into one of the scattered boxes.
She puts the lid on the box. The music fades. The lights go down. The audience roars with applause.
Catra has one final song, achingly beautiful and recklessly sad, and then the audience is on their feet, clapping so loud Adora thinks she can feel it.
The cast assembles at the front of the stage for the final curtain call. They start at the outer edges, and Adora can’t stop smiling, smiling, smiling like she’s filled with a bright golden light as each of her friends and castmates steps forward and bows one by one to receive their much-deserved applause. She looks at Catra, drinks in the brilliant, delighted, emotional smile on her face, and only smiles harder.
She blushes when it’s her turn to step out for a bow and Catra puts a hand behind her back and pushes her gently but firmly out into the limelight, and the audience erupts with whistles and cheers and a resurgence of thunderous applause when she bows.
Then it’s Catra’s turn, and Adora backs up and returns the favour, guiding Catra out to receive her applause with a soft hand on her back. If Adora thought the cheering for her was loud, it feels like the response to Catra is about ten times that in volume and enthusiasm. She can see Catra blushing and blinking away tears.
And then, right as Catra straightens up from her bow, Adora takes Catra in her arms, dips her so low the end of her wig brushes the stage, and kisses her. The theatre explodes with cheering and wolf-whistles and howls of approval - and Adora’s pretty sure several of them are coming from the people up on stage with them.
Catra is beaming fit to light the entire world when Adora pulls her back up to standing.
They hold hands, and then reach out to the members of the cast beside them and take their hands too.
As one, they bow.
Over the theatre’s audio system, DT crows:
“Let’s hear it for the truly fabulous band!” The spotlight highlights the incredibly talented little group; DT is sprawled across the piano bench with their microphone, and Rogelio smiles shyly with his guitar in hand. “The unparalleled and delightful tech crew!” The lights come up in the control booth; Entrapta, bracketed by the Hordak twins, grins and waves down at the crowd that has turned to offer them applause. “The set designer!” In the front row, Angella stands bashfully and smiles and waves when Entrapta puts a spotlight on her. “And our astonishing director and musical director duo, Netossa and Spinnerella Malokotela!” Adora and Catra release each others’ hands and part, grinning, so that the married couple can step out and take center stage for just a brief moment. The applause feels like it will never end. Adora’s face hurts from grinning so hard.
“Thank you, everybody for being such a wonderful audience!” DT declares. “Enjoy the rest of your evenings!”
And then, at long, long last, the curtain goes down for the final time.
The end of show wrap party takes place in the same pub they always go to. In the four years Adora has been doing plays with SWTT, the pub has changed ownership and changed names three different times, but the inside is always the same: slightly dim, slightly grungy, and just unpopular enough of a local venue that they don’t care that the annoying theatre group takes it over and drives away all normal patrons for an evening every couple months.
Tonight as their Lyft pulls into the strip mall parking lot, Adora idly notes that the painted-over signage declares it to be The Crimson Wastes. Last time she was here it was The Garnet Chamber, but all the long term community theatre people refer to it as The Velvet Glove, which apparently was its original name like twenty years ago when it had higher ambitions of being a classy joint. You can still see the lingering vestiges of that first version of the bar, beneath all the grime and the years of neglect - the beautiful leather upholstery on the bench seats, the elaborate patterning of the interior carpet, the big, solid wooden pool table and the stately, sweeping bar that runs the length of the establishment.
Catra is grinning as Adora leads her inside with an arm around her shoulders.
“What are you so happy about?” Adora teases, as Catra’s eyes take in the place everybody calls The Old Glove.
“There’s a karaoke machine in the corner and this place smells like stale beer and Old Spice deodorant,” Catra says, sounding triumphant. “This is either going to be the worst cast party I’ve ever been to, or the best one.”
“Well, it’s going to be the best one for me for sure,” she says in a low voice, leaning her face towards Catra’s with a conspiratorial smile.
“Oh my god,” Catra mutters, still grinning, “you’re going to be just aggressively sappy from now on, aren’t you?” Despite the fact that this could be interpreted as a complaint, Catra closes the distance between their faces and kisses Adora, and it’s honestly the best goddamn thing in the world.
“Hey, lovebirds,” Glimmer calls, “Over here! We’re claiming this booth!”
Adora returns to reality with a laughing smile.
“Be right there!” Adora yells giddily across the bar with more volume than is strictly necessary. She feels a bit bad for the pub’s employees, because that’s kind of going to be the theme for the evening. Adora’s eyes catch on Sea Hawk and Mermista approaching the bar, and she gives Catra’s shoulder a quick squeeze. “I’ll be right back!”
“Sure,” Catra says, with a smile; as Adora slides her arm off of Catra’s shoulders, their hands meet, entangle briefly, and then they part. Adora heads for the bar, and Catra makes her way to the booth with Bow and Glimmer. Adora works her wallet out of the pocket of her jeans as she hurries to intercept the transaction she sees happening.
Nuh-uh, absolutely not, Sea Hawk. Not on her watch.
“This man,” Adora announces, cutting him off in his conversation with the bartender and sliding her credit card across the bar towards the bemused looking employee, “is absolutely not to be allowed to pay for any of his own drinks tonight. Open a tab with that card; whatever he orders is on me.”
“Adora, are you hitting on my boyfriend?” Mermista asks with absolutely zero sincerity.
“No,” she says, grinning and slinging an arm around his shoulders, “I’m thanking him for saving my dumb ass from spending what probably would have been at least another two weeks in a state of idiotic confusion about why Catra was so upset, and from probably saying even more stupid things than I already did.”
“Oh my god,” Mermisa says, fixing Sea Hawk with a look. “I knew it, you did tell her.”
Sea Hawk squeaks in terror, and rapidly turns to the bartender.
“Quickly, my friend, a shot of something strong and pain-numbing,” he stage-whispers.
“Re- lax,” Mermista says, rolling her eyes and hopping into a bar stool, crossing her legs regally. “It’s fine. I guess it’s like, one of your good qualities or something that your moral compass does actually work when it’s to do with anything unrelated to property damage.”
Sea Hawk brightens considerably, but he still accepts the shot glass of something golden-brown that the bartender sets down in front of him. He picks it up and raises it in a toast towards Adora.
“To your new relationship! May it be filled with the endless and terrifying adventure that is love,” he says, a sincere smile under his truly terrible facial hair. He downs the shot, and then coughs and shudders. “Ye Gods,” he hisses; Adora thinks she sees the bartender suppress a laugh at his discomfort.
She orders a beer for herself and a hard lemonade for Catra; most of the town’s bars carry the local brand that Catra likes, and the Old Glove is no exception. When she slides into the booth beside Catra and wordlessly presents the offering, Catra smiles that wonderful, soft, surprised little smile of hers.
“Thanks, princess,” she murmurs, craning her head up to kiss Adora’s cheek. Adora thinks she must be blushing from hairline to navel, but that doesn’t stop her from grinning fit to crack her face in half. She barely even hears Glimmer choking on her drink or Bow keening with delight. Barely.
With almost the entire cast and crew assembled and rowdy, Netossa claims ownership of the karaoke machine microphone to get all of their attention. She gives a beautiful speech and makes a point to thank all of the tech crew, stage hands, and miscellaneous other volunteers that often go neglected - the large turnout for the party is a good indication of how well Netossa has done in fostering a culture where they don’t feel like they’re treated as second class contributors next to the cast. Netossa is, as always, an excellent and powerful speaker, but Adora is distracted by the butterflies of nerves she feels, knowing what comes next. Netossa always asks the leads to get up and give a little speech at the wrap party.
Sure enough, once she’s done and the applause has died down, she says:
“Catra! The woman of the hour. Get on up here.” Catra stiffens next to Adora in the booth.
“What, do I give a speech too?” She croaks, smiling bashfully. The raucous crowd answers this with a loud chanting of SPEECH, SPEECH, SPEECH, banging on tables, and Adora notices a couple in the corner of the bar who looked like they were on a date quietly pay their tab and slip away. Woops. She returns her attention to the moment at hand, gives Catra’s shoulder a reassuring little squeeze.
“Get up there,” she whispers. “They all like you.”
Catra wiggles out of the bench seat and goes bashfully to the little three-inch-tall riser that the karaoke machine is on, where Netossa hands her the mic and then leans in to whisper something in her ear that makes her brighten and blush. Adora smiles. She really likes Netossa.
“Uh, hey, everybody,” Catra starts awkwardly, speaking into the microphone, and it’s so strange to see her looking unsure with it as if she doesn’t make her living as a performer in front of strange crowds. Maybe that’s what’s got her so nervous - the fact that this crowd isn’t one of strangers. A cheer goes up from the group, whistles and hollers of encouragement; Adora determinedly ensures she’s the loudest person there. Catra laughs, stands a little taller and more sure. “You guys are gonna make me cry, quit that,” she says, a sweet, honest smile blooming across her face. “Thank you. Really.”
She takes a breath, looks around the bar at all the scattered theatre people grinning up at her expectantly.
“When I first moved here, I had no idea what to expect. I definitely didn’t expect everybody to be so incredible, and welcoming, and supportive.” There are a few people who shout AWW from the tables, but for the most part they settle into listening. Adora can already tell she’s going to cry, and she’s not even buzzed yet. “I haven’t done theatre since I was a kid, and honestly, I only stuck with it back then because my best friend was really into it.” Her eyes sparkle with something and she flicks her gaze to Adora. Adora didn’t know that; she swallows heavily and presses a fist to her mouth - yep, definitely already crying. “So when I came back to it after moving here, I sort of thought it would just sort of be something to do, and maybe a way to meet new people. I definitely didn’t expect to fall in love with it again.” Bow sniffles loudly; Adora is relieved she’s not the only one crying.
“But I did, and it wasn’t because anything about theatre had changed. It was all you guys.” Catra blinks and then wipes her eyes. “Fuck, okay, here we go, I’m totally crying.” Everybody laughs sympathetically, and she laughs along with them. She takes a shuddering breath and continues. “I had no idea there were directors out there like Netossa who bring so much passion and thoughtfulness to their craft and still treat everybody with kindness and respect while doing it.” Adora - and several others - glance at Netossa to see how she reacts to this. At her table, she and her wife clutch at each other as they listen to Catra with adoring smiles. Adora has never seen Netossa cry before, but there is a glisten in her eyes tonight. “I had no idea that a cast of people pretending to be a family could become like a family to me.”
“We love you Catra!!” Bow yells. She laughs, a shaky, joyous burst of air.
“You guys really are all something special. Thank you for letting me be your Francesca. Thank you for having my back when I couldn’t do one of the show nights. Thank you for showing me what it’s like to be part of a group that makes a rehearsal space feel like a home.”
She puts the mic back in the stand, and everybody claps and cheers and bangs tables and stamps their feet. Sea Hawk does this with such vigor that only DT’s quick reflexes save his full pint of beer from ending up in Mermista’s lap; instead it just slops a third of the glass onto the table and into the carpet. Ah well. Nothing this nasty old place hasn’t soaked up before.
Catra’s speech is so beautiful that Adora manages to completely forget that she hasn’t been let off the hook. As soon as Catra steps down from the riser, Glimmer yells ADOOOORAAAAA and everybody else takes up the howl. With sheepish reluctance, she gets to her feet and makes her way to the mic; as Catra passes her, still smiling, their hands touch fondly, instinctively. Then she releases Catra and hops up onto the riser.
“Frankly, I have no idea how I’m supposed to follow that,” Adora starts, and everybody laughs. “I guess I’m gonna echo everything she and Netossa said. You all make this so much more than just a hobby. I don’t think I’d be the same person without this group. I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to spend so many years with you all, and get to be part of making these stories come to life on stage with you. Everybody works so hard. I feel like I’m always racing to keep up with how much you all put into every single performance, but at the same time, it’s always so fun. These last four months have just raced by. Um.” She grins nervously. “I’m not very good at this. Sure wish I had a script right now. Somebody feed me my line?” The group chuckles indulgently.
“Your line is ‘Love you nerds, peace out’!” Glimmer yells from their booth. Adora laughs and shakes her head. She leans into the mic, and then as sincerely and fondly as she possibly can, she says,
“Love you nerds. Peace out.”
It’s nowhere near as stirring of a speech as Catra’s but, well, she was never going to be able to compete with that.
They all get wonderfully, riotously drunk.
The bar staff won’t allow them to turn the karaoke machine on one second before ten o’clock, so they’re already quite boisterous by the time the singing starts.
At one point in the evening, just about the entire cast and crew end up singing Summer Lovin’ with Adora playing Danny and Catra playing Sandy. They swing each other around on the riser, noses just a breath apart, while the pub rocks with the force of two dozen voices screaming tell me more, tell me more!
Afterwards, Adora remembers breathlessly making out with Catra in their booth while Bow and Glimmer croon Breaking Free at each other.
Later they make a return to their Grease roles and take the stage for a rendition of You’re The One That I Want, and Adora screeches herself raw with pure, unfiltered joy as she sings I better shape up, if I’m gonna prove -
You better prove - Catra sings, smiling more than Adora’s ever seen her smile in her life - that my faith is justified!
From there, Adora’s memories of the evening get muddier, if still full of rollicking happiness.
“That’s my girlfriend,” she tells the bartender, leaning against the bar and getting another pint, watching Catra with awe.
“That’s my girlfriend,” she whispers giddily to Glimmer, leaning in like this is a secret, pointing with her finger behind one hand to where Catra is literally right next to her.
“That’s - “
“Yeah, your girlfriend, we know,” Mermista interrupts, rolling her eyes goodnaturedly.
Catra continues to call her princess in front of other people.
Adora continues to love it.
In the Lyft on the way home, Catra snuggles into her arms. Glimmer has fallen asleep on Catra’s other side; Bow valiantly took the front passenger seat so that Adora and Catra could cuddle.
“Hey,” Adora whispers into Catra’s ear. “Did you know… you’re my girlfriend.”
Catra giggles, the sound warm and ruddy with her own drunkenness.
“No, you’re my girlfriend,” she says, rubbing her face against Adora’s like she’s claiming her. Adora really, truly does not mind.
“Hell yeah,” Adora mumbles.
She doesn’t remember getting home, but she wakes up the next morning in her own bed with all her clothes on. She has a splitting headache and her mouth feels like she’s been trying to go down on one of those dentist spit vacuums for the last twelve hours, but Catra is beside her, so really, all in all, she thinks this can’t be that terrible of a morning.
Two Months After Bridges
Warm, comforting steam fills the bathroom.
Adora closes her eyes, breathes in. It’s nice.
Catra’s fingers trail softly down her arms. That’s nice too.
“Are you ready?” Catra asks gently.
“Yeah,” Adora says, smiling, keeping her eyes closed a moment longer before she opens them to meet Catra’s. “Ready as I’ll ever be, I think.”
Catra places a gentle kiss to her bare chest. Mm. That. That’s nice too.
Adora reaches down to the button of her own jeans, tries not to notice the way her heart rate picks up against her wishes when she pops it open.
Catra touches another delicate kiss to her shoulder. Another soft, soothing counterbalance to the panic doing its best to assert itself in Adora’s chest.
“You’re always allowed to change your mind,” Catra reminds her. Adora’s hands at her fly go still, but not because she’s having doubts.
She lifts her hands to Catra’s face, holds it between both of them.
“I love you,” she murmurs. It’s the first time she’s said it out loud quite this explicitly. Catra reacts to the words with a smile that says she’s known, and has been patiently waiting for Adora to work up the courage to say it. Catra is so patient with her. It makes her even more sure that she’s ready to try this.
“I love you too,” Catra says, and leans in and rises up on her tiptoes so that their foreheads are pressing together. Adora holds that position for two steadying breaths and then kisses her, slow and tender and full of her thousands of feelings for this one wonderful woman.
Catra smiles when they part.
Adora takes her hands away from Catra’s face, down again to her own pants. With a confident movement - fluid and certain, but not quick, not frantic - she unzips the jeans and pushes them and her boxer shorts down, past her knees, past her ankles. She steps out of them without taking her eyes from Catra’s face.
It’s easier if she doesn’t look.
She swallows, and Catra chases the movement of her throat with more soft, fluttering kisses.
“Is it okay if I look?” Catra murmurs. They’ve already had the discussion before reaching this point; it makes Adora love her all the more that she’s double-checking in the moment.
“Yeah,” Adora says, stroking her cheek, running her other hand down Catra’s neck, splaying her fingers across her naked collarbone.
“Okay if I touch?” She confirms.
“Yeah,” Adora says, a little more shakily. She swallows. “I just might not be able to watch while you do.”
Catra kisses her; it starts soft, but Adora kisses back with intensity, with a sharper, gaspier energy as her complex feelings about her injury start to get closer to the surface. Catra answers the fire of Adora’s kiss with only a moment of surprised hesitation, pressing her fingertips blissfully hard into Adora’s bare hips.
Damn if Adora isn’t actually managing to get a little turned on in spite of all the stress this moment is wrapped up in.
They kiss for a while, but Adora knows she can't delay the inevitable forever. Catra smiles at her when they eventually part, brushes her knuckles across Adora’s stomach so lightly that it tickles and Adora laughs and flinches a little. Catra's eyes flick down meaningfully, and then back up to Adora’s face. Asking permission, checking one final time.
Wordlessly, Adora gives a short, nervous nod.
Catra begins to kiss her way down Adora’s body.
Adora closes her eyes, tries to exist in the moment and not let her trauma hijack the experience.
She thinks about the soft caress of Catra’s lips against her skin, about the way an indulgent exhalation follows each slow, barely-there kiss.
She thinks about the pleasant warmth of the steam that has turned the air of the bathroom into a cozy blanket of moisture, about the way the shower will be the perfect temperature once they get in and the heat of it will soothe and relax all her muscles.
She thinks about the sounds, too, that are wrapped around her so gently; the relaxing white noise of the shower, the soft sound of Catra’s kisses as they travel lower and lower.
Adora puts her hand in Catra’s hair, and that gives her another nice sensation to focus on. Catra looks up at the touch, checking in, and Adora smiles down at her. Everything’s okay. She’s okay.
Catra continues downwards, kissing Adora’s hips, down her thighs, to her knees.
Adora wants to relax, but it’s hard. She’s trying. She’s doing the best that she can, doing a damn sight better than she’d have been just two or three years ago.
Catra has stilled; Adora risks a glance down. Catra is looking. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Adora manages to keep herself from wrenching away by focusing very deliberately on her breathing and staring up at the ceiling.
“Hey,” Catra murmurs, kissing just above Adora’s knee, “it’s just me.”
Adora takes a few more careful breaths; she’s not sure she can talk right now, but she strokes her fingers through Catra’s hair, wanting to reassure her that she isn’t doing anything wrong.
Catra’s hands curl around Adora’s ankles, touching them both at the same time.
“And it’s just you,” Catra says, so, so fucking gently that Adora has to fight down sudden tears. She isn’t worthy of this tenderness, this care, this patience.
Catra’s hands move up, warm and enveloping, up the backs of Adora’s calves, and finally the hand on Adora’s left leg is irrevocably in contact with the worst of the injury, the part of Adora’s calf muscle that she still privately thinks of as mangled even though her therapist doesn’t like that word.
She’s breathing hard, but she’s keeping the panic contained.
“It’s just you,” Catra says again, kissing her knee, kissing her shin, kissing her ankle.
Adora gives a strangled little whimper, nearly at her limit. Catra slowly withdraws her hands - slow enough that Adora’s insecurities can’t make her believe that she’s pulling them away in disgust - and then rises back to standing, wraps her arms around Adora.
Adora quickly holds Catra to her, pressing her face into Catra’s hair and taking big, gulping breaths of the reassuring smell of her. She’s shaking, but - but she’s okay. She’s okay.
They’re both naked - Adora is naked - and they’re okay.
Catra loves her. Catra doesn’t think she’s a failure. Catra doesn’t think she’s pathetic. Catra doesn’t think she’s unworthy.
“Ready to get clean?” Catra suggests, eventually, and Adora is appreciative even of that tiny detail, the way Catra frames it as an action with a purpose, a deliberate reason for showering that Adora can use to propel herself forward.
“Yeah,” Adora says, and then, for the second time, “I love you.”
“I love you,” Catra affirms, and they kiss again, and this time it feels like a sweet, blissful sigh of a relief.
Three Months After Bridges
Catra doesn’t like surprises, so Adora doesn’t try to surprise her. They plan the birthday bonfire together, even though Catra says she feels silly to have anybody make a big deal out of the day. They set up at the beach in the same spot as that first bonfire back in May, and this time Catra brings her guitar.
Adora watches, smiling, as Catra and Rogelio engage in a series of instrumental duets. Catra seems so openly joyful, so comfortable and so relaxed.
Scorpia brings her girlfriend, Perfuma, who it turns out already knows like half the musical theatre group from a shared elective in Queer History at BMU.
They talk animatedly about the next show Netossa has hinted she’s trying to secure the rights for. They sing. They swap stories.
Adora admires Catra and her guitar and her growing network of friends, quietly in awe of the person she’s become in spite of every obstacle put in her path, and she turns to Glimmer and says, “I think I want to marry her someday.”
One Year After Bridges
Catra emerges from the bedroom looking like she’s seen a ghost.
“Everything okay, babe?” Adora asks, rising immediately from her seat on the couch and fumbling for the controller to pause the competitive baking show she put on to distract herself.
“Yeah,” Catra says, frowning at her phone like it’s betrayed her somehow. Unhappy? Confused?
“Was the call really weird or something?” Adora bristles. She’d kind of worried that the guy who’d showed up at the end of their last show and pressed his business card into Catra’s palm was just trying to pick her up or something. “He wasn’t actually a talent agent, was he?”
“No, no, he was,” Catra says, coming the rest of the way into the living room and flopping down on the couch. Adora sits back down again and Catra immediately slots their bodies together. “He offered me representation. He thinks I could go pro.”
“I - Catra, that’s great!” Adora starts to smile, but Catra isn’t looking happy at all about this news. “Isn’t it?”
“He wants me to move to New York.”
“Oh,” Adora says. And then, “Fuck.”
They’re silent for a while.
Adora looks around their apartment, thinking about the life they’ve started building here in this quiet little oceanside town. She loves their apartment, loves the wall of guitars above their sofa and the framed promotional poster for The Bridges of Madison County hanging in the hallway between the bathroom and the bedroom. She loves the little balcony and its growing collection of greenery - Catra wants to try growing peppers next year, the kinds that she can never find at the local grocery store - and she loves the big gray cat they accidentally adopted six months ago, intending to only keep it until they could find someone to take him in and then inevitably becoming too attached to let him go.
She can’t imagine leaving.
But if this is what Catra wants…
“I can find a job as a physiotherapist in New York,” Adora says, gently. “If you want to take a shot at it, we can make it work.” She kisses the back of Catra’s neck. “I love you, and I’m going to be right by your side no matter what you decide to do.”
Catra sighs and softens against her, turning in Adora’s arms to kiss her once and then look at her.
“The thing that keeps running around in my head,” Catra confesses, “Is that it would be such an incredible fuck you to old Weaver, if I managed to end up on Broadway. I just. I think about the look on her face when she sees me on the news, or in a newspaper, or something, and for like half a second I feel like maybe I could win, for once, I could prove to her that I was better than she thought I was.”
Adora nods, understandingly, but doesn’t interrupt. She can feel a ‘but’ coming.
“But,” Catra sighs, and there it is, “then when I keep trying to picture it, I can just feel it in my bones that she’d immediately turn around and start telling people she raised me, that she’s the only reason I managed to be successful. And the whole fucking fantasy just turns right back into a nightmare.”
“Well, if you could take Weaver out of the equation,” Adora suggests, and she is careful with this suggestion because she knows Catra's abuse at the hands of that horrible woman is tied very inextricably with a lot of her insecurities and not-great habits, “how would you feel about the thought of going to New York and trying for Broadway?”
“Honestly?” Catra mutters, settling herself against Adora’s chest and talking to the couch cushions, “I don’t think I feel anything at all. I didn’t get back into theatre because I wanted to be famous or to rise to the top or even make money doing it. It’s not that I don’t love it, I just… I don’t think that’s actually what I want from it.” She frowns darkly. “The agent kind of implied that I had talent that was being wasted on doing community theatre in a little nowhere university town. Like, he didn’t explicitly say it, but he definitely tried to nudge me towards the idea that I owe it to myself, or whatever, to do more than this with theatre.”
“He sounds like a prick,” Adora blurts, before she can stop herself. Catra looks up at her in surprise and then bursts out laughing.
“He kind of was, yeah,” she concedes. She wraps her arms around Adora’s waist and cuddles in closer. “Do you think it’s selfish to be satisfied with just… doing this sort of stuff for fun, even if I could theoretically be going pro?”
“No,” Adora says gently but firmly, stroking her fingers through Catra’s hair. “It isn’t selfish to let yourself be happy.”
A week later, Catra signs up for the songwriting class Spinnerella is running that Rogelio has been pestering her to check out.
A month after that, Rogelio invites her to join the little jazz-folk guitar trio that he’s part of, since their third member had a baby and dropped out to focus on the kid.
“Original music doesn’t make as much money as cover work,” Catra reminds Adora worriedly.
“I make more than enough to handle the bills for a while,” Adora reassures her. “I’m coming up on my year-end review, and Castaspella has been promising me a pretty substantial raise. I think she’s worried I’ll accept that offer from the place on the other side of town. Even if the original music doesn’t end up making much money, we’re stable. You should just go for it - the worst case scenario is that it turns out it's not for you, and you go back to the cover music, or try something else. You came here to get out of a rut and reinvent yourself, remember? Besides - it makes you happy. That's what matters to me.”
Catra joins the guitar trio.
Adora’s never seen her so happy.
Two Years After Bridges
“Nervous?” Catra asks, reaching across the console to squeeze her hand.
“Yeah,” Adora admits, huffing anxiously.
“You’ll do fine,” Catra says, the steady certainty of her words smoothing out the worst ruffles of Adora’s fear. “You’ve put in so much work. You’ve come so far. I want you to go out there and just have fun, okay?”
Adora smiles at her, leans across to the passenger seat to kiss her.
“Okay,” she says, lingering in Catra’s space just to get a few more moments of that reassuring calm into her system.
“Come on,” Catra says, kissing her eyebrow. “You don’t want to miss the warm-up. I’ll be right there.”
“You know you don’t have to stay,” Adora says. “You could take the car and just pick me up when it’s done.”
“I brought my notebook,” Catra says, unwavering. “I’ll just hang out in the bleachers and fuck around with the lyrics I've been working on, and you’ll know I’m right there if you need me.”
“You’re amazing,” Adora sighs, “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” Catra says wryly, popping open her door, “and you’re stalling. Come on, princess.”
Adora takes one last breath in, then opens her own door and steps out into the unpaved parking lot. She feels wind against her bare shins and looks down almost involuntarily. Below her long mesh shorts, the bold color of her vibrant leg sleeve is a reassuring sight. The tattoo has taken her four separate six-hour sessions and many months of healing to get to this point - not to mention the money, but, as Catra keeps reminding her, she can afford it with her salary and it’s absolutely worth it to hire the best artist in town - and this is only the third time she’s been out in public with it - and beneath it, her injured leg - visible.
It feels... good.
As they get closer to the soccer pitch, her senses start to pick up old familiar cues: the smell of cut grass, the thump of shoes against the ball, the shuffle of feet sliding for purchase against the ground. Her leg twinges - she knows her many twinges well enough by now to understand that this one is just her nerves anticipating and assuming pain, instead of actually experiencing it.
Catra slips her hand into Adora’s.
Adora relaxes her shoulders and unclenches her jaw. She hadn’t realized how tense she was letting herself get.
“I am so proud of you,” Catra whispers to her, as they approach the field. “I’ll be right here. Take as many breaks as you need to. Be patient with yourself. Or I’ll kick your ass.”
Adora laughs halfheartedly at the threat, but she does feel better. Some of the people notice that she’s coming over. The head of the rec league, who she recognizes from the meetup last week, waves her over and smiles.
“Okay,” Catra says, slipping her hand out of Adora’s and grinning at her. “Go.”
Adora’s not sure she has the words to express the enormity of her gratitude, so she just smiles at Catra like a woman hopelessly in love and then turns to the field. She breaks into a light jog, pushing herself at last over that boundary line in her heart that has been uncrossable for so many years.
Three Years After Bridges
“I know you’re supposed to give these kinds of speeches at the actual wedding and not at the bridal shower,” Adora says, smiling shyly at the group of people set up at plastic tables in Glimmer’s parents’ beautiful backyard, “but honestly, we talked about it, and we’re going to keep the vows at the ceremony itself pretty simple, so. We figured if we’re going to be gross and demonstratively sappy we’d do it here with just our closest friends. Plus that way Catra can make me cry as much as she wants without losing the deposit on the suit rental.” The group laughs; it’s an intimate gathering, without much fussy traditional stuff besides early afternoon champagne and an abundance of tiny finger foods. She feels comfortable here, surrounded by the people who have become her family over the decade she’s lived in Brightmoon Harbor.
She looks at Catra and smiles. She feels like she should take a steadying breath, but for once she finds doesn’t need one.
Catra is sitting in a plastic lawn chair wearing a loose white blouse and a sexy little pair of skinny jeans, her hand curled over her mouth like she’s already suppressing the flood of emotions she expects to feel during Adora's speech. Her engagement ring stands out against her face in a piercing reminder that this is real.
“I think almost all of you know the story of how Catra and I met, and then went our separate ways, and then met again years later. In fact, I think most of you were there and got to witness first hand how painfully in love with each other we were.” There is a general chuckle and one wolf whistle that is unmistakably Glimmer. Adora grins, but softens her face to seriousness again and she turns to Catra.
Just like all those years ago when they were sharing the stage together and Roberta and Francesca, Adora only has eyes for Catra. Even in front of an audience her words are for Catra and Catra alone.
“Sometimes it feels like it was that show that brought us together - like Bridges is the reason I’m standing here today lucky enough to call you my fiancé, and soon, my wife. But the more I think about it, the more sure I am that even without that play, I’d have found my way back to you somehow. I used to be resentful of all those years we lost, of the time we were apart when we could have been together if we’d just been a little better at communicating, back then - but, for one thing, have you ever heard of a seventeen year old that’s good at communicating?” Everyone laughs, including Catra. “And secondly, I think I’ve learned to be grateful for the time we had apart, the time we had to see the world and grow on our own, and learn to be strong, because it meant that by the time I met you again, I was a better person for it, and I was ready to be your partner in every sense of the word.” Catra starts to cry, silently, but her smile doesn’t waver once.
“You probably still remember one time I - very stupidly, might I add - compared us to the characters in that play. It came out wrong at the time, but, if you'll let me, I want to try again. I know you and I identified with them for a lot of reasons, beyond just, you know, really liking to kiss each other.” Another giggle from the crowd. Catra is still smiling, watching, waiting for Adora to get to her point. Patient. Always so patient. “I think the thing that Roberta says that always sort of spoke to me is her line at the very end of the play, when Francesca asks her not to leave.” Adora holds Catra’s eyes, smiles for her like they’re the only people in the world. “And Roberta says: I’m not leaving you.” Tears trickle openly down Catra’s face, and Adora can feel a pricking in her own eyes. “I’m waiting for you. Catra - my heart never left you. It was always just waiting for you.”
There is a heartbeat of a pause, as everybody holds their breath to ensure Adora is finished with the speech, and then they all burst into loud clapping and louder wailing - their friends are, unsurprisingly, quite dramatic - and then Catra flings herself across the lawn and kisses Adora, and kisses her, and kisses her, and Adora thinks finally I got the words right and I am the luckiest person in the world and I can’t believe I’m allowed to be this happy.
“Get a room!” DT jeers playfully.
Catra pulls up breathlessly from kissing Adora senseless and then, with a smirk about a half a mile wide, announces: “Never have, never will!”
And then she kisses Adora again.
Artwork by 5hi0_art
Wow. Gosh. So, I sure as heck didn't think I'd be writing 70k words of this when I started. Shout-out to Spotify's recommendation engine, which is how I ended up stumbling across One Second And A Million Miles and getting this entire AU lodged in my brain. I'm so glad folks enjoyed this - I knew it was a bit of a gamble, to write (what I thought would be) eight chapters of songfic, and I'm so glad that I've been apparently successful in capturing all those Big Ole Gay Feelings in my heart when I listen to the songs and imagine the characters performing them.
Honestly, writing the curtain going down for the final time at the end of Chapter 11 genuinely felt like I had just finished putting on an actual production. I've listened to the soundtrack probably 30 - 40 times over as I've been writing, as I work, as I cook dinner - with that and reading all the articles of it, and reading reviews as reference for the fake review I wrote, and reading the script to double check the stage directions... I think I can safely say I feel very intimately familiar with this play and the characters in it, and writing the final curtain call really did feel like a goodbye. It's bittersweet to end, but I feel happy with the arc of the story and I hope you like the final epilogue that I included, because I am a sucker for a nice solid Happily Ever After.
Many, many thanks to the lovely folks who've left comments - as always, my frantic writing pace is so much because of the joy of hearing people react to new chapter updates. It really means a lot. Thanks so much for reading this fun, goofy, completely self-indulgent AU. I hope it brought you joy! It certainly has for me.