It wasn’t uncommon to hear tiny, attempting to be vicious yowls in the neighborhoods of Half Moon.
The noise usually heralded the appearance of a little blonde, blue-eyed wolf pup and a tabby brown kitten with one blue eye and one yellow eye. The kitten was easily twice as small as the pup, but usually the one doing the chasing. Anyone who saw them knew the kitten was letting the pup outrun her — that she could speed up and jump on the pup at any time. The kitten would let out a fierce snarl while the pup barked back.
Rarely, when the kitten did finally tackle the pup, they would tumble along and be little girls by the time they stilled, a pile of tiny limbs and screeching laughter. By all rights, they were far too young to be running around the neighborhood alone. There was usually an invisible presence accompanying them, but even without that, the girls would be perfectly safe. Everyone knew them, after all. And everyone in Half Moon looked out for each other.
Sometimes, the pup would carry the kitten by her scruff. Sometimes, a large beast with solid blue eyes, a flowing mane, and maroon fur would carry both of them. Sometimes one of their parents would come to collect them when they changed back and were too tired from their adventures to get home.
That was the case now. A man was walking down the street, looking at yards as he passed. He had eyes as intensely blue as the blonde pup’s, brown hair, and a round face with permanent laugh lines etched into the skin. He paused when he finally found the two — a blonde girl sprawled out on the ground, asleep, snoring, her hair splayed out under her head, and a smaller, brown-furred girl with twitching ears just visible through her wild hair and a lazily moving tail curled up half on top of the first girl, nuzzling her neck and purring contently. Randor chuckled, kneeling to scoop them both up in a practiced way.
Marlena smiled when Randor shouldered his way into the house, the girls still asleep in his arms. “Should I let Cyra and Lyra know Catra is spending the night?”
“Probably.” He deposited both of them onto the couch with a groan, turning to look back at his wife. Cyra and Lyra (and Catra) lived on the very edge of Bright Moon, in Cyra’s family home that was far too big for just the three of them. They made good use of that space, however, opening their doors to newly turned werecats (and sometimes werewolves) who needed guidance after having their lives turned upside down. The neighboring town grumbled a bit about dangerous creatures being too close to civilization, but no one dared to argue with the women. They were fierce, and a nearly unstoppable force.
Catra was certainly going to be an interesting teenager.
The little magicat wiggled, moving in her sleep, paws reaching for Adora. They had only been separated a little when Randor put them down, but it had clearly been too far for Catra’s liking. She stilled when she was pressed right into Adora’s side, face hiding in her neck.
The Driluths were not at all surprised to hear Catra was spending the night at the Grayskulls’ — it was a frequent occurrence, and a risk they took when they let Catra run off to find Adora every day. And sometimes it was easier to just let Catra stay — the times when she was especially clingy, or when Adora decided Catra had to be her teddy bear for the night.
No one really understood the relationship between the girls. They were friends, of course — had been for as long as anyone could remember. But it seemed so much deeper — so much more intense. Too much so for a friendship between two four year olds. They saw each other nearly every day and spent hours together like there was no one else in the entire world. Adora was the only person allowed to touch Catra’s ears (aside from her mothers), and Catra was the only person Adora — who had decided young that she was always going to be Tough — let see her cry. And they were protective. Lord help the person who ever tried to hurt either one of them. Adora had nearly given a boy at the playground a black eye when he pulled on Catra’s tail.
There was something between them. Something that couldn’t be described within the confines of existing language.
“Cyra says the girls can spend tomorrow at their house,” Marlena said, stepping next to Randor and following his gaze. Her expression softened when she saw the girls. “They’re so cute.” Her phone was already in her hand, making it easy to take a quick picture.
Catra’s house was big.
Really, really big.
It made games of hide and seek a lot of fun.
They weren’t allowed on the third floor when there were guests, but no one was there today except Lyra, Catra, and Adora. The children had free reign. And they were putting it to good use.
Lyra smiled as a little pup ran into the kitchen, skidding on the floor and yipping. “I don’t know where she is,” she said with a laugh. “And even if I did, it’s against the rules to tell you, remember?”
If a dog could roll its eyes, Lyra imagined it would have the same expression Adora gave her now before she ran out. She had already searched the basement and the whole first floor. And she couldn’t even follow scents because the entire house smelled like Catra! And Catra swore she never cheated and used her nose to find Adora, but Adora didn’t believe her.
She made her way somewhat clumsily up the stairs, huffing as she looked at the task before her. There were a lot of rooms. She could rule out ones with the doors closed, unless Catra really cheated and shifted back to get in, but she never did that. Also, there were safety things on some of the doors to keep little hands from grasping the knobs.
The first open room on the floor was Catra’s. She probably wouldn’t hide there — too obvious — but Adora checked every space she could, including crawling under the bed (and getting a little distracted by one of Catra’s cat nip toys, but only for a minute!), to ensure that Catra really wasn’t in there. The next open room was Lyra’s and Cyra’s. Adora went through the entire process again, and again with the guest room, which was the last open door. No Catra. Adora huffed out a sigh. She had to climb more stairs now. That wasn’t fair.
There were fewer doors open on the third floor. Adora cleared all the rooms fast, and came to a terrifying conclusion — Catra wasn’t there. They’d said no outside, and it was raining a little, and Catra hated rain, so she probably wasn’t outside. Maybe Adora had missed her on the first floor? She thought she had checked everywhere, but clearly not, if she hadn’t found Catra yet.
Adora returned to the kitchen twenty minutes later, slipping on the floor again and turning back into a human mid-fall. “I can’t find Catra!” she cried before she had even hit the ground. Lyra abandoned the stove, going to pick Adora up.
“What do you mean, sweetie?”
“I looked everywhere, and Catra is nowhere!” Tears filled her brilliant blue eyes. Playtime was over. Now she was scared. Where was Catra?
Lyra gently brushed the tears away, squeezing Adora. “It’s okay, we’ll find her together. Why don’t we start in the basement again?”
Adora nodded and slid out of Lyra’s arms. She charged ahead, yelling Catra’s name at the top of her lungs. Lyra followed, catching Adora before she could fall down the stairs and carrying her until they were on flat ground again. It took about thirty seconds for Lyra to hear the soft, annoyed mrrrrrr over Adora’s voice. She turned, ears twitching, and smiled, walking to the laundry basket full of clean clothes and on top of the dryer.
Guess she’s figured out how to climb up here, too. I may have to start putting laundry away more often.
Her daughter had burrowed under a couple shirts, paws kneading the blanket under her as she yawned. One annoyed blue eye cracked open to look at Lyra. The kitten mrowled irritably. “Well that’s what you get, isn’t it?” Lyra said teasingly, scooping the kitten up. “Adora! I found her.”
Adora whipped around, eyes wide and hopeful.
The kitten was even less thrilled about being unceremoniously taken and crushed in Adora’s arms. She was lucky she didn’t get a few scratches. But Catra didn’t mind Adora snuggling her. Even if it was a little… aggressive.
“Okay, game over,” Lyra announced, herding Adora (with Catra still in her arms) toward the stairs. “It’s almost dinner time.”
Catra yawned again, nuzzling her cheek against Adora’s shirt. She had no qualms about the panic she had caused. She was just mad her nap had been interrupted.
Half Moon was small enough that the Driluths and Grayskulls could trust their neighbors to watch out for their kids. It was also, unfortunately, big enough that the person who set up the kindergarten classes didn’t realize what a disaster it would be to split the girls up.
They had gotten to school around the same time, standing still for all the photos their parents wanted to take. It was almost impossible to get a good picture of Adora alone; Catra stood off to the side and made funny faces at her to make her laugh. Then teachers started calling names to gather their classes up and take them inside.
Oh dear. Randor, Marlena, Lyra, and Cyra exchanged nervous glances. Adora followed the call of her name without thinking, while Catra hung back. Cyra and Lyra could see her brain working hard as she silently mouthed A, B, C, D — pointed to herself — E, F, G — pointed after Adora — and realized that she should have been called before Adora, if they were in the same class.
And then another teacher called, “Catra Driluth!”
Adora heard that and looked at the teacher in confusion, then at Catra, then at their parents. Catra just stared in disbelief. It had never occurred to any of them — not even the adults — that the girls could end up separated in school. It shouldn’t have been a big deal.
It was about to be a big deal.
“It’s just for the school day,” Cyra tried to reassure Catra. The girl’s ears and tail were twitching erratically — a preview of what was about to come. Adora started to walk back, clearly thinking there was a mistake, but her teacher had finished roll call and was gathering the class up to go inside while Catra’s teacher waited for her to join the line. “You can make new friends.”
“I don’t want new friends,” Catra said firmly. Her tail had started to puff up slightly. Adora was ignoring her teacher, making her way back to her friend. Marlena and Randor went to scoop her up and try to answer her confused questions.
The principal and teachers weren’t particularly impressed with the situation. The girls were left outside the office, where they sat and whispered to each other about what was happening, while the adults talked.
“They grew up together,” Lyra explained. “They’re just used to being together in everything.”
“Then being in separate classes should be good for them,” one of the teachers said. The parents could tell they were being judged. “They need more friends.”
“That kind of co-dependency isn’t good,” the other teacher said bluntly. Cyra’s eyebrow twitched. Randor and Marlena exchanged patient looks.
“They’re both shape-shifters. It’s not always that easy for them.” The town was perfectly accepting, in part because of Lyra’s and Cyra’s hard work, but there weren’t many young shape-shifters; it had been almost natural for the werewolf and werecat children to come together.
“There are plenty of kids for them to talk to now.” Again, the judging. Cyra opened her mouth to say something, but was stopped by Lyra. “We’re not changing their class assignments now.”
And that was the end of it.
If betrayal had a physical form, it was the looks on the girls’ faces when they were told they had to go to their separate classrooms. “Why?” Catra protested, a growl building in her chest. “Why can’t I just switch with one of the other kids?”
“It’s not that easy, sweetheart,” Cyra said, brushing Catra’s hair back from her face. “You’ll see each other at lunch and recess. It’ll be okay.”
Adora looked lost, staring at her parents. “I can’t be in the same class as Catra?”
“No, Adora,” Marlena said. “But like Cyra said, you’ll see each other at lunch and recess. It’ll be okay.”
It was not okay.
Adora spent most of the day in a daze, like she had never even considered the idea of being away from Catra. Catra, despite all the talks she’d had with her mothers about shape-shifting during school, transformed after two hours, scratched her teacher, and ran out. She was eventually found lurking outside Adora’s classroom door. Cyra and Lyra were called to pick up their daughter.
“She’s going to have to get used to it,” her annoyed teacher informed Lyra. Cyra had the troubled kitten in her arms and was trying to calm her. Lyra was the more patient of the two, and less likely to bite someone’s head off. It was best for Cyra to focus on Catra while Lyra dealt with the teacher.
“They’re just children. They don’t understand why they have to be separated.”
“They’ll have to learn, then.”
Catra spent the rest of the day curled up in her favorite corner, where the sunlight hit her just right. She refused to move until she heard the front door opened, and Adora called for her. Marlena exchanged looks with Cyra and Lyra while Catra ran around Adora’s ankles, purring loudly. Adora immediately transformed to join her, and they ran off deeper into the house.
“You don’t think it’s unhealthy, do you?” Marlena asked uncertainly.
“Of course not,” Cyra said, scoffing. “They’re friends. They were just shocked. We… probably should have considered this possibility.”
She added the last part with her ears flat against her head. “Either way,” Lyra said, “we need to do something. They’re not going to switch either of the girls.”
“I think they’re being a little unreasonable about that,” Cyra said, voice bitter.
“The teachers were rather cold about it,” Marlena agreed. “I didn’t care much for the attitude or implications.”
Cyra made a noise of agreement. Lyra held still, listening to the yips and yowls coming from upstairs. The teachers had been cold, Marlena was right. But that had also been a rather extreme reaction to splitting up for a few hours.
It took some time to work things out, but the school issue got easier. Catra refused to participate or talk to the teacher, but she reluctantly make friends with Scorpia, a little girl with pincers and an exoskeleton. She broke a lot of crayons. It was kind of funny. Adora, meanwhile, became absolutely enthralled with a purple-haired girl in her class.
“Her hair moves, Catra! All on its own!”
“That doesn’t sound real,” Catra said, taking a bite of her sandwich.
“It is — Entrapta!” Adora stood up to get the girl’s attention, waving frantically. The girl looked up from some electronic she was taking apart. A lock of hair was wrapped around what looked like a cellphone case. “See?”
Catra stared, fascinated. “Whoa.”
Their separate friends integrated somewhat into their lives outside of class — Entrapta and Scorpia both lived across town, so they didn’t see each other often, but the four girls eventually migrated to sit together at lunch and playing during recess. Melog started joining Catra at school as well to help her settle. But at the end of the day, it was always Catra and Adora together.
Marlena worried sometimes. So did Lyra. Cyra and Randor thought the teachers had been rude and out of line. It wasn’t wrong for the girls to want to spend time together. Their wives were overreacting. Cyra did start paying more attention, though. And started noticing things.
“She scent marks Adora.”
They were lying in bed, preparing to sleep, when Cyra brought the topic up. Lyra looked up from her book, tilting her head. “Catra?”
“Yes. I didn’t notice before but she’s been scent marking her for years.”
“Does that surprise you?” Lyra asked. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Catra’s and Adora’s more primal sides came out around each other. A consequence of spending so much time as kitten and pup together, they supposed. Those physical interactions had moved into human life as well.
“No,” Cyra admitted, setting her phone aside. Catra was possessive of everything. Of course she would want anyone and everyone to know Adora was hers.
“But?” Lyra prompted, frowning. She could tell her wife was thinking too hard about something.
“Maybe I’m over-thinking it.”
Lyra set her book down and reached out, tugging Cyra close to kiss her. “Tell me.” It was a soft, but firm command.
“Do you… think it’s possible they’re bonded?”
That certainly wasn’t what Lyra had been expecting. Emotional bonding was unique among magicats — a mutual feeling of being drawn to each other. Of wanting to be together. It didn’t happen lightly, and it never happened with a non-magicat.
“A wolf, I know. But look at them, Lyra. Look at the way they act. The way they cling to each other. The way they act out when they’re forced apart. They’re so young, and they don’t know how to articulate their feelings yet. Catra can’t explain why she doesn’t want to be in a separate class from Adora, she just knows she doesn’t want to be and that’s enough.” Cyra met Lyra’s gaze, ears down, hidden in the wild hair she’d passed on to Catra. “I don’t know. But I’m curious. And I know you worry about them.”
“I do.” There was no point in lying. “We can keep an eye on it. But if that’s the case… it’s not hurting them. All we can do is help them learn how to deal with the feelings.”
Cyra nodded, letting out a long breath and smiling. She knew the girls would be okay. They would make sure they were okay.
Adora and Catra survived kindergarten, and were put in the same first grade class. By that point, they had more or less adjusted to not spending the entire day together, but learning they would be in the same class was the best surprise. Their parents had a meeting with the teacher to try and avoid any new disasters, like Catra being angry when she couldn’t sit with Adora. The teacher was understanding, and promised to be gentle with the girls. It was a relief.
They were three seats away from each other for the first month of school (they were sitting in alphabetical order). It wasn’t fun, but they spent all of snack time and lunch and recess together, and that was enough. They immediately moved to sit next to each other in the front row (Adora’s choice) when they were allowed to choose their own seats, though. The teacher simply said to make sure they didn’t distract each other, and to their credit, they were very good — save for the occasional tail brush or ankle kick.
Second grade presented a new challenge. They weren’t in the same class this time, which was disappointing, but they had survived it at the age of five, and they could survive now at the ripe old age of seven. Scorpia and Entrapta were both in Catra’s class, which helped, but it also meant Adora was alone.
That was what Catra assumed, at least, until the third day of school, when Adora brought a new girl to join their group.
Her name was Lonnie, and Catra didn’t like her. There was nothing wrong with her, but she felt… different from Entrapta or Scorpia. Maybe it was because Adora paid more attention to her. They talked and laughed about things that had happened in class — inside jokes that Catra didn’t know anything about. They traded snacks — something Adora couldn’t do with Catra, because they had different diets.
And worst of all, she was normal. Not like Scorpia, with her exoskeleton and pincers. Not like Entrapta, with her moving hair and racing brain. Not like Catra. She was a human, and even if Adora was a wolf, she still spent a lot of time as a human. She had more in common with Lonnie than she did any of the others.
Did Adora think Lonnie was better than them?
It haunted Catra until it broke her. They were at recess one day, playing tag with some other kids. Lonnie was it, and managed to chase down Adora, practically tackling her as she tagged her. They landed on the ground together, laughing.
Catra didn’t remember making a conscious choice to transform, but being a cat was easier. She darted across the playground, snarling and swiping her claws. She caught Lonnie’s arm, easily tearing it open, blood staining her paw and fur. Lonnie cried out, jerking back and falling off Adora, who sat up, surprise shining in her eyes.
Teachers were gathering to see what the problem was. The rest of the playground had gone quiet. Catra slipped between legs and darted off, easily jumping the school gate.
Cats couldn’t cry. That was fine with Catra. She didn’t want to cry. She didn’t want to be sad. It was easy to just let the cat mind take over and lead her to safety. Somewhere far away from everyone else, somewhere she could hide, somewhere she could be comfortable.
That place, apparently, was the Whispering Woods. She ran until she felt tired, then curled up at the base of a tree, mewling pathetically — the closest sound she could make to crying. She was angry. But she was also sad.
Melog found her first. The large cat slid effortlessly through the trees, as if no obstacle could stop them, stepping up to where Catra lay. She hissed weakly at them, not interested in being comforted or worse, going home. She was going to be in so much trouble. She wasn’t supposed to transform at school. She definitely wasn’t supposed to claw up other kids. She was going to be in so much trouble.
Melog’s snout gently rested on her head, relaying the silent message — everyone was worried about her. They just wanted her to come home. Catra snarled and batted their snout (without claws) to push them away. She was about the size of a normal house cat now, but Melog could still easily carry her home if they wanted. They didn’t, much to her surprise. They simply turned and disappeared, loping back off toward society. Good. Catra settled in and closed her eyes. Maybe they had taken the hint.
They had not, as it turned out. Barely any time passed before she heard footsteps approaching — the large, clumsy steps of an animal that had yet to grow into its limbs.
She was a little bigger than Catra, though not by much, but the new height was confusing to her. She stopped close to Catra’s tree, lighting up when she saw her friend, and nearly falling over herself as she ran forward. Catra stood straight up, tail on end and floofing, as she snarled at Adora, who immediately stopped. She tilted her head, silently asking the obvious question: why.
Catra hissed, turning in her spot so she was facing away from Adora and settling in again. She didn’t want to talk to her or see her. She wanted to be alone. Wasn’t that obvious? She had run all the way out here for a reason.
Adora wasn’t having it, though. Small sticks cracked under her claws, leaves crumpling, as she approached Catra, then made herself comfortable, furry body pressed right up against furry body. A growl built in Catra’s chest, but Adora was apparently fearless. She settled her head on her paws and closed her eyes. Eventually, Catra did the same.
Melog came back before sunset to retrieve them, carrying them home to their worried parents.
Catra wasn’t allowed to go out to recess for a whole week after that. She had to stay inside with her teacher, writing an apology letter to Lonnie, while everyone else got to run around. She had to eat lunch in the classroom too. It was boring, but compared to the alternative, it could have been worse. She’d sat outside the principal’s office while her mothers talked to the man, and while she was sure they thought they were speaking low enough, her sensitive ears still heard the word band, and her hackles went straight up.
Bands were a rarely used magical item. They were like bracelets, except they dug into skin and did something that stopped a shape-shifter from transforming. They were only used on people who did really bad things. Suggesting using one on a child was barbaric.
At least, that was what Cyra had yelled at the principal, no longer pretending to keep her voice down.
“She is seven years old—!”
“It’s not the first time she’s attacked another person. I have to think about the safety of the students and teachers—”
“I welcome you to try and get approval for that,” Lyra said coolly. “Perhaps then someone will realize how completely inept you are at dealing with children.”
Catra’s heart was hammering, her breathing shallow. She didn’t want a band. She didn’t want to be cut off from transforming. Her mothers would protect her, but what if the principal really did try? What if someone let him? What if they thought she was just a dangerous beast who couldn’t be controlled, like all the bad people who had been forced to wear those things?
Melog appeared in front of her, pressing their head into her chest. Catra wound her arms around them, clinging desperately and trying not to cry. She was still in that position when Cyra and Lyra stepped out of the office. “Hey, kitten.” Cyra knelt, ruffling Catra’s hair. “No one is going to hurt you, okay? And if anyone tries, we’ll rip out there—”
“Cyra,” Lyra scolded her wife, exasperated. Cyra scooped Catra up, patting Melog’s head.
None of that meant she wasn’t in trouble with her mothers as well. Transforming at school, attacking another kid, and running away? She was grounded for two weeks, and that included going to see Adora. Adora could still come over, but they weren’t allowed to play like they usually did, and she was only allowed to stay for a couple hours. Catra figured she just wouldn’t come over. What was the point?
Which was why she hid in her closet when Cyra announced that Adora was here.
She heard the door open, then silence. “Catra?” Adora asked. She could imagine the confused look on her face, as if Catra had pulled off some amazing magic trick. Paws thudded in front of the closet door, and Melog let out a long mrowl, giving away Catra’s hiding place. Snitch. The closet door opened a moment later, revealing a very bewildered Adora. “Why are you in the closet?”
“Go away,” Catra muttered, curling up tighter and trying to disappear into the corner. Adora didn’t move.
“Are… you mad at me?” Her voice was small and uncertain. Catra’s ears flattened against her head; she closed her eyes. “I… I’m sorry if I made you feel bad, I didn’t mean to—”
“Just leave me alone!” Catra huffed. “Go play with your new friend Lonnie.”
“Are you mad about Lonnie?” Adora was so stupid sometimes. “She’s just like Entrapta and Scorpia—”
“No she’s not! She’s normal, you can be human with her!” Tears pressed against her eyelids, threatening to escape. There was a sudden shuffle of feet; Catra thought Adora was running away, but then a heavy body dropped on top of her, hugging her curled up form as tight as possible.
“I don’t want to be human with her,” Adora said stubbornly. “I’d rather be a wolf with you. You’re my best friend.”
Catra face was pressed into her knees, muffling her voice as she mumbled, “You promise?”
“I promise,” Adora replied without hesitation. Catra finally unraveled to slide her arms around Adora and cling to her.
Lonnie still sat with them at lunch. She glared at Catra on her first day back after the week of lunch detention and coldly declared, “I hate you.”
Adora started to reprimand her, but Catra sat down, making a point of falling into the chair as heavily as possible. “Good,” she said back just as fiercely before getting out her lunch.
Elementary school passed. They gathered up another friend here and there — a small blonde boy named Kyle, whom Adora and Catra saved from a bully on the first day of third grade. A tall lizard boy named Rogelio who spoke mostly in grunts and sign language. They all made an effort to learn sign language was well so they could always understand him. Catra formed some kind of weird friendship with a girl she sat next to in fifth grade, Mermista. Adora could never tell if it was friendship or not; they always seemed to be arguing, but they were never mad or mean. But Mermista had magic and could control water, which was pretty cool. She was easily welcomed into the group.
There was an unspoken rule amongst them, outside of Catra and Adora, and that was to never question Catra and Adora. They maintained their close friendship, Catra slowly learning to be more secure as they met more people (although Lonnie never forgave her). They were in different class for second, third, and fifth grade, and reunited at lunch like they hadn’t seen each other in years. Sometimes during recess, they would transform and sneak off to nap until the bell rang, signaling them back to class. And no one questioned it.
Their parents watched them grow, watched their friendship deepen. Cyra and Lyra eventually shared their bond theory with Marlena and Randor, who were surprised by thought.
“But Adora’s not—”
“We know,” Cyra said, looking to the door and making sure the girls weren’t about to bust it down. They were nearing eleven years old now, growth spurts demanding the constant consumption of food. Adora was going to be tall, they could already tell. Catra would probably be shorter, but that was normal for magicats. “We’re not completely sure about it ourselves. But look at them and tell us that’s a normal friendship.”
It wasn’t. They all knew it wasn’t. The two really were drawn to each other, like an invisible thread was keeping them together. “It’s not… harmful, is it?” Marlena asked uncertainly.
“No, absolutely not,” Cyra assured her. “They care about each other. It doesn’t really change anything.”
The door broke open then, two eager girls stumbling through, yelling hellos as they beelined to the pantry. Randor shook his head, chuckling.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“It’s just a stupid dance. Who even cares?”
“You do, apparently,” Entrapta said, looking up from the little robot she was working on. They were in math class and supposed to be working on assignments, but that didn’t matter. “Considering you’ve been talking about it all day.”
“I have not!” Adora huffed, cheeks puffing out.
“If you’re that bothered about Catra and Mermista going together, you could just ask Catra to go with you.”
“Okay, well first of all, they aren’t going together,” Adora said haughtily. “Catra is just putting on a show because Mermista wants to make that new guy jealous. Which is totally pointless because he’s already head over heels for her. He sang sea shanties to her at lunch the other day? Why does she need to make him jealous?”
“To be quite honest, I’ve never understood romantic relationships.” Entrapta went back to work. “They seem to limit higher brain functions.”
Adora grumbled as she tried to focus on her work again. “Maybe I could ask Lonnie to go with me,” she said thoughtfully. “I mean, if Catra doesn’t want to—”
“I believe she’s already said yes to Rogelio. And she’s probably suffered enough from Catra’s jealousy.” Okay, that was true. Adora nibbled on the end of her pencil, sighing heavily. “I still don’t understand why you can’t just ask her if you’re jealous.”
“I’m not jealous!”
She was absolutely jealous. It burned in her stomach, bright and hot. It made her ears ring slightly, made it hard to breathe. And she didn’t understand why. It was just a stupid dance. Mermista was a friend. Catra was a friend. She had nothing to be jealous about.
And yet she found herself throwing her bag in her locker and running out the back of the school, on four legs before she broke the tree line. She needed to not think for awhile. Being a wolf was always the best way to do that.
Dress shopping was a nightmare.
Marlena was doing her best to be patient, but Adora was moping and rejecting everything before she even looked at it. She knew Adora wanted to go to this dance. Why was she being so difficult?
“What’s Catra wearing?” she finally asked, deciding to change tactics. Adora shrugged. “Well, text her and ask. Maybe you two can coordinate.”
“Why would I want to coordinate with Catra?”
“Are… you not going together?” Marlena asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No. She’s going with Mermista.”
Ah. That explained so much. Marlena chuckled slightly to herself, shaking her head.
They went home without any new clothes. The dance was still two weeks away — they had plenty of time. But Marlena wasn’t sure how cooperative Adora was going to be through the process.
The next day was Sunday dinner at the Driluths’ — a tradition that had started when the girls had been five, to make up for the separated time during the school days. Catra and Lyra were in the living room when the Grayskulls arrived, Lyra fussing over the suit jacket Catra was wearing.
“If you hold still, I can figure out where to trim it—”
Catra was immediately distracted when she saw Adora. “Heeeeey, Adora. What do ya think?”
She spun to show off her crimson suit. Adora blinked, eyes wide. And Marlena understood where she had gone wrong.
Randor took Adora to his tailor a few days later.
“You have not stopped staring at Adora.”
Catra blinked, forcing her gaze back to her “date.” She had absolutely no interest in Mermista, and knew the lack of feelings was shared. But going to the dance together sounded fun. And it wasn’t like anyone else had asked her.
“I’m not staring at Adora,” Catra protested, frowning. She might have been staring a little. Just a little.
“Hey, I get it. She’s the only person who can pull off a white suit like that. Also, you guys have been in love since you were like, five.”
That had been the wrong time to take a sip of her fruit punch. Catra choked, coughing and nearly spilling the drink. “Smooth,” Mermista said dryly. Catra covered her mouth, trying to breathe.
“What — What the hell do you mean — in love?”
Mermista raised an eyebrow, clearly not impressed. “Um, yeah. That’s the only reason I can think of that she’s been able to deal with you for literally your entire lives.”
“I’m not — we’re not—”
“Of course not.” Mermista patted her head, smirking a bit. “Tell you what. You gave me a couple good dances. Sea Hawk looks like he’s ready to explode into song. How about we break up and you go ask Adora for a dance?”
Catra stuttered for a moment before taking a deep breath. “Okay. Cool. Good luck with Sea Hawk.”
“Good luck with Adora.”
Mermista winked before slipping into the crowd. Catra steadied herself, fiddling with her (coolly untied) bow tie, and stood, crossing the gym floor. Adora was talking to Scorpia, looking absolutely amazing. Mermista was right — Adora was the only person who could pull off a white suit with golden trim. Her hair was down behind her shoulders, a pin holding it back on each side.
She was beautiful.
Adora didn’t see her coming, but Scorpia did. Catra heard her make a clumsy excuse before she hurried off, leaving Adora looking vaguely confused. Catra took her chance and slid up next to her, hands in her pockets.
“Oh!” Adora turned to look at her, beaming. “Hey! What happened to Mermista?”
“Left me for a man.” Catra let out a dramatic sigh. “I don’t know how she could do that after spending a few hours with me, but there’s no accounting for taste sometimes.”
Adora snorted, rolling her eyes. “Riiiiiiiiiight.”
Damn it, she was cute. Catra hoped it wasn’t too obvious she was blushing. “So, uh… you got anyone to dance with?”
“Oh, no.” Adora was definitely blushing. Her pale skin did her no favors. “Who would I even ask?”
“I dunno — Lonnie?”
It had been six years since the Incident. Lonnie still hated Catra, and the feelings were mostly returned. She didn’t feel guilty about it anymore. “I think I saw her leaving with Rog and Kyle, actually.”
“Rog and Kyle?” Catra raised an eyebrow. “Well. Good for them.” She tilted her head, ear twitching, as the song changed to something slow, a guitar solo beckoning in the new song. Perfect timing. “Well, you’re alone and my so-called date ditched me, so…” She offered a hand. “Wanna dance?”
Adora lit up, beaming. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds great.”
The lyrics started as Catra pulled her onto the floor.
Childhood living is easy to do…
They fell into position, Catra’s arms slung over Adora’s shoulder, Adora gently resting her hands on Catra’s waist. Other couples fumbled awkward around them, but this felt… natural to them. Good. “So did Mermista’s devious plan work?”
“Seems like it.” Catra craned her head to see her trying to teach Sea Hawk some kind of rhythm. “Not sure how it’s going to go from here, though.”
Adora laughed, ducking her head, her hair falling to frame her face. Catra smiled. She loved that sound. “I can’t believe you agreed to just be part of that.”
“Yeah, well…” Catra shrugged, trying to fake looking nonchalant. “No one else asked me.”
Graceless lady, you know who I am…
That caught Adora off guard. She blinked, staring at Catra as if seeing her for the first time. “Would… Would you have gone with someone else if they’d asked?”
“I mean, it depends.” Catra couldn’t just answer that, of course. “If it had been Scorpia, probably not, that whole crush thing she thinks she’s subtle about is kind of weird—”
“What if I asked you?”
It was Catra’s turn to look surprised. “You? S-Sure, I don’t see why not. I mean, my moms thought I was going with you.”
“Seriously?” Adora snorted. “My mom thought the same thing.”
“Wow.” Catra rolled her eyes. “They really think we’re that predictable?”
“I guess I don’t blame them,” Adora allowed. “I literally do not remember a day of my life without you.”
Wild horses couldn't drag me away
Wild horses couldn't drag me away…
“So you… would’ve wanted to go with me if I’d asked?” Adora ventured uncertainly.
“I think we’ve established that, yes.”
“Well… what if I asked you something else?”
Catra raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What do you want to ask me?”
“If I can kiss you.”
And now you've decided just to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines…
Catra blinked several times, mouth hanging open. “It’s okay if not!” Adora said quickly, all nerve visibly draining at once. “I just, I thought, you know, I could ask and—”
She stopped talking very abruptly when Catra surged forward, standing on her tiptoes to kiss her.
It was exactly what any thirteen year old’s first kiss would feel like — awkward and uncertain. Adora’s hands hesitantly tightened to hold Catra steady as she balanced with unnatural grace; they broke apart after only a moment. It felt like a lifetime.
Faith has been broken and tears must be cried
Let's do some living after we die…
They heard the faint sound of Mermista groaning, “Finally,” while Scorpia cheered.
“Our friends are so freaking weird,” Catra said conversationally, as if they hadn’t just fundamentally changed their worlds. Adora giggled. Giggled. It was so cute.
“Yeah. But they’re ours for a reason.”
Wild, wild horses, we'll ride them someday…
It turned out dating didn’t actually change much about their lives.
The kissing part was fun, but they already did so much together that no one could really tell the difference. They went running together every morning before school and on the weekends (usually as cat and wolf, sometimes in their humanoid forms). They spent days and nights at each other’s houses, doing homework together, Catra still sat in Adora’s lap during lunch (yes that had been a pre-dating thing. She’d excused it by saying she was light and there were never enough chairs). Their parents didn’t realize anything was different until Lyra walked in on them kissing. Her only reaction had been a shrug and asking a bright red Adora if she wanted to stay for dinner.
“Um, sure,” she squeaked. Lyra smiled and went to let her wife know about these new developments. Marlena and Randor were also told, of course.
Their animal forms, unfortunately, weren’t quite as ideal for indoor cuddling as they used to be. Their last growth spurts had put Adora at nearly seven feet long and one-hundred and fifty pounds, while Catra was about five feet long and one-hundred and twenty pounds. Their beds definitely weren’t going to hold them. They made due, however, retreating out to Catra’s large backyard on sunny days and finding a spot to nestle in for several hours. Visitors were usually confused by the sight of a giant, shaggy blonde wolf and a large, slim cat with light brown fur and tabby stripes cuddling and napping in the middle of the yard.
“It’s just our daughter and her girlfriend,” Lyra and Cyra would always assure people. They made sure to send pictures to Marlena; she was working on a scrapbook for the girls, which heavily featured them cuddling with each other throughout the years.
It didn’t take long for Catra to start stealing clothes. She was a cat, after all. And she had already taken ownership of some of Adora’s sweatshirts, so really, what was a couple more? And maybe a t-shirt to sleep in? The t-shirt was cleaned and returned to Adora every two weeks, and she had to sleep with it for three days to ensure that it smelled like her enough for Catra to be satisfied.
“You’re ridiculous,” Adora informed her girlfriend flatly as she returned the shirt one day. Catra grinned, poking her nose.
“You’re just jealous you don’t have my sense of smell when you’re human.”
Adora would never admit that she was right.
They started high school. Adora joined the football team. Catra had herself a good laugh over the idea of being a jock’s girlfriend.
She was still front and center at every game, home and away, screaming Adora’s name louder than anyone else could yell. And when Adora made varsity in her Sophomore year (a rarity, but not surprising given that it was Adora), Catra took possession of her letterman jacket (after ensuring it smelled enough like her), proudly wearing the jacket with Grayskull across the back, and 87 underneath. It was huge, and nearly swallowed Catra’s lithe form, and she could often be found snuggling into it, purring loudly.
Their first I love you was nothing special — a lazy, rainy Sunday on Adora’s couch, watching a movie, Catra wearing one of her sweatshirts and pressing into her side.
“I love you,” Catra murmured, rubbing her cheek against Adora’s shoulder. Adora looked down at her in surprise, then softened, a smile pulling at her lips.
“I love you too.”
Saying the words brought a warm, fuzzy, blooming feeling to Adora’s chest. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply, and pressed her lips against the top of Catra’s head, ignoring the hair tickling her cheek. A loud purr bubbled up in Catra; she pressed closer, cheek now nuzzled in Adora’s neck. Scent marking. She had explained it once to Adora, blushing and mumbling. Her mothers had talked her into telling Adora — she had been doing it unconsciously for years, but it was a little different now that they were in a relationship. Adora deserved to know so she could consent or protest, if she wanted.
Like she would ever protest Catra advertising to the world that she was hers.
Adora turned sixteen before the end of tenth grade, and easily got her driver’s license, opening up an entirely new world to them once summer arrived. She and Catra spent a lot of time finally getting out of Half Moon and exploring, finding new woods to hike through with two legs or run through with four, discovering little tourist towns where they spent the entire day wandering around, sometimes picking up little souvenirs as reminders of their adventures. They each had a shelf full of useless nick nacks, key chains, snowglobes, shells, and rocks they thought looked cool.
There was an amusement park just outside of Bright Moon (about three hours from Half Moon), that Scorpia had discovered and suggested for a friends’ day out. That was an ever-expanding group — Mermista was (sometimes) dating Sea Hawk, and Scorpia had started dating a girl named Perfuma, who had transferred to their school halfway through last year. The four of them, plus Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio, plus Entrapta, plus Catra and Adora, meant they were going to be squeezing ten people into Adora’s car.
Luckily, her parents had recognized how outgoing and social she was, and bought her a minivan. Catra made fun of her for it relentlessly, but it had two rows of back seats and could comfortably fit six people, plus the front passenger’s seat. No one had to know the lengths they went to in order to squeeze in four extra people.
“Yo, why am I in the trunk?” Lonnie complained as she was ushered in, joining Kyle.
“Because you’re short,” Catra called back, yawning. It was early, but if they were going to do this, they were making a day of it. Lonnie was their last pick up — Entrapta was sitting against the window in the front row of seats, with Mermista and Sea Hawk next to her. Scorpia and Rogelio took up most of the second row of seats, and Perfuma was in Scorpia’s lap.
“Entrapta probably doesn’t want to make out with Kyle.”
“No thank you,” Entrapta piped up. They all ignored Kyle’s embarrassed stuttering.
“Well I, for one, think this will be a wonderful adventure!” Sea Hawk said happily. “In fact, I believe I—”
“No!” Lonnie, Catra, and Mermista yelled at the same time.
“I will kick you out, I swear—”
“Yeah, kick him out! I want a seatbelt!”
Adora was rolling her eyes and smiling as she climbed into the driver’s seat, buckling in and starting the van. She met Catra’s gaze; Catra grinned back, saying, “Is this what it’s going to be like to have kids?”
That got her a blank stare, and then a giant smile as Adora leaned over to kiss her. Everyone groaned.
They arrived at the park just as the tension was getting high enough for murder to happen. “I am not sitting in the trunk on the way back,” Lonnie complained as she staggered out.
“You wanna sit in Rog’s lap instead?”
Catra ducked as Lonnie swung half-heartedly at her. “Is it too early to call shotgun?” Mermista asked.
“I get permanent shotgun as the girlfriend.”
“Can’t you like, turn into a cat and curl up on the floor or something?”
“I don’t think poor Swifty could handle Catra’s werecat form,” Adora said, patting the car’s hood. Catra shot her a dark look.
“What did I say about naming the car?”
“But Swift Wind is such a cool—”
The group was too big to stay together for long — they all had different things they wanted to do, or not do, and agreed to meet up for lunch before taking off in different directions. Catra tugged Adora to the closest roller coaster, grinning. This was going to be great.
They were in line for their third ride when Catra noticed Adora looking over her shoulder, frowning. “What’s wrong?” Catra asked, tugging her hand. Adora shrugged, eyebrows furrowed.
“I keep feeling like someone is watching me.”
“Well you are the prettiest girl in the park.”
Adora rolled her eyes, shouldering Catra lightly. “It’s been happening since Elberon last week. It feels like someone is spying on me.”
Catra raised an eyebrow. “Sure you’re not just being paranoid or something?”
“Maybe,” Adora admitted, but her gaze was obviously still troubled. Catra pressed a kiss to her cheek.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.”
No one had the energy to argue about seating arrangements by the end of the day. They all collapsed where they had started, falling asleep on the drive home. Kyle had his head in Lonnie’s lap. Scorpia and Mermista were curled into each other. Mermista had her head on Sea Hawk’s shoulder, and Entrapta was leaning on Mermista. This might have been the first time Adora had ever seen Entrapta hold still.
She saved dropping off Catra for last. The magicat was fast asleep, curled up in her seat. Adora carefully unbuckled her, then got out and went to open her door, easily scooping her up. Catra stirred slightly, eyelids fluttering, but she quickly relaxed when the familiar scent hit her. Adora carried her to the front door, ringing the doorbell. It was only nine; she knew Cyra and Lyra would still be up.
Cyra opened the door, and smiled. “Good day, then?”
“It was great,” Adora said, stepping inside. She yawned, half-wishing someone could carry her.
“Are you going to be okay driving home?” Cyra asked. “You can stay if you need to.”
Adora shook her head. “Mom wants me home. We’re going to see my grandparents tomorrow and we’re leaving early. I’ll be fine, it’s not that far.”
She carried Catra upstairs and to her room. Catra stirred again as her heat source disappeared, eyes cracking open just slightly, an involuntary mrrrr building in her chest.
“Sssshhh.” Adora leaned in, lips ghost against Catra’s before she leaned in to press their foreheads together. “Go back to sleep. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Love you.”
A lazy, tired smile tugged Catra’s lips as she closed her eyes again, inhaling deeply. “Love you too.”
Cyra was waiting by the stairs when Adora walked back down. “You sure you’re okay to drive?”
“Absolutely.” Adora hugged her. “I’ll text you when I get home, okay?”
“Okay,” Cyra allowed reluctantly. “Drive safe.”
She turned the music up a bit when she got back in the car. The stuffed cat she had won for Catra had fallen onto the floor. Adora made a note to put it somewhere safe.
The lights were still on in the house when Adora pulled into the driveway. She grabbed her phone to text Cyra, then got out of the car. There was a slight chill in the air; the wind brushed against her exposed arms and legs, making her shiver slightly. And there was that feeling again. The feeling of being watched. She stared out into the darkness, mesmerized for a moment, until her phone went off, jarring her back into reality. It was from Cyra.
Good, thanks for letting me know. Love you!
Marlena and Randor were watching a movie when Adora let herself in, yawning. “Did you have a good day?” her mother asked.
“Great day,” Adora called back sleepily. “Want bed.”
Randor chuckled. “Sleep well.”
She didn’t even bother changing. She just collapsed into bed, passing out as soon as her head hit the pillow.
The smell of smoke wafted in on the soft breeze coming through Catra’s open window.
She wrinkled her nose, cracking one eye open. Melog had shrunken down to lie on her chest like a house cat. She chuckled. “Hey buddy. Miss me?”
Melog opened an eye to look at her, then yawned, closed their eye again, and presumably went back to sleep. But Catra was awake now, and the burning smell was bothering her.
“Budge,” she mumbled, nudging Melog off of her. They grumbled, but slid to the floor, growing a bit as they stretched. Catra yawned, rolling out of bed. She barely remembered even getting to bed — her memories were centered around Adora kissing her, leaning over, looking down at her with such pure, unrestrained love. Her heart jumped just a little at the reminder, and she smiled.
Cyra and Lyra were sitting at the kitchen table, talking quietly to each other and doing a poor job of hiding the distressed looks on their faces. Catra paused on the bottom step, hesitating before announcing her presence. “Mom? Mama?”
They looked up at their daughter. Lyra had been crying. “C’mere, sweetie,” she murmured, gesturing for Catra to join them. The few steps Catra had to take felt like a mile.
“Did… something happen? I can smell smoke…”
Melog was circling her ankles, mane shifting uncertainly in reaction to the tension in the room. “There was a fire last night,” Cyra started slowly. “The Grayskulls’ house.”
“Oh.” Catra wasn’t really sure how to react to that. “That… sucks. But they can stay here, right? I mean, we’ve got enough room.”
Maybe she already knew. The looks on their faces, Lyra’s puffy eyes, the uncertainty in their voices… maybe Catra knew what was coming. Maybe she was just rejecting the idea out of hand. It wasn’t real until somebody said it.
Cyra was the one to shatter the thin layer of protection. “They were all sleeping when it happened. The fire moved too fast. They…They didn’t get out.”
Reality crashed down around Catra’s ears. Because it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t possible that something so big could happen, something like that could change, and Catra just… didn’t know about it. It wasn’t possible that she could wake up feeling good in a world where Adora was dead.
“What… What do you mean?”
Melog made a small, mournful noise, still wrapped around Catra’s legs. Cyra took a deep breath, preparing herself for the next part. “The firefighters found the… bodies… after they got the fire under control. Three of them.”
And that was the moment when they knew all of their theories about Catra bonding with Adora were right.
Devastated couldn’t even begin to cover what they saw. Catra’s entire body slumped, like someone had cut the strings holding her up. Her eyes were wide, pupils constricting to little pinpricks, but there were no tears. The confused look on her face faded into something almost unreadable — a bit of denial. A bit of disbelief. A bit of anger. An emptiness that terrified them. Never, in Catra’s entire life, had they seen her that blank. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, trying and failing to form words, before she managed to force out three trembling words.
“Are you sure?”
Tears filled Lyra’s eyes. Cyra nodded, quietly saying, “I’m so sorry, Catra.”
It felt like there was a hole in her chest. Like someone was actively digging into her chest, bit by bit, stripping away everything, leaving her hollow. Her knees shook; she slowly lowered herself to floor, letting Melog completely encircle her. They let out a soft, pained yowl, mane swirling like grey storm clouds, expressing all the feelings Catra didn’t have the capacity to feel. Catra looked at her hands, breathing shallowly.
“But… But she…”
She was just here. Less than twelve hours ago she had carried Catra to bed, kissing her, reminding Catra of her love. Just yesterday they had been running through the amusement park, hand-in-hand, giggling like the small children they had once been. They had shared cotton candy, eaten terrible and overpriced carnival food with their friends. Catra had watched excitedly as Adora successfully knocked down all the pins in one of those stupid, rigged games, just to prove she could, then happily told Catra to pick a prize. She had chosen a cat. Where was the cat?
Cyra and Lyra moved to kneel with their daughter. Melog shifted to let them, grew so the circle could include them, so they could move in to hug her, to offer her whatever comfort they could. As if there were anything they could possibly do to take away this pain.
The funerals were a week later.
Closed casket, of course.
Marlena had eight siblings, along with two living and relatively healthy parents. Her family had taken on the burden of planning everything. They knew Marlena and Randor had been friends with Cyra and Lyra, though, and called to consult them on something every now and again.
Catra didn’t remember most of it.
She had laid in bed, Melog forever present next to her, pressed right up against her. Someone had gotten into Adora’s car and found the stuffed cat from amusement park. It found its way back to Catra, who kept it crushed against her chest.
Friends visited. Scorpia, Perfuma, and Entrapta spent an entire afternoon sitting on the floor next to her bed, playing a card game and talking to her like she wasn’t mostly catatonic. Mermista sat silently with her for several hours. Lonnie had sat at her desk for about ten minutes before whispering, “I’m sorry, Catra.” She left a few minutes later.
Her mothers took turns coaxing her up to eat, although it was Cyra more often than Lyra. Catra didn’t take offense. She was sure Lyra didn’t want Catra to see her mother crying. Not that it really mattered. Catra was barely paying attention half the time.
She dragged herself out of bed the morning of the funerals, mechanically putting on her black dress pants and a red button up shirt. Adora liked her in red. Melog stayed with her as she went about getting ready, watched her struggle to tame her hair before ultimately giving up and gathering it in a ponytail. The world felt distant as she made her way downstairs. Cyra and Lyra were already waiting for her in the living room.
There were some werewolf traditions or rituals or something that were part of the services. Marlena’s family had taken care of sorting all that out, and Catra would admit later that she hadn’t paid attention. She’d spent most of the time staring at caskets, wondering which one contained the burned husk of her girlfriend.
She still hadn’t cried. Was it weird that she hadn’t cried?
Their friends were gathered around her, offering whatever support they could. But no one knew how to help her. No one knew how to make this blankness any better.
Marlena’s parents came over to talk to Cyra and Lyra and try to meet Catra, but they quickly gave her space when they realized she wasn’t talking. She could hear people all around her, murmuring to each other, offering condolences, exchanging stories, remembering the three wonderful people who were barely anything more than ash in a box now. That was all they were now. Stories. Marlena would never bake another cake. Randor would never make another stupid cat joke. Adora would never…
Never be there to love Catra again.
An odd sound hit her ears. It took her a moment realize it was her making it. Something between a sob and hiccup. She immediately covered her mouth, horrified, and felt tears were filling her eyes.
She couldn’t do this.
A hand rested on her shoulder. No. She couldn’t do this.
She ripped away and sprinted, clearing the area in several large steps, leaving the cemetery on four large legs, paws pounding relentlessly against the pavement, then the grass as she disappeared into the woods.
Cats couldn’t cry.
Maybe she needed to be a cat for awhile.
She found out later that she was gone for about three weeks.
The entire first day was just running — running until she couldn’t anymore, until everything burned and she collapsed where she was, heedless of what was around her or what could have hurt her. She didn’t care. Maybe it would be better if something hurt her.
The thought carried her to sleep.
She found a rhythm eventually, hunting and eating at night, sleeping during the day. She vaguely remembered reading somewhere once that cats were nocturnal by nature. She could get used to that. Sunlight sucked anyway.
She ran. She ate. She knew that Melog was following her, that they would never leave her alone, but she snuffed out the part of her mind capable of caring about that. She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want any higher brain functions beyond the primal urge to survive. There was no in-between.
It was late. She had stopped at a small river to drink. Hunting had been abysmal the last two nights — a rabbit here, a raccoon there. She had gotten really lucky and snatched an owl out of the air. That was pretty cool. Adora would probably be impressed—
She shut that line of thought down, focusing only on what was around her. The sound of rushing water. The quiet din of nighttime animals preparing to retreat so the day could take over.
The sound of sticks and leaves crunching under heavy steps.
Her ears twitched, her head snapping up, a low growl building in her throat. She could see a shadow moving the trees. Her snout crinkled as she snarled. A werewolf. Not a friendly one, given the way it was stalking her. Not a big one, either — probably around her size. She snapped, bearing her teeth, trying to be as threatening as possible, because she didn’t know how to fight. How could she? She’d never needed to before. Sure, she had play wrestled, but that was extremely different from something that was about to kill her.
The wolf pounced.
Catra should have dodged. She had the time and the space. She launched herself at the wolf instead, colliding with it and sending them both tumbling to the ground. She swiped her claws against its face, feeling a brief sense of satisfaction when she heard the pained yowl. Claws raked against her flank, tearing into her flesh, leaving shallow wounds. She hissed, front legs wrapping around the wolf’s neck as she curled into it, burying her teeth in its shoulder. She tasted blood.
Something ran into her, knocking her away.
She had been distracted by the one wolf, had never even considered the possibility that wolves ran in packs. There were two more, much larger wolves bearing down on her now. She pushed herself up, snarling, but she was outnumbered. Outmatched.
She was going to die.
A much louder roar ripped through the air; Melog, larger than Catra had ever seen them, appeared behind the wolves, effortlessly swiping them away. Catra backed up, taking the opening, and sprinted off into the woods. Melog could take care of themself. They would be fine.
She ran. She thought she got away. Melog had probably scared the wolves away. She would be fine. She would—
Something heavy dropped on top of her. Her legs folded, bones cracking, and she howled. The wolf on top of her growled before burying its fangs in her neck.
There was no getting out of this, she realized faintly as she went limp. She could already feel the blood flowing, drenching her fur. She was going to die.
Maybe she would see Adora again.
The wolf pulled back and shook its head before preparing to bite again—
And Melog tackled it, sending the wolf flying. Catra felt a cloak of magic settle over her — a familiar feeling. Invisibility. Melog had used it on her so many times when she was younger, usually to play pranks or cheat just a little at hide and seek.
Melog nudged her, silently urging her on. She grumbled, trying to push Melog away. She didn’t want to move. She didn’t want to try and save herself. What was the point? A heavy weight pressed into her side; Melog growled. Images flashed in Catra’s mind — her mothers. Her friends. The things she still had to live for.
Adora wouldn’t want her to die.
Catra took a shaking breath and hauled herself up. Melog let her lean against them as they stumbled away. Would it be easier for her to change back? To let Melog carry her? Or would she bleed out faster?
Keep moving. Stay focused. Stay alive.
The time and the trees blurred together. Catra had no idea where they were going. She just let Melog steer her and hoped they had a plan.
The sun broke over the horizon when Catra’s strength finally gave out.
They had gotten out of the woods, she was pretty sure. The air felt different here. But it didn’t matter. She couldn’t go any further. She let out a pathetic mewl, her eyes fluttering shut, darkness rising up to meet her…
“…think it wants to — wait, I think I see — hey, Spinny!”
The words drifted in and out of Catra’s hearing. The voice was unfamiliar, and she didn’t like it. Melog was beside her, nudging her gently. “This is what you wanted us to find?” the voice said. Melog made a noise that Catra recognized as a confirmation of the question. They had gone to get help.
“What did you — oh my god.” The second voice cut off with a gasp. “Is it…?”
“Still breathing.” A hand pressed against her flank. “Barely. Come on, let’s get it inside.”
Something wrapped around her. It felt like a net. She grumbled to herself, bewildered. What was happening?
And then she was being lifted, a small breeze seeming to lift her up. Were they trying to help her?
A gentle calm fell over her mind. Rest. It was Melog. She took the advice, letting herself sink again.
She came back when something burned the wound against her neck, and yowled.
“No shit — jesus. I think my heart just stopped.”
A hand gently brushed Catra’s fur back. “I’m sorry,” the first voice said gently. “I need to disinfect the wound before I wrap it up. Netossa, come talk to her. Try to distract her a bit.”
“What, should I offer a game of rummy?”
There was a long silence before the second voice sighed, and a rustling sound indicated that some had sat in front of her, taking over the petting so the other person could treat her wounds. “Please don’t bite off my hand.”
The burning was back, but it wasn’t as bad. Maybe because Catra knew what to expect now. “I’m Netossa,” the second voice said after a moment. “My wife Spinnerella is the one trying to take care of the injuries. You’re um… friend?” Melog chuffed, nestling up beside Catra. “They nearly knocked down our damn door trying to get our attention.”
Of course they did. Catra leaned into the hand, exhausted. How long had it been since she’d seen another human? Felt another person’s touch? “You’re uh… you’re pretty messed up, not gonna lie. But we’ll do our best to take care of you. You just have to not die in our guest room. Deal?”
Catra would have laughed if she could. She nudged the hand slightly, hoping the silent deal was translated, before unconsciousness took her once more.
It was a long time before she opened her eyes again. The sun had been rising when she’d collapsed. Now it was dark out. There was a light breathing somewhere to her left — she looked around to see a black woman with pure white hair sprawled across the bed, sleeping.
A door opened. She looked around sluggishly and saw the second woman, pale with a shade of hair just the brighter side of Entrapta’s. The woman smiled when she saw Catra looking at her. “You’re awake.” That one must have been Spinnerella. It didn’t sound like the voice that had introduced them. “Is it okay if I turn on the light?”
Catra nodded once, closing her eyes, then opening them again when the darkness lit up behind her eyelids. The other woman shot up in bed, groggily shouting, “I’d like to solve the puzzle!”
“No, dear.” Spinnerella sounded amused. “Our guest is awake.”
The woman turned to look at Catra, and smiled sleepily. “Hey, kitten. About time. I was going to be pretty mad if you reneged on our deal.”
She reached out to pet Catra, who was too tired to protest. It felt kind of nice, if she was honest. Spinnerella moved to sit on the floor with her. “You’re a magicat, right? It’s not a full moon, and you haven’t changed back…do you have anyone we can call?”
“Are you trying to run away from something?” Netossa added. “We can help, if you are. But you gotta talk to us.”
Catra let out a soft mrrrr, leaning harder into Netossa’s hand. She was so tired. Spinnerella seemed to pick up on that.
“Let’s let her rest some more. She might need to recover before she tries to transform.”
Melog piped up to confirm that. “Cat Two agrees.” They must have taught Netossa and Spinnerella what some of their noises meant. “Do you think these two can like… cat communicate? Or what’s the deal?”
“We can ask later.” Spinnerella gently scritched the base of Catra’s ear. “We’ve been taking turns staying in here to keep an eye on you, but if you want privacy, we can leave.”
A lump swelled in Catra’s throat. Cats couldn’t cry. She almost wanted to right then, though. She nuzzled Spinnerella’s hand, a soft purr rumbling in her chest. “I think she wants company,” Netossa said. Catra jerked her head at Netossa before lowering back to rest on her paws, heaving a sigh. Just a little more sleep. That was all she needed.
Sunlight was filtering through the window when Catra woke again. She immediately realized she wasn’t in the right body — not the one she had been for god knew how long, anyway. She had fingers that felt clumsy and numb, and legs that didn’t quite seem to know how to work, and—
And she was naked.
Shit. Mama’s going to kill me for ruining my good clothes.
She looked around, wide-eyed, and saw Spinnerella and Netossa curled up on the bed together, sleeping. She wanted to say something, but her voice didn’t seem to work. She also didn’t want them to wake up and find a naked teenager on their floor.
Melog appeared, dropping a blanket in her lap. She gave them a shaky smile before wrapping it around herself, then nodding. Melog went to the bed and pulled themself up, front paws resting on the edge. They nudged Spinnerella until she stirred, yawning. “What’s going — oh!” She sat up, wide-eyed. “You’re…”
“Young.” Netossa had sat up as well, staring at her in disbelief. “How old are you?”
Catra wanted to answer. She opened her mouth with every intention of answering. But the sound that escaped her didn’t even come close to a word. It was a sob, raw and painful, ripping out of her throat. She tried again, tried to say something, anything. But all she could do was choke out another cry, and then another, as tears filled her eyes and spilled over.
She was immediately wrapped in gentle arms as the wives encircled her. “It’s okay,” Spinnerella assured her, brushing a hand through her hair. “You’re okay.”
Catra gasped, shaking her head, and slumped into her arms as she dissolved into loud, ugly sobs that shook her entire body. The sound filled the room. The women hugged her tighter.
It was at least an hour before Catra could move, and even then, it was just to put on the clothes Netossa found for her. Her voice still felt unobtainable, but she could move her fingers well enough to punch Lyra’s number into Spinnerella’s cellphone. Netossa sat on the couch with Catra, brushing her hair, while Spinnerella made the call.
“Hello? Yes, my name is Spinnerella, and this might sound weird, but are… are you missing your daughter, or—”
Lyra’s voice was high-pitched and loud enough that Catra could hear it, but not discern the words. “She hasn’t said her name, she’s having trouble talking — Catra?” She looked up. How long had it been since she’d heard someone use her name? “Is that your name?” Catra nodded once, and Spinnerella returned her attention to the phone call. “It’s her, yes. I — oh, are you sure? My wife and I can bring her home — okay, I’ll text you our address. Sure, I can give her the phone…”
Spinnerella held it out to Catra, who took it with shaking fingers and pressed it to her ear. “Catra?”
The voice was soft and warm. She nearly started crying again. “Mama?” Her voice was rough, cracking and trembling. Lyra was clearly on the verge of tears as well.
“Yes, sweetie. Mom and I are on our way, okay? We’ll see you soon. We love you.”
“Love you too,” she whispered. Spinnerella took the phone to text their address before refocusing on her wife and house guest.
“I’m going to see if we have any soup. You feel up to eating?”
Not really, but her stomach reminded her with a painful clench that she hadn’t eaten anything even close to resembling a decent meal since… since long before the funerals. She nodded, and Spinnerella disappeared into the kitchen. Netossa resumed brushing her hair, playing absentmindedly with the stubborn locks.
“What were you running from?” she asked after a moment. Catra’s eyes burned with the threat of more tears.
“My… My girlfriend…” Catra shook her head. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t the right word for Adora. It didn’t nearly encompass how deep Catra’s feelings had gone. How much Adora had mattered. “She died. I ran from the funeral.”
Netossa was quiet for a moment, the brush still, before arms wrapped around Catra from behind, hugging her tight. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
“I’ve known her literally my entire life.” The words came easier, faster. As if Catra needed to get them out. “She was a werewolf. We used to spend entire days playing together, and when we were done we’d pass out on a neighbor’s yard, and one of our parents would come get us. We threw a fit when we went to kindergarten and found out we couldn’t be in the same class. I…” Tears threatened to strangle her again. She pushed them down. “I’ve loved her for as long as we’ve known each other. Even when I was a stupid kid and didn’t know what that was. She was my life, and now she’s gone and I… I don’t know what to do without her.” Netossa gently rubbed Catra’s arm as she spoke, trying to offer silent support. “I know it sounds dumb—”
“No,” Netossa said fiercely. “Has anyone said that to you?” Catra shook her head once. “It doesn’t sound stupid at all. It sounds horrible, and painful, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to through that. She was a huge part of your life, and now she’s gone. It’s not stupid to feel like you don’t have a direction anymore.”
Maybe it helped that Netossa was a stranger. Catra wasn’t sure. But the words made her feel slightly better. Not ready to face the world without Adora, not by a long shot. But it gave her ground. She was allowed to feel this way. It was okay.
Lyra descended on her, hugging her tight. Catra returned the hug with all her strength, burying her face in Lyra’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay.” Her mother pulled back to clasp her cheeks, brushing away the beginning of tears. “It’s okay, sweetie. We’re just glad we found you.”
Cyra had stopped to talk to Netossa and Spinnerella, but she was approaching now as well, hugging her wife and daughter. “Don’t ever do that again.” She tried to sound stern, but she was also trying not to cry.
“I won’t.” Catra’s voice shook. “I’m so sorry, Mom, I—”
Cyra kissed the top of Catra’s head. “It’s okay.” She echoed Lyra’s earlier worlds. “Just don’t run away like that again.”
Numbers were exchanged. Netossa and Spinnerella took turns hugging Catra tight and saying they’d visit soon. Catra had no idea why they’d do that, but she nodded anyway, quietly thanking them for helping her.
It turned out, despite all her running, that she had only gotten about two hours from Half Moon, to a little town called Erelandia. Lyra sat in the back with Catra, holding her tight, while Cyra drove them home. Melog was settled in Catra’s lap, sleeping.
“Netossa said you were hurt when they found you.”
Catra met Cyra’s gaze in the rearview mirror, and nodded. “Werewolves. I tried to fight. It was stupid.”
“You could have died.” Catra didn’t answer. They stopped at a streetlight, and Cyra closed her eyes for a moment. “Did you want to die?”
“I… I don’t know,” Catra admitted, shame burning in her stomach. “I don’t know, I just… I stopped thinking for awhile, let the cat do its thing, you know? But I… I don’t think I would have minded if I did.”
Lyra hugged Catra tighter.
Cyra and Lyra waited a few days, letting Catra adjust to being home and being in a real bed and not being a giant cat anymore, before they tried to talk to her again. Catra was lying in bed, wrapped in one of the ten sweatshirts she had stolen from Adora over the years. It still smelled like her. She wondered how long that would last.
Lyra sat on the edge of the bed, Cyra taking the seat at the desk. “We need to talk,” she said gently, but firmly. Melog, pressed against Catra’s back, let out a pitiful mewl. “I know you don’t want to, but this is important, Catra.”
“Why?” Catra muttered, burrowing deeper into the hoodie.
“Because we love you and we don’t want you to hurt yourself again.”
Lyra gently rubbed Catra’s back, trying to sooth her. “We’ve been looking into therapists…”
“I don’t need therapy.”
“You need something,” Cyra informed her. “You can’t run off like that again.”
“I already said I won’t.”
“But that still doesn’t address the problem.”
The problem. Catra almost laughed. Was that what they were calling this now? Adora was dead, and it was just a problem. “I don’t want to just talk to some stranger about everything. I’ll live.”
“We don’t doubt that,” Lyra assured her. “We’re worried about you living happily.”
Like that was possible. “Just give it a chance,” Cyra said. “A few sessions. That’s all we’re asking.”
It didn’t feel like they were asking. It felt like they were telling. “Fine,” Catra muttered, because she knew she didn’t have a choice.
She had an intake session, and then her first real therapy appointment a week before school started. She slumped into the office, dropping into the empty chair and staring at the woman sitting across from her. She had dark skin and kind eyes. Her braided hair was resting on her shoulder, bangs sweeping against her forehead. She might have been the only person capable of pulling of bangs. The smile she gave Catra was gentle, almost motherly.
“Hello. I’m Mara.”
“Catra,” she mumbled, mostly to be polite. She was sure Mara had gotten all the notes the intake person had taken during their hour-long talk.
“It’s nice to meet you. Do you have any questions before we get started?”
Catra narrowed her eyes slightly, thinking about it. “What’ve my moms told you?”
“A bit,” Mara admitted. “But I’d like to hear the story from you, when you’re ready.”
When she was ready. That was never going to happen. “Are you going to tell them what I tell you?”
“Nope. Everything you say stays in this room unless I think you might be a danger to yourself or others.”
“Even though I’m only sixteen?”
“Even minors get doctor-patient confidentiality.”
Catra stared at the wall, arms wrapped tight around herself, head down. She knew Melog was at her feet, invisible, and wondered if her mothers had warned Mara about that. “Where should I start?”
“Wherever you want.”
The beginning made the most sense, Catra supposed. She told Mara about Adora. How they had grown up together. How they saw each other every day, without fail. How no one had been surprised when they had started dating because they were basically already dating. How gentle and loving Adora had been. How important Adora had been.
She stuttered to a stop when she reached the part about the fire. It had been huge news, of course. No doubt Mara had already heard the story — a gas leak had started a small fire during the night, while the family slept, and quickly ripped through the house. Catra wondered sometimes if they had felt it. If they’d been in pain, screaming for someone to help then as the fire licked at their skins and burned them straight through the bones…
“…tra? Catra, hey, can you hear me?”
Catar sucked in a ragged, shallow breath. She’d doubled over in her seat, forehead pressed to her knees as the train of thought carried her into a deep, painful panic. Had Adora suffered before she died?
“Oh!” Mara’s surprised exclamation was almost immediately followed by Melog nosing their way in between Catra’s chest and legs. She unwound to cling to them instead, hiding her face in their fur.
Mara was patient, waiting for Catra to collect herself, although she didn’t release her grip on Melog. “Who’s this?”
A distraction. Catra would take it. “Melog. I’m not… really sure what they are, to be honest. Mom says they just showed up one day, not long after I transformed for the first time. There are stories about how some magicats are… gifted by the universe with guardians, I guess. My moms think that’s what Melog is.”
“They seem very good at their job.”
“They are.” Catra held Melog a bit tighter, trying to dry her tears. “They stayed with me when I ran from the funeral. Made sure I was okay, you know? Got me help when I almost died. They usually stay invisible when we’re out in public, and they’re not always right there with me, but they know when I need them.”
Melog nudged Catra a bit to make her lift her head, then pulled back to gently lick away her tears. She smiled weakly, dropping back in the seat. Feeling things like this was exhausting. Melog rested their head in her lap, letting her pet them as she finally looked at Mara for the first time. “I… I think about the fire sometimes. I wonder if they knew what happened, or if it was too fast, if they all died in their sleep, or if… if they felt it. If it hurt.”
“That must be upsetting.”
Catra laughed hollowly. “Yeah, just a bit.”
She was exhausted by the end of the session. Lyra gave her the keys to sit in the car while she talked to Mara — the therapist had promised that it was just about whether or not Catra should come to another session. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what the answer to that was.
Going back to school was weird.
Her friends to act normal, but Catra could tell they were all on edge, afraid of setting her off. A small memorial had been planned for Adora. They were going to retire her number and hang her jersey in the hall with all the school trophies. If they wanted the jacket as well, they never asked. That was smart of them.
Catra didn’t go to the ceremony. She’d swing by the hall some other time to see Adora’s jersey, but all of this just felt so… weird. Adora wouldn’t have wanted it. At best, she would have laughed nervously, making a comment about how nice they all were. At worst, she would have melted into a puddle of anxiety that could only be helped with hours of snuggling her werecat girlfriend.
Instead, she went out to the football field. It was nice and sunny, and they’d spent hours sitting out there on days it wasn’t in use, sprawled across the grass and whispering to each other like two children with secrets no one else would ever understand. Catra collapsed to the grass, lying back and staring blankly at the sky. She felt Melog join her a moment later, curling into her side.
“You know what’s weird?” She wasn’t sure if she was talking to Melog or the sky. Or both. Or neither. “It doesn’t feel like she’s gone. At first I felt… really, really empty, but now…” She slowly raised a hand to grasp her, right over her heart. “It feels like something is missing, but not gone. Like she’s just lost. Like I’m going to find her again.”
It was the most unfair feeling in the world. How dare the universe give her hope that she could find Adora again? How dare it dangle that above her head, always just out of reach?
She rolled onto her side to look at Melog, and closed her eyes. “Is it ever going to get easier?”
Melog rumbled, cuddling closer to her. They didn’t know either.
It had been six months since the fire when Cyra walked into Catra’s room and found her wrapped up in Adora’s jacket, crying. “It doesn’t smell like her anymore,” had been the only answer Catra could choke out. Cyra held her tight, humming and rocking her until she fell into a fitful sleep.
She was trying to move on. She really was. No one would ever say it to her face, but she knew her friends were exasperated by her random mood swings, that her mothers were sick of wondering if she was even going to get out of bed that day, that the teachers were running out of patience with her and her excuses. But it hurt. Everything hurt, all the time. She felt like she couldn’t take a full breath. Like she was constantly teetering on the edge, and one wrong move would send her over, falling into oblivion.
“No one expects you to move on overnight,” Mara pointed out when Catra voiced this frustration. “Have your parents or teachers or friends actually said anything to you about this?”
“No,” Catra admitted.
“Then how do you know they’re thinking it?” Catra pressed her lips together, annoyed. Mara always made things logical and hard to argue with.
But it felt like everything was moving on, and everyone was wondering why Catra couldn’t. She kept turning down invitations to go to movies or play video games at Entrapta’s or do… whatever Perfuma did for fun (something about a drum circle?). School had all but lost meaning. She had an eidetic memory, which was probably the only reason she managed to pass tests. But she didn’t do her homework, or participate in class unless the teacher called on her. Cyra and Lyra seemed to tiptoe around her, always waiting for the next breakdown.
She was walking home from therapy, Melog at her side, when her feet decided to take over, carrying her in a direction she hasn’t been in months — Adora’s house.
Or the land, at least. The burned wreckage had been cleared away, the land up for sale now. Catra stood on the sidewalk, staring at it with a lump in her throat. How many nights had she spent in that house? How many times had she sat in the kitchen with Adora, impatiently waiting for Marlena to finish their lunches? Or made fun of Randor for his bad jokes during movies? This had been her home just as much as her actual home. If Adora had decided she was too tired to drive out to Catra’s… if she’d brought her home and they’d settled into her bed together, like they always did… would Catra be dead now as well? Reduced to ash like Adora and her parents and the house?
Would she be happier if she had been?
A sharp pain cut through Catra’s chest. Her lungs seized up for a moment as she clutched her shirt tight, choking out a breath. Melog leaned on her as her knees went week, and she slowly lowered herself to the ground, one hand braced against Melog, the other still twisted in her shirt, pressed against her chest. It hurt — physically hurt, like someone had slid a knife into her. She sucked in and forced out ragged breaths, her vision blurring.
It had been six months. It had only been six months. How was she supposed to live the rest of her life like this?
Her head snapped up, eyes wide. It was Perfuma, watching her uncertainly a few feet down the sidewalk. Right. She lived down the street. She took a few steps closer, hands up. “Are you — Do you need help?”
Catra would have laughed if she could. Did she need help. Of course she did. She was falling apart.
Melog mewled sadly, and Perfuma seemed to understand. She stepped closer, kneeling on Catra’s other side and resting a hand on her back. Catra shivered, leaning harder on Melog. Perfuma stayed with her, a silent support, until she finally found her voice.
“Sorry.” It was a rough, gravelly sound that scraped against her throat as she spoke.
“It’s okay,” Perfuma assured her, rubbing her back. “Do you want to talk? Or a ride home?”
She wanted to say no to both, but her entire body felt weak now. “Can… Can you give me a ride? Please?” She hated how small her voice sounded. Perfuma smiled reassuringly.
Perfuma helped Catra stand, giving her a moment to find balance, and helped her down the street, letting her lean on the car while she went to get her keys.
Melog shrunk down to sit in Catra’s lap on the way home while Catra dipped in and out of consciousness. Perfuma gently shook her awake when they were closer to the house. “If you need anything, you know you can just ask, right?”
Catra scoffed weakly, curling in on herself. “I know you all just think I’m a bother.”
“That’s not true,” Perfuma said firmly. She pulled off to the side of the road, turning to face Catra fully. “You’ve gone through something… traumatic, Catra. Something absolutely terrible. We know we can’t even begin to understand how much you’re hurting. But we want to help. I want to help. So does Scorpia. We just don’t know how.”
Catra sniffed, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. “I don’t know either, honestly. I keep waiting for something to change… to feel better. But I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen.”
“It might not,” Perfuma admitted. “But you have so many people who care about you. Don’t be scared to lean on them. On us. Okay?”
“Y-Yeah,” Catra muttered, nodding. “Okay. Thanks, Perfuma.”
The girl beamed. “Any time. Now, let’s get you home. You look exhausted.”
It didn’t get better. Or easier. Catra still felt the pain, still lost herself in spirals of grief and anxiety, still had the random panic attacks. Mara sent her to a psychiatrist, who suspected PTSD, which made absolutely no sense to Catra.
“But I’m not — I mean, isn’t that something people who fight in wars and stuff get?”
“It’s very common in combat vets, yes. But anyone who has experienced a particularly stressful traumatic event is at risk. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.”
She couldn’t help but feel a little bit of shame when the psychiatrist handed Cyra prescriptions for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. Cyra had simply hugged her, saying, “Let’s drop these off and get some lunch.”
Catra picked silently at her meal, feeling Cyra’s eyes on her. “Are you mad?” she asked quietly.
“What?” Cyra sounded bewildered. “Of course not. Why would I be?”
“Because…” Catra’s shoulders hunched up. “Because I’m… like this. Because I’m so messed up that I need pills to function. Because—”
Cyra rested a hand on her arm, stopping her. “I think,” she said seriously, “we need a pillow mountain when we get home.”
A pillow mountain. Catra almost smiled. Those had been a tradition, until Catra declared herself too old for it. Whenever someone had a bad day, they would gather all the pillows in the house and build a giant nest on Cyra’s and Lyra’s bed, wearing their comfiest clothes and getting out the super soft blankets to snuggle into while they talked.
Lyra was still gone when they got home, leaving Catra and Cyra to do all the gathering and building. Catra changed into one of Adora’s sweatshirts and a pair of pants, and went to join her mother in the safety of their mountain. Melog was already there, keeping Catra’s spot warm. At least, that was what she assumed as she pushed them out of the way and crawled under the covers, pressing herself into Cyra’s side. Cyra held her tight, brushing her fingers through Catra’s hair and humming softly. It was so unbelievably warm and comfortable. What kind of jackass had Catra been to decide she was too old for this?
“Catra?” She made a small noise, almost a chirp, to acknowledge that she had heard her mother. “I think… we need to talk about something. About you and Adora.”
Her ears went flat against her head. “What?”
“Do you remember when you started kindergarten, and you were put in different classes?”
Catra snorted despite herself. “I used to try and hide in her bag so I could go to class with her.”
Cyra chuckled; the sound vibrated in her chest. “You were both so upset about being separated, and we understood why — you’d spent your entire lives together. But it got me and your mom thinking about things, and we think… you might have bonded with Adora without realizing it.”
“Bonded…?” Catra raised her head to stare at her mother in disbelief. “I… thought that was just a thing between magicats.”
“So did we,” Cyra said. “We’ve been looking into it for years, asking friends who could ask other friends… there are no other instances of a magicat bonding with a non-magicat. But everything I described about you and Adora… they all agreed it sounded like a bond.” Catra watched her mother for a moment before tears filled her eyes. Cyra ran her fingers through Catra’s hair, a deep sadness in her blue eyes. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you. We never thought it would matter. And then the fire happened, and… and we didn’t know how to explain it.”
A bond. An emotional bond, something forged through years of closeness and love. It made sense, in a way. Catra had always known she loved Adora. She had been drawn to her with such an intensity that it had been a physical need. A bond would explain that.
It would also explain this deep, gnawing, inescapable pain.
Catra nodded, throat too swollen to speak, and laid her head back on her mother’s shoulder, letting her tears fall sideways as she closed her eyes.
It didn’t get better. It didn’t get easier. But Catra learned how to cope with it. Cope with the pain. The hurt. The loss. The fear. She learned how to live with the knife in her chest. And she kept moving.
“What kind of name is Glimmer?”
Graduation was just around the corner. Catra would be off to Bright Moon University in the fall. She and Adora had picked that one together, because it had a great sports program and a great psychology department. Catra had been on and off about the idea of working in supernatural advocacy, inspired by the work her mothers did. And it was one of the best schools in the country.
“That’s an adorable name,” Lyra said fondly, reading the dorm assignment over Catra’s shoulder. “I bet she’s really sweet.”
Catra looked her up on Facebook later. The first post she saw was an eight-paragraph rant about discrimination against the supernatural and how “normal” humans could fuck off if they didn’t want to get with the times.
Sweet. Right. At least Catra didn’t have to worry about rooming with a bigot.
Her friend group, for the first time since elementary school, was breaking up. Entrapta was going to Dryl University which, as she loudly announced every time someone asked, had the best robotics program in the world. Perfuma and Scorpia were taking a year off to travel. Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio were staying in town for now, getting a place together and getting jobs. Mermista and Sea Hawk were actually going to BMU as well, but they were getting an apartment together. Mermista had assured Catra that the couch would be open when her roommate got sick of her. Catra said not to make any promises since Sea Hawk would probably be on it six nights a week. Sea Hawk had butt in to say the laws of chivalry insisted he give the couch to the guest and sleep on the floor. Catra still wasn’t completely sure what Mermista saw in him.
“I’m not sure either,” she admitted, shrugging, when Catra asked. “But he’s cute.”
Graduation day was a blur. Catra barely paid attention during the ceremony; there was a small thing about Adora, and remembering the classmate they’d lost, which Catra couldn’t pay attention to without risking her tenuous grasp on sanity, and after that all she did was listen for her name, and go up to get her diploma. Their parents all insisted on pictures when they got outside — all of their parents, which was, quite frankly, too many. Catra ran when Sea Hawk’s father suggested a celebratory sea shanty. At least the dumbass came by it honestly.
She didn’t really have a destination in mind when she ran, but somehow, she wasn’t surprised when she ended up in the hallway with the trophy cases. Her feet carried her to stand in front of the en-framed jersey hanging on the wall, with Grayskull written across the top and a giant 87 underneath. Tears burned in her eyes. She forced a smile.
She pulled off her graduation cap, staring at it. Perfuma had convinced them all to decorate their caps, and after some grumbling, Catra had finally taken the fabric markers and scrawled, in her best cursive Adora against one edge, then wrote 87 in larger print beneath it, and then her own name underneath.
“I uh… don’t know if they’ll really keep this here, but it’s not going to hurt if I don’t know.”
She got up on her tip toes, placing the cap on top of the case closest to Adora’s jersey, then stepped back to admire her addition. They’d probably get rid of it.
She looked around to see Lonnie leaning against the wall, arms folded. “Your moms are looking for you. Had a feeling you’d be here.” Her voice was neutral, but her expression was gentle. They’d never really reconciled The Incident, but at some point active hatred had become passive indifference, and then sympathetic tolerance. “You okay?”
Catra laughed hollowly, looking up at the jersey again. “I haven’t been okay in two years.”
“More like ten, but we’ll agree to disagree.”
Still, Lonnie embraced Catra before they made their way back outside.
Catra was almost immediately tackled, and yelped in surprise. “Ran away just so you didn’t have to see us,” Netossa tsked, pulling back to look at her. “I am hurt, Catra.”
Spinnerella shushed her wife, hugging Catra tight. They had, surprisingly, stayed in touch over the last couple years, checking in to make sure Catra was okay and becoming good friends with Cyra and Lyra. They were happy to have new friends. And Catra had two more moms.
“C’mere, we want a picture with you…”
She was passed around for pictures a few more times, and eventually they went home, Netossa and Spinnerella following to have dinner with them. Catra retreated up to her room to work on packing. Spinnerella followed. She was a lot like Lyra — very kind and motherly. Not that Netossa and Cyra weren’t those things. They were just different.
“This is new,” Spinnerella said, picking up a framed photo on Catra’s desk. It was of her and Adora from their trip to the amusement park, pretending to fight over the cotton candy. Spinnerella was certain she had never seen that smile on Catra’s face.
“Gift from Perfuma,” Catra said distantly, checking her packing list. It had been intended as a birthday present over a year ago — something precious and sentimental. A captured moment that would have otherwise been forgotten.
But the fire had happened. And Perfuma had been scared of setting Catra back when she started making slow, painful progress back toward functioning. It had eventually become part of an album Perfuma had made for her — she’d done specialized ones for each of her friends, which was mind blowing. Catra had zeroed in on that one and asked for a larger copy.
Spinnerella set the photo down, tugging Catra into a gentle hug. She had, arguably, seen the girl at worst — half dead in her backyard, sobbing in her guest room — and she knew Catra had been struggling to make the steps to get where she was now. Being able to have a photo of Adora without constantly looking at it and wanting to cry was an amazing start.
Catra had spoken with her future roommate a few times on Facebook, but nothing could have prepared her for how intense Glimmer Spella was.
It probably didn’t help that they walked in on her and her mother arguing while her father tried to referee. “All I am asking is that you try to refrain from starting a campus rebellion in the first week.”
“Maybe the campus needs one!”
Her father looked at the door, smiling in relief. “Hello,” he said a little too loudly, cutting his wife and daughter off. Catra had done some research and found out that Glimmer’s father, Micah, was the head of the Bright Moon Sorcerer’s Guild, while her mother, Angella, worked with a company that specialized in advocacy for hybrids and other types of supernatural beings that didn’t “fit right” in society. One of the big things they did was take in newly turned werewolves and werecats, something Catra had passed along to her mothers. Maybe they could help each other.
Glimmer turned, smiling when she saw her new roommate. “Hi! Oh those ears… sorry, I know that’s rude, they’re just… cute.”
Catra groaned, turning toward the empty half of the room to start dropping boxes. “I think,” Lyra said gently, “what my daughter means to say is that it’s nice to meet you. I’m Lyra. This is my wife, Cyra.”
“Micah, Angella,” the man introduced them. “Glimmer mentioned you run a werecat sanctuary, of sorts?”
“Well, that conversation is going to be all business now,” Glimmer said as the adults moved in to talk. She headed out the door, and Catra followed. “So you’re from Half Moon, right? I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“You’re not missing much,” Catra assured her.
“But like… so many different parts of the supernatural community just living together.” Glimmer sighed dreamily. “Bright Moon is still so segregated. Which reminds me, if anyone gives you a hard time, let me know. I can punch.”
Maybe she wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Their parents left once all the boxes were moved, giving their daughters big hugs, securing promises to call, and exchanging numbers with each other to discuss possible partnering. “Should’ve known Mom would use the chance to network,” Glimmer said with a snort once they were all gone. Catra finished hanging her clothes and went to fill her dresser. “It’d be pretty cool, though. I know they don’t have any magicats on staff — not very common in Bright Moon, you know?”
“There aren’t many left,” Catra said. “A few thousand, maybe? And they tend to retreat to places where they know they’ll be accepted, or start their own unofficial towns.”
“Which is exactly why I think Mom needs to be more proactive. No one should feel like they have to run off and start a whole new town just to be safe.”
Catra’s next box was small — the collection of baubles and nick nacks she had decided to bring with her. She carefully started setting them on her desk. A rock she’d found once that was shaped like a heart. A seashell that Adora swore was the color of her blue eye. A keychain from one of their outings. The stuffed cat Adora had won for her at the amusement park. The framed photo that was a little easier to look at every time.
“Is that you girlfriend?” Glimmer asked curiously. It was a fair question, and Catra knew it would be coming eventually. Still, she took a moment to collect herself before trying to answer.
“Was. She… She died before the start of our junior year. House fire.”
Glimmer’s expression melted into one of horror. “Oh… I am so sorry.”
“Yeah, it um…”
Catra hesitated before jumping up onto her bed, taking some comfort in the way the blanket floofed around her. Melog was pressed against her back, invisible, but a solid presence. “Look. I’m not always a nice person. In fact, I’m almost never a nice person. Sometimes I think… maybe that part of me died with Adora.”
Glimmer gave her a soft smile, walking over to rest her elbows on the edge of Catra’s elevated bed. “That’s okay. I’m not always nice either. We can be terrible people together.” She offered a hand. “Deal?”
Maybe this could work after all. Catra took her hand, smiling faintly. “Deal.”
Catra got a lot of comments about her ears. Apparently magicats really weren’t common in the area. Glimmer’s friend was the first person who had ever squealed over them, though.
Well. “Friend.” Glimmer insisted they weren’t dating, that Bow had been her best friend for years, and Catra just raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Yeah, she knew what falling in love with a childhood friend was like.
“Yup, they’re ears,” Catra said with a sigh, falling back on her bed. Bow went to a different school, about an hour away, and the first thing he did on his first free weekend was come and visit Glimmer. Friends. Catra rolled her eyes.
“Sorry!” He apologized quickly. “I didn’t mean — they’re just so cute.”
“We’re going to get lunch,” Glimmer said, saving Bow from the grave he was digging. “You wanna come?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“You sure?” Bow pushed, but Glimmer was already taking his hand and tugging him out of the room, saying they could bring something back for her.
Sometimes Catra had okay days. Sometimes she had Bad Days. Glimmer had learned fast to spot the difference, and to try not to be too pushy. They’d already had their first argument about Glimmer’s music being too loud, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. But she was a nice, sparkling ball of violence, and Catra liked that.
Today was a Bad Day. One of those days where Catra wanted to curl up until she didn’t exist anymore. She certainly didn’t want to get out of bed. Thankfully, it was Saturday, and she didn’t have to. Part of her felt bad that this was also the weekend Bow was visiting, and she had resolved to try and not be too much of a bitch. But sometimes it felt like that was out of her control.
Melog draped across her, a purr in their chest, vibrating against her back. She found a little peace in it, and closed her eyes.
She napped until Glimmer and Bow returned, several hours later. Glimmer must have filled him in, because he was a lot quieter this time. He did do a double take at the giant purple cat lying on top of Catra, but Melog was kind of an anomaly.
“So you don’t know what they are?” Bow asked, eyeing Melog curiously. Melog shrunk a bit and jumped down to sniff his legs, clearly trying to decide if he was acceptable or not.
“Eat,” Glimmer interrupted, shoving food at Catra. She sighed and sat up. There were bigger hills to die on.
“Not a clue. They just showed up when I was a kid. Best guess is they’re some kind of guardian.”
“I could ask my dads if they know anything. They’ve done a lot of research about the history of the supernatural and theories on different species that have gone extinct, schools of magic that aren’t taught anymore, stuff like that.”
“They own the biggest collection of artifacts and texts in all of Etheria,” Glimmer added. “And they run a library, so it’s all available to the public.”
Catra blinked a few times, surprised, then looked at Melog, who just cocked their head in return. “Sure,” she said after a moment. “That sounds okay. Thanks.”
“No problem.” Bow looked down at Melog, grinning. “Can I take picture?”
Melog thought about that for a moment before headbutting Bow’s shin. He took that as a yes.
They passed the night in a comfortable silence, Glimmer and Bow on Glimmer’s bed, sharing a pair of earphones and listening to music, while Catra dragged out some of her homework to try and get things done. It was weird — people usually made Catra’s fur stand on end, especially when it was a Bad Day. But Glimmer and Bow were quiet and calm, and even the low thrum of the music (not loud, but loud enough for Catra’s sensitive ears) didn’t overwhelm her. She even joined them to watch a movie on Bow’s laptop before going to bed. It wasn’t that bad.
Flames licked at her skin, catching on her clothes and setting ablaze. The burned into her; she screamed, trying to fight, to get the clothes off, but they were already burning away. Cloying heat pressed in on all sides. Her lungs had seized some moments before, unable to handle the air. She was suffocating and burning alive.
Catra’s eyes flew open. A scream was caught in her throat, clawing desperately to try and escape, but she didn’t have enough air to force it out. Her hand grabbed for her chest, claws accidentally digging into her shirt. Fuck, this was one of Adora’s. She didn’t want to ruin it. But she couldn’t make herself let go. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. She was trapped.
She was going to be sick.
The violent churning in her stomach was what pushed her forward. She wasn’t going to make it to the bathroom — she wasn’t going to make it to the door. Instead, she crashed to her knees, clinging desperately to her little trash bin as she heaved, bringing up everything she had eaten in the last twelve hours or so. She heard voices behind her, but it was all distant, background. Echoing.
Melog pressed against her chest. She shivered, wrapping her arms tight around them, using them to anchor her back to reality. Glimmer knelt beside her, hand out, but stopped when Melog let out a little growl — just a warning not to touch. She drew her hand back, saying, “What happened?”
Catra shook her head once, eyes squeezed shut. “Bad dream,” was all she could force out.
Fire had become a more prevalent part of her nightmares since Adora died, to the point where it was all she dreamed about. Always stuck in that burning room with its unbreathable air, trapped as her body burned. Some irrational part of her brain worried that she was somehow experiencing Adora’s last moments over and over. But that wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be possible. Right?
Bow and Glimmer were whispering to each other. Judging her, probably. Catra didn’t blame them. “Can you stand?” Glimmer finally asked. Probably not, but Catra still tried. Glimmer had gathered up Catra’ toothbrush, toothpaste, a washcloth, and a new t-shirt. She held out a hand for Catra, who took it somewhat reluctantly. “We’ll be back in a minute,” she told Bow before pulling Catra out to the hall. Catra blinked a few times against the harsh light, bewildered, then shivered. She was soaked in sweat.
Glimmer didn’t say anything. She just led Catra to the bathroom, holding out her toothbrush and toothpaste. Catra got the hint and brushed her teeth while Glimmer dampened the washcloth, then began gently brushing Catra’s forehead. Catra stopped brushing, looking at her in surprise. Glimmer ducked her head, shoulders hunched.
“My dad’s a combat vet. He still has really bad nightmares sometimes, and this always help him.”
Catra nodded, leaning over to spit out the toothpaste. “It’s nice,” she admitted quietly. Glimmer took that as permission to continue, stopping every now and again to re-wet the cloth. “What were you dreaming about?” she asked as she worked. Catra slumped, shifting her eyes to look at herself in the mirror.
“Fire,” she mumbled. “All my nightmares have fire. I used to… to think a lot about Adora, and if she suffered before she… or if she was just asleep and didn’t feel anything at all. I don’t think about it as much anymore, but sometimes I dream, and…”
She shivered again, for a different reason this time. Glimmer backed off for a moment, letting her take a moment to comfort herself. A low, anxious purr rumbled in her chest.
Catra took the new shirt when Glimmer was done, quickly changed, and followed her back to their room. They had only been gone for ten minutes, but Bow had somehow managed to get both their mattress on the floor and build an impressive pillow fort. He grinned, slightly nervous, when Catra looked at him. “Sleeping alone after a nightmare is the worst.”
It could’ve been worse, she supposed as she laid down, Glimmer beside her, Bow on Glimmer’s other side. Melog settled in beside Catra to complete things.
She was surprised by how comfortable this was.
“How’ve your classes been?”
Catra shrugged. “Okay. Mostly required common classes. Easy enough.”
Mara had been willing to continue Catra’s therapy via video calls. Catra would only admit to herself that she was grateful.
“Getting along all right with your roommate?”
“She’s a pain in the ass, but she’s fun. Almost punched a guy who grabbed my tail at a party the other night.”
“Wow, that’s… wow.”
“There is a lot of anger in that tiny package. Pretty sure she needs therapy.”
“She’s not there listening to you, is she?”
“Nah, she’s in class now. Or will be for the next ten minutes.” Catra rolled her shoulders, sighing. “I wasn’t expecting to like her much, but honestly, she’s pretty okay.”
“It sounds like things are going well, then.”
“Yeah.” Catra stared at her keyboard for a long moment. “Is it… bad that I feel happy sometimes?”
“No,” Mara assured her. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in mourning, and Adora wouldn’t want that for you. She’d want you to be happy.”
“Yeah.” Catra sighed, shoulders slumping. “I know. I just… feel guilty. Like I shouldn’t be allowed to be happy without her.”
“But?” Mara prompted. They’d had this conversation before.
“But that’s irrational. And I deserve to be happy.”
They made their appointment for next week, and Catra closed her laptop, falling back to lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling.
She’d want you to be happy.
I deserve to be happy.
“I’m trying,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “I’m trying.”