Chapter 1: Growing Up Is Hard
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.”
Chapter 2: Neverending Nightmare
Catra has moved on.
And then the impossible happens.
The chapter is set ten years after Adora died, but seven years from the end of the first chapter.
Seven Years Later
“I don’t care that your client was mad. A hybrid accidentally knocking a register over with their tail is not grounds for throwing the hybrid out, or calling the police, and certainly not for suing. It’s still discrimination, and if this goes to court, I will — good, you talk to your client. I look forward to hearing back.”
Angella watched, amused, as her most volatile and also most successful lawyer hung up, grumbling to herself. “Is this about that burger place again?”
“Yes.” Catra’s ears twitched as she scowled. “We watched a bunch of drunk frat guys go behind the counter at a place like that and start fucking things up, and I don’t think the manager even yelled at them.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing heavily. “Have you eaten yet?” Angella prompted.
“Don’t lie to me.”
Sometimes it was like Catra had five mothers. And one of them was her boss. “Okay, okay. I’ll get food.”
“And take your break.”
Catra huffed, grabbing her jacket. “And take my break.”
She made her way out of the office suite, heading for the elevator. She went through her texts while she waited. Lyra wanted to know if she was coming home this weekend. Mermista had broken up with Sea Hawk again. Scorpia was suggesting yoga — again. Catra sighed and answered that one with a definitive no, while a maybe went to her mother. Mermista was ignored. They’d be back together by tomorrow night.
What’s she going to do when they’re married? Catra wondered as the elevator doors opened, and she stepped in. She knew Sea Hawk was planning on proposing, and Mermista wouldn’t say no. She was incapable of it no matter how many times she “broke up” with him (he slept on the couch for three nights, tops).
It was a nice enough day that Catra decided to stay outside after buying her ham sandwich and water from the food cart that was always outside their office. She sat on the bench, playing a mindless game on her phone, determined not to spend her entire break getting angry about work. Scorpia texted her back right as she was about to win a level, and Catra nearly dismissed it, until she saw the preview.
Do you want to do something on the twentieth?
The twentieth. July twentieth. She’d been so busy, she almost forgot. Get black-out drunk? was what she texted back, already knowing that wouldn’t be an acceptable answer. Angella would give her the day off, like she always did, for Catra to do whatever she needed to distract herself from the day.
Scorpia replied, Entrapta suggested a sleepover and video game tournament. I think I like her idea better.
It probably was better. Catra’s brief foray into alcoholism hadn’t been fun for anybody. She could drink now without spinning out, but she knew she probably shouldn’t.
Fine, video games. But just you guys okay? And maybe Glimmer and Bow after work.
Us and maybe Glimmer and Bow works fine. This is going to be fun!
Catra stowed her phone back in her pocket, finished her sandwich, and went back to the office fifteen minutes early. Angella started to stop her, but held back when she saw the carefully crafted look of indifference on Catra’s face.
It wasn’t just that it was another year without Adora. That was bad enough. But this year would make ten. Ten entire years of existing in a world without Adora. It felt horrible. It felt wrong.
The knife dug itself into Catra’s chest. She ignored it, focusing on her paperwork.
Life wasn’t perfect. Or even particularly easy. Catra still did once-a-month sessions with Mara. She still had days when getting out of bed was impossible, when the pain was nearly debilitating. That, apparently, wasn’t an uncommon thing for magicats who lost their bond partners. It was like losing a piece of themselves, leaving jagged edges behind. She had even talked to a couple other magicats about it. Everyone assured her it was normal, and she was not, in fact, losing her mind.
But life was good, mostly. She earned enough to live in Bright Moon, which was almost a miracle. Finding middle of the road in a city that was almost exclusively rich side and poor side was hard, but she had more or less accomplished her goal with her sixth-floor, one-bedroom apartment. The giant windows in the living room were what really sold her on the place — they got so much sunlight, and her couch was perfect for lounging on with Melog and sunbathing.
That was where Melog was now, as a matter of fact. They lifted their head in lazy acknowledgment of Catra’s presence before returning to their nap. Catra kicked her shoes off and went to join them, resting her head on their flank.
“Ten years,” she murmured distantly, staring at the window. Ten years since she’d woken up to the smell of smoke and her mothers in the kitchen, fretting over how to break the news. Ten years since her entire world had fallen apart. Ten years since a piece of her died.
She closed her eyes, forcing back tears. The nightmares weren’t as bad anymore, although her intense fear of fire still remained. It made no sense to her — she hadn’t even been there, how could she be afraid? — but Mara had assured her that her fears were rational. She didn’t need to witness the fire first hand for it to send shock waves through her life and become something she feared.
“I’ve been doing all right,” she said, nudging Melog with her head. “Right?”
Melog purred, shifting to lick her cheek. She smiled, looking at the wall across from them. She had put up a few more photos of Adora — the sight of her face didn’t make Catra want to immediately burst into tears anymore — along with a collection of photos from high school and college. She’d made a good life for herself in the last ten years. Built a life out of the grief and pain that had threatened to consume her. She had good friends. She loved her job. She was good at her job. Things were pretty okay.
It all just would have been better with Adora.
Her phone rang, shaking her out of her daze. She raised her head to grab it and check the caller ID, then answered. “What’s up, Sparkles?”
Glimmer sighed. They’d gotten drunk at a party during Sophomore year, and mutually agreed that Sparkles was the perfect nickname for Glimmer. Unfortunately for Glimmer, Catra didn’t forget. “Bow and I are going hiking on Saturday. When was the last time you left your apartment for something other than work?”
“I’m gonna pass on hiking, but thanks.”
“What if I promise to bring the cat nip?”
Another terrible college experiment, although one Catra didn’t remember much about. “I’m going back to Half Moon for the weekend.” She hadn’t really been planning on it, but anything to get out of Glimmer’s once-a-month enforcement of dragging Catra out of her apartment. “Moms have a new guest. Some poor bastard got bit while he was out hiking. Maybe you should reconsider.”
“…I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.”
“Partially. He did get bit while hiking, but not on the trail you guys usually go to. Just be careful.”
“We might bring the bow and arrow,” Glimmer said uncertainly. “So how are you? Mom said you’ve been getting into more fights with other lawyers than usual.”
“I’m fine. Just… the month, you know?”
“Yeah. Plans for the twentieth?”
“Tentatively Scorpia and Entrapta coming over to play video games. You and Bow are invited too.”
“No Mario Kart.”
“We’re playing Mario Kart.”
“You are the worst to play Mario Kart with.”
“My party, my rules. We’re playing Mario Kart.”
“Fine. But we’re also playing Smash Brothers.”
Catra rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Whatever you say. Bossy.”
There was a sense of weightlessness that settled over Catra as she crossed the town line into Half Moon. She let out a long, content sigh, letting the feeling of home settle over her. She liked Bright Moon, but Half Moon would always be her place of comfort.
She turned down a street, car creeping along as she eyed the houses… and finally stopped in front of the frame of one being built. Someone had bought the land the Grayskull’s house had once stood on. Something new was being built.
And it would be like nothing had ever happened. Like Catra’s entire world hadn’t once stood in that same spot.
She stared at it for a long moment before sighing and continuing toward her own house.
Lyra and Cyra were sitting on the porch with the new guest — an older man who’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Catra felt bad for him. But she definitely wasn’t in the mood for talking. She went up to her room, Melog on her heels.
“You know Catra was probably just messing with you, right?” Bow asked patiently as they walked. Glimmer kept sending uncertain glances at the woods to their left.
“There was a werecat attack last week,” Glimmer pointed out. “I looked it up.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to be attacked here. Also you have magic. And I have my bow. We’ll be fine.”
Glimmer sighed, trying to relax. She knew Catra had partially been messing with her, but it didn’t change the fact that there was some truth in the teasing. She was literally trained to fight off magical beasts, though. It would be fine.
There was a rustling in the trees the moment all anxiety left her mind. She yelped and whirled, throwing a ball of magic on reflex. She saw it connect with something, which made a noise like a kicked puppy, then whimpered. Glimmer looked back at Bow, who had an arrow knocked in, just in case. Glimmer nodded to him, then looked back at the trees.
“We won’t hurt you as long as you don’t attack us,” she called, voice shaking only a little. “I promise.”
There was a moment of hesitation before a wolf nosed its way through the brush. Glimmer could see a magic burn on its snout. It was big; too big to be a regular wolf. Its bright blue eyes were too aware. It shook out its blonde fur, dislodging a few leaves, then whimpered again, legs stretching out in front of it as it bowed, showing submission.
“Okay.” Glimmer to a step forward, kneeling. “I’m sorry I hurt you. You just surprised us. You’re a werewolf, right?” The wolf chuffed, nodding its head once. “Can you transform back and talk to us?” A whimper. “You can’t transform?” Another whimper. Glimmer reached out an uncertain hand. “Can I…?”
The wolf all but shoved its head against her hand, clearly demanding pets. “Wow, you’re like a cat.” Glimmer giggled, scratching its ears. She looked back at Bow. “What do you think we should do?”
“Do you want help?” Bow asked the wolf. It yipped, head still preoccupied with Glimmer’s hand. Bow looked back at his girlfriend. “There are no werewolf packs in Bright Moon. Erelandia, maybe?”
“Ugh, no. Remember what Catra said about getting attacked—”
She was cut off quite abruptly by the wolf barking and tackling her. Its tail was wagging furiously, eyes eager. Glimmer stared, stunned. “Um… what did I say?”
“Catra,” Bow said. The wolf looked up at him and yipped. “You know Catra.” Another yip.
“She went home,” Glimmer said, carefully reaching out to pet the wolf again. “So… field trip to Half Moon, I guess?”
The wolf howled with delight.
Wrangling the wolf down the mountain was hard. They didn’t have a leash, or any kind of rope, and it was faster than them. And motivated. And if they were caught by a park ranger, it wasn’t going to end well.
Thankfully, they managed to get to the car without too much incident. The wolf turned in circles, panting, practically smiling as it waited to be let in. Glimmer opened the back door, and it jumped in obediently.
“Do you want the window down?” Glimmer asked as she climbed into the driver’s seat. The wolf smushed its snout against the window. That was Glimmer’s answer, she supposed, rolling the window down.
The roaring wind in the backseat made it hard to talk while they drove, but the wolf was thrilled. It stuck its head out the window, ears flapping, mouth hanging open in pure delight. Sometimes it barked or yipped. Glimmer and Bow exchanged looks, rolling their eyes and smiling.
They pulled into the Driluths’ driveway just as the sun was beginning to set. The wolf tried to jump out the window, but Glimmer quickly got out to open the door before it did any damage.
“Okay, okay, yeesh. Someone’s impatient.”
The wolf ran to the door, one massive paw thumping against the doorbell before it began scratching and whining. “Hope they’re not too busy,” Glimmer muttered as she and Bow approached. The door opened, revealing a very bewildered Cyra.
“What is — oh!”
She yelled in surprise as the wolf knocked her over, licking her face. Bow and Glimmer both tried to get it off her, but they couldn’t really grab it anywhere, and it was heavy.
“Cyra?” Lyra peeked out of the kitchen. “What’s going—”
Whatever was in her hands clattered to the ground as she gasped, eyes wide. The wolf finally straightened up, tail whipping back and forth. It yipped happily when it saw Lyra. Cyra sat up slowly, wearing the same, shocked expression as her wife.
She didn’t know where she was.
That wasn’t unusual. She couldn’t exactly stop and ask for directions. And she never had figured out where Shadow Weaver brought her. Her life since escaping had been running blindly, hoping instinct would lead her home.
Sometimes she let the wolf take over. It was easier that way. She didn’t want to think about killing animals, or scaring humans away from her, or how long it had been since she had been stolen from her life. Time was hard to measure in Shadow Weaver’s house, where everything was darkness and pain, and it was even harder when the days were a meaningless blur of sunrise and sunset, sometimes punctuated by sleep. Sometimes she wandered close to towns after dark to try and find indications the date. The last time she had succeeded, it had been eight years. She had let the wolf take over for a long time after that, unable to stand the thought of being away from Catra for that long.
It was daytime now. She was in the woods somewhere, wandering along, when a new scent caught her attention. Something sweet, almost like candy, but with a tinge. Magic. She turned, slinking through the trees, heading toward it. There was someone else there too — a man, if the voice she heard was anything to go by. He sounded nice. She continued her approach.
And then something hit her snout.
She tumbled back with a yelp, whimpering and pawing at her snout. It hurt, but it wasn’t too bad. It had just surprised her.
“We won’t hurt you as long as you don’t attack us. I promise.”
The magic girl seemed nice too. She took a chance and slid out of the brush, bowing and stretching and doing everything she could to look submissive. It worked — the magic girl offered her hand, and she shoved her head into it, welcoming the contact. The skritches. When was the last time someone had been nice to her?
And then she heard it.
“Ugh, no. Remember what Catra said about getting attacked—”
Catra. The sound of the name set off a million fireworks in her head, released a rush of adrenaline that had her nearly giddy as she knocked magic girl over. Catra. CatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCatraCATRA!
“Um… what did I say?”
“Catra,” the man repeated. Her ears perked as she looked up at him, eyes wide. He knew her too. They could bring her to Catra. She could see Catra.
And just like that, they were on their way to Half Moon. She hadn’t been in a car in so long, and magic girl asked if she wanted the window open. Of course she wanted the window open!
It was every bit as exhilarating as she remembered. Her ears flapped back in the wind, air rushing through her fur. She couldn’t stop herself from making a few happy noises. They were going home. She was going home. She was going to see Catra again. And Cyra, and Lyra. And maybe her parents, maybe Shadow Weaver had lied about killing them, maybe they were alive and—
They pulled up in front of the achingly familiar house. Magic girl stopped her from jumping out the window, but no one could stop her from running to the door, batting the doorbell, and scratching the wood impatiently while she waited.
The door opened, and she was immediately hit with a million familiar scents. Lyra was cooking. Cyra had been cleaning, and they were still using the exact same brand of cleaning supplies, which masked Cyra’s usual scent. She could smell the flowery aroma from Lyra, and picked up just the faintest hint of something that was almost cinnamon. Catra.
And then she tackled Cyra to the ground, licking her furiously. She was home. She was home, she was home, she was home, she was home.
Please recognize me.
She looked up when she heard Lyra gasp, and knew her wish had come true. It was Cyra who actually spoke her name for the first time since… everything.
She was home.
“I don’t understand.”
That was the fifth time Lyra had said those words in ten minutes. Cyra had sent Bow, Glimmer, and the wolf — Adora — outside while Cyra and Lyra went to get some cleaning products. Adora was desperately in need of a brushing.
“There… There were three bodies, Cyra—”
“I know,” Cyra said, handing Lyra the towel while she wrangled the bottles.
Cyra didn’t have an answer. “Has Catra called back yet?”
She’d gone out with Scorpia and Perfuma. What timing. “No,” Lyra sighed. Cyra closed the cabinet. “Hopefully she calls back before she comes home.”
If she just walked into this… it would be a nightmare.
Bow and Glimmer were sitting on the porch bench, talking, while Adora chased her tail out in the yard. Cyra wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. It was such a familiar scene. The only thing missing was a mischievous werecat trying to trip her.
“Adora, sweetie! Come here please.”
Adora immediately bounded back up to the porch. Her ears went flat when she saw the brush in Cyra’s hand, and she made a distressed noise. “Your coat is a mess, dear. Don’t you want to clean it up?”
She clearly didn’t, but she walked over and plopped down in front of Cyra anyway, letting the woman do her work. Lyra helped spray a generous amount of de-tangling conditioner while Cyra brushed.
Bow cleared his throat. “So um… Adora. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Bow, and this is Glimmer. Catra’s… told us a lot about you.”
“Mostly that you’re dead,” Glimmer added bluntly. Adora curled in on herself.
“Glimmer,” Bow scolded his girlfriend gently.
“No, don’t tell me to be nice. You saw how messed up Catra was when we met her. How messed up she still is sometimes. It’s less than three weeks until the twentieth, and now this—” Glimmer waved a hand at the wolf, “is happening?”
Cyra continued brushing, giving Adora’s ears a light scratch as she did so. “Don’t mind her,” she whispered to the wolf. “She’s a little over protective sometimes.”
“I’m just saying, maybe it’s not necessarily a good idea to—”
Adora’s ears perked up as a car pulled up outside, and the front door opened and closed a moment later. “Why is Glimmer here?” The sound of Catra’s voice, tired as it may be, sent her tail thumping against the wooden deck. Lyra immediately jumped up, hurrying inside.
“I called you—”
“Yeah, I was on my way home, figured I’d just see what you wanted when I got here. Was the warning going to be ‘Glimmer is here to kidnap you again’?”
“Not exactly — Catra, wait, there’s something you should—”
Too late. The back door opened, and Catra stepped out. “Look, I just spent all day with friends, I’m not—”
She stopped dead. Her gaze seemed hazy for a moment before it snapped into focus, narrowing in on the wolf. The golden wolf with bright blue eyes, looking at her with so much hope and love in its stare. Those eyes… those achingly familiar eyes.
“What…” Her voice shook. She took a moment to steady herself. “What the fuck?”
Cyra and Lyra exchanged glances. “Catra—”
“Is this a joke?” Catra demanded, whirling back to her mothers. “How did you even — what is this?”
There was a world and a lifetime of pain in her eyes. It hurt. “Glimmer and Bow found her,” Cyra started slowly. They weren’t entirely sure what to expect from Catra’s reaction, but it was looking like it would be anger.
“Her?” Catra repeated. The wolf whimpered, starting to step forward. She whirled to hiss, fangs beared; the wolf cowered back. “Why did you even bring it here?” That question was thrown at Glimmer and Bow, who held their hands up in surrender.
“She… She got really excited when I said your name,” Bow said. Catra shot the mutt another glare. It straightened up; she hissed again.
“Catra, sweetie,” Lyra started, “I think, maybe you should consider—”
“Consider what?” Catra asked through gritted teeth. “That that—” She waved her hand at the wolf, “is… is… no.” The word practically ripped itself out of her throat. “She’s dead. If you want to keep that thing, fine, but keep it away from me.”
She nearly ripped the back door off the hinges, storming back inside and slamming it behind her.
“I still don’t understand.”
Cyra looked up from her work. It had taken nearly three hours, but she had finally made some progress on Adora’s fur. The wolf was curled up on the floor in front of her, sniffing the carpet and whimpering softly now and again. “Which part?” There was a lot to not understand about the situation. Personally, she was most stunned by Catra’s reaction — anger was to be expected, but to blatantly disregard reality like that? Cyra had known it was Adora on sight. There was no way Catra didn’t realize that as well.
Lyra nodded to the wolf currently moping on their living room floor. She looked like a literal kicked puppy. “How? We saw the house — there were three bodies—”
“Burned beyond recognition,” Cyra reminded her wife quietly. She scratched Adora’s ears uncertainly.
“Adora? Are… Are your parents still…?”
A low, pained whine answered her question. “And you really can’t change back?” Lyra asked. Another whine. “Is that… possible?”
“Not for someone who grew up with constant monitoring and training,” Cyra murmured. “Unless something really bad happened.”
A shiver and a pained rumble ran through Adora as she curled in tighter on herself. Something really bad had obviously happened. What exactly that was, they were afraid to find out.
Adora looked up at the tall lady, trying not to tremble. She smelled like magic, but like magic girl’s magic — Glimmer, apparently. She and Bow were Catra’s best friends.
No, I’m her best friend, a small, petty voice argued.
“Adora?” Cyra brought her attention back to the situation at hand. “This is Angella. She’s going to try and figure out why you can’t change back. Is that okay?”
Adora’s ears were flat against her head, but she nodded, following Angella into the living room. Cyra and Lyra sat on the couch, while Angella settled in an armchair. Adora sat obediently in front of her, hoping she didn’t look too scared. Shadow Weaver would always yell at her for being scared.
“May I?” Angella asked, holding a hand out. Adora nodded, ducking her head, and was pleasantly surprised when Angella only petted her. The ear scritches were nice. “I hear Catra’s not taking it well.”
Lyra shook her head. “The timing isn’t the best, although…”
“I doubt anything would’ve made this easier,” Cyra finished. “She’s spent so long trying to readjust her world, and now it’s being turned upside down again.”
Angella was subtle. Adora had to give her credit for that. She barely noticed the first, gentle brush of magic that washed through her. And when she finally did, it felt nice. Warm. Not the same, cold pain she’d come to associate with magic after so long. She felt good until she saw the frown on Angella’s face. Frowns were never good. She had to resist the urge to whimper and pull away, knowing that would only make it worse.
“You’re completely drained of magic.” Adora cocked her head, blinking in confusion. “How long have you been trapped like this?”
How in the world is she supposed to answer that? “The entire time you’ve been gone?” Cyra guessed. Adora shook her head. “Nine years? Eight? Seven?”
Adora yipped. Seven felt more or less right. “Seven?” Angella sounded horrified. That probably wasn’t good. “It’s amazing you even remember your name.”
That part had been hard, but Adora had always been stubborn. And determined. She’d wanted to get back to Catra. Of course, now that she had…
Catra walked passed the living room, wearing gym clothes, ignoring everyone until Angella said, “Oh, good, Catra, I was hoping to see you.”
She stopped, walking back slowly to stare at Angella. “Why?”
“I wanted to let you know your leave request was approved.”
“My… what?” Catra narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t put in any leave requests except for the end of the month—”
“Glimmer said you might be too scattered to remember, but you really need some time off—”
Catra hissed through clenched teeth. “Glimmer should mind her own fucking business. I’m coming to work on Monday.”
“That might be hard considering Netossa has already stolen a part of your car.”
The conspiracy went that deep, huh? “Are you kidding me? Did she drive here just to mess up my car so I couldn’t get back to Bright Moon?”
“She had the proper motivation.” If Angella was at all shaken by Catra’s slowly rising temper, it didn’t show. Catra sputtered incoherently for a few moments before finally growling, whirling on her heel, and storming away, the door slamming behind her.
“Netossa can fix her car, right?” Lyra asked. Angella shrugged.
“I assume so.”
Adora turned her head, dejected — and yelped when she found herself staring into a pair of vivid blue eyes.
Her tail wagged for a moment before she remembered Catra’s reaction; she wilted, waiting for Melog to judge her. The cat sniffed her uncertainly, circling around a few times, making noises Adora didn’t understand any more now than she had ten years ago. Finally Melog grew a bit and tackled her.
Cyra, Lyra, and Angella all stood to stop them before they realized it was play. Adora growled mischievously, shoving at Melog with her back legs, while they simply grew bigger and sat on her. Cheater.
“Hey, you break it, you buy it.” Catra slammed her fist into the heavy bag, a deep growl rumbling in her chest. “Yeah, I’m not scared of you.”
Lonnie watched Catra beat down the bag, eyebrow raised. She didn’t usually abuse the equipment unless she was in a really bad mood. “Okay. Do I want to know?”
The claws finally came out, slicing through the bag like it was butter. It wasn’t the first time she’d replaced a heavy bag here. It was a benefit of being friends with the owners — Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle were very patient with her. Catra cracked her knuckles, gritting her teeth, ignoring the looks she was getting from the other gym-goers.
“My mothers,” she finally gritted out. Lonnie waited. This was too extreme to just be an argument with Cyra and Lyra. “There’s… There’s this wolf. Glimmer and Bow found it. And my mothers think it’s…”
Oh. Lonnie’s eyes widened. “Is it—?”
“Of course it’s not, she’s dead!”
Catra stormed to the locker room, shoving passed Kyle, who was coming out to clean up the heavy bag remains. Kyle looked at Lonnie, wide-eyed. She shook her head and went after Catra.
“But your moms would know, wouldn’t they?” Catra ripped her locker open. “Okay, seriously, go easy on shit, or I’m kicking you out.” Catra snarled in reply. Lonnie narrowed her eyes before storming forward, grabbing Catra, and throwing her into the opposite row of lockers. She grabbed her and held her against the lockers, arm pressed to her neck. “Calm. Down.”
It took a moment, but the wild look in Catra’s eyes faded, leaving her empty, chest still heaving. “You good?” Lonnie prompted. Catra shoved her away, scrubbing her face. “Okay. Why do they think it’s Adora?”
“Because it’s blonde, has blue eyes, and is a complete dumbass.”
“To be fair, that is all very Adora-like.”
“All mutts are dumbasses,” Catra muttered, kicking her locker half-heartedly. “She’s dead.”
“I mean… they couldn’t really identify the bodies.” Catra’s ears twitched, jaw tightening. “I know, it sucks to talk about. But if…”
“If what? If somehow, miraculously, a completely unrelated third dead person ended up in Adora’s bed? If somehow she wasn’t home at all when it happened even though it was three in the morning? Then what? What does that mean?”
“It means she could still be alive,” Lonnie replied quietly. Catra closed her locker with only slightly more care than she had originally opened it. She stared at the fading green paint, momentarily light-headed, her knees shaking uncertainly. And there was the pain again, burrowing in her chest. She clenched her shirt loosely, dropping to sit on the bench.
“It’s not her.” It couldn’t be her. She was dead. It had taken Catra years to truly come to terms with it, but Adora was dead. She couldn’t deal with this imaginary what if.
Lonnie sighed. “Look, I know losing her damn near killed you. I know you’re scared of getting your hopes up because what if. What if it’s not her, what if you get hurt all over again. But what if it is her, Catra? Then you’re sitting here wasting perfectly good time destroying our equipment and lockers when you could be with her. This could be another chance. You really going to be an ass about it because you’re scared?”
“Fuck you,” Catra muttered. Lonnie walked over, gently kicking her shin.
“Get your shit together, Driluth.”
She didn’t know how. Maybe that was the whole problem. She didn’t know how to get it together and face this. Face the idea that Adora had actually been alive, somewhere, for the last ten years while Catra had… what? Moped around? Then moved on? Gone to college? Made new friends? Lived? While Adora had…
“What if she hates me?”
Lonnie snorted, rolling her eyes. “Adora? Hate you? She’d rather chop off her own foot.”
“What if she hates who I am now?”
“Still not possible.” Catra didn’t look particularly convinced. “Stop making excuses. You gotta go back eventually.”
“Yeah. Can I just… sit here for a bit longer, though?” She wasn’t ready to go home yet. Lonnie’s expression softened slightly, and she nodded.
“Sure. Just stop breaking our crap.”
Cyra and Lyra had put down a blanket for Adora in their room, where she was supposed to be sleeping, but she was restless. There was so much to think about, a lot of it not really fitting right in her wolf brain, and it was hard to sleep. Instead, she was up and pacing in the hall, casting sad glances toward Catra’s room. The door had never been closed to her before.
“Is there a way to restore her magic?” Adora heard Lyra ask as she wrestled on the floor with Melog.
“I’m not sure,” Angella said quietly. “I don’t know as much as I would like to about were-creatures and the magic behind their transformations. But if it hasn’t come back in seven years…”
She left the words unsaid — then Adora could be stuck as a wolf for the rest of her life.
Coming home, getting back to Half Moon, had been Adora’s one point of hope for years, ever since she had escaped. Someone would be able to help her. She had to believe that. It kept her going.
What if those hopes were gone now?
A small, muffled noise hit her ears. She whipped back around to Catra’s door, eyes widen, when she heard a small cry. Catra was hurting. Catra was upset. Adora launched herself at the door, scratching furiously, whimpering. She had to get in there, she had to help, she—
The door whipped open. Adora stumbled back in surprise, noting two things — Catra was wearing one of her old shirts. And she was angry.
“Knock it off, mutt,” she hissed, starting for the stairs. She wiped her eyes, trying to make the gesture subtle, but Adora knew all her tells. She whined, following Catra downstairs. Melog had shrunk down to rest on her shoulder and was licking her face, trying to be a calming presence.
They arrived at the back door, and Catra looked back at Adora, scowling. “Quit following me. I don’t need the lost puppy shit. I don’t care who you are. The fact that you look like my dead girlfriend is really convenient, but I’ll let it go if you just leave me alone.”
Dead girlfriend. Adora’s ears pressed flat against her head, another small whine building in her throat. Catra slipped out into the night, shifting before she even got off the porch and running into the woods. Adora whimpered, dropping her head and going back to the stairs. Catra’s door was open, and her bed empty; Adora climbed into it, snuffling against her pillow and taking a deep breath. It was beautiful, familiar smell. She fell asleep surrounded by it.
Cyra woke up early to her phone ringing. She yawned, rolling over to answer it. “Hello?”
“Your daughter is sleeping on our porch,” Netossa said in lieu of a greeting. Cyra sighed, lying back on her pillow.
“You did sabotage her car. She might want revenge.”
There was a shuffle on the other end of the phone as Netossa presumably opened the door. “You want to come inside, kid?” Cyra heard a deep growl. “Hey, don’t you growl at me like that. You still haven’t figured out how to get out of my nets.”
Cyra rolled out of bed, noting that the blanket on the floor was empty. She went to check Catra’s room on a hunch, not completely surprised to find a giant wolf curled up in the bed, sleeping peacefully.
Adora tried to stay outside as much as she could. She didn’t like it, but she knew her presence upset Catra, and she hated that more. She wasn’t supposed to upset Catra. All she had ever wanted was to make Catra happy.
Now it seemed like all she could do was hurt her.
So she stayed outside, giving Catra space to be inside with her mothers, even if all the conversations seemed tense, and Catra shut down when Adora’s name came up. She chased bugs around the yard, paced, and napped in the shade of a tree. She tried not to be too impatient. She knew Catra was hurting, couldn’t even imagine how bad the last ten years had been for her, and all of this was hard for her to accept. But she was so stubborn. How many blonde-furred, blue-eyed wolves did she think existed?
Lyra joined Adora outside for lunch, bringing her a barely cooked steak — just warm enough that it felt good to the human side of Adora, and just raw enough that the wolf side was more than satisfied. Lyra sat on the porch steps, eating her own sandwich as she watched Adora.
“I know it’s hard,” she said after a moment. “And Catra is being very… difficult about things. But try to be patient. She’s scared of being hurt again.”
Adora whined, ears drooping. She got that. She really, really, really did. She wanted to help. She wanted to make things better, to help Catra feel better. She really wanted to be human again so she could hold Catra, and vocally assure her that everything would be okay, but she was trying to give up on that particular hope. Angella had promised to look into ways to replenish Adora’s magic, but she could tell the chances of finding anything were slim. She was going to be stuck like this for the rest of her life, however long that was. Did werewolves and regular wolves have similar life spans? She knew regular wolves grew faster than natural born werewolves — she had been thirteen or fourteen by the time she reached her full wolf size. Were things different now that she was trapped?
She had no way of communicating any of her worries, of course, although she tried. She retreated inside once night had fallen and Catra had disappeared into her room, staying downstairs with Lyra and Cyra. She paced and circled, trying to let them know she was worried about something. They knew animal body language well enough to understand.
“Adora?” Cyra prompted patiently. “Is something wrong?”
Good, she had their attention. Now, how did she communicate? She grumbled, looking around, eyes landing on a picture of herself and Catra hanging on the wall. She walked over to it, rearing back on her back paws to lift herself up and resting her front paws against the wall. She nosed the picture, then dropped back down, making a show of circling and examining herself. Finally she looked back at them, her gaze pleading. The women stared back at her uncertainly. Great, that had gone completely over their heads. Adora whined, circling again. She had never been as frustrated with her inability to speak as she was at that moment.
If I can ever change back, I’ll never take vocal chords for granted again.
She tried again with the pictures, pacing back and forth between one photo of them on their first day of kindergarten, and another on their first day of high school, eyeing each one for a long moment before going to the other with slow, deliberate steps. “You’re… worried about aging?” Lyra finally guessed. Adora’s head snapped up, tail wagging furiously; she yipped to confirm the guess.
“You want to know if you’re going to age at a human rate or a wolf rate?” Cyra added. Adora’s tail wagged harder, ears up in delight. “We’d… probably have to take you to a doctor to find that out. And do some research. George and Lance might be able to help.”
Adora had no idea who they were, but if Cyra trusted them, so did she. If anyone could help — anyone at all — then she would take what she could get. This might very well be her life now — living in Cyra’s and Lyra’s house, watching Catra come and go like she didn’t recognize her. She wanted to know how long she could expect it to last.
Catra tapped away on her laptop, half listening to the cooking show she had put on the TV. Angella could give her time off, and Netossa could steal parts from her car, but no one could actually stop her from working. She had her laptop, and access to everything she needed. And working from home was actually kind of nice. It was raining, the soft pitter patter adding to her natural soundtrack for the day. She was lying on the couch in sweatpants and a t-shirt, Melog sleeping on her feet. Cyra and Lyra were out, leaving Catra to herself. This was definitely better than working in the office. If only she didn’t have to deal with that damn mutt watching her from the kitchen door. It wasn’t very subtle.
“God, you’re pathetic,” Catra groaned, rolling her eyes. She didn’t look at the wolf as she spoke. “Just… come sit or something, and keep quiet, and you can stay, all right?”
The wolf perked up, tail thumping furiously as it hurried into the living room and jumped up in the chair. How that much wolf managed to fit into a relatively small chair, Catra couldn’t even begin to guess. She wondered if the fur made it look bulkier than it really was.
“Look,” she started, trying to ignore her furiously thumping heart. “Mom and Mama want to keep you, which… fine. They’re into charity, it’s not surprising. I wish they’d stop calling you Adora, but fine. So you can stop acting like… this. You don’t have to be all pathetic and needy to convince them. They’ve already bought you a bed.” The wolf cocked its head, clearly bewildered. “You got lucky, and they seem fond of you. I don’t need the whole puppy eyes thing, though. I don’t even live here, so it’s not like anyone’s going to ask for my approval. I’ll be out of here as soon as Netossa fixes my car. Just stop trying to make me feel sorry for you or whatever, and we can exist until I go home. Okay?”
The wolf just stared, confused. Catra rolled her eyes, going back to her work.
And that was how things went for a few days. Cyra and Lyra were gone a lot, leaving Catra by herself — aside from Melog and the wolf. No one knew she was still in town, so she didn’t have to worry about random visits or explaining the dumbass dog who perked up and barked every time there was movement outside. It would have been funny if Catra wasn’t so determined to be irritated by the thing.
“Should I let you out to chase the mailman?” she finally asked on the fourth day. They had something of a routine now — Cyra and Lyra would leave, and Catra would get settled on the couch , turning on the TV for company while she worked, and the wolf curled up in the chair. Angella had realized Catra was still working, and hadn’t bothered to argue, so at least she was getting paid.
The wolf looked at her, half offended and half tempted by the offer. Catra rolled her eyes, returning her attention to her laptop. The fast food place had, unsurprisingly, dropped the lawsuit against the lizard man who broke their register, which was great because it saved Catra from a day in court, but now all she had was paperwork, which wasn’t as much fun as threatening whatever cheap chump shitty businesses hired to defend their bigotry.
“You deal much with people, mutt?” The wolf perked up slightly. “I’m a lawyer for a nonprofit, and let me tell you, people suck. I don’t know why you’d want to be around them.” Catra kept her eyes on the screen, but she could feel the wolf’s eyes on her. “A lot of normal people don’t like hybrids — you know, people like me. It’s illegal to discriminate, but that doesn’t stop anyone who’s really determined to be an asshole. That sorceress who was here, Angella, she runs the place I work for. I mostly deal with the legal bullshit, but they do a lot of other stuff too — helping with accessibility for hybrids who need accommodations, work with newly turned werewolves and werecats, things like that. My moms run a whole werecat rehabilitation thing too. When I was a kid there was a really bad couple of months where a rogue werecat was just running around and biting people, and of course no one knows what to do when they’re bitten by a were-creature because there isn’t enough public access to help. Mom and Mama did the best they could to get the word out, though. We had a few people staying here for awhile. They’ve been working with Angella for years now to get more information out in the world and make the whole ‘so you’re going to spend your full moons with four legs for the rest of your life’ thing slightly more bearable.
“Dunno how much you know about geography, but we’re right on the edge of Half Moon — the backyard shares a border with Thaymor, the next town over. They tried to sue my moms a couple years ago for ‘endangering the population’ by bringing newly turned werecats to the house. I was still in law school, but I got to go with Angella and her lawyer to watch them scare the fuck out of town officials and drop the lawsuit.” Catra laughed. “Man, the looks on their faces. I kind of already knew I wanted to go down the whole advocacy route — I mean, I was kind of already raised in it, so it’s natural. But that whole thing just cemented it. I doubt Thaymor’s ever going to threaten my moms again, but if they try, I’ll make them wish for Angella’s old lawyer.”
Catra was surprised to see the wolf still listening intently, as if every word she spoke was absolutely fascinating. “I help a bit with magicat accessibility issues too,” she said after a moment, eyes fixed on her laptop screen. “We’re not really the ‘sit still and listen’ type by nature. I used to piss off teachers because I would fidget during class or keep getting up to go to the bathroom just so I could walk. And it’s not like I was bad or anything — I didn’t try to cause trouble mostly, and I passed all my tests and did homework and stuff, but teachers would complain that I distracted the other students. But any magicat that doesn’t want to be completely isolated from society has to go through all the school bullshit, so we’ve been working on ways to help. It’s kind of like ADHD, which three of my friends have, so we kind of have a model to work with already. We’re just adjusting it to be more magicat friendly. It’s not one size fits all or anything — one of my friends always had to have something to do with her hands so she wouldn’t get distracted during classes, and another one needed all the possible distractions taken away so she could focus. And of course they sat next to each other in classes. I had to sit between them if I was there or nothing would ever get done.”
She paused again, staring at the TV without really seeing it. “I don’t get why you want to be around people so bad,” she finally said, refocusing on her work. “Society sucks. I wouldn’t have survived school without my friends.”
The wolf let out a small whine, ears flat against its head.
The tentative peace broke the next day.
Catra was already in a bad mood by the time she settled into her usual spot — any sleep she had gotten had been plagued by fiery nightmares. At least the fucking wolf hadn’t tried to break down her door again, even if she’d heard it whimpering in the hall a couple times. It was hovering as she got comfortable on the couch, putting on her inane baking show and trying to focus. Angella would happily give her the day off, she was sure. But she didn’t need it. She was fine.
That was what she told herself, the wolf, and Melog anyway.
“Would you just sit down?” she snarled at the wolf after about twenty minutes. It bowed its head, tail between its legs as it shuffled to its usual chair. Catra gritted her teeth, trying to focus. She just had to get through today, and Netossa would fix her car, and she could go back to Bright Moon, and her apartment, and her life, and be away from this thing.
She got through about three hours of work before she happened to look up, catching sight of the photo on the wall directly across from her. It was her and Adora in their animal forms, probably five or six years old, sleeping on the couch. The knife twisted in her chest.
“You don’t even know how lucky you are, do you?” she snapped at the wolf, who looked up in surprise, ears pinned back. “My moms loved Adora. And now you’re here just… just giving them hope. Really fucking convenient for you, isn’t it?” She got the same kicked puppy look the wolf always gave her. “You don’t even know who she was. How much she… she…”
Pressure was building in her chest. She wanted to run, to transform, to get as far away as possible. She’d stopped using the werecat to avoid her problems — it wasn’t healthy, Mara had told her, to run away from her emotions like that. She needed to let herself feel things. The refusal to do so was what had led to her initial breakdown. But it hurt. Everything hurt so much, and what was wrong with wanting to not feel for a little while?
She shoved her laptop aside and stumbled up, grasping at her shirt as she hurried out of the room. She refused to break down in front of that mutt. Absolutely not. Her lungs were threatening to seize, her breathing shallow, her legs shaking. She wasn’t going to make it up to her room.
Instead, she diverted to the kitchen, finding the darkest corner she could and sliding down into it, breathing raggedly. Both hands were grasping her shirt, claws piercing the cloth and scratching against her skin. Melog huddled into the corner with her, trying to dislodge her hands, but she was locked in place. When that failed, they nudged their head in between her chest and her curled up legs, purring loudly to try and comfort her. Her ears twitched when she heard the uncertain tapping of claws on linoleum. The wolf was approaching.
Catra looked up to meet its gaze, eyes wide and panicked. “Please,” she choked, tears filling her eyes. “You… You’re not her. You can’t be her. You can’t give me that hope and take it away again. I can’t handle it.”
The wolf stepped closer, gently nudging its snout against her knee. Melog nuzzled against her chest, mewling. Trust, they urged. Catra choked out a sob, dislodging one hand from her shirt and reaching out shakily. The wolf watched her, wide-eyed. Those eyes… those beautiful, brilliant, familiar eyes.
The wolf tucked its head under her hand, as if asking for pets, but it was gentle, not insistent. It was reassurance. It’s me. I’m here. The tears spilled over as Catra broke; she grabbed the wolf by the scruff and dragged it closer, arms wrapping around it and clinging for dear life.
Don’t take this away from me. Don’t take her again. Please.
Lyra found them in that same corner when she returned home about an hour later. She heard the crying the moment she was in the door, and hurried to the kitchen. Walking in on her daughter’s crying never got easier.
She was still hugging Adora tight, face buried in her fur, muffling the sobs. Melog was pressed into her side, acting as a grounding force. Lyra looked at Melog, trying to get an idea of the situation, but it was clear Melog wasn’t exactly sure where things stood, either.
“Mama?” Catra whispered, drawing Lyra’s attention back to her.
“Can I stay for the weekend?”
Adora paced nervously around the backyard, watching Catra. She was leaning on Melog, dozing on and off in the sunlight. They were just waiting now. It was driving Adora up a wall.
None of their friends had questioned Catra when she’d asked them come over Saturday afternoon. Mermista had complained about the drive from Bright Moon to Half Moon, but she wouldn’t have done it if she actually cared.
“They’ve all got lives now,” Catra said, stirring Adora out of her anxious thoughts. She wasn’t sure yet if Catra really believed she was Adora, or if she was just indulging in a fantasy. “It’s weird. Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio opened a gym in town. It’s pretty nice. Don’t tell them I said that. Perfuma and Scorpia moved to Plumeria. Not… entirely sure what they’re doing, I can’t listen to the hippy dippy stuff for long. Mermista and Sea Hawk moved to Bright Moon. Can you believe they’re still together? He’s proposing soon. Can’t wait to hear how that goes. Entrapta’s in Bright Moon, too. I don’t see her much, though, she spends most of her time at work. Got a job with some super high tech company that gave her a personal lab and let her go to town.”
They’d all grown up and moved on without her, Adora thought sadly. Not that she wanted anyone to spend the rest of their lives missing her, but actually seeing it was… hard. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed being part of the world.
Scorpia and Perfuma had arrived. They stopped at the edge of the backyard, staring in shock at the golden wolf. Adora stopped, watching them, gauging their reactions. They didn’t seem mad — mostly confused. Which was fair. Confusion was probably the most reasonable response to this.
Kyle and Rogelio nearly tripped over themselves when they saw Adora. Lonnie didn’t look the least bit surprised, which made Adora curious. Entrapta stopped for a moment, then immediately launched into a million questions, none of which got answers. Sea Hawk stopped dead in surprise while Mermista narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“What’s going on?”
Catra motioned for them to sit, straightening up and yawning. Adora knew she hadn’t slept much the night before. “Glimmer and Bow found…” She waved a hand at Adora who settled into the perfect sit position, tail wagging just a little, “her last week.”
“You don’t sound nearly as happy about that as you should,” Scorpia pointed out.
“She doesn’t trust it,” Mermista replied. “And neither do I. Has she changed back at all?”
“She can’t. And that’s legit. Angella came over to check her out. Apparently something’s drained all her magic, so she’s stuck like that.”
“Convenient,” Mermista muttered. “And you’re absolutely sure it’s not just some freeloader or—?”
“No,” Catra muttered. Adora’s ears drooped a bit. “Mom and Mama believe it’s Adora, though.”
“Anyone with eyeballs can see that’s Adora,” Lonnie piped up. “Look at that stupid face.”
“The odds of finding another wolf that looks exactly like Adora aren’t impossible, put they’re astronomical at best,” Entrapta added. “Blonde wolves are extremely rare. Even natural-born werewolves with blonde hair are usually a lighter shade of brown when they transform. It’s a genetic mutation, like red hair. That, on top of the shade of blue eyes, her size, facial structure… this being Adora is far more likely than a random wolf getting lucky.”
“What made Glimmer and Bow bring her here?” Perfuma asked curiously.
“She freaked out when they said my name, I guess. Like, totally off the wall, knocked Glimmer over and barked.”
“Sounds like Adora to me,” Scorpia said optimistically. Rogelio, Kyle, and Lonnie nodded. Perfuma looked halfway convinced. Sea Hawk clearly still didn’t understand. And Mermista was still suspicious.
“There has to be a way to prove it for sure. Ask it things only Adora would know.”
“She can’t answer,” Perfuma pointed out. “She can’t even use sign language.”
Adora looked sadly at her paws, huffing. This was so frustrating. She just wanted her friends to believe her and be happy she was home. She wanted Catra to be happy she was home. “And what about the bodies?” Mermista pushed. “There were three of them in the house, and one in Adora’s bed.”
“Maybe someone wanted to make it look like Adora died. You know, so nobody would look for her.”
Panic spiked in Adora’s mind. She immediately started pacing nervously, eyes on the ground, trying to shake off the images that threatened to surface. Waking up surrounded by fire, choking on smoke, a shadowy figure standing over her bed…
“You might be onto something, Entrapta,” Lonnie said, watching Adora pace. She’d done the same thing as a human — run and pace and walk in place like she could fight off anxiety with enough movement. “Someone had to drain her magic, right?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this,” Catra said quickly. She recognized the anxious reactions as well as anyone.
“Well, I think it’s Adora,” Scorpia declared. “And whatever happened, I’m happy you’re home.”
Adora paused, tail wagging, then launched herself at Scorpia, licking her face. The woman laughed, hugging her. Perfuma, Kyle, and Sea Hawk joined the hug. Rogelio and Lonnie gave her a good ear scratch, and Entrapta stretched a lock of hair over to pet her head. Mermista’s eyes were still on Catra.
“What about you? How are you feeling about all this?”
Catra laughed humorlessly. “I don’t even know.”
“Talked to your therapist?”
“I have an appointment on Wednesday.”
“Good.” Mermista cast a suspicious glance at the wolf. “If everyone else believes you, then I guess I do too, but if you mess up…”
She summoned a bit of water out of the air, letting it wrapped around her hand in warning. Adora got the message loud and clear; she whimpered, ducking her head.
Catra took Adora out for a walk the next day. Mermista had given her an idea — Adora hadn’t left the house, hadn’t had time to explore the town or anything. So Catra told her to find the street she used to live on, and they walked. Adora’s sense of direction wasn’t perfect, but she had walked to and from Catra’s house as a human and a wolf enough times that the worn path was practically stamped into her memory. They arrived at the end of Adora’s street within twenty minutes. Catra looked down at her, wide-eyed, but for the first time, Adora wasn’t paying attention. Her eyes were locked on the construction site down the street. She took off without a second thought, ignoring Catra calling after her.
She knew Shadow Weaver had burned the house and killed her parents. But nothing could have prepared her for seeing the place where her house used to be. The house she had grown up in, with the kitchen she had “helped” paint, and the squeaky back door that her dad always said he would oil and never did, and the entire room dedicated to Marlena’s knitting, and the marks on Adora’s bedroom door frame that showed how big she was getting, and the scuff marks in the wooden floors from her first transformations, when she’d been a small pup and couldn’t control herself… it was all gone. A pile of ash that had been cleared away for the frame of this new structure.
It was Sunday, and no one was working. Adora walked up the driveway, climbing onto the foundation, a deep whine building in her throat as she circled. This had been her home. And now it was gone. Stolen by Shadow Weaver, just like everything else. She tipped her head back and howled mournfully.
A hand rested on her head, nails lightly scratching the base of her ears. Catra sat beside her, staring at the sky. “I never went to the cemetery,” she said slowly. “Not after the funeral. I came here once… about six months after everything. It hurt so much to just see the empty land and know what had been here and think about how my entire world had literally gone up in flames overnight.”
Adora whimpered, stepping closer. When Catra didn’t stop her, she half climbed into her lap, tucking her head under Catra’s chin and gently headbutting her. An extremely cat-like move from someone who had grown up with a magicat best friend. Catra hesitated for a moment before pulling her into a tight hug, face pressed into her fur, crying the tears that Adora physically couldn’t. Crying for both of them in the middle of what had once been their lives.
Catra stayed in Half Moon, and actually took the week off this time.
Adora was finally allowed into her room when they went to bed, although relegated to the floor. Sometimes Catra would drop her hand over the edge and pet her absentmindedly until she fell asleep. Sometimes she would slip out of bed and change, curling into Adora as a werecat. They fit together just as well now as they had ten years ago.
They didn’t talk much when it was just the two of them. It wasn’t like they could have a conversation. Adora didn’t mind the quiet, though. It gave her more time to learn all about Catra’s new body language. She held herself differently; a little straighter, and a little more guarded. Her eyes always had wariness in them. She wasn’t as free with touch as she had been; even Melog, who had always been her second place snuggle buddy, seemed deprived of it except for the rare occasion. She was older and sadder. And Adora hated it.
The one thing that worried her above everything else was seeing Catra grasp at her chest like she was in pain. Sometimes it seemed mindless — an unconscious movement to occupy her hands, not unlike running her fingers through her hair. Other times she would hiss, squeezing her eyes shut and letting out slow, deliberate breaths.
“It’s nothing,” she said when Adora nudged her hand and looked at her as if to say what’s going on. “Don’t worry about it.”
Which just made Adora worry more.
Catra was twitchier than usual on Wednesday. She pulled out her laptop for the first time to do some work, ignoring the unimpressed rumble in Adora’s chest. But even that didn’t hold her attention for long.
“Don’t you have to leave for your appointment?” Lyra asked eventually, raising an eyebrow at Catra. Her eyes flicked to the clock; she sighed.
“Yeah. I guess.” She looked at Adora, silently appraising her for a long moment. “You wanna come with?”
Adora had no idea where they were going, but if it meant a car ride and not leaving Catra, then of course she wanted to go. “Are you sure about that?” Lyra asked.
“I need backup to explain this whole thing.”
Adora didn’t really understand what was going on until they arrived at the small office. Therapy. How much had she been hurting that she had let someone talk her into this?
The therapist was surprised when she stepped into the lobby and saw the giant wolf at Catra’s side. “That’s… certainly a change from Melog.”
“They’re here too,” Catra mumbled, indicating her hoodie, where a kitten-sized version of Melog was napping. The therapist led them to her office; Catra took a seat, and Adora sat next to her, looking between her and the therapist. “So um… Mara. This is Adora.”
Mara blinked a few times, looking between Catra and the wolf. “Adora as in you found a wild wolf and named it Adora, or…?”
It took several more seconds to process that. “Okay,” Mara finally said. “Clearly some things have changed since the last time we talked. Where do you want to start?”
Catra repeated the story yet again. Adora felt terrible. She shouldn’t always be the one who explained everything, especially not when it was clearly exhausting. Mara listened intently, eyes flicking to Adora every now and again, and Adora saw pity in her gaze. Pity for what, though? Did she think Catra had finally snapped or something?
“Wow,” Mara said when Catra was done. “That is a lot.” She looked at Adora giving her a smile. “It’s nice to meet you, although different circumstances would probably be preferable.” Adora liked her, she decided as Mara’s attention went back to Catra. “And how are you handling this?”
Catra’s empty laugh made Adora’s ears go down. “Oh, just great. I think you’d be really proud.” Mara waited. She clearly knew how to talk to Catra. Adora wondered how long Catra had been dong this. “I… I still don’t know if I believe it’s her. All the logic says yes, but…”
“But all the parts of your mind that are scared of getting hurt say no,” Mara finished. Catra nodded silently. “And you can’t really have a conversation about it.”
“I don’t even know what to say.”
“What would you want to say?” Catra blinked, confused. “Imagine trying to talk to her about one thing. Just choose one topic you want to get off your chest more than anything else. There’s plenty you can talk about if you take the time to think about it. Just… pick something.”
Catra was quiet for a long moment before her hand crept up to grasp her shirt, and she let out a ragged breath. Adora looked at Mara, alarmed, but Mara didn’t seem concerned. “The bond,” she finally whispered. Adora tilted her head in confusion. Bond?
Mara nodded slowly. “What do you want to say?”
She wasn’t speaking hypothetically anymore. Catra’s gaze was distant, unfocused, fixed on the wall behind Mara. “That it hurts. It still hurts, even now, even when she’s sitting right next to me. It always hurts, and it makes it so much harder to believe that she’s really here.”
“The pain is psychosomatic,” Mara reminded her gently. “It’s going to hurt as long as you do.”
Adora huffed impatiently. She wanted to scream. What did any of this mean? Mara looked at her, smiling, then back at Catra. “I think you might have to explain a bit more.”
Catra looked down at Adora, tears filling her eyes. Oh, Adora hated that. “There’s this… this thing. It’s called bonding. It’s supposed to only happen between magicats. It’s just… it’s like a deep, emotional connection. Mom and Mama think I might have… bonded with you, and that’s why I was so… clingy when we were kids. And when you died, it felt like something broke. And I guess… I guess that’s normal? With a bond, I mean.”
Oh. She didn’t like that at all. Adora whined, moving to rest her paws on Catra’s knees, then nudged her hand away to nuzzle the spot. She knew it wasn’t that simple, but she had to do something. Catra pressed her face into Adora’s fur, crying quietly.
Adora woke up alone in Catra’s room a few mornings later. She could hear low, familiar voices across the hall — Catra was in her mothers’ room.
“…have to go back to Bright Moon eventually,” Catra was saying. “This is the longest we’ve gone in months without some kind of legal problem. And I can’t just hide here forever. I have a life there.”
Adora’s ears drooped. She did her best not to let out a whine. Of course Catra wanted to go back to Bright Moon. That was where she had chosen to be. “You could take Adora with you,” Lyra suggested. Catra scoffed.
“Pretty sure my building has a sixty-pound limit on animals. And Adora would hate Bright Moon. I live in a one-bedroom apartment and don’t exactly have a backyard. And I’m gone for work all day. Imagine how miserable she’d be there.”
“I can’t see her being any happier here without you,” Cyra said.
“She’d have more freedom.”
“She’d miss you.”
Silence fell. Adora went back to her corner, settling into it and wishing, not for the first time, that she could just cry. It would be so much better than this burning feeling in her chest.
“It’s fascinating, really. If we knew more about the circumstances around her situation—”
“If we knew more, we wouldn’t need help,” Cyra said with a sigh. “Thank you for looking into it, though.”
“Of course!” Lance said enthusiastically. “We’re not giving up, don’t worry. There’s a way to fix this, we just haven’t found it yet.”
It was easy to see where Bow got his optimism from, Cyra thought with a small smile as she hung up. She looked out the window, and saw Catra and Adora curled up in the backyard, Catra in her werecat form, cuddling in the sun. It was such an achingly familiar sight. She turned her attention back to her phone, calling Angella next. There was a way to get Adora back. There had to be. They just had to find it.
Catra was going back to Bright Moon on Sunday. Cyra didn’t really blame her. Routine had become Catra’s anchor after her entire life had been thrown into chaos, and that routine had been thrown into complete and utter disarray since Glimmer and Bow had found Adora. It was why she had insisted on working even after Angella had tried to force her to take time off. She needed that consistency.
Adora was twitching in her sleep as Cyra watched, only half listening to what Angella was saying. Catra moved to snuggle closer, half on top of Adora, and the wolf immediately relaxed, head settling back into her paws. Neither of them would do well away from one another. And Catra was right — Adora would hate Bright Moon if she was trapped as a wolf. She would be absolutely miserable, especially with Catra gone for work all day. Neither of them were going to win in this scenario. It was entirely unfair after everything they had already been through. They deserved more. They deserved better than this.
Something was wrong.
Catra had fallen asleep on the floor with Adora, who made for a half decent bed. Fur had tickled her nose as she fell asleep.
There was no fur now. There was bare skin, and that was weird. Nothing in this house had bare skin — the occupants were three magicats, whatever the hell Melog was, and a werewolf stuck in wolf form. Bare skin wasn’t natural.
She slowly opened her eyes, blinking a few times, and lifted her head to look up. Her gaze met a familiar pair of blue eyes on a very human face. She screamed, jolting up. Adora screamed, backing away in surprise. They stared at each other, mouths hanging open, before Catra’s door flew open.
“What—” Cyra started to demand. She stopped when she saw Adora. Human Adora. Same pale skin, same stupid long blonde hair, same dumb face. Lyra peered around her wife, mouth falling open.
Catra was struggling to keep her breathing even as she stared at Adora. Adora. It was really her, really her, here sitting in front of her, as a human. She looked frozen, like she couldn’t remember how to move — hell, she probably couldn’t. Catra spent three weeks as a cat and it had taken a full day for her to figure out how to use her voice and limbs again. Adora had been trapped as wolf for years… did she even remember how having a human body worked?
“Adora…?” Catra hedged uncertainly. Adora opened and closed her mouth a few times, unable to produce any actual words. She just whined in frustration. Catra surged forward without another thought, throwing herself at Adora and hugging her tight. Ten years. It had been ten agonizing years since the last time she’d seen this stupid, beautiful face. She pressed her nose into Adora’s neck, taking a deep breath.
And the ache in her chest became just a little more bearable.
“I’m… not sure what to say,” Angella said slowly as she looked Adora over. They’d managed to get her into some clothes, and she remembered how her legs worked fairly fast, but everything else was a struggle. She kept trying to speak, only to realize she couldn’t make the words work, and snapped her mouth shut again. “It seems as if her magic has… replenished itself, somehow. It’s weak — I wouldn’t advise trying to change back any time soon. But there’s something there. And I have no idea how to explain it. Micah did have a theory, but of course he’s in Mystacor visiting his sister…”
“What was the theory?” Catra demanded. She had squeezed into the chair with Adora, refusing to let any more space come between them than what was absolutely necessary. Adora didn’t seem to mind; her hand kept twitching like she wanted to hold Catra, but her arms weren’t getting the message.
“How much do you know about magicat history?”
Catra looked at her mothers, then back at Angella. “Not a lot,” she admitted. “Wasn’t really covered in school, and it never seemed important. Why?”
“The stories say that the first magicats were born between a cat fae and a human. They inherited their fae parent’s magic, but it became more diluted in future generations. Obviously you still have some access to it — you wouldn’t be able to transform without it. But most magicats can’t use any magic beyond what’s needed to shape-shift.”
“Most,” Cyra repeated.
“There are a select few who are able to… share their magic, I suppose is the best way to put it, with others in need.” Angella smiled softly, nodding to Adora. “Like with a werewolf drained of her own magic.”
Strong arms finally wound around Catra, all but crushing her against Adora’s chest. It was such a wonderful, familiar feeling; Catra had to fight down tears as she burrowed into Adora, clinging to her. How was she going to let go now?
“Would that explain Catra bonding with a non-magicat?” Lyra asked. “We’ve never managed to find an answer to that.”
“It might. I don’t know much about how that works. Micah might know more, I can have him call you when he gets home — I’d call him now but getting him away from Casta is difficult sometimes…”
Catra reluctantly dislodged herself just slightly to look up at Adora, who was staring down at her. “You’re here,” she whispered. It still felt unreal. Like a dream she was about to wake up from. She brushed a lock of hair back from Adora’s face. Adora huffed in annoyance. “I’ll find you a hair tie in a minute, jeez.” Catra rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Five minutes and you already want your stupid ponytail back.”
That got Catra a small smile, which she returned. “There’s still the matter of how you ended up like this in the first place,” Angella said. Catra felt Adora stiffen, heard her heart start racing.
“Is the person who hurt you still a threat to you or anyone else?” Lyra prompted gently. Adora shook her head before hiding her face in Catra’s hair. “I think it can wait, then.”
“Agreed,” Angella said. There was no point in pushing her now. She was already stressed. Trying to make her talk could do more harm than good.
Catra dragged Adora back upstairs and all but pushed her into bed, lying down with her and holding her close. She tucked Adora under her chin and clung to her, afraid to let her go. “I love you,” she whispered, fingers brushing through Adora’s hair. “I missed you so much.”
Adora whimpered into her chest, struggling to find her voice. Catra held her tighter, kissing her temple. “There’s so much to tell you. I cut my hair, you know. Bad drunken college decisions. It didn’t look too bad, though. I’ve got pictures, I’ll show you later. I think you would’ve liked it. It was all short and spiky. We tried to dye it too, that was a complete disaster. Glimmer thought I would look cute with pink hair. I don’t. And it got into my fur, it was terrible. I—”
The word was quiet, weak, shaky. But it might as well have been a shout. Catra pulled back to look down at Adora in surprise, meeting her tentative smile with one of her own. “Hey,” she murmured, resting a hand on Adora’s cheek. Adora tried to speak again, huffing in frustration when she realized she couldn’t. “It’s okay,” Catra assured her. “It might take awhile. I spent three weeks as a cat and it took me an hour to remember how to talk and an entire day to remember how to form full sentences. It takes time.” The impatience was still clear in Adora’s gaze. “Why don’t we just stick with yes/no questions for now. One tap for yes—” she tapped Adora’s shoulder to demonstrate, “and two for no.”
Adora tapped her shoulder once. Catra nodded and settled back in, playing with her hair. “Are you okay?” One tap. “Having trouble remembering how to be human?” One tap. “Yeah, it sucks. One step at a time. Are you hungry?” One tap. “That’s not even a question, I don’t know why I asked.” That got her a light slap. She laughed. “Get used to soup. Like, a lot of soup. Mama’s probably already making some.” Adora looked up at her, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “I’m not sure why, honestly. Something about different digestive tracks. Trying anything more solid than a banana will make you sick. Just trust me. And you know Mama makes good soup.”
They laid in silence for awhile, Adora half dozing, lulled by the sound of Catra’s heartbeat. The next question shattered the trance. “Do you still love me?”
The five words were a pained whisper. Adora looked up, surprised; Catra had squeezed her eyes shut, her jaws clenched tight. “I’m not… I’m not who I was before. Losing you hurt so much, and I tried to put the pieces back together, I really did, but I’m still… I’m always angry, and if I’m not angry, I’m numb, and I know I’m an asshole, and impossible to talk to sometimes, and—”
She was stopped quite abruptly by Adora kissing her. It certainly wasn’t unwelcome; she raised a hand to rest against Adora’s cheek, returning the soft, gentle kiss. Adora broke it after a moment to rest her forehead against Catra’s.
“I love you,” she whispered hoarsely. “All of you.”
Catra opened her tear-filled eyes to meet Adora’s gaze. “I love you too,” she murmured. She nestled back against Adora, letting out a long breath. Part of her was terrified that this was a dream, that should wake up alone. That Adora would be gone again.
Her grip tightened.
“Are you okay?”
“Um… yes?” Catra brushed her hair back from her face, sighing heavily. “I’m not… not okay.”
“That’s convincing,” Glimmer replied flatly.
“I don’t know how to explain it. I’m happy she’s… obviously I’m happy. I just can’t shake the feeling that something’s going to happen. That I’m going to lose her again.” Catra peeked into her room to make sure Adora was still there, still asleep, and then slumped against the wall, closing her eyes. “How am I supposed to feel?”
“I don’t know,” Glimmer admitted. “This is all… really complicated. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I’m trying.” Two words she had lived and died by for years.
“I know. Has she said anything about… where she was?”
“No. Talking is still kind of hard, and I’m… afraid to ask.” The haunted look in Adora’s eyes every time it was so much as alluded to… Catra didn’t want to upset her. Her magic was still low; if they accidentally triggered another transformation, who knew how long she’d be stuck. Her grip on her humanity was still tentative at best. They were balancing on a precarious edge, and she was terrified of tipping to the wrong side.
Adora was stirring by the time Catra got off the phone with Glimmer. The magicat smiled, crawling into bed and snuggling right into her side. “Morning.”
“Mornin’,” Adora mumbled, yawning. “Where were you?”
“Talking to Glimmer.”
Adora frowned — not angry, just… unsure. “Are… Are you and her…?”
“No,” Catra said immediately, absolutely horrified by the thought. “Oh god no.”
Something eased in Adora’s expression. “How’d you two meet?”
“Random roommate assignment freshman year. She’s an absolute pain in the ass, but she put up with me when I was still… trying to get my footing, I guess.” Adora tilted her head. Catra ducked hers in return, staring determinedly at Adora’s shoulder. “She’s been a good friend. And she’s punched someone for me more than once.” Adora snorted. “Yeah, I’ve got a type,” Catra teased, poking Adora’s nose. “Small and violent.”
Not that Adora was small — she hadn’t been small in years — but she’d absolutely punched someone to defend Catra. More than once.
They crawled out of bed eventually, getting dressed, and Catra took Adora out for a walk. They hadn’t been getting out enough, and it was a nice day. And Adora needed more practice walking on two legs.
“I missed this,” she said as they walked down the street, hand in hand. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” The words didn’t feel quite like they were enough to sum up how hard the last ten years had been. But she didn’t want to say anything. Whatever had happened, Adora had clearly had it worse.
They didn’t stray too far from the house — crowds were probably going to be overwhelming for awhile, and Catra didn’t want to upset Adora. Instead they stuck to the quiet edges of town, walking along the tree line, occasionally speaking, but mostly enjoying the comfortable silence that had long since become the norm between them. The type of silence that only came from years of being together. Adora’s hands shook slightly, and her steps were just a little unsteady, but she was walking. She was here. It was Catra could ask for.
It was dark. Everything hurt. She whimpered as the door opened, trying again to pull at the chain holding her to the wall.
“Be quiet, mutt.”
The words were followed by a shadowy figure stumbling into the room. Her ears pressed flat against her head as she struggled to back away, as if she thought she could phase through the wall. Anything to get away.
A rough hand grabbed her by the ear, dragging her forward. She snarled, trying to look threatening, but she had no power and she knew it.
“You know better than to fight.” Shadows crept along her body, wrapping around her. “Just be good and it will be over before you know it…”
Adora shot up, gasping, and accidentally dislodging Catra from where she’d fallen asleep on her chest. She shook, staring at her hands in disbelief, then checking herself over. Bare skin. Regular hair. A nose. Fingers.
It was still dark in the room; Adora shivered, wrapping her arms around herself, trying to orient herself, to speak, to use her voice, her words…
The lamp next to the bed clicked on. Catra had always been good at reading Adora and interpreting her needs. “Hey, it’s okay,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around Adora from behind and hugging her tight. “I’ve got you. I’m here. It’s okay.”
Adora curled into her, dragging a hand across her eyes and blowing out a long breath. “Yeah.” Her voice was barely a rasp. “It’s okay.”
Catra pulled her back to lie down, playing with Adora’s hair and resting her head on her chest as she started purring. It was a comforting sound. Adora almost smiled, content. She had always loved Catra’s purring. It just made her feel better.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
The words were gentle. Non-intrusive. Adora could say no if she wanted. She swallowed, squeezing her eyes shut. “R-Remember when I said I fe-felt like I was being watched?” Catra nodded, kissing the top of her head. “Her name was… Sh-Shadow Weaver.” She shivered harder; Catra pulled the blanket up and held her tighter. “I don’t know how… how she… how she found me. It started in… in Elberon, so I guess it was just bad luck? I don’t know.”
Catra pressed a kiss to Adora’s temple, brushing her fingers through the long blonde strands. “The… The night the… I woke up, and everything was on fire. And she was standing over me. I couldn’t move. She told me to just… not struggle, and everything would be okay. And then we were somewhere else. I don’t know how she… or who she left in my bed — I don’t know how there were three bodies.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Catra said quietly. “What did she do?”
“She… She said my magic was strong. Unique. She wanted to use it.” Adora squeezed her eyes shut, taking a deep breath to center herself. “She made me her battery. It wasn’t… too bad at first. I was tired, and I slept a lot, but it wasn’t bad. Then I started… losing control. Remember when we were kids and we would just randomly change?” Catra nodded. “It was like then. I think getting stuck as a wolf was just a fluke — I changed one time and never had enough magic to change back. But I had enough for her to keep charging herself on.
“Then… one day she came back. I don’t know what she did, but it always seemed like she was running low on magic. And she was really hurting that day in particular. She had me chained the wall, and I’d been pulling at it — you know, trying to get free, and I loosened it up enough, and when she tried to touch me, I… I attacked her.” She took another breath, trying to stay calm. “I… I didn’t mean to…I knocked her down. She hit her head. There was blood.”
Her breath came out in a ragged exhale. Catra held her tighter. “I stayed. I didn’t know what to do. She stopped… stopped breathing eventually, and I just… I couldn’t help.”
“You didn’t have to help,” Catra said fiercely. “Not after what she did to you.”
“I didn’t mean to kill her.” Adora said in a small voice. Catra brushed her hair back, holding her tighter. “I ran away after that. I don’t even know where I was. It was just a house, on a regular street, just like everywhere else. I tried to get back here…”
“But your sense of direction totally sucks.”
“It doesn’t suck,” Adora protested with a pout. Catra raised an eyebrow. “Shut up.” She buried her face in Catra’s fur, sighing. “I tried so hard to get back here…”
“I believe you,” Catra promised, kissing the top of her head. “And I absolutely believe it took you years to find your way back here.”
Adora hummed, snuggling closer. “I’m sorry,” she whispered after a moment.
“Are you apologizing for some witch kidnapping you and trapping you as a wolf?” Catra asked in disbelief. “Seriously?”
Adora curled up tighter, refusing to answer. Catra let out a long breath and focused on purring. That was what Adora needed. Warm arms and a gentle purr to assure her that everything would be okay.
Catra shoved all her feelings away after that night. Packed them up in a nice little box and stowed them in the back of her mind. Told Mara she needed a break from therapy. Took more time off work (she had three years of accumulated vacation time, and Angella was happy to see her taking some time for herself. Which wasn’t exactly right, but whatever). Adora had been through hell. She needed someone solid to lean on. Not whatever emotional wreck Catra was.
“Are you sure you want to go back to my place?” Catra asked uncertainly. Adora had declared earlier that she wanted to see Catra’s apartment and meet her friends for real. Catra still wasn’t sure about that, especially not the meeting Glimmer and Bow part. But it might be good for Adora to get away from Half Moon for a bit.
“Yeah! You have this entire…” Adora waved her hand vaguely. “Life. I want to see it. To… To be part of it. If you want me, I mean.”
That’s all I’ve wanted for ten years.
“I’m sure I can make some room for you,” Catra teased with a small smile. Adora rolled her eyes.
Cyra and Lyra were reluctant to let them go, but they’d learned long ago that clinging to Catra wouldn’t help them. They did secure a promise for the girls to visit the next weekend, though.
“And call if you need anything,” Lyra added with a pointed look at Catra. She pretended not to notice.
“Yeah, of course. Of course.”
Adora was staring vacantly out the car window as they pulled out of the driveway. Catra caught her thumbing the window button and smirked. “You want the window down, don’t you?”
“…Yes,” Adora admitted begrudgingly.
“You gonna stick your head out?”
Catra rolled the window down a bit — enough for Adora to stick a hand out. Adora stuck her tongue out at Catra, but took the compromise. The feeling of the wind in her fingers as they drove was nice. The car ride felt good. Everything was good. She was with Catra, safe, human again, despite all her fears that she would be trapped forever as a wolf…
She was still working on coordination, but she managed to reach out and grab Catra’s hand, squeezing it tight. Catra shot her a small smile, and her heart sped up. It wasn’t fair that Catra could still have this affect on her after knowing each other for their entire lives…
“You just gonna stare at me like a doofus the entire ride to Bright Moon?”
“Maybe. Gonna stop me?”
“Nah, my ego needs some love.”
Adora rolled her eyes, laughing. It felt good to laugh. To do more than make wolf noises and hope someone understood what she was trying to communicate. She hadn’t realized how much she loved being human until the option had nearly been taken from her forever.
She did not, unfortunately, get to stare at Catra the entire ride, because she fell asleep. Her eyes were on Catra right up until the moment they closed, however, and right back on her the moment she was shaken awake.
“C’mon, I can’t carry you.”
Adora smiled mischievously, hurrying out of the car and running around to scoop Catra up. She yelped in surprise, grabbing Adora’s shirt.
“Jesus! My legs work, ya know!”
“Yeah, but tell me this isn’t a little fun,” Adora teased, closing Catra’s car door with her foot. Melog was already heading for the elevator, ignoring both of them. Catra allowed herself to be carried with only a little protest, and it was mostly good natured. She had to put her down to open the door, which was unfortunate, but she maintained contact by taking her hand. Every moment not touching Catra felt like a moment wasted.
The apartment was nice. The floor to ceiling windows in the living room made it pretty obvious why Catra chose this particular place — the sunlight must have been amazing during the day, and the night time view of the city wasn’t bad. Melog went straight to the sectional couch, jumping up and curling into what was probably their usual corner while Catra checked the fridge and rolled her eyes.
“Three weeks and they think I wouldn’t notice they cleaned out my fridge?” she muttered, taking out her phone and finding a contact. She left it on speaker as she dug through the fridge, throwing a bottle of water to Adora. Probably not the best move, since Adora fumbled and dropped it, but at least it was capped.
“Helloooooo?” an almost musical voice answered. Adora recognized it. Glimmer.
“I regret letting you and Bow have a key,” Catra informed her. Glimmer laughed.
“Why, because we cleaned your fridge and bought you food? Wow, we are the worst friends ever. How do you even deal with us?”
“Fuck if I know. What kind of taking care of me bullshit is this?”
“Do you talk to your mothers like this?”
“Yes, but with less swearing.”
“At least you’re consistent. So you’re back in Bright Moon? Can we come over?”
“Not tonight.” Catra rubbed her eyes, sighing. “I’m exhausted. And do not need a babysitter.”
“Are we being replaced with Adora?” Glimmer sounded like she was pouting. “Boooooooooow! Catra doesn’t want us anymore!”
“I mean, she does have Adora, now…”
“I’m not replacing you,” Catra said flatly. “Stop being dramatic.”
“Maybe someday.” There was a pause, and then Glimmer spoke in a slightly more serious tone. “How are you?”
“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Catra checked the cabinet, finding a couple cans of soup, and then got a pan to pour them into.
“Should I…?” Adora gestured as if to go somewhere else, although the only place available was the bedroom. She felt like she was eavesdropping. Or making it hard for Catra to talk.
“Nah, I’m about to hang up. Try to come at a reasonable time, please?”
“Don’t tell me, tell Bow. He’s the one who drags me out of bed at six in the morning.”
“Seriously, has he considered a nocturnal lifestyle? I thought it was great.”
“Catra, we talked about this. It’s not nocturnal if you never sleep. It’s insomnia.”
“You say tomato,” Catra said lightly, grabbing her phone to end the call. “See you tomorrow.”
Adora was torn between smiling and frowning bitterly, because she really did like what little she had seen of Glimmer — she was nice, and clearly protective of Catra. But she would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little jealous. Of course Catra had moved on and made other friends — Adora wouldn’t have wanted any less for her. She deserved a good, happy life. But Catra had never bantered that easily with anyone except Adora. She hadn’t realized until this moment how much she’d valued that bond, and how much it meant to her to be that person to Catra.
But she had never dated Glimmer. She’d said she never dated Glimmer. Adora believed her. But they didn’t need to date to do… other things. They’d shared a dorm room, and then an apartment. They’d had plenty of time alone together.
“Were… Were you and Glimmer…” Adora waved her hands again, unable to find the words. Catra opened the cans, pouring them into the pot, and raised an eyebrow at Adora.
“What? I told you we never dated.”
“I know you did, but like… you know…”
Catra raised an eyebrow, tilting her head. “Use your words, Adora,” she prompted patiently. She’d had to do that a lot, except this time it wasn’t a matter of Adora forgetting the words she wanted or forgetting how to speak. She blushed deeply, ducking her head.
“H-Have sex, or… or anything,” she mumbled. Catra blinked, then burst out laughing. It was the same, squeaky laugh that Adora had grown to love, when it wasn’t directed at her.
“No, Adora. God, no. She’s not my type.” Catra abandoned the stove, crossing the room to take Adora’s cheeks in her hands. “I never dated anyone else. And I never had sex with anyone. I won’t say it’s because I knew I’d never get over you, but I was never interested. You’ve always been it for me, remember?”
She slid one hand down to press against her own chest, then got up on her tiptoes, pressing a careful kiss to Adora’s lips. It was only the second time they had actually kissed — more than a peck on the temple or cheek. Catra didn’t want to be pushy. But she also didn’t want Adora to be insecure.
Adora’s eyes were practically glowing when Catra pulled away. It was like their first kiss all over again. “Wow,” she said stupidly. Catra snorted, shoving her away.
“You’re such a fucking dork. Go sit down or something.”
Adora wandered toward the living room, smiling when she saw Melog on the couch, and began examining the wall of photos. There was a healthy mix of photos that had her in them versus all their other friends, as well as Bow and Glimmer. It was nice, seeing these simple parts of her life. Seeing her happy.
She deserved to be happy.
“You didn’t sleep.”
“Hi, Glimmer,” Catra grumbled as she stepped aside to let her friends in. No, she hadn’t slept. She’d been afraid to sleep. Afraid of nightmares. She’d just laid awake, watching Adora snore, and thought about how lucky she was.
Catra grabbed Glimmer’s arm to hold her back for a moment. “Can you be normal today?”
Glimmer huffed, looking offended. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I need Adora to meet Shallow Glimmer, not psychoanalyze and judge in five seconds Glimmer. Okay?”
“And no comments about my sleep schedule.”
“What else am I supposed to talk about?”
“You guys coming?” Bow asked, looking back at them. Adora was waiting in the living room, anxiously petting Melog. She didn’t know Glimmer and Bow. They were a new variable in Catra’s life. It terrified Adora.
Catra shot Glimmer a look before letting her go and leading the couple into the living room. Adora jumped up, wringing her hands together and trying to smile. “Um, hello, I’m—”
“It’s so great to meet you!” Bow was genuinely enthusiastic as he threw his arms around Adora, hugging her tight. She yelped in surprise, then laughed.
“Wow, do you know Scorpia?”
“They’ve had hugging contests,” Catra said dryly, hands shoved her sweatshirt pockets. “No one won.”
“Counterpoint, everyone won,” Bow argued. “Because everyone got a hug.”
“My ribs still hurt if I think too much about it.”
Melog mrowled, sliding off the couch and circling around everyone’s ankles. Glimmer let her fingers glide through their mane as they passed, throwing Adora a quick smile. “So we’ve heard a lot about you.”
They settled onto the couch. Adora was starting to understand why Catra had gotten such a large couch considering was just her and Melog. Everyone was easily able to spread out and have their own space, although Catra still flopped back to rest her head in Adora’s lap. Adora smiled, playing with her hair and feeling just the tiniest bit better.
Adora got straight to the point. “I heard there was a hair cutting and dyeing disaster?”
Glimmer lit up, grabbing her phone; Catra groaned. “This was such a mistake.”
Glimmer and Bow managed to fill two hours with terrible college stories. Some of it was stuff Catra didn’t even remember. Granted that didn’t mean much, considering how much time she’d spent drunk in college. But some of it was kind of… outlandish.
“We did not try to smoke cat nip,” she argued stubbornly.
“We did too! It smelled terrible and you were like, climbing the building. Maybe you fell and hit your head?”
“Why is that question? Do you not remember me falling?”
Adora chewed her lip, clearly nervous. Bow shot her a reassuring grin. “There was no falling or head hitting. They did try to smoke cat nip though. I had to supervise since neither of them had any idea what was going to happen. I’m always the sober buddy.”
“And we always had a drink or five in your honor,” Catra said solemnly.
“Pretty sure it stopped being about me after the second or so drink.”
It was the right time of day for the entire living room to be flooded in sunlight. Melog was already fast asleep, and the need to join them was growing. Catra was exhausted and comfortable, and it wouldn’t hurt to just close her eyes for a few minutes, right?
“…and okay, in retrospect, maybe experimenting with fire in the dorm room wasn’t our best move, but we really wanted s’mores and — oh, is she asleep?”
Adora looked down to see that Catra was indeed sleep, her face relax, tail curled lazily around her waist. A faint, content purr was rumbling in her chest. “Aaawww,” Bow whispered, slipping his phone out to take a picture. “She usually has to be drunk to sleep like that.”
Glimmer gave Adora an appraising look. It was something between uncertain and edging on… trusting, maybe? “She really loves you, ya know,” she said after a moment. Bow nudged his girlfriend; she ignored him.
“Yeah,” Adora said simply, still playing with Catra’s hair. “I know. I love her too.”
“I don’t doubt it. But she hasn’t told you much, has she?”
Adora frowned, looking up to meet Glimmer’s gaze. “She’s told me some things. Like, about her job, and stories about you guys, and…”
“And nothing overly deep or emotional?” Glimmer finished as Adora’s voice drifted off. “Yeah. She’s like that.”
“I mean, sometimes.” Adora’s shoulders hunched up, her tone defensive. “But not with me. She doesn’t hide things from me.”
“Didn’t,” Glimmer corrected. “It’s been ten years. And I know that wasn’t your fault,” Glimmer added quickly. “But…”
“I’m not… I’m not who I was before. Losing you hurt so much, and I tried to put the pieces back together, I really did, but I’m still… I’m always angry, and if I’m not angry, I’m numb, and I know I’m an asshole, and impossible to talk to sometimes, and—”
“We didn’t know her when she was with you, obviously,” Bow continued gently. “But we know her now. And she’s…”
“The biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever met,” Glimmer finished. Bow nudged her again, but didn’t argue. Adora looked down at Catra, gently cradling her face. Of course she had changed. It had been ten years. She’d thought Adora was dead.
“I still love her,” she said quietly.
“Trust me, we don’t doubt that,” Bow assured her. “Just… be patient? She won’t admit it, but she’s fragile sometimes.”
Adora thought back to the day in the kitchen — to Catra on the floor, breathing shallowly and crying and clinging to Melog as any semblance of composure abandoned her. Adora really had no idea what had happened while she was gone. She hated that.
“Did she ever tell you about the thing with Lonnie?”
Glimmer and Bow exchanged looks, then shrugged. “We know there was a thing, but she never went into details.”
“We were seven, and she got jealous one day and scratched Lonnie because she thought I liked Lonnie more than her. Which is absolutely insane to think about, especially now, but…” Adora shrugged. “She’s always been a little fragile. I know how to not break her.”
She really, really hoped that was still true.
Catra had never seen anyone so happy to eat a vegetable. Even if it was a frozen vegetable, and probably had little to no taste, aside from the metric fuckton of salt Adora had dumped on it. But it was a solid food, the first solid thing Adora had eaten since changing back, and it was amazing.
“Imagine what it’ll be like when you eat something with actual flavor,” Catra teased, nudging Adora. Her eyes lit up at the thought.
“Pizza?” she asked hopefully. “I miss pizza.”
“We’ll get pizza as soon as you can handle that much grease.”
Adora finished her meal probably a little too fast, if the stomach ache she had after was anything to go by. She dropped into bed with a groan, stretching and trying to find a comfortable position. “Told you to slow down,” Catra chided her, tugging her in to cuddle once she was in the position that made her feel the least nauseous.
“I want a donut, too. A chocolate donut. Does your mom still make those blueberry muffins? Oh, and—”
Catra cut her off with a gentle kiss. “Work on keeping down the frozen vegetables, and then we’ll talk about other foods.”
That got her a whine — sometimes words were still hard for Adora, and she reverted back to the only noises she had been able to express herself with for years. “I know, I know, I’m just the worst, trying to look out for your health and well-being.”
“I just want food,” Adora grumbled.
“I think you may be able to try transforming again, if you want.”
Adora blinked a few times, trying to figure out how she felt about that. “Oh. Um. Great.”
Angella raised an eyebrow. She had wanted to check on Adora, and Catra had been itching to go in and get some work done, so they’d killed two birds with one stone — Catra dragged Adora to the office so she could work while Angella gave Adora a checkup of sorts. “You don’t sound entirely thrilled about that.”
“I…” Adora shot a look at the office door, and sighed. “What if I get stuck again? What if I can’t change back?”
“It may take awhile for you to find your balance again, but I doubt you’ll be permanently trapped,” Angella assured her. “That said… I obviously understand your concerns. My husband may be able to help you a bit more with magic control, if you’d like to speak with him.”
Adora blew out a long breath, curling and uncurling her fingers. “Could… Could he make… ya know, a band or something to stop me from transforming?”
That wasn’t a request a person would usually make. Angella raised an eyebrow. “You’re really that afraid?” Adora nodded, shoulders hunched. “Someone in the guild may be able to help with that, if it’s what you really want, but I urge you to think and talk to Catra before you make that kind of decision. Bands can permanently alter your ability to transform, even after they come off.”
“I know. A principal suggested one for Catra when we were kids, because she kept transforming and scratching people. Cyra and Lyra were furious.”
“As they should have been,” Angella said, clearly appalled at the mere thought. “They’re only used in extreme cases for a reason.”
“I know, I know,” Adora said quickly. “I just… if it’s my choice…”
“It’s not a choice you should make lightly. If it’s what you really want, then you should do what you think is best. Just think about it.”
There was a knock at the door; Catra poked her head in. “Hey. You good?”
“Yeah.” Adora stood, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Ready when you are.”
Catra raised an eyebrow at Angella, who smiled and nodded. “Everything is normal. She seems to be recovering well.” Physically, at least. But it wasn’t Angella’s place to out Adora’s fears.
They were going back to Half Moon for the weekend, as promised — it was weird that only a week had passed since they’d left, and so much felt like it had changed. “Ready to be smothered for two days?” Catra asked dryly as they climbed back into the car.
“People shamelessly taking care of me? The horror.”
“Look, you know I love my moms, but they get a little intense sometimes.”
“At least you still have them.”
Adora didn’t mean to be quite so bitter. Catra hesitated, focusing on the road for a moment. “Do you… want to go to the cemetery?” She never had. She’d found no comfort in it. Adora shook her head.
“I don’t think it would help much.”
Catra reached over to take her hand, squeezing tight. “I never understood it. Everyone says funerals are for the living, which is technically true, but like, who are they actually helping? Celebrating someone’s life by dedicating an entire day to their death seems kind of backwards.”
Adora snorted. “Seriously. I’ve never even been to a funeral. What do you do at them?”
Catra’s entire demeanor changed. Her expression, went slack, eyes glazing for a moment before she remembered she was driving. She quickly took her hand back to steady the wheel. Open foot, insert mouth, Adora thought, realizing the mistake she’d made. Catra had been to at least one funeral.
“I… I’m sorry—”
“It’s fine. You mostly just stand around and talk about how much you miss the person. It’s pointless.”
It didn’t sound fine. Adora hunched up, staring out the window. Stupid, stupid, stupid. No one had told her much about the funeral, other than Catra saying she’d run away, but wasn’t that enough for her to know not to make jokes about it?
They were quiet for most of the ride, Catra focusing more on the road than what was really necessary. Adora wanted to say something, to break the silence — she hated that she had no idea what to say to Catra. How to make her feel better. How to fix any of this. She wasn’t used to this feeling. Not with Catra.
Catra groaned as they pulled into the driveway, right behind an unfamiliar car. “What are they doing here…?”
Adora looked at the car, then at Catra. “Who is it?”
She shook her head, climbing out of the car. Adora followed curiously.
“There you are!” Spinnerella said happily, grabbing Catra for a hug. Netossa joined them, grinning. “I was starting to think you saw our car and kept driving.”
“That’s a thought…”
Adora peeked around them to see Lyra and Cyra sitting on the living room couch, smiling fondly. “Why are you guys here?” Catra asked warily, patting both of their backs.
“Well, we haven’t seen you in forever—”
“Should’ve stopped in when you sabotaged my car.”
“And clearly a lot has changed.” Spinnerella shot Adora a smile. “Hello! I’m Spinnerella, and this is my wife, Netossa.” Netossa waved enthusiastically. “We’ve heard so much about you.”
Adora rubbed the back of her head, looking at the ceiling. “Yeah, I guess a lot of people have. How um… how do you know Catra?”
“I met them when I ran away,” Catra said quickly, pulling back from the women. “They found me and helped me get home.”
That was an extremely watered down version of what happened. The wives exchanged looks, but let it go. It wasn’t their place. “We just had to meet you,” Netossa said instead. “And Catra was clearly never going to bring you over—”
“You guys really need to get your own kid.”
“We have one,” Netossa said, grabbing Catra for another hug. “She’s grumpy and mean, but we love her anyway.”
Spinnerella nodded sagely in agreement. Catra rolled her eyes, shoving half-heartedly at Netossa.
Spinnerella and Netossa were delightful. Adora was surprised to find that they happily and openly mothered Catra, and more surprisingly, Catra let them. Adora remembered when Catra had deemed herself too old for things like public displays of affection from her mothers and had started pushing them away, even in front of Adora and her parents. Spinnerella and Netossa, on the other hand, seemed to get away with whatever they wanted. Netossa even scratched Catra’s ears once, although her arm was batted away.
What was even more stunning was that they basically treated Adora the same way. She was pulled into hugs and jokes, Spinnerella spent about half an hour braiding her hair and asking her about her life before everything had happened.
“Catra said you were a football player? Netossa played in high school too, I never understood how it didn’t cause brain damage…”
“Who says it didn’t?” Catra muttered. Netossa threw a pillow at her.
“Quarterback?” she guessed, ignoring the glare Catra gave her.
“You’ve got the build. I was the wide receiver. Best in the school’s history.”
“Yeah, but you’re ancient. I’m sure someone’s taken your record by now.”
That earned Catra another pillow to the face.
It was funny, Adora thought as the night went on. For all Catra complained about Spinnerella and Netossa (mostly Netossa), she didn’t actually ever seemed annoyed by them. It would’ve been easy to assume that they were just friends of Lyra and Cyra, but there was something special between them and Catra.
Again, Adora had to stamp down some petty jealousy. Ten years. Catra had been without her for ten years. Of course she’d met other people and made friends and had a life. Adora couldn’t be the most important thing in her life if she wasn’t there. And she certainly never wanted to be the only thing in Catra’s life.
Do you think she would’ve met Netossa and Spinnerella or Glimmer and Bow if you’d been around? A vicious little voice in the back of her head asked. Seems like she was better off.
No. Adora shook her head furiously. She wasn’t going down that rabbit hole.
“I would’ve driven out tomorrow if I’d known they were waiting to ambush me,” Catra grumbled as she dragged Adora upstairs, after saying their goodbyes to the wives. “Sorry about them.”
“They’re nice,” Adora said with a small smile. “And they really care about you. Hard to hate them for that.”
“They’re dramatic.” Catra dropped onto her bed, rubbing her eyes. “And loud. Thanks for distracting Spinnerella, though, it’s usually my hair she plays with.”
Adora stroked the braid thoughtfully. Spinnerella had really done a great job. “Your moms like them.”
Catra scoffed, rolling her eyes. “They like everyone. Now will you come here and cuddle me?”
She didn’t need any more of invitation. She crawled into bed with Catra, nuzzling close, taking a deep breath. “Love you,” she murmurs.
“Love you too.”
Lyra was up early the next morning, taking some time to check on her garden. She was surprised when the back door opened. “Good morning Adora. Can’t sleep?”
“Not really. Catra keeps kicking me.” She rocked on her heels, hesitating. “Do you… need help?”
“You know I’ll never say no to an assistant.”
Adora grinned, jumping off the porch to join Lyra on the ground. Catra had never taken to gardening, much to Lyra’s disappointment. Adora couldn’t always sit still long enough for it, but she tried for Lyra, and she did seem genuinely interested.
“How are you?” Lyra asked as they worked. Adora shrugged.
“Okay, I guess? Everything still feels kind of surreal sometimes. Like I’m going to wake up back… back where I was.”
Lyra eyed her for a long moment, lips set. “You said the person who took you isn’t a threat anymore.” Adora nodded a wordless confirmation. “Will you tell me what happened?”
Adora kept her eyes focused on the dirt, surprised to find that her muscle memory was still strong. Her fingers wove through the weeds, carefully pulling them without damaging the plants around them.
“Her name was Shadow Weaver.”
She didn’t give Lyra the whole story like she had with Catra, but she gave her enough. Enough to make Lyra feel sick. Enough to make Lyra wish the witch was still alive just so she could kill her herself.
“I’m so sorry,” she said quietly when Adora finished. “If we’d known…”
“I know,” Adora assured her with a small smile. Of course Cyra and Lyra would have moved mountains to rescue Adora if they’d known the truth. They had fully accepted her as their daughter years ago, just as Randor and Marlena had accepted Catra.
“If you need anything now…”
“I know.” For the moment, at least, Adora felt like she had everything she needed, aside from bringing her parents back to life. Shadow Weaver haunted her nightmares, and she was afraid of trying to transform again, but she didn’t feel like that was stopping her from living. She was home, she had Catra, she was slowly reconnecting with other people… she had to figure out what to do about being legally dead, but it could be worse. Maybe being a wolf for all those years had done some good for Adora. It had allowed her to put distance between her and what had happened with Shadow Weaver. “Lyra?”
“Is… Catra hiding things from me?”
Lyra kept her eyes down as she worked, clawing carefully through the dirt. “Probably,” she finally admitted with a sigh. “But it’s all her story to tell.”
“I know. I wasn’t asking you to tell me anything. I just wanted to know.”
Now if only Adora could figure out how to talk to her.
Adora didn’t mean to see the text. She was playing one of those stupid mindless phone games while Catra showered when the message from Scorpia popped up.
Are Entrapta and I still coming over on Wednesday?
Wednesday. What was Wednesday? Adora frowned, checking the calendar. The twentieth. She thought about what Glimmer had said. “It’s less than three weeks until the twentieth, and now this is happening?”
“Hey, Catra?” she ventured uncertainly when Catra came back from the shower.
“What’s the twentieth?”
Catra froze, letting out all her breath in one long huff, as if someone had punched her. Melog immediately slid off the bed and wound around her ankles, gently headbutting her shin. “The… fire,” she finally muttered, not looking at Adora. “It was July twentieth.” Oh. Oh. “I try to keep busy, usually hang out with someone. Scorpia and Entrapta were going to hang out with me and play video games.”
“They could still come over,” Adora suggested, trying to smile. “You have the week off anyway, right? And it’d be nice to see them… you know, as a human.”
“Yeah.” Catra nodded distantly, hiding her face with her towel as she dried her hair. “Glimmer and Bow were going to come after work, too. Is that okay?”
“Sure. Sounds like fun.” Adora was ten years behind on video games, of course, not to mention hand-eye coordination was still a work in progress, but she’d figure it out. And if it made Catra happy, then good.
Entrapta and Scorpia arrived around noon on Wednesday with several takeout containers and a large bag full of Adora assumed was her video game stuff. Scorpia immediately scooped Adora into a hug.
“It’s so good to see you! I mean, really see you, not just see wolf you — not that I didn’t enjoy that too!”
Entrapta patted Adora’s head with a lock of hair as she walked by. Adora laughed, returning Scorpia’s hug. “It’s good to see you guys too.”
Catra had been quiet all morning, lying on the couch, head resting against Melog. Adora was pretty sure she hadn’t slept the night before, and she barely stirred when Entrapta began messing with her TV. “You bring enough controllers for everyone?”
“Yup. Does Adora remember how to use a controller?”
“Of course I remember how to use a controller,” Adora huffed. “Rude.”
“We can start with something easy,” Catra said. “Everything’ll be chill until Glimmer gets here anyway.”
Adora didn’t think much about that. Just Catra being Catra.
And then Glimmer showed up.
“Bring it the fuck on, Kitty,” she said in lieu of an actual hello.
“Let’s do this, Sparkles.”
Entrapta replaced Mario Party with Mario Kart. Adora was a little disappointed — she’d been enjoying their game. But Mario Kart was fun. Bow shot Adora an apologetic smile as they settled in.
“They get a little loud.”
A little was an understatement. Neither of them ever even ended up in first — Entrapta won most of the races. But they were hyper-focused on all the ways they could screw the other up.
“Did you just hit me with a red shell? You bitch!”
“Payback for the fucking banana peel.”
“That’s what you get for tailing me.”
Adora, it turned out, did not really remember how to use a controller, especially when it was more than simple button pressing, and spent most of the time in last place. But listening to Glimmer and Catra argue was just as fun. She eventually gave up in favor of entertainment and food. She hadn’t realized how much she missed food until the first time she’d taken a sip of broth.
She had missed a lot of things.
Fire surrounded her, closing in on her, trapping her, flames eating her alive. She choked and gasped, clawing at her throat as if that would somehow help her breathe. She was going to die, she was going to die, she didn’t want to die…
Catra’s eyes snapped open, a scream lodged in her throat. Melog was on top of her, licking her sweat-damp fur. They were used to comforting her after nightmares, especially that particular one, which never seemed to lose its potency even as time passed. She sucked in a shallow breath, reaching out to the bed beside her…
And finding it empty.
She immediately shot up, trembling violently. Adora wasn’t there. Why wasn’t Adora there? She had been there, right? Before she’d fallen asleep? She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but it had been three days since she’d done anything more than nap, and she was tired… and now Adora was gone.
Was it a dream?
Panic and pain were burning through her chest; she grasped her shirt, letting out a rattling breath. No, Adora was here. Adora was here, she had to be here. She had to be… right?
Melog was already disappearing out the door before Catra could manage to get out of bed. Her knees went weak, entire body numb, and she immediately crashed into the floor, still shivering. Where had Melog gone—?
“Catra?” The light flipped on. “Catra!”
Oh, that voice. That wonderful, familiar voice. Adora knelt beside her, gently scooping her up; Catra immediately threw her arms around Adora, hugging her as tight as she could, ignoring everything else. The pain, the panic, the screaming lungs, none of it mattered as long as Adora was there.
Adora, apparently, didn’t feel the same way. “Hey, look at me.” She pulled away to meet Catra’s gaze, cupping her cheeks. “You need to breathe.” Catra squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. “Catra—”
“Can’t,” she managed to force out, resisting the urge to hook her claws through the back of Adora’s shirt, just to make sure she didn’t go anywhere. “I can’t, I can’t, please…”
She pressed forward, needing to be held. Adora seemed to understand; she wrapped herself completely around Catra, encasing her, and Catra’s entire world became Adora. Her touch, her smell, her warmth. The panic lessened. Breathing became a little easier. The pain was still there, sharp and excruciating, but Catra could ignore it as long as they didn’t move.
“Hey,” Adora finally, gently prompted, pulling away slightly. “Are you okay?”
Catra nodded into her neck, whimpering slightly. Adora adjusted her grip to lift Catra, carrying her back to bed, and settled in with her. Melog jumped up to lie with them, pressing against Catra’s back. They laid in silence for awhile.
“Maybe you should go back to Half Moon,” Catra finally whispered. Adora jerked back to look down at her in surprise, trying to hide the hurt in her voice when she spoke.
“What do you…?”
“I can’t… I can’t be what you need.” Each word sounded like it caused Catra physical pain. “You… You shouldn’t be taking care of me, that’s not fair to you—”
“Don’t I get to decide what’s fair to me?” Adora asked quietly. Catra stopped, slowly looking up at her in surprise.
Adora closed her eyes, letting out a long breath. “People have been taking my choices away from me for years, Catra. Shadow Weaver…” She shuddered, holding Catra a little tighter. “Shadow Weaver took everything. My parents, my life, my humanity. I spent years running around with no idea how to get home because of what she did to me. I’m finally in the place I want to be. Please don’t take that from me.”
Her voice was low, pleading. Catra stared at her, tears in her eyes. “But… But I’m…”
“Do you want me to go?” The question caught Catra off guard. “If you don’t want me here, then… then fine, I’ll go back to Half Moon.” The words hurt to say. “But it has to be because you want it, not because you think it’s better for me.”
Catra’s fingers curled into the fabric of Adora’s shirt, clinging. “I don’t want you to go.” Her voice shook. Adora breathed a quiet sigh of relief, holding Catra tighter.
“Good. Because I really don’t want to go. I know you’re hurt, Catra. You don’t have to hide that from me. I don’t want you to hide it from me. We take care of each other, remember? That’s how this works. That’s how it’s always worked.”
“You look out for me,” Catra said, face pressed into Adora’s shirt now. “And I look out for you.”
Adora gently coaxed her to look up so she could kiss her. “And we’re honest with each other because that’s the only way we can help each other. Right?”
Catra nodded slowly, pressing closer to Adora. “Right.”
The pain eased a little more.
It wasn’t easy.
Catra tried to open up and share more, and Adora tried to do the same. They were both working against their natures, but for each other, they would try.
They made a rule — they went to bed at night, laid together, and each told one story from their time apart. Adora told Catra about Shadow Weaver. Catra told her the truth about how she met Netossa and Spinnerella, and the spiral that followed. Adora talked about how lonely and isolated she had felt, trapped in that basement for god knows how long. Catra told her about the memorial at school and leaving her cap behind. They decided to break into the school next time they were in Half Moon to see if the school had left it.
They held each other through nightmares and panic attacks. The pain in Catra’s chest persisted, but it got better. Adora’s magic continued to build, although she was afraid to change. It would take time. She would get there.
It wasn’t easy. But they were together. And somehow, they knew it would be okay.
Chapter 3: Continuing Dream
Five years on
After the end of the first chapter, the members of my She-Ra server held a trial and sentenced me to write 5,000 words of penance fluff. Today I present the results.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Five Years Later
Adora opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to find words through her shock. “Is that… I mean… how?”
Catra had gone pale. Or paler, which was saying something, considering how she’d looked when Adora had picked her up from the office. She hadn’t made the call, of course — Angella had called Adora while Glimmer sat in the conference room with Catra, forcing her to sit and drink water after she had passed out in the middle of a presentation. “I forgot to eat lunch,” she had insisted as Adora dragged her out of the office, intent on dragging her to the emergency room. She hated hospitals. So few of them were equipped to actually handle hybrids.
Bright Moon General was one of the few, thankfully, and they were quick to get Catra in and start running tests. She’d dozed while they’d waited, forcing herself to wake up when the doctor came back with the… news.
“Do you not remember health class?” she teased her wife weakly. “I know you spent half of it hiding in your sweatshirt and trying not to blush, but seriously…”
The doctor chuckled. “Magicats reproduce differently than most species,” she explained. “It requires a strong emotional connection.”
Like a bond, Adora thought faintly, reaching for her chair and collapsing into it. She didn’t suffer much from the connection between them — it was mostly one sided on Catra’s side. Not that Adora didn’t return the feelings one-hundred percent. Catra was just the one who felt all the effects from it. She was the one who had felt all the pain when they had been separated, when Catra had thought Adora was dead. She was the one who felt everything too strongly.
And she was, apparently, the one who got to carry their baby.
Adora was fairly certain she was going to faint.
Catra’s voice shook her out of Adora daze. She looked up to find Catra watching her, eyebrow raised. “You okay?”
“I… I’m sorry,” Adora blurted out.
“You’re always the one who gets… gets hurt from this thing between us, and I hate it, and I know it’s because you’re a magicat and I’m not and it’s just bad luck, but I hate it, and—”
“Adora.” Catra cut her off before she could spiral too far. “Stop. Breathe.” Adora did as she was told, taking a few shaky breaths until she felt slightly better. “Look at me. Do I look like I’m hurt?”
Adora blinked, looking at Catra — really looking at her — for the first time since the doctor had told them the news. She still looked a bit pale, and Adora didn’t love seeing her in a hospital bed, but she looked… okay. She wasn’t upset, or panicking, or ready to kill Adora. She seemed… fine. Calm, even.
“You’re not… mad?”
Catra threw her hands up, rolling her eyes. “Of course I’m not mad, idiot! I might’ve wanted to plan it better if I’d known it was an option, but…” She ducked her head, blushing slightly. “I… I want this. With you. If you want it too.”
Oh. Well that was… entirely different. Adora watched her for a long moment before slowly smiling. “You… You want this?” Because she had to confirm it. Catra nodded, a smile pulling at the corners of her lips. “I want it too.”
Catra changed her mind approximately five seconds after telling her mothers the good news. “We’re getting grandchildren!” Lyra half-sobbed, clinging to her wife.
“Grandchild,” Catra corrected, rolling her eyes. “One. One grandchild.”
“Magicats usually give birth litters,” Cyra reminded her. Catra’s ears flattened against her head. She knew she had at least two brothers and a sister who hadn’t made it through the delivery. Cyra and Lyra had made up for it by loving her enough for ten kids.
“No. One kid. One baby. That’s it. They’re not just a magicat, there’s some human in them too.” Catra jerked a thumb at Adora. “Or werewolf, I guess. Whatever.”
“Wait,” Adora said slowly. “If the lycanthropy is genetic, which one would our kid get?”
Catra blinked at her, then looked at her mothers, who were considering the question. “It’s a dominant gene in all cases,” Cyra said. “There are so few examples of magicats breeding outside of our species, though…”
“And none that we know of about one breeding with a werewolf,” Lyra added. “This could be… quite the interesting child.”
Melog appeared at Catra’s feet, mewling and raising themself to gently nudge Catra’s stomach. “Appearance-wise, they’ll almost definitely be dominantly magicat,” Cyra said. “Imagine a magicat who could turn into a wolf, though…”
“Nope,” Catra said loudly, grabbing Adora’s hand and dragging her toward the door. “We’re not imagining anything, thank you very much. I’ve had more than enough impossible things happen to last me an entire lifetime. And maybe another one.”
Adora was simply staring at her in awe. She had no idea what they had created. But she knew it was something amazing. And she was excited.
Pregnancy was wonderful, and magical, and an amazing experience.
It was also the worst thing Catra had ever gone through, and that was saying a lot.
“You could take the next year off and not even make a dent in your accumulated vacation time,” Glimmer said. She was leaning against the wall outside of the bathroom stall, on her phone, sending a memo out to everyone to lay off the cologne and perfume for the duration of Catra’s pregnancy.
Catra coughed a few times, making sure her stomach was absolutely empty, before using the stall wall to pull herself up. “And be bored as shit the entire time? Pass.”
“I’m sure you could find something to do.” Glimmer handed her a water bottle as she stepped out. She cracked it open and drained it one sip. “Have you thought about decorating the nursery yet?”
“For the love of god, don’t say anything about the nursery in front of Adora,” Catra said, rolling her eyes. “She’s already had two panic attacks thinking about what would happen if the nursery wasn’t ready for the baby.”
“You’re three months—”
“I am fully aware,” Catra said dryly. To say Adora had been anxious since finding out Catra was pregnant was an understatement. They’d had a slight argument about Catra continuing to go to her mostly desk job every day, and then about Adora not escorting her to work. Catra wasn’t completely sure if it was some wolf thing, or if Adora was just… like this. It would be cute if it wasn’t entirely infuriating.
“I’m sorry, why are we just hearing about this?” Netossa demanded, hands on her hips. Spinnerella looked delighted.
“I just wanted a little more time to adjust before I had to deal with you guys freaking out about being grandmothers,” Catra said quickly.
“Oh absolutely not. I am Aunty Tossa and I will fight you over that.”
“Dear, please stop threatening a pregnant woman,” Spinnerella said, patting her wife’s shoulder before she moved to gather Catra up in a tight hug. “We’re so happy for you. Both of you.”
“Yeah, I guess I can forgive you,” Netossa grumbled as she joined the hug, pulling Adora in as well. Catra never understood why Netossa and Spinnerella hadn’t tried to have their own child instead of bonding with the half dead magicat they’d found in their backyard fifteen years ago. Motherhood was more or less their default setting, although they expressed it in different ways — Spinnerella with soft touches and hugs and gentle tones, Netossa with blunt kindness and care covered up as a normal act, like just anyone would sit on the floor with a strange, injured werecat and try to comfort them without knowing a thing about who they were.
“Do you know if it’s just one? Oh, are they going to have cat ears? I’ll need to start working on hats now…”
Catra was suspiciously quiet when they left the house a couple hours later, having picked out several different colors for Netossa to work with for a blanket while Spinnerella made hats. Adora waited until she’d settled into the passenger seat and they were on the road to Bright Moon before quietly asking, “What’s wrong?”
Catra stared at the dash board, arms curled around her stomach. “What if I’m no good at this?” she said. “I mean… Netossa and Spinnerella never had their own kid, and they mother anything that comes within five feet of them.” That wasn’t even an exaggeration. They’d adopted Adora within five minutes of meeting her.
“They just never wanted their own kid. They’re happier helping others.”
“Yeah, but why? And if they never wanted their own kid, how am I…” Catra waved her hands helplessly. “I’m going to be a terrible mother.”
Adora grabbed one of her hands, squeezing tight. “No, you’re not. You’re going to be amazing. You know how I know?”
“Bad parents don’t worry if they’re doing well. You’re already worrying about their well being and they’re like, the size of an avocado.”
Catra rolled her eyes. “I really wish you would stop comparing our baby to food.”
“But it’s the best way to measure them! You know how small an avocado is. Our baby is an avocado and you’re already worrying about being a good parent. Which is how I know you’re going to be amazing.”
That earned Adora a small, reluctant smile. Catra squeezed her hand, staring out the window for a long moment. “I’m going to regret asking this, but how big is the baby at nine months?”
“That’s what twins are, right?”
“Yes, Mermista. Twins are two babies.”
To say Catra and Adora had been shocked when they’d gotten the news at Catra’s last appointment was an understatement. Apparently one of them had been hiding during the first ultrasound, which had confirmed that there was indeed only one baby. But now… now there were two. Two babies.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Perfuma said, clapping her hands together. “It’s twice the love!”
Their high school friend group had drifted apart a bit over the years, but they all made a point of getting together at least once every couple months. Adora and Catra usually hosted since they were the only ones who’d bought a house and were a decent midway point for everyone to drive to, and Catra was grateful for that today. She didn’t have the energy to go anywhere, especially not after the week she’d had.
“This is definitely karma,” Lonnie said with a snicker. “You were an asshole as a kid, now you get two of your own.”
“Shut up,” Catra grumbled, throwing a napkin at Lonnie.
“And you still don’t know anything about their genetics?” Entrapta asked curiously. Always focusing on the real point — science.
“The ultrasound definitely showed cat ears. Oh, look!” Adora quickly went to retrieve the print out of the ultrasound so they could pass it around the table. “We were comparing them to the ultrasounds of Catra when Lyra was pregnant, and they’re not quite as… you know, they don’t stand out as much. But those are definitely little cat ears.”
She was absolutely thrilled by the idea. Her children were going to be the cutest children ever. That wasn’t bias, it was just a fact.
“One seems more prominent than the other,” Entrapta said, tilting her head and turning the ultrasound. Perfuma gently tugged it away so they could properly admire it. “I wonder if one will get the werecat gene and one will get the werewolf gene.”
That wasn’t something they had considered. Catra looked at Adora, who shrugged in return. “They’re going to be so cute,” Scorpia cooed.
“Two babies.” Mermista shook her head in disbelief, looking at Sea Hawk. “I swear you’re sleeping on the couch for the rest of your life if you ever get me pregnant.”
Catra swore she was surrounded by alarmists.
It was the only reason she was sitting in a hospital bed, staring at the ceiling. She’d felt dizzy, so Glimmer made her eat lunch. She’d still felt dizzy after eating, and now she was in the hospital with her anxious friend, who was texting her anxious wife, who was going to burst in any second, freaking out and demanding to know if Catra was okay. Which she was. She was just a little dizzy. She was supposed to be the one freaking out, but apparently Glimmer and Adora had claimed that particular corner, leaving Catra with faint annoyance as she rubbed her belly absentmindedly.
The doctor beat Adora by about a minute, and was in the middle of explaining that Catra’s blood pressure was a little high when Adora practically tripped into the room.
“What’s wrong? Is she okay? Are the babies?”
Thankfully, the doctor was patient and happy to start over. Catra dozed, knowing she’d need the extra energy to deal with Adora when they got home. Because there was absolutely no way anyone was letting her go back to work after this. Melog nosed at her belly, making a noise and looking at Catra. She shrugged in return.
“Beats the hell out of me, buddy.”
Adora could barely focus on the road as they drove home, which seemed like more of a threat to Catra’s health than her slightly high blood pressure. “We were going to move down to the guest bedroom anyway so I guess we can just do that today? But the new bed isn’t coming for another week, and the frame! I thought I’d have more time! I should’ve ordered this stuff months ago!”
Months. Catra was five months pregnant, but sure. Adora should’ve already been ordering new furniture before it even happened. “I can carry you, I’m sure, but will that be uncomfortable? What if you have to get downstairs and I’m not home? Or—”
“Adora how big are the babies?”
Catra cut her wife off loudly and firmly, catching her by surprise. “W-What?” she stuttered uncertainly, turning to look at Catra as they stopped at a red light.
“What stupid fruit are they as big as at month five?”
“Um…” Adora wracked her brain for a moment, although Catra had seen her on that stupid website the night before. “A pomegranate. Maybe a little smaller because it’s two and they have to share space.”
“Any big milestones?”
“They’ll uh… they’ll start growing hair. Really thin hair called lanugo. And they’re covered in some sort of liquid to protect them from the amniotic fluid. But it sheds before they’re born. They uh… they could be as big as ten inches and weigh up to a pound by the end of the month.”
Catra reached over to take Adora’s hand as they resumed driving. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go home. A giant-ass wolf is going to snuggle with me while we take a nap. Ah!” She held up her free hand to stop Adora from protesting. “You are going to let me walk up the stairs alone, I am going to undress, and we’re going to lie in bed together and relax. When that is done, I’ll call Mama and see if she can make us a few freezable, easy to microwave meals while you go to the store and buy a mini fridge to stick in the corner near the window. We’ll put the microwave on top of it, leave some disposable plates and utensils on the dresser, stock up on some good snacks, and I will survive the time between now and you getting the new bed together. I won’t have to go more than five feet for food. I’m sure Mama will be happy to come spend some time with me while you’re at work. And yes, you are going back to work. You will take your maternity leave in two months like we originally planned to do together. And the world will not end. Okay?”
Adora nodded shakily, letting out a long breath. “Okay.”
“Say the words.”
“The world will not end.”
“The world will not end if…?”
“The world will not end if everything is not exactly perfect and we have to improvise for a few days.”
“Good.” Catra squeezed Adora’s hand, legitimately proud of her. “Now what are we doing when we get home?”
“I’m going to turn into a giant-ass wolf and snuggle you while we nap.”
Adora’s relationship with her wolf side had been… complicated after spending seven years trapped in it, thinking it would be her life forever. There were, it turned out, support groups for people who got stuck in shape-shifted forms, and Adora had gone to at least five different groups to try and find one that fit her. She never did settle, and ended up going between all the groups to collect bits of advice which stood out to her. She had started slow, just meditating (with Perfuma’s help) on the idea of being a wolf again. Sometimes she woke up from nightmares, scratching furiously at her skin, looking for fur. She was still getting better. Pre-pregnancy, Catra had been working with her, trying to encourage her to spend more time as a wolf — an afternoon running through the woods together, sunbathing in the backyard, meeting a couple of new pups who had changed for the first time and helping them find their way home.
Sometimes it still scared Adora, but she refused to let that control her life. She was just as much a wolf as she was a human, and she didn’t want to be cut off from part of herself forever. It’d be like losing a limb. The first transformation had ended with an abrupt panic attack, and Catra had purred for five straight hours to calm her down. It had been exhausting, but Adora had been calm, and that was all that mattered.
It got better for there. Some days Adora couldn’t stand the thought of changing. Others were okay.
Today it was absolutely necessary. She hovered behind Catra as they walked upstairs, only changing when Catra was naked and in bed. Pajamas were generally optional for magicats, and the fur on fur contact made Catra feel better. And right then, it made Adora feel better as well.
Catra purred, burying her face in Adora’s shaggy fur. She lazily scritched Adora’s ears, sighing contently. “It’s just a little high blood pressure,” she murmured, nuzzling against Adora’s neck. “I’ll do the bed rest thing, but please promise me you won’t go over the edge. I still want this to be a good experience for both of us. We’re having babies, Adora. We can’t waste the next four months being scared. That’s time we’ll never get back.”
And they both know how it feels to lose that much time and more — so much more. They couldn’t afford to waste this time they had been gifted.
Adora whined, twisting slightly to lick Catra’s hair. She laughed, batting her off. “I know you’re scared. I am too. But we’re going to be okay. You know how I know?” Adora made a noise of inquiry. “Because we’re together. And we can do anything when we’re together.”
They’d already overcome the impossible together. Anything else was a cake walk compared to that.
They’d be okay. The babies would be okay. Everything would be okay.
“So Adora is… energetic.”
Catra rolled her eyes. The guest room bed had finally arrived — Bow, Netossa, Sea Hawk, and Scorpia had all volunteered to help Adora set up the room. Spinerella and Mermista were downstairs supervising to make sure no one got into some stupid weight lifting contest, while Glimmer, Perfuma, Cyra, and Lyra kept Catra company upstairs.
“Energetic is one word for it.” Obsessive, controlling, and neurotic were a few others. “You know what she’s like.”
Cyra and Lyra exchanged looks. Adora had always been a little high strung and prone to panic, even as a child; the day she had run into the kitchen to declare Catra missing was a day that lived in Lyra’s mind, if only because it was a cute story to tell. Marlena and Randor had done their best to help their daughter relax, and Catra had always been a calming presence for her. Then Shadow Weaver had happened, and Adora spent seven years as a wolf, and it was better now than it had been five years ago, but they seriously doubted she would be completely back to normal.
“She seems better than she was the other day,” Glimmer said helpfully.
“You mean the other day when you were freaking out with her?” Catra asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Excuse me for worrying about my pregnant friend’s health.”
There was yelling downstairs. It was Mermista. Sea Hawk and Adora must have been trying to out-lift each other again. “How are you feeling?” Lyra asked, brushing a hand through Catra’s hair.
“I’m fine.” Lyra raised an eyebrow. Even if it was small, Catra could never lie to her. “Felt kinda sick since I woke up and no position is comfortable right now. But Adora really did her research — I guess the new bed is some specialty thing for pregnant magicats?” Catra shook her head. “I’m not even sure where she found it. I just hope she didn’t get swindled.”
“Nah, I helped her with it.” Catra looked at Glimmer, who shrugged in return. “As the future head of the nonprofit, it’s my job to ensure there are no scams taking advantage of hybrids, especially minority hybrids.”
“You were just hoping you’d get to threaten someone, weren’t you?”
“I will neither confirm nor deny that frankly hurtful accusation.”
There was a crash downstairs, then more yelling — surprisingly, it was Spinnerella this time. Netossa must have been involved. “Think we’re going to keep the fridge and microwave in the guest room,” Catra said after a moment. “That’s been really nice. Especially since getting Adora to do anything that involves leaving for five minutes is a massive pain.”
“It’s not a bad arrangement,” Perfuma said thoughtfully. “Low stress for everyone involved which is good for both of you.” Catra could complain all she wanted, but they all knew how bad her anxiety was. She was just good at keeping it together for Adora’s sake. “I can make a few things for you, if you want. Easy to heat up meals.”
“Oooooooh, me too,” Glimmer said excitedly.
“No.” Catra had lived with Glimmer for two years. She couldn’t cook. That hadn’t changed. Glimmer pouted.
“I wasn’t really going to put you through that, but you said no way too fast.”
“I have to look out for the babies’ safety and health, Sparkles. And everyone is safer if you don’t make anything more complicated than a microwave meal.”
Okay, the stupid bed was comfortable.
Finding a perfect position was a task that was getting harder and harder every day, but Catra didn’t constantly wake up feeling like her joints were being run through with ice picks. She was sleeping better, which seemed to help Adora relax. Everyone was happier.
Except the twins. Well, no. That was wrong. The twins were thrilled. So much that they had started moving more. Catra was pretty sure they were wrestling. The movements felt weird, and it freaked her out, but after awhile she started taking comfort in them.
“Why can’t I feel them?” Adora grumbled, her head resting on one side of Catra’s belly. Melog was on the other, waiting just as intently.
“Because they have tiny feet and aren’t strong enough to kick for you to feel?” Catra guessed, petting her wife’s head. Melog nudged her stomach with their snout, purring loudly. Catra petted their head next, smiling crookedly. “You’re both ridiculous. Can you find another pillow besides my stomach? There’s plenty going on there already, thank you very much.”
Melog slouched down to the floor, heading to their bed in the corner, while Adora moved to lie beside Catra, giving her a small smile.
“You feeling okay?”
“Could be worse.” Catra rolled to snuggle against Adora, burying her face in the crook of her neck. “Tired. Someone has been keeping me awake and poking my belly.”
“I just want to see if I can feel them while you’re sleeping!” Adora protested. “Maybe it’s easier when you’re more relaxed, or—”
“You know that’s not how this works.”
“I had to try.”
Catra rolled her eyes, snuggling closer to Adora. “Just let me sleep tonight, will you?”
It was easy to fall asleep, wrapped in a comfortable cocoon of soft blankets and Adora’s scent. It was the safest place in the world. It was unfortunate that the safety didn’t always follow her into her dreams.
She only got a few hours of rest before she shot up, gasping for air and grasping at her chest. It had been months since she’d felt the phantom pains, and she had naively hoped maybe they had finally gone away.
“Catra?” Adora said thickly, sitting up and reaching for her wife. She’d doubled over, chest heaving as she tried to re-orient herself. She was safe. She was home. Adora was with her. Adora was alive. Everything was fine. “Hey, c’mere, it’s okay…”
Adora gently tugged her upright and into her lap, holding her tight. “It’s okay,” she murmured, fingers brushing through Catra’s hair, dull nails scritching the base of her ears. “You’re okay. Deep breaths.”
Catra pressed her face into Adora’s shirt, taking a breath and letting the scent comfort her. Adora kissed the top of her head. “Same dream?” Catra nodded once. “It’s not real. You’re okay. I’m here.”
One of the babies kicked, as if to remind her of how not alone she was. She had Adora, she had their babies. She had her family. The stupid pain in her chest would never really go away, but she was going to be okay.
“I want die.”
Adora rolled her eyes a little at Catra’s dramatics. She hadn’t really had a great night — the babies were definitely part cat, and three a.m. was prime zoomie time. And her blood pressure had been up and down, which had annoying effects of its own. She was lying on her side now, taking slow and deliberate breaths, hand resting on her stomach.
“You don’t want to die.”
“How do you know?”
“Because three days ago you were crying over how cutesy the nursery wallpaper is. Remember the stars?”
Catra huffed. They’d gone with a space theme for the nursery, and yes, the stupid stars had made her cry. She didn’t know why. They had just been so pretty. Stupid fucking hormones.
“Fine, maybe I don’t want to die. But I definitely want to be not pregnant.”
Adora’s hand rested over Catra’s, gently rubbing her stomach. “Two more months.”
“How big are they now?”
“Eggplants.” Catra groaned. Adora kissed the back of her head, laughing. “It’ll be okay.”
“You keep saying—” She cut off, jumping, as Adora let out a small screech. “What?!” she yelped, tail puffing out, fur on end.
“I felt one of them! Which one do you think it was? Finn or Callie? I bet it was Callie. She seems more like the kicking type—”
“Already preparing to pass down your football legacy?” Catra teased, relaxing slightly. There was really no way to tell which baby was kicking, but it was fun to speculate about their personalities and what their interests would be. Finn would be shy, artistic, with floppy blonde hair that covered his ocean blue eyes. Callie would go between a brown, short bob and a pixie cut that stuck up in all directions, her own blue eyes always full of mischief and mystery. They’d be the cutest troublemakers to ever grace the universe with their presence. Callie would be the more cat-like one — the one with the sharper ears. Finn would be softer, his face a little rounder, a little more like Adora. They were just predictions, but Catra said she had a feeling about that — Callie would be the one to get the werecat gene, Finn would be the one to get the werewolf gene.
Adora rubbed Catra’s belly, smiling. “Hi Callie,” she whispered. “Hi Finny. You’re going to be out here real soon, you know that right? And we’re going to love you so, so much.”
“Dork,” Catra murmured, her eyes fluttering shut.
“Your dork,” Adora corrected.
“How many hats do you guys think two babies need?”
“We had to do different ear sizes too!” Netossa huffed. “Just say thank you and hug us.”
“Seriously, Sparkles help me count.”
Netossa rolled her eyes, smiling and slapping Catra’s leg. It was hard to have a low-key baby shower with all the people they knew, but the guest room managed to fit everyone in attendance. Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle were on vacation across the state, but had helpfully sent their gift early — a couple pairs of baby’s first boxing gloves. Save us some heavy bags when those claws come in, the note had teased. Scorpia and Perfuma also had to miss out, unfortunately, but had sent several handmade swaddling blankets. Cyra, Lyra, Angella, and Micah had pooled their money for two entire new nursery sets — Cyra and Lyra had originally planned on giving them Catra’s old stuff, but the addition of a second baby had complicated things. Sea Hawk and Mermista had bought them clothes and several packages of diapers. Entrapta had built a rather… intense baby monitoring system. She was still upstairs trying to set it up.
“All right, Glimmer.” Catra grinned, elbowing her friend. “What’d you get us?”
“Is our presence in your life not gift enough?” Glimmer asked, offended.
“Not when I’ve got two babies the size of — Adora, what are they?”
“Two babies the size of butternut squash and still growing inside me. I need tangible proof of your love.”
“Catra,” Lyra scolded her daughter. Glimmer rolled her eyes, and Bow was grinning as he handed a couple gifts over his wife’s head.
The first one was a framed, gorgeous painting of the night sky, with Callie and Finn written in the stars. The stars that were literally sparkling. “We tried to stick with the space theme,” Bow said with a grin.
“We painted it together, and Glimmer made the sparkling happen.”
Catra smiled, trying not to let tears fill her eyes. “Heh. Thanks, Sparkles.”
Glimmer nudged Catra. “That’s the closest you’ve ever come to sincere.”
“Don’t get used to it.”
Entrapta finished the baby monitor system eventually, and they dug into cake while Lyra and Angella told pregnancy stories, and reaffirmed that Mermista would never have children. Adora shooed everyone out when she saw Catra trying to smother a yawn.
“Oh, come on,” Catra whined. Adora saw the last of their friends out and went to kiss Catra’s forehead.
“You rest. I’m going to get stuff put away.”
Catra grabbed her wrist, making another displeased noise. “Bring me up with you.”
“You’re supposed to be relaxing.”
“We have those big chairs. I can sit in one and fold clothes while you figure out Entrapta’s insane system.” Catra pouted. “Please?”
Adora never could say no to that face. Catra was allowed small amounts of activity each day, but climbing up the stairs was not going to be one of them; Adora scooped her very carefully. It was a bit awkward with the pregnant belly, but they managed. “There’s no one to show off for, ya know,” Catra said, raising an eyebrow.
“Like I’m ever gonna stop showing off for you.”
Adora watched Catra through half-lidded eyes. The magicat was deeply asleep, getting probably the best sleep she’d had in seven months. It was probably the best sleep she would get for months to come, if the little bundles of fur in Adora’s arms had their way.
The babies — their babies — were fast asleep, perfectly swaddled, little noses twitching as they unconsciously took in everything around them. Adora was glad, now that everything was over, that Catra had been stubborn about a home birth. It was nice to be able to just relax in their bed, surrounded by the nest of pillows and blankets Catra had begun building a couple days earlier — an early indicator that the babies were coming, according to Cyra. She was right — Catra’s water had broken about a day after she had completed her pillow mountain.
One of the little bundles started fussing — Finn, who had indeed inherited more of Adora’s features, although he still definitely looked part magicat. But his ears were a little softer, a little floppier than Callie’s pointed little ears, which were lost among her own fuzzy brown hair. Adora smiled, kissing Finn’s forehead and nuzzling it with her nose.
“You’re okay, buddy.”
“S’he?” Catra murmured, cracking one eye open to look drowsily at her wife and children.
“Yeah. Just a little fussy. Go back to sleep.”
“Mmph.” Catra made a noise of protest, pushing herself. Cyra and Lyra had warned Adora that Catra might be a little defensive for the next few days. It was nothing personal — Lyra had nearly bitten Cyra, apparently. “Lemme see.”
Adora obediently handed the baby over, not interested in starting a fight with her hormonal wife who gave birth less than twelve hours ago. Catra was half sitting up as she took Finn, cradling him to her chest and purring until he calmed. “You okay?” Adora asked. Catra nodded, yawning, and leaned over to rest her head on Adora’s shoulder. She had her wife. She had their children.
Everything was perfect.
Yes I know Finn is NB, they'll come out in a few years. And Callie will be the best sister and beat up anyone who uses the wrong pronouns. Including teachers.
And some more extra stuff! Fic meta that I wasn't able to work into the story: https://catrasredemption.tumblr.com/post/646238018311733248/fic-meta-always-a-heatbeat-from-me