If the Best Friends Squad is going anywhere together, they’re usually pretty punctual—which is thanks to Bow and Adora. Glimmer and Catra, left to their own devices, would push the definition of “fashionably late” to the limit.
So they arrive at Sea Hawk’s birthday party, on a boat docked in a private marina, at the same time as a handful of other guests: some strangers who must be other friends of Mermista and/or Sea Hawk, but also Scorpia and Perfuma, who wave excitedly when they see them. It takes a minute for everyone to say hi and exchange hugs, and then Perfuma notices Catra wearing Adora’s pin, and there’s a couple more minutes of hugging.
Eventually all six of them head up the gangplank together, and Perfuma ends up walking next to Catra. “I think it’s so great that you’re here,” she says, nudging Catra in the bicep with her elbow. “I know you’re not the most excited to be around Mermista.”
Catra sighs. “It’s not that. I just don’t think she’s excited to be around me.”
Perfuma puts an arm around Catra’s shoulders and gives her a quick, tight squeeze. “You’re doing so great,” she says.
They’ve definitely arrived before any fires have had the chance to start. Tall tables are set up around the main deck with an area cleared—presumably the dance floor—in the middle, and Catra can see more tables and seating on both the ship’s upper decks. Catra doesn’t see Mermista, but Sea Hawk spots them and comes right over.
“Thank you all for coming!” he says. “Welcome to my birthday adventure!”
“You’re not allowed to call it that!” Mermista’s voice sounds alarmingly close, but Catra still can’t see her—then she realizes it’s coming from right underneath them. She looks down through the wooden grill they’re standing on and sees Mermista looking up at all of them from the deck below, hands on her hips. “Your ‘adventures’ end in arson. This is a birthday party, remember?”
“Well… yes,” says Sea Hawk. “Fair enough. Welcome to my birthday party, everyone!” He bows deeply, gracefully, and dramatically—as usual. “It’s wonderful to see you all. I’m off to mingle!” He sure is, Catra thinks as she watches him go.
“I’m gonna arm-wrestle your whole arm off later!” Adora shouts after him.
“We’ll see about that!” he calls back to her, once he’s reached a safe distance.
Glimmer had been dancing with Bow, and Adora with Catra, and Sea Hawk with Mermista—and then everyone decided they wanted to cut in with each other, and suddenly Bow and Sea Hawk are dancing together, Catra and Glimmer are dancing together…
…and Adora and Mermista are standing next to each other awkwardly.
“You don’t wanna…?” Adora asks, like she’s checking it off a list.
“Let’s get a drink,” Mermista says, and Adora follows her gratefully to the bar.
They set themselves up at the edge of the dance floor watching the fun. “To all our favourite idiots,” Mermista toasts, and Adora clinks her glass decisively.
“Hey, uh, thanks for inviting Catra tonight,” Adora says. “I know she’s not your favourite person, but… it means a lot to me.” She looks at her girlfriends, dancing almost nose-to-nose, whispering like cadets in the back of the briefing hall, and smiles to herself. “It means a lot to us. To all of us.”
Mermista grunts quietly, and shrugs, and sips her drink. “It’s fine. Like seriously, don’t worry about it. I’m not—okay, sure, you’re right, she’s not my favourite right now. But I don’t want to be an asshole, either. It’s fine, it’s chill.” Adora thinks it sounds dubiously fine and tentatively chill at best, but she recognizes the effort Mermista’s making, and she leaves it be. “And I don’t think I said to you yet,” Mermista adds, “congrats. On, you know—” she points her glass at the dance floor, “—all that.”
Adora laughs. “Thanks, Mermista. I’m… I’m pretty happy about ‘all that.’”
“I can tell.” Mermista looks right at her, and usually only She-Ra gets appraised like this. “Since… everything, I guess, you’re—it’s different. It’s good. I can tell this is working for you.”
They settle into the camaraderie of watching their favourite idiots for a while.
“I was just lighting a candle!” Sea Hawk has his arms crossed stubbornly, but Mermista’s still making great time pushing him up the stairs, not even dignifying his defences with an answer. She sees Bow sitting on one of the benches, tapping away at his tracker pad, and steers Sea Hawk—still protesting his incendiary innocence—in that direction. Bow seems to finish whatever he’s doing just as they arrive, which is good, because Mermista shoves Sea Hawk right into his lap.
“Don’t get too comfortable, lovebirds,” she says bluntly, dropping down heavily next to Bow on the bench seat and hauling Sea Hawk into her own lap. “I apologize to your legs on behalf of his bony ass, though.”
Bow laughs, with enough relief in it that Mermista was probably right about his legs. He shifts a bit so he can stretch them out and takes a sip of his drink—from a distance Mermista had thought he’d ordered a fruity cocktail in a pint glass, but now that she’s close enough to see the bubbles she realizes it’s pink beer. It looks kind of good, actually.
“Party that boring?” she asks, nodding to his tracker pad.
“What? Oh! No, I just got a call from my dads.”
Bow sighs. “Oh yeah. Everything’s extremely okay. They just want us all to ‘come over for dinner,’ which means they’ll stick Adora in the library translating some ancient scroll, me in the study fixing all their broken tech, and Glimmer and Catra in the living room with my baby pictures.” But then he grins. “There are worse problems to have.”
“Hmmm,” says Sea Hawk, a theatrically thoughtful expression on his face, “I’d drink to that fine point you just made, Bow, but I left my drink behind next to a candle I was trying to light. Imagine that.”
“Imagine that,” Mermista says, her voice as dry as sandpaper. There’s such an edge to it that Bow winces, but Sea Hawk just smiles a smitten little smile, kisses her forehead, then stands up and heads for the bar.
Bow raises his eyebrows. “How… like, are you guys…?”
Mermista just looks at him, expression aggressively blank. “No idea what you’re talking about,” she says, voice as pointedly neutral as her face. Bow can tell she’s messing with him, but Sea Hawk’s back already, a drink in each hand. He hands Mermista hers and sits back down. “Thanks, babe,” she says, and kisses him on the cheek. Bow just blinks.
“Listen,” Mermista says, “we’re all friends here, right?” Bow and Sea Hawk both nod vigorously. “Okay, so…” she says, turning to face Bow, “we have, like, a million questions for you.”
“I told her she could have just asked Glimmer the last time we went out,” Sea Hawk says, and Mermista casually brings a hand up to cover his mouth while she continues.
“I actually talked to Glimmer a bunch during your bromantic comedy sequence, but it was more… you know. Heavy stuff.”
Bow knows. “Catra,” he says simply, and Mermista nods.
“But this is not that kind of party,” she goes on. “We just want to know, like… I have a hard enough time dealing with this one,” she says, giving him a little shake, hand still clamped over his mouth, “and Glimmer’s dating three people? Literally, how?”
She has to let go of Sea Hawk’s face to reach for her own beverage after that, so of course he takes the opportunity to chime in. “Not to mention,” he says, with much less goofy pomposity than usual, “how does that work for you? There’s only so many hours in Glimmer’s day.”
Bow laughs and rubs the back of his neck, not quite making eye contact with either one of them.
“Hey,” Mermista says, and she gives him a plausibly-deniable kick of reassurance under the table, “we’re asking ’cause we’re your friends. And, like, dying of curiosity, but—I guess I know Glimmer’s happy, but I don’t know about you. How’s this been treating you?”
Bow’s still bashfully avoiding their gaze, but then he sighs, squares his shoulders, and drinks the last big gulp of his pink beer. He takes a deep breath and grins back at them as he sets down the empty glass. “If Sea Hawk gets me another one of these, I’ll tell you.”
Nobody gets served faster than the birthday boy at an open bar—once again, Sea Hawk is back right away. “Now spill—not you, dumbass; Bow,” Mermista says as Bow accepts his fresh fuchsia lager or whatever, narrowing her eyes but failing to completely hide her smile.
“I mean, I don’t know how to explain everything,” Bow starts. “And I’m still unpacking some of it myself. But obviously, I love Glimmer. I’ve loved Glimmer since… forever. She’s my best friend. She knows all my secrets, she watches my back… and I don’t know, I feel like she helps me be the person I want to be. You know? The best version of Bow. I’d be a different me without her, and I like this me better.”
Sea Hawk looks like he’s about to cry. Mermista swallows hard, looks away for a second, and takes a long sip of her drink.
“And I want to help her be the Glimmer she wants to be too. I want her to be happy. And Catra and Adora make her so happy. These past few weeks, even before we rescued Queen Angella, she’s just been walking on air. How could I not be thrilled to see that?” He looks down into his lap for a moment and smiles, so he doesn’t see which of them moves first, but when he looks back up, Mermista and Sea Hawk are sitting much closer together.
“Adora…” Bow continues. “She’s like the sister I never had. I love Adora. And Catra, well—Catra grows on you,” he laughs, “and I love her too. I want them all to find as much happiness as they can, and—that’s what they’re doing.” He shrugs like it’s as self-evident as the sunset. “And they all want the same for me. It’s awesome.”
“Okay, that’s—gods, that’s almost too fucking sweet, Bow, how are you even for real.” Mermista gives him a playful shove in the shoulder, and Bow laughs again. “But like… and I’m not asking for details, just… who sleeps where? How does that stay, like, fair.”
Bow furrows his brow for a second. “We have breakfast every morning, the four of us, so we always have a chance to figure that stuff out together. I’m not gonna lie, it definitely helps that we all have rooms in the same wing of the palace. And I don’t know, we just… talk it out? I think if there’s a ‘trick,’ that’s probably it: just talking a lot.” He sips his beer. “I think I get what you’re asking, though. What if Glimmer’s with them and I feel lonely.” After a beat, Mermista nods.
“Then I guess I’d say, I don’t know, ‘Hey, Glimmer, I missed you last night, let’s make a plan to spend time together soon.’ Or something like that, anyway. I never really thought about how it works before, we just… yeah, we just talk. We’re honest and we love each other, and… we’re in this together.” He shrugs, back to being a little bashful, cheeks dimpling. “We’re the Best Friends Squad.”
“More like Best Friends with Benefits Squad,” Mermista mutters, but she’s smiling when she says it. “That sounds emotionally fulfilling and logistically horrifying, thank you for the explanation.” She clinks Bow’s glass, drains hers, then rests her head on Sea Hawk’s shoulder. “I have a hard enough time with this one,” she says again, only this time she says it with a happy sigh and a little nuzzle.
Yeah… pretty sure ours isn’t the most confusing relationship here, Bow thinks.
“I think Catra should get the next round,” Perfuma says, not even bothering to hide her conspiratorial smile.
Catra’s onto her. She’s onto all of them. “It’s an open bar,” she grits through her teeth, not for the first time. “You just go up and ask for a drink. Nobody’s buying rounds.”
“Well, sure,” says Scorpia, with an extremely un-subtle wink to Perfuma, “but you can go ask for drinks for all of us. It’s efficient!”
There’s a general murmur of agreement from the table, everyone suddenly a big fan of efficiency. Catra turns to Adora, hoping for at least one ally, but Adora’s cocked eyebrow tells Catra everything she needs to know: she’s surrounded.
“Come on, Catra,” Adora says, and for some reason the way she emphasizes her c’s is infuriatingly sexy. “You know what we’re all drinking. Just go, you know… ask.”
It’s not just Sea Hawk getting great service tonight. The bartender on this boat is terrific, and polite, and fast, and hot. Catra’s still kind of learning how to untangle feelings of attraction from—well, all the unhealthy things that got tied into her attraction to Adora over the years. It’s different with Adora now, of course, and another different thing altogether with Glimmer, but this, this is still new for Catra: to just appreciate a beautiful woman, just in passing, without slipping into a self-destructive vortex of shame.
And by the moons, does she appreciate this bartender. She’s not old, but she’s definitely older than Catra and her friends—the shaved head makes it hard to guess her age exactly, but it reveals the intensely colourful floral tattoos that start on her scalp, trail down behind her ear, and disappear under the collar of her shirt. Her skin is so dark the bright ink almost seems to hover over it. When Catra first went up to the bar tonight, she’d let herself wonder, just for a moment, how far down those tattoos went, and had tried to let the little reflexive twinge of tension in her stomach go away on its own. It had.
But apparently focusing on her personal growth and healing or whatever meant that she wasn’t focusing on controlling her facial expressions, and now everybody knows.
“It’s very important,” Bow adds from where he and Glimmer are cuddling in the corner of the booth, “to ask for things that you want.”
“Mmm, yes,” Perfuma lilts, “aren’t I always telling you that, Catra?”
“That sure sounds like you,” Scorpia agrees, and Adora and Glimmer both “mm-hmm” their endorsements.
Catra’s got a hand covering her face now. It occurs to her that if she does go get a round for the table, that’ll be at least a couple of minutes she can avoid looking this gaggle of traitors in the eye. And she can practice some more—practice getting comfortable with feeling attraction. It’s for the sake of personal growth and healing, really.
“Fine,” she says, hand still in place. “One word when I come back and I’m pouring the drinks on each of you individually.”
They’ve been doing this to Catra all night, teasing her about the hot bartender, and in the tiniest, most secret vault at the deepest centre of her heart, she loves it. She knows what they’re doing. They’re trying to make her feel loved; they’re trying to make her feel known. It’s going in her gratitude journal tonight, but she doesn’t know how she’d ever tell any of them directly.
Which might be okay. Sincerity could ruin the fun. It still makes her feel warm to think about—warmer than the alcohol, warmer than the perfectly-temperate ocean breeze over the side of the ship.
And compared to the icy look Mermista is giving her, practically boiling over.
There’s a line at the bar this time—Catra’s new crush is fast, but she’s also working solo—and that wouldn’t be a problem at all… but Catra can’t stand here and surreptitiously watch her arms as she pulls pints if Mermista’s going to be glaring at her like that from just a few feet away. The ocean princess may have invited her, but she doesn’t seem thrilled that Catra accepted.
So Mermista still needs time. That’s still okay. Catra tries to take a deep breath without looking like she’s taking a deep breath. She absolutely does not want to start a confrontation.
Mermista just keeps staring at her.
Catra rubs the back of her neck. “Sh-should I go? Should I leave?”
“Did I ask you to leave?” Mermista’s voice is…n’t hostile, Catra’s pretty sure, but the way her arms are folded across her chest isn’t exactly welcoming.
“Uh… no, but—look, I know you’re still—I get it, I don’t want you to feel like I’m—take as much time as you need, okay? Sorry if it feels like I’m getting in your face by being here. If it makes you feel better, I wanted to let you keep avoiding me—Adora basically dragged me here tonight.”
Mermista… she definitely reacts to that, and her eyes flick to the pin on Catra’s shirt for a moment, but Catra can’t parse her reaction in the slightest. It’s deeply fucking unnerving.
“You talked to Glimmer,” Mermista says, possibly at random.
“I, uh… yeah, I’m… her girlfriend? We talk?”
That makes Mermista’s eyes narrow fractionally, which means nothing to Catra at all. Then, just as abruptly as she’s been speaking, Mermista turns to the bartender, and it’s like meeting her twin sister: her posture relaxes, her smile is open and genuine, she even flips her hair—and then she just winks at the bartender and a gin and tonic materializes in front of her as fast as if Glimmer had been serving it.
And then the unspeakably gorgeous woman behind the bar ducks her head, and the way she smiles back at Mermista is nothing like the polite, professional smiles that have been flustering Catra all night. Catra almost can’t breathe, and she’s only getting it secondhand.
It must be as obvious to Mermista as it was to Catra’s friends back at the table, because when she turns around with her drink—impenetrable façade back in place—she stops for a second and cocks her head ever so slightly. Then apparently it’s time for another non sequitur: “Is this supposed to change my mind?”
“Is… what supposed to…?” This feels like a test, and Catra has no idea if she’s passing or failing right now. “I wasn’t trying to change your mind about anything. Honestly, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice I was here.”
Mermista takes a long sip of her drink, maintaining eye contact. The lime wedge that bumps into her nose lessens the intimidating effect, but not by much. Then she straightens up and sets her jaw.
“Look, Glimmer’s my friend, so—”
“So what, if I break her heart you’re gonna beat me up?”
Mermista snorts. “Like I’d wanna stand in line for that long.”
That was… actually funny, Catra thinks, funny enough to diffuse some of the tension in the air. Catra even laughs, despite herself.
“Glimmer’s my friend and I want her to be happy,” Mermista says. “Adora’s my friend—same deal. Bow too. And just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean it isn’t working for them, and if they’re happy with you—and they are disgustingly happy with you, by the way—then I’m happy for them automatically.”
Catra hears the but incoming at supersonic speed.
“But I don’t get it. I want to look at you and just… see my friends’ girlfriend. Just this… kinda bitchy, kinda funny, kinda hot girl they’re dating. I know the other princesses have like, forgiven you and pretty much moved on. And I…” She sighs. “I can’t. I don’t know how.”
It’s weird. Out of all the reactions to Catra from the various members of the Princess Alliance, Mermista’s makes the most sense to her. Catra was lucky enough to meet a bunch of people in a row who all had some personal philosophy of friendship or forgiveness that prompted them to meet her halfway—but she’d always known that was never going to be universal.
Not every morning, maybe not even a lot of mornings, but still—some mornings, Catra just “happens” to brush her teeth without ever looking in the mirror. She’s working on it with Perfuma’s help, and she’s talked about it with her friends, but how can she blame Mermista for not forgiving her? She still hasn’t forgiven herself.
I want to, Mermista had said. I don’t know how.
Catra tries to keep her shoulders low, and stares at a streak of water on the bar next to Mermista’s elbow. “I understand,” she says in a low voice. “I completely, totally do. The other princesses, that all went pretty fast. Maybe you’re just… normal speed. But if—and I swear to the gods I mean if—you want to try, I don’t know, talking about it some time… we could do that. I’d be willing to do that.”
Mermista thinks about it for several moments. “I thought about punching you,” she says with a faint smirk, “but Frosta took that one.”
“I, uh… I don’t think…” Catra shrugs, the thought running away with her a little. “I mean, you could still—not that I want you to, but—it’s not like Frosta’s—”
“Nah, I’d never hear the end of it. ‘Mermista! Punching is my thing! Get your own thing!’” She barely makes an attempt at a Frosta voice.
“Punching is kind of her thing,” Catra feels almost compelled to point out. Mermista shrugs—in dismissal or agreement, Catra still can’t tell.
Neither of them says anything for a while, and the silence stretches out. Catra thinks she should probably get that round of drinks and get back to her friends. Then, out of nowhere—and in essentially the same tone of voice as before—Mermista says, “So I hear your space suit has ears.”
Later, Catra’s leaning on the rail of the boat, watching the last rays of the sun sink into the ocean. The colours are so much different than the wild, pollution-filtered palette she and Adora had grown up with. Right there, Catra makes the dumbest wish of her life: Everything exactly the same, but with the old fucked-up sunsets from the Fright Zone. It doesn’t come true. That’s okay, she thinks. This is nice too.
“There you are,” says Adora from behind her.
“What do you mean, here I am,” says Catra. “This boat is not that big. How long could you possibly have been looking for me?” When she turns around to look at Adora, Adora’s got a big dopey smile on her face, and she’s a lot closer than Catra expected. Catra feels her heart skip a beat as Adora’s strong arms slip around her waist.
“Hey, Catra,” Adora purrs, and Catra’s knees are fine, they’re fine, they’re going to hold. Adora’s very close, and her breath smells boozy.
“Oh my gods,” Catra laughs, and it’s only a little shaky. “Have you been drinking? Are you drunk?”
“Hmmm. I don’t think I’m drunk-drunk. But I definitely did shots with Scorpia.”
“You went shot for shot with Scorpia? You seem surprisingly… upright for that.”
Adora giggles. “No, silly. I had one shot. I’m just a li’l tipsy, I’m fine.” She steps even closer and suddenly her leg is—well, it’s right between Catra’s. She whispers in Catra’s ear, “And if you don’t want me upright, all you gotta do is ask.” Catra whimpers, and she’s more than a little out of breath when Adora steps back. Her knees aren’t going to give out, though. Probably.
“That’s for grabbing my ass at Queen Angella’s party,” Adora says, flushed under a wicked grin. Then her grin gets a little wickeder. “And uh, there’s something I want to show you.”
“Sh-show me?” Catra asks, swallowing hard.
“Mm-hmm,” Adora says, and she’s nodding very seriously but her lips are pursed in a devilish little moue. “It’s actually just off the ship here, down the gangplank.”
Catra looks over Adora’s shoulder. “You mean, uh, down there in the marina? Where no one can… see anything from here?”
“Yeah,” Adora says. “I want to show you something really cool where no one else can see us,” and she giggles again.
It’s a tempting offer, whatever it actually entails. But while Catra doubts she’d have any regrets herself, she’s not sure how Adora will feel tomorrow about… whatever she’s proposing they do here tonight, in semi-public at best. It might be a little less exciting and a little more embarrassing in the harsh—and sober—light of day.
At the same time, she can’t bear for Adora to think, even for a second, that Catra doesn’t want her. So she takes Adora’s hands in both of hers and brings them up to her mouth, punctuating her words with kisses on Adora’s knuckles.
“I would fucking love that, Adora. And I guarantee, you’d love it too.” Catra winks, and Adora shivers happily. “But imagine getting caught.”
From the look on Adora’s face, she’s imagining getting caught by Glimmer, or maybe the bartender. Catra thinks imagining that herself would be counterproductive for what she’s trying to do right now, so she calls up the iciest bucket of water she can think of.
“Imagine getting caught by Sea Hawk, Adora.”
Adora actually jumps a little, then wrinkles her nose, then seems to shake the idea off with her whole body, not unlike Catra after she’s been caught in the rain. “Ewww. Okay, fine. You could have just said no.” She pouts a little, and Catra can’t help but try to kiss it away.
“Maybe we should go find Glimmer and Bow,” Adora says, more or less into Catra’s mouth, “before anyone finds us.”
“Yeah,” Catra says, barely stopping, “we should do that. For sure.”
Several minutes later—and fortunately for everyone—it’s only Glimmer and Bow who find them.