Catra buried her face in the heap of wheat blonde hair in front of her. The smell of her sleeping partner usually did the trick and lulled her back to sleep, but tonight it just wasn’t working. Too many things, both inside her head and outside, were conspiring to keep her awake.
She had a lot of experience with sleepless nights. It used to be that she went days, even weeks without catching a wink, in avoidance of some shadowy nightmare based on her most recent bad decision. Back then she hadn’t minded too much; it had even been a source of pride at times, how little she slept. She thought it proved her dedication to the Horde. Now, though, it was just an annoyance. Another little reminder that she didn’t quite fit in with these princess types, with their clear consciences and immaculate circadian rhythms.
Then again, neither did Adora, really. Catra recalled that she had always been a notoriously light sleeper, even as a child. Had Catra remembered this before she sought comfort in her girlfriend’s nape, she might have avoided the conversation that was about to take place.
Adora breathed a heavy sigh as she roused and rolled over, careful not to disturb the arm and leg that Catra had draped over her. Her eyes barely opened as she pressed a whisper of a kiss against Catra’s forehead. “Hey,” she murmured, her low, gentle voice squeaking from disuse.
“Hey, Adora.” Catra spoke past the lump that had lodged itself in her throat in the past few minutes.
“Trouble sleeping again?”
Catra ran the mental calculus, trying to predict all the ways the interaction could go. If she admitted that she was having trouble sleeping, Adora would ask why, and Catra would have to lie and say it was nothing. Unsatisfied with such a non-answer, Adora would ask again. Catra wasn’t sure if she could convincingly manage the second denial without her feelings surging over the fragile levee she had built to contain them. If she lied and told Adora that she had just woken up, instead of having been awake and stewing in guilt for at least an hour, there could be some plausible deniability. But the tremor in her voice had been too obvious when she first spoke. Catra realized that if she said anything now, whether her words were true or not, Adora would pick up on her distress and try to comfort her.
She opted to nuzzle herself under Adora’s chin and nod. She had hoped this would signal that she was indeed having trouble sleeping, but that there was nothing to discuss. As much as she would have liked to cry into Adora’s arms and release all of her grief and anguish, it would have felt wrong.
She saw what her partner dealt with day in and day out. Everywhere she went, Adora was expected to save the day one way or another. Brokering new peace treaties, taming magical wildlands, planning the reconstruction of the Fright Zone — everyone wanted a piece of Adora, and she was more than willing to hand out slices of herself until she was nothing but scraps. It would have been unreasonably selfish for Catra to insist that Adora save some for her, especially considering her own part in creating most of Adora’s obligations. And Catra was not supposed to be selfish anymore.
But still, after all the effort Catra expended to keep her pain concealed, Adora somehow still managed to pick up the scent.
Catra felt Adora’s chest push against her with another deep sigh. “Is there something you wanted to talk about?”
Catra shut her eyes as tightly as she could, struggling to hold back the tears. There was genuine concern in Adora’s voice that never seemed to run out. She couldn’t help but melt into the warmth of it. The moisture in her eyes dripped across her face and onto the bed sheets. “I just… I don’t want to make you take care of me.”
“Catra…” Adora ran her fingers gently through Catra’s hair, still short but getting long enough to tickle her neck. “You know that’s not what this is. I want to be here for you because I love you. You’re not making me do anything.”
Her consistency on that point was admirable, Catra thought, considering that it was complete bullshit. “No, Adora,” she growled through her tears. “It shouldn’t be your job to coddle me like this. You shouldn’t have to deal with this shit on top of all the other trouble I’ve caused you.”
Adora pulled Catra away and put a hand against her cheek, lifting her face until she met Adora’s shimmering gray eyes. Her voice became clear and steady, her touches firm. “Listen to me, Catra. I’m not doing this because it’s my job. I’m doing this because you’re my best friend, and I don’t want to just ignore you when you’re hurting. That’s not who I am. You should know that by now.”
Catra sniffled and blinked more tears out of her eyes. “I know, okay? I know. You’re ridiculously selfless and you always want to help people and you’re a fucking paragon of love and friendship, or whatever.” She saw Adora knit her dark eyebrows together in something close to pain, like too much pressure on an old scar. Realizing what she had said, Catra cringed. This was exactly what she wasn’t supposed to do anymore. She was supposed to have learned her lesson, to be more vulnerable and stop pushing people away. But sometimes the armor of spikes and poison she used to wear was the only comfort she could find in this world that was still so new to her.
She took a deep breath and tried to shrug it off, tried to let herself be soft again. It didn’t come naturally. It never had. Catra was claws and fangs and anger, and that’s what had always let her survive. She struggled, but managed to remind herself that survival was no longer the game. This was about Adora. This was about living.
Finally, Catra spoke again. “You’re kind and selfless and sweet and… I love those things about you. I do.” She paused to close the distance between their lips briefly. “I guess I just don’t want you trying to carry all my baggage for me.”
Adora’s eyes softened. “But you don’t have to carry it all yourself, either. I can handle it. I promise.”
“Trust me,” Catra chuckled, “You don’t want it. I’m not even sure She-Ra has the arms for this stuff.”
Adora shared in the laugh, but her expression shifted back to concern quickly. “Have you thought about talking to Perfuma? She seems to have a pretty good grasp on the whole… feelings thing.”
A sigh escaped Catra’s lips as her eyes darted down to Adora’s chest, the faint scar of the Failsafe still visible, peeking out of her tank top. “Yeah, I probably should.”
Perfuma had extended an open invitation to her some time ago, before the Heart, to join her in “guided meditation,” whatever that was. Talking to other people about her feelings wasn’t that simple, though. It was an endeavor into a terrifying openness, like sailing out onto the sea for the first time and realizing that there was nothing around her but water in all directions. It had taken a lifetime of work and twice as much grief for her to finally open up to Adora about how she felt. Catra wasn’t sure if she would ever be able to do all of that again, especially with someone who she hardly knew. She could still barely hold a conversation with Bow and Glimmer. Talking to Perfuma, about her feelings no less, sounded like diving off a boat with no life vest.
She glanced up from the pale expanse of her bedmate’s chest to her face. Adora always looked at her like she was the most precious thing in the world, like she had hung the moons in the sky. It made Catra’s chest ache to think that she might be deceiving Adora, that there was a chance she was just the same bitter, angry person who had consciously tried to end the world multiple times. But she had learned that the only way for her to be happy, to be with Adora, was to be the person that Adora believed she was. It was back-breaking work. But maybe it was worth it to see Adora’s goofy kilowatt smile every day.
That same smile spread across Adora’s face, lighting up like the three moons of daytime. Her eyebrow cocked with mischief. “Come on, Catra, don’t you wanna make more princess friends?” She surprised Catra with a pair of fingers in the armpit, which almost earned her a claw to the face.
She was so sweet it made Catra’s stomach hurt, like those stupid cakes Sparkles insisted on serving after every dinner at Bright Moon. Catra smirked to conceal the melting of her heart. “Alright, dummy. I’ll go talk to her.”
Before Catra could react, Adora scooped her up and rolled over, pinning Catra to the bed with her dumb fucking muscles. Those stupid, rippling biceps. Beautiful, powerful shoulders on either side of her thick skull with those piercing eyes, and those soft lips that now lowered onto Catra’s and silenced every other thought in her head.
She felt heat flood her face as she softened into the kiss. Almost automatically, her arms wrapped around Adora’s back and her hands traced the hard contours there. Catra’s thin layer of fur bristled as she felt Adora’s body press down into hers, covering her in warmth, eliciting a quiet purr from her throat.
Adora parted her lips from Catra’s and leaned down into the crook of her neck. Her breathy whisper tickled the sensitive fur in Catra’s ear, making it twitch. “I love you so much.”
Catra couldn’t help the rumble that now vibrated through her entire body. “I love you too, idiot.”
Mid-morning daylight was creeping across the floor when Catra woke up. She stretched and extended a clawed hand, expecting to find a pair of muscular arms to crawl into, but Adora’s spot on the bed was empty. Always the early riser. Catra flopped to her other side, careful to keep the blanket wrapped around her as she was considerably more naked than when she went to bed. She peered across the cavernous bedroom, and there Adora was, hunched over the desk, still in her light gray tank top and shorts.
After some searching, Catra located her own shorts and sports bra in the tangle of sheets, and slipped out of bed. Her tail swayed gently as she waltzed over to the desk where her girlfriend sat. Leaning forward over the back of the chair, Catra reached down to caress the soft skin just below Adora’s collarbone. She placed a kiss right behind that silly hair poof.
Adora startled at the sudden contact but relaxed quickly once she realized who it was. “Oh, hey! You’re up,” she said, sounding entirely too chipper by Catra’s standards.
“I missed cuddling you this morning,” Catra mumbled into Adora’s hair.
“Aw, babe,” Adora cooed as she stroked the forearm that Catra had laid across her chest, “That’s so sweet. You didn’t get enough of me last night?”
A soft chuckle shook Catra’s chest. She lifted her head as she stood straight, bringing her hand up to stroke Adora’s cheek. “No, hotshot, you were plenty.”
Turning away from the starmap she had been drafting, Adora met Catra’s gaze. That warmth just never seemed to leave her eyes these days. “Do you want breakfast? I already ate but I’d be happy to go get you something if you wanna stay in bed.”
Catra slipped away to the dresser and pulled out an old pair of ripped black leggings and one of Adora’s many turtleneck shirts that she had… repurposed. She scoffed as she slipped her arms through the cut-off sleeves. “Adora, it’s your day off. I’m not gonna ask you to be my butler. Besides, I’m going to talk to Perfuma today anyway. I’ll grab something on the way.”
Reminded of their conversation from the middle of the night, Adora’s eyes clouded with concern. “Alright. Come get me if you need anything?”
Catra’s head poked through the collar of the shirt, cut into a sloppy V-neck. “What, do you want to give me a bell or something so I can summon you? ‘Oh, Adora!’” she mocked, in an affected high-pitched voice, “‘You must come carry me at once! The floors are much too hard for my precious wittle feetsies!’”
The worry vanished from Adora’s face as she let out a laugh. Catra allowed herself a cackle as well, though mostly because of the snort that ripped through Adora’s nose. After slipping on her leggings, she strolled back over to the desk and knelt down to kiss her girlfriend’s rosy cheek. “Take it easy, Adora. I’m serious. Promise me you’ll let yourself relax.”
Adora leaned against Catra’s forehead. “I will. I promise.”
“Good girl.” Catra stood up, lightly dragging a claw against Adora’s bicep, and watched a blush spread down her neck. “I’ll be back in time for tea, alright?”
Catra once again let Adora’s smile wash over her. “Alright. I love you, Catra.”
“Love you too, Adora.” She placed one more quick kiss on Adora’s forehead then walked towards the massive double-door of their room. There was a shimmer in the air near the door as Melog materialized.
“Oh, hey, wait,” Adora said, spinning around in her chair to face Catra on her way out. “Do you still need a map of the castle? I had Bow load one onto a mini-pad for you.” She picked up a small rectangular screen off the desk, no larger than her hand, and held it out to Catra.
Melog mewled as Catra rubbed the top of their head, their ethereal blue mane swaying. “Nah, I’ve got this thing. They know their way around.”
Adora placed the mini-pad back on the desk gently. “Oh, cool! Damn, I wish Swift Wind would learn that. He’s been here for years and I still found him in the library the other day looking for the kitchen.”
Catra winked at Adora as she placed another mental tally mark in Melog’s column for ‘coolest magical animal companion.’ She waggled her fingers in a flirtatious wave goodbye. “See you later, dumbass.”
“Bye!” Adora replied, waving giddily at Catra and Melog as they slipped out the door and into the grand hallways of Castle Bright Moon.