"Hey, Adora," Catra said. She padded into the room, up on her toes until she came to a rest behind where Adora sat on her bunk. She was exactly how she had been that morning: frowning down at her wrist which, looking over her shoulder, Catra saw was still blank.
Catra knew she'd left. There were drills and classes and meetings, but she had come right back to this spot. Their spot.
She adjusted to take her place by Adora's side, studying her features instead of where the words would inevitably show up. They always did, but she wasn't surprised it was going like this. For all Adora pretended not to put anything on the marks, Catra knew she had long romanticized it. For all it was certain she would get one, there was a universal fear of being the exception.
Sometimes, Catra wished she'd been. Some days, she screamed into her pillow and felt like she'd never stop.
"Still nothing, huh?" asked Catra.
"Shh," Adora replied, like speaking might somehow scare it off. "It's supposed to be today."
"It will be today, and staring at it isn't going to make it appear any faster."
"Easy for you to say, yours was there when you woke up."
That was what she told Adora. That she woke up early and chose to cover her mark up with only a glance; she readily claimed she had long forgotten what it said. Even now, Catra's wrapped arm rested protectively against her stomach, hidden from the world and Adora specifically. The most important words that were ever going to be said to her, and she adamantly refused to show her best friend.
Catra curled herself into the place beside Adora, the spot she had always simply fit, and settled in for what could be seconds or hours still. From her position, she could feel her tension, how she was holding every breath. The anxiety was familiar, and neither of them were particularly patient people.
All that from a touch. She didn't know anyone better. Hell, Adora knew her better than herself. This could put it in writing. Literally.
"Not breathing isn't going to make it show up," Catra said lyrically, barely making it a minute without giving in to bugging her. She laughed at Adora half-swatting at, half-shushing her in response.
"Will you quit it. You're not—oh!" Adora grabbed Catra's wrist, squeezing it hard while, sure enough, letters slowly began tracing their way across her skin.
Her stomach flipped. She wasn't ready. She shouldn't even be here for this, let alone be the nervous one, yet she couldn't tear her eyes away. Her wrist tingled with a ghost of the sensation Adora was feeling, reminding her of what this could mean.
It was a ridiculous hope, that this would point her in Catra's direction. She had always been right here, and Adora had always been waiting for this moment.
83 days ago, Catra's soulmate mark confirmed what she already knew. No ambiguity, no hope of it being anyone else.
The words were clear on her best friend's skin, and Catra squeezed her eyes shut. Adora had to know. She had to see it.
It was her turn to hold her breath.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Adora said. "That's it?"
Catra forced a laugh and put on a smug smile. Apparently not.
"Oh, you are gonna have a real fun time with that."
She was lucky, really, that Adora was so fixated. It was a gift that she kept prodding at the inside of her arm like another clue might appear.
It meant she wasn't looking at Catra, who was barely holding it together. It gave her a minute to push down the feelings she was ready to lay bare. She'd been doing it for years; it wasn't anything new.
If she wanted to see it, if Adora felt about Catra the way she did about her, she would have read between those two words.
Why couldn't it have been something more obvious?
"I can't believe this is what I get," said Adora. "Two words that have probably been said to me a thousand times by a thousand different people—"
"You don't know a thousand people," Catra interjected, looking for the rhythm. She must have found it because she was hit across the head by a pillow. Clearly, she was off not having seen that one coming. "Hey!"
"As I was saying, I don't even know where to start."
"I'd go with a list," Catra said unhelpfully. Adora gave her a look. "Come on, it could be fun. I'll start."
"Hey, Catra," Kyle said as he walked in before she got the chance. "Hey, Adora."
"Kyle!" they both shouted before dissolving into laughter at the absurdity of it.
Enough berating without context got him to leave, and they tumbled back into bed, still giggling.
"Your face," Catra laughed, "when he said that. You looked at Kyle the way I usually do."
She felt Adora move next to her and when she opened her eyes, there she was with a mischievous look on her face. There was a moment of playful jostling that usually came from one of them trying to take something from the other, quick teasing swipes that ended with Adora straddling Catra, one arm pinned and reaching for the other.
"Let me see it!"
"No!" she protested, only half-trying to buck her off.
"Come on! I didn't even try to hide my mark. Now, we're even."
She freed the end of the wrapping, and Catra's whole mood flipped. She pushed her off—nearly off the bed with how unprepared Adora was—and settled at the end of it, tucking the fabric back into place.
"I said, no, Adora," Catra said darkly. She held her wrist, as if the words needed another layer of protection.
"Catra, I'm sorry."
She could tell how much she meant it. That was part of the problem with Adora. She always had to be so damn sincere. She couldn't let anyone be mad at her, including Catra. Especially Catra, whose moods were always quick to change, and her best friend was quicker to forgive.
"It's fine," Catra relented. She turned back to her but didn't relax into the nest they'd created as easily. Moments ago, it was hard to tell what was pillow and what as Adora and what was Catra. The two of them sat in stark contrast now.
"It's not," Adora replied. "I know it's different for you. I just thought... I don't know. That we'd do this together."
Catra inched closer to her.
They moved back together, telling stories and laughing lightly, but an undercurrent of caution ran through every sentence. She could feel Adora's guilt for pushing that boundary; she could see her trying to create reasons to replace the ones Catra had never given. She wondered what she would come up with. She didn't care.
Adora curled towards her.
"I'm going to find her, Catra," Adora mumbled, on the edge of sleep.
"I know," she whispered.
"I wonder if she's looking for me."
She let the idea settle over the quiet room for a minute.
"You never know," Catra replied at last. "Maybe she's already found you."
Adora muttered a few incoherent words, asleep.
Her breaths marked the time as it turned from seconds towards hours, and Catra surrendered to a sleepless night. It wasn't going to come with Adora wrapped around her, not when she could feel every heartbeat between them.
She slowly peeled away the arm draped over her, settling it in the warm spot she'd previously been filling and shifted to the end of the bed. Adora was still out cold; a miracle, that one. She really hadn't needed to be careful. When she slept, she slept.
It went right along with her stubborn streak. When Adora set herself on a path, she stayed firmly on it. There were no exceptions; she always had so much momentum, and she had no idea how Catra fought to keep up.
She already knew this was going to be the same. She wouldn't change Adora's mind. She certainly couldn't tell her.
After all, if Adora loved her, she would have twisted any sentence into a sign. Years—years of greeting her the exact same way, letting the two simple words be whatever she needed. It was hard to believe it was the most important thing she would ever say to her, but maybe she hadn't said the most important one yet. Maybe it was the amalgamation of all of them.
Maybe it would come from someone else.
Her fingers found the edge of the wrapping, carefully unwinding it as the memory pulled together around her.
Catra, wrapped in a blanket and hiding from the world. Adora, who found her anyway and was undeterred by her tears.
She had always known exactly what to say to her. It didn't matter that she was Shadow Weaver's favorite, and Catra never would be. She was Adora's favorite.
Every time Adora looked at her to see if she was laughing she fell a little harder. When she went to Catra first after lessons, she convinced herself that she felt it, too. At her lowest, Adora could come up with the perfect reassurance. She was the only person who ever saw her, and the only one Catra needed to.
She could trace it back to that moment, to those tears.
Her fingers traced over the words. She didn't need to read them. She could still hear Adora saying them, both at five-years-old, and now, if she tried hard enough.
Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other.
"You promise?" Catra asked the quiet room where she sat alone.