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pretty strangers and the promises they hold

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Catra arrived at school, like always, at a time that was obscenely early– seven A.M., and not a single second later.

As Weaver parked the car, Catra sighed and glanced out the window.

She missed being able to bike to school.

The stupid thing had been totaled when she had been biking late at night, after jiujitsu practice. Catra had barely managed to jump clear before there had been the shrieks of twisting metal and the scream of brakes. The truck driver must have thought he hit a person, because he had fled immediately, leaving Catra to stare at her destroyed bicycle and swear loudly.

She hadn’t bothered asking Weaver for a new one, and instead started riding to school with her. Neither of them said anything, Catra just showed up in the passenger seat one morning. She learned quickly that she had to be there on time, though, otherwise Weaver would simply leave without her.

This particular morning had been exactly the same as all the other mornings. They had a longstanding silent agreement to ignore each other, starting from when they woke up until Catra got home from jiujitsu practice, and from then on, Weaver would be tipsy and would start nitpicking everything Catra did or said. Catra would get mad, storm to her room, and not come out until the following morning. Rinse and repeat.

Weaver often said that she was stunned Catra had never been arrested. For once, Catra agreed with her wholeheartedly. If nothing else, the Duane Reade incident should have gotten her more than a slap on the wrist.

But in her defense, the guy had had it coming. Plus, Catra hadn't known that a plastic fork could break skin. Oops.

She got her stuff out of the locker as Weaver left to do god-knows-what.

Then she went to Weaver’s classroom and waited.

After a while, Scorpia came in, dragging Entrapta by the wrist as the latter chattered about science and experiments and a lot of other stuff that went completely over Catra’s head. There was no reason for either of them to be here this early, but when Catra had asked why they were there, Scorpia had only looked at her blankly and said, “Uh, to keep you company?”

So Catra shut up about it, ignoring the warm and fuzzy feeling welling up inside of her.

Today, Scorpia was holding three lollipops, one of which she passed to Catra as she sat down. “There were some elementary schoolers selling them outside,” she said sheepishly, at Catra’s questioning look. “They’re donating to a cancer fund. I couldn’t just walk past them.

Catra would have, but Scorpia was a better person than her, anyway.

While Scorpia settled in, Catra turned her attention to other things. Namely, she opened up her pencil case and started tossing pencils at the ceiling, which was pockmarked and falling apart from every other time she’d been in this classroom at this ungodly hour.

Slowly, their other classmates started trickling in. Catra focused on her pencil-throwing, and Scorpia started cheering when one stuck, which only encouraged Catra further.

And then she walked in.

Adora.

Blond hair, blue eyes, and smiling literally all the time.

Catra didn’t think they’d ever had a conversation before, which was fine by her. She wasn’t sure how she would respond if one ever happened to be struck up. Still, she watched out of the corner of her eye as Adora and her friends, Glitter and Bow, sat down. Were they here earlier than usual today?

After a few more minutes of Catra’s own personal Pencil Throwing Olympics, Weaver walked in and immediately started arguing with Lonnie, which was very mature of her. Catra rolled her eyes and threw one last pencil at the ceiling, cheering when it stuck. Weaver glared at her, and Catra smiled back, knowing her total lack of fear would bug Weaver the most.

Eventually, Weaver was forced to look away and start the class. Meanwhile, Catra folded her arms and laid her head down, peering over the crook of her arm to study Adora.

Adora, Adora, Adora.

There were two things Catra knew about her.

One, apparently there had been some kind of scandal with her foster dad, a guy named Hordak, and by scandal Catra meant he was arrested and sentenced to life in jail. There had been some kind of sting operation, Catra was pretty sure. (There was a rumor going around that Entrapta had been involved somehow, but if she was, Entrapta hadn’t said anything.) Usually, if a foster parent went to jail, that would mean the kid would go straight back into the system, but Adora got lucky, somehow. Catra wasn’t too clear on the details– she didn’t make it a policy to put her nose into other people’s business. Something, something, court case, something, something, legalities, blah, blah, blah, adopted. Whoop. Yay. Good for her.

The other thing about Adora though, was that she was, kind of, a little, sort of, very pretty.

Which made Catra very nervous.

The last relationship Catra had had– well, it hadn’t ended well. She had taken everything a step too far, and Double Trouble had reamed her out before leaving Catra drunk and alone in an alleyway. Served her right. She had been awful back then, and still angry at literally everything. Now, she was only angry at most things. Like truck drivers who destroyed people’s bikes.

Catra tuned back into class just in time to hear the word project. Uh oh.

“…will be making some sort of visual– a posterboard, a video, I don’t care– and presenting it. You can pick your partners.”

Fuck. Has anybody, ever, been happy to do a group project?

“Catra you’re with me,” Scorpia said all in one breath. When Catra turned to look at her, she grinned. “What? I love her, but we both know your work ethic is better than Entrapta’s. At least when it comes to school.”

Catra snorted. “Remember when she brought Emily to life?”

Scorpia winced, no doubt remembering the scorched walls of Entrapta’s bedroom and the singed ends of Catra’s hair. Catra had had to cut off almost all of her hair after that, which was fine because some jerk had already cut off the majority of it when she was making the mistake of wearing a ponytail and doing homework at a cafe.

She didn’t do that anymore.

“No,” Weaver’s voice cut in, breaking Catra out of her thoughts. “This… no. Scorpia, Entrapta needs a partner.”

Scorpia blinked up at Weaver. Behind their teacher, Entrapta was wincing and mouthing apologies to Catra.

“Uh,” Scorpia said, stealing a glance at Catra, “Catra and I have already partnered up?”

“Right!” Entrapta said. “That’s what I said. Plus, I don’t mind working with someone else!” She tried for a grin, but Catra could see the uncertainty in it. Her eyes darted around the room.

...Would anyone else want to work with Entrapta?

Maybe not. Entrapta was… a lot. Plus, she had a lot of stories about so-called “friends” who ditched her, or didn’t bother inviting her places. It was entirely possible somebody might refuse to work with her, or complain the whole time. Sure, they’d complain about Catra, too, but they wouldn’t do it to her face.

“You know what,” Catra said, cutting off Entrapta’s insistence that she would be fine, “I’ll go find someone else. You guys can be partners.”

“Um–” Scorpia said.

“But–” Entrapta began.

“Good!” Weaver said. “That’s settled. Go find a new partner, Catra.”

And with that, she was gone, steering Scorpia and Entrapta away as well.

Okay. She would need a new partner. Automatically, Catra glanced Lonnie’s way, but Lonnie was sitting next to Frosta already.

Which left Catra with…

Adora.

Great.

Slowly, Catra walked up to her. Adora was looking around the classroom, with the vague air of somebody who was totally and completely lost.

Okay, stay cool, it’s just a dumb project and you both need a partner. Just ask. Stay calm. Don’t fuck it up.

Catra took a deep breath and hoped she did not sound as nervous as she felt when she spoke. “Hey, Adora.”

She’s turning around. She’s turning around! Shit. Shit. Is it too late to run?

Trying for confidence, she met Adora’s eyes. “You wanna pair up?” she said.

Adora scanned the room, probably trying to see if there was anyone else to partner with, and Catra felt her face start to heat up. Before she could mumble an excuse and run off, Adora was smiling and nodding. “Sure,” she said.

“Cool,” Catra said, and sat beside her, ignoring Adora’s awkward shuffling to move their desks closer. “I’m Catra,” she added, to be polite.

“Adora,” Adora said, and reddened. “But, uh, you already know that.”

Shoot, what do I say without sounding creepy? “You’re the track-and-field, football, sports star,” Catra tried to smile. “Of course I knew that.”

“Oh,” Adora said. “I guess I am.” She ducked her head. Was she blushing?

“What’s going on here?”

Shit, not again.

Weaver had appeared in front of them, glaring down at Catra. Catra would have glared right back, but she really, really didn’t want Weaver to take revenge by docking points. And Adora’s grade was riding on this, too. So Catra stared at her desk instead and boiled inside.

“We’re partners,” Adora said to Weaver, sounding bemused. “That’s okay, right?”

There was a long silence, and then Weaver said, “I see. Catra, we will be discussing this later.”

Well, that should be fun.

Weaver slunk off, and Catra slumped. “Sorry about that,” she said to Adora, who was staring after Weaver in shock. “My mom’s a hardass.” Mom. The word tasted foreign in her mouth, but it was less weird than calling her Weaver to a near-stranger.

But Adora seemed to be more confused than anything else. “Your– oh, right. Um.” She fell silent.

Maybe Catra should have just gone with Weaver. It would be less awkward.

“It’s cool if you forgot,” Catra offered, to break the increasingly uncomfortable tension. “Sometimes I think she forgets, too. Not like she gives me special preference.”

Adora seemed to be trying to melt from the sheer awkwardness of the situation. “Yeah. Um.”

Shit. Why did I say that? I made it so much worse.

As Catra fumbled for something else to say, Adora spoke up again. “Is she– always like that?”

“Like what?” Catra grinned a little bit. “A bitch?”

Adora went red. “Um…”

Catra laughed. “Yeah, she is.”

They fell silent again. Adora’s eyes were looking very, very blue. Would it be weird if Catra scooted her desk closer?

“So, uh, when do you want to work on the project?” Adora asked. “I’m free pretty much any time. Football’s over, so…”

Right. The project.

“I can’t stay after school today,” Catra admitted, scrounging in her pockets and digging out the lollipop. Good, something else to focus on, other than the incredible blueness of Adora’s eyes. She stuck the candy in her mouth. Root beer. Why were Adora’s eyes so blue? Surely that wasn’t natural.

“I have jiujitsu practice,” she added quickly, hoping her eye contact wasn’t getting weird.

Adora perked up. “You take jiujitsu?”

Oh, thank God, we have something in common. Maybe this won’t be the most awkward partner project ever after all.

Catra sucked on her lollipop for a moment before replying, letting her eyes wander. “Yeah,” she said. Jiujitsu was supposed to be calming, or at least meditative, and it was the only thing Catra would agree to. “My therapist had me sign up after I stabbed a guy with a plastic fork in a Duane Reade.” She ignored Adora’s shocked look. “He was getting a little too handsy-feelsy, if you know what I mean.”

Adora’s face darkened. “I… yeah. Yeah, I know what you mean.”

I’m sure you do.

“I, uh, I take jiujitsu too,” Adora said, probably desperate to change the topic. “I’ve never seen you in the place.”

“Maybe we’re at different time slots,” Catra said dismissively. Not a big deal. “So what do you want to do for this project, anyway? I’m thinking Keynote slides. You?”

“Keynote’s fine,” Adora said, which was good because that was the easiest project Catra could think of. “I’ll share a document with you.”

“Cool.” Catra crunched down on her lollipop, content to hang out until the end of class.

Adora seemed to have different ideas.

As Catra sucked on the remains of her lollipop stick, enjoying the last traces of root beer flavor, a soft voice from beside her said, “Um. I go to therapy, too.”

“Oh, yeah? What for?”

Adora was fiddling with her computer case. “Uh, I used to live in a really, really bad situation.” I know. Everybody knows. It was in the news. “Glimmer’s family adopted me and got me out of there, but, well, I have issues now. You know. Perfectionism, trying to fix everyone else's problems by ignoring my own, setting boundaries, that kind of stuff.”

Shit shit shit make a joke before she starts crying. “That’s a little personal for a class project, isn’t it? This isn’t The Breakfast Club, you know.” Shit! Was that too mean? Shit.

But Adora was grinning. “You’re the one who told me you stabbed somebody in a Duane Reade. If anyone’s oversharing, it’s you.”

Catra laughed. “Okay, fair.”

Adora was smiling. “So,” she said, “why do you go to therapy?”

Catra felt her stomach drop.

The truth was, Scorpia had signed her up. After the whole mess with Double Trouble, Catra was a wreck, but if she was being honest with herself, she had been spiraling for a long time before that.

You’re a bad friend.

It’s you, darling. You drive them away.

Catra dimly realized that she was glaring at Adora, and her partner was looking alarmed.

“Um, never mind–” she began.

Catra interrupted her. You want to know so bad? Here you go. “My impulse control is kaput, I have trust issues, my parents are dead, all that good stuff. I’m every psychiatrist’s best dream and worst nightmare. We good, Princess?” Catra was vaguely aware that she was all but snarling at Adora, like some kind of animal, and her classmate was looking both cowed and horrified.

“Um,” Adora whispered. “I… yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to–”

“Whatever. I’ll do my part after school.” Catra laid her head down on the desk, trying to breathe deeply and count to ten, like her therapist told her to do. She didn’t want to hurt Adora. She really, really, didn’t. But if we keep working, I’m going to end up losing control and stabbing you in the eye with a blunt pencil and you won’t even deserve it. Please, please, just leave me alone, because I’m too fucked up for you.

Catra just sat there and tried to breathe for the rest of the period, and left as fast as she could when the bell rang.


“So,” Scorpia said brightly, “how was Adora?”

It was lunchtime, and Catra was sitting with Scorpia and Entrapta, nibbling at her sandwich. She didn’t reply for a moment, and Scorpia put her own lunch down to stare hard at Catra.

“Catra…”

“I fucked up,” Catra told her PB&J, refusing to look at her friends. “Again.”

“Uh,” Scorpia exchanged a glance with Entrapta. “What happened?”

“I. Um.” Catra struggled to get her thoughts in order. “I told her about the Duane Reade thing.” When Scorpia sucked in air through her teeth, Catra shook her head. “That’s not… that’s not where I fucked up. I… sort of flipped out on her. And she didn’t deserve it. We were talking about therapy. And then I yelled at her, and then I didn’t talk to her for the rest of the period because I was scared I might rip her throat out.”

Oh,” Scorpia said, eyes wide. “Okay. Well…”

“Look, I know it was wrong,” Catra said. “But, hey, bright side– our project doesn’t require us to be in person, so we can finish the thing and then never talk to her again. Problem solved.”

“The problem is definitely not solved,” Scorpia said. “You should apologize.” Catra narrowed her eyes at her, and Scorpia put her hands up. “Look, I pay for your therapy, right? And wouldn’t your therapist tell you the same thing?”

“I guess,” Catra said grudgingly.

“So you should do it,” Scorpia said triumphantly. “C’mon, Wildcat. You know you have to.”

“Ugh. Yes, I know.” Catra let out a long sigh. “We’ll ambush her at her locker tomorrow morning, okay? Now can I enjoy my sandwich in peace?”

Scorpia backed off, and Catra sulked for the rest of lunch.


“Why are you with Adora?”

Catra blinked, turning away from the car window to stare at Weaver, who was white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “What?”

“You heard me.”

Catra turned back to the window. “Uh… are you asking if I’m her girlfriend? Because that isn’t happening after what I did to her today.”

“Don’t be deliberately stupid. You don’t need the help.”

“You realize I’m in your honors class, right?”

“Why are you Adora’s partner?” Weaver said, as if Catra hadn’t spoken.

Catra rolled her eyes. “Because you told me I couldn’t be with Scorpia. Next question.”

Weaver got a pinched look, the look that said she dearly wanted to hit Catra but couldn’t at the moment because she was at a red light and there were cameras everywhere. “You two cannot work together.”

“Oh, yeah? ‘Cause you like her and hate me?”

“If that makes you feel better, yes.”

“Wow, tell me how you really feel.”

Weaver ignored her. “Tomorrow, you will tell Adora that she can work with her friends, Bow and Sparkles.”

“I think her name is Glitter.”

“Whichever,” Weaver sniffed. “Just tell Adora. You’ll be fine on your own.”

“Great,” Catra said. “Can’t wait for my failing grade. Thanks.”

Weaver huffed, and tensed like she really wanted to hit Catra, but then the light was turning green and she had to focus. Catra turned back to the window, fuming on the inside.


“Just. Apologize. To. Her.” Scorpia was saying. “You have to.”

“I know! But why now?” Catra hissed back. “We’re not even working together anymore!”

“Catra!”

“Ugh!”

They went around in circles for a few minutes, and Catra didn’t even hear the footsteps behind her until someone cleared their throat, making Catra jump a mile in the air.

Behind her, Adora was standing with her eyebrows raised. “Uh… ‘scuse me.”

Scorpia grabbed Catra’s bicep and dragged her backwards, letting Adora get to her stuff.

Tell her, Scorpia’s eyes said.

Catra glared back. No.

Tell her!

No!

Adora started to walk away, and Scorpia was moving before Catra could react.

“Hey, hold on a second,” she said, and Catra promised every god out there that she was going to boil Scorpia alive even as Adora walked back over.

“Yeah?” Adora said, giving Catra a curious look.

Scorpia solved her, just a little, and Catra growled. She heard Scorpia retreating.

Okay. Here we go.

Catra looked Adora squarely in the eye. “Look, I’m sorry I was a bitch yesterday.”

Adora was silent. No change of expression. Nothing.

Okay, well, Catra had laid into her yesterday, after all. Maybe Adora wanted something more.

“Okay, look, I’m working on regulating my emotions, all right?” she said. “Like, I know I have anger issues and stuff. You didn’t know. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. And I asked first. Sorry.”

“Thank you,” Adora said finally.

Catra nodded, still looking at her shoes. “Yeah, you’re welcome. I was a jerk.” What else is new? “So, uh, about the project, my mom was seriously pissed that I was paired with you, like, you’re her favorite student, and I’m… not, so she said I should tell you that you can be in a group of three with your friends if you want. Bow, and Glitter.”

Adora’s lips twitched. “It’s Glimmer.”

Whoops. Catra had thought her name was Glitter. If she was being honest, Glimmer wasn’t much better. Seriously, who was in charge of naming that kid? “That’s what I said.”

Adora blinked slowly, and Catra could see that she was considering it. She nodded to herself, ready to tell Adora that really, she didn’t mind at all, go have fun with your friends.

Adora seemed to reach a decision. Catra braced herself.

“What would happen to you?”

Catra blinked. “Huh?”

Adora’s blue eyes were fixed on Catra’s. “Would you get to partner with Entrapta and Scorpia?”

Catra could feel herself flushing. Good thing her skin was dark enough to hide that. “Oh, uh… probably not. But it’s just Keynote slides. I can finish that on my own.”

Adora frowned. “Wait, so you’d have to finish the whole thing by yourself?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like I haven’t done that kind of thing before,” Catra pointed out. One time, she had gotten paired up with Kyle, of all people, who had done jack shit for their project. What a nightmare. “Everyone gets partners who don’t pull their weight sometimes. I’ve gotten my fair share. I know how to handle a big project on my own. At least I won’t have to worry about somebody else’s grade this time.”

Adora’s eyes were wide. “But that’s not fair. This is a partner project,”

Catra snorted. Since when is life fair? “Yeah, well, Weaver isn’t fair. She might’ve already switched you over.”

Adora’s eyes went hard with determination. “Well, I’ll just tell her I’m sticking with you.”

“What?”

“I’m sticking with you,” Adora repeated, and looked vaguely apprehensive. “So why does Weaver hate you so much?”

Catra grimaced. “Don’t you know? She hates children. And she’s had it in for me, ever since I was, like, four.” She still remembered Scorpia’s first impression of her foster mother: Yeesh, what a scary lady.

“Well, now we’re partners,” Adora said firmly, and Catra smiled despite herself. It just sounded so earnest and almost childlike.

“Okay.”

Adora fiddled with a piece of paper for a second and shoved it into Catra’s hand. “Look, call me whenever, okay? I don’t know what’s going on with you, and you don’t have to tell me, but I know a thing or two about… bad home situations. We can bond over therapy or jiujitsu or something.”

...Oh.

Catra could feel tears building up in her eyes. Snatching up the paper, she half-ran down the hallway. She didn’t even say goodbye to Adora. She just left.

Slamming open the door to the women’s bathroom, Catra looked down at the paper. Adora had added a little smiley face next to her number.

With shaky hands, she put the number into her phone, and smiled a little at the bold and black line of ten numbers.

It looked like a new beginning.