“Is it bleeding?” The voice was muffled behind the towel but there was a clear whine there.
“No, you’re not bleeding. Just hold,” she slapped a hand away that was reaching up to prod at the tender lip, “just hold still and let the icepack do its job.”
“You don have to be so meam abou it.” The wince that accompanied the slightly garbled words made a squeaky laugh froth up from the world’s worst nurse. Adora tried to glare over the top of the white towel, but couldn’t bring herself to be genuinely angry when Catra was looking at her with such glee and a twinkle in her eye. She settled on a grouchy ‘hurumph’ that was much more ‘phhh’ than anything thing else through the swollen lip and icepack.
“God you’re an idiot!” It was an old insult between them and still held the gentle ribbing affection that it always had. It shouldn’t make the blond blush like it did, but behind the shield over her face she didn’t try to stop it.
A clawed hand reached out and wrapped around her wrist, bringing the icepack down with it so that she could get a better look at the rapidly swelling lip. By the next day Adora was going to look like she had been in a brawl, thankfully it was a Friday afternoon and over the weekend the injury would go down enough to be hidden by makeup come Monday, nobody wants to see their kids teacher looking like they’ve been smacked. If Catra were being honest with herself, as she tried to be, she didn’t like seeing Adora’s face marred like this either.
“I remember looking after you like this when we were, what, eight?” Adora’s eyes twinkled, voice less muffled now that the towel was removed, replaced by Catra’s probing finger. She winced as the feline hit a sensitive spot.
“Yeah, Lonnie was a real nightmare with that broom.” Catra shook her head at the memory. She and the dark skinned girl had never been close, Catra always too afraid of being any more vulnerable than she had to in that house and possessive of Adora to an almost obsessive degree. Lonnie had just been trying to be friends with the two of them, maybe even a sister, Catra could see that now from the distance and clarity of an adult, but her more feral and fearful nature had ruled her as a child. She had often lashed out at the bigger girl, who had retaliated in kind.
Adora raised her own hand to trace Catra’s lip with her thumb as she cupped her velvet furred jaw. The two gravitated together until the blond felt her breath hitch. Her tongue came out without thought, wetting her lips and ghosting over the pad of Catra’s finger where it still prodded her injury. As their faces drew together, pulled by the inescapable gravity of who they were, she whispered, “I wish things had been different.”
Catra’s eyes hardened, just a little, but enough to let Adora know that she had broken the moment, foot firmly in her mouth in a way that only happened when she was with this woman. Catra moved to lean their foreheads together, any chance of a kiss vanished, Adora’s hand remained on her cheek. “If wishes were horses we’d all have alicorns.” It was said softly with a sad chuckle.
Adora laughed too, laced with her own sorrow at another moment lost.
She remembered vividly her imaginary creature, Swift Wind, the stuffed winged unicorn she had been given for her sixth birthday that had been her other best friend growing up. She had drawn pictures and made up stories about the adventures that they would have. Sometimes rescuing Catra from peril, which the smaller girl had always growled at and firmly told her bigger friend that she wasn’t ‘the princess in trouble’. Catra’s own stuffed toy had been a flea bitten thing called Melog that the girls had got from a garage sale while walking home from school, and hidden away in their shared room. It had been faded shades of purple and blue, and might once have been meant to be some kind of lion. What it was by the time they nabbed it for twenty cents was a soft, misshapen thing that Catra had treated as reverently as Adora had her brand new, pristine talking horse. Together the four of them had gone to space, fought warlords, conjured up magic. They had been some of the most fun times of their childhood, snuggled away in their little room.
“Whatever happened to Melog?” She wondered out loud, and winced as she realised that the answer could well be something soul crushing. After they had been moved into Lonnie’s room, Adora had put Swift Wind up on a high shelf with her books, sure that if they were too old to sleep in the same bed then she was too old for toys (he still sat proudly on a shelf in her apartment though, a memento that brought a smile to her face). She didn’t remember ever seeing Melog after the move though, had though that perhaps in another act of spite Shadow Weaver may have forced the child to throw it away.
“Javier,” The sudden shout and pulling away shocked the blond, almost making her fall forward off of the barstool on which she was precariously perched, Catra’s quick reflexes catching her shoulder and keeping her in place, narrowly avoiding another fall today. “Please bring Melog out here!”
Adora’s blue eyes widened in surprise that Melog was still in her friends possession, and that she would want any part of her past to be touched by Javier at all. The sound of sock clad feet pounded down the hallway as the child emerged from his bedroom.
He had been with them in the gym where the three of them had been playing in the wide open area. The cat mom and son had been bouncing off of the walls and small trampoline Catra had placed in the middles of the room. She had also set out several obstacles for Adora to run and jump over in an impromptu parkour course. The teacher had always been fiercely competitive, her successful time as soccer captain and scholarship attested to the fact, so when given the chance to show how strong and fast she could be she had taken it. The three of them had been flying around the room when Catra did a particularly impressive set of jumping spins culminating in her briefly using her momentum to look like she was running on the cushioned ceiling.
Not to be outdone, Adora had decided that she could run up the wall and back flip. It turned out she could not, face planting firmly into the mat and pain had shot through her face. Catra had bundled her up and carried her (and hadn’t that blown the bigger woman’s mind?) to the elevator as Javier had fussed over his injured teacher. The child pushed the buttons for the elevator and then once they reached their apartment, open the doors. Once he had seen that his mother was capably taking care of his second favourite person, Scorpia would pout if she knew she had been relegated to third, he had wandered off to play in his room.
Javier appeared beside the kitchen counter clutching a familiar plushie in his hands. He held up the toy to his mother who directed him to pass it to Adora. The human woman reached out her hands and reverently took the toy. She stared at it, turning it over in her hands as she noticed the changes that the part of her history had gone through throughout the years. Two shiny blue buttons had been added, stitched on with care where eyes should be. The blue main that it had always had, had been replaced with a quilted material that stood puffily up from the neck in the same colour as the eyes. The top of the tai had been topped with the same blue quilting. The body was the same though, purple and faded in patches with balding patches here and there. Just like everything else about Catra’s adult life, she had made something beautiful out of something that should have been broken beyond repair.
“Do you want a Melog huggle? It’s the best when you feel a bit down. Melog used to look after Mama too.”
“I remember. His best friend is on a shelf at my house.”
“Awww, Swifty made it too?” There was teasing in Catra’s voice but also warm affection.
“I’m surprised you took it with your, or kept it.” She smiled at the little boy, handing him back the doll but her words were addressed to his mother.
“Mama say’s that we don’t throw something away just because it’s broken, especially if you can help it to feel better too.” The child answered for the both of them, holding the toy back up to Adora’s eyes. “Mama and me fixed his face and mane. Sewing is hard.” Then he was off again, talking brightly to the stuffed animal as Adora smiled too wide after him and winced as pain lanced though her lips.
The hand was back on her face, this time rubbing some numbing cream over the abrasion. Catra’s eyes were too close again. “Ask, you know you want to.”
“I’m just surprised that you kept something from then and gave it to Javier.” Her words were soft.
“The night I ran, my mind was going a mile a minute. I grabbed my pack and just shoved things in from the cupboard, Melog was there and ended up in the bag. I hid it when we got put in that room, I didn’t want Her to take it away. I must have forgotten about it over the years. One day I was at my lowest, on the street and hungry and I reached into my bag and there Melog was. I felt safe just for a moment. When things started to get better I kept it, like a totem. Then when Javier was big enough we helped Melog feel better too, it was a couple of years ago now.” She stepped back, pleased that the swelling wasn’t coming out as fast as she’d feared. “All done.”
Adora’s eyes tracked the other woman as she made her way to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of juice. She puttered about in a drawer and drew out a rubber straw, popping it into the small bottle and handing it over the counter to Adora. The blond took it and tentatively put the straw between her lips and took a big drink. She hadn’t realised how parched she was. Catra kept the counter between them, like a buffer and began pulling out pots and pans to make dinner.
“Hey, what’s a ‘huggle’?” She didn’t like the quiet that had started to settle between them.
“Oh, it's a mix of a hug and a cuddle. I used to say it to him when he was very little and it’s one of our things.” The merriness in her voice was infectious.
“Cute. Can I help with anything?” She was already around the counter and washing her hands.
“Yeah, you can cut these.”
Restless fingers tapped out an erratic rhythm on the steering wheel of the otherwise silent car. The soft pit-pit-pit of flesh on vinyl playing a counterpoint to her heart. She’d been sitting, parked on the curb outside the elementary school for the last two days, only leaving when the day ended and the children filed out with happy parents, clutching hands or chasing scooters. Her eyes had been trained on the playground at each recess, or peering through a small powerful telescope through classroom windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young boy she had been assigned to trail.
Lonnie was proud that she had been chosen by Prime to carry out such an important mission. He had entrusted only his most loyal inner circle to seek out the heir to his Light. Lonnie was to watch the boy, looking for an opening or a crack in the security of the school. Rogelio, the young lizard man that she had bonded with when she was inducted as an acolyte, trailed Adora at night, watching her house. Hordak had been assigned to watch Catra, and though the woman was loath to question her great leaders plans, Brother Hordak was not known for his patience. The key was surveillance, not capture. They were to watch patiently until they had all the information that they needed to make a clean grab of both the boy and his mother.
Time ticked by and the children moved out of sight, presumably to the cafeteria deeper in the heart of the building where she could not see. Her mind turned to Catra, a blast from her past that she had never dreamed of seeing again. As children, growing up in that house, the three girls should have forged an unbreakable bond. Certainly Adora and Catra had one.
Any time that Lonnie had tried to make an overture to the popular, likeable blond, she had been shut down by the angry and violent young cat. Her possessiveness of Adora had certainly caused a wedge in the room that they shared once they reached adolescence. Ever since they had been small children there had been a tension between the stocky girl and the feral cat. As an adult, Lonnie could not understand Prime’s desire to bring such a disruptive influence into the citadel rather than just taking the boy, but Prime knew all and she was not to question.
Lonnie had been brought into Shadow Weaver’s foster home when she was six, no bigger than the boy she was watching, the other two girls having been there since infancy. She had been placed in a room with an older girl who had been cool and aloof, already groomed to enter the LIght in a handful of years. Lonnie had looked up to her and been saddened when she had grown old enough to enter the citadel. She had had no time to be lonely when the other two girls had suddenly been her roommates, making the room feel too small with three living in it rather than two.
Ever since she arrived at the house she had felt clear animosity from the scrawny kitten. If she managed to play tag with Adora, or sit together and do their homework, the smaller girl would spit out insults or throw a punch. Usually Lonnie was able to ignore it and save herself from punishment from their guardian, something that Catra was too reckless to avoid. Though sometimes, on rare occasions, Lonnie couldn’t turn the other cheek.
One time in particular stood out. It had been before Shadow Weaver tried to integrate the three of them together, Lonnie and Adora had been nine or ten at the time, Antra a little younger. Lonnie had been doing her chores, cleaning the kitchen after dinner. Adora had been hunched over the cleared table with her homework laid out in front of her. Lonnie had had been sweeping, humming a little tune and dancing a little with the broom while Adora had her face scrunched up in concentration, pencil tapping along in time with Lonnie’s tune. It had been peaceful. The two little girls had been sharing smiles and content together.
Then Catra had come in. She had been sullen, returning to the room after being pulled aside by Shadow Weaver to be punished for once again breaking the rules. Lonnie and Adora managed to stay out of trouble, and even Kyle (the only boy in the house) managed to keep on their care giver’s good side. It was as though Catra wanted to be punished, desperate for attention. It was why she was always all over the blond girl. Shadow Weaver said it was disgusting and Lonnie agreed. That day when she’d come back she’d been surlier than usual and had pushed Lonnie off of the bench where she was sitting and talking with Adora.
Lonnie had hit the floor hard, pain racing up her spine. She had scrambled to her feet and pushed the smaller girls shoulder. They had started shouting at each other and Catra had tried to lash out at her with those claws of her, but Lonnie saw it coming and ducked away, grabbing her abandoned broom and ramming the end into the kitten’s face. That had stopped her.
Catra had run out of the room crying and Adora had thrown a horrified look at Lonnie, as though SHE was the one who had done something wrong, before running out after her pet, homework abandoned on the table. That was when Lonnie realised that she would never be a part of that group no matter how much friendship or admiration she showed the blond. By the time she was ten, Lonnie had decided that she wanted to join the Light, having been told about it by their matriarch and listening intently to Hordak, and later Prime, as they spoke about it.
She was grateful that she was not the one to have to watch the feline, not sure how she would feel about seeing her again. Prime was wise, and had selected them judiciously for their tasks. In the past she had been used to recruit new members of the Light, and hunt down those who were working against his word. Prime knew all, saw all and had proved it time after time to his followers. Those, like Lonnie, who had shown an aptitude for taking on the hard tasks needed to protect the citadel were exalted.
Her attention was drawn back to the school, her focus once again lazed on the job at hand, as the small children filed out of the school building to populate the playground. She scared the sea of young faces until she landed on the boy. She had found out that his name was Javier from walking past the school and overhearing conversations. Today he was close to the fence, affording her a clear look at the face that was so close to her leader’s. Beside him was Adora, hands tucked into the pockets of her jacket while she smiled and laughed along with the child before walking out into the sea of other children, patrolling their safety and capitulation.
“Kitty-cat, I am having so much fun! These people are ridiculous,” Double Trouble’s voice slurred into her ear as they flopped over her where she was trying to pour herself a drink in the kitchen. ‘These people’ were only a handful of feet away and the actors voice was not soft, yet nobody seemed to have noticed their words.
Game night had been Adora’s idea to bring all their friendship groups together so that they could all be friends. Catra had pretended to retch at the idea, receiving a punch in the arm and a glare from the blond that had sent her into paroxysms of laughter. In truth, she had thought it was a good idea, knowing that it meant that she would get to see even more of Adora. Just like when they were children, she found that the more time she spent with the school teacher, the more she wanted to be around her. She guessed she was like all addicts who needed a bigger and bigger hit.
She looked down at the glass in her hand, the lithe body of her former lover still bonelessly sprawled over her back, and wondered whether another drink was really a good idea. She was already feeling a little fuzzy around the edges and Javier and Rook were only sleeping down the hall. Mermista and Sea Hawk were sprawled on the floor, the man laying with his head in his wife’s lap as he snored drunkenly and dribbled onto her skirt. She was running her hand through his hair haphazardly with a glazed expression.
In fact, now that Catra took the time to look, she saw that the others in the room were all clearly plastered. The games that were meant to be at the heart of game night had been abandoned about an hour ago in favourite of gossiping. Catra had been a little miffed about that, she had been winning at both cards and Trivial Pursuit. The latter had been abandoned when wrong answers started to incur a shot penalty and discussing people’s sex lives had seemed much more pressing to everyone.
Pushing DT off of her back and urging them into a nearby armchair, she looked for Adora among the flaked out bodies. Perfuma sat ensconced in Scorpia lap where the pair facing the cuddling Bow and Glimmer, still talking animatedly. They were louder than usual and the gestures of the small purple haired woman lacked control, but she wasn’t worried that they wouldn’t be able to make their way back to their own apartment upstairs with the other couple. Mermista and Sea Hawk would sleep here, along with DT and Adora.
Entrapta had left the party early. As soon as she had realised that the games were over she had decided that she would rather go back to her lab and continue to work on her new pet project. As far as Catra knew it was called ‘Emily 2' and the cat-woman was desperately hoping she wasn’t making a cyborg that would take over the world. But with Entrapta all bets were off.
Adora was nowhere to be seen. Catra was certain that she wouldn’t have left, she had been very excited for the night to end in a sleepover. Wherever she was, it galvanised Catra to start shifting the bodies out of her home.
“All right you lushes, fun times are over. Get out!” She clapped her hands together and laughed at the groans that drifted around the room. She was right not to have had that last drink.
She walked Glimmer, Bow, Perfuma and Scorpia to the door. They chatted amiably and she reassured Glimmer that she would get Adora to text her in the morning. With those four gone the apartment felt a lot bigger and she took a big breath which caught in her throat when she saw Adora walk back into the living area. The blond had let her hair down and taken off the shirt that she had been wearing all evening to leave her in just a white T. Catra wondered if she had spilt something on herself, even as her eyes roamed over the softly cascading hair and tight shirt.
Adora noticed her watching and blushed prettily, waving back like a doofus as she noticed that half of the occupants of the room were gone. As though she lived there, she bent to start picking up the various discarded glasses and bowls that littered the room. Forcing herself not to watch as the blond bent over to get something off of the floor, Catra made her way over to usher Mermista, Sea Hawk and a barely awake DT to the guest rooms. When she was sure they were where they should be and that nobody was going to throw up, she made her way back to the kitchen.
Adora was elbow deep in soap suds as she cleaned the glasses with care and placed them on the wrack. Catra watched her quietly for a while, sure that she hadn’t been heard returning. Adora lifted a soapy hand to push some hair behind her ear and left a frothy mess as she pulled her hand away.
Without any thought Catra found herself moving towards the other woman as though caught in the pull of her gravity. She felt as unable to stop moving as they moon around the world, so powerful was the pull. Then she was standing behind the blond, reaching out to wipe the bubbles away. Adora jumped under her hand, spinning around and bringing them face to face. Catra hadn’t even realised that she hadn’t made a sound.
All she could think about was how close her face was to the blond’s, how her breath ghosted over her face. Adora was watching her with equal intensity, hand that had been brought to her chest in shock moving outwards to wrap around the back of the shorter woman’s neck, tangling in the short hair there. Then they were moving together, lips meeting in a kiss that had been waiting twenty-three years to happen. It was neither woman’s first kiss, but it was the first that mattered.
Lips moved against lip as a tongue peached at choral lips which parted to allow it in. A groan rang out around the room, and they were pushing closer together. Catra’s hands were on Adora’s hips, body flush as they fit together like puzzled pieces. Adora’s own hands pulled at her hair, sending delightful pinpricks of sensation down her spine.
The kiss lasted for an eternity; lasted for a moment. Then they were pulling away from each other, two pairs of eyes wide with surprise but not shock. They stared at each, neither had words.
Adora smiled shyly, the first to look away and reached out to gently squeeze Catra’s hand. She let it go and walked passed the other woman towards the bedrooms, they had already decided that the blond would take her room ad she would sleep on the sofa where Javier knew she would be. A part of Catra wished she was brave enough to trail the blond back to the bedroom, but the sane and rational part of her knew that If they were to go any further it would take time and a totally sober head.
She finished the washing up, humming a happy tune with a dopey smile on her face.
Day-after-day passed in the same mind numbing drudgery for Hordak, sat behind the wheel of the dark van watching that animal frolic around as though she was not in possession of the greatest gift that could have ever been bestowed on her. He had been impressed with the size of the place that she lived.
Dryl was an interesting building and, on further investigation, housed a scientific mind who could be of use to his brother. He had attempted to infiltrate the building, getting as far as the doors, when he had noted the proliferation of cameras and security guards and swiftly retreated. He had taken to parking the van in the lot of the neighbouring building, careful never to be in the same spot twice but always with a clear line of sight to the doors of Dryl and Catra’s car in particular. After he had followed her and the boy home in their cab, he had waited around till the next morning to see which it was.
Hordak understood why he could not simply sweep up the woman and child. Why it was important to know their routine’s and when would be best to take them. That did not stop him from griping about it. He was brother to Brother, he was uncle to this new child, he should not be assigned such petty thuggery.
In the back of the van, hidden in cabinets, were a selection of weapons and drugs, all ready and prepared for when the time came to take them. He was sure that the plan would be to take them quite, positive that his older brother’s romantic streak would have visions of chloroform and gentle unconsciously playing through his mind. Prime had never been the one to get his own hands dirty ,always having acolytes to carry out his acts. Hordak had no such illusions.
Over the days, as he had sat in strategic locations around set, finding it much easier than he had anticipated to infiltrate the studio with faked credentials and a camera, he had seen the physical prowess that the girl now possessed. She was fast and fit and strong. He had watched her run on walls, flip cars and fight. He understood that the fits were highly choreographed, but her knowledge of martial arts could cause a problem if she was given any opportunity to fight back.
Their best bet would be to catch her and the boy alone, off guard, and take her out of the equation as quickly as possible from a distance. The less chance of bloodshed the better. Although, he flexed his hand into a fist, he had always liked to watch her bleed.
Leaves crinkled under small boots and flew out in all directions as they were gleefully kicked. A wheezy cackle filled the air, bouncing around the trees as Catra placed one of her hands on top of Javier’s hat covered head, chest full of love for her boy and his antics. He tilted his head back to look up at his mother, wholly hat sliding forward and covering his eyes, making him let out a little huff and bat her hand away so that he could readjust it. Unable to resist, she leaned down and kissed his forehead, making sure that his little pointy ears were covered by the specially made hat. The air was growing cooler, fall already in the air and she was always careful not to take for granted how cold her furless offspring could get. Her own feet and ears remained bare unless the winter became bitter and she had to resort to the prison of boots, her fur and naturally hot body temperature protecting her in a way her child lacked.
“What shall we do Beastie? The whole of the woods are ours,” which seemed to be true as they had not seen any other cars when they had parked and no other hikers had passed them as they moved off of the trails and deeper into the trees.
“Hide and seek! Hide and seek!” He bounced up and down in excitement, tail whipping around as though it had a life of its own.
“Alright,” she said through a laugh. It was fun to be out with just her and the kitten. She enjoyed spending time with the Super Pals and reconnecting with Adora had been better than she could imagine, the kiss they had shared the night before still burning on her lips, but there was nothing like being out in the wild, just the two of them.
“I’ll hide and you find me Mama.” He started to run into the denser tree, then stopped sharply and turned on his heels to look at her with a hard stare. “No cheating! Close your eyes and count to,” he paused to think for a moment, “thirty!” He ran back over to her, pulling on her hand until she bent down and he could kiss her on the cheek before whooping and running off.
Shaking her head, Catra did as he bid her and closed her eyes, counting loudly to thirty. She made sure that she was facing the direction he had scampered off into, sensitive nose tracking that his scent didn’t get too far away. The sounds of the forest were no longer broken by the crunch of his boots when she reached thirty and she was proud that he was able to be so quiet and still. Not so long ago this was the easiest game in the world for Catra as Javier couldn’t stop himself from laughing and calling out to her. Since he turned six things had changed and he had realised that he needed to be stealthy. It made the game much more exciting for both of them.
“Ready or not, here I come! When I catch you I’ll tickle your tum!” It was a silly thing but always made the little boy grin.
Loping off into the trees, Catra was careful to crunch the leaves and make noise to let Javier know that she was coming. She never wanted him to think that she wouldn’t look for him. She looked around at the trees and branches, noting where branches had been bent and the ground disturbed. It didn’t take long to realise that her boy had taken to the trees soon after fleeing. Clever boy.
Leaping into the canopy she looked around for more disturbance, surprised when she couldn’t find any. She listened hard for the rustle of clothing or his breaths, not to worried as she could still smell him. And yet, there were other smells and sounds now. New people had obviously joined them in the woods, hikers and picnickers braving the growing chill. She would have to find her boy soon, the last thing she wanted was for him to fall down onto somebody.
She searched, five minutes stretching to fifteen. Joy that her child was so adept at hiding replaced by a gnawing dread. There seemed to be more and more voices on the wind and feet on the paths, the scene of Javier becoming indistinct among them. Her heart was beating hard in her chest, adrenaline and fear burning in her veins. Jumping to yet another empty tree, she finally called out in panic.
“Javier!” Anybody in earshot could hear the desperation lacing her voice as it broke the stillness.
Out of nowhere a heavy weight hit her square in the back, almost making her fall from the branch. Desperately she reached out to anchor her class into the tree. Her breath was coming out in pants now, an arm was wrapped around her neck, holding tight.
“Boo!” The shout in her ear, almost deafening, made her whole body relax. “I got you Mama! You couldn’t find me and I got you!”
Doing her best to calm her breathing, she jumped down from the branches with the boy still on her back. Once on the ground she pulled him around to wrap her arms around him and squeeze him tight, burrowing her nose into her hair to hide her rapid breathing until it calmed. There was no need to fear. Javier was safe, this was their favourite stomping ground. There was nothing to fear. She felt him start to squirm in her arms and dropped him down.
“You got me good Beastie. Next time we don’t hide for so long, because Mama was getting a little lost.” She needed him to know not to stray too much, buts didn’t want him to feel bad about it.
“Okay Mama!” He was sifting though the leaves at their feet, coming up with a vibrant red one that he presented to her with a flourish. She took it with a warm smile, surprised that none of the other people in the woods had come to see what the commotion she had caused was. She shrugged it off.
“Can we climb the big tree over there,” he pointed at a mammoth tree that was several yards ahead, “it’s big enough for us to climb together.”
Catra surveyed the tree that Javier had pointed out with a critical eye. Now that she was calm, she would be delighted to join her child in a climb. When Entrapta had come on a walk with them, forced out of the lab for her mandatory weekly fresh air, she had been fascinated when they climbed together and the different ways that they did it. Catra used the claws on her hands and feet and her natural agility. Javier’s climbing style was different, he lacked the wicked spikes his mother possessed but had incredibly well developed grip strength and the same agility. Catra also always made sure that his boots had enough grip to climb. Entrapta had talked into her recording, likening the pair to domestic housecoats on a cat-tree. Catra had been not been amused.
“Let’s go! Remember it’s not a race, you stay by me.” When they climbed trees this tall, she always made sure that they boy was within reach in case he was to lose his grip and fall, she would be able to grasp him before he fell.
They ran together, both pouncing onto the tree together. Catra kept her climbing speed slow enough for the boy to feel like he was setting the pace. They chatted as they climbed, about silly things, both delighting in each other. Higher and higher they went until they were almost at the top of the world. They sat together on one of the last robust branches before it became too spindly to support them. Legs swung in time with each other as they looked down.
Catra noticed that some hikers had found their way to the trees, walking below where they were perched. From up here all she could make out of them was bulky jackets and wholly hats. She pointed them out to Javier who laughed as he pretended to squeeze them between his fingers.
“Time to go Beastie,” Catra moved first to the trunk of the tree, catching sight of the tiny people below who seemed to have doubled in number and stopped milling about to stand around the base of the tree. “Hey, Javier…”
Before she could finish her thought something flashed past her face, too fast and silent for her to make out. All she was aware of was that suddenly Javier was toppling forwards, bodyweight shifting until he was tumbling through the air. Frantically she reached out, hand clenching tightly in the back of his jacket and stopping his fall. He was silent, no gasps or scream at the situation and Catra felt her blood turn to ice in her veins. Then she saw it, the tiny metal cylinder with its mockingly brightly coloured tip sticking out of her sons neck.
Trying to pull him into her chest without sending them both plummeting, using her own body as a shield, she tried to think of how they would get out of this. All of her fears of six years seemed to be coming true. She had let those fears fade, a mistake which she hoped they would live for her to regret. Before she could do more than tuck Javier between her body and the tree trunk, an excruciating pain lanced though her back, biting through the meat of her back and coming to stop somewhere in her abdomen.
Black spots danced in her vision as she used every bit of willpower and a lifetime of biting through pain to stay anchored to the tree, desperately wishing that she could get her phone from her pocket but knowing that if she let go now they would fall. The decision of whether to take a hand of the tree was taken from her when another projectile punched into and through her shoulder, the head of a crossbow bolt coming to rest dangerously close to Javier’s face.
Blood pounding and pain spiralling out of the two bolt wounds, she felt her body starting to shut down. Her fingers were already going numb and her legs trembled. Sheer rage and fear held her grip firm, jaw clenching so tightly that her teeth felt like they would splinter. Then came the felling blow as a third shot bit into her thigh, leg buckling and both mother and child now plummeting through the air.
Consciousness beginning to fade, Catra’s last thoughts were to curl her body around her son’s, protecting him from the impacting that was coming fast.
Before they made contact with the ground both mother and child were unconscious, neither feeling the green arms that braced for impact. Rogelio’s legs buckled as the falling duo fell into his arms, but he did not topple. He had set his tail to the ground, giving his legs much needed support. As soon as they came to rest, the other members of the group snapped into action.
Lonnie took hold of the small boy, pulling the tranq dart out of his neck and covering him with a blanket before walking back towards where the van was parked. She was trailed by two other Brothers, keeping watch for any hapless passerby’s. She soon disappeared from sight and Rogelio was left with an unconscious body in his arms and Hordak standing in front of him, a crossbow slung casually over his shoulder while with his other hand he grasped the young woman’s face.
“What does he see in you?” His eyes were flinty and Rogelio flinched when a sudden sharp crack split the air from the unexpected slap that he had landed on her cheek. “Come, we have no more time for this.”
Rogelio followed wordlessly. The limp thing in his arms slowly starting to bleed as each of the arrows moved in the wounds as she was jostled. The lizard was not convinced that she would survive the journey back to the citadel. He silently prayed to the Light that she would.
Hustling to the van, the two men entered through the open side door. The others who had been keeping watched ducked into the other two vehicles which flanked it. Order roughly dug through the woman’s pockets, coming up with car keys grasped in his fist. Rogelio laid her down on the gurney that they had bought for her, before taking the keys and making his way to the families car, no evidence should be left behind.
Hordak took great pleasure in strapping the girl to the bed, putting padding around the bolts to keep them still until they could be removed back at the citadel. His smile was haunting as he looked down at the younger woman, predatory and hate filled. He had put his crossbow onto the floor and now sat with eyes fixed on her slack face.
Lonnie watched with cautious eyes, keeping the child held tight to her chest, unwilling to relinquish him to anyone else after the days of observing him. She had played bag-man more than once, the citadel was a glorious paradise but there were those who would go against Prime’s will and had to be disposed of or hunted down. Never before had she been sent after a child though, and although he belonged to the Light, it still sat wrong with the woman. Her stomach lurched as the van set off, and she wasn’t sure why.
Labyrinthine halls wound their way around the building, silence broken only by the echoing footfalls of the pairs of Brothers permitted into the most inner circle of the citadel. Harsh, cold, white light, making night into day and day into the heart of a star inside the place. There were no windows here to pollute the perfection with the sickly yellow glow of the sun. All was Prime’s glorious Light, perfection in all places at the heart. Walls shone alabaster, uniforms glowed clean and pure. Even the men this deep into the bosom of their glorious leader were blank, blissfully empty with their hair and eyes leached of colour. Only those who had given all to their leader could be this close to him. They had suffered to become pure. In the end all would. Two such Brothers stood before the closed doors at the end of a corridor, silent sentinels awaiting the master who sat within.
Humming filled the air, a deep burring baritone that echoed around the room, emanating from the tranquil figure seated beside the pristine white bed. The gentle sound was counterpoint to the regular beep-beep-beep that rang out from the monitor hooked up to the unconscious figure swaddled in pristine white linen, chestnut furred skin stark in contrast. Contentment oozed from him as he relaxed back into the thrown-like chair that had been placed beside the bed at the centre of the cavernous white room.
Stirring in his arms drew his attention from the comatose woman to the small form nestled against his chest. Four glowing green eyes fixed on the tousled head of hair, so like his mothers, that rested close to the large man’s heart. He brought his hand up and ran it through the hair, moving it from the child’s forehead to better look at his sharp, square features. Eyes moved rapidly under closed lids, long dark lashes sitting agains his cheeks, a large thumb running tenderly alone their edges. He had no fear that the boy, Javier she had named him, would wake at his touch, the sedative running through his system would keep him asleep until at least the morning.
Prime was enthralled by the sight of this creature in his lap, proof of the legacy that he always knew that he would leave behind but now made flesh. Long slender ears twitched as the boy squirmed into a more comfortable position, face pushing more snuggly into his broad chest. Affection, the likes of which he had never felt for another being welled inside the patriarch as he wrapped his arm more securely around the boy.
Green eyes moved to examine the woman in the bed. From the first day he had seen the unusual cat-girl with her belligerent stare and mismatched eyes, he had sensed that she was made for more than just being used by his associates and turned into a faceless member of the horde. There was something vital about her, that commanded attention. When he met her as a child he had been surprised that she had not already shattered under the weight of Shadow Weaver’s expectations and his brothers fists. Far from its it had seemed to make her more resilient. It is why he had hand selected her to be brought into the Light. Why he had given of himself to her so that she may be cleansed.
When she had run, he had been galvanised to rage, not against Little Sister - she was still barely more than a child and overwhelmed by his gift. He understood why she had bolted. Sister Shadow Weaver had felt his wrath. Her place had been taken from her and it had taken years for her to work her way back into his graces. The fact that she had offered up Sister Lonnie had helped her case. But Sister Lonnie was not Little Sister.
With soft eyes, careful not to disturb his son, he leaned forward in his chair and ran his fingers through the young woman’s hair as he had their son, moving the hair from her forehead. He traced his finger down the curve of her cheek, swollen and puffy, feeling the fur move with the path of his touch as he moved against the grain. The sharpness of her features remained, though she was clearly less malnourished and more healthy than she had ever seen her as a child. Naked under the blankets, with bandages around her shoulder, torso and thigh, there was still a vitality about her that captivated him. Now that they were together again, she would be at his side, a worthy vessel for his Light to flourish. A family to be at the heart of his Family of Light. Javier would be the first of his new dynasty. He moved his hand down until it was resting on the thicker fur of her chest, just on the edge of where the blanket covered her modesty, feeling the steady rhythm of her heart as it mirrored the monitor beside her. He stayed like that for long minutes, two hearts beating along with his own.
He stood from his chair, the boy cradled in his arms like a babe, and leaned down over the prone woman, placing a kiss to her forehead. “Sleep well, Little Sister.”
Adora took the register, pleased to hear each little voice greet her warmly and giving them a little attention in return. She loved Monday mornings, the children were always filled with stories and as excited to see one another as they would be had they been separated for weeks. When she got to her favourite name, she was disappointed that there was no reply. She hadn’t been the one to round the children up from the playground this morning, called into a quick meeting with her supervisor, and had worried that she had missed seeing Catra. It seemed that she needn’t have worried about that. She hoped the little boy wasn’t too unwell.
As she went through the usually morning routine, her mind drifted to game night. It had been fun to bring everybody together and, with the exception of Double Trouble who made her squirm with their too insightful barbs, she had a great time with everybody. Of course, the best part of the night had been once the others had gone.
Adora brought her hand up to her lips and felt a blush rise on her face as she let herself remember the kiss she and Catra had shared, their first. Though both had been a little tipsy, Adora certainly had not been drunk enough for it to be a mistake. She had wanted to kiss the other woman for weeks. She had been certain that Catra had felt the same as they had melted into the kiss. And yet, the weekend had passed and she had not heard from the feline since Saturday when she had sent a picture of a bundled up Javier and herself in the woods. Adora had not wanted to seem desperate or clingy, so had only sent a couple of messages over the weekend, trying not to be disappointed when there was no reply.
Forcing herself to concentrate on her small charges she spend the morning sounding out words and reading very children’s stories. When her break arrived, rather than going to hang out with others in the teacher’s lounge, she remained at her desk and pulled out her phone. She wondered if the reason that Catra had not responded was because Javier was sick, and wanted to check on the pair. She typed out a message, trying to sound caring and not desperate for attention, pressing send. Almost straight away the phone vibrated and a text alert appeared.
Adora’s face lit up with a smile as she opened the message without even needing to look at who had sent it. Looking down she expected to see an emoji, maybe a snap from the cat woman. What she saw was a message from Scorpia. She had received a few messages from the big woman since she had become a part of the team picking up Javier, but never out of the blue.
SCORPIA: Have you heard from Catra?
There was something about the innocuous message that made Adora feel uneasy. Scorpia saw the pair just about every day, and for her to be asking the teacher was strange.
ADORA: not today
SCORPIA: When was the last time?
ADORA: Saturday when they were going to the woods.
Adora’s mouth went dry. Scorpia hadn’t missed Catra that morning. She obviously hadn’t seen her all weekend. With Javier in tow it wasn’t like she could just skip town and head out for a weekend away without telling anyone.
ADORA: What’s going on?
The phone vibrated frantically in her hand and she saw that the white haired woman was calling rather than sending another text. Adora put the phone to her ear and could hear the worry pulsing through the scorpioni’s voice.
“Adora, I haven’t seen or from them since game night! The apartments empty and cold but everything is here. All that I can see is missing are a couple of jackets and Catra’s car.” Heavy footsteps could be heard pacing.
“They were going to the Whispering woods on Saturday. Catra sent me a picture of them all bundled up. Maybe something happened?” A million fears rushed through the blonds head at once. One of them could have fallen out of a tree, down a ravine, been stung and had an allergic reaction and on and on. They could have been taken to hospital.
The two women were feeding into each others fears. Adora took control, telling Scorpia to swing by the school and get her as she rushed to pull on her coat and head to the office, feigning illness. By the time Scorpia pulled her car up in front of the building, Adora felt like crawling out of her skin. Tense silence filled the SUV as they sped towards the woods, Scorpia knowing just the area that the cat’s preferred. While she drive Adora took both phones and sent desperate text after text to Catra’s phone. None of them went to read.
The parking lot was empty when they arrived, the gravel and sand showing the impressions of dozens of sets of wheels, and no hint where their friends were. Blue eyes met dark brown as they decided to get out and look around, hoping to find anything. The chill air bit through her too thin jacket but it barely made an impression in her mind as she tried to find some evidence of the people she cared about.
After what felt like hours of searching, the two women dejectedly headed back to the car, passing a very large tree. Scorpia looked up at it with a soft smile and glossy eyes. She walked over to the trunk and rested her hand on it.
“They love trees like this. Catra and Javier clamber up them like a pair of house cats.” She was clearly holding back a sob, mind thinking the worst.
Adora walked towards the taller woman, looking around at the area, pleased despite herself to learn something new about Catra. As she got closer her foot hit something among the leaves, she would have ignored it if it hadn’t made a small metallic ting. Curious, she grouched down, running her hands through the leaf litter until she hit a small metal cylinder. She lifted it up to see what she had found.
A tranquilliser dart glinted between her fingers, its bright yellow feathering almost mocking as she noted the blood on the needle. Scorpia had moved to kneel beside her and now both women stared at each other with the dawning realisation that something very wrong had happened here.