Chapter 1: Javier
Adora trudged up to the room she shared with two other girls, dragging her bag behind her as her arms were too tired to carry it anymore. Falling back into the door, feeling it give under her weight as she stumbles inside, finally able to dump the bag and fall gracelessly onto her, thankfully close, bed. She groaned into her pillow, feeling every second of practice deep in her bones as she struggled to simply roll over. She wasn’t surprised to hear muffled footsteps beside her and the door pushed softly closed with a click.
She was surprised when the footsteps retreated and no words were uttered by her companion. She knew it was Catra in the room with her, the familiar groan of the younger girl’s bed across the room as she laid down told her as much. By now she should have been hit with a sarcastic comment, or the jostling of her own bed, maybe a soft punch to the shoulder as she was manhandled onto her back to look up at a grinning face. Yet there was only silence.
Maybe not silence; straining her ears she could just make out soft breaths coming out jaggedly from across the room. Almost afraid to move now, lest she spook her clearly distressed friend, Adora moved as gracefully as her aching body would allow. For long moment she laid on her side just looking. Catra had her back to the room and was curled into a defensive ball, her tail wrapped so tightly around herself that it could not give her away. Adora was pretty sure she wasn’t crying, her body was statue still but the breaths were still strained.
Unsure what she should do, even with a lifetime of interactions between them, Adora went through the options in her head. She knew how to deal with sad Catra, angry Catra, battered and bruised Catra (that one she saw more than any other) but this didn’t have the marks of any of those. She had never seen the live wire of a girl so still before. Almost certain that her touch would not be welcomed, she chose to stay on her own bed and call out softly over the chasm between them.
“Catra, hey! You awake?” She knew she was. She knew Adora knew she was too.
“Yeah.” Her voice was rougher than usual, cracking at the edges even on that single word.
“Do you want to talk?” It seemed better to ask than ‘you ok?’ Because of course she wasn’t and Adora may not have always been the most emotionally literate girl but she really wasn’t a dummy.
“Not today, Adora.” There was none of her usual bite. There was nothing. It sent a shiver up the blond’s spine and she couldn’t say why.
“You gonna come down for dinner later?” She knew the answer.
“Was it... was it Weaver? Did she do something?” Adora knew she shouldn’t ask, Catra had said she didn’t want to talk, but she had to know. Things with their ‘guardian’, she couldn’t even think the word without derision, had been growing more heated between her and the cat-girl recently if that were possible. It was why the future terrified the blond so much, not for herself but for Catra. Next year she would be off to college but her feline friend had a year to go before she could join her and Adora wasn’t sure she could make it.
An angry growl that was rarely directed at the human girl rose from the bed and she knew that she needed to stop. Whispering an apology Adora rose from the bed and headed for the bathroom to shower and change out of her uniform before heading down to a tense dinner with the rest of the kids. She hoped that Catra would be more inclined to talk when she got back.
Dinner had gone on for longer than usual. Shadow Weaver had joined them, accompanied as she sometimes was by Hordak and his older brother Prime. They were long time friends of her foster mother who haunted the house like pale spectres. Hordak was so much a fixture that one time at school a teacher had asked if he was her father. She had very firmly put the teacher in his place. She might not be sure exactly what Hordak’s relationship to Shadow Weaver was, but it certainly was not that.
Prime was a different story. He visited infrequently and almost seemed disgusted when he had to step into the home, she could count the times that he had sat down and eaten with them over the years on one hand, which was why it felt so unusual tonight. He was an older, distinguished looking man always dressed in sleek, conservative suits in pale colours. Completely put together unlike his younger brother whose suits were ill fitting and hair a blue tinged mess. Adora was even less sure of his role in their lives than Hordak’s.
The two men had decided to have dinner with the children and Shadow Weaver had made t her mission this evening to pull up all their achievements and make them recount them. She was clearly determined to show off her prowess as a parent.
Rogelio was made to recount his successes during his wrestling bouts as Kyle translated for him. This gained smiles and nods from both men. Kyle’s recent win at the state spelling bee was also applauded. It was one of the first times the skinny boy had won anything and his own pride shone out of his face. Lonnie may be brash, but a sudden shyness seemed to take her as she explained how she had secured an internship with the local paper that would start in the summer. Prime had several questions about this, even pulling out a case from his breast pocket and passing Lonnie a clean crisp business card tell her to give him a call when her position began.
Then all eyes were on Adora. She knew that the others were sometimes jealous of the care and attention that she was given in her house. Adora had been called favourite, golden child and suck up more than once as they all grew up in the house. The young athlete wouldn’t let that stop her though, she was proud of her own hard work and accomplishments. She explained that she had received scholarship offers to play soccer at several prominent colleges and that she and Shadow Weaver were exploring her options. She also proudly revealed that she would be valedictorian for her graduating class later in the year.
Nobody brought up Catra; not her absence or her accomplishments. It was like she didn’t exist in the house. As conversation carried on around her, Adora looked around the familiar dining room and almost for the first time she realised that none of the pictures on the walls contained the furred girl.
Finally, hours after that had sat down, the teens were dismissed to complete homework before bed. It was getting late and none of them were sure how much they would get done. Adora traipsed to the study to log into one of the computers in there and finish her lit essay that was due the next day. It took less than half an hour and she was finally heading up to her room tired all the way to her marrow.
Entering her bedroom for the second time that evening she saw that Lonnie was propped up on her own bed, math book sprawled out before her. Her pencil was gripped between her teeth, brows scrunched as she worked on calculations. Smiling at her friend, and getting a wink in return before brown eyes returned to the page, she turned her eyes to the other bed.
The empty bed.
Adora looked around her new classroom, the desks bunched in tiny clusters surrounded by the cutest little red, green and blue chairs she had ever seen. The ladybug carpet sat in the corner, waiting patiently for story times and show and tell, each red bug proudly sporting a number. The poster board at the back of the room neatly covered in backing paper with white and blue accents, waving for crudely drawn pictures and the first stumbling of creative minds writing stories. This was everything she had worked for, the culmination of a hope and a desire to help other children as she had been helped and to make a difference in their lives.
She was lucky to have snagged a place at Brightmoon, it was a sought after teaching destination even for the most experienced teachers and here she was just starting out from college with her own first grade class about to descend. Doing a final check for pens in pots and glues where they needed to be, Adora ran her hands nervously down her pants to make sure they were wrinkle free and tugged her shirt back into place. She walked out and met Perfuma in the corridor outside her classroom.
The pair had met in college, the hippie-chick her TA for her Lit class. They had hit it off, even though they could couldn’t seem more different from the outside. Adora was a jock, getting through school on a soccer scholarship, perpetually decked out in her athletic gear and as adorably dorky as could be. She was also a ball of nervous energy and hardly ever seemed to be still. Perfuma was a calming influence that she had needed. Whereas her roommate Glimmer and bow were the closest friends in the world to her, they tended to spiral with her even when they were helping, often causing as much chaos in her life as they helped to solve. Perfuma had taught her techniques to focus and got her into meditation and yoga, explaining that she had struggled with anger in high school and a therapist had got her hooked. Adora, for the first time, had ways to manage her nervous energy and the yoga even improved her agility and flexibility on the field.
It was Perfuma who had helped Adora get into Brightmoon, like the athlete she had snagged a place out of college (with help from some well placed nepotism from Glimmer and her mother, which had assuredly helped Adora as well), and had helped her plan out her first term while sitting together over many cups of camomile tea and hot chocolate they had made the best curriculum plan anyone had ever seen (at least according to the younger blond - Perfuma had laughed). Adora would teach first grade in the classroom two doors down from her own third grade class, which is how they rendezvoused, ready to make their way to the assembly and to pick up their charges for the year.
“Excited?” Perfuma looked down at her as they walked with kind eyes.
“God yes! Also really nervous - what if they all hate me? What if I’m the mean teacher?” She knew she shouldn’t start spiralling, they’d discussed this already, but it was hard not to.
“You know they’ll love your lessons, and it’s not a popularity contest.”
Adora hoped so.
They became silent as they walked through the doors at the end of the large room full of small children and stood with the other assembled teachers waiting to pick up their class once the head teacher had finished welcoming them.
As first days go it had been really good fun; the children had exchanged names and stories, some not having been in the same kindergarten class as others, and she had told them a little about herself. She thought it was important that the children knew her a little bit in the same way that they had shared with her.
The children were uniformly cute; a little girl in braids here, a boy with freckles there, horns poking through curly hair, scales a beautiful golden shade, some tall, some short. There were 22 children in the class and it would take her a week or so to nail down their names, so for now she’d fallen back on ‘sport’ as her preferred address.
One kid in particular had stood out though. A little boy with a shaggy main of brown hair that reached his collar with elegantly pointed ears the same colour as his skin yet with a furry tail that flickered behind him. That had sent an unexpected pang through her chest. He was tall for 6 and extremely polite and eager to participate. Not so different from the other children then. Except… His eyes were hidden behind a par of sunglasses. Before she had approached him she had checked and double checked her files to make sure that none of the children were visually impaired, and none were. So what should she do?
Nobody at the assembly had asked him to remove them, and the other children seemed used to it and hadn’t mentioned his eyewear. She had taken particular note of his name and decided that she would talk to Perfuma about it after classes ended for the day.
The pair met in the parking lot, ready to head out for the day. Adora had been there to watch the children be picked up by doting parents, excited to hear about their little ones first day in a new class. She had seen parents crouch down and receive their children into open arms, smiles stretched across their faces. Adora hadn’t grown up like that, well not at first. Mara hadn’t come and scooped her up until she was eight.
“Good day?” Perfuma asked as she put her bag in the back of the bright yellow jeep.
“Yeah, I loved it!” They both settled into the vehicle, fastening their belts. Before they set off Adora turned to her friend. “I do have one question though. There’s a little boy in my class with sunglasses on all the time. Do I let him keep them on? Should I say something?”
“Oh, you’ve got Javier! He’s such a sweet boy. He’s allowed to wear the glasses, some of the older kids gave him a hard time in the playground last year and he refused to come to school if he couldn’t wear them.” The indicator began to click as they took a right into the busy main street. “Actually, he’s Scorpia’s god-son.”
“He’s the kid you’re always talking about?” Adora was surprised, she couldn’t recall ever hearing a name and its not like she spent a lot of time with Perfuma and Scorpia together.
“Yeah, I thought that he was in the other class though.”
Tomorrow it would be Adora’s turn to drive.
Stepping into the house she shared with her two best friends, Adora dropped her bag and coat to the floor before kicking off her shoes and stretching expansively. She could hear footsteps padding down the hallway carpet and was grinning even as she stood from having scooped up her discarded items. Looking up and seeing a matching smile adorning Glimmer’s face, her eyes flickered down to the bundle in her hands.
“Glad you’re not leaving them in the hall for Bow to fall over today,” and yes, it had been funny to see the usually calm and well put together man almost cartwheel down the hall, but Adora I’d felt bad and decided she’d make the small amends.
“Can’t have Ms Grey not set a good example, can I?” That was the other part of it.
One of Adora’s small rebellions against her upbringing, once she had a place to call her own, had been to leave clothes where they fell - only gathering them up into the hamper to wash them. So often she felt the spectre of Shadow Weaver breathing down her, demanding compliance because ‘good children’ did not make a mess.
Now she was an adult, responsible for the shaping of tiny minds and helping them grow into amazing people, it felt silly. She’d felt so selfish when Bow had stumbled; her selfishness and obliviousness hurting somebody again. No, she wouldn’t let her thoughts go there. What she would do is lead by example; hang up your coat Kalvin, Adora’s coat went in the hallway closet. Put your bag into your cubby Toolah; Adora stowed her bag on the shelf inside. Finally her shoes joined the neat rows of Bow and Glimmer’s on the wrack tucked away before the door was closed.
It all happened in an instant, followed by the cheeky clapping coming from the purple clad girl. They had roomed together in college and she knew that the other girl had hated her messy ways, but after a tearful talk one half drunk night, had understood and never asked her to change.
“Come on Adora, you can help me set the table so we’re ready when Bow gets home,” she glanced down at the sparkly watch on her wrist. “That gives me just enough time to grill you about your day and then we can tell Bow all about it.”
Her arm was unceremoniously grabbed by the smaller girl and hauled, laughing, towards the kitchen.
After a month things had really settled down. Lessons were going well and other than the teething trouble you would expect from a group of unruly six year olds things were pretty much going to plan. She had needed to break up a few tussles among the children over toys and one boy was proving to be something of a junior bully, trying to corner other children in the bathroom. She hadn’t enjoyed having to call his parents in for a ‘chat’; even though she was one, often adults made her uncomfortably babble which she worked hard to contain.
The thing was, she was still fascinated by little Javier; he was well behaved, worked hard and always had new projects to show the class. It was clear that he had some very engaged adults in his life who were there to support his interests and encourage him but she had only seen him be picked up by Scorpia. In fact, other than the white haired woman, and occasionally Perfuma, there was no sign of the child’s parents. She knew she shouldn’t judge, shouldn’t assume she knew more than she did about the situation but she couldn’t help it. He was obviously such a special kid.
She’d thought about asking Perfuma, but she seemed to think everything was fine and was actually friends with the boys mother. It seemed wrong to pry too much.
Then came the day that the children had been asked to tell the class about a job that they thought was interesting or that they wanted to do when they grew up. They were even allowed to talk about the job that someday in their life had, if they wanted to. The children were going to make posters and then talk to the class. There were the firemen and doctors she expected, a child who looked like a goat wanted to be a superhero while another hoped that they would work at a zoo.
She moved around the class, helping children with glue and glitter, making them think of the right words and putting up important vocabulary on the board at the front of the brightly lit room. She had a couple of class parents in the room with her today helping small groups of children so she was excited to see what those children were going to say.
After lunch it was time for the children to share their ideas. The time sped by and each child excitedly jabbered about their jobs and showed their furiously crafted posters which they were then invited to pin to the wall at the end of their talk. Everything was quite pedestrian, a couple of influencers, one who wanted to be an actuary (how did a six year old know what that even was?) And the smattering of nurses, vets, astronauts.
And then came Javier.
He stood tall at the front of the class, tail confidently swishing behind him and head held high. His poster was covered in items related to film and words like ‘acting’, ‘movie’, ‘action’. Did he want to be an actor? She would never have thought that this little boy would want to do that. In fact, hadn’t she heard him say more than once he wanted to be a ‘domino artist’?
Then he opened his mouth.
“My mommy is a stunt performer. She works on films that have lots of stunts. She can do the things that the actors can’t, so she’s really important. Sometimes on movies they used computers to make people do stuff, but my mommy can really do it and she said that she is less spensive. The most exciting stunt she has ever done is when she had to pretend to be in an splosion and then jump high and the air and grab onto a helicopter.
My mommy can do fighting and back-flips and sometimes she has to drive cars really fast and then they flip over. I think that sometimes they set people on fire but not mommy because she has fur. Being a stunt performer is really exciting but sometimes it means mommy can’t come get me from school but that’s ok because she tells me exiting stories.” He gave a big toothy grin as he finished, clearly very enamoured with his mother. His sharp teeth caught the light and Adora felt that strange sadness in her chest again.
“Thank you Javier. I can’t wait to meet your mom and find out more about it. Why don’t you go and put your poster up.” She called up the next child.
Feet thumping on the street, arms pumping and breath coming out in jagged gasps, Adora was pleased to see her house grow closer by the footfall. She loved Saturday mornings, just being able to stretch all those muscles that she couldn’t when she was inside a classroom. Of course, every morning she woke up and did stretches and push ups, but what she could fit in before class was not what she was sued to. It had taken her several weeks not to be guilty that she hadn’t had a big workout in the morning, a long legacy of training to be the best in the various sports that had littered her childhood that was hard to break. Now she looked forward to a long run on the weekends and a trip to the gym, a normal amount of exercise for a woman no longer chained to somebody else’s idea of perfection.
As she finally reached the door, sweaty hands fumbling to fit the key into the lock, she thought that perhaps she had finally left her past behind. It made her smile, face becoming even more rosy as she let herself enjoy that moment of personal growth. She didn’t need to be the MVP any more, just the best teacher for the children whose lives she would be able to mould.
Noisily entering the house, she could see a fresh bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine sitting on the table where they left their keys. Taking a long pull from her waning water bottle, she listened to the familiar hustle and bustle of her housemates going about their various routines. Today was a little different, there was no aroma of French toast and bacon wafting from the kitchen; no, today they were going to have brunch with Perfuma and her illusive beau.
As Adora ran up to her room, sure that Bow and Glimmer could hear the thud of her footsteps as she did, she considered Perfuma and Scorpia. It wasn’t really that the older woman was illusive, so much that she was already embedded in an adult life and responsibilities that they, including Perfuma, were just at the start of. At almost thirty, Scorpia was running the offices of a large tech business and was often unavailable for spur of the moment fun and games, or at least that was what Adora had always assumed.
Having met Scorpia a handful of times, Adora was always surprised that the sweet natured, effusive woman could be part of a world that seemed like it could be so cut-throat. Sure, she was physically intimidating with her tall stature and scorpion claws and tail, but she was more likely to wrap you in a hug and apologies than be menacing in any way. It would be good to spend more time with her, Adora told herself it was Perfuma but she knew a lot of it was curiosity about a certain little boy and his elusive mother.
Throwing herself into the shower and then from the shower into her clothes, Adora was ready for brunch, her stomach growled as she pulled her hair back into its regular weekend ponytail to match. Trotting back to the hall she was relieved to find both her housemates waiting for her, Bow tossing the keys from hand to hand until she cheekily reached out and snagged them from him, snorting in delighted laughter as she dashed out to the car, the young man hot on her heals as Glimmer let out a long suffering sigh and locked up the house.
It wasn’t until they’d been in the car a few minutes that Adora passed the address over to her still disgruntled passenger, he really was the best driver of the three of them to put into the Nav system. Brown eyes grew wide as he looked at the piece of paper even as his fingers deftly inputted the informations and the map appeared leading the way for her.
“Dryl?” Bow’s voice was incredulous as Adora started to follow the instructions with care.
“Yeah? Why?” Adora wasn’t the most knowledgable about Brightmoon, unlike her friends she hadn’t grown up in the vibrant and lively city, only moving there after college. She had wanted to stay with these friends who had over the course of their time together had become her family. She’d been more than happy to leave her past behind.
Glimmer looked between the two of them from where she sat in the back seat, waiting for her boyfriend to fill the blond in. When he continued to just sit and look at the hastily scrawled address on the paper in his hands, the bubblegum haired girl huffed and took charge. She frequently had to in their group for her own sanity.
“Adora, Dryl is a tech company. You’ve just put in the address of their HQ. It’s, like, a twelve story research and development facility.”
“Why would Perfuma tell me we should meet her and Scorpia there?” The driver was perplexed, maybe this was where Scorpia worked and they were all meeting there before heading somewhere else for brunch? That sounded plausible at least, more so than Perfuma, a fellow new arrival (but with twelve months on her) giving the wrong information. “And why’s Bow gone catatonic?” It was true, the usually exuberant man had gone very still.
“Oh, that’s easy, he worships Entrapta, the owner of Dryl. If he gets to talk to her he just might explode!” That at least squeezed a ‘hey’ out of him. “Maybe we’re just picking them up there?”
Adora hadn’t had any idea what to expect when they got to their destination, it certainly wasn’t an embossing, squat building sitting menacingly before them as they entered the business district. It wasn’t far from where they lived, yet in the four months since she had made the place her home there had been no occasion for her to visit. Now she was wishing she had!
Dryl was only one of several impressive structures surrounded by fountains and manicured lawns, by far the most ominous with its reflective onyx walls and the appearance of being windowless. It made strange bedfellows with the delicate all glass structures that bracketed it on all sides. Each of the buildings were emblazoned with a company name. She now knew that Dryl was a tech company, while Crimson Waste Management seemed an off business to have such an elegant building. The last place immediately in front of her was Immortal, one at least she had heard of as even her youngest students played their games.
Pulling the car into a fire space in front of the squat, sprawling building, the Best Friend Squad saw no sign of their friend. Piling out, they made their way through the tall automatic doors hadn’tinto Dryl’s foyer. It was a cavernous space dominated by a large desk with diamond shaped edges. Behind it sat a large, purple skinned woman with a shock of long white hair. She eyed them, clearly taking in Bow’s bare stomach and Adora’s worn jeans.
“Can I help you?” Her voice was low and imperious, they’d clearly been found wanting.
Bow and Adora looked at each other, neither sure what to say or whether they hadn’t made a big mistake. Glimmer had no such doubts and marched forward to the desk, glowering lavender eyes glaring up at the woman who had risen to her feet behind the desk to loom over her. Though, she did seem to be wilting a little under the smaller woman’s glare.
“Hi,” and how could Glimmer make that one word sound like ‘fuck you’ and ‘how dare you’ all in one breath. From the audibly swallow that came out of the white haired woman’s throat she wasn’t sure either. “We were invited here by Perfuma and Scorpia. You might want to check your list. It’s Glimmer, Bow and Adora.” A short finger tapped impatiently on the top of the desk as the woman glanced down to check for their information.
Adora always marvelled when she watched her friend operate in situations like this. Adora always felt like she had done something wrong, in almost all circumstances, her sense of self worth always tottering on a knife edge if she wasn’t doing something useful. Her friend had no such doubts; raised in a wealthy home by doting parents she was the picture of privilege that she wasn’t afraid to wield like a weapon when it served them, though she was never one to abuse it or make her friends feel like she was better than them.
“I see, here you are. You need to go up to level 10.” A shiny platinum key card was thrust at the sparkly girl as the security guard once again lost interest and folded into the desk chair.
Brandishing the card high like a trophy with a loud ‘hah’ Glimmer led the trio to the elevators and pushed the button with a flourish. The car came quickly, opening with a ding to reveal an empty, glass walled interior which they quickly hustled into. Adora watched her friend put the key card against the sensor until it flashed green, before pressing the large 10 on the key pad. The button illuminated and they were off.
As the elevator ascended they were able to see what the building was all about through the walls. Once they moved on from the lobby area they moved through what was clearly a restaurant level, before it flashed away they saw elegant tables and what looked like various areas for casual and fine dining. It was the last thing Bow had expected from Dryl, which he was quick to mention. As they moved up they travelled through three levels of offices, all open plan and filled with cubicles and in the corners glass walled offices. The next two floors had steel walls surrounding them, blocking view of anything; Bow hypothesised this was where the labs were hence the need for secrecy.
The next level was a large gym filled with every piece of equipment that could be hoped for, as well as wide open shapes covered in mats. Adora had to fight herself from pressing her face up against the glass as she coveted the amazing space. As they hit the 9th level the walls once again became impenetrable but this time with warm wood tones; the 10th floor was the same and the car stopped smoothly as the doors opened into what was clearly the opening of a living area.
As the three of them walked out each set of eyes grew wide. They were clearly in an apartment area except they were standing in a lobby with only one door. The place must cover the entire floor but it seemed like only one person lived here. Bow took the initiative to walk to the door and press the bell. He turned back to his friends and grinned, taking not of how odd it seemed to ring a doorbell that was opposite a bank of three state of the art elevators. He didn’t ponder for long before the large mahogany door was opened.
“Hi guys, so glad you could make it!” Scorpia was standing in the open doorway, light from within haloing her in a very flattering way. The giant of a woman was wearing a soft sleeveless sweater and pair of jeans, looking anything but a captain of industry. “Come on in, Perfuma’s just finishing the vegetables.”
As they walked in, shucking coats and shoes as they did, a voice echoed through the large open expanse of the living area.
“Is she here?” The childish voice was full of excitement and enthusiasm as the owner dashed around a corner from where Adora assumed the kitchen was and barrelled towards the group.
Scorpia dropped to one knee and delicately gabbed the speeding little boy with her claws, she was so gentle he could have been made of glass. He giggled in her embrace and his thin, pointed ears twitched as she rose with him now perched on her shoulders, legs dangling over her shoulders and tail wrapping around her neck. Cheekily he crossed his arms on top of her head, resting his own chin there as he looked at the new arrivals with a broad, sharp grin and large laughing eyes.
Heterochromatic eyes. One luminous green, the other sky blue.
Adora gasped as best another part of the child in front of her tore at her heart. But it didn’t mean anything, she’d looked once and it wasn’t unusual for cat hybrids to have the trait. And still…
“Hey Miss Greyson!” He lifted a hand to wave enthusiastically.
“Hey Javier, I didn’t know we’d be seeing you today?” She spoke to the boy but sent a quizzical look at the large woman. Scorpia looked a little unsettled by the probing look.
“Javi and his mum live on the level below, so we all spend a lot of time together. She got called away this morning for some reshoots, so she popped this little guy up here. He was very excited that you’d be here,” at her words the boy blushed to the tips of his ears and tried to hide his face in the cloud of white hair.
“I’m happy to see you too Javier! These are my friends Bow and Glimmer,” they both waved at the embarrassed child. “They know Perfuma too.”
“Cool!” Suddenly the boy was in motion, leaping from his place perched on the tall woman’s shoulders and landing soundlessly on the floor in front of Adora. If there had been any doubt in anyone’s mind that he was part cat, that allayed it at once by his liquid movements. Then his clawed hand was grasping Adora’s a tugging her behind him. “I can show you everything! Scorpia and Perfuma’s floor is amazing!” His high, happy voice made her smile.
“Can my friends come too?” She caught Glimmer and Bow smirking at each other.
“Yep!” They all laughed at his excitement and the whole group, Javier in the lead and Scorpia bringing up the rear, made their way for the grand tour.
Grand it was, the floor itself more than big enough to accommodate 4 two bed apartments. Massive glass windows covered one entire wall, letting light spill in and warm the place. Plants grew everywhere in pots so that one half of the living area looked like a greenhouse. The furnishing and layout was minimalist, but was accented with a throw here or cushion there. It was an odd mix of the two women who lived here.
The morning and early afternoon were filled with laughter and board games to keep the whole group entertained. Bow’s head all but exploded when, a little after mid-day the purple haired owner of the company, and the whole building, let her self in. She’d been working on a handheld computer as her hair opened the door and on hearing the jolly sounds had finally looked up, seeming confused for a moment.
“I did it again, didn’t I?” Her voice had a strange lilt like excitement and self deprecation.
“Yep-yep Aunt Trap.” Javier had walked over to her and been lifted in the nest of her hair so he could kiss her on the cheek and be set down again.
“Afternoon Entrapta; do you want something to eat?” Perfuma approached the smaller woman, obviously knowing the answer as she carried with her one of the smoothies in a lidded cup with a straw and handed it over.
The overall clad woman docilely followed her back to the sofa and took up residence on one of the large leather bean bags that were scattered around. Scorpia, who had disappeared into the kitchen, came back with a plate filled with tiny hors-d’oeuvres which she handed to the still distracted woman. She muttered a ‘thank you’ as she continued to furiously work on her pad, occasionally popping food into her mouth with her hair and humming enthusiastically.
“Don’t worry about Entrapta,” Perfuma said noticing them all watching her, “she’ll come back to the room as soon as she’s done.”
Bow did eventually get to talk to his tech idle and they spent half an hour using words that may as well have been in an alien dialect for how little sense they made to the other five people in the room. While they talked, Javier taught all the adults a lesson in how to be beaten by a six year old at Monopoly. He was a shark, it turned out.
Adora learned that Entrapta owned the entire building and as Scorpia and Javier’s mother were her close friends, had insisted that they live here. Turned out that she knew she was a workaholic, and only by having her friends close by could she ensure that she did anything outside the lab. Adora was a little jealous, her shared apartment was nice but this was something else!
Before any of them knew it was time to head home, chores to do and lessons to plan. There were promises to come again when the weather was better and barbecue on the roof terrace. Each adult got a cheery goodbye and a very grown up hand shake from the child, though Adora got pulled down into a hug. He hesitated before deciding to press a kiss to her cheek before dropping back to hug Scorpia’s side, a blush covering his face.
“Bye Miss Greyson!”
“Bye-Bye, Javier.” She hoped that soon he would feel confident enough to leave his shades off at school.
Then, almost out of nowhere it was time to meet the parents. Adora and Perfuma were both unsure where the time had gone, but here they were facing down the first parent-teacher conference of the year and, in Adora’s case, their first ever on the teacher side of the table. Adora had furiously made sure that the classroom was neat and tidy, children’s work arranged for doting parents to explore. Two chairs, adult sized, sat facing her desk ready for the one-to-one conversations.
She was dreading those a little, her anxiety when talking to other adults was high but she had worked on it over the years and as long as she had a game plan everything should be fine. She planned the conversations with military precision she knew every students record, every students name and interest. She felt confident that she could address any issue that came up. So far she had been lucky enough not to have any child stand out as a problem, so there shouldn’t be any angry or defensive parents. Adora wasn’t a fan of confrontation, Glimmer always joked that she was a people pleaser and as much as it wrinkled the blond she couldn’t deny the truth of it. Too many years spent trying to fly under the radar in homes that were not her own and to not cause trouble had led to it.
Parent after parent passed through the doors, smiling and nodding as she showed them pictures painted and stories penned. Questions were asked about how little Summer was doing? What Icelyn was like at math? Was Rosksta making plenty of friends? What about Nate’s verbal skills? After the first hour Adora’s confidence was bolstered. Everything was going better than she could have hoped for, the parents had been universally warmer to her than she was used to.
During a brief lull, a 10 minute break where she got a drink and shot a smile at Perfuma through her open door, she ran her eyes down the remaining parents. Beside each child’s name was the name of the carer who would be coming to talk about them, with one exception. Alongside Javier’s name it simply said ‘mother’ at the latest possible appointment time. Her curiosity was certainly piqued by this enigmatic ‘mother’ of the wonderful little boy. A woman who seemed almost absent from the boy’s life but who was obviously the centre of his world. Having met and spent time with Scorpia and Entrapta, she had become even more intrigued. Their comments about her being ‘prickly’ and ‘not a people person’ didn’t seem to jive with how goofy endearing the pair was or how sweet Javier was.
Time ticked by, Adora’s back began to ache a little, she knew that she’d have to do stretches before bed tonight and work on her back at the gym in the morning. It was the one thing about teaching that she didn’t love, the sitting still. Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of that teaching first grade, they kept her on her toes. She shook hands and shared smiles and stories with the remaining parents until only one remained. The clock ticked as she waited. And waited. She got up from her desk, stretching her back until it popped and poking her head into the hallway only to see that the chairs outside the room for people to wait was empty. She noticed that further down the hall only one of two sets of parents remained, milling about and waiting for their turn.
Adora felt oddly disappointed. How could the parent of a child as wonderful as Javier not care enough to come and talk about how he was doing? To meet the person who spent almost every day with him? As the ticking of the brightly coloured clock on the wall echoed on and on in the room, she found herself getting angrier and angrier at this woman. Just as her blood reached boiling point she heard the slapping of feet against linoleum as somebody ran down the hallway, coming to a skidding halt in her doorway.
The humanoid blur flew into the room, throwing themselves into the seat opposite her desk in an almost boneless heap, legs splayed and spine slouched. It took the school teacher a moment for her brain to catch up with her eyes as she took in the rumpled clothes, stained with browning splotches that could have been blood and the large gashes in jeans. It was then that she took note of the swishing tail, so like Javier’s and then the short, tousled hair, furred skin and drooping cat ears.
It had been a long time since Adora had seen anyone with cat ears. She had taken note of Javier’s tail the first day she saw him, reminding her so much of the past, but his almost bat-like little ears were nothing like this woman’s, his mother she assumed, who had yet to say a word. As Adora studied the sprawled figure she got the distinct impression that she too was being scrutinised by the eye hidden beside sunglasses that matched her son’s. Adora felt a lump form in her throat and her heart begin to beat faster as she considered what might lay behind those glasses and just who might be sitting so casually opposite her, somebody who had vanished from her life almost seven years before.
As if reading her thoughts the other woman straightened in her seat and removed her glasses, folding them and hooking them into the vee of her stained shirt, looking up to fix mismatched eyes to blue and give a rueful, toothy, smile.
“Oh my god! Catra?” Adora was floored, she had suspected as soon as the women sat down, but to have that suspicion confirmed short circuited her brain.
“Yeah, been a long time. Never thought the teacher that Javier can’t stop talking about was you though. He said you were a blonde called Miss Greyson,” she shrugged, looking more than a little uncomfortable all of a sudden.
“Oh…oh! After you…left, I guess… I found my real birth certificate and that was my mothers name so I took it. I didn’t want to be a Weaver for the rest of my life.” She knew that she was rambling but she couldn’t believe that the person who had been the most important part of her life for most of the first seventeen years of her life was suddenly right there in front of her. When Catra had vanished when she was 17 she had imagined that one day she would see her again, but as one year became two, became six she had lost hope.
“I get that, I’ve been a Reyes since Javier was born. I didn’t want him to be a Weaver.” Her voice was grave and her eyes stony as she spoke the name. “Anyway, I’m here to talk about my cub, not the ‘old days’,” she almost spat the last words. “He seems happy and likes you, and he’s got friends - which is a step up from kindergarten.”
“Javier is wonderful! Perfuma told me he had a tough time last year but he’s great in class and the other kids love him. He’s always keen to help out and ask questions. His presentation about your job was excellent.” Catra snorted a laugh and muttered something like ‘I’ll bet’ under her breath. Adora brought his work onto the table. “You can see he’s making real progress with his writing and his pictures of people have all of their limbs in the right place.”
Their conversation focused around Javier for several more minutes, Adora explaining what the expectations of the rest of the upcoming year were and how his progress would be monitored. She suggested ideas for what Catra could do at home to advance his progress in particular areas and the other woman volunteered some of the home learning that she already did with him... It had been obvious from the start that Javier had a very engaged parent, but on hearing about all of the activities that the feline woman did with her son around her work it became obvious that she had not had the first idea of how engaged his mother was.
As the duo were wrapping up, Catra preparing to stand, Adora didn’t want her to leave. Other than their brief talk of names they hadn’t caught up at all, in fact it seemed like the other woman was completely disinterested in reconnecting. The blond blurted, “Why does Javier wear those glasses?”
Catra snorted softly, “You remember how mean kid’s would be to me about my eyes when we were little? Same for my cub.” She shook her head ruefully, “Guess some things don’t change. Javier came home crying so many times about it that I just told the school we’d do whatever we could to make him feel better. He’ll take them off when he’s ready.” She locked eyes with her childhood confidant, “At least his ears are more like other people’s and not too big for his head like mine used to be.” She twitched the body part in question, which now fit her perfectly, sticking out of her short rumpled mane.
Adora thought back to be Javier’s age and hugging Catra while she cried about somebody calling her eyes weird, or trying to pull on her furry ears. As they’d got older the cat-girl had grown out of sorrow and into rage when it happened, more often than not throwing a punch or slashing a claw and receiving the same back.
“Well, I hope that he feels happy enough soon, the other children love him,” Adora did too but she didn’t think that would be appropriate to say.
“Cool, I’m glad he really is happy,” Catra looked at the chunky watch that adorned her right wrist and strode towards the door.
Realising that the other woman was about to walk out of her life again, Adora called out, “It was good to see you again, Catra.” Even to her own ears it sounded too disconnected, not carrying any of the weight of what they had been to each other for so long.
“See you around, Adora.” It was a dismissal, like they had nothing left to talk about. Maybe they didn't.
Then she was gone, padding down the now empty hallway, bare feet softly slapping on the hard floor, claws clicking distantly. If she was somebody else, somebody more prone to grand emotional gestures or following her own desires, Adora wood have chased after her and asked her for a catch up drink or whether she could call her. But she wasn’t; Adora did what people expected her to, no matter how much it opened an old wound in her heart.
Javier and his mama spend some quality time.
Adora and Catra do not.
Lots of this section this is from Catra's POV.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Bow arrived home that evening he found a sorry sight sitting on the sofa. Adora was wrapped up in a blanket, empty cake wrappers strewn around her on the cushions and crumbs littered her chest. Two empty beers sat on the table and the most morose film he had ever seen was droning on the TV, although she didn’t seem to be watching. It was unusual enough to see her eat junk food, let alone drink on a school night.
“Adora, everything ok?” She startled at his voice and he grew even more concerned. “Did something happen with the parents.”
“Kinda,” it came out soft and unsure and did nothing to alleviate his worries.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” His brown eyes landed on the clock above the mantel, he felt relief wash over him as he saw that Glimmer would be home in less than twenty minutes. This seemed like it would be a Best Friend Squad kind of conversation.
“I guess,” the uncertainty still laced her words and she still hadn’t made eye contact.
“Tell you what,” he forced cheer into his words as he pulled out his phone and shot a quick text to the third member of their group, “how about I throw on my jammies and make us some hot cocoa? When Glimmer gets home we can have a squad hang, like college?”
A dull nod followed as her eyes stayed rooted to the morose black and white affair on the screen. Bow left the room and hastily threw on his loose, draw-string pants and a crop top. By the time he heard the key in the front door he was ready to crawl out of his skin. Adora was many things, but quiet and still were neither, it had felt like he had been trapped in the house with a pod person and the twenty minutes it took him to change and make drinks had crawled by.
“Honey’s I’m hoooome!” Glimmer did like to make her presence felt and the silly greeting that she always gave reverberated around the room, even managing to get Adora to glance away from the TV and almost smile. Almost.
“Come help me in the kitchen, Glimmer!” Bow tried not to sound concerned as he called out, injecting as much jocular good humour into his tone as he could.
Glimmer trotted into the kitchen, surprised that she didn’t get a hello from the woman on the couch, and worried by the ground out sound of her voice as Bow called to her. As she walked through the door she made a beeline for her boyfriend and planted a merry kiss on his cheek, delighted when his worried face momentarily broke into a small grin before dropping back. Taking hold of the first whip cream laden drink, she perched on a bar stool and focused one laser eye on him.
“So, Bow, what was that text about? And why do you look all…” she flapped her free hand to take in all of him, “frazzled?”
“Glimmer,” When he said it like that it was as though her name had sixteen syllables and none of them were good, it oozed frustration. “Did you not see her out there, with the crumbs and the beer and the moping?”
“Didn’t really get a chance there, honey, somebody called me into the kitchen!” She had to hold herself back from sniping at him too severely.
“Ok, well I came home and she was in full depression mode. I knew that she was worried about the parent meetings, but I had no idea it was so bad!”
“Maybe it’s nothing to do with that?” Not usually the optimist, Glimmer tried.
“Oh, no, I asked. It’s definitely something to do with that.”
Glimmer was glad that she had eaten at work, it sure looked like tonight was shaping up to be a cocoa and box of tissues kind of night. Grasping a second warm mug in her hand, she slipped from the stool and led the way from the kitchen back to their somber friend, Bow trailing despondently behind. From the corner of her mouth the purple haired young woman hissed, “Game face Bow!” And he plastered on his most amiable expression.
“Heeeey Adora! Here’s that cocoa I promised, lots of whipped cream. Look Glimmer’s here too.” Finally the blond reacted, reaching up and retrieving the hot mug from Glimmer and finally turning the TV off and tucking her legs under her so that she was facing the couple who had now commandeered the large armchair beside the sofa. Glimmer reclined in its soft depths like a queen white Bow perched on the arm, one knee tucked beside his girlfriend.
Silence filled the room for a while, the couple knew better than to press her too hard and Adora was grateful for that. She didn’t really know where to start, or even what she was feeling. She should be feeling happy, right? Catra was all grown up and clearly fine and had a cute kid and nice friends and if Scorpia’s apartment was anything to go by, a bitching place to live. She should be happy. But that wasn’t what the pit in her stomach was telling her. She felt a bone deep sadness, the same that she had felt when her best friend had run away all those years ago, like a fresh wound.
“You know you can tell us anything, Adora, no judgement,” Glimmer leaned forward and reached out her hand to rest it on the blonds crumb covered knee. It was true, she knew she was always safe with these two.
Adora took a breath and let the words just flow out of her.
“Do you remember that girl I told you about, from the foster home, who went missing?” Bow and Glimmer shared a look, of course they knew who Catra was, Adora had spent many weepy night talking about how she had disappeared in the night and even contemplated more than once trying to find her. She never had, it was like she was too scared to find out the truth.
“You mean Catra?” Is what the young man said.
The caricature of a smile passed over her face as her eyes grew glassy while she nodded. She was glad that they remembered, it meant that she wouldn’t have to share the story of her disappearance and how nobody in that house, or their school, had cared. How Catra had been branded just the trouble making runaway, almost too old for foster care anyway. Nothing she had said then, about how odd Catra had behaved the night before or how much harder she’d been trying lately made the adults change their mind. Even Adora had left her behind, moving on to college instead of hunting for her best friend as she had promised herself she would.
“Adora, you’re scaring us. What does Catra have to do with meeting your students’ parents?” Hearing out loud like that it was ridiculous; all those little things about Javier that had sat heavy in her chest, of course he was Catra’s!
“Javier is her son.” It hung in the air between them.
“Javier?” A nod. "Scorpia and Perfuma’s Javier?” Another. "Cute kid with the eyes and the tail?”
“Yes, Glimmer, the adorable little boy you met at Dryl, that I have been teaching for twelve weeks, is the child of my runaway childhood best friend!” The tears finally spill as she bit out the words in frustration.
“And this isn’t a happy, ‘lets celebrate’ kind of deal because…” The pair were genuinely lost.
Honestly, Adora wasn’t sure either. No, that wasn’t true, she knew.
“I was so excited to see her, so relieved. Six years of worrying what had happened to her, thinking that she might be dead and then there she is right in front of me. I wanted to talk , reconnect and she just acted like,” how had she acted? “It was like she hadn’t thought about me at all. She didn’t want to talk about anything but Javier, which I get, I do, but there was nothing there.”
Bow moved to sit beside her and rub her back. There wasn’t really anything they could say, neither of them had childhood’s like Adora’s. Sometimes her reactions were puzzling and all they could do was be there to listen as she worked it out for herself.
What had possessed Catra to agree to this she still wasn’t sure. She should have just taken Javier out for the day to a museum or to visit those horses he was so excited to ride. She hadn’t done that, instead she had agreed to attend a barbecue on the roof terrace after much begging, pleading and big kitten eyes from Javier and Scorpia. The giant woman was almost as bad as the child, both seemingly desperate for her to spend time with the new group of friends that they had acquired. Catra wasn’t sure she was ready to see Adora again, it had been a long time and she tried not to think back to those days.
Needing to blow off some steam or risk doing something she would regret later, Catra packed Javier up to help Perfuma prepare the food. He was excited, he loved to cook with all the women in his life and he had just graduated to vegetable chopping. Catra had thrown on a sports bra, compression shorts and headed down to the private gym that she shared with Scorpia, mostly, although the flower child sometimes joined them there to do yoga. There was a second gym on a lower floor for the Dryl staff, smaller and only slightly less well equipped but free and always busy. Catra liked to practice alone. The large floor plan of the level meant that half of it could be empty of anything but padding so that she could practice her gymnastic skills, so much in demand for her work.
Moving over to the empty space she put out the equipment that she would want for her circuits and some obstacles before starting her stretch routine. She turned on her ear buds and thumbed through her playlist, choosing a loud, fast selection. Her body began to move, muscles moving in familiar patterns as she began to let her body take over and her mind drift into the music.
When Scorpia had suggested she bring her workout gear to the barbecue, Adora had jumped at the chance to try out the state of the art gym. When she had arrived with Glimmer and Bow they made their way to the top level, the elevator quickly rushing through the almost deserted building and coming to a stop outside. Through the glass they could see the lush garden that covered the roof of Dryl and seemed so incongruous with its brutalist exterior. The double doors opened and a rush of scent and warmth assailed them, it was like being transported to another world. Looking up, Adora notices that the high glade walls surrounding the roof was topped with a net that acted like a roof, clearly to protect the little bundle of energy that was running towards her, from climbing up and falling over.
Adora hugged Perfuma and ruffled Javier’s hair, passing her friend the bottle of cider that she had brought with her. She shifted the gym bag she carried more comfortably on her shoulders and allowed herself to be caught up in the chatter of the group that surrounded her. It wasn’t long before Scorpia, shepherding a puzzled looking Entrapta, came out of the elevator. Javier rushed over and took the scientist by the hand and pulling her over to play table tennis with him, Scorpia stayed in the open doorway and beckoned Adora to join her.
Once back inside the glass box she and Scorpia exchanged some small talk for the brief period that it took to get to the gym level. When they came to a stop she spotted the other person that was already in the gym, presence seeming to dominate the vast space. She stepped out with Scorpia and found herself standing, unable to move.
Adora watched, mesmerised, as the cat-woman sprang from wall-to-wall ricocheting like a bullet. Fur covered muscles flexed and rippled as her lithe form moved at almost blinding speeds, twisting in mid air to land on vertical surfaces that should be impossible before kicking off again. She hit the ground, not even breathing hard and picked up a set of weights that had been sitting in the corner. It was then that Adora realised she was doing a very specific circuit, with speed and strength exercises.
This wasn’t the Catra that she remembered. Adora had always been the strong one, the athlete. People had admired her muscles and she’s loved to preen under their praise, no matter how shy she might be about other things. Catra had always been smaller, weaker, needing her to stand up for her and protect her from bullies; it wasn’t that she couldn’t defend herself with her teeth and claws but that always led to more trouble for her. Now, looking at this woman who moved like water, Adora was starting to doubt more and more everything she thought she knew of their childhood.
Thoughts of skinny, scrawny Catra standing in the corner of the room while the rest of the kids ate dinner. Catra with no lunch money, wandering out to the quad while everybody else ate, claiming she wasn’t hungry. Catra having to go straight home from school or face the consequences, while Adora and their friends went to practice and then out for pizza. Maybe it wasn’t that the feline had been weak when they were young, maybe it had been Shadow Weaver keeping her small. More discomfort rose inside Adora, the same as she always felt when she thought about the night that Catra disappeared, that she could have done more to help.
Feeling a large pincer nudge against her back, Adora realised she had just been staring and shook herself out of it to follow Scorpia to the changing area. Scorpia was already ready to go, and Adora quickly slipped off her pants to reveal shorts and left her shirt, she’d bought other stuff to change into. They made their way to the equipment area and Adora started out on the treadmill, purposefully keeping her eyes from looking anywhere in Catra’s direction.
A merry hour passed, with Adora flexing her impressive muscles and laughing with Scorpia as she was trounced by the powerful woman. When the two went to change, Adora let herself look in the corner and saw that Catra was still a fast moving blur of fur and sweat. If she listened closely she could hear the panted breaths of somebody pushing themselves. Then she was out of the gym and jumping into one of the four shower stalls.
When Scorpia and Adora walked out of the room, Catra let herself stop for the first time since they appeared. She popped the bud out of her ear and stood, panting for breath and sweat slicking her fur to her body, staring after the two women. She hadn’t noticed when they first walked in, too focused on her training but the longer they stayed the harder it was to block out their presence. More than once she found her eyes wondering to the blond, who looked much as she had in their teens. Something unpleasant lurched in her stomach at the thought.
Not wanting to have to interact with the pair before she had to, Catra swiped up her water bottle and towel, roughly wiping off her face as she jumped into the elevator and went back to her apartment to change.
She arrived on the roof after the two jocks, relieved that they were both over with the other adults so that she could sneak out without fanfare and prowl over to her boy where he was playing with Entrapta. The scientist had fashioned a skipping rope with her prehensile pigtails and the two of them were jumping over it and laughing in delight. She reached them just as they jumped up and Catra snatched her boy from the air and spun him around her head, his delighted squeal filled the air and caused all eyes to turn to them, Catra couldn’t even care when Javier was so happy.
“Hey cub,” she brought him down to perch on her hip, his long body becoming almost too unwieldily but while she could carry him like this she would, “been having fun without me?”
“Never as much as with you mama! Aunt Trap was very fun though, we played table tennis and hide and seek and skipping.” He pull her closer with the arm around her neck so that he could whisper conspiratorially in her ear, “She’s not very good at hide and seek because she was making notes on her recorder, I let her win a few times though. I didn’t want her to be sad.” He was such a sweet, soft little boy that sometimes Catra wasn’t sure he could be hers. People had always characterised her as spiky, mean, even as a child and here in her arms she held her polar opposite who never saw that side of her.
The other adults were becoming the three of them over, Perfuma excitedly waving a vegan sausage aloft in the air in the universal signal of ‘food’s ready’. Dropping the boy to her feet, Catra snagged Entrapta by the shoulder and directed them all to the table that had been set up by the Webber.
Belly full, and Javier curled up on her lap as she sat crossed legged on the floor, Catra decided that it hadn’t been an unbearable couple of hours. The food had been good, Perfuma having the grace to ensure that there was meat for her and the boy and the company fine for the most part. She had purposefully distanced herself, as much as she could from Adora, making small talk with the Sparkles woman and her boyfriend. Actually, the Arrow fella was rather good company and it turned out they had some shared interests.
By the time it was time for them all to leave, Catra had managed only to pass the time of day with Adora, although Javier had been all over his teacher once his mother had arrived, and she appreciated the blond taking the time with him. For her though, staying away from triggers of the past was for the best.
“Mama!” A heavy thud and the mattress dipped as one quite large boy flew onto the bed.
A groan greeted him as his mother tried to throw an arm over her face and pretend he wasn’t there. It wouldn’t work, she knew all too well. Once Javier arrived in the morning, 5:30am like clockwork, that was the death of sleep. Catra had tried everything since he was old enough to walk; later bedtime just meant a crankier early morning caller who was exhausted, warm milk before bed just made him pee, letting him have an extra meal (one time) had led to vomit on the comforter and a very panic stricken young mother.
“Morning beastie,” her eyes slid open to see his smiling face hovering above hers.
“It’s dressing-up day today!” The words were accompanied by a backflip that nearly ended with him missing the edge of the bed, fortunately his mother was faster than his fall and pulled in back into her own body.
“Oh, is it? I don’t know what you’ll wear.” A Finger tapped against the side of her head as she pretended to think it over.
“Don’t be silly mama! I’m going to be a robot, you know that. Don’t you remember, we made the costume last week with Aunt Trap!” His small finger, claw not entirely sheathed also tapped her head. She felt the tip scratch her but didn’t flinch. They’d have to talk about claw safety again soon though.
Fingers snapped, joined by a ‘ah-ha’ as Catra pretended to remember for her laughing cub. The teasing turned into giggles and soon the two cats were chasing each other around the sparsely decorated apartment. The game ended with Catra scooping him up and popping him onto a bar stool before turning to make their breakfast.
“Mama?” Javier spoke through a mouthful of pancake.
“Swallow first beastie.”
“Mama, can Miss Greyson come and visit us like she does Aunt Scorpia? I really like her!” His sweet face looked at her so earnestly that she wanted to say yes, but Adora was the past and she didn’t want to pick at the old wounds. The other girl had once been her refuge, but she had built something here and didn’t want anything to shake the foundations of that.
“We can’t, my love. It wouldn’t be appropriate, and Miss Greyson might get in trouble. She’s friends with Perfuma, so she’s allowed to visit them.” This seemed to make sense to him.
Javier continued to tuck into his breakfast, not bringing Adora up again and she was thankful. They practiced his weekly spellings and chattered about cartoons before heading to get ready. Javier usually dressed himself but today’s costume was elaborate to say the least, perks of being friends with a mad scientist.
Standing at the elevator, ready to head out with her small robotic companion, Catra felt his little hand tighten in hers, drawing her eyes down to look at him. She couldn’t see his face behind the face plate and mesh (no need for sunglasses today) but she knew he was staring back.
“Maybe you could make friend’s with Miss Greyson and then she could come over and play.” So maybe he wasn’t ready to let that go.
“Why won’t you talk to me!” The wail came through the phone, no greeting or introduction. The words were slurred, the woman on the other end of the phone clearly drunk and on the verge of tears.
Catra rolled her eyes, still unsure why she had answered the unfamiliar number in the first place; she could only put it down to the panic that fills you when a phone rings in the middle of the night. Instinct had driven her to scoop up the cell without looking at the name, or lack thereof, and answer the call. Now at, she pulled the phone from her rumpled ear and squinted at the brightly lit screen, 2:15am, she couldn’t hang up no matter how annoyed she was. There were no more words at the other end of the line, just hiccuping breaths and gulps for air that confirmed that the school teacher was crying.
“Adora, you need to calm down!” Her voice was low but firm, Javier’s room was just the other side of the hallway and she didn’t want to wake him up. “Take some deep breaths. I’ll do it with you. In,” she paused and held for ten seconds, “out.” Another pause, she could hear the stuttering breaths of the blond as she followed her. This was something she had to a lot with Javier in those horrible first days at school when he had come home sobbing more than once, unable to pull it together by himself.
“Adora,” the word seemed to grind out of her, each syllable catching in her throat.
“You don’t want to be my friend,” childishness seeped into the voice, maybe teaching first grade wasn’t such a good idea for the woman, as it rose into a near wail.
Realising that rather than calming down the other woman seemed to be getting more agitated on the other end of the line, Catra concentrated on what else she could hear. It didn’t sound like a television, “Adora, are you at home?”
“No, iz in a bar.”
“Which bar?” It was a Wednesday at 2am, didn’t look like Miss Greyson was going to be teaching anybody tomorrow. Catra would have chuckled if she wasn’t disturbed by this middle of night conversation.
Adora rattled off the name of a place on fifteen minutes from Dryl. Catra knew it well, seedy didn’t do it justice, certainly not somewhere a girl Adora should be, “You with somebody?” The plaintive ‘no’ that received told her all she needed to know. “Can I call Arrow and Sparkles?” Damned if she could remember their actual names, but that was close enough, right?
“I don’t know theeeem!”
“Ok, calm down. I’ll come pick you up. Give your phone to the bar tender.” She heard the phone fumbled with and once a clearer, soberer voice spoke on the line she asked the guy to keep an eye on her friend and she’d be there in fifteen minutes. She was very clear that no more drinks were to he served, much to the barman’s seeming relief. Next she hung up and called Entrapta, the only person she could be sure was awake and in the building.
“Catra! Have you finally decided to help out with my nocturnal experiments? Your cat physiology would be fascinating!” The purple haired woman was as perky now as she would be at noon.
“No experimenting on me and the kid, ‘Trapta. No, I need you to run up here and sit Javier for a half hour. I need to run out but I’ll be quick.” She knew the answer would be yes, Entrapta might be obsessed with science but she was a good friend. “There are some mini waffles in the freezer, you can have a snack.”
Before long she was on the road, heading towards the edge of town. While she drove she let her mind drift to the other woman, who at present was probably still crying into a glass, hopefully of water. What could possess her to go out on a work night to a dive bar by herself? Adora had always been the more social of the two of them and people loved to be around her, surely her pals would have tagged along had she asked? That thought led her to wonder why she wouldn’t phone the two people she lived with? Then it finally hit her; how did Adora have her number? She hadn’t given it to her in the three encounters that they’s had and she knew for certain that Scorpia and Entrapta wouldn’t share her details with anyone, no matter how friendly. Perhaps Perfuma had slipped it to the shorter blond, though that seemed unlikely, the hippie was very circumspect.
A clawed hand slapped the steering wheel as a growl left her throat, why couldn’t things just be simple for once. Her and Javier and their rag-tag family just living quietly only for Adora to pop back up and throw a stone into the quiet pond of her life. Soon she was pulling into the parking lot filled with bikes and broken down trucks. Getting out of the car, she put on her best tough guy exterior and walked to the door. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy to see the blond, it had been good to see her at the school and know that she had made it out of that house safe and sound, but the past was another country to the feline, and one that she tried never to visit.
Brushing past the bouncer who gave her a nod, she entered the dingy interior and instantly spotted the golden head, haloed at the bar like some fallen angel. Her shoulders were slumped and she was waving her hands lazily as she told the bar tender something that was obviously important in her inebriated state. Dodging around the soused patrons, hand extended to bat away wandering hands as she passed, she made her way to her side. One particularly brave, or stupid, biker tried to grab her tail, which earned him a swipe of claws and an angry hiss that was all teeth. He backed away, finally scared into having some sense. Rolling her eyes, Catra moved to the bar and leaned her back on it beside her childhood friend.
“Hey, Adora.” The words were familiar as they spilled from her tongue.
The words, rather than her arrival, caused the blond to look up suddenly, destabilising herself on the bar stool and nearly toppling backwards to meet the floor. Only Catra’s literal cat-like reflexes managed to save her as a hand shot out and wound into the front of her jacket, pulling her back to a sitting position, their faces suddenly very close. Catra released her quickly and took a step back. Adora’s face broke into a sloppy smile, her head falling back as an unexpected snort of laughter left her lips. The tears seemingly having dried up.
“See, told you!” The bartender raised a brow at the drunk’s words and looked towards her saviour.
“Thanks pal, I’ll take her from here.” She slipped a twenty over the bar, before leaning down to thread her arm under Adora’s and pull her to her feet. The blond looked dazed for a moment before she allowed herself to be pulled out of the bar, feet floppy and barely able to help propel herself.
As they navigated their way through the parking lot there was unusual quiet from the two women, until Catra came to her car, propping Adora against it so she could open the door. A soft touch to her cheek brought the cat-woman’s head around to face the boneless shape beside her.
“You’re my best friend!” There was the loopy tone again and the tears were clearly tears welling anew in her eyes.
“Ok drunky, let’s get you inside.” Catra pulled the door open and somehow managed to manoeuvre her into the passenger seat before leaving across her to fasten the seat belt. That proved to be a mistake when she felt arms wrap around her and Adora’s form fold over her own, trapping her in the older woman’s lap. Biting her tongue before she said something that they would both regret, Catra unsheathed her claws before pinching the other woman’s leg lightly. At the sting, Adora released her and he bolted from the car, slamming the door before making her way to the drivers seat.
Turning to fasten her own belt she saw greeted by a pout, “You pinched me.”
“And you called me drunk at 2am, I think we can call it even.” Enough was enough of this. What’s your address?” Adora told her reluctantly, but it was too far, to get there and back to her apartment would take over an hour and she had told Entrapta she would only be gone for half that time. The scientist was a good friend but she was just as likely to wonder back to her lab once the discussed time expired. “Looks like you’re coming home with me.”
“Yay!” A uncoordinated clap accompanied the exuberant response.
It was going to be a long night.
Even though the drive was short the blond was snoring like a buzz saw by the time she pulled up in front of Dryl. Catra jumped out of the car and ran into reception, she usually tried to avoid the main entrance but tonight any help to get the dead-weight up to hers would be appreciated. She approached the reception desk and, noticing that the guard was enthralled in a paperback, taped her nails impatiently on the onyx top. She smirked as the lizard man bolted out of the seat so quickly he sent it clattering to the floor. When he saw who was across the desk he scowled.
“What do you want?”
“Tung Lashor,” usually she’d mock him for his rudeness and threaten him with Scorpia, but today she needed him. “I’ve got a friend of mine in the car, she’s a bit drunk and I could use a hand getting her up to mine.”
“Ha!” Even though she knew he was about to say something awful, he made his way around the desk and followed her to the door. “Bet you roofied her.”
Muttering under her breath, careful not to let him hear her, Catra opened the car door and the large man pulled the still sleeping woman from the depths with surprising gentleness. He may be an asshole but at least he knew there was a time and a place. Quietly the odd trio made their way to the bank of elevators. When the doors slid open, Catra too the floppy form in her own arms, bridal style as Lashor had held her.
“You sure you don’t need me to keep hold of her?”
“No, but thanks. I can take her from here,” she even flexed a little which made the lizard roll his eyes before he leaned in and pushed the button for her floor. Maybe he wasn’t so bad.
It didn’t take long before she was back at her own front door, knocking lightly with her foot. Entrapta pulled open the door so fast that Catra almost dropped her cargo, she must have been waiting. As if reading her thoughts the smaller woman pulled the door wider. “You have been thirty-four minutes.”
“You can go now Entrapta, I know you’ve probably got something cooking down there.” By the time thanks came out of Catra’s mouth the other woman had already disappeared back into the elevator, recorder materialised from her hair and already recording some observation, probably about her and the heavy weight in her arms.
Pushing the door closed behind her with her heel, she navigated around the apartment and made it to one of the guest rooms where she deposited the blond. She noticed that there was a patch of drool on her shoulder and that Adora was now snoring sorting, snuggling into the softness of the bed. Catra pulled a blanket from its place at the foot of the bed and covered her, reaching into her pocket and retrieving her phone before she stood back and made her way out of the door.
While she locked the front door, she thumbed the emergency button on the purloined phone and found Glimmer as the emergency contact, easier than having to get the thing unlocked. She put in the call and walked back towards her own room, peeling off her sweats as she did so.
“Hello?” The voice on the other end of the phone was foggy and confused, clearly deeply asleep at, Catra checked her alarm, almost three.
“Hey, Glimmer? It’s Catra, we met at that barbecue a few weeks ago. Wanted to let you know I’ve got Adora at my place.”
“You’ve got what?” The confusion didn’t seem to be lifting and truthfully, the cat-woman felt the same.
“Adora called me, flat out drunk, a little earlier so I picked her up and brought her here. I didn’t want you to worry when you found her gone in the morning. You might want to call the school, no way she’s making it in today.” She lay flat on her back across her bed, waiting for a response.
“Thanks, Catra… tell her we’ll check on her tomorrow.”
The call ended and she couldn’t relax. Instead she made her way across the hall to Javier’s room, soothed by his little-boy breaths and happy purrs that told her he was having a good dream. Careful not to disturb him she lay on top of his comforter and curled her body around his, breathing in his scent and being soothed by his warmth. She pressed a kiss to the crown of his head and let sleep take her for a few more hours.
A small hand batted at a velvety ear, which twitched in response. Giggling filled the room as the game of catch-the-ear continued. Catra smiles with her eyes still closed, enjoying her cub’s playful nature. He moved closer on the small beed and she could feel his doing his little pre-pounce wiggle, which was very cute, when a staled cry rang through the apartment. Javier sprung into her arms, trembling in fear at the noise and Catra wrapped her arms tightly around him and kissed the tip of his tapering ear.
“It’s ok kitten, nothing to be afraid of,” she cooed soothingly into his ear, feeling him start to relax. She chirped and purred to him until his shivering stopped and his wide, luminous gaze met hers.
“What is it mama?” His voice was still small and he ran his head into her neck, soothing himself with the feel of her fur against his cheek.
For a moment she pondered not telling him who was in the other room, and taking him up to Scorpia’s, but she tried not to lie to him. Catra had always wanted Javier to know that he could trust and really on her, something that she had never had from an adult. He needed to know that no matter what he asked her she would always be truthful.
“Miss Greyson stayed here last night, sweet-boy. She was feeling a little poorly and wanted somewhere quiet to stay. Would you like to stay home with her today and help her feel less poorly?” His shaggy head nodded enthusiastically.
Catra’s last job had wrapped the week before and she had a few weeks off before her next one started, she thanked her lucky stars that whatever fiasco today would bring wouldn’t lose her work. She rolled off of his bed, planting a kiss on his head, before making her way to the door.
“You get dressed and go to the bathroom then, show me what a big boy you are, and I’ll go and make sure Miss Greyson isn’t feeling too unwell to see you.” She watched as he bounded off the bed and opened his drawers, tail swishing excitedly around him, almost tripping himself up.
Shaking her head, filled with affection for her child, Catra made her way to the guest room. She paused at the closed door and listened to the sound of agitated footfalls from the other side. Adora’s fearful heartbeat and shallow breathing told the feline all that she needed to know and she chose to knock sharply on the wood once before opening it and walking in. Blue eyes locked onto her and she saw the other woman sag with relieve and move to sit on the bed, shoulders slumped and eyes pinched revealing that she was very hung-over.
“Did you think you’d been kidnapped?” Catra was curious, and also wondered if the teacher could be that much of an idiot.
“Look, I woke up in a strange room with no memory of the last eight hours! Of course I thought I’d been kidnapped. I was relieved when I had clothes on!” Her words were indignant but her voice was soft, hinting that her head was pounding.
“You’re such an idiot,” Catra kept her voice pitched low, she was mean but not cruel. “You called me and I came to get your drunk ass.”
A bright blush made its way over her face and down her neck, disappearing into her shirt. Adora brought her hands to cover her face and fell back onto the mattress with a groan. The groaning intensified when her phone was thrown onto the bed beside her.
“I called your friend, told her you weren’t kidnapped.” Catra stalked over to the dresser at the side of the room and perched her hip on it, folding her arms and staring at the reclined figure with a calculating eye. The question that had been on her mind since last night demanding and answer. “I need you to listen to me Adora; Javier is getting himself dressed and very excited that his favourite teacher is here. I told him you felt sick and wanted us to take care of you. I don’t like lying to him, but he doesn’t need to know you’re hungover.” The blond head nodded weakly. “Before we go out there, I need you to tell me how you got my number.” It wasn’t a request.
Adora slowly sat up, hunching her body over her folded arms with a look of guilt written over every feature. “I took it from Javier’s school file.” It was barely a whisper and if Catra’s hearing wasn’t so acute she would have missed the words.
The younger woman’s blood boiled in her veins. She guarded her privacy, tried to vet and monitor who came into contact with her and her cub. Her sole focus for six years had been to keep him. Safe and make sure that only people she could trust could get near him. And here sat Adora, abusing her position to take Catra’s information and use it for her own selfish wants.
“You are going to listen to me very carefully Adora,” the words were growled out deliberately low, “you should count yourself very lucky that my son is waiting out there. I have never raised my voice in the apartment and I am not about to start now, but if we were anywhere else…” She brought her hands up over her face and took a deep breath. “How dare you take our information. How dare you call me in the middle of the night. How dare you make me leave my child to come and rescue you!”
With each word the blond shrank into herself more and more. Catra began to feel guilt run through her. When she was younger she would have revelled in being able to make somebody else feel as small as she did, but that Catra was far behind her. “I just need to know why?”
“I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have done it. I just thought that I’d get your number, put it in my phone and then you’d be there. I’d know where you were and if I lost touch with you again I’d be able to find you.” Glassy blue eyes met hers and Catra could see the earnestness there, “I swear I never meant to use it! I just, yesterday was tough and then I went out for drinks with some people and by the time I realised I was by myself I was too drunk to head home…”
“Ok. Ok. I won’t tell the school but you need to stop. We’re not kids anymore Adora; not friends. I’m different now and I would hope you are too. I’ll bring you some sweats and a shirt, you smell like a bar, and then you and I are going to have breakfast with a very excited little boy.” Adora looked like she had been given a gift, or a reprieve. “You can spend the morning with us, I told Sparkles to call you in sick. Javier thinks you’re sick so after I feed us you should take a nap, I’m sure your head and stomach are spinning. Then you go home. You act professionally as Javier’s teacher and we see each other around.”
She got a weak nod in response.
Catra walked out of the room, walking past a small boy dressed in a rainbow of bright colours, running her hand through his tousled hair. She told him to go and sit at the counter and that she and his teacher would get dressed and be out soon. She watched him run to the kitchen, her heart both too heavy and too light all at once.
Next chapter will be a big one with a lot of emotions and angst.
Low purring filled the small bed, surrounding the two children huddled together beneath the blankets. Blonde and chestnut hair swirled together, as arms and legs entwined. The little human’s fleshy cheeks burrowed into the furry throat of her companion, wanting to feel the purr vibrate directly into her own skin. In the darkness with a blanket pulled over their heads she could imagine that they were the same. Prickly clawed hands clutched at her back, drawing her as close as possible to the smaller girl beneath her.
“Are you okay Catra?” Adora whispered into her neck, fur tickling her lips.
The purr didn’t stop, though it stuttered a little as the kitten tried to formulate a response. Adora pulled back reluctantly, just enough to be able to look down at the younger child’s still tear stained face. She raised a stubby hand and ruffled the moisture from a downey cheek.
“Catra?” The little girl had been worried about her best friend ever since Shadow Weaver had dragged her forcefully away from the dining table by the hair. She wasn’t sure what the kitten was supposed to have done this time, there was always something to antagonise their foster mother, she just wished Catra could be more like her and Lonnie. Maybe it was a cat thing?
Catra didn’t make eye contact with the rosy cheeked girl cupping her face. She knew what everybody thought about her, what even Adora believed; that she was wild, a little monster that never behaved. She tried to behave but it seemed like no matter what she tried, there was always some reason for her tail to be pulled, her arm grabbed or a blow to fall. She wasn’t even sure herself what happened today, just that her ears were still throbbing from rough treatment. Her lower lip tremble, eyes filling with fat tears again, ashamed under the shining eyes of the golden child.
“It’s okay to cry,” Adora saw the new tears welling in her eyes. She may have just turned eight but she had a sense of duty to care for her friends.
“I’m fine,” it was true, for now. She was always better when she was with Adora…
… Rough hands grabbed Catra up by the scruff of the neck and wrenched her viciously out of the bed and away from the warmth of Adora’s embrace. The pre-teen flew across the room, back hitting the closet door so hard it shattered on impact. The 12-year-old slid to the floor in a daze from both the rude awakening and the impact. While her vision blurred in and out, her ears swivelled in the direction of the shouting that filled the room.
“Why did you do that?” Adora’s voice was high-pitched and desperate, it sounded like she was trying to fight her way through fabric.
“Calm yourself – foolish girl!” Shadow Weaver’s voice was cool, commanding in a way it seldom was with the human girl. “You cannot let that beast sleep in your bed! She is nothing but a filthy animal and you are no longer a child.” Catra’s vision cleared in time to see Adora cower in the corner as Shadow Weaver raised her hand as it to slap her. “You will both move into the room down the hall with the other girls. If this happens again there will be consequences.”
Catra knew the voice and tone as well as her own heart beat after eight years of it directed at her; tonight it was slurred and her steps were unsteady as she prowled to the door. Pausing to loom over the supine cat, the woman scoffed and landed a weak kick in her stomach before walking out.
A wine night then.
Finally, Adora freed herself from the mess of blankets and scrambled to Catra’s side just as the younger girl shakily got to her feet. She attempted to pull her injured friend into an embrace but was shrugged away as Catra held her arms across her bruised ribs and shuffled back to her own cold, seldom used bed.
“Catra…” There was a plaintive, whining quality to her voice.
“You heard what she said, Adora. We’re not kids anymore. You’re a teenager now.” Even to her own ears her voice sounded pained and broken. “Just go back to bed.”
Catra turned onto her side, facing away from her friend and burrowed deep into the cold, musty blankets of her long abandon bed. Silent tears poured down her face…
… Catra sat up in bed, dashing away tears that stained the velvet fur of her face. Her breathing was shallow, the phantom of cracked ribs making her cautious to take a deep breath. Cat eyes, as adept in darkness as in daylight, Catra looked around her room, reassuring herself that she isn’t twelve anymore and that Shadow Weaver is just a ghost of her past.
Knowing that and believing it were two different things though and the woman climbed out of bed. Despite her fur, the chill of the night bit at her skin and made her fur puff up around her crop top and sleep shorts. Silently, she padded out of her own room and across the hall to Javier’s open door. She walked to the side of his bed and perched softly, running a hand through his sweaty hair to push it off of his forehead; a gentle smile cover her tired face, her boy ran hot, it had scared her as an unprepared teen but now it was just a part of her special boy.
Leaning down she pressed a kiss to a plump cheek, withdrawing quickly as he twitched and rolled onto his back, throwing his arms over his head on the pillow. Rather than heading back to her room her feet took her to the guest room that the teacher had used a couple of days before.
Gingerly she pushed open the door to the seldom used room. She took a deep breath, the once familiar sent of Adora rising from the hastily made bed to fill her senses. Since that night she hadn’t been able to bring herself to strip the sheets from the bed and wash them. Almost in a fugue she found herself sitting on the edge of the bed.
Catra hadn’t dreamt about the foster home in years, having worked to put that part of her life behind her. With a tired groan she flopped back onto the bed, involuntarily nuzzling into the scent of the older woman. The pillows and sheets smelt familiar but new, Adora wasn’t a kid anymore.
Catra should get up. Should go back to her bedroom. Javier would be worried if he went in for a cuddle in the morning and she wasn’t there. She should get up.
Her eyes grew heavy. Just five more minutes. That’s where Javier found her, purring and asleep, that morning as he joined her, snuggling into the mingled scents of his mother and his favourite teacher.
Arriving home after dropping Javier at school, Catra tore the sheets from the bed, thrusting them into the washing machine. Opening all the windows in the room to wipe away the ghost of the blond.
And if tears ran down her face and she put clean sheets on that bed? There was nobody there to see.
Chair legs screeched against the linoleum floor as Perfuma set a cup of chamomile on the small round table and took a seat. Opposite her Adora juggled a coffee, bottle of water and pastry. The lanky woman reached up to liberate her friend of her burden and set the plate and mug beside her own steaming cup. Adora gave her an abashed smile as she settled in her own chair.
The pair sat in companionable silence, people watching the patrons that came and went for several minutes. Adora stuffed the danish into her mouth, humming in pleasure at the buttery pastry crumbled in her mouth. Perfuma softy laughter at her with an indulgent smile. It had been a long day at work and both young women were pleased to be able to hang out now that the day was done.
“Scorpia's meeting me here before we go to the movies in about 45 minutes,” the hippy was the one to break the silence.
“How are things going with you two? “ Adora wasn’t the best at small-talk but she had other things she wanted a probe her former TA about and she didn’t just want to blurt them out.
“We’re doing really well! Actually Scorpia asked me to officially move in with her last week,” a smile covered her face as Adora tried to look just as pleased, she had thought they were already living together.
“That’s great, Perfuma. Dryl’s an amazing place to live.” She took a sip from her coffee, this seemed like a good ‘in’ for her probing. “Hey, you’ll be neighbours with Javier and Catra.”
“I know! I love that little boy so much, he’s such a gentle little soul. I won’t lie, my heart melts every time he calls me Aunt.” A long fingered hand came up to rest, splayed over her heart.
“And do you see much of Catra?” Adora had only shared her history with the feline with Bow and Glimmer, and they have been sworn to secrecy.
“Sure, she’s Scorpia’s best friend. I know she seemed kind of prickly when we had that get together, but she’s really funny when you get past that gruff exterior,” an eyebrow raised in enquiry, “why are you interested in Javier’s mum?” Her inference was clear and Adora found herself fighting a blush.
“It’s nothing like that!” Which, Adora realised, raised a big question about what it was.
“Then why Adora?” There was no judgement her voice.
Adora had never been very good at lying or even dissembling. She was a clever woman, she had a good education was allowed to educate small children. Yet, she could never think fast enough, or keep the details straight enough, to lie; especially on the spot.
Silence, that just moments before had been companionable hung heavy between them. Adora raised her mug of hot chocolate to her face, hiding behind it as she gulped down cooling liquid.
“Adora,” a long fingered hand wrapped around her wrist and softly coaxed her to put the mug down. Brown eyes sympathetically locked with her own. “Talk to me.”
“I know her,” she stopped to correct herself as she saw brown eyes grow curious, “I knew her. We grow up in the same home.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you mention Catra, you don’t talk about that time often,” Perfuma was the most gentle person Adora knew, and she lived with Bow, but she could strong arm information out of you like an interrogator with just soft words and a gentle touch.
“Honestly, I’ve only really spoken to Bow and Glimmer about it. I tried to put it behind me, saw counsellors.” Her tongue felt too big for her mouth as she found herself searching for the words.
“It was bad?” It was the unspoken implication wasn’t it? Adora wanted to say yes – it was unequivocally terrible but, for her, it hadn’t been.
Adora’s time in Shadow Weaver’s home had been filled with praise, every whim catered to. Adora wanted to play hockey/soccer/tennis? Of course. Adore needed a tutor to save her math result? Naturally. Adora wanted to share a single bedroom with her best friend? Why not… Until they got too big for cuddles. The memory of that night, when Shadow Weaver threw Catra across the room and then they moved in with Lonnie and another brunette who aged out soon after, whose name she couldn’t really recall, was burnt into her like a brand.
That night had been the first time Adora had seen the abuse she knew Catra suffered. A part of her always imagined Catra got spanked, maybe Shadow Weaver took a belt to her, when she was taken away. That night opened her eyes to the violence, she cowered in the bed while Catra slumped on the floor hoping Shadow Weaver wouldn’t hit her too. She didn’t. She never did. Adora, it seemed, lived a charmed life.
“Not for me. I was treated well, I probably wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t been in that house. Catra was treated terribly – I regret that I didn’t stop it.“
“You were a child too Adora, if it was bad for one of you it was probably scary for you to. Even if you were treated well, you knew the threat of something bad was there all along. You can’t blame yourself.” Perfuma stroked her hand over Adora’s forearm.
“I hadn’t, for years, but then Catra sat in my classroom talking to me about ‘her’ child. It all came back, how I let her down. Now she doesn’t want anything to do with me and I can’t stop thinking about what we were to each other growing up. “
Perfuma had been studying her companion as she vacillated from moping, to fidgeting, to blushing. “I can’t tell you what Catra is feeling – even if I knew I wouldn’t. It would be a betrayal of trust. You haven’t said how you lost touch. “
“When I was 18, I woke up one morning and she was gone. “
“How old was Catra?” Perfuma liked Adora a lot, but often she made things about herself – often to her detriment.
“It was a couple of weeks before she turned 17, she just disappeared.” As an adult it was clear that she’d finally reached breaking point and run away.
Perfuma checked the clock above the coffee shop counter, Scorpia would arrive to take her to the movie soon, she wasn’t sure what Adora wanted from her. “Adora, you’ve got a choice here, you can walk away and move on from Catra which sounds like it’s what she wants, or you need to sit down and talk to her and then respect what you hear.”
Before Adora could respond, a cheerful ‘hello’ boomed across the café as Scorpia walked in and leaned down to press a kiss to Perfuma’s cheek. The conversation was over – soon Adora was left alone with her thoughts.
Javier was most alive when he was outside, like his mother. He enjoyed the feel of the ground under his feet (not bare like hers as he lacked the pads that adorned her toes and sole) and the chance to climb trees and swing from branch to branch. Other parents would have been worried that he would fall and put a leash on his behaviour, Catra knew what being leashed and controlled felt like. She wanted Javier to stretch himself to his limits, live as free as he could. If he broke a bone of scraped a knee in the process, then so be it. She would be there to hold him close and steal his tears with kisses.
He saw her watching as he dangled upside down from a thick tree branch, hair hanging down and cheeks puffed up and waved so energetically that he nearly lost his balance and yelped comically before using his tail to steady his body. Crisis averted he went right back to dangling, arms now hanging limply down to the ground. She waved back with a grin. Another week before her schedule would once again take her away at all hours and leave Javier to spend most of his time with Scorpia.
Getting up from the picnic table where she had been perched, she started to walk towards the child when she was suddenly broadsided by a fast moving body. It caught her shoulder with enough force to make her momentarily lose her footing and stumble. Anyone else would have bit the dirt from the impact, but years of strength and agility training meant that she could twist her body and stay on her feet. She moved so fast that she was able to grab the shoulder of the jogger and pull them to a halt, even while saving herself.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” A menacing growl accompanied her harsh words.
Wide blue eyes locked on her face and her hand sprang away as if she had been burned. Why did it have to be Adora? Catra took a few deep breaths, thankful that she had years of practice in dealing with her trauma in a healthy way that no longer made her short circuit. It did feel like the universe was telling she still had to deal with the past though. Swimming straight ahead just kept bringing her back to the blond.
“Catra! Oh, I’m so sorry. I was just running and I wasn’t looking where I was going,” words flew out of in a panicked rush.
Of course it was Adora. Since she had picked the older woman up from the bar two weeks ago it seemed like her presence was everywhere, no matter how hard she tried to shake her off. Javier came home daily with new stories about Miss Grayson, always accompanied by wide adoring eyes and excitement. If she had to hear one more time about how Miss Grayson ‘juggled with the snack time apples’ or ‘drew a cartoon on the board’ she might scream. So much for putting her out of her mind. Then there was the daily school pick-up, where, at least once a week she would have to throw the blond a tight lipped smile as she secured Javier into his booster.
She didn’t hate the other woman, wished she could, but any scrap of goodness from her childhood was tied up in her. Yet, to root around looking for those past tatters of joy meant remembering too much best left forgotten. So, Catra was left needing to keep Adora away, to protect her already fragile, cracked heart from shattering anew. No matter how much she might want to pull her closer. Seemed that she was failing.
Javier came home daily with new stories about Miss Grayson, always accompanied by wide adoring eyes and excitement. If she had to hear one more time about how Miss Grayson ‘juggled with the snack-time apples’, or ‘drew a cartoon on the board’ she might scream. So much for putting her out of her mind. Then there was the daily school pick-up, usually she enjoyed the rare chance to pick her boy up from school but at least once a week she would have to throw the blond a tight lipped smile as she leaned in to secure Javier into his booster.
She didn’t hate the other woman, wished she could, when any scrap of goodness from her childhood was tied up in her. Looking at Adora made her ache with want. But, to root around looking for those tatters of joy meant remembering too much that was best left forgotten. So, Catra was left needing to keep Adora away to save her fragile, cracked heart from shattering anew; no matter how much she wanted to draw her closer. Seemed that she was failing.
Catra realised that they’d been staring at each other in silence for far, far too long. Adora’s breathing was hitched and far more ragged than it should be from a jog, coming out in stuttering gasps and the feline noticed tears welling in blue eyes that looked wild and glassy all at once. Reticent to touch the taller woman, she ushered her to sit on the picnic table Catra had so recently vacated. Adora managed to stumble her way there before collapsing down. Though sitting, the blond was clearly not calming down.
Catra tore her eye away, briefly, from the woman having a panic attack in front of her, to scan for her bat-eared boy. Catching sight of Javier, sunglasses firmly over his eyes, surrounded by other kids and merrily playing tag, she knew she had a little time before he spotted his favourite teacher and barrelled towards them. Taking her own deep breath, acknowledging that this was more than likely Adora’s local park and that she was not stalking them, she tried to help her childhood friend.
“Adora, I’m going to need you to count with me. Count each breath with me - you need to get it together because there are a lot of kids over there and I’m guessing you teach more than Javier.” Seeing the blond tense up, Catra realised that wasn’t the most sensitive thing she could say and rushed on. “Come on champ… one… two… three…” with each number she took a long reach and held it, the teacher going in by three. The alarming blue that had started to tinge her lips she fought for air began to warm up to its normal coral.
Once the cat-woman was sure Adora wasn’t about to black out, though she was still quivering as she sat with hands unsteady on her knees, Catra let out a high pitched whistle. Across the park, Javier instantly shot to attention, head swivelling to find her - looking more like a meerkat than a kitten. His huge fanged smile lit up his face as he found her eyes and waved exuberantly. She waved back before gesturing for him to come back to her. Catra could see that he was about to stomp his feet and object before he saw the blond head at her elbow and instead launched himself in a mad dash back to them.
“Did you run here?” Catra didn’t have long before a boy with particularly big ears joined them. Adora nodded jerkily, head bowed and not meeting her eyes. “Tell me your address, Javi and I will drive you home. Will anybody be there?” Adora shook her head as she faintly rattled out an address in a familiar part of town.
“Mama!” The child’s cry was piercing as he shot into her arms and then scrambled around to her back, using her like a tree. He hung over her shoulder, pushing his shades into his bushy hair and looking down. “Hey, Miss Grayson!”
Dazedly, Adora managed to look up at the now two headed cat-creature and gave him a wane smile, “Hi, Javier.” She was thankful her voice came out fairly normally.
“Beastie, I told Miss Grayson we’d give her a ride home because she’s very tired from her run. Are you ready to go?” She could have asked him anything related to Adora and he would have agreed.
“Come on then super-team, let’s go!” Javier pulled himself higher onto her shoulders, legs dangling on either side of her neck. Catra was strong, far stronger than people gave her credit for, but she was not tall. Soon Javier would be too big for this, his feet already dangling low against her torso.
Leading the way, cat ears swivelled back to make sure the blonde is following. The creek of the bench as she stood and the shuffling sound of grass parting underfoot reassured her as they made the brief journey to her car. It was strange to think that this would be the second time Adora had sat in the passenger seat and both times she had been incapacitated in some way. Catra opened the door for Adora and watched her collapse into the leather before reaching for the back door and strapping Javier in. Satisfied that both were secure the cat sprang over the hood and got into the driver’s seat.
“Wagons roll!” Javier laughed at the familiar silliness as Adora stared mutely out of the window.
The drive was, thankfully, short and soon they were pulling up to the pretty little pastel coloured house. It looked warm and welcoming with potted flowers bracketing in the front door. Catra found a spot close by and got Javier out of the car, before opening a door for Adora who still hadn’t moved. Catra had thought she helped her not have a full blown panic attack but the woman had seemingly withdrawn completely into herself. She wouldn’t feel comfortable just leaving her alone in the house.
“Come on Adora, I need to pee something fierce!” Javier laughed again – he loved it when she put on her prospector of voice.
It seemed to work on grown-ups too as Adora blinked out of her stupor and exited the vehicle. She made it to the front door and fumbled in her fanny-pack for her key. Once the door was open, the mother and son followed her in. Adore told Catra where the bathroom was in a far away voice before just pointing upwards and taking to the stairs.
Catra and Javier made their way to the small downstairs cloakroom, the mother ensuring the child took the chance to pee before doing so herself. It may have been a ruse to get through the door, but as any parent knows, you never look a gift toilet in the mouth. Or something like that. They moved back to the hall before Catra saw the living room through an open doorway. She ushered the little one to the sofa and turned on the TV, finding a movie playing that she knew he enjoyed.
Satisfied that this, along with a snack she found in her pocket, would keep his attention for sometime she found the kitchen and filled a glass from the faucet, before padding up the stairs. It was easy enough to find the other woman, scent still so recognisable lead Catra to the closed door. She knocked softly and was gratified to be called in.
Adora sat on the bed, changed into soft, loose sweats and a warm T-shirt. Unusually her hair was down around her face and she had finally stopped shaking and her colour was back to normal. Catra held the glass out in front of her, relieved when long fingers took it from her, brushing against her own without flinching. The blonde brought the glass to her lips and really drained it in one long pull.
“Thank you.” Catra new Adora meant more than the water but know that she could take no thanks.
“You shouldn’t thank me Adora, it’s my fault you feel this way. I shouldn’t have been so short with you in the park, or hell after the bar.” She might not want the memories the blonde was tied to but she didn’t want to hurt her. “I think we need to talk.”
A small genuine smile crossed her face as Adora ruefully shook her head, “I was going to say that to you.”
“Not now, not with you like this and little ears downstairs. I think you need to know things that you’re in no shape to hear right now.” Blue eyes widened and lips parted but Catra pushed on before she could be interrupted. “Call me when you’re feeling sure you can hear it. We’ll meet up. I’m going to go and watch the end of The Last Unicorn with Beastie – You can come join us or stay up here, whatever you need. We’ll stay until your friends get back.”
“You don’t need to babysit me.”
“I am a mother, Adora, you can’t expect me to leave you unsupervised,” that got a snort from the bed.
“Okay.” It feels like a vow.
“Okay.” It was a promise.
It took a full week before Adora made the call. She wanted to for days, felt the number on her phone calling to her; something about reaching out and selecting it though felt dangerous, like Catra was going to shatter something indefinable from their past. A part of her hoped that it would break open and something new would be released or, her more pessimistic half feared her past would be turned to dust and there would be nothing left to save.
In the end she had hidden behind the emotional anonymity of sending a text message rather than trusting her fickle voice not to quaver during a call. Even then she found herself writing and erasing a dozen messages, each seeming too desperate of too aloof for comfort, each before they were sent. Finally she settled on a simple ‘I’m ready’ and tried not to regret it the second her finger pressed send. She wasn’t expecting an immediate response, tried to go on with her daily routine, preparing her classroom and setting out pens and pencils ready for the children to arrive in twenty minutes. She tried anyway; in reality she found herself pulling her phone from her pocket every few minutes to check for replies. When it vibrated in her slacks she almost jumped out of her skin, pulling it out only to see a text from her service provider.
Starting to feel downcast, maybe Catra had just been trying to make her feel better when she said to call, she walked towards the playground where she would collect her class and mingle with parents as they dropped them off. Usually Catra kept to herself with Javier, leaving as soon as the bell range for the children to line up. Imagine Adora’s surprise then when, as she rounded the corner, she spotted Catra leaning casually against the wall where she stood to organise the children. The cat woman flashed her a small smile and fell into step beside her as she made her way towards the excitable students.
“Hi,” Adora felt bashful, like a schoolgirl walking with their crush. She tried to tamp down the unsettling feeling, only succeeding in reaching up and pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear and realise she was fidgeting before forcing her hands down and into her pants pockets.
“Hey, Adora, I got your text this morning.” Oh, well it was good to know that she had seen it.
“Thought we could decide where to meet in person, rather than the phone.” Adora felt an affirmative pass through her lips but was too busy trying to look like an educational professional in front of all the other parents, to think about what she said.
She noticed Catra had paused and was now looking past the blond, a smile on her face that lit up her eyes in a way that Adora had never seen, even when they were children. Adora followed her eye line and saw Javier playing Leap Frog with a group of other boys and girls from her class. It was nothing unusual, he was a bright and fun little boy with a lot of friend, though she had noticed no best friend. Something was different though. She continued to watch as she noticed Catra let out a small breathy laugh beside her as the kitten landed on his butt rather than his feet, popping back up and laughing with his head thrown back. That’s when it hit her, his bright eyes gleamed in the morning light. His shades were gone.
“Javier isn’t wearing his glasses!” There was delight in her voice, happy that the little boy felt so obviously happy at school.
“Yeah, he had them in the car and when we went to get out he told me he didn’t need them anymore.” Catra shrugged, “Guess he finally made some good friends.”
The feline turned back to the blond, “Are you free Saturday around 10? Javier is going out with Perfuma and Scorpia for the day.”
“Yeah, sure, of course!” Adora tried not to wince as her mouth ran away with her.
“Not sure you’re going to be that excited after we talk, but great. Do you mind meeting at Dryl? We can commandeer the roof terrace, with those two out we’ll be undisturbed, Entrapta never goes up there by herself. Hell, we have to prise her out of the labs,” she chuckled, showing her own nervousness for the first time, running a hand along the back of her neck.
“That sounds fine, I can borrow Glimmer’s car.” She wanted to reach out and take the other woman’s hand but knew that would be too much for both of them.
“Great.” With that she was off, running up to Javier and planting a kiss and a gentle noogie on his head before leaving the premises.
Three days later she was pulling up to park in front of the looming figure of Dryl. Turning off the engine she sat for a few minutes, smoothing down her white turtleneck and wondering if she should have brought something. Was there something you should bring with you for your childhood friend revealing dark secrets? A bottle of wine? No, empty handed was probably for the best.
Unable to procrastinate any longer, seeing the clock turn to 9.59 on the dash, she got out of the car and headed inside. She walked up to the tall reception desk and wondered which of the security officers would be there today. She vaguely remembered a lizard man from a few weeks bake and prayed it wouldn’t be him, she still felt embarrassed enough about that night. When she peered over the counter, she realised her prayers would not be answered as there he sat. A smirk spread over his face as he looked up to see who had interrupted his crossword.
“Back for more?” Sarcasm and something a little more sleazy oozed from his tone as he winked at her.
A blush spread over her face but she met his eyes with a steely expression that she had long since mastered in the classroom. His smirk faltered as he stood up from his chair and looked down at the clipboard on top of the shiny polished surface of the desk.
“I see here you’re expected upstairs, in the garden. Just sign your name and use this,” he passed her a card key, “to take the elevator up to the top floor.”
Walking away after leaving him with a cool ‘thank you’, Adora found herself once again in the glass walled elevator speeding upwards. Although the building was squat, the ride up seemed to take longer than it had on her previous two visits. Maybe it was the anxiety that filled her, or the anticipation. She looked beyond the walls and saw the office with only a skeleton crew at the weekend, then the lavish gym that she hoped to use again. When her vision became blocked by walls she was left with only her thoughts, her thumb going to her mouth as she began to chew her nail in a bad old habit.
Daylight suddenly filled the cubical as it hit its destination. The day was bright and warm, the doors opening onto the fragrant smell of flowers as the unexpectedly lush foliage surrounded her. Adora stepped out, casting her eyes around for the cat-woman she knew would be waiting for her. It took a while but she eventually saw her seated under a small but lush tree towards the centre of the garden. Soon Adora found herself standing over Catra, looking down on the crown of her head. The feline looked up with her mismatched eyes and, with a serious expression patted the ground beside her. Adora took the seat, realising that sat like this, both with their backs against the trunk, she would not be able to see the other woman’s face.
“Thanks for coming,” Catra’s voice was already unnaturally muted and dull, like she had been preparing fo this conversation all morning.
“Of course I came!” Adora looked around just to check there was no little boy around. “Where did Perfuma and Scorpia take Javier?” She felt like she should be talking.
“They took him to the botanical gardens, he loves it there. Lots of things to climb.” A rueful smirk covered her face.
“I don’t think you’re allowed to do that…”
“I know,” Catra laughed a tense little laugh, showing that she was teasing about her and her son’s antics. She covered, “Are you ready for this?”
“You were always important to me Catra, I was devastated when you ran away. I just want to know why that day was the last straw for you, why you never tried to contact me. You knew where I was going to college, Shadow Weaver wouldn’t have known,” there was a flinch beside her at the name, “I just want to know why you don’t want to try to get to know each other now.” Her voice became weak at the end, her desperation to know the truth, to have her friend back clear. She hadn’t meant to blurt all that our straight away, but her traitorous heart had other ideas.
A sigh wafted to her ears, “I’m gonna need you to dial that right back if we’re going to do this, Adora.” Catra leaned forward enough to be able to look her in the eye, “I don’t talk about this, ever. Even Scorpia only knows the bare bones. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through it, but you can’t touch me. Even if I break down, just let me get through it.” Adora nodded mutely, unsure how bad it could really be.
Catra sank back against the rough bark of the tree, Adora dared not move to look at her for fear of ending this before it started. From the corner of her eye she noticed Catra pull her knees to her chest, tail curling around her ankles as she had done so often as a child when she was sad or hurt. Silence settled between them, broken by the sounds of cars and lorries coming and going from down below.
“It really all started when I was twelve…” the silence shattered like glass.
Next chapter is going to be heavy and deliver on the tags warnings, just a heads up.
Adora discovers why Catra ran away.
This is it, the reason for the rating and the tags.
This chapter contains mentions of the sexual assault of a minor and the rape of a minor. Though neither is graphic/explicit, there is nudity between an adult and a minor.
If this is something that you do not want to read you can skip this section completely and come back for chapter 5 which should be up over the weekend. I will put a summary of the key need to know info at the start of that section. Separating this section is also what has led to another slight increase in chapter length.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“It really all started when I was twelve. Remember that night that Shadow Weaver,” her voice stumbled over the name, “said we couldn’t share a bed any more and made us move in with Lonnie?” Adora nodded, unsure if she was supposed to respond. “She decided that we were old enough to be ‘treated like adults’ and that meant really different things for you and me…”
Catra was dragged down the hall by her ear, it hurt as the boney fingers pinched at the sensitive flesh but she was long used to it and didn’t struggle. Her legs churned to keep up with the much taller woman dragging her in her wake, making her stumble a little as her body was off balance due to the uncomfortable angle that her head was forced into. The hall was long and lined with the doors to the kitchen, dining room and the ironically titled ‘family room’ where there was a beat up coach and TV for the kids. Beyond that, further into the heart of the house were the places that the children were forbidden to enter.
The house was large, lavish from the outside and Catra often wondered where Shadow Weaver got the money to pay for the huge place when all she did was shout and kid and stay in her study all day. A full half of the house was restricted just for her use, the half of the house that social workers saw and clucked over as being a fantastic environment for children. Catra didn’t feel lucky, the one time she had tried to tell one of the visiting social workers about the abuse they had wanted to talk to Shadow Weaver and left under the impression that the little cat was a compulsive liar. Catra had ended that day with broken fingers.
Shadow Weaver brought Catra into a room full of stiffly seated men. Some of them were, by now, regulars at this table and others were new which always made her fur stand on end. At least with the ones she knew she could anticipate what they would do, new people were a wild card. As usual, all of the other kids, except Kyle, were still at extra curricula's and would be for several hours yet. They all got to play sports and instruments, join clubs, Shadow Weaver had the money to indulge their whims. But not hers. Never hers. As far back as Catra could remember she had been the target of all of her care givers ire, no matter who caused it, and for the last two years her loathing had turned into this.
The hand on her ear threw her to the floor, where she stayed on her knees with her head bowed as was expected. She looked up through her eyelashes, taking in each face. She didn’t know most of their names, it’s not like they introduced themselves to her or even spoke to her at all, she was there as gift, something to entertain them during these ‘business’ meetings. One that she did know by name, who was there at every meeting, was Hordak. He was seated to the right of the table, not at his usual position at the head which made her nervous and her fur bristle. She’d thought he was the head honcho if this group. Involuntarily she reached up to rub against her face, the phantom of the broken nose he had given her a year ago still lingering. Hordak used her like a punching bag, which was better than what some of the men wanted from her, but even Shadow Weaver drew the line at marking her face. She had been pissed after that.
Not pissed enough to stop these little tête-à-têtes but enough to reiterate the rules each time. Catra could be asked to do anything to the men at the table; hearing it always made her feel like throwing up but she had learned to repress that urge. The men were not allowed to touch her intimately, it was an unusually caring gesture from the woman who hated her but she was thankful for it. They were allowed to hit her, but not the face and nothing permanent. Catra’s heart quivered as she remembered the one guy who had never come back, who had arrived with a vial of something that hissed when it spilled on the table. He hadn’t got close to her before he was strong armed out.
From her bowed position she tried to get a better look at the man now seated at the head of the table as the sound of the usual shady business chatter washed over her. He bore a striking resemblance to Hordak, they shared the same facial structure and build. This new guy was bigger, he sat taller in his chair and had an imposing air that emanated from him even though his face was creepily serene. His bone white skin and four luminous green eyes seemed to stare at everyone in the room all at once, while his snake like hair gave him a predatory quality. There was no doubt that he was in control of everyone in this room.
“Ah, Sister, I see you have brought the little one I have heard about from Brother Hordak.” His voice rose above the low hum in the room and against all her better judgement, Catra’s head shot up to look directly at him, no longer sneaking glances. She noticed that Shadow Weaver, like everyone in the rest of the room had become deathly silent. “Come little one, let me look at you.”
A kick hit the bottom of her foot when she failed to move immediately, and she knew it was her guardian. Shuffling on her hands and knees, she passed the chairs of men who were rearranging their pants, clearly having anticipated this afternoon going a different way and realising they would not be getting their jollies tonight. That at least brought a smirk to her face before it crashed back down into the fear gnawing at her bones. She stopped when his expensive shoes came into view and once again sat on her knees.
Gently her jaw was cupped in a large hand that dwarfed the lower portion of her face, and raised to meet his eyes as he leaned forward in his chair. He looked at her, long and hard, making her have to fight the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. When he let go of her jaw, Catra refused to bow her head, allowing herself a shred of defiance as she matched his gaze.
“Oh Sister,” a dark chuckle left him, the other men in the room laughing nervously alongside him like puppets, “this one will do nicely. No wonder Hordak speaks so often of her, he so hates fire.” His eyes shifted to the man beside him who fidgeted under his stare and turned his red eyes to shoot daggers at the child on the floor. “Come little one.”
The man patted his thigh and Catra moved forward to kneel beside him, feeling his hand grasp the back of her head and pull it towards his thigh. She tensed for a moment, knowing how this usually ended, only to find her head gently placed on his thigh as he began to absently stroke her mane, attention back on the group of men as the conversation resumed and Shadow Weaver took a seat.
It seemed that she was to become a pet then. It was better than what she had been before.
Adora couldn’t hold her tongue any longer, the horror that had filled her with each word out of Catra’s mouth spilled over and a sob was ripped out of her throat. The cat woman paused, broken out of the nightmare flowing out of her mouth with shocking eace - all those years of therapy paying dividends. She turned her head to look at the other woman whose head was ing her hands as she tried to stifle the tears that ran down her face.
“You want to stop?” Her voice was pitched low, soft in a way that she usually reserved for Javier.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Adora’s face was red and puffy as she turned to look at her childhood friend. They had been so close when they were children, she had thought they knew each other inside out and now it felt like she hadn’t known her at all. “I would have helped you.”
“We were kids Adora, there was nothing any of us could have done.” She stood and paced a few steps away from the hunched blond, tail moving agitatedly behind her. “I’m not going to lie, after I got out of that house blamed you for not helping me. I was so angry with you for being so blind. If we’d met again four years ago, I’d have screamed at you, maybe thrown a punch.” She chuckled under her breath, shaking her head, “but I’ve been seeing a therapist for a long time and now all my anger is directed firmly where it belongs, so you shouldn’t start blaming yourself.”
Adora scrambled to her feet, tears dry now, and gingerly approached the other woman like you would a wounded animal. She bit her lip as she forced herself not to reach out and lay a hand on the woman’s shoulder. Horror at what she had heard still coursed though her, and she knew that there must be worse to come if all that had not made her run away.
“I still wish you’d have told me!” The lonely teenage girl; the emotionally stunted adult and the school teacher in her all cried out that she could have stopped it.
“What was I supposed to say, Adora? You were out there getting trophies and college scholarship offers, while I was in that house getting passed around like a party favour.” Catra’s tone took on a dark edge as the words grated out, she wouldn’t lose her temper, she’d promised herself that but it was hard when Adora, after all these years, still thought that she could take on the weight of the world. “I was ashamed, ok? I was worthless in that house, you were the only one that cared about me, and even you didn’t stick up for me when you knew that Shadow Weaver was punishing me. Hell, sometime you said I could stop it if I behaved.”
Adora swallowed convulsively, she remembered saying the words to Catra more than once as they grew up, even after she’d been witness to Shadow Weaver’s attack in their shared room. In fact, if the blond was honest with herself, which she was starting to realise she hadn’t always been, she had shared that sentiment more and more as they got older. Once they entered their teens its seemed like their paths diverged more and more; Adora the straight A student, captain of the soccer team, always surrounded by friends and the apple of everyone’s eye; Catra was withdrawn, belligerent and failing almost every class she bothered to attend .
With this new, horrifying information Catra had just revealed Adora suddenly saw all the pieces of their lives click together like puzzle pieces. It explained why the other girl had gone from being a playful kitten to a withdrawn and surly teen almost over night. Young Adora had just chalked it up to puberty, or maybe that their foster mother had been right all along and Catra was a bad seed. She hated herself for ever thinking that. Hated that while her best friend, the person she had loved more than anyone else, had been being molested in the formal dining room, she had been hanging out with her friends and laughing about how Catra couldn’t stay out of trouble.
“I’m so sorry,” her words were whispered and she couldn’t make eye contact with the cat-woman.
“God, Adora, don’t apologise. None of this is your fault, that’s what I’m saying. Shadow Weaver was a psychopath and so were those men and everything that happened in that house was on them.” She slunk back over to where they had been sitting and slid down to once again sit with her back against the small tree. Patting the ground with a clawed hand, she beckoned the blond to join her.
Adora acquiesced, lowering herself into a seated position, this time opposite the seated woman. She couldn’t not see her face. The bi-coloured eyes met her blue and she nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Adora, this next part isn’t pretty. This is your last chance to leave. Just go home and forget about me again.”
“I never forgot about you,” the words were mumbled but the large ears caught the words.
“Oh,” the words were almost awed. Then she opened her mouth and horror rained out.
It was a couple of weeks before her seventeenth birthday and she was once again inside that room. It was so familiar now that she barely blinked an eye when she was marched in there. She assumed her position on her knees in front of the doorway and waited. Over the years the group that gathered here had become more familiar, the revolving door of faces settling into five or six regulars. Whatever Shadow Weaver did with or for them clearly having solidified itself over the years. So accustomed was she to the goings on of this room, so numbed to their terrors, that she never even looked up as she heard low voices begin to talk. She knew who those voices belonged to, could have made out the words had she wanted to, but she chose to let them wash over her like white noise in her almost meditative state.
Shadow Weaver and Prime went back and forth for a lot longer than usual. Catra’s attention began to narrow in on them when she noticed that nobody else had made a sound, and usually Hordak couldn’t help but chip in no matter how much the long haired man told him to pipe down. Taking a chance, the teen raised her head and realised that the room was empty save for the three of them. Panic gripped her chest now, this was not usual. This was so far from the usual that she could barely breath. She was expected to shuffle across the carpet on her knees and be slapped, or punched or reach inside expensive slacks and offer relief to the dirty old men at the table. But of they weren’t here and she was what did that mean for her? Why hadn’t she been listening?
She should have been listening!
A tiny whimper escaped her throat before she could clamp down on it. Four luminous green eyes fixed on her and a large, almost gentle, smile covered his chalk white face. He held out his hand and beckoned her to him, it was a gesture so ingrained into her by now that she obeyed without question, shuffling towards him on her knees until she was beside him, his hand settling on top of her head. His large fingers began to run through her hair as they always did, petting her like the animal she was.
“Be a good girl, little one, and soon you shall get your gift,” a shiver ran down her spine, she was sure that he could feel it through where his hand made contact with her head. He must have felt it because he drew her head to rest on his thigh as he turned his attention back to her guardian, hand continuing to idly stroke.
“I hope that this discussion is now concluded, Sister.” His voice was hard, the velvet that it usually oozed turned to steel as he addressed the crimson clad woman.
“Brother,” there was a whine to her voice that Catra had only ever heard in this room when she spoke to this man, it frightened her even more. “We said that this was a line that we would not cross with her. She is worthless, not deserving of your gift.”
“Ah, I see Sister, you are jealous that I will bestow my light on this little one. You have felt my light, and now you are one with me. Do not lower yourself to such pettiness as jealousy. You have a place under my hand, as will she.” Catra had always wondered about the weird Sister/Brother talk in this room, and concluded in her sixteen year old brain that they were a cult. Sounded like they wanted a new member. “I have grown fond of this one. You say she is worthless but I have witnessed her obedience and desire to please,” the girl almost gagged at the word, “she is old enough for the light.”
If she were human, Catra would have broken out into a cold sweat at the words. She didn’t want to ‘please’, her every waking moment outside of this room was devoted to lashing out, to disobeying every rule she could to claw back she sense of self. Whatever the light was she wasn’t interested, although from the look of Shadow Weaver, she wasn’t happy about it either.
“And then she will come to live with me, where I can teach her how to best contribute to the Brotherhood,” Catra almost threw up. He would take her away? This house might be hell but it was definitely better the devil you knew than the devil who cupped the back of her skull and ran his hand over her twitching ear. “After all, your house seems rather full, Sister. I am sure being rid of this nuisance will be a relief.”
“You are too kind, Brother.” The simpering tone told the teen that the fight had gone out of the woman. Catra wasn’t worth fighting for anyway.
Blue and amber eyes shifted sideways to see the clock over the mantel. It was three thirty. Nobody would be home for two hours. She didn’t know what was going to happen next, but there would be no-one there to save her.
“Come little one,” Prime stood to his full height, towering over both women in the room. He gestured for Shadow Weaver to lead the way before reaching down and tucking a finger underneath Catra’s chin, lifting until she had no choice but to find her feet. Then his hand was around the back of her neck, fingers gripping either side as her guided her to follow ahead of him.
The strange procession made its way out of the room and along the hall until they reached the stairs. Each step upwards made the fur on Catra’s body stand on end until she was puffed up like a kitten. She felt like a condemned woman about to go to the gallows. When they stood in front of the door to the room that had been her and Adora’s so many years ago, Catra died inside. Of course this was what was about to happen. Everything in that room downstairs had been a rehearsal. All those rules about not touching her a prelude to this.
In their room.
Shadow Weaver pulled out a key and unlocked the room. That was how it was throughout the house, especially up here, rooms that were out of bounds to the children were locked tight against prying eyes. As the door swung open, Catra’s eyes greedily looked around. Even as scared as she was, she would take solace in the familiar place that had always brought her comfort in the arms of Adora when they were little. Except all of that was gone. The wallpaper had been painted over, the small beds exchanged for a double. Everything was lifeless and impersonal. The small spot of warmth from before erased.
Shadow Weaver stepped aside and Prime directed the girl to walk inside. His body blocked the doorway and she knew that she was more trapped now than she had ever been. “You may go.” The words addressed at the woman in the hall made Catra jump.
“Of course Brother. Will you be staying for family dinner?” Bile filled Catra’s mouth at the idea that this was any kind of family.
“I think I will. Today is a celebration, is it not Little Sister?” Was he talking to her? Catra nodded dumbly. She was Little Sister now, no longer little one.
The door closed with the finality of a gunshot.
The hand was on the back of her neck again, pushing her towards the bed. When she was at the edge of the mattress, the hand was gone and he moved ahead of her, making his way to sit on the edge of the bed. His four green eyes appraised her as she stood trembling beside him with her head bowed, vision filled with his expensive shoes and stark, white pants. She saw as his arms moved, hands crossing his body and pulling his equally white shirt out of the waistband of his slacks before moving to the buttons.
“Disrobe, Little Sister. Let us bath in the Light together.”
What choice did she have. Silent tears ran through the fur on her face as she pulled her t-shirt over her head, dashing them away into the fabric. Cold air swept across her bare torso, always braless and now fully exposed to the man on the bed. When her shirt popped over her head, she saw that he too was bare chested, his large muscular physique a threat in itself to the skinny, malnourished girl. Resigned, Catra reached down and ripped off her leggings and panties over her always bare feet. Filled with fear and shame, she stood again with her head bowed.
Prime smiled that warm, sickly smile of his and patted the bed at his side. She could do nothing else but sit, fighting the urge to shield her nakedness, what would be the point. He put a large hand on her shoulder and pushed her to lay flat as he stood, towering dangerously over her, the only sound in the room his fingers fumbling with his belt and fly. She squeezed her eyes shut, but couldn’t miss the sound of his pants hitting the floor before the mattress dipped.
“That’s why I couldn’t stay any more.” Catra’s voice was rough, tears trapped in her throat. Funny really, she had told this story to her therapist a dozen times but here, with Adora, it was a nightmare again. Oddly, it felt cathartic to tell her.
Adora’s face was ashen, no tears this time only wide eyes and devastated. Her jaw was working but it took a while for sound to come out, “He raped you?”
“Yeah. He called it ‘initiating me into the light’. That bitch was going to let him take me with him that night after dinner. I don’t know where to. I still don’t know what was going on with them but I couldn’t stay to find out.” Her voice had grown strong again, the pain and sadness had washed through her and been taken out on the tide of the better things that filled her life now. It seemed her fears of talking to Adora, of looking back, were unfounded.
“That’s why you couldn’t look at me that night, and why he stayed so long at dinner. He was celebrating.” There was anger in the blond’s voice, directed at a ghost form her past and Catra felt a warmth for the other woman.
“Hey, Adora, don’t let it eat you up. It happened and for a while I was ruined by it, I won’t lie. But I survived and built a good life. I have worked hard to leave that behind me. He didn’t break me.” She was tempered steel.
“Is Javier…” Adora couldn’t finish the words.
Silence sat heavily between them for a long time after that. Catra took a mental inventory and was shocked to find that, though she felt sad, the soul crushing pain that she used to be filled with when she thought about that time did not come. Whether it was from the passage of time, the work she had done on herself, or the person sitting opposite her she wasn’t sure. She was pleased though, perhaps if Adora could ever look at her and not be blinded with guilt at this new history, they had a chance of rekindling their friendship. Adora on her end was struggling with the need to throw up at the idea of what had been happening right under her nose. As a teacher she was now trained to look for the signs of abuse and cursed the teachers and social workers who had failed to identify what was going on with her friend, even as she fought not to blame herself for missing it. She still had questions; still wanted to know what had happened between then and now; still wanted to reconnect.
“How…all this…” Adora felt like she had lost her words.
“How did a pregnant teenage runaway end up living here and working in the movies?” Catra couldn’t help a small smile crawling onto her face and she saw the blond relax a little. “It’s actually a pretty funny story.” Adora looked at her with sad, disbelieving eyes.
“The first couple of months were rough…”
So I’ve never hated a character I wrote as much as I hated Prime while writing this. I made my own skin crawl!
Some snap shots of our girls learning how to be friends again and some cute Javier and Scorpia.
I have edited this section but I've been super ill this week so it is what it is.
For those people who skipped section 4 because of the warnings a brief summary of what you missed:
Catra was used as a 'reward' for people working for Prime.
Shadow Weaver is a part of Horde Prime's Light.
Prime raped Catra when she was 16 on the night that she ran away and is Javier's biological father.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“The first couple of months were rough and then I met Scorpia…”
“Oh gosh! Oh my! I am so sorry!” The flustered woman waved her claws as she vainly tried to help clean the spilled beer off of the seething teen.
Catra glared up at the large woman whose face burned red as she squirmed under the power of the youth’s rage. Embarrassed words kept spilling out of her mouth even while the smaller figure remained silent. The young cat brought a hand up to her face - claws unsheathed - and slicked most off a full pitcher of beer off of her face to join the rest turning her red uniform shirt crimson.
The teen had only been working at the bar for a few weeks, thanks to the generosity of spirit (and tightness of wallet) of the owner who had found her out back rummaging in the dumpster and invited her in for a sandwich. Catra knew that accepting that offer had been stupid at the time but after four weeks sleeping rough in doorways she was willing to take the risk. It had helped sway her that the owner was a woman, burly and sporting a pair of very impressive horns, but still a woman. The emaciated girl had torn into the sandwich she was offered with such single minded zeal the woman had grown wide eyed and hastily prepared a second. The two of them had talked, the bulky bar owner surprisingly mild mannered and gentle belying her large muscles and intimidating height pulling scant information out of the worn child in front of her. She had offered the girl a job then and there, allowing her to sleep in the store room. It wasn’t the Hilton but it beat cowering in doorways afraid of every set of steps that came by. She was going to clean and serve drinks to the early, less unruly crowd, and nobody was going to ask her age when they put her wages in her hand each week.
It had taken a couple of days to get comfortable falling asleep in the storeroom, truthfully the youth had barely slept in the last month so exhaustion had finally won out. She had used her backpack as a pillow and the ratty old blue blanket she had stolen from Adora to sleep until her first pay day. Then she’d gone and bought a cheap air mattress and sleeping bag, improving her life a thousand percent.
The other staff members gave her a wide birth, they were friendly but wary of the clawed, fanged ball of temper who lashed out at the slightest provocation. Her first night she had very nearly gutted a male patron who had come up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder to ask her a question, making everyone realise that she was best kept behind the bar or stocking up for now. She had been happy enough with that and, as she began to eat more regularly than she had in all of her seventeen years was strong enough not to tire from all the lifting. She had also started to fill out, finally needing to put on a bra and finding her jeans a little snug. Catra knew she’d have to be careful not to indulge in all the available food too much as she couldn’t afford a whole new wardrobe of clothes.
Tonight was the first time since ‘the incident’ that she had been allowed to do table service, the boss taking pity on her and knowing that the tips would really help the homeless kid out, and here she was dripping in beer while a big white headed idiot stammered at her. Her claws itched to lash out at the big woman’s face, uncomfortable with the flapping arms and intimidating height that reminded her too much of the hell that she had so recently escaped. Catra was about to bust out a volley of abuse at the woman when she stopped to listen.
“You must be so angry with me. I honestly didn’t mean to, I’m just so big and clumsy. I didn’t even want to come but its my birthday and everybody insisted and what was I supposed to do? They were being so nice and I would have felt bad it I said no and I would still have had to go to work with them tomorrow and it would just be so awkward. I hate my job, the only good part is the people and if they weren’t talking to me then…” words spilled out of the woman’s mouth, almost tumbling over each other but when the teen actually started to listen she could hear how upset the older woman was and how much she hated the evening. It was an odd feeling for the feline, but she felt a kinship with the woman she had moments ago wanted to slap. She had too often been forced into doing things she didn’t want to, and though the circumstances were nowhere near as dire she didn’t want to make the woman’s birthday more miserable.
“It’s fine,” the words grated out of her throat, sounding less than friendly but the scorpioni visibly relaxed and gave her a goofy smile. “Just an accident, I’ll go get you another pitcher of beer.”
As the bartender filled a fresh pitcher the girl slipped into the back and pulled on another shirt, they were kept in a pile in the back for just such a situation. Walking back, snatching the pitcher up on her way she headed to the table of rambunctious table wow women. As she drew closer she couldn’t help but notice that although this was supposed to be a birthday celebration for the clumsy chatterbox, she was sat awkwardly to the side looking uncomfortable while life moved around her. Catra got closer and put the beer down in front of the big woman, and made an attempt to give her a smile.
“Happy Birthday.” The shock in the dark eyes was evident as Catra turned and walked away to serve some other customers.
At the end of the night, when the place was cashed up and Catra came out of her room to help clean, she was shocked to receive a $50 tip with a napkin folded around it thanking her for being so kind. She had snorted derisively, even though inside she felt like maybe she had done something right - there was no doubt it was from the scorpion woman.
Over the next week the older woman came in every day, always at 5.30pm on the dot and always by herself. At first it had made the fur on the back of the girls neck stand on end warranted fear. The last thing she wanted to do was catch the eye of another adult who could hurt her. By the third night it was clear her fears were unfounded, though Scorpia (she’d bashfully volunteered her name the second evening) was older than her, revealing it had been her twenty-fourth birthday the day they met, she was very unsure of herself and just looking for a friend. Catra wasn’t sure she was ready to be that to anyone new, but it was kind of nice to talk to somebody who knew nothing about her. At the bar everybody knew her as Kit, she’d seen no reason not to share that name with her new shadow.
Scorpia was possibly the nicest person she had ever met, maybe too nice for her own good. The more she talked about her job and the people there, the more unhappy she sounded. Catra couldn’t help but hate the place on the other woman’s behalf as it was obvious to her that they were taking advantage of her good nature. But she was seventeen, what did she know? Maybe that was what working life as an adult was like.
One day she came in trailed by a purple haired woman with a voice like a power drill and a body that was constantly in motion, even her hair seemed to have a life of its own, picking up every item on the bar and bringing it to her hands. Catra was unsettled but amused by her, even when the long tendrils of hair came over the table and tapped her ears experimentally. All told it had been a good night, and by now Catra was good enough at hiding her irritation at customers that she got good tips each night and maybe a couple of would be friends.
As the Super Pal duo (as she had been gleefully informed they called themselves) got up to leave, Entrapta, the newcomer, dropped a bombshell.
“Do you think I I could come in once a week and measure your stomach? For Science? I have never seen a pregnancy in a magical before.” That was the second time that she had dropped a pitcher of bear to shatter on the floor.
“Hey Wildcat,” Catra didn’t think that the scorpion woman knew how to whisper, but the soft words that left her lips made the exhausted young woman smile up at her from the hospital bed, the tiny hairless infant clutched tightly to her chest where he suckled contentedly; eyes closed, tail curled around her finger and tiny hands kneading at her fur.
Scorpia moved closer and, after looking for permission that she received with a nod, sitting close to the new mother and baby on the mattress. Catra felt it dip under the huge weight of the other woman pleased that she hadn’t made a move to touch her. In the first few weeks of this odd friendship, Scorpia’s natural propensity to hug, grab and generally touch other people regardless of their personal bubble had led to a lot of lashing out and one particularly nasty gauge in the bigger woman’s carapace that the cat-girl still felt bad about but which had finally made the scorpion woman realise that she needed to back off to show her kindness.
The white head bowed and dark eyes took in the chubby cheeks and long, thin ears which were so different to his mothers. It was times like this that she wished she had fingers and not claws so that she could run the backs of them over his tiny head and not be scared to hurt him. Her eyes travelled up to the younger girls face, the struggles of the day written plainly across every inch but coupled with a contentment she had never seen on the teen. It looked weird, the thought made Scorpia chuckle on the inside.
“He’s adorable, Wildcat.” She kept her tone as soft as she knew how, not wanting to startle either of the felines.
“Yeah, he’s pretty cute isn’t he?” Catra couldn’t keep her eyes off of the child, her face felt like it was perpetually etched onto her face. When Entrapta had helped her figure out that the reason she was getting fatter was being pregnant and not because she was eating regular meals every day, Catra had thrown up and not because of morning sickness. It had been too late to do anything but carry the baby to term by then and the idea of giving it away so that it would end up in the clutches of somebody like Shadow Weaver had made her blood run cold. Now, looking down at his perfect little face, eyes stilled screwed shut, yet to reveal their colour, she knew that he wouldn’t be going anywhere but home with her and the giant sitting at her side. Her fears that all she would see in his face would be that night washed away by the warmth that filled her heart. She might only be a seventeen year old, high school drop out runaway but she would try to be the best mom she could.
“What are you going to call him?”
“I don’t know, we’ll work that out when we get home.” She felt his little mouth go slack and her nipple pop out of his mouth.
Scorpia looked away as the teen pulled her pyjamas up to cover herself and then laid the baby on her shoulder to gently rub his back as she had been shown. She was unsurprised when a red claw covered her hand as she moved it in circles over the tiny back. She smiled up at her saviour and they both let out a small laugh when a burp filled the quiet space.
Heavy breaths filled the air as she ran for all she was worth. Legs pumping and arms pinwheeling at her sides she dodged the blow that was coming for her head. Moving her head frantically, looking for somewhere to hide, she saw a pile of crates. Gesturing while barreling forward, she showed her companions where to go. As one they made for cover, diving spectacularly in the air to land, crouched and ready on the other side. Their heads whipped around as one, in time to see a large explosion fill their vision, wood splintering in front of them as they were once again thrown into the air…
“Cut!” The voice rang around the set and Catra pulled the face obscuring helmet from her head, relishing the hit of cool, smoky air that hit her fur.
Looking around the other performers around her, all now bare headed, she threw out a smile before leaping to her feet. From below her she heard a chorus of groans and let out a squeaky laugh as she saw the others still sprawled on the floor. One of the many perks of being part cat, and as a child she never thought she would think there were any, is being able to spring to her feet and take a choreographed fall with ease. As the others began to stagger to their feet and shuffle off to craft services, Catra pulled the clingy and suffocating material of her costume down to her waist, arms dangling along her sides, and ruffled her hands over the fur of her arms, belly and neck to get some air to her skin.
Clad in sports bra and rolled down costume she made her way to her bag and riffled around before coming up clasping her phone in her hand. Turning the device on she followed her crew to where the food was laid out and snatched up a turkey leg and walked away with it as the phone in her hand chirruped to life. Settling herself in a shadowed corner of the set, far away from the clean up and the most of the noise. Tearing a chunk of meat from the bone, she brought the phone up and checked her messages. A few bits of spam were quickly deleted, a couple of texts from her agent received terse responses. She was surprised to have a voice message from Scorpia and quickly tapped the button and brought the handset to her ear.
“Um, hi Wildcat!” Her voice was its usual overly cheerful tone but had a quiver of something behind it, “There’s been a problem at the office and I’m not gonna be able to get Javier. I called the school already and told him that you would be arranging something else so they’ll be waiting.” There was a long pause and some strange scraping and shuffling in the background. “I’m so sorry to let you down Wildcat, but I gotta go.” The phone was put down surprisingly quickly for a message from Scorpia, things must really be bad.
Catra shot a quick text to the bigger woman to reassure her it wasn’t a problem and patted herself on the back for not throwing a total hissy fit, which she would have a couple of years ago. She was left, gnawing on a turkey bone, to try to figure out what to do with Javier. There was no way to leave set and pick him up herself, the location was over an hour from the school and the schedule was tight. That made her check the time and have a mini freak out when she realised she only had fifteen minutes to solve this riddle.
Catra’s list of people who could help was small, to say the least. She may have done a lot of work on herself and her issues around trusting other people, but she was still as sharp as a switchblade and unwilling to let new people into her son’s life. Entrapta was out, if Scorpia was freaking out at Dryl then Entrapta would be hyper-focused to escape it. She could ask Huntara, she and the security guard had known each other since she was a scruffy kid working in a bar, but the older woman had a mouth like a sewer and Catra could do without Javier hanging around the reception desk all afternoon learning how to swear like a sailor. The list was shorter than she thought.
Running her lip over her canines, grounding herself with the small pain of the scratches, she chewed her lip as time slipped away. The phone buzzing in her hand startled her so much that she flung the appliance in the air and only her natural reflexes meant that she caught it before it shattered onto the ground. Looking at the screen she saw that she had a new message and opened the phone.
A rueful smile spread across her face as she saw who the text was from. Over the last few months, since she told her why she ran away, she and Adora had been exchanging texts and the odd phone call here and there (though those were usually reserved for information about Javier). At first it had just been a couple a week, but much like when they were children the two women were inexorably drawn to each other and now texted several times a day. In fact, were she honest with herself, Catra would have to admit that she communicated more with Adora than with anybody else in her life except her son. It was weird how easy it was to fall back into patterns that had given her security as a kid, and she made conscious effort to pull back when she found herself falling too far into the rabbit hole. It had reassured her when Adora admitted a few weeks into their rekindled friendship, that she had gone back to her own therapist, it showed a surprising amount of insight from the girl who had always been just a bit oblivious.
ADORA: Are you a Pokemon? ;-P
The text was a continuation of Adora’s increasingly ridiculous guesses at what the movie she was working on was. Ever since she had told the other woman that it was a family action film the guesses had come thick and fast and ranged from the sublime to the, well, Pokemon. She would have told her what it was but the guessing game made them both smile so she let it carry on. On a normal day she would have sent a stupid meme back poking fun at the teacher but time was ticking down and things were pressing as she made a real, honest to god, phone call. The phone was picked up after the first ring, Adora obviously having expected a text fired back if the puzzled, drawn out “hello?” was anything to go by.
“Hey, Adora. Sorry to call you at work.”
“Oh, hey Catra!” Her voice was bright as she answered. “My lunch just started actually so I’m all yours!” The cat woman could hear the palm that slapped against Adora’s face as she realised what she had said.
“Cool, cool, mine’s just finished. Listen, not a chat kinda call. Scorpia left me a message that she won’t be able to pick up Javier, I’m not going to be back in the city until this evening and I’m too far away to scoot in and get back.” She was rambling and she knew it but it was still hard to ask anyone, especially this ‘anyone’ for help. “I was wondering, could you take Javier home with you and maybe feed him? One of us will be able to get him by seven.”
“Of course I don’t mind. Don’t tell anyone, but he’s my favourite student even before I knew he was yours.” It was sweet and probably a bit against the code of being a teacher, Catra guessed.
“Will you be able to feed him?” Catra had vivid memories of smoke billowing from the toaster and, one time, flames from the microwave as smaller Adora attempted to heat food up.
A snorted laugh came down the phone at the question, it was light and happy, “Yes, I can cook. I’m no gourmet but I can throw together some pasta and the basics. I make a mean Mac and cheese with bacon. Can he have that? Because of the cheese?” There was concern there, a desire not to make a mistake with the precious boy.
“Yeah, he loves Mac actually though he has to get it when he’s with Scorpia, can’t cook what I can’t taste after all. He really likes chocolate milk too. Guess it’s because he’s only part cat, no lactose intolerance for him.” It had been a relief when she’d found out he missed out on all the sucky parts of her cat biology while getting a lot of the upsides.
“Yay! He can cook it with me!”
Before Catra could respond she saw that people were heading back to set. She thanked the blond again and reassured her that she would be in touch later before hanging up and pulling her costume back into place. He green socked tail flicking lazily behind her.
Adora puttered around the kitchen gathering ingredients and placing them onto the kitchen island alongside the pots and pans already there. Glimmer and Bow would be back in time for dinner so she was going to make a big batch of the pasta dish so they could all eat. She could hear the little boy, who had whooped with glee when she told him he would be coming home with her at the end of the day, exploring the house. It was the second time that he had been here but last time he had been restricted to the living room and downstairs bathroom. This time his inquisitive nature meant he had scampered upstairs, heeding the instruction not to enter a any room that had the door closed (she didn’t think Glimmer would appreciate him being in she and Bow’s room), and run back down again. He had particularly liked the laundry room, probably because of the smell, she remembered that Catra had always liked the warmth and smell of the laundry room when they were kids.
Checking the counter she saw that she had everything she needed to make Mac and cheese, “Javier would you come to the kitchen please?” She tried not to use her teacher voice on him when they interacted outside the classroom.
Socked feet thundered their way along the hallway before an excited child appeared around the doorframe. He made his way over to the island and looked up at her with expectant mismatched eyes as she looped an apron over his head and guided him to wash his hands at the sink. He clambered up onto the step stool that she had placed beside her and rolled up his sleeves, looking at the ingredients with keen anticipation.
“Do you ever cook with your mommy?” She began to pull the things they would need first in front of them.
“Yep-yep. Mama makes a lot of meat dinners, she lets me cut the vegetables,” he looked so proud as he told her, she couldn’t help but reach out and ruffle his shaggy mane.
“Well, today we’re making Mac and cheese. Have you made that with Aunt Scorpia before?”
“Nope,” he popped the ‘p’ like his mom would. “Scorpy is good at cooking but it makes her all stressed out so I have to stay out of the kitchen. I like it better when Miss Perfuma does it. She taught me how to make cupcakes without dairy for Mama. She said they were yummy.”
“I bet they were, you’ll have to bring me one the next time,” and she meant it.
They started to put together the ingredients, Adora carefully monitory how the boy used the knife that he promised he was allowed to. He was very careful to keep his fingers out of the way and his tongue was gripped between his teeth as he diced some of the cheese while she grated the rest. She assigned him all the measuring and pouring, pleased to see that he followed the instructions well.
By the time the dish was in the oven, the counter was carnage. Adora expected the little boy to pull of his apron and run off, so was pleasantly surprised when he started to collected the dirty dishes and headed to the dishwasher. He was very careful as he started to load the bows and utensils. Adora came up behind him with the larger pieces and together they loaded the dishwasher, to be turned on after they eat later.
“Javier, do you help your mom with chores at home?”
“Oh yeah, Miss Greyson, we’re a super team! Team Reyes,” he struck a superhero pose with his small hands balled on his hips and giggled, “I like doing the dishes and collecting the laundry. The vacuum hurts my ears though,” the body parts in question drooping momentarily.
“You don’t have to call me Miss Greyson when we’re just hanging out. How about at school you still have to but when you’re here or I’m at Dryl you can call me Adora?” There was a little voice in the back of her mind telling her that maybe she should have asked Catra before she told him that but it didn’t feel like overstepping in the moment.
“Ok, Miss Adora.” And he was gone, apron thrust into her hands and socked feet carrying him back to where the TV lived.
Chuckling at his response, it wasn’t quite what she had meant but it was adorable nonetheless, she hung up the aprons, wiped down the counter and walked to the fridge, pulling out some cold cuts and bread, throwing together a turkey sandwich with mustard and wrapping it up before replacing it in the fridge. It sounded like whoever was going to collect Javier later would be coming from work and they might be hungry. Of course, it wasn’t like a turkey sandwich had been Catra’s favourite bagged lunch to steal from her when they were kids.
Finally done in the kitchen, checking the clock to see everybody would be home in twenty minutes, she made her way to the sofa and plonked down next to Javier. His blue and green eyes were wide and fixed on the noisy and fast moving show on the screen, something about singing fruit and vegetables it seemed. She propped her feet up on the coffee table, and relaxed into the cushions, mind zoning out a little when she felt the small body curl into hers and Javier curl into a little ball. She didn’t dare to move, happy to sit contentedly and hear his occasional laughter at the cartoon.
Adora didn’t know why she had suggested this; sure she and Catra had spent time together since Catra’s bombshell and they had been texting daily but there was always somebody with them, some sort of distance. They were surrounded by the Super Pal Trio or the Best Friend Squad and, of course, Javier’s sunshiny presence. Today was going to be the first time they spent any real time together alone. Not just being together but being together in skimpy work out clothes. After seeing Catra training all those weeks ago all she could think about was how cool it would be to work out with the stunt woman in that amazing gym at Dryl. Naturally, when she thought that, images of the cat-woman racing around that very space in nothing but short and a sports bra filled her mind and her mouth went dry. It was a reaction that she fought to push aside.
Puling up to the building fifteen minutes early, Adora parked as far from the entrance as she could before turning off the engine and just sitting in the silence that enveloped the interior. Over recent weeks she had been talking through the issues that had come screaming back when she saw Catra again for the first time. It wasn’t until she started to open up in that bright, comforting room, that she had even realised what she had been doing.
Going off to college had been a blessing and a curse for Adora, with Catra gone Shadow Weaver had become almost possessed by the idea of Adora at college and Lonnie joining some type of seminary. It was like there was no air left to breath that Shadow Weaver had not passed through, she was always there ‘guiding’ her every move. More clubs were piled onto her plate, keeping her almost constantly out of the house during the day and Shadow Weaver demanded that she study at the library now. She knew she was expected to excel, go off to school to study law and come back to work in the organisation that she knew Hordak and his older brother ran. She wasn’t sure what the relationship between them and her foster mother was, but it seemed like a family business.
Adora had every intention of following the path that had been written for her when she left but once out of the oppressive environment in which she grew up the world had opened up for her. People liked her just for herself, she had met Bow and Glimmer and they hadn’t cared how good she was at sports of in class, they just thought she was sweet and funny. She had started the law course and hated every second of it, pleading her case to her instructors and quietly moving to over to get a joint degree in English and education. She had intended to go home for the holidays, but things kept coming up and then it was four years later and the idea of stepping foot back into that house repulsed her. She broke contact with Shadow Weaver, now with her degree and units in child psychology under her belt realising how toxic the environment she had been raised in was.
She had started seeing a campus counsellor not long after making her new friends she had thought she had got everything worked out until she had seen Catra again and been prompted to return. If she was being honest with herself, she had probably packed it in too soon in the first place.
Procrastinating getting her nowhere, she saw that it was almost the time that they had agreed to meet and finally got out of the car with her gym-bag and made her way inside. She threw a wave to Huntara who saluted back and walked straight into the elevator, using the key card that Catra had sent to work with Javier during the week. Her palms felt sweaty as the lift moved upwards and her stomach lurched, though whether from the motion or the apprehension she wasn’t sure.
Exiting into the gym, she looked around but saw that she was alone. She placed her bag in the corner, retrieving her water bottle and pulling off her hoody and sweats to reveal shorts and a compression top. She shot a quick text to the other woman before throwing her phone into her bag and starting to warm up.
Ten minutes passed before she was joined by the furry woman, dressed much as she had been last time except this time her clothes were a light blue. Catra smiled as she saw her, settling her own water bottle down by the mat where Adora was stretching and starting her own.
“Sorry I’m a little late, I had to pack Javier up and he’d forgotten his shoes.”
“He’s got a playdate with some kid from class. He’s very excited. Entrapta’s dropping him off as she had to go and get some science stuff.” Adora knew that Catra didn’t leave Entrapta in charge of her son very often so was surprised she was dropping him off. Seeing her look Catra laughed, “Don't worry, I programmed it into her sat nav. By the time she realties she isn’t going straight where she intended he’ll be where he needs to be.”
They started slow, Adora keeping up well or so she thought. Catra’s stamina was a lot greater than hers and once they got the weights, Adora was shocked when Catra could lift what she could for more reps. She had expected her to be able to run faster with her lighter frame but her blatant display of strength was unexpected.
Adora was sweating and panting as she did another set of reps, Catra spotting her from above. The blond was trying not to let the proximity of the bare stomach so close to her head distract her. She almost faltered on the fifth rep, and sure hands took the bar and placed in back.
“Go take a drink,” she followed the instruction as the furred back hit the padding and Catra began to lift the bar in controlled motions.
Capping the bottle Adora took her place as spotter, taking the opportunity to look at the other woman unabashedly. Catra the woman was so far from Catra the girl that sometimes it really was like looking at a stranger. She had always liked to look at her best friend, sneaking glances at her in their shared bedrooms and across classrooms but she had never really thought about what that meant when they were young and by the time she had started to understand that the way she felt when she looked at the other girl wet beyond friendship, she was gone.
Now when she looked at her, she saw the muscles toned from work, not as large as her own but clearly just as strong. She was lean, sleek as any big cat under her fur. It was almost like looking at a leopard pressing the bar up and up. Adora’s fingers itched to run across the fur on her abdomen and feel her abs flex, and was abashed at the idea. It was almost unfair that she didn’t even seem to be breathing hard. Wracking the bar, Catra sat up and swivelled towards her on the bench, catching the teacher off guard and making her blush.
“What’s up with you?” A clawed hand brought a bottle to her lips and she chugged.
“How are you this much stronger than me? I go the gym all the time!” It came out as a whine and she slapped a hand across her mouth.
That shrill, delighted laugh came out of her mouth as Catra looked at her, “Because my muscles are for work and yours are for play, dummy. You go to the gym a couple of hours a day and show off to your friends, probably take protein supplements. I am basically working out all day every day, of course I’m stronger.” She waved a finger at the blond. “You just don’t like that you’re not the jock anymore.”
Adora laughed like it was true.
Letting out a war cry, he ran at full speed towards the enemy brandishing his weapon. They ran right, he dodged left. Hands came out to grab him and he leapt over his assailants head, landing tucked in a clumsy roll on the other side. Regaining his feet he was just about to sprint away when he was hoisted into the air in one quick motion. The air burst out of his lungs in a joyous laugh as he wrapped his tail around his mother’s arm while she blew noisy raspberries onto his neck, making him squirm and squeal with glee.
“Mama! Stop it!” Smiling toothily she did and placed him back onto his feet, always mindful of respecting his boundaries as her own ever were. She looked down at his upturned face that was now looking deadly serious. “I was going to get a touchdown Mama!”
“You were doing really well, Beastie. That move you did where you jumped over Bow was so smooth,” he beamed at her praise, “but you know you can’t always win. We’ve talked about that. Can you remember what we said?”
“We learn as much from our failures as our successes,” he repeated it in the resigned tone all children know. “But I would have got it if you hadn’t caught me.”
“That’s true, my boy. The lesson there is pick Mama to be on your team next time!” Mother and son smiled at each other. Javier thought that his Mama was right, he thought that Aunt Perfuma, Adora and Glimmer would be much faster than they were.
Hugging his mum around the waist, he released her and scampered over to Adora, taking her by the hand and leading her towards the empty picnic blanket. Catra watched them walk away and sit down, her son clearly trying to persuade his teacher to let him start riffling through the food in the various bags and baskets that held down the blanket. The older feline jogged over to Bow who was still sprawled on the floor where he had collapsed once he saw that the game was over for now. She could hear his breathe still coming out raggedly from the exertion of chasing a six year old around a field. When she got to his side she reached down a hand and helped pull him to his feet, noticing that Glimmer had joined Scorpia and Perfuma, talking animatedly to the two taller women.
“Thanks for letting Javier get past you like that.”
“Letting him? I couldn’t keep up with him! He’s amazing.” She noted the wistful look in his eyes as he too turned his gaze to the picnic blanket and its inhabitants and then to the trio of women talking by the trees.
“Yeah he’s pretty awesome,” when she’d been younger and people had complimented the boy she had demurred, unfamiliar with how to take any kind of compliment, now she was comfortable embracing how fabulous her son was. “You should go rescue Sparkles before you end up having brunch with a vegan drum circle while weaving grass bikinis.” Bow laughed lightly, eyes darting back over to Adora and the boy, before walking over to his girlfriend. Catra wondered what it would be like to want a child and not know how to bring it up with the person you love, it wasn’t an experience she had ever had or expected to have. She was happy with her little, weird Dryl family and the occasional hook-up with a pretty girl.
At the thought of pretty girls she couldn’t help her eyes straying to the reclined blond, propped up with her head resting on her hand as she tickled Javier’s side as he giggled and squirmed away. She couldn’t lie to herself, she’s always thought that Adora was the prettiest thing she’s ever seen, even when they were children and she hadn’t understood that kind of thing. She didn’t know if it was the corn-silk soft hair with its golden shine, her sunny disposition that shone out of her smile or those shining grey-blue eyes but she had always just wanted to look at her. When they had been young teens, Catra’s feelings had gone from admiration to desire, the older girl running around her subconscious as a distraction from the trauma that happened in her waking hours. She never told her, of course she hadn’t, she had never been under any illusion that the popular, beloved girl could feel the same.
Grown Catra had fought all those insecurities, she was athletic, successful, a good parent and pretty damn hot even if she did say so herself. She was pretty sure that if she hit on Adora the big dummy would reciprocate. It wasn’t that she down’t want to see what could happen with the teacher, it was that she would afraid of what might happen after if they did. It was good to be friends with her again, to fire stupid texts at each other all day and know that there was one more person she could trust her boy with.
Casually making her way over to the picnic blanket, she flopped down bonelessly and was instantly pounced on by Javier as he tried to tickle her. She wrestled around on the ground with him, careful never to hurt him, until she was leaning over him and peppering sloppy kisses all over his face as he giggled so much that she was worried he might pee himself. She flopped onto her back again and he nestled on top of her. Adora was watching both of them with a look of amusement and something else that Catra couldn’t place but might have been longing.
“Hey Beastie, do you wanna show Adora our trick?” He jumped to his feet nodding.
“Watch this Miss Adora!”
Catra rolled over and gracefully moved into a perfect handstand. Javier moved away a little and then ran towards his mom at full speed, making Adora gasp as she feared a collision, only to leap at the last minute, high into the air and landing with his feet on each of his mothers. The woman didn’t even sway. It was impressive and Adora clap enthusiastically but stopped suddenly, jaw slack, when the boy went to stand on one leg, the other raised next to his head while Catra moved her vacant leg out to a 90 degree angle and lifted one hand from the ground.
Loud whistles and clapping came closer as Adora shook herself out of her shock and realised that the rest of the group had moved to join them. Glimmer was holding up her phone, taking a video of the spectacle in front of them. Catra didn’t flinch at the intrusion of the noise, but noticed the raised phone out of the corner of her eye. She told Javier to jump down, flipping onto her feet and then snatched the phone out of Glimmer’s hands before she knew what was happening. The cat tapped at it for a moment before tossing it back, Glimmer fumbling to catch it and almost failing.
“Hey! What the hell was that!” The purple haired woman’s hands were on her hips as she glowered at the newest member of the group.
“You should always ask before you take pictures of videos of other peoples kids Sparkles.” Her voice was flat, giving away no trace of emotion but Glimmer had the grace to look abashed and nod. “Javier and I don’t have social media and I don’t want us on social media so,” here she looked at Bow and Adora too, “don’t take any stuff with us in it?” It felt tense in the group until a loud crashing sound announced the appearance of Entrapta as she fell off the top of the clanking robot she rode to the park on.
Now that the group had been completed by the arrival of the eccentric billionaire, things settled back down. They set out a small picnic feast on the blanket and devoured more food than was reasonable. While the humans and scorpioni laid out on the blanket, clutching their bellies and complaining the mother and son duo ran off to play tag and chase butterflies. A little while after they left Glimmer took the opportunity to gather the others together, pulling out a selfie stick, and taking a handful of snaps of them all.
That night, feeling light and happy, Adora got ready for bed and heard her phone let out a chorus of pings while she was cleaning her teeth. Setting the toothbrush down and settling onto the toilet, she saw that she had a few new messages. There were a couple from Catra, heckling her from several miles away, the gentle insults making her snort as she peed and fired back a couple of her own and a goodnight. The last message was from Glimmer and just contained a tiny version of the photo that she had taken. The group of tiny faces all looked happy and sun kissed so Adora popped it on her social media feed and finished getting ready for bed.
Elsewhere in the city a woman sat, face wreathed in shadows, as she carried out the dark dealings that’s hew as assigned. Money moved through her hands, her digital magic making it disappear and reappear like magic. It went into the system dirty, corrupt and came out the other side clean and purified, untraceable to anyone but her. The house around her was silent and still, all her wards in their beds and knowing better than to get up again until morning or to disturb her in her chamber.
She was distracted from her work by a bing from her tracking software alerting her that something new had just been posted on one of the profiles that she monitored. Tapping on the alert, her attention was immediately captured by who it was that had posted. Shadow Weaver kept tabs on all of her former charges, especially those who had not joined The Light, but was always most interested in what had happened to her golden girl. She had possessed such high hopes for the Adora, that she would come back after college and become one of the leaders of the church. Alas a single taste of freedom and the girl had flown the coop, never returning.
She tapped on the picture that the young woman had posted. A group of her friends huddled together for a penal selfie. She recognised two or three of the others in the picture as friends from college and the people that she lived with now. If Shadow Weaver had desired she could have swept into her life at any time and destroyed it, but she had real work to do and did not wish to get on Prime’s bad side. She zoomed the picture into get a better look at Adora’s face, noticing the small changes since the last picture she had posted of herself, she was not a prolific selfie poster so most of her posts were of workout equipment or food.
Something caught her eye in the back of the photo as she looked more closely. In the background, small enough not to be immediately noted was a woman playing with a little boy. Something about her piqued her interest and she zoomed in as far as she could, eyes going wide as she recognised the selfish little ingrate who had run from her house so many years before.
Taking a screen cap of the image, she pulled up her email and quickly attached it, writing a brief message and pressing send. A grim smile covered her face.
Pale, sharp tipped fingers, tapped at the keyboard. The clicking of the keys playing a counterpoint to the soothing chants that filled the room. The sounds were amplified in the large, minimalist room, bouncing off of the white walls and polished floors. What little furniture their was in the sparsely decorated room was sleek and hard. He took great pride in ruling over each part of his empire with an iron fist, nobody escaping his view or his judgement. One hand left the computer and clenched into a fist, knuckles cracking under the pressure, as he thought of the one who had rejected his light half a dozen years ago. He would find her, as he told his brothers and sisters, he sees all it was just a matter of time.
A ping from the laptop tore him away from the thoughts brewing in his mind and the negativity that he would not allow himself. It was an email from Sister Shadow Weaver. His lip curled at the thought of the woman. She had been one of his first initiates, back when his message was young and the Light still dim.
As he had drawn more to his Light some, like Shadow Weaver, thought they stood taller under his eye like flowers reaching for the sun. He had, on occasion, had call to prune some of that growth. Truly all that was left of that time were Brother Hordak, his brother in both blood and deed, and Shadow Weaver. The former kept his place in the divine light as a courtesy though he was far from the most favoured. The latter was a bitter woman who had grown more and more tainted over the passing years. Were she not so effective at procuring necessary, less than legal materials and laundering the churches money as fresh and clean as new he would have cut her loose. But he did so hate unnecessary waste. His Light was no place for those with such petty, human desires. Yet, she inducted many new recruits from her foster home along the way and so long as he peppered her with occasional visits she was kept in check.
He opened the message, preparing himself for more simpering and desperate antics. He was not prepared for an image to appear on the screen accompanied only by a few scant words and a link.
There, looking back at him on the screen were a group of twenty-somethings in a park. Sun kissed each of them and he had to refrain from rolling all four of his eyes. What did that woman want? He was about to delete the message, angry at himself for allowing his precious time to be wasted when he read the one line message. ‘Look in the background’. That was when he spotted them.
In the back, captured mid-run, was his lost Little Sister. Her hair was shorter, and the passing years had made her physique fill out into more womanly curves. A wide smile covered her face as she was frozen in a laugh. It wasn’t her who held his attention but the child she was chasing. The child with his ears and jaw, a cat's tail rising above his back.
He picked up the phone on his desk and dialled.
So that happened...
Entering her classroom the morning after the picnic, Adora clutched her travel mug and yawned as she sat at her computer and logged in to get a jump on the day, before the room filled with tiny people demanding her attention. The monitor burst to life and she tapped the keys and waited, taking a long drink from her tooth-achingly sweet drink before placing it next to the keyboard. Once the computer loaded she opened her documents for the day and was all set with fifteen minutes to spare. Taking the opportunity, she loaded her media feed and took a better look at the picture that Glimmer had sent her last night.
She smiled as she saw the goofy expressions on all of their faces, yesterday had been a happy day all around. It was so nice to get to know Scorpia and Entrapta better. She could easily see what Perfuma saw in the former, she was warm and kind, and for how big she was, a little unsure of herself. It seemed like the teacher and the exec were a good balance for each other, every though most people wouldn’t necessarily pair them up at first glance. That her friend was besotted was clear any time she looked at the imposing scopioni. Then there was Entrapta. Seeing the scientist with her prehensile hair moving in and out of the trees and bushes as she looked for ‘specimens’ (of what none of them had been told and truthfully Adora thought that was for the best) seemed somewhat surreal. Entrapta was a true lab-rat and seeing her away from Dryl almost seemed wrong, though in the picture she was beaming.
Bow and Glimmer had their faces squished together above her own head, all three of them hamming it up for the camera as they were all washed with sunlight. About to type a caption for the image, something caught her eye to the left of her own image, and she looked more closely. There, in the background of the picture, small but visible now that she was looking at the photo on her monitor, were Catra and Javier playing tag.
Adora blanched. Catra had been very clear about no pictures on social media and here she was doing something that would hurt the other woman, again. Without even realising she had done it! Quickly she deleted the image, noting it had only been viewed a couple of times and fairly certain that would just be people in her friendship group, as a teacher she kept all her settings very private. Next she went over to Glimmers page and saw the same picture up, as well as a couple of others that also had a tiny cat and her kitten way in the back, barely noticeable if you weren’t looking for them, but Adora was.
She snatched up her phone and called Glimmer, knowing the other woman would just be leaving home now. The phone range a few times before the breathless and frazzled voice of morning Glimmer answered.
“What?!” She was not at her best before work.
“Glimmer, you need to take down all the pictures you uploaded yesterday.” Adora tried not to let her vice sound frantic but the stress of disappointing Catra again wouldn’t let her be any other way.
“What are you talking about? They’re great pictures; you look fine and your forehead looks normal.” That was a low blow, Glimmer knew she had a thing about her forehead.
“Catra and Javier are in the back of all the pictures, Glim. Please take them down. She asked you not to put them online.” The gusty sigh and tutting were clear down the line.
“Fine, hang on.” The line went silent for a moment and then she was back. “They’re gone. We can crop them later. If she gets shitty with you about it just blame me. I didn’t even notice. Now I gotta go, my carpool’s here and don’t you have impressionable minds to mould?” Not waiting for a response she hung up.
Adora noted the time and stood from her desk, Glimmer was right, she had work to do. She took swig of her coffee, quickly spitting the cold liquid back into the mug before making her way to the door and out to the playground.
Walking through the front door, Bow threw his keys into the bowl by the door and slipped off his shoes. He breezed though the house, clicking on the TV as he passed through the to the kitchen, just to give him some company, even though he couldn’t see it. The sounds of talking from the other room made him feel at home, he was used to coming home to a house full of brothers and friends.
As he puttered around in the kitchen, putting together a sandwich, the TV playing itself. The soap opera played out for a few moments before cutting to commercial. He hummed away to a familiar coral commercial followed by the commercial for a kids toy that was loud and jolly. Then there was low choral music and he wondered what that would be for, before becoming distracted by a work email and zoning out.
The screen was filled with bright, white light, the symbol of a jagged pair of green wings surrounding a circle softly materialising. Melodic chanting swelled to a crescendo. The screen cut to a smiling young woman, her braids pulled back to reveal an undercut. Her dark skin stark against the glaringly white robes that she was wearing making her almost pop out of the screen. A series of other men, women and hybrids of all ages dissolved on and off of the screen as a deep, hypnotic voice began to bur out of the speakers.
“Alone we are adrift, disconnected from our fellow beings. Unhappiness has become a way of life, something we accept as a given. We are told that to succeed we must be surrounded by possessions and not people. The lie of isolation has made us weak and afraid, in our endeavours to not conform we have become a homogeny of despair. Lost in darkness.
At the Citadel of the Light we are a Brother and Sisterhood of love and support. We are all one under the Light, free to share our sorrows and our triumphs to become more than we could be alone. The Light makes us whole.”
The voice faded out, repacked by the chanting, and again the young woman’s face filled the screen, a smile blossoming on her face. The camera zoomed out to reveal that she held hands with a lizard man to one side and a slim blond man to the other. They in true were connected to more and more individuals. The camera pulled out to reveal a large circle of smiling individuals. The camera swung gracefully around to capture the joy on each of their faces before swooping in to capture one final face, four glowing green eyes looking gently at the camera.
“I am Pri…” the channel flipped to a gameshow as Glimmer plonked down on the sofa.
“Not that guy again,” she muttered to herself as she drew her feet up onto the sofa. “Bow?” She called out, a greeting wafting it. “If you’re making food can I have one?”
Like magic Bow materialised over the back of the sofa and presented her with a plated sandwich, chips on the side and a can of soda. He vanished for a moment and was soon back, sitting next to her with his matching meal, soda replaced with a glass of milk. Adora always insisted that they all eat at the table with the TV off, sometimes it was like living with your parents, but they understood that it was part of what helped Adora build structure into her life. With the blond away having an evening with Catra and Javier, they took advantage of trash TV and an easy meal on the coach.
Pillows were piled high in the vacant spot where the couch had sat hours before, blankets and quilts propped up on dining chairs to create a massive tent held together with pegs and dumb luck. The room was dark, the only illumination coming from the laptop that was playing an episode of a cartoon softly to itself, the flickering light of the screen casting dancing shadows over the three occupants of the blanket fort. Soft, whispering words created white noise punctuated by occasional pure and soft snores all located close together.
Javier lay sprawled across his mother, head nestled between her shoulder and his teachers forehead, breathing soft puffs of air into her face as one small hand fisted into loose blond hair. His mother was on her back with one arm curled around him while the other was tucked underneath the blond who had curled into her. Sleeping in a clumsy pile they looked like a family. Muscle memory of many years past meant that the cat woman had stayed asleep when the other women had gravitated to her as they slept, like they had as children.
The afternoon and evening had been spent in playful fashion. Adora had started taking Javier home with her once a week, helping out both Catra and Scorpia as things had gone a little crazy at Dryl. The teacher loved doing it, the little boy was so sweet and imaginative that they often turned her living room into a wonderland. In thanks Catra had asked her to bring Javier home to Dryl this week and just sleep over there so she could make her a thank-you dinner. Adora had felt a thrill at the idea of sleeping at her old friends home without being intoxicated this time. The more time she spent with Catra the more she wanted, greedily storing away all their interactions to fill the voice of six years lost.
Javier had led Adora on a tour of the apartment he shared with his mother, delighted to show her his favourite toys and the large study where he had a small desk paced in front of his mothers. The walls were covered in childish drawings alongside more sophisticated sketches. The high quality pencils and dense paper on the adults desk reminded Adora of watching Catra, small as Javier, with her tongue clenched between her teeth as she drew pictures of the two of them on adventures. It always thrilled her to see that not every part of the child she remembered had been had been killed by life under Shadow Weaver.
Catra’s return home with bags of take-out, a sheepish look on her face as she admitted she didn’t have the energy to cook as well as play, and she would rather play, warming the blonds heart. The three of them had sat at the table and Javier had filled the air with his escapades of the day, peppered with Adora’s own interjections to clear up what they had been doing. Catra shared some of the action that she had been a part of today, lots of explosions so it seemed.
That had led to the idea to build a fort and play at camping. Javier and Adora had gone around the house collecting al of the pillows and cushions that they could find and bringing them back to where Catra had pushed the couch to the wall, clearing the space. She had arranged the six dining chairs around the cleared space, backs facing the centre and had a pouch of pegs in her hand. The three of them covered the floor in softness, before Catra disappeared, coming back with arms laden with blankets and duvets. Javier arranged the duvets over the pillows, while Catra and Adora worked together to peg the blankets into a canopy.
It took a while, but eventually they had soothing sturdy enough to get inside. A laptop was put in the corner and a giant bowl full of popcorn sat in Javier’s lap where he was bookend by the two women who adored him and who he adored in return. They’d scoffed the popcorn, played a couple of board game and had started another tv show, tired little eyes beginning to lose their fight with consciousness.
That was how the three of them had ended up falling asleep inside the tent, and how Catra found herself waking up to a knee digging into her bladder and a familiar weight across her chest. A less familiar one on her shoulder. Not wanting to wake the little boy she knew was pressed to her, she cracked open her eyes and looked down, vision filled with hair. The familiar chestnut hair of her son was expected, what wasn’t was the cloud of blond that was missed with his from the head resting intimately on her shoulder. Catra felt a blush creep up her neck. She hadn’t been this close to Adora since they were teens, and all those feelings were starting to crawl back under her skin.
Fearful of waking up either sleeper, one because he was grumpy in the morning and the other because she was not sure how she would react to their positions, even though her bladder was screaming, she was left in a quandary. Her dilemma was solved when Javier’s body suddenly tensed and a sneeze ripped out of him, right into Adora’s face.
Catra couldn’t keep in the laughter that exploded from her as the boy shot up, the blond slapped herself in the face and everybody was suddenly awake and very bewildered. Adora was now sitting bolt upright and very much distracted from how she had woken up, which Catra was thankful for as she crawled to her feet. Javier had already brushed a kiss to her cheek and hugged Adora with a sheepish ‘sorry’ before running off to his room. Catra excused herself to the bathroom as Adora flopped back down into the soft cocoon and let her eyes drift shut again.
Blue eyes snapped open once the room was empty. She hugged the pillow that Catra’s head had been resting on to her chest and let out a groan. How could she stay just friends when waking up like this every day was all she wanted? Not just Catra but Javier and the family they made. Tears started to fill her eyes and she hid her face and her frustration in the downy surface.
Pure white light shone from around the vast citadel, beckoning in those looking for meaning and acceptance. The wide doors stood open, luring in the hopeless and in need. He walked through the high arch and found himself surrounded by stark white walls and tall windows letting in sunlight to bathe the interior. Men and women stood in silent rows, looking up at the central dais of the building, mesmerised by the large screen projecting an image of their leader as his doctrine spilled into their ears. Many swayed or nodded in agreement with the message they were hearing. The street clothes of these worshippers stood out as garish in the white purity of the place, a contrast to the white robes of the individuals stood at the edges, surveying the parishioners.
He walked around the edge, careful never to cross in front of the worshippers. He met the eyes of several of the white clad Brothers and Sisters, each nodding to him reverently, some even bowing their heads at his presence.
He made his way into one of the long corridors that wove around the building and strode purposefully to his brother’s inner sanctum. He raised his hand to knock on the close door, but before he could make contact it was pulled open by a pale, nondescript man who grovelled his way out of the room. Hordak reached out and kept the door from closing, knocking on it even as he walked straight into the room without waiting to be acknowledged.
“You grow presumptuous, Little Brother.” Prime’s voice was hard and cold in a way that nobody outside of the room ever heard. Hordak turned to face his brother who sat in a tall chair behind his highly polished desk, glaring at him with his four penetrating eyes. The younger man tried not to be cowed but found himself muttering an apology as he skulked to take a seat beside one of the other occupants of the room.
Shadow Weaver stood out like a beacon in the room, robed in her favoured crimson even while all of the other inner circle dressed in the white of The Light. Hordak was unsure why he had been called back here, he had been setting up a new citadel in another city when he had received the call to return. There had been no explanation and no chance of refusal. When you were called, you answered.
Hordak chanced to look at the others in the silent room, he recognised several of the younger Brothers and Sisters, some from their latest add campaign. All told their were eight of them in the room beside Prime himself and all seemed to be waiting. All except Shadow Weaver. She seemed smug, as though she knew something they did not.
“Brothers and Sisters, I have gathered us here on this day as some blessed information has come into our hands. You are my most trusted and will help the Light to grow brighter. It has come to our attention that the Sister that was lost to us many years ago has been found. Sister Catra is to be brought back into the Light, she has been in darkness for too long. With her she will bring the greatest gift we have yet to receive! Sister Catra has born us an heir. A Son of the Light. Through our divine power she has bore my image.” Gasps and low whispers filled the room.
Hordak observed the others in the room even as his mind was whirling. He saw the stunned looks and the obvious joy in the faces of his fellow acolytes. His own mind was whirling. He had always known that he could not live up to the might and power of his older brother, that he was not divine, but he had worked hard to advance their cause and had thought that he was first under his brothers eye. Now there was a child, a son for his brother who would take his place as most favoured. Hordak already hated the boy, but was careful not to let that show on his face.
“Sister Shadow Weaver, in her dedication to us, has found them.” A screen behind Prime’s desk illuminated and a slightly grainy image of a cat woman and a boy at play appeared.
Hordak recognised the girl that he had enjoyed torturing until she caught his brother’s eye. He remembered Prime hearing that the girl had disappeared and his rage. Something about that damn girl had dug its way deep into his brother and he had not been able to let her go. Hordak had been forced to look for the insulant whelp for weeks after she had run away, to thankfully no avail. Seeing that she was not only alive, but had a child who looked like them was like a punch to the gut. He shared a look with a smug Shadow Weaver, knowing already that he would be sent to look for her again.
“Sister, tell us what you have discovered.”
Shadow Weaver stood, there was no need to but she always did enjoy the attention, and walked up to the screen. She touched it and made the picture zoom out to the original image of a smiling Adora in the foreground. “I monitor my old charges who had not seen The Light,” she locked eyes with Lonnie who smiled back. “This is Adora Greyson. She was in my home at the same time as Catra,” Hordak recognised this girl too. She had been the one that most of the men who had passed through that house had wanted but been denied by the powerful woman, the cat girl their consolation prize.
Shadow Weaver pressed a button a drivers licence appeared on the screen with the young woman’s name and address. “She is now a teacher and it would seem she has reconnected with Catra through the child. It has been simple to locate her address and workplace. I have been unable to find any evidence other than this picture of Catra, no name and no records and I could not get the detail of the children in the school.”
“Good work Sister, you are to be commended. We are very close to bringing them home to us and showing them that they belong. Each of you will be assigned a task. You will find out everything there is to know about Adora, Catra and the boy. We will bring them in when we have everything we need.” The assembled men and women knew that they were dismissed and filed out often room. Prime shared serval shushed words with Shadow Weaver before she too made her way from his chambers.
Hordak was the last to rise and walk towards the doors which had swung closed. As his pale hand reached for the door handle, a larger equally pale hand landed on his shoulder and forcefully turned him to look up ay his brother. The two stared at each other with cold, green eyes.
“You will be uncle to my son, Little Brother. Do not fail me in this and our family will be more powerful than ever before.” His seemed to bore into Hordak’s soul, “Do not let your petty desire for power distract you from our mission. We are here to bring all into Prime’s Light. Nothing can go against my will.”
Hordak nodded convulsively, bowing his head and vowing not to disappoint his Brother. Seemingly appeased by his words, Prime pressed a kiss to his brothers cheek and cupped his face before bidding him leave. On the other side of the closed doors, the younger man took a deep breath and allowed himself to hate, just for a moment.
Prime’s will be done.
Wide eyes gazed around at the set, taking in all of the hustle and bustle around them as she was tugged along by the hand. Trying not to look as overwhelmed as she felt, Adora turned her attention to her shaggy haired tour guide. It was obvious that the child leading the way was familiar with the place, and probably dozens of other like it. Feeling her slow down, Javier threw a smile over his shoulder and tugged her enthusiastically at her. Smiling back she kept moving, even while she continued to take it all in.
The pair came to a sudden stop, the tall woman stopping just short of running into the boy. Taking in her immediate surroundings, she chuckled as she realised that they were standing beside a table laden with donuts, patrias and assorted carafes of hot drinks. Javier was looking at her with giant, expectant eyes.
“Javier, do you want a snack?” She wanted a snack now she’d seen them.
“Yes please, Miss Adora! Mama said I could have a croissant but not a donut,” he looked simultaneously thrilled and crestfallen. Adora was thankful his mother had possessed the foresight to tell him that so that she didn’t have to be the one to deny the six year old a donut at 10am.
“That’s fine then, in fact I’ll have one too. Are you allowed to have a hot chocolate?” She’d noticed the labels and was headed for one herself. The boy nodded excitedly as he put two pastries onto the plate.
As Adora poured two cups she noticed how the men and women who bustled around, some snagging their own snacks, greeted the boy warmly, not at all perturbed by his presence. From the look of most of them these were the crew, she hadn’t seen anyone she recognised from the TV and was a little disappointed. Joining the boy who had seated himself at one of the conveniently placed chairs, she put the hot cups onto the floor and snagged a croissant, then sat beside him. The pair sat quietly eating, Adora checking her watch and noting that it was almost the time that Catra had said she would meet them.
They stayed quietly eating, Javier’s little hums of pleasure as he chewed making his teacher smile fondly, until the peace was shattered by an influx of voices. From around the corned a dozen men and women materialised, talking with each other and jostling playfully to be the first to reach the food. They were all in various stages of disarray, some with torn clothes and others sporting smears of what was clearly supposed to be blood. Adora knew that it was an action film, clearly as Catra was doing a lot of stunts, but it was still shocking to see people who looked like they should be at the ER just wandering around. The teacher cast her eyes to Javier who was completely nonplused by the new arrivals, smiling and waving at people with his hot chocolate moustache.
As quickly as the stampede had come they were gone again, dispersing to trailers and assorted corners of the set. Still there was no sign of the boys mother. Adora checked her phone but saw no messages. She was just about to get up and take a look around when two more figures turned the corner, beelining to the little boy as he squeezed in delight at the sight of them. The handsome moustachioed man reached out and ruffled the child’s hair and he leaned into the touch, obvious hero worship in his eyes.
“How are you, Javi my boy?” His voice was booming and strangely musical.
Then Javier was in motion, springing from his seat and throwing himself into the open arms of the handsome moustachioed man who swung the boy upwards. Youthful giggles filled the space. Settled in muscular arms have you reach behind and cross the hand of the willowy green figure behind.
“Miss Adora, this is Sea Hawk and Double Trouble. They’re Mama’s friends.”
“Miss Adora?” The green skinned person looked her up and down , voice oozing with disdain. “Little bit formal there, Kitten.”
“She’s my teacher, DT, you’re so silly!” Though they gave the child a pointy toothed smile, Adora could tell the attention and appraisal was still focused on her. The yellow eyed scrutiny was unsettling.
“Sea Hawk, do you know where Mama is?” He was peering around the taller figure now, having been set back on the ground.
“Ah yes, she told me to let Adora,” he was clearly a little confused as he said it and cast his eyes left to the blond stranger beside the boy, “know that she’s going to be a while. There was a problem and they had to reset.” Every word he spoke had a flourish that seemed to tickle the boy.
“Kitty-cat was very unimpressed. I thought she was going to relive the scene in real time,” they approached the young woman and held out a long fingered hand as Adora looked up and up at the green skinned actor. “As the little one said, I’m Double Trouble, maybe you’ve seen my work?” It sounded like a question but certainly wasn’t. Out of politeness Adora took the offered hand and as she shook it, the hand grew smaller in hers as the form in front of her morphed into the very familiar face of one of the worlds most prestigious starlets. Adora’s jaw hung open as the form shifted again and in place of the woman ow stood a slender man with slick black hair and piercing eyes. She had seen more than one film featuring both.
“I know you!” Sometimes her mouth worked faster than her brain and she was left looking dopey, this was one of those times. If those strewn yellow eyes hadn’t been judging her so closely she would have smacked herself in the face. “I’ve seen loads of your movies, I really like the ones where you’re the spy. I’m terrible with names unless you’re less than four feet tall, sorry.”
“Never you mind darling, any friend of Kitty-cat is a friend of mine,” the sentiment sounded sincere but the eyes were cold and appraising. Adora repressed a shiver, she’d seen looks like that all too often as a child. “So how do you know our living crash test dummy?”
“We grew up together,” that seemed innocuous enough.
Before the green skinned star could ask anything more a frustrated growl filled the air followed by a filthy woman in a torn costume. The acrid smell of smoke accompanied her as she flopped onto the floor at Javier’s feet, breaking him way from the animated chat he had been having with the affable Sea Hawk to look down at her. His tail reached out and was met with her own as they twined together for a moment. It was the cutest almost-hug Adora had ever seen.
“Kit, my friend, you looked wrecked.” Even though his voice was laced with concern, Sea Hawk’s voice was loud and jolly.
“Bite me bird man!” It was grumbled and only held a hint of venom, the woman on the floor clearly exhausted.
“Mermista would be livid!” He tapped her side with the toe of his boot and the pair laughed like old friends. Adora tried hard to stop the pang of jealousy the started to bubble up.
Double Trouble had walked over to them and crouched down with a grace and fluidity that Adora would never manage and ran a long hand through Catra’s short hair, pushing it away from her dirty face. Their eyes met and they shared a soft smile as the lizard rested their fingers on her sharp chin. The jealousy crawled up Adora’s throat and threatened to leap out in words like ‘don’t’ and ‘stop’ but she bit her tongue until she was sure it would bleed to stop herself.
“Do you want to wash up in my trailer?” The soft words were a contrast to the acerbic voice that had been directed at the teacher.
“You’re a saint DT. Can I take Javi and Adora with me and steal it for lunch?” Catra had pulled herself up into a sitting position as she spoke, though her shoulders were still slumped. “I have another big choreographed scene this afternoon, and because things went wrong just now I’ve only got lunch to spend with them.”
“Of course you can take your Javi and your little friend,” the bite was back as they almost spat the last two words. Adora couldn’t help the smug look she cast back at them. “You know, you too could have a nice trailer with a big shower if you’d take up any of those offers for a starring role…” They trailed off as Catra rolled her mismatched eyes in derision, this was obviously something they had talked about before.
“They’re right, fair Kit. You have talent beyond throwing yourself around and taking a punch. I’ve seen you act and you sing almost as well as I do,” Sea Hawk placed one hadn’t on his chest and raised the other as a long, low note left his lips, when a small hand slapped over his mouth and the four people in front of Adora laughed.
“As delusional as he might be about his singing, he’s right about you Kit. Think of the money. You know I’m right, Double Trouble by name, triple threat by nature. It takes one to know one.” That smile was back, with perhaps a hint of longing at the edges. Adora couldn’t take her eyes away from the group but felt uncomfortably voyeuristic.
“Urghh, enough of this any time we work together. Javi and I have everything we need, don’t we beastie?” The little boy nodded enthusiastically and crawled down onto his mothers lap. “I have a nicer apartment than either of you anyway.” They all shared a chuckle.
“Fine, you win for now.” The brown haired man was about to say more when a voice called his name from somewhere to the right. “Duty calls. I shall see you later, I think we have a scene,” this was to Double Trouble, “and Mermista says you two have to come for dinner again soon.” Catra and Javier thanked him as he walked back to filming.
Double Trouble fished a key out of a pocket in their black ensemble and stood, preferring a hand to the tired cat-woman who gratefully took it and allowed herself to be dragged to her feet, almost stumbling into the taller figures arms. Adora clenched her jaw so tightly she was sure that it squeaked.
Catra, Double Trouble and Javier began to walk away, leaving Adora stood by the almost empty table feeling lost. Yellow eyes turned to her, giving her a broad wink laced with meaning as their voice called out, “Come along ‘friend’ Adora.” She followed them.
The trailer they approached was one of the biggest that surrounded the set, and once inside Adora found herself jealous of the luxurious fixtures in the shockingly large space. The insecure part of her wondered how she, a simple teacher who lived with roommates, could live up to a movie star whose trailer was nicer than her home. She had to snap out of it, she wasn’t in competition for Catra’s affections, they were just getting settled back into a comfortable friendship, she couldn’t spoil that with her childish crush.
“I’ll get one of the runners to bring you a platter for lunch so you three can stay in here and catch up,” again that sneer was there in the actor’s voice though their eyes were warm as they settled on the little boy and patted him on the head where he sat on the couch.
Catra walked them to the door, their heads pressed close as they exchanged some hushed words that the blond was not privy to before the taller figure bent to place a kiss on a furred cheek and whisked out of the trailer with a flick of pale hair.
Catra shook her head with a fond smile and let the door close, turning to the two people left in the room. She walked to where the pair were sitting and pressed a kiss to the top of a beaming Javier’s head before, without thinking, doing the same to the blond who blushed scarlet and tried to hide it by looking down at her lap. Almost smacking herself in the face at what she had done, Catra scuttled off to the shower, telling her son he could switch on the TV and play a game if he wanted to.
The shower started and both women let out a breath they hadn’t realised they had been holding. Adora relaxed in the main room now that no eyes were on them. She switched on the television and set the little boy up with the games console. He moved around the place, opening cupboards and taking out games as though he owned the place. It showed that he had spent time in the actors space and kept the embers of her jealousy smouldering.
Not long after the younger woman had disappeared into the shower, a knock came on the door. Javier was engrossed in making tiny people jump on top of vegetables, so she went to open the door. Double Trouble stood there, holding out a small bundle of fabric, a baleful look on their face.
“Wardrobe sent these, I thought I would play postman.” They looked around Adora, searching for the feline in the trailer and seeming annoyed when they could not see her.
“She’s already in the shower. I’ll give them to her.” Double Trouble held on for a moment when the shorter woman tried to take the clothes from them, but the resistance was short lived and then they were gone again.
In the shower Catra was banging her head against the wall under the spray. She had quickly torn off the shredded costume, thankful to be fid of the smell of grease, smoke and fake blood, and jumped under the spray. As the water ran through her fur, she started to bang her head against the wall. Why had she kissed Adora on the head? She hadn’t meant to. DT and their big mouth had got her thinking about things she shouldn’t.
Regrouping she stood tall and took a healthy handful of soap and started to lather up. Soon she looked like a yeti, white foamy bubbles all over her. As she was about to rinse off he heard a tentative knock.
“You need to pee, Javi?” She called out.
“It’s me,” Adora’s voice was the last thing she wanted to hear while she was naked in the shower. “I’ve got some clothes for you, I’ll leave them out here by the door.”
“Thanks.” Her heart was racing and she was sure that were she a human she would be blushing. Growling at her own ridiculousness she plunged back under the spray and scrubbed off the soap and dirt, watching the dirty water flow down the drain.
Not wanting to waste her time with her son, she quickly finished her shower and roughly dried her fur as best she could with a towel. She cracked the door of the bathroom and stuck an arm through, dragging the sports bra and shorts in and putting them on. Hopefully she would be fully dry by the time she had to get into another costume in an hour.
Entering the main room of the trailer she saw that Adora had sat Javier at the table and was unboxing the food that must have just arrived. The stack of styrofoam boxes released the delicious smells of hot dogs, fries and onion rings. Catra felt her mouth water and her stomach let out a wild growl, reminding her that it was hours since breakfast and that she had burnt that off long ago. She tried to ignore the warmth that accompanied it at the domestic sight of her son watching his teacher sort out their food as though it was something she always did.
“Hey Beastie, Adora, have you been having fun?” She eased next to her little boy who gravitated towards her as though she were the sun and nestled against her side.
“Yeah, I had a croissant and talked to Sea Hawk and then Miss Adora let me play computer games and now you’re here!” The giant grin he shot up at her made her heart melt and for the millionth time she wondered how her fragile heart could feel so full. She lean down and peppered his face with kisses as he giggled and demanded more.
Adora watched the adorable display in front of her and felt an ache in her chest as though something was missing. When she realised the that other woman’s eyes were looking at her appraisingly she slid a full plate in front of mother and child and then sat down opposite and brought a fry to her lips, chewing it before answering.
“It’s all so much busier than I thought it would be, and noisy.”
“Yeah, you think that was noisy and busy, you should see what I was doing this morning. I was going to give you a proper tour, but this morning running on ruined that so you’ll have to come again and I can explain things to you.” She hadn’t meant to invite Adora for a second visit but here she was doing it anyway.
They ate quietly for a while, Javier making fry fangs and gobbling up the sausage without the bun, before Adora broke the silence. “Double Trouble seems interesting?” She hadn’t meant there to be a question in the words it stood out starkly between them.
“Yeah, they’re a character , goes with the territory I guess. Don’t let them bother you, they’re the cattiest person I know and I am a cat.” She laughed at her own joke and Adora couldn’t help but join in. “We dated for a while, they can still be a little territorial. Don’t pay them too much attention, it’ll drive them nuts.”
“They seemed to think you should be in a starring role and not working on stunts, Sea Hawk said the same.” It had made her curious.
“They are both the most annoying people. Sea Hawk and I used to work together, he’s the best water stunt guy you will ever meet and don’t get me started on how much he loves a fire stunt. That guy would jelly himself up and light himself on fire to light birthday candles if you let him. Since he got a leading man gig, he won’t leave me alone about it.”
“You could be a leading lady,” Adora felt like she had to let the other woman know how attractive she was, like the fact she could barely stop looking at her when they were together wasn’t give away enough.
“I could but I don’t want to be. If I was in the spotlight then Javier would be too. I don’t even like us on social media, let alone splashed across magazines. I like what I do, and I like to keep myself private. Didn’t you notice that they all call me Kit?” There was more to it than that, both women knew that there was more to say but with Javier in the room it would stay unsaid.
“Yeah, I got that. Is it your stage name?”
“I started calling myself that after I left and it’s always stuck at work and keeps me away from prying eyes.” Catra looked at the clock on the microwave. “I’ve got a half hour, let me take you two to see the set up of what I’m doing next.”
Javier and Adora followed the scantily clad woman out of the trailer and into the bowels of the studio.
Screaming and pounding feet filled the air as the children chased each other around the house. Appearing in the living room, only to disappear again and thunder up the stairs to engage in some form of mischief away from the prying eyes of their parents. Dark eyes rolled as something crashed from above, moving to glare at the jovial man who was still spinning a tall tale, arms gesturing flamboyantly as though he could not hear the carnage in their home.
“She’s yours when she’s breaking things,” the words came out in a bored tone, thought there was a definite directive in there.
“Of course my beloved, I shall go and wrangle the beasts that plague our home,” with a huge wink and exaggerated flourish he left the room. Sea Hawk was the children’s favourite playmate as he so thoroughly immersed himself in their play, as much as he would on set - more even. It wasn’t long before a constant barrage of giggles out be heard from above.
Mermista groaned but the love for the exuberant man and their equally excitable child glowed out of her face. The producer was a laid back woman who seemed perpetually over everything. When the had first met Catra had thought that it was an affectation, a way that she go what she wanted from financiers and directors alike. Now, three years later, she knew it was just who she was. She was the walking personification of malaise but she would have your back till the end. She and her husband were a perfect counter to each other, her keeping him grounded and him bringing lightness to her life. Catra had never known the two of them apart and couldn’t even imagine what they would be like without the other to temper them.
Catra always enjoyed the impromptu dinners at Mermista’s home, Javier would run in and fly off with Rook, delighting in showing the younger girl what new things he had learnt at school or games he knew how to play. The four year old would look up at him as though he hung the moon and then they would be off and running, exhausting themselves well before dinner.
“Sooo, what’s this DT tells me about you and a blond chippy?” Though her voice was monotone the teasing dripped from it. Catra’s face must have shown her embarrassment because DT who had been savouring a glass of wine, perched in an armchair, started to laugh.
“Oh, look at her face!” Double Trouble leaned forward and slapped a hand on Mermista’s knee, both of them moving to lean into their younger friend, watching her squirm. “Come on Kitty-cat! Spill.”
“There isn’t anything to spill. I told you, she’s a childhood friend. I met her again when she became Javier’s teacher. He likes her a lot and it’s been nice getting to know her again.” She crossed her arms over her chest to signal that was the end of the conversation. Neither of her companions got the message.
“You saw her, tell me,” Mermista was alarmingly engaged in the idea of her being interested in a girl and Catra squirmed.
“She’s one of those wholesome types, all healthy glow and blond hair. From what I saw she looked rather athletic,” they shot a glance at the squirming feline, “just her type.”
“Well, that’s the most generic description of a girl I’ve ever heard, let me guess, she’s got blue eyes.” Mermista rolled her own at Catra’s ‘generic’ taste in women. “Shift into her. Let's get a look.” It was a favourite game, to get DT to shift into interesting people they’d seen.
Catra saw the tell tale flex of the shifters body as they began to get shorter and wider.
“Don’t.” The word left her throat raggedly, almost desperate. She didn’t want anyone else to wear that face but Adora.
Sensing the younger woman’s distress, DT stopped, relaxing back into their own form. They shared a worried look with the woman beside them, noting that Catra’s eyes were cast down to look at her hands in her lap. This Adora girl clearly did mean more to Catra than she would admit. Interesting.
Javier walked out of the school building, one hand clasped in his mothers and the other in Miss Adora’s. He looked up, first at his mother and then at her friend. He loved his teacher and he was so pleased that’s he and his mama were friends again. His mama seemed a lot happier the more time they spent with the tall blond. She smiled more than she did with anyone but him.
When she had walked into his classroom this afternoon the boy had been so excited that he had let out a whoop of delight, all of his friends turning to look at him before turning their attention back to the woman who was standing beside Miss Greyson at the front of the room. It didn’t take him long to realise that she wasn’t there to take him home early, but had come to talk to the class about stunts. She was dressed in the weird spandex outfit he had seen burnt and bloodied on the set but this time it was dazzling white with slashes of blue and gold down the sides and on the arms. Her tail was encased in a tight green sheath.
All of the children in the class, Javier included, had strained to hear what she said as she explained what she did on movies and made them promise to keep a secret as she revealed what the film she was working on at the moment was. A shriek went up around the group of children, excited to know that something they all loved was going to be at the movies. Miss Adora had also looked delighted, finally getting the answer to all of her questions. He had watched as she nudged his mama with her shoulder and the two had smiled softly at each other.
The class had been led outside, Javier had noticed other faces pushed up against the windows of other classrooms, envious of the activities happening outside. When they had reached the playground, even Javier’s jaw dropped as he saw four more people dressed like his mama, all with different coloured stripes on their costumes and helmets with black faces firmly on their heads. He wondered if any of them were Sea Hawk?
The children had been directed to sit to one side while his mama put on her own helmet and the group explained how action was choreographed, staged a little fight and did some acrobatics. At the end all of the children were clapping and Javier was the proudest little boy in the world. He’s noticed that almost all the windows of the other classrooms had children pressed against them and there were even cars stopped outside the school to catch a glimpse of what was happening.
Now they were heading back to Adora’s house to have dinner with her friends. Javier liked the soft spoken man and his purple haired girlfriend. He saw them for at least a little while every week. The other performers had packed up and headed out but his mother had simply changed and stuck around to wait for the end of the day. It wasn’t a long walk to the cute little house his teacher lived in and once they reached it they could hear Bow singing in the kitchen.
The evening was easy, Catra allowing herself to be teased by the new pair. She enjoyed watching how disarming Adora was with them. She was relaxed and soft, no walls up between them and Catra felt a little jealous that they were not that easy with each other, though they were certainly getting there. By the time that her cab arrived to take her a Javier home they were all full and sleepy, Javier asking to be carried out to the car.
Adora walked the pair to the door, and stood in the open doorway as they exchanged their goodbyes. Neither adult wanted to leave, truthfully nor did the boy but he was very tired. He made that very clear as he started to whine that he wanted to go to bed. Catra laughed and, spontaneously, Adora wrapped her arms around mother and child and rested her head against the smaller woman’s.
“Thanks for coming to the school today, the kid loved it and so did I.” The words were mumbled into her large ear, making her squirm but not want to get away.
“Any time Adora.” Reluctantly she pulled away, “I better get this one home, that cab driver's looking impatient.”
Javier perked up as they walked from the house, lifting his head to look back at the blond and waving furiously as she laughed and waved back, watching the pair until they got into the car. As his mama strapped him in, Javier noticed a black van with red trim that he had seen at school earlier that day, watching the stunts. He wondered if they were Miss Adora’s neighbours? He snuggled into his mother’s neck and drifted off as they drove home.
“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.
Yes - what started as a 3 chapter fic I had already written has gotten waaaay out of hand and become a totally different beast BUT next section will end the story and then there will be an epilogue. Thanks for people who had stuck with this.
TW: Catra is going to have a panic attack and there is abuse in this section
Pain. It was everywhere. It raced across every nerve and fibre of her body. Every breath brought lightening running through her chest. She squeezed her eyes tight, not wanting to open them and see what horror would be surrounding her. She remembered being ambushed, pulling Javier close and then pain lacing though her. They had fallen, fast and now she was here, wherever here was. If she was alive, Javier must be too. No way she actually hit the ground and lived so whatever broke her fall, Javier would have been more protected by her body too. Panic was crawling around her mind, wherever she was could not be good, she needed to find her boy and get out.
To her left she could hear the beeping of a heart rate monitor but her sensitive ears also detected the feint echo as the sound bounced around the room. No hospital in the world had rooms big enough for the that be a problem. Another red flag was the fact that other than her, thankfully, still steady heartbeat she couldn’t hear anything else. No nurses bustling around, no other machinery. Certainly no other patients, there was only one other set of breaths in the room. One other heartbeat.
A heartbeat she knew well and the fear that had already been coursing through her blood made her heart stutter to a stop. It couldn’t be. She had got away from her and hidden so well. She couldn’t be here, near Javier, poisoning him with her darkness. The heart rate monitor no longer maintained its steady, soothing rhythm as her heart pounded its way out of her chest. The machine almost seemed to scream out her anguish.
Alarms began to blare in response, a symphony of ear piercing terror but all she could focus on was the woman in the room with her. Finally unable to keep her eyes closed, damn the pain, she had to know where she was, they snapped open as her poor, abused body did its best to throw itself out of the bed. She was thwarted by the tug of coughs at wrist and ankle that meant that her thrashing did little more than rock the hospital bed as she heard a new commotion getting closer, probably to investigate the alarm.
That was unimportant, lifting her head, straining her neck, she shot her gaze towards the left where she knew the spectre was. That heartbeat hadn’t changed once, she was calm and careless as stone. Shadow Weaver’s cool, dead eyes stared back at her, meeting her terrified stare unwaveringly.
There were hands on her, voices hovering around, but none of them mattered. She couldn’t look away from the woman who had tortured her for so many years and let her be brutalised until she thought it would be better to disappear into nothingness than live. Couldn’t back down and show fear to the shark in human form. She hoped her look was a glare but feared that the fear for herself and her child was bleeding through. The triumphant smirk that curled the ravaged lips of the older woman told her it was the latter.
Catra’s thrashing became even more intense as she did her damnedest to break out of her restrains. She was limber and strong, if she fought hard enough she could. But her arm was useless, motionless at her side and her side felt wet while her leg shot agony all the way to her groin. The more she thrashed, the weaker she felt and the louder the voices around her became. She was surprised that nobody had touched her yet, but a thrashing cat was intimidating even while strapped down.
Shadow Weaver casually walked towards her, her red robe, standing out starkly against all of the blinding white that surrounded her, and Catra’s vision once again narrowed down to nothing but her. Soon she was at the side of the bed, looming tall and menacing over her as she had so many times when Catra was a small child. Everything stopped, Catra froze in an instant. An instant was all it took when she felt a dozen hand converge on her body and hold her down. The sharp bite of a needle pushed into her throat.
The room began to go black around the edges, things starting to narrow down like the end of a black and white movie. A cool, long fingered hand was gripping her jaw, tilting her suddenly slack face towards her tormentor. The tunnel of her vision was tiny now and Shadow Weaver filled it.
“Sleep well, Catra. Prime has plans for you.” Only blackness remained.
Prime was here.
Javier. Javier. Javier…
A yawn spilled out of the little boy, so wide that he felt a pop. His eyes remained glued closed and his head felt fuzzy, like he was packed with cotton wool. He never felt like this in the morning. He was always full of fizz and sunshine, at least that’s what Mama said. Sometimes he felt like this after he had a cold and had to take medicine, but the last thing he remembered he and Mama had been climbing a tree.
Still not feeling like he could open his eyes, the child rolled around in his sheets to get into a more cozy position. The sheets rucked up to his face and he rubbed his cheek against them, breathing in the scent of clean washing and home, except that wasn’t what he could smell. The sheets smelt weird, like detergent that was too strong and not washed out properly. They were too slick too, not fluffy and snuggly like the ones on his and his Mama’s bed.
The tiredness was gone now, replaced by fear. He was a little boy with a quick mind and everything he had catalogued in his mind so far was making alarm bells rise in his head. His Mama had spent his whole life getting him to think for himself and work out problems and there was definitely a problem.
Cautiously he cracked open his green eye, peeking out over the top of the bunched up sheets as surreptitiously as he could. The room around him was big, much bigger than his bedroom at hime. The bed was pressed up against a wall, not sticking out into the room, luckily he was facing away from the wall. There was a dresser and a desk opposite him, a television floating on the wall above the desk. His little eyes widened as he noticed not one, but two games consoles resting under it. Mama never let him have one of those. Not to be distracted he looked to the other walls where he saw toys stacked and waiting. It should have been exciting for him to see but the most important thing was missing. Where was his Mama?
He trembled inside his cocoon, the other thing he realised about the room was how bright and white it was. Somebody had tried to make it look like a room for a child but the harsh brightness made his eye water and he closed it again. A tear tricked down his face, whether from the ache of the light or the absence of his mother he wasn’t sure butane one came so did more until his little shoulder shook with sobs.
His Mama would never leave him somewhere he didn’t know and let him wake up by himself. They were a team. He was hers and she was his. If she wasn’t here something bad had happened to her. Had she fallen out of the tree? Had they had a car accident? He remembered when he’d been a lot smaller and Mama had put her phone in his hands and shown him how to call for an ambulance in case anything happened to her in their apartment. She had drilled him with what to say until he was perfect. Her perfect boy. Had he had to call the ambulance?
Finally, almost without his permission, a wail rose up from the pile of sheets, “Mama!”
His voice echoed back to him, taunting him like the bullies in the playground last year. They had pulled his tail and called his eyes funny. Said that his Mama was an animal and he couldn’t be her because he wasn’t furry. He had hated them so much, they had hurt him on the outside but hurt him more on the inside. He had cried every day until he started to hide behind his glasses so they couldn’t see him cry. He wishes he was there now. Even that would be better than this alien place. And Mama would be there to cuddle him.
Long, elegant ears swivelled to catch the sound of a soft click as a door opened in the one wall that he had not taken notice of. The clomp of heavy shoes moved across a floor polished shiny and smooth made the little boy push himself into the corner to get away from this stranger. He knew the sounds of all of the people he loved, Mama didn’t were shoes, Aunt Scorpia skipped a little when she walked and Perfuma seemed to glide. Entrapta was always using her hair and Adora moved like she was marching even in class. This was heavy and purposeful. It made him shiver.
The sound stopped close to the bed but the mattress didn’t dip. Whoever it was had not sat down with him. Rather than making him feel better that the person was still keeping their distance, Javier felt even more distressed as this was just more confirmation that the person wasn’t anyone he loved. Without meaning to he let out a little whimper, trying to hide it in the fabric around his face. The creaking of clothing let him know that the person had heard and was moving.
A hand settled on top of his head where it poked out, gently carding though his hair as he heard a deep voice shushing him in gentle tones. He wanted to pull back but a bigger part of him craved contact and he relaxed under the touch, but only a little.
“Do not be afraid Javier, you are in the Light now. You have nothing to fear as you are in my kingdom.” The voice was strangely hypnotic, the pace and depth designed to be disarming.
Javier’s ears twitched, the words the strange man was using were fantastical. Kingdoms and the kings that ran them were the stuff of the bedtime stories that Mama told him as they lay wrapped up together under his comforter, him tucked under her arm. If this was a kingdom then maybe this man was a king and he would know where Mama was. The little boy gingerly pulled the cover down to his nose and looked out, meeting the luminous green eyes of the man who bent over the bed, hand still threaded through his hair.
The face that peered down at him was big and square, with three eye s o one side of the face, and one on the other. His long ears tapered out to the side and long, vine like hair coiled around his head and down his back. Long white robes fell from his shoulders, and Javier though that he did look like a king. Maybe an emperor. What he definitely looked like was Javier himself. The sharp cheeks, square jaw and the ears were all things that Javier saw in the mirror every morning.
Javier’s ears began to droop in sadness. He knew who this man was. He knew that he was the one thing that his Mama was scared of. As soon as Javier had been old enough to ask big questions, Mama had made the decision to tell him anything he asked in a way that he understood.
He’d been five when a boy at school, one of the bullies, had taunted him about not having a daddy. It hadn’t made him cry, he’d never even given it a thought before. It had made him curious. At dinner that evening he had asked Mama where his daddy was. She had frozen, tensed up in a way he had never seen before, fork half way to her mouth. She’d blinked a couple of time before placing her fork down and covering his hand with hers. She had explained that he didn’t have a daddy because he had been made a different way. He had been made after a man had hurt her and not out of love like most children. But she loved him, loved him so much that that did not matter. They were Javier and Catra Reyes and that meant they were everything.
“Hello Javier,” He had crouched now, bringing him to eye level with the cowering child. “I am Prime and I am your father. You are in my house now, you will always be protected here. You will be the Light.” He was smiling, it stretched across his face and warmed his eyes, it should have made Javier feel at ease but instead it made him feel like he was about to be eaten by a shark.
Be smart, his mother’s voice rang in his head. Always be smart. If you think you’re in trouble and you can’t get out of it play along, find out anything you can and then use that to help you. He didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know where Mama was and he needed to get out and get help.
He sat up and put on his sweetest face. It was the expression he used when he wanted Aunt Scorpia to give him chocolate or when he wanted Mama to let him stay up for fifteen more minutes. He batted his eyelashes as he looked up with his blue and green mismatched eyes and tried not to tremble.
“Hi.” His voice was small but didn’t waver.
“Now you’re more awake, how about we get you into fresh clothes and have a look at some of these toys?” There was that kind tone again, as the hand withdrew from his hair and rested on his shoulder with a gentle squeeze.
“Where’s Mama?” That was the only thing he wanted to know.
“Oh, have no fear son. You and your mother were in an accident and brought to my citadel to convalesce.” He noted the boy look back at him blankly, “that means to get better. I am unused to speaking with children, my boy, so please forgive me. You and your mother were brought here so that I could look after you and she could get better. Would you like to go and see her after you have changed?”
He seemed really insistent on Javier changing his clothes. Javier pushed the sheets off of his body and saw that, minus his coat, he was still wearing what he had worn to the park and he did smell a little bit. There were some strange brown stains smeared across his jumper. If putting on new clothes meant that he could see his Mama then he would.
“Ok, I’ll change clothes. I want to see Mama. How long have I been asleep?” He still remembered how bunged up his head had felt when he woke up.
“Good boy.” The hand was on his cheek now, cupping his face in a big hand that that dwarfed it.
Then he was gone, standing and turning in one fluid movement and heading towards the dresser where he slid open and drawer and withdrew and neatly stacked pile of pure white clothes. He placed them on top as he closed the drawer, then retrieved them and walked back to the bed. Now the mattress did dip as Prime sat beside him, bundle on his lap.
“You have been unconscious for two days, as has your mother. You were in something called shock, that means that your brain,” a big finger tapped the side of the little head. “Made you stay asleep so that you feel better.”
Prime stood again, smiling that strangely benevolent but empty smile down at the boy, putting the clothes onto the bed. “Do you need any help?” He gestured at them.
Javier knew one lesson very well. It had been drilled into him. Nobody touches your private area and nobody is allowed to see you naked except Mama and Aunt Scorpia (but only at bath time). He certainly wasn’t going to let this man, who his Mama had told him was bad, be anywhere near him.
“Yeah. I can do it.” Prime stood there, dominating the room and not moving. “Can you please wait outside.”
The boy was shocked when Prime nodded, patted him on the shoulder and headed towards the big doors. As he approached they opened before he touched them and Javier got a glimpse of two other white robed men holding them for him. They bowed their heads as he walked past them.
“I shall wait outside, my boy. Come out when you are ready and we shall visit your mother.” Then the doors were closed.
Now on his own, Javier felt very small. All the adrenaline that had been running through him drained away. He wanted his Mama to be ok. He wanted her to hold him and tell him that everything was going to be alright.
He jumped out of the bed and shimmied out of his clothes as fast as he could. He grabbed the pile he had been given and riffled through until he found a pair of pants and socks. He put them on and then looked at the rest. In his hands he held a miniature version of the robes that Prime had been wearing. They were different to what the men outside had on, more ornate and whiter if that was possible. He got them on and ran his fingers through his hair, settling in place like his Mama liked. Squaring his little shoulders he made his was to the doors.
He would see Mama and then he would play along until she could get them out of this weird, white world.
It’d been a week since Scorpia and Adora had found the dart in the woods. Police had been called, investigation had happened and there everything had stopped. It was a waiting game for them to investigate a suspected disappearance. Catra was a grown woman, had taken her car and had, apparently, called the school to let them know Javier would be absent. The only people who were worried were seated around Scorpia’s living room brainstorming what they could do.
Adora worried at her fingernail as she took in the men and women arranged around the room. Was it only just over a week since they had all been sitting together downstairs, friendship groups joining together to drink and play? Now they were here fearing the worst about the disappearance of one of their number. Adora got stuck on that thought, zoning out of the conversation happening around her, everything zooming in on the fear of never seeing them again.
Gentle hands pulled her fingers from her mouth and then an arm settled around her shoulders as Glimmer brought her in for a hug. It helped ground Adora in the present. It helped her to remember her purpose. They were all here to work out what to next while they waited for the police to finally acknowledge that there was a problem.
“DT, Sea Hawk, what’s happening at work?” It was a good line of questioning and she was thankful that Glimmer had said it.
“It’s like with the school, somebody who seemed to be Catra called her agent and claimed that she wouldn’t be able to come back to set due to a family tragedy. The higher ups are displeased but there was no reason for them to think it was suspicious. There haven’t been any police around.” Double Trouble’s usual smirk was absent and their tone was sad.
“What DT says is true, nobody is worried. The police are noticeably not taking a missing child seriously.” Sea Hawk was a good man and his fear made his flamboyance almost melodramatic.
“But there isn’t a ‘missing child’ because he is with his mother.” Mermista voiced the problem.
“Enough of all this maudlin stuff. We know they’re missing, even if nobody else does. What can we do!” Bow forced his way into the conversation and got them back on track.
And it did get them back on track. They brainstormed for hours, Entrapta theorising that she could create an algorithm to spot inconsistencies in movements around the woods, as well as hacking into the police traffic cams and looking for Catra’s car. Mermista’s father had money and clout, she would talk to him and see if he could put in a work with a police commissioner or two. By the end of the evening they had some plans, a sliver of hope and the fear had lessened.
Glimmer and Bow stayed behind when the rest left, sitting there with Scorpia and Perfuma while Adora paced by the window. She was restless and still agitated. The two seated couples shared a concerned look.
“Adora, why don’t you come home with Bow and me tonight?” Since Catra had vanished, Adora had been sleeping in her large, lonely apartment hoping that the two cats would walk through the door laughing and she would sweep them into her arms and everything would be fine. “I don’t think that you should be alone.”
Adora wanted to resist. What if they came home and she wasn’t there?
“Yeah Adora, come home with us. You can get some more clothes, we’ll make you dinner and we can talk about Catra and Javier.” Bow knew which buttons to press, how to make her take care of herself.
Eventually Adora let herself be escorted out of the apartment, leaving Perfuma and Scorpia alone with promises that they would call if anything happened. By the time they got back to the cute little house the three of them shared, Adora was dazed and let herself be easily manhandled onto the sofa.
In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed, there was a plate of pasta in front of her and her stomach rumbled reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, it hadn’t seemed important. Picking up the fork she shovelled food into her mouth, not noticing the worried look that Glimmer and Bow shared over their own bowls of food.
“Adora, why don’t you tell us about Catra and Javier. It might jog your memory about something?” Bow knew it wouldn’t, but it might make the blond think of something happier and let her sleep.
Catra’s leg throbbed as she stood awkwardly in front of the doors to Prime’s suit. It wasn’t the first time she had stood in front of these doors in the last two weeks, far from it. Multiple times a day she was forced to enter his private chambers and be enveloped in everything that was HIM if she wanted to spend any time with Javier. She and her boy were never left alone, either forced to be in Prime’s presence or followed around by his must trusted Brothers. Thankfully, Prime seemed to realise that allowing Shadow Weaver near children was bad and the woman was kept well away from Javier, for which Catra found herself absurdly grateful, even if it did not keep her away from the older woman.
Hand itching at her side, balled into a fist, she didn’t bother to knock. He knew she was there, he knew everything she did within these walls, he’d make her sweat and then release the doors to let her in, so she waited. And waited. The throbbing in her leg intensified, even while her shoulder still felt numb. She was glad that she didn’t need to raise her hand to knock, as bringing it any higher than her chest was agony. Even though she had received the best of care, something which boggled her mind, why shoot her out of a tree and then pay private physicians to put her back together? Her leg and shoulder were healing quickly, not fully healed by any measure but far better than she thought they would be after such a short amount of time. The wound in her side was another story, the arrow had pierced her back, thankfully missed her kidneys, but the arrow being inside her had meant a small surgery and it still weeped blood and puss periodically no matter the interventions. Much to her dismay it meant a constant low grade fever along with the limp and numbness. It was making forming a plan to get her and the boy out much harder.
Eventually the door opened and she almost stumbled into the arms of her nightmare fuel. He stood there with that merciful look on his face, welcoming her like somebody he cared for. It was such an awful joke. She felt sick every time she thought about Javier being alone with the man. She had spent his whole life working hard to make sure he was healthy and happy and good. He was such a good boy. Prime was an insidious, manipulative man who made people literally bow down to him and even leave their lives behind. How could she expect a six year old to stand in the face of that and not lose himself?
“Welcome Little Sister, you are just in time for tea and cake,” his voice was always so damn convivial.
“I bet you were,” her tone was brittle, hedging the line of complete distain.
It hadn’t taken long for her to realise that her only way through this would be to play Prime’s game and pretend that she would become part of his cult. As a teen she hadn’t really understood what this man was. As a far more jaded adult she was thrust into the heart of the Light, an obvious cult with all the trappings. She couldn’t afford to let herself, or Javier buy into it. It was hard to stay civil and play at obedience.
She moved through the room and sat at the table that was decked out with cupcakes and tea. Javier was nowhere in sigh and she felt her stomach drop. She could not stand to be alone with this man. He pulled his own chair out and sat down at the head of the table. Catra kept her head bowed, casting glances towards the doors around the room.
“Little Sister,” she was startled when he addressed her, head jerking up involuntarily. Over the weeks he had seldom spoken directly to her, preferring instead to focus his attentions on Javier. “You have been settling in well, Shadow Weaver tells me that there has been no repeat of the unpleasantness from several weeks ago.”
‘The unpleasantness’ was the euphemistic name that they had given to her single, aborted escape attempt with Javier. The day after she had first regained consciousness, Prime had brought Javier to see her. Shadow Weaver had been happily ensconced in a plump armchair close enough to the bed to never allow Catra to relax, tapping away at a laptop. Prime had walked in with all the imperiousness of a king, sending doctors bowing and scarping around the room and even bringing Shadow Weaver to her feet. Catra had gone numb, until she had noticed the small white robed figure at his side and her heart had simultaneously share and plummeted at once.
She had been taken aback by how like the monster her son looked, especially dressed in a miniature version of Prime’s clothes. Had she lost him already? The chemicals running through her blood made everything feel unreal and the pain that still hummed around her body left her teetering on a knife edge. She felt tears start in her eyes when she noticed her boy’s hair, tousled just as she liked it. It was like a wink, her Beastie showing that he knew something wasn’t right.
Javier had been allowed to crawl onto the bed and curl up with her, warned not to be too rough because of her injuries. Prime reminded him about the car accident that they had had, a subtle way to demand that was the line Catra would keep with him. Prime and Shadow Weaver had retreated to the edge of the room to talk, leaving a sliver of privacy for the mother and son.
They had talked in tones so low that only someone with cat ears, or cat DNA would hear. He told her that he knew something was wrong and she told him that she would get them away from these people.
It had been three days before she had been able to make good on that promise. She had managed to snag a manacle key from one of the doctors, her fingers nimble and her acting skills good. She had got as far as the hallway outside her own room, dizzy and barely able to move through the pain of her still fresh wounds, when she had felt long fingered hands link around her throat and squeeze. A bitter laugh filled the air and she was taken back to a hundred tortures counterpointed with that same sound.
She had lost consciousness and woken chained, uncovered and naked on the bed, with Shadow Weaver running her finger down the centre of her chest, diverting to press hard onto her side, sending excruciating pain through her wound. She screamed and Shadow Weaver moved her other hand to her shoulder and Catra felt the stitches burst as she pushed deep into the flesh. The screaming had gone on for some time.
The infection that followed had lost Catra days of memories and left her in delirium. Her still contaminated torso wound the legacy of that. She had not tried to escape since. She needed a real plan, some autonomy and for her body to obey her.
“Yeah, it was pretty unpleasant for me. I can see how happy Javier is here, and I’ve decided to keep an open mind. There might be a place for me in the Light,” lies just spilled out of her mouth and she hoped they convinced him.
“I am pleased to hear that Little Sister, I have always seen big things for you. Had you not run when I gave you my gift, and what a gift it turned out to be,” Catra had to bite back the vomit that filled her mouth,” you would be leading the citadel at my side now. The first family of my church.”
Before he could say more, the inner door of the room opened and Javier ran into the room. When he saw his mother at the table he ran faster and dived into her lap, curling up and resting his head against her chest. He was always happy, relieved even, when he saw her but today he seemed sad. Without thought she wrapped her arms around him and purred. Javier nestled his head into her neck and sighed with pleasure at the vibration. Catra looked up and caught Prime looking at them with a smile and a doting look on his face. If he wasn’t a monster it would have been sweet.
“I wanted to tell you both that, as you have settled in now, you may spend as much time together as you would like. We will eat all of our meals together, as a family so that we may get to know each other well. You may go anywhere in the citadel and the grounds. All I ask is that you be accompanied by two of my most loyal Brothers so that you will want for nothing.”
He made everything seem so plausible, almost desirable. It was hard to believe he had done what he did to her and felt no remorse. So they were to be ‘free’ but always under surveillance. She’d take it. She could work out a way out as long as she kept playing nice.
“That’s very kind of you,” she sounded sincere even to her own ears. “Will I be allowed to sleep in the same room as Javier?” She hated to ask for anything from him but being close to Javier was worth it.
“So long as you continue to integrate into The LIght, you may share our son’s room,” it took all she had not to cringe as he referred to the boy in her arms as ‘theirs’ as though they were a real family.
“Thank you.” She rested her cheek on Javier’s head and realised that he had fallen asleep against her. Prime noticed it too.
“Poor little thing had a hard time last night. A nightmare I believe. A Sister who was watching his room had to go in and wake him up. She informed me that he found it hard to return to sleep for several hours. He must be exhausted.” He stood from his chair and walked over to the cuddled pair, standing close and resting a hand on her shoulder and another on Javier’s back. She was suddenly surrounded by him, his smell and the heat of his body and a tidal wave of memory reared up. A panic attack was coming at her fast, she had to get out of here.
“I…I’ll take him back to bed,” she manoeuvred awkwardly out from under him, boy still cradled.
“Yes, good idea. I will see you both for dinner.” They were dismissed, and he walked away as though they had never been there. Thank god.
Catra made it back to Javier’s room, only a handful of doors down and managed to deposit the boy into his bed, before she curled up in the corner and shattered into a million pieces.
This was why she left the force. The frustration. The lack of agency. The inability to help the people who really needed it while simultaneously watching her worst colleagues get away with literal murder while she couldn’t do anything to stop it. A large purple fist clenched so tightly around the pencil it held that the fragile wood and graphite splintered into pieces. The voice droned on the phone, reminding her of all the reasons’ why they couldn’t, wouldn’t, help them.
There was no evidence of foul play. The school had been contacted by a woman claiming to be Catra, who had told them that she and Javier had gone to visit a sick family member. Said family member had been contacted and confirmed they were there. Other than the dart that had been found, which had been linked back to a fox which had been darted due to an injury and hauled away to a vets, there was no evidence that anything was wrong. Except, in Huntara’s mind, it sounded more like them turning a blind eye. Voices on a phone, nobody going to visit this ‘relative’ that they all knew didn’t exist. Cover-up screamed in her mind. But every day she kept pushing, she may not be well liked in the precinct but she still had some friends there.
She liked the pretty young school teacher, she was peppy and had the same kind of preppy naiveté as Scorpia. It made her fun to tease and the more she saw her around the building the more she had seen her have a positive impact on the caustic Catra. The young feline wasn’t her favourite person, she’d found her grating even when she’d been a snot nosed waitress at her favourite bar. But, she understood her, in a lot of ways they were the same. The kid had got herself out of a terrible, destructive situation and built a new life, Huntara could understand that, she’d done it herself. If not for the little menace, she would’ve been left with no access to anything resembling law enforcement after she bailed out of the force, let alone managing the security for all of Dryl. For that she would always be thankful to her. Then there was the boy, of course she loved the boy, everybody did, he was cute, polite and not annoying - what more could you ask for from a small child? They had to get the pair back, it wouldn’t just break the blond’s heart if they didn’t return, it would do the same to everybody who was a part of the Dryl family.
“Look, Catra Reyes is an orphan, just like I’ve been telling you for weeks. She doesn’t have any family! Whoever you spoke to is not a relative.” She tried hard to keep her voice calm and not to shout down the phone, something that was sure to get her cut off.
“Please hold.” The impersonal voice said and then she was left with the mind numbing elevator music she had become all too familiar with over the last 6 weeks.
“Huntara,” she was shocked when a new voice suddenly filled her ears. A familiar voice. “You need to stop calling. You and your friends might not like the fact that Ms Reyes has moved away to be nearer to family but that’s what has happened here.” It was Pearson. She was a piece of shit. She was one of the officers who had turned on her, happier with the status quo than her rocking the boat. The lanky goat woman had offered her up to the wolves and ridden the wave of her expulsion all the way up to captain. “We have spoken to her foster mother,” there was a pause as she obviously shuffled through papers looking for a name. “Shadow Weaver. She explained their recent reconciliation and how much she wanted to get to know her grandson.”
“Did you speak to Catra?” The words were spat out.
“Of course, what do you take us for? Just because you are no leg er here does not mean we have become incompetent.” No, thought Huntara bitterly, you started that way. “She confirmed this. Perhaps you and your friends should consider why she would want to sever ties with you all.” It was a cruel jibe.
“Did you see her?” There weren’t many cat people like Catra, in fact Huntara had never seen anyone else who looked like her. It would be hard to fake that, even in a video call.
“Look, Huntara, let me spell this out for you. Real slow. This is not a closed case because it was never a case at all. Your ‘friend’ took her son and moved away. You all need to get over it and move on. If you file one more report, or call this station again, you will be arrested for wasting police time. Do you understand?”
What Huntara understood was that for some reason, whatever had happened to Catra and Javier, somebody really wanted to cover up. She knew who Shadow Weaver was, Adora had told them about their shared childhood, certainly something Catra never would have, and there was no way that she would take her son to see that woman.
Whatever was going on, whoever had taken their friend, had fingers in the police.
They needed to take a new tack.
“I understand. You won’t hear from us again.” Huntara hung up on the smug voice.
Thick arms crossed over her chest as she huffed out her frustration, restraining the urge to throw her phone across the room. Now she needed to break it to the others and hope that they could think of a plan.
Stomping around his sanctum, Hordak was seething with anger. This was supposed to be his sacred space within his brothers citadel. Nobody else was supposed to enter here. He was the one given free hand to so what needed to be done to move their cause forward. He was why there was a citadel in every major city. It was because of him that nobody spoke out against them in the press. His aggression spilled out and he dashed everything off of his desk onto the floor where paper fluttered down and made messy patterns on the floor. At least now he had a plan.
When he had walked in earlier and found the little boy hiding under his desk and giggling it had taken every ounce of self control for him not to drag him out and shake him. He had growled deep in his chest and stormed towards the noise when he had heard the doors behind him crash open and a panting, sweating Catra come barrelling in, two Brothers trailing her at a distance down the hall. The door stayed pen as she cast frantic eyes around the room, even while she wore a rictus parody of a smile.
It took her a moment to notice him, stood beside his desk, and when she did her already wide eyes became comically large. Her body tensed, as though waiting for a strike. Truthfully, were this eight years before she would have received one. He clenched his fist at his side, blood still boiling at this double intrusion, and watched as she flinched. Good.
The little parasite had gigged again from under the table and he had watched her sigh with relief before she limped around the desk and pulled him out from under it. She had drawn him close to her chest and squeezed the stuffing out of him as if he had truly been missing. What that kind of affection must be like he did not know, and his rage only went higher as he saw it.
With the doors still open he dare not shout or lash out at them, Prime was always watching. He still needed to bide his time.
Catra had hoisted the boy onto her back, still sweating and winced as small legs wrapped around her sides, and limped out of the door. She purposefully did not make eye contact with Hordak as she passed him. Some part of him couldn’t resist the desire to reach out and grab her arm, jerking her to a halt and making her wince. It must have been the arm he shot. His glare had been fierce.
“Hey, Brother Hordak.” The chipper little voice drew his attention and he looked at the smiling little boy. His brother’s son. The Son of the Light. How he hated him.
“Hello,” he had to grit it out, he’d noticed the lurking Brother’s getting closer as he had reached out to touch Catra, and they would tell Prime everything.
“Come Little Sister, Father will be waiting for you and The Son.” It was one of the faceless Brother’s loyal only to his brother.
Hordak released his hold, seeing the fire smouldering in the depths of her eyes at the mention of Prime and his new title, even while she kept her face placidly blank. An idea had sparked in his head.
“Come back at 8.” He’d hissed it low before they got close, knowing that her giant ears would pick up the words. Her eyes shifted to him and squinted, giving the barest hint of agreement and she had been whisked out.
That had been ten minutes ago and now that he had excised his initial rage at this intrusion, he threw himself into a chair and started to drum his fingers. She would be back at 8, escorted by Brothers, but if the boy was asleep he would be able to close the doors on them. Keep them out while he plotted. The thing now, was what plot would he have.
Casting terrified eyes around them, Catra crouched down in front of Javier and tried her hardest to keep the tears that were threatening to fall at bay. She needed to be strong because she needed Javier to be brave. The sirens screeching around the building pierced through her ears and made it hard to focus but they were their only chance. She cast a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that Hordak was such a jealous asshole that he would turn against his own brother to help her, she couldn’t let the chance go to waist.
Nestled in the tiny alcove, tucked away from the white robed bodies that ran past periodically on their way out of the building, Catra pulled Javier close and squeezed all the love she had into him and he squeezed her back with equal fear and fervour. She whispered into his ear what he had to do, she had been trying to get him to understand for day and was pretty sure he had the plan. She had managed to slip their shadows when the alarm had started. Now, with the chaos of a fire evacuation in full tilt, they made a break. Catra knew she had no chance of getting them both out but Javier was fast and small and so, so smart.
Grasping his hand in hers, they ran faster than they ever had before, around the corridor and out of one of the doors that had opened as part of the fire protocol. No-one was using it as the gathering area for a fire was on the other side of the building. They just need to get to the high fence that surrounded the back of the citadel, a far cry from the wide open and welcoming facade, and boost him over into the trees and he could get away. Catra shone like a beacon in the night thanks to the white clothes plastered against her fur, but Javier was back in his hoody, scavenged with shoplifters skill from the drawers in his room. Once he was out he would blend into the night and flee.
They hit the fence, literally in Catra’s case as her leg buckled underneath her. Her heart stuttered to a stop as she frantically looked around to make sure nobody had heard. The coast still seemed clear, she thanked her night vision for letting her see so well. Javier was convulsively clutching at her hand as he looked into the darkness beyond the fence. The wood that bordered the citadel was dark but not deep, if Javier could hold his nerve and run straight he would soon hit the road and a strip mall about ten minutes beyond. She knew he could see almost as well as her in the dark so his fear was of being alone and not the darkness.
Crouching down, she took his cheeks in her hands and pressed their foreheads together. They breathed together, but the moment broke as she started to hear signs of life getting closer. It wouldn’t be long before there was as weep of the entire place. She whispered in his ears one last time before standing tall with him in her arms. It was time to put all those acrobatic tricks that Adora had cooed over to good use.
Javier crawled up onto her shoulders, then as she raised her arms, he jumped, landing his feel into his palms, making the pair of the stand more than seven feet tall. Catra, arms protesting and sending black spots before her eyes, bent her elbows as Javier did the same with his knees and then they both unleashed their coiled muscles and he was flung through the air, early clearing the fence and landing in a tree with a loud rustle. The boy hesitated, two pairs of mismatched eyes lock as he hoped that she would join him. He had to move.
“Run Javier!” Her voice was harsh, emphasising the desperation.
“I love you Mama,” his words tried off as his flight through the trees accelerated.
Catra chanced one last look at where he had been before she pulled herself together and sprinted around the side of the building, feet churning, leg screaming. She blasted past the swelling crowd of people standing before the citadel, their numbers being counter. Heads turned to stare as the white and tan blur passed them. She was almost across the road when she heard the angry shouts, just stepping foot onto the opposite curb when a large body cut her down at the waist. Catra fell hard, head smashing into the curbs stones. Darkness closed in on her vision as her head thudded distantly and the last thing she was aware of was the growing pool of crimson before her eyes.
Regaining consciousness proved to be a bad idea. She could barely focus her eyes and there was no sound, it was as though she had gone deaf. She knew there should be noise, lots of noise. Even with ought moving she could make out the start of a ring pf people around the edge of the room. There were doctors touching her head, but it felt distant, as though she was watching them touch somebody else. She blinked, her eyes moving slowly and out of synch.
Time passed slowly as her senses returned. Silence turned to a hum, which grew in tone and pitch until she could make out what was being chanted around her. It made her want to vomit, or scream.
“All must suffer to become pure. All must suffer to become pure. All must suffer to become pure.”
Around and around it went, unceasing. The clarity of her thought and her ability to move was a sure indication that she had been dosed with something. It boded very badly that they wanted her aware of every part of what was about to happen to her. Involuntarily she started to struggled, but the shackles are bound her were far tighter than they had been the last time she had stirred in this sterile room. She could barely move an inch.
Her motions were the trigger for the chanting to increase in their fervour and then HE was there. He stood over her, towering and bristling with menace. This was NOT the benevolent Brother, or Father as he had renamed himself, that he showed his acolytes. This was the man who would rape a girl, who would send out a team to silence a dissenter, who would buy and sell people as it suited him to maintain his power and control. Catra whimpered and he smiled, cold and bloodless.
“You disappoint me, Little Sister. You had seemed so at peace here with our son. Now The Son has disappeared and you have torn a whole in all our hearts.” As if on cue the assembled wailed and clutched their chest as if pained, like a parody of pain, before resuming their chant. “Tell me, was it so. Bad to have him grow up here, knowing that he would one day lead all into The LIght?”
Catra did the only thing she could and spat at him, bloody saliva hitting his sternum and rolling down. The red stain it left marring his white perfection. “I would rather die than let him grow up to be a man like you!” She feared that was what would happen but it was ok, as long as Javier was free. The darkness at the corner of her vision had started again.
“Oh my dear Little Sister, you shall not die. We shall find my son and you will stand at my side as he grow to take his place. Your misguided notions are foolish. You simple need to be shown the Light. I had hoped that you would come to your revelation in time, by yourself, but it seems we need stronger measures.” His hand was woven through her short hair as he pulled her head upwards painfully. She could feel blood pouring down her face. “Such as shame.”
Then he was gone from her sight and she was more afraid than she had ever been.
“Show her The Light, my Brothers and Sisters.” Frenzy now in the room as the faces of masked doctors loomed over her, and she caught sight of the gleam of a needle with her rapidly dwindling vision.
“I will see you when you wake, Little Sister, and you shall tell me where I will find my son.”
All done for the main story. There will be an epilogue up by the weekend.
Thanks for everyone who has stuck through this.
CW: As ever there is some described and some hinted at violence towards Catra.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Blue flashing lights managed to penetrate the darkness outside the windows of Scorpia’s apartment. The feint corona of light pulsing angrily. The two women cuddled on the sofa didn’t see it at first. Scorpia had her head tucked into Perfuma’s neck and was being lulled by the other woman running her fingers over the back of her neck. The scorpion woman felt like she hadn’t been able to take a breath since her best friend and her son had disappeared. Weeks had passed and nothing had changed. She felt useless, helpless and like a bad friend. Perfuma was desperate for her to just take a moment and relax, so here they were on the sofa, Scorpia’s larger bulk stretched out along the cushions with her torso against her much slighter love so as not to crus her.
It had been a peaceful evening with a mind numbing popcorn movie on the television that neither of them had paid any attention to. Scorpia had been content to close her eyes and just be lulled by the sound of the television and the feel of Perfuma’s fingers on her neck and scalp. She was almost asleep when she felt more than heard Perfuma gasp and tension fill her body.
“Hmmm, what’s up?” Her hazy voice burred out as she rolled onto her back to gaze up at Perfuma. Her eyes widened as she saw the tension in her jaw and the way her eyes were fixed on the large window that ran the length of the wall. Scorpia scrambled up, careful not to pinch Perfuma with her claws, and turned to look at the window.
The moment Scorpia saw the blue light she was in motion. She leapt off of the sofa and was out the door and in the elevator before Perfuma could join her. She hit the button for the floor below and barely waited for the doors to reopen before she was hammering on the door to Catra’s place. Adora had taken to holing up in Catra’s bedroom and sleeping through the day when she wasn’t forcing herself to go to work. Scorpia was certain she wouldn’t have seen.
Blearily the blond opened the door, only to be wordlessly pulled out by the larger woman and dragged into the elevator that continued its way down. Standing in her sleep shorts and tank, Adora’s bare feet were cold on the metal floor.
“What the hell, Scorpia?” She was almost angry, if she’d had the emotional energy to feel much of anything.
“There are police cars outside, Adora, we could see the lights! Maybe they’ve found them?” Scorpia’s voice was frantic and filled with hope. Adora wasn’t as positive as her friend but couldn’t stop the thrill that ran down her spine.
When the pair stepped out into the foyer, they saw Huntara talking animatedly with a uniformed officer. The voices were hushed, unusual for the usually bullish Huntara, and gestures animated from the large purple woman. The Police officer remained impassive, his arms folded over his chest as he added a few words here and there.
“Huntara, what’s going on?” Adora was the one to approach the pair.
“Thank god, maybe this one will talk to you.” Huntara’s frustration was obvious.
Adora turned her eyes to the impassive police office, flanked now by both Huntara and Scorpia who had joined them. They made an impressive trio of women and at the sight the officers face cracked a little and he swallowed convulsively making his Adam’s apple bomb and he took a shuffling step back.
“What’s going on officer?” Adora had engaged her teacher voice and the command inherent in it seemed to galvanise the man.
“Ma’am, are either of you Adora Greyson?” Scorpia gasped softly behind her.
“Yes.” Adora was incredulous but hopeful.
“We have good news Ma’am, we’ve found your son. He was picked up in a small supermarket about an hour ago.” HER son? This officer didn’t seem to know that Catra and Javier had been reported missing at all.
“I… I… that’s amazing!” Was it Javier?
“You don’t seem to have reported him missing Miss Greyson, were you aware of his absence?” A bushy eyebrow rose, judging her.
Adora knew she had to tread carefully here, whatever was going on, and something surely was, she had to avoid social services getting involved.
“Actually Officer, I was just about to call. I had been asleep and when I woke up he was gone. I must have left the door unlocked, sometimes he sleepwalks.” She hoped that was plausible.
“He said similar, that he got up and dressed and started walking. He didn’t really remember why. It’s hard to get much out of him, he is very upset. We will return him to your care, you should call the precinct in the morning and arrange a visit from one of our liaisons just to check everything is fine.” It felt rather like the guy was going through the motions and this was more a suggestion than an order.
“Of course.” The words barely left her mouth before he was talking into his radio, telling his partner to bring the boy in.
When the large double doors slid open the first thing that hit the four women, Perfuma had rushed out of the elevator and into Scorpia’s side moments before, was the wailing cries coming from the hunched figure carried in the blue uniformed officers hands.
“Javier?” The words left Adora in a rush.
Mismatched blue and green eyes snapped up, his face was red and soaked with tears. His body tensed and started to thrash, forcing the police officer to put him down. As soon as his feet hit the floor he was running, throwing himself at Adora with the force of a hurricane. Adora was nearly thrown off of her feet by the force, but caught herself and swung his sobbing form into her arms. He wrapped his arms and legs around her, nuzzled his face into her neck, hidden by the curtain of her golden hair and she squeezed him back with equal force. That he was alone, found without Catra was a given at this point and she dare not ask less the police take the child back to the station. The picture they made just confirmed for the two outsiders that they were parent and child, and they left after a few more words, leaving a business card for her to call in the morning.
She wouldn’t call.
The three women who lived in the building re-entered the elevator, Huntara hanging back and promising that she would join them once she had contacted the others. It took a pressure off of their shoulders, meaning that all of their focus could be on the little boy with his whole body wrapped around Adora. His tail was coiled so tightly around her wrist that she could barely feel her fingers.
In unspoken consensus the women made their way to Catra’s apartment, walking in and moving to the couch. Adora didn’t try to set the boy down, just relaxed back and let him mould into her chest. She looked up from the riot of hair under her chin and saw Scorpia watching them, clearly itching to do something, take the child from her and keep him safe. She didn’t blame her, she had only been in Javier’s life for less than a year, but Scorpia had been there when he was born. Adora felt a tear escape her eye as she gave a small smile to the white haired woman who returned it.
“Hey, Javier, would you like to have a cuddle with Scorpia?” Th little boy shook his head int her neck and whimpered.
Scorpia looked devastated but quickly masked it as she muttered an excuse and went to go help Perfuma in the kitchen. They had all figured the boy was probably hungry and she was putting together all of his favourite foods as a way to busy herself. Before she left, Scorpia rested a claw gently on the boys back and told him she loved him.
Then Adora and Javier were alone, she rocked him gently as his breaths started to calm. Nonsense words fell soothingly from her lips. Time passed slowly as he eventually started to breath normally. For a moment she thought he was asleep, then he was pulling back, just enough that he could lock his red rimmed eyes with hers.
“How you doing Javier?” It was stupid, and inane, but it slipped out anyway.
“I want Mama,” his lower lip started to tremble again and she drew him back to her shoulder, cooing softly as he changed Mama over and over again.
In the half hour it took for everybody to arrive at the apartment, Scorpia and perfuma had laid out all of the little boys favourite foods on the coffee table and the three of them had managed to coax him into sitting between Scorpia and Adora while he ate a few bites. His head was still bowed and he had still to volunteer anything more than a desire for his Mama. He’s open up in time, Javier was a bright boy and would know that they needed him to help his Mama, but they were careful not to push him so far that he would retreat in on himself.
As the living room began to fill up with adults, Adora clicked on the TV, sound low to provide white noise, hoping to sooth the boy. As she sat back from putting the remote on the table, his small body seemed to run out of energy and he sagged against her shoulder with a sigh. Again it seemed like he might lip into slumber, but when she looked down his eyes were hooded but open.
Conversation buzzed around the room, the hope and excitement at having Javier back with them making them feel like anything was possible. They started to brainstorm what they would do with any information that he could give them. He didn’t react to their words, drifting in and out with exhaustion and worry.
The TV continued to play a re-run of some old sitcom older than any of them, the canned laughter and corny jokes soothing all of them. When it cut to commercial, nobody noticed, the adults all looking at each other, or him, but Javier’s barely open eyes registered the change in colours on the screen. A dog ran around, then there was a baby. Then the screen went white a symbol that had become too familiar to him over the last month filled the screen and he sat ramrod straight. Adora reached out her hand and stroked his back, thinking he had spooked himself in his sleep, still focused on what Huntara was saying.
When Prime appeared on the screen Javier screamed.
All other sound in the room stopped as they looked at the little boy, paralysed with fear as his eyes were glued to the screen. Adora scrabbled to get the remote, finally looking at the screen as her body froze alongside his and the remote dropped from her nerveless fingers.
Perfuma scooped up the remote from the floor, but rather than turning it off she rewound to the start of the commercial and paused it on the symbol. By then Javier was crying again, this time held in Scorpia’s arms as Adora started to breath heavily, arms wrapped around herself.
“Adora, what’s going on?” Glimmer’s voice snapped her head towards her best friend.
“I know him. That man on the TV. He’s called Prime. He used to come to Shadow Weaver’s house when we were kids. He’s the one… the one…” She couldn’t finish, her words were garbled and tapered off.
“You mean that’s the man who raped her?” Entrapta’s matter of fact, tactless comment made ,pst of the room gasp, while Scorpia winced and tried to cover Javier’s ears.
Adora could only nod mutely. They’d all known that Catra came from an abusive background, it was something that was important when they were trying to find her, especially after they had found out that Shadow Weaver had a hand in this somehow. They had tried to find the woman, deploying PIs and contacts, but had come up with dead end after dead end, wherever she was living now was off the grid, so deep that even Entrapta couldn’t find her.
“I’ll take Javier to his room and stay with him,” Scorpia didn’t wait for an agreement before she was gone.
They waited until the little boy was safely out of earshot before turning back to Entrapta.
“She was raped? Why hasn’t this come up before?” Huntara took charge, siphoning her police training into questioning.
“Scorpia said that Catra wouldn’t want people to know. I don’t see why, we told you she was physically abused by Shadow Weaver. Scorpia told me it was different.” Entrapta shrugged like she didn’t understand why either.
“Adora? Did you know about this?” Mermista’s no nonsense tone cut through her shock.
“Yes, but not when it happened. Not when we were kids.” They had to know that she would have stopped it if she knew then. “Catra told me a little while after we met again, to explain why she didn’t think we could be close again. To explain why she ran away.”
Double Trouble’s face was scrunched up, processing a truth that was ugly and bitter. They were all putting it together, but DT was sharp like the most dangerous hidden weapon. It wasn’t long before they said the thing that made everybody shudder.
“So Javier’s father is Catra’s rapist? The man on the TV?” The words were slow and laced with venom.
“He is NOT Javier’s father.” Adora had been about to say the words but Perfuma’s adamant voice did it for her.
“Well, it looks like he may not feel the same,” that was true. Javier’s reaction to seeing him on the screen had been visceral. There was no way that wasn’t where he had been.
Perfuma picked the remote up again and the others moved to more easily see the screen. She turned the volume up a little and pressed play, Glimmer put her hand on Adora’s knee to steady her. The commercial began to run, a young, dark skinned woman on the screen talking about what the Light had done for her. Perfuma and Adora gasped in unison, the former tapping pause to capture the face.
“She was at the school, I saw her walk past a couple of times. I noticed her because…” Perfuma trailed off and blushed. She’s noticed the young woman because of the muscles that had been revealed by her sleeveless shirt, her blush was as much guilt as embarrassment.
“That’s… that’s Lonnie. She grew up in the foster home with us. She must have joined the church after I left. Shadow Weaver was always pushing us to, she was almost disappointed when I got the scholarship. Looks like Lonnie follow the path she wanted.”
The screen came to life again and then Prime filled the screen, pontificating about love and acceptance. About how letting the Light into your life would give you purpose and family. His voice was honey drawing flies into his trap. The commercial ended with an image of the Citadel, looming large and bright and an address. All were welcome into His Light.
“I guess that answers where she is then.” Bow’s voice tried for cheerful, but the idea of hope felt like bitter ash.
The fact that Javier was here and Catra was not meant nothing good.
Adora thought back to Catra’s story about the men around the table at Shadow Weavers who had assaulted and abused her. Remembered how she had described them as wearing expensive suits and shoes. What if they had been part of the church? What if they were hiding in real life inletting Prime do terrible things without censure?
“I think I know why the police aren’t helping.” Adora’s voice was small but may as well have been a shout. Javier had been right to tell the uniformed officer’s that she was his mother, which meant Catra had known and told him what to say.
It meant Catra was alive.
Fur ruffled under the caress of the large hand that settled on a bare shoulder. Fingers teased at the soft, fine covering, enjoying the texture and warmth under his touch. His other hand cupped his chin, elbow braced on the arm of his throne-like armchair. He looked across his desk, fixing all four of his cold eyes on the assembled men and women that stood before him.
“It seems we have all been outwitted by Little Sister,” his tone was almost proud, his hand sailing on her shoulder as he squeezed hard enough to leave fingerprints under the fur. The body at his feet didn’t stir.
“I know some of you,” his eyes fixed first on Shadow Weaver and then on his younger brother, “failed to understand why I would want to bring her into the fold and not just bring in my son. You questioned my motivations and her worth. And look where we are now!” His voice rose, deep and resonant. “She is smarter than all of you put together and more worthy of The Light. Now that she has been cleansed, she will learn to use that for our great purpose.”
He stood, moving around the desk with the grace of a panther, stalking them. Lonnie and Rogelio, standing further back in the room, felt afraid as he moved. This was a side of Prime that they had not been privy to before, never being part of anything high profile before. They were starting to thing that the citadel was not the paradise they had always believed in.
Prime stood before Hordak now. He stared him hard into his brothers eyes and waited. To his credit, Hordak did not flinch under his stare. He held firm even when his brother reached up and brutally clasped the back of his neck, exerting force enough to pull him in so that his cheek was pressed against his older siblings. Lips brushed his ear, words meant only for him.
“If I find out you had anything to do with this, little brother, I will send you where all traitors to the LIght go.” He let go so suddenly that Hordak stumbled.
Prime moved on to Shadow Weaver who had the grace to look chagrined. If anyone had underestimated what Catra was capable of it was her. She was loath to admit it, still seeing little value in keeping the girl around. She had stolen the boy from them, she had caused chaos and Shadow Weaver was certain that she would do it again if given the opportunity. As Prime moved on to stare down the Brother’s responsible for watching over the mother and child, Shadow Weaver let her flinty gaze go to the crumpled form resting against the armchair.
Catra’s body was limp, almost boneless. A little dribble ran down one corner of her mouth into the fur there. Her nose was flattened into her face, white tape and a splint covering it. Her head was shaved to the same thickness as the fur on the rest of her body, making her ears look enormous and her look more animalistic than ever, the vicious gash that run from her ear to her crown glowed bright red under the harsh lights of the room. One of her arms was in a cast than shone brightly under the lights. The shorts and vest she had been placed in for this, as if Prime wanted to emphasis her fragility to the group, were just as white and showed how her ribs showed through her fur.
Shadow Weaver was not the only one in the room taking a mental check list of the state of the cat-woman. But their thoughts could not have been more different.
Soon Prime was seated back behind his desk, hand now fondling the top of Catra’s head, running along the edge of the freshly stapled wound. She made a nose, somewhere between a growl and a moan. Whether out of pain or comfort was hard to tell. Her eyes did open now, the blue and yellow usually so sharp, were hazy and unfocused, her mouth beginning to go slack as her head lolled. Only the hand on top of It kept her from tumbling forward.
“You are all dismissed. I will be working with Little Sister for the duration of the day, should I call I will expect your presence immediately. You will locate Javier and you will see that he is returned to me.” His attention left the assembled group and it was as though they had ceased to be for him.
As they began to leave, quiet and orderly, he reached down and pulled the young woman’s slack body onto his lap, tucking her head into his neck as he had Javier. His hand moved from her head to the back of her neck in a mirror of how he had touched Hordak, except now his touch was soft, circling almost around her slender neck. His other hand rested just above her tail. He could feel the warmth of her body, unnaturally hot, through her fur and let himself soak in the closeness with this woman who was predator as well as pet.
“Now Little Sister, you must learn to behave.” She didn’t move, made no acknowledgement of his words. She may have slipped into unconsciousness.
The hand on her tail lifted and moved to open a drawer in his desk where he withdrew a loaded syringe. He placed the cap between his lips and pulled it off, holding it between his grinning teeth as he moved the needle to her neck, his other hand keeping her immobilised.
“This may sting a little, but all must suffer to become pure. Your suffering is almost over, Little Sister.” He pushed the needle into her neck, feeling her tense but not flinch away. The syringe was depressed, dispersing a large dose of their own proprietary blend into her bloodstream. It would take a few minutes to be affective, and then he would begin.
The two police officers stood in the expansive study and waited for the leader of the church to join them. They hadn’t expected to receive such a warm welcome from the residents of the church. They had been welcomed in, walked through the impressive house of worship before being taken through the back and left here. None of them had taken a seat. The more senior of the pair had been told that this would just be a formality and that he should ensure that his body cam was on during the meeting. He didn’t question it. It wasn’t the first time that he had been called out on a family member who had joined a new religion of a cult, family desperate for them to come home. Nine times out of ten there was nothing to do but check in on them and measure their families. He was pretty sure this would be the same.
Soon the big door at the back of the room opened and a tall, imposing man in the same pristine white as everybody else they had seemed walked in. He was certainly an awe inspiring figure, and the police officer could see why people would look up to him. When he opened his mouth and that voice oozed out like honey, he got it even more.
“Welcome Officers. How may we help you at the citadel today? The Light knows all, so we should be able to answer any questions that you may have.” He laughed as though he had told a joke, and for just a moment the officer felt a trill of, something, run down his spine.
“Hello sir, thank you for your cooperation. We have been asked to investigate the possible imprisonment of a Catra Reyes? He snood school is concerned that he has claimed that he was held here with his mother against their will and that she managed to get him out while being left behind. Would it be possible to speak with Miss Reyes, assuming she is here?” His words were carefully chosen, and formality or not he watched for any signs of discomfort in the man in front of him.
“Young Javier certainly has a vivid imagination, doesn’t he,” he chortled as he spoke, a man without a care. “He and his mother were indeed staying within the citadel when she made the choice to join us. Catra is one of my most promising members and so I allowed her to bring the boy. You must understand, we do not have children within the walls of the citadel, but made an exception. It became clear early on that it would not be right for the boy at such a long age. I believe she returned him to a loved one.” His words were smooth and reassuring.
He pressed a button on his desk and spoke into an intercom, asking a disembodied voice to retrieve the young woman they were here to see and the three men waited quietly for her to arrive. It didn’t take long for the doors to open a second time and a rail thin young woman in white walked in.
The officers watched her, taking in her pristine uniform, neatly trimmed short hair which gave her the look of a nun especially with the hood that hung behind her large ears. She walked tall with poise. The only thing that struck either of them was how thing she appeared, but she was part of a species that neither were familiar with so it was hard to tell whether this was normal or not.
“Ah, Little Sister. These officers are here to speak with you. Please take a seat and I will leave you to it.” The big man waltzed out of the room without a backwards glance after saying farewell to the police.
“Catra Reyes?” He had to have confirmation even though she looked enough like the picture he had been given to not need it.
“Yes, sir.” Her voice was musical and formal.
“Could you tell us how you found yourself here? Your family members believe you are here against your will.”
“I have been struggling with a drug dependancy for the last six months, I brought my son here with me to help me get clean. I have known the church since I was a child. My mother is a member. When I realised that Javier was not settling in well I sent him home. I know that my friends are concerned but,” she leaned closer as if to take them into a confidence, “they refused to see that I was struggling to remain sober. I am feeling much better since I arrived and living on site helps stop temptation. Once I feel safe to be in the world again I shall return to Javier. I am sorry that you have been put out.”
Her story was plausible, her tone even and there was no sign of agitation. She did have the look of a junky, now that he considered it, emaciated and dead eyed. It seemed that she had made a sensible choice for herself and her son and that her friend should simply need to exercise patience.
“Thank you for your time ma’am.” There was no need to stay.
Catra was left alone in the room, still sitting demurely and waited for further instruction. Prime walked back in as soon as the coast was clear and made his way over to stand in front of her. He clasped her hands in his and gently pulled her to her feet, they stood toe-to-toe with her hands still linked with his. She looked up into his eyes, face beatific as she basked in his Light.
“Did I do well, Father?” Her voice floated to his ears, small and desperate for validation like a child’s.
“You were perfect, Little Sister.” She visibly relaxed and preened under his praise.
He released one hand and cupped her cheek, keeping her eyes locked with his. Her breath stuttered at the touch and he smiled, pleased with the reaction.
“You are almost completely perfect, Little Sister, the only thing that could be better would be if you would tell me who aided you in stealing Javier from me.” It was the one thing that the drugs had not ben able to drawer from her. She claimed that she had no recollection. It couldn’t be, and most likely was true, the savage head injury she had received that night could easily had noticed the information free. It was unlikely that she was holding anything back with what was humming in her blood.
“I would never hurt you, Father. I do not know who would help me do the terrible thing.” He would continue to ask, but he would get the boy back either way.
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. She purred in response. He kept her hand in his grasp as he walked back out of the office, towing her behind him. Her minders, stationed on either side of the door bowed their heads to him and followed at a polite distance. He reached his suit, pulling Catra in behind him as they stationed themselves on either side. He blessed them with the light and let the door close on him and his chosen one.
Lonnie sat on Rogelio’s bed in his cold sterile room that looked almost exactly like her own in the in the vast church complex. Somewhere down the corridor Kyle was probably already asleep in his clean, white, soulless room too. She’d considered waking him up and dragging him along but thought it was probably best to keep the nervy guy out of the loop until she had talked to Rogelio. She’d had him surreptitiously look into some leads she had, but hadn’t told him why. And Kyle, being Kyle, hadn’t asked. Maybe this was all just her paranoia, there was no way that Prime was responsible for what she was starting to fear. No way.
Except she’d watched how Catra was being ground down, piece by piece, hour by hour. She’d seen it happen at Shadow Weaver’s when they were children, as much as she hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself back then or even a few weeks ago, blaming Catra’s behaviour on her being the feral menace that Shadow Weaver had always said she was. Only, how could Prime, the beacon of Light to her and so many others, hold something that was bad and broken in such high regard? One of those adults must have been wrong. But if they were wrong then everything she had dedicated her life to was wrong too.
She should leave, walk out of Rogelio’s room, tell Kyle to forget meeting up. They could go back to being happy, attending services. They could listen to Prime in his glory and worship in The Light. They could…
The image of Catra walking towards her down a windowless corridor filled her mind. In the weeks since the boy had been lost, Catra’s indoctrination into The Light had moved forward at a break neck pace. Usually new converts spend months, even years, learning how to live in The LIght, attending services and seminars, sitting at the heels of the older Brothers and Sisters and listening to the word of Prime. Catra had been given the special formula, the one reserved for those who wished to connect most powerfully to the Light. Given it in enormous doses.
She had looked stick thin in the tight white robes, sporting a hood which perched on the back of her shorn head, making her appear like some kind of monk penitent. Lonnie knew the hood was concealing the massive scar that started behind her ears and was all too visible with her shorter hair. Her eyes were wide, yet vacant, and her face slack and lacking expression. She walked with her usual grace, but none of her usual observation. Her gaze was focused ahead. The two Brothers who flanked either side of her were more animated and they were both blank themselves. Lonnie had walked past, almost close enough to touch, unable to pull her own brown eyes from her form, yet Catra had not made any indication that she saw her. She had one purpose now and nothing else.
Lonnie had seen Catra physically broken. Whipped and smacked around when they were children. Pierced with crossbow bolts, beaten and bones broken here after she let the child get away, but never had she look as defeated as she did walking serenely down the corridors of the citadel.
Lonnie shuddered on the bed. It wasn’t paranoia. Something was rotten in the citadel and Lonnie feared that she and her two friends had been instrumental in keeping that going.
Rogelio made a series of growls and clicks, and she looked up to where he stood leaning against his dresser. He had been shirtless when she walked in and flopped onto his bed. His green scales caught the light and looked iridescent. His arms were crossover his chest as he appraised her, waiting for her to respond.
“Rogelio, I think we’ve done a very bad thing.” There was the understatement of the century. They had kidnapped a woman and her child. They had helped to kidnap or disappear dozens of others. To what ends? She knew where the kidnap victims ended up, lodged in the heart of The Light, but what about the failed members of the church, the ones they black bagged and took to ‘rehab’? Why had she never questioned it before? She voiced as much to Rogelio.
The big lizard pulled on a fresh shirt and moved to join her sitting on the bed. She felt his big arm wrap around her shoulder and sagged into him. She was usually in charge, the dominant personality in their little trio but sometimes it was hard.
“What are we going to do Rogelio? That kid could be dead in a ditch somewhere! Catra looks starved and zombified and everyone thinks it’s fine. Prime want’s us back out there looking for the kid, staking out the houses and the school just like before. Like this is normal and what we should be doing.”
Rogelio’s vocalisations revealed that he was just as conflicted as she was. Together they lamented. They came to the consensus that if they were to do anything they would need to involve Kyle, he had access to computers and data that they were not from his position in the offices.
“Are we bad people?” That was the question.
Lonnie had always felt like one of the good guys. She did everything she was told, made her bed, got good grades, prayed and learned the doctrines. Took the people, made them her Brothers and Sisters. Moved up the ranks and was beloved by Prime. But if Prime was bad it meant that everything she had ever done was.
Rogelio pulled away from her so that they could look at her and took her hands in his much larger ones. He growled and fronted at her until tears ran down her face.
“You’re right. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done before, we should do something now. All that surveillance should come in useful at least.”
Resolute the pair rose from the bed and headed down the corridor to Kyle’s room. They didn’t worry that anyone would see them, it was not unusual to see the three of them creeping into each others rooms at night. Keeping Kyle quiet would be the difficult part.
Entrapta hummed absently at her computer. Her fingers skimmed the keys at a blinding pace, data blinking back and forth from the four screens in front of her. She chased every lead, went down every rabbit hole that they could find and still they could not get enough to get into the place where Catra was held.
The purple haired scientist wasn’t one to dwell or delve into her emotions. She knew she was detached and odd, hyperactive at the wrong times and inappropriate at the worst times. But she loved Catra, she had since Scorpia had brought her home and she had snarked and growled at her. Catra never treated her different than anyone else and when Javier had come along, she trusted Entrapta with him even though she sometimes got distracted.
Entrapta needed her in her life. To help her feel grounded and normal. Because she was a part of her family and because everybody else was loosing their mind.
Entrapta was used to losing hours sitting behind screens or tinkering in labs, so later that night she was still there. She had only left for bathroom breaks and to grab a plate of mini pizza’s and a can of soda. She sat back for a moment, eyes roaming the data as she stretched her arms over her head, hair stretching out too. She scratched her belly and a yawn managed to break out. She looked at the clock on one of the monitors and saw that it was already 2am. Maybe it was time to cut her loses for tonight and get her mandated three hours (mandated by Scorpia, but they did usually make Entrapta feel more focused).
She had just pushed her chair away from the desk when a chip range out, letting her know that she had mail. Curiosity winning over exhaustion, she opened the email seeing that it had a link to follow. The email address was a proxy, she could tell without investigating, but she didn’t delete it. Not when she saw what was written in the message.
Her hair picked up the phone and pressed a button, filling the room with the sound of ringing.
She read the words a second time, to be sure:
THIS IS WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.
She pressed the link.
Double Trouble looked down at themselves, wearing the skin of an overweight fifty year old white woman. The hideously chintzy floral dress ballooned around them. They had taken great care building this character at such short notice, face round and rosy cheeked, piggy eyes behind large round spectacles. They were particularly proud of the bobby socks and patent leather buckled shoes. The icing on top was the curled brown hair. They had become the type of woman that you would see playing slot in a low rent casino.
Mermista rolled her eyes as Double Trouble fussed with themselves. The producer was dressed in a turquoise sari, hair in a long fat braid and feet in sandals. The two of them were standing together a few blocks away from the citadel where Adora and the others had dropped them. They were waiting down the opposite block, around the corner that bordered the citadel. Both of them were miked up with tiny cameras hidden in their clothes. Entrapta had rigged everything to be undetectable and was stationed behind some very intense looking computers in the van.
When Entrapta had dropped the bombshell that the packet she had received revealed that top brass in the police, city hall and many other places were in the pocket of Prime, it became clear that there was nobody that they could safely turn to. They would have to take this place down themselves, but first they needed Catra out. They could have released the information, but Adora was terrified that Prime would rather burn the place to the ground and take all his followers with him than be disgraced. Take Catra out with him.
The plan had formed quickly, they had a wealth of expertise between them. They could infiltrate the place and get her out as long as they knew where they were going. Double Trouble and Mermista were the ones going in through the front door. Nobody had seen Mermista and Double Trouble could literally be anyone. They could get the lay of the land and hopefully guide the others in.
Javier had been passed off to Glimmer’s parents, fifty miles away in the safety of a gated community of wealthy doctors and lawyers. Nobody would look for him there. Angella and Micah had been delighted to have a child to spoil and Javier, as scared and traumatised as he was, had liked the older couple straight away.
“Are you ready to be a star!” Double Trouble couldn’t help themself.
“Dial it back Olivier, let's do this.”
They walked towards the wide open, inviting doors of the citadel, talking to each other like a pair of old gossips. Nobody batted an eye when they walked in. A young church member decked out in white approached them and asked if it was their first time. He spoke animatedly about how wonderful it was to be in the Light and how much Father loved them. It was, apparently, delightful to become a Brother or Sister.
The duo made all the right noises and were shown to the main room where worship took place. It was near the front of the building and large with a minimalist aesthetic. They needed to get deeper, this was the false front that they showed the world. They needed an in.
It turned out that the chatty boy from out front was it. They didn’t even have to try to get him all excited to show them the rest of the place. He took them through the doors after the service (which, according to DT’s whispers was all pizazz and no punch) and they were in. Their camera’s picked up all the doors, allowing Entrapta to form a map.
The chatty young man even pointed out where Prime’s office was located, and wasn’t that a bingo? Soon the tour was over and they cooed over what a good tour guide he had been. DT’s older woman, now looking a little winded, sell the part after all, asked if there was somewhere to get a glass s of water and he tripped over himself to oblige, coming back quickly with a small pacer cup.
Mermista asked if there was a door closer by, as her friend was a little tired to walk through the whole place.
“I really shouldn’t,” the boy demurred, but with a smile from both ladies he was soon showing them to a side door. It wasn’t a fire exit so wasn’t alarmed. He told them it was where the Brothers and Sisters who lived here went in and out and brandished his key card.
Double Trouble was suddenly embracing the poor young man, giant pillowy blossoms pressed under his chin as she spoke loudly about how they would definitely be back, and what a lovely place this was. Meanwhile, Mermista was rapidly chewing a wad of gum that she had snuck into her mouth until it was soft. As soon as she was ready she cleared her throat, and suddenly the youth was stumbling back from the embrace. His face was awash with a fiery blush.
“Thank you ladies, I hope we will see you in Fathers Light again next week,” he swiped his card and opened the door, Double Trouble walked out first and as Mermista left she wrapped her hand around the doorframe, as though pulling it closed behind her, easily wedging the gum into the lock to keep it depressed.
Once they were around the corner, Double Trouble dropped the act, pleased to back to their slim and sexy self, while Mermista tried to quiet the pounding in her chest. Now they needed to get in, fast.
They hit the van and the plan went into overdrive.
Adora, Huntara and Sea Hawk were the ones breaching the citadel. Entrapta and Bow were in their ears. Sea Hawk may be loud and brash but the man could fit and act when he needed to. He understood the severity of the situation, he was a buffoon not an idiot. They got in easily though the secluded door that Mermista had rigged and were able to split up and disperse into the building.
They all knew there were probably cameras in the building, so Entrapta had added some clever doohikies to their clothes that would scramble video signal. She was tracking them through camera on their bodies which weren’t affected. They were going to go area to area, looking for any sign of Catra. They were hoping to find Lonnie, she had left clues to her identity in the data. She could help them, Adora hoped.
They had been inside for more than twenty minutes before Huntara had caught a fleeting glimpse of a furred tail disappearing down a corridor towards the area where Adora was searching. She passed the information and she and Sea Hawk headed there too.
Adora couldn’t wait, months of not knowing had made her desperate to save Catra and reunite her with Javier. To hold her in her arms and not let her be hurt again. A lead weight settled in her stomach as she realised where Catra was probably heading. The room at the far end of the corridor that she stood on. Prime’s office.
She knew Huntara and Sea Hawk were on their way, but she just couldn’t wait. She could feel the cool metal at her waist, tucked inside her pants and hidden from view. It gave her the confidence to push on alone. She quickly told the others to hurry and burst into the room.
Prime sat behind his desk and didn’t even react when she walked into the room. He finished writing the document on his desk with the flourish of a pen, which he made a show of capping and placing on the ink blotter before raising a languorous eye towards her. He smiled, a predators smile, and turned the computer monitor to face her where she could see the fuzzy outlines of Huntara and Sea Hawk making their way to the door. He pressed a key on the computer and she heard a click as the doors locked her in with him. He was not worried about her friends.
Desperately, though trying to keep her composure on the outside, she spoke into her comms, hoping they heard as she told them that he knew and to get out. From the way that the blurs on screen froze and started running they had.
“Adora,” His voice oozed as it always had. “I see you have chosen to visit us. It’s been, what, five? Six years since I last saw you? How’s teaching treating you?” He had always liked to say over dinner that he knew all.
“Where is Catra? Give her back and we won’t destroy you!” Her voice was steely, she barely recognised it herself.
He laughed at her.
Adora’s blood boiled as he got up from his chair and walked around his desk. She stepped back, bracing for an attack but he simply leaned against his desk and appraised her with those four knowing eyes.
“You’ll destroy me? You are nothing but a bunch of children playing at detective. Catra wants to be here, ask the police.”
“Let her tell me herself!” Her voice was rising in pitch as her adrenaline peaked and her fingers itched.
“So be it. And then you will leave with your tail between your legs and I will bring Javier home to be with his true family. I know you have him hidden somewhere, we will get him soon enough.” He reached back and pressed a button on his desk, asking somebody to let Catra enter.
The door at the back of the room opened, and Adora braced herself for some kind of ambush nut none came. Instead a ghost walked through the door. Catra was half the size she had been when Adora last saw her, fur dull and lifeless and eyes to match. Her hair was gone and there were obvious freshly healed injuries littering what little of her wasn’t hidden by the stark white outfit. Tear filled Adora’s eyes at the relief of seeing her love even if she was in state.
“Ask her yourself.” Prime stood beside Catra with his arm slung over her shoulders with a practiced intimacy that made the blond’s skin crawl.
“Catra, I’ve come to take you home.”
“I am home, Adora. Prime has helped me to see that I have more to give here than I can out there.” Her voice was utterly flat, devoid of emotion or inflection. It more than any physical change sent fear up Adora’s spine.
“What about Javier? He wants you to come home.” She wanted badly to approach the other woman, to touch her and shake her back to herself, but the looking figure of Prime stopped her.
“Javier will come and be with us. He will have a mother and a father as he should.” There was no way those words would ever leave Catra’s mouth. Adora thought she might be sick all over the polished floor.
One minute her hand was empty and the next she was holding a gun pointed at Prime, hand trembling but purpose resolute. He would let Catra go, or she would shoot him. She didn’t care that she had never shot a gun before. She would do it.
“Adora, put down your toy! We both know that you won’t use it.” His arrogance meant that he didn’t move, not away from Catra or to hide behind her. He was a giant, broad chested target.
“I swear I will shoot you if you do not let her go!” Her voice was loud and filled with rage.
“If you do, you will go to jail. I don’t really see you as the pre meditated murder type, but that’s what it will be if you, by some miracle, were to hit me. And then what? Life in prison while Catra laments what’s happened to you?” He laughed like it was all a big joke. “You over estimate your intelligence and your plan.”
She cooked the gun and braced her other hand against it.
Catra’s eyes snapped up at the sound, clearing for the first time. It was like she was registering the reality of the situation after coming out of a trance. She saw Adora, good and sweet Adora, waving a gun at the man whose arm weighed heavy around her shoulders. She processed the words he spat.
Adora had come for her. Adora was protecting Javier. Adora could not got to jail.
Then she was moving, taking both occupants of the room by surprise. She heard a single gun shot ring out as Adora pressed the trigger by reflex and felt something bite into her calf, but she did’t hesitate. Her arm came up and her claws were out.
“You underestimate me!” Her hand sliced across his throat. It all happened in a handful of heartbeats.
Prime’s eyes all widened as his hand reached for his throat. He gurgled though the blood and then was collapsing to the ground with a heavy thud. Catra looked at the pool of blood blooming beneath him and the trickle of blood coming from her own leg. She heard a clatter as Adora’s gun hit the floor and Adora was talking to somebody who wasn’t there, and then there were hands on her face, pulling her eyes up to look at her.
“Catra, what have you done?” Adora sounded so scared. Didn’t she know Catra had saved her?
“I look out for you and you look out for me.” Catra repeated something they had said to each other as children, didn’t Adora remember?
“Right.” It was soft, breath puffing over her face. Warm and familiar.
“Are you real?” Was anything? Her brain wanted to retreat back to the warm dark place where nothing mattered, but Adora wasn’t there, so she’d stay.
“Yeah.” Adora had tears in her voice.
“I wanna go home.” She sounded like a child. She felt small.
“We will.” The hands were pulling her away, helping her limp towards the door.
“Javier?” Her words were getting softer, further away.
“He’s fine, he’s waiting.” Adora picked up the gun on their way out of the office, she wasn’t stupid.
As they left the room they noted people running away as black uniformed federal agents stormed the place. A couple grabbed Adora and Catra and whisked them from the scene.
The epilogue will contain warm and fuzzies - and some exposition!
We're done! They lived happily ever after.
Thanks for sticking with this - it's been a journey.
“Mom, catch me!” The eight year old blur screamed while launching themselves out of the tree and into her, thankfully, ready arms. Even so, the air was knocked out of her lungs and she fell, laughing, onto the seat of her pants on the soft grass.
“Javi, give a girl a chance and shout BEFORE you jump.” Both of them were giggling on the ground, the boy sprawled over her, limbs now gangly with his most recent growth spurt, holding her tight.
The ground was still soft, but autumn was in the air, making the air have a chill and the cold seeping up from the ground eventually made her shiver. She patted his back, just above the boy’s tail and nudged him to let him know she wanted up. He bounced onto his feet like a coiled spring, and gently bounced as she got to her feet and wiped at her butt to get off any dirt of leaves. Thankfully it wasn’t wet or she would have been sporting an embarrassing stain.
She looked down at the little boy by her side, not so little anymore as his head was already topping her shoulder. The legacy of his parenthood meant that he was going to cut quite the imposing figure, although his face was sharpening to look more like his mothers at the chin and brow. She reached out and took one of his hands and he squeezed back, smiling at her with his sharp grin.
“What shall we do now? We’ve got,” she checked her watch, “fifteen minutes.”
They were in the park, Javier had busied himself with climbing around in trees and throwing himself around in a way that might have once looked clumsy and terrifying but with his extended reach and growing strength, looked mesmerising. Seemingly though, if her sudden visit to the ground was anything to go by, that game had run its course. She saw him look around, his recently shorn hair, stylishly short and full of enough styling gel to make it hard and still (she hoped he would grow out of that style, even if he did look cute), while his ears twitched. It was a dead giveaway that he was thinking.
“How about we go to the swings? You can push me and I can go over the top!” There was a familiar look of maniacal glee in his eyes and she found herself laughing again.
“Maybe we could try the swing without the impending visit to the ER?” They were walking to the sparsely occupied playground now, arms swinging between them.
“I remember when you used to be fun,” his words were filled with mirth and she poked her tongue out at him, which he returned.
Soon they were at one of the unoccupied swings and the little boy climbed up onto the seat, he braced his feet on the seat and grasped the chains with his hands. She was pleased to see that he coiled his tail around one of the chains too, securing himself. Standing back, she watched as he started to use his powerful leg muscles to pump the swing back and forth, quickly building speed.
“You don’t even need me anymore!” She put a playful whine in her voice. It was bitter sweet to see him build up speed, no longer needing a helpful hand on his back.
“I need you for mommy love!” Her heart swelled at his shouted words.
Leaning back on the rail that surrounded the swing, she crossed her arms to warm her hands in her armpits, wishing that she had remembered to bring gloves with her. She made a mental note to put a pair into her coat pockets when they got home so that she would have them for next time.
Eyes tracing the arc of the swing up and down, she fell into an almost meditative state, still ready to grab Javier should he hurt himself, but very relaxed. So relaxed that when a pair arms wrapped around her waist, she almost jumped out of her skin, having missed the sound of approaching footfalls. Catching sight of a large, velvety ear out of the corner of her eye, she melted into the touch.
“Did I scare you?” The lips were close to her ear and she could feel the fur tickle against her skin.
Adora rested her hands on top of the clawed ones that linked across her abdomen, teasing the fur with her fingers. She didn’t turn around, but continued to watch the child whooping with glee as he went higher and higher. Catra rested her chin on the other woman’s shoulder, nuzzling her cheek against the blonds and watched Javier with soft eyes.
“Only a little bit. I think Javi was hypnotising me with his swinging.”
“He would try that too, get us to let him have a later bedtime.” Her creaky laugh ghosted breath across Adora’s cheek and she shivered.
“You’re back earlier than we expected.” Now she did turn in the circle of the other woman’s arm, a feat made more difficult by the wood fence that separated their lower bodies. She met Catra’s eyes and was relieved to see nothing there but pleasure to be with her family.
“Yeah, Casta said it was too nice a day to keep me. I was talked out anyway.” She dropped her hand’s from the other woman waist and vaulted over the barrier so that they could stand side by side, quickly reaching down to link their hands. “She thinks I can lower the dosage on some of my meds and go down to two visits a week because I’m ‘making great progress’.”She made air quotes, dragging Adora’s hand up with her own, and rolled her eyes at her own imitation of the therapist.
“That’s great!” And it was. It had been a long, hard way back from everything that had happened with Prime. Catra’s physical rehab had been nothing compared to the psychological toll. She had returned to the therapist that she had been seeing after she had first left the foster home.
“How’d you guys go?” While Catra had her long sessions with Castaspella, Adora and Javier had their own weekly sessions with the other two therapists at the clinic.
“It was good, Spinerella’s really helping me explore how the stuff from when we were kids influenced my adult choices.” Adora had been traumatised by Catra’s kidnap in her own way, she’d fussed and smothered until the group held an intervention on Catra’s behalf and she was not so gently nudged to see somebody. It had helped with a lot. “Javi said he and Netossa played BattleShip and he beat her four times. Apparently she threatened to bring out the sudoko if he beat her again.” The women smiled fondly at the boy, who hadn’t noticed Catra was there yet. The gruff therapist was good for Javier.
“Hey, Beastie!” Her voice carrier to the swinging figure who threw himself off of the moving swing, landing on his feet and running towards her as soon as his feet hit the floor. Whenever the two had been separated since the citadel, he would run to her like he hadn’t seen her for days whether it had been hours or half an hour. He threw his arms around her waist and rested his he on her collar bone. She kissed his hair, or tried to.
“Javier Reyes, you have got to stop putting so much of that muck in your hair, it’s like kissing a porcupine!” He responded by rubbing the stiff spikes on her chin and giggling.
“Are you ok Mama?”
“I am great. In fact I thought we could all go get an ice cream from that place Adora likes and then walk to see Aunt Glimmer and Uncle Bow.” It might be cold out but neither the blond or the boy were going to turn down ice cream.
The little family linked hands, Adora and Catra to either side with Javier between them, and walked purposefully towards the street.
Lonnie looked at the documents in front of her. That was it, she was free and so were Kyle and Rogelio. They could move on with their lives and know that their slate was clean. Finally. The weight of what she had done for ‘The Light’, and she could scoff at her own gullibility, had been lifting from her shoulders, bit by bit, and now she Felt she could at last take a deep breath.
She looked up at the older man who sat across from her at the table. Rogelio and Kyle were still back at the warehouse, no need to wheel them all out if there was still a hint at any danger. He was greying at the temples and twenty pounds overweight, but he had a kind face and smiled triumphantly at her, making her face break into a matching smile.
“It’s over? That’s it, we’re done?” She had to be sure that she understood.
“That’s it. As you can see, all of the cult’s holdings and accounts have be liquidated and ceased. The main players are all now in custody, including the well placed moles they had in the policed government. The Citadel of The Light is gone. You have been so instrumental in this take down, you and your friends. Without the paperwork that you leaked to us we wouldn’t be here now.”
“It was, it was nothing.” He voice was small as she ducked away from the praise.
“It was something, Lonnie. Don’t downplay that. With the arrests of Shadow Weaver and Hordak we can close the case. You’ll be needed to testify against them but it’s over.”
“I know me and the boys will have to testify, but you won’t call…” She couldn’t finish, it still made her feel sick to think about what had happened in that place at the end.
“No, we won’t be calling Ms Reyes. We have the police reports, and their prosecution has very little to do with events surrounding that.” Lonnie let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been keeping.
“As you know, we will help you build new identities after all of this. You three will be able to go and start whatever new life you want. You’re still young. The world should be your oyster.” He sounded so sincere and hopeful. Lonnie hoped he was right.
“I should go and tell the others.” It was over.
Catra stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom and looked long and hard at herself. Eighteen months on from everything and she was back to full health. Better than before, physically at least. Her muscles were bigger, she could go faster and thanks to some weird tea that Perfuma insisted she drink her fur was thicker and more lustrous. It hid all but the worse scars, laying in odd swirled patterns on her shoulder and thigh.
She looked ok. She would never look at herself and not see HIM but she had rebuilt herself once, and she was doing it again. Except this time she had help. She moved her clawed hand up to her hair, still not sure about it. The sides were cropped close to her head and the top left longer and wild, sticking up with a mind of its own. Like her son she filled it with product to keep it artful tousled, unlike Javier she kept it feeling soft. The studio had asked her to cut it, saying it was right for the character, and as somebody moving from faceless stunty to a leading role, even if she wasn’t the star, she hadn’t said no.
She remembers going for the haircut, Adora had sat with her the whole time, holding her hand, and she had tensed when they started to shave the sides. But it hadn’t been too bacd. The large scar that stretched halfway across her ear, was visible in places and she had initially worried that the director would demand it be covered, but they had said it just made her look more dangerous and as she was playing an assassin it saved them the time to add them themselves.
Adora walked in just as she was touching her hair, dressed only in her underwear. She walked up to her girlfriend and wrapped herself around the naked furry body in front of her, feeling a tail wind around her bare calf. She ran her hands up and down the toned abdomen and revelled in the softness of the fur there.
“You’re going to be fine. The table read went well and you’ve had your promo stills taken. You and the guys are going to have so much fun!” She peppered kisses on the exposed shoulders and Catra squirmed delightfully.
“You better stop that before you make us both late!” But she was purring as she said it.
It had taken them a while to even kiss again and longer still to start to day or be intimate but the last three months had been amazing. They were finally a couple, Javier had been calling the school teacher ‘mom’ for over a year and with her living in the apartment with them it felt like everything was finally going to work out for her.
“You used to be fun!” Whined Adora as she led the cat woman back into their bedroom where their clothes were laid out on the bed. Catra just threw on underwear and sweats, knowing that she had wardrobe and primping to endure when she arrived. Adora was fussing with the collar of her white shirt before tucking it into her grey slacks. They were decent by the time Javier burst through the door and threw himself onto the centre of the bed, making sure to bounce as high as he could. The idea of knocking before he came in was proving to be a learning curve.
“Are you excited, Mama?” His eyes were twinkling at her.
“Yes, Beastie, I am very excited.” She reached over and pulled his tail. “You should be dressed though!”
The boy stretched out on the bed, clad only in his long pyjama bottoms, torso bare as he had taken to sleeping. With his last growth spurt had come a sudden, and unexpected change in the boy’s appearance. Fur had started to grow across his shoulders and down the centre of his back to meet his tail. It was tawny and just as soft as his mothers. His face had changed as well, features becoming more pointed like her own. He had been so excited that he had refused to wear a shirt around the house for weeks. Now they had it down to just bedtime.
“Fine.” He pouted as he got off of the bed, sounding too much like a teen for a boy of eight. He pressed a kiss to each of their cheeks on his way out.
“Come on movie star, let’s get you fed before Sea Hawk gets here.”
It was nice not to have to hide anymore.