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Maple and Pine

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“And what do you think you’re doing?” Catra’s thoroughly unamused voice rings through the living room. She had appeared in the doorway after taking a virtual meeting in her office, and was none too pleased with the scene that greeted her. She stands there with one hand on her hip, right where her dress shirt is tucked into her pants, while the other holds her laptop and sketch book, fingers tapping the metal surface.

The air in the room goes tense, and Adora turns around with a guilty half wince, half smile on their face. There wasn’t any hiding what she was doing, so it was a better bet to just take the gentle reprimanding that was headed her way and try a little harder to fight the urge next time. They slowly place down the watering can onto the television stand next to them, and know as soon as they feel the pull in their tight chest and the soreness in their hunched back that watering the plants was, in retrospect, a terrible idea.

Catra can’t hold up her disappointed face for long and sighs, pointing at the couch mere feet away. She raises her eyebrow and there is no mistaking the meaning behind both actions. Adora hangs their head a little bit and shuffles their sock covered feet over to sit down. The woven, striped cushion gives beneath her to cradle her body and it’s soothing to be held up by the steady structure instead of their practically useless back and abs. They recline back against the stack of pillows placed strategically to support them, and pull the small throw blanket around their exposed shoulders. The softness and warmth makes them shiver, realizing all of a sudden that they really had been cold.

They look around the room from the vantage point they’ve had almost all day and smile, pride swelling in their chest.

It was a small house just outside the city, a little further from campus than Adora’s old apartment, but they’d managed to make the single story home their own over the year since they’d graduated. The summers they’d spent living together at Catra’s parent’s place, along with the apartments they’d rented during the school year were one thing, but being out on their own renting a house to themselves was a whole other feeling. It wasn’t the first time, and definitely wouldn’t be the last, that Adora found themself in grateful awe at the life they built.

Adora reaches to the side to pick up their glass of water and pauses to run their fingers over the smooth grain of wood on the table. The two tables that flanked the couch, along with the coffee table, the media console, and their dining room table, were all built by Adora with the guidance of Catra’s grandfather. After a chance mention of the interest at a Family Cookout, Adora had been handed a beer and coerced into Netossa’s father’s wood shop. Catra just grinned at her as she was dragged away by her grandfather, the boisterous and excited man with a spring in his step and a heart full of love and pride for his only granddaughter. It was clear from their interactions throughout the family event that he and Catra were close, cut from the same cloth in a way that was probably infuriating and terrifying to Mom and Ma when they became new mothers. The trouble they got into together was otherworldly, and the only thing that kept them from panic and near heart attacks was the fact that the man, obviously, had raised Netossa just fine.

So with his invitation and occasional help, Adora had made nearly every piece of furniture in this room with the exception of the couch.

The couch that they were supposed to be resting on.

“You know you’re not supposed to lift more than 5 lbs, and you especially know you’re not supposed to lift your arms up,” Catra says, going over to test the weight of the watering can and frowning. She rolls her eyes when she feels that it is, in fact, full, and definitely over the weight limit.

“I know I just… you were busy and Milo looked thirsty,” Adora pouts.

Something about the way her partner looks cocooned in pillows and blankets, frowning on the couch, makes Catra soften just a little bit more. It’s cute, is what it is, and she has not grown any more immune to their cuteness in the last few years. Smiling fondly at Adora she says, “Ok, which one is Milo? I’ll water him.”

The question has the opposite effect that she was hoping it would, and Catra frowns in confusion as Adora’s eyes go glassy and their lip quivers.

“You don’t remember our baby’s names? You don’t know which one?” They whisper.

They’re nothing short of heartbroken, and Catra checks the time on her phone.

She knows instantly that Adora has taken some of the pain medication very recently.

It has been a little over four hours. They must have been in pain She thinks.

“I’m sorry baby, I know Milo is one of the ones on that shelf above the TV. I just forgot which one,” She says, knowing that when Adora was sleepy from the medication there was no reasoning with them.

She walks over to take one of them down, guessing by the round leaves and the small pot. ‘Milo’ is a small kind of name, right?

“Nonono that’s his little brother, Henry. Don’t you love our babies?” They say, taking long blinks and resting their head back on a pillow.

“Yeah baby, I love all of them. I’m sorry,” She says, biting her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing at her emotional partner. She would bring it up later as a fond story when they were feeling better and they would both laugh at the absurdity of Adora getting upset over the plants that they knew Catra appreciated but didn’t have any emotion toward.

She takes another off of the shelf, this one with a similar stalk and the same shaped leaves, but quite a bit taller and with some interesting variegation.

“Is this Milo?” She asks.

Adora doesn’t respond verbally, but nods. Catra reaches up to take the drip tray and place it down, sitting the pot inside. She then picks up the watering can again and begins to slowly pour water over the soil.

She wasn’t very amused when Adora had turned their entire house into a Rainforest Cafe, but she couldn’t lie that the passion and excitement that Adora got over her plant children was refreshing to see. It was just another way that they had come out of their shell, another sign of their continued recovery. It was all Catra could have ever asked for, just to see Adora smile a real, genuine smile, because she was happy with herself.

She tilts the can back to stop the flow of water, sits it down on the media console, and waits for the water to sink into the soil, making sure it is soaked in so it doesn’t spill over the edge on the journey back to it’s home on the shelf, and then moves the pot and tray carefully.

“Ok princess, I watered Milo. Anyone else?” She asks, turning around to see them leaning back, completely melted into the couch with their eyes closed. The last few days had been rough for them, and they’d needed Benadryl for the itchy dressings more than they’d needed the prescription pain medication, but it was still a major surgery that they were trying to recover from. The exhaustion was to be expected, but it still never failed to make her smile when she noticed the sudden silence and glanced over at her sleepy partner.

She walks over, taking the ends of the blanket in hand to fold them over Adora’s torso, admiring their abs while giving a cautious glance to their post-op bindings. She tucks the blanket in, wedging it between their sides, and stands to admire them.

Their hair had grown out, no longer hovering at shoulder length but draping down between their shoulder blades. The silky locks looked ethereal on their own, but when they were swept up into a high ponytail and showing off the buzzed undercut beneath it was even better. She did not anticipate how much she would enjoy scratching her fingers lightly over the tiny hairs, but found herself addicted to the sensation of coarse bristle on her finger tips.

“Mmm whatcha looking at?” Adora mumbles.

“You, dummy. What else could I possibly be looking at?” She says, fondness coating her tongue and bathing Adora in the hidden praise. They take the compliment just like they always do, with a blush and a serene smile.

They heave a great sigh, relaxing further and growing ever quieter, “Mhm, d'you ‘ave more work?”

Catra giggles quietly, brushing her fingertips over their forehead.

“Oh sweetheart I don’t have anything scheduled for the rest of the day except for cuddling up with you.”

She begins unbuttoning her dress pants and sliding them down her legs. There was no use staying in them when cuddles were on the agenda, and if she tried to go to the bedroom to change she knew she would be met with an unintelligible whine and a pouting Adora.

“Cuddles?” They say, small and timid but with a hint of excitement. They’d been pretty clingy since the procedure (and, really before the procedure), and once again Catra found herself wondering how she even survived the years of her life where she didn’t get to see Adora being the cutest person in the world.

“Yeah princess, we’re gonna cuddle,” She says, sliding onto the couch just next to Adora so they can lean into her. She wraps her arms around their shoulders, shuffling behind them a little bit so they can rest against her chest. It was a little difficult, getting into a position where they could be close without leaning on Adora’s chest or messing with the dressings too much. Their cuddles had been few the last few days, because Adora was either shifting around in discomfort or completely knocked out in a state of unconsciousness that Catra didn’t dare disrupt.

When they’re snuggled as close as they can be and Catra feels the weight of Adora’s body on her chest and their head on her shoulder, it isn’t long before they’re snoring lightly. Catra sits there, gripping her partner tightly, and takes in the way their chest rises and falls, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before there was nothing restricting the movement at all. It makes her smile, that Adora had decided through everything that it was time to spend some of their hard earned money on themself. It was a fight at first, getting them to understand that there wasn’t anything wrong with saving some money for themself in a personal account, even though they were budgeting long term for a house.

Saving for the future wasn’t a race to the finish line, and spending some of it now to make one of them happier was worth more in the long run than spending the years saving every penny and going without the procedure.

After their summer of recovery, Adora would be starting work as an assistant trainer for the BU Women’s soccer team as she entered her second year at Dryl School of Medicine for grad school, and they would be back on track savings wise, anyway.

“Kitn’?” Adora mumbles.

“Yeah princess?” She says, leaning down to press her lips to Adora’s warm forehead. There had been a few times the last few days that they had been particularly emotional, from the excitement of finally getting the procedure to the sentimentality of having their very best friend by their side the whole way through. They were really fighting sleep at this point, but there was something important they had to say.

“I love you. You know? Thank you for being here, for taking care of me and for helping me with this. I just… I really love you.”

Catra squeezes her eyes shut.

As if she could, even for a second, do anything but love Adora.

“I love you too baby, so much.”

With that, the solid affirmation and validation, Adora is snoring lightly again.

They stay there for the remainder of the afternoon. Catra only gets up once it’s time to make dinner and get ready to help Adora take a bit of a bath before bed.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Just getting to be here and take care of the love of her life?

There isn’t anything she’d want more.

***

As cute as sleepy, medicated, bandaged up Adora was, it was nothing compared to the way they looked when the dressings finally came off and they got to see their new chest for the first time.

The clinic was warm and inviting, much more so than the hospital they had been to last week for the actual procedure. The floor was slate, with grey and white walls that had just enough texture to combat the sterility of the doctor’s office. In spite of the medical exam tables, there were some unique pieces of art on the walls, as well as a few plump and healthy indoor plants. The staff had been nothing but kind and respectful to both of them, and their care was something she was very grateful for as she corralled her nervous partner into the building for the appointment.

The process was quick, the few stitches coming out easily and the scars looking to be healing nicely.

Then Adora got to stand up and walk over to the mirror.

They look at themself, their brand new chest (designer nipples, Prada nipples) and cover their mouth with their hand and let out a sob. Catra is worried at first by the outburst, afraid they were in pain or were disappointed with the results. Those worries flew right out the window as soon as they made eye contact through the mirror.

They turned around to Catra, smiling and nodding in spite of the tears streaming down their face, and walked over to bury their face in her neck and inhale deeply. Her arms came up to wrap around them, careful not to put too much pressure or pull too hard, and just hold them right there, rocking them back and forth as she began to cry too.

The surgeon grins and instructs Catra to take all the time they need, and that once Adora is calmed down and dressed they would find everything they needed at the front desk before leaving them the room for some privacy. It certainly wasn’t the first time that someone cried with sheer unadulterated joy and needed a few moments to collect themselves, so the staff was especially accommodating with Adora’s need to just be held in this moment that she was finally the way she’d thought she should be for so long, wanted to be for so long.

Adora had just calmed down enough to pull on her shirt, short sleeved and patterned like the floor of a bowling alley in the 90s, and was fastening the last few buttons when they turned to look in the mirror and a fresh wave of tears spilled out at how they looked in a shirt now without even needing to wear a binder.

Catra walked over, sliding up behind them to wrap her arms around Adora. She rests her head on their shoulder and looks them in the eye through the mirror as she brings her hands up to undo the top few buttons that Adora had just gotten through closing with her own grin in place. Watching Catra unbutton their shirt to reveal fresh scars and skin she’d seldom seen at all and had never seen in the bedroom does something that fills Adora with intense need.

Which isn’t fair really, since they most certainly were not clear to resume their more physical activities.

Catra leans up to place a kiss on Adora’s cheek, firm and wet, causing them to giggle and bring their hands up slowly to take hers.

The button up is fun while it lasts, feeling the silky material brush their bare skin as the open window ruffles it in the summer breeze. As soon as they’re home, though, Adora yanks it off, tosses it to the floor, and collapses on their bed, smiling in a way that they never had before.

“How does it feel?” Catra asks.

“It’s weird. Because it already feels like this is how it’s always been. I had the post op binder on until an hour ago, and before that I wore a binder every day for years, but I already can’t quite place what it felt like to wear one in the first place. I just feel like me. I finally feel the way I am supposed to, and it’s like the physical sensations before this were like a dream. This is just the way I’m supposed to be, and now that it’s the way that I am, it’s like the way I felt before is so far gone that I don’t even remember it.”

That has Catra crying again, and she lays down in bed next to them and reaches over to pepper kisses along their face, jaw, neck, and right down to the edge of the scar over their left pec.

“You’re so fucking beautiful. I just… I feel so lucky to get to do this with you,” She whispers against the skin she’s never felt before. She boops her nose against the pattern of freckles that was so new to her and can’t help the excitement that soon she would be able to press herself right up against Adora’s chest and feel their skin on hers.

“Do what?” They ask.

A pause, because it was such a loaded question that Catra didn’t really know how to answer, except for the simple one she gave.

“Everything. I get to do everything with you.”

***

It’s three weeks into recovery when Adora walks into Catra’s office looking disheveled and borderline still asleep with puffy eyes they have to squint in the afternoon light.

Things wouldn’t be like this when they both returned to work in the fall, but Catra had convinced her boss to let her work from home during the summer and to have their meetings virtually so that she could help take care of Adora after the procedure, and they were all very accommodating with her request.

She pauses the promotional video sent by the marketing department that she was supposed to look over and sign off on, and waves Adora into the room.

They’re wearing a shirt, because of a near mishap when they walked in last week and Catra was in one such meeting, but it’s a halfhearted attempt because not a single button was fastened.

“What’s up princess?” She asks, turning in her chair to face them.

“I just realized something.”

Catra raises her eyebrow, “Yeah?”

Adora walks a little further into the room, tripping a little bit on the carpet, and crosses their arms.

“Sorry I just got up from like, a four hour nap, so I am a little disoriented,” They start, rubbing the sleep from their eyes and yawning.

“Anyway, I just realized that like… Nonbinary people are trans.”

The statement isn’t a shock because Catra kind of already knew that, but it does surprise her and strike her as odd to be brought up out of the blue.

She was never one to stop someone from talking about it though, so she nods her understanding.

“Yeah, I mean trans just means your gender identity doesn’t align with your birth sex so technically its on the trans spectrum. I know a lot of nonbinary people who identify as trans.”

Adora nods, “So that time I said “I know I’m not trans” was kind of like… Just incorrect?”

Catra sighs, but smiles gently.

“Baby, they’re just words, and while they have a lot of meaning to some people, other people don’t need them. You can use whatever words mean the most to you if they help you feel more like yourself, and even though it’s technically correct, you don’t have to use it if it doesn’t feel right. So yeah, while some nonbinary people identify as trans, you don’t have to use a word if you don’t feel like it.”

They kick at the carpet, toes digging into that spot where the vacuum had pulled at a loose thread and wrinkled the pattern.

“But what if… What if I do feel like it fits? What if I was just kind of… repressing it before because I was scared it would be too much, and now that I had time to think about it I really do?”

They look timid and fidgety, a little nervous but mostly just curious. They look like they’ve figured something out, like they know something that no one else does.

Catra’s smile grows wider, “Well then I think my partner should bring their trans ass over here and kiss me.”

Adora doesn’t waste any time shuffling the rest of the way over to Catra and planting a wet kiss on her lips.

***

The end of August finds Adora and Catra driving the short few hours to Glimmer’s family home for Glimmer and Bow’s engagement party. This weekend looked to be unseasonably cool, temperatures in a bearable 80s instead of rocketing toward triple digits like they had been the last couple of weeks. It was the perfect weekend for a barbecue, honestly, and the summer breeze ruffling their hair as they continue down the winding back roads smells like fresh cut grass and pollen.

While the family kept an apartment in Brightmoon proper for business purposes, and a vacation home in Salineas for summers, they raised Glimmer in the quiet town of Thaymor.

It was the same Thaymor that Adora grew up in, the same town that Catra lived in before her adoption. Adora anticipated the drive to be filled with anxiety, like it always was. They had returned with Glimmer often enough to know that as the exit signs ticked by on the highway the level of sheer fear at what might be waiting for her, who might be waiting for her, was overpowering. Now though, it felt different.

She wasn’t afraid.

No matter what memories this town held, good or bad, it didn’t compare to the memories they got to make every day with the love of their life. Nothing about this place mattered when it came down to it, because Catra was their future, and there wasn’t a single thing about this town that could change that.

Apparently, that had always been true.

They walk into the back yard and it’s packed with friends and family. While it was still daylight, and would be for several hours, the strings of fairy lights lining the fences and draping between the trees were alight. Between the smell of food on the grill and the fresh scent of roses as they passed Angella’s garden, it smelled just like every summer Adora had experienced in high school.

While they had visited since they started living with Catra, the familiarity still relaxed them.

They wade through the crowd, past a game of cornhole and a circle of iron chairs around the firepit that was ready for the evening's bonfire, toward the grill. If the grill was going, that was where they would find Micah and by proxy, Angella.

He spots them quickly and looks damn near giddy to see them.

“Adora!” They grin wide, coming up to accept a much gentler than normal hug from the burly man. He holds Adora tight to his chest, willing all of his love into the embrace.

His eyes are sparkling, and he pulls back and claps both hands on their shoulders, taking in the child he watched grow up. Adora had been friends with Glimmer for years, and he got to see them grow into the kind of person that was as proud of themself as everyone else was in them.

He looks at their posture, standing up straight and chest puffed up with a pride that was missing before. He sees their free and relaxed smile, the happiness apparent in their eyes. The tears he had held when Glimmer told him about the pronouns and the surgery were barely controlled, and one single stray tear escaped, held in the crinkle of the laugh lines around his eyes.

“I’m so proud of you, Adora.”

After their emotional reunion, the party continues. Catra takes great pleasure in being paraded around and introduced as Adora’s fiancee even to people who know both of them. Much to Adora’s dismay, they can’t join in to the volleyball game this soon after the procedure, but Catra steers them to the back of the yard where some of Bow’s brothers and their partners are playing a few rounds of horseshoes that seems safe and low activity enough for them to join in.

Adora makes it their personal mission to help deplete the ridiculous amount of food that keeps appearing on the table inside. Micah brings in platters of everything from chicken thighs to flank steak and even burgers, while Angella keeps replenishing the ever disappearing bowls of every side dish imaginable as well as the braised short ribs they'd been keeping in the oven.

They end up in a food coma on the couch, enjoying the air conditioning for an hour or so while they process the obscene quantity of pork belly and rice cakes they’d eaten (which Catra forced them to balance with at least like… one vegetable before she gave up entirely after trying to explain that corn and potato salad didn't count). Not only that, but they’d gotten tired of both the quantity of sunscreen they needed, the frequency with which they needed to apply it, and the amount they got made fun of for it.

“You know you guys need sunscreen too, right?” They grumble while Catra rakes her fingers through their hair.

“Yeah but at least my skin won’t say RED ALERT RED ALERT THE SUN IS OUT and tell everyone around me that I didn’t put on sunscreen,” Glimmer retorts.

Catra talks to Bow as he lounges on the love seat with Glimmer, and somehow no one comes looking for the guests of honor for the full hour. It probably has something to do with Angella standing by the back door looking fondly at the four and warding off anyone who would try to interrupt them.

When they return outside, Catra and Adora part ways for a while to join in polite conversation with some of the other guests when she gets caught up in a very in depth conversation with Lance and George about Etherian Post-Renaissance art, and the subtle nuances that make it differ in style from Classical Etherian. The conversation turns direction to the series of government funded libraries that the two had opened at the height of their careers and the museum at which Catra found herself to be the Assistant Director.

Adora was never one for art or art history, and while it never failed to make them beam with pride at the way Catra talked about her work, they found themself floating between conversation. They got into a heated debate about the upcoming World Cup finals with Bow's oldest brother who worked in sports broadcasting. After that, they'd meandered over to the grill to talk to Angella, an acclaimed trauma surgeon, about their graduate research and a few experimental procedures that some of their cohorts were excited to bring into the world of sports medicine.

Later, after most of the other guests had made their ways home, the closest of the family finds themselves sitting around the bonfire, flickering in the darkness. Crickets chirp and cicadas screech in the surrounding trees, fireflies glittering over the yard and the strings of lights providing a romantic and peaceful ambiance.

Angella and Micah sit side by side, but Bow and Glimmer as well as Catra and Adora are sharing chairs. Lance sits on the ground, leaning back on George’s knees as he rests his forearms on his partner’s shoulders. A few of Bow’s brothers are still here, laughing and joking with their baby brother.

Adora looks around at everyone, all of these people that had been there to support them through their life even before they knew they deserved it.

“Cat?” They ask, turning their head to nuzzle into Catra’s neck.

“Mmm yeah princess?”

The nickname makes them flush, and is enough to make Bow and Glimmer giggle to themselves.

“I really fucking love you,” They whisper, just so Catra can hear.

It was just for her anyway.

“I really fucking love you, too, princess.”

They end up spending the night in the bedroom the Han family had given Adora as soon as they were legally allowed to move out of Weaver’s house. They had painted it and allowed Adora to decorate as much as they wanted, and while most of those decorations made it to the apartment and later to their house, the room had largely stayed the same.

This is as close as they would get to sharing their childhood bedroom with Catra, and it felt so strange to be here with her after all of these years, after all of the nights they lay awake in this very bed wondering where Catra was.

“You know what?” Adora says as Catra comes back from her shower.

“What?” She asks.

Adora leans up on their forearms.

“I used to think I didn’t have a family. I used to think I was alone and that I didn’t have anyone, that everything I had was temporary. That’s how it felt. People were coming and going from the foster home, and while I wasn’t delusional enough to think we would be together there forever, it still stung when you had to leave. So I just didn’t let myself think I would ever get anything different. It didn't even occur to me that I still thought like that for so long, until I met you again. But more and more recently I realized that I have like… an absurdly huge family.”

And they do. They’re not sure where along the line they ended up with a partner, two siblings, six parents, several aunts and uncles, and a grandfather but they sure are happy that they did.

“Our kids are going to have a pretty good family, right?” They whisper.

They’ve talked extensively about kids. If they planned on spending their lives together, every couple should at least get on the same page about it. They weren’t certain yet if they were going to adopt or try to have biological children, because it was still a long way away. They knew, though, that if they had children that they would make sure they were the most loved they could possibly be regardless of the circumstances.

Catra turns to face them, and they catch just a glimpse of her breasts as she pulls a tank top over her head. She looks at them and smiles, a lopsided smirk crossing her lips when she notices where Adora was looking.

“Yeah, they’re going to be so embarrassed when they grow up to be teenagers. It’ll be unbearable. Well, I’ll be the cool mom. You’ll embarrass them.”

Adora lays there in bed, boxer briefs and nothing else, looking up at the woman at the end of the bed, the woman that was going to be their wife soon.

They open their arms and Catra rounds the bed to collapse into them, nuzzling into their bare chest, careful not to rub against the still healing scars. She can’t believe she ever lived without getting to feel Adora’s skin against hers, feeling Adora’s heartbeat without a single barrier between them. She gets to feel the warmth, the baby hairs against her face. She gets to feel the way their heart goes from thundering to calm when she coaxes them to sleep with kisses and gentle whispers, and the way it goes from calm to thundering when she touches them in a different way.

She gets to be with them in the very way she always knew she wanted to.

Sure, as a child, she didn’t know just how deeply you could be with someone, but she still knew that she wanted to be with Adora for the rest of her life.

She falls asleep against them, and while it has that same feeling of falling asleep next to your partner, the love of your life, it also felt just like it did all those years ago when they would fall asleep next to each other and dream of a future where they didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

They would dream of a future where they got to love, without reservations.

She can’t believe, after all these years, that dream had come true in such an astounding way.

For good measure, she bites down on the skin pulled taut over Adora’s collar bone, and their yelp makes her giggle.

She certainly didn't know that being in love could be this much fun.