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Maple and Pine

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“We’re going to put you down for the lumber department, then. It’s where we definitely need the most people. The first week is all online training for product knowledge and customer service, so you can do the various lift training after you’ve been on the floor for a while. Now, I understand you have limited availability?” The manager, Brian, said. He was probably in his 40’s, deep dimples in his cheeks from his wide grin. There’s a twinkle in his soft brown eyes that she isn’t sure how he could possibly have retained this far into life when she is half his age and hers flickered out years ago. His tight curls bounced as he looked down at her application and then back up at her encouragingly.

His energy must rub off on her a little bit and Adora nods, a bright smile masking her nerves at the thought of not only having to operate heavy machinery but also give advice to customers on projects that could cost them thousands of dollars. She was really banking on her strength and cheery outward appearance to help her thrive in this new job, especially with how hard she pretended to care about customer service. She knew from the trips she had taken to this very store that, while she sure didn’t care much about lumber, as long as she could lift heavy with a smile she was golden. The guy said himself that they would do a week of product training, and if there was one thing she could do it was memorize and regurgitate facts. You don’t become valedictorian if you’ve got a bad memory.

“I gave my schedule to HR for the remainder of the soccer season, which lasts until late November, but my availability opens up significantly after that. I still have class and team training but it is way more flexible and individual than it is at the height of the season. I am happy to work around it where I can to better serve the department’s needs, and then it won’t be a concern again until next Fall,” She replies, voice steady.

They shake on it, his warm hand engulfing hers. Her 5’ 8” wasn’t short, but the manager had to be at least 6’ 4” and his massive hand dwarfed her own. With a few parting words she agrees to come in for her first day of training on Friday, 3 days from now. Her shoulders visibly relax as she exits the conference room and makes her way through the warehouse. Pulling her hood up over her head and buttoning her denim jacket tighter, she wishes the cashiers a good day as she walks out of the exit, in much better spirits than when she walked in. As long as she left that day with a job she was happy, and honestly relieved.

The bus ride home was long, rush hour traffic slowing it significantly. The Home Depot was just on the edge of the city limits, and unfortunately that meant that to get home she had to take the bus Northwest through the center of campus and then transfer to the line that ran due East to her apartment, in a giant frustrating triangle. No one lived in the industrial district just outside of town, so even though it would make her life a lot easier, there wasn’t a bus that ran the perimeter of the city. She stared out the window at the angular, gunmetal skyscrapers looming overhead. Dotting the sidewalks were expertly pruned trees, changing leaves that whipped in the wind through the grey mist. She observed for a few minutes, getting used to the sway of the lumbering machine before pulling out her Biology textbook and a spiral notebook to get started on her homework questions. It was absolutely packed, but she managed to find standing room at the front right next to the ledge behind the driver’s seat. Having a spot to place her book was nice, but the real benefit was the fresh air that came every time the driver opened the door, a brief relief from the musky dampness of rubber boots and soaked clothing. Bending a leg and shifting her weight, bracing a shoulder against the window to balance herself, she got to work reading through the chapter, taking notes and working to absorb the material. The slightly bent over position wasn’t great for her back but she pushed that thought out of her mind to get started on her work. She would have to be even more on top of her studies now that she was taking away a lot of her free time to start working. The height of soccer season might not have been the best time to get a job. Her performance on the team and academics had to come first, but there were things her scholarships didn’t cover, things she couldn’t pretend she didn’t need anymore.

Not when people were starting to notice. When people started to notice is when they tried to help, and she couldn’t let them waste their resources on her if she could do something as simple as getting a job.

The bus rolled to a stop outside of the biggest apartment complex in town, over half of the occupants disembarking to head home. She gathers her books and makes her way off, thanking the driver and moving to stand in the shelter of the bus stop. The mist has turned into massive droplets that hammer the plexiglass in loud torrents, an almost deafening roar battering her eardrums. While she waits for her next bus she pulls out her phone to pass the time and finds a few messages from Glimmer.

Good luck at your interview!

Be safe! See you when you get home! We’ll wait up for you before we leave for dinner!

She smiles at the thoughtful messages and types a quick reply, letting her know that she was at the transfer stop just as the bus pulls up. She has to deal with standing room again for the first couple of stops, but by the fourth traffic has started to wind down, and she manages to find two adjacent seats at the back of the bus so she can spread her things out and get back to studying. Passengers come and go in the five or so stops remaining on the way to her apartment complex, but it never fills up to the degree that the first ride did on the way into town. The buses would only get more full as the weather worsened, already unseasonably cold for mid September.

It’s nearly dark when the bus lumbers up to her stop, and she thanks the driver as she departs. The cool breeze and few raindrops that dodge her hood wash over her face and help beat back the nausea from the swaying bus ride as she walks down the sidewalk to her building. Making her way up to her floor she unlocks the door and barely makes it into the apartment before she is bombarded with questions.

“How did it go?”

“Did you get the job?”

“The weather was terrible, how was the bus ride?”

She stares back and forth at Glimmer and Bow, waiting for them to calm down so she can get to answering their questions. They’re in matching sweaters; Glimmer’s so big it swallows her and Bow’s hugging his muscular arms and shoulders.

“The interview went great and I got the job! I start training on Friday after class. The bus ride was fine, and I even got some studying done.”

They each congratulate her with a hug and set out to dinner, giving her a look and making her promise to eat before they get home. Having their date night on Tuesdays meant they could stay up as late as they wanted since neither of them had class until the afternoon on Wednesdays. Adora never looked forward to spending the evening alone, but at least the quiet would allow her to study.

Their apartment was small but cozy, a shared space just big enough for their TV, couch, an armchair, and a coffee table. There was a kitchen with so little counter space they often had to encroach on the dining table for cooking space. On the opposite side of the apartment from the entrance door was the hallway that led to their bedrooms, hers on one side and Glimbow’s (she didn’t call them that, but Bow immortalized their ship name with a plaque on the door) on the other with the bathroom at the very end of the hall between them. She smiles when she looks around at the framed photos hanging on the walls. Pictures of herself, Bow, and Glimmer as well as a few of each of their parents from birthdays, anniversaries, graduation, holidays, random movie nights, and any instance in between. She was loved, and she loved her found family, but at the same time she tried not to think too hard about how the majority of those photos had three kids, but only two sets of parents.

She wipes away the tear forming at the corner of her eye, the one that had been threatening to fall ever since she saw the date on her phone this morning.

Eleven years. It had been eleven years since her best friend was adopted, leaving the foster home, and her, forever. Eleven years ago today they had gotten home from school to find the two women that had visited a few times before, there to take her best friend home with them. Her heart tore itself in two that day. She was happy, so deliriously happy that the person she loved the most got a happy ending, got the family they had always talked about, whispered about on those nights that they were kept awake from the nightmares. Yet there was a sadness that drew her down into darkness at the thought that they would never see each other again, would never get to spend their lives together like they talked about.

She allowed herself to dream, for a while after the adoption, that she would find the same thing. She thought if she was good enough, well behaved and got good grades that she would be adopted too. She would get out from Ms. Weaver’s home, with a family of her own and new parents that would want her, and she would go in search of her best friend again.

Dreams are just that; dreams.

Shaking herself from her memories, their bitterness leaving her mouth slanted with a foul taste, she returns to her homework. She pours all of her focus into the remainder of the questions in her Biology chapter and then switches over to her Calculus problems. The problems scramble her brain, her least favorite subject wearing away at her emotional and intellectual energy as the quiet of her apartment sinks into her bones. While she liked Biology, she was excited for next semester when she got to take Advanced Anatomy and Physiology, and Kinesiology 325, the prerequisite for which was some stupid lower level oral communication class that she had to finish before registering for upper level classes. Every day when the bus ride home took her by the Sports Science Research Center, part of Brightmoon Hospital’s extensive research partnerships, she got more and more excited to just get her degree over with so she could work on getting her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. She had a pretty good relationship with the head of the department, and already knew that when she graduated she would be more than willing to write her letters of recommendation. She just had to get there first.

She finished her homework and, with distractions dwindling the cough deep in her chest and the ache in her back grew more pronounced until she had to take a break to lay down. She had to remind herself that she was happy. She had love, friends, a family that she had pieced together from scratch, the means to get the career that she wanted, the support she needed to do so. She just couldn’t shake that feeling, that knowledge that there was a piece of it that was missing, would always be missing.

That feeling of loss, of grief, broke the dam holding in the rest of the feelings she didn’t feel like processing, was too busy to allow herself to lose focus and confront. She couldn’t let it distract her; the weight in her chest, the hand around her heart, the lead in her lungs, the dagger twisting in her stomach. She couldn’t let something intangible, that wasn’t even really hurting her, distract her when she needed to be focused.

There would be time, just not now. She could wait.

This time of year, when the leaves turned and she could see her breath in a cloud of fog, she could close her eyes and tattooed behind her eyelids was the image of that car driving away from her, a pair of mismatched eyes looking back at her, disappearing over the hill at the end of the street.

And never coming back.

Everyone said things wouldn’t always be this hard, but when exactly were they supposed to get easier?

***

Catra tries her hardest not to slam the door when she walks into her house, knowing that it would just wake her moms up and make them worry. Worry always leads to a discussion around the dining room table, something that she was never into and seldom ready for. The cold seeped into her and made her quake, while the ache she felt, the ache she could normally deal with, was compounded over the course of her particularly long day. Kicking her day off with a Chemistry lab, followed by a lecture in the Humanities building across campus, and ending with an 8 hour shift made Tuesdays her worst day of the week by far.

Brightmoon University was one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, each major featuring a program curated by some of the most brilliant minds in the world. For Catra it was her dream college, the Art program in particular was headed by faculty who had done everything from freelance sculpture, working on movie sets, and curating art in museums in France. While digital media had grown on her in the past few years, to her nothing beat more traditional media. There was just something about the sound of a brush flowing over paper, the smoothness of wet clay in your palms, the raised hairs on the back of your neck when a palette knife scraped just right against canvas. Those sensations were always accompanied by the feeling that you were making something, really creating.

The School of Business was one of the top programs in the world, with faculty from fortune 500 companies and startups alike. By the time she left she would have the tools to excel in her own work and a business portfolio to get her any job in the city. BU’s campus took up the entirety of the Southeast quadrant of their largest metropolis, Brightmoon, for which it was named. It was surrounded by firms and companies that hired most of their interns and entry level employees from the university directly. It was an opportunity she needed, the low acceptance rate meaning that she was in the upper percentile of high school graduates to have applied.

The grandeur of the city could not outweigh the exhaustion of the commute. Upon her acceptance to the accredited institution she was met with the decision she had been dreading since she was 14 and classmates began to talk about their fantasies of what college would be like. All she felt was unparalleled dread at the idea of having to share a room, living in a dorm with so many strangers in such close proximity. She was disappointed to say the least when she learned that her options were to share a double, or live off campus. Housing was guaranteed to incoming freshmen who applied for it, but it was rare for freshmen to get a single room, and thus her decision was made. The anxiety that came with the possibility of having to share a room, and finding out later if the person she was sharing it with was safe or not, wasn’t something she was willing to mess with while she was supposed to be focusing on school work. The commute from her parents house was usually eaten up by a podcast, but when traffic was bad enough that the episode she was listening to ended before she even got into the city proper, and not only was she over an hour into her drive but the groove she was in had to restart with the intro of the next on her list, her mood worsened by the mile. Not surprisingly, with the rain, today was one of those days.

She kicked off her boots, rolling her jeans up so the soaked hem didn’t get her socks or the floor dirty, and made her way to the kitchen. It was a single family home, a ranch style that she was thankful for since it meant she didn’t have to go up stairs with her ever stiffening hip. The entry door opened to a cozy den, a plush carpet where she would play in the evenings, watching the front door for her mama while mom sat in an armchair reading. She remembered the excitement of hearing a car pull up in the driveway, a door slam, and the creak of the storm door swinging open as she scrambled to get up and run to meet her at the door once it finally opened. Her mama would drop her messenger bag, scoop her up in a hug, and they would spend the rest of the evening playing on the floor until it was time for dinner. She smiled, thinking of those early memories of the first house she had lived in that really felt like a home. Living at home in her second year of college, when all of her friends were in the city, made her feel stunted sometimes, like she was moving slower than they were. But when this place meant so much to her, and the people here loved her, the feeling she got when she walked in the door made it so much better.

She worked close to campus so she could get to her shift as soon as she finished class, but that meant that she worked far from her house. Her shift ended at 11, and with the drive home it was now much later than her moms normally went to bed. She definitely didn’t expect them to be up, and was surprised to see the kitchen light on.

Why they like being high school teachers is beyond her, when they’re both qualified to teach college and they wouldn’t need to be at work at 6:30 am.

If they hadn’t taught at her high school, though, nobody would have found her that day. No one would have known where to look and, while they didn’t think it was healthy to talk about what would have happened if no one found her, she knows it would have been too late.

“Hey kid, rough day?” Netossa said leaning in the entryway. She was cool and calm most of the time, but it was obvious when she was worried. She had lived here for eleven years and the woman still tried to act cool when she was really just a big softie for her family. It’s late, and while they must have had dinner hours ago, ma sets a warm bowl of soup on the table with a grilled cheese sandwich and a steaming cup of tea, while mom places a hand on her upper back between her shoulder blades and ushers her over to the table to take a seat. She’s their kid after all, and they knew better than anyone what day it was and how she would feel, not to mention how bad Tuesdays were and how much worse it was made by the weather.

“Leave her alone, dear. She’ll talk if she wants to. You know how college is,” Spinerella chides, kissing her wife on the cheek and taking her hand.

They both eye her with gentle smiles and she blushes, looking down and taking a spoon full of the tomato soup, feeling the warmth soothe her aching throat. Even after all this time, when she knows they love her and she loves them back, she still catches herself surprised that it hasn’t ended yet. They accepted her through everything she threw at them, all of the horrible things she said about herself when she was still discovering who she was and what that meant. They never let go, even when she wanted to let go herself.

A weight still settles in her chest when she overhears a conversation in the library or from customers in the next aisle over, talking about her whether they know it or not. How would they react, how would they treat her if they knew that she was one of “those people?” They debated about her fundamental rights in classrooms as though people like her weren’t really people at all. Like her existence was something sensational; to be joked about and laughed at. Like her body was something for other people to control. It made her feel hopeless, like the fight she had put up to accept herself didn’t mean anything because others would always see her as someone dressing up for attention.

“Yeah Ma, rough day,” She whispers, voice raspy and losing the pitch she worked so hard to keep up for the last 14 hours. It just made her feel worse.

Oh we’re spiraling today are we?

“Hey, kid,” Ma starts, placing a warm hand on her shoulder. She flinches a little at the contact, a byproduct of her day spent guarded and cautious. Netossa takes it in stride and squeezes gently, grounding her with the comforting embrace. She could tell when the flinch meant let go and when it meant please don’t let go.

“We love you, you know that? And I’m proud of you,” She says it with such conviction, such absolution, that Catra forgets for a moment that she is 20 years old and lets herself be the 9 year old she was all of those years ago when she laid in her new bed in her new home, and her new moms took turns rubbing her back until she fell asleep on nights when she just couldn’t stop missing Adora.

Today would always be rough, though. She still had that image in the back of her mind of Adora standing at the end of Ms. Weaver’s driveway, smiling and waving at her like she was going to see her again.

She never did.

Everyone said things wouldn’t always be this hard, but when exactly were they supposed to get easier?

Chapter Text

Adora isn’t sure why she likes training videos so much. Something about the ridiculous scenarios they came up with, the over the top acting, and her genuine love of power tool related safety really did something to put her in a better mood. It was familiar, and in her life’s ever changing circumstances, that was a feeling to hold on to. All four years of high school shop class when the semester started and all they did for the first week was watch power tool and shop safety videos was always her favorite. This was the same, and she let herself observe the oversized brightly colored T-shirts and the baggy cargo pants before her. The functionality of a panel saw hadn’t really changed since the 90’s so it's not surprising that they never bothered to remake these videos. She could operate it in her sleep, not that it was a good idea. Ripping vs cross cutting, measuring accurately, putting on safety goggles, turning on the dust collection; those were all things she could do with her hands tied behind her back.

Well, not literally because I need hands for it
I mean my… mental hands? My brain’s hands?
It's not rocket science

She got to experience 20 hours of it, and she appreciated the easiest week of work she would be getting through her time here. She was in a room just off the break room, with 6 computers set up on a set of desks lining the wall in a U shape. She was the only one there today, the silence of the room and the royalty free music of the videos practically lulling her to sleep. The warmth and stagnant air also didn’t really help, nor did the all nighters she pulled studying to keep up. Occasionally she would click on a video set that she was confident she could pass the final quiz for, allowing her to pull out a textbook or her notes and go over some of her more challenging coursework to get a little bit ahead while the video played. As long as she completed the training courses in the amount of days scheduled for it, she was meeting expectations. She was probably going to finish a day ahead of schedule, in fact. It would allow her first shift on the floor to be a Wednesday night, instead of the Saturday it was originally going to be, since she was off Thursdays and Fridays. Most people would take the extra day to sit at a computer but she really wasn’t interested in her first day on the floor being a Saturday, their busiest day of the week, when there would be hundreds of customers she didn’t know how to help.

Her teammates thought she was out of her mind for taking on a job, but none of them understood. She didn’t really allow them into her personal life, even though she saw herself as a pretty outgoing person, and enjoyed their company enough. There were just parts of her that she knew they wouldn’t get, that she wanted to keep hidden as long as she could. She had lifelong friends, in the form of Glimmer and Bow, and wasn’t really seeking those new connections that a lot of people sought when they went away to college. She wasn’t opposed to more friends, but she already had her family. New people always asked questions, and you could only avoid topics like your entire childhood for so long before people found out how sad yours was and then danced around you on eggshells for the remainder of your friendship. Once in a while she went out for team meals to avoid them thinking she didn’t like them at all. Those weeks were always the hardest, spending several meals worth of money at once just to say she went out hit her anxiety and her guilt hard, but saying ‘no’ every time she was invited made the guilt eat away at her too. She couldn’t really win, either way, and it shouldn’t have been as big of a deal as it was.

But it was a big deal for her. She grew up with nothing, and as far as she was concerned she hadn’t done anything to prove that she deserved more than nothing either. She was good enough at soccer and got good enough grades for the school to deem her worthy of their investment, but that could have been anyone.

By her final day of training she was well and truly exhausted of the tiny room with puke green walls and a squeaky laminate floor. The ancient office chairs were murder on her sore back, never finding an angle in those 20 hours that did anything to soothe the sharp searing in her muscles. It was almost torture, listening to the conversations of all of the employees in the break room and unable to go out there to introduce herself, the managers office looming at the end of the hall within ear shot. Scrolling through the list of training videos, making sure there was a little green check mark next to each one, she sighs with relief that it was finally over. She shuts off the computer, gathers her backpack, and jogs downstairs so she can clock out and catch the bus back to campus for soccer practice.

Just as she is punching her code into the time clock a voice behind her startles her.

“Hey, you the new lumber associate? I’m Catrina, from paint.”

“Yep that’s me! I’m A-,” She swings around to face her but stops short when she sees the person in front of her. While they had both changed a lot since they were 9 years old, Catrina had changed more. Her hair hung down around her shoulders, and Adora found herself wondering if it still streaked with gold and red in the sunlight, if it still had the same softness her fingers could practically feel. Her hand twitches just thinking about it. They had been the same height back then, but Catrina was at most 5’4,” and the protective slouch she found herself in made her look even smaller. None of that mattered, though, because those eyes she loved so much were still the same ones she sought out when she was a child. They both gasp and stand there shocked, although Catrina looks like she’s seen a ghost. Something in Adora winds tighter at the fear, never imagining that someone she still loved so much would look at her like that. It was obvious why she was apprehensive of someone from her past appearing at such an unexpected place.

“Adora?” She finally whispers. Her voice makes Adora shiver.

“Yeah, yeah it’s me,” She breathes out in response.

Another beat of silence. The uncertainty they both felt, wondering if they would ever see each other again, hung thick in the air. They’re frozen, terrified that if they move the moment will be lost and it will have just been a flicker or a dream, and the person in front of them will disappear again.

“Do you, ya know, recognize me?” Her question is cautious, expression timid and fearful. She’s shifting her weight, like she wants to be ready to have to escape.

Adora’s expression softens and her brows turn up in the middle to give Catrina that same look that she always gave her, “How could I forget? You’re my best friend.”

She can’t tell if this makes Catrina feel better or not, but she thinks she might have said the wrong thing when a tear pools at the corner of the woman’s eye as she sniffs and clears her throat.

“Right, well um. I have to get back to work. But I guess… I’ll see you around?” She says, biting her lip, voice taking a hard edge.

Adora nods, blonde ponytail, the same one she had the last time Catrina saw her, shimmering in the pale fluorescent light of the hallway.

“Yeah, Catrina, I’ll be around.”

Catrina passes her to return to her own department and all Adora can do is just stare at her, feeling trapped in a time warp, seeing her past and what she wishes more than anything was her future walking away from her.

In all of the dreams she had where they were reunited, she never imagined it would be in a dimly lit hallway in a Home Depot in her college town, as coworkers.

***

Soccer practice is brutal, the level of pain in her back was nothing compared to the distraction of reuniting in these strange circumstances with the person she thought she lost so long ago. Did it even count as a reunion yet, when they barely spoke and Catrina was clearly terrified? The ordeal made her miss goals and blocks left and right. She had more extra pushups and laps that practice than she had the entire previous year combined, the punishment for being distracted and not taking it seriously pushing her body well past exhaustion. That was an edge she had been teetering on since before practice even started, which wasn’t a new feeling to her. The concerned looks from her teammates and the disappointment from her coaches was grating away at the last remaining resolve keeping her from breaking down. While her teammates go to the locker room to change she grabs her bag and goes to the restroom in the science building across the street to change shirts and put on sweatpants over her practice shorts. The adrenaline wears off and she has to actually sit down from how hard she is coughing and how dizzy it makes her, the hunger not helping matters in the slightest.

By the time she stumbles into the apartment she is freezing from her wet jacket and the rain, shaking from the cold and her barely contained sobs. Glimmer and Bow ask her what is wrong, concerned from her face that is no doubt twisted in pain, and they stand to place comforting hands on her shoulders and guide her over to the couch where she finally collapses into shuddering sobs.

Glimmer goes to get her a glass of water and put on the kettle for tea, while Bow sits next to her and gently removes her backpack and her wet jacket. She’s shaking violently when he wraps a blanket around her to try to warm her up.

“It's ok, bud, you’re ok. Want to tell us what happened?”

She shakes her head and reaches out for the glass of water, taking a few sips before putting it on the coffee table and covering her face in her hands. It’s too much; seeing Catrina again and seeing the fear in her eyes, her fuck ups at practice, the pain. It’s all overwhelming and all she can do is sit there and try to breathe as it all forces itself out. Glimmer and Bow sit there with her, Bow rubbing her back and Glimmer her knee, until the whistle of the kettle indicates that the water is hot. Glimmer gets up to fetch the tea and Adora, still sniffling, calms enough for her shoulders to stop shaking and her breaths to stop coming out in such shallow gasps.

“How are you feeling?” Bow's soft voice asks.

“I really don’t know where to start. It’s just… So much,” Her whisper comes out muffled by the hands still covering her face.

“So, start at the beginning. Was it work?”

“Yeah, sort of. It started fine but then, I met someone. Someone from the foster home, who got adopted, someone I love. I think I told you about her, my best friend. Her name is Catrina, and she’s… God Bow she’s beautiful. If 9 year old me knew that my best friend would grow up like that I think my brain would have melted out of my nose,” She chuckles a little, making Bow laugh along. She had told them stories of her childhood in the foster home and her best friend, the one who left a hole in her heart, the one who had to leave.

“That doesn’t sound so bad though. I mean, I’m sure she was shocked to see you. Did she seem… upset?” He asks, trying to prompt her for details, to figure out what from today set her off.

“Yeah but… The reason is really personal. She didn’t seem too upset, just apprehensive. I guess me showing up to her workplace all of a sudden shocked her. She said she’d see me around though. I just think… I think seeing me might be bringing up things from her past that she would rather not think of, especially at work,” She responds. She knows that this point will steer him more in a “thinking about our abusive foster mother” train of thought, which is definitely true as well. She's not about to out Catrina without her permission, regardless of how much Bow in particular would understand.

“That makes a lot of sense, you two had a really rough childhood and seeing you probably just surprised her and brought up some memories. Is that why you’re upset? Or did something happen at practice?” Glimmer pipes up as she walks in the room, setting a cup of tea down on the table in front of Adora which she gratefully takes, both so she doesn’t start fidgeting with her hands and so the mug can warm them from her commute home in the cold.

“I was just really distracted at practice, thinking about her and how much I missed her, how much she’s changed, how much I’ve changed too. I just couldn’t focus, and the coaches all just… looked so disappointed in me for being so… shitty. I missed a ton of goals and even more blocks, I let the ball go in every exercise that we did. They gave me the usual punishment, you know, pushups and laps for everything I fucked up but eventually they just stopped counting because I just couldn’t stop fucking up and…” Bow cuts her off before she can spiral further, crouching in front of her so she has to look him in the eye.

“Adora, you’re not a fuck up, and you’re not shitty. You have to stop thinking of it like that. They weren’t disappointed, they were probably just worried that you were behaving so differently. They were probably worried that something was wrong, bothering you. Everyone has bad days,” He reassures her.

“Yeah, stop bad mouthing our friend, we really like her and you’re wrong about her anyway,” Glimmer adds.

Adora snorts a laugh and takes a sip of the tea, letting it calm her. She’s still shaky, and would be on edge for hours, but the worst of the attack was behind her and their reassurance and reasoning always helped, “Thanks you guys. I guess… I guess my day wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was. I’m glad I have you two, to help bring me down when I’m like this.”

Bow and Glimmer share a glance and tackle Adora into a hug.

“Of course, we’re the Best Friend Squad.”

***

She manages to make it home and into the front door before falling to her knees, sobbing. It’s all she could do to even lock the car behind her as she stumbled in the door. She shifts over so she can sit down with her back against the wall, brings her knees up to her chest, and wraps her arms around them. The position was going to make her hip scream, but she couldn’t think about that now. She needed the pressure of her knees against her chest, or something to keep her from feeling like her heart was going to beat out of her chest entirely.

A presence materializes next to her and she’s being taken into her mom’s arms, rocking her back and forth, running her hands up and down her back, and caressing the side of her face softly with her thumb.

“I got you baby, it's ok.”

“I-,” She tries to start, but a sob cuts her off.

“Sh, baby, you’re ok. Take your time.” Mom folds her into her arms tighter. She hasn’t let her moms, or anyone for that matter, see her this upset in a long time, but she finds that she really needs the comfort more than she would ever have admitted. It’s several more minutes of sitting there on the floor, letting her mom rock her gently before she calms down enough to take a deep breath and lift her face.

Spinerella sits there with her and lets her hold relax as her daughter calms, and pulls back to look at her.

“Did something happen? Are you ok?” She asks, worry marring her gentle features and making Catra feel guilty for making her upset.

“Kind of? Nothing happened, and I’m ok, I just… I saw someone today… I saw Adora.”

“Oh, your friend from the foster home? The one… that woman wouldn’t let us visit after you came to live with us?” Spinerella asks, shocked that a ghost from her daughter’s past, the biggest ghost in fact, had returned to her life so abruptly.

“Yeah, I saw her at work today. She knew me, recognized me. I just… I don’t know, I thought I would never see her again and it brought up all these memories I didn’t want to think about. And until today she didn’t know you know? About… me. I could go on pretending that it wouldn’t matter, that it wouldn’t change anything between us if she knew, because it wasn’t something I had to think about. I just… What if she doesn’t want to be friends with me again? What if seeing who I am now disgusts her or she starts telling people?” She whispers, voicing her fears over Adora being back in her life. For as long as she could remember she had wanted Adora back, but she didn’t think she would ever have her again and didn’t think these were things she would ever have to worry about. She was out to everyone she knew that she wanted to be out to, and hadn’t had to worry about someone’s reaction since high school. So Adora arriving into her life brought back feelings and fears that she had successfully moved on from, that she didn’t realize could rocket back to the surface so quickly.

Spinerella sighs, “Baby, I can’t tell you what she’ll do, or if she’ll react badly or not. I can’t promise she won’t talk about your past to people and out you. But tell me something, how did she react when she saw you?”

Catra thinks for a minute before responding, “Honestly? She looked kind of starstruck, like she didn’t know what she was seeing. But when I asked her if she remembered me she got this smile and this twinkle in her eye and said, ‘How could I forget? You’re my best friend.’ It was… wistful? Like she thought she was dreaming. Then I asked if I would see her around and…” She trails off, the corner of her lip turning up in the beginnings of a smile.

“And?” Her mom prompts, sensing the sudden change.

“She said, ‘Yeah Catrina, I’ll be around.’” She smiles, remembering the gentle tone of Adora’s voice and how soothing it was to have her use her name, her real name, back at her. She’d thought about it, dreamed about it. She couldn’t stand that all of her memories of Adora were tarnished by a name that didn’t fit her anymore, that never fit her at all. But now? Now that she knew what her name sounded like on Adora’s lips she didn’t want to think about anything else. She wonders what Adora thinks of that name, if she thinks it fits, or if she recognizes how close it sounds to Adora’s nickname for her. She loosens her grip on her mom’s shirt and the tension in her shoulders and face melts away, thinking about that look in Adora’s eye when she saw her, the recognition. Adora didn’t look confused or judgmental, she looked like she had seen an angel for the first time.

Her mom just smiles and says, “Well honey, I don’t want to judge the situation for you, but it sounds an awful lot like she is just happy to see you, to have you back. It sounds like, whatever she was thinking, the last thing she was going to do was start throwing around a name you don’t use anymore.”

“But… What if she isn’t? What if she just didn’t know what to say and she’s sitting at home thinking right now about who I used to be and what I used to look like and she’s disgusted by me? What if… What if she hurts me like Jill and Cameron did when they found out?” The insecurity is back, and her voice is small.

Spinerella gives her a fierce look, and says, “Baby, no matter what, your mama and I will be here for you. I’m not telling you not to be cautious, because you know better than either of us how important it is to protect yourself, but what I am telling you is that we’ll deal with that together as a family if it comes to that. Just focus right now on the positives, on how you saw her again and you might get the chance to have her back in your life.”

Against her better judgement, ignoring the burns still left on her spirit from the last time she trusted someone and had it backfire on her, she allows herself to smile at that.

Maybe, just maybe, she could have Adora back.

***

The panic she felt earlier from just how poorly she performed at practice, just how right she proved Ms. Weaver every time she fucked up like that, faded further into a mind numbing exhaustion. The rest of the evening was quiet, processing her friends’ encouragement and trying not to let her bad day sour the fact that today she saw someone she thought she would never get to see again, someone who meant the world to her and for a second seemed like she meant the same back. She eats dinner in relative silence while Bow and Glimmer sit next to her studying, not wanting to leave her alone after her attack. She hopes they know how much she appreciates them, how much they ground her and keep her from falling further into the darkness she was trapped in for all those years before she met them.

Hot water sears the sores on her shoulders when she steps into the shower, eyes stinging as tears well up and fall. She’s used to it by now, and it's not bad enough for anyone else to notice. If there is one thing Ms. Weaver taught her, it was that wasting others’ worry on herself was selfish, and she should do well to remember not to take advantage of other peoples’ kindness and consideration. She knew she shouldn't let her into her head still, nearly 3 years after the last time she saw her. The woman shouldn't still have this power over her, but she would think things about herself and she genuinely wasn't sure if it was her voice or Ms. Weaver's. She tried to push those thoughts out, replace them with affirmations of love that she knew her friends had for her. Sometimes, though, Ms. Weavers’ voice was louder, and it shot through her with a force she wasn’t prepared to counter. It filled her with doubts and fears that she thought she had escaped long ago, but were still just lurking under the surface, where they would always be.

She gets in bed, pulls the thick comforter up to cover her chest, and starts reading over her biology notes with the warm glow of her bedside table lamp helping her settle in for the night. She fully intends to study until she passes out, knowing that tomorrow is the one day of the week she doesn’t have work or practice and was planning to sleep in for her afternoon class. Her shoulders and back could use the break, especially since her shifts at work were going to be getting significantly more physical now that she was done training.

A thought hits her, just a flicker of the conversation that she had been replaying over and over again in her head ever since she left work today.

Catrina

All those times when they were kids and Catrina would lay on the ground in a patch of sunlight;

How Adora started calling her ‘Cat’ because of it;

How she eventually started calling her ‘Catra’ and just how close ‘Catra’ sounds to ‘Catrina.’

She thinks, for just a second, that maybe Catrina chose that as her name because of her.

She isn’t arrogant enough to allow herself to think that completely, but for just a moment she lets herself think that Catrina loved her so much she decided to carry a part of their childhood with her every single day.

If that is true…

That is a gift Adora will cherish for the rest of her life.

***

Catra sits on the edge of her bed, fingers brushing over the photo she kept in the drawer of her bedside table; the only photo she had of Adora. She used to be in it too, but her teenage anger ripped it in half and threw the image of her younger self away long ago. She didn’t want photos of herself from back then. Her moms had taken all of the ones they had down to keep in a scrapbook for themselves, replacing them with pictures of her from the last couple of years. It was another thing that they did without her even needing to say anything, noticing the way she would eye them with disdain when she walked into a room but not wanting to make them get rid of pictures of their child. The photo was worn, white lines where it folded in her pockets and the ink had worn off, curled edges, softened corners. She wishes she had kept it in better condition, put it in a frame so she would never experience the day where Adora’s face wasn’t there anymore. But for the longest time she kept it in her pocket because she needed Adora, even if she knew they couldn’t be there for each other.

The woman she saw today had changed so much; taller, muscular, a kind and soft but sharp and guarded look on her face. She probably didn’t see it herself when she looked in the mirror, but when Catra looked at her she could see the buildup of pain. But more than that, Catra saw those same blue grey eyes she fell in love with as a child.

She thinks that if she saw that same 9 year old when she looked at Adora today, then Adora probably saw her 9 year old eyes twinkling back at her.

She didn't know yet if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

She falls asleep holding that photo to her chest, lips stretched into a hopeful smile.

Chapter Text

There hasn’t been a customer in hours, days getting shorter and cold setting in meant that most people weren’t out to do home improvement on a weeknight at 8:30. On a busy night the warehouse would echo with the sound of saws tearing through lumber, bags of concrete slamming down on rickety metal carts, rubber mallets hammering lids on paint cans, the hum of electric ladders and forklifts retrieving stock for customers, and the general chatter of excited conversation. The atmosphere would be buzzing with energy, a constant hum of noise. Tonight it was quiet, the energy of the day being sucked out of the door by 6:30 pm when the rush hour, post work shoppers finished their errands and left the warehouse empty. Everyone pretty much stuck to their departments, doing some stocking just to keep busy and keep management off of their backs. If the store was as dead as it was tonight, you didn’t want to be caught with your department in a mess. Adjacent departments would find themselves in conversation, and every once in a while the echo of a laugh would float down the long corridors. The supervisors from Electrical and Plumbing would pass by the paint desk and wave once an hour or so, taking a lap around the store in an attempt to keep their energy up, but for the most part Catra didn’t see anyone.

She’d fallen asleep on her 15 on nights like this, so she was trying to keep busy. She had stocked every product she could in her department, even getting an associate from Flooring to drop a pallet for her so she could put away some cases of caulk. She cleaned the nozzle on the tint dispenser, refilled the reservoirs (a task that usually fell to the opener but she was feeling generous and insanely bored) and was now sweeping the aisles even though there wasn’t a spec of dust anywhere from her round of sweeping two hours ago. In between these tasks, she’d hidden at the back of the aisle pretending to organize the tarps while she reviewed two entire powerpoints for her Econ class on the Google Slides app on her phone. She could go loiter by the Service Desk, they usually had the best gossip, but she wasn’t sure she felt like talking to anyone, and there wasn’t an excuse to walk up there since she had checked for returns three times in the last two hours alone. She sees the cart of drywall in front of the service desk and makes up her mind that, while her department might not have returns, there was one department that did.

Consequently, there was one person she found herself wanting to talk to.

It had been a week since her interaction with Adora, a week of Adora waving at her with a gentle smile before making her way across the store to the Lumber department. They hadn’t talked, and Catra doesn’t know if it's because Adora doesn’t want to talk to her, or if it's because she wants to give her space. She sighs, grabbing the department’s mobile phone in case the Service Desk needs to reach her and putting it in her apron pouch before checking the aisles of her department for customers (spoiler alert, there aren’t any) and heads in the direction of lumber before she can change her mind, pushing the cart of drywall with her. She needs to know one way or another why Adora hasn’t made any effort to talk to her.

Lumber is spotless, of course. Adora always poured 110% of herself into everything that she did. The floor was clear, a line of sheet goods and lumber carts down the center of the widest aisle in preparation for any customers who may not have grabbed a cart on their way in. Even the pallets that were widely decided upon as “not worth restacking because no one bought that ugly pre-built fencing anyway,” were in perfect order. She found Adora in the back corner of the store, restacking a bundle of pressure treated 4x4s. She can see her biceps flexing, bulging and straining the sleeves of her shirt. Even with her flannel and apron on, Catra can tell that the woman is absolutely ripped. She lifts each piece of lumber easily, large hands gripping and stretching the ligaments in her forearms, veins throbbing. She manipulates each board with complete control. She winces and rolls her shoulders before bending over again to pick up another board.

The motion is enough to break Catra from her momentary stupor and she swallows the saliva that had been pooling in her mouth, annoyed by how thirsty she already was for her best friend. Adora hadn’t spotted her yet, so she observes for a moment while she ponders what type of greeting would be most appropriate. She can’t tell if she wants to go for guarded or friendly since this is the first actual conversation she will have with Adora in eleven years, but ultimately decides that authenticity is what she should go for.

She whistles and says, “Damn you better put those guns away, the security team is gonna get concerned.”

Her eyes widened.

Why the literal fuck did I say that?

Adora jumps with a squeak, and turns to face her, eyes twinkling and grin splitting her face when she sees who it is.

“Catrina!” She walks over, rather quickly, and almost pulls her into a hug before she thinks better of it and freezes in place with her arms open.

Catra rolls her eyes and starts walking away, gesturing over her shoulder when Adora doesn’t move, and begins leading her to the aisle where she abandoned the cart in search of her friend. She walks over to the cart and gets on one side, slipping her hands under the first of 5 pieces of drywall that need to be restocked.

“I got your returns for you, since Paint is right by the Service Desk,” She says when Adora gives her a confused look.

“Oh! Thanks so much!” And she quickly gets on the other side.

One by one they move the pile of drywall onto the pallet on the shelf. They were lucky the drywall was stacked on a sheet goods cart, already putting each sheet horizontal so the transfer to the shelf didn’t require any twisting. Adora could have lifted them by herself, each sheet weighing in at 57 lbs, but it was always easier to work with a buddy than it was to stock shelves alone, and her back was grateful for the help that her pride would never have allowed her to ask for. They worked in silence; staring, making eye contact, blushing, and repeating until the cart was empty and there were still no customers left in the aisles and no one had called for Catra in Paint.

Adora just stared at the woman in front of her, a blush present on her cheeks as she tried hard not to stare at her hair or her eyes, the curve of her jaw, the smirk on her lips she was all too familiar with, or the way her jeans hugged her hips.

God, just stop looking at her all together

Catra would make fun of her for being such a wreck if she didn’t find it incredibly sweet. She thinks for a second about what she should do, her whole plan to keep the woman at arms length so she could assess if it was safe to get close again, but she finds herself unable to resist and holds her arms out in invitation with a smirk, “Get over here, dummy.”

That was all the invitation the blonde needed, having been holding back since the moment she recognized her in the hallway by the time clock and being too afraid of the shorter woman’s reaction to scoop her into the embrace she no doubt had been yearning for.

She surges forward and wraps her arms around Catra with a softness she wasn’t ready for. It was gentle, like she was afraid that not only could her physical strength crush her, but like she knew that the emotional weight of their reunion was enough to ruin her. The hug feels full, warm. It feels like part of Catra’s heart, a part she tried to ignore was missing, has just returned to her. It feels like coming home. She relaxes into it and just lets herself be held, Adora wrapping her strong arms around her to hold her in a tight embrace. She lets go of the fear she held, the conversation she needed to have before she really let herself trust her again, and just lived in this moment where she felt the love Adora had for her. A hand presses flat against her lower back, fingers digging in slightly, while the other wraps around her shoulders to hold her close. She tilts her head to the side, an invitation for Catra to tuck her face into her neck. It’s an invitation she accepts without hesitation. She breathes in deeply, smelling Adora’s laundry detergent and something about her that is distinctly cardamom and sandalwood.

Of fucking course she smells like an old man in the hottest possible way

Somehow, neither of them is surprised by the peace they feel at being able to hold each other again.

Adora breaks the silence, “Can I ask you a question? I don’t… I don’t want to upset you so you can say no. But I don’t think it’s bad, just…. Maybe a little personal? Again, you can totally say no-.”

“What’s your question?” She cuts off, when she could tell Adora was rambling.

“Can I still call you ‘Cat’ or ‘Catra?’ If… if it reminds you of stuff you don’t want to think about I get it, I’ll call you Catrina and I won’t mention it ev-”

She chuckles a little and Adora cuts off her own nervous chatter when she feels the puffs of breath on her neck. “Yeah, dork. My moms call me Catra. Nobody else does, though, so maybe… Just outside of work?”

“Out-outside? Of work? So you want to like, see me outside of work?”

“Well yeah, I was kind of hoping… I just… I have one worry,” She says, pulling back and looking up at Adora, still close but needing to look her in the eye. She hadn’t planned on being so friendly, falling into her arms so immediately upon starting the conversation. She was supposed to suss this out way sooner, maybe act coy and aloof while trying to gather the intel she needed.

Nothing like that had ever worked when it came to Adora. It hadn’t worked when they were kids and evidently it wasn’t going to work now. She had always seen right through her, and it wasn’t surprising that it was still true. No matter what she tried to hide, Adora could always tell when something was bothering her and would bust down her walls with a sledge hammer made of love and support. It was scary, that it worked on her after all of these years, that trusting the other woman came so naturally to her. She hoped desperately, perhaps against her better judgement, that Adora wouldn’t hurt her with this power she still held. The pain from years of rejection from her peers simply because of who she was taught her how important it was not to trust too easily, too readily. The woman she had loved since they were children was already cracking her resolve to stay away.

“Anything! What is it?” She looks nervous, but eager.

“I don’t think I should ask you here, because I don’t think I could handle being at work still if your answer isn’t… What I need it to be. Can we talk after?” She says, suddenly aware of where they are and the fact that technically, any customer or coworker could walk in on their conversation. If Adora blew up, started asking her questions she wasn’t ready to answer and pushing her, and it outed her, she wasn’t sure she could come back to work here again. After work was the safest bet, so if Adora wasn’t accepting of her, she could at least go home to be alone.

Adora’s face falls and she looks nothing short of crushed, “I really would but I need to catch the bus right after. It comes at 11:05 and it's the last one for the night that gets to the transfer stop in time for the bus that goes all the way to my apartment.” She looks so sad and regretful and something deep inside Catra wants to wipe that look off of her face and make sure she is never the reason she has it again.

“What if I drive you home? We can talk on the way there and I’ll drop you off?” She tries, hoping that she doesn’t have to put this conversation off any longer. She can’t get attached again if it’s just going to hurt her in the long run, even though these last few minutes have made her feel more whole than she has in a long time. At the same time, she doesn’t want to wait any longer.

“Yeah, yeah ok. I would really love that, to get to talk to you, I mean. See you at 11?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you at 11,” She smiles, a genuine smile, as she begins to back away to return to the Paint department.

Adora tries to back away too, but runs into a cart and nearly falls over. They both laugh, Adora blushing as she recovers and waves at her while she makes her way back to the paint department. It reminds her so much of that innocent smile and excited wave that she gave her, the last thing she saw of Adora as her new parents drove her away from her foster home and away from Adora.

She swears she’s coming back for her this time.

***

By the time they reach Adora’s apartment complex they still haven’t talked beyond complaining about customers, that asshole Dave from millwork, and the night shift supervisor that has enough beef with Catra that she puts pallets so close to the paint counter that she has to climb over them to escape. Between these little bits of conversation they settle into a silence that is more comfortable than one would expect, excitement and hope buzzing in the air between them. Just being in each other's presence again is doing something to both of them, pulling dusty old photos out of the back of a cabinet and reminding them of the children they were, the connection they shared. They’ve always just clicked like this, a silent comfort to each other.

Catra looks over at Adora at stoplights when she’s looking out the window and observes her. Her sharp jawline and the ring through her eyebrow, the skinny jeans that hug her muscular quads and calves. The rise and fall of her chest is a welcome sight, the most concrete evidence that she is still there, though it seems labored and a pang of worry hits her. She’s not without scars. There’s a barely visible pink line across the bridge of her nose, and Catra remembers a jagged, raised, white lightning bolt that runs from her elbow to her wrist along the outside of her forearm. She knows, realistically, that some of those scars were accidents.

She also knows that some of those scars were put there on purpose, and her stomach fills with dread at the thought that she knows of at least one person who gave them to her.

There’s just so much she missed, and her knuckles go white as she grips the steering wheel thinking of all of the things she could have been there for, could have stopped, if Ms. Weaver had let her and her moms come back to visit Adora. They lost so many years, and it’s clear by Adora’s reaction to her in their limited interactions that she didn’t want to lose contact, that the choice was taken from her. She has this urge, this need, to know everything she can. She wants to know if Adora was adopted, if she has other friends, if she has a family now, if she goes to school, if she’s in love, if she’s happy.

She passes a silent prayer to the stars that the woman next to her is happy.

It’s dark, the dash lights out after Catra shut the car off. Adora, vigilant as ever and fluent in her ticks reaches a hand out to cover one of hers, gently wiggling their fingers together to pry hers off of the wheel. She rubs soothing circles on the back of her hand with her thumb and waits for her breathing to even out.

“Cat? What did you need to ask me?”

She shuts her eyes, squeezing them so tight she sees stars behind them. This is it, this is the moment she has to let go of the dream and put it all in Adora’s hands. If she doesn’t accept her the way she is, if she still thinks of her the way she was back then, it would have to be over.

“Did you miss me?”

The hand holding hers squeezes, “Of course I did, Cat. I missed you every day. I… I don’t understand?”

“No. Did you miss me or... did you miss him?” She grinds out.

She hears Adora’s breath catch, and the hand gripping her heart squeezes.

“I missed you, regardless of what you looked like or how you presented back then. That doesn’t matter to me, because on the inside it was always you. I missed my best friend, who consoled me when I was hurt or upset, who played with me and laughed with me, who made my life so much better just by being in it. It doesn’t matter what you looked like, I never missed him but I always missed you.”

She chokes down a sob, and pulls her hand back to cover her face.

“Cat? Did… what did I say wrong? Please, if I hurt you I want to know what I-” She’s cut off by a watery laugh.

“I’ve been waiting eleven years for the opportunity to see you again, to see if you saw the real me or not, to see if you wanted the real me,” She turns to look her in the eyes and giggles a few more times. Adora is breathless with one single thought running through her head;

Fuck, she’s beautiful

Catra leans over and rests her head on Adora’s shoulder, winding their hands together again. She had her answer to the question she had been asking for the last eleven years, the fear that plagued her in the dark of the night when she was alone with her thoughts and all she could do was lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and hoping that if Adora knew what she was going through she wouldn’t hate her. There is still fear, apprehension that things are too good to be true, but she can’t hold back anymore simply because she is afraid that things will go wrong. Not when it feels this good to have her back even just this little bit so far.

She isn’t sure how long they sit there, holding hands with her leaning her head on Adora’s shoulder and Adora leaning down to place kisses on top of her head. Neither of them says a word, letting their joined hands squeeze when they need affirmation and feeling a squeeze back when they need reassurance. Adora’s warmth seeps into her, and she’s willingly letting it lull her into a sense of security and comfort. It’s long enough for the car to go cold, their breaths fogging up the windows and a shiver raking through her.

“I live pretty far out of the city, I should head home for the night,” Catra whispers, fighting to make herself pull away. She really had to go if she was going to get home in time to get any amount of sleep before she had to be up for class tomorrow.

“You can always stay here if you need to. I know we haven’t… I know you don’t know me too well yet, or my roommates, but I promise you’re safe here, always. I hope you believe me when I say that I wouldn’t ever suggest something that wasn’t. If you’re not ready yet that’s ok, I just wanted to let you know that,” Adora says back, looking into Catra’s eyes, hoping to show just how serious she was.

“I believe you, I really do. But I can’t tonight. I just… I know you wouldn’t hurt me and if you trust them then your friends are good people who wouldn’t either, but I need to be careful. I… I can’t run that risk right now. I hope you understand…”

“I do, I promise I get it. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, anything that makes you feel unsafe or feel exposed or vulnerable. We really haven’t been in each others’ lives again long enough for you to trust me with any of this and I am so grateful with how much of you you’ve shared with me so far,” Adora says, gaze unwavering as she looks Catra in the eye.

“Maybe sometime soon, but not tonight. I just… I want to trust you. I want so badly to trust you, you have no idea. I can’t right now though, not all the way. There is just… There is so much to be afraid of when it comes to letting people in, for someone like me, and I know in my heart that isn’t you, but I also didn’t think it was…. I didn’t think it was them either, but I turned out to be wrong about them,” She says, sniffling as she tries to explain herself while beating down the memories trying to resurface. She wouldn’t be in any condition to drive if she kept thinking about it.

“Hey, hey, Cat,” She takes Catra’s hand and threads her warm fingers between smaller ones, squeezing to bring her back to the present, to the car outside of her apartment and out of that stairwell in the back corner of that high school. Even after all of this time, Adora can tell when she needs to be grounded.

“We can take this as slow as you need to. If you’re not ready to bring your past back into your life yet, I can quit. I can find another job and you won’t have to see me so often.” The suggestion shocks Catra, and she immediately knows that she doesn't want that for either of them. She isn’t surprised to see that one thing about Adora that hasn’t changed, is the way she immediately puts others before herself. She wouldn’t let her make things harder for herself, when she got that job because she needed it.

“No, no you don’t have to do that. I’ve wanted you back in my life since that day we drove away from you. I don’t want you to quit either. It wouldn’t be fair to make you get another job because of me. I just need a little time to convince myself this is really happening. Today has just been… Well I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how overwhelming this all is.”

Adora’s smile is understanding, “Of course, whatever you need.” She unzips her backpack and rips a corner off of a page in her notebook, taking out a pen and leaning on the dashboard to write for a moment before turning to hand the scrap of paper to Catra, curling her fingers to close smaller ones into a fist. She zips her backpack and hauls it off of the floorboard, leans over to place one last kiss on curly brown hair, and reaches for the door handle.

“Drive home safe ok? I’ll see you Saturday at work?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you Saturday.”

She throws that same lazy smile, mouth slanted, and gives her a “goodnight” so soft it’s like she was afraid her voice would shatter the moment like glass. The bond they were reforming was delicate, fractured and cracked by years of separation and pain on both sides, and the sutures were just starting to drag the edges back together. They were both worried that the threads would snap, pulling apart further when the illusions they were entertaining about what the other’s life was like were stripped away like varnish and the mystery of the bare wood beneath was revealed. This was old, a connection they couldn’t deny as they fell back into themselves together, but at the same time it was all incredibly new. They were older, wiser, and there was something magical about how seamlessly their connection was starting to reform.

With that, Adora opens the door, a burst of cold making Catra shiver, and drags herself out of the car and up the sidewalk that lead to her building. Adora turns back around, leaning on the door in a way that was probably supposed to look nonchalant, and stands there waiting. Catra sits there for a moment, the silence of the car blanketing her, and realizes what Adora is waiting for. She smiles at the thought, the care the other woman was already showing her, and turns her car on. Once Adora has seen that her car has started without any trouble, she nods and waves, turning around to disappear through the door and up the stairs to her apartment.

Reaching a hand up to the steering wheel and the other to the gear shift she finds that her fingers are still curled around that scrap of paper, and she bumps the overhead light on to unfold it. She finds a phone number and a message.

No pressure, I won’t ask about it later if you’re not ready, but if you want…

I’d just like to know when you get home safe

Adora

Catra pockets the note, turns the light off, and begins the drive home with a giddy excitement and a smile on her face.

***

Adora closes the door to her apartment and leans against it, closing her eyes and tilting her head back. The sigh she lets out relaxes her stiff shoulders, the firm door pressing into her back. The apartment is warm, a stark difference from the frigid wind that stabbed through her on the short walk from the car to the building. She can feel her cheeks warming, though not entirely from the change in temperature.

They were friends, and she wanted to be there for Catra as friends if that was what she needed. She didn’t dare let herself think that Catra would want more from her, and was content to beat down those feelings for as long as she needed to if it meant making Catra comfortable, getting her to trust her again. A rather counterproductive thought slipped through her internal filter and presented itself at the forefront of her mind;

I just gave my phone number to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen

Briefly, she allowed the thought to widen her grin.

Bow and Glimmer look at her from the dining table where their books and notes are spread out, cups of tea sitting next to them, wearing oversized sweatshirts. Bow is holding a pillow in his lap, hugging it as he leans forward to look over it at his notes, while Glimmer sits with her legs crossed, glasses reflecting the blue glow of her laptop screen. Their worried expressions turn to understanding, gentle smiles when they see that she isn’t upset.

“Hey, good day?” Bow prompts.

She opens her eyes to look at both of them, a tear forming at the corner, and nods.

“Yeah, really good.”

She pats Bow’s shoulder and ruffles Glimmer’s hair, a gesture that gains her a playful huff, as she makes her way past them to her room.

***

When Catra gets home the house is dark, and she creeps quietly across the den and into the hall that leads to her bedroom.

She collapses on her bed and pulls out the scrap of paper from the pocket of her sweatshirt, looking it over. She doesn’t want to get hurt again. At the same time, though, she wants to go back to that apartment complex, drag Adora back into the car, and fold herself into her arms and never let go. Even the most cautious side of herself couldn’t deny how good it felt to be in her arms.

She settles for putting the number in her phone, and a brief message.

Hey, it’s me. I made it home safe

The reply comes concerningly quick, and she hopes Adora is winding down for the night instead of getting ready for a study session.

Adora: Thank you for letting me know! Glad you got home safe

She knows Adora doesn't want to push her, so she gives her a nudge instead.

Are you the 5-2 shift Saturday?

Adora: Yeah, you?

Sure am. Want to take lunch together? We can eat in my car and talk?

Adora: I’d love that

She thinks hard about the phrasing of her next message, but decides a little flirting couldn’t really hurt. Flustered Adora was cute, anyway. She couldn’t deny the attraction she felt for the tall, muscular woman, and she’d be lying to herself if she said there wasn’t a part of the back of her mind that wanted something more.

It’s a date

The bubble appears and disappears three times; Adora typing, deleting a message, and retyping it. She decides to have mercy and follow up, steering them in a slightly different direction. She likes to think all of those messages Adora was deleting were actually just flustered keyboard smashes.

Text me any time, dummy. Goodnight

This one is a little easier to reply to, and Adora replies almost immediately, clearly thankful for the subject change.

Adora: Will do, goodnight! <3

The little heart makes her breathing stutter, a blush dusting her cheeks.

For once, instead of thinking about what could go wrong, she falls asleep smiling. Adora wants her in her life, just the way she is.

Her dreams swirl grey-blue. They’re electric with lightning bolts made of shimmering blonde and the thunder of a heartbeat against her ear.

Some moments, if she lets herself drift to just the right spot, she smells cardamom and sandlewood.

Chapter Text

The clock strikes 1:50 and there is a hum of shuffling papers and bags being zipped, shoes squeaking on the floor and students muttering between each other. Catra makes sure the spot of wet paint from her previous class is dry, pulls on her leather jacket, loops her scarf loosely around her neck, and makes her way out of the building. It’s a short walk to the nearest bus stop, and she shivers and pulls her jacket tighter around herself when she feels the wind stab sharply through the knit of her sweater. It was always windier in the city, gusts funneling between the buildings and accelerating like a wind tunnel. It nipped at her ankles, but there wasn’t anything she could do about that. How were people supposed to know she was queer if she uncuffed her jeans? It was out of the question, and she made a mental note to wear longer socks next time she wore this pair of vans. It’s only mid October and she shudders to think how much colder it would get as fall transitioned into winter. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to stop herself from thinking about how much warmer she’d be with a certain set of arms around her.

She steps into the shelter of the bus station and pulls out her phone to text the blonde while she waits.

Catra: So A: it’s fucking cold and B: wtf is this yellow shit everywhere?

Adora: …..You mean sunlight?

Catra: Yeah you know I don’t leave the art building all day mondays. It’s dark when I get out at 8

Adora: aw I’ll have a coffee waiting for you for braving the cold for me

Adora: wait does the art building like… not have windows? Are you ok in there? Should I send help?

Catra: In history we close the blinds because the sun hits the projector screen and nobody can read it. The sculpture lab is in a weird room in the basement with like one window that is behind a bush on the outside. When we’re doing charcoal my prof likes to close the blinds so we can be ‘intentional’ with our light’s direction. For like, shading purposes and shit. Idk she’s very dramatic

Adora: ok saying “on the outside” isn’t comforting. I feel like you need to see the sun more.

Catra: Wow someone is spoiled by that rec center made entirely of windows. I love this building. How many people can say they’ve breathed the oldest asbestos in the city?

Adora: I don’t think that’s something I want you to be saying

Catra: It builds character. I’m building character

Adora: this is excellent development for your character on Grey’s Anatomy who ends up in the hospital with a respiratory disease

Catra: Trans people on TV die anyway so like, at least it’s respiratory failure and not a made up fatal condition caused by hormones like they usually do

Adora: Ugh the cishets, caught ruining things in the act. Petition to stop calling it ‘representation’ if it just wildly spreads misinformation

Catra: If I see myself die on TV it’s not representation smh

Catra boards the bus as it pulls up and stands near the front, only a few stops away from the Student Union where she was meeting Adora.

As it turns out, ‘slow’ wasn’t really in Adora or Catra’s vocabulary, and their friendship had advanced quickly since the night that Catra had given Adora a ride home. They fell back into step like they had never been separated; laughing together, sharing secrets late at night on whispered phone calls when neither of them could sleep and the phone sitting on the bedside table was too inviting to ignore. Their interactions held that familiarity, but were new in their own ways because of the glaring attraction they had for each other. They started seeing each other all the time, meeting for coffee or lunch between classes on campus. They both had to slap themselves when they realized, a full week after exchanging phone numbers, that they went to the same school. When they shared the same hours at work they would eat lunch together in Catra’s car, the privacy allowing them both to be more themselves than they could up in the stuffy break room. They’d shared private study rooms on the top floor of the library quite a few times, staying late into the night. Catra would tell her stories about her moms; growing up with them and the adjustment of living in a house where she actually felt like she belonged. She would skip over her coming out, but would talk about some of her transition and how supportive her parents were, the first friends she made in college and her passion for art. Adora, in turn, would talk about meeting Bow and Glimmer, their parents, their friendship, how she got into soccer, and her scholarships for school. There were a few gaps, but for the most part they had been slowly introducing bits and pieces of that mucky layer of bad memories that lie just below the good ones.

They facetimed during midnight study sessions, not even needing to say anything to feel like they were together. The sound of pens scratching paper, fingers tapping on keyboards, exasperated sighs, and the occasional chuckle when one of them realized they had been doing the entire page of math problems wrong and had to redo the three previous questions (and the brief psychotic break before switching to a different subject after the two wasted hours) were all the sounds they exchanged for the majority of the calls. Adora would glance up at her laptop screen and observe Catra’s face, the way she squinted when she was focusing, the way her fingers gripped her pen. Adora wouldn’t let on that she just couldn’t stop looking at the way Catra’s neck curved down to her collarbone and shoulder, on display as her t-shirt or sweater hung off of a shoulder. She’d follow the line of her visible bra strap and imagine the spot where it would connect to the rest of the fabric. Sometimes she would wear a button up and Adora swore that with each passing hour another button would find itself undone and her greedy eyes would laser in on the lace outline of a bra, secretly hoping that tonight would be the night that she would catch a glimpse of the swell of her breast as her chest moved. Catra would catch her staring and smirk at her shimmering eyes and the dust of a blush on her cheeks as she looked away.

Sometimes when Adora thought they were both studying, Catra was just keeping her company, and would spend her time with her sketchbook and a set of pencils drawing her new favorite subject. She practiced the arch of her brows, the curve of her nose, the way her jaw set slanted when she was focused. She had pages and pages of those expressive eyes she loved so much, narrowed in contemplation and sparkling with mirth, puffy and sleep deprived in the most beautiful way. She drew Adora’s hands, their veins bulging as her long narrow fingers typed or drummed against a textbook. More than anything else, she found herself drawing Adora’s lips, the way her plump lower lip dimpled when she sunk her canine into it while she was reading, parted with her tongue poking through just before she realized she’d been doing that entire page of calc problems wrong, and pressed together in a line when she read an email from her professor.

The woman was a work of art, and Catra couldn’t get enough.

She spots Adora in the lobby, a nook in the corner with armchairs and side tables that made for a relatively quiet and secluded spot to eat, as opposed to the cafeteria on the floor below. She stopped short when she saw the golden hair practically glowing in a halo, beams of sunlight illuminating her. She hasn’t noticed her yet, absorbed in the textbook in her lap. She has turned two plush armchairs so that they face each other, a table between that holds two coffees and the tupperware container with Adora’s abysmally boring lunch of rice, beans, and salsa. She’s slouching with her jaw set at a fierce angle, a look she has been wearing more and more often as the semester has gone on, and Catra doesn't quite know how to bring up that she can tell something is wrong. She wants to say something, but she knows that there are things Adora has noticed about her that she definitely isn’t ready to dig up yet. It’s delicate, because if it were anyone else it wouldn’t feel like it was any of her business yet.

“Hey Adora,” She greets her, startling the woman out of her focus. She sets her messenger bag on the ground, slings her jacket over the back of the chair, and sits down. She reaches forward to grab the coffee cup closer to her, removing the lid so she can take a sip of the latte’s foam. The espresso’s naturally chocolatey notes and the single pump of caramel syrup lightly sweetening the drink tickle her taste buds as the warm liquid flows over her tongue. The moan she lets out at the flavor, the way it warms her from the inside, is almost lewd.

She can almost see Adora drooling. It makes her smirk, and she removes the scarf from around her neck to reveal a little more of her exposed neck. It makes Adora’s face erupt in flames, engulfed in a deep shade of pink, like she’d taken a shower that was too hot.

“Hey, Cat! How’s your day going?”

They sit there for the better part of an hour, Adora’s only free one between classes today. They talk casually about their worries over midterms, the boring staff meeting they’re being forced to attend at the start of November, the construction that has been making Catra’s commute even worse. It's a comfortable small talk that beats around what is really bothering both of them, just waiting for the other person to crack first and bring up what they really wanted to talk about. They were both obviously bad at asking for help and even worse at talking about their problems. It was a habit they had both been trying to work through, beaten into them by one deranged foster mother many years ago, and struggle upon struggle after that. Adora suffered there for way longer than she did, but Catra talked to her peers about her problems once and it backfired into an incident that left her with chronic headaches and hip pain, so she wasn't used to starting this type of conversation either. Adora takes bites of her meal, slowly. Catra observes, not for the first time, the way Adora’s breathing is labored, a permanent wince on her face, the deep cough she releases every few minutes, and the tension in her shoulders.

It’s enough to make her say something this time.

“Hey… you ok?”

Adora, for her part, tries to look confused. Her eyes shift back and forth, like she does when she’s about to attempt a lie, “Um...ha yeah I’m fine? Uh… why?”

Catra levels her with an unamused look and she has the decency to look away and blush.

“Look… I’m ok I promise… I’m managing, alright? I just… There’s something I can’t talk about yet, I’m not ready to talk about, because that would mean I would have to actually think about the way I feel and what is making me feel like that, and it will just open a full scale pandora’s box of things I can’t afford to waste my time thinking about right now.”

“It’s not a waste of time if you’re in pain,” Comes Catra’s gentle whisper.

Adora takes a breath, a sharp gasp, like she’s all of a sudden remembering she hasn’t been breathing, at least not breathing right and wipes at her eyes with her knuckles.

“Can we talk about this later? I just… I can’t do this right now,” Her broken whisper stings, and Catra is disappointed in herself for bringing it up when she knows that Adora has a heavy course load, soccer practice, and a shift at work later. She doesn’t deserve to be upset the rest of the day over something that couldn’t even be resolved right now, in the lobby of the Student Union.

“Yeah, yeah we can,” She concedes.

“So, are you excited about your birthday?”

Catra snorts, “The party and our movie night this weekend? Or our sleepover on my actual birthday?”

“Well, both. But I’m pretty excited for our sleepover,” Her smile is back, and Catra’s heart warms.

I’d do anything to keep that smile on her face

“Me too.”

***
It was refreshing to spend an evening with her friends that didn’t involve studying for once. She was skeptical at first. Leaving the planning entirely to Scorpia and her girlfriend meant that she really had to be ready for anything the eccentric, excited woman had planned for her. As long as it wasn’t a bar or a club she was good, since half of their friends wouldn’t be able to get in anyway, and being surrounded by strangers with loud music and flashing lights wasn’t her idea of a good time. After several conversations where Scorpia asked her if she was absolutely sure that the physical nature of the activity wouldn’t bother her hip and the dark room with neon lights wouldn’t give her a headache, Catra, Perfuma, Scorpia, and Scorp's younger sister, Frosta, pulled up outside of the laser tag arena. Adora had asked her if she could invite her roommates, and she was thankful for the excuse to meet them in a public setting so they were already familiar with each other when she spent the remainder of the evening after the party at their apartment. She was sure she’d like them anyway, but it always made her feel safer when she encountered uncertainty with control over the situation. If she got to the apartment and something felt off, it was too late. However, if she met them ahead of time she could still cancel.

If she made it that far, that is. She was sure that Glimmer’s competitive nature mixed with Frosta’s… feral gremlin energy, would be the death of her.

No running my ass

If I get runover by those two and their murder duo energy, at least I don’t have to take my econ final

The first game starts, and before she knows it Adora is setting the mood for the rest of the night in the most infuriating way possible. It’s also so incredibly sweet she doesn’t really know what to do with herself so she settles for an eye roll. She isn’t sure if you’re supposed to be able to identify when someone is trying to woo you, but she sure is aware that that’s exactly what Adora is doing right now.

Catra is lurking behind a wall, a solitary structure in the corner on the first floor, and realizes that she’s effectively trapped herself. She hears footsteps approach from her left and cautiously peaks around the corner to her right to see a clear lane, though she’s got a massive blind spot, being on the ground. The partition blocks her view of the upper levels, but she has to take a chance because she can tell by the delighted squeal and maniacle laughter that the murder duo themselves, who happen to be on the other team, are headed directly for her. They haven’t spotted her yet, but they’ll definitely look behind this wall for anyone from the opposing team. She’ll have to take the risk. She moves swiftly, nearly silent, for the ramp across the clearing from her, which leaves her open and vulnerable to attack for a stretch of 25 feet, bridges towering overhead from both sides. She knows she’s about to be hit, and just as she hears a shout and thinks she’s done for a blur streaks across her vision and Adora is in front of her, the lights on her chest piece flashing as she grins down at her.

She fucking body blocked me

The woman in front of her is panting, clearly having sprinted over when she realized that someone from the other team was about to tag Catra, and it’s a good thing the lights are off so no one can see her blush. The blonde’s annoying smile splits her face and as soon as she arrived she was gone, leaving her completely bewildered with a slightly damp spot searing the side of her head.

She fucking body blocked me, and then kissed me on the cheek

Catra hears giggling and whips her head around to glare daggers at Perfuma, who covers her mouth and continues giggling as she walks in the other direction. Catra looks around to see if anyone else saw, and is horrified when she looks up and finds that Bow and Scorpia are standing next to each other practically crying with hearts in their eyes. Catra, taking advantage of how distracted everyone seems to be, jogs the rest of the way to the ramp and continues up to the second floor to perch in a tower overlooking the clearing in the center of the room, grumbling the whole way.

Is this flirting? Is this how she flirts?

Unbeknownst to her, the blonde’s thoughts ran in a similar vein. Is this flirting? Am I doing this right?

Adora, completely out of nowhere and with a speed she’d never seen before in a human being, dives in front of her to block her from being tagged every time she finds herself at the other end of the opposing team’s laser guns. Catra doesn’t understand how she just knows where she is and knows when she’s in danger and can get to her so fast. She’s exasperated, and ends that round getting tagged 0 times, a number that is severely below anyone else. Adora ends the round getting tagged more times than anyone else. She does it in every subsequent round after that as well until they scramble the teams and they end up on opposite sides of the laser tag war. When she sees their names lit up in different colors on the screens she turns to Adora, prepared to throw a smirk at her, and is shocked to find that Adora is still grinning at her like an absolute idiot. She has no idea what she has to be smiling about, since they’re on opposite teams and her plan to just protect Catra with her life obviously ends here.

Oh how wrong she was.

Because, while it irritated her teammates to no end, there were no rules saying Adora couldn’t fling herself in front of her anyway. The difference in these rounds was that, while Adora’s chest piece obviously wasn’t going to flash with friendly fire, she found it necessary to fall to her knees with a dramatic groan. The look on her face as Catra looked down at her said it all. She was absolutely delighted with herself.

Catra raises her laser gun and fires directly at Adora’s chest piece, point blank, and it flashes when it hits her target. She smirks down at Adora, leans down so their faces are millimeters apart, and ghosts a feather light kiss on Adora’s sweaty forehead.

Adora watches her hips sway as she practically struts away and decides then and there;

I’m going to fucking marry her

***

Catra grins, sipping the last of her glass of wine as the credits roll on their second movie of the night; Bow and Glimmer cuddle on the armchair sharing a cupcake leftover from the party while Adora’s head rests in the crook of her neck. Her slender arm is wrapped around Adora’s wide shoulders and, while the position makes her feel physically smaller, it also fills her with a sense of power. She’s holding Adora in her arms, and when they’re like this she’s the one protecting the other woman. Empty pizza boxes are stacked on the coffee table next to the bottle of wine, several cans of soda, and glasses of water. She looks down and sees Adora smiling back at her, a blush on her cheeks from her own glass of wine. She can’t believe how comfortable she is, sitting here with Adora and her roommates in the home they shared, love practically buzzing in the air between all of them. She gets a taste of the kind of love Adora got to experience once she met Glimmer and Bow and let them into her life, and she couldn’t be happier that she had them. She was worried that if she hung out with the three of them it would just be a wedge in their dynamic, but they welcomed her in and incorporated her into their group like she never believed they could.

“Hey Catrina, want another glass?” Glimmer says, picking up the bottle to pour herself another and gesturing toward Catra.

“Oh, no thanks. One was enough, I have to drive home later,” She responds, sending a smile and meeting her gaze.

“You cooooould spend the night? We have this comfy couch but… Adora’s bed is big and warm,” Glimmer smirks with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, emphasizing the words “big” and “warm” in a way that should absolutely not have had the effect that they ended up having on her.

“Don’t tease her Glim,” Came Adora’s chuckle next to her as she got up and stretched. Catra instantly missed the warmth. “Now, I’m going to go change before we start the next movie. Catrina, do you want to borrow something comfy to change into?”

She freezes a little, and whispers, “Oh no thanks, I’m fine,” Hoping Adora drops the subject. Clothes were sensitive, and she didn’t really want to confront her issues right now, the thick denim protecting her like armor in a way she needed right now in front of Adora’s friends. Of course Adora doesn’t mention it and just nods, making her way down the hall to her bedroom.

Glimmer and Bow retreated to their room to change as well, leaving Catra on the couch to settle in the silence for a few minutes. She gets up to stretch, surprised that her hip wasn’t bothering her, and walks around to take a look at the various posters, artwork, and framed photos that line the walls. One catches her eye; Bow, Glimmer, and Adora as little baby high schoolers in front of a Christmas tree with two people who couldn’t be anyone other than Glimmer’s parents. The five are wearing matching sweaters. By the looks of how Bow’s is clearly designed to be a crop top, she assumes someone knit those sweaters for them. Grins split their faces, a sparkle of joy shines in Adora’s eyes, and it brings a tear to Catra’s to see her that happy. She looks around at the others; school trips, birthdays, and sleepovers. It seemed that, though she was never adopted and had to live with Weaver until she was 18, she had no shortage of happy memories. She turns to the kitchen and sees something hanging on the wall by the fridge that she hadn't noticed until now, and approaches it to look with a critical eye. It’s oil on canvas; harsh ridges and deep valleys, waves and peaks, smooth streaks juxtaposed with anxious short strokes, and violent red lines torn across. She knows it well, and is shocked at the irony of seeing it years later in Adora’s apartment. She hadn’t imagined it would end up here of all places when she hung it on the wall of that coffee shop with a price tag in the corner.

“Hey, you ok?” Bow asks, coming up next to her and putting a hand on her shoulder. She jumps a little and he removes his hand and takes a step back, but she shakes her head to dispel some of his worry. She was just in her own world, looking at the familiar painting. He’s standing next to her in a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt, with a small blanket wrapped around his shoulders and folded over his chest, waiting patiently for her to answer.

“Yeah. I was just looking at this painting,” She whispers.

“Oh! Do you like it? We got it at-”

She cuts him off with a smirk and beats him to it, “The Grind, downtown across from the hospital.”

“Yeah, how did you know that? Did you see it when it was still for sale there?” He looks beyond confused, and she thinks for a second that he’s actually kind of cute. She’d be sure to never let Adora know that she thought her friends were cute.

She smirks, reaching up slowly to grip the sides, leaving Bow time to tell her to stop if he didn’t want her to take it down. It didn’t belong to her anymore, after all. She removes it from its nail in the wall and turns it over to reveal the small printed label that she knows is on the back;

Dysphoria
Oil on canvas
August 2019
Catrina Miaou

Bow looks like he is about to explode, “GUYS! GLIM, ADORA.”

His shout and enthusiasm make her wince.

They both run out, Glimmer with a makeup wipe in her hand and half of her face gone and Adora trying desperately to pull a pair of sweatpants up the rest of the way, hopping on one foot in an attempt to get the cinched leg opening over her foot. She winces as she falls partially into the wall, knocking down a smaller canvas that falls on the floor next to her, which she quickly replaces when she finally gets her pants on. Bow has the decency to look a little embarrassed for screaming bloody murder in the kitchen with no explanation, but all that comes out is an excited squeal while he shoves the canvas into Glimmer’s hands and points excitedly at the label. Both of their eyes widen. Catra feels like she could die, embarrassment at their excitement replacing the smug feeling she had moments ago at stumping Bow. Glimmer hands the canvas to Adora, squeals and pulls Bow into a hug while they sing her praises, and she is truly thankful for their reactions, she really is. They aren’t even really speaking a language, just making excited noises that range from low hums to high chirps while they wave their arms and for a moment she worries that she’s lost the ability to decipher speech because of the look Adora is giving her.

All she can focus on is Adora’s starstruck expression.

Her fingers trace over each ridge, like she’s reading the turmoil, the highs and lows, the anxiety, the elation, of each stroke in braille. Her eyes are flickering rapidly back and forth, trying to see in the painting the parts of Catra she hadn’t seen before, the parts she’d missed. Her jaw is slack, because closing her mouth would take an iota of concentration and she wasn’t willing to spare any of her brain power when she was trying to drink Catra in through her eyes. She knew Catra, her Catra, was an artist, but she had yet to see any of her work. She was entirely unprepared for the onslaught of emotions that battered her while she stared at something meant to reflect her most dreaded emotion. She thought the painting was nice before, added color and depth to their home, but she couldn’t imagine the kind of emotion and raw power that seeped out of it. The tiny stippled waves she thought were a nice addition before now presented an instability, a turmoil, when she was first discovering who she was and what that would mean for her future. Those angry red slashes, carving deep through the layers of paint almost to the core of the canvas, digging in almost to the bone made her heart plummet, yet the idea that she’d survived whatever it was those represented, the event she had yet to really learn about, made her so proud and astonished.

Tears gather at the corners of Adora’s eyes and Catra swears she sees a swirl of stardust trickle out along with it before looking at her with a passionate intensity. She steps forward, their bodies mere inches apart. Adora reaches around her slowly, arms circling her, as she hangs the painting back on the nail behind her and then pulls her hands back to rest on Catra’s waist. She pulls gently, and Catra finds herself against Adora’s chest with her face buried in her neck, heartbeat below one ear and voice in the other. She lets Adora rock her back and forth, whispering praises with her voice and her body, while she grips the back of her shirt tightly and breathes her in.

"You’re so talented."

"I can’t believe how beautiful that is. I can’t believe how beautiful you are."

"I’m so proud of you."

"You’ve worked so hard and I feel so lucky to have you."

Adora hopes she isn’t laying it on too thick, hopes she isn’t pushing more than Catra can take. The only time she has ever felt anything close to this level of connection before was when she was a child, and it was with the woman before her. She hasn’t ever experienced this need, this yearning, and while they’re not even really moving that slow at this point, lying to themselves if they thought they were being slow at all, it still feels glacial when all she wants to do is lean down and kiss her. Her greatest desire is to pull Catra to her bedroom, lay her down, and kiss her into the mattress until they’re one. She wants to hold her until the world fucking ends around them; until matter turns to stardust and evaporates into the cosmos, and even then it wouldn’t be enough. What they have now is delicate, and the last thing she wants is to push the other woman beyond where she wants to go this soon after getting her back. At the same time, she knows that Catra has feelings for her too. She can tell in the tender moments when they’re alone and she catches her lazy smile, in the heated ones when they’re having a passionate discussion and she can see in her eyes the moment it's about to snap into wild laughter. She has to wait until Catra talks about it, though. She has to wait until she’s ready. She has to know that Catra wants it too, because she wouldn’t dare let herself take something that didn’t belong to her. So with that thought, she pulls back, kisses her forehead, and releases her.

Glimmer and Bow are nowhere to be found, but Adora is certain she’ll get a full scale interrogation as soon as Catra leaves for the night. For now, though, she sits on the couch, pressed into one end. There is room for Catra to decide just how close to Adora she wants to sit. Catra smiles at her, both of their faces flushed, shaking from excitement. She seems to contemplate for a moment, deciding whether things have already gone past where they should have at this stage in their relationship, before deciding that she really couldn’t care less where they were supposed to be right now. She climbs onto the couch and folds herself into Adora’s side. An arm comes to wrap around her, dragging a blanket off of the back of the couch to drape over both of them. They settle comfortably into each other, the low volume of the next movie filling the peaceful silence. Every once in a while Adora leans over to place a kiss to the top of Catra’s head and breathes in the lavender scent she always finds there. Catra’s hand finds her knee under the blanket, stroking and squeezing lightly. Every touch drives them forward, toward that point of no return where they can’t hold back any longer because what they’ve given each other, what they’ve taken, is more powerful than anything they’ve done before. Adora sets the remote down on the arm of the couch and brings her hand across her body to put in her own lap above the blanket. She reaches out an index finger and traces each of Catra’s fingers, from the tip up to one of the knuckles and making a U-turn to descend the next, through the blanket as they caress her own knee. The pressure on top of her fingers pressing her hand into the leg below makes Catra shiver, and once Adora has done several paths against each finger on that hand she moves her hand up to rest her palm on the smaller wrist below the blanket. Catra pivots her head to place a kiss on a firm, round shoulder and stays there, feeling the warmth of skin seeping through cotton. It makes her lips tingle, and she squeezes her eyes shut while her mouth pulls tight into a dimpled smile. Adora turns her head to nudge her nose against brunette hair.

Maybe ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ aren’t accurate benchmarks for a relationship that started before they could even spell their own names. Maybe other people’s scale for how a relationship was supposed to build didn’t really apply to them at all when they were written in the stars, a tale as old as time itself. In that moment, holding each other and being held, feeling the warmth and comfort of the person next to them, they both start to realize that moving a little bit faster might not be such a bad thing. They would talk about it soon, but tonight? Tonight was ethereal, an evening frozen between nebulae, where there were no expectations.

All they had to do was feel.

Chapter Text

The store is relatively busy. It was sunny, and people were far more likely to seek home improvement tasks when the weather was nice, the cheery mood that overtook on those autumn days when the sun was out brought forth a renewed motivation. It was still cold, the brisk fall breeze making outdoor projects unpleasant, so most shoppers settled for indoor tasks. It was a safe bet that Paint would be one of the busiest departments today, which is unfortunate considering how unbearable paint customers could be in particular, and while a lot of customers certainly made the time pass she wasn’t looking forward to lifting that many gallons of paint for them. She listens to the associate from Flooring rattle off a story about a customer that refused to believe that you needed to let hardwood flooring assimilate to the climate of your house for up to 72 hours before install, and was thoroughly pissed when their boards swelled and cracked a couple of days after installation due to the change in humidity, as she ties the orange strands of her paint dotted apron around her waist. Leaving her messenger bag in her locker and heading down to the time clock, she prepares herself mentally to begin her shift.

More than one asshole today is going to get 4 gallons instead of the 5 gallon bucket they actually need, and I’m really going to have to carry 4 individual gallons to the desk instead of using the hand truck for a single 5 gallon bucket

The thought didn’t excite her, especially when she usually had to see those same customers later in the week when their 4 gallons didn’t quite get them the coverage they needed, and they conveniently forgot that she was the one who told them that they needed a bucket instead.

Needless to say, she was ready for work to be over before it even started, and she was sure that the sooner this day ended the better. However, when she rounds the corner of the last display of ceiling fans and comes face to face with Adora holding a to-go cup of tea and a bouquet of pink roses in a vase, she stops dead in her tracks. Her brows are turned up and her blue-grey eyes are laser focused on Catra, shimmering with a level of affection that startles her into speechlessness. Adora’s mouth is slanted in a smile, like only half of her brain cells could tilt her lips while the other half remained starstruck as she looks at Catra like she’s the only woman on this earth. Customers and coworkers alike pass the two, some smiling and giggling at the flowers, but Adora’s gaze never wavers from Catra’s, and the shorter woman for the first time can’t fathom having anything less than Adora’s undivided attention.

She’s never wanted someone so badly, or for someone to want her in the same way.

“Happy Birthday,” Adora breathes out, stretching her arms out to the sides to invite her into a hug.

Catra strides forward and embraces her, and Adora wraps her arms around her as tightly as she can with her hands full. The hug doesn’t last long, neither of them wanting to draw an unreasonable amount of attention or get reprimanded by a supervisor for wasting time on the clock. It lasts just long enough for Adora to feel the need to peck a tiny kiss to her forehead before pulling away.

“Happy Birthday, Catrina,” Adora repeats, thrusting the vase in her hand forward. They’re both blushing, and the heat of the moment transitions from metaphorical to physical as it paints itself across both of their faces.

“Think I don’t own a vase?” Catra teases, taking the flowers and tilting her head down to smell them.

“I imagined that getting flowers and having nowhere to put them for the duration of your 8 hour shift is annoying as hell,” She teases back.

It makes Catra smile, that she thought of everything, and she bites her lip.

“You didn’t have to do all this for me.”

“Of course I did, it’s your birthday. And every woman deserves flowers on her birthday,” Is the reply she gets, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Adora does that all the time, throwing out life changing, earth shattering statements like they should be obvious to everyone.

She doesn’t understand how Adora just gets it, how she just knows what she needs to hear, but she’ll be grateful for the affirmation all day. She had class this morning, presentations in two of them, and the extra talking combined with the cool, dry fall air gave her voice a scratchy quality that rocketed her into dysphoria. That, combined with the part of her that still feared the way other people saw her because of her body, feared the classrooms full of students watching her while she stood at the front, made the words more meaningful than she would have been able to express. She was confident, but there was a part of her that still looked in the mirror before each day of school and saw the parts of herself that gave her away, that made her feel like there wasn’t any possible way other people wouldn’t see, wouldn’t notice. She tried to stop those thoughts before she could spiral, because she wouldn’t think this kind of thing about any other trans person, but for some reason it was a train of thought she just couldn’t get away from. She knew, on a realistic level, that her peers didn’t scrutinize her body when she was at the front of the room giving a presentation. They could barely be bothered to open their eyes at all during her boring business presentation, but she just couldn’t stop it. Her dysphoria wasn’t something she had talked to Adora about, but apparently she had picked up on her behavior and deduced what the cause had been rather quickly.

She would be lying if she tried to pretend that tonight wasn’t at least a little daunting; knowing that being so close to just Adora without any distractions or anyone else around, trusting her enough to sleep at her apartment, was making her anxious. They’d hung out in public plenty; at school and work, coffee shops, the Student Union, but this would be the first time they would be well and truly alone, with Glimmer and Bow spending a few days out with his dads. She didn’t want to be worried. The fear wasn’t a result of anything about the way Adora treated her, and it definitely wasn’t rational. She’d been perfect, respectful and caring in all of their interactions.

It made her wonder why she ever doubted Adora back when they first reconnected.

The flowers are a big conversation starter, and while the extra talking certainly isn’t helping, she does get to gush about her best friend/ almost something and the movie night they have planned after work later. It brightens her mood every time she is carrying a gallon of paint from the shelf and sees pink out of the corner of her eye. When she is about to go on her 15 Adora jogs up, face flushed from the cold, with another cup of tea for her and a croissant. Another layer of her walls chips away and she melts at the thought that Adora would run to the Starbucks at the other end of the shopping center on her own 15 just to grab another tea for Catra, just to show her she cares. The first half of her shift goes by much faster when she’s walking this high above the clouds, floating on the feeling of being loved, being this important to someone. She feels giddy; that feeling of seeing your first crush as a child when you step off of the school bus, smelling pollen in the air in early spring, putting icing on sugar cookies. It was hard to describe just how Adora made her feel, because she had never felt this much at once before, in a good way. She just hopes that Adora keeps making her feel like this, and that she makes Adora feel even a fraction like this in return.

She catches herself staring dreamily at the vase of roses and rolls her eyes so fucking hard at herself for letting Adora turn her into such a sap as well. She knew the other woman was a major dork, but she didn’t think her own transformation into a pining loser would be so swift. It was almost overwhelmingly fast, and it left her reeling and exasperated all at once that her own defenses couldn’t beat back the onslaught of awkward flirting and gay panic. In her defense, Adora was an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person, and she had evidently decided that when it came to Catra she was on the side of ‘all.’ It was honoring at the same time that it was terrifying that Adora had deemed her worthy of putting in her all. It saddened her to think that there may have been people, definitely had been people, that Adora had given her all for just to be left hurt.

She hears the quiet snicker of her coworker next to her and blinks rapidly, realizing she was staring at the flowers.

God dammit I’m doing it again

If she could just get through her shift without collapsing into a blushing mess every time she looked at those damn roses, she could start showing Adora what it was like to give your all and have someone give their all back to you.

It was nothing short of what she deserved.

***

It was right around Catra’s lunch break when she realized that she was flying too close to the sun, and by the end of her shift her hip is absolutely screaming, her throat is on fire, and her head is pounding. She’s had a lot of time over the last few years to come to terms with the repercussions of the incident, and she really has learned to deal with it in most circumstances. This feels worse, somehow. She can’t cancel on Adora, she won’t cancel. They both needed this, needed the time together and needed the time to relax. They hadn’t seen a lot of each other in the last week because of their heavy load of school work, and Adora’s soccer practices really vamped up in the last stretch before the end of the season. It was more than just a night to hang out, to celebrate her birthday. She didn’t do sleepovers and this was going to be the night that she gave a part of herself, the secret vulnerable part she didn’t let anyone else see, to Adora. The pain was something she could normally deal with. It was a chronic byproduct of an event she had suffered four years ago, and it dragged her down into a spiral of hopelessness remembering just who betrayed her in the first place, who she used to trust.

She wouldn’t let this ruin it for her, not this time. The possibility of what her and Adora could become if she just finally let go and trusted her was enough to make her stubbornly refuse to yield to the pain.

She’ll take an Advil from the bottle she keeps in her locker, and grab a few of the throat lozenges from her car on the way into the apartment. Once the pain set in it was usually here to stay, and she could either go be miserable at home, alone, or she could at least be miserable with Adora. It wasn’t a difficult choice.

She had to take this step, to show Adora that she trusted her and to show herself that it was ok to trust someone like this. She needed to prove to herself that absolutely nothing bad would happen if she let herself open up. If she didn’t, if she cancelled and pushed it back, regardless of the reason, it just put her farther and farther from what she really wanted.

She certainly couldn’t wait any longer than necessary.

***

Adora caught on to the pain she was hiding almost immediately, and sat her on the couch to rest while she tornado-ed herself around the apartment gathering various creature comforts. Apparently her limp was more pronounced than she thought, and her wince probably didn’t help her case either. She’d felt her eyes crinkle together against her will as she turned the car on and the volume of the radio shot white hot lightning through her ear drums and deep into her head, the sudden tension that strung through her body stabbed at her hip. There was no hiding it as she reached over quickly and slammed the volume to zero. Adora, who had looked concerned from the moment they met by the time clock, looked at her with even more worry as they rode silently to Adora’s apartment.

The first thing Adora did was kneel at her feet, removing her shoes to sit on the rack next to the door, which alone wiped Catra’s brain of all conscious thought. Seeing Adora on her knees in front of her, looking up at her through her lashes while she cupped the back of her ankle in one warm hand and tugged her shoe off with the other, stirred something low in her stomach that the anxiety and dysphoria didn’t let her feel very often. As soon as the moment arrived it was gone, though, and she could hear Adora in the kitchen filling a kettle in the sink and clicking on a burner on the stove. She ran to the hall closet to pull something out, and then went to her bedroom. Catra protested, of course, not wanting to make a big deal out of something that she was used to hiding, but couldn’t deny how good it felt to have someone care this much. Sure, her moms saw through her pain all the time, and took care of her as well, but it felt so much different with Adora.

It felt different when it was the girl of her dreams.

“What hurts?”

Adora’s voice behind her makes her jump, a little embarrassed that she zoned out that fast. She has to think for a minute. Not about what hurts, no, her hip was searing a hole in her side, turning to stone as she sat there unmoving, willing it to stop. She was deciding if she wanted to reveal it to Adora. At this point, when they had been avoiding the topics long enough, it felt more like outright lying than hiding anyway. The problem was that, while she didn’t want to bother Adora with her problems, she also desperately wanted her to just know already, so she wouldn’t have to hide it. And maybe if Adora knew about her chronic hip pain, or the headaches, or the dysphoria, maybe she would trust her enough to tell her about why her back always hurt and she had trouble breathing, why she always seemed so tense when the subject of food was brought up, why she was always exhausted, why she worked so many hours at the store when she was already so stressed and busy from class and soccer. More than anything, though, Catra was tired. She was tired of being afraid, tired of dancing around something so big that she felt like it was stopping them from really moving forward. At this point, it felt like these last couple of secrets, these last hidden fears and insecurities, were the only things holding her back. They were anchors holding her under water when she could reach her arms all the way out and feel the fresh air as the tips of her fingers just broke the surface of the water.

She was tired of hiding something that every day Adora proved herself trustworthy enough to know.

“My hip. It hurts. And my head. From an incident in high school,” She finally sighs out. It was an old injury, something she’d been dealing with for years, and Adora didn’t need to know the details right now, this evening when it was Catra’s birthday and they were trying so hard to become something new together. She’d tell her soon, but the truth was that, while she obviously still felt the residual effects, it was over, had ended a long time ago. She'd said 'incident' though, willing Adora to connect the dots that what happened wasn't an accident, if only to make the news less shocking when they talked about it later.

“Is there anything you need? Anything I can get for you?” The blonde asks, looking anxious to do something, anything, to make her feel better. She’s biting her lip, looking on the verge of tears herself, wringing her hands together. It fills Catra with guilt for being the cause of that frown on her face again, but that same sadness from earlier came back when she realized that this was a behavior that Adora learned because she had to. She learned to push herself and give and give and give until there was nothing left of her. But Catra wasn’t taking from her, and Bow and Glimmer didn’t take from her either. She wasn’t equipped to cope with it when she felt like it was her responsibility to give and the other person wasn’t going to take.

Catra knew where it came from, knew who instilled that behavior in her, and she vowed to prove to Adora that nothing that woman said to her was true. Nothing that woman made her feel was something she deserved and nothing that Adora did warranted the way she was treated, the way she was made to feel. It was a behavior that was instilled in her by a person who only knew how to take, whose only concern was what she could get Adora to give.

“Nah, I took some Advil before we left, just waiting for it to work. I guess I should… I should...” She whispers, trailing off. This was the hard part, what she had been really dreading about letting herself open up to someone. While the story of the incident was something she knew she needed to tell, and she had been dreading it because it drug up memories she didn’t particularly like, this was the part that struck fear into her beyond comprehension.

Adora knew, of course. She knew she was trans, and while Catra hadn’t explicitly told her that she hadn’t had SRS, she knew her when they were kids before any of that would have happened anyway. But knowing and seeing were two different things, and she didn’t want her old best friend, and new love interest, to realize all of a sudden that she wasn’t as cool with it as she thought she was. She’d always been too afraid of the reaction if someone got too close to her or her body, if she started something and the other person realized they didn’t want to finish it with her.

Adora senses where her train of thought is going, can see the wheels turning behind her distraught eyes and rapid breathing, and places a palm on her knee.

“Hey, it's ok right? Look at me, right at me. You don’t have anything to be afraid of, ok? I know you’re scared, that feeling vulnerable isn’t something you like, but I promise it's ok. Now, just tell me what you need, and I swear to you it won’t change anything between us, alright? There is nothing you could say to me right now that would make me think less of you,” She says, conviction beyond what Catra has ever heard from her. Her stare goes right through Catra’s carefully built walls, and she feels herself crumbling more in the careful embrace.

She’d never liked it when people treated her like she was fragile, especially after the incident when their gazes held pity. She hated it when people saw her pain, saw her weakness. But there was something about the way it sounded coming from Adora that made her feel precious, like a jewel that just needed to be polished a little instead of a sheet of glass with a wide fracture down the center. Maybe being fragile, needing help, needing care, didn’t make her as weak as she thought.

She takes a breath and clears her throat, “I need to change pants.” Pajama pants weren’t exactly the most form fitting clothing, and their thin material and loose fit didn’t lend well to the body shape she needed, in more places than one. It was one of those things where she knew people wouldn’t actually notice, but the tiny swell she saw there when she changed pants and put on slightly looser underwear than normal to relax for the night, was all she could focus on.

Adora nods, a gentle smile conveying nothing but understanding. Unbeknownst to Catra, she’d seen this dysphoria before; when Bow fell asleep on the couch in jeans with his packer still in. He’s stayed there all night more than once because he knew the rough material would wake Glimmer and make her worry, but wasn’t able to bring himself to change into something more comfortable because it was just so obvious to him when he looked down that something was missing. He’d stayed up late at the kitchen table too, when he didn’t want to take his binder off just yet. The way softer materials clung to you and made you feel exposed, made you feel like everything you couldn’t stand to look at was on display, made you cling to those few articles of clothing that protected you like they were armor.

She isn’t going to assume anything about the way Catra feels about her own body, but has a pretty good guess by the way she has been guarding herself that she sees something that shouldn’t be there, and that the jeans she was wearing were her last line of defense against those insecurities. She plans on taking it to her grave that she feels the same way when she looks at her chest after she takes her bras off. She couldn’t count the number of times she quite literally couldn’t breathe, but still smiled when she walked by a mirror and saw her chest flatter than it ever would be if she wasn’t wearing the layers she was.

“Ok, you know where the bathroom is, or you can change in my room if you want. Take all the time you need, ok?” She gives her an encouraging smile, squeezes her knee, and gets up to leave her alone while she gets changed for the night.

Catra took her bag into the bathroom and placed it on the lid of the toilet, looking herself in the mirror and trying to stop herself from rattling apart. This was it, the part she was the most afraid of. But wasn’t the reason she was always afraid, because she didn't want to be outed and find out what the repercussions would be? So Adora already knew, knew she was trans and expressed that it didn’t make a difference to her. Adora didn’t care, couldn’t care less what her body looked like as long as she was happy with herself. It was evident in the way she looked at her, the way she treated her. Adora knew the secret she guarded from the rest of the world and didn’t hesitate to relentlessly flirt with her anyway. This realization should have made her feel better, but it did nothing to stop the shaking of her shoulders or the tears welling in the corners of her eyes at the thought that maybe the problem wasn’t other people, maybe it was her. She had been hurt before, so the fear was rooted in reality, but how much of it was still just in her head? How much of it was her, seeing herself through that lens of internalized transphobia? She wanted so desperately to be accepted that somewhere along the line she forgot to accept herself.

Maybe it was time to start forgiving herself; for all the things that happened to her that weren’t her fault; for the impossible standard she held herself to; for the way she spoke to herself; for the way she thought about herself; for the connection she could have had with Adora sooner if she had just learned that maybe it was ok to put your trust in other people. She could have found her on social media years ago, but didn’t because the fear of rejection was just so prominent that she would rather not know than have her back. That thought made her sick inside, and had been dwelling on her since that day they first saw each other by the time clock at work. To think that she might have gone the rest of her life without seeing the woman she now knew she couldn't live without just because she was owned, trapped, by her fear, was too much. But she had to let it go.

She had to forgive herself for the things she did to protect herself when she was in pain. She had to forgive herself for the ways she hurt herself more when she was afraid.

Without wasting any more time she changes out of her jeans, the same ones that had been driving nails further into her hip all day, the ones that protected her from the impending wave of dysphoria, and into a pair of sweatpants. She steals herself for the confrontation that the voice in the back of her mind told her to prepare for, the one that she knew wasn’t actually coming, and exits the bathroom to make her way back to the living room.

As soon as she sits down Adora springs into action and sets to work plugging in a heated blanket, draping it gently over Catra and tucking it into her sides. It makes her giggle when Adora’s finger tips linger on her sides for a few seconds and giggles back. Her chest felt lighter, and seeing that familiar sparkle in the other woman’s eyes made the rest of her worry evaporate for the time being. She snuggles down, closing her eyes and trying to breathe through the pain that remained. The heated blanket is a healing warmth on her hip and she feels herself releasing more and more of the tension that had been coiled in her body from the long day and the stiffness from the colder weather. She’s cocooned, safe inside the warm shield on top of her. Eventually she hears the shriek of the kettle coming up to temp and Adora pouring the steaming water into a cup that finds its way to the coffee table next to her. She watches the blonde disappear down the hall, presumably to change her own clothes, and lets herself absorb this feeling, the familiarity of being taken care of by someone so distinctly Adora and the newness of that person being capable of taking real care of her.

She feels a weight shift the couch and cracks her eyes open, the warmth lulling her into a peaceful haze, and sees Adora sitting next to her, holding out a hand. Catra takes it, a content and relieved tear rolling down her face. Adora brings her other hand up to stroke the pad of her thumb over a warm cheek, wiping away the tear.

“Cat, can I…?” She gestures with her head and Catra nods, leaning forward so Adora can settle behind her and she leans her back on the taller woman’s chest. Adora fixes the blanket so it covers her and brings her arms around her, holding her tightly in her comforting embrace, cradled between her thighs. Thumbs stroke over her forearms and fingers intertwine with hers to settle crossed over her stomach.

“You’re ok, you’re safe here. I’ve got you,” Adora says, so softly that she wouldn’t have known the other woman had spoken at all if she hadn’t felt the vibrations in her chest against her own back. Here, between Adora’s muscular thighs and intertwined with her strong arms, she feels so safe that she allows her thoughts to drift to a future where her and Adora are like this far more frequently. They’re happy, no longer plagued by thoughts of their pasts, of the abuse they’ve suffered. They’re just together, and that's all Catra could ever want.

Right now, a future like that, seems closer than it ever has.

Her reply is simple, “I know. Thank you.” Her lips have a numbness, like she’s drunk on the feeling of being supported, of being loved like this.

They lie there together in silence, Catra taking sips from the tea and listening to Adora’s breathing. They don’t even bother turning the TV on, too focused on each other, on the bubble they’ve created and the feelings floating between them, to even notice that the rest of the apartment is silent. Catra feels smaller than she’s ever felt, and she can’t bring herself to feel vulnerable when it feels this good.

She can’t wait until she gets to protect Adora too, from her thoughts and fears, from the voices in her head and the pain she feels.

Sometime in the night Adora nudges her awake enough to ask if she can carry her to the bedroom, not wanting her to wake up somewhere unfamiliar, but at the same time wanting her to fall asleep somewhere comfortable, and she nods. She sighs at the feeling of muscular arms picking her up and cradling her, before she is placed on a bed, an arm wrapping around her from behind. Adora leans forward, parts brown hair so the back of her neck is exposed, and kisses the skin there while she hums an incomprehensible yet soothing tune. Catra is once again lulled to sleep, a tiny ball safely nestled into an armored dome of firm muscle and silky skin; of strength and softness.

Adora doesn’t remove her lips from the warm skin in front of her until well after the body cradled in her own relaxes with slumber.

***
Adora lays there, head propped up on her hand with her elbow resting on the pillow below her and her other hand outstretched to rest on Catra’s waist. She feels a little weird about it, but she just can’t pull away, can’t stop touching her and keeping up the contact that they had maintained since going to bed last night. She can’t remember the last time she slept that well, a peace she didn’t know she was missing washing over her as she finally got to hold Catra the way she’d wanted to since they were kids. Even when she was younger and didn’t know what it meant, she’d wanted to hold her like that, share an intimate knowledge of what it felt like to have her sleepy breaths puff out in the quiet of her bedroom.

She takes these few quiet moments when the sun is just starting to rise and the apartment complex is quiet to trace a pattern into the woman’s side, fingers pressing into the flesh below, hand rising and falling with the deep breaths she took in her sleep. As the sun peeks through the curtain she sees that her speculation was correct, and a smile pulls at the corner of her lips as brunette hair streaks with gold and red in the shimmering amber sunlight. Her hair is thrown over the pillow behind her, and Adora’s eyes connect the dots of freckles that speckle the back of her neck, before placing a kiss to the sleep warmed skin there. She lets her lips linger for a fraction of a moment longer than she probably should have and moves to get out of bed as gently as possible.

She didn’t plan on getting dressed for the day, but needed to put something on to conceal her chest and it was better to get it out of the way early so Catra didn’t see and didn’t ask any questions. The entire night was already longer than she’d gone in just a T-shirt in a long time, and it was strange to think that she was so hyper focused on making sure Catra was ok that she didn’t even consider how her own body factored into what she changed into for the night. It scared her, that she could let her guard down for that long without even thinking about it, that Catra had that effect on her. She chose not to focus on it too much, because her back and chest felt better today than they had in the year since she realized that wearing an extra bra and having it be a tiny bit tighter than it really ought to have been gave her an emotional relief that far outweighed the physical pain it caused her.

She shakes her head, forcefully changing the direction of her train of thought and instead focused on picking out the sweatshirt that hugged her shoulders and biceps. She was staying in her pajamas, but she saw the way Catra looked at her at work when she’d walk over to the lumber department and watch Adora lift something heavy. She swore the brunette woman was about to faint when she watched Adora lift a 4’x8’ sheet of 1” maple plywood (weighing in at 103 lbs. not that she was, you know, keeping track) and she decided that there was no shame in accenting those vanity muscles. She took great pleasure in staring at Catra any time she could, so it was only fair she gave the other woman something nice to look at in return. She makes a trip to the living room to retrieve Catra's phone and the heated blanket, returning only to plug both in and drape the fabric on top of the sleeping woman. She heads to the kitchen and takes stock of what is in the refrigerator and pantry she knows to be hers, and sets to work getting out the ingredients to make pancakes. She finishes mixing the dry ingredients and is almost ready to start on the wet when she catches yellow out of the corner of her eye and notices that either Bow or Glimmer have bananas.

She stares at them, dry mix on the counter next to her as she thinks agonizingly hard about something that really, in hindsight, wasn’t a big deal.

They’ve told her that they don’t mind sharing their food. They’ve told her that she doesn’t need to ask permission to use anything in the kitchen that they bought. They’ve told her that she has complete permission to eat anything in their kitchen, regardless of who bought it. She knows that they mean it.

That’s also what Ms. Weaver always told her, and she absolutely did not mean it.

She finds herself texting both of them, hoping at least one of them is awake to respond.

Adora: Can I use 2 bananas? I promise to venmo you for them, or I’ll get some the next time I’m at the grocery store, ok? I just really want them to make breakfast for Catrina and I didn’t want to bother you guys so early but her favorite pancakes are banana. So can I please use 2? It's cool if you say no!

She cringes at how pathetic it sounds, how needy she sounds, and she feels bad for being so demanding and taking her roommates food when she hasn’t really given them anything in return. She tried to remind herself of what they always told her; that she didn’t need to give them anything in return because they wanted to give her their kindness, but it was an internal battle that she lost every time. The urge to accept help, to let them pay for some of her food, to let their parents pay for her food, was beaten down by that voice in the back of her head that kept repeating over and over again that she didn’t deserve the help. She hadn't done anything to earn it. She wasn't good enough, even when she was trying so hard to be.

The text she receives from Bow is more tactful than the one she’d receive if Glimmer was the one awake, and she’s thankful that he just gives her an answer instead of pressing her about it.

Bow: Of course, buddy. Always! I love you and hope you’re having a good few days without us. Tell Catrina we said hello!

She exhales the breath she wasn’t really aware she’d been holding, and gets to working mashing the bananas to make the wet mix, hoping to get the pancakes finished soon. She smiles at the thought of serving Catra breakfast in bed, the idea of doing something so simple and domestic making her blush already without even seeing the other woman conscious today.

She’s not sure if she should be so ready to do this every weekend morning of the rest of her life, because they aren’t even dating yet, but can’t help feeling that there isn’t anything in this world she’d want more.

***

Catra wakes up warm, but not the kind of warm she wanted.

She’s in bed alone, and while she isn’t cold, she’d much rather have been cradled in a pair of warm, muscular arms, than alone in bed. She’s grateful when she realizes that she is so warm because Adora has retrieved the heated blanket from the living room and draped it over her. She can still feel that silky top sheet and the weight of the comforter on top of it, but the artificial warmth seeping through the layers is very much welcome.

The smell of bananas and cinnamon waft into the room, and she takes a second to look around in the dim clouded daylight. Adora’s bedroom is neat, keeping it orderly in an almost militaristic fashion was expected in Ms. Weaver’s house, and clearly a habit that Adora kept up with even when she was free of the awful woman. She couldn’t blame her, because on mornings when she was especially tired and wasn’t awake enough to think properly she found herself making her bed and straightening her dirty laundry in the same way before she realized that she was in her home with her mothers and safe from that terrible woman. While those mornings usually resulted in her vanity mirror covered in some choice words, loopy cursive in bright red lipstick that she had to duck around while she used a the blade of a chef knife to apply her eye liner, she had a feeling Adora hadn’t really let herself learn how to express her feelings about it yet. There were pictures everywhere, just like the living room, along with a few medals from her soccer championships. There was an ornate framed charcoal drawing of a horse, and Catra smiled at the thought that after all these years Adora was still a giant horse girl at heart. It must have been an antique, the patina of the frame was too old to be new and she grew even fonder at the thought that Adora felt something when she looked at it that was powerful enough to make her buy it. There was a string of Christmas lights bordering the seam where the wall met the ceiling running the perimeter of the room, and she could only imagine the warm ambiance they would provide when they were on.

She hopes that the next time she’s in Adora’s bed they’re on. She also hopes that she’ll be in Adora’s bed again, but at this point it’s kind of obvious that she will.

She sees her phone on the bedside table and rolls her eyes affectionately at how obnoxiously sweet Adora is when she sees that not only had she retrieved her phone from the coffee table but she has also plugged it into a charger. Her arm is met with cold when she reaches her hand out from under the protective heat of the blankets to check the time and to see if she has any notifications. Once she has a hold of it she quickly retracts her arm and tucks herself further in, chasing the remaining cold from her bare arms. She has a couple of birthday texts from the day before, and one from each of her moms checking up on her which she quickly responds to. It’s probably weird for them, not having her in the house when they wake up, and she knows they’re eager to see how the sleepover went and how she’s feeling. Waking up somewhere other than home is weird for her too, but not as much as she thought. Adora has this way of making her feel like she belongs with her, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. She’s home when she’s with her. The looks they gave her, the looks they gave each other when she told them that she would be spending the night with Adora were infuriating and embarrassing, so she wasn’t in any rush to give them detail.

What detail are they fishing for anyway? ‘Hey Ma, Adora held me with her big strong arms and kissed the back of my neck until I fell asleep after carrying me like I was a pillowcase full of feathers to her bed?’ Yeah I don’t need the smirk she’ll give me if I told her that.

A smile pulls at the corners of her mouth as she wakes up further, realizing that she feels better than she thought she could. The heating blanket was genius, and on top of being comforting it's also doing wonders for her pain and her hip feels better than it ever has in the morning after being in one position all night. Advil was cute and all, and took some of the edge off, but it never worked this much. Normally she had to do some pretty intense stretching to work out the stiffness and even then she had a slight limp for the first few hours of the day, so this was an all new level of comfort for her. She rolls onto her back and shifts her leg up, bringing her knee close to her chest slowly, holding it there for a few seconds, and then rotating it in across her body and back out before sliding her foot back down and laying her leg back on the bed. While the range of motion in that leg is reduced like it normally is, she’s pleased that she isn’t in any pain.

A quiet knock makes her shift her eyes to the door and she smiles when a blonde head peaks through it to give her a grin.

“Oh good! You’re up! Can I come in?” She asks.

“Of course, dork, it’s your room after all,” She responds, throwing her a smirk.

Adora knows it's her room, in her apartment, but at the same time she gave this space to Catra when she tucked her into bed last night and further when she left her alone to make breakfast this morning. So right now, it's Catra’s space, and she isn't going to take that away from her before she’s ready. She pushes the door open with her shoulder and Catra blushes when she sees that the woman is carrying a tray with two plates of pancakes and two cups of coffee.

Did she seriously make me breakfast in bed?

She sits up, reluctantly freeing her upper body from the warmth, smooths the blanket over her lap and watches Adora with a fond smile. She was worried Adora would have started her day already while she was still asleep, but the woman was still in her own pajama pants, fuzzy socks, and a sweatshirt. Catra shivers when she realizes that she can still see biceps flexing through the thick layers of the hoodie. Adora notices her shiver and leaves the tray on her desk momentarily to go over to her closet, pick out a knit sweater, and hand it to Catra so she can pull it on to cover her bare arms. She was cold, that much was true, but the cold was not what made the shiver wrack her spine.

“I put cream and sugar in your coffee, I hope that's ok?” She says nervously, placing a mug on the bedside table nearest Catra.

“Yeah, that's perfect.”

When she hands the plate over, Catra thinks she’s floating, and she covers her mouth to hide the wide grin. The stack of small silver dollar sized pancakes on her plate are all in the shape of hearts, and it's clear that Adora has used a cookie cutter as a mold for the pancake batter. The edges are smooth, not jagged like they were cut, so she thinks Adora went through an extreme amount of effort to cook the pancakes in the mold instead of just cutting them out. When she looks over at Adora’s plate she sees a stack of perfectly round ones, and it makes her feel a little extra giddy that she made hers so special. The pancakes are delicious, and she’d never admit it of course, but Catra swears the little heart shape makes them taste even better. The bananas and cinnamon are a nice touch, and her heart warms when she realizes that Adora remembers from all those years ago that banana pancakes with cinnamon are her favorite.

How fucking dare she do something this fucking sweet? Who does she think she is?

Adora gives her space to eat, sitting at her desk chair and propping her feet up on the bed so they faced each other, though they ate in relative silence. Occasionally one of them would make small talk; ask how the other slept, what kind of homework they had to do, what their work schedules were like during the week. For the most part though, they remained distracted, in silent awe of each other. Once again they found themselves not needing words, letting their happiness radiate out and bounce back, buzzing between them with a renewed energy. There was something entirely new about it, something that shifted last night when Catra let herself be vulnerable in front of Adora. It felt refreshing, like the hesitation had simply fizzled out and they both came to a silent agreement that things were different now in a good way.

When Adora gets back from putting their dishes away she climbs onto the bed, scooting up next to her slowly so she has time to say something if she doesn’t want her that close. She props a pillow up against the headboard so she can rest her back against it and wraps an arm around Catra’s shoulders. The brunette scoots herself closer so her body sits flush with Adora’s and leans her head to the side to rest against a muscular shoulder. The blanket on her lap and the body next to hers are suffocatingly warm, but she loves it.

It lights her nerve endings on fire with the urge to give it all back to Adora and then some.

God, I want to fucking rail her into next Tuesday and then make her breakfast in bed and watch those eyes sparkle and that skin flush. She isn’t going to know what hit her. It’s going to be so fucking sweet I swear to every star in this galaxy and the 3 closest ones too.

“Hey Cat?” Adora whispers next to her, tentative and shaky. She’s just as terrified as Catra is about doing something wrong, pushing too hard, and it's with this thought that she decides it's time to push just a little harder. She is so close to having something she’d dreamed about, wanted, for a while now. It's right there and if she just takes control and reaches out she could have her, she could have Adora the way she wanted. It was clear that her feelings were reciprocated, but that Adora wasn’t going to take the final step. If Adora saw it as a risk she wouldn’t do it, that’s who she is, and she clearly was afraid that this final push was too risky. Her cautious approach, feather light touches, apprehensive voice, were all the pieces of the puzzle clicking into place and Catra finally realized what Adora had been trying to tell her all along.

Adora was begging her to take control, to take what she wanted, to give them both what they needed but she was too nervous to go for. She was begging Catra to just take her because she didn’t know how to give herself to Catra without the direction.

Catra takes it.

“Yeah baby?” She replies, leaning further into Adora’s side. The taller woman exhales, blowing out a dramatic breath, and Catra can feel the tension leaving her body. It makes Catra turn slightly to face her, reach a hand up to slide her fingers along a sharp jaw, thumb her chin, and tilt Adora’s head down to hers. She stares into those blue eyes and sees love radiating out of them.

“Cat,” Adora’s voice is strangled, choked with emotion. Wetness pools in her eyes and she can’t look away from Catra’s powerful stare, begging with her quivering lips and shimmering eyes.

“Shh, I know baby,” Catra whispers just before leaning up and brushing her lips along Adora’s, touching the tips of their noses.

Adora’s eyes snap shut, and Catra parts her lips ever so slightly to close around the blonde’s bottom lip in a gentle cradle, sucking ever so slightly. A hand winds around Catra’s waist and another cups the back of her neck, fingers digging in and coaxing her forward. The kiss deepens, mouths moving against each other in a slow and languid dance, gasps and pants filling the silence of the room.

Catra moves up to straddle Adora’s hips and for the first time in her life she doesn’t give a single fuck that Adora could probably feel her, untucked through her loose sleep pants, against her stomach. She presses forward, grinding and melting her body into Adora’s and gripping her tightly as she presses forward, forward, forward until their tongues are one and neither of them could pull away if they wanted to. Catra’s hands cup Adora’s face before sliding around her neck and pulling her closer, tugging at the hair at the nape of her neck. Adora runs her hands up and down Catra’s sides, pausing to pull her hips forward more, earning both of them a groan before repeating the motion over and over and over again. They’re both shaking, buzzing with the released energy of a supernova and shivering in sobs, tears running down their faces as they let themselves take what they wanted;

Each other.

Eventually, when they're out of breath and their lips are swollen they pull away and bury themselves further into each other. They hold each other, and let themselves be held, until there isn't anything left in this world but the other woman.

 

Chapter Text

“Hey, will either of you be home this afternoon?” Adora asks, leaning on the doorway to the kitchen. Bow is at the table reading his history textbook and eating a couple of fried eggs with toast, while Glimmer waits by the coffee maker with her eyes half closed, munching on a bowl of yogurt and granola.

This had been a frequent occurrence since Adora and Catra’s relationship had taken off. With how little free time they had together between the pressures of work, school, and Adora’s soccer commitments, they were constantly working their schedules around each other to get any time together that they could. Catra had taken to driving Adora to practice after work, the dual purpose of giving them more time to spend together and saving Adora from having to endure the long bus ride into the city. Catra would then go to a cafe or the library to study until Adora got off work, but if Bow or Glimmer were home to let her in she would just hang out in the apartment until it was time to pick her up from practice. It was a routine that worked well for them, but sometimes Adora worried that it swung a little too far into her own interests.

She was happy when they were together, but when they were apart a weight settled in her stomach at the thought that Catra was the one putting all of the effort in, driving her to work and practice and their dates. It felt a lot like taking advantage of her, serving her own interests far too much. When she’d voiced those concerns though, Catra was quick to point out that she liked how domestic it felt to coordinate their schedules and work around each other. That wasn’t even to mention the instinctual pleasure she got when the same people over and over again saw her pull up to drop Adora off or pick her up, walking together with their hands held and kissing before parting for the day’s activities. She also pointed out that, logistically, letting Adora take the bus around and waiting for her just wasted time that they could be spending together.

It made Adora blush furiously when Catra pointed out all of the ways Adora put effort into their relationship as well; packing her messenger bag for her when she was up late studying and knew that the action would afford her a few extra minutes of sleep, sneaking open the bathroom door to replace Catra’s towel with a warm one she’d just taken out of the dryer. Not to mention that they’d exclusively spent nights at Adora’s apartment and not her house, because Adora didn’t want her to have to commute so far in the morning and late at night if she didn’t have to. The measure of what was meaningful in a relationship went beyond acts of service or tasks, and just because that was how Adora had learned to show affection didn’t mean that it was what Catra needed from her.

It was a reminder she needed, because she’d spent years with Ms. Weaver, wondering what more she could do to make her happy, knowing that the woman wanted proof of her dedication more than any silly emotional validation. It was something she struggled a lot with, understanding that anyone could want to do things for her just because, without wanting her to do anything for them in return.

“No, I have a group project I am working on in the library and Glimmer has to stay late to do some editing on one of the media lab computers. I don’t think either of us will be home before 9. Right babe?” Bow replies, looking up to glance at his girlfriend to confirm.

She nods, “Yeah and I might be later than that if it takes too long to render, why?”

“Oh, if you were home I was going to see if it was ok with you guys for Catrina to hang out here while I am at practice, but it's cool,” Adora says. Even though Catra had insisted that hanging out in the city while Adora was at practice was fine, and she was safe, it still made her nervous. Catra, sitting alone on campus into the evening as the sun began to set and the buildings became less and less populated, made her unsettled. She couldn’t protect her all the time, no matter how much she wished she could, from the dangers that lie in wait for a member of their community. She’d seen enough headlines. If she was better, had been there for the woman when they were in high school, she might have been able to stop whatever had happened to her. She was opening up, sharing that her coming out wasn’t received well by the people she thought were her friends, but that was all the information the woman had given her thus far. She also knew that being in public at all had its own anxieties that she could easily help alleviate if the other woman just agreed to hang out at her apartment instead. Combining that with the fact that with the changing weather, pressure systems more frequent as winter storms began to roll in, Catra had been getting worse headaches recently which certainly weren’t helped by the loud atmosphere of the coffee shop or the stuffy library.

“Glim?” Bow asks, standing from the table and backing into the hallway wiggling his hips and doing jazz hands. She nods, a smirk on her lips and a twinkle in her eye. She winks at Adora and follows.

Adora quirks an eyebrow, confused, but shrugs and goes about making her breakfast. She’d given up understanding their silent connection long ago. The weird nonverbal interaction they did and only referred to as ‘vibing, my dude’ was something that she accepted was just their thing, and she didn’t question it.

While they’re gone she takes stock of what she has in her cabinet in the corner, looking forlornly as she realizes that her bag of rice is nearly gone and her tube of oats only has one serving left. She usually had two for breakfast, delaying lunch if it could hold her over until later in the day. Then she might have a chance of skipping dinner and shaving the cost of an entire meal off of her day. But it looked like she’d have to add a little extra peanut butter to it and hope it held her over today. She’d run out of more traditional protein sources earlier this week, the store not having anything really on sale, but seitan was easy to make and vital wheat gluten was only a few dollars a bag. Pay day was this Friday, and grocery shopping would have to wait until the end of the week. Sometimes it took all of her self control not to break into her threadbare savings, the money left over from her tuition scholarship that she had sworn to reserve for when she graduated and really needed it, to pay for groceries. Luckily being on a sports team at a top research university meant she got free containers of protein and carb powders and could supplement with that when her cabinet started to get empty. The Student Union had a co-op with free meals for students who didn’t have much money, but she felt guilty asking for free food when she didn’t even pay her own tuition. There were students who really needed that service, and she didn’t want to take advantage of a system that she didn’t need, that wasn’t for her.

She’s jolted from her thoughts by footsteps shuffling back down the hall and snaps the cabinet closed, knowing that Bow and Glimmer had promised not to look in it but wouldn’t be able to ignore how empty it got toward the end of the pay period if they saw. It was a battle every time they saw how few groceries she bought and the last thing she needed was their pity or their charity. They’d gotten their parents involved once, and the hurt in their eyes as she practically ignored them for a week still haunted her. They didn’t know that she wasn’t mad at them, she was ashamed of herself for letting them see and just couldn’t bring herself to face them when she was certain that the second she made eye contact she’d break down. They round the corner into the kitchen and see her standing there, a suspiciously small bowl of oats in her hand, getting ready to put them in the microwave for her breakfast.

“So! Bow and I talked,” Glimmer starts, trailing off, bouncing on her toes excitedly. She looks at him and their eyes connect, both of them giggling.

“And we wanted to tell you,” He continues, building the anticipation with a taunting that makes her smile back.

They’re both so cute when they’re excited like this.

“Yeah?” She prompts, grinning.

“If you’re not ready for it yet we get it, totally! Buuuuuut,” Glimmer meanders slowly through the next part of what is clearly their shared sentence. Maybe the braincell they’re sharing was buffering and that was why they were dragging this out so much, but she had a feeling they were taking their sweet time enjoying whatever this interaction was about to turn into.

“We have that spare key, and Glimmer and I are comfortable with it if you wanted to give it to Catrina,” Bow finally rushes out, unable to hold back the excitement any longer.

“Oh,” Adora is stunned.

She’d thought of it more than once on days like today, where she wanted Catra safe in her apartment, and wanted to spare her the boredom of waiting around even if she could occupy her time with homework. Their relationship wasn’t at a place yet where she was going to ask her to move in, that was pretty far down the road after some serious conversations with both her girlfriend and her two roommates, but for logistical reasons she’d wanted to give her a key for a while.

It was pure logistics, really.

***

The break room is as stuffy and loud as it always is, the charming laughter of the service desk associates who finally got to step away to complain about customers was echoing around the room, bouncing from wall to wall with their joyful retelling of their dumbest customers of the day.

“And THEN this man really told me that we should refund him for plumbing fittings he had USED and then CUT OFF of his drain pipe to bring back here!”

“Why would I give you a refund of the full price of an item when it says right on your receipt that you bought it at the sale price? They’re getting dumber by the minute, honestly. Don’t show me your receipt and then you can get store credit for the full price but nooooooo they really want money back in their pockets that they didn’t even spend here! I was down to give you store credit for the full price even though I knew you bought it on sale, but you went and ruined it.”

She truly felt bad for them because, while she was obligated to stay within the perimeter of the paint desk and the three aisles that made up her department, she was free to walk about the store as long as there weren’t any customers and she got her work done. She could go hours some nights without mixing so much as a paint sample, but the service desk was constantly taking in returns and the cashiers were working with every customer that walked through that door. That was why, though the lifting hurt her hip more some days, she was thankful that she didn’t work at the register or the service desk. It had brightened her work days considerably to go hang out behind the store while Adora drove around on the forklift, moving bundles of lumber and getting orders ready. The look of concentration she got, tongue slipping out as she focused on the controls, made her heart flutter.

Sure, she got her occasional customer who insisted that they were going to apply deck sealer when it was well below the recommended temperature or above the recommended humidity, but they usually discovered that it wasn’t as good of an idea as they thought it was after a few months. That was the advantage to working in paint, that a lot of mistakes were apparent immediately but a significant amount of mistakes didn’t reveal themselves until quite a while later, so the customer had plenty of time to forget who helped them.

She’d pretended not to know plenty of customers that came back into the store, having forgotten her face.

“Hey Catrina, can we talk for a sec?” She hears behind her, and she smiles at the timid softness in her voice. There wasn’t a single part of Adora she hadn’t fallen in love with, but the way she sounded so vulnerable just for her was something Catra found especially charming.

It all happened so fast, but with the floodgates opening that morning they hadn't slowed down and neither of them wanted to. It was nothing short of magical; this feeling of falling in love and being loved so much in return. It made Catra feel special to be loved by someone as passionate and enthusiastic as Adora, sure, but it also made her feel so normal. It made her feel normal to just be a woman who giggled when her partner did something sweet for her or when they went on dates and called them dates, or when they talked late into the night about the things they were afraid of and were met with absolutely no judgement.

She couldn’t describe how good it felt to just be two people in love, and it felt like she could abandon her baggage and just exist in this world where she wanted Adora, Adora wanted her back, and they got to love each other in a way those two misguided and scared children never could have imagined they could. It was still new, foreign to be this close to someone let alone have it be this person that had always meant so much to her, but she couldn’t hold back. The apprehension was thick at first, that same anxiety of doing something that would make them lose each other and it would be over before it really had a chance to begin.

The longer it went on, and the further their relationship got, the more she realized that it wouldn’t ever stop. Once again she finds herself thinking that it would be so much safer to slow down, to take it easier, but she was never good at controlling her emotions and these ones just let themselves out before she even knew it.

Her moms told her to embrace it, to let herself be in love with the idea and the action of falling in love, because falling in love for the first time was something she wouldn’t ever forget.

As if she could spend even a flicker, a fraction of a second, not embracing this feeling, the way Adora made her feel.

She finishes shoving in her bundled apron and clicking the lock shut and turns to face Adora, who is nervously wringing her hands together, picking at the skin around her nails. She’s leaning with a forearm against the wall next to her, stretching herself up. She looks so much bigger like this. She’s the same height, but she’s wider, taking up space that Catra finds impressive as well as arousing. Her flannel is rolled up past her elbows, the red and black checkers standing out against her pale skin and clinging to her biceps in a way that is borderline offensive. Sure, she’s completely dressed, but Catra thinks showing off her forearms like that is a direct attack on her personally, to her delicate sensibilities (and her drastically growing libido). Catra gulps down her arousal, trying to clear her mind of the thoughts that invaded when she saw Adora, let alone saw her looking at her like she is now.

“Hey, baby girl, whats up?” She says, grinning at the way Adora’s eyes glaze over for a second before shaking her head, like she’s trying not to get distracted.

“I was wondering….” Adora trails off, looking down with a smile so wide it probably makes her cheeks hurt and a deep blush covering her face, and it makes Catra smile softly at the way her girlfriend gets so bashful when she brings out the pet names. It isn’t the first time she’s been the cutest fucking person Catra has ever seen, and she doubts that it will be the last, but she still feels honored every time Adora lets herself open up like this.

“Yeah sweetheart?” Catra whispers, reaching a hand forward to drag the very tip of her index finger down a taught, muscular forearm. Adora shivers visibly, eyelids drooping at the action combined with Catra’s soft yet authoritative voice.

It’s not fair that Catra is pulling out all of the nicknames she uses on her when they’re alone, right here in the break room of their work place where it would be absolutely indecent to shove her against the wall and press their bodies close.

Adora gulps before looking up and holding out the jacket that hung over her shoulder.

“I know you’re coming to my last game tomorrow, the finals? I was wondering…. Well I was wondering if you’d want to wear my jacket? With… With my name stitched on the back?” She asks.

Catra shouldn’t have been surprised at the thought, because she had been going to a few of Adora’s games since they got together. They were always in the rec center, thousands of seats drowning her out, but Adora knowing she was there made all the difference. She still found herself blushing at the idea of wearing something of Adora’s. She wore her sweatshirts and flannels all the time, probably had more of Adora’s clothes in her possession than Adora had at this point, but the idea of wearing something with Adora’s name on it, the idea of identifying herself as Adora’s meant so much more to her. She was proud to be Adora’s, to give herself and her heart to her in the private of her apartment or the little bubbles they created in the library’s study rooms or the booths in the back of the cafe. It was another thing to have Adora be so proud to have her, so proud to be hers back, that she wanted Catra to wear her jacket with her number and last name on it. Adora wanted everyone who saw Catra all day to see the number ‘11’ and the last name ‘Grey’ and know that they belonged to each other.

It was possessive, and entirely self serving. Catra knew that it was because Adora wanted to stake her claim on her in front of anyone and everyone who might see her.

Adora knew that Catra would have wanted to claim her in the same way.

The whole ‘jock gives jacket to girlfriend' thing was vaguely reminiscent of a high school romance, though gay and trans people didn’t really get that sometimes. Certainly neither of them got the luxury of being kids experiencing their first loves, so now as adults it was as good a time as any.

Catra hadn’t dated before she came out, and while she was no stranger to dating and sex now, she found that more of her past partners were in it for the experimentation factor than because they liked her. They’d realize that her body didn’t live up to their fantasies of how it should work at the same time that she would realize that they were really only in it for the fetish of sleeping with a trans woman.

Adora stopped seeking romantic partners when one too many got frustrated that she wanted to leave her shirt on, and didn’t want to stick around to earn enough of her trust for her to tell them why. The fact that Catra was so understanding already was news to her.

That was the major difference and to them, what made it more special. It had the added magic of being something they could tell was permanent. They were both older and wiser than either of them could have dreamed of being back then, and though their experiences gained them an accelerated maturity that neither of them really asked for, it still lended itself to the cause of making their relationship stronger than it might have been. Neither doubted that the attraction would have been there if they’d reconnected when they were younger. They both knew that regardless of what happened their connection couldn’t be broken, but whether they would have grown into the same people who were compatible into their adulthoods was something they would never know. They had a chance to grow individually as people before coming together into a relationship.

Maybe they had to wait so that they could become better versions of themselves. Maybe if they met again in high school, Ms. Weaver’s toxicity would have flowed out of Adora and into Catra, ruining them both. Catra’s anger and hatred at herself and the people around her that she didn’t understand at the time, her tendency to lash out and seek to cause others the pain she felt, would have hurt Adora more than she deserved. Even if Adora stuck with her, she isn’t sure she would have wanted her to when she was like that. The blonde had always had a tendency to want to fix everything, to protect her, and while it wasn’t entirely unwelcome in their years together as children (though she never asked for it) Catra didn’t think she’d be able to handle Adora trying to solve her problems for her during the most difficult time in her life. Catra could tell by Glimmer and Bow’s passing comments about how different and how much better their friend’s mental health is now that Adora would not have been in a state to deal with the person that Catra was. She’d tried hard, worked on herself to get control of that rage and agony to harness into an outlet that was good for her, and she became someone she was far more proud of than the person she was. And now, with years of separation from Weaver, Catra could see that less and less of her toxic waste radiated out of Adora every day.

She was still there, her voice bouncing around in Adora’s head. Out of nowhere and seemingly with no discernable trigger, Adora would freeze, breath going shallow, and stare wide eyed at the wall with her jaw set tightly. Her grip would tighten around whatever part of her she was holding and Catra knew that she was hearing it again, fueling her insecurities with a cruelty she vowed to try her best to alleviate.

Catra would straddle her girlfriend’s waist, cradle her head in her hands close to her chest, and chase those thoughts away with whispered praise and kisses. She’d kiss her forehead and scratch at her scalp gently with her nails and stroke her thumbs over her cheeks, wiping away any wetness she found there. Adora’s hands would find her waist and grip her tightly, like she was afraid if she kept her eyes closed for too long the other woman would evaporate from her grasp as some sort of long term delusion she’d imagined in the recesses of her mind.

Good girl, I’ve got you She’d whisper over and over again, feeling the tension melt from Adora’s shoulders. The first time she’d said it, the words had slipped out unconsciously, instinctually. The unexpected response it garnered; the gasp and subtle moan, was enough for Catra to make it a regular phrase in her vocabulary. It filled Catra with pride in herself, that she could beat back the voice that plagued her girlfriend, protecting her from those dangerous and torturous thoughts.

While Weaver’s voice was loud, Catra made sure to be louder.

She narrows her eyes into nothing short of a smoulder that has Adora gulping as she steps up closer, wrapping her arms around Adora’s neck, and pressing her body flush with the taller woman’s. She tilts her head up to ghost her lips across Adora’s and the quiet gasp, the choked noise Adora makes, sets her alight with want. She presses her lips ever so softly to Adora’s before pulling away, arms sliding along strong shoulders and hands coming to cup her flushed cheeks.

“Of course, baby girl, I would love to,” Is what she says, though she isn’t sure if Adora even hears her with that hazy, far away look in her eyes.

She lets out another gasp and blinks, long and slow, willing her drooping eyelids to open further before reaching out to help Catra slide the jacket on over the sweater she was already wearing. She feels fuzzy, like her brain is padded with cotton balls and her ear drums were suffocated by foam plugs.

Catra smirks, “Thank you princess.”

The thoughts she’d managed to get back flew directly out the window.

Fuck me, focus

Once the jacket was secured around Catra’s shoulders, shoulder seams hanging down her arms making her remember just how much bigger and more muscular Adora is than her, they pulled away. Adora pulled on the jacket she brought for herself, a black sherpa lined denim jacket that looked a little too good with her flannel and boots, and they joined hands.

“Um, there is one more thing?” Now she looks genuinely nervous, like she’s about to say something a touch more unnerving.

“Yeah?” Catra reaches up to brush some sawdust off of her girlfriend’s head, tussling her hair and messing up her ponytail slightly. She laughs when Adora giggles and swats her hand away.

She stops short and shuffles her feet and its so fucking cute how small she looks, how shy she gets.

She flutters her eyelashes and bites her lip, and Catra willingly takes the bait, falling for it to placate her lover, “Just ask me baby girl.”

Adora fishes something out of the pocket of her jeans, dark and ripped at the knees and thighs to reveal the line of her quads underneath, and holds up a key. Catra’s eyes laser in on it and understanding washes over her.

“Do you want a key? So you can hang out at my apartment when I’m at practice, and Glimmer and Bow aren’t home? You don’t have to take it! I just thought it would be nice not to have to wait around on campus so late waiting for me. Plus I kind of… Well I want you to have it.”

Catra thanks the stars that this isn’t an invitation to move in yet, because she is worried that she would say ‘yes’ and even with the speed they’re moving it would be weird to ask so early. Right? She shouldn’t want to move in yet, she shouldn’t be so ready to take that key, walk into Adora’s apartment, and make it hers too. They were barrelling forward relentlessly, and she found herself unsure if she should throw on the brakes and calm herself down before she jumps ahead and never leaves.

She could throw on the brakes all she wanted, because brakes didn’t work when you’d jumped the track and were careening toward what you could only hope was your destination.

She finds her smile softening and her gaze going a little hazy at the idea that Adora trusted her like this, a whole new level of comfort with each other to give her the power to enter her apartment, her space, whenever she wanted.

“Glimmer and Bow are ok with this, right?” She asked, already reaching out a hand slowly, palm up. She got along well with her girlfriend’s roommates, and was finding herself enjoying their company when she was at the apartment with them.

Not that I’d ever admit it to them. Christ that would be annoying, I’d never hear the end of it

“Yeah. They actually brought it up, because ya know… I was way too scared to if we’re being honest. I didn’t know how to talk to them about it but they seemed to get annoyed by me constantly asking if they’d be home to let you in. Apparently we’re the ‘most hopeless of lesbians’ so they figured it was a good idea to bring it up. Plus they really like you.”

Catra barks out a laugh, offended and relieved by the other half of the BFS (their words, not hers) and their accusations.

Adora laughs back, dropping the key into Catra’s hand and folding her fingers around it before reaching down to take the other hand in hers to lead them out of the break room. Adora’s hand is larger, engulfing hers, fingers squeezing gently as they thread together. There are calluses on her palms from her hours at the store, but the backs still had a softness that, besides the bulging veins, reminded her of the way it felt to hold her hand when they were kids. Catra didn’t think there was anything more precious to her than those memories, but now she spent her time with her thoughts consumed by this older version of Adora, the one that was emotionally and physically scarred but still had a childlike wonder and excitement about her. She still wore her heart on her sleeve, and it was a beautiful thing to have the privilege of witnessing.

She could spend eternity like this, hands wound together, thinking about the woman she could now admit that she had missed more than words could describe.

She planned on spending as long as Adora wanted her, the rest of her life if she had anything to say about it, showing her how much she cherished her.

***

Something is different, in what Adora can only tell is a good way, when they lay in bed that night. It was all completely ordinary while they both studied for the finals that were quickly coming their way, made dinner in the tiny apartment kitchen, did the dishes, and sat back down to the kitchenette to study some more. They decided, well Catra decided, that after Adora’s third failed attempt to read through her notes without her swollen red eyes drooping shut that it was time for bed. They got ready together, brushing their teeth at the same time, elbowing each other out of the way half heartedly and giggling before taking turns spitting into the single sink in the bathroom. Catra changed clothes right there in the bedroom with Adora sitting on the bed setting her alarm for the morning, their alarm for the morning because even waking up was something they did together. She looked up to see Catra making eye contact with her while she took her shirt off, lacy black bra cradling two supple breasts that nearly gave Adora an aneurism, worsening when Catra would smirk and bring her arms together in front of herself, crossing her arms and grabbing her elbows low on her ribs, pushing her cleavage together. Adora couldn’t tear her eyes away as Catra hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her pants, matching black lace underwear peeking out as she teased her with the threat, the promise of more. She’d turn around, showing off the curve of her ass as she bent over to drag those jeans agonizingly slowly down her thighs and calves, arching her back as she pulled up her thin cotton sleep shorts and finally sent a heart stopping smirk over her shoulder at the stunned woman behind her. She pulled a thin tank top over her bra and laid back on the bed, an arm falling over her stomach and the other bent up to lay beside her head.

Before she can get too distracted, Adora walks to the outlet next to her window and plugs in the string of lights that borders her bedroom ceiling, casting a peaceful amber around the room. She turns back to Catra and sees her laying in bed, body glowing in the soft light.

She was a picture of perfection and if Adora didn’t know better she would swear that the other woman, laying in front of her like this, was pulled directly from her brain’s reservoir of deep and uncompromising desires. A tear forms at the corner of her eye at the overwhelming emotions that bombarded her relentlessly every time she so much as thought of the other woman, let alone got to look at her. She had to blink the tear away and sniff a little, pulling herself together enough to crawl up, agonizingly slowly, into bed next to her. One hand holds her up, so she’s laying against Catra, but with her upper body just far enough away to rake her gaze down her chest.

It struck Adora that this, being with Catra was the most natural thing she’d ever done, the most welcome she’d ever felt anywhere. Glimmer, Bow, and their families had welcomed her into their arms openly and lovingly but she’d never felt like it was real to them, meant as much to them, as it meant to her. She knew she shouldn’t feel that way, but at the same time she could just tell that with Catra it was different, in a good way, the best way.

So when they settle into bed, Adora scoots up next to Catra and places her hand on her waist, pulling her closer until their fronts are pressed together with Catra enveloped between Adora’s legs, one thrown over her and pinning her down. She’s just so comfortable like this, letting Adora cage her here in her warm and protective embrace. She can tell that this is what Adora needs, chasing a feeling deep down that demands to take what she wants, to take more. It fills Catra with a renewed sense of devotion, that Adora’s body needed her in a way that the blonde didn’t even need to admit.

Adora presses a kiss to the forehead in front of her, smiling at the soft sigh she hears, and says, “Hey kitty Cat?”

It makes Catra’s breathe catch, and she’s sighing out a response, “Yeah Princess? What’s on your mind baby girl?”

Which is entirely unfair, because Adora has tried so hard to be in charge in their more intimate moments but it really just was not happening for her.

All she has to do is call me one of her arsenal of pet names and I fold like a goddamn lawn chair

Catra thought it was endearing, how Adora tried so hard to be assertive only to drop suddenly into a ‘please take care of me now, thank you’ mindset as soon as Catra so much as looked at her.

It was fair, really. Adora had been in control of her entire life since she turned 18, making every financial and life decision that Catra admitted first hand that she couldn’t have made without her parent’s help. She had to do it all on her own, and the burden of having complete control with no safety net to fall back on was something that was weighing on her more and more. Glimmer and Bow reassured her that they would always be there, that their parents would be there to help her, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough to hear something like that when she was told over and over again that any kindness she received had to be earned. Whether she noticed it or admitted it to herself was another story, but Catra could tell the kind of uneasy air about her girlfriend when it came to things like dates or hobbies, things that didn’t have a financial gain attached to them but were worth it for the emotional impact they had on your life. Adora had trouble with all of it, letting herself do things that made herself happy. It wasn’t just money related either, because Catra could see every time Adora pulled out a textbook while she pulled out a sketchbook, that Adora desperately wanted an escape of some kind, an outlet to let herself feel and express herself. That outlet used to be soccer, but the second a Brightmoon recruiter came to one of her games, soccer became her ticket to college and a sports scholarship that would take care of her tuition. Then it was mathletes, but then she had to focus all of her effort into school and making sure that her academic scholarships could cover rent. Before she knew it not a single aspect of her life was for her anymore, just because she enjoyed it.

It just never felt like she was enough. But Catra had this way of making her feel like she was, and the other woman became her outlet, and this relationship was the one thing she let herself have just because it made her happy.

Adora feels Catra lean forward, kissing her neck right under her chin and down the column of exposed skin to her collar bone, biting gently. It earns another gasp and Adora’s fingers press further into her skin, indenting her flesh, with her hips jutting forward. She smiles against her throat when she feels nails digging further into her back.

Adora rolls Catra onto her back, kneeling between her legs so she’s wrapped around her, pressing forward until she’s flush with her girlfriend’s body. She feels every part of her pulsing with heat against her, and the fact that she is panting as hard as she is, that she’s as turned on as she is right now, makes her whimper. She runs her hands up and down Catra’s sides, from her hips caressing up her waist just under her breasts and then back down again, the motion filling Catra with want, with need, teasing her further and further. Their lips are sliding against each other and Catra finds herself biting Adora’s lower lip, sucking it between her teeth and then into her mouth entirely while she tugs harshly at her hair, fingers threaded with blonde locks.

Adora gasps, senses flooded with nothing but the sensation of Catra surrounding her, pulling her further and further in. There isn’t anything in the world besides the two of them cradling each other in a tight embrace with fingers pulling hair and nails biting flesh and she wouldn’t want to return to the rest of the world even if this was the last thing she was ever going to fucking do.

She tightens her grip, hands grabbing at Catra’s waist, and drags her arms toward herself so Catra’s back is arching up off of the bed just so Adora can show off her muscles and pull her even closer, impossibly closer. She’s never let herself want like this before, never let herself even imagine what it would feel like to have exactly what her heart, her body, had always needed, and it makes her gasp to think that Catra wants her in this same way.

She’s tugging and pulling Catra how she wants her, and feeling this in control makes her smirk to herself. The woman below her is desperate, clutching at her tightly.

Catra’s not the only one who can be in charge

Catra smirks, feeling the way Adora is grinding forward into her and grabbing her so tightly in her large hands. Her shoulders are firm, like her muscle is carved out of stone and her finger tips, her mouth, her body was the only substance on earth capable of eroding away at the wall the other woman put up. She took great pleasure in tugging Adora’s head by her hair to wherever she wanted her. She’d pull back, the blonde letting out a gasp and panting as she leaned forward to kiss and bite along her throat and collar bone. She’d pull Adora’s head to the side and shove her face into her own neck so she could feel Adora’s teeth against her. She arches her back up so her breasts press into Adora’s chest, against her throat, doing anything she can to carefully and calculatedly manipulate her girlfriend into giving in to her most basic desire, the desire she knows she has if she’d just let go and let herself have this.

It was all so much, and not enough. Adora slots herself between her legs and grips so tightly she doesn’t think even a crowbar could pry her from the woman below her. It strikes her suddenly that the reason it didn’t feel like enough, the reason she still felt so lost and so far from the other woman, was because it wasn’t enough. She needed her, needed more, and she wanted her.

She wanted it so fucking badly. She wanted Catra, wanted her body and to use it to bring herself pleasure but a deep, animalistic, feral part of herself wanted to bring Catra pleasure more than anything.

She just needs more, needs to touch her, to have her.

She pulls back a fraction of an inch to ghost her lips against the brunette’s whispering, “Can I take this off?” While she thumbs at the hem of her shirt.

Catra nods smirking, “There we go sweetheart. Go ahead baby.”

Adora’s eyes narrow and she hears an imaginary sheet of glass shattering when she realizes that Catra was teasing her. She was taunting her with her lips and hands and body just waiting for Adora to get the courage to ask for what she wanted, and she lets out a dramatic sigh that makes Catra giggle for even thinking for a second that being on top of Catra, physically positioning her body over hers, gave her any sort of power during this.

She was waiting, patiently, for Adora to ask for what she wanted, what she needed.

She was making Adora ask for it.

It makes her so fucking wet at the thought that this entire interaction was something Catra orchestrated, that she knew her so well that she could top her from below, letting Adora think she was in charge until she was ready to send that smirk her way and reveal that Adora had never been, nor ever would be, the one steering the ship.

It also occurs to her that she doesn’t want to be.

She wants Catra to have her, to take control and help her give herself what she had always been too afraid to ask for, what she never would have admitted she really needed. She wants Catra to see her, all of her; the fears and hopes and dreams and doubt and pain. She wants her to hold her tightly to herself and tell her that she’s a good girl, that she’s more than what she grew up thinking she was.

She finishes working Catra’s shirt over her head and even though she saw her without her shirt on already tonight, the sight of the black lace hugging her chest and the curve of her breasts makes her shake.

“You’re so fucking beautiful,” She whispers, bending down to fuse their mouths together. She can feel Catra’s pulse quickening against her lips as she places wet, open mouth kisses down her neck getting closer and closer to her chest. She’s shivering, nerves buzzing and tingling, every molecule awake and alive.

Catra’s groan as she finds a spot on her neck to nibble is obscene and she smiles as she places a slightly harsher bite on her shoulder, sucking briefly and running her tongue over it to trail kisses down the center of her chest. She tilts her head forward to press her forehead on Catra’s sternum and takes a second to try to calm her breathing, biting back another shudder.

Catra cups the sides of her head and pulls her up to connect their eyes, concern shining through the haze of pleasure.

“What is it baby girl? What’s wrong?” She asks.

Adora lets out a sob, a real honest to god sob and says, “I just love you so much.”

It makes Catra gasp, breath catching in her throat as tears well up in the corners of her own eyes.

“I love you too, sweet girl. Now, come here,” She says, pulling Adora up to connect their lips again. She has a feeling that this vulnerability, this overwhelming emotion, is stronger than anything Adora had let herself feel before.

There was only one way to deal with that, though, so she pushes on Adora’s shoulder until she’s rolling over and Catra is on top of her. She ‘s straddling her girlfriend now, keeping her held between her legs in that comforting cage so she can feel soft and protected and covered as she lays back on the fluffy pillows below her. Catra looks down at her and the twinkle returns to grey-blue eyes, flickering in the soft amber of the string of Christmas lights. Adora’s lips are swollen from every bite and kiss, from smashing her mouth into every part of Catra’s body that she could have, and it compliments the rosey dust on her cheeks and the swollen redness of her eyes from her emotional response. She’s breathing hard, chest rising and falling as she pants through her parted lips.

God, she’s fucking perfect

Adora’s bashfulness returns and she doesn’t really know what to do with her hands, what Catra wants her to do with them, so the brunette woman grabs her hands and places them on her waist, skin connecting with skin making them both shiver, and her hands instantly tighten to pull her closer.

It feels so good, and Catra can’t remember the last time if ever, that she had a partner that really cared enough to touch her the way she wanted them to. She knew it wasn’t really fair to expect anything when her and Adora hadn’t really talked, but so many people had been afraid of touching her wrong and ended up not touching her at all. It was almost worse than being touched in a way she didn’t like, because at least that meant that her partner wasn’t afraid, wasn’t out of sorts when it came to touching. It made her feel beautiful, that Adora just had this desire to touch her, to have her hands on her, and if she needed to be steered in the right direction a few times that was nothing compared to the feeling of not being wanted. It made her feel like her body was beautiful, like she was someone to be desired and loved instead of her body stopping someone from wanting her.

And she’d wanted Adora for a while feeling like she might not want her back.

But with Adora like this, crying at the sight of her and not being able to stop kissing her for even a second, it felt like she was finally with someone who really appreciated that she was the woman that she knew she was.

She decides that Adora’s exploration was enough for now, because she’d been waiting to touch her girlfriend for the entire night, and her patience was wearing very thin. She was content to coax Adora into giving in to herself and asking for what she’d wanted, but now it was go time because she’d had to see Adora in that flannel, rounded shoulders and biceps nearly tearing the sleeves while her veiny forearms were just out there exposed, all fucking day through work and the drive to campus.

She’d be hailed a saint, her patience unheard of and unparalleled.

But she could only feel Adora’s hands on her for so long without touching her back just as hard.

She leans down and connects their lips, pulling Adora’s bottom lip into her own with a gentleness that Adora really wasn’t expecting, but makes her whimper anyway.

Because, while she wanted Adora to let go and give in to what she wanted, she knew that Adora needed something much softer, much more caring. She wanted to give that to her, to treat her like she was the most precious person in the world, a string of silk or a strand of spun sugar crystals. So she keeps kissing her with soft, languid drags of her lips against the blonde’s and feels her melt below her further into the mattress, her breathing evening into deep, needy breaths, that have Catra smiling into the kiss and she can feel Adora’s lips turning upward to smile back. Catra’s hands roam freely over Adora’s body, though she avoids her chest. It doesn’t take a genius to see that she isn’t very in touch with that part of her body, so she moves her hands to Adora’s sides when it's time to trail them up, avoiding her breasts and coming up to just below her armpit before circling to the front of her chest again.

Adora’s brain retreats into that hazy, clouded embrace, as she lets herself relax away from the anxiety of finally going this far, finally letting someone touch her intimately. Catra had seen through her fears and was lulling her into that very real place of security and safety with the motion of her hands. It doesn't go unnoticed by Adora that she doesn’t even need to tell her lover to avoid her breasts. It wasn’t really a secret, and they spent enough time together that she had to know something, though the blonde hadn’t shared with her what exactly the problem was. She still didn't really plan to, and tried to ignore that eventually she would have to confront the issue if they kept being intimate, if they went further.

Adora’s hands haven’t let go, but they have loosened and begun trailing up and down Catra’s torso, smooth skin warm beneath her fingers. Her finger tips are teasing along the edge of her bra, but she isn’t pushing to go any further. Catra peels herself up so she’s sitting up again and cups Adora’s cheek in her hand, staring into those drooping, hazy eyes that she loves so much, had loved for so long.

“You ok there sweetheart?” She asks.

Adora brings her hand up to hold Catra’s to her face and sighs, closing her eyes in a long blink before opening them again.

“Yeah,” She whispers out, sounding so small and timid.

It makes Catra throb in her underwear and she bites her lip.

“What do you want, Adora?” She asks.

Adora shrugs, though Catra has a feeling it’s more because she doesn’t want to talk at all than she doesn’t know what she wants.

“Do you want to stop?” She asks.

“No,” Adora replies, continuing the motion of her hand up and down Catra’s side. She’ll occasionally stop to pinch her side, a mischievous glint in her eyes, and Catra can tell that whatever mood she’s in right now she’s absolutely fine to continue.

“You’ll tell me if you do though, right?” She asks, needing to make sure that Adora knew she didn’t have to be in this just for her if she didn’t want to continue.

“Ok,” Comes her sigh, but Catra needs her to pay a little more attention than that.

“Say it for me, baby,” She says, authoritative and soft at the same time in a tone that makes Adora shiver again, whimpering.

“I’ll tell you if I need to stop,” She says, voice cracking at the end accompanied by a squeeze that Catra hopes leaves finger shaped bruises on her hips.

Her smirk is almost predatory, and it makes Adora feel even more exposed and vulnerable in a way she didn’t know she wanted when she says, “That’s my good girl.”

Adora is so beyond wet right now that her underwear is probably ruined but she can’t help the flood that hits her each and every time Catra is like this with her.

She just feels so privileged to be loved like this, to have Catra read her like a fucking book and treat her like she’s so special. She didn’t know she wanted, needed, this much softness and care until Catra started giving it to her and now it feels like she could suffocate without it. She feels warm and safe and it isn’t a feeling she’s ever really had before. She’d had friends who tried to make her feel as loved as she needed but she hadn’t ever had the chance to feel like she was someone’s entire world, at least not until now.

She tricked me so hard and I’m not mad about it if she keeps talking to me like she couldn’t possibly love anyone more.

Catra leans back down to kiss her and the flames are fanned dramatically, and suddenly they’re back in that heated kiss with their roaming hands. Gasps and pants fill the room again and every so often Catra will think that Adora was just a little too quiet for a little too long and bite down on her bottom lip or her neck and get the most obscene whine she has ever heard another person make.

Adora runs her hands up, palms spread, and cups the under sides of Catra’s breasts just under her bra and this time she finally asks for what she now knows Catra is making her ask for.

“Can I take this off?” She peeks out through her eyelashes and sees that Catra is lost in the feeling of Adora touching her and she nods.

“Yes, baby, please fucking take it off,” she groans out, and its only now that Adora notices the dampness on the front of Catra’s shorts, the way she’s grinding down onto her stomach, and she’s on fucking fire with how much she needs to make Catra feel good.

Adora sits herself up against the headboard so she isn’t laying down anymore and stares into Catra’s eyes as she reaches around and unhooks her bra, pulling it away to reveal a pair of breasts that Adora swears are the most beautiful sight she’s ever seen.

She doesn’t waste any time and leans forward, but before she does anything more she asks, “Can I touch them? I… I know they can be sensitive sometimes and-”

“Touch them how you want, princess,” Catra interrupts her and moves a hand to the back of her head to card her fingers into blonde locks. She pulls Adora’s head forward, knowing what she really wants, and gasps, grinding her hips against Adora’s stomach again when she feels lips close around her nipple.

It’s astounding what Adora is capable of doing with her tongue, and the feeling of the lips and tongue against her while one hand comes up to cup her other breast is almost enough to destroy her as she loses herself to the feeling of Adora absolutely worshipping her.

Adora can’t hear anything but Catra’s gasps and groans; can’t feel anything but her skin beneath her hands and her pulse hammering beneath that soft skin; can’t smell anything but the salty tint of sweat through her lavender scented soap. Adora is just gone and all that is left of her is the part that is fused with Catra’s very cells as she uses her mouth and hands to bring her lover the pleasure she so desperately longs to give her. She strokes and bites, licks and squeezes and Catra becomes putty in her hands though she somehow still just always knows that Adora needs her to be strong and sturdy for her.

Adora wants to give her everything, make her feel pleasure and satisfaction and love.

So she moves a hand down along Catra’s stomach, the soft skin there giving easily under her fingers and stops when she reaches the waistband of her shorts. She feels Catra shiver and runs her fingers horizontally, pushing her fingers just under the lace of her underwear and she stops moving down, but continues stroking. Side to side her knuckles rub against her stomach.

“Can I?” She trails off, hoping Catra would fill in the blanks for her.

“Can you what, princess?” She hears Catra say.

She groans and rolls her eyes, but feels Catra pinch her shoulder like she knows the attitude she’s receiving and she looks up into her eyes to look at her properly.

“Can I touch you?” She asks.

Apparently it’s still not what Catra wants to hear because the smirk she gets nearly annihilates her.

“Can you touch me, what?” Her tone is breathy and a little mocking now and Adora at once wants to be good for her and ask, and find out what happens if she isn’t good, if she pushes back.

“Can I touch you please?” She grinds out, pushing her hips up to tease Catra back.

She just chuckles and says, “Yeah baby girl, you can touch me.”

Catra’s drunk with the power she has, the control she has, the way Adora just gives it to her. The blonde was afloat in a sea of raw emotion and the only thing tethering her to reality was Catra’s presence, steady and commanding. It makes Catra feel even more special that Adora put so much faith, so much trust in her.

Adora doesn’t say anything about the teasing because she finally gets what she wants, and runs her hand under Catra’s underwear to touch her properly.

She strokes her fingers slowly along her length and decides now is as good a time as any, probably the best time actually, to talk about it.

“So what do you call this little lady right here?” She asks, and appreciates the snort Catra gives her, knowing that if she gets her to laugh she’s done something right.

“‘Little lady’? What are you a cowboy?” She says. The way Adora asked, the way she stroked her gently and asked her that question instead of assuming is everything she wishes she got from partners before.

“You’ve yee’d your last haw pardner,” Is Adora’s response, and it has Catra cackling.

Fuck me I didn’t know sex was supposed to be this fun

“It changes. Sometimes I… I call it my ‘clit,’ and sometimes I don’t call it anything. It really just depends how I feel,” She responds, thinking for a second before saying, “I guess ‘clit’ is anatomically more accurate but sometimes it feels strange.”

Adora nods, continuing her stroking, running her thumb along the underside up and down.

“What do you think today?”

“My clit,” She whispers, like she’s saying something weird or dirty.

Adora doesn’t make her feel that way, doesn’t make her feel like she’s wrong or gross or anything just because of her body, but it's still instinct to whisper the response like she has something to hide. However, the way Adora talks to her now, the way she looks at her, makes her think that maybe she didn’t need to hide for so long. Maybe she just needed the right partner.

It turns out that Adora is the right partner, apparently.

Adora keeps kissing her neck, open mouthed kisses, firm wet pecks, and bites that drive her crazy while she shifts from rubbing the sides to cupping her in her hand and rubbing the underside with her thumb. She continues her stroking, teasing and building while Catra holds her close and jogs her hips against her hand. Adora takes a chance to try something and shifts her knee up to help Catra ride against her, making contact with the space under her and stimulating her more.

It’s insane, the throbbing she feels, the heat and need she has as she unconsciously moves her hips in time with Adora’s gentle, light strokes.

It’s almost enough, just shy of enough, and while the precum she’d leaked out was enough to help Adora glide along her soft clit she feels her entire body go rigid when those same fingers release her and she pulls back to watch as Adora looks her in the eye and takes her fingers into her mouth, sucking them in and running her tongue around them.

Catra just watches, overtaken by desire and need as Adora fucks her own mouth slowly with her fingers, thrusting them in and out agonizingly slowly.

When she thinks her fingers are wet enough, or she thinks she’s spent enough time with her hand in her mouth and wants to get it back into Catra’s pants, she withdraws her hand and moves back down to enter her underwear again. She holds Catra’s clit against her and uses her wet fingers to rub up and down the underside, swirling over the head and back down again.

It feels like torture, to be so close and have Adora be so perfect but not to have cum yet, and she risks something she isn’t sure if Adora is ready for.

“Can I do something?” She asks, and Adora looks at her with an eyebrow raised.

“Of course,” She responds.

Catra snakes her hand down and reaches behind the flesh that hangs there to push her fingers against her sensitive skin, feeling for the rings hidden there and pushing her fingers up until she feels them pushing past and into the canals.

She places her other hand on Adora’s abdomen, feeling the rigid muscles, just above her own pants. She drags her nails down, scratching five red lines into the skin and making Adora shiver.

“Can I touch you too baby?”

Adora nods quickly and her eyes snap shut, fingers faltering for just a moment on Catra’s clit when she feels a smaller hand reach her own.

Catra teases up and down Adora’s soaked slit, shuddering at how wet she is for her, before bringing her hand up to rub circles on her clit with two fingers.

She chuckles, a dark edge to her voice, “All this for me princess?”

Adora chokes

It’s everything she had ever wanted.

If this was the only way they ever touched each other for the rest of their lives, Adora would die the happiest she was capable of being. Catra’s hands on her, fingers rubbing her like that in a smooth and quick rhythm combined with the visual of Catra fucking herself while Adora’s hand rubs her as well is quickly bringing her closer to her release.

It’s embarrassingly fast, she thinks for a second, before she realizes that it doesn’t matter and she doesn’t care, as long as Catra keeps touching her and she gets to keep touching Catra.

“Fuck baby girl you’re so good for me, just keep rubbing my clit like that,” She pants out, letting Adora watch in awe as she rubs her fingers over the head and Catra fucks herself while tightening and speeding up her circles on Adora’s clit.

Adora rubs faster, leaning forward and whispering in her ear, “You’re so fucking beautiful kitten, I love you so much.”

It’s all Catra needs to come, leaking out over Adora’s hand and into her underwear as she pulses and throbs in both of their hands. She lets her head rest against Adora’s shoulder, while she moves her hips forward and back in short little motions to ride out the rest of her orgasm. She rubs Adora’s clit harder, pressing a little more firmly as she feels Adora’s pulse beneath her fingers. She keeps up that same motion, rocking her hips forward and back while she keeps up the rubbing of her fingers on wet and silky flesh, the softest thing she’s ever felt, and she too leans forward to breath praise into her partner’s ear.

“That’s a good girl baby. What do you want?” She asks.

That’s not fucking fair at all Adora thinks to herself, and manages to stutter out half of a coherent thought.

“I want… ah… need to…”

Catra takes pity on her and decides that, yeah ok maybe it wasn’t fair to ask when she’s like this.

“Do you want to come for me princess?”

Adora nods frantically, and Catra smirks that her question was exactly what Adora was waiting for.

“Then come for me sweet girl. Be good for me and come,” She whispers as she licks along the shell of Adora’s ear, taking it in her mouth to bite down.

Adora comes with a sob, shaking and holding Catra close to her.

They stay there, motionless, and drink in the sight of each other.

Adora looks at Catra’s eyes blown wide with cum on the part of her hand she can see from where it still rests below her waistband.

Catra stares at Adora’s flushed skin with her hand still hidden below her underwear.

She’s worried about a lot of things; if Adora saw her hand, if she even knew what she was doing, if she wanted to do it herself, if she was grossed out by it. All she sees is unparalleled, unadulterated love and adoration in her partners eyes.

“I love you,” Adora repeats, leaning forward to peck a kiss to her lips.

Her eyes are alight with curiosity and she knows she’s got a question, but she’s too nervous to be the one to bring it up.

“I love you too baby.”

She kisses her once more, and Catra shoots her a sideways smile, “What’s on your mind sweetheart?”

Adora’s blush returns, not like she’d just given her an orgasm for the books, one for the ages really, and waits patiently for her to collect her thoughts.

“I… god I don’t know how to ask this but like… I read about what you just did in a book and I wanted to know if I could try it some time?”

Catra is absolutely stunned.

A book? She read a book?

She bursts out laughing.

“You read a book for me?”

Adora’s face looks like it erupted in flames.

“Well...yeah! I wanted to see what you’d like and I know we should really talk about it but I didn’t want to mess something up so I got an ebook? It was just to study some things! I wasn’t going to like, use it like it was the bible or anything. I just thought it might be nice to know a few things before I went in all cocky acting like I knew shit when I didn't.” She’s so nervous again, and Catra can’t fathom what she thinks she has to be nervous about when Catra’s the one with the anatomy that no one ever knows what to do with, but she doesn’t want to fuel her embarrassment just yet.

“Ok so we're going to have a talk about both of our limits, and then we can look over this book and test out what you've learned,” Catra responds, using a finger to brush a stray lock of hair out of Adora’s bright eyes.

It really is incredibly sweet, how she’s so geared up to learn about how to please her, learn what she would like and wouldn’t like in bed.

Adora turns over and reaches for something under her bed and in her excitement she nearly throws Catra off of her, in spite of the fact that one of her hands is still sitting in Catra’s underwear covered in cum.

“Hey woah! Don’t toss me on the floor, jesus. Maybe we should get cleaned up before you start a wrestling match?” She laughs out.

“Oh, sorry! I just… I have it under my bed and I got excited.”

That makes Catra tilt her head to the side, “Under your bed? I thought you had an ebook?”

“Well it was an ebook… Until I printed it.”

“Why would you print an ebook?”

“How else am I supposed to highlight it?"

Catra stares at her, eyes wide and mouth open, because she really doesn’t know what to say to that.

She’s such a fucking nerd. Holy shit how did I fall in love with an absolute dork?

The real question is, how could she not?

They get up and try to be quiet so as not to wake Bow and Glimmer as they creep to the bathroom, grabbing wash cloths to clean themselves up, to clean each other up, and returning to Adora's room so they can both change underwear and get in bed.

Adora lays on her back and opens her arms in an invitation, one Catra gladly takes as she folds herself into her side.

They wind themselves together, folding limbs until they’re one.

For this moment, laying in the comfort of Adora’s home, wrapped in each other’s arms, they’re the most at peace they’ve ever been. They’re the most loved they’ve ever felt.

Chapter Text

Catra pulls Adora’s sweater tighter around herself as she watches the red block numbers on the LCD display continue their countdown, letting herself zone out for the remaining minute and a half that the gallon would be in the shaker. She plays absentmindedly with a fraying seam along the cuff and takes in the comforting yet faint aroma that was distinctly Adora. The customer she was working with had disappeared down an aisle to grab a few roller covers, and she’s blessed with a silence that is greatly appreciated from the aching in her head. Once the gallon is out of the shaker she sets it on the desk and retreats down an aisle, the towering shelving units providing some sort of barrier against the elements. The paint desk was right next to the front door, which meant that her sinuses fell victim to the intense dry heat coming from the overhead heaters only to be blown away by a gust of frigid winter air every time the door opened. It left her in a state of sweating and shivering that fueled her exhaustion. The only good thing about it was that the heat helped loosen some of the stiffness in her hip.

Her shift is about halfway over, and she’d returned from her lunch break just a half hour ago in a less than stellar mood. She’d been growing more and more worried about her girlfriend the more her eyes were opened to Adora’s behavior. The text she’d gotten during the first half of her shift soured her already lackluster disposition.

Adora: Hey, go ahead to lunch without me. I’m going to work through because we’re understaffed.

Catra: They’re making you work through lunch?

Adora: Well no they told me I didn’t have to. I’m just not really hungry and think I’d rather have that extra hour of pay. I’ll eat when we get home!

Things like this have been happening more and more often. The extra hours at work were the first red flag, but not even the biggest in a long list of them that revealed more and more to Catra just how deeply Adora’s self worth issues ran. She knew why Adora was like this, why she acted like she was fine when she wasn’t and why she clearly didn’t think her problems were worth addressing. Catra had been spending every day since they got together trying to chase those thoughts away and while it was successful in the moment she didn’t know how to help Adora beyond that. She was filled with a deep sense of dread as she unearthed more and more of the coping mechanisms Adora had come up with to deal with the way she had been feeling for what she could only assume was her entire life.

Between work, class, and soccer, she was on the way to becoming burnt out beyond repair and it scared Catra more than anything else had. She’d schedule every moment of her day down to the minute and Catra realized that Adora didn’t have time for anything other than her commitments. She’d tried to talk to her about her hobbies and interests, things she did that she enjoyed, but Adora shied away from the conversation like it was the plague. Adora didn’t even take time for herself, and the realization of just how much of herself she was giving away without any regard for her health was deeply unsettling. The number of times Catra returned to the apartment to sleep alone because Adora decided she was taking the offer of an overnight stocking shift was far too high. Her heavy course load was the only thing stopping it most of the time, but when the semester ended and she was bumped up to full time hours while she took her online winter classes it would continue to be a problem.

All she knows is that the bags that were ever present under Adora’s eyes in at least some capacity are the worst she’s ever seen. She was practically falling over herself as she got dressed for work, exhaustion making her dizzy. She’d fallen asleep on the ride in, and Catra just let her snooze in the passenger seat, jolting herself awake and wincing when she realized she’d nodded off. Catra kept her eyes trained on the road, gripping Adora’s hand in hers and the steering wheel with the other. The truth was that she hadn’t gotten much sleep either, because she could feel Adora coughing, tossing, and turning in bed next to her all night. While she’d reached out a hand more than once to grip her arm in a way she hoped was comforting, and it calmed her girlfriend for a few moments, it wasn’t long before she was restless and uncomfortable again.

What was scarier than the packed schedule and the sleepless nights was that the cough she normally tried to hide had turned into a deep wheeze. Catra doesn’t know how much longer she can ask her if she’s ok just to get a lie back, without bringing up that interrupting her sleep and making her sick made it a clear problem. She had slept next to Adora with their bodies pressed close often enough to know that her girlfriend no longer took her sports bra off when she went to bed. She’d taken it off the first few times that they’d slept next to each other but she’d always curl in on herself. When she realized what it felt like to intertwine herself with her girlfriend, she’d taken to keeping it on. Whether it was because she didn’t want to feel her breasts herself, because she didn’t want Catra to feel them, or a combination of the two, was still something Catra hadn’t yet figured out. It had to be the same reason she always kept her shirt on when they made love to each other, but she’d never wanted to push enough to ask before. She didn’t really understand the connection, just that there was one. Catra wasn’t a stranger to the way a sports bra, depending on the fit, could either help back pain or make it worse, but she had never personally felt like it affected her breathing. Whatever the real situation was, the entire thing was delicate, and confronting it before Adora was ready to take that step could damage what they had between them. Their connection wasn’t fragile by any means, but Catra wanted to avoid doing something that would hurt Adora at all costs. If it was gender related, she wanted to give Adora the chance to control her own coming out. She knew how it felt to have that control ripped away from you and she didn’t want Adora to have a single thing pressuring her if she could avoid it.

She was impatient, and in an attempt not to have that be a detriment to the situation it took all of her self control not to bring it up. Someone doesn’t get better, no matter how much you wanted them to, if they didn’t see that they were hurting. They also didn’t get better if they didn’t think they deserved it. Whatever had happened, whatever Weaver had been telling her for years after Catra had to leave, was enough to make her think she just wasn’t worth getting better. Catra had been trying her hardest to fight those demons for her, but the longer this went on the more she realized that Adora needed more.

She feels tears sting at her eyes when she sees Adora walking by to fill up her water bottle at the cooler behind the service desk and she can’t even look at Catra. That was new, because she’d give her a goofy smile and a wave every time she walked by, and not even bringing herself to look at her girlfriend was a sign that she knew that Catra was noticing all of the things she kept hidden behind those walls that she’d put up a long time ago. And while Adora wouldn’t look at Catra, that didn’t mean Catra couldn’t see her anyway; see her hands shaking while she screwed the cap back on the bottle or the way her shoulders were hunched and she was almost bent over. Catra noticed that Adora was still wearing her sweatshirt and her coat over her apron, and she normally ran way too hot to wear either layer when she was at work.

Catra saw how tired, how exhausted she was.

Catra saw how much pain she was in.

Catra saw how sad she was.

That was the most painful part to witness; the way that Adora would just stare at the ceiling, or look at herself in the mirror, or gaze with eyes unfocused while she thumbed the corner of a page in her textbook. Her mouth would pull down into a frown, the deep kind that pulled the corners of her lips further and further toward her chin. She’d just sit there silently, deflating further as she grew more and more out of it. Catra could practically feel the way Adora would shrink into herself, withdrawing to protect herself from the world around her, to protect herself from her own emotions.

That was to say, Adora was dissociating hard core, and Catra knew exactly how that felt. She couldn’t even stop it from happening to herself on her worst dysphoria days, and knew that there was less she could do to alleviate the feeling when it came to the complex tapestry of trauma that wove itself through her girlfriend. Adora wasn’t doing anything to help herself, but maybe that was because she didn’t know how. She’d been forced to take the lessons she learned growing up and combined them with the dangerous coping mechanisms she’d taught herself. This is where she ended up; a person afraid and in pain with a desire beyond words to be good enough.

Adora wouldn’t ever think she was good enough, because she didn’t know that she already was.

Catra hadn’t wanted to be the one to force Adora into giving away more than she was already willing to, but the situation had evolved. It had taken a dangerous turn and she feared how much further it would go before Adora would even say anything. Something had to change, and she wasn’t going to wait around for Adora to come to her about these issues because she knew that Adora planned on suppressing all of them for as long as she could. She needed a nudge in the right direction, because it was clear that she didn’t know how to start helping herself.

Normally Catra didn’t claim to know what the right direction was, having been self destructive and downright manipulative at times in her past. She had been an angry person and tried her best to hurt those around her and herself so she wouldn’t have to deal with the root of the problems. After the incident she didn’t trust a single other person, even those that proved themselves to be trustworthy. She liked to think she was better now, a better person who knew that she used to be toxic to be around, but she only learned that through working on herself. She only learned that because she finally, skeptically, sought help.

With that, Catra turns to her supervisor and asks to leave early, because she knows what she has to do. She’ll be back in time to pick Adora up from her shift and she’ll be none the wiser. She plans on taking her home, feeding her a real, decent meal, and putting her to bed so she can start to catch up on the rest she had been denying herself. Then tomorrow, she’d convince her to call out of work and skip her practice so she can relax. It wouldn’t be hard to give an excuse because there were plenty. Finals were the following week and she needed to study, and she was legitimately sick if she wanted to go that route for her explanation. She knew that once Adora allowed herself to start getting the rest she needed, once the floodgates were opened, the exhaustion barreling through wouldn’t stop until she’d recovered almost entirely.

She gave me access to her google calendar. If she thought I wouldn't notice that all of the practices after the season ended were labelled 'optional' by her coach, she is drastically mistaken. I have seen every episode of Case Closed, and there is no mystery I cannot solve.

She pulls out of the parking lot and heads in the direction of the grocery store to pick up a few things before going to Adora’s apartment to start dinner. She goes for the slow cooker because there were still a few hours before she would have to go back to pick her up, and she wanted to spend that time cleaning. She’d seen ‘clean’ on Adora’s schedule for tonight, and there was no way she was going to let her girlfriend walk around in pain all day just to do more work when she got home. The apartment’s three official tenants had stopped her every time they saw her trying to help clean, but personally she thought that spending over half of her nights here pushed her far past just being a regular guest, and none of them were here to stop her.

If I'm not going to break in, clean her apartment, and make dinner for my hot silly girlfriend, then what is the point of me having a key?

She had to make Adora realize, one way or another, that she was worth far more than what she could give to other people.

And even if she was only worth that much? It didn’t matter. Because she gave Catra everything. So she deserved everything back.

***

The morning sun is starting to peek through the shades, dramatic angle and soft edges betraying how early it must be. It takes her a moment to gather her thoughts, to wake up fully in the soft mattress and warm blankets. Her plan had partially worked, being that Adora didn’t fight the urge to eat the dinner she made for her, snuggle up with the unicorn squishmallow she had thrust into her arms upon entering the bedroom, and went to sleep without trying to help clean or study. Her lack of fight when she would ordinarily have protested was concerning as well, and gave away just how tired she was. Catra hadn’t brought up the rest of her plan, because it was clear that it would just be too much for her to process that evening. Instead she had waited until Adora fell asleep against her, clutching the stuffed animal to her chest and snuggling her head into Catra’s neck. She took her phone, which she gave me the password to, by the way, and there were now three drafts waiting in Adora’s email. All she had to do was read over them and send them.

One to her coach.

One to her supervisor.

One to the campus counseling center.

Concern grips her when she hears the gasping and coughing next to her. She turns over to face Adora, and is met with the sight of her sitting up, clutching a hand to her chest and trying desperately to breathe.

She sits up, kneeling next to her and rubbing her back.

“Hey, hey Adora? It’s ok, alright? Just breathe for me,” Catra tries, hoping to get her to calm down. The coughing doesn’t stop, still shaking her violently, but her breathing gets slightly more regular while the motion and soothing voice ground her. She’s adrift in a fog of pain and fear, floating in that space between earth and hell, where she can feel her soul start to catch fire and her nerves go cold. Dread settles in her stomach as she realizes that she’s been caught, a secret she’d been keeping for over a year was being revealed and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Catra just keeps rubbing her back, fighting away the remnants of sleep as she tries to piece together what is wrong. Then she feels it. Her hand pauses it’s motion, and the color drains from her face when she feels what she can only assume is at least one, but most likely two, very tight bras cutting into Adora’s back. It’s the first time she feels the way they indent the skin around it, and she’s nauseated that she’d never noticed it before.

“Adora? Is it your bra? Is it too tight?” She asks, her hand coming up to cup Adora’s chin and turn her head slightly to look at her. What she sees just makes her so sad and her heart pulls at the look of desperation. Adora’s eyes are so full of shame, and a tear runs down her face. She looks like she could break apart, was breaking apart this very moment, from the weight of all of her insecurities and fears compounding into a morning when she woke up unable to breathe and couldn’t ignore them anymore. She squeezes her eyes shut, a sob wracking her frame, and nods.

“Yeah I... I didn’t take them off last night. I couldn’t make myself take them off,” She finally whispers, voice full of absolute despair. Another stab sears through Catra’s heart.

“Do you want me to go while you change?” Catra asks, hoping she doesn't say yes. She doesn't know if Adora is in any condition to change by herself and she just wants more than anything to make sure she’s ok.

“I don’t want you to see but… I don’t think I can do it myself,” Her broken whisper cracks Catra’s heart further.

Catra can sense the hesitation, the fear and uncertainty of having to lay yourself bare far before you’re ready. It was exactly how she felt that day they met at work. The control of coming out was ripped away from her and she just had to trust and hope that Adora wouldn’t hurt her for it. How ashamed Adora looks, how desperately she’s trying to get control of her wheezing and sobbing, is all of that weight crashing down on her at once. She realizes that the powerlessness she feels right now, seeing the person she loves suffering in front of her, is probably the same way Adora felt when she saw the terror on her face that day, and again when she spent the night for the first time.

She’s going to take care of her, the same way Adora did for her on her birthday when she was delirious from the pain she couldn’t hide anymore.

“Hey, look at me. It’s ok, remember? You’re safe with me. I won’t ever do anything to hurt you. We’ll deal with how you feel now, and we’ll talk about it later,” She says, smiling what she hopes is a comforting smile and tenderly beginning the motion of her hand up and down the muscular back that was still shaking below her finger tips.

Adora can tell she means it, and nods.

Catra tugs gently at her shirt to start removing it slowly, giving her plenty of opportunities to change her mind and stop her. She has to squeeze her eyes shut when she gets it off and sees what Adora had been hiding from her, what she had been hiding from everyone. How long had she been doing this to herself? The sores are old, scaring around the edges in an almost white ring, but tinted pink in raw irritation. They’re scabbed over but tossing and turning at night had cracked a few of them open to seep blood onto both of the bras she wore. They’re the worst on her shoulders, but there are spots between her shoulder blades and along her ribs where the straps cut into her that are on the verge of breaking skin themselves. There’s bruising along her ribs, and she hopes desperately that it hasn’t gotten so bad that Adora was hiding dislocated ribs from her. The blonde’s breathing speeds up in panic so she decides it’s time to take a break, that this was a delicate process and it wouldn’t do her partner any good to rush through it. She threads her fingers through Adora’s hair and guides her head to her chest so she can pepper kisses on her forehead while her thumbs stroke along her temples.

Once Adora has calmed a little more, she helps her sit up the rest of the way and begins to peel the first bra off of her. Working the material is a fight, and she can’t even really imagine how Adora got it on in the first place when it is at least one size too small. As soon as it is off, the coughing resumes, but Adora can clearly breathe better already. It’s a deep wheeze, like if she stops focusing on breathing her lungs will stop taking in air all together. She sits back and gives her a moment to get ready for the last big push, knowing that this last step is going to be the hardest. Whatever her reasons, and Catra had a pretty good idea what those were, it was clear that being bare wasn’t something the blonde was interested in.

“Baby? You doing ok?”

“Can I just… Can I please leave it on?” Her voice is a high whine, and she’s succumbing more and more to the numbness that washes over her. It’s like she’s far away, like her brain is zoomed out and she knows she is talking but she can’t feel anything. She isn’t sure she wants to.

“Sweetheart I know you don’t want to, but you need to. This isn’t healthy. You’re hurt and I know it’s going to suck but we need to get it off of you.”

She sighs and nods, knowing that they are the cause of her back pain and breathing problems. She just feels so dumb for letting it bother her this much, for drawing this much attention to a problem she doesn’t even really deserve to have. And now Catra has to take care of her when she had real dysphoria, and a real reason for being in pain. The guilt was heavy, it was destroying her from the inside out and if a fissure opened up through the center of the earth and dragged her directly to hell itself she wouldn’t even put up a fight. Her problems with her body weren’t something she was ready to talk about, and it terrified her that Catra would want to talk about it, would ask her to talk about all of the stupid issues she should have been able to get over. Tears stream down her face at the humiliation of it, that she couldn’t even stop herself from ruining this one thing she was finally starting to think she deserved.

Catra’s parents had been right about her all along, and she dreaded the day that her girlfriend realized that for herself.

Catra keeps whispering words of love and reassurance to her as she peels off that final bra, two sizes too small and cutting into her skin so deeply that it leaves a bruised red outline in its wake.

”I’ve got you baby”

She works her fingers under the seam, peeling it away from her ribs.

”I love you”

She works it up and over her breasts to rest near her collar bone.

”You’re doing so well for me, sweetheart”

One arm is through.

”That’s it”

The other arm is released.

”Almost there, baby, we’re almost done”

She works it over her head, mindful not to pull any of her hair or jerk her neck.

”There we go, that’s it”

And it's off.

It takes all of her willpower to keep her own tears at bay through the process, knowing that seeing how much it upset her would just make Adora feel worse.

“Baby do you have a first aid kit so I can clean you up a little?”

“Under the bathroom sink,” She says quietly, exhaustion slurring her words. Her eyes are drooping back shut and Catra can tell she doesn’t have long before she’s back asleep, body relaxing from the suffocating grip the bras had on her chest.

She pulls the blanket that pooled at Adora’s hips up so she can hold it to her chest, covering the part of herself she clearly didn’t want on display, and makes her way out to the bathroom between their bedrooms. It’s early still, and she doesn’t expect to hear Bow and Glimmer whispering in their room as she pries open the cabinet to rummage through for the first aid kit. She knows she isn’t supposed to hear what she does, and she tries not to focus on the voices, but her girlfriend’s name draws her attention anyway.

“I just wish Adora would let us help her. I talked to my mom about it, and she doesn’t want me to push her if she doesn’t want help, but I just don’t know how much longer she can keep up with all of this when the pressure is hurting her so much,” Glimmer says.

Catra frowns, considering that this isn’t even the surface of what Adora is dealing with. She knew that, but the reminder when she was just trying to focus on helping her right now in the moment, was stifling.

“I know, but you know how she is. Your parents and my dads have more than enough money to buy groceries for her too, but she just doesn’t want to feel like she’s taking advantage of us,” Bow replies.

Fuck Catra swears to herself.

“It’s that awful woman’s fault, for making her think she didn’t deserve help and kindness for so long. God help her if I ever see her,” Glimmer’s voice takes a dark, angry edge.

Bow sighs, “I know Glimmy, but you can’t just undo years of being told you’re not worth anyone’s help. I wish we could, but we’ll just have to be there for her when she needs it.”

Catra’s blood runs cold, heart pounding in her ears. She knows who they’re talking about, exactly who that ‘awful woman’ was. When they were kids, Weaver had always liked Adora more than her and it was resentment that kept her from realizing just how bad Adora had it. That was something that had taken her years to realize. When she finally had, she’d snapped awake one morning and cried for hours at the idea that Adora was just as tortured, just as abused, but in completely different ways with completely different methods of manipulation. A few short years ago while she was safe with her parents, Adora was still suffering under her thumb in the same way she always had. It was easy to see that Weaver’s vile, viscous words had left Adora with scars that still bled, intrusive thoughts that suffocated her and pulled her into a vacuum of darkness. Not to mention the physical scars she would always have from her. She was there in her head on even her best days.

She knew Adora’s need to excel, to prove that she was worth something, was a toxic inner monologue that left her bruised and battered. She also knew from the years that she lived with Weaver herself that the inner monologue wasn’t always in your own voice, but it was in hers sometimes too. The way Adora talked to her the night that she drove her home for the first time and they finally talked, she realizes that Adora didn’t just think she’d said something wrong, she was terrified that she had. She thought she was going to ruin it, ruin everything, and was placing the responsibility of reconnecting solely on herself. All she wanted to do was fix this, undo the hurt and make the person she loves feel like she was worth kindness, that she deserved it.

Years of torment and abuse, being made to feel lesser, being made to feel like your only worth came from what you could do for others, wasn’t something she could get Adora out of. It would be a process, it would take patience and understanding and love. Catra didn’t need to fix Adora, she needed to be there for her while she helped herself. She would be there, handing her needles and thread as she stitched herself back together. She would be there for her bad days to cherish and comfort her. She would share her good days and make sure she knew that she deserved them.

She stands with the first aid kit in her hand and has to cover her mouth to hold back the sob that comes out when she sees the balled up wad of duct tape in the bathroom trash can.

I am going to love her, and prove to her that she deserves every bit of it, if its the last fucking thing I do before I leave this earth.

We are going to deal with this now, and then get her the help she needs.

When she returns, Adora is sitting up in the same position as when she left, except her face is resting in her hands and her arms are propped up on her knees. She’s clearly trying not to fall asleep sitting up, and Catra sets to work quickly cleaning the sores and prodding at her sides to make sure she doesn’t need to drive her to the doctor.

A pained whimper reaches her ears and she leans down to place a kiss on her shoulder, “I know sweetheart but you’re doing so well for me and I’m almost finished, ok?”

“...’k,” Her voice is so small, so vulnerable, and if the circumstances were different she would think it was the cutest thing she’d ever heard.

Ok, that was kind of the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

“What kind of shirt do you want?” She says after she packs up the kit and walks over to the closet.

“Flannel?” She hears behind her.

She picks one out and puts it on Adora, buttoning it up and helping her lay down. She pulls the quilt up to her chin and kisses her from her forehead, down the bridge of her nose, and then the tip, before planting a firm kiss on her lips. Her hands come up to cup her flushed cheeks and she rubs her fingers over them, tickling at her hair line.The action makes Adora giggle, the sound coming out thick with sleep, and she can feel the mood lightening. She climbs in with her and pulls her over so that the blonde is laying across her chest with her head resting in the crook of her neck, grabbing the stuffed unicorn and handing it to Adora to hold close to herself. She sees her muscles flex as she squeezes it and her fingers grip the fabric tight before relaxing. It’s the first time Adora has laid down in this bed and given herself willingly to sleep in quite a while, and she lets herself absorb how nice it feels to be held, to be loved like this. For once, perhaps through force of will and perhaps through sheer exhaustion, she lets her troubles slip away and absorbs what it feels like to have someone take care of her.

Catra holds her tight and whispers praise and assurance in her ear, and she lets herself melt into the feeling of being held. Her eyes flutter shut and she doesn’t have a single urge to reopen them while she is blanketed in this hazy, sleepy feeling.

***

Adora sits cross-legged on the living room couch with a cup of tea clutched in her shaky grip. Catra had handed it to her both to help soothe her, and to occupy her hands when she noticed she’d been picking at the skin around her nails. Drumming her fingers along the ceramic she feels the smooth, glazed ridges below the pads of her fore and middle fingers. Her ring finger catches on the rough porousness of the spot where the side chipped against another mug in the dishwasher. The change in texture is a difference that would ordinarily bother her enough to not even use this mug, never having chosen it for herself. The feeling of a nail running against that one spot when she did the dishes put her nerve endings on high alert every time. However this time it becomes a welcome way to occupy her hand’s need to jitter and move. She tries not to focus on the anxiety of being in a room full of people without binding her chest, something she hasn’t done in a long time. She keeps her eyes trained at the floor, avoiding their gazes for as long as she can. Instead she’s focusing on the soothing scent of the candle in the corner that Catra lit after guiding her to the couch, a smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. She’d mentioned a while ago that the lavender one smelled just like Catra’s shampoo, and she’d obviously chosen it to try to calm her.

It seemed that Catra knew how difficult this conversation would be, having had a very similar one herself on several occasions before, and wanted to surround Adora in her presence and comfort. It makes her feel like, even though she was the one who did something wrong and this was clearly an intervention or lecture of some kind, Catra knew how to make her feel taken care of. Regardless of the conversation to come, and how much this situation was all her fault, Catra thought she deserved at least a little bit of comfort.

She grew up being told that she needed to be better, that responsibility fell to her because others were lesser. It was a way of thinking that Ms. Weaver had tried to instill in her when she was young, especially when she befriended Catra. The woman didn’t take kindly to being disappointed, but Adora disappointed her most of the time in one way or another in spite of her best efforts. Her will was law, and Adora would learn quickly that if she had any sense of self preservation she would match her will to Ms. Weaver’s. The scar on her forearm resulted from a discussion they had one day when Adora made one too many mistakes. Adora didn’t often fail so colossally that Ms. Weaver saw physical punishment to be the only option, but on the occasions that she did it was something she wouldn’t ever forget. She’d tried to learn her lessons, she really had, but she just couldn’t stop messing things up.

The other problem was that Adora’s will all along; in the recesses of her mind where no one else was allowed to infiltrate, was to be told what to do. She wanted someone to take charge of her for even just a moment and tell her to do something that was in her own best interests because they cared about her. Ms. Weaver told her what to do, but everything she tried to make of her disregarded Adora’s well being in every way. She didn’t care, and she never had.

Bow and Glimmer and each of their parents had suggestions, and would tell her that, respectfully, they thought she should do something. But she needed more. She needed it to be firmer, like she didn’t have the option not to because it was what was best for her. She wanted to give control to someone and let them help her when she didn’t know how to help herself. She wanted to feel small and weak, for no other reason than because it was ok to do so.

She wanted it to be Catra, and she had a feeling that Catra wanted it to be herself too.

She tries to take deep, calming breaths, but they come out short anyway because her lungs don’t really remember how. After this last year of constricting her chest’s ability to move she’s left with the muscle memory of short gasps and hyperventilation. It’s the first time she really notices how much it’s affected her health, how bad it has been for her. It was easy to ignore when she kept busy and didn’t let anyone else see, but now that they were about to have a very painful conversation about just what exactly she’d been doing to herself, she couldn’t help but think of it.

After they’d calmed down Adora had fallen asleep, snoring in her deep state of unconsciousness as her body took advantage of the rest it was allowed. Just another thing that made it so obvious to her that she should have done something about this long before now. She’d known for a while that it was bad for her, that it wasn’t healthy and that it was eventually going to cause her permanent problems. The issue was that it hadn’t affected anyone else. That changed when she’d woken Catra up this morning, and again when she’d woken up sprawled on top of her girlfriend and looked up to see that she was awake with bags under her pink tinted eyes.

She hadn’t set out to hurt herself but she wasn’t naive either. There was a risk that she had calculated, a risk she knew she was taking and decided firmly that hurting herself wasn’t a part of the equation that mattered. It wasn’t something she cared if she did or not. But hurting Catra was the last thing she had wanted to do, and she would never forget the bullet that shot through her heart when she saw the fear in her partner’s eyes this morning.

That hole would be there for the rest of her life, and she wouldn’t ever forget it.

Before she could even open her mouth to apologize Catra had leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, pulling her closer and running her fingers through her hair and over her back. She’d squeezed her eyes shut, overwhelmed again by the love she got in this moment when Catra couldn’t have been pleased with her. There wasn’t anything she could do now to change how the night and subsequent morning had gone, but that didn’t stop the weight in her stomach or the barbed wire around her heart when she thought about what she could have done differently. The problem now was that there were only two things she could have done to stop the morning from progressing the way that it did; stop binding, or stop sleeping next to Catra; and she didn’t plan on stopping either of those things.

She’s not sure which one at this point would hurt to do more.

Catra held Adora close to her while they silently listened to the other breathe, something the brunette didn’t know was a luxury until this morning when she’d awoken to something akin to a nightmare. Waking up to her partner, the person who had been the love of her life since before she even knew the weight that any of those words held, gasping for breath, wasn’t something that would ever leave her mind.

While Adora didn’t understand why Catra loved her so much, she knew that this morning had scared her beyond words. She let Catra hold her, and could feel in her girlfriend's rapid heart beat against her ear, that she was just as worked up about the situation as Adora had been. Catra’s fingers ran through her hair, scratching and massaging her scalp gently while she hummed a soothing tune to fill the silence, filling the space where she knew words should be when she just didn’t have the words yet. Her other hand ran up and down her back, pressing into her skin and carefully lightening when she reached where she knew the bruises on her upper back started. Those same whispered praises drifted through the air like breath fogging in winter or wisps of smoke from a blown out candle. They were the same praises she sang to her this morning when she helped her change, when she teased her on the way home from work, and each and every time they made love to each other.

She stopped her movements when they heard the bedroom door across the hall open and Bow’s faint voice on the other side of the door.

Catra found the words, then.

”Can I tell Glimmer and Bow? We really need to talk about this and I know they’re worried.

She could only nod, and try not to cry as Catra got out of bed, walked across the hall, and closed the door behind her.

She’s brought back to the present by Bow, who comes up to her and wraps a ‘conveniently sized’ throw blanket, one of the ones he kept around for this exact reason, around her. His touch lingers on her shoulders and she looks up at him, seeing that his eyes are misty and a little red. He’s looking at her with understanding, because he knows how she feels. He knows how it feels to sit in a room and hunch over to hide a part of yourself that doesn’t belong there, a part that kills you inside to look at. Their eyes stay connected and he nods, handing her a pillow to hold in her lap and hug against herself.

Glimmer settles in the armchair with her coffee and folds her legs under herself. Bow makes his way to a chair next to her that he’d pulled from the dining set. They’re still in their pajamas, looking like they hadn’t woken up long ago, and she doesn’t know if it’s good or bad that this is the first conversation any of them are having this morning. Is getting it out of the way first thing better, or is it just going to sour a day they could have enjoyed if she hadn’t ruined it?

Catra comes and sits next to her with her own coffee and wraps an arm around Adora’s slouched shoulders, pulling her into her side.

No one has said anything yet, and she can’t stand that they seem like they’re all stalling.

Catra clears her throat, drawing everyone’s eyes to her.

“There’s something Adora has been going through that we need to talk about.”

Adora’s brows furrow further, and while she thinks it’s nice that Catra seems to be tiptoeing around the issue, it's a little strange to her. Ms. Weaver never passed up an opportunity to tell her exactly what she had done wrong, and it was always a little jarring that other people didn’t treat her that way.

“What’s going on buddy?” Bow asks with an encouraging smile and nod.

Maybe something about the question coming from him makes this a fraction of a percent easier. Or maybe it’s because everyone in this room is either a trans person, or in love with a trans person, and dysphoria wasn’t a stranger around here.

“I um,” She bites her lip, trying to find the words. How much did they know? How much was she going to have to tell them?

“Why don’t I start, and you can jump in when you feel more comfortable?” Catra says next to her.

She nods.

“Adora has been binding unsafely, and this morning she couldn’t breathe when she woke up.”

It makes Adora wince.

Ok, we’re just ripping the band aid off

It’s silent for a beat, just a moment where she really isn’t sure which way this will go.

Bow is the first to speak, “For how long?”

Jumping in happened faster than I hoped it would.

“A year?” She doesn’t mean for it to come out as a question, but she has never done well under pressure. She’s never done well being the one everyone looked to for answers.

“A year?" He repeats, eyes widening. He's clearly a little shocked that he didn't notice.

"It didn't start out this bad. It kind of... evolved from where it started and before I knew it, it had been a year and things had gotten so much worse."

"Ok, can you tell us why you didn’t say anything?” Bow asks. There isn’t any judgement in his voice, just a calm understanding mixed with worry. It’s infuriating that they’re being so gentle with her over this.

“Because I’m not trans! I just… I just didn’t think I deserved to claim I felt dysphoria. I’m… I’m not sure what I am, but I know I am not trans and every moment I thought about having dysphoria felt like I was taking a word that wasn’t meant for me and taking advantage of it. It feels like I am taking advantage of someone else’s struggles. It feels like taking something away from both of you.”

“Just because you don’t know how to label your identity, because you know you’re not trans, doesn’t mean you don’t feel dysphoria,” Catra says from beside her, squeezing her arm around her shoulder tighter.

“Adora, you aren’t any less valid for not knowing the words for how you feel. You don’t deserve to be in pain, to hurt yourself, just because you don’t know the words for it yet. You aren’t any lesser than me and Catrina just because we know what our identities are. You’re on a journey, and you need to be more gentle with yourself,” He says earnestly. She can tell he means it, and the words make tears trail down her face in the same path they took mere hours before. She feels a thumb run over her face, wiping at her tears, and leans into the palm that cups her cheek with a small whine.

“Adora, have you thought of wearing a binder?” Bow asks.

“Binders are for trans men. I just didn’t feel right using something that-,” She cuts off when she realizes what she’s about to say, what she’s about to repeat.

They were words she’d been repeating to herself for a long time, and she didn’t want anyone in this room to know just how often she told herself that.

“Isn’t meant for you?” Bow finishes the sentence for her before continuing, “Adora, binders are for people who need them, not for any one group of people. If you need a binder you’re already the person they were made for. It doesn’t matter if you don’t identify as trans masculine, or if you don’t even know what to call your identity, or if you don’t want to label your identity at all. If your chest makes you dysphoric enough that you’ve been hurting yourself and damaging your body for a year then you’re exactly the person who needs one.”

“But I’m fine! There are people who need binders more than me. Why would I take one away from them?”

“Taking care of yourself isn’t taking anything away from anyone else. Stop telling yourself you don’t deserve help or to be comfortable or to stop being in pain. Stop talking to yourself in her voice,” Glimmer says in what is possibly the most stearn tone she has ever used with Adora. She always tried to take the friendly joking approach, because she knew that getting into an argument between both of their headstrong personalities wouldn’t lead to anything good. This time though, she’d sat here listening to her friend, someone she was so close to that she considered them her sibling spiral further and further for long enough and knew that being stern was the only way to break through.

Adora looks down, shame and guilt eating away at the remainder of her resolve for this entire fucking conversation. She wants to stop sitting here and hurting all of the people she loves the most. She wishes all of this would just stop, because she doesn’t think any of her friends or her girlfriend deserve to have to deal with someone like her, someone with so many issues. She’d been spending so much time hiding it all to protect them from herself that now that they knew she didn’t know what to do.

“Hey,” She hears the soft whisper next to her and turns to the one person she loved the most, the person whose reaction she was the most afraid of. She turns to look at Catra and pulls her face into a grimace when she sees the single tear track on her face.

“We love you, Adora. I love you. Stop thinking about other people, about taking something away from them or using something that you think is meant for someone else. Repeating your most destructive thoughts over and over again isn’t going to make them true. Using resources that help you isn’t taking it away from anyone else. Just let everything else go and let us worry about you. Let me worry about you,” Catra whispers, pleading with her eyes. There is a fierceness hovering just below the surface and it comforts Adora to see Catra love her so passionately.

“Ok maybe… maybe I do need a binder,” She gives in.

She looks around at her friends, at Bow and Glimmer and Catra all looking at her like they just want her to let them love her, and she thinks that maybe letting them help isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe letting them know what has been bothering her, what she has been agonizing over for over a year, is what they want.

Bow gets up and goes to The Glimbow Layer (the sign on the door is evolving almost daily) and comes back holding one of his binders. He and Adora had always been similar sizes, and she’s certain that one of his will fit her just fine. He kneels in front of her and reaches out to hand it to her.

“I have an extra. I don’t really wear the white ones anymore since I got all the ones in my skin tone, so you can have this one. But you have to promise me you’ll use it safely. You have to promise me that you won’t put it on today, or until you’ve recovered a little bit. Adora you have to promise not to use it to hurt yourself.”

It’s the same promise she had made him make for her when he got his first binder in the mail and she’d come to him with nothing short of the love and support she thought he deserved. He’s throwing all of those exact words back at her, and she understands that more than anyone, he knows what she’s putting herself through. He knows the danger and he knows the pain well. He’s asking the same thing of her that she asked of him, knowing how important it was.

Adora didn’t break promises.

She nods and reaches out, taking the binder from him. The material is soft, lacking the stiffness it would have if it were new and had just come out of the package. The material is a cool mesh to the touch, but she can feel that while it flexes it also has a rigidity that her sports bras lacked. They were too soft, too flexible and made for supporting breasts rather than holding them down, which was the reason she started wearing sizes too small and eventually wearing more than one. The front side is quite a bit thicker, while the back is almost see through in it’s thin tight weave. She fists the material and then lunges forward to hug Bow, and he holds her tight while she cries.

She feels Catra’s hand on her back and her lips on the back of her neck. She feels Glimmer’s small soft fingers combing through her hair. They hold her while she finally, after all of this time, lets it all out.

This is the first time in years, maybe ever, that she thinks to herself; I might actually be ok.

***

Somehow after all of the events that have taken place so far today, it is only around 10 am when Adora and Catra move back to the bedroom, and Catra begins the next phase of her plan. She lays Adora down in bed again and sits next to her, leaning down to kiss along her face and neck. It makes Adora giggle again, that light, carefree sound ringing through the room that has Catra grinning back down at her. She reaches down to tickle at her sides and it makes Adora’s laugh grow breathier while she shifts to get away, though she’s trapped by the blanket.

She plants a firm, wet kiss to her lips and pulls away to sit back up, “I have a question, and it can be the last thing we talk about like this today. I just need some clarification on some of the… language I have been using to talk to you.”

Adora tilts her head, a little confused by what Catra thinks she could have said that would have been inappropriate, “What is it kitty Cat?”

“You don’t have to say anything about your identity yet, like at all. I swear that isn’t what I am asking about. But I just need to know if I am… misgendering you when I call you ‘baby girl?’”

Adora doesn’t look offended, but she takes a moment to consider the question. “I do want to share this with you. I’m really just… Tired of always hiding. I don’t know how to explain it, but even though I don’t think I am just a girl, I don’t mind it when you call me a girl. Does that make sense? Like, I think there are other words that fit too, but it doesn’t make ‘girl’ less accurate.”

“Do you want me to call you something else in addition to that? Or do you want me to stick with it until you tell me different?”

“Just… stick with it until I ask you otherwise, please?”

Catra’s grin widens and she leans down to kiss her on the cheek and whisper, “So you like it when I call you ‘baby girl’?”

Adora’s breath catches, “Yeah.”

“How about when I call you ‘princess?’” She says, directly into her ear before dragging her tongue along the shell.

“Mmmm, yeah.”

“And you like being my good girl, don’t you?”

“Yes. Ye-yeah Cat I really love being your good girl,” She replies, something in her voice giving away how deeply she means it.

“Well, I am going to go make us some breakfast, and then I am going to come back here and cuddle with my princess, ok?” She asks.

Adora pulls a face, “Um, I am supposed to work and go to practice later?”

Catra keeps her face neutral, trying to remain calm and allow Adora the understanding that she needs. She was hoping to lead up to this a little more tactfully, but the sooner they get it out of the way the better. She just hopes that Adora decides to take the day off, once she reads through the emails Catra had typed for her. She figured there was no way after their talk this morning that Adora would be so bold as to decide herself, returning to her default comfort zone of staying busy to avoid thinking about her problems. Hopefully, this push can help her see for herself what she needed, and help her learn to take that step by herself someday.

“There are three emails in your drafts that I typed for you earlier today. I’m not going to tell you what to do when it comes to this stuff, because I know how big of a deal it is, but I need you to read them. I hope you’ll send them, but as much as I wish I could do it for you, you need to be the one to decide to do it. You need to be the one to decide that it’s time. It doesn’t really help you if you don’t believe it, so I don’t want you to send them if you don’t really think it is what you need. I’ll be back with breakfast soon and you can tell me what you decide, and no matter what it is I won’t think less of you. Just… consider it, please,” She says, kissing her forehead and ruffling her hair a little bit before leaving Adora alone to read through and process.

She doesn’t want to disappoint her coach or her teammates by skipping practice. They weren’t mandatory because the season was over so the schedule was much less rigid, but her place on the team paid her tuition. She felt like it wasn’t fair to show a lack of dedication just because she could. When it comes to work, she doesn’t want to disappoint her supervisor as well as lose out on a day’s worth of pay, regardless of the fact that her body probably couldn’t handle going to work today. She was supposed to be better than this. She was supposed to be reliable, to be someone that her superiors could look to and identify that she was actively rising above her peers.

She definitely doesn’t want to see a therapist, to admit the flaws she’d been trying to overcome. But she knows she has to. She knows she has to change something or things would just keep getting worse and worse, to a point where she wouldn’t ever recover. She knew that she needed help, that she couldn’t keep doing this to herself. There were times when she stayed awake all night because the amount of sheer effort it took her just to breathe made her fear that she wouldn’t wake up, and today was proof that she wasn’t far off of that becoming a reality if she wasn’t careful. While she didn’t think she was particularly worth the effort, she knew that she probably wasn’t the best person to ask when it came to that. She’d been aware throughout her life that maybe the way Ms. Weaver treated her, the way she groomed her to try to make her perfect for no other reason than that she enjoyed the power that came with tearing someone else down, wasn’t something that any child should have to go through.

Maybe therapy would help her finally figure out why nothing she did was good enough. Maybe it would help her be better; a better friend and a better girlfriend. She certainly could have used the answers all those years ago when she asked over and over again if she was good enough yet for Catra’s parents to let her visit only for the answer to be ‘no.’

”Stop talking to yourself in her voice”

Was that what she did? Did she talk to herself like Ms. Weaver did? The more she thought about it, the more she took a hard look at the way she was treated and the way she learned to treat herself, the more she realized that she didn’t know which words were her own thoughts and which came from deeper within from a colder more mocking voice. She grew up with her and as much as she tried to separate the things she said that were true from the unnecessary cruelty, the less she thought she was her own person and the more she figured that she was just a tool the woman had shaped for her own will instead of into a person.

She’d spent her life trying to be ‘good enough,’ but good enough for what?

Good enough for Bow and Glimmer? Good enough for Catra? She didn’t believe it, but all three of them seemed to think she already was.

Good enough to deserve her tuition and housing? She met all of the numbers she ever needed for her scholarships. There wasn’t a doubt in the minds of anyone that met her that she had earned the money she received.

Good enough for herself? She couldn’t even begin to know what kind of treatment she really deserved, let alone how she was supposed to get to a place where she could do it.

Maybe therapy would help her learn how to treat herself. Maybe she needed to go back to the beginning and learn something she was never taught; how to love herself. Because she learned how to love others through her friends that loved her first and stood by her side patiently while she learned what that meant, but she never learned how to love from the one person tasked with teaching her.

She sends all three emails, and turns her phone off before setting it on the bedside table.

She had known for a while that she needed help.

For the first time, she believed that she deserved it.

Chapter Text

Adora shifts uncomfortably and fidgets in her seat at the kitchen table. The midday sun streaks through the widow, brightening and warming the apartment. The clear sky is a trap though, because the temperature plummeted into freezing last night. With windchill it had yet to get anywhere near a temperature where they would consider going outside, so they’d decided to spend the day in.

Adora had returned to the table after doing the dishes from lunch with another cup of tea for both of them, and that was where her unforeseen issue had begun.

She glances over to Catra, who is sitting next to her focusing on a watercolor landscape she’s been working on in her free time. It’s a familiar scene of Salineas, the nearest coastal city to them, and she can see the rocky coast and the line of the sunrise where the sky meets the sea. Catra’s lips are turned up in a carefree smile, blinking lazily as she lets herself enjoy the artwork she’s creating. Watching Catra make her art was always a surreal experience. She’d been with Catra and heard her explain things from her perspective often enough to know that, while it might have been a landscape of a place they were both familiar with, the way Catra chose to depict it was uniquely her own. It was just so interesting to watch her combine colors and textures where she never would have thought to put them. That wasn’t even to say how mesmerizing it was to see the look of concentration on her face as she flicked her wrist and twisted the brush in her fingers.

The blonde reaches up to bite one of her nails absentmindedly before snapping her fingers away and sitting on her hands. She knew the nervous tick bothered Catra. Not only could she not stand the sound of biting nails, it was also one of Adora’s biggest tells that she was bothered by something and she didn’t want her girlfriend worrying about her during their study break.

She wasn’t even bothered, really.

Adora had finished all of the assignments she was supposed to finish this weekend. They’d both spent the entire morning studying, actually, and they agreed that after lunch they would take a few hours to hang out and pursue their own hobbies for a change before switching back over to studying for the remainder of the evening. Finals were coming up and they were quickly racing toward the end of the semester. While it was important to get all of her studying done, Adora knew that she wasn’t the best at giving herself the breaks she needed. She had confided in her friends and girlfriend that she was sure the way she focused on her commitments wasn’t exactly healthy, but she didn't know how to take the time off that she needed. She’d been effectively using a combination of sleep deprivation and obsessively working, training, and studying in a way that now, reflecting on her mental state, seemed a lot more like tools of self harm than simply being productive.

So she agreed that she needed to take more time for herself. She agreed that she needed to stop pouring every ounce of herself to the point of exhaustion into the things she thought she had to do and start letting herself do the things she wanted to.

There is just one single, teeny tiny problem. She had been working hard, perhaps harder than she’d worked on anything, to recognize what behaviors were actually productive and propelling her forward and what was just a coping mechanism leftover from her childhood. That was just the start of all of the problems she would have to confront as she continued seeing her therapist, but for now she really thought she had a handle on their last few conversations. So, she had not anticipated at all that this would be one of the biggest roadblocks to her recovery.

That’s to say that, Adora doesn’t really have any hobbies.

Since her main chosen activities to take up her time all had the word “work” in them, she had put together that maybe they didn’t really count.

So there she sat, eyes trained on the motion of Catra’s hand as she reached over to swirl the brush through her little cup of water. Wisps of pigment dissipated in the water and she tapped out the seconds on her thigh before they disappeared entirely and then shifted her gaze away quickly to avoid getting caught starting. She glanced back again and watched the bristles take up a new hue and swirl it with another to create an entirely new shade that hadn’t been added to the palette yet.

A throat clearing jogs her from her focus and she shifts her eyes up to meet her girlfriend’s.

Catra doesn’t look annoyed, and she doesn’t look worried, but she does have her eyebrow raised with a playful smirk on her lips that Adora desperately wants to kiss right off of her face.

“What are you looking at?” She asks.

Adora gulps, “Um… nothing? I was um… yeah nothing.”

Catra sighs and Adora worries for just a second that she’s disappointed.

Who fails at relaxing?

Relaxing!

But Catra just sets her brush down and stands. She stretches, shaking out her leg and wincing from the position she’d been sitting in for so long, and ruffles Adora’s hair on her way to the bedroom

Seriously, who fails at relaxing?

She's just so discouraged, because she thought from these last few sessions that she really was starting to understand what she was doing to herself and what she needed. Actually being recovered and doing well was still so far away for her. She wanted to be better already, because focusing on the ways she’d been hurt was more emotionally exhausting than ignoring it. While she knew that this was a vital step to take, unlearning everything she’d been told made her feel more adrift than ever.

She shakes her head to try to rid herself of those thoughts.

”It’s a process. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. This isn’t a race, and you can’t recover from speeding through it.” She reminds herself.

”Don’t call it “better,” because the way you are now isn’t lesser.” That thought came in Dr. Mal-Kadroh’s voice, and he’d been the voice of reason for her a lot in these last few weeks. She’d set up weekly appointments with him, but that first week when she was finally forced to confront her problems saw three separate appointments alone.

He was a sweet man, who seemed to truly care how she was doing and what she thought of herself. He understood her in a way other people didn’t and he gave off this energy that she knew she could trust. At the end of her first session he had gotten up to give her a letter to excuse her from the class she’d missed for her appointment, and he’d winked at her like he’d recently been told what winking even was and was trying it out to his heart’s content. The display had bewildered her because, really, that’s not how winking even works. Regardless of how weird the guy could be, Adora felt a sense of calm as she walked out of his office and found herself making another appointment to come talk to him again.

Catra was so proud of Adora and the way she’d started taking her journey forward into her own hands. The confidence that radiated off of her when she looked at her flattened chest in the mirror after she put the binder on made it easier to take it off when she needed to, and as such she’d been physically healing great. Her breathing had gotten better, and she didn’t double over, rubbing her back anymore. She didn’t hiss in pain when she stepped into the shower because there were no sores on her shoulders, and she’d even started wearing T-shirts instead of all of the layers she was used to.

She was doing well. She was moving forward, and it was steady.

Catra comes back from the bedroom with Adora’s laptop and a mouse in hand, and sets them on the table in front of a very confused Adora. She lifts the screen and turns it on, running the cord to an outlet and plugging it in while it boots up.

Adora doesn’t have any idea what she could possibly need her laptop for when she’d put it away so she wouldn’t use it to study, but her curiosity is put on the back burner the second that Catra bends over to plug the cord into the wall. Her focus lasers in on how fantastic her ass looks. Her pupils dilate like a cat that sees a mouse (or an Adora that sees her girlfriend’s ass) and her hand tingles with an urge she absolutely refuses to ignore.

Adora might be a huge brat sometimes.

They both could be, honestly.

But Catra is astoundingly good at dealing with her when she is.

So she reaches her hand out with her grin a mile wide and tries her luck with a swing.

The way Catra yelps makes her laugh so hard she’s grabbing her stomach and the brunette whirls around to descend on her with furious tickles so viscous that she’s worried she’ll kick herself backwards out of the chair.

“How fuckin dare you? Um? Excuse me who the fuck told you that you could just spank me like that? The disrespect, I swear to god,” Catra screeches out, though she’s laughing through it. If she were mad, this would be far different, and Adora laughs harder at her girlfriend’s overly dramatic display.

“Isn’t that what they say in the Pokemon theme song? You spank me and I’ll spank you?” She gasps out.

“HA,” Catra bursts out, throwing her head back with a single laugh, shoulders shaking. She looks down at Adora, looking brighter and happier than she has since she’s known her, and smiles fondly. She brings a hand up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear and rubs her cheek softly with her thumb. She can’t help but lean down to kiss her forehead.

“I love you, dork,” She whispers as she pulls away, turning her attention back to the laptop.

The blonde blushes and reaches up to rub her hand up and down Catra’s back as she leans over the table to open a couple of programs.

“I love you too, kitten.”

She feels the woman beneath her fingers melt and smiles at the way Catra’s heartbeat in her hand blends with her own.

When she pulls away Adora can see the laptop screen lit with the title card of a video game. It’s simple, just a backdrop of trees and a blue sky with a couple of menu options that appeared to be carved into a wooden sign.

“Um, what is this?” She asks.

“This is the most relaxing video game I have ever played. You inherit a farm from your grandfather and you get it back to its former glory, while dismantling the oppressive establishment running the local shops out of business. You plant crops, mine, fish, and you give gifts to all the pretty girls until they want to be your girlfriend. The mayor is terrible at his job, and gives all responsibility of this town over to you. There’s tiny forest creatures and they’re really cute. It's basically if farming simulator was in the genre of magical realism. Got it?” Catra explains, sitting back down in her chair and picking up her brush. Her eyes scan over the paper to see where she left off.

Adora just looks at her.

“Uh… I get it, I just...Why?” She asks.

“You kind of…. Don’t take this the wrong way but babe you don’t have any hobbies. And you’re really bad at relaxing. Which is ok because you have a lot of pressure on you, and I get that part of your healing is learning when to relax. But you…. You can’t just make your hobby watching me because like, I get that I’m hot and you’ve got this embarrassing crush on me or whatever-” She glances over with a smirk in time to see Adora’s dramatic eye roll, “so we just need to try different things out until we find a hobby that works.”

Adora considers this for a moment. It wasn’t a bad idea, because she’d cycled through the hobbies she could think of without much luck.

Everyone liked reading but it reminded her too much of the reading she was supposed to be doing for school, and she got flashbacks to a time when she’d tried to read for fun and had been reprimanded for wasting time. She might get to a place where she could read for pleasure, but for now it remained off of the table.

Art was a no-go, because she’d grown frustrated by her lack of skill. She knew the point wasn’t to be good at it, but it kind of sucked to be so bad at it. Catra had insisted that the pieces she’d made were pretty good, and she really liked them, but she just didn’t get the same enjoyment out of it that her girlfriend did.

Cooking and baking made her anxious because every recipe required so many ingredients, and food was still a sore subject for her.

So video games? While those seemed like the same kind of thing Ms. Weaver would call a waste of time, they weren’t something she’d ever shown interest in, so there was no voice in the back of her head telling her over and over again that she should be putting her effort into something ‘better.’

“Wait did you buy this for me?” She asked as she clicked ‘new’ and started customizing her character.

“Don’t worry about it,” Catra said, reaching over to squeeze Adora’s forearm with her free hand and continuing with her painting.

It makes her sigh fondly at how sweet Catra is, how much she’s willing to take care of her.

It makes her want to take care of her too.

And she’d be lying if she said her little stunt earlier didn’t put her in a particular mood anyway.

The game looked cute and she would give it an honest shot to see if it was something that she enjoyed. The soundtrack so far was relaxing, so it looked pretty promising already. There was just something she needed to take care of first.

So she knocks her phone to the floor in the most subtle way she can, which isn’t subtle at all and tries not to blush when she meets eyes with Catra who looks at her like she’s doing the most suspicious thing in the world (which she is).

“Oops,” She says as innocently as she can manage as she ‘reaches for her phone.’

Catra has to know what she’s up to, but she crawls as stealthily as possible anyway over to her and sits on her knees at her feet.

This table was not made for this, because she barely fits under it anyway, but she was going to do her best.

Catra sees her partner disappear under the table with an affectionate roll of her eyes and bites her lip trying not to laugh as she rinses off her paintbrush. She dabs it off on the towel, places it down, and shifts the cup of water and the palette of paint toward the center of the table so whatever activities they’re about to engage in don’t knock it over and spill it on the tan carpet floor. The table jerks as Adora kicks a leg and it takes all of Catra's willpower not to laugh and cry at how cute she is. Adora was just effortlessly the most amazing creature on the planet.

Her sex drive had been… Strange to say the least in the years since she’d started hormones. It had definitely decreased, but the things that turned her on really turned her on, and that included the thought of Adroa going down on her.

So if Adora wants to get on her knees for her? Well who is she to stop her?

Being desired like this is still something she struggles with, because she’d spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of Adora changing her mind. Logically she knew that Adora wasn’t that kind of person at all even without her own issues with her gender identity, but the insecurity was just the way her dysphoria decided to manifest itself on her worst days.

Weaver had always made sure that she knew she wasn’t wanted, and when her parents adopted her that same fear was something she shouldered for years.

She’s brought back from her thoughts when she feels fingers on her knee and the tension leaves her body with a sigh when she feels Adora’s lips on her thigh.

“And what are you doing down there?” Catra asks. She reaches down to find Adora’s head and scratches lightly around her skalp. She can practically feel her relax under her touch.

Adora kisses what she can reach of her thigh and her hand trails up and down, teasingly close to the waistband of her sweatpants. She doesn’t respond for a few minutes, and Catra can’t really be bothered to care when she’s kissing closer and closer to her ultimate destination and her fingers start to run up and under her shirt. She parts her legs so Adora can slide between them and closes them around her to squeeze at her sides.

The blonde quickly realizes that her plan was flawed, because this table is definitely too low for what she wanted to do next, and pulls back. She grasps the legs of the chair and slides it back so she has enough room to poke her head out from under it. Catra laughs at the absolute absurdity of Adora shoving her chair back with brute strength instead of just asking her to get up, but the laugh gets caught in her throat the second she sees those blue eyes looking up at her.

Adora lays her head on her girlfriend’s knee and stares up at her while she runs just the tips of her fingers up and down her calf.

“Hi,” Adora whispers.

“Hey there cutie, whatcha doing down there?”

The blonde shrugs and rotates her head down to place another kiss on her knee, keeping their eyes connected the entire time.

“I wanted a snack.”

Catra gasps.

Fuck

She thumbs the blonde’s lower lip before bending forward to kiss the top of her head and whisper in her ear, “Well what are you waiting for then? Get to it.”

She doesn’t need any more prompting and reaches up to grab Catra’s hips, sliding her forward to the front of the chair where she can then pull her pants and underwear down. It’s fast, because while she likes to savor each moment that she makes love to her girlfriend, Adora isn’t a patient person when it comes to accessing her favorite parts of Catra.

The clothes have to go so she can just touch her already.

Once her obstacles have been removed she goes back to kissing up Catra’s inner thigh agonizingly slowly, thoroughly lavishing her with bites and open mouthed kisses until she’s shifting forward in her chair to get Adora where she needed her.

“You’re so impatient,” She breathes out when she feels Catra pull her hair out of her ponytail to wrap around her fingers. She can feel the tugging on her scalp with each bite and she’s grinning into her skin.

“I wouldn’t be so impatient if you weren’t such a brat,” Is her response, and it takes all of Adora’s self control not to bite harder and start working her way back down just to show her how much longer she could take.

“I wouldn’t be such a brat if it didn’t work so well on you.”

It has Catra giggling, because it was true that this game between them worked extraordinarily well when Adroa was torturously smug and Catra played the part of her long suffering girlfriend that had to deal begrudgingly with her attitude.

Just as Adora’s lips are finally about to part, to reach forward and take her into her mouth, Catra tugs sharply on her hair and the sting has her hissing. She looks up and sees Catra, flushed skin and hooded eyes, and there isn’t anything in this world that could make her look away as she pulls her up by her fisted hair into a searing kiss. Their lips glide together and they’re a mess of grabbing hands, fingers pressing bruising grips into each other’s skin, and trying their absolute hardest to fuse their very souls together through touch alone. Adora breathes all of her love into every kiss and Catra swears she can feel it biting into her harder than teeth ever could.

Catra doesn’t think she’ll ever get enough of her partner’s hands and mouth on her, showing her just how outlandish her insecurity had been when there was no possible way Adora would ever stop loving her.

She bites hard on Adora’s lower lip and pulls it back with her as she retracts before letting go. She loves the way it bounces back, red and swollen. She keeps her hand twisted in blonde locks but brings her other hand up to run over her cheek and down the line of her jaw. The motion is gentle and full of love, but the underlying possessiveness makes Adora shiver.

“There’s my princess,” She whispers, so softly the words could blow away in a draft, but they echo in Adora’s head as she guides her down to finally take her into her mouth.

Adora’s tongue peeks out to caress over the head in a feather light motion that has Catra throbbing, and she takes in the taste on her tongue of the tiny trail of fluid that runs down her length. She presses a few kisses over her and opens her mouth to slide down, taking Catra into her mouth completely.

She doesn’t move at first, just exhales as she relaxes onto her knees. There are few things she loves more than the feeling of Catra’s clit in her mouth, the way she giggles when Adora’s nose brushes against her stomach and she exhales, tickling the hair there. Casual oral service had quickly become a favorite activity, and there was a very particular comfort in holding Catra’s clit in her mouth and sucking gently. She keeps her head in place while brushing the underside with her tongue. Her fingers trail in lazy circles along the creases of her hips and the thin white scar that runs the length of her hip bone on her right side.

Sex was fun for them. Catra had enjoyed fucking Adora with her strap on quite a bit, and there was nothing quite like the feeling she got when she saw Adora’s eyes water when she thrust the dildo into her throat just right, or when she’d literally taken her breath away with a particularly deep thrust into her. They’d gotten adventurous with the roles they played, and found that there was so much to explore when it came to sex that the excitement of it wouldn’t ever wear off when they were so compatible. The first time, when they’d cautiously rubbed each other’s clits to orgasm and Adora revealed just how much she’d thought about how best to treat her, was the first time it really clicked for Catra that sex was fun at all. Teasing each other, playing with each other, was something she didn’t think was a part of sex that she was realizing more and more was the best part, in fact.

Sex had always just been sex to her. At best it was something enjoyable that her peers were obsessed with, and she couldn’t deny that when it was over she’d let off quite a bit of steam. At worst it rocketed her into dysphoria. She’d been capable of enjoying it and had even gone so far as to say it made her feel more connected to someone when she’d actually done it with a partner she was dating at the time, but that was it as far as emotional gratification went.

So for that reason, she’d always found it cringey and a little bit of an exaggeration when it was referred to as ‘making love.’ It wasn’t that she was against it entirely, she just knew that, while some people made love, she sure didn’t. ‘Love’ hadn’t even been part of the equation for her. She hadn’t put much thought into whether she considered herself to be on the aromantic or asexual spectrum in some way, or if her aversion to both was a trauma response from the times she’d given trust to someone and had it backfire. All she knows is that the way she feels with Adora, she didn’t ever think she could experience it.

She always thought she was broken, because she couldn’t for the life of her feel anything other than numb even when she’d put so much effort into being a good girlfriend.

But now that she was with someone that she knew was the right person? Everything was different.

This wasn’t sex. This was how they cherished each other, how they poured every ounce of love they possessed into the sole purpose of making their partner feel like there wasn’t a person in the world more loved. This was how they treated each other when they knew that they got so close to never having this, but because they decided to put in the work for each other they got to have a connection so far beyond what they thought was possible.

There wasn’t any way to describe what her and Adora did to each other in moments like this other than saying that they were making love to each other.

“Fuck baby, just like that,” She says, and aside from the way her girlfriend’s body stiffens and she can feel her rapid pulse in her mouth, the verbal cues that tell her she’s pleasing her gives her a rush of adrenaline that has her shivering again at the praise.

Catra’s clit wasn’t huge, and while she’d seen her stiffen, she was almost always soft. So it was very purposefully that Adora pushed forward until she felt the tip at the back of her mouth and tried her hardest to massage it with her throat.

Catra tightens her fist in Adora’s hair and hisses, her other hand grabbing at a firm shoulder and leaning into the feeling.

It isn’t long before Adora is snaking a hand up Catra’s inner thigh and she looks up at her with an eyebrow raised in question.

All Catra can do is nod because she knows what Adora wants to do, and she can’t fathom anything more erotic than getting fingered at the kitchen table while Adora sucks her clit.

So Adora reaches under her and prods gently with her fingers until she finds those same indentations and slides her fingers up.

She pulls back just enough to kiss Catra’s thigh again and say, “Fuck you’re tight,” before sinking back down to suck on her again.

After the first few times when Adora would have to either ask for help or consult the diagram, she’d been able to find her cunt rather easily. They’d gone over the book to see what Adora had in mind and what Catra had tried already vs what she wanted to try, and she decided to ignore the color coded highlighting system. If it were anyone else she would be offended, but Adora’s dorky need to study a diagram was so cute she couldn’t be upset.

Adora was strong willed and determined. When she’d decided that she was determined to bring Catra the pleasure she thought she deserved, the sex was better than anything she thought she’d ever experience.

She was certain she wasn’t going to heaven, but that didn’t matter as long as Adora kept bringing it to her.

She keeps rubbing her tongue around the head of her clit and back down to stroke the underside as she slowly and gently fingers her cunt and soon she’s coming in her mouth with a breathy cry that sounds like magic to Adora’s ears.

She pulls her fingers back out slowly, knowing how sensitive Catra is after, and releases her from her mouth to look up at her. She stares at her girlfriend’s post-orgasm face, relaxed and flushed with her lips parted breathing heavily, and thinks to herself that each and every day Catra gets more and more beautiful.

They stay like that, staring lovingly and holding on to each other, until Adora is shifting on her knees in discomfort and Catra’s breathing has just about returned to normal.

“Hey kitten,” She whispers, leaning forward to rest her forehead on Catra’s stomach, and feeling arms wrap around her shoulders.

“Hey sweet girl,” She responds. “What do you say we head to bed? And I can show you what a good girl you’ve been?”

Adora stands back up and pulls Catra with her by the hands, pulling her into her chest and folding her arms around her.

Love was a deep magic, ancient and written in stardust. It was imprinted on their souls and wound into their DNA, and giving it to each other felt as natural as breathing.

***

Catra walks into the den to find her parents sipping tea and grading assignments. They’re bickering in a teasing nature over which episode of their favorite show they left off on the night before. Her Mama tosses a piece of popcorn at her Mom, and she responds by throwing the other half of the celery stalk she’d already bitten off of back at her and by now they’re barely holding in giggles. Catra observes with a smile how soft and sweet they are. It would never fail to brighten her mood when she saw how youthful and in love they still were.

It had been eleven years since she first saw the way they looked at each other, and it had been a shock then to see that adults were even capable of wearing a relaxed smile or a light blush the way they did when they looked at each other. Walking into this house for the first time and experiencing the way a home should be, the loving warmth and comfort that permeated the space and the attention she finally got that she didn’t even realize she was starved of, was an overwhelming experience.

Sometimes she thinks back on how much of an adjustment it had been, because she certainly recognizes that she’s come a long way since then. She’d seen a lot of older kids age out of the system in her years there, and hadn’t held on to much hope that things would be different for her. If she didn’t let herself hope, she couldn’t get hurt. It was something that she pretended didn’t bother her, even though she’d longed for a family more than anything. Adora, however, always talked about the possibility of getting adopted and finding a family. It was a cruel twist of fate that Catra was the one that got out, when Adora never did.

Adora didn’t get this, no matter how much she should have. She remembers a few couples visiting with Adora in their earlier years there, but they were few and far between, and they always left with the promise of coming for a second visit and never returning. It infuriates her that her girlfriend went through what she did when any family would have been lucky to have her. It makes her blood boil that the system failed her so miserably, through all of the times her mothers tried to report Weaver. They’d make phone call after phone call on their days off, taking up entire afternoons with one of them taking care of her and the other on the phone in the kitchen. It never came of anything. The evil woman was just too good at hiding it. Unbeknownst to them, Adora would never say anything the few times CPS actually did a site visit because she didn't have any reason to think the way she was treated wasn’t normal.

*

Bitterly and with a creeping feeling of guilt, Catra’s thoughts drift to a few years later when she became a teenager. She’d wanted nothing to do with her parents, for reasons she didn’t even understand at the time. It was a strange phase that most people her age went through; the embarrassment of having parents treat them like children when they were growing up and becoming their own people. For her it ran deeper. She didn’t have the words yet to describe how terrible it felt to be around her parents, how much she hated being their ‘son.’ There was a time when she thought she might move out when she turned 18 and never look back, because she hated being in that house with them and she hated the way they made her feel.

*

They had noticed pretty quickly that their child was irritable on her best days and downright angry on her worst, and had taken her back to the therapist that she had seen for the first couple of years that she lived with them. She didn’t want to, and had fought the idea, but was now grateful that they didn’t listen to her when she told them she didn't need it. As it turned out, it helped her discover herself and gain an understanding of her feelings and a way to manage the anger she dealt with.

It also made her realize that she didn’t hate being theirs after all. She just hated what they called her.

Who would have thought that all of that bullshit about parents knowing what was best for you could turn out to be so true?

Now that she was an adult she saw more and more that they really had something special together. She wouldn’t go so far as to say that her parents were soulmates, because she didn’t believe in the concept. She believed that there wasn’t a more compatible person in the world for the other, and that they had worked hard to build a relationship out of love and understanding. It was the same way she felt about Adora. She found herself picturing a life where the two of them sat in their house and bickered over which episode of their favorite show they left off on with their own child observing from the doorway.

“Whats up, kid?” Ma asks, turning away from her wife to acknowledge her daughter. Netossa would never take for granted how happy her daughter had become over the last few months, and she knew that it was all because of Adora’s reentry into her life. Back when she was in high school, on that horrific day when she found her laying at the bottom of a stairwell, she thought she’d never get to see her like this at all.

Catra was so closed off for so long after that, and it seemed like it was completely out of the realm of possibility to even think she could trust someone with her heart. She thought she’d never get to see the day her little Cat fell in love, and it broke her heart to think that she might not have been able to. So she took each new development in her daughter’s relationship with Adora as the true blessing that it was.

“We’re the type of family that has Sunday dinner, now,” Catra responds. It was overly casual, something that always gave away when their daughter wasn’t letting on everything that she knew. She was examining her nails, but her right foot was tapping lightly on that worn spot in the hardwood that produced a faint squeak.

Netossa and Spinerella share a knowing look and a couple of irritating smirks.

God why do they have to be so fucking smug all the time? If I wanted to be embarrassed I’d just talk to Bow.

“And why are we having Sunday dinner, now?” Mom asks, eyes sparkling with amusement.

Wow they’re really going to make this harder than it needs to be, aren’t they?

“Adora is coming for Sunday dinner, maybe from now on if this Sunday goes well,” It’s not really a question, and it doesn't leave a lot of room for argument. Not that they would argue. They’d wanted to meet Adora since their daughter found her again at work months ago.

They’d met her a couple of times, actually, though they were sure she didn’t remember them from that long ago. It had been eleven years since they’d seen her and they were excited to see what kind of person that little kid had grown into. Those few times, Adora had sat protectively at Catra’s side at the little table in the playroom and interrogated them just as much as any of the CPS workers that visited their house had. At the time, they thought it was cute how invested Adora was in making sure Catra found a good home, but had learned later just how sinister things really were. More than that, they had put together from the flowers Catra had come home with on her birthday and the grumble under her breath on the day of the laser tag party that Adora was infuriatingly sweet and they needed to see in action the way their daughter dealt with being courted.

They had a feeling it was going to be the last time they got to be embarrassing parents in a first time meeting with a new partner, and they were planning to milk it for all it was worth.

“Ok, dinner at 6. We finally get to meet her?” Mom says, taking her wife’s hand.

“Yeah, and can you make enough to send her home with a decent amount of leftovers?” She asks, demeanor shifting. Her voice is hard, and she bites her lower lip. The seriousness of this request isn’t lost on them and they drop any teasing they would have given her.

They’re not sure what situation Adora is in that would make this such a sensitive topic, but they’ve got a good idea. They weren’t oblivious to the fact that Adora had aged out of the system, and was on her own financially. Being responsible for everything at that age was beyond the scope of imagination for anyone who hadn’t experienced it, especially with the pressure of school on top of it.

Catra knew that if anyone would understand, it would be Mom.

“Absolutely, sweetheart. She’ll have dinner for a couple of days at least. You know how I like to cook for guests!” Mom says without missing a beat.

She just nods, thankful that they didn’t press the issue, and shoots them a smile and a nod before turning to finish getting ready for bed.

Adora had been fragile in the last few weeks as she’d started seeing a therapist and unearthing all of the hidden trauma she’d kept buried for so long. Catra knew from experience that it could feel equally liberating and exhausting, and that the first few sessions brought forth more issues than they resolved. Adora was going to be exerting a lot of emotional energy on confronting and unlearning the way she treated herself, and the world as she knew it was already turning upside down.

Catra knew that Adora needed to heal on her own, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t at least try to lighten this last burden on her if she could.

***

They’re sitting in Adora’s room, the blonde leaned over her desk surrounded by flashcards and highlighters while she goes over notes for her Biology final. Catra is sitting on the bed glancing between her outline and her case study research while she writes her final paper for Fundamentals of Business Management. This last push to finish the semester before the two weeks of finals that were to come was exhausting, and neither of them could wait for the stress to be over.

“Hey, want to come to Sunday dinner at my house? My parents want to meet you.”

She asks the question as casually as she can because, while it isn’t a lie and she isn’t trying to trick her, she knows that she isn’t an actress by any means. If she let on that the real plan was to get Adora comfortable with letting others shoulder some of the burden for her, she was sure Adora would say no.

There wasn’t anything worse than being pitied, and she would never want Adora to feel powerless. Besides, there was power in making the firm decision to let others help you.

She expects some hesitation, because meeting your partner’s parents was always a little daunting.

What she doesn’t expect is how Adora freezes and looks up almost bewildered.

“Oh, um…I know we haven’t talked about it yet but they’re cool with you seeing me? I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, you know?” She asks. She’s so calm, like what she’s saying makes total sense to her.

Catra’s eyes narrow, confusion overtaking the excitement she felt, “Of course, why wouldn’t they be?”

Adora shrugs and then her shoulders relax and she sighs, bringing her hands up to rub her face. Her therapist had given her a homework assignment, and it was to go through with a real conversation about what was bothering her (if such a topic were to come up) instead of deflecting like she knew she was prone to doing. He’d clocked it mere minutes into their very first session, and told Adora that it wasn’t doing her any good to pretend everything was fine when it clearly wasn’t.

She swivels her desk chair to face the bed and rests her hands in her lap, picking at her nails. She looks at the wall behind Catra, a trick she’d been doing for years to give the illusion of eye contact.

“Well, it has been a while. Maybe they changed their minds? I’m not the same as I was back then, so it’s not like I thought they’d hold on to that perception of me. At least I hoped they wouldn't. Inviting me over is proof enough that they don’t still think like that or at least they’re willing to give me another chance. I just wanted to make sure it wouldn’t make them uncomfortable. I mean you’re an adult so they can’t exactly tell you who you can and can’t see, I just didn’t know if they still felt that way about me.”

Catra stands up and walks over to her girlfriend, fists clenching. She takes a deep breath to try to calm her racing heart rate and the rage that was building inside of her. She didn’t want to take this out on Adora, but she had a feeling she was about to learn some more of the absolute bullshit that bitter old woman had spewed at her. She grips the arm of her chair and reaches out to place a hand on her knee, kneeling in front of her.

“Adora, what are you talking about?” She asks, voice gentle.

“I just meant that… Well they sound really great from what you’ve told me, and they have to know I’ve changed since then, so they’re probably cool with us seeing each other now.” She says it so matter of fact, like it was something that should have been obvious.

She said it like Catra was supposed to agree and move on, but she couldn’t.

“Adora… I don’t understand,” She feels nauseated, because she has a terrible feeling she knows exactly what she’s talking about.

“I kept asking Ms. Weaver to call you but every time she did your parents didn’t want you around me anymore. I just wasn’t good for you and they didn’t want me to be around to be a bad influence or anything. Which I get! I totally get it! They were looking out for you and I don’t blame them at all for wanting that for you, really. It made me sad, I won’t lie about that, but it made total sense for them to do. We were always getting into trouble and I don’t think I’d want that kind of person around my kid either, really. But if they want me to come to dinner they’ve obviously changed their minds and they know I’ve changed. Right? I mean I have changed a lot! I wouldn’t ever do anything to put you in jeopardy,” She rambles on and on, like she’s trying nervously to sell the idea to Catra even though she’s the one who invited her over. She sounds like she’s trying to convince herself, too.

Catra can feel the world closing in around her with each passing word and dread makes her heart heavy and her stomach turn. Her eyes start to sting, and she knows she’s on the verge of tears. She wants to scream out her anger and hit something so hard it makes her knuckles bleed. She wants to find Weaver and drag her out of whatever deep dark crevice she’d shoved herself into and make her pay for what she’s done to Adora. She wants her to pay for all of the ways she’s hurt her, for all of the things she’d said to Adora and beaten into her physically and mentally to make her think that Catra’s parents could possibly be the kind of people to keep them apart, and for telling her that it was because of her.

“Adora that… That isn’t true. We tried to call, we tried to see you, but Weaver wouldn’t let us,” She whispers.

Adora blinks once and her brows turn down. “What? No that's… It was me. They didn’t want you to see me. I wasn’t… I wasn’t good for you. I wasn’t good enough for their daughter and they didn’t want my influence on you. They were protecting you from me and… If I was better they’d have let you see me. We could have been together all this time but I couldn’t…” She says, voice growing almost robotic and monotone, like she’d told herself this a thousand times.

Or like it was something she’d been told a thousand times.

Catra reaches out to cup Adora’s cheeks in her hands, “Baby girl, she lied to you. About all of it. You’re so good, such a good person, and they never thought that about you. They wanted me to keep seeing you because they knew how good you were for me and they were hoping to help get you out of there too, but there wasn’t anything they could do when there wasn’t any evidence of how she treated you and she was your legal guardian. Every attempt they made it was like she knew it was coming and she’d hide how much she hurt you so well that no one we told could find anything she’d done wrong. We tried so hard, for years, to see you. I swear, baby, I wouldn’t lie to you about this. It wasn’t ever a matter of you not being good enough. It was always her.”

“I… What? No she…,” She murmurs, slouching over further and taking long blinks like she's trying to clear her vision. Of everything Ms. Weaver told her she thought this one thing had to be true.

If even this was a lie then what about Adora’s childhood was real? If the one thing she was certain was true was just another way that Ms. Weaver was manipulating her, is she even the same person she would have turned out to be?

Is the truth that Adora had died a long time ago, and this version of herself was just Ms. Weaver’s plaything? She was just a soul trapped in this endless loop of thinking she’d finally done something right and being told she still hadn’t done enough. She was a husk of a person that existed for Ms. Weaver to mold and manipulate until who she was at the core of her being was long gone and replaced by thoughts and feelings that weren’t hers.

Is she still Adora at all?

“Baby?” Catra says, alarmed at the way Adora’s shoulders slump and she starts to fall forward weakly.

“I need… I’m dizzy. I need to lay down.”

So Catra helps her stand and take the few shaky steps to bed, tucking her in and folding herself into her side to cradle a blonde head against her chest. Only then, does Adora let the tears fall, shoulders shaking as she clings to her girlfriend.

She cries for the child she used to be, scared and alone with no one to teach her how to make mistakes and be ok with it.

She cries for the teenager that fell into despair with each and every failure.

She cries for the adult she became who was incapable of loving herself, who stood on a shaky foundation that fell out from under her more and more every day.

She cries for who she is now, for the person that has to deal with a lifetime’s worth of hurt that she had been taught the entire time to blame herself for when in reality the person responsible was the same person that was supposed to love her.

Catra whispers praises in her ear, telling her how much she loves her and how good she is.

She doesn’t stop until well after Adora has fallen asleep.

***

Catra puts the car in park and turns to Adora, who has been nearly silent for the drive to her parent’s house.

She was still reeling from the knowledge that Catra’s parents didn’t hate her and never had, nor had they tried to keep them apart. Maybe it was the trauma she’d been uncovering in therapy coming back to the surface where she was forced to confront it, but she had felt more vulnerable in the last few weeks than she had in years. Back when she still lived with Ms. Weaver, she had closed herself off for several reasons. The main ones being that the woman didn’t like it when Adora let herself out, but more importantly because it protected her from having her insecurities thrown back at her.

She knew healing would be hard. That didn’t change the fact that she never expected to spend every moment questioning her reality.

She feels Catra squeeze her hand and looks up at her encouraging smile and it makes her lips turn up just a little bit. She was excited to meet them, she really was. Her fear was down to a normal level for someone meeting their partner’s family for the first time, and it was refreshing to be experiencing the feeling at a normal level for once. Of course, she had recently discovered that she didn’t really know what a normal level of any emotion was, but she knew that this didn’t feel bad. Certainly not like it had before. This felt different than it did when she thought she was meeting two people who had hated her, and she considered it a win that she could make the distinction herself.

Her smile gets just a little bit wider at the fact that a few weeks ago she wouldn’t have been able to make the distinction at all, and she feels the tiniest bit of pride ignite in her chest at the progress she was making. It was small, and it was slow, but it was happening. Sometimes it felt stagnant, like she was stuck where she was and wasn’t making any headway at all, but then she would notice the smallest thing that had changed for the better and that was enough to be proud of herself.

“You ready?” Catra asks, squeezing her hand.

“Yeah, lets go.”

She can see Catra’s parents hovering in the bay window as they walk up to the door, and the way her girlfriend rolls her eyes and groans at her parents makes her giggle. Adora elbows her side lightly and she responds with an even more dramatic groan and shoves her shoulder.

She could get behind this whole ‘Sunday dinner’ thing if she could see Catra this embarrassed.

They walk up the weathered flagstone sidewalk and step inside the faded oak door, and Adora is struck by how comforting the interior of the house is. The way the warmth radiated from the fireplace in the corner made the heat feel comforting rather than suffocating, and the way the house smelled meshed well with the way she knew Catra smelled. The place was clean but worn, like the couches held Catra’s dreams and the carpet held her secrets. Catra’s entire childhood beyond where they’d been forced apart was here before her, and while her own history wasn’t attached to a particular place that she belonged, she could feel Catra’s presence in every part of the house that she saw. She feels a warmth she can’t describe, and if she didn’t know better she could swear it felt like home already.

Though, everywhere she went felt like home when she was with Catra.

“Hey kids!” Netossa says as she walks up and immediately drags her daughter into a reluctant, playful hug. She chuckles, rocking her back and forth while she halfheartedly tries to escape her grip.

”Kids”

She hadn’t been addressed as a kid in a while, and it gave her a carefree feeling she didn’t know still existed within her. Most people treated her like the adult she was. When she was a kid, they’d told her she was ‘mature for her age’ and an ‘old soul,’ which really just meant that she was good at repressing her trauma and personality in an attempt not to stand out too much.

Even when she was with other people her age, especially that last year of high school when she had just turned 18 and was living with Glimmer, people weren’t talking to her when they addressed a group of ‘kids.’ That never really included her, because even though they were all the same age they were always still teenagers, but somehow she was an adult.

She never got a chance to just be a kid, and she feels a tug in her chest at the way it makes her feel.

Spinerella walks up to greet her and she extends her hand with a timid smile.

“Hello ma’am, I’m Adora,” She says.

Netossa smirks at how polite she is and her intimate knowledge of how her wife would react to such a thing.

Spinerella swoops in and bats her hand away to drag her down into a hug that has her blushing. It’s tight, with an equal amount of rigidity to keep her locked in the embrace and soft enough that she didn’t want to leave.

“Oh, look at you! You’re just how I remember! Well, except for the extra height,” She says, pulling back to put her hands on Adora’s shoulders.

The twinkle in the older woman’s eye makes her feel like she’s at a reunion, talking to a family member that she hasn’t seen in a few years. She can’t really describe it, but the familiarity makes her grin.

“Yeah, kid, didn’t you two used to be the same height?” Netossa asks, and Adora looks over to see her ruffling her daughter’s hair. Catra just rolls her eyes at the teasing and smacks her hand off of her head.

“Whatever, it's not my fault she’s a giant,” She murmurs under her breath, but everyone in the room can tell that it’s a loving kind of backhanded murmur and not a malicious one.

Something in her eyes must shift because Mama’s eyes narrow like she can see the attitude coming full force.

“The real question is; didn’t your hair used to be brown instead of grey?” Catra retorts, a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she grins at her mama. It’s the same toothy grin Catra would give Adora when they were kids and up to no good.

It was the same look she gave her now when she was absolutely up to no good.

Netossa sputters a little bit, and Spinerella has to cover her mouth with her hand to hide her laughter as her wife tries her best to be offended.

“Well, it is lovely to see you again Adora. You can call me Spinerella, I’m Catra’s mom. That is Netossa, our Cat’s mama,” She says, shoulders still shaking with the remnants of a laugh.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you ma-” Adora starts, but Spinerella gently cuts her off.

“There’s no need for ‘ma’am’ with us, honey. You’re family.”

Adora couldn’t fathom how she was already family to these people, but it made her feel warm and fuzzy inside that they could just declare that so easily. They believed it, and from the gentle firmness in her voice and the fire of conviction in her eyes she can start to believe it too.

They’re looking at her like they love her already. She doesn’t love easily, but she thinks that with a little bit of time, she could love them too.

“Ok, it’s really nice to finally meet you, Spinerella and Netossa,” She whispers it like it’s a trick, though she knows that it’s not.

Catra takes in the sight of her partner standing there with a genuine smile while her mom squeezes her shoulder. There’s something in the way she’s standing, or maybe the way she’s looking at her mom, that makes Adora look younger than she has in a long time. Her posture is relaxed and her misty eyes are alight with a happiness and trust that was different than the way she looked at Catra. It was a good kind of different, that meant she was trusting them not only as other adults, but as other parents.

Her mama comes up and wraps her arm around her wife’s waist, smiling at Adora with a tenderness she didn’t ever give to strangers. It makes Catra giddy to see her family, her entire family here together like this after all of this time.

She shifts to stand next to Adora, placing a hand on her lower back and snaking it up around her waist. She places a kiss to her shoulder and lays her head down as she feels a larger, warm hand on her upper back.

What she doesn’t see is the way Adora looks down at her like she stitched the fabric of reality together to create this moment herself. She doesn’t see the way Adora squeezes her eyes shut and blinks a tear away as she looks down and sees Catra next to her. She definitely doesn’t see the uncontrollable grin on her face.

Netossa and Spinerella see it all, though, and they can’t think of a better person to love their daughter.

***

The fireplace casts a flickering orange glow over the living room as the last remnants of sunlight glow purple on the horizon. The stars are just starting to twinkle across the sky and the four of them lounge lazily, sipping on a nightcap of their selection of port wine or Baileys.

Adora sat on the couch with her legs extended to rest her feet on the ottoman, Catra sitting just barely to the side with her legs thrown over Adora’s lap. Her head was resting on the blonde’s shoulder, an arm wrapped around her back and the other resting in her lap with the glass in her hand. Her eyes are closed, and the only indication that she’s even awake is the hum she lets out whenever Adora leans down to kiss her forehead or nuzzle the top of her head with her nose. If Catra was dozing off, Adora wasn’t far behind, and her eyes had been falling further and further closed as she squeezed her arms tighter around her girlfriend.

Netossa and Spinerella sat on the opposite side of the L-shaped sectional, equally wrapped up in each other, until Spinerella moved to stand up.

“Adora?” She prompts, gently.

“Hm?” Her eyes drift back open to look up at her girlfriend’s mother where she stands in front of them.

She’s looking at her with something she can’t quite place, though the comforting smile is enough to settle her for the moment.

“Can I talk to you in the kitchen?” She asks.

“Oh. Yeah, of course.” And she’s wide awake now.

Catra’s groan of discontent when she plants a kiss on her forehead and shifts out from under her, resting her legs back down on the couch, is cute enough that the room’s other three inhabitants all look at her fondly.

It’s like she can feel their stares though, and cracks an eye open.

“Shut up,” She whines.

“We didn’t say anything,” Mama teases.

“You were all thinking it,” She grumbles, closing her eyes again and pulling the blanket over herself from where it draped over the back of the couch.

Adora bends forward to coo at her and tickle under her chin, and she laughs sleepily before remembering that she was supposed to be offended.

“Stoooooop,” She whines out again, though she’s fighting back a smile.

Adora leaves her girlfriend to snooze peacefully while she follows Spinerella into the kitchen. It was a good thing they had planned to stay the night, because neither of them was awake enough to make the drive back to the apartment after the filling dinner and cozy atmosphere.

When they’re both in the kitchen, Spinerella stops at the refrigerator and turns to face Adora.

“Netossa and I are probably going to head to bed soon, because we have to get up early to get to school. I wanted to make sure you knew where the leftovers were so you could take them with you in the morning,” She says, opening the refrigerator and pointing to the covered pan of leftover chicken.

“Oh, um. You’re sure you don’t want to keep them for yourself?” She says, fidgeting and shifting on her feet.

“I’m sure sweetheart. We have plenty. I also wanted you to take these,” She opens the freezer to reveal a couple of aluminum pans.

“You just keep these in the freezer, and when you need them, I wrote the baking directions on a note card for you. These two pans are for you, and if you want, it’s enough for lunch and dinner for a week. Then when you come on back for Sunday dinner next week, I’ll have some more ready for you.”

Adora stands there, staring at Catra’s mom without a clue what to say. She’s speechless, and the thoughts running through her head bounce between bewildered, gratitude, disbelief, and skepticism.

Should she protest? She should protest. Maybe they could take the food to a shelter to give to someone who really needed it. Or, since it was in the freezer, she could just ‘forget’ to take it with her and tell them later that they should keep it for themselves. Maybe…

“Adora?” She’s jolted from her thoughts and realizes her fists are clenched and her breathing is rapid. She blinks a few times and sniffs to will away the sting in her eyes.

Spinerella sighs and reaches forward to place a comforting hand on her shoulder, but pulls back when she notices the way Adora flinches and stiffens.

“When I turned 18 I moved out of my parents house,” She says.

Adora isn’t sure what this has to do with sheet pans of food, but listens anyway. If nothing else, it would help her stall while she figured out how to refuse without sounding ungrateful.

“They weren’t ok with me being gay, so I left. I tried to reach back out to them occasionally over the years after that, but eventually I stopped trying when I realized that no amount of time was going to get them to change their minds,” She continues.

“Oh, god, I… I’m so sorry that's,” she trails off. It was terrible. It was worse than this sweet woman before her, so full of love and joy, deserved to feel.

“So I couch surfed between friend’s houses while I worked full time. I eventually got enough scholarship money to go to college, so I could really start trying to build a future for myself. While I made enough to pay my rent and the scholarships covered tuition well enough, I found myself becoming familiar with the feeling of spending the remnants of my paycheck on the electric bill or the water bill, and going to bed early so I didn’t have to feel how hungry I was.”

Oh

That’s where she is going with this

“No one helped me, because I didn't tell anyone. There were a few reasons I didn’t seek help. I already got tuition covered, so I thought I already was getting all of the help I deserved. I worked, and just thought that if I was short on money I was supposed to be working harder. I didn’t want anyone to know how little I had my life together. My greatest fear was that someone would find out how poorly I was doing on my own and suggest I go back to my parents house.”

It’s starting to sound very familiar to Adora, and she didn’t know she could relate so much to someone else’s story. She didn’t know there were other people struggling in the same way that she was now. If Spinerella is standing here sharing a time of her life where she was in the same position, and she didn’t look back on it with the same shame she probably felt at the time, it gave Adora hope that eventually she would look back and wouldn’t be so ashamed either.

The older woman can see in Adora’s eyes that she is starting to understand just how this story fits in with her own, and sees the moment Adora’s eyes focus again, like she’s returning from the withdrawn place she’d sent herself to. She reaches forward again, slower this time, and when she sees that Adora doesn’t stiffen and flinch away she cups her shoulder and squeezes gently.

“Sweetheart, I know what it’s like to turn 18 and suddenly be completely alone. I know what it feels like to look at your empty refrigerator and think that you should have worked harder or spent less on something else, and if you’d done that you would have enough to eat. Trust me when I say, that no matter how much it feels like you have to do this all on your own, you don’t. Your support network isn’t going to fall out from under you if you let yourself accept help. I know that it feels like it, when the people that were supposed to take care of you failed so badly that you can’t put your trust in anyone else to do this for you. But your friends and their parents? Cat, Tossa, and me? We’re not going to rip the rug out from under you and leave you hanging if you let us support you,” She says firmly. The conviction in her voice and the fierceness in her eyes tell Adora that she means every word.

“You won’t?” She asks, in the voice of a broken child who just wanted to be loved and have her basic needs met.

“We won’t. I swear to you. You should have had the help all along.”

“People act like… I don’t know. Like the pain helped me in some way. When I started living with Glimmer, all of the teachers looked at me with admiration. They applauded me for being so strong.”

It makes Spinerella squeeze her eyes shut and hang her head, sighing.

“You didn’t need to be stronger. You were a child, and you needed someone to protect you.”

That was the final blow, the crack that allowed the dam to finally burst open and she twists her face as the tears start falling.

“I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted someone to love me,” She whispers, letting the child she’d left behind long ago finally cry about the needless cruelty.

“I’m sorry Adora,” She says, opening her arms in a silent invitation that the blonde accepts, slamming herself forward into the hug and letting someone hold her.

She buries her face in Spinerella’s neck and for the first time she feels what it’s like to have a mother hold her. It’s the tightest hug she’s ever gotten, and she can practically feel the love pouring out of it.

“I’m so sorry no one protected you. But even though we’re late, we’re all here now and we all want you to know how much we love you.”

When her sobs turn to shivers and she finds her voice again, Adora pulls back to look at Spinerella.

“How can you say you love me already?” She asks.

It’s a fair question, because the words didn’t hold any weight if they could be thrown around so casually.

“Sweetheart, we loved you from the moment we met you back in that house. We loved you when you stood in front of Catra and introduced yourself to us and told us that you were there to make sure we gave your friend a good home. We loved you when we tried to get you out of there, and we loved you when Catra came home crying the night you saw each other again. We loved you when you got her those flowers for her birthday, when you took care of her when she was in pain. We loved you when Cat said you were finally going to therapy to get the help you needed. We loved you when you walked up the sidewalk to our house today and we loved you when you pulled out Catra’s chair when we sat down for dinner. We loved you when you sat there on the couch holding her tight and looking at her like she painted the night sky herself. We love you, Adora, because you’re you, and how could we not?”

Adora believes her, and she believes that she deserves every bit of it.

Chapter Text

Adora sits in the worn leather armchair in the den, nursing a mug of tea and staring out the large bay window, head nuzzled down into the collar of their zip up fleece. The silence is a peaceful one, absorbing the stillness before the day really begins. Snow blankets the ground, still falling in a steady yet gentle stream of flakes that had started a couple of hours prior as the house slumbered in the early hours of the morning. It’s still dim, street lights reflecting off of the shimmering snowfall, muted rays just starting to filter through the heavy cloud cover. They’ve been here for a while, taking in the stillness. There hasn’t been a single car, but there were several sets of prints etched into the snowfall from early morning dog walkers.

They turn away from the window to peer further into the house. The sound of breakfast sizzling away on the stove is accompanied by Spinerella’s humming, and Adora can only imagine that the woman just out of their line of sight is sipping her own tea with a spatula in hand. Beyond the kitchen in the living room Netossa is kneeling by the fireplace getting it going. By the looks of it, the first few pieces of kindling are just starting to crackle to life and they can see the tiny embers glowing like little heart beats, fluttering like eyelashes. A holiday jazz medley flutters through the speakers on either side of the entertainment center at a low volume. It’s a whisper, to soothe those who can hear it but low enough not to wake the remaining occupant of the house.

Their mind drifts to the woman sleeping just down the hall where Adora left her. Catra’s hip had been stiff these last couple of weeks as the weather took a frigid turn, and while she certainly didn’t let on how bad it was, no one could deny the slow limp in her step and her more sedentary activities. If she was actually sleeping peacefully, they weren’t about to wake her.

Not only that, but Adora would openly admit to anyone (that promised to keep it a secret) that Catra was the absolute cutest person in the world when she was sleepy. She acted so tough, and Adora loved it, but there wasn’t anything better than getting to see the side of her that whined when Adora stopped snuggling her and nuzzled further in when she was seconds from falling asleep. She protested when Adora got out of bed this morning, and the only reason they were able to drag themself away was the fact that they were way too awake to fall back asleep. To rectify their heinous crime of halting the cuddles, they grabbed the rest of the blankets and pillows scattered around the room to cocoon her. She made it easy, rolling to the direct center of the bed as soon as it was unoccupied, and gratefully accepted each new addition to her nest as Adora practically swaddled her. Only once she was snoring again, wrapped in a number of blankets that would have had Adora sweating, they were happy enough with their handiwork to head out to the den.

Gazing downward, Adora’s fingers trace the pattern on the handmade blanket covering their lap. The worn piece had been gifted to the couple by Netossa’s father, who had crocheted it himself upon finding out that they were trying to adopt a child. They’d seen Catra wrap it around herself many times, and could tell by the way she closed her eyes and smiled that it comforted her. There was a softness and warmth woven into it that was more than the sum of each individual thread, and Adora felt honored and more than a little bit emotional that something so sentimental had been draped over their lap so casually.

When Catra’s parents had shuffled sleepily out of their bedroom and taken in Adora’s spot by the window, Netossa had grabbed the blanket from the back of the living room couch while Spinerella made them a cup of tea.

Adora knew the truth; that Catra’s parents hadn’t for even a second entertained the thought of keeping the kids apart. They knew it logically, but the fear still gripped them in those moments where the insecurity reared it’s head and they still felt like it was their fault somehow. Addressing those thoughts and fighting them off, reminding themself that they deserved every bit of the love they got from these people, was an exhausting and overwhelming process. It was worth it though, for those moments where they could unclench their jaw and just let their family love them.

Family

The family that Adora had been patching together ever since they met Glimmer and Bow in high school, stitching mismatched pieces into a beautiful quilt, just kept growing. They felt it so strongly, too. It was like the love was there before, but it was masked by feelings of insecurity. They felt like they didn’t deserve to be loved so freely without having done anything to warrant someone’s care and attention. But once they let themself feel it, take in the feeling of someone loving them just because they could and for no other reason, they felt their heart swell.

Once the two people they were the most afraid to meet showed that they really, genuinely loved them? That changed everything.

They felt like a member of the family; like Spinerella and Netossa loved them just the same that they loved Catra. They proved that every day with their actions, but it hit Adora blunt force the morning after their first Sunday dinner when they’d woken to a text in the family group message they’d been added to.

”Hey kids, before you leave today, could you please put away the dishes and run a load of towels through the laundry? Text us when you get to the city safe and have a good day at school! Love you!”

It felt so normal that it brought a tear to their eye, and they tucked their smile into Catra’s shoulder as she continued to sleep. They weren’t used to feeling normal. They weren’t used to the feeling of fitting so seamlessly into a family.

This wasn’t to say that Adora didn’t still love Angella and Micah, Lance and George, and everything they did for them. Adora would always love them, and would always appreciate their kindness in their darkest moments when they could have been well and truly alone.

The weeks since they’d started coming to Sunday dinners was probably the most consistently they’d seen an adult figure in their life. This one constant felt like it was the cornerstone, giving structure to their entire week. It was something they felt like they needed more now that the winter semester classes had started online and work fluctuates depending on when they needed them. The lack of schedule and consistency that came with time off of school never served their mental health very well, so this was the refresh they needed to start their week.

Coming over every Sunday for dinner, more importantly, meant telling their boss and HR that they couldn’t work Sundays anymore. It was the biggest test, as far as Adora was concerned, whether they were making real progress toward trying to do right by themself and stop overworking. Setting boundaries was never something they were good at, because up until recently they thought that if there was a spare second of the day, it should have been focused on something productive. The thought of putting their foot down used to terrify them, and corner their mind into a worst case scenario out of the guilt of potentially screwing someone else over to cover for them. Now, though, it felt empowering to recognize what they needed and ask for it.

The world wouldn’t fall apart if Adora took the breaks they needed.

That wasn’t the only thing that made them anxious about taking time off, though. Hours at work used to equal meals. Shifts were entire grocery lists at times. Taking a whole Sunday off, a full 8 hour shift, used to feel like crossing things off of their grocery list for the week before they even went to the store.

Ground turkey is out for the week, but I have chicken thighs in the freezer that should last me.

The real problem? The driving factor that led to eliminating food of all things from their weekly budget came from that same fear of having the rug pulled out from under them. The obsessive calculations of how much money they needed to make, how much they needed to save, in order to afford rent this summer if they didn’t have somewhere to go when the scholarship money ran out had kept them up all night more than once. When the numbers didn’t add up the way they needed to, is when things got crossed off of the list.

It wasn’t a good system, but they figured that this was just one of those rough patches when things were supposed to be hard.

Struggle meant you were earning your prosperity, right?

Except that wasn’t right. The way Adora was made to feel was never right.

Now though, they’d gotten more comfortable than they thought possible with the idea of letting Catra’s parents take care of them. It was more comfortable than they had ever been taking something from someone else, and what was more bizarre, was that it didn’t feel like charity at all.

All because they treated Adora exactly the way they treated Catra, and they felt the love pouring out of them with every moment they spent together.

The humming gets closer and Spinerella rounds the corner with the kettle and a fresh tea bag in her hands, coming to a stop in front of Adora’s spot. Netossa slides up next to her wife and wraps an arm around her waist. They’re in matching pajamas, the same as the two pairs they’d left on Catra’s bed for the two of them.

The spontaneous matching pajamas really threw them for a loop, but Catra just huffed dramatically and rolled her eyes. Apparently it happened often, but especially when the couple was off work for the week of winter break, and wearing them was absolutely mandatory. Netossa and Spinerella would probably stay in theirs all day, wrapped up in each other and being damn near the cutest couple that Adora had ever seen.

Unfortunately for them, they didn’t hold a candle to how cute Adora knew they looked standing next to Catra.

“Need some more sweetheart?”

They smile up at the moms, holding the mug out.

“Yes please,” They whisper, like raising their voice would break the magic of the peaceful morning.

Spinerella plops the tea in their empty mug and fills it with water. The mug instantly warms, and Adora feels the heat, just on the edge between soothing and too hot to handle, searing the pads of their fingers in a rush that shoots up their arms and warms their chest.

Spinerella’s eyes sparkle as she turns to place a kiss to her wife’s head, both of them smiling and squeezing each other tighter.

“Thank you,” Adora says.

“You’re welcome. Breakfast will be ready soon, honey,” She says as they both turn to retreat to the kitchen.

Adora, for the life of them, doesn’t know what possesses them to reach out right at this moment. They’re not even sure why they don’t want to wait and tell Catra first. The impulse comes from a place of safety, and they’ll take the opportunity for what it’s worth. The morning holds such a peaceful kind of warmth, and Adora feels the words bubbling up and ready to burst out. They wouldn’t always have the strength to push forward like this, and would probably fall back on their progress sometimes, but for now they wouldn’t let fear stop them from taking what they needed.

And being their authentic self? That was something they needed.

“Hey, Um?” Adora says, finding their voice.

The older women turn back to face Adora, giving them their undivided attention.

Adora bites their lip in anticipation, but while the nerves are present, the panic they anticipate never comes.

“You could call me ‘they’ sometimes, if you feel like it. I like ‘she’ just as much, but something about ‘they’ feels right too. I just… sometimes I feel like a girl, and sometimes I don’t,” They say, biting their lip and looking up at the two women.

They just smile at them and nod.

“Do you want us to use both equally, or does one feel better than the other depending on the day?” Spinerella asks.

Adora considers that for a moment. They hadn’t put thought into it other than that both felt right. They supposed that, while there were days they felt more like a woman, enjoyed being a woman, there were also days when they thought neither fit better. “Both. Some days I think it would be good to alternate, but I think today… I think today I just feel like ‘they.’”

Their smiles light up the room, and they both grin at Adora like there wasn’t a person in the world they were more proud of.

“Of course, baby,” Spinerella says coming forward to kiss them on the cheek. She runs her fingers through Adora’s hair, pressing her mouth into the top of their head for just a moment longer. It spoke volumes, it’s softness telling Adora how much it meant to her to have them trust her like that. Spinerella pulls away to head back to the kitchen, sending Adora the most loving smile they think they’ve ever received.

“I’m proud of you, kid,” Netossa says, patting them on the shoulder and squeezing with an affectionate smile.

They both walk away to continue their tasks, Netossa coaxing the fire to a roar and Spinerella continuing breakfast. They act like it was the most normal request in the world, like it wasn’t anything to bat an eye at and there wasn’t anything further to discuss.

There was no ‘why.’

There was only ‘of course,’ and ‘I’m proud of you,’ like they wouldn’t treat them any different but they’d do this one thing that would make all the difference in the world.

It was pretty obvious how they’d react, since they were a lesbian couple with a transgender lesbian daughter, but it was still nice to share this part of themself with the two people who had now become the focal point of their ideas of ‘family.’

Their eyes sting, because to be taken so seriously with this thing that they had only recently let themself consider, was insurmountable. They hadn’t let themself think about other pronouns besides the ones they’d always used, because up until that morning when Bow had handed them the binder, they thought that things like that weren’t their right to take. But now? They’d come to realize that any word that made them feel more like themself was a word that was meant for them.

Any pronoun, or piece of clothing, or service, was meant for them in every conceivable way because they were someone who needed it. That was the biggest take away from all of their sessions, all of the hours spent thinking and working to undo the toxic mindset they’d been trapped in for so long. If Adora needed it, that alone made it something that was meant for them.

Adora gets up to walk to the kitchen for breakfast, looking forward to Spinerella’s practically world famous French toast along with the fried eggs and bacon they could smell were waiting for them.

The consistency with which Spinerella was intent on providing food for Adora lifted such a burden off of the blonde’s shoulders. She took the responsibility and hadn’t ever let Adora think it was more than the love they deserved. While breakfasts weren’t normally this much of an affair, with their Monday morning routines starting bright and early, Adora would find at the bare minimum a tupperware container of oatmeal waiting for them on the kitchen counter. It added another layer of care that made this new familial connection more palpable, and wore away more of the protective layer they had around their heart. The support was constant, never wavering for a moment, and the trust it built lifted more and more from their shoulders every time the family kept their promises to them.

Spinerella was right when she said that Adora’s support system, should they choose to trust and rely on it, wouldn’t fall out from under them. The instinct to err on the side of caution didn’t go away, and probably wouldn’t for a long time, because it was what kept them safe for all of those years when protecting themself was a fight that they were absolutely capable of losing. However, with time, it became more and more clear that everyone meant it when they swore to love and help them. The conviction behind those words was enough to make Adora willing to trust, but the evidence they got every week without fail when there was food in the freezer for them to take back to the apartment was what really started to change their mind.

There wasn’t anything weak about trusting someone else. There wasn’t anything wrong with being vulnerable.

***

Not surprisingly, Catra shuffled into the kitchen when the smell of breakfast reached her nose, making a B-line for Adora’s lap as soon as her eyes zero in on her partner seated at the table. She grumbles under her breath with eyes half closed, noises growing more indignant when she notices her moms grinning at each other and she shoots them a glare that makes Netossa snort and turn away.

And now Adora was here to grin at her too, like she was cute or something. Adora’s friends were terrible for it as well, and it was honestly infuriating. Sometimes she couldn’t believe her misfortune that she was going to have to spend the rest of her life surrounded by such overwhelming dorks. But then she’d catch herself and smile, and think the rest of my life, huh?

Because apparently, she was one of those dorks now too.

She was learning that maybe that wasn’t the worst thing in the world, either.

“You left me,” She whispers, arms wrapping around Adora’s broad shoulders and nuzzling her cold nose into their collar bone. Through an amount of effort that is not insignificant, she manages to worm her way within the high collar of the fleece sweater to rub her whole face on Adora’s neck until she is satisfied that she’s finally close enough.

She feels their chest shake with a deep chuckle as arms come up to wrap around her, holding her close, fingers scratching at her lower back. Adora leans down to press kisses to the top of her head.

“I’m sorry, kitten. I just didn’t want to wake you.”

Before she can respond, her mom approaches.

“Cat, honey, sit in your own chair so they can eat,” Spinerella says, placing a plate on the mat at Adora’s spot at the table.

It makes them freeze, and Catra honestly can’t tell at first what the issue is until she gets to her own chair and looks over to see Adora looking down with a look of trepidation.

Then it hits her.

While she’d known about the fluidity of her partner’s gender identity, and knew that they certainly had been struggling to figure it out more recently, Adora hadn’t actually come out to her and told her what pronouns to use and how to refer to them yet. She could see the wheels turning in Adora’s head every time they looked in the mirror at their chest with the binder on or ran their hands through their hair, but could tell by the smile that their presentation was headed in a direction they were much more comfortable with. Adora was discovering things about themself that they hadn’t let through before because focusing on their own issues wasn’t something they really knew how to do.

Catra grins at Adora, and reaches over to squeeze their arm. Her partner was finally getting comfortable enough with themself and their identity, and trusting the people around them with that information. Placing that faith in someone else was no small feat, she knew that well, and it was a wonder to get to see it happen to this person that she loved more than anything.

She was just so proud of Adora, for coming out of their shell and voicing what they needed, talking about things that they wouldn’t ever have wanted to bring up for fear of inconveniencing them.

Adora’s growth, their healing journey, was astounding to watch and be a part of.

She was honestly in constant awe of this person, and sometimes couldn’t believe that she was lucky enough for them to be her person.

“Alright, I guess they can eat in peace,” She says.

Adora’s eyes snap up to meet hers, studying her face. She holds the eye contact, gentle smile hoping to sooth the anxiety pulsing out of them. Waves of relief roll off of Adora as their shoulders relax, and they reach down to grab Catra’s hand, bringing it up to their mouth, and kissing the back of it softly.

It’s not long before Spinerella and Netossa are joining them at the table with the rest of breakfast, carrying on light conversation.

“Ok! We got breakfast, and then after I think it might be time to head down to the basement to continue last night’s game of Monopoly. I will be taking over as banker because Spinny was cheating-”

“Whatever you say, dear.” Spinerella interrupts, hand in front of her mouth as she giggles.

Catra leans over to ‘whisper’ in Adora’s ear, “That’s what she sounds like when she’s been cheating.”

Adora drops their fork and slaps a hand to their forehead and groans, “I knew my change was wrong but she just kept insisting that she was a math teacher and that my lack of confidence in her was insulting.”

Netossa pipes up, “Yeah, that’s also how you know she’s cheating.”

“How long has Mom been a total cheater? I trusted her,” Adora asks.

“Well that was your first mistake, babe.”

Discussion continues about just how good Spinerella was at the art of deception, much to her chagrin. Netossa and Catra take a little too much pleasure in bringing up all of the stories of her carefully crafted trickery over the years, all of the ways she’d bamboozled the two of them on game night and they put together hours later what had actually happened to them.

No one mentions that Adora called her ‘Mom.’

Mostly because Spinerella felt a whole lot like their mom already.

***

The house was quiet, both couples having retreated back to their bedrooms for an afternoon nap. To no one’s surprise, the game got a little more fair after Netossa took control of the bank for her wife, though she still won the game.

Catra hadn’t faltered for a second with switching the way she addressed her partner, and Adora was grateful. They didn’t think it would be a big deal, or even big news to Catra. That didn’t stop the anxiety from creeping up at the idea of offending their girlfriend for not even bothering to come out to her before her own parents.

It wasn’t a matter of trust, because Adora trusted Catra with their newfound identity more than anyone else. They’re not even sure why that moment in the den felt like the right time to finally say it out loud. They just know that the urge had welled up within them so fast and forcefully that it was practically bursting out before they could even fathom why they wanted to all of a sudden.

Catra wouldn’t hear any apology about it, though.

She turned to Adora so they were facing each other, legs crossed underneath them on the bed, and grabbed their shoulder with a gentle hand.

“You come out to the people you think are best, no matter what anyone else’s feelings are about it. God knows I chose the wrong people when I did it, so if coming out to my parents before me seemed appropriate at the time? That’s not a single ounce of my fucking business no matter what. I’m proud of you for doing it, for voicing what your needs are and for telling someone that you trust with that information. Don’t ever think you have to take other people’s feelings into consideration when you want to start sharing something that personal.”

Adora squeezes their eyes shut and nods, understanding the point of what Catra was saying.

There was just one thing that they hadn’t talked about yet, one thing that caught their attention and pulled their heart into the pit of their stomach.

While they had put it together from the brief mentions of what had happened, they still didn’t know exactly what Catra went through. Adora didn’t know why Catra woke up in a cold sweat, eyes clouded over and far away. They didn’t know what happened to make her limp for the first few hours of the day when she woke up too late to do her stretches. They didn’t know why she had chronic pain in her hip and headaches. They didn’t know what happened to make her so angry and scared and distrustful on her worst days when the memories of whatever it was were plaguing her.

They wanted desperately to know, not because they were nosey (which they were) or because they thought Catra owed them an explanation, but because they thought Catra deserved to be supported by a partner that understood what she was going through. Catra knew everything about Adora’s childhood, what they’d gone through in Ms. Weaver’s house, and their struggles since. It didn’t seem fair for Catra to have to shoulder both of their trauma when Adora wanted nothing more than to be there through what Catra was dealing with.

“Cat?” They ask, raising their voice in question.

“Yeah?” She’s apprehensive at Adora’s moment of silence and renewed hesitancy.

“Kitten what… what happened?”

Catra freezes. She knew it was a delusional thought, but she was still hoping it was something they could just leave in the past where it belonged. She didn’t want to think about it, to bring up how foolish and misguided teenage her had been.

She’s silent for a beat too long, and Adora is backpedaling to placate her insecurity.

“You don’t have to share everything, or anything you aren’t comfortable with. But Catra I can see that whatever it is still hurts you. I can see that you’re working through it, and on those days where you’re nearly silent and won’t even talk to me other than one word answers I know that whatever happened in high school with those people is what you’re thinking about. And it doesn’t bother me! If that is just your way of processing it, that isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and I don’t want you to think it upsets me or anything when it doesn’t. If you’ll let me, I want to help. I want to support you with your past the way you support me with mine.”

Catra considers it. She really considers saying ‘no’ and moving on with her day, because on most days she really didn’t think about it. She wanted to pretend that most of the time she didn’t let it affect her, didn’t let it hurt her. Unfortunately, when the trauma followed her, when it governed her decisions and behaviors to this day, leached into every part of her life, it had never really stayed in the past anyway.

She wanted Adora to know, she just didn’t like the idea of having to actually tell her.

But if Adora was going through the process of trying to heal, talking out their trauma, and finally sharing so Catra could get an understanding of them, she wanted to do the same thing. It’s time. There isn’t any reason to drag it out any longer when it would just prolong the inevitable.

She planned on being with Adora for the rest of her life, so it wasn’t like she had anything to hide.

Maybe she’d waited too long to share anyway.

She sits in contemplative silence for a moment. She hadn’t ever had to tell this story to anyone, because everyone that knew was there to experience it with her. It took a couple of minutes to figure out where exactly to start.

“It was high school, toward the end of my sophomore year. I had been having problems with my identity for as long as I could remember, and was acting out a lot. I only had like, three friends who stuck with me through how much of a total ass I was. I was just… I was so angry, and I was manipulative and mean to pretty much everyone and the worst part was that I didn’t even know why. I just knew that something was wrong.”

“When I came to live with them, Mom and Mama sent me to a therapist to make sure I had someone to talk to. They recognized how big of a change it was to my life, and how scary it could have been. I saw them through the rest of elementary school, and stopped when I got to middle school. When they saw how I was acting they put together that it must have been because I was hurting in some way, and sent me back to therapy. Not surprisingly, I was angry about that too. It took a lot of time, and it was really painful, but I finally started talking more and more about how… Just all around uncomfortable I was. It started with talking about the way clothes fit me, the way I looked, the way I was treated, and eventually led into the rest. It was the biggest factor in figuring out that I was trans, actually. I was so good at repressing my feelings and lashing out that if I had to be the one to think about it unprompted it would have taken years longer than that to figure it out, and I would have destroyed myself along the way. I know I would have. I was already so ready to just… Leave my parents and everything I knew behind if I had to, just to get them to stop treating me the way that they did, even though I didn’t know what exactly about it even hurt.”

Catra’s mouth turns up, and though she’s still looking off with that far away look in her eyes, at least now she’s smiling.

“I’d finally figured out what was wrong. It all finally made so much sense and I wasn’t confused anymore. It was such a relief in and of itself because I knew who I was. I hadn’t known who I was in years and then it all just clicked together and I loved it. I loved how I felt. I looked in the mirror and, while I still saw the parts of myself that I wanted to change, under it all, I saw a woman.”

“So I decided to come out. I knew my parents would accept me, but for some reason I wanted to come out to my friends first. I guess I was trying to pretend, through them, what your reaction would be if I were to tell you. A lot of what I did revolved around what I thought you would say, really. I’d wonder where along the line I would have pushed you away, where you would have decided that I was more trouble than I was worth, where you would have gained popularity with your personality that is just so much more attractive than mine and left me behind. I thought about if I would have deserved it or not. I thought about you a lot, and was just so scared of what you would think if you ever found out that I lost myself even more. So coming out to the few friends I had was my litmus test to imagine how you would react.”

Adora doesn’t interrupt, because it wouldn’t be productive to make this about them. They had a feeling Catra knew now that Adora wouldn’t have left her when she was hurting like that, especially when they had the childhood together that they did.

Catra sighs and looks down, losing what little smile she’d gotten from the first part and Adora knew that this was where the story was about to take a sinister downturn. They don’t touch, just reach out a hand about halfway across the space between them and hold their palm up. It’s an invitation, a suggestion, a support just in case. Catra stares at the outstretched hand in front of her for a moment, thinking about what they still have to talk about, how little control she had over her emotions once they got into the real part of the story, but decides to reach her hand out anyway.

It’s with a deep breath that she finally speaks.

“They liked to hang out in the stairwell in the back of the school that connected the library to the Junior class parking lot. I told Mama once, because she asked, but I could tell she didn’t like that I hung out there. It was notorious to the rest of the teachers for being the stairwell everyone tried to get away with smoking in, so they didn’t really want me hanging out there. Obviously they didn’t want me smoking, but they especially didn’t want me to get caught with them if I wasn’t and get thrown into the repercussions with the rest of them. But they didn’t tell me what to do. They just said that there would be consequences if I ever got caught doing something against school rules, but didn’t use it as an excuse to bust anyone. A couple of people gave me shit for it but I’m glad I told them because that was…” She trails off.

She’s already getting choked up, and squeezes the firm, warm hand in hers.

When she feels it squeeze back, long fingers winding with hers, she continues.

“That was the only way they knew where to look for me that day.”

“So I told them. Jill just kind of… Looked at me. But Cameron, she was angry somehow. I still don’t know what about it made her so mad but she acted like I betrayed her or lied to her somehow. She just kept yelling at me, getting closer, and I couldn’t focus on anything but her screaming so I just kept trying to back away. Before I knew it I felt her hands on me, pushing me back, and then I was falling”

“I remember pain in my hip, and I think I remember my leg twisting. My head hurt so bad and when I opened my eyes I saw blurry masses, which I can only assume to be people, walking away. I couldn’t really keep my eyes open, and the fluorescent light started to hurt, so I closed my eyes.”

“I don’t know how long it was, but I felt a hand on my shoulder. My hip, down into my thigh, and my head were all screaming at me and when I cracked my eyes open it was worse. But I knew it was…”

Her voice breaks, “I knew it was my Mama.”

“She was on the phone, her voice was frantic, but she just kept her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it to let me know she was there. When she hung up she dropped her phone and grabbed my hand. I think she wanted to rub my head, but she didn’t know how hurt I was, so she just grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I don’t know how bad I looked, but it must have been awful, because she just kept… She just kept telling me she loved me.”

She’s crying silently, a tear falling down her face. She isn’t sobbing, just letting the tears fall where they may because at this point the worst of the story was over. Though her recovery was long and hard, it didn’t compare at all to the way it felt to wake up with her mama next to her.

“I don’t remember a lot after that. The hospital sucked. The lights were always too bright and the food was awful. And because I didn’t come out to them first, I had to do it right before the police came in to take my statement. Imagine that; hospital bed, exhausted and injured, having to come out to your parents because any minute the sheriff was going to walk in and you’d have to tell them exactly why your friend pushed you down the fucking stairs.”

Catra rolls her eyes and chuckles, but there’s something dark underneath, and they’re not anywhere near a funny part of this story.

“They tried to act like they didn’t do it. They tried to pretend that they left before, and I must have just fallen down the stairs and blamed them. But they didn’t count on the fact that it was a fucking school and there were security cameras in the stairwell. Fucking dipshits.”

Adora squeezes her hand again, grounding her through. It was what she needed, because she always got lost in how absolutely asinine it sounded that they thought they could just get away with it so easily.

“Things were ok after that, but not really. I was out, and no one messed with me because I was already down and not even the biggest asshole was going to make fun of the trans kid on crutches, and then a cane as it got closer to the end of the school year. It just kind of blew that the people I hung out with were so shitty and I didn’t even realize it. They couldn’t bother me anymore, because they were all expelled and the ones I could press charges against I did. Their parents begged me not to, because then they would all have a criminal record, but I was out for fucking blood after that. They weren’t getting away with shit if I had anything to say about it, and I had a lot of time to stew in the anger when I was in the hospital.

“Scorpia really saved me, honestly. She was the only friend I had outside of that group, and she didn’t hang out with us because she didn’t like them. I should have listened to her judge of character sooner because she’d been right about them all along. She was persistent, just kept at it and didn’t let me push her away until one day I finally just blew up on her. I started yelling and letting it all out, and I just couldn’t stop until I was crying in a slumped over puddle on the couch.”

“I was just so tired of being angry. I was tired of being in pain. I was tired of my parents looking at me like they were terrified to lose me. I was tired of everyone at school being nice to my face and whispering behind my back. God, fuck, Adora I was just so tired of all of it. And at the end, when I finally stopped fighting all of their help and kindness, I finally got to see my parents and Scorpia smile at me like they were happy again.”

“And then things really got better, but not before I let them get so incredibly bad that I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore. Adora I didn’t want you to feel like that; like you had to wallow in your own self-induced torment just because it was the way you were taught to react. I couldn’t just let you suffer for all of the shit you were going through when I know that sometimes all it takes is for someone to get through to you and show you that it’s ok to let people care.”

Catra looks to her partner, staring into grey-blue eyes for the first time since she started her explanation. She didn’t think she could stand to sit there and see the look in Adora’s eyes with each word that needed to pass her lips, so she did the only thing she could do. She had looked away to get the words out.

She didn’t expect to see what she did when her gaze returned to Adora’s.

They looked pissed. They looked angry beyond anything Catra had ever seen from them. The conviction in their eyes, the fire burning in their cheeks and with each exhale. There are tears streaming down their face, and Catra knows that they’re equally sad as they are angry.

“I’m so sorry, Catra. I’m so, so sorry for what you went through and that because of that fucking cunt I wasn’t there. I’m sorry you had to go through all of that. I’m sorry you were betrayed by the people that were supposed to care for you. I know there isn’t anything I can say that will undo the pain, but just know, that as long as I’m here? You don’t ever have to deal with it alone. You don’t have to wake up in pain and do your stretches by yourself. You don’t have to lay in bed on the worst days wondering if you’ll have nightmares when you fall asleep. You don’t have to sit there being haunted by the memories without anyone to talk to. I won’t let you deal with it alone, as long as you want me there with you.”

Catra doesn’t feel the way she normally does when she thinks of the incident.

She normally feels ashamed, not at the attack itself, but at the way she just fell so easily into it as though the few years she’d lived with her parents had erased the logic and instinct to withhold trust.

Now? She feels free.

She has this feeling that this? What her and Adora have?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the beginning.

She thought they were well on their way but now she realizes that what was holding them back before didn’t apply anymore.

The chains were gone.

***

Adora practically bounces as they sit in the passenger seat of Catra’s car. The couple had gone to campus so Catra could pick up some things from the sculpture lab to borrow on vacation, and they’d stayed just long enough for Adora to get in a workout and shower at the rec center.

They destroyed their squat PR.

They wrecked their mile time.

And they were so fucking horny they didn’t know what to do with themself.

“Alright dork, what has you so worked up?” Catra says, smirking as she looks over at her partner.

Adora looked like they were about to explode, but that didn’t mean she was going to let them off the hook that easy.

“Nothing! I um… yeah I was just hyped about the workout,” They respond, trying not to seem as obvious as they know they are.

The truth was that Adora was fucking amped, and they wanted to get absolutely destroyed.

“Mhm ok baby how about we head home and start… playing?” Catra says, voice a little husky and a gleam of mischief in her eyes that makes Adora blush furiously.

“Yes! Yeah absolutely lets uh. Let’s do that,” They say, looking down at the hands clenched in their lap.

Catra just chuckles at her nervous partner and reaches over to run her hand up their inner thigh.

The path of her hand continues, just like that, as they pass stoplight after stoplight. Intersection after intersection Catra just keeps trailing her fingers ever so lightly up Adora’s inner thigh, and scratching her nails back down almost to their knee. She grins, a feral kind of pleasure radiating out of her at the way her partner’s breath catches with each pass up and their body goes rigid as she continues the path down. Occasionally she would ghost a finger nail up the seam at the crotch of Adora’s sweatpants and feel the heat radiating between their legs.

Once they finally make it out of the city, and they’re a stone’s throw away from the apartment, she moves her hand up to cup Adora’s sex through their sweatpants, drumming her fingers down. It makes them shudder, biting their lip and squeezing their eyes shut tight.

“Let’s get home so I can play with you, baby.”

There isn’t any argument, not that Adora would have argued.

When Catra finally slams Adora’s body down in bed, they’re both panting with swollen, red lips.

“Cuffs?” Adora says, trying to hold on to any control of the situation that they might have (however little that may be) and voicing their request firmly.

Catra sees right through it though. She sees the desperation in their eyes, the pleading. Adora doesn’t think she should cuff their hands. They just want her to.

Catra feels very strongly about demands when she was in charge. While she would love to tie Adora to this bed, she had other ideas; ideas that proved just how much Adora belonged to her, just how much Adora was willing to give themself over to Catra’s plans.

Adora was hers and would do well to remember that.

“Oh sweetheart, that’s so cute how you think you can make demands. But I’m not going to cuff you, because you’re,” She pauses while she grabs Adora’s hands and brings them up to curl their fingers around the headboard before continuing, “going to keep your hands right here for me, right?”

Adora shudders, flooding their underwear at the fact that, even when they thought they knew what Catra was going to do, thought they knew what Catra wanted from them, they were completely mistaken in all the best ways.

Catra was always going to do something to them beyond their wildest dreams, and it wasn’t something they ever wanted to stop.

“You going to hold your hands up there for me princess? You going to be a good girl?”

“Boy,” Adora breathes out, and it makes Catra freeze.

“Adora?”

“Yeah?” They respond, eyelids drooping and voice thick.

They’re way too deep to be talking about this right now, and Catra needs to be clear before this goes any further because while Adora is this far gone isn’t the time to be fucking around with their pronouns and their identity. She wouldn’t want someone messing with hers when she was vulnerable and trusting, and she needed to talk this out.

They need to pause. The middle of a scene is not the time to spring something new that they haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.

“Red,” Catra says, leaning up to give Adora some space to come back.

They blink a few times, eyes shifting, and they let go of the headboard, bringing their hands down. It takes a couple of moments to get back to the mentality where they can have a conversation, so they lay there silently calming their breathing.

“Pause? Or stop?” They ask.

“Pause, we just need to talk for a bit,” She responds. The combination of words and the calm tone of voice helps soothe some of their tension.

“Did I do something? Are you not comfortable?” They ask, crossing their hands over their stomach. There isn’t really anywhere else to put them, but touching isn’t going to be cool right now if Catra safeworded for herself.

“Kind of? I just knew you weren’t going to and we should really pause to talk about this. Saying something that harms you wouldn’t be good for you, but the idea of misgendering someone is… really triggering for me too. You know?” She asks, reaching her hand out to offer it to Adora.

They take it, squeezing, and are able to sit up to face her.

“Yeah I just… I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it like that. I didn’t think about how little information that was giving you, and how the idea of saying too much and hurting me would also hurt you. I shouldn’t just spring different pronouns or different words on you all of a sudden without clarifying where the line is, especially when we’re like that.”

“It’s alright. I’m not upset or mad. I’m just nervous about where it could have gone if I didn’t stop us. You just… I need you to understand that stuff that hurts you isn’t ok. Do you need a couple of minutes? Or are you ok to talk about it now?”

Adora takes a few minutes to consolidate their thoughts, try to get all of the emotions and ideas floating around in their mind to line up enough to talk about it. Before now, they didn’t even really have the words yet, so saying them out loud for the first time was a little more difficult than they’d anticipated.

“I… Sometimes I feel like a woman, but sometimes I kind of just… Feel like a boy. Not a man, just a boy. And I like being handsome when I am a woman and I like being beautiful when I am a boy. And I like being both when I feel like neither. I like being she/her and I like being they/them, sometimes at the same time and sometimes separately. Does that make sense? I feel like it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Of course it does. It’s ok to be both, and it’s ok to be neither, and it’s ok to be both but separately. Your identity is valid and it’s beautiful and I feel so grateful that you trust me to know. So think about today, right now. We’ll work on how I would know on a daily basis later, but right now, how do you feel?”

“Right now? I feel like both, but I also just feel like a boy. I feel like a cute, beautiful boy. But I'm not your boyfriend, I'm your partner.”

“But you want to be my good boy tonight?” She asks.

Adora feels themself sink down, relaxing with the knowledge that Catra understood, and was willing to do what they needed.

“Yes.”

“You still want to be my princess?”

Fuck yes.”

“I’m green. You?”

“Green.”

“Ready to unpause? Keep going?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?” She whispers, biting down on Adora’s ear.

“Yes ma’am.”

“There we go,” She bites harder, eliciting a groan from her partner. She licks the shell of Adora’s ear, across their jaw, and plants a firm kiss on their lips.

“Now, why don’t you lay back down, put your hands back up there on the headboard, and show me what a good, beautiful boy you can be for me?”

She gets up from the bed, taking in the sight of Adora in nothing but their binder, hands firmly wrapped around the headboard, keeping them just where she told them to. Taught, corded muscle twists down their arms and the line of their pecs are visible just above the upper hem of the fabric. Their abs flex with the effort of staying still, the sharp V leading down shifts with every movement of their hips. Catra enjoys the view and backs away to the closet to get what has become one of her favorites out of their arsenal of toys.

She comes back up to the bed, walking around the side so she’s right next to Adora’s head, and lays the dildo she’s chosen on the bed next to their face in their line of sight. Adora’s eyes widen, taking in its size, and bites their lip in anticipation while they watch Catra put the harness on.

Once it’s in place she picks up the toy, flipping it over in her hands and examining it. She tilts her head to the side, running her finger from the base to the tip and back down, stroking along the length. The motion serves its purpose, and Adora whines high in their throat at the stalling.

God they’re so fucking cute

“How’s my handsome princess doing, hm?”

The shiver that goes down their spine is visible, and violent

How does she always know what to say?

“Good, ma’am,” The words fall out of their lips, eager to please her.

Catra holds the toy out and brushes the tip along Adora’s lips, dragging the soft flesh back and forth. They don’t move a muscle, waiting for instruction, and Catra is riding the high of being so thoroughly in control like this.

“Go ahead, sweetheart. Peak that cute little tongue out and give it a lick for me.”

That is all the invitation Adora needs to part their lips and give a cursory lick. Catra uses the toy to pry their mouth open, pushing forward until the tip is inside their mouth.

“Suck.”

And they do.

Adora is excellent at giving head, and that doesn’t change with something longer and more rigid. While they aren’t used to taking something quite this big, that doesn’t stop their determined efforts to bob up and down, taking it as far in as they can.

As much as she loves watching Adora enthusiastically suck this dildo, she’d much rather fuck them.

She really wasn’t a patient person, and if she wanted to get her fair share of teasing in with the dildo a little further south, she was going to have to speed things along a little bit. While she loved dragging it out, making Adora beg, nothing really beat getting to fuck them.

She drags the toy out of Adora’s mouth and a string of saliva connects the tip to their lips, their eyes are glassy and a little red from trying to take it so deep, and it’s the most beautiful thing Catra has ever seen in her fucking life. Shifting the toy into the harness, she climbs up onto the bed between Adora’s legs and alternates tapping the toy against their clit with rubbing it through their swollen folds.

As desperate as she is to fucking rail her partner, Adora is even more desperate to get absolutely obliterated.

They’re whining, fidgeting and tapping their fingers on the worn wooden headboard. It’s pathetic and absolutely adorable.

Catra wants to be inside them just as badly as they want it.

“Oh sweetheart you want me to fuck you? Want me to put my cock in you?” It makes Adora squirm, thrusting their hips up and trying desperately to get Catra to just put the fucking strap inside of them already.

“Please just fuck me, baby,” They beg, grip tightening on the headboard. They sound so small, retreating into themselves and giving all of themself over to Catra to do with as she pleases. It nearly brings a tear to her eye, to see and hear and feel the level of trust that Adora has in her.

It’s a gift she will never stop cherishing.

“Oh baby boy I can fuck you alright,” And she’s thrusting the girthy dildo into her lover in a single firm stroke.

It takes their breath away, and Catra can’t help but think how handsome they look, laying there under her and completely at her mercy. Their abs are flexing with the effort not to fuck themself on the cock inside them. A trail of hair leads down from their belly button all the way to their mound and Catra reaches down to run her fingers through the fine hairs there.

“That’s it princess, take it for me.”

She leans forward, biting harsh teeth marks into their shoulder and neck, jogging her hips forward.

It was bigger than the one they usually played with, because for the first few times Adora couldn’t really take that big of a toy without tapping out rather early.

Something about today? The way they needed Catra, the way they were so plyable beneath her hands? Well that just demanded something a little more substantial.

With the cock lodged within them, Adora throws their head back with breathy gasps, like it had driven the air from their lungs and stoked the fire in their chest.

“How’s that? Color?” Catra asks, not wanting it to be too much too soon.

Adora just nods before letting their head lull to the side.

“Yellow. It’s ok… Just give me a minute? God, fuck it’s so big.”

“Whatever you need princess.”

Catra leans down, pressing her chest flush with Adora’s, and connects their foreheads. She wraps one arm around the back of their neck to grip their shoulder, and uses the other hand to brush the hair out of their face.

They alternate gasping with deep breaths and Catra can feel the tug of them clenching around the toy. They’re trembling underneath her and it makes her heart swell that they’re being so good for her.

She kisses along their forehead, whispering to them while they get used to the size.

That’s it

You’re so good for me, my handsome princess

God, you’re such a beautiful baby boy

I love you. I’m so fucking in love with you.

She’s getting choked up now, too, because there isn’t a person in this work she could imagine being more in love with. There isn’t anyone she would trust with this much of herself, and while she was about to decimate Adora, she was doing it as much for herself as she was for the person under her.

Her person

The trembling doesn’t get better, if anything it gets more pronounced. But eventually after getting used to the size and untold amounts of praise, Adora releases a breath and their body goes just a little bit more relaxed into the mattress.

“Green.”

Catra hums, nodding as she leans up. It’s not enough to separate them entirely, just enough to get her the angle and leverage she needs to plow into her partner.

“I’m going to completely destroy you now,” Is the only warning they get.

The first few thrusts are relatively gentle, making sure that Adora is actually used to it and not just saying so for her own benefit. But once she feels just how wet Adora is and how easily the cock slides in and out of them, she takes up a relentless pace.

The sound of their hips smacking isn’t even comparable to the lewd, breathy moans coming out of Adora’s mouth as the soul is fucked out of them, and they try their best to hold onto the headboard.

They’re so worked up by now that the extra stimulation is just enough and they’re begging to come.

“Please ma’am, may I come? Please?”

And maybe Catra is feeling charitable, or she’s just so fucking proud of Adora for all of the parts of themselve that they shared today.

“You want to come for me? Oh my sweet, handsome, precious little princess, I want you to come for me now.”

And they do.

They’re coming so hard that Catra finds it difficult to thrust anymore with the grip that Adora has on the strap, and she just stays there deep inside them while they ride out their orgasm.

“That’s it, come for me.”

They’re shuddering, panting out half words while they gasp desperately. It’s fucking music to Catra’s ears and she can barely move or breathe or think. She helps the love of her fucking life ride out their orgasm under her.

When Adora calms, heart rate returning to a seminormal pace and ceasing to hyperventilate, Catra pulls back to look at them.

They look absolutely ruined, tears streaming down their face, glassy eyes, swollen lips and flushed skin.

“How you doing down there baby?” She manages to breathe out.

“I can’t take any more but… that doesn’t mean I’m done.”

Catra knows exactly what that means and smirks.

“Since you’ve been so good for me, you get to pick if you want to flip over and go down on me, or if you want me to sit on your face?”

It’s not even a question, really.

Adora loves being under her, after all.

“Sit on my face?”

“Sit on my face…?” Catra drawls out, smirking.

Adora rolls her eyes.

“Sit on my face please, ma’am

Catra narrows her eyes at the attitude, and grips Adora’s hair just a little tighter than normal. She lets it go, though, because they were almost done and she really wanted Adora to make her come already

“I’ve noticed a lot of attitude and not enough sucking my clit,” She says, moving up to straddle Adora’s face.

Adora shuts themself the fuck up and gets to work.

Eventually when they’re finished, Catra goes to the bathroom and gets a wash cloth to clean up the mixture of tears, saliva, and sweat covering the blonde’s face. She holds them close, telling them how much she loves them and how good they were.

And when she’s done reassuring them of everything they did that she absolutely loved? They help her with the stretches her physical therapist gave her.

And when they’re done taking care of each other, they snuggle up in bed, tucked into the blankets in the glow of the street lights, and stroke each other’s backs until they both fall asleep.

***

Adora lays on their back, Catra curled up into their side with her head rested on their shoulder and an arm thrown across their stomach. They trace their fingers lazily up and down her back, supple skin prickling under their fingers making the woman shiver, breath catching in her sleep. Their other hand slides across her arm, fingers dancing in a feather light touch.

They take in the atmosphere of this room, their bedroom, where they’d slept for months, and tried to fathom what felt so different about it. It didn’t feel like the same place they’d lived this whole time. It looked the same, because nothing physical had changed, but it still just looked so different somehow. Maybe the early morning sunlight hit the window differently, or the plants in the corner they had been learning from Perfuma to take care of had grown. Perhaps the new candles shifted the smell and their flames casting dancing shadows along the ceiling added a jubilance or a softness that wasn’t present before.

But maybe it wasn’t the room at all.

Maybe it was the way their chest felt heavy in the most comforting way because Catra was practically laying on top of them.

Maybe it was the way her laptop looked, charging on the desk right next to Adora’s.

Maybe it was the cute, delicate panties that they’d ripped off of Catra last night that lay forgotten on the floor.

Perhaps it was a combination of many things.

What was certain, was that it was Catra. Her presence dominated and soothed, wove itself with Adora’s very existence.

Everything was physically the same.

But everything had changed.

Adora didn’t want it to ever go back to the way it was.

They tilt their head down to kiss along her forehead and feel her eyes flutter open against their neck. Those eyes, hazel and cerulean, blink sleepily up at them as a lopsided smile tilts across her face.

“Hey, princess,” She whispers, voice gravelly and thick with sleep. A shiver shoots up Adora’s spine, because hearing their name on Catra’s lips is the sexiest thing they’ve ever heard.

“Hey there, kitten.”

Catra shifts up, shuffling so her face is level with Adora’s, resting on the pillow next to theirs.

Adora doesn’t waste any more time and slides their lips across Catra’s. They knew that both of them needed sleep, but it kind of felt like torture that they’d been this close and hadn’t kissed in 8 hours. Catra returns the kiss, grinning into it at how desperate Adora is for her. It’s exactly how desperate she is for Adora too.

When they pull away and lean their foreheads together, Adora whispers almost imperceptibly softly.

“You know what?”

“What?”

“I’m gonna fucking marry you.”

Catra laughs at that, pulling until Adora has rolled over on top of her and they’re millimeters apart.

She says, “Fuck yeah you are.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Croptop,” Catra says, launching over the back of the couch to plop down next to him. She bounces on the soft cushion a few times and grins at his surprised shriek.

“Hey!” He says with a touch of alarm, fumbling to hold on to the bowl of popcorn that was nearly jostled from his arms. She reaches over to steal a handful, which earns another brief protest as he halfheartedly waves her hand away. He obviously doesn’t mean it, because the bowl is sitting on the couch between them seconds later.

Her eyes zero in on his feet, resting on the coffee table, and she can’t resist the urge to mess with him just a little more before she lets him off the hook. She throws her feet up and nudges against his, just a tap at first to test the waters. He nudges back and from there it escalates rather quickly until they’re laughing and shoving each other’s feet off of the table.

It's fun and playful, lighthearted and sweet. It’s just the way it feels to be here now, in Adora’s apartment.

Laughter dies down and a calm washes over the room, and with this shift they’re turning their attention to the TV and settling back into the couch in a comfortable silence. He’s watching some ocean documentary, and she’s enthralled pretty quickly. Schools of fish shimmer in a tornado of bubbles and fins as unreasonably large marlin streak through, breaking up the cloud. She is content to sit here and watch with a morbid fascination as red tints the water, eyes darting back and forth to track the flurry of movement.

The ocean is terrifying. How are fish so fucking fast?

As quickly as the frenzy starts it is over and the ocean is left a blank slate with little more than fish scales fluttering in the vast and open expanse of blue. Only when Bow relaxes next to her, shoulders dropping and releasing a breath, does she notice that she had also grown rigid from the intensity of the on-screen action.

She steals glances over, taking in the stubble that lines his jaw and the perfect line of his haircut, the tight curls he had grown out long enough to finally fit into a little ponytail. His eyeliner is flawless, and it draws her attention to those eyes that sparkle with excitement as he stares, fascinated, at the television screen. Her attention flits back and forth and she observes the way his expression shifts with each new scene. Lips turn up and eyelids droop in a smooth and lazy smile as a group of humpback whales and their calves lumber casually through the clearest water she’s ever seen, snow-capped and misty mountain peaks cutting a jagged line across the sky in the background.

She’s known that he was expressive, free with his seemingly limitless emotions. It wasn’t something he even tried to hide, though she suspected that he wasn’t capable of such a thing. Why would he hide just how much love his heart could hold? It makes her a little jealous that he can wear his heart on his sleeve like this.

It strikes her suddenly that they haven’t hung out alone before. He had been there the times that she came over while Adora was still at practice or work, but they hadn’t actually spent time together. In fact, he had almost always kept to his and Glimmer’s bedroom unless he was already in the kitchen or living room when she got there.

It was his home, and while she knew that it was initially his and Glimmer’s suggestion that she receive a key and be free to spend more time there, she hadn’t ever talked to them about it. She hadn’t asked either of them directly if they were comfortable with her being there so often, or if they just did it because they wanted to take one thing to worry about off of Adora’s shoulders.

Well shit, am I the asshole?

“Bow?” She asks, breaking their silence gently.

He turns to look at her, “Yeah Catrina?”

“Are you not… Comfortable with me being here all the time? It’s just that you usually hide in your room when I’m over. If I’m intruding I can chill out and spend less time here,” She asks.

Younger Catra wouldn’t have given a fuck and would have gratefully taken the opportunity to be left alone, but this Catra would begrudginly admit that she actually really liked these nerds. She valued her space and the choice of whether or not to share it with others, so taking his space away wasn’t something she wanted to do.

His eyes widen and he rushes to explain, waving his hands and nearly spilling the popcorn again, “Of course I am! I wouldn’t have agreed to give you a key if I wasn’t. I just know we didn’t know each other and I didn’t… Well… Now it seems weird to say out loud because we all get along so well but I was trying to be considerate?” His voice cracks on the last word as he raises it into a question.

Her brow raises, betraying her skepticism.

“Considerate? I mean I don’t need the apartment to myself, you don't have to lock yourself in your bedroom every time I come over.”

Bow shifts to face her, folding his legs underneath himself so he’s giving her his full attention, and considers how to explain his train of thought from all of those months ago.

“Considerate because… Ok, look. I know that, as a transmasculine, cis passing person, I have male privlige. When I started transitioning I didn’t realize just how different it would be, but I still remember the way it was to grow up being socialized as female. I know how scary it can be to just be alone with a stranger and have that stranger be a man, no matter how nice they seem on the outside. It doesn’t matter how much the other people in your life trust that person if they haven’t ever given you a reason to trust them.”

Oh, fuck, She thinks, but remains silent to let him finish.

He takes a breath and continues, “And I know that a certain amount of the nerves might have gone away as we all hung out as a group. At the same time I know how hard it is to trust, and how different it is to trust someone in a group setting vs. trusting them one on one when no one else is here. So when I knew you were coming over and I was the only one here I stayed in my room so you wouldn’t feel like I was dominating a space and you couldn’t relax. I just wanted you to feel welcome, but all the ways I was taught to make someone feel welcome in your home were also incredibly hovery and lacked any form of stealth or tact. I figured that the best way to let you get comfortable being here with me was to just leave you alone so you could approach me on your terms.”

She’s speechless, because she knew that he would know how it feels to be socialized a certain way and to suddenly be read differently in public, but she hadn’t considered that he would be avoiding alone time with her because it was her that would need the time to get comfortable.

Something in her shifts and it's like she’s actually seeing him for the first time. She looks at this boy, this beautiful man that just loves so deeply and thoroughly and is confident in himself enough to express it. She thinks about how kind he is, how gentle and attentive he has been in every moment she’s known him. She thinks about how much effort it probably took to undo what he’d been taught growing up in favor of thinking about what would actually make her comfortable.

She remembers all the times she caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye and has seen the way he looks at Glimmer and the similar but completely different way he looks at Adora.

It’s the same look he’s giving her right now.

That look is reserved for his little family, here in this apartment, that he is so inexplicably in love with.

She looks back, hoping to convey with her eyes and her smile that she loves him too.

It makes her heart swell that she can still get this connection to someone when she thought for so long that she was closed off entirely to this kind of thing happening ever again.

She trusts him, and she trusts Glimmer. She knew she would spend the rest of her life with Adora, but she never expected to find two more people that she wanted to spend the rest of her life knowing, growing, and connecting with.

She thought she was fine before, but that was because she made peace with the fact that she didn’t think she could change. She didn’t think her walls could come back down, or open enough to let anyone else in. She didn’t think she needed to let anyone else in. Being so firmly closed off to the idea of new relationships and connections left her feeling as though she didn’t have anything to look forward to, or improve, about her personal life. It was all just waiting out the clock, using the time she got with the people she already had.

Then Adora came back into her life and she learned that not only could she change plenty, for the better even, but that it came so naturally to want to do so when she was surrounded by these new people that she wanted desperately to know. Pride be damned, it was time to step outside of her carefully crafted comfort zone.

She’s always been a proud person, but that pride hadn’t usually been a result of something that she did that she thought was worth being proud of, rather from her disdain for feeling shame. Pride and shame were so closely related, so intertwined, the cause of one another in a lot of cases, and she didn’t really put it together until now that she finally felt like she had something to be proud of. Letting these people love her, loving them and trusting them back, was definitely something to be proud of.

“Bow?” She asks.

“Yeah?” He responds, soft and gentle when he notices how nervous her voice is. He’s always so soft and gentle.

“Did you know that Adora calls me ‘Catra’?”

He shakes his head.

“She's always called you ‘Catrina’ around us.”

Catra leans back on the couch, a fond smile spreading across her face. Not only was it one of her best memories, but it was one of her firsts.

“Adora made it up when we were kids. We’re talking really little, first year we were there together. We didn’t know each other, especially because they didn’t talk for those first few months after I moved in. Hell, when she started talking to me, the other kids acted like it was the first time they heard her talk at all. I was laying on the floor of the kitchen and I heard a giggle behind me. Something about how I found the single patch of sun in the entire house, like a little kitten, and then she just mashed that together with her name. It was the first time I ever saw them smile.”

A wistful sigh escapes her, and the fondness for her partner grows all the more.

“Have they talked about any of it? I thought it was weird when they asked permission to tell you I was trans too. I figured you guys would have put it together.”

Bow’s smile shifts, turning a little sour, and rubs the back of his neck.

“We only really know bits and pieces. Even when they moved in with Glimmer all we knew was that it was bad. We got glimpses when… when she would pull up to the school to pick Adora up and they would go completely silent as soon as they saw the car. It was always so strange and creepy, because the rest of their foster siblings all took the bus home but she insisted on picking Adora up every day. We invited them over for sleepovers but you could tell by the way they said ‘no’ that there was something going on at home. Adora didn’t have to talk about Weaver for us to know that’s what it was.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and when he opens them again, she sees regret painted across his face. It was clear that he thought back on it and wondered what he could have done differently, what he could have done to protect his friend. Catra knew that ‘what ifs’ didn’t help, didn’t lead anywhere but a downward spiral. It was easy to think that maybe if she had tried to contact Adora sooner, or maybe if Bow or Glimmer brought it up to their parents, or maybe if someone had told a teacher at school, that things would have gone differently and Adora would have made it out of that house sooner. The fact of the matter was that they were kids. They were all just kids doing what they thought was right, and trying to navigate the most difficult years of self discovery they had experienced.

It doesn’t make it easier, because the regret would always be there, but there wasn’t any good in beating themselves up over the things they let slip through the cracks when they were desperately trying not to drown.

She reaches out and takes his hand.

“Bow? I know you think that you could have changed things. Shifting the blame around seems natural when there are so many ‘what ifs.’ I did it for years with so many things. Fuck, I do it now when I think about everything Adora went through and that maybe we could have stopped it if my parents and I tried just a little harder. Those are all really big ‘maybes.’ Thinking like that? It never helps, because you can’t go back. All it does is hurt you. The only one to blame for the way Adora was treated is Weaver.”

He nods a few times, and then his frown shifts up at the sides. It’s the tiniest crack of sunlight through the cloud cover, and she hopes that she can alleviate even a little bit of guilt.

“There were stories from when they were little, though, that always made them look off and smile. It ranged from things they could barely remember to the most vivid memories like they were playing on repeat in her head. Those moments? When they were sucked back to the part of their childhood they could even remotely smile about? They looked really happy. That’s how we didn’t know you were trans, because I didn’t even know your name. Adora talked about you all the time but they would just say ‘we.’” He finishes.

Catra thinks back to that day, months ago now, that she had returned home in a panic after seeing Adora for the first time since they were nine. On top of the worry of what Adora would think of her, there was one thing that trumped all of that. What terrified her the most was the idea that people in Adora’s life now would know who she was from the stories, and she’d be outed before she even had a say. They would form their own opinions about her before they even met her. But apparently it really was that simple; that it hadn’t even once mattered to Adora.

Questions aside, there was one thing about it that would always make her smile.

Adora never told them my name because to her, we were always ‘we’

Maybe, when she looks back on this moment years from now, she’ll think “we” when she thinks about herself and this little family here in this tiny apartment.

“You and Glimmer, you can call me Catra,” She whispers.

Bow’s eyes grow misty and his lips spread wide.

He knew how big of a deal it was for her to share a part of herself from before she even knew who she was.

“Thank you, Catra.”

With another gentle smile he turns to face the television again and sits back against the couch, shifting the bowl of popcorn in his lap and adjusting the blanket. The motion jogs her memory of her birthday when he walked out of his bedroom with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and can feel herself getting choked up.

He’s not wearing his binder. He trusts me, too, She thinks.

She turns to face the television as well, but scoots closer to lean into his side and rests her head on his shoulder

“Yeah, well. You guys are pretty alright. You know, for a bunch of dorks.”

Bow chuckles and wraps his arm around her. It’s warm, and she instinctively snuggles further in, though it may be counter productive to her argument. He presses play on the documentary and it continues.

“Whatever you say, kitty cat.”

She huffs indignantly, “I mean it. You’re all on thin ice. Bunch of absolute losers I swear.”

He throws his head back in a boisterous laugh and she rolls her eyes in good nature, even though he can’t see it. She wills him to know anyway, and has a feeling that he knows her well enough by now to feel it in his bones when she rolls her eyes.

They’re treated next to a flurry of shark infested waters, seals swimming for their lives against the odds, and the breathtaking sight of great whites breaching waters in pursuit of their prey.

After a while he leans down to kiss her on the very top of her head.

It makes her blush, but not in the way Adora’s head kisses did.

It was the way her parents’ kisses made her blush.

If she falls asleep, right there on his shoulder? He isn’t going to mention it.

***
“Hey babe,” Catra shouts in the apartment, grinning at the sunlight beaming in and warming the living room. It had been warming up now that they were about midway through the spring semester. While the mornings still started with a light frost, more days featured a warm, gentle breeze, the smell of flowers and fresh grass clippings. The chill had been driven from the air by midmorning, and it was clear that the warmer weather was finally here to stay.

She had always loved spring, the new growth and the opportunity that came with it. The artist in her cherished this time of year when you noticed all of a sudden that everything around you was full of life again, and her heart swelled with a tiny spark of romance at the idea that the universe had painted over barren trees with tiny brush strokes of pink and green. All of the new life filled in the gaps that had fallen away months ago and now she couldn’t help but notice the swaying of trees and roadside grasses, birds singing, crickets chirping, and children laughing outside.

Winter was beautiful in it’s own way, and there was something to be said for the way it halted and gave you a chance to be still. It held a silence, a stagnance, that was only interrupted by frigid wind raking branches together as frozen and dried leaves scraped across a concrete sidewalk. There was nothing quite like the juxtaposition of that silence. It was emotionless and cold at the worst of times, but when the snow fell and it absorbed all of the ambient noise, reflecting moonlight in a shimmery, pale glow, there was a peace that was unparallelled as far as she was concerned.

Spring was so much louder. It was louder in all of the best ways, all of her favorite ways.

She kicks off her vans and shrugs out of her light jacket, revealing the newest addition to her crop top collection in the form of Adora’s high school softball shirt (which she had gotten permission to destroy before doing so) and makes her way toward the bedroom. She isn’t sure what Adora was doing on her day off because she was still in bed when Catra left for class this morning, but she is pretty sure it wouldn’t be hard to convince the blonde to get back in bed for an early afternoon nap.

What she doesn’t expect is for Adora to walk out of the bedroom looking like that.

She’s wearing a black, flowing skirt that comes to just about mid thigh. It must have been a recent purchase, because Catra had been through their closet countless times and never seen anything like it.

They’ve foregone a shirt to take advantage of the warm spring weather, and were standing there in just her binder. The space between, a plane of sculpted abs, is only interrupted by their boxer briefs peaking out above the waistline of the skirt.

And her hair is down, swept to the side and still wet from showering.

It does something to Catra immediately, although she manages to steer away from thinking about just how sexy her partner looks in favor of admiring how much more comfortable Adora had gotten in their own skin since they started wearing a binder and talking through their trauma. It was quite the sight to behold, not just because they were extraordinarily hot, but because they exuded a confidence that was otherwise nonexistent a few months ago.

Nonexistent wasn’t the right word. Her confidence existed but it was false, tainted by a past that left her feeling like she hadn’t earned the confidence. This was different, though. This was real.

“Hey pretty girl, how was class?” They say, coming up to plant their hands on her hips and drag her toward them. Their bodies slam together, and Catra finds it pretty difficult to ignore how sexy it is that her partner can just manhandle her like that.

She wraps her arms around their shoulders, leaning up to place a soft kiss to the underside of her jaw.

“It was good. We’re doing this really cool collaboration with the metal shops where we create a sculpture together with a student who is experienced at welding. It was just assigned, but I got paired up with some senior engineering student who definitely knows her stuff. She rambles and goes off on tangents a lot but far be it for me to stop her for being passionate about something. Christ, I think I’ve ranted to you about the importance of paper weight before,” She says, ending with a chuckle. Passion was as natural as breathing to her, and it was honestly a pleasure to listen to other people talk about theirs.

“Oh! Is it Entrapta? She was talking about some welding class she was taking for fun to relax a little from her other coursework,” Adora’s excited voice vibrates through her chest and Catra is raising her eyebrow at several parts of that sentence.

“You know her? Also, ‘to relax?’ How is it relaxing? You’re literally wearing a hot jacket with gloves and a face shield, creating lightning in your hands that melts metal together. It’s fucking stressful is what it is,” She grumbles.

“She TA’d one of my classes last year and we hung out a few times when I found out she’s in undergrad. I know she likes electrical engineering, but sometimes soldering is too… boring for her? Like I know soldering is also melting metal, but it’s not as fun as the ‘creating tiny lightning’ part.”

“Ah,” She says, because from what she’d gathered from the class period they’d spent together, ‘tiny lightning’ was right up her alley.

Catra pulls back to run her hands up and down Adora’s sides, fingertips gliding over the smooth skin between the band of her boxer briefs and the hem of her binder. Goosebumps rise to life in the wake of her exploring fingers and she smirks at the shiver that follows.

“When did you get this skirt? I love it,” She asks, reaching down to thumb at the soft material.

“You do?” Their voice comes out small, a little nervous, and the blush tinting their face turns Catra’s smirk into a grin.

“I really love it. It looks so good on you, princess.”

Adora looks down, giving their hips a twist back and forth to ruffle the material with a fond smile.

“Thanks I… Well I have wanted to wear skirts and stuff for a while but it just never felt right and I couldn’t understand why. But now… I’m not scared anymore. And I want to start taking back all of the clothes that used to make me feel bad because it wasn’t them, it was just their context. But now I can admit that I’m different, and the context is different too. You know?”

Catra absolutely knew. The things that made her feel bad because she just didn’t like them and the things that made her feel bad because of other people’s opinions were vastly different, but seemed to overlap so much in the beginning. For her, separating them had been gradual.

“Oh trust me, I couldn’t believe how much I could love wearing a suit.”

Adora brings her hands up to Catra’s face, tracing her jaw and sliding her fingers up over soft cheeks and into her hair, thumbs caressing the height of her cheek bones. She looks down at this person, her person, who loves her and understands her more than anyone else had ever bothered to, who treats her like she’s the most precious thing in the world. She leans down to kiss her on the forehead, lingering for a few moments, and feels Catra’s hands come up to grasp her wrists tightly.

They stay like that, breathing each other in and feeling the warm spring air swirl around them through the open window.

This was everything Adora would never have had the courage to ask for, but would have gone their whole life knowing that they needed.

The blonde’s voice, gravely and thick, catches Catra’s attention.

“A suit huh? You um… W-would you try it on for me sometime?” Adora struggles to say, face twisting into a tiny, embarrassed cringe.

Will I ever stop being such a huge disaster around her?

Catra’s smile has got that dark and dangerous flare that makes Adora’s stomach do flips and her heart speed up.

“Well if you’re good, maybe I’ll wear it for you sometime.”

The way Adora has to physically shut their eyes and press their lips together to stop from groaning at the idea of Catra in a suit makes the shorter woman’s heart thump violently in her chest, and she softens just the littlest bit at how unbelievably in love Adora is with her.

She rests her head on the strong shoulder in front of her and lets her eyes fall closed at the warmth she finds there. Adora’s arms wrap around her and rock them both slowly back and forth, dancing to the music of their neighbor’s laughter and car horns on the street; skateboards clacking on the ridges in the sidewalks and the buzz of hedge trimmers in the garden.

She thinks over the last six months and how much she has changed. She thought the way she felt about herself, about her body, was just the way she felt. She thought it was the way she would always feel until she saved up the money and took the plunge to change it. There were so many people who treated her like her body was the catalyst; the reason they wanted her or the reason they didn’t want her.

So the fact that it didn’t matter to Adora? That baffled her. It wasn’t fair to put all of the feelings about it on Adora for not reacting the way she was expecting, but it was so hard to believe at first.

Adora proved to her every moment just how much they loved her, and that it never made a difference to them.

So she didn’t change the way she felt about herself because of Adora’s opinion. The way they treated her gave her a long hard look at the way she treated herself and why she treated herself that way.

What changed her mind was the fact that, when there wasn’t anyone in her life looking at her like a spectacle, like she was a novelty instead of a person, she got to realizing that her resentment toward herself wasn’t her own feelings, but her desperation to change the kind of attention she got.

Maybe one day she would have the right reasons. But now? All she wanted was to be herself, and that felt like a goal she could accomplish just fine the way that she was.

She doesn’t know what the future has in store or where exactly her life will take her, but she knows that she’s ready for all of it as long as she still gets to have Adora.

She wants to memorize this feeling, being bright and pure and in love. She wants to chase it with everything she has and everything she is, until there is nothing left of her but the way she feels right now wrapped in her partner’s arms. Sometimes it felt urgent, like she should absorb as much of it as quickly as she could before it fluttered away, and even then she just couldn’t ever get close enough. She didn’t think that desperation to be close, to breathe her partner in, would ever go away. She isn't sure she ever wants it to, because while it was overwhelming, it felt even more like she was finally alive.

That feeling was always replaced by a soothing calm when Adora returned the embrace just as desperately.

She had the rest of her life to tell Adora that she loved them, and she planned to do just that.

***

2 months later: June

Adora blinks themself awake, seeing the dim evening light of the bedroom through sleep clouded eyes. They stretch out, already feeling sore from the long day, and sit up slowly. They don’t even remember falling asleep, but they do vaguely recall shuffling to the bedroom and yanking their binder off what must have been a few hours ago.

Someone must have left the glass of water on the bedside table for them, and they swing their legs over the side of the bed to sit on its edge, sipping it gratefully.

There are voices down the hall, and the smell coming from the kitchen is a mixture of savory and sweet. Their stomach grumbles.

I wonder if someone’s making dessert?

Before they can think on it more, the door handle turns and a crack of light from the hall splits the room. Catra’s face peaks in first and when she sees that Adora is awake she opens the door enough to enter. She’s in shorts, high waisted jean shorts, and it’s a wonder Adora even registers the words that come out of her mouth.

“Hey, baby girl. Have a good nap?” She asks, sitting down on the bed next to Adora. She reaches a hand up to rub their back and they melt into the sensation of the heel of her hand firmly massaging between their shoulder blades.

“Yeah. How long was I out?” Their words come out a little slurred, betraying how deeply unconscious they were mere moments ago.

“Couple of hours. You were exhausted so we just let you sleep. I popped in to make sure you looked comfortable and then left you some water, but I figured since you did all of the heavy lifting it was time for me to crack open some of the boxes and start putting things away. I hope you don’t mind but I took some creative liberties. We can always move stuff again later.”

Adora hums, turning her head and leaning down to give Catra a gentle kiss.

“I’m sure wherever you picked is perfect. Now, what’s that I smell?”

Catra giggles.

“I should have known you wouldn’t care what I unpacked once you started smelling the food. So, we’ve got chicken,” She says.

“Chicken? And?” Adora asks.

She knew Catra was going to make her fish for what she wanted, but it didn’t make the teasing any more bearable.

“Mac and cheese,” Catra responds. She’s grinning now, knowing just how much of a little shit she’s being.

Adora rolls her eyes, “Ok, chicken and mac and cheese... And?”

“Broccoli.”

“Ugh.”

Adora rolls their head back dramatically.

“Is living with you going to be like this? Like every day?”

That got her, because as soon as Adora mentioned that now they lived together it made Catra soften.

“Probably, but I’ll try not to make it too traumatising,” She whispers, reaching her other hand over to grip Adora’s thigh. She kisses their shoulder and rests her mouth there, smiling into their skin.

“We also made some cupcakes, to celebrate.”

Adora is practically running to the door by that point, Catra laughing behind them as they make their way out to the kitchen. They had to dodge some of the boxes scattered around the den, half of them open and strewn about instead of in the neat piles Adora made sure to leave them in. No one could bring themselves to care about the mess after such a long and hectic day.

All in all, it only took two trips to get Adora’s belongings to Catra’s house. The hard part was that all of the furniture had to be moved out to the Uhaul to make the trip to Glimmer’s house where it would be stored in the basement and garage until it was time to move into their new apartment for the fall semester. It was enough to make them wish they were just resigning their lease, but all of them knew that the bigger apartment they were set to move into would be much more comfortable.

After all, their current one barely fits the three of them. None of them could imagine the headache of cramming a fourth person in permanently.

Almost all of their furniture were hand-me-downs from Glimmer’s parents and aunt, Bow’s fathers, and any of Bow’s older brothers as they got rid of the old to make room for the new. As such, their solid oak dining table was quite a bit heavier than it needed to be, the plush leather couch barely fit through the door and around the sharp 90 degree turn toward the exit.

This particularly heavy tetris game was the case for most of the furniture in the apartment.

Needless to say, they were all glad when they finally unloaded the last of Adora’s boxes into the den and went their separate ways to give themselves a break.

The sliding glass door that leads out to the patio opens and Ma walks in carrying a plate of grilled chicken, “Dinner is almost ready, kids. I think there’s 5 or so minutes on the mac and cheese in the oven and then we’re set.”

Adora knows the routine by now and goes over to open the cabinet to the left of the refrigerator, taking out four plates. They then lean down to the drawer below, grabbing four sets of cutlery and heading over to the table. They begin setting one of each down at each of the four placemats, followed by Catra who finishes up with a water glass, a wine glass, and a napkin at each spot.

Mom comes up from the basement where they keep the wine rack and plants a loud, wet kiss on Catra’s face, eyes sparkling with mirth as her daughter rubs her cheek and grumbles. She gives Adora a much more gentle, far less exaggerated kiss, and grabs the dishes of food to bring to the table.

Once they’re all settled and eating their meals, they talk about all of their plans for the summer. Mom mentions that they were going to the beach in August and that the kids were welcome to join them. Adora talks about Bow's surgery in a few weeks and their plans to stop by when he's feeling better. Catra talks about the couple of commissions she’s gotten to work on between hours at her own internship at Prime Inc, one of the tech firms in the city. The hours lined up astoundingly well with Adora’s internship with the PT department of Brightmoon General, and they were both excited to do their commute together.

That, along with the way they’ve been holding hands throughout dinner, prompts Netossa to tease her daughter just a little bit.

“So, when’s the wedding?” Ma jokes, Mom admonishing her with a smack to her arm.

Adora expects a ‘not for a while’ or an ‘in your dreams’ to come out of her partner’s mouth. Instead Catra says, “I’ll probably propose when we graduate.”

To which Adora, flustered and on the spot, says, “Not if I propose to you first!”

They’re all laughing, joking with each other with a level of comfort that Adora hadn’t ever experienced when she was in a room with someone’s parents before.

This was different, because Ma and Mom had claimed the right to be her parents now too.

Adora looks around at these three people, the three most recent additions to her definition of ‘family,’ and can’t help but feel her chest grow warm.

Things were hard, so incredibly hard for such a long time. It was trauma piled on top of trauma, and when they didn’t deal with it, they added another layer of self sabotage to boot. All they had been taught growing up was that everything that happened was their fault, and there was always something they could do better. It was a way of thinking that they didn’t have any choice but to believe if they wanted to survive in her house, but it left her with a dangerous set of self worth issues that seemed impossible to dig herself out of.

They don’t know when their shoulders finally started to feel lighter; couldn’t pinpoint the moment that the hand around their heart started to loosen it’s grip.

A large portion of how much better Adora felt was a result of the system they finally allowed to support them, along with the acknowledgement that they actually needed help.

True to their words, no one was going to abandon them when they needed help.

Everyone said things wouldn’t always be so hard, and for a long time Adora didn’t see the end in sight. They didn’t know when things were supposed to start getting easier. They didn’t see how they could. Life had always thrown everything it had at them and that was the way it was always going to be. Expecting something different was just going to hurt more.

But then, the universe did something unexpected. It gave Catra back to them.

Somehow, someway, the universe decided that she got to have her person back, and from that moment on things changed rapidly, and got so much better than they ever thought it would.

They deserve this. They deserve to be comfortable, and happy, and loved. They deserve to lean back and let themself fall, knowing that any one of these people would catch them without a second thought. They deserve kindness, from others and from themself. They learned how to give themself that kindness, and how to treat themself better. They learned that they didn’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop, because there wasn’t one.

Perhaps most importantly, they learned that there was no shame in taking what they needed, and that they deserve to have those needs met regardless of the mistakes they made.

Adora squeezes the hand in hers and looks into those eyes that she’d dreamed about more nights than she could count. She sees more than just the person she knew, the person from her past that she had missed so much. She sees her future, their future together. She sees strength, a hardness that was put there from pain and suffering. She sees the softness wearing away at that armor and the love reflecting back at her.

She sees her girlfriend.

She sees her wife.

She sees sunny days at the park, rainy ones hovering over a bowl of soup. She sees storms and rainbows. She sees evenings doing homework around the kitchen table and bedtime stories.

Once upon a time, Adora met Catra in the back hallway of a Home Depot and the universe gave her a chance to get something back that she had lost a long time ago.

There wasn’t ever going to be a moment that she didn’t thank the stars for the chance they gave her, aligning not once, but twice, to put them together in the same place at the same time.

Through both of those chance meetings, paths crossing, they built something together that wouldn't have existed without the other.

With their hands, and hearts, they created love.

There was nothing more precious than love.

Chapter Text

“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.