She stares at her reflection. She looks chewed up, her mane tangled, matted, and singed. The end of her right ear is still bandaged, but when she managed to catch a glimpse of her reflection before they wrapped it, there was a clear notch into it. Her fur is dirty, sparse and singed in some places, a long shot from the soft, downy fluff she is used to feeling. She is used to everything being soft, herself, her clothes, her cradle, her mother’s arms around her.
Her mother didn’t make it. She barely knows a dozen words in this language, but she understood she was the only one who survived the crash. She doesn’t remember anything, really, but she has this innate knowledge of how things should be and how they aren’t that anymore.
People point to things and make sounds, and she understands them to be the words for what they indicate. She is standing in front of a sink right now, the first she has seen so far that is her height. She still has to stretch up on her toes to wash her hands and wet her palms, but she can finally run her wet fingers through her mane and detangle it with water and claws.
There is a person – a human, apparently – hovering near the door, watching her in this foreign space. The human is nice, he talks in a soft voice and explains things to her even though she can’t understand. He is just here to make sure she doesn’t do anything bad, she thinks. This room, despite being made for someone her size, isn’t hers.
She only arrived an hour ago from the hospital where they brought her after her parents’ vessel crashed. After poking and prodding her, humans in heavy uniforms arrived, and they brought her to this strange room, smelling of another. The scent is not like her and not like the humans she has encountered since the crash. Despite the watchguard and the foreign smell, she likes this room. She can reach and see things, and there are plants on some of the low shelves. She likes those – the hospital had been stark and white.
There is noise outside of the door, more humans talking and a small, high voice, not dissimilar to her own. Her ears twitch and she turns to watch the door slide open, startling the human leaning against the wall nearby. Two more humans are standing on the other side of the door, one having just opened it and the other bent over and explaining something in a gentle voice to a girl barely taller than herself. She is not another human – she doesn’t smell like them.
The girl can’t be bothered with the explanation, not as she catches sight of her and points to her, just like how the humans point to objects before saying their names, and loudly declares, “Kitty!”
She supposes the girl is pointing out what she is - a kitty. The girl certainly doesn’t leave room for argument when she darts past the humans who rush to catch her and fail. She runs up to her and tackles her with a hug.
“Catra,” Adora whines, drawing out the final syllable as Catra digs in her claws and refuses to move. Adora ignores the pinpricks of pain in her legs – after a few weeks, she has grown used to the other girl digging in - and reaches down to flip Catra’s ear inside out. Catra’s tail sticks straight out in response, but she doesn’t move fast enough to avoid Adora blowing in her ear.
All of Catra’s fur stands on end as she leaps away, hissing and growling. She immediately darts to the wall, climbing up Adora’s floating shelves with ease until she reaches the top shelf. One of the scientists put a dog bed up there. Catra doesn’t sleep in it – she hasn’t slept anywhere but Adora’s bed since the first day when Adora latched onto her and she clung on in turn – but she does nap there, or simply hide from Adora.
This might have once been her room, but given the latching on thing, the scientists quickly decided they would keep rooming together. They added in the higher shelves when they realized how Catra takes to climbing. They were hoping she would get it out of her system in their room and not get stuck in the rafters again, but that turned out to be a false hope.
“Come down, Catra! I just needed to get up. We have physicals,” Adora reminds Catra, swinging her legs out of the bed and motioning for the other girl to join her. Catra narrows her eyes at Adora, hisses, and then turns around in her bed and shows her back to Adora. Adora sighs, looking at the clock. Catra is still learning to talk in their language and she doesn’t know how important physicals are for them.
They are the only ones of their kind. There is no medicine for Adora, or for Catra. They need to be monitored so the scientists can detect any changes in them before they get sick. Adora isn’t sure Catra even knows what being sick is though. She hadn’t known her name when she showed up. Adora gave her one that describes her and matches her own, and Catra certainly doesn’t seem to mind it, but despite Catra being a fast learner, Adora isn’t the best teacher, so a lot of things fall through the gaps.
Adora sighs and raises her hands to her mouth, cupping them to make it louder as she calls pspspsps. Catra’s tail and ears immediately shoot up, and a moment later she is springing up and bounding down the shelves again to come running to Adora. Adora grins, reaching out and scratching Catra’s ears as she comes within arms’ reach.
“Come on, let’s get dressed, and then I’ll race you,” Adora tells Catra. Catra’s ears perk up at that, her eyes blowing out. Catra knows what race means, and she loves it.
“And this smash here, this is where I went sailing out the window!” Catra declares proudly, gesturing down to the window she is crouched on the top ledge of.
“You were found inside the craft, strapped into your cradle,” Dr. Netossa corrects from the ground, sending Catra an unimpressed look as Adora oos from her spot on the spaceship’s wing. Adora can’t climb like she can – and she gets yelled at for it more than Catra does, since the scientists have outright given up on keeping Catra’s feet on the ground – but she happily kicks her feet where she is swinging them over the edge of the wing.
“Can we go inside?” Adora calls down to Netossa. Netossa looks up from her clipboard. She is supposed to be doing something with the ship, but Catra doesn’t know what considering the Etherian scientists don’t even know what kind of metal it is made of yet.
“No, it isn’t safe. There is still shrapnel inside we can’t remove,” Netossa tells her, already looking back down at her notes. Catra’s ears twitch and she turns her head to make eye contact with Adora. Twin devious smiles spread across their faces at the first time.
“You can’t tell me what to do, it’s my ship!” Catra declares, startling Netossa into looking up from her notes just in time to watch Catra leap through the shattered windshield into the cockpit.
“Catra!” Netossa yells from the hanger as Catra and Adora both laugh. Out on the wing, Catra can hear Adora scrambling up.
“Open the side door for me, I want in!” Adora calls, banging on said door. Catra darts among the interior wreckage of the cabin she apparently should recognize after living in it, but all of it looks foreign to her. Netossa calls about the door being stuck and demands Adora climb down as Catra approaches it. She digs her claws into the twisted seam of the doorframe, prying until the door pops open. Netossa’s calls immediately cut off as Adora turns away from her to beam at Catra.
“Stick close to me, there’s a lot of sharp stuff,” Catra warns as she snatches out for Adora’s hand. Adora loops their fingers together and eagerly nods, letting Catra pull her through the ship, both of them laughing as, outside, Netossa calls out for someone to bring her a ladder.
“Can I meet a kitty?” Catra asks one day, staring at Adora with wide, unblinking eyes. Adora blinks back and then squeals, turning to Spinnerella with wide, begging eyes. Catra can make her pupils go all round and droop her ears and Adora wants to give her the world, but it doesn’t seem to work as well on others. Adora is better at making sad eyes and getting them things. Spinnerella sighs, already picking up a tablet.
“I will see what I can do, but getting house pets brought into a sealed government facility takes a bit more than the children want it,” Spinnerella tells them. Adora lights up, slipping off the bean bag she and Catra are curled in together to run up to Spinnerella and hug her hip.
“Thank you, Spinny!” Adora declares. She is old enough she can say Spinnerella’s name now, but she prefers to keep calling her care coordinator what she did when she was a toddler and still struggling with the language.
“Can we go to a pet store? And pick one?” Adora asks, breathless, as Catra grows fed up with being abandoned in the bean bag and slips out of it to press up against her back, wrapping her arms around Adora. She is hugging Spinnerella by extension as well. Spinnerella sighs, gentle and a little conflicted.
“We’ve had this talk, Adora. You can pass for human, but Catra can’t. She has to stay in the research facility,” Spinnerella tells her. Catra growls lowly at Adora’s back as Adora frowns and drops her arms from around Spinnerella’s hip. She has only been outside of the research base twice, accompanied by Spinnerella and security staff each time. Spinnerella has promised that when she and Catra are older they will be able to leave whenever they want, but right now the facility is the safest place for them.
“I don’t wanna pick one out anyway. Just wanna meet one. See if they understand me,” Catra mumbles against her back, wrapping her arms tightly around Adora’s waist. Adora pauses, but she nods, dropping her hands to cover Catra’s.
“I met one when Spinnerella took me to her family! They make sounds just like you do,” Adora assures her, because her telling Catra about cats is what kicked this whole thing off. Catra stills at her back, tail waving and then going limp.
“You met her family?” she asks, in a small voice. Adora winces. Family is a touchy subject for Catra. Adora never had one, found as a baby in a massive crater in the woods, glowing like a beacon. The government was quickly called in and she grew up in the research facility they built to study the crash. Spinnerella and Netossa are the closest thing she has to parents. Catra might not remember much, but she had a mom and her mom had a partner too. Catra sometimes asks Adora to hold her a certain way, comforting and familiar when everything in the facility gets to be too much.
Spinnerella watches them both, her eyes soft and sad.
Catra hisses when one of the security staff tries to touch her back to usher her forward.
“She didn’t mean that,” Adora assures, grabbing her arm and pulling her forward to the SUV. Catra most certainly did, but she lets Adora pull her away from the man to the steps they have been given so they can climb into the car. Adora climbs them slowly, unsure, but Catra hops over them easily.
“I’m not wearing a seatbelt,” she shoots to Spinnerella in the driver’s seat. Behind them, Netossa actually laughs.
“Your seatbelt saved your life last time,” she points out. Catra turns to hiss at her, flattening her ears and lashing her tail. Adora wraps her arms around Catra’s waist and hauls her up onto the bench with her. Catra wasn’t going to launch at Netossa – she hasn’t done that to someone since the first few weeks when she couldn’t speak or understand very well – but she lets Adora pull her back and buckle her in even as she glares at the woman.
“Say thank you to Spinnerella for letting us visit her kitty,” Adora prompts her, nudging her shoulder. Catra flattens her ears again, sending Adora an angry pout as Netossa climbs into the back of the SUV with them.
“Thank you for not crashing the car, so my seatbelt won’t matter,” Catra says, petulantly, instead. Spinnerella and Adora both laugh as Netossa rolls her eyes. The security detail, Juliet in the front seat and three more guards in the far back, all remain impassive.
“The ride will be about an hour to my parents’ house. Have fun keeping them entertained, babe,” Spinnerella says, throwing Netossa a wink in the rearview mirror. Netossa startles, opening her mouth to protest, but Spinnerella hits the button that raises the solid divider between the front and back seat before she can protest, hiding Catra and Adora away in the backseat with no windows for people to catch glimpses of them through. An hour is a long way to go in a black box lit only by a roof light and the tablet Spinnerella gave them to keep them occupied, but Catra is sure she can find some way to annoy the other car occupants for her entertainment.
That plan goes out the window when the car starts moving.
Catra doesn’t really wear her seatbelt, largely because she spends most of the car ride curled up in a ball on the floor. After ten minutes, Adora manages to convince Netossa to let her slip down to the floor and join her, wrapping around Catra to comfort her. Well, actually, Adora argued with Netossa for several minutes before she just did it anyway, wriggling out from her seatbelt before Netossa could catch her.
There is some arguing in the car above her, but eventually it is agreed between Netossa, the com into the front seat with Spinnerella on it, and the security staff accompanying them that they can stay down there. Even after the car stops and turns off, the security detail slipping out one by one to secure the house, they stay down on the floor, curled together.
Catra has finally calmed down, no longer panicking or feeling sick. By the time Netossa reaches down to gently rouse them, Catra has begun to purr in Adora’s arms.
“The house has been cleared. You can come see Mom and Pop now,” Netossa tells them, her voice quiet. Catra makes an adorable mrpph sound as she raises her head, blinking slowly. She wasn’t asleep, but after the hour of internal turmoil, she was tired. She had begun to doze in Adora’s arms as they waited for the house to be secured.
“Spinnerella’s parents are really nice, I promise. Come on,” Adora urges Catra, tugging her until she is sitting up, yawning loudly. Catra rubs her face against Adora’s and Adora meets her, a friendly headbutt and greeting between them before Adora slips out of the open car door and pulls Catra out with her. Catra grumbles at the lights in the garage, tucking into Adora’s side. She shakes her head, fluffing out her mane to wake herself as they walk towards the door into the house. It is open, Spinnerella standing just inside and smiling at them.
The door opens onto the kitchen, where Spinnerella’s elderly Mom and Pop are waiting. They were very nice to Adora when Spinnerella and Netossa brought her along to their holiday family meal, and Adora knows that took a lot to get cleared. She can’t imagine what they went through to get a simple social visit approved, especially for Catra.
Catra’s tail sways curiously as she eyes the elderly couple. The couple smiles at her, though Adora can see an inquisitive light in their gaze. She tightens her arm around Catra and sends them both her best placating smile, which she uses a lot ever since Catra moved in.
Adora will never stop thanking the stars for sending her Catra. Sure, they get in trouble for playing with the precious equipment and running through the middle of the crash wreckage reconstruction, but Adora has so much fun with Catra, connecting to her like she never did with all the adults surrounding her. The downside to being a secret is that there is no one to play with – not until another secret comes along.
“This is Catra!” Adora introduces proudly, gesturing to Catra. Mom steps forward first, bending down to look Catra in the eye. Catra’s ears twitch, her tail stilling as she blinks back.
“Hello, Catra. I’m Spinnerella’s mom. Pop and I fixed a big dinner that we made sure would be safe for you, and we have Cinnabun shut into the office so you two can meet,” Mom says, smiling warmly. Adora looks to Catra, hopeful, as Catra’s ears twitch again and slowly, her tail lowers, the tension releasing from her as she lets herself relax.
Catra had been worried last night that Mom and Pop wouldn’t like her because she doesn’t look human. Adora assured Catra that Spinnerella wouldn’t take them to visit if that was the case, but she also wasn’t sure that they knew she wasn’t human when she had visited, so she couldn’t comfort Catra beyond asking her to trust Spinnerella. Catra doesn’t trust easily, even if she likes Spinnerella.
“That sounds great,” Adora assures Mom, and she earns a smile in return as Mom straightens and beckons them deeper into the house.
Catra stares at Cinnabun. Cinnabun stares back. The cat is an orange tabby, according to Adora, and it does kind of look like her, but-
“You look more like me than you look like Cinnabun,” Adora admits, patting her shoulder before stepping deeper into the office to approach where the cat is curled in a bed similar to the ones scattered around the facility for Catra, though smaller. Catra feels her fur lie flat at Adora’s words, a relieved rumble beginning in her chest without her bidding it. The cat just blinks at her, continuing to loaf in the bed as Adora approaches and pets it, just like she pets Catra’s mane.
Catra hates how other she is. Adora never treats her like that since she is other in her own right, but at least she looks human. She apparently glows sometimes, but Catra has yet to see it and the scientists still can’t figure it out. Hearing Adora admit Catra is more human than not is a relief, even if the whole reason they are here is that this creature is supposed have traits like her.
Cinnabun doesn’t mind Adora petting her, butting her head up into Adora’s hand, and Catra suddenly feels a hot flare of jealousy in her chest as the cat rubs against Adora’s palm. Catra rushes forward to Adora’s side, ignoring Spinnerella’s gentle call of no, cats don’t like that, but it is too late to stop her. Catra snatches her hands out, grabbing Adora’s arms and tugging her back from the cat.
“Catra?” Adora questions, bewildered, as Catra glares at the animal, growling lowly. Cinnabun is less relaxed now, tense and whipping her tail in agitation. Spinnerella hurries forward – or at least, she clearly wants to hurry despite how she cautiously approaches, placing a light hand on Adora’s other shoulder. Catra turns to growl at her now, ears pinned back and her tail lashing. She can’t bring herself to make eye contact with her even as she growls in the direction of her hip, knowing Spinnerella doesn’t really deserve it.
“Catra clearly doesn’t like Cinnabun, Adora. I think it’s best that we ate dinner now,” Spinnerella says. Catra growls again, because it has nothing to do with like. Catra tightens her grip on Adora’s arm as Cinnabun stands and retreats to the far corner of the desk, mewing an admonishment. Catra sticks her tongue out at the cat and then immediately turns to rub her cheek roughly against Adora’s jaw.
“Adora’s mine,” Catra threatens, vaguely, in the direction of Cinnabun. Spinnerella seems lost. She has that expression on her face a lot of the adults get around Catra, the I don’t understand and don’t know if I should worry one. Catra chuffs – which Cinnabun echoes for some reason – and then rubs her cheek against Adora’s neck for good measure. Adora giggles in response.
“That tickles, Catra,” she points out. Part of Catra proudly notes that Adora has made no protest against being hers. She scowls in response.
“You let the cat mark you,” she returns, even though Adora said that tickles and not stop. To illustrate her point, Catra reaches down and grabs Adora's hand, raising it up to her cheek and nudging into it to replace the satisfied mark Cinnabun had left.
“Mark?” Adora and Spinerella both question at the same time. Catra’s ears pin back as she wraps her arms around Adora’s waist to plaster them together.
“She marks like me. Can you- You don’t smell it?” Catra questions, her ears twitching, uncertain. Adora blinks at her, and then over at the cat as recognition slowly dawns on Spinnerella’s face.
“You have increased senses, Catra, but I suppose we did not know how much so. Humans cannot pick up on that, and Adora’s senses seem to fall in line with human abilities,” Spinnerella tells her, gently, gesturing over to Cinnabun as Adora blinks in surprise.
“Do I smell like I’m yours? If another person like you landed, would they hiss when they smelled me? Do you do that with your cheek? Your face?” Adora asks, rapid-fire questions about Catra’s everything she is more than used to by now. Catra huffs, pressing closer and rubbing her cheek against Adora’s shoulder.
“You are mine. She didn’t care but I do. She can’t mark you,” Catra returns. Adora looks borderline delighted. Spinnerella has that expression again.
Catra does end up tolerating Cinnabun, though she growls every time Cinnabun rubs against Adora, even after Spinerella explains animal scent-marking to them.
“I’m not an animal,” Catra mutters, her ears pinned back as she curls her arms and tail around her knees. Adora shuffles closer to where Catra is sat on the floor. Adora has Cinnabun in her lap and Catra eyes the cat suspiciously, but she lets Adora approach and wrap an arm around her shoulders.
“You’re my friend,” Adora assures, leaning forward to butt their heads together. It is a form of affection they have just between the two of them, one the scientists tend to rush to note when they see them using, but Adora doubts that this means anything to their kinds or whatever and is probably just something for them. Catra turns her cheek, nuzzling and marking Adora in turn. She has done that for weeks, but Adora didn’t realize it was more than simple affection.
“I don’t like cats,” Catra decides, wrinkling her face up as she reaches down and cautiously pets Cinnabun’s back, far away from her face so she can’t try to mark her. Adora pouts a little, but she nods. She would rather have Catra than Cinnabun, even if she is disappointed Catra doesn’t like the cat. Maybe one day they’ll get to meet another that Catra will like, but according to Spinnerella, Cinnabun is already very tolerant for a cat.
“Let’s go eat dinner,” Spinnerella prompts in response to the admission. Catra practically flings her hand away from the cat, seeming relieved for the excuse to stop interacting with her. Adora reluctantly shoos the cat from her lap, standing and instantly being met with Catra bolting up to wrap her arms around her and butt up under her chin. Adora giggles, Catra’s soft fur tickling her a little. She holds very still for her, happy for all the affection Catra is offering tonight.
Before Catra, Adora only got affection really from Spinnerella and her care team. Even that felt largely prescribed, or at the very least limited. Catra loves unabashedly, cuddling with her, purring, hugging, marking, even licking when they are alone together. Catra lets Adora love her in return, wrapping arms around her, petting and scratching, offering headbutts and soft hums in a poor attempt at echoing the purrs Catra can make.
Thinking back to a time before Catra feels sterile and lifeless, despite only being a few months ago. Adora happily cuddles with her companion in the middle of the office before they are ushered to the dinner table. They sit beside each other, elbowing each other’s sides and bickering as they try to steal food off each other’s plate despite being served the same thing. The cooking is as good as Adora remembers it, and Catra seems to enjoy it too, her purr stuttering in and out throughout the meal and ears twitching.
Catra can hear the security detail. She doesn’t think they know that, though. When Cinnabun had been in the room, she had to keep her focus centered on the cat, but now the animal is shut away in the office and they are sitting amongst Spinnerella’s family, Catra can easily listen in, her ears swiveling to follow the updates echoing throughout the earpieces.
All quiet and no one noticed our arrival ring out. Is the cat going to be an issue for Grey Two? causes Catra to wrinkle her nose. Humans have two names, sometimes three for some reason, and Adora is technically Adora Grey. When Catra came along, Adora offered to share names with her while Spinnerella tried to explain that had meaning, but neither of them cared. Adora’s research project was already named the Grey project, so adding Catra into it wasn’t hard.
Adora belonged to her from the moment she gave Catra a name. If she gave Catra a first name, why not her last one too?
“How are the folks doing with the furball?” the detail stationed out in the garage asks, and Catra has to fight her ears twitching back.
“All peaceful,” is the return from over her shoulder, which earns a snort of laughter out in the garage.
Catra has difficulty focusing on dinner.
“How did you like the visit?” Spinnerella asks them as they load into the car after Mom and Pop hug them both goodbye. Catra’s eyes had gone wide when Mom hugged her, but she stood perfectly still and allowed it. If Adora is touch-deprived, Catra is in another realm. Hardly anyone wants to touch her outside of being fascinated by her fur, and those touches hardly count. Catra rarely allows them either, snarling when someone other than Adora tries to engage with her.
Catra trusts her. She doesn’t trust a lot of the humans. Spinnerella and Netossa are different, understanding and patient – well, the patience mostly belongs to Spinnerella – but they don’t really reach out for physical contact like Catra and Adora both need. They are Spinnerella’s wards at the end of the day, her job and not her children. There is no one to truly give them the love of a mother.
“’S fine. They’re nice,” Catra mumbles from her curled up ball on the floor. “Wish we could have seen the farm,” she adds, turning to duck her head into Adora’s neck. Spinnerella has told them about her parent’s farm, even showing them pictures, but now they are being ferried through it without even windows to look at it. Spinnerella looks a little pained as she gazes down at where they are curled together on the SUV floorboards.
“In a few years, kids, when the world knows about you and it won’t cause a global incident should someone see,” Spinnerella promises. She promises that a lot. She says it is for their own good – that they are too young to understand the immense pressure they will face once they are known – but a lot of the time it just feels lonely. A lot less lonely now Catra is here, but Adora yearns for the life she sees depicted on the TV, when Spinnerella lets them watch it.
“What about you, Adora? What did you think?” Spinnerella prompts instead, clearly trying to move onto a happier subject. Adora frowns as she pets Catra’s ears and Catra’s warm breathes puff again her neck.
“Mom and Pop are very nice. Thank you for letting us see them. But I wish we could have seen the farm,” Adora returns.
Spinnerella deflates a little, but she tells Adora you’re welcome.