Area 51 is a research complex, hidden amongst the trees of the Whispering Woods. Despite the Woods being a protected area, the research complex is still surrounded by high walls, ensuring anyone trespassing can’t look inside and accidentally see them playing in their yard, fenced-off from the side of the main facility building where they live. They aren’t allowed to just run around between buildings in the outside part of the complex, but they are allowed to go out to the yard whenever they want, free to climb the playscape, try to launch each other off the seesaw, or kick a ball back and forth.
The scientists called Catra a magicat because they just cannot figure her out. She, like Adora, shouldn’t be possible given what they know about life from Etheria. They coined the term after they watched Catra pick up a soda can with her tail and take a long sip from it. Apparently she has too many limbs to be balanced as a creature or something.
Currently, said tail is waving in the air as Catra slowly creeps closer to a dragonfly resting in the grass. Adora holds still, not wanting to ruin Catra’s hunt as she wiggles in place, preparing to leap. Catra launches forward silently, claws outstretched and snatching the bug out of the air. Catra releases a satisfied chirp as she readjusts her grip on the bug and turns, running up to thrust it out to Adora.
“Look!” she declares, proudly. Adora oos and ahs, bending and inspecting the bug with Catra. They play with it for a while, watching it weakly twitch its slightly-crinkled wings, but eventually the door back into the main facility is opened and they are being called back inside.
Catra looks between Adora and their caretaker for today, and then shoves the dragonfly in her mouth. Adora shrieks with laughter as their caretaker rushes forward and tries to get Catra to spit the bug out.
The nurse walks up to Catra and she hisses. They do this dance every few weeks. Adora immediately opens her arms and Catra runs into them, leaping up into the other girl’s lap and burying her face in against her neck.
“Shh, it’s alright,” Adora promises her, hands stroking down her mane. Catra grumbles into her neck as her ears swivel backwards to listen for the approach of the nurse again. She curls in tighter around Adora, but it is futile. The nurse steps up beside them and takes her arm in their hand, straightening it out. The blood draw is quick and fairly painless. It always is, but Catra still feels a bit woozy afterwards. She hates being thrown off, even if Adora will cuddle her for as long as she needs to feel settled afterwards.
“Good kitty,” Adora promises her, kissing the top of her forehead. Catra grumbles again as a cotton ball is pressed into her inner arm, but she nudges up into Adora’s touch. Adora hums softly, rubbing her face down into Catra’s hair, blatantly affectionate.
“You’re all done for today, girls. Take as long as you need,” the nurse assures them. Adora got her blood drawn first – leading by example, according to their nurse – so they are free to return to their caretaker, patiently waiting outside the door, once Catra feels up to moving. As much as she just wants to stay curled in Adora’s arms, she also doesn’t want to be in this room any longer than necessary.
She nudges against Adora’s chin, and Adora understands her. Catra doesn’t know if her species – the scientist just call them the First Ones because they are imaginative when it comes to naming the first alien species they have found – communicates in ways close to magicats, or if this is a them thing, but Adora understands her. She shuffles to hop off the exam table as Catra reluctantly slips down from her lap.
Catra hates the doctors. She knows the weekly health checks and regular blood draws are necessary - Spinnerella keeps telling them that human medicine won’t work for them, so the scientists have to watch them carefully to monitor their health - but Catra isn’t a fan of being poked and prodded, no matter the reason. It has been happening ever since she arrived here, but though she understands why now, she doesn’t like it any more than she did the first time.
Luckily everyone knows this, and they aren’t expected to do anything after their weekly check-up. When they leave the room, their caretaker cheerfully asks Adora where she would like to go now. Adora just blinks up at her with wide eyes as Catra tucks into her side.
“It’s cuddles time,” Adora tells her. Their caretaker’s expression softens.
“Of course. To your room?” she returns. Adora nods.
They end up curled up together in one of Catra’s poofy beds that was not meant to accommodate them both, but neither of them care.
Adora gets to leave the facility on her birthday. Catra watches Adora get ready for her birthday outing silently. Adora is conflicted. She loves getting to go out, walking between Spinnerella and Netossa and asking questions as quietly as she can about the things they come across. Usually they take her somewhere, like the movies or to a skating rink. This time, they are going shopping. Adora has never bought anything before, and she is excited.
Catra has never bought anything either. She watches Adora, expression impassive and the tip of her tail twitching. Like always, she doesn’t get to come. It may be a risk to let Adora out in public, given the danger she could get injured or stressed or they could find an all new trigger to her glowing, but Catra appears inhuman at all times, not just on occasion. The main risk with letting Adora out is that she will run her mouth and say something to give them away – one glance at Catra and they are outed. The only time she gets to leave the facility is their yearly holiday dinner with Spinnerella’s family.
“I’ll get you something,” Adora promises, crossing the room to throw her arms around Catra. Catra perks up a little, nuzzling back into the embrace. It isn’t enough to make her purr, but Catra is at least a little more relaxed as she follows Adora out to the hangar where the car is waiting for her. Adora waves to her out the car window until they are out of sight.
Catra and Adora shower together. They always have, ever since the first time Adora managed to coax a stressed and largely-wordless Catra, only named a few hours ago, into her little bathroom nook. Catra’s fur stood on end at the idea of being in such close quarters with water, and Adora hopped in the shower to show her it was safe. Catra refused to enter the box without clutching onto Adora after that.
It isn’t like that now. Sure, Catra still hates water and she just knows her people have a different way to clean themselves, but now she slips into the shower willingly as long as Adora is there. Adora washes her own hair while Catra combs through her mane, and then Adora helps her shampoo and condition her fur. Catra even purrs as Adora runs the coat brush against her back to work the shampoo into her fur.
It took the scientists awhile to formulate something that worked for her, but now her fur is silky-soft and her tail is as fluffy as she knows it should be, swishing happily as the warmth of the water washes over her, flicking droplets against the walls of the shower. Adora always hugs her when it is time to turn off the water, pressing their bodies together and acting as an anchor when the pleasant warmth of the running water vanishes and is replaced with only wet fur.
They step out of the shower onto the warm air grate as one, and Catra hits the button that turns on what is, in essence, a giant blow dryer. It doesn’t dry her completely, but her purr returns as the warm air rushes up over her body, fluffing and softening her coat - and most importantly, keeping moisture from getting trapped beneath it and having another hot spot incident. That had been one of the worst weeks of Catra’s life – worse even than the crash, because at least she doesn’t remember that.
Catra helps Adora dry her hair with the normal blow dryer, and then Adora returns the favour on her mane, spot-treating any parts of her coat that weren’t dried enough by the heat-grate. Afterwards, they curl together on top of the sheets naked so Catra’s fur can fully dry – and so Adora can bury her face in the extra silkiness produced by the whole routine.
When Catra first arrived here, she was allowed to behave pretty much how she wanted to as long as she didn’t hurt anyone or break things. Adora was raised on Etheria and always expected to fit into their culture – she was always being groomed to slip into it pretty effortlessly when she was older – but the scientists were eager to take note of everything Catra did and theorize on what her species as a whole was like.
Now, they have taken their notes and she is being expected more and more to behave. She is allowed to do many things – to climb, and tear, and make all manner of sounds that only Adora seems able to consistently translate – but she is also expected to follow Etherian customs, despite them never having been designed for her.
“We wear clothes around other people,” Spinnerella tries, when one of their caretakers calls in backup after Catra snarls at the suggestion that she and Adora can’t sleep naked together anymore.
“I don’t mind,” Adora adds, and Catra feels triumphant, her tail curling in satisfaction as she grins a see? at Spinnerella. Catra isn’t running naked in the halls, anyway. She doesn’t understand why it is okay for her and Adora to shower together but not be naked afterwards. Spinnerella sighs, making a note on her tablet.
“Etherian customs allow some level of nudity around those close to us, such as loved ones,” Spinnerella begins to explain.
“Problem solved. I love her,” Catra declares, petulantly. Adora awws and throws her arms around Catra while Spinnerella’s face does a bemused twitch.
“I love you too. You’re my best friend,” Adora assures her, rubbing their cheeks together. Catra scoffs, but she rubs back, marking along on Adora’s face as her tail waves happily and a purr starts in her chest.
“I’m your only friend, dummy,” Catra points out. Adora laughs, but she clutches Catra close.
Spinnerella at least gives up on the clothes crusade, though she strictly forbids either of them from being naked outside their room. Sure, fine, whatever. Catra only wants to be naked with Adora anyway. She doesn’t trust the others. They will treat her differently for it – Adora just joins her.
Catra makes noises no one understands – well, Adora does, but she means no one other than them understands. Catra does things - like climbing and sharpening her claws and marking every object she owns with her scent - that no one else does. Catra will sit, watching their potted plants wave in the breeze from the AC, and Adora will sit beside her, but she is more interested in watching Catra’s ears twitch than focusing on the plants, entranced by the way her gaze darts around, and, if it won’t disturb Catra’s watching too much, getting to pet through her friend’s mane.
Despite Catra’s behaviour largely being incomprehensible to the average human – their behaviour team doesn’t count as an exception, considering it is their entire job to figure it out – the researchers on the Greys project at least understand how she works biologically, for the most part. No one really understands Adora – her chemical makeup is entirely different from that of a human. Catra’s is similar, even if she looks different on the outside.
Catra purrs, and people might not understand its meaning, but they at least know, roughly, how she does it. Adora glows, and not only are they still trying to figure out why, but they don’t even know how.
“It could also serve social or communicative purposes,” one of the scientists theorizes as they watch Adora, self-conscious, tuck her face down into Catra’s mane. Her hair is glowing faintly and she doesn’t know why, just that there had been some overwhelming emotion in her chest when Catra dropped down in her lap and immediately began purring. Fondness, affection, whatever you want to call it. Now she clings to Catra as Catra tries to soothe her with her purr.
Previously, the only emotion that triggered her glow was stress and fear. It sometimes begins during heavy exercise, but only faintly. Injury is a surefire cause for it – the scientists think it is part of her healing process – but emotions are spottier on bringing it out. So spotty, in fact, that Adora has never glowed from a positive emotion that was just too intense before.
Catra stirs from where she is curled into her chest, leaning up to nudge her cheek against Adora’s jaw. Adora releases a steadying breath as Catra marks her. Her friend is trying to assure her, and it works, but her heart is still beating too fast. Catra frowns a little, and then tucks down into her neck, licking against it. Catra grooms herself like this, sometimes, and she also licks Adora despite Adora having no fur to need it.
The glow only intensifies. Yeah, that definitely didn’t help. The scientists are rushing to note it down, though.
They are letting her outside.
Catra is twitching with anticipation, the end of her tail drumming against the table as she waits for them to finish fixing her bracelets to her ankles.
“Remember, this switch here will call the extraction team if you can’t find your way back or you just want to be picked up. They’ll swoop in if you get too far away as well, but otherwise they will hang back,” Spinnerella explains, gesturing to said switches on each ankle bracelet. “They are water and impact proof, so you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged short of a buzzsaw,” she adds as Catra kicks her feet over the edge of the table, too excited to sit still. Catra frowns down at the twin bracelets.
“Why two then?” she asks. Spinnerella hesitates for just a moment as she bends to pick up her tablet.
“Redundancy. The trackers should be accurate, but having two helps us triangulate, and if one somehow has a fault, the other will still allow us to find you,” Spinnerella tells her. Catra narrows her eyes at her. Spinnerella sighs, lowering her tablet. “It took a lot to get this approved, Catra. Any safety measure I could add helped,” she admits. Catra’s ears pin back, but she nods.
Spinnerella shows her a map of the forest on her tablet with two dots, nearly on top of each other, showing the broadcast from each of her ankle bracelets. There is an entire room of researchers watching her every move on the map, ready to pull up the security feed from any of the forest cameras should she pass them as well, and the thought is definitely weird, but it is mostly buried by the excitement of being let out.
This is definitely because of the lab mice incident, but if chasing the escapees through the halls gets her this, she can live with the embarrassment. Catra isn’t being let out to hunt or anything - she likes to chase toys, and play sports, and even catch bugs and lab mice, but no one is expecting her to catch a bird or something. They are letting her out to run through nature. The facility has little of it, but the scientists quickly noted Catra’s attachment to plants. The collection of house plants in their room can only do so much for her.
This is an experiment in letting her be in a natural environment she clearly feels a biological drive for. The idea alone has her tail curling and uncurling with excitement. She only leaves the facility once a year, and she doesn’t even get to look out the car window then. Now she is getting the chance to run amongst the trees. Adora hasn’t even gotten to do this! The closest she has come are supervised hikes through the woods, carefully following trails pointed out by guides.
Adora is waiting for her when Spinnerella and a security guard escort her out to the facility’s main yard. Adora seems nervous, but she perks up upon seeing Catra. Adora falls in step beside her, taking her hand and squeezing it as they approach the gates out of the facility. Spinnerella places a hand on Adora’s shoulder, squeezing to hold her back as the gates open for Catra. Adora lets her hand go, seeming uncertain but hopeful. She gives Catra an encouraging smile at least as she takes a step forward towards the opening gates.
The gates swing open, and Catra is staring down a road, carved into the center of a lush forest. The branches extend above it, like they do for most of the facility, hiding it from view overhead. Catra takes a deep breath and launches forward, dropping to all fours to take off into the woods.
Catra’s nature runs become a regular thing, and she often brings Adora back gifts. The shelves in their room are already laden with plants, photos, and toys, but Catra’s finds soon join their ranks. Pretty rocks, feathers, sticks in interesting shapes, shed skins and shells, and colourful leaves all line the shelves. Catra admits to her that despite the prizes she brings back, often she just climbs trees and runs through the undergrowth, enjoying the surroundings that feel right for her.
“I bet I come from, like, a jungle planet,” Catra rambles one day, her tail lashing with excitement as she sprawls over their bed. “It feels so good out there, Adora,” she adds, with a bit of a dreamy smile. Adora beams, just happy to see her friend happy.
She still waits anxiously by the gate every time Catra leaves. They are old enough now, behaved enough despite still being menaces, that they are allowed out in the yard between the different facility buildings whenever they want, their clearance upgraded so they have the run of the facility. Apparently it was a safety thing before, but now they are growing and need the room.
Adora may be allowed out into the yard, but she gets the sense she is supposed to be there to send Catra off. Not from Catra, Catra is always just so excited to go she tears off at the first opportunity, but it always feels like Spinnerella and the scientists steer Adora out to see Catra off. Spinnerella always gives her a tablet to monitor Catra as she waits, huddled by the gate, and if it is raining, she stands beside her with an umbrella.
“Catra is ready to go,” Spinnerella says to Adora, peering down at where she is collapsed in one of the bean bags in their playroom. Adora kicks her feet a little. She knows. It was hard to miss the tell-tale click of Catra’s claws taking off down the hall, even before Spinnerella opened the door.
“It’s gross outside. I’ll go to our room to wait. She’ll want to shower after anyway,” Adora tells her. She can’t really say the truth – that it hurts to watch Catra run away with such joy. Every time she is a little afraid Catra won’t come back and she’ll be alone again, like before. In retrospect, she hates the time before Catra, even if it seems like a distant memory now. Spinnerella pauses.
“Adora, she wants you to see her off,” Spinnerella says, gently. Adora screws up her face.
“No, she doesn’t, and I don’t want to go. I hate standing there waiting for her to come back. I’m going to wait somewhere comfortable,” she returns, tugging at the hem of her shirt. Spinnerella is silent for a long moment.
“Adora-“ she starts. Adora heaves a heavy sigh and turns over in the bean bag, turning away from the door to curl on her side.
“No, I don’t want to. If she tells me it bothers her when she comes back, then I’ll do it next time, but she doesn’t care and I’m not going today,” Adora tells her, curling up smaller. There is a long pause before she hears Spinnerella take a few steps into the room and shut the door behind her.
“Adora, you have to,” she says, her voice gentle despite the command. Adora feels something icy grow in her chest, but she just curls in tighter, determined to drown it out. Spinnerella’s sigh is soft but loaded. “Without you waiting for her, I worry she won’t come back. The higher ups worry too. It really isn’t safe for her to be out there alone, and we don’t want to drag her back. The trauma from it would be immense. I only got this approved by submitting extensive documentation on how important you are to her as a bribe to return for,” Spinnerella says.
Adora’s lungs feel tight. She sits up, her breaths unsteady as she makes eye contact with Spinnerella and finds her expression apologetic but honest. Adora and Catra have been well aware they don’t get told everything, but Spinnerella always promises they will find out more when they are older. Apparently this is what more looks like. Machinations behind the scenes. Adora draws a deep breath, steadying herself.
“Fine,” she agrees, slipping out of the bean bag and standing on unsteady legs.
Adora likes to read books with stories set out in the world. Spinnerella calls them slice-of-life. Adora prefers them over fantasy, or sci-fi, because they let her see what it will be like when they get out. Catra doesn’t have a lot of confidence in out.
Spinnerella has explained to them that the plan had been to announce the existence of extraterrestrials when Adora was eighteen, but never identify her as one. With government documentation, she could have slipped into society fairly well, though the odds of her ever being safe to live with someone else were low for fear of discovery.
Catra changed that. She was proof of more than one foreign lifeform – she came with an entire ship, loaded with alien technology. In the span of only a few years, two different aliens ended up on Etheria. It seemed the announcement would have to be made soon, before something catastrophic could happen, but there was also the fact they were both children.
“People are going to hate you for being different. You don’t deserve that. You shouldn’t even have to know about it at this age, but I need you to understand why we keep you here. It is for your own safety – emotional and physical. When you get older, we will introduce you to society, and try to let you integrate with it, but we can’t say what other people will do. It may be that this is the only safe place for you, but I swear we will try,” Spinnerella tells them when Catra comes careening into her office, furious at Adora being used like a hostage to keep her here.
Despite Catra being reluctant to learn about a world she may never get to know, she loves when Adora reads the books. Adora always picks somewhere comfy to lay down – their bed, or a chair, or one of the bean bags scattered around the facility for Catra – and leans back, leaving Catra plenty of room to curl up in her lap. Adora rests the book on her back, or shoulder, or even on the top of her head depending on how she is laying, and she hums happily as she reads, sometimes petting Catra when she isn’t too absorbed in the story.
Catra purrs, nuzzling into Adora’s chest and getting a scratch behind the ears in response. They are in the middle of a lab room, four scientists working around them, arguing over the chemical makeup of something, but there was a bean bag here, so they plopped down. Everyone who works at the facility is more than used to Catra and Adora tearing through a room in the middle of their work, playing games or hunting down whichever scientist they have chosen to terrorize that day.
Their teachers tried to get trackers put on them just so they could find them, but Spinnerella put her foot down as surely as Catra did, and it is wholly unnecessary – all anyone needs to do in order to find them is open up the base’s internal internet. There is a whole channel in the messenger dedicated to them, mostly photos and videos of them careening into the middle of “real work” and stories about them being menaces. Catra practically considers it her wall of achievements.
Despite the arguing around them, Catra feels herself drifting into sleep. She is comfortable in Adora’s arms. The bean bag is plush and makes her feel protected from the way it cradles them. Adora isn’t too distracted by her book today, petting through her hair as she reads. Catra wriggles up a little in Adora’s lap so she can tuck her face into her shoulder, darkness pressing against her eyelids, and she drifts to sleep.
Catra is nowhere to be found, and there haven’t even been any sightings of her on the Greys channel since one of the behaviour scientists uploaded a video of Catra intently watching the lab rats in their cage with blown out eyes, her tail waving. That was two hours ago, and Catra surely was chased out of the lab shortly after.
Adora goes to their room, because when Catra vanishes for this long it can only mean she is somewhere high up or curled up asleep somewhere. That somewhere could be pretty much anywhere, given how she seems willing to sleep in any position, under any conditions. Despite the vast range of possibilities, Adora just has a feeling.
Her feeling is right. It had been a pain to haul Catra out of bed that morning. She had dug her claws in, first to Adora and then to the mattress when she realized Adora could just stand up to get her out of bed. She had rubbed her face in the sheets, intermittently purring and growling while Adora tried to extract her. Adora figured she would return as soon as she was done with her daily exercise runs.
Catra’s tail is waving when she walks in the room, despite how she has her back to the door and her face buried in Adora’s pillow. Adora toes off her boots, locking the door behind her and climbing onto Catra’s side of the bed. Catra immediately unfurls from her half-curled form, stretching out and back to smoothly settle into Adora’s arms.
“Are you really that tired today?” Adora asks, rubbing her face against the nape of Catra’s neck. She has tried to rub her face on Spinnerella when she hugs her and Spinnerella just tells her that isn’t how humans behave, but it is how Catra shows affection, and Adora loves the feeling of her soft fur. Catra doesn’t reply or even turn her face out from Adora’s pillow, purring rhythmically as she relaxes into Adora’s arms.
Catra has been moody lately. Her emotions can be temperamental anyway, and while Catra has not had a lot of outbursts lately, she has been in a particular mood - which is to say affectionate and clingy - for a few weeks now. Their health team has noticed her hormones slowly changing. They have wondered if maybe she is beginning the magicat equivalent of puberty, but they just don’t know if it is something to be worried about.
“How are you feeling?” Adora asks, quietly, not wanting to wake Catra if she has managed to fall asleep already. She could have – sleeping anywhere, anytime also means doing it at the drop of a hat. Adora punctuates her question by dropping a kiss to the back of Catra’s neck. It isn’t something she usually does, but it feels right in the moment. Catra, to her surprise, trills.
“Do that again,” she requests, a bit muffled in the pillow. Adora pauses, blinking, but after taking a moment to recover she bends forward and kisses along Catra’s shoulder, scattering affection wherever she can reach as Catra slowly turns her face out to arch up into the affection. Catra’s purr is strong, so Adora just keeps going. Her fur is soft beneath her lips and is nice to kiss anyway, even if this is kind of new for them. It isn’t something either of them ever had the urge for before, and they usually only see it on TV between adults and teenagers. That is who Spinnerella said it was for anyway.
Catra has been slowly rolling over into Adora’s embrace, but now she flips over fully so they are chest-to-chest, butting her head up under Adora’s chin. Adora hesitates, unsure, but Catra’s ears are always so soft beneath her hands, so after a moment she bends to kiss one. Catra’s ear twitches beneath her, but she purrs, curling her fingers into the front of Adora’s shirt, so it doesn’t seem like a stop. Adora turns to kiss the other ear, right at its base, and Catra chirrups quietly, clinging at the fabric of Adora’s shirt.
Catra lets go of her shirt to instead wrap her arms around Adora, holding her close. Adora hugs her back, cuddling Catra in under her chin so she can drop more kisses occasionally to her soft ears. There is a sense of longing in the air, both of them wanting something, but Adora doesn’t really know what. This will have to be enough, as close as they can get. Catra seems relatively content in her arms at least.
Catra rubs her face against Adora’s neck and shoulders, licking a little with her rough tongue as she goes, making Adora giggle, but Adora just continues to hold her close, and after a while Catra seems content with her claim and tucks into Adora’s neck to sleep.