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the Greys

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They have school, though Catra can only loosely call it that seeing as there is no middle school, or even other students. Tutors were hired to educate Adora before Catra even arrived, and they are still seeing those same teachers now, even though all the media says they should have a new set of instructors by now.

Catra hates school. She isn’t bad at it, at least not at anything requiring memorization or formulas, but she knows it is pointless. She gets mad at the dumb stories they have to read in English, she breezes through everything to do with math thanks to her photographic memory, and she is depressed by history, learning all the dumb wars the humans have fought with each other for control – of land, of resources, of each other.

Adora likes school. It keeps her busy, challenging her in ways it doesn’t for Catra, and it makes her feel normal. She likes learning about geography and struggling through life science because she sees those topics mentioned by the characters in her books and their TV shows. Catra watches Adora learn and wonders which university she is going to go to - if she will be content with a low-level degree or take their government funding all the way to the top.

Catra watches Adora learn and knows she is never going to college with her. She got too close to the edge of the woods a few weeks ago during one of her runs, entirely on purpose. The strike team that she knows follows her but only ever vaguely hears in the distance didn’t hesitate to swoop in and steer her away.

“No one can see you. You can’t go any further,” had been the response. When Catra took a few defiant steps further, they flanked her, one of the men grabbing her arm and telling her it was time to go back now. She didn’t fight them – she was scared – but she has heard them tailing far too closely for her to successfully hunt anything on her two hunts since then.

Adora is going to grow up and be turned loose. Catra is going to be a secret for the rest of her life. Adora will get to leave, and if Catra is lucky, Adora will come back to her after she finishes college. She likes science well enough – maybe she could become a researcher at the base and Catra could still see her.

Every day, that lie gets harder and harder to tell herself. Adora wants out so badly, and she hasn’t even worried that Catra won’t be able to follow her.

 

--

 

Every week, they go through a full physical examination, and every two weeks Adora gets blood drawn. They have found that Catra can’t take it that often, so she gets it once a month. In addition to the extensive data chart on their vitals the scientists have been drawing, desperately tracking the trends and looking for any clues as to their health and how to treat potential problems, they have an exercise routine.

Apparently it is excessive for humans, but both Catra and Adora keeps up with theirs, despite how vastly different they are. Adora does drills and exercises while Catra works through more sporty activities and sometimes literally bounces off the walls, chasing a ball or drone. Adora tries sports, and she likes playing kickball with Catra, but for the most part she prefers the routine pulled straight out of bootcamp.

They also do benchmark tests, where the scientists test their limits. Catra and Adora chase each other grappling up the rough surfaces they are given, they both try to outlast each other in their running endurance test, and Adora insists on trying to jump the gap they give Catra, despite it not being on her docket. Adora has more muscle while Catra is agile, so their tests differ somewhat, but Adora just wants to see if she can do it.

There is a safety net anyway. She takes a run up and launches herself across the gap a human could never clear. Adora does though, not entirely prepared for the landing and going rolling up to Catra’s feet. Catra stares down at her, eyes wide and ears twitching. Their instructors are muttering to each other, seemingly impressed, but Catra has a distant look in her eye.

When they go to do their race up the grappling wall – Adora always loses, but she doesn’t have claws – Adora has an idea about how she might be able to beat Catra this time. When go is called, she doesn’t rush forward, instead jogging a few steps backwards to give herself a lead up. Catra plasters her ears back to listen for her, but she doesn’t hesitate to begin climbing, expecting a fake out.

Adora thinks she has enough of a lead up. There is the possibility she is about to smash into the wall like a bug on a windshield, but she bounces back pretty quickly, so she isn’t too worried. As long as she doesn’t get hurt too badly, Catra will laugh about it at least. Adora shoves off, running full force and leaping into the air as high as she can to skip the climb.

She lands right on the top edge, grabbing on and clinging as all the air knocks out of her. Only her arms and shoulders make it up top, and the best she can do is cling on for dear life as she heaves for air. Her hair is glowing, she can tell by the light at the edge of her vision, so apparently she has strained herself, but she did make it. Down on the floor, she can hear their instructors yelling, but the sounds are distant as she just clings on for dear life.

She scrambles her legs to get her feet braced against the wall, giving her something to push off of and lightening the burden on her arms. It takes a lot of effort to haul herself up, carefully walking her feet up the wall as she pulls herself up, but she flops over on her back at the top of the wall, heaving heavy breaths, as Catra crests over the top of the wall from climbing the old-fashioned way. She looks caught between anger and laughing.

“You cheated!” she accuses. Adora grins up at her, still breathing heavily. Her hair is starting to dim at least.

“I won,” she corrects. Catra plops down beside her, smacking her once with her tail. Down at the bottom of the wall, their instructors are calling to them, mostly the word Adora in variations of upset or worried, but Adora just rolls over on her side to grin at Catra.

To her surprise, Catra no longer looks annoyed. She has a distant look in her eye, not really focused on Adora. Almost absently, she reaches out and gently cards her hands through Adora’s dimming hair. Adora hums, letting her eyes slip closed as her breathing steadies. After a few moments, she opens her eyes to find her hair has dulled to normal. Catra blinks down at her.

“Come on, we better go get reprimanded,” she says, smacking Adora once more with her tail before standing, but her voice sounds like her thoughts are somewhere else.

 

--

 

It takes surprisingly little prep work. Ideally she would do more, but she worries about being too obvious and giving her plan away. She already knows that she has long been deemed a flight risk. There is a reason her and Adora are never allowed out in the woods at the same time, and that they give her two ankle bracelets when they let her loose.

No one has ever said anything about it, but Catra figured it out from what she manages to overhear: they are worried about her ripping off her bracelet and making a run for it. Giving her two of them to remove helps to slow her down. The team that follows her is not just supposed to keep her within the woods’ boundaries, but also swoop if one of bracelets stops signaling. The scientists are prepared for her to run, but they are prepared for the wrong thing. She would never leave during her nature runs - not without Adora.

Besides, she needs to be prepared. She has new warm winter gear for her runs now, including a coat with a hood. If she combines it with one of her scarfs, she can do a decent job covering her head and face. Adora has a bag she uses to collect souvenirs on her supervised hikes, and if they pack it with the food from one of Catra’s many stashes around the facility, they will have supplies.

The trick to this is cleaning out one of her stashes without raising eyebrows and then convincing Adora to go with her. Luckily, no one understands her urge to stash food anyway, so she is able to burst into Netossa’s office at max speed, clear out her stash wedged between Netossa’s computer and the side of her desk, and then tear out of the room before Netossa has finished demanding to know how long that has been there.

Her behaviour team has a fucking map to most of her stashes, which she kind of hates, but at least now she knows they don’t share it around. She manages to make it back to her room quickly, and a check of the Greys channel confirms that her plan worked – Netossa has already posted complaining about Catra hiding food in her office and then breaking in to retrieve it. If she actually thought Catra was up to something other than being a menace she would have told Spinnerella instead of posting about it.

Catra has an hour until dinner. She stashes the food behind some plants on one of their shelves. If her behaviour team wants to try to sneak in to track down the stash while she is in the cafeteria hall, hopefully it will seem like an innocent relocation. The spot is not too hidden, but it also isn’t in immediate view, and it isn’t as obvious as leaving the food in the bag she intends to take it in.

Adora wasn’t in their room, but she never misses a meal, so Catra knows where to catch up with her. Adora is already in the cafeteria hall when she arrives, and Catra spends dinner climbing all over her. Adora laughs, wrapping Catra up in her arms and finding ways to eat around her. Catra’s ears twitch as she steals bites of her own food in between rubbing her cheek against Adora. She can hear some staff awing or laughing, not unkindly, at their “antics.” Two of the members of her behaviour team are sat nearby, and she can hear them muttering about how she has been on a tear today and they should check her hormone levels tomorrow.

They aren’t going to get the chance to. Giving or demanding affection from Adora is never an act, but Catra does need to behave normally for the evening. She also is afraid – afraid Adora will say no, that she will want to stay. It isn’t supposed to be for forever, but Adora also tends to follow the rules, even if she has broken many of them for Catra before.

After dinner, Catra digs her fangs into Adora’s shoulder. Adora winces and a few people whisper, but she reaches down and lifts Catra up, carrying her out of the hall. They both know it means Catra needs to be alone with her – and the behaviour team, sat two tables away, knows as well. It buys them time.

 

--

 

“You want to run away?” Adora echoes, staring at Catra with wide eyes. Catra has her pinned by the shoulders to the bed, her eyes blown out despite how she is mere inches away, staring down at Adora. Her tail is curling back and forth through the air.

“Just for a little while. They’re never going to let me see the world, Adora. I just want to go to town. We might be back before sunrise, or in a few days. I don’t know. I know the woods and I have several phone numbers memorized if we get lost or need help once we reach town,” Catra tells her, still staring unblinkingly down at Adora.

Adora swallows. She wants to argue. She believes Spinnerella that they will get a chance at leaving. She also is well aware of how little Catra has gotten to experience and how she is far more trapped here than Adora is. They- they haven’t fought about it, but it has been a source of stress between them. Catra is bitter about Adora’s freedom compared to hers. One night can’t hurt that much, can it? Letting Catra actually go into the town Adora gets to visit occasionally?

“Just tonight. We’ll be back before dawn,” Adora returns, cautiously, placing her hands on Catra’s shoulders. A purr erupts from Catra’s chest and she surges forward, kissing Adora once in pure excitement. Adora doesn’t even get to stiffen beneath Catra before she is pulling back, her eyes wide and tail lashing from excitement. Her energy levels are skyrocketing.

“Come on, let me show you what I have planned,” she gushes, springing up from their bed.

 

--

 

Catra knew Adora could jump the wall. Under the cover of dark, they both bundle up, and hurry out to the yard together. Adora goes first while Catra keeps watch for anyone coming out and spotting them.

She manages to reach the top of the wall and Catra quickly scales it, helping to haul Adora over with her. Catra stares down at the frost-covered ground from the top of the wall with trepidation that has nothing to do with the length of the drop. The fall is a long way for a human, but Catra can dig in her claws to slow her descent, and Adora’s body might as well be ballistics gel. She takes the fall with no more than a grunt and short tumble through the leaves on the forest floor.

The anxiety of being caught is high. When she slides her way down, Catra takes Adora’s hand and leads her through the trees immediately. She wants to just enjoy the forest with Adora, but they need to get as far from the base as they can first. She has a route planned, pieced together from all her wanderings. It is a fairly direct beeline for the edge of the woods with a few jags, including crossing a river, but she can cross it easily on the tree branches, and Adora will be able to jump it.

“Can’t we slow down?” Adora asks, breathlessly, as Catra pulls her through the trees, ducking branches expertly and trusting Adora will follow her lead to do the same.

“I’m hoping we can sneak back, but in case they notice us missing, I want to get far away before we stop to enjoy the forest – otherwise we won’t get to do it at all,” Catra tells her. She hazards a glance back to see worry flash across Adora’s face, but she nods with determination. From that point on, Adora only asks questions about the woods and where they are going. Catra doesn’t slow them down until she is confident that they are near the edge of the woods.

Catra slows them until they are walking side-by-side. She tells Adora all the things she hears in the forest, pointing out distant movement in the dark of the night. They have never gotten to be in the forest together, and it is nice to walk hand-in-hand through the trees, but they also both have a common goal in mind. Catra’s ears twitch from the distant sound of machinery before the light of town breaks through the undergrowth of the woods.

Just short of the edge of the woods, they both draw to a halt. The village of Thaymor was originally a research outpost for the scientists studying the woods’ ecosystem before they were sealed to contain only one government-sanctioned station – which does include a few ecologists, but its true purpose has nothing to do with the town that popped up around the old station. It is a small. Catra would guess they can walk end-to-end of it in just this visit.

“Come on, let’s get you bundled up,” Adora says, turning to her with a look of fierce determination.

 

--

 

Adora helps Catra tuck her tail down the leg of her ski pants. Catra pulls her hood over her ears as Adora tucks up the scarf up around Catra’s face, covering it as if to shield from the cold wind. If Catra keeps her head down, the shadow of her hood and the scarf covering the lower half of her face should allow them to slip around in the dark. At least Adora hopes so.

She grew up with Catra. Even with so many human examples to compare her to, Catra doesn’t seem unusual to her. Once they have climbed the simple chain-link fence surrounding the woods, they hold each other’s hands at the edge of the greenbelt between the woods and town. They take twin breaths, deep and excited, before exchanging a glance and taking off running towards town. It isn’t far, but being exposed and out in the wide open greenbelt feels risky.

Their feet meet the pavement of a parking lot and Catra draws to a sudden halt, staring down. Normally, she is barefoot, but she is wearing winter boots to trudge through the frost today. She can’t take them off either, or she will expose her claws and fur. Catra bends instead, carefully slipping off a glove and lightly touching the asphalt surface of the parking lot. There is no one around the watch them this late at night, so Adora tries it too, but she doesn’t like the feeling or the sooty marks the blacktop leaves on her fingertips. She dusts her hand off on her pants as Catra reluctantly slips her glove back on.

“Come on, I wanna window shop at all the closed stores,” Catra tells her, reaching for her hand again. Adora takes it up, happy to let herself be lead forward. She doesn’t see anyone out and about right now. They are at a commercial part of town, one she vaguely recognizes from her rare excursions out. She doesn’t know why there would be anyone here around midnight. There are some cars moving around the streets, she can see and hear them in the distance, but she doubts a car will stop to bother them. As long as they can avoid other people on foot, they should be fine.

 

--

 

Thaymor is amazing. Thaymor is not what she expected. It is dirty in a way the towns they see on TV never are, and there are smells everywhere, especially the exhaust of cars. She can hear noisy equipment, which she is at least used to in the parts of the facility that aren’t soundproofed, but as they walk she hears the sounds of people getting louder.

They turn a corner, following the sounds and sharp smell in the air Adora can’t detect, and find the town’s nightlife. They are supposed to be avoiding people, but they both wanted to know if they were missing something. The something turns out to be two bars and a nightclub, all within a few storefronts of each other, as well as what appears to be the dine-in theatre Adora went to for her sixth birthday.

They quickly turn back, heading the other way. Catra knows her disguise only works at a distance and in the dark. The light spilling out from the bars and uproarious calls coming from them would get them caught in no time. Catra doesn’t know if their slipping out will be discovered, but she doesn’t want to get caught by outsiders. She is well aware of the warnings Spinnerella has given her about how people may react to her existence.

Wandering the dark streets of the small town isn’t quite what Catra has yearned for, but she does enjoy looking in the windows of the closed stores with Adora, discussing the places they would go in if they could, or the things in the windows they want. They manage to find an arcade, shuttered and closed down for the moment, but is still has opening hours posted in its window, and an electronic billboard sitting atop the building is advertising birthday party packages.

“I think they are open. I don’t see any dust inside, and everything still looks to be in place,” Catra tells Adora after Adora insists arcades are closed now. Catra has only seen a few of them in older movies, but with her face pressed against the glass of the doors she can see lights blinking on the machines inside. There is a neon sign, still lit, hanging over the ticket counter. “It’s definitely open. Think we could get Spinnerella to take us sometime?” Catra asks.

Adora doesn’t say anything. Catra turns around to find Adora standing a few steps away, staring up at the billboard above the arcade. Catra follows her gaze up to see the words Missing child alert flashing up on it.

 

--

 

The description on the board is vague – two missing thirteen-year-old girls, one with blonde-hair and blue-eyes and the other with dark hair and heterochromia, missing from the Area 51 Research Outpost – but Adora still panics. It must be an automatic thing, because there is clearly no one inside the arcade to send it up, but Adora takes Catra’s hand and runs straight for the woods. Their absence has been noticed, but as long as they don’t get caught out in town, maybe they can make it back and claim they stuck to the woods. They will be in less trouble that way.

That dream gets crushed when Catra’s ears twitch and she hisses at Adora to direct her attention to the edge of town. Several massive SUVs and Hummers are driving out of the road into the woods. She can see a few people hanging out the windows of the cars. They have flashlights. Adora swears the entire security team is driving towards town.

Adora swallows and tugs on their intertwined hands, leading Catra further back into town. They might be able to slip by the searchers once they spread out, but they are watching the greenbelt between town and the woods right now. She just has to get Catra away from there – she isn’t paying attention to where they are running until they burst out from the alley Adora ducked them down and are back in the center of Thaymor’s night life.

They are between the two bars, one with a sizable line out front and one with an outdoor dining area. They are surrounded, a crowd of people turning to look their way, attention drawn by their sudden appearance. Catra growls, ducking her head down, but Adora freezes from panic. She didn’t think to put her hood up when she read the sign, and her blonde hair is on full display, as are her wide, blue eyes.

“Hey, girls, are you lost?” a gentle voice calls, far too close to them. Adora and Catra both jump as they turn to find one of the bouncers has abandoned her line to come check on them. Catra hisses when she jumps, her tail lashing in her pants leg and scarf sliding down her face to show her bared fangs. It all happens so fast, but Adora watches the shock and disbelief spread on the woman’s face.

Adora turns, wrapping her arms around Catra and squeezing her eyes shut as her breath comes in short pants.

“Get away,” she manages to warn the woman, her only hope hiding Catra in against her chest. She tucks her beneath her chin, hiding her inhuman face. There are shocked gasps around them, whispers and suddenly yelling. Adora shakes her head, wanting to cast out all the noise, and opens her eyes.

She is glowing, her skin lightly luminescent and hair rippling with golden light. People are gaping at her – even Catra, craning her head up to stare at Adora with wide eyes. The motion knocks the hood back from covering her hair, exposing her twitching ears in the night air. Catra stares up at Adora with awe as the crowd gathered around them stares with shock.

The light is only building, Adora’s breath coming in shorter and shorter gasps as she tries to find air but can’t. They have been caught, they have been exposed, and they are surrounded by drunk people. Adora may be young, but she knows drunk people are volatile, and she is well aware of the hate they could face from rational people. All of Spinnerella’s warnings are ringing in her ears, fear coursing through her veins.

“Adora,” Catra breathes softly to her. It is a stop. She can’t, though. Her light is bright enough now it is shining like a beacon, but she still can’t breathe, and it is at least keeping people away, everyone hanging back or outright scrambling away from them.

A car pulls up on the street before them, a black SUV. The side door opens and Adora looks up, terrified of more people arriving, surrounding them on three sides now. Instead, she is greeted by the sight of Juliet stepping out of the car. She has never been so glad to see the head of base security in her life. Catra tugs on Adora, encouraging her towards the car. Adora is in a daze, but she goes willingly. The moment Juliet sees them moving towards her, her expression softens and she drops into a crouch, opening her arms.

Adora and Catra gladly run into her arms, letting themselves be swept up in a hug as more security personnel depart from the car, surrounding them in a net of safety. There is yelling in the background, people hollering from the outdoor deck of the bar, but these people can keep them safe – they always have. Juliet has no qualms about holding Adora even as she glows, pulling them both up into the backseat of the car with her.

 

--

 

The security team that arrived in the car with Juliet stay behind. The moment the car door is closed behind them, the driver takes off, not waiting for them to get their seatbelts on. He is barking down his earpiece, but Juliet doesn’t let go of either of them, just hugging them close in her lap as Adora’s breathing slows down and her shining light eases off. Juliet usually insists on any or every safety measure, but apparently she deems her hug safety enough for now.

“Both Greys recovered. They got caught up at the sports pub. All units in town converge on location. All in woods pull back to base for defense measures,” the driver orders. The response comes in as waves of distorted affirmations and questions about Juliet, but Catra pins her ears back and ignores them, shifting her grip to cling to Adora in Juliet’s lap.

She is afraid they will be separated now. Juliet just wanted to get them in the car – she never is touchy like this. Catra hasn’t even seen her hug someone before. Catra is not going to let go of Adora and risk them being pulled apart. She will dig her claws in if she has to. She would rather hurt Adora than lose her.

“It’s alright, girls, we’ll take you home,” Juliet says, a bit stiffly, but she seems to be genuinely trying to comfort them. Catra can’t help but whimper as she presses closer to Adora, her tail lashing in her pants leg. Juliet notices it, flipping up the back of her jacket and grabbing the base of her tail through her shirt, pulling on it. A little lashing and it is freed of her pants leg, peeking out from the waistband of her pants. It isn’t threaded through the button-close tail hole in her custom pants, but that is far from her top priority right now.

Juliet’s hands leave them and Catra uses the opportunity to readjust her grip on Adora while Juliet is distracted and can’t pull them apart. She ends up in Adora’s lap, her arms and legs wrapped around her. Adora holds her back, clinging on, though her glow has faded now. Adora mostly only glows when hurt or badly stressed, but Catra can guess it is the fear that caused it this time. She has never seen Adora that scared before.

A phone is ringing – not in the car, not really. Juliet is on the phone, waiting as the other end of the line rings.

“Did you find them?” is the breathless answer when the line picks up. Catra’s ears twitch.

“I have them both. We’re heading back now. They seem uninjured, but Adora was glowing. Have a medical team ready in case,” Juliet returns, getting a heaving sigh of relief in response. Catra swallows.

“We’re not hurt. Just got scared,” she answers, quietly, before tucking her face in against Adora again. Juliet pauses.

“Catra says they aren’t hurt, just scared. Adora was having a panic attack but she is coming down now. They got seen,” Juliet relays. Spinnerella draws in a sharp breath on the other end of the line.

 

--

 

Adora is terrified as they drive back through the woods, more cars rolling up behind the SUV as the search parties pull back. Some are driving back ahead of them, but they all pull over to let them come barreling through. Their car only pauses for the gates of the facility to be opened, and then they pull right into one of the main hangers.

Adora and Catra are curled together on the seat, half in Juliet’s lap and half on the bench. Juliet has been coordinating the search from her earpiece ever since they left town, ordering a guard to be stationed outside their room and trying to contain the situation at the sports pub. Apparently videos are already online – it is too late.

Adora clutches to Catra as tightly as Catra clutches to her while the hanger doors are shut behind them. Only after they are sealed does the door to the SUV open and Juliet prompts them to move. Adora picks Catra up, her arms trembling a little from the wake of the adrenaline, but she can’t let go. She can’t have them be separated. Spinnerella will know this was Catra’s idea.

When Adora steps out of the car, it is to find a small crowd gathered. She feels shame and anxiety pulse through her body as she ducks her head and shuffles over to where Spinnerella and Netossa are waiting together, both still in their pajamas. A good half of the crowd is in their nightclothes, actually. Spinnerella reaches down, petting Catra’s mane even as she growls a low warning and clings to Adora.

“It’s okay, girls. You’re home. You can put Catra down, Adora. You won’t be separated,” Spinnerella promises them, still petting Catra despite the growl. Adora swallows as Catra curls tighter around her. She doesn’t know that she believes it, but Spinnerella is always very honest with them, and her arms are trembling. She knows them well enough to know what their greatest fear is.

Cautiously, Adora shifts to let Catra down even as Catra continues to cling against her, legs wrapped around her waist. Adora isn’t about to let Catra go, but she can’t keep carrying her.

“Come on, let’s go to our room,” Adora prompts, softly, slipping an arm around Catra’s waist instead. Catra growls again, louder this time, but she lowers her legs from where they were wrapped around Adora’s waist. She doesn’t stop clutching Adora’s shoulders, but she doesn’t need to. They can walk side-by-side with Catra latched onto her shoulders and growling constantly, shooting glares over her shoulder at everyone who approaches them.

 

--

 

Once they are in their room, Catra tackles Adora to the bed. She intends to pin her, keep her, but the heat of her winter clothes hits her in a wave, causing her to collapse weakly on top of Adora. Adora ends up wrestling her out of her clothes while Spinnerella slips out to the hall, giving them both instructions to shower and telling them she will be back soon.

Catra doesn’t want to follow orders, but she also doesn’t want to break more rules tonight, and they both smell like the gas stench baked into Thaymor’s streets. The sight of the dark bruises her clutching claws have left in Adora’s shoulders and back makes her wince, but Adora doesn’t seem to care, setting to washing Catra’s fur like always. Despite having gotten overheated, Catra finds herself shivering in the shower, huddling in against Adora. When they get out, Adora runs the fur dryer twice so they can just stand in the warm air.

They don’t hang out naked afterwards. It must be nearing dawn now, and Catra assumes Spinnerella will be back soon. It just doesn’t feel safe and comfortable like it usually would. They pull on their pajamas and curl up in the extra-large bean bag in the room. Catra wraps herself around Adora, trying to be mindful of her claws now. There isn’t anyone to tear them apart from each other at the moment, but Catra half-expects the guards stationed outside their door to storm in.

Spinnerella doesn’t come back for almost two hours. They both keep drifting in and out, exhausted from their excursion but too stressed to really fall asleep. When a knock finally sounds on their door, both of them startle, holding each other closer and looking to it with bated breath.

“May I come in, girls?” Spinnerella calls. Catra’s fur lies flat as she goes limp against Adora, nodding once. Adora squeezes her tighter in response.

“Come in,” she calls, softly. Catra can’t stop the anxious growl in the back of her throat as the door opens and Spinnerella steps inside. The guards are still outside the door, but Spinnerella is wearing a skirt suit now, dressed formally with her hair up despite the fact she still has house slippers on. Clearly there were priorities when it came to getting dressed.

Her expression is soft and sad as she crosses the room and carefully sits on an ottoman a few feet away from them. Catra is still growling – she can’t stop – warding Spinnerella off from coming within range to touch them. Her tail lashing over their legs.

“I just got off the phone with my supervisors. Details and final decisions are still to come, but the current plan is to hold a press conference announcing first contact tomorrow before too much panic can spread,” Spinnerella says, softly. Catra’s growl and tail lashing stops as she freezes, waiting. There has to be more – a lot more. Spinnerella sighs.

“There will be repercussions for this. You two are going to get in trouble – as will the rest of us for not properly impressing on you the reason we were keeping you secret. But I asked them on the call if you two were supposed to be prisoners here, and they had to admit you weren’t. You are citizens, even if you are children. We can’t cover this up, not when it has already hit the internet and we’ll be announcing it anyway in a few years. Things are going to change a lot around here,” Spinnerella tells them. She looks pained.

“Please don’t separate us,” Adora whispers, quietly, into Catra’s hair. Catra hates how she squeaks, burying her face in Adora’s neck as Spinnerella draws in a slow breath.

“We aren’t. You’re going to need each other more than ever now,” Spinnerella tells them.

 

--

 

They watch the press conference together. Technically, they are part of it. They are in their playroom with Spinnerella when she records her video to be aired during it. The two of them are curled together in their bean bag, part of the background as Spinnerella sits before the studio lights in an interview chair, taking prompts about them and the program. They whisper to each other, commenting quietly on Spinnerella’s answers and trying not to look at the camera. Afterwards, they all go to lunch together, and when they come back, they settle into a bean bag in Spinnerella’s office to watch the press conference.

Spinnerella gives them a tablet to watch it on. Netossa is in a spare seat behind the desk with her wife, watching her alternate between working on one screen and watching the livestream on the other. Spinnerella seems a bit nervous, but Netossa jokes with her, the two being disgustingly domestic. Adora suspects it is an attempt to keep them all calm as she and Catra watch the stream on their small screen.

Eventually, the United Etheria government seal fades away and the stream cuts to a podium featuring a woman neither of them has ever met but both instantly recognize. Angella summarizes the events that took place in Thaymor from the public view as, on a screen in the background, cellphone footage of the incident plays.

“Some have tried to debunk these videos as fakes, but today I am here to confirm that the videos were genuine,” Angella announces. Catra tucks down to hide in Adora’s neck. Adora scratches carefully at her ears as Angella summarizes Adora’s arrival on Etheria, even showing footage of the massive crater she was found in and the few shards of debris from her vessel that survived. Catra emerges just in time to see the footage of her own crash site appear on the screen. Catra’s arrival is told in more detail, likely because it resulted in more knowledge.

“The ship remained largely intact, but the only member of the crew to survive was a child, locked away in a safety cradle. The child was brought to the Area 51 research base to be folded into the program designed for Adora,” Angella explains. There is far more footage of Catra’s crash site than Adora’s, and though they don’t show any of the footage of the bodies outright, there is footage of gurneys covered in sheets being wheeled away. Some of the sheets are stained.

Spinnerella glances anxiously at Catra as her ears flatten and she tucks down into Adora’s neck again, her breathing shaky. Adora tightens her arm wrapped around Catra, the other still holding up the tablet for them. Adora was just a kid then and didn’t know much about what was happening, but only a few days after Catra’s arrival, the two of them were led into a cold room that to this day they have never re-entered.

Adora was just there for moral support, though she didn’t know it. Catra went stiff beside her when they stepped inside, cautiously sniffing the air before she cringed, curling into Adora’s side as she began to cry silently. Immediately, the small herd of adults around them began to usher them out, but that panicked Catra even more. She took off running, growling and ducking beneath outstretched arms until she reached the edge of a table.

Her mother was lying on it, a sheet draped over her so Catra didn’t have to see her body. She knew it by scent alone anyway. Adora was rushed forward by the adults, confused but reaching for her new friend immediately. Catra quickly latched onto her again as she continued to stare at the sheet, tears streaming from her eyes.

The scientists had wanted to give Catra some sense of closure. It was still going to be traumatic though. They never raised the sheet and Catra turned away quickly from the body to drag Adora through the room again until she stopped at the foot of another table, staring at it and quivering. After a long moment, she turned into Adora’s arms, growling lowly, and Adora knew it was time to go.

The memory is a dark one. Adora swallows and sets down the tablet to pet Catra’s mane soothingly as Catra struggles to control her breathing. Luckily, the conference has slowed down a little on the emotional front, so Adora can just hold Catra as the memories come and fade. On the tablet beside them, Angella explains the technological and cultural knowledge they were able to glean from the ship and its contents. Adora manages to coax Catra out from her neck with careful rubs to the base of her ears as Angella wraps up on covering the past and begins to look towards the future.

“We know now that we are far from alone in this universe. There are other sentient species out there, and they are close enough to reach us. We must reach out to them with diplomacy, if not because it is the right thing to do, then because their technology is far more advanced than ours and they could teach us much. We can start by treating those of their kind who have ended up here with kindness. We go now to Dr. Spinnerella, the care coordinator for the Greys program,” Angella says. Catra’s tail thumps heavily against Adora’s legs as the screen behind Angella comes to life once more.

Spinnerella appears on the screen, set up in the formal interview chair back in their playroom. On the tablet they are watching, they can see themselves in the background of the screen, curled together much like they are now. Adora instinctively tightens her arms around Catra, suddenly realizing the whole world is getting a proper look at her friend for the first time.

“Thank you, Angella. I have been working with Adora ever since she was a year old. When Catra landed on Etheria, I became her care coordinator as well. I oversee the girls’ physical and mental health, while also coordinating their education. It has been my job to raise the girls so they may have as normal of a childhood as possible while also meeting their unique needs,” the Spinnerella on the screen echoes. In the room, Spinnerella cringes a little at the sound of her own voice and Netossa squeezes her shoulder in response.

Spinnerella spends awhile talking about them as people – about how Adora loves reading, and animals, and has been collecting rocks since she was a child. Catra likes to draw, doodling on her schoolwork, and she took to sports like a second nature. Spinnerella talks about how much they love each other and are best friends, which makes Catra bury her face in Adora’s neck in embarrassment, and eventually she even talks about the pranks they pull. She never mentions any of the ways they are different. Adora knows she is trying to make them sound normal.

Given everything else in the presentation, it doesn’t work.