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“Are you excited?” Adora asks Catra. To her surprise, Catra perks up a little, her ears twitching as she nods. They get to go out – really go out – twice a year now. They go on Adora’s birthday, and then six months later on Catra’s. They still get to join Spinnerella’s family dinner during the holidays, but that is always done in secret. There is no secret reason to keep them locked away now, just security. Spinnerella says the most important thing is to keep them out of contact with the Horde. The group gains and loses steam as time passes.

The government has released two documentaries on them over the last few years, in addition to videos online. Spinnerella has shown them the statistics on public opinion, largely because she thinks Catra has developed a complex and Adora slightly agrees with her. Just because most people are at least neutral to them existing doesn’t mean the extremists don’t pose a threat. Spinnerella keeps assuring them the thing she is most worried about is emotional damage, assuring them the security team will keep them safe, but that isn’t much of an assurance.

Catra’s emotions have been volatile lately, but she is refusing to talk about what is really bothering her, only admitting the thing that has set her off that day. It is triggered by things, Adora just can’t figure out the pattern yet. She will though. She knows her best friend, and she knows when something is bothering her. This moodiness has a reason, even if it isn’t considered something worth getting upset over to humans.

Adora distinctly remembers the weeks, early on, when Catra would start yowling when she entered Hanger Gamma. It took Adora exploring the place at night to find the machine that made a thin, high whine, just at the edge of human hearing. Catra didn’t have the words back then for what was bothering her, and Adora would guess this is the same, even if Catra has words now. Whatever is setting her off, she either doesn’t understand it or doesn’t think anyone else will.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a day to ourselves,” Catra shrugs when she notices Adora staring, turning to look out the window so she can avoid her gaze. Catra doesn’t get car sick anymore – at least not on short trips – but it helps her to be able to see the movement as they go. Now that they can drive in cars with windows, trips are easier.

Adora mentally adds overwhelmed to her list of possible reasons for the moodiness. It goes right along rapidly approaching eighteenth birthday. Sure, they have almost two years before then, but they also have no idea what their future will look like once they are adults – if they will be allowed to leave, if they will want to, if they will go to college or even be able to get jobs anywhere but with the government afterwards. Spinnerella has assured them the government will see that they always have secured housing, even if joining society and the workforce isn’t certain, but that isn’t much of a weight off their shoulders.

Adora reaches over, picking up Catra’s hand and holding it in her own as they drive. Sometimes, at least lately, Catra will lash out at contact, but most of the time she wants it. They still sleep curled together every night. Spinnerella offered Adora her own bed a few weeks back and Adora swiftly turned it down. She does not want to give up any of her Catra time, especially not now they are spending so much time with others and Catra needs the assurance.

The car finally pulls up to the museum. They are in the next city over, firmly in Bright Moon proper despite how it is a longer drive. If nothing goes wrong, they will get to spend the entire day walking hand-in-hand through the art museum, getting exposure to the wider world. The museum has been closed to the public for the day. About a two dozen researchers from Area 51 are accompanying them – plus the security staff – so they will not be totally alone in the museum.

It is the balance of arranging an outing and avoiding public danger. News of their trip has leaked, apparently, because there are some crowds gathered outside the museum, local law enforcement standing around to ensure safety in addition to the museum security and their personal guard. When they get out of the car, people are going to stare at them as the security ushers them inside. That is how it went for Adora’s sixteenth birthday outing, anyway.

It is fine. Adora gets a day that is just her and Catra – this is Catra’s birthday, and they will do what she wants. None of the researchers coming along are close with them. They are just here for a day off and to help populate the museum so it feels more like a normal trip, less echoing and empty. Catra said what she really wanted was to just be normal for a day. Spinnerella had looked sad at that while Catra scowled.

“I know I’m not and that I can’t be. But I want one normal day with Adora. Going out, maybe visiting somewhere. I don’t know, I’ve never done it. Just something as far from the research facility and woods as possible,” Catra said. Spinnerella tried to assure Catra she was normal, which just earned her bitter laughter and growling, but Catra got her wish.

It is their first time doing anything like this, and Adora is both anxious and excited.

 

--

 

Catra has seen museums in media – in field trips on TV, in romcoms as date locations, even once in an artist’s biography movie. She wasn’t the one to suggest this location, Spinnerella was just throwing out places they could go that could be secured and this one stuck. Catra didn’t want anything to do with tech or nature – she gets plenty of that, thanks – so the art museum stood out. Catra has never seen art in person, only in textbooks.

It was also the thing that felt the most like a date while still being exciting. She didn’t want to go to the movies – she and Adora watch movies together all the time. They are going to go out for a private dinner at a local restaurant afterwards, and even if Adora is thinking of it as a birthday trip and not a date, Catra can have her delusions at least.

Adora makes it easy for her. They walk hand-in-hand through the halls. Catra grabbed her hand to yank Adora past the crowds outside, but Adora never pulled back, so Catra never let go. Adora holds a museum map in one hand, and the entire building may be disconcertingly empty even with their entourage, but Catra feels weirdly entranced as they make their way through the halls. The museum largely has pieces she has never heard of – it is a modern art museum, and the only art she really knows is from the art history lessons she and Adora went through, but there is one piece she knows.

The canvas is massive, bigger even than the car they took here, and it is empty. At the dead center, a void of white canvas surrounding it, is a miniscule watercolour of an anatomical human heart. The actual painting is about the size of Catra’s eye. She remembers this piece – it is more recent, but it made history when it sold for a ludicrous amount of money at auction, skyrocketing the artist’s fame.

Catra hadn’t understood it, on paper. The painting was tiny. Why someone would pay millions for it made no sense to her. Now, looking at it in person – Catra understands. Adora squeezes her hand at her side, peering down at her curiously, but Catra doesn’t look away as her breathing goes shallow.

“It’s loneliness,” she breathes, voice barely above a whisper and not looking away. She knows it – she has felt it for weeks, every time she watched Adora light up at a joke Glimmer told, throwing the other girl a smile. Bow was a change, but they both started unsure of him, not wanting to be followed around. Glimmer is different, there when they want her and not when they don’t, but the amount that Adora wants her around makes Catra feel infinitesimal.

“The painting?” Adora asks, also whispering, though she seems confused as to why. Catra swallows and nods. Adora turns back towards the painting, tilting her head as she contemplates it. Of course she doesn’t get it – she is ditching their alone time to bring in the president’s daughter. Adora doesn’t feel lonely, but Catra misses when her best friend was hers.

“I think I get it,” Adora decides, despite how she definitely doesn’t. Catra swallows, looking away for a moment. She squeezes their interlocked hands and Adora squeezes back, a silent I’m here.

But for how long? Catra turns bodily away from the painting. She can’t look at it anymore. She wasn’t expecting to come here and feel things. Aesthetic appreciation and maybe even being grossed out by some weird art, yes, but not true connection. It is too much – especially Adora’s lack of understanding.

Adora follows silently behind her when Catra leads them away.

 

--

 

Adora watches Catra silently. She does that a lot, just observing Catra as she dozes, or crouches down and prepares to launch off on one of her tears. Adora watches Catra as she studies their textbooks, or bickers with Glimmer, the two hard-headed girls clashing in the middle of class. Adora just watches a lot. Today, Catra is focused, but it is a different kind of focus than what she uses while playing sports or studying. After the trip to the museum, Catra had talked excitedly about the pieces they saw during their dinner. When they got back, Adora went to Spinnerella and asked her about painting – all of Catra’s favourites had been paintings. She just didn’t connect with the sculptures the same way.

And now Catra is here with an easel, watching a video on her tablet and following along. Micah is far from an artist, but he told Catra learning from tutorials will help her to produce her own work. Catra has been at it in her free time for a few days now. At first she was very frustrated by it. She still is, sometimes, but she is setting about it with a single-minded intensity Adora is entranced by.

She is intense, holding her breath when she places her brush against the canvas, not wanting to make a mistake despite Micah’s main advice in art being there are no mistakes and everyone is bad at first. Catra is frustrated by the tutorial stage, but Adora can’t help but be taken by her focus.

“Why are you watching me like that?” Catra asks, her gaze darting off to the side to narrow her eyes at Adora. They are in their old playroom, converted now into a hang out space. After Catra put up a fuss, no one but them is allowed inside without an invitation. All of Catra’s painting and drawing supplies have been set up here so the smell doesn’t linger in their room and bother Catra while they try to sleep.

Adora shrugs, searching for words and failing to find them. She doesn’t know really, just that she likes to see Catra like this.

“You’re beautiful,” is the only explanation she can come up with, even if it feels shallow and insufficient. Catra’s eyes go wide staring at her, her cheeks flushing and tail lashing behind her. Adora flushes in turn, hunching her shoulders a little, realizing that came off wrong. She might not know the right words to say, but those certainly weren’t it.

“I just- you get really focused? And you aren’t like that often. I like seeing new sides of you,” Adora scrambles, hoping to cover her blunder. Please don’t realize I have the hots for you and get weirded out. Adora is not going to ruin the best thing she has ever had, even if they have other friends now and Catra wouldn’t be alone if she can’t make herself be around Adora anymore. Catra just continues to stare at her.

“I’m focused all the time,” she returns, still disbelieving to the point of confrontational. Adora huffs, looking away.

“Not like that, you aren’t,” she counters. For some reason, that makes Catra flush worse. She turns away from Adora, back to her canvas. Her tail is still lashing as she picks up her brush again.

 

--

 

They are laying side-by-side in bed. Catra is supposed to be taking a nap – not that she has a designated nap time or anything, but she sleeps a lot, and she had returned to their room with the intent of napping. Somehow Adora had known what she was going to do, though. Adora was already waiting for her. She likes to be nearby while Catra rests, working on something or reading, but today Adora was laying in the bed, waiting for Catra to join her.

They are facing each other, touching but not quite cuddling together. Catra’s eyes are half-lidded, almost dozing off, but she can’t look away from Adora’s face. Adora is watching her too, even if they aren’t speaking. She doesn’t seem tired – maybe she just wanted to spend time together, or to get cuddles in. It isn’t awkward, really – Catra is just having thoughts, staring at Adora’s face only inches away from her own.

It is a struggle to keep her eyes from drifting down and landing on Adora’s lips. They kissed once – kind of. It was just a peck, Catra so excited and overwhelmed by Adora agreeing to run away with her that she surged forward and kissed her quickly on the lips – the same kind of kiss Adora presses into her ears when they are cuddling. Adora never asked her about it. She never seemed to think twice about it really, but Catra is thinking about it now.

Their arms are touching and Catra’s tail is curled over Adora’s legs, the tip twitching from how she wants. Their knees are just brushing together. Catra is hyper aware of every point of contact between them, but none of it feels like enough. She wants to press closer. She could get away with that – Adora would let her crawl into her arms and purr without a second thought. The problem is Catra doesn’t think she could stop there.

“Do you ever think about kissing?” Catra asks in a whisper. Adora’s eyes go wide and Catra’s tail immediately thwacks down on Adora’s legs, heavy with nerves. That makes it sound like she is asking if Adora has thought about kissing her. Which, well, she is in a way, but-

“Like, maybe your species doesn’t even kiss? But if you think it sounds nice, then I bet they do,” Catra tacks on in a hurry, feeling her cheeks burn. Adora blushes, her gaze darting off to the side. She shifts a little on the bed and Catra does her best to ignore the sparks that dance across her skin where they are in contact. She shouldn’t have opened her mouth.

If she hadn’t said something, she would have just kissed Adora. That wouldn’t have been recoverable. This she can pass off as scientific curiosity. The scientists are always asking them things like this. Sometimes they ask each other, or just offer up the things they aren’t eager to share with someone they don’t trust like they do each other. Adora isn’t speaking though, and Catra is afraid Adora knows why she really asked. Her jealousy has been bad ever since Glimmer moved in. Adora likes the other girl – in a friend way, but Catra worries.

“I think so. I- I think it sounds nice at least. I’d like to try it,” Adora admits, cheeks blazing and expression flustered. Catra’s chest is pounding, just wondering if that was an opening, or simply intended to answer her question. Adora meets her gaze again, face still flushed. “What about you?” she asks, her voice a little breathy. Catra’s heart feels like it is in her throat – she is definitely choking on it, at least. She swallows, nodding a little on the pillow.

“I think so. I want to try it,” she admits in a whisper, watching Adora’s expression carefully. Adora draws in a sharp breath when she speaks. Her eyes are wide and dilated. Her lips are parted, breaths just a touch laboured. Catra can hear both their heartbeats pounding. Adora’s scent is different, pheromones mixed in that Catra isn’t used to but she can hope the meaning of. Her tail is twitching against Adora and all she wants to do is close the gap.

“Do- do you want to try?” Adora asks, quietly, her body tensing with the question. Catra’s entire body feels like it is burning as she nods. Adora’s eyes immediately flick down to her lips, and then back up to her eyes. Both of them are blushing, but Adora offered, so it has to be okay, right? Cautiously, Catra shuffles a little closer on the bed, cuddling together until there is only an inch or two between their faces, bodies curling together. Adora’s body relaxes a little as Catra shuffles closer, their eyes still locked. She is never going to get a better opening.

She leans forward. Adora meets her too, both of them closing the distance until their lips cautiously press together. It is awkward, wetter than Catra was expecting, but she closes her eyes and cautiously slides her lips. Adora moves too, both of them pulling back a little – a centimeter at best – and then nudging together again until after a few seconds it clicks.

Catra’s heart is soaring as their lips slide together. It is awkward, their breaths puffing and both of them clumsy, but her tail is lashing onto the mattress behind her now as she presses forward and they move as one until Adora is laying on her back, Catra draping over her. They keep parting, briefly, before pressing in again. Neither of them pulls away or says anything. Truly, it is one long kiss. Despite taking quick breaths, they don’t part long enough to really breathe.

Catra doesn’t want to. She is kissing Adora. She is purring into the kiss, she realizes. She only realizes because it causes Adora to slide a hand into her hair and release a soft, pleased noise against her lips. Her fur is puffing up, every centimeter of her skin tingling as Adora holds her close, cradling the back of her head to kiss her.

Eventually, they do need air. Catra pulls back, her breathing laboured and eyes wide, to stare down at Adora, kind of in awe. Adora’s face is still lightly flushed, but it doesn’t seem to be from embarrassment now. Her eyes are dark, watching Catra with clear intent that makes her shiver, her purr still rolling between them. Adora glances down to her mouth.

“I’m going to guess you enjoy that,” she says. Catra flushes, her ears pinning back as she releases an annoyed hiss that has no effect on Adora, because she knows it just means Catra is flustered. Adora raises an eyebrow at her, a grin slowly spreading up her face. “So you don’t want to do it again?” she questions. Catra’s tail thuds heavily on the mattress as her heart skips a beat.

She leans in fast, slowing just before she crashes into Adora and kissing her again. Adora lets out a happy hum into the kiss, tightening her hand in Catra’s hair and raising her other arm to wrap around Catra’s back. They are kissing for the second time. Catra finally understands why they call it cloud nine – her heart is soaring up in the sky.

“Yeah, I definitely want to keep doing this,” Adora sighs happily when they part for air. Catra’s ears twitch, not quite believing what she is hearing, but her purr revving up is all the answer she truly needs to give. Still-

“This is just between us, right?” she has to ask, in a small voice. Adora didn’t say she loved her – she didn’t even say she liked her. She just said she wanted to kiss someone. Catra has to make sure. If she finds out Adora kissed Glimmer – well, she would know instantly thanks to her stupid sparkly lip gloss, but she would be irate. Adora blinks at her in surprise before rolling her eyes.

“I’m not going to go tell the scientists I figured out I like kissing, Catra. That would just be awkward. It’s for our room,” Adora promises her, sliding her hand in Catra’s hair to scratch behind her ear. That is not what Catra meant, but it is enough of an answer for now. Catra lets her head drop to Adora’s chest as her purr rolls between them.

 

--

 

This is kind of the last thing Adora expected. For awhile now she has been afraid of pushing Catra away with her lust, but apparently lust is just fine. Not that they do anything more than kiss, but they are both aware of the endorphins they get from it. Catra tells her she smells different when they kiss, and Adora can guess as to why.

Still, she is not inclined to stop. Kissing Catra is almost addicting. Every time they part with an air of finality, Adora’s heart falls a little. It is electric, getting to feel Catra above her or beneath her like this, a hand in her hair and the other wrapped around her or bracing Adora up on the bed. They don’t really talk about it – they just wake up and Catra throws her a wicked smile, hauling her over into a long kiss until both of them are breathless.

Adora knows that on Etheria friends don’t really do this – she is also learning that what she and Catra have is more than just friendship, at least on her side. The attraction thing she could discount – it was normal, and healthy, especially considering Catra was the only girl her own age she knew. Now they are both friends with Bow and Glimmer – well, Catra is still working on friends when it comes to Glimmer –Adora has realized it isn’t normal to spend hours gushing about your friend and the meaning of her different ear twitches.

Adora is dealing with it as best she can, given the fact that she knows what Catra tastes like and Catra is showing no signs of wanting to stop. Adora doesn’t want to either, but she worries. Things have been good since they started this. Adora didn’t truly realize how moody Catra was until she wasn’t anymore. Maybe it is just the endorphins, but Catra seems more content than she has been in years. She even gets on with Glimmer a bit better when they can leave class to return to their room and make out.

One day they are up in the rafters together, Catra’s urge to climb too much to contain and Adora using the ladder to follow her, and Catra just kisses her then and there. It isn’t even one of the long, slow kisses they usually indulge in when they are in their bed – it is quick, Catra pulling back to flash a grin at Adora’s dazed expression before she takes off down the crossbeam, scampering away at a pace Adora can’t hope to keep up with in order to ask her what that was.

It is a slippery slope they are on. Adora knew that even before the rafters kiss. She is totally in love with Catra, and Catra seems to just enjoy this. She isn’t thinking about the logistics of how they would work, but Adora pulls back from every kiss trying to focus on her lust rather than her love. One is forgivable – one Catra feels too – and the other might ruin everything between them.

Adora knew she was playing with fire, but she realizes she is free falling when Catra gleefully leaps in bed with her and, instead of kissing her, immediately ducks down and bites her neck. Adora moans at the exact same instant Catra begins purring, and then both of them freeze. Catra is still purring, holding onto her neck like she needs it, but it feels like they are both hardly moving. After a moment, Catra releases her neck and licks weakly against the spot in apology while Adora’s cheeks blaze.

It is a familiar movement – Catra used to bite her just to hold on when they were little, and she would soothe the sore spots with her tongue afterwards – but the reaction is very different now. Adora is fairly certain the intent is too.

“Sorry. I don’t know why I did that,” Catra mumbles, her own cheeks red as she tries to hide her fluster in Adora’s neck. Her tail is lashing, but Adora’s has known her for the better part of a decade, and she knows what those words really mean. Catra had an urge – she maybe has been having an urge ever since she first stopped this habit when they were kids – and she couldn’t hold back from acting on it any longer, despite what Etherian standards of acceptability say. Adora swallows, taking a few breaths to steady herself.

“You can bite me. Wherever your instincts tell you to. Just not too hard,” Adora assures, petting soothingly down her back. Catra chirrups, sounding surprised and delighted. She pulls back to stare down at Adora, like she is expecting to see dishonesty in her face. Adora flushes, shifting a little uncomfortably beneath Catra.

“It feels good, and you know I don’t want you to have to hold yourself back around me,” Adora assures her, embarrassed but needing Catra to know. Catra has to give up so much of herself to follow Etherian standards of socialization. Around each other, they have always been able to truly be them, two freaks and best friends.

Catra watches her for a long moment, tail slowly beginning to sway behind her again. After a moment, Catra ducks her head, raising a hand to pull aside Adora’s collar. Adora draws in a breath, anticipation prickling beneath her skin as Catra nudges against the join of her shoulder and her neck. After a few seconds of nuzzling – waiting for Adora to tell her to stop, no doubt – Catra bites down on the spot.

Adora gasps softly as Catra begins purring again, apparently satisfied with the feeling of skin beneath her fangs. Her tail is swaying happily, contentment radiating off every pore as she absently begins to knead the bed on either side of Adora. Apparently this was something she really wanted to do, her instincts strong for some unknown reason.

Adora forces herself to relax beneath Catra, taking deep breaths as Catra sinks into contentment, seeming a little blissed out at finally giving in. She isn’t digging in too hard, even if Adora can still identify where her teeth give way to fangs. She will probably have bruises from this, but only because Catra wants to hang on. It is fine, she can hide her shoulder without incurring any suspicion.

She begins to pet down Catra’s back again as Catra purrs. Neither of them is sleeping any time soon, but Adora is okay with that.

 

--

 

There has been a line between them for the last few years, and Catra is playing fucking hopscotch with it now. She wasn’t expecting Adora to want to kiss her – she wasn’t expecting Adora to like it. Now they kiss nearly every day. In the morning when they wake up, in the evening when they are curling in bed together, or any time in the middle when they both happen to slip into their room at the same time, shooting each other a hopeful, secretive smile before they lean in together.

The rules were straightforward and unspoken, at first. Just kisses on the mouth, in private, both of them holding each other but no wandering hands. Adora has always pressed kisses into her fur occasionally, and Catra has always licked her with the same innocent, loving intent, but that is different from what they are doing now. It turns out the problem with unspoken rules is that they don’t really exist.

Now Catra is breaking from kisses to duck down to Adora’s shoulder and bury her teeth when she can’t take the desire building beneath her fur anymore. Now she is leaving marks, she realizes, grabbing Adora’s shoulders to spin her around and get a better look at the bruise she just caught a glimpse of in the shower. Adora blinks at her, surprised and blushing a little as Catra stares intensely at her shoulder. Adora glances down, following Catra’s gaze.

“I can learn makeup?” she offers, gaze a bit apologetic when she lifts it to meet Catra’s eyes again, as if she is at fault for her skin bruising. Catra releases her shoulders, scowling a little as she turns back towards her side of the shower. Their room got upgraded – it has gotten several remodels over the years as they grew older or new unique needs were unearthed – and now their shower is almost twice the size it was before, with a showerhead on each wall.

Apparently Spinnerella is determined that if they were going to continue showering together, it wasn’t going to be pressed together. Catra can’t force the issue and join Adora beneath her shower’s spray without Adora thinking she is a pervert – which, well, she is, but she doesn’t want to make Adora uncomfortable by pressing up on her in the shower.

“It’s fine. No one will see it there,” Catra returns, stepping beneath her own showerhead’s spray. Adora hovers uncertainly behind her, clearly sensing her discomfort. Catra ignores her, setting to washing her hair. Catra is not going to admit that she doesn’t want Adora covering the marks – that she thinks the whole reason she is driven to bite Adora is to leave her mark on her. She is so out of her depth with this, her instincts and hormones raging in a way they truthfully always did when it came to Adora, but now they are taking her over.

Catra draws in a sharp breath when Adora slips up behind her, wrapping both her arms around Catra’s waist and dropping a light kiss against her shoulder. Without a word, Adora reaches around her to pick up her coat brush from the shelf set into the wall. Then she steps back, silently setting to massaging the brush into Catra’s back, washing her fur and causing her to groan in satisfaction. Despite still showering together, they have largely been avoiding touching each other during it ever since the incident a few months ago.

They never told Spinnerella about it – at least, Catra didn’t – but a few weeks after Glimmer’s arrival the remodel was sprung on them anyway. They were still trying to awkwardly avoid contact then, and ever since they have had no reason to really touch. It has been a while since Adora did this.

Catra didn’t realize how badly she missed it.