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the Greys

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She stares at her reflection. She looks chewed up, her mane tangled, matted, and singed. The end of her right ear is still bandaged, but when she managed to catch a glimpse of her reflection before they wrapped it, there was a clear notch into it. Her fur is dirty, sparse and singed in some places, a long shot from the soft, downy fluff she is used to feeling. She is used to everything being soft, herself, her clothes, her cradle, her mother’s arms around her.

Her mother didn’t make it. She barely knows a dozen words in this language, but she understood she was the only one who survived the crash. She doesn’t remember anything, really, but she has this innate knowledge of how things should be and how they aren’t that anymore.

People point to things and make sounds, and she understands them to be the words for what they indicate. She is standing in front of a sink right now, the first she has seen so far that is her height. She still has to stretch up on her toes to wash her hands and wet her palms, but she can finally run her wet fingers through her mane and detangle it with water and claws.

There is a person – a human, apparently – hovering near the door, watching her in this foreign space. The human is nice, he talks in a soft voice and explains things to her even though she can’t understand. He is just here to make sure she doesn’t do anything bad, she thinks. This room, despite being made for someone her size, isn’t hers.

She only arrived an hour ago from the hospital where they brought her after her parents’ vessel crashed. After poking and prodding her, humans in heavy uniforms arrived, and they brought her to this strange room, smelling of another. The scent is not like her and not like the humans she has encountered since the crash. Despite the watchguard and the foreign smell, she likes this room. She can reach and see things, and there are plants on some of the low shelves. She likes those – the hospital had been stark and white.

There is noise outside of the door, more humans talking and a small, high voice, not dissimilar to her own. Her ears twitch and she turns to watch the door slide open, startling the human leaning against the wall nearby. Two more humans are standing on the other side of the door, one having just opened it and the other bent over and explaining something in a gentle voice to a girl barely taller than herself. She is not another human – she doesn’t smell like them.

The girl can’t be bothered with the explanation, not as she catches sight of her and points to her, just like how the humans point to objects before saying their names, and loudly declares, “Kitty!”

She supposes the girl is pointing out what she is - a kitty. The girl certainly doesn’t leave room for argument when she darts past the humans who rush to catch her and fail. She runs up to her and tackles her with a hug.

 

--

 

“Catra,” Adora whines, drawing out the final syllable as Catra digs in her claws and refuses to move. Adora ignores the pinpricks of pain in her legs – after a few weeks, she has grown used to the other girl digging in - and reaches down to flip Catra’s ear inside out. Catra’s tail sticks straight out in response, but she doesn’t move fast enough to avoid Adora blowing in her ear.

All of Catra’s fur stands on end as she leaps away, hissing and growling. She immediately darts to the wall, climbing up Adora’s floating shelves with ease until she reaches the top shelf. One of the scientists put a dog bed up there. Catra doesn’t sleep in it – she hasn’t slept anywhere but Adora’s bed since the first day when Adora latched onto her and she clung on in turn – but she does nap there, or simply hide from Adora.

This might have once been her room, but given the latching on thing, the scientists quickly decided they would keep rooming together. They added in the higher shelves when they realized how Catra takes to climbing. They were hoping she would get it out of her system in their room and not get stuck in the rafters again, but that turned out to be a false hope.

“Come down, Catra! I just needed to get up. We have physicals,” Adora reminds Catra, swinging her legs out of the bed and motioning for the other girl to join her. Catra narrows her eyes at Adora, hisses, and then turns around in her bed and shows her back to Adora. Adora sighs, looking at the clock. Catra is still learning to talk in their language and she doesn’t know how important physicals are for them.

They are the only ones of their kind. There is no medicine for Adora, or for Catra. They need to be monitored so the scientists can detect any changes in them before they get sick. Adora isn’t sure Catra even knows what being sick is though. She hadn’t known her name when she showed up. Adora gave her one that describes her and matches her own, and Catra certainly doesn’t seem to mind it, but despite Catra being a fast learner, Adora isn’t the best teacher, so a lot of things fall through the gaps.

Adora sighs and raises her hands to her mouth, cupping them to make it louder as she calls pspspsps. Catra’s tail and ears immediately shoot up, and a moment later she is springing up and bounding down the shelves again to come running to Adora. Adora grins, reaching out and scratching Catra’s ears as she comes within arms’ reach.

“Come on, let’s get dressed, and then I’ll race you,” Adora tells Catra. Catra’s ears perk up at that, her eyes blowing out. Catra knows what race means, and she loves it.

 

--

 

“And this smash here, this is where I went sailing out the window!” Catra declares proudly, gesturing down to the window she is crouched on the top ledge of.

“You were found inside the craft, strapped into your cradle,” Dr. Netossa corrects from the ground, sending Catra an unimpressed look as Adora oos from her spot on the spaceship’s wing. Adora can’t climb like she can – and she gets yelled at for it more than Catra does, since the scientists have outright given up on keeping Catra’s feet on the ground – but she happily kicks her feet where she is swinging them over the edge of the wing.

“Can we go inside?” Adora calls down to Netossa. Netossa looks up from her clipboard. She is supposed to be doing something with the ship, but Catra doesn’t know what considering the Etherian scientists don’t even know what kind of metal it is made of yet.

“No, it isn’t safe. There is still shrapnel inside we can’t remove,” Netossa tells her, already looking back down at her notes. Catra’s ears twitch and she turns her head to make eye contact with Adora. Twin devious smiles spread across their faces at the first time.

“You can’t tell me what to do, it’s my ship!” Catra declares, startling Netossa into looking up from her notes just in time to watch Catra leap through the shattered windshield into the cockpit.

Catra!” Netossa yells from the hanger as Catra and Adora both laugh. Out on the wing, Catra can hear Adora scrambling up.

“Open the side door for me, I want in!” Adora calls, banging on said door. Catra darts among the interior wreckage of the cabin she apparently should recognize after living in it, but all of it looks foreign to her. Netossa calls about the door being stuck and demands Adora climb down as Catra approaches it. She digs her claws into the twisted seam of the doorframe, prying until the door pops open. Netossa’s calls immediately cut off as Adora turns away from her to beam at Catra.

“Stick close to me, there’s a lot of sharp stuff,” Catra warns as she snatches out for Adora’s hand. Adora loops their fingers together and eagerly nods, letting Catra pull her through the ship, both of them laughing as, outside, Netossa calls out for someone to bring her a ladder.

 

--

 

“Can I meet a kitty?” Catra asks one day, staring at Adora with wide, unblinking eyes. Adora blinks back and then squeals, turning to Spinnerella with wide, begging eyes. Catra can make her pupils go all round and droop her ears and Adora wants to give her the world, but it doesn’t seem to work as well on others. Adora is better at making sad eyes and getting them things. Spinnerella sighs, already picking up a tablet.

“I will see what I can do, but getting house pets brought into a sealed government facility takes a bit more than the children want it,” Spinnerella tells them. Adora lights up, slipping off the bean bag she and Catra are curled in together to run up to Spinnerella and hug her hip.

“Thank you, Spinny!” Adora declares. She is old enough she can say Spinnerella’s name now, but she prefers to keep calling her care coordinator what she did when she was a toddler and still struggling with the language.

“Can we go to a pet store? And pick one?” Adora asks, breathless, as Catra grows fed up with being abandoned in the bean bag and slips out of it to press up against her back, wrapping her arms around Adora. She is hugging Spinnerella by extension as well. Spinnerella sighs, gentle and a little conflicted.

“We’ve had this talk, Adora. You can pass for human, but Catra can’t. She has to stay in the research facility,” Spinnerella tells her. Catra growls lowly at Adora’s back as Adora frowns and drops her arms from around Spinnerella’s hip. She has only been outside of the research base twice, accompanied by Spinnerella and security staff each time. Spinnerella has promised that when she and Catra are older they will be able to leave whenever they want, but right now the facility is the safest place for them.

“I don’t wanna pick one out anyway. Just wanna meet one. See if they understand me,” Catra mumbles against her back, wrapping her arms tightly around Adora’s waist. Adora pauses, but she nods, dropping her hands to cover Catra’s.

“I met one when Spinnerella took me to her family! They make sounds just like you do,” Adora assures her, because her telling Catra about cats is what kicked this whole thing off. Catra stills at her back, tail waving and then going limp.

“You met her family?” she asks, in a small voice. Adora winces. Family is a touchy subject for Catra. Adora never had one, found as a baby in a massive crater in the woods, glowing like a beacon. The government was quickly called in and she grew up in the research facility they built to study the crash. Spinnerella and Netossa are the closest thing she has to parents. Catra might not remember much, but she had a mom and her mom had a partner too. Catra sometimes asks Adora to hold her a certain way, comforting and familiar when everything in the facility gets to be too much.

Spinnerella watches them both, her eyes soft and sad.

 

--

 

Catra hisses when one of the security staff tries to touch her back to usher her forward.

“She didn’t mean that,” Adora assures, grabbing her arm and pulling her forward to the SUV. Catra most certainly did, but she lets Adora pull her away from the man to the steps they have been given so they can climb into the car. Adora climbs them slowly, unsure, but Catra hops over them easily.

“I’m not wearing a seatbelt,” she shoots to Spinnerella in the driver’s seat. Behind them, Netossa actually laughs.

“Your seatbelt saved your life last time,” she points out. Catra turns to hiss at her, flattening her ears and lashing her tail. Adora wraps her arms around Catra’s waist and hauls her up onto the bench with her. Catra wasn’t going to launch at Netossa – she hasn’t done that to someone since the first few weeks when she couldn’t speak or understand very well – but she lets Adora pull her back and buckle her in even as she glares at the woman.

“Say thank you to Spinnerella for letting us visit her kitty,” Adora prompts her, nudging her shoulder. Catra flattens her ears again, sending Adora an angry pout as Netossa climbs into the back of the SUV with them.

“Thank you for not crashing the car, so my seatbelt won’t matter,” Catra says, petulantly, instead. Spinnerella and Adora both laugh as Netossa rolls her eyes. The security detail, Juliet in the front seat and three more guards in the far back, all remain impassive.

“The ride will be about an hour to my parents’ house. Have fun keeping them entertained, babe,” Spinnerella says, throwing Netossa a wink in the rearview mirror. Netossa startles, opening her mouth to protest, but Spinnerella hits the button that raises the solid divider between the front and back seat before she can protest, hiding Catra and Adora away in the backseat with no windows for people to catch glimpses of them through. An hour is a long way to go in a black box lit only by a roof light and the tablet Spinnerella gave them to keep them occupied, but Catra is sure she can find some way to annoy the other car occupants for her entertainment.

That plan goes out the window when the car starts moving.

 

--

 

Catra doesn’t really wear her seatbelt, largely because she spends most of the car ride curled up in a ball on the floor. After ten minutes, Adora manages to convince Netossa to let her slip down to the floor and join her, wrapping around Catra to comfort her. Well, actually, Adora argued with Netossa for several minutes before she just did it anyway, wriggling out from her seatbelt before Netossa could catch her.

There is some arguing in the car above her, but eventually it is agreed between Netossa, the com into the front seat with Spinnerella on it, and the security staff accompanying them that they can stay down there. Even after the car stops and turns off, the security detail slipping out one by one to secure the house, they stay down on the floor, curled together.

Catra has finally calmed down, no longer panicking or feeling sick. By the time Netossa reaches down to gently rouse them, Catra has begun to purr in Adora’s arms.

“The house has been cleared. You can come see Mom and Pop now,” Netossa tells them, her voice quiet. Catra makes an adorable mrpph sound as she raises her head, blinking slowly. She wasn’t asleep, but after the hour of internal turmoil, she was tired. She had begun to doze in Adora’s arms as they waited for the house to be secured.

“Spinnerella’s parents are really nice, I promise. Come on,” Adora urges Catra, tugging her until she is sitting up, yawning loudly. Catra rubs her face against Adora’s and Adora meets her, a friendly headbutt and greeting between them before Adora slips out of the open car door and pulls Catra out with her. Catra grumbles at the lights in the garage, tucking into Adora’s side. She shakes her head, fluffing out her mane to wake herself as they walk towards the door into the house. It is open, Spinnerella standing just inside and smiling at them.

The door opens onto the kitchen, where Spinnerella’s elderly Mom and Pop are waiting. They were very nice to Adora when Spinnerella and Netossa brought her along to their holiday family meal, and Adora knows that took a lot to get cleared. She can’t imagine what they went through to get a simple social visit approved, especially for Catra.

Catra’s tail sways curiously as she eyes the elderly couple. The couple smiles at her, though Adora can see an inquisitive light in their gaze. She tightens her arm around Catra and sends them both her best placating smile, which she uses a lot ever since Catra moved in.

Adora will never stop thanking the stars for sending her Catra. Sure, they get in trouble for playing with the precious equipment and running through the middle of the crash wreckage reconstruction, but Adora has so much fun with Catra, connecting to her like she never did with all the adults surrounding her. The downside to being a secret is that there is no one to play with – not until another secret comes along.

“This is Catra!” Adora introduces proudly, gesturing to Catra. Mom steps forward first, bending down to look Catra in the eye. Catra’s ears twitch, her tail stilling as she blinks back.

“Hello, Catra. I’m Spinnerella’s mom. Pop and I fixed a big dinner that we made sure would be safe for you, and we have Cinnabun shut into the office so you two can meet,” Mom says, smiling warmly. Adora looks to Catra, hopeful, as Catra’s ears twitch again and slowly, her tail lowers, the tension releasing from her as she lets herself relax.

Catra had been worried last night that Mom and Pop wouldn’t like her because she doesn’t look human. Adora assured Catra that Spinnerella wouldn’t take them to visit if that was the case, but she also wasn’t sure that they knew she wasn’t human when she had visited, so she couldn’t comfort Catra beyond asking her to trust Spinnerella. Catra doesn’t trust easily, even if she likes Spinnerella.

“That sounds great,” Adora assures Mom, and she earns a smile in return as Mom straightens and beckons them deeper into the house.

 

--

 

Catra stares at Cinnabun. Cinnabun stares back. The cat is an orange tabby, according to Adora, and it does kind of look like her, but-

“You look more like me than you look like Cinnabun,” Adora admits, patting her shoulder before stepping deeper into the office to approach where the cat is curled in a bed similar to the ones scattered around the facility for Catra, though smaller. Catra feels her fur lie flat at Adora’s words, a relieved rumble beginning in her chest without her bidding it. The cat just blinks at her, continuing to loaf in the bed as Adora approaches and pets it, just like she pets Catra’s mane.

Catra hates how other she is. Adora never treats her like that since she is other in her own right, but at least she looks human. She apparently glows sometimes, but Catra has yet to see it and the scientists still can’t figure it out. Hearing Adora admit Catra is more human than not is a relief, even if the whole reason they are here is that this creature is supposed have traits like her.

Cinnabun doesn’t mind Adora petting her, butting her head up into Adora’s hand, and Catra suddenly feels a hot flare of jealousy in her chest as the cat rubs against Adora’s palm. Catra rushes forward to Adora’s side, ignoring Spinnerella’s gentle call of no, cats don’t like that, but it is too late to stop her. Catra snatches her hands out, grabbing Adora’s arms and tugging her back from the cat.

“Catra?” Adora questions, bewildered, as Catra glares at the animal, growling lowly. Cinnabun is less relaxed now, tense and whipping her tail in agitation. Spinnerella hurries forward – or at least, she clearly wants to hurry despite how she cautiously approaches, placing a light hand on Adora’s other shoulder. Catra turns to growl at her now, ears pinned back and her tail lashing. She can’t bring herself to make eye contact with her even as she growls in the direction of her hip, knowing Spinnerella doesn’t really deserve it.

“Catra clearly doesn’t like Cinnabun, Adora. I think it’s best that we ate dinner now,” Spinnerella says. Catra growls again, because it has nothing to do with like. Catra tightens her grip on Adora’s arm as Cinnabun stands and retreats to the far corner of the desk, mewing an admonishment. Catra sticks her tongue out at the cat and then immediately turns to rub her cheek roughly against Adora’s jaw.

“Adora’s mine,” Catra threatens, vaguely, in the direction of Cinnabun. Spinnerella seems lost. She has that expression on her face a lot of the adults get around Catra, the I don’t understand and don’t know if I should worry one. Catra chuffs – which Cinnabun echoes for some reason – and then rubs her cheek against Adora’s neck for good measure. Adora giggles in response.

“That tickles, Catra,” she points out. Part of Catra proudly notes that Adora has made no protest against being hers. She scowls in response.

“You let the cat mark you,” she returns, even though Adora said that tickles and not stop. To illustrate her point, Catra reaches down and grabs Adora's hand, raising it up to her cheek and nudging into it to replace the satisfied mark Cinnabun had left.

“Mark?” Adora and Spinerella both question at the same time. Catra’s ears pin back as she wraps her arms around Adora’s waist to plaster them together.

“She marks like me. Can you- You don’t smell it?” Catra questions, her ears twitching, uncertain. Adora blinks at her, and then over at the cat as recognition slowly dawns on Spinnerella’s face.

“You have increased senses, Catra, but I suppose we did not know how much so. Humans cannot pick up on that, and Adora’s senses seem to fall in line with human abilities,” Spinnerella tells her, gently, gesturing over to Cinnabun as Adora blinks in surprise.

“Do I smell like I’m yours? If another person like you landed, would they hiss when they smelled me? Do you do that with your cheek? Your face?” Adora asks, rapid-fire questions about Catra’s everything she is more than used to by now. Catra huffs, pressing closer and rubbing her cheek against Adora’s shoulder.

“You are mine. She didn’t care but I do. She can’t mark you,” Catra returns. Adora looks borderline delighted. Spinnerella has that expression again.

 

--

 

Catra does end up tolerating Cinnabun, though she growls every time Cinnabun rubs against Adora, even after Spinerella explains animal scent-marking to them.

“I’m not an animal,” Catra mutters, her ears pinned back as she curls her arms and tail around her knees. Adora shuffles closer to where Catra is sat on the floor. Adora has Cinnabun in her lap and Catra eyes the cat suspiciously, but she lets Adora approach and wrap an arm around her shoulders.

“You’re my friend,” Adora assures, leaning forward to butt their heads together. It is a form of affection they have just between the two of them, one the scientists tend to rush to note when they see them using, but Adora doubts that this means anything to their kinds or whatever and is probably just something for them. Catra turns her cheek, nuzzling and marking Adora in turn. She has done that for weeks, but Adora didn’t realize it was more than simple affection.

“I don’t like cats,” Catra decides, wrinkling her face up as she reaches down and cautiously pets Cinnabun’s back, far away from her face so she can’t try to mark her. Adora pouts a little, but she nods. She would rather have Catra than Cinnabun, even if she is disappointed Catra doesn’t like the cat. Maybe one day they’ll get to meet another that Catra will like, but according to Spinnerella, Cinnabun is already very tolerant for a cat.

“Let’s go eat dinner,” Spinnerella prompts in response to the admission. Catra practically flings her hand away from the cat, seeming relieved for the excuse to stop interacting with her. Adora reluctantly shoos the cat from her lap, standing and instantly being met with Catra bolting up to wrap her arms around her and butt up under her chin. Adora giggles, Catra’s soft fur tickling her a little. She holds very still for her, happy for all the affection Catra is offering tonight.

Before Catra, Adora only got affection really from Spinnerella and her care team. Even that felt largely prescribed, or at the very least limited. Catra loves unabashedly, cuddling with her, purring, hugging, marking, even licking when they are alone together. Catra lets Adora love her in return, wrapping arms around her, petting and scratching, offering headbutts and soft hums in a poor attempt at echoing the purrs Catra can make.

Thinking back to a time before Catra feels sterile and lifeless, despite only being a few months ago. Adora happily cuddles with her companion in the middle of the office before they are ushered to the dinner table. They sit beside each other, elbowing each other’s sides and bickering as they try to steal food off each other’s plate despite being served the same thing. The cooking is as good as Adora remembers it, and Catra seems to enjoy it too, her purr stuttering in and out throughout the meal and ears twitching.

 

--

 

Catra can hear the security detail. She doesn’t think they know that, though. When Cinnabun had been in the room, she had to keep her focus centered on the cat, but now the animal is shut away in the office and they are sitting amongst Spinnerella’s family, Catra can easily listen in, her ears swiveling to follow the updates echoing throughout the earpieces.

All quiet and no one noticed our arrival ring out. Is the cat going to be an issue for Grey Two? causes Catra to wrinkle her nose. Humans have two names, sometimes three for some reason, and Adora is technically Adora Grey. When Catra came along, Adora offered to share names with her while Spinnerella tried to explain that had meaning, but neither of them cared. Adora’s research project was already named the Grey project, so adding Catra into it wasn’t hard.

Adora belonged to her from the moment she gave Catra a name. If she gave Catra a first name, why not her last one too?

“How are the folks doing with the furball?” the detail stationed out in the garage asks, and Catra has to fight her ears twitching back.

“All peaceful,” is the return from over her shoulder, which earns a snort of laughter out in the garage.

Catra has difficulty focusing on dinner.

 

--

 

“How did you like the visit?” Spinnerella asks them as they load into the car after Mom and Pop hug them both goodbye. Catra’s eyes had gone wide when Mom hugged her, but she stood perfectly still and allowed it. If Adora is touch-deprived, Catra is in another realm. Hardly anyone wants to touch her outside of being fascinated by her fur, and those touches hardly count. Catra rarely allows them either, snarling when someone other than Adora tries to engage with her.

Catra trusts her. She doesn’t trust a lot of the humans. Spinnerella and Netossa are different, understanding and patient – well, the patience mostly belongs to Spinnerella – but they don’t really reach out for physical contact like Catra and Adora both need. They are Spinnerella’s wards at the end of the day, her job and not her children. There is no one to truly give them the love of a mother.

“’S fine. They’re nice,” Catra mumbles from her curled up ball on the floor. “Wish we could have seen the farm,” she adds, turning to duck her head into Adora’s neck. Spinnerella has told them about her parent’s farm, even showing them pictures, but now they are being ferried through it without even windows to look at it. Spinnerella looks a little pained as she gazes down at where they are curled together on the SUV floorboards.

“In a few years, kids, when the world knows about you and it won’t cause a global incident should someone see,” Spinnerella promises. She promises that a lot. She says it is for their own good – that they are too young to understand the immense pressure they will face once they are known – but a lot of the time it just feels lonely. A lot less lonely now Catra is here, but Adora yearns for the life she sees depicted on the TV, when Spinnerella lets them watch it.

“What about you, Adora? What did you think?” Spinnerella prompts instead, clearly trying to move onto a happier subject. Adora frowns as she pets Catra’s ears and Catra’s warm breathes puff again her neck.

“Mom and Pop are very nice. Thank you for letting us see them. But I wish we could have seen the farm,” Adora returns.

Spinnerella deflates a little, but she tells Adora you’re welcome.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Things change after – as Catra begins to call it – the Great Escape. Security at the base is increased, and Spinnerella just happens to mention that there are additional people assigned to watching the security cameras. Catra can read between the lines. At least there aren’t any cameras in their room, the space their one safe haven despite everything.

They lose a lot of privileges, at least temporarily. Adora’s fourteenth birthday passes with nothing more than some sweet treats for Adora and fishcakes for Catra, the usual birthday outing banned. Adora asks if they can visit Mom and Pop at least, and Spinnerella shakes her head with a stressed expression and her mouth pressed in a thin line.

At first their clearance is downgraded so they can’t leave the main building, only the fenced-in box of their old yard available to them. Catra’s nature runs and Adora’s hikes are suspended indefinitely, but after a month their clearance gets upgraded to allow them out in the yard again at least.

They were both going stir crazy, locked up in the main building after being used to so much more nature. Catra goes tearing at full speed through the yard for fifteen minutes the first day they let them out again, Adora alternating between chasing after her laughing with delight and hunching over to try to catch her breath. Catra practically bounces off the base’s walls, but she was going insane without the tree canopy stretching above her.

Which leads them to now, three months post-running away. Spring has set in, thawing the winter frost and springing up new weeds through the yard despite the footfalls that trample them and the cars that drive over the growth. She and Adora are sprawled out on their backs beside each other, their shoulders pressed together as they stare up at the darkened canopy of the forest stretching about them, leaves rustling in the wind. It is late enough for the evening calls of the unique frog species that gave the Whispering Woods their name to be heard, echoing and garbled like distant words on the wind.

“What do you think he’ll be like?” Adora asks, quietly, after they have been silent for a long time. They aren’t stargazing – the tree branches are too dense for much more than the occasional twinkle to make it through, dappled moonlight spilling into the yard in thin shafts of light – but they have been quiet as they just absorb the nature around them. They both desperately miss their trips out in the woods. This is one of the solutions they have come up with to get a little bit of that back, even if it is far from the same.

They have been getting privileges back – mostly thanks to Spinnerella arguing for them, and their psychologists apparently deciding the trauma from the runaway attempt and resulting fallout is enough to keep them from attempting it again – but even if they are no longer deemed flight risks, there is punishment. Worse, there is their own safety from the public. It is easier to ensure inside the complex.

Catra scowls at Adora’s question, shifting her arm to take Adora’s hand in her own and squeeze. New people are coming into the complex – which isn’t unheard of, but it also doesn’t happen all that often. The brand-new factor is the son moving in with them. A year older than Adora, but the first other kid they will ever meet. Adora has seen a few kids on her outings, but she has never even spoken to them. It was a risk before, but now they are outed, they no longer have to worry that a child will spill a secret they don’t know the importance of keeping.

“I don’t care,” Catra says, a bit more bitterly than she intends to. Adora frowns, turning her head to look at Catra, but Catra continues to stare resolutely at the darkened treetops.

“Don’t you want to meet someone our age for once?” Adora asks her, quietly. She sounds unsure - probably because Catra is outright scowling, fixing her glare on the leaves overhead. The tip of her tail is twitching beside her in the weeds.

“I don’t need someone new. Haven’t they taken enough from us already?” Catra asks, her voice low and a little cracked. She hates the show of weakness, but her heart is hammering. Beside her, Adora turns over onto her side and props her head up on her hand, looking down at Catra with an expression of pinched concern. Catra pins her ears back, not meeting Adora’s eyes even as she reaches out with her free hand to softly brush Catra’s mane away from her face.

“What do you think he is going to take, Catra?” Adora asks, softly. Catra wants to growl, but instead she just leans into Adora's touch, nudging into the affection as she tries to calm her heart. She needs it, even if there is bitter fear in her heart.

“… You,” she finally admits, her voice quiet. Adora draws in a breath and Catra’s heart goes right back to hammering. “It happens all the time, Adora. It's on all our shows. They meet someone new, someone better, and suddenly you aren’t friends anymore. It is the backstory between half the lead characters and their bullies,” Catra rants, finally looking Adora in the eye as her fur bristles and tail thuds uncertainly.

Adora looks, maybe, horrified. Catra swallows, turning her head to look away, but Adora catches her cheek in her hand and gently turns her face back to meet her gaze again. Catra swallows, her ears pinned back as she stares up at Adora’s face, marked with determination and concern.

“Catra. I’m always going to be your friend. I want to meet other people, but no one could ever be my best friend like you are. We have years together they just can’t hope to keep up with,” Adora promises her, eyes wide and voice sincere. Catra stares back up at Adora, her heart hammering as Adora gently strokes her cheek, worry still clear in her face. “Some human could never understand me like you do,” Adora adds, her voice soft.

Catra swallows, drawing unsteady breaths for a moment before she cranes her neck up. Adora’s hand falls away from her cheek, her expression unsure, but it clears as Catra tucks beneath her jaw and rubs a long scent mark there.

Adora is hers. From the hum Adora gives in response, Adora agrees.

 

--

 

Adora watches Catra stare down at the entrance of the hanger, her eyes wide and tail twitching.

The documentary crew is supposed to arrive today. Apparently they will be a fixture of their lives now. The government will be filming a few documentaries on them as they grow up. It is much needed – it didn’t take long for those in opposition to aliens being allowed to live amongst them to organize online. They call themselves the Horde as if it proves that they are echoing public opinion.

Spinnerella assures them that they are not, but it is hard not to feel threatened and unwanted when the Horde has such an effective PR representative. Spinnerella assures them it is more of a funded Facebook group than anything else, but Catra has relayed rants she overheard Spinnerella going on to Netossa about the vile things that woman will say about children in the media. No matter how small and informal the group is, they are getting airtime, and it is terrifying.

So the documentary crew is here to film and humanize them to the public – to acclimate the public to their presence. Catra and Adora are still hiding up in the rafters. New people have come into the facility before, but they were always government employees, carefully vetted and sworn to secrecy. This feels different, like outsiders sent to spy on them.

“Catra!” Spinnerella calls from the floor. Catra immediately scoots back on the beam, plastering her ears back so they won’t stick out and curling her tail around herself.

“They’re here,” she tells Adora, unnecessarily, as she tries to make herself invisible from the ground level. Adora is already laid down on the top of the beam. She did it to keep her balance, but it also helps to hide her.

“Adora, I see you both up there!” Spinerella calls. Adora sighs, shooting Catra an apologetic look. Catra huffs in response as Adora sits up and carefully looks down over the edge of the beam. Spinnerella is standing several meters away – and about two stories down – craning her neck up to look at them. She is being filmed by an older man as another hangs back with his hand on a young boy’s shoulder.

“How did you get up there, Adora?” Spinnerella asks, raising an eyebrow and glancing around the room as the camera man pans up to film Adora on the beam. Adora glances over to Catra. Catra smirks a little and shrugs.

“I used the Catra Ladder,” Adora calls back. Everyone knows the Catra Ladder. It has to be used every few weeks to retrieve Catra from somewhere high up. It used to be because she got stuck and not just because she is a shit, but the ladder gets use either way. More often than not, Adora just wants it in order to join Catra wherever she is stowed away. Spinnerella sighs.

“And where is the Catra Ladder now?” she asks. Catra pops her head up from beside Adora, her tail waving with her excitement.

“I hid it so you couldn’t get us down,” she responds. Catra and Adora both burst into giggles as Spinnerella sighs.

 

--

 

As much as Catra hates the two men following them around with cameras, she does like their son well enough. Apparently documentary crews can be any size, but to keep them unobtrusive and to minimize access to top secret research, the couple was hired with the expectations they would use a single cameraman to capture their subjects.

For the first week, they are followed around near-constantly, even if the crew isn’t allowed access to their room. Catra hisses and growls whenever they try to follow them into it and they quickly back off. There are no longer guards posted outside their door – base security has been increased and tightened in general following their escape, and Catra just has to hope, for once, that it is to keep them in rather than keep anything out.

Spinnerella has promised they will get to go out in public a bit eventually, but that the public needs to calm down first. She also pointedly added that the documentary will help them do that. Catra immediately turned and gave the camera the finger while Spinnerella gasped and asked where she learned that. The answer was her wife, but Spinnerella didn’t seem to like knowing that.

The tiny crew follows them constantly as they, and Catra is quoting here, get a feel for their subjects. Catra scratches one of their lenses when they get too close to her, but apparently that was anticipated, and they brought multiple backups.

“I don’t like being watched,” Catra grits out, turning to glare at George head on. George sends her what Adora has labeled as his soft dad smile. Spinnerella raises an eyebrow at her.

“You were always being watched. We realized you were gone about three minutes after you left. The entire Greys channel is dedicated to your whereabouts,” she points out, unusually pragmatic. Catra scowls at her. Realism is supposed to be Netossa’s thing. Besides, it isn’t true – the channel is as much for complaining about their antics and sharing blurry photos of Catra sleeping in weird locations as it is for tracking them. Adora wrinkles her face up.

“That was different. It was word of mouth and security cameras, not someone following us while we play. The only way we get alone time is by hiding in our room, and now you want us to let them in there,” Adora responds, shaking her head. Catra preens at Adora backing her up.

“It would only be for an afternoon. I know you still want to be a part of the larger world, Adora. Letting people see who you are is how you do that,” Spinnerella cajoles. Catra snarls at her. Spinnerella is unphased by it after dealing with Catra for the better part of a decade.

They still end up doing it, standing in the middle of their room while Catra glares at Lance tracking his camera along their shelves. George asks them questions about where they got their knickknacks and plants – the answer is the same for every item, with either Catra finding it on a hunt or Adora bringing it back on a hike, plus the occasional response of “it was a gift” – and Bow holds a tablet monitoring the sound levels. He isn’t really an official part of the crew, but he helps his fathers work.

“Do you share the bed? Is it starting to get crowded?” George asks. Catra scowls at the same time that Adora laughs.

“Nothing is too crowded with us. Netossa says we would occupy the same air space if we could. Catra likes to sleep on top of me anyway,” Adora replies while Catra sniffs, crossing her arms and not looking at the man. That is true, but it isn’t his business.

“The giant bean bag is cool,” Bow pipes up. Catra’s ears twitch as she side-eyes the poof that is basically their second bed.

“I guess,” she mutters, shrugging and trying to seem dismissive, but she can’t help how her tail waves behind her. Bow has been all over the world working with his dads, meeting celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and incredible activists – and yet he thinks something she has is cool.

“Where’d you get it?” George prompts. Adora perks up a little. As much as she is also unsure of the documentary crew, she seems to love telling them about Catra, sharing her business with the whole world.

“The scientists got it to be like a giant cat bed for Catra! It surrounds us when we lay in it, so it feels safe,” she explains eagerly. With some gentle prompting from the film crew, they end up cuddled together in the bean bag, to demonstrate or something while Adora happily chatters at a million miles a minute with stories about them together.

Catra lets her. She is getting a cuddle out of it after all.

 

--

 

After George gets a feel for his subjects, they get followed around less. Apparently George implements nature documentary techniques and sets up cameras all around the facility – at least in their spaces, like the yard and the playroom and the rafters. The facility doesn’t let them film just anything, and no footage is allowed to leave without first being approved.

The cameras are still around plenty, but Adora finds the small size of the crew makes it easy to adjust to them, and pretty soon she and Catra are playing with Bow. His parents wince at Catra’s claws occasionally, but Catra does a good job of holding them back from Bow. They have known for a long time that Catra’s claws pierce human skin easily. They can pierce Adora’s too, but she can take more, and Catra doesn’t have to be as careful with her.

It is still nice to play with someone else their age. They have involved the researchers in their games for a long time, but they have never gotten to play with another kid. Having a human their age who is nice and eager to be friends feels like a revelation, even if Catra gets jealous sometimes. She doesn’t like when Adora directs attention away from her. Adora doesn’t really get it, but she knows about Catra’s worries, so she tries to assure her.

“You know I’m with you every second of the day,” Adora points out when they are brushing their teeth one night. Catra narrows her eyes at Adora’s reflection and bends to spit out her toothpaste.

“Not true and not relevant. You’re mine,” she returns, dumping her toothbrush in the cup and immediately turning to crowd Adora back towards their bed. Adora feels her brows draw together as she lets herself be pushed down onto the mattress.

“I always have been. We’ve also always wanted to be around people, Catra,” Adora points out. Catra growls and nips the side of her neck in response. Adora just waits – it wasn’t even harsh enough to leave a mark.

“And what if you like him better than me?” she asks, her voice small. Adora outright frowns now, but Catra is tucked into her neck and can’t see it. They have had this conversation a few times, but Adora is willing to repeat it as many times as she needs to until Catra believes her.

“He’s a boy. And I could never like anyone better than you,” Adora tells her, raising her hands up to pet Catra’s mane. Against her neck, Catra begins purring.

 

--

 

“And this is the door the scientists couldn’t get open, so I had to pry it open for them,” Catra declares proudly, climbing up the side of her spaceship. Adora is hot on her heels, scrambling up the wing of the craft as Lance follows them with a camera drone. They are both wearing small mics clipped onto their clothes.

“Please don’t claw the wreckage, girls. We are still analyzing it,” Netossa reminds from the ground, arching her brow at them in a skeptical look. Adora shakes her head, sending Netossa a wide smile.

“I don’t have claws, only Catra could do that!” she points out proudly, like Netossa’s girls” could only refer to both of them. Adora is like that, though – very literal. Adora’s eyes go wide and she turns to Catra with dawning excitement on her face. “Wait, Catra, do you think I’ll get claws? Like in puberty or something? It’s not too late?” Adora asks, rapid fire, her eyes wide. Catra scowls, shrugging. Puberty has been a topic lately because the scientists have finally committed to the theory that Catra is going through her equivalent.

“I don’t know, dummy. We don’t even know if you will have one,” she points out. Adora looks crestfallen, pouting a bit.

“I want to do it with you! I don’t want you to be alone,” Adora returns, reaching out and waving her hand in the air. Catra shoves down the warm feeling in her chest as she hops down from the top of the ship to land on the wing beside Adora, walking over to take her hand.

“I’ll do it with you, Catra!” Bow helpfully adds from down on the ground. Catra doesn’t bother to respond to him. She likes him, but she mostly wants to do things with Adora.

 

--

 

Adora does have a puberty – she has it in a matter of weeks. Like the polar opposite of Catra, she wakes up one day feeling taller, her limbs aching with growing pains. She doesn’t grow body hair all over, which she has heard about, but she grows it in one specific place while her limbs groan in protest and constant hunger takes her over. Weirdly, her brows thicken and darken, and her hair glows more frequently, any hammering emotion eliciting a fleeting shine.

She outgrows every shirt she owns in weeks, not only due to her height, but also because her chest is filling out. One moment she is getting training bras, and in the next she is getting very real bras, even if they are sports bras for practicality. They fit for a bit longer than traditional bras would, which is necessary considering how quickly she is growing. Besides, underwire made her wince when she tried real bras.

“No one said how painful it would be,” Adora complains as she pulls her bra off one night to get ready for bed with Catra. Catra laughs at her, but once Adora has pulled on a t-shirt – oversized now, but she doesn’t doubt it will be tight in a few weeks more – she tugs Adora into the bed with her and happily lays down, pillowing her head on Adora’s chest.

“I like them. They’re soft. Makes you an even better pillow,” Catra tells her, wiggling her head a little to get comfortable on her. Adora huffs, but she is smiling as she wraps her arms around Catra. Catra has always been touchy, but leading up to their excursion she had gotten a bit distant. This, Catra curled on her chest at night and purring, just feels right. Adora is in pain, and Catra wants to comfort her.

Catra kneads against Adora’s chest, which makes Adora hiss, so she quickly shifts to knead at Adora’s arms instead. It feels amazing, causing her to groan with pleasure as the sore muscles get massaged. Even the pinpricks of Catra’s claws can’t cut through the relief.

“Please never stop,” Adora manages, groaning again as Catra shifts her hands a little lower down to work a part of her arm that hasn’t been soothed yet. Catra snorts, but she keeps kneading as she tucks her face down into Adora’s chest.

“You’re so needy,” Catra says, a laugh tickling at the edges of her voice. It takes a moment for Adora to process what she is finding so funny.

“You’re terrible!” she finally laughs when the pun makes it into her brain, swatting at Catra’s back. Catra just cackles in response.

 

--

 

Catra knew puberty was going to suck. Media prepared her for that. Her own has been okay though – probably because she doesn’t think she really has one. The scientists are calling it that, for lack of a better word, but her body is changing slowly ever since she was eleven. Sure, her mood is unstable, but she has always been volatile and she has been under a lot of stress lately. Adora’s puberty, however, has been torture for her.

Adora fills out and Catra’s heart drops to the bottom of her stomach. She always knew, okay, there was never going to be anyone for her but Adora, but now there is a whole new layer of lust she isn’t used to. She has had years to slowly develop and shove down her feelings, but this is just too much. Adora groans with pain, making Catra’s fur stand on end, and then when Catra tries to help her by massaging out the aches, Adora groans with pleasure, Catra’s hands still on her sore body.

It is torture, showering with Adora, drying off with her, climbing into bed with her. Catra wants in a way she never has before, and despite how she doesn’t want to be away from Adora for a second, she finds herself retreating to high places just to breathe. She always comes down quickly when she spots Adora if she is being trailed by Bow and the rest of the film crew, even though she knows the jealousy is unwarranted, at least in that way.

“Girls, yeah?” Catra asks one day while they are watching TV together, thankfully free of the film crew. She gestures vaguely at the character on the screen as she says it, the girl in tears after coming out to her mother. Adora blinks in surprise, turning her head to look at Catra, expression a bit blank for a minute before she shifts and nods.

“Yeah,” she agrees, blushing for some reason. Catra tries to shove down her purr and fails, so she turns back to the TV and tucks into Adora’s side, grabbing one of her hands and directing it to her ears. Adora immediately begins scratching and Catra has an excuse for her auditory satisfaction, even if she started purring before Adora even touched her. Adora can be idiot about social stuff – Catra is sure she won’t put it together.

Even knowing Adora likes girls, Catra is worried. Adora doesn’t seem to be awakening with her puberty quite the same way Catra is. She is perfectly content to cuddle and interact like they always have, like nothing had changed, but even the position of those cuddles has to change to accommodate Adora’s new chest. Not that Catra does not love pillowing her head on Adora’s tits, kneading at her when Adora isn’t too sore and just seems to enjoy it, but it is another constant reminder that every day it is getting harder for Catra to call Adora just her best friend.

Adora doesn’t seem bothered, declaring it proudly whenever they do interviews for the documentary crew.

 

--

 

“I didn’t get claws,” Adora says, with a bit of disappointment, when she gets measured by their health team and for the first time in several weeks she hasn’t grown an inch in the few days since the last measurement. Her growth seems to finally be slowing down.

“Most people don’t get those with puberty,” Catra comments dryly, cutting off with a cough as Adora hops off the doctor’s table. Adora sends her a pout as Catra flushes from the cough. “You got tits, Adora. That’s what usually comes with puberty,” Catra points out. Adora frowns, looking down at her shirt. It is straining again. The doctors have been amazed she didn’t get stretch marks on her breasts or hips, but apparently her skin is different enough that despite the accelerated speed at which she grew, it didn’t leave any traces behind.

“I wanted to be able to climb stuff with you!” Adora complains, moving to drop down on top of Catra in her seat. Catra squeaks at being crushed as their physician rolls her eyes.

“Get your wide ass off me!” Catra complains, shoving at her back. Adora just laughs, going limp and draping over her friend.

“Watch your language,” the doctor remarks, but she sounds uninterested, likely not up for actually arguing with Catra. Catra manages to wiggle around under Adora to poke her head out from behind her back and stick her tongue out at the woman.

 

--

 

“Turn the camera off,” Catra growls, slumping down in her seat and folding her arms. She should have known when she got called into Spinnerella’s office. The meeting is private, so the documentary crew hasn’t followed her inside – they are probably following Adora around right now – but Catra knows they have a camera in here, in addition to the security footage. Spinnerella sighs, but she stands and goes over to her shelf, picking up a small camera nestled in her potted plant and pointedly turning it off completely. Spinnerella returns to sit at the desk with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m still not talking about it,” Catra returns. Spinnerella levels her with a flat look.

“You can talk about it with me, in private, or you discuss it with Netossa. You know she won’t pull any punches,” Spinnerella tells her. Catra bristles, baring her fangs. She likes Netossa, in general she gets on with her even better than with Spinnerella, but this is not a conversation she wants to have period, much less with Netossa. Spinnerella’s eyes spark with satisfaction.

“Adora,” Spinnerella prompts again, the initial question that made Catra demand the camera be turned off. Catra groans, slumping further down in her seat. “We have to talk about it, Catra. Do you want a repeat of the Hickey Incident?” Spinnerella questions. Catra flushes, her ears pinning back with her embarrassment. No, absolutely not, not while their lives are being filmed.

Catra hadn’t been embarrassed of it at the time, but she was nine and she didn’t know better. She just knew she felt things, and she wanted to be closer to Adora. She would bite her, not hard enough to hurt, just latching on while they cuddled. Adora never minded, but after three separate interventions regarding the marks on Adora’s neck, shoulders, and arms, Catra finally stopped.

Now the Hickey Incident is back in a very different way – theoretically, with Catra actually wanting to leave the marks, knowing what they mean this time. They have had the Talk – or rather, a series of talks - regarding how humans do this, how the scientists theorize Catra does this, and how they have no clue how Adora reproduces considering she doesn’t appear to have a uterus despite resembling a human female in most other ways.

Catra’s tail thuds between the side of her seat and Spinnerella’s desk, twitching with irritation.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to do anything. You don’t have to worry about me seeming uncouth on TV,” Catra grumbles, curling her tail tightly around herself. She isn’t stupid enough to think Spinnerella hasn’t known for a while, but Catra has no idea why she is bringing it up now. Spinnerella pauses, considering Catra for a moment.

“And why won’t you?” she questions. Catra flinches, looking away from her. Spinnerella releases a gentle sound in response. “Catra, Adora’s puberty is different from yours, and though she isn’t thinking about this kind of thing yet, she cares deeply about you. She isn’t going to reject you,” Spinnerella prompts, gently. Catra scowls, glaring down at her feet as she flexes her claws to leave shallow scratches in the linoleum.

“I know,” she mutters, reluctantly. It is true. Adora wouldn’t leave her just because she didn’t feel the same. She doubts Adora would even ask for separate beds should she find out, though she probably wouldn’t let Catra knead on her tits anymore. How Adora thinks that is innocent Catra doesn’t know, but she seems willing to dismiss a lot of things as being because they are different species.

“Then why hide your feelings, Catra?” Spinnerella asks. Catra pins her ears back, dragging her feet a little to leave deep grooves in the floor. Spinnerella doesn’t chide her. Half the floors in the facility have clawmarks in them at this point – it is kind of too late to start caring. Part of Catra is hoping to wait Spinnerella out, but the woman just continues to watch her, her gaze making Catra’s fur crawl until she can’t take it anymore.

“Adora won’t stay here just for me. So what about when she turns eighteen and gets to go out in the world? She can meet someone else – someone normal - and meanwhile I’ll be stuck here, alone, waiting for her to call and tell me she’s not coming back,” Catra rants, gesturing with claws at nothing in particular, just scared. More than rejection, she fears acceptance but not true reciprocation of her feelings.

Adora wouldn’t use her on purpose, but Adora is still under the delusion they’ll get to leave together at eighteen. Catra isn’t that stupid. She hears the facility staff whispering about the things the Horde says about them – she is well aware there are people out there who find her vile, and unlike Adora, she can’t hide. Spinnerella lets out a long breath. Catra can hear the pity in it. She growls as she slumps back in her chair.

“I’m not letting myself have her to then lose her. I’m not telling her or doing whatever else you think it is ‘healthy’ for me to do,” Catra declares, crossing her arms again and glaring at Spinnerella across the desk. Spinnerella looks a bit pained.

“We will do our best to integrate you both into society, Catra, but I can promise you Adora wouldn’t leave without you if you can’t go,” Spinnerella tells her. Catra scoffs, looking away. That is what Spinnerella thinks. Adora wants to be part of the greater world more than anything – all Catra has ever wanted was Adora. She always knew her chances of getting more were slim, but she never needed anyone else. Adora never felt the same way about her.

Spinnerella is lying to herself. She got her love story with her childhood best friend, but she is also human. Adora might be an alien, but she isn’t a freak like Catra is. They are getting more and more online access now they are older and the word is out. Catra sees the things people say about her – either calling her cute and talking about her like a pet or calling her an unnatural abomination. After hearing everything people say about her, she understands why Adora has never even mentioned staying if Catra can’t, always defaulting to “Spinnerella promises we’ll get to go together, Catra.”

“She’ll find someone else. And when she does, I’m running into the wilderness and none of you will ever see me again. Just- leave us alone. Don’t ruin this,” Catra growls, standing abruptly. It hurts to even think about, though Catra knows it is an inevitability. She storms out of the room.

 

--

 

Catra’s puberty is slow, but at some point Adora wakes up and Catra has graduated from training bras to real bras – when she decides to wear them, which is almost never – and though Adora gained several inches on her initially, the gap is closing. Adora has stopped growing at sixteen, but Catra is still going, slow and steady. Adora jokes that Catra might surpass her just to distract herself while they warm up for their workouts together.

Adora never really got it when people kissed on TV – but she did when Spinnerella and Netossa did it, even though it was often just a brief moment of affection before they parted. It wasn’t hard to figure out the deciding factor was girls. She still never really thought about this kind of thing before – she kind of had a lot of other things to worry about, being an alien and all.

She can’t not think about it now. She and Catra have been naked together every day, all their lives between showering together and changing, and yet Adora suddenly finds herself making excuses about wet fur to not touch Catra in the shower. She can’t, it just feels wrong of her to do when she suddenly wants it.

Catra notices. Catra seems hurt, and Adora only realizes how bad that excuse was when Catra insists she wants to take her own showers now. Catra is going through a lot of scrutiny that Adora just isn’t, and pointing out her differences right now is a downright asshole thing for Adora to do. Adora tries to make it up to Catra, but Catra spends a lot of the next few days up in the rafters and avoiding the topic completely when she is on the ground.

Adora doesn’t know what to do and she is clutching at straws. Catra’s nature runs were banned for a while following their runaway attempt, but within a few months they were reinstated. Adora suspects it was because Catra was damn-near bouncing off the walls by then, but everything was different after the world knew. Catra only wears a single tracker now, and Adora doesn’t usually wait for her by the gate anymore. There is no need – Catra is coming back regardless. She doesn’t want to be out there alone.

Adora waits for her this time, just hoping the gesture will mean something. Catra doesn’t bring anything back, but she doesn’t always do that. She seems shocked to see Adora waiting for her, and she cautiously edges towards her once inside the gate again. Adora just holds still, waiting for Catra to approach. Catra likes to do things on her own terms when she has the opportunity to. When she does approach, Catra darts up to her side, tucking a bit cautiously beneath her arm.

The next time Adora goes to get in the shower, Catra hovers just over her shoulder as she undresses. Adora bites her lip.

“You want to join me?” she asks softly, turning to look at Catra and trying to not seem too hopeful. Catra looks largely impassive, but her eyes are blown out as she nods.

Catra joins her in the shower again, but she is careful not to touch her. Adora, in turn, avoids coming in contact with her except to help her with her fur like she always has. Somehow, the careful avoidance is worse than the contact that sent sparks through her.

 

--

 

Spinnerella noticed their near-week of avoiding each other – well, Catra avoiding Adora at least. Catra still isn’t happy about the shower situation, but at least Adora is willing to touch her again to help her wash, so she can’t be that repulsed by Catra’s fur, even if it is something she has just been putting up with for gods know how long. Spinnerella was already on Catra’s case about her feelings anyway, but apparently Catra’s time sulking up in the rafters was the final straw.

“Micah will be your new primary education coordinator for your final years of high school and transition into college. His daughter, Glimmer, is in your grade and will join you for your lessons,” Spinnerella explains, gesturing to the smiling man and the teenage girl beside him, who eyes them with curiosity despite how she looks far from normal herself with her dyed pink hair.

Catra does her best not to gape. When she said told Spinnerella she was Adora’s only option, this was not what she wanted as a solution.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

They are supposed to be getting ready for school – getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and heading to the cafeteria for breakfast. Catra suspects they might have to skip it this morning, though. She has Adora beneath her, hands pinned above her head and letting out soft noises as Catra sets to making a very purposeful mark on the side of her neck.

The first mark is still visible, even if it is light and faded. It opened the floodgates – Catra just needs to mark Adora now. They got here because Adora tried to stand up before Catra was done with their morning kisses. Catra had to pin her in order to avoid getting up, and then the urge to stake her claim was too strong.

“Catra,” Adora gasps softly. It is meant to be an admonishment, but hearing Adora breathe her name causes Catra to give a possessive growl and suck against the mark she is making. Adora gives a soft moan in response, flushing beneath the attention, but after a moment she rallies again. “We’re going to be late. We, ah, have to go,” Adora reminds her, like Catra doesn’t know already.

In truth, that is the entire reason for the pin. Catra may hate waking up early on school days, but she is certainly awake by now. No, this is about having Adora before they go to class with Glimmer. Catra may almost respect the girl for being an asshole, but she is also kind of an asshole. It has been easier to tolerate her ever since she and Adora started doing things like this, but Catra still wants to make it clear that Adora is hers.

She isn’t fooling anyone but herself. They aren’t talking about this new thing they’re doing, and Catra leaves her marks in hidden places. Adora is no more hers now than she was before Catra became her first kiss, but the delusion helps Catra to at least play nice with her competition.

She releases Adora’s neck with a reluctant growl, nudging against the spot for a moment and just breathing in Adora’s scent, her beating pulse brought up to the surface of her skin. Adora pauses, seeming confused by Catra letting go and not moving. On an impulse, Catra licks against the spot once before pressing a soft kiss to it and then fleeing, pulling herself away from Adora as quickly as possible to cut the tenderness of the touch.

“Race you to get there and dressed,” Catra throws over her shoulder, flashing Adora a grin as she hurries over to the closet. The distraction works, with Adora making an indignant sound at her head start and scrambling up from the bed. She doesn’t seem to notice the flush on Catra’s cheeks.

 

--

 

“Come on, it’s gloss. You can hardly even see it!” Glimmer cajoles, waving the tube at Adora. Adora blinks at it, knowing her face is a bit flushed, but she doesn’t know what to do. Glimmer has offered her a makeover multiple times, which Adora has always turned down due to both a lack of interest and not wanting Catra to get jealous, but she kind of invited this. She asked Glimmer about makeup, after all.

She wanted to find out about concealer. Adora doesn’t get acne, her skin seems incapable of it, so she has never paid any attention to it. She had no need for it. Makeup wasn’t something Catra could do, so Adora wasn’t interested in it either. She can’t very well correct Glimmer now and risk revealing why she is really asking.

“You want her to use the same contaminated shit you put on your lips everyday when there is no medicine for her?” Catra demands from her side, fur bristling just a little. Her lip is curled, not quite baring her fangs, but getting close. She is irritated by this. In truth, she is often irritated by Glimmer. Adora doesn’t get why. Based on their personalities, they should be best friends.

She suspects it is a jealousy thing. Catra had been jealous of Bow at first too. Her jealousy towards Glimmer is worse, but Glimmer also has everything. She is the president’s daughter. She has been all over the world, lived in the lap of luxury, gone to fancy prep schools and participated in just about everything Catra and Adora have only dreamed about even getting to see. She is a constant reminder of everything they could never have.

Glimmer blinks at Catra’s bristling fur. Adora clears her throat, reaching up and gently putting a hand over Glimmer’s to push the tube of sparkly lip gloss away from herself.

“Catra is right. Lip and eye stuff is way too risky for me,” Adora tells her, grateful for Catra’s brilliant mind giving her the excuse. Glimmer looks disappointed but appropriately cowed, nodding and lowering her hand back to her pocket to tuck away her signature lip gloss. Privately, Adora doesn’t think she could stand to have it touch her anyway. Maybe Catra’s dislike of getting things in her fur has just conditioned Adora, but she doesn’t like sticky things.

“Well, your brows are kind of infuriatingly perfect, so unless you want to bleach them there’s not much to be done there. I suppose I could teach you contour, but I’m still learning it,” Glimmer tells her, shrugging. Adora just nods mutely.

“Right, contour,” she agrees. She has no fucking clue what that is, but if it isn’t eye or lip-related, then that just leaves skin, right? She knows what contours are, and that has to do with the shape of something, so maybe that extends to the surface of something as well? She can google it later when they aren’t just on a ten-minute break between classes.

At her side, Catra shuffles her chair closer and then pointedly takes up Adora’s arm, wrapping herself around it and resting her head on Adora’s shoulder. Adora flushes when she realized Catra’s ear is pressed against the bruise she left there this morning.

Yeah, whatever contour is, she needs to learn that.

 

--

 

“Have you thought about what you want to do yet?” Netossa asks her one day, a personal attack while Catra is just trying to take a fucking nap on her workbench. Catra growls, which does nothing to deter Netossa. The woman just glances over and raises an eyebrow at her before turning back to her desktop, which she has been forced to work at ever since Catra curled up under the artificial lights meant to help Netossa see her work on the table, but that also produce a pleasant warmth for Catra to soak in.

“Adora is looking at colleges. You know she will narrow her search to the ones that also offer whatever majors you’re interested in if you just tell her what those are,” Netossa points out. Catra growls again, standing up on all fours just to turn around and show Netossa her back. College is the last thing she wants to talk about.

Adora is definitely going. Spinnerella has already put together a list of potential candidates for her. Catra, in contrast, just snarls any time someone brings it up. She means it, too. It deters most people. Netossa is not and has never been most people.

“Adora is going to college, so you are too. Don’t give me your pity party bullshit. I don’t care what shit you’ve read online, you two being together means we have to use less resources securing you individually. You’re going with her. Look at fucking majors,” Netossa snipes, the direction of her voice making it clear she hasn’t even looked away from her monitor. Catra swallows, feeling her tail thud uncertainly against the tabletop.

“I’m going to tell your wife how much you just swore,” she says, quietly, because she doesn’t know what else to say. Spinnerella can be blunt on occasion, but her whole job is softening the blow. Every time Catra has snarled at the idea of college, Spinnerella has backed off and told her she has time to think about it. Catra was reading between the lines of what Spinnerella said to her and the media said about her. She doesn’t know what to do with Netossa’s take on their futures.

“You’re almost adults, and I don’t care,” Netossa shoots back. Her voice moves as she speaks – she is spinning around in her chair to face Catra. “Spinny thinks you don’t want to go except to follow Adora. You and I both know that’s bullshit. You have your own passions beyond just Adora. You want to go, so go. The government wants to show that you can function within our society. It gives people faith in a peaceful first contact with the rest of your kinds,” Netossa tells her.

Catra’s fur is puffing up a little, but she isn’t sure why. She tucks her nose down into her arms, trying to curl into as small of a ball as possible, but it doesn’t help. After a second, she unfurls a little again and licks at her arm, just trying to soothe herself with the motion. Netossa remains silent at her back, just waiting.

“I’m not normal like Adora is,” she finally says, quietly. She fucking hates saying it, but it implies a lot. She has been terrified for when they turn eighteen and are separated, but Netossa’s words hit her deep. Spinnerella has been asking her about college, and Catra has been the one shutting her down.

She is just as afraid to be trapped here as she is to leave. She doesn’t want to go out into a world that will reject her. Here is hard enough, and everyone here has had special training and known her for years. Seeing the bullying and ostracizing humans put their own kind through on TV had been enough to show her how she would be treated, even before the internet started calling her catgirl.

“Adora only seems normal until she opens her mouth or does just about anything else. It is going to be hard, I won’t lie that it won’t be, but it would be worse if you were separated. Just support each other. You know Spinny and I are here if you ever need anything, even just to talk,” Netossa returns, standing up from her seat. Catra pins her ears back as Netossa approaches, but she holds still.

Netossa pets down her mane when she reaches the workbench, gently soothing her as Catra forces her breathing to even out. Catra loves to be pet, but only by a select few. That list is pretty much just Adora and their pseudo-parents. Netossa rarely ever pets her. Spinnerella used to do it more when she was a kid, but Catra also used to crawl into her lap and demand it. It has been a long time since she has invited someone other than Adora to do this. Catra lets her eyes slip closed, a small and unsteady purr beginning in her chest.

“But seriously, brat, I need my workbench back,” Netossa cuts in before she can get too content. Catra snorts a laugh. Fat chance.

 

--

 

“What did you want to talk about, Adora?” Spinnerella asks her, diplomatically, as Adora shifts in her seat across the desk. They are alone. Catra is painting, Glimmer and Bow are off doing something, and today isn’t one of the days that George and Lance follow them around.

Going to Spinnerella is either a great idea or a monumentally stupid one, but Adora doesn’t know what else to do at this point. She is out of ideas. She doesn’t know how to handle anything about what she and Catra have begun, and Spinnerella is the only person she can imagine being able to help her.

“I think I- Well, ever since Glimmer moved in, it has become clear that Catra and I aren’t just- Uh… I think I love her,” Adora stammers out, staring determinedly down at her knees for the worst confession ever, but at least Catra didn’t have to hear it. Adora winces a little, but she hazards a glance up at Spinnerella. The older woman looks bemused. After a moment, she stands from her desk, crossing over to a filing cabinet at the back of her office. Adora watches, confused, as Spinnerella unlocks it and rifles through the contents until she finds the file she is looking for. She returns to the desk with it in hand and places it down in front of Adora.

Adora can’t even begin to imagine what one of Spinnerella’s folders has to do with her confession. Cautiously, like the folder might somehow be boobytrapped, Adora flips it open and blinks down at the single page inside. It is an excerpt from the middle of one of Spinnerella’s reports. Adora has seen a few of them as Spinnerella worked on them, even if she has never read one in detail.

A single sentence is highlighted, about halfway down the page.

They both love each other. In fifteen years’ time, they will be married.

The report goes on to talk about how Adora is a powerful motivator for Catra, but Adora is too busy staring at the date in the bottom corner. This is from when they were ten. She blinks up to Spinnerella, and finds the woman still amused.

“It has been quite obvious for a while now,” Spinnerella elaborates as Adora stares. Adora flushes, glancing down at the paper and then back up to her.

“Do other people know?” she asks, quietly. Does Catra- oh shit, if she knows, does Catra think they are dating? Are they dating? Spinnerella leans back in her chair, shaking her head with amusement as Adora has a crisis.

“The base has a betting pool that I have abstained from involvement with, though I know Netossa has picked a date. I worked with George and Lance on their edits of the documentaries so as to maintain your privacy as much as possible, but I doubt viewers will be surprised,” Spinnerella tells her. Adora swallows. That does not answer her Catra question, especially not the one about what Catra thinks they are. Spinnerella considers her for a long moment.

“Talk to her. Catra is terrified of you leaving her behind once you’re eighteen, Adora. If she didn’t return your feelings, she would still find them very assuring,” Spinnerella tells her. Adora flushes. They have had this conversation a few times, especially given that Adora has been looking at college for the last few months. Catra has no interest in more school, but Spinnerella has promised that if Adora goes to college, Catra will be able to go with her so they can keep living together.

Adora looks down at her lap, unsure what to say. She sees Spinnerella’s logic, but there is also the part where-

“Adora,” Spinnerella cuts into her thoughts with her no-nonsense voice, startling Adora into looking up at her. Spinnerella’s eyes dart down before she meets her eyes again. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” she asks, words and gaze pointed. Adora flushes, shifting uncomfortably. She glances down, unsure what Spinnerella is trying to direct her attention to. She is greeted by her shirt. She looks a little further up, squinting at the report in front of her in case that is what Spinnerella is indicating. Spinnerella sighs.

“Your health team has informed me you have hickies again. Catra stopped that behaviour six years ago,” Spinnerella points out. Adora’s eyes go wide and she ducks her head, shame hanging her head for a moment before the second sentence permeates her brain and she rallies, sitting tall again to throw Spinnerella a challenging look.

“She shouldn’t have to. I know you want her to be able to integrate or whatever, but she shouldn’t be forced to fight her nature like that. She only bites me in private anyway, and she does it where no one can see. She is in control of herself, it is just what her body tells her to do,” Adora throws back, face set with determination. Spinnerella blinks at her, leaning back in her chair a little as she considers her.

“I didn’t say she has to stop. You are both old enough now to understand how most Etherians will interpret it, and you can make that decision for yourselves. I am saying that George recently informed me about footage he had to delete from the camera in the rafters,” Spinnerella returns. The fight leaks out of Adora as she slumps back in her chair a little. She always sits up straight, but Spinnerella is asking her about things she promised Catra she wouldn’t say.

“I’m not trying to out you. Anything you tell me stays between us unless it endangers your health, Adora. You know this. Knowing your status is important to how I do my job,” Spinnerella points out. Adora flushes, picking at the hem of her shirt and staring down at her lap.

“… A month,” she admits, after a long moment. Spinnerella can draw her own conclusions on what has been happening for a month now. Adora didn’t know what to call it before this conversation, and she certainly doesn’t now.

Does Catra think they’re dating? Is she hoping too much? Spinnerella is right that Catra would at the very least be flattered by Adora’s feelings. She would likely find them reassuring, but Adora doesn’t know if she will be weirded out by everything else they have done once she knows. Spinnerella just nods, turning and making a note on her computer screen.

“The twentieth?” she guesses, with startling accuracy. Adora doesn’t look up, but she nods. Okay, apparently both of them are less subtle than she thought. She knows Catra’s mood shifted after they began this new thing between them, but she didn’t know it was obvious enough for others to note it down to the day. Then again, this is kind of Spinnerella’s job. Spinnerella turns back to Adora, sending her a kind expression.

“She cares about you deeply, Adora. She will want to hear you say it,” Spinnerella assures. Adora bites her lip, looking away.

She isn’t as convinced of that as Spinnerella seems to be.

 

--

 

Adora has been weird all day. She has been quiet, just staring at Catra as she talks for the both of them. She has been by her side ever since Catra gave up on painting for the day, and she seems happy to hold her hand as they walk back to their room from dinner, but Catra can tell something is bothering her.

“Talk,” she demands, rounding on Adora and narrowing her eyes the second their bedroom door slides shut behind them. Adora blinks down at her, cheeks flushing a little as what is on her mind clearly pushes to the forefront, and yet-

“About what?” she tries, voice high and thin. It is some of the worst lying Catra has seen her attempt, and that is saying something. Still, it makes her recoil. Her ears pin back and her tail lashes as Adora’s eyes go wide with worry upon seeing Catra’s reaction. Catra turns away, wrapping an arm around herself so she doesn’t have to look at Adora.

Fine. So Adora has a secret meeting with Spinnerella and now doesn’t want to talk to her. It is fine. Adora probably just found out something about her future and doesn’t want to share it, but Catra knew this was coming. She can’t believe she let Netossa delude her into thinking she had a chance. She even started looking at fucking pamphlets and now-

Adora’s arm wraps around her waist as she makes a gentle shushing sound. A second later, Adora’s other arm is in front of her face, and Catra bites down on it gladly, letting her eyes close and forcing her breathing to slow down, deeply inhaling in and out of her nose now her mouth is no longer available to hyperventilate.

“I’m right here, Catra,” Adora assures her, quietly. Catra lets out a noise, small and pained. Her jaw flexes with the sound, but Adora doesn’t hiss in pain or tell Catra to let go. She makes another shushing sound, nuzzling her face into the back of Catra’s mane and tightening her arm around her waist to anchor her.

“I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about when you’re calm again, okay? It’s nothing bad, I promise,” Adora adds. Catra whimpers in response, but the words have the desired effect of causing her to relax a little. She manages to release Adora’s arm without beginning to hyperventilate again, at least. Adora quickly moves to crowd around Catra, ushering her over to their bean bag, the closest seat in the room.

Adora pulls her down into it, rearranging them until Catra is curled up in her lap with her face pressed into her neck. Her thoughts are still spiraling a bit, but she at least knows they are irrational now. Adora could have had dozens of reasons to meet with Spinnerella other than going off to college on her own.

“Just tell me now so I can breathe again,” she rushes out against Adora’s neck. Adora, to her chagrin, draws in a sharp breath. She seems to realize her mistake when Catra winces in response, quickly wrapping her arms around her back and cradling her close.

“The health team told Spinnerella I had hickies,” Adora tells her. Catra breathes out a sigh of relief. Okay, so she knows why Adora has been so quiet. She promised Catra the scientists wouldn’t get involved with whatever this thing between them is, and now they have involved themselves.

“What did she do, give you the Talk again?” she asks, trying for a joke as her heart calms back down. Adora snorts, and a moment later she is dropping a kiss to the base of her ear. Catra takes another steadying breath as she butts up into the attention. Adora returns her affection by rubbing her face into Catra’s hair.

“No, she gave me a talk about feelings and discussing them,” Adora returns. Catra immediately hisses, burying her face deeper in Adora’s neck again. Adora laughs, genuine but uncertain. Catra growls against her skin. Yeah, she knows what that prompt was about. Spinnerella has known how Catra feels for a long time, but Catra doubts she will keep letting her skate by now. Adora is silent for a moment, waiting for Catra to reply, but her answer to that was the growl.

“She, uh, also told me there’s a betting pool for when we get together,” Adora says, in a small, strangled voice. The air promptly leaves Catra’s lungs. She knows, she has known for two years now – it is hard to keep her from overhearing something eventually – but it is the implications of together that have her terrified.

“Netossa has money in it,” Adora adds, her voice even higher. Catra bites at the side of her neck, just annoyed, but of course Netossa does. Adora draws in a sharp breath in response and Catra hurries to release her, licking once against the spot in apology.

“That was directed at her,” she tacks on, quietly. Adora swallows, her hands flexing on Catra’s back before she nods. Catra’s tail is lashing, her nerves clear as she waits. The problem is Adora is waiting too.

“Are we dating?” Adora asks eventually, her voice quiet. Catra freezes. Adora stiffens beneath her in turn, but Catra can’t make herself move again. The answer is obviously no, but Adora has been quiet all day thinking it over apparently. Wait- Adora thinks the answer could be yes.

Catra- Catra doesn’t know if she can recover from that thought. She is breathing, but aside from that her body is frozen against Adora. What is she supposed to say? Can she even handle taking the risk on yes? Adora slowly releases from her stiffened position, letting out a long breath. She sounds disappointed.

“Yeah, I thought so. I’ll tell her it’s- it’s- not that,” Adora manages, her voice a little raw with emotion. Catra draws in a shaking breath. Adora is disappointed. She can- she can do this.

She pulls back from Adora’s neck to blink down at her friend. Adora flinches, but she meets Catra’s eyes with a pleading expression, an obvious I’m sorry and don’t be mad. In all the times Catra tortured herself by worrying about this conversation, she never pictured Adora as the one sporting that expression. Catra opens her mouth, searching for words, and just ends up gaping down at Adora. Adora cringes back into the bean bag - like she is trying to get away from Catra. That is what finally allows Catra to steel her nerves.

Catra surges forward and kisses her, earning a shocked sound from Adora, but she stops pulling back at least. For a moment, Adora is stiff beneath her, but then she makes a soft, questioning sound and kisses back. Despite having a few weeks of experience now, the kiss is clumsy. Catra is fighting some raw emotions she doesn’t know how to process and Adora is clearly still confused, even as she cautiously slides a hand beneath Catra’s mane to cup the back of her neck.

Catra pulls back just to rest their foreheads together, the two of them breathing deeply as they hold each other. Catra has her eyes closed, just trying to calm her heart, but after a few moments Adora clears her throat and Catra slits her eyes open to look down at her.

“Is that a yes?” Adora asks, her voice hopeful and quiet, like if she says it too loudly someone will take it from her. Catra’s purr is instant, and it makes Adora let out an almost awestruck breath.

 

--

 

“Catra, I’m not going to leave you,” Adora assures, frowning down at the cat in her lap. Catra growls, her tail flicking, but otherwise she does not acknowledge her words.

“I didn’t think you wanted to, I just- why hold back for me? And then where would that leave us. I couldn’t take us dating and beginning to think you could love me like that just to lose you,” she returns, scowling a little as she tucks her face down into Adora’s chest. They have moved to their bed, and it is probably time for them to really go to bed, but Adora has more pressing matters.

“I do love you like that,” she whispers, frowning at the top of Catra’s head. Catra draws in a sharp breath, her tail stilling for a moment before her purr erupts in her chest and it resumes its twitching.

“I love you too,” she returns, just as quietly. After a moment, she swallows, burrowing her head a little deeper into Adora’s embrace. “I just can’t take losing you. I’ve known half the researchers here my entire life, but- without you I would be alone,” she admits. Adora swallows, lifting her hand to pet through Catra’s mane.

“I’m never going anywhere without you, Catra. I thought that was a given. I know you aren’t super interested in college, but I thought you would still want to go and live on the outside together,” Adora tells her. Catra purrs, the rhythm unsteady as she nuzzles against Adora.

“You love me?” she asks, her voice small, just seeking reassurance. Adora swallows. She really fucked up somewhere along the line, clearly, but she nods, carefully rubbing at the base of Catra’s ears.

“In a way I could never love someone else. You’re- There isn’t anyone like you, Catra, and even if there were, they still wouldn’t be you. It took meeting other people our age to realize how differently I felt about you, but- I love you,” Adora promises her. Her heart is hammering, but Catra is still just purring into her chest, plastered there like she needs to inhale Adora’s scent to breathe. That might be true, actually, given how emotional this conversation is.

“I’ve always loved you,” Catra whispers, her voice low. Adora’s heart has been hammering for a while, but now a soft glow begins to fill the room. It is enough to finally pull Catra out of her hiding spot, raising her head to blink with wide eyes at Adora. Adora smiles sheepishly at her as her hair continues to beam golden. Catra doesn’t seem bothered, though – her eyes are blown out as she watches Adora with a soft expression.

“I want a kiss from my girlfriend,” Catra prompts, softly, nudging forward. Adora feels a smile break out on her face as she leans forward to meet her girlfriend’s demand.

 

--

 

They were normal at breakfast. To be honest, not much has changed at a glance. Catra knows they have a lot to talk about still – college and the future, much less their past – but not much can ruin the happiness bubbling in her chest right now. Still, she knows they look normal. People are used to them being stuck to each other’s sides, holding hands and giggling with each other. Catra left an obscene amount of scent marks on Adora when they woke up this morning, but no one else can pick that up, so they probably seem fine.

That lasts until about halfway through first period, when Catra gets bored of her chair and climbs into Adora’s instead. This still isn’t unusual – they have wide chairs in their classroom for this exact reason, and she and Adora share a table for when Catra inevitably can’t make herself sit still in her own seat anymore. Usually she lasts longer than first period, but whatever.

Micah is kind of used to her antics at this point. He doesn’t even pause in his lecture on world history as Catra curls up in Adora’s lap, purring as she tucks beneath her chin. Adora doesn’t hesitate to raise an arm to wrap around Catra and tuck her in closer even as she continues to take notes with her other hand. For the rest of the period they sit like that, Glimmer shooting them exasperated looks as Catra forces Adora to work around her. When the soft chime goes off to signal their ten-minute break, Catra’s ears perk up, her tail twitching with anticipation.

She sits up, shifting to straddle Adora’s lap and shoot her a hopeful look – a look that until now has been contained entirely to their bedroom. Adora’s expression softens, and she puts down her pencil to raise both her hands and place them on Catra’s hips, a blatant acceptance of her positioning. Catra is already purring before Adora even finishes leaning in, kissing her softly. Catra melts into the embrace, her tail waving behind her as she relaxes into Adora’s arms.

“Uh…” Glimmer says in the background, bewilderment clear. It only makes Catra purr louder.

Chapter Text

Adora isn’t surprised when they get called into Spinnerella’s office after school. They kissed like half a dozen times throughout the day. Catra kept asking – silently, with those big eyes that make Adora want to give her anything – and Adora didn’t want to resist. During fourth period Glimmer watched them part with a raised eyebrow.

“One, you’re disgusting, and two, what is up with you two? Are you dating now?” she asked, while Micah coughed pointedly in the background. Catra’s grin had been borderline feral when she replied yes.

Spinnerella looks caught between amusement and exasperation when they walk into her office, hand in hand. She doesn’t so much as raise an eyebrow, gesturing to the seats in front of her desk with a wave of her hand. Catra narrows her eyes at Spinnerella, tugging on Adora’s hand to lead her over to the bean bag instead. Adora lets herself be led, sending Catra a fond look as she pushes her down into the bean bag and climbs into her lap. Adora just raises her arms around Catra to hold her as Spinnerella settles firmly on amused.

“Anything you want to tell me, girls?” she prompts. Catra immediately hisses, but her ears hardly even twitch back. She is fooling exactly no one in the room. Adora leans forward to kiss her cheek, delighting in the blush that immediately overtakes Catra’s face as she grumbles slightly and tucks herself in against Adora’s chest.

“She’s mine,” Catra declares, causing Adora to flush. Spinnerella coughs, a smile playing at the edge of her lips she is clearly trying to suppress.

“You two talked last night?” she asks. Adora is still blushing, but she nods as Catra purrs, looking smug about it for some reason. Spinnerella looks an unreasonable amount of relieved. “Good. Now, Catra – are you finally ready to talk about college?” Spinnerella asks. Two days ago, Adora would have had no clue how those two statements are linked. Now she understands, but she is still startled when Catra growls, cutting off with a sigh.

Fine,” she agrees.

 

--

 

Netossa wins the betting pool. Of course she fucking does.

“You cheated. You made Spinnerella talk to Adora,” Catra accuses Netossa when she comes knocking on the door to her art room. She is here to gloat, even if she is pretending to be humble about it. Netossa just smirks and tosses herself down onto the couch.

Adora asked for the meeting. Just accept that you two have been pining for a ridiculously long time,” Netossa shoots back. Catra scowls as she turns back to her canvas. Netossa laughs at her displeasure. “If it makes you feel any better, I had more faith in you. I picked a date last year. After it passed they let me pick a new one,” Netossa tells her.

That doesn’t help, so Catra just grumbles as she continues to work on her first foray into expressionism that she actually likes. Painting has been weird. She likes it, she likes it a lot, but the whole red colourblindness thing means she knows her pieces look different to others. Her paints are labeled, and she uses a combination of that, her own eye, and Adora’s opinion when picking colours. She also just avoids reds and pinks in general, but they felt right for this piece.

She can’t see anything but shades of grey on the canvas before her – that is part of the point. She sees something completely different from other people when she looks at it.

“How much did you win?” she asks, a bit distracted, as she selects a shade she knows is closer to purple, even if she can’t see it. She manages to get several strokes in before she realizes that Netossa hasn’t responded. She twitches her ears, listening, but Netossa is just sitting there and watching her. After a moment, Catra sighs and turns to her, shooting her a questioning look.

“I’m proud of you, you know. I was worried you two were never going to figure it out,” Netossa tells her, and she does look it, her gaze shining from where she is settled back on the couch. Catra flushes. She shoots Netossa an annoyed glare, mostly for show, and Netossa just grins in response, entirely unbothered.

“Not enough that I didn’t spend it already,” Netossa finally admits. Catra scoffs and turns back to her painting.

“Glad you’re profiting off my misery,” she shoots back, picking back up her brush. Netossa snorts.

“It’s your happiness. You aren’t fooling anyone.”

 

--

 

Adora hesitates – of course she does, she has been hesitating for years – but by the time she has finished washing her hair she has made up her mind. She shut off her shower and turns, a little relieved to find Catra still working on her mane. Showers were awkward as hell for a while between them. Once they had the remodel, it really wasn’t a big deal anymore, but Adora kind of misses how they used to do this.

Cautiously, she slips up behind Catra, clearing her throat as she goes. Catra’s hearing is good, and normally she wouldn’t bother announcing her presence, but she knows one of the reasons Catra dislikes showers is because the water messes with her hearing. Predictably, Catra’s ears twitch back to listen for her as she approaches, but Catra doesn’t stop combing her fingers through her hair.

Adora lets herself press against Catra’s back, dropping a kiss to her shoulder and earning a startled trill out of her girlfriend. Adora can’t help but grin into her fur, pressing another kiss there before she takes a step back and swipes Catra’s coat brush from the shelf.

“Can I help? I miss it,” Adora admits, bringing the brush up to run it down Catra’s back. Catra arches into the touch, making Adora smile as she sets to work. Catra’s tail is already swaying and sending water flying from the long tufts. Catra seems happy to soak in the attention, a low purr starting as Adora quickly co-opts her entire fur routine.

She really missed this. She likes petting Catra, brushing her, getting to snuggle in against her. Wet fur isn’t as nice as her dry fur will be after this, but it is just another part of Catra, and Adora missed it during the self-imposed distance. Eventually, Adora is done, and she sets aside the brush reluctantly as Catra shuts off the shower.

Catra presses back into her arms like she used to when they were kids. Adora wraps her up happily, pulling them out onto Catra’s fur dryer and turning it on. Catra shivers a little, pressing back against Adora as she hugs her close.

“I thought you didn’t like my fur when it was wet,” Catra whispers, the words barely audible over the roaring dryer. Adora draws in a sharp breath. It has been a few weeks since that incident – nearly three months – and no matter how Adora tried to assure Catra, she didn’t think the other girl believed her.

“I just didn’t feel like I should keep touching you when I felt like I did. It was a bad excuse,” she explains, dropping a light kiss to the side of Catra’s neck. She knew how badly she fucked that up, but it hurts to know Catra is still thinking about it.

Catra lets out a breath Adora didn’t realize she was holding, twisting around in her arms and kissing her firmly.

 

--

 

Catra stares, her ears and tail twitching. Her breath feels a bit short, but she sniffs the air cautiously. There aren’t any foreign scents in her art room, but Netossa hasn’t been in here for three weeks. Her scent is far too fresh to be from when she dropped by to gloat about her winnings.

Her winnings. Catra swallows as she stares at the invasion of privacy sitting in the middle of the room. No one but her and Adora are supposed to come in here without an invitation. Catra instated the rule as soon as the room transitioned from hangout space to home studio. She didn’t want to risk anyone getting around her paintings and ruining them.

Netossa broke the rule, and Catra’s fur is definitely bristling a little, but she isn’t mad. Cautiously, she edges into the room, swinging the door shut with her tail. The new easel is set up in front of her usual A-frame easel, still sporting the painting that Catra had been working on. Despite Netossa entering the space, she clearly knew better than to actually touch one of Catra’s paintings without permission.

The new easel is huge – at least comparatively. Her current easel was metal and expandable, but she won’t need to expand shit with this one. Catra lightly trails her fingers along the wooden H-frame of the new centerpiece in the room, her fur still on end as her fingers reach the tray and skate along the smooth surface. She doesn’t know why, but it is almost like the easel has a physical presence in the room, pressing down on her.

She does know why. It only takes a moment of glancing around the room to find the rest of Netossa’s transgression. The pamphlets are set on the couch where Netossa last sat, set out in a fan display. Catra crosses the room slowly, swallowing before she finally forces herself to bend down and pick up one.

Spinnerella asked, and Catra agreed to start thinking about college, but she still hasn’t said much, too cautious and worried to really say what she wants and then lose it. Apparently Netossa isn’t taking silence for an answer.

 

--

 

In that first meeting, Spinnerella asked them about how they wish to approach the documentary when it comes to their relationship. Catra hissed and declared she’s mine and that’s all anyone needs to know, which prompted Spinnerella to muse that they need to have a talk about possessiveness, but she accepted it – at first.

It turns out, after a few months, that it is impossible to edit out. George looks a bit exasperated when Catra tosses aside her fifth art school pamphlet to crawl into Adora’s lap and make out with her instead. Spinnerella pointedly coughs and Catra just keeps going, thoroughly ignoring Spinnerella as she begins to purr into the kiss.

They keep trying at least - until Catra’s seventeenth birthday. They go to an art gallery this time, during a private event, with other attendees and everything. People have grown more accepting – or at least more apathetic – towards them over the years. They get stared at, and whispered about, but people also come up to them and actually try to talk. Most of them seemed weirdly impressed, like they didn’t expect them to be able to hold conversation or something. Maybe it is just Catra’s level of artistic knowledge – whenever someone mentions an artist or painting Catra is quick to give her opinion.

“I know the overloaded-style is DT’s thing, but they went way too heavy on this one. It crossed from artistic and expressive into just sloppy. It looks like something I would have made in my first few attempts,” Catra sniffs when an older woman sidles up to them while they are standing in front of said painting and tries to strike up a conversation by complimenting the piece.

Adora isn’t nervous about the strangers talking to them, really – they have six bodyguards within a few feet of them, after all, they’ll be fine if one of them turns out to be dangerous – but she also doesn’t really know what to say to these new people who are clearly only talking to them due to their curiosity. Maybe Catra doesn’t know either – she does default to addressing the painting directly in front of them instead of really acknowledging the strangers. Said stranger raises her brow.

“It is purposeful-“ she starts to say. Catra cuts her off with a scoff, ears pinning back as she turns her head to narrow her eyes at the woman over Adora’s shoulder.

“It isn’t, actually. It is a compensative technique they developed. Look at their early pieces – they are just as messy with half as much paint. DT lacks any technical skill, which is fine if emotion is the goal, but then stay away from still-life. I could reproduce a better barren landscape in this style in under an hour,” Catra dismisses. The woman stares in a heated way that Adora takes to mean she has a DT original at home.

She quickly excuses them and hurries them away from the silently-seething woman. Catra seems a bit smug about upsetting the rich lady.

“I’m right,” she assures Adora as she hurries them away. Adora can’t help but roll her eyes, entirely fond as she presses a kiss to Catra’s temple. She knows. Catra may have only been at this for a year now, but she does her research, and her photographic memory comes in handy. She looked into every artist on the bill for this show.

“I know. I believe you,” she assures. It isn’t until she watches Catra’s ears twitch that she realizes a wave of whispers has radiated out from around them. Adora is so used to kissing her she didn’t think twice when she did it. She makes eye contact with Catra, sending her an apologetic look. Catra sighs, glancing around the gallery, but after a moment she just shrugs and leans forward to kiss Adora properly.

 

--

 

The news they are together hits the internet before they even make it out of the gallery, reporters shouting questions about their relationship at them as they leave. Despite their secret being out – and the terrible headlines that follow, like “Cat’s OUT of the Bag!” – Catra enjoys the trip to the gallery. She likes being able to see current art up close, and despite the gallery mostly being full of rich elite, which are exactly as snobbish as TV assured her they would be, she did enjoy talking shop with a few of them.

It is still her best birthday so far, and she is only partially saying that because she and Adora get to make out in the backseat as they drive away from the gallery. The rest of the reason she says it is because of the absolutely decadent sea food they get to have for dinner. Adora is happy to eat most anything, but Catra has expensive taste, and the pufferfish dinner she gets to indulge in that night has her purring the moment it hits her tongue.

“Good day?” Adora asks as they pile in the car again to finally embark on the three hour drive back to the facility. It will be past midnight by the time they arrive, but the trip was definitely worth it. Catra purrs in response, buckling her seat belt and immediately curling into Adora’s side in the back seat.

“Didn’t expect to see stuff worse than my own at the gallery,” Catra says around a yawn as she rests her head on Adora’s shoulder. It is more of a casual observation than anything else, but Adora releases an indignant sound in response.

“Catra, that’s because your stuff is good. You’ve improved so much in the last year,” Adora promises her. Catra purrs again, nuzzling against her neck, but she can’t help and point out-

“And yet no one pays me thousands of dollars for my work,” she says, with a slight scoff. Adora is silent for a long moment.

“They will one day. After you get into school and have your first show, they’ll all see that you knew what you are talking about,” she says, her voice quiet but loaded with absolute conviction.

 

--

 

“BMU,” Adora echoes, staring at Glimmer. Glimmer shrugs, seeming unbothered by Adora’s surprise as she continues to browse her collection of nail polishes.

“My father is an alum. It is a prestigious university. I already know two of its students,” she lists off. In the vanity mirror, Adora can see that Glimmer is sporting that smug smile she gets sometimes. Adora just continues to blink at her. It isn’t certain that she and Catra are going to Bright Moon University – but it pretty much is. The university is one of Etheria’s oldest, prestigious but not Ivy League, and it is a state university. It is under the direction of the government, so the Greys program can impose any requirements they need to on it to ensure she and Catra can safely attend.

It also has both an extensive intercultural studies program for Adora and a respected art college. Catra could get to be in gallery shows as early as her second year, and though Adora still isn’t certain what the hell she is doing in life, she knows that Catra is set on the path she has found. If Adora gets her fill of learning about the world, she can always switch majors to one of GEU’s many other offerings.

“There are a dozen more reputable schools you could afford for political science,” Adora points out, raising an eyebrow at Glimmer’s reflection in the mirror. She and Catra both assumed Glimmer would be going Ivy League, like her mom – maybe even to the university her father used to teach at. Glimmer wants to go into politics like her mother, so Ivy League just made sense.

Bow has been taking a gap year to stay with his dads at the base, but he has started to look at colleges as well now. He has more options than them – he can go anywhere that his parents can afford, without having to worry if there is a military base nearby he can be locked down at. He has been looking at dedicated technical colleges, his experience with film equipment sparking an interest in engineering.

Basically, she and Catra expected to go it alone at college. Catra has gone from semi-combative with Glimmer to friendly combative, and the two get on well now that Adora and Catra have been working out their own issues for the better part of a year. Catra will be glad to hear that Glimmer is accompanying them, Adora doesn’t doubt it, but she is still surprised.

Glimmer just shrugs, turning away from her vanity where she is selecting the right polish to paint Adora’s nails. Adora doesn’t really give a shit about makeup, but the nail polish looked fun, and she wanted dark nails to match Catra’s claws. Glimmer had been happy to help while Catra was fixed in front of her easel.

“Remember when I flew out for that Presidential Press Night dinner with Mom?” Glimmer asks, seemingly randomly, as she holds up a dark red bottle of nail polish and waves it in Adora’s face. Adora tilts her head, considering it. To Catra, it will probably look like the same shade as her claws, but Adora likes the red. She nods to Glimmer.

“Sure,” she agrees, causing Glimmer to squeal and immediately settle down in front of her, where Adora already has her hands splayed out according to Glimmer’s direction. “But what does that have to do with school?” Adora questions. Glimmer huffs as she uncaps the bottle and a terrible chemical smell hits the air.

“I ran into three of my old prep school friends at the dinner. All they wanted to know about was how weird it must be to be in school with two aliens. They made jokes about Etheria’s daughter falling from grace right in front of me. It made me realize how miserable I would be to go back to the kind of school where everyone is entitled like that,” Glimmer tells her, readjusting Adora’s hands as she begins to paint. Adora draws in a sharp breath, but she nods.

Glimmer is a little entitled, Adora won’t lie that she isn’t. When she first arrived, she had about a third of the rich girl stereotypes Adora has seen on TV. She has gotten better over her time at the base though – she is nice, and she is their friend. Adora should have known better than to just assume she would go off on her own without them.

 

--

 

For Adora’s eighteenth birthday, they do a campus visit to BMU with Glimmer and Bow in tow. Once Bow found out Glimmer would be going to BMU too, his fate was sealed. He was looking at technical colleges, but the benefit of a liberal arts university like BMU is that all their majors are offered at it. Bow and Glimmer have been dancing around each other for a while now – Catra didn’t see it until she was already with Adora, a little blinded by her jealousy, but then it became glaringly obvious – and even if neither of them will man up and do anything about it, they also aren’t going to separate.

“I didn’t expect it to be so pretty,” Adora muses as they walk down a path through campus lined with trees. It is only the second week of school and the campus is bustling. A lot of students turn their heads to watch them as they walk by, but thanks to either the campus-wide alerts warning of their visit and proper behaviour, or just the small security team at their back, no one tries to approach. Catra rolls her eyes in response to Adora’s comment.

“Adora, there was a photo of this walkway in one of the pamphlets,” Catra points out. Adora sends her the school look – the one she makes to remind Catra she is the only one who remembers every little thing she sees. Catra would argue you don’t need a photographic memory to figure out there are trees on campus, but whatever.

“It isn’t just that. The buildings are so old, all brick and– okay, I don’t know architectural styles, but it’s cool. And the art center! The entire lobby looks like it could be a sculpture,” Adora rambles, gesturing at the Victorian clock tower near the center of campus. Catra rolls her eyes, but she is smiling.

“You’re an idiot,” she tells Adora, but it is entirely affectionate. Adora huffs, tugging a little on Catra’s hand to pull her off balance, but unlike Adora, Catra has balance and she doesn’t even stumble, raising an eyebrow at her girlfriend.

“You’re both idiots. Can you look where you’re going?” Glimmer asks, looking back at them over her shoulder. Catra responds by sticking her tongue out at her.

 

--

 

Moving out is – weird. Adora knows most people move before they turn eighteen, but this single room has been all she has ever known. It is the place she met Catra – where she befriended her, fell in love with her, kissed her for the first time.

“It will always be here, waiting for you should you need it,” Spinnerella assures her from the doorway as Adora stares at the largely empty room. It’s actually rather full, the bed and other furniture firmly in place. It is still empty of life. The shelves are part of the walls, as are the closets, but they are all empty now, their knickknacks and plants packaged up and ready for transport to their new place.

Roughly twenty bean bags have been crammed into the otherwise-empty room, and Adora knows there are another twenty or so still being gathered up. The space will be waiting for them should the outside ever grow too dangerous and they need to return, but in the meantime, it will store the dozens of bean bags that used to be scattered around the facility for Catra.

Catra is out at the car with Netossa by now, likely. She was overseeing the packing up of her art room while she trusted their bedroom to Adora, but there was less to pack there than in their bedroom, so she should have finished.

“I don’t want to see our room empty. I want to believe it is exactly as we left it if the outside gets to be too much,” Catra had admitted, a week ago when they were deciding the plan for their move out day. Adora sends one last look around the room before taking a breath and turning to face Spinnerella, offering her a small smile.

“I know. It will always be our first home,” she tells her. Spinnerella’s expression is soft, a little bittersweet as she raises her arm. Adora takes a deep breath and then gives in, hurrying forward to hug the closest thing she has to a mom.

“I’ll be with you every step of the way,” Spinnerella promises her. Adora doesn’t quite know why, but she cries a little as she nods into her shoulder.

 

--

 

Catra has packed up most of her art supplies, but one thing she leaves behind on purpose – two things, really.

There is still furniture in their old playroom, a few chairs and tables, a sofa, the TV and the bookshelf beside it. A dozen bean bags have been shoved into the back of the room over the course of their move out, and Catra knows there are still more to be gathered from around the facility. She also knows, even in their absence, no one will fuck with her display in the center of the room.

It is an easel – her first easel, the one she hasn’t used once since Netossa’s gorgeous gift. Set up on it is her all-red painting – more pink than red, according to Adora, who had looked sad when she first saw it. The expression had taken Catra’s breath away. She didn’t like seeing Adora sad like that, but it was also the first time she saw true, raw emotion produced in someone else from one of her paintings. After Adora just breathed for a moment, she turned to Catra with shining eyes.

“Anger,” she guessed. Catra swallowed and shrugged. It wasn’t – it was uncertainty, but that was just what it was to her. Adora saw anger, so that is what it was to her. It didn’t matter that Adora’s reaction was “wrong” – it was real. After the piece’s initial tour around the facility, Catra put it away so it wouldn’t torment Adora, but now-

Now it is the exact right one to leave behind. Catra stares at the miasma of grey for a long moment before letting out a slow breath and turning away from the room. The door slides shut behind her. Out of her sight, the lights automatically shut off. The painting is left behind in the darkness.

Catra is still plenty uncertain, but she no longer has to wonder. Now, she has to face her future head on.