“Oh, Adora,” Catra breathes upon spotting her. Adora flushes, sending Catra a sheepish smile. There is no need for the nerves – Catra’s eyes are hungry as they rake over Adora in her dress. Adora should really be used to this after over a decade together, but she feels warmth spread through her body and does her best to force down her glow. Catra chuckles when she spots it, which only makes Adora flush worse.
“Come here. Let me get a look at my golden girl,” Catra instructs. Yeah, that didn’t help Adora force down her reaction, but she crosses the room and draws to a halt in front of where Catra is settled at the desk of their hotel room. Catra’s eyes trail along the sparkling, dark red dress before they come to land on Adora’s face, her gaze softening when she sees Adora’s flushed expression.
“My favourite piece of artwork,” Catra observes, rising to stand and wrap her arms around Adora’s waist. Adora is already bright red as is, but whenever Catra gets overly-sappy like this it turns her into a blushing mess.
“I like your suit,” she returns, a flustered mumble that makes Catra grin a bit devilishly.
“I’ve worn this one before. You, on the other hand, look radiant. Think we can get away with being late?” she asks, still grinning as she trails a hand along the skin exposed by the dress’s lowcut on the sides. Adora shudders a little, but she flutters her eyes open to send Catra a glare. They absolutely cannot. Catra’s smirk softens into something less predatory, smiling as she leans in and carefully kisses Adora’s cheek so she doesn’t get Adora’s red lipstick on her.
Adora still doesn’t care for makeup, but red lipstick – or at least, an equivalent of it – is an important rank signifier in Eternian culture, and seeing as this event is going to have multiple Eternians present, she wants to look the part. The last four years have been long, but there is now a permanent shuttle line between Etheria and the wider universe. They are constantly connected via communication lines to the intergalactic internet, and their cultures have truly begun to exchange knowledge. It will take decades, maybe even centuries, to catch up and truly understand each other, but this party is a welcome celebration of integration with the wider galaxy.
“Well, I’ll just have to take up your entire evening afterwards then. Come on. If you are going to insist we’re on time, then we have to go now,” Catra promises her. Adora rolls her eyes, but she can’t deny that Catra’s words excite her.
The event is fun, if a bit stuffy. With so many cultures intermixing and almost a dozen species in attendance, there is a lot of careful tiptoeing whenever a human interacts with one of the other races. They are all used to each other’s rules for social interaction, but interacting with humans is still new ground and will continue to be for years to come.
Sometimes Catra suffers through an awkward interaction and has to remind herself that there are already children who have never known a world where Etheria was alone in the galaxy. The transition period was always going to be difficult, but the entire galaxy was tired of war, and Catra just counts her blessings that it all went peacefully.
Adora is the star of the evening, being awarded alongside a dozen other key figures with an intergalactic peace prize. There will be misunderstandings, disagreements, and failed treaties in their future – they are already in their past – but the optimism of the evening still can’t be extinguished. Adora keeps getting pulled in conversations and congratulations, leaving Catra to amuse herself with Melog, but they still get to have fun together, and Catra doesn’t regret a second of getting to silently ogle her wife.
Adora accepts her award, and they have to sit through a boring dinner afterwards, but despite the formality, Catra still manages to have her fun. Beneath the table, she places a hand on Melog’s head during a lull in conversation. Without having to pass a word between them, Melog stands and shakes their coat out before slipping over to plop their head in Adora’s lap and begin nuzzling her. Catra watches her wife out of the corner of her eyes as she gives a small twitch. A moment later, Adora shifts her position to shift one hand beneath the edge of the table so she can pet the top of Melog’s head.
Really, Catra is the one who wants pets, but despite the introduction of other aliens normalizing them on Etheria quite a bit, it does have its drawbacks. Petting in public is a bit scandalous to magicats, and seeing as it was never a part of Etherian culture, Catra doesn’t really have an excuse to indulge in it anymore. They still do, but not at formal functions like this.
Adora sends her a knowing glance, smirking a bit, and Catra rolls her eyes. She sends her back a look that Adora will know means it’s fine. They will have plenty of time for petting when they get back to their hotel room.
They never end up going to space. A year after the establishment of the shuttle line, Catra tells Adora she thinks she is finally ready. They pack, they make it all the way to a private shuttle meant to take them to the off-planet shuttle station, and they set foot inside.
Catra’s ears pin back, her fur stands on end, and she begins to have a panic attack. The memories of the last time she was on a ship like this have returned over the years, at least partially, and it is too much. Adora ends up holding Catra in her arms as Melog circles them and noses at Catra’s side, mewing softly to try to comfort her.
Late-onset PTSD is not something they were expecting, but considering its trigger seems to be seeing the inside of a shuttle, it isn’t surprising that it hasn’t been an issue before. Catra ends up with some sleep meds to help with the nightmares that pop up on occasion – one major advantage of First Contact was getting doctors brought to Etheria knowledgeable about treating their species – and is gently told by her doctor that having to stay on Etheria for her mental health isn’t the end of the world.
Catra does not agree. She sulks in their living room that evening as Melog sends Adora long, mournful looks.
“Catra, the first thing you said to me upon seeing pictures of a typical space station was how barren they looked. You said you couldn’t understand how anyone could live there,” Adora cajoles. She knows Catra wanted to see the world she should have been born into – truthfully, so did Adora – but she wasn’t expecting Catra to be so upset by being grounded. Catra huffs, her tail lashing against the couch cushion as she slinks down a bit.
“I know. And I don’t want to live up there. I like Etheria, our house, finally being semi-normal here… But I wanted to visit my homeworld. There’s so much out there, Adora. Inspiration and life to observe. Holograms aren’t the same as getting to experience it,” she sighs, glowering at her toe claws. She currently has her feet propped up against the edge of the coffee table and is carving crescent gouges into it. Adora frowns, shifting to sit on the couch beside her.
“Maybe you will. We’re still young, Catra. It could be that you reach the point where you feel safe getting on a shuttle one day. But in the meantime, like you said, don’t you like it here? It may not be your homeworld, but…” Adora trails off, struggling. Catra huffs a little, but it sounds more fond than irritated. She looks up, eyeing Adora for a moment.
“But it is still home, yeah,” Catra agrees. Adora nods, a bit too fast, but those were the words she was searching for. Catra has always completed her like this, though. After a moment of hopeful eye contact, Catra sighs and pitches herself to the side so she is leaning into Adora’s shoulder.
“I love you. I wanted to see the galaxy with you,” she mumbles, turning to press her face into Adora’s shoulder. Adora raises a hand to scratch carefully behind her ears.
“I love you too. I’d like that too. But I’m happy with our backyard,” she promises her. She is rewarded by a hiccupping laugh. Carefully, she shifts to wrap her arms around Catra’s shoulders. She cradles her wife as she begins to cry, mourning the homeworld they both know she likely will never see.
Catra gets involved with the magicat community on Etheria. Not that she ever wasn’t, but helping aliens settle into life on Etheria is Adora’s job. Catra is still first and foremost an artist. She hosts her shows, she even gets into a modern art museum at thirty-two. She is considered skilled now she is not a pure novelty. She still has a level of personal fame on Etheria, but it is no longer suffocating. She is the magicat that was raised here and helped them integrate with the galaxy, but she is not the only magicat.
Working with the magicats passing through the embassy lets her gets a glimpse of the galaxy beyond through the immigrants and their stories, even if her own feet never leave Etheria’s soil. She thinks about trying many times, but every time she pictures being in a shuttle again, blackness begins to cloud the edges of her vision. Her body is convinced that if she feels a shuttle lift off the ground, it will be the last thing she experiences. Though she wants to see her homeworld, she also doesn’t want to be suspended in the void of space for the journey.
“You were right,” she says one day as she paints a landscape. It will be highly inaccurate – she is painting a planet she has never seen, after all, just using her imagination based off the description of his home colony a magicat gave her – but art isn’t meant to be accurate. At least not hers. It is about feeling, and when he had described his home forest to her, Catra had felt at peace. She is now working on recreating that serenity visually.
“Wow, I must have been really right for you to admit it unprompted. What are you talking about?” Adora asks, looking up from where she is lying on the couch with a tablet, reading some translated magicat fiction. Catra snorts, but she doesn’t correct her wife. There is no real point – she is right that Catra is contrary like that.
“I would hate space. Seven weeks to make it to the homeworld? I would claw my way out the side of the shuttle. Etheria has plenty of greenery for me,” Catra explains. It has been almost a year since the conversation she is referencing, but she knows Adora will remember it. She hates seeing Catra upset, and it is rare enough now that it always leaves its mark.
It has been a road to get to a place of acceptance with it, but she really is terrified of space. She yearns for her homeworld, yes, but Etheria is enough for her. Her friends are here, her real family – the one she grew up with and that raised her – is here, and she can experience a lot of the world beyond through stories and holograms.
She never felt like she fit anywhere, growing up. When the magicats first arrived, that feeling of alienation worsened as she realized just how disconnected she was with her species. And yes, she will always be different, but Etheria has changed too. There are people who don’t even double take when they see her now, even though the alien population on Etheria is still less than one percent. Most recognize her as the magicat that was raised here – as Catra – but some now just look at her and see one of the magicats that have come here to live, work, learn, and teach.
There is variation even amongst the magicats she meets. Some of them weren’t raised in magicat colonies – some of them feel alienated from their culture as well, even if none of them can quite reach her level since she only learned her native tongue existed at twenty-six. She may be stranded on Etheria by her own memories, but she is not alone.
Adora is silent for a long moment, watching her work. Melog is sprawled across her chest, effectively pinning her to the couch. Her e-reader is propped up on top of their head and they haven’t given any indication that they intend to move.
“You’re happy here?” she finally asks, because they have had the discussion about how Adora can’t understand the pull her homeworld has over Catra, not really, not when she doesn’t have one herself. Adora is as disconnected from her people as she always has been, but she is also very connected to Etheria. Catra, for a long time, was missing that connection.
Nothing changed within her, really, but Etheria did. Etheria became part of the wider world, and thus became the kind of place where she could live without harassment. She is just another part of this world, no longer a novelty or freak. She is recognized without being hounded by paparazzi. She has friends who see her as a person, and she can even go out for dinner with them without it making the news.
“Yeah. I really am. I’m always going to wonder, I think, but- I don’t actually want to go. I don’t want to be out there,” Catra admits, looking back to her painting. For a long moment, Adora is silent, and then she quietly shifts and nudges Melog until they reluctantly slink off her.
Adora sets her tablet on the sofa and then stands, crossing the room to press up against Catra’s back and wrap her arms around her waist. She does this while Catra is painting a lot, cuddling around her without obstructing her art. Catra purrs softly, leaning back into the embrace and letting her eyes drift closed.
“You’re the love of my life. I don’t need the rest of the galaxy. I’m happy with you,” Adora promises her, nuzzling against the side of her head and kissing her cheek. Catra lets out a slow breath, just letting herself soak in her wife’s love for a moment before she flutters her eyes open. Somehow, they aren’t drawn to the painting right in front of her, but to the blues and golds hanging on the wall of her studio even after fourteen years.
“I love you too,” she returns, letting herself breathe in Adora’s love and breathe out her own. Adora is right. There may be some homeland out there for her, but the only thing she needs to feel at home is these arms around her.