Catra made herself a promise when she was eighteen, and it might have taken her eight years to fulfill it, but that is younger than most get this kind of opportunity.
“You’re disgusting,” Glimmer says from behind her. Catra smirks to herself, not moving in the slightest to acknowledge Glimmer – well, not moving anything but her tail, which is flicking in satisfaction behind her.
“I think it’s sweet,” Bow pitches in. Catra doesn’t look away from the pillar at the center of her first personal gallery show. It holds the only painting not for sale amongst the bunch, the delicate golds and blues she painted after her first time with Adora placed as the centerpiece, the beating heart, of the entire show.
Catra can’t deny that her fame has helped her art career, but she deserves one upside for having to dodge paparazzi all her life. Besides, as much as it has helped, it has also made people doubt her art’s worth outside of the novelty of who has created it. It creates barriers as much as it offers opportunities, but that doesn’t cancel out the opportunities, and so here she is, in the middle of a gallery downtown. People can question if she deserves it all fucking day – she has it, and she has worked for it for a decade.
The show is set up. It has been ready for several hours now, and it won’t open for two more. Glimmer and Bow are early to look around before the public arrive, and then they will retreat to the VIP lounge. Adora won’t get off from work until right before the show opens, but she should arrive shortly after to take in the gallery before it gets too crowded.
It isn’t like any of the paintings are leaving tonight anyway. The show will be installed for the next two weeks before any paintings sold during it – any but the centerpiece, that is – will be shipped off to their new home. Adora has plenty of time to take in the hall of Catra’s accomplishments.
“Does Adora know this is here?” Glimmer asks from behind her. Catra shrugs.
“She definitely noticed it missing from the wall of my studio,” she responds. Adora had seemed crestfallen when she noticed the painting was removed, but she didn’t say anything. She also didn’t see it amongst the paintings Catra was packing up to transport from their house to the gallery. Catra would never sell this painting, but she also wanted Adora to experience seeing it at the heart of the show raw.
Two more hours. Then she can be with her wife to celebrate her first dedicated exhibition.
“I’m so proud of you,” Adora whispers to Catra, pressing a kiss to the base of her ear while Glimmer rolls her eyes. She used to outright gag at them when they got too affectionate, so the eyeroll is honestly progress. Not that it comes from maturity – no, she just has to seem professional since they are in public, and Glimmer doesn’t have room to talk anymore given how much she and Bow engage in PDA.
Catra responds with a satisfied trill, pressing up into the kiss happily. They are settled in the VIP lounge, in full view of the gallery, they are a level above the general public. Plenty of the invited guests – other artists, personal friends, and a scattering of celebrities and political figures – have come up to talk to them, but at the moment their table is empty but for the four of them and the Secret Service detail.
No photography is allowed in the gallery. That is the rule for an average exhibition. Adora still watches, a bit amused, as two people down on the gallery level pull out their phones to photograph the exchange between her and Catra. Within seconds, security materializes over their shoulders. Catra snorts as she drops her chin onto Adora’s shoulder.
“They never learn,” she chuckles, nuzzling into Adora a little. Art shows are supposed to be stuffy affairs from what Adora has experienced, but even if both of them are in suits, there isn’t much you can do to stop them from being affectionate, and considering it is Catra’s show, Adora thinks they can do what they want.
She opens her mouth to respond, but she is cut off by the ringing of her cellphone. She reaches into her jacket at the same time that Catra huffs and sits up properly to reach into hers. Across the table from them, Glimmer grabs for her clutch as Bow reaches to his suit pants pocket. They all freeze as they realize not only is the ringing coming from all of them, but their personal security team has twitched as well, indicating a message in their earpieces.
Adora swallows, making eye contact with Catra to pass a thread of worry between them before she extracts her phone and gets a look at the screen. An extension from inside the Area 51 research base is dialing all of them.
Catra’s heart has been hammering for the entire drive, blood pounding in her ears until she had to tuck her face into Adora’s chest. Adora understood and raised her hands to cover Catra’s ears, filtering out some of sounds as the armored car drove them away. Having to leave in the middle of her opening night was never a part of her plans, but the footage of the aircraft hovering above the Whispering Woods has already made international news.
It is the most nerve-wracking hour of her life as the car drives at top speeds to get them back to the base. In the time it would have taken to arrange a helicopter, they could have been halfway there with their security escort, so they have been tearing down the highway. A news copter found them during the drive, and Catra watches on Glimmer’s phone as the newsfeed alternates between cellphone footage of the UFO descending slowly down into the trees, videos taken from the sidewalk as their security team ushered them away from the gallery, and the feed of their car now driving through Thaymor.
The helicopter loses them once they reach the Whispering Woods. It is a no-fly zone on a normal day, much less on today, when there is a second magicat ship settled amongst its trees – this one intact, landed in the remains of the crater Adora left rather than crashed.
They pull up to the base to find it a hive of activity. Angella and Micah are being flown in as well, as are a number of other government officials, but Adora’s job is ambassadorship, and these are Catra’s people. They weren’t the ones to make first contact really, but they will likely be part of any negotiations that take place.
The car drops them outside of Hanger Kappa. The bay doors are wide open and Catra’s ship has been brought forward to the edge of the hanger so it can be inspected without entering. Catra’s breath stutters as her eyes land on the group of a half-dozen magicats standing outside. People like her, with tails swishing around their legs and vaguely familiar uniforms covering most of their coats, but Catra can see fur and stripes beneath. As the car pulls up, they turn their attention away from the ship they are observing warily, their tails stilling and ears pricking with interest.
Catra stumbles from the car almost in a daze. They are several meters away, at least ten between them, but she can clearly see the recognition light in their eyes as she emerges from the back of the SUV.
The leader of the group – Catra just knows that, something about her uniform and the way no one stands on her right side – steps forward, opening her mouth and releasing a vocalization Catra has forgotten, but she knew it once, and it makes tears spark to her eyes.
Adora hurries to follow Catra, taking up her hand as she stands stockstill and stares at the visitors. The visitors watch them, their expressions ranging from curious to sad. Adora has been getting text updates from the base – that they think the magicats managed to detect the wreckage of Catra’s ship somehow, and they have been calm and patient through the language barrier in a way that leads the scientists to suspect this isn’t their first time dealing with First Contact.
The scientists brought them a tablet and showed them videos of Catra and Adora. Their response had been incomprehensible, but everyone knew it was where is she? They have been waiting as the scientists tried to show them - via videos, maps, and the newsfeed - that Catra was on her way.
The magicat closest too them opens her mouth again, but once again no sound comes out. Catra’s ears twitch and her breath catches. She swallows, clearly shaken. Adora squeezes her hand, feeling anxiety drum through her ribs. She doesn’t know what she can do for her when she can’t even hear what the other magicats are saying.
The best she can do is stay by Catra’s side, holding her hand tightly and trailing behind her as Catra begins to edge closer, her tail lashing and breathing uneven.
“I’m right here,” Adora whispers to her, softly, when Catra draws to a halt again only a few feet from where the group of magicats is standing in some kind of careful formation. Well – the magicats are all standing in a grid-like arrangement. Weaving amongst their legs is a large animal, seeming to give zero shits about the formation as they move through it to the front. They look like a cougar – a purple cougar with a jellyfish mane, kinda, but a cougar regardless.
The creature opens its mouth, and this time Adora hears the mew, though it reverberates in a way Catra’s noises never do. Catra’s ears twitch and her eyes snap to the creature. Her brow wrinkles a little, clearly confused by either its presence or its words. After a moment of shaky breathing, Catra clears her throat and looks back to the magicat that hailed her.
“I don’t speak our language anymore. I only remember-“ Catra tells them in Etherian, trailing off into a few noises. Trills, growls, and a few moments of silence that Adora still feels the reverberation of. The eyes of several of the magicats go wide, a few of them glancing among themselves. The leader – Adora assumes she is the leader, at least - turns her head to look down at the cat which has worked its way through the group to stand beside her.
The cat looks up and gives her a few mews, seeming varying degrees of distressed. The woman’s brow draws together and her ears pin back, clearly upset by what she hears as she looks up to Catra again. She releases a sound, a strangled mew with a few syllables within it, but it still isn’t Etherian, and from the slight tilt of Catra’s head and strained expression on her face she doesn’t understand it either.
Catra flexes out her claws, kneading at the air once. Adora frowns at the same time that the woman looks crestfallen. She knows that gesture, even if Catra hasn’t used it in years. It always announced her displeasure with a situation. Catra is certainly thrown out of her depth – everyone is, except maybe a few of the scientists standing around who were there back when Catra first arrived – but she doesn’t seem angry, which is the emotion Adora generally associates with that motion.
The cat at the leading magicat’s side mews again. Even Adora can pick up the insistent tone in it. The leader’s ears pin back as she turns her head down, staring at the cat long and hard for several moments. An anticipatory air spreads through the magicats gathered around her, all of them watching the exchange intently, ears and tails lifting as their gaze darts between the cat, the leader, and Catra.
Catra looks lost and a bit worried, the choked emotion that first crossed her face upon seeing the magicats returning. Adora can only imagine the thoughts going through her head as she watches others signal like she does for the first time ever. Adora’s body language is largely the same as a human’s would be. Whether that is natural or because she has been here since before she could walk, she doesn’t know, but Catra arrived older and has always been different.
The leader nods to the cat, clearly coming to some decision. The cat closes its eyes, radiating contentment up to the woman for a moment before turning to face Catra. Catra freezes, blinking down at the cat. Adora squeezes her hand, hoping to steady her. It feels like everyone is waiting. Adora has no clue what is happening and neither do the scientists. The magicats clearly understand something, but all of them are watching Catra and the strange cat now.
The cat steps forward, approaching Catra as she stiffens, clinging tightly to Adora’s hand. Adora’s body tenses, ready to pull Catra back should the creature lunge, but it just continues to slowly pad up to Catra until it comes to halt before her, tipping its nose down and mewing once. It is looking up at her still, the angle making it look almost like it is giving her puppy dog eyes.
Catra draws in a slow breath, looking down at the creature for a long moment. Adora doesn’t know what is happening and can’t imagine what is going on in her head, but the creature looks like it is inviting Catra to pet it. After a moment of bracing herself, Catra lifts her free arm and places a lightly trembling hand on the top of its head.
Adora doesn’t know what she was expecting, but it isn’t what happens.
It feels- it feels bizarre. Like a bloodrush through her veins, the moment before passing out and after a test of physical endurance that pushes you to your limit. Her vision whites out as knowledge rushes through her, her arm trembling on Melog’s head, but she can’t pull it away, can’t break the connection.
Adora tries to pull her away. She is panicking at her side and demanding they stop, but Catra yanks herself forward, closer to Melog, and Adora freezes in her panic. Catra blinks her eyes, the white spots fading as the world comes back in focus.
Okay, Melog assures, looking up at her with wide eyes and blinking slowly. Catra’s limbs are shaking, but she draws in a steadying breath and nods. She takes a step back, her hand falling away, and finds herself immediately engulfed in Adora’s arms. Adora’s body is tense, anger and fear visibly pulsing off of her as she turns her steely blue glare on the leader of the group.
“I’m okay,” Catra manages, though the words are breathy as she hauls in steadying breaths. Adora is glowing, ready for a fight. She isn’t the only one. The security around them is tense, some of them with weapons drawn. The Py’rsians have weapons too, but they haven’t drawn them. They knew what would happen to Catra when she forged the connection, and they clearly anticipated this kind of reaction.
They are also staring. Not at Catra – it is well known what happens to a magicat when they forge a bond with a Krytian, Catra knows that from the rush of knowledge Melog just bestowed on her – but rather at Adora. To Catra’s shock, they don’t ask her if she can understand. Instead, they look to Adora, and as one they fall to one knee, crossing an arm over their chests in the sign of ultimate respect.
“Catra?” Adora asks, her voice confused and concerned. At least some of the anger has melted away. The captain raises from her knee, the rest of her squadron following suit a moment later.
“When we picked up the signal, we never expected to find survivors after so long. We certainly didn’t think we would find an Eternian,” she says, looking between Catra and Adora. Adora stares for a long moment before sending Catra a distressed look.
“The only word I got out of that sounded like Eternity,” she confesses. Catra swallows, shaking her head and looking to the captain.
“That’s you,” she replies.
Adora was expecting this to be weird, she would have been naïve not too. She still was not expecting this to be alien species capable of mindmelding weird.
“They’re mine now. They can only do that with one soul. Any magicat can understand them if they choose to speak but we can- I don’t know, I can just hear them,” Catra explains when things are a little calmer, all of them settled around a few tables in the cafeteria. It is the only place with enough seating to hold them all.
“Are they… nice?” Adora asks, eying the giant cat by her wife’s side. Catra snorts, rolling her eyes, and Melog echoes it with an amused chuff.
“Yeah. Like a golden retriever,” Catra assures her, which seems a weird thing to say about an exploratory squadron’s translator – or ex-translator, seeing as they apparently aren’t capable of leaving Catra’s side now – but Melog doesn’t protest it at all. They are intelligent – clearly, an hour ago they implanted an entire language in Catra’s head – but they behave far more cat-like than Catra does.
The magicats actually call themselves Py’rsians, but they are perfectly accepting of being called something else in Etherian, especially considering Etherians can’t even hear the second syllable of the word. It is awkward, translating through Catra and Melog now they are the only creatures who understand both languages, but Catra has already relayed that the magicats have an AI onboard their ship that should be able to create a translator for their languages if Catra can give it some samples of both.
Rythia, the captain of the squadron, says something that just sounds like broken syllables and vocalizations. Catra shakes her head and gives an equally baffling response. Rythia adds something, her voice quieter, and Catra pins her ears back. She shoots a wide-eyed look at Adora and Adora immediately scoots closer, tightening her arm wrapped around Catra to assure her.
“They say the distress signal coming off my ship is a unique identifier. It will take them… a few days travel, I think, to get back within range to exchange information with their network, but then they can get a full diplomatic team sent to Etheria and also pull the flight log for my vehicle. Find out- who I am, if I have family left,” she says, softly. She looks torn. Adora swallows, nodding as she tucks Catra into her chest and squeezes her close.
The past hour has mostly been assurances that Catra is fine, Melog didn’t hurt her, and the introduction between the exploratory squadron and the rest of them. Catra has told them a bit about her ship crash and that she and Adora grew up on Etheria as aliens, and Catra translated back that they were impressed that a planet with no experience in First Contact was able to raise a magicat to maturity.
“What about an Eternian?” Adora asked, because she was expecting a lot of things when they got the call that magicats had landed on Etheria, but not to find out she is one of the last of a dying but exalted civilization. Catra paused, turning back to Rythia to ask the question.
A moment later, Catra relayed with a snort, “You’re resilient, apparently. If you survived the crash, you would survive the planet,” Catra explained. Adora has a thousand more questions, but they can wait.
Right now, Catra is meeting others of her kind for the first time, and still processing all the information suddenly dumped in her head by – apparently – her new pet. Adora raises one hand to stroke over Catra’s mane, feeling how rough her wife’s breathing is where she is tucked into her chest. Adora gently shushes her, ignoring the way it makes the ears of all the magicats in the room prick up. She carefully rearranges her arms around Catra so one can be wrapped around her back as the other slides behind her ears to scratch methodically at the base.
Catra begins to purr as the other magicats in the room quickly advert their eyes. Maybe what Adora is doing is a social faux pas, but if it helps steady Catra, then she doesn’t care.
“I’m right here. I’ll help you figure this out,” she promises her, quietly. Catra turns her head, emerging from Adora’s neck to look up at her with wide eyes.
“I know. It’s always us,” she returns. Adora breathes a bit easier. As long as they face this together, they’ll get through it.
Anywhere in a magicat word there is a ‘ (AKA “Py’rsian”), the apostrophe represents a gap in the word where the vocalization is beyond the human hearing range or the noise cannot be represented reasonably by a syllable/letter. Magicats are thus capable of learning Etherian, but not vice versa. It will be fine though. Most of the galaxy uses electronic translators.
Chapter 2: Negotiation
The magicats stay on the planet for less than a day. They only delay for a few hours after the president arrives, getting some initial talks and information passed back and forth, but they insist they are not a diplomatic team and must return to get one.
They still learn a lot. Etheria is on the outside of patrolled space, but only barely. Their team is out this far following a trail of destruction from a war now twenty years gone – a war that Catra’s mother served in. Rythia informed them that the uniform worn by Catra’s mother declared her a captain of similar rank to her own in the stealth division.
The Eternians were nearly wiped out as a species by the intergalactic war that has been raging. They largely sacrificed themselves for the war effort. The entire species is viewed as heroes for what they gave up to bring peace back to the galaxy. It explains the magicats falling to stances of respect when they realized what Adora was, though not how she ended up here.
“On top of giving themselves in droves to the front lines, the Eternians detonated their homeworld and two major colonies as suicide bombs when their advanced technology drew the Horde in to take them out. The Eternians were a noble and practical race. They did what they knew was best for the entire galaxy. I still couldn’t blame them if a single set of parents sent one of their children off in an escape pod before the destruction,” Rythia had explained, through Catra.
Adora never really expected to find family anyway. It hurts to see a glimpse of possibility only to immediately lose it – apparently there are so few Eternians left there is a voluntary intergalactic registry of them to aid in the effort to maintain the population, though the chances of them recovering are slim – but Rythia promised to look into Adora’s origins too.
The galaxy beyond Etheria is a vast, interconnected web of species, apparently. Though they were all connected together before the war – and subsequently banded together under an intergalactic government system – it is still far easier for Rythia to access data from her own government than it is to get information from the Etherians.
Adora just has to wait, knowing likely not much will be found for her. All the while, she worries about what will be found for Catra. Magicats have big families apparently. Rythia assured Catra that no matter the casualties of the war, she would have cousins somewhere. Catra had returned that cousins often aren’t a part of someone’s life on Etheria and Rythia had looked sad.
“She said there are many cultures in the universe, but that magicats are meant to be raised by a community, with other kittens growing up alongside me, even if they were technically my cousins or the kids of my parents’ friends,” Catra tells her that night, curled up on Adora’s chest in their old bed that feels tiny now compared to the one in their home.
Melog lets out a sad mew from their spot curled up on their giant bean bag. Adora is still getting used to their presence, but Catra has explained they have an animal energy even if it is accompanied by human-like intelligence. They act more on instinct, apparently, and feel very loyal. Adora just has to hope that Catra saw as much of Melog’s mind as they saw of hers during the knowledge transfer and that she is right.
Not that she disagrees with Catra’s assessment given the interactions she has had with the creature so far, but this is all so new. An entire galaxy they never knew but would have been a part of long ago if it wasn’t for the war. Eternians were expanding in the direction of Etheria, apparently, but thanks to jury-rigging the energy system of their planets into bombs, she and Catra have been stranded on the other side of No Man’s Land in the twenty years since the end of the war.
“How do you feel?” Adora asks her wife, softly, as she tucks her face down into Catra’s mane. Catra is silent for a long moment.
“I still have a headache from the whole knowledge transfer thing. And I- I think I’m starting to recover some of the memories I lost in the crash, too,” Catra whispers against her chest. Adora freezes, blinking down at where Catra is tucking her face away to hide. Her tail lashes a little, clearly uncertain. “That wasn’t supposed to happen, but… Melog also doesn’t know of a precedent for bonding with someone who has amnesia, so maybe it is normal in this circumstance. I just- I remember-“ Catra cuts off. Adora swallows, wrapping her arms tightly around her.
“You remember?” she prompts softly. Catra shakes her head a little, not lifting it from Adora’s chest. She effectively ends up rubbing her face against Adora’s chest.
“My family, I think. I don’t want to say and- be wrong, I guess. Rythia will come back, and she’ll tell me who was on the passenger list. I’ll find out for sure,” Catra whispers, quietly. Adora draws in a breath, but she nods against the top of Catra’s head.
“Think I can even pronounce your birthname?” she asks, trying for something lighthearted. She just has to hope that won’t hurt. It isn’t like she knows hers either. Catra snorts against her chest.
“No,” she returns with utter certainty. She clears her throat. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not changing it. I- Adora,” she pulls back, looking down at Adora with an expression pinched with worry. “You realize I don’t belong with them, right? I don’t belong here, but I definitely don’t belong there. I didn’t even know magicats don’t have only children. They couldn’t believe I let you scratch my ears in public. Apparently that’s a friends and family only thing,” Catra tells her.
Adora blinks up at her, chest feeling a little hollow. Okay, yes, she was already starting to worry about everything changing for them when they finally feel established in their lives, but she was also hoping Catra would finally feel like she belongs somewhere. She lets out a slow breath, reaching her hands up to frame Catra’s face.
“Then you’re the only one of your kind. Part magicat and part Etherian. And that’s what you’ve always been. This isn’t unknown territory. It is where we’ve been all our lives. And I’m right there with you,” Adora promises her. Above her, Catra’s expression crumples, but Adora can tell it is the good kind of tears.
She ends up crying with her too. They both need it.
Rythia doesn’t return for a month. She managed to work out with Catra that it would take a little over two weeks to return to the closest manned outpost, and she would likely have to go further to get a diplomatic team to bring back. She estimated three to five weeks, and it ends up being just over four.
In the meantime, she leaves a communicator to hail upon her return, and Catra and Adora try to return to their lives. Well, Catra is far more successful than Adora in that regard. She keeps getting called in to virtual meetings regarding Melog and the Py’rsian language. She at least doesn’t have to keep recounting what happened while the magicats were here since it was all filmed and recorded. Before they left, she spent an hour recording some translations for the magicats’ AI to work on deconstructing their language via during the trip back, but now the Etherians keep asking her about building them a translation guide.
She is working on it. She insists on still getting a few hours to herself and her art everyday, but she works on translating as best she can. She isn’t a linguist, she just has them both in her head and is doing her best. She can at least lean on Melog for help. Their entire job was translation, before they ran into an individual they could not translate for without melding. It has happened before, but they felt a spark of connection with Catra, seeing her alone on a planet where no one even speaks her language.
So they melded. They could have worked to – much more slowly – help them all translate, but they don’t regret their decision. They could have – they didn’t truly know her until the meld happened – but they are happy with their decision. They like each other, and Etheria needs a translator. Melog can be that for them through Catra. They like lounging on the floor of her studio as she paints.
Adora is having a tougher time, largely because her entire job is changed. She is an ambassador for the United Etheria government, focused on community and cultural exchange programs. Or at least, she was. She is now being transferred into an all-new ambassadorial department being formed for negotiating their place in intergalactic society.
There is no one better suited for the job, not even the humans with decades more experience negotiating than her, but it is certainly turning her world upside down. She returns home every evening exhausted. Today, her footfalls are heavy as she practically bursts into Catra’s studio and throws herself over Catra’s back, wrapping her arms around her and peppering the side of Catra’s face with kisses as she squeaks in surprise.
“Tell me you had a good day. I need good news,” Adora tells her, burying her face in the softness of Catra’s hair and moaning with relief at the calming sensation. Catra trills in amusement. On the other side of the room, Melog echoes it.
“Work is really that bad?” she asks, chuckling a little, but she knows the answer. Adora groans into the side of her neck.
“I’m practically in charge of the entire department. Technically two steps below so I don’t have to deal with organizational logistics on top of embassy duties, but close enough. It’s so much. I’m too young to go grey,” Adora tells her. Catra snorts, putting down her brush and turning away from her canvas so she can properly face Adora. Adora clutches her eagerly, making a displeased sound when she starts moving that turns relieved when she realizes she is merely turning to face her.
“How you feel about it depends on your definition of good news, but Rythia came within signaling range an hour ago. She should be here tomorrow. I just got off a call to Area 51 before your car pulled up,” Catra tells her. Adora looks both exhausted and relieved by the news.
“I’d rather know than deal with all this preparation. Let’s take one last night to ourselves before the world turns upside down, yeah?” she requests. Catra purrs to herself, nuzzling forward to mark beneath Adora’s chin.
“Sounds perfect,” she agrees.
Adora cannot, it turns out, pronounce Catra’s birthname.
“C’yra,” Catra reads to her from the file on her family Rythia provided for her to read on her own time. Catra’s family is important, but they are both part of the negotiation and integration meetings taking place between Etheria and the thirty-something delegates Rythia brought back with her. One of them is Catra’s distant cousin apparently, though they share no traits in common except having a long coat on their tails and a thick mane. Only nineteen of the delegation members are magicats, but they all range in their physical characteristics, such as fur length.
Most of them are humanoid, though none of them are Eternian. It would have doubled the trip length to add one to the team, apparently, though a representative for the remains of the Eternian Coalition is on her way to Etheria as well. Discovering an all-new sentient race, advanced enough for the beginnings of space travel, is big news in the galaxy apparently. The negotiations are covering introducing Etheria to the wider galaxy, the wider galaxy to Etheria, and building communication lines between them and the rest of the universe.
They try to make Adora part of the negotiations too. She puts her foot down.
“I know you were raised as the only of your kind. Eternians take time to adjust to fundamental shifts in their views, but the truth is there are more of your people out there, and they are dying out. They desperately need-“ the lead negotiator, Feria, tried to cajole her, in front of the entire meeting and the fucking president.
“I am married, Nyx Feria. I am committed to none but my wife and I shall not be part of any repopulation effort like an animal being selectively bred,” Adora spoke into the translator on the table, her jaw clenched. Feria’s eyes went wide, but it effectively shut that line of thinking down. There is a wider world out there, and Adora will see it one day, but she has no intention of even being among the first hundred to leave Etheria.
Life on Etheria is so different now the news cycle is dominated by any scrap of knowledge about the wider galaxy that is made public. Suddenly she and Catra aren’t freaks – they are touchstones, an intermediary that the more panicky parts of the public are glad for. They have gone from being outsiders to being Etherians who will protect their values when negotiating with the wider intergalactic community.
Now that Catra is spending entire days with other magicats, she feels more at home in their presence, but she shares Adora’s sentiment that Etheria is their home, and though she wants to visit elsewhere, she also can’t imagine leaving behind all the humans that have become their friends and family over their years here.
“I could only hear half of that, but it sounds pretty,” Adora tells Catra, her voice soft, as she reads off her name. Catra snorts, glancing up to look at her for a moment before she looks back down at the file. Her eyes are sad as she flips through the information on her mother and her partner, as well as her two littermates who were lost before her mother became the captain of her ill-fated ship.
The main Horde force had been defeated and the galaxy was beginning to rebuild. Early on, outer-ring colonists had fled to the safer mid-ring to hunker down and avoid being picked off in the war. There were still Horde forces clinging on for years after the mothership was defeated in the explosion of the Eternian homeworld, but they could begin to spread out again. Catra’s ship was on a mission to scout an outer-ring colony that was supposed to be safe when some Horde stragglers spotted their ship. It was damaged and run off course, ultimately landing on Etheria in catastrophe.
Catra flicks the sheet back to the main page of information on her. It mostly means little to her – family members she has never met, her birthplace and other addresses that she struggles to translate, and outdated medical information. Still, she pauses, squinting down at the sheet for a long moment.
“Catra?” Adora prompts, softly. Catra just frowns, narrowing her eyes.
“Get me a piece of paper? I need to map something out. Translating dates is hard with the different planet cycles,” Catra requests, already reaching out her hand and waving it vaguely to accept said paper. Adora moves, fetching some from the desk and bring over a pen for Catra to scribble with.
For several minutes, Adora watches Catra write dates, numbers, and the sharp pictographs of the Py’rsian language. After filling half the page with writing, her brow wrinkled the entire time, Catra stills, staring down at the page with her ears twitching. Before Adora can ask what she has found, Catra bursts out laughing.
“Catra?” Adora questions, confused, as Catra fights her laughter down to snickering. Melog trills in amusement, butting their head against Adora’s hip as Catra looks up to her with a maniacal glint in her eye.
“I’m older than you, Adora. By three months,” Catra tells her, voice sparkling with amusement. Adora blinks at her, surprised, and not just because they always put Catra at six to eight months younger than her. She was terrified that what Catra would find in this file would only hurt her – that not knowing would turn out to be better than knowing the worst of her suspicions are true. And yes, those have been confirmed – she has no immediate family, even if there are plenty in her extended family who may be willing to welcome her.
She is as alone as she has always been, but Catra is finally secure enough she doesn’t need the what if of others out there. It doesn’t hurt her to find out they aren’t there when they never were in the first place for her. Now, she can just laugh at the difference between her Etherian birth certificate and the truth.
After a moment, laughter bubbles up in Adora’s chest, both infectious from Catra’s amusement and relieved at her reaction. Adora drops down onto the bed beside Catra, wrapping an arm around her waist, and together they laugh.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
“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.
And that's the end of 'the Greys'! Thank you to everyone who came along on this weird AU with me. Fic notes for BIOTS and LIALG are up on my tumblr. Also feel free to checkout the other meta for this fic if you haven't already!
My next Catradora fic - I Hear the Wind Call Your Name - is a soulvoice AU that I will begin posting soon! Subscribe to my profile if you want to be sure you don't miss it.