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.