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Catra’s three big tasks are honesty, with herself and others, anger management, so she catches herself before she lashes out or spirals downward, and acceptance, of herself and her life. Adora helped her make the list, determine what was most important, as did Perfuma, and, surprisingly, Glimmer’s magical sorceress aunt. Apparently, the woman feels she has some personal duty to “undo Shadow Weaver’s damage,” which includes Catra’s fragile psyche.

Catra knows if she is sticking to her tenants, then she should not lie about this - but she also knows that if she required herself to tell the truth then she would never say the words at all, and the request is something that will help her with her third task. Accepting, in some small way, that everything won’t be ripped out from under her. That Bright Moon is safe. She keeps trying to convince herself that in the moment she won’t need the safety blanket of a lie - but she knows that is just be another lie, directed at herself this time.

She finds herself lurking outside the war room, leaned against the wall with her arms crossed and waiting. It is the perfect day for this, which is pretty much the only reason she has managed to force herself to finally act on this twinging desire in her chest. Adora is out for the day, making an appearance as She-ra and helping with reconstruction efforts in some village near the edge of Bright Moon. Catra going would have been a bad idea – she personally led a Horde force through to conquer it, in another life. She has been officially pardoned, but she has personal experience with having the face from your nightmares resurface and she is not inflicting it on more people.

Bow is away, too. Something with Sea Hawk that Catra had tuned out the moment the singing started. It is important, apparently, but Catra is fairly certain it was just an excuse for the two to spend some time together. Whatever. If Sparkles is not bothered by her boyfriend running off with Mermista’s… something for a while, then neither is she.

All that is to say, of the permanent residents in Bright Moon, she and Glimmer are the only two members of the Alliance present at the moment. No risk of being overheard or distracted. Glimmer still has her queenly duties, the only thing saving Catra from having this conversation at the moment, but Catra has sat in on enough of these meetings as an advisor by now to know when Glimmer will force breaks into her schedule to breathe, stuff her face with some food, and scream into her pillow if the day calls for it.

The war room doors swing open, various people Catra only half-recognizes shuffling out. Most of them do not give her a second glance at this point. She is a member of the court in all but title, now, and some of them even give her half-hearted waves as they go on their way. Catra waits, counting the people walking away until she is sure all but one seat inside is empty, and then she pushes off the wall to stalk through the still-open doors. She kicks them closed behind her as she surveys the room.

Glimmer is at the window, hands gripping the frame, breathing deeply. Catra’s tail twitches in satisfaction. They may no longer be at war, but it seems her battleplans can still predict the queen’s movement. This battle may be internal, but it still counts.

Glimmer inclines her head backwards when she hears the door thud shut but says nothing. Catra stalks up behind her, letting the claws on her toes click on the floor as she approaches so Glimmer knows who is coming. Catra sees the visible tension relax in Glimmer’s shoulders when she realizes who has interrupted her alone time. Whatever - she is probably just relieved because Catra never brings her bad news from such-and-such town.

“How you holding up, Sparkles?” Catra asks as she reaches her, turning to lean against the wall beside the window. She and Glimmer are facing opposite directions, now, but they can still clearly read each other in their peripheries if needed.

“Long day, frustratingly slow progress on some fronts, but no bad news,” Glimmer reports with a small smile and a shrug. “At least not yet,” she adds, side-eying Catra. Catra laughs.

“Fright Zone deconstruction is going well. Lots of refugees eager to help tear the old place down. We’ll have the Scorpion kingdom back sooner than planned at this rate,” Catra assures her of her own personal assignment. The war is only a few weeks over, but despite various kinds of aid needed most everywhere in Etheria, offers of help with demolishing the Fright Zone had been numerous, even ignoring Scorpia opening her doors to everyone in need of shelter.

Glimmer nods, humming happily before her eyes slide to gaze back out the open window. A breeze ruffles through the room and Catra allows herself a moment to close her eyes, breathe in the scent of fresh air, and enjoy company she sure is not really going to judge her for the request she is about to make.

“What did you want to talk about?” Glimmer asks her, non-accusatory but still causing Catra to bite back a wince.

“What, I can’t just spend some time with a friend?” Catra deflects, ear flicking.

Honesty, Catra. We’re good enough friends now that I can tell when you’re nervous,” Glimmer reminds her. Catra swears under her breath and Glimmer laughs at her.

Fisting her hands at her sides, forcing the rest of her body to remain relaxed as she lounges, she fixes her gaze on the far side of the room and finally requests, “I would like to requisition an instrument.”

Glimmer turns, startled a bit as she stares at her. Catra cannot miss it even out of the corner of her eye. She knows it is an odd request, probably not one Glimmer would have anticipated.

“What instrument?” she asks, brows drawing together in confusion. Catra lets out a breath of air, half between a sigh and a huff.

“I was thinking a guitar or a lute. I’m not picky. Something with strings seems best,” she answers. Glimmer is silent for a moment.

“Okay, I’m sure we can find something,” she responds, and Catra feels a tension in her ribs unwind. “But… can I ask why?” she finally posits, almost cautiously, like she knows the question is going to make Catra want to run.

Probably because the question makes Catra want to run.

Catra feels her face grow hot. For a moment, Glimmer’s Honesty, Catra rings in her ears. She almost tells her the truth. When she opens her mouth to say it, though, she feels ice running down her ribs, and to avoid a long and obvious pause, the lie she has prepared comes pouring out like an old habit.

“I need practice controlling my claws. Sheathing them while flexing my fingers and not cutting anything either. It’s for the good of Etheria,” Catra leers the final part. She knows Glimmer will pick up on the patronizing term she jeered at Adora from across enemy lines during one of her attempts to convince Catra to switch sides.

Funny, how when telling a lie that makes her ribs feel almost as tight as the fear had, she can finally look Glimmer in the face again. A face that has gone bright red as she catches Catra’s meaning.

“Ok, ok, requisitioned! Now let’s never mention this again!” she practically squeals, waving her hands as she takes a step away from Catra. Interesting. Catra and Adora, having grown up with almost no concept of privacy, were usually the more open of the four about sexuality, but Glimmer had a thirsty streak in her that usually did not leave her nearly this flustered when the subject came up.

“What, Sparkles, don’t want to think about-“ Catra starts again, with a genuine leer this time as she leans into Glimmer’s space. Glimmer shoves her hands in Catra’s face in a desperate attempt to shut her up.

“No, I do not! Now, go back to the Fright Zone or whatever, I’ll get you your instrument,” Glimmer orders, hastily, stepping away to go sit at the war table, drawing herself up to her full height like that is going to intimidate Catra into shutting up. Normally, Catra would press the advantage, but her ribs still feel tight from the lie, the ice still has not fully retreated from the fear, and she knows when to push her luck.

“Have fun with your meetings, Sparkles. Don’t let your mind wander,” Catra offers as a final tease as she departs. Behind her, she hears Glimmer groan and knows she is dragging a hand across her face as she does so. Despite herself, she cackles at the image as she slinks out of the room.

 

--

 

The lute appears in their room – Adora’s and hers – at some point during a day she spends in the Fright Zone, coordinating the distribution of supplies pulled from the slowly-vanishing buildings.

She doesn’t notice the addition, at first. The work is frustrating, and combined with her whole trying to be a better friend thing, she has no way to release the frustration that builds up throughout the day. Back in the Horde, she would have snapped at Scorpia or dug a few claw marks into the wall until she felt better – but Scorpia doesn’t deserve that, never did, and tearing up the place she is trying to salvage would only make her work more difficult. She also knows, now, that it wouldn't make her feel any better - likely worse. She supposes that is growth.

When she finally makes it back to their room, she practically shoos Melog away from the door as she enters, ignoring the way it slams shut behind her. They don’t mind – neither of them wants Melog to hang around when Catra’s frustration builds in this specific way. Adora startles from her desk, turning to catch sight of Catra just before Catra reaches her. Adora opens her mouth to speak, but if Catra has to hold herself back any longer she knows she is going to say something she regrets.

“Don’t,” she intones, climbing into Adora’s lap and kissing her with enough force to cause the chair to start to tip over. Adora scrambles forward to grab the desk to anchor them back down without breaking the kiss, a panicked laugh huffing against her lips. Chair legs thud as they meet the ground again. The momentary swooping in her stomach, the panicking scramble Adora does, the overwhelming building up of her day – it all combines to make Catra cackle as she leans back and Adora tries to get the desk straightened out again, having to lean awkwardly to do it around Catra. A little bit of the tension that was curling beneath her skin releases.

Adora pouts up at her, just a bit, finally settling her hands of Catra’s waist when she is satisfied with her papers. “You okay?” she asks, forehead creasing with worry. Catra pauses – honesty – and shakes her head. She presses close against Adora, burying her nose deep into Adora’s neck to breathe her in.

“I need it to be just you and me for a bit. Everyone else is making me want to bite their heads off,” Catra tells her. Adora chuckles at her, hands giving her a reassuring squeeze.

“I can definitely do that. Bed, though? It’s precarious over here,” Adora nudges her, and Catra nods into her neck. She makes no move to follow through. Adora sighs, like Catra knew she would, and – there it is. Strong hands on her thighs, lifting her up as she wraps her legs around Adora’s waist, purring as her ridiculously strong girlfriend carries her over to their purple poof of a bed.

“You’re spoiled,” Adora tells her as she lays them both down. Catra stretches out across her girlfriend, purr rumbling with contentment. What can she say? It’s true.

It isn’t until after – after half their clothes have ended up scattered and Adora has several new bite marks blossoming across her pale shoulders – that Catra notices the lute leaned against the wall. She stills, ears twitching, tail curling back and forth as her eyes land on it. Adora notices her sudden alertness and follows her gaze to the instrument.

“That was here when I got back from my last meeting. I don’t know who left it – I don’t think it’s Bow’s? But they all look the same to me,” Adora tells her, hands moving to flex against her shoulder blades, steadying. She knows Catra doesn’t like invasions into her space. She can get thrown off by them – thrown into flashbacks and panic. But this – this is not an invasion.

“It’s not Bow’s,” she tells her, slowly pulling out of Adora’s arms to slip out of the bed, padding over to the wall. “It’s mine.”

 

--

 

A lute made sense, apparently, because Bow was learning to play too. Glimmer had fixed her with an expression bordering on “kicked puppy” when she told Catra that, hopeful and wide-eyed. It is clear what her intent is – that they bond over it, or whatever. Catra had sniffed, turning away as she considered it. She knows she should make the effort, that it might even help her learn – but this was something too guarded, too personal to share just yet. Besides, how helpful could someone with only a few weeks head start be?

She does give in to approach him for advice, though. Hopefully it is enough to be a thank you to Glimmer, even if she can’t give her what she really wants. Bow’s advice had been mostly useless to her, unfortunately. “I just try to play it by ear. Playing things until it sounds close to one of the songs I know,” he told her.

“I don’t know any songs,” she replies. Honesty, but not. Because Catra does know songs, some silly little things spun together in childhood and some dramatic ballads that are, honestly, too much. All these songs, however, are entirely made up. Short lyrics with little mind to remembrance or quality, strung together when her chest felt too tight and even in her damaged state she knew rage wouldn’t help her breathe again. The exact words change every time she sings them, if they are not lost the moment they leave her mouth.

Music could never blossom in the Fright Zone – but on their little platform, high above the world and wrapped up in each other’s presence, she would sometimes sing to herself, or to Adora. Adora would hum along, made-up rhythms clashing in a way neither of them minded. Sometimes they would dance together, the steps closer to a spar than a waltz, but theirs. Music was always theirs, something no one else knew or understood. After Adora left, Catra’s song had been rare, near-whispers - laments for something she thought she had lost forever. Scorpia caught her in the locker room, once, singing a song she used to sing for Adora. She had stormed away from Adora’s locker – shoving past Scorpia with a hiss of this never happened before she ran. Every time they caught a few notes of music while away on missions after that, Scorpia would look at her with her too-caring expression and Catra would turn away.

Music may be free and common in Bright Moon, but that does not undo Shadow Weaver’s hiss of useless, distracting that echoes in her mind when she imagines letting someone other than Adora see her play. Music was a rebellion against the Horde – and even now, the Horde and Shadow Weaver dead and gone, somewhere deep in Catra trembles at taking that risk in public. Bow offers to teach her some songs, but when he sees Melog bristle at the offer he backs off. His concern is evident, but Catra can’t explain to him what it was like – what it still is like. Instead, Bow directs her to the library, finding her a few volumes on music theory – boring and not what her twitching fingers are looking for – some pages of sheet music, unreadable and thus useless to her, and instructional books, too dense to be of much use. Eventually, she finds a chart of chords within one of the volumes and things start to fall into place from there.

 

--

 

In the evenings, when they are mercifully free from meetings or other obligations, Adora and Catra will spend their time in various places. Sometimes Bow and Glimmer will be free and they get to just relax as the Best Friends Squad. Sometimes she and Adora will spar, or just mess around in the gym until they don’t feel like climbing the walls anymore. Sometimes they will go for walks, through the castle gardens, or the Whispering Woods, or even down into town – though Catra is still skittish about entering crowds when there is a chance someone might recognize her as a Horde officer rather than She-ra’s girlfriend.

Sometimes, they will stay in their room, just the two of them. And occasionally, when more pressing things – hands, lips, teeth – don’t call to them, Catra will settle out on the balcony and pluck at her lute, humming or softly singing to herself as she invents melodies. Adora sits out with her, sometimes, but Catra can get self-conscious, so oftentimes she will stay inside their room, still listening, but at least not where Catra can see her reaction when she plays a discordant note or her voice cracks.

It doesn’t occur to Catra that the sound can carry – she is used to dismissing a lot of things as audible to only her. The balcony offers the same illusion of privacy their platform had, back in the Horde. It takes her almost two months for her to realize it – or rather, to find out on accident.

She is carefully plucking at the strings with her claws, experimentally, when one snaps, stinging against her right hand as it whips back from the broken tension. She hisses, cursing under her breath as she rubs at her hand. Adora comes wandering out from her desk, attracted by the horrible twang or perhaps Catra’s muttered obscenities.

“We can replace it,” she assures her as she crouches down to gather Catra’s hand in her own, pressing kisses along the red indent the string had left. She knows the pain is not going to bother Catra long, but losing her outlet– the thought of it makes her breath catch.

“Promise?” she whispers, despite herself, pressing forward into Adora’s touch. She nuzzles into her, a now 14-string lute caught between them, trying to calm her beating heart. The word carries a lot of meaning for them. It should not be used on something as useless as this, but her breath is catching in her throat.

“You like it. I’ll make sure you have it,” Adora promises, pressing a kiss to her temple.

The next morning, when they make their way down to breakfast, Catra stops in her tracks when she sees the small packet set on the table right beside her normal spot. Confused, she shoots a questioning look to Adora, who looks just as confused as she is and shrugs.

“I’m not that good,” she tells her, tugging on their intertwined hands to encourage Catra to begin walking again. As they approach their seats, Bow and Glimmer look up from where they were whispering to each other - likely sickening, lovey-dovey shit. They both smile brightly at them, and normally Catra would at least try to return it, but she feels unnerved.

“What is this?” she asks as she sits, hand resting gently on the packet. Not that she doesn’t know, it is pretty obvious what the coiled strings are, but she bites back the instinctual hiss of Why is this here?

“Oh! Bow heard the string break last night. We leave the window up, you know? Anyway, that is one of his spare sets,” Glimmer tells her, brightly and casually as if she isn’t giving Catra a panic attack.

Catra pulls her hand away from the strings, tucking both her hands beneath the table to curl them into fists, flexing and unflexing her claws. Adora’s hand enters her line of sight, slipping beneath the table cloth to rest over her tensed fists. Melog, mane a warbling red, rests their head on her knee. Breathe. She fixes her gaze on the table cloth, focusing on working her way through the exercises Perfuma taught her. Her body comes resting back to Earth – Melog’s mane returns to a calm blue. They give her a comforting, proud mew before padding away to partake in their own breakfast. Cautiously, Catra shoots Adora a glance. Adora gives her an encouraging smile, eyes shining.

“Proud of you,” she assures her, pressing their foreheads together. Catra takes another deep breath, grounding herself with the contact. Carefully, she gives a small nod. Adora pulls back, still giving her that shining look. She squeezes Catra’s hands – still fisted, but claws withdrawn, now – before she settles back against her own chair.

Catra doesn’t look up much farther than her own plate for the meal. She doesn’t want to see the confusion – or worse yet, understanding – on the faces of the other castle residents.

As they are leaving, she manages to halt herself. She turns back towards the table, only partially, and offers a sincere, “Thank you,” to the couple still seated there. She hastens to leave before there can be a response.

 

--

 

Glimmer knocks on their door while Catra is on their balcony, playing. She knows it is Glimmer because it is accompanied by a whining “Adora!” that she drags out long enough for Adora to have time to cross the room and open the door before she finishes. Catra stills her right hand, no longer plucking at the strings. She keeps her left hand in place, holding the chord shape. She waits.

“Yes, Glimmer?” Adora asks, amused.

“If I see one more treaty today I’m going to set it on fire,” Glimmer tells her. The voice grows stronger as she talks – muscling her way into the room, maybe?

“And things were going so well this morning,” Adora remarks, amused, but there is a question in it too. Glimmer groans and there is the unmistakable sound of her flinging herself on to some of the furniture – something with plush from the sounds of it, maybe the loveseat or even the bed.

“Things are fine, it’s just… I need to not have to worry about anything important for a bit. Do something pointless. I’d suggest a sleepover, but it feels wrong with Bow out of town,” Glimmer complains.

Furniture shifts again. Adora joining Glimmer. Probably stroking her hair – that is what she usually does to sooth Catra. Catra takes a deep breath, turns her head up to face the darkening sky, and steals herself. If there was ever a time to indulge in something useless

She shuts Shadow Weaver's voice out of her head; She begins to play again.

No sound comes from inside the room. There is slight shifting – someone adjusting on the comforter, maybe – but no one speaks.

Catra gives a concert to silence. It’s nice.

 

--

 

“I lied,” Catra tells Glimmer one day, without preamble. Glimmer blinks up at her from her reports. She is sat at her desk, sorting out the final decisions from their day. Catra’s helping – but she is also seated on top of Glimmer wardrobe.

She likes it up here. Melog is curled around her, tail steadily thudding down the side from where it spills over the edge. She has little room for the pile of propositions she is trying to organize, but the challenge keeps it fresh.

“About what?” Glimmer asks, unaffected, as she looks back down at her paper. She frowns, lifting it up, and then promptly lights it on fire with a burst of magic. Catra’s ears twitch from the sizzle, her nose burning slightly from smoke. Glimmer looks at peace as she watches the ash fall to the floor.

“The lute,” Catra explains, without addressing the quiet dramatics. Sometimes you just have to throw a report out a window – she gets it.

“I know,” Glimmer replies, craning her neck up to look at her. Catra blinks down at her in surprise – she thought she had been more convincing than that. Glimmer shrugs. “I mean, I didn’t at first, but it became pretty clear after awhile.”

That is – fair. Her panic attack at the breakfast table would have given it away if she had not realized before then.

“Thank you for telling me,” Glimmer tells her, regardless, sending a smile her way before she pushes out of her chair, stretching. “Now, will you finally play with Bow? He’s been desperate for a duet since you first picked it up.”

Catra feels a tension ready to gather beneath her skin. She gazes down at Glimmer, still standing relaxed, unbothered. She could say no. Glimmer wouldn’t care – wouldn’t push her on it.

“Okay,” she answers.