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cliff's edge

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Catra watches her sometimes. Adora, that is. Adora, with the wide blue eyes—so blue, they’re the precise colour of a noontime sky. Adora, with the annoyingly pretty smile. Adora, with the flowing locks of spun-gold—

There’s a flash of something quicksilver-grey, and then Catra is finding herself flat on her back, looking up at a bronze face that is decidedly not Adora’s, a baton digging sharply into her stomach. Pain blooms from the point of contact, so swift, so sudden that her attention is immediately diverted from the flame-bright burnish of Adora’s hair.

“Focus, Catra. Concentration is key. It would do you best to learn how to evade distractions,” Shadow Weaver admonishes Catra from where she’s presiding over the training session—just a few steps away, cutting an imposing figure against the sputtering backdrop of machinery.

“Well, sorry, ” Catra murmurs harshly as she pushes her training partner away—a rookie just like her, like everybody else. Already Catra has forgotten her name. Silvia, Silena, it sort of slipped her mind. But she can’t be faulted for that; the standard military outfit kind of makes it hard for anyone to really stand out. Beige pants. Grey shirt. Clearly, it’s serving its purpose: making everyone blend in with one another into a single nondescript unit.

But Adora, however. She’s a whole different story. And Catra feels it. Feels it in the way Shadow Weaver singles her out. Feels it in the way Shadow Weaver sings her praises, corrects her stances.

Looks at her like she is a diamond in the rough.

The thing with jealousy is that is like poison. All-consuming and lethal in all sorts of doses, whether small or large. Even the tiniest drop has the potential to choke you blue and breathless. And Catra’s tried to ignore it. Stamp it out, before it had the chance to take root. But obviously, that attempt has long since gone south.

It’s infuriating, how quickly the feeling sharpens in moments like this. When they’re practicing bladework, disassembling circuitry. Targeting bullseyes with rifles.

Usually, it just sits there beneath her skin, simmering on low. But right here, right now, Catra feels things extra sharp.

She hates it.

Luckily, training is over before Catra really has a chance to ruminate over her situation. At her own inadequacy, and more importantly, at the recent thing that’s been going on with Adora. The staring business, to be more specific. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again, but that’s not why Catra is wound up.

It’s the reason—the stupid excuses—behind it that has Catra on edge.

“Hey, Catra. Everything okay?” a voice says, and suddenly there’s a hand on Catra’s skin, squeezing her shoulder lightly. “Because I couldn’t help but notice that you were kinda off at class today.”

Catra tilts her head, and there it is: Adora’s questioning face, those light, delicate features worked up into a concerned expression. Yeah, Adora may not look the part, but she’s got real brawn for days. Catra would know; Adora’s been in her life for so long, these facts about her come to Catra as naturally as breathing.

Although, it really wouldn’t take actual years to figure that one out. Just one arm-wrestling session, and there’s all the proof you need, case-closed.

“I’m fine, princess,” Catra says, trying not to think too much about the feel of Adora’s palm. The intensity of her gaze. And then a smirk is unfurling on Catra’s face, because why not? “You don’t have to worry too much about me. So please. Lay off a little, sweetheart?”

Princess. Sweetheart. Dumb names that fly right off Adora’s radar. It’s easy enough to tell they’re meant as a joke; Catra doesn’t actually mean them, obviously, but like. It still takes a bite out of her heart to voice them out loud.

Adora laughs, and it’s a sun-warm sound. The kind you’d probably only hear in another world. One with colour, light, instead of all this—smoke, smog, and other hazardous things. “And leave you all sad and lonely? Not a chance.”

And then Adora has her by the shoulders, dragging her around the corner, because it’s much easier to give up, give in, than fight back.

 


 

One of these days, Catra’s going to figure it out.

And she does, eventually, thanks to Adora, because it’s got everything to do with Adora.

It happens a few years later, though. When they’re both older, and the universe as they know it is changing bit by bit. Small changes. Little ones. But they add up. Put them altogether, and it makes the entire picture a lot more different.

It’s still the same, in some aspects. The exact shade of Adora’s eyes. The soft tilt of Adora’s mouth whenever she’s in a contemplative mood. The fears that reside deep within Catra, as ugly as carcass.

And then, there are those changes. The hardened lines of Adora’s form—bold where they were once watercolour-soft. The dreams that have been plaguing Catra for months now—and their frequency, and intensity. In those dreams, there’s always Adora positioned some unreachable distance away. And there’s Catra always running after her. Trying to catch up.

That’s not all that happens. Some nights, Dream-Adora has her fingers tracing the line of Catra’s jaw, their faces barely an inch apart. Some nights, Dream-Adora looks deep into her eyes, palm pressed firmly over the skin above her heart. And Catra would like to look away.

But she never does, helpless against the pull.

Stupid gravitational fields.

 


 

 

Catra knows she isn’t good at this. Dealing with feelings. Emotions. So they’re bound to be all bottled up, resentment and awe and wonder waging war across the battlefield that is her heart.

Catharsis has never been a strong point of hers.

Usually, it’s a quiet affair, this internal conflict. A storm swallowed by a sea. But tonight, it drips with blood.

Catra’s aware that’s a dramatic way to put it. A way only the brooding raccoon-eyed kids in reconnaissance class would bother with. Black poetry and all that. At this point in the game, it’d be lost on Catra; she’s that used to their honeyed words.

But maybe they’re sort of right. About there being a senseless, raw beauty to be found in violence. In the sharp whistle of the blade. In the lightning-crack of a blow. In the steps of this ceaseless push-and-pull, like ocean tides.

All these dark harmonies of a killing machine.

Adrenaline. There’s tons of it, coursing white-hot through Catra’s veins. And Catra shudders at this: the electrifying energy building in her system, and the resentment, and the desire to prove herself worthy beyond measure. And she hates this: Adora’s keen gaze sweeping over her, as though searching for tells, for nicks in her armour, anything.

“You holding up good?” Adora says as their weapons meet in a clash of sparks, eyes lit green by the unearthly, alien glow of the room.

No way Catra’s ever backing down. Not once in a million years. “Oh, I’m just getting started,” Catra says, flashing her a dark smile, one that twists her mouth into something sharp, deadly.

And then it’s truly on, this battle of wits, of metalwork.

It cloys deep inside Catra’s bones, this desperate need to triumph, and it’s there in every glance that they share, in every swing that her weapon makes. And in this moment, they are two matchsticks blazing in the dark, the language of bloodshed the only tongue that they both are well-versed in.

By all accounts, Adora should win. That’s the way it’s always been: Adora and Catra, champion and second-best. But tonight, it is not Catra who finds herself flat on her back, a blade pressed up against the line of her throat.

Small miracles. “I win,” Catra says, chest heaving, sweat pearling on her temples, on her forehead.

Those blue, blue eyes. There’s fire in them. Burning azure. So heated, Catra almost recoils. Almost lets loose of this tenuous grasp she has on Adora. “You totally cheated,” Adora gasps out, the hint of a half-moon smile playing on those lips Catra badly wants to silence—but in what way, Catra doesn’t even want to consider.

“Bold accusations coming from the loser.” All their life, they’re taught that playing with flame is dangerous. But Catra—she wouldn’t mind getting burned just this once. Catch fire like cloth dipped in gasoline, self-preservation be damned. “Any last words? We’ve got the time.”

Adora presses her mouth into a thin line. Then says, “Perish.”

Catra lets out a laugh, even though she’s alight, every square inch of her. “Fine. Go ahead.” A low, raspy croon—one that reverberates deep within her chest. “Make me your villain.”

Catra and Adora. Two sides of the same coin. Seconds pass like silk between them, tender as a caress, but laced with gunpowder underneath. These are troubled waters, dark as midnight, as black ice, and they’re closing over Catra’s head without sparing her a second to breathe.

There’s Catra’s desire threatening to break apart like bruised fruit. There’s the helplessness stewing vile and vicious inside her core. There’s the need to prove herself worthy of this, if not anything else.

“Okay. Seriously, Catra. I can’t breathe right now,” Adora says, nudging the weapon away, and just like that the moment passes—like overcast weather cleared of clouds in an instant.

And that’s the problem, Catra thinks dazedly, as Adora claps her on the shoulder for a job well done. Catra wants. And wants. And wants. But it’s either one or the other. No in between.

Maybe under different circumstances, Catra could have both. Adora’s hand pressed warm against her cheek. Shadow Weaver’s approving stare fixed on her from across a room.

Maybe someday, the thought echoes through her as she watches Adora test the heft of a spear in one hand. Catra is aware, though, that the future may not look like this: the two of them standing side-by-side, together through thick-or-thin. Because trajectories are capable of veering off-track; and life can and will change unexpectedly.

They’re endless, these possibilities. And Catra has no concrete way of knowing where they’ll go from here on out.

So for now, this’ll have to do: Catra learning how to just let go.