Adam is He-Man.
He-Man is Adam.
I've seen it with my own eyes, but I still can't believe it.
Every time He-Man takes off, I either miss his exit or have other things to worry about. But at the end of the last battle we fought, curiosity overcame me. I decided to follow him this time, see where he went after the fight was over. Hey, for all I knew, he might just disappear into thin air.
It wasn't that hard to track him, but that was mainly because he didn't go far. He can move quietly when he wants to, and I had a few close calls - a bird nearly gave me away, and I didn't notice a bit of dry brush in my path. But I had enough sense to stay in the shadows of the forest. My father taught me well, and unlike some people, I always pay attention. I had to stay a ways back to avoid being seen, and when he met my father in a clearing, I couldn't hear what they were saying. I was about to reveal my hiding place when He-Man suddenly lifted his sword into the air and shouted something aloud. I don't remember what, but the blinding flash of light that surrounded him and Battle Cat effectively distracted me. For a second, I thought he'd been hit by lightning, even though it was a perfectly clear day.
When the light faded, Adam was standing there instead, with Cringer next to him.
I'd never admit this to anyone, but I nearly fainted. And I never faint. I froze in place, crouching behind the bushes, barely noticing as Adam and my father started back towards the Palace. Even when they were out of sight, I remained there for a few moments, unable to move.
I don't quite remember regaining mobility and returning to the Masters, or even managing to give them a coherent excuse. But I must have, because I'm now approaching the Palace on my Sky Sled, with Stratos and Buzz-Off right behind me. We touch down in the training grounds, and as the other two get their bearings, I practically jump off the Sky Sled, heading right for the courtyard, for my father.
I scan the courtyard as I walk in. Father's there, talking with the king as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. As if seeing He-Man disappear and Adam appear in his place was nothing special.
As if he's known all along.
"What'd I miss?"
I turn to see Adam ambling into the courtyard with that flea-bitten cat of his trailing behind, looking sheepish and out-of-it... the usual behavior. I hesitate for a second. He really does look like he doesn't know what happened. Adam isn't that good an actor. Maybe I imagined the whole thing.
But I doubt I could come up with this on my own.
I glare at him. "What do you care?"
He stops and blinks, surprised. "Teela, look-"
"No, you look," I snap, clenching my fists. "I am sick and tired of this. You run off with your tail between your legs, and then you actually want to know what happened?"
Adam stiffens, and I can see a muscle working in his jaw. "I was getting help."
"Well, while you ran off 'getting help', we were almost killed!" I practically shout at him. He takes a step back, and I pause; he really looks hurt. In fact, although he's trying to hide it, he looks kind of frayed around the edges, almost as tired as I am. It takes the edge off my anger, and I sigh. I really shouldn't be acting like this. Even if this is just a twisted dream and Adam was just being a coward again, he doesn't deserve to be screamed at.
He sees me relax, and actually looks concerned. "Teela," he says quietly, too low for the other Masters to hear. "Are you okay?"
Okay? What kind of question is that? I'm not sure what's going on anymore. I do know that Adam's deliberately keeping his voice low so the Masters don't notice how out of sorts I am. Father's noticed - of course - but that's to be expected. Adam's probably just trying to keep me from decking him right then and there.
It works. I can never stay mad at him for too long.
"No," I say honestly, shaking my head. "No, I'm not." He opens his mouth to say something, but I turn away. I can't look at him, can't try to resolve the two mental images. My head hurts, and it's not from the battle. "I think I need to get some rest."
He tries to call me back, but I ignore him and go trudging off to my rooms. It's almost sunset, and everything hurts. Father comes over to ask if I'm all right, and I brush him off, telling him that I'm tired. What? It's true. I need a hot bath and a long night's sleep. Maybe in the morning, things will make more sense. Or maybe I'll wake up and find out this was all a dream.
I don't know if that would be a good thing or not.
Skeletor decides to attack Grayskull again the very next day. He doesn't have any specific plan or strategy this time; I think he's just doing this to wear us out or piss us off. And he's definitely succeeding in the latter objective.
Adam's away at some diplomatic function the King dragged him to. It's got to be boring, and I almost felt sorry for him when he left with his father this morning. Almost. I think I'd trade places with him now, if I could. The battle isn't hopeless, but it's just dragging on and on - neither side is really making much headway. Evil-Lyn, as usual, singled me out and decided to use me as target practice. I don't know what her problem is, but as I flip out of the way of one of her blasts, I seriously wish I could take that staff of hers and shove it down her throat. I'm just glad she's such a lousy shot.
I hear Father's warning just in time and twist in mid-air, and the blast from Trap Jaw's cannon narrowly misses me. Unfortunately, it connects with Evil-Lyn's beam of power, and the shockwave knocks me completely off balance, tossing me into the air. Next thing I know, I'm slamming into the trunk of a tree.
Okay. Now I'm really pissed off.
Whiplash decides I'm an easy target, which just goes to show how clever he isn't. I easily dodge his first couple of strikes, move in and slam my staff into his throat. He chokes and stumbles, and I get out of the way long enough for Ram Man to charge him. I land on my feet and turn just in time to see Skeletor firing a blast from his Havoc Staff at me. Oh, great. I can block Evil-Lyn and Trap Jaw's attacks, but not something like that -
- which becomes a moot point as it strikes He-Man's sword instead. I look up to see him standing there, larger than life, and my heart beats just a bit faster. Then I remember what happened yesterday, and it's all I can do to keep from twitching. I mutter a thank-you and immediately turn away, trying to find someone to fight so I don't have to look at him.
Finally, after what seems like hours of getting nowhere, the battle starts going our way. Just as He-Man is getting the edge over Skeletor, I see Evil-Lyn getting to her feet behind him, mouthing the words of a spell. There's no time to warn him, so I launch myself at her instead. It's enough to knock her off balance, and the magic she was going to unleash on He-Man explodes in her hands, sending us both flying.
I land flat on my back, and sit up just in time to see Evil-Lyn smash into the side of a boulder, leaving an indentation in the rock. She collapses in a heap, and I can't help but smile a little. I know it's immature, but she had it coming to her. Nearby, He-Man and Skeletor are facing off, staff and sword flashing. He-Man finds an opening, punching Skeletor so hard that he goes sailing backwards, his fist moving so fast I can barely see it. I can't help but be impressed at his fighting ability. Maybe I was imagining things yesterday. I only wish he'd gotten here earlier.
Around me, Skeletor's forces are retreating once again. Beast Man's griffins are snatching them up, and one grabs Evil-Lyn's limp form before my father can reach her. I flop back down in the dirt for a moment, staring up at the sky and wondering when my life got completely out of whack. I'm aware that I look fairly silly, but we're all tired. I sigh and close my eyes.
Someone kneels down beside me. "Teela, are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm fine," I say, not opening my eyes. "I think I'll just lie here for a few hours until everything stops hurting."
There's a small chuckle. "Sorry about that. I came as fast as I could."
I open my eyes to find myself staring up into He-Man's blue eyes, which are shining with suppressed mirth. My world abruptly turns inside out again. They're blue. Adam's eyes are blue. The same exact shade of blue. No, it's more than that. I may be able to brush off everything else, but I can't deny what I'm seeing - the eyes are the same.
I'm not fine. Not fine at all.
His smile fades, and worry replaces the amusement in his eyes - the same expression I saw on Adam's face the other day. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I lie, sitting up and getting to my feet. He tries to help, but I swat his hands away. I don't want him to touch me right now, and I can't look at him. I feel sick. Father comes up to me, and he exchanges a look with He-Man over my shoulder. I suddenly remember the clearing. He knew. He knew all along. My father and my best friend have been stringing me along, lying to me, all this time. Letting me think my best friend had become a coward. Letting me think that the most powerful man in the universe was real.
They're surrounding me on both sides. It's almost suffocating. I need to get away. I need to think.
I swat away my father's comforting arm and shove past him, heading for the trees. I hear his hurt exclamation, and it hurts me too, but I wouldn't have been able to get past He-Man. I break into a run, bolting for the relative solitude of the forest. I can hear the confused cries behind me, but I can't stop. I just have to get away.
You know the stock scene that follows, right? Freaked-out heroine does a mad dash into the woods, blindly running, not paying any attention to where she's going, then gets herself in another mess and has herself saved by the hero. I know that scene's been in half of the plays that Man-E-Faces has been in, if not more.
I'm not some ditzy heroine in a play. I may be confused, but I have a good sense of direction. I'm headed straight for the Palace. On foot. I don't intend to get there, but it's better than veering into the Vine Jungle and getting trapped in a bog.
I make it almost to the lagoon before I have to stop. My lungs are burning, and sweat is pouring down my face. I stop in a fairly well-lit clearing, leaning against a tree to steady myself. I press my face against the bark for a moment, enjoying the relative quiet. The only sounds are the cries of birds and my own heavy breathing. Tears come to my eyes, and I try to focus on my breath, calming my thoughts. I need to get a grip in the worst way.
Of course. The absolute last person I want to see is the one they send after me. Aren't I lucky?
I don't turn around as he dismounts from Battle Cat. Part of me is hoping that if I pretend he's not there, he'll leave me alone. No such luck. I wipe the tears from my eyes, still looking out into the trees and away from the intruder. "Go away," I say, my voice oddly calm.
"Not until you tell me what's wrong."
I can't help but choke out a laugh. He doesn't even sound like Adam, yet the inflection's almost the same, which makes it even weirder. Take Adam down several octaves, and that would be his voice. And I never noticed it til now. "Why should I? Why should I tell you anything? It's not like you've been honest with me."
"What?" He doesn't get it. A large hand falls gently on my shoulder. "Teela, please-"
"Don't touch me!" I shove his hand away, finally spinning around to face him. I'm nearly shaking with frustration, my nails digging into my palms almost to the point of drawing blood. He towers over me, looking utterly confused and hurt. And just for a moment, he actually looks like Adam. Just as stubborn, and just as clueless. Yet... I'm still not sure.
I have to be sure.
I stare at him for a second before finally breaking the silence. "Change back."
"Change back!" I'm shouting now, but I don't care if anyone's around to hear it. I don't see any Doomseekers around. "I want to talk to Adam!"
Confusion gives way to stunned surprise. Even Battle Cat looks poleaxed, which is pretty impressive beneath that helmet. "How-"
I move up the scale to a scream. "NOW!"
He lifts the sword without hesitation. "LET THE POWER... RETURN!"
Again lightning strikes out of nowhere, bathing the clearing in white light. I'm ready for it this time, and manage to shield my eyes to avoid going blind. When the light clears away, Adam is standing there with Cringer beside him, looking at me expectantly. "Fine. Happy now?"
My first reaction isn't conscious, rational, or the result of any sort of coherent thought on my part. I don't realize what I'm doing until my fist makes contact with his face, and by then it's too late to stop it.
It's true. It's all true.
Why Adam was acting so strangely, why my father kept running off, why my best friend had become a craven coward overnight - it's been staring me in the face all this time. And they never told me - my best friend and my father have been lying to me the whole time. For the first time in my life, I feel weak in the knees.
Adam goes down hard, and so do I, sitting down hard on a boulder and putting my head in my hands.
He sits up, wincing in pain. "If that's your idea of 'talking,' I never want to get you really mad."
I'm too drained to supply a comeback. Or look up. Or move.
"It's true," I mutter through my hands.
"Yeah," Adam says. "It is."
Something soft and heavy bumps against my elbow, and I finally glance up to see that Cringer is butting his head against me, looking up at me with worried yellow eyes. I almost want to shove him away, but it's not Cringer I'm angry with. Poor cat's probably almost as confused as I am. I scratch him behind an ear instead, grateful for the comfort. Adam's gotten to his feet, and just stands there, not saying anything. I know that look on his face; he's steeling himself for another outburst. The skin below his eye already looks kind of puffy; he's going to have quite a shiner.
Good going, Teela. You just brushed off your father, had a breakdown in front of all the Masters, and cold-cocked your best friend. What could you possibly do for an encore?
Well, I can't do much worse.
"You lied to me," I say.
"I can explain-" I glare at him, and he changes tactics. "I didn't have a choice."
"Oh, come on, Adam, there's always a choice!" I push Cringer gently away, sliding off the boulder and getting right in his face. "You let me think you'd crashed somewhere, or were trapped somewhere, or your Sky Sled malfunctioned, just so you could play hero?" The little voice of common sense is correcting me as soon as the words come out of my mouth, but I keep going. It's better than taking it out on him with my fist again. I've got a second wind, and I'm going to make the most of it while I can.
"I wasn't playing! Look, Teela, you're my best friend-"
"Are you so sure? I don't even know you anymore! I mean, one minute you're running away, the next minute you're rushing in, then I find THIS out! And every time you showed up as He-Man..." I hesitate, feeling suddenly cold. "I never saw you in there. Not til today."
Adam blinks, surprised by the mood swing. "Why today?"
"After the battle yesterday, I followed you. I saw you change back - right in front of my father." I wrap my arms around myself, looking away. "You didn't see me, and I thought for a while I'd imagined the whole thing. Or that it was some kind of trick. Evil-Lyn messing with my head again, maybe."
"It's not a trick." He sounds a bit insulted. I smile, a little.
Another awkward pause descends. Adam looks at his shoes, I look at the trees, and Cringer stares at both of us, wondering if we've both lost our minds. I'm still angry - with Adam and with myself. I've known Adam almost my entire life. And until today, I couldn't even look behind the mask and see my best friend behind it. I had to see him change back twice to believe it. So what kind of best friend does that make me?
I sit back down again, trying to think. There's something else, something I can't even voice, even in the midst of irrational screaming. For a while there, I had a serious crush on He-Man. I can admit that to myself at least. So finding out that it was Adam all the time... it makes my head ache. Don't get me wrong, I like Adam. I really do. Even when he's at his most obnoxious, he's still my friend. And that's just the problem. I've known him so long he's like the brother I never had. So when I realize that Adam and He-Man are the same person, knowing that I've had a crush on He-Man, it just feels completely wrong. How could my best friend string me along like this? How could he mess with my head like this?
But I don't ask that. I can't ask that.
"So who else knows?" I finally manage.
"Man-At-Arms," he answers. "The Sorceress, and -" He stops, but I glare at him until he admits, "Orko."
I nearly fall off the boulder I'm sitting on. "Orko?" As in, Orko, the jester? Orko, who's blown up more things in my father's lab than I can count? Wow, I'm even lower in the hierarchy than I thought.
Adam winces. "Yeah, well, Orko found out by accident."
"He would." I close my eyes for a second, rubbing my temples. The headache is subsiding a little bit.
"Teela... I really wanted to tell you." He sits down beside me. "I really did. But I promised I wouldn't tell anyone. I couldn't."
"Why?" I ask. "Why did you let me go on acting like an idiot?"
That really catches him off guard. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
"You know," I begin, but I see the complete confusion in his eyes. "Oh, come on, Adam. Even you saw the way I acted when He-Man was around."
It takes him a second to put two and two together. "You never acted like an idiot," he says, and I just give him my patented Look of Death. He sighs, squirming under my gaze. "I just... I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell you the truth, and I wasn't going to brush you off for no reason." Adam grins suddenly. "I mean, look what happened when you found out anyway."
I smile in spite of myself. Okay, he's got a point. I haven't exactly been pleasant to him these past few months. And while He-Man never gave me the brush off, he never encouraged me.
We sit there in silence for a few moments, neither one speaking. It's a comfortable silence, mainly because we're both too tired to really be mad at one another, but I'll take what I can get. I'm not angry anymore - not at Adam, anyway - but I'm still confused. I want to ask more, want to know how the heck he got the power, why it happened... but that's something I need to ask Father. After I finish yelling at him, of course.
Adam finally breaks the silence. "So now what?"
I don't have a clue. I do know that eventually we're going to have to get out of the clearing, that I'm going to have to explain my actions to the Masters, and somehow explain why Adam's getting a black eye the size of my fist.
Well, first things first.
I pull out the small remote I have with me, sending a signal to my Wind Raider and setting it on autopilot; it should be here in five minutes. Adam sees what I'm doing and gets up. "I'm going to Grayskull, to see if I can't smooth things over. I'll meet you back at the Palace."
He starts to reach for his sword. "I can take us both-"
"No." My tone leaves no room for discussion. "I need to think. I need to talk to Father."
"And then what?"
I can see the shape of the Wind Raider in the distance, and shake my head. "I don't know." When the Wind Raider lands, I hop into it as quickly as I can and take off, lifting higher and higher above the clearing until Adam and Cringer look like small red and green dots, which fade into the green of the forest as I take off for Grayskull.
I don't see Adam again for the rest of the afternoon, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It gives me the chance to corner my father in his lab and let him have it - but this time I don't resort to my fists. Adam's already answered some of my questions, and my father gets off easy as a result.
He wants me to come to Grayskull tomorrow, so the Sorceress will answer my questions. Considering our last conversation, I'm betting that I'll leave with even more questions as a result. But he doesn't suggest anything like wiping my memory or anything - now that I know the truth, he's going to trust me with all of it.
I suppose that's comforting.
Of course, I still plan to get on his case about this for a solid week at least. Yeah, he had reason, but he did lie to me for a few months about something that seriously messed with my mind when I found out. Really, he should know better than anyone - I'm not that thick. Sooner or later I was bound to find out. Not figure it out - I could never have come up with it on my own - but he was the one who taught me how to track the enemy. So it is all his fault, if you think about it.
I head out to the empty training range after dinner, planning to work off a little stress while there's still daylight to do it in. I'm surprised to find that someone's already out there already. Adam's got the simulation set for solo, jumping from block to block to dodge the glowing projectiles that bounce to and from the cubes in a random pattern. I watch him for a minute or two; he's not doing too badly. Adam does pretty well for himself without an audience. It's when he's showing off that he looks like an idiot.
Then again, he's a teenage boy. What can you expect?
I wait til there's a lull in the action to shut off the simulation and ride my hoverboard up there. "Hey, is there room for two?"
"If you're gonna beat me up, you might want to wait on it," Adam says, smirking. "Too many people know we're out here for me to blame a tree branch."
A tree branch. He went and told his father he'd had a run-in with a tree branch on his hoverboard. That's like telling someone the beating you got from someone's club is from when you fell down the stairs.
"The only beating you're getting is when I beat you at this," I assure him, bringing up the two-player sim and the glowing ball materializes in my hands.
He dodges the first volley, catching it on the rebound. "So how're you doing with... you know?"
"Okay." I dodge his throw, but I have to let it rebound three times before I can catch it. "I talked to Dad. And no, I didn't beat him up, if you're gonna ask."
"Great. I'm special." He narrowly misses a strike, and has to nearly cross the entire range to catch the ball.
"'Special' is not the word I'd use." He launches it hard at me when my back's turned, and he almost hits me, the ball brushing my ponytail. "Hey! Cheater!"
"You snooze, you lose, Teela!" The wiseass is grinning from ear to ear as I scramble to get the ball, which is bouncing crazily off the cubes. Yeah, this is definitely the Adam I know. Annoying, smart-mouthed, but still ready for a fight or a good back-stabbing if it'll get our friendship back on track.
I do manage to catch it, but I don't retaliate immediately, tossing the ball from hand to hand as I work my way back up to the level he's on. "I can deal with this - with your little secret. And you realize what this means for our training sessions, don't you, Your Highness?"
Whenever I call him that, Adam's in trouble. And he knows it. "What?"
I spin the ball on one finger, giving him my most evil smile. "I don't have to hold back anymore."
He looks at the ball. He looks at my expression. He smiles right back. And now, finally, I can truly believe it.
Adam is He-Man.
He-Man is Adam.
Something tells me that things are going to get a lot more interesting from here on out.