On the morning of her first night home after the war had been won, it was not nightmares that woke Adora up from a sleep that had never been very sound in the first place. Instead, it was the kind of stillness that she hadn't had the privilege of enjoying for nearly six years that made sleep impossible.
Adora was never going to get used to waking up in this bed.
Adora knew that if she let herself, she'd lie in the bed that was too big and think a little too much about the contrast between its softness and the hard floor of Whispering Woods. So she forced herself up and wriggled out of the bed. It was still early. Maybe if she was quiet, she'd be able to slip out to the stables and get in an early morning run with Spirit before anyone missed her.
She was in the middle of brushing out Spirit's mane when she heard the footsteps. She automatically tensed, because some aspects of Horde training were difficult to let go. But on the second foot fall, the steps became familiar to her, and she recognized them as belonging to Adam.
"You don't look like you've gotten much sleep, Brother," she greeted him. She knew he'd gone to bed. He'd walked her to her room last night, after the welcome back party that had felt as uncomfortable as her bed did this morning. He'd kissed her on the cheek, promised it would get better, and given her the kind of tight brotherly hug that made Adora wonder what it would have been like, having those kind of hugs all her life, whenever she'd wanted them.
But there was a slump to his shoulders this morning and the kind of stench that told her he hadn't been enjoying his oversized bed with any of the many ladies in Eternia who wanted to be his companion.
"There was a disturbance," Adam answered. He leaned onto the door of Spirit's stall, and Adora looked up from her task long enough to see the tiredness in his eyes. Regardless of his tiredness, he chuckled softly when Spirit dipped his head against Adam's cheek to demand a proper petting. His large hands - smaller than He-Man's and She-Ra's, but larger than Adora's - reached up and completely messed up the careful brushing that she'd been so focused on.
But then, a run would have done the same.
"You should have woken me," Adora chided lightly. "I could have helped."
"On your first official night home? What kind of brother would that make me?" Adam reached into the bucket that was sitting on his side of the stall and offered Spirit one of the Eternian vegetables that he was so fond of. They were, in Adora's estimation, a foul-tasting root, not nearly as pleasant as the slightly sweet roots that she had foraged for Spirit at the northeast edge of Whispering Woods.
But Spirit liked them, and the sauce that Chef Allen made to put over them when he served them really was delicious.
"It wasn't not my first night in Eternia, Brother," Adora reminded him. The war had allowed her the spare night here and there, and there had been at time when Adam had first found her that she thought She-Ra's fight would be on Eternia.
That was going to be true from now on, but it hadn't been for the first six years that Adora had known the truth.
"No, but it was supposed to the first night of your life here," Adam protested. Her brother was kind and good, but he was used to being a prince, and that showed plainly sometimes - namely whenever someone argued with him.
"Pretty sure that was about twenty-seven years ago, Dear Brother," Adora teased him right back. Then, because her brother was a good man as well as a prince, the crinkle between his brows eased as he laughed.
"Then you wanted me to have disturbed your first peaceful night sleep in twenty-seven years?" Adam asked.
Adam offered Spirit another one of those root vegetables and Spirit's whole body shook with happiness as the vegetable was accepted. Somewhat guiltily, Adora offered, "You might not actually be waking me up at all."
"Oh? Didn't sleep so well, huh?" It was supposed to be nonchalant, but that would require Adam to care a great deal less than he did.
"Bed's a little bigger than I'm used to," she said. "Keeps waking me up, in the middle of the night. And if that doesn't do it, the lack of bugs or sticks ... or Bow snoring two tents away, does."
It wasn't something that she intended to share.
It wasn't something she could share with Mother, who hadn't stopped talking about how wonderful it was that both of her babies were home.
It wasn't something she could share with Father, who looked just as happy as Mother but couldn't help but wonder if the Rebellion's tactics could be applied to fighting against Skeletor.
It wasn't something she could share with Man-at-Arms or Sorceress, who were confidants of Adam, but not Adora.
It wasn't something she could share with Captain Teela, who didn't quite understand why Adora had devoted six years to fighting an enemy other than Skeletor.
But she could share with Adam, who had seen Adora at her worst, and loved her anyway. He would think no less of her for the fact that part of her heart had remained behind in Etheria.
Adam spent a moment longer focusing on Spirit than was actually necessary, before he asked, "I'd thought... growing up with Hordak and Shadow Weaver as your parents... " Adam's tone didn't betray his never-well hidden anger at them, but the slight upturn of his nose did. "I thought you'd be used to having big beds."
"They didn't want to spoil me," Adora said, as gently as possible, because she knew that there were people who thought Adam was spoiled, who didn't realize that the careless prince persona was the kind of lie that was a burden of being Eternia's savior.
Sometimes, Adora wondered if he would have taken the same persona if she'd been around. If he would have had to, and if he had, would it hurt him as much as it obviously did, if she'd had to do the same?
But Adam didn't look hurt; he looked angry, which was a rare look on him when they weren't discussing the Horde. "They didn't want any reminders of you being a princess," he guessed. "Instead of a warrior."
Spirit rubbed his muzzle along Adam's face in what could only be a reproach, and Adam sighed against Spirit's gentle scolding. "And I guess once you were a soldier, being spoiled was out of the question."
"Despite what Catra would have told you, yes," Adora admitted. "Once I went away to the training academy, my quarters were the same as everyone else's for years, until I became force captain."
Despite Catra's assessment of being Hordak's favorite ... something that Adora couldn't deny, and neither could the twist in Adora's chest that came when she thought about why she'd been Hordak's favorite ... Adora had never taken advantage of being the favorite. She'd wanted to earn her posts, and she'd done so by living in quarters that had featured the same amenities as anyone else. When Adora closed her eyes, she could still remember those hard, cold, gray cots and the matching gray blankets that had always been checked, every morning, to make sure that they had been tucked in.
Catra should remember that much, Adora thought bitterly. They'd been roommates once, back before the resentments and before Adora's successes. They'd been friends once.
"You have a way of leaving your friends behind, though, don't you, Adora?" Catra had taunted once. Standing in a stall on a planet that felt wrong, the memory of that discussion wasn't a pleasant one.
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't exactly trust Catra's assessments of events," Adam pointed out.
"I trusted them, once," Adora said quietly.
"It's okay to miss them, you know," Adam remarked and Spirit gave the kind of grunt that was approval.It was as much approval as Adam could get from a horse; the grunt would have been the same had it came from Swiftwind instead of Spirit.
"I do miss my friends in the rebellion a great deal," Adora admitted. "Both the ones who made it, and the ones who didn't."
"It's okay to miss the friends who weren't part of the Rebellion, too."
"Is it? These are people who tried to kill me and my ... other friends for six years. People who committed all sorts of atrocities to innocent people." She realized belatedly that she was raising her voice, and she winced. She certainly didn't want to yell at Adam, and if she kept it up, one of the guards were going to alert Captain Teela.
That was a great impression to leave upon the woman that was probably going to marry Adam some day, wasn't it?
"But before all of that, they were your friends," Adam pressed on stubbornly. "Look, if tomorrow ... I don't know, I found out that Teela and Orko were on the wrong side of the war against Skeletor, getting over that would be hard. I can't even imagine - "
"You can't imagine it because you know that Teela and Orko are good people," Adora pointed out.
"And you thought Catra was, too. And Hordak. And Shadow Weaver." Adam shrugged. "You loved them. You did what you had to. You defeated them. But they are all imprisoned now, because of you, when you loved and trusted them once. It's okay to miss those people, just as much as you miss Glimmer and Casta."
Despite the heaviness of the conversation, Adora smiled at the fact that Adam specifically mentioned Glimmer and Casta. Of course those were the members of the rebellion that he'd mention.
"I always knew that Hordak and Weaver were going to be locked up," Adora said. "I knew how devoted that they were to the Horde. But I thought... I'd hoped that I'd be able to ... " It sounded silly to admit it aloud, so Adora didn't.
She didn't have to.
"You'd hoped you'd be able to bring one of them over to the Rebel's side?" Adam offered. "You thought that they'd be able to do what you were able to?"
Adora nodded slowly. "I know it's ridiculous, Adam. I know that Shadow Weaver's spell helped cloud my judgment, and I know that Catra and the others didn't have that. They chose to join the Horde of their own free will."
And of course, there had been some who had changed sides, like General Sunder. Adora should, she supposed, count that as a victory. But she hadn't loved General Sunder the way she'd loved Hordak, Shadow Weaver, or Catra. There had been no friendship regained when General Sunder joined the rebellion.
It was a very selfish way of looking at things, Adora knew.
"It's not ridiculous," Adam chided, his scolding almost as gentle as Spirit's. "You're mourning the loss of the person they might have been, if they'd fully returned your trust. You just need to realize that there's nothing unnatural about that, Sister."
"It wasn't unnatural when I was on Etheria, perhaps," Adora argued. "But things have changed now."
"But it's the kind of change that will take some getting used to," Adam told her. "In the meantime, your grief is still completely understandable."
"Maybe I'll come to that realization when you realize that you have help now, whenever there's a disturbance," Adora retorted. She mounted Spirit then, and let her fingers tangle in Spirit's mane.
Her words were supposed to be a dismissal, so that she could go on her morning run.
But the tiredness she'd noted in Adam's eyes earlier had returned, and when he opened the stall for her, she hesitated only slightly before she offered, "Since we're both having trouble dealing with change, would you like to go for a run, or would you rather go back home and catch some sleep?"
He didn't hesitate at all before climbing onto Spirit behind her. "I am happy you're home," he whispered. "And next time, I will come tell you about the disturbance, instead of trying to take it on by myself."
"And I will try to be asleep when you come to wake me," she promised.
Adora gave a gentle nudge of her foot then, urging Spirit forward.
The feel of the wind across her face and in her hair had always allowed Adora the kind of escape from her concerns that was a special kind of freedom. She'd always treasured it, especially in the middle of the war against the Horde.
That freedom was still present this morning, only this time with Adam's hands around her waist, an ever present reminder of those things that demanded her attention.
But the combination of freedom and the knowledge that she was not alone were not altogether unpleasant things.
"We are going to be late, if we don't head back now," Adora shouted over the wind.
"Yes, but we will be late together," Adam shouted in return.
Adora did not change change directions. Instead, she gave Spirit another gentle nudge and the three of them continued forward as fast as Spirit's legs could carry them.