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What Love Is

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Adora hung her head, keeping her eyes closed. She didn’t need to open them to know where she was. The constant hum of the Fright Zone’s power grid, which had often soothed her to sleep as a child, was now a grim reminder. She had been defeated. Captured. She had failed to protect Bright Moon and her friends.

Glimmer, Bow… Mermista, Seahawk… Perfuma, Frosta, Spinderella and Netossa… Queen Angella…

She’d only caught one last, tear-streaked glimpse of them before blackness had descended. All she remembered was the sight of them rushing toward the runestone, desperate to protect it from the oncoming Horde. A flash of incredible pain — then, nothing.

Her body still carried reminders of the battle she’d lost. The scratches Catra had left between her shoulders stung when she moved. Her arms and legs were bruised, and she’d taken at least one lingering blow to the chest that made it difficult to breathe.

A cracked rib. You’ll live. But the others…

Tears welled in Adora’s eyes, but she squeezed them back. She didn’t deserve to cry. The Horde might be holding her prisoner, but at least she was alive. Her friends might not be. And it was all her fault.

If you’d fought harder… If you hadn’t lost your sword… If you’d convinced Catra to join you instead of pushing her further into evil. If, if, if…

Adora couldn’t hold the tears at bay any longer. She wept ugly, embarrassing sobs of equal parts grief and guilt. They echoed around the prison cell, drifting into nothing. That was what she was. Nothing. She-Ra was nothing without her sword, and Adora was nothing without her friends and the Princess Alliance.

Nothing. All my fault.

She sagged, descending further into hopelessness. There was no way out of this, just like there was no way out of the Fright Zone. Maybe she should have known that from the beginning.

Light Hope had warned her that her attachments would bring about her downfall. Instead, she’d been the one to bring about the downfall of her friends.

***

“Come on, Catra,” Scorpia said, with her usual a big, beaming smile. “You should be happy! Maybe we didn’t conquer Bright Moon this time, but we brought Adora back. That’s a big win, isn’t it?”

Catra flexed her claws, her upper lip curling over her fangs. Logically, Scorpia was right. It was a win. One of their main objectives, in fact. At the same time, it was so painfully frustrating that it didn’t feel like a victory at all.

Adora’s back here in the Fright Zone. Exactly where I don’t want her to be.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said, as drolly as she could. Scorpia was annoyingly perceptive, and she definitely didn’t want the force captain to realize the extent of her inner turmoil.

“You guess? It’s great!” Scorpia said, practically bouncing on her toes. “I bet with enough time, we could get her on our side again. She did grow up here, after all. And imagine how easy it would be to defeat the other princesses and get their runestones with She-Ra fighting for us?”

Catra snarled, slamming her fist against the wall. It sent a painful jolt through her arm, but she ignored it, raking her claws down the metal and leaving deep scores behind. “Adora isn’t one of us anymore. She’s the enemy, and we don’t need her.”

Scoripa’s eyes widened, shining with hurt, and her tail swished nervously behind her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“Just go check on her, okay? Make sure she’s still in there or whatever. But send Entrapta in here first. I need to talk to her.”

“Okay,” Scorpia said, with a note of sympathy in her voice that made Catra’s skin crawl. “But if you wanna share your feelings—”

“Ugh. Will you go already?”

“I’m going. But if you need to talk later, you know where to find me.” Scorpia backed out of the room, giving Catra one last lingering look full of worry.

Catra huffed, clenching her paws into tight fists of frustration. Who does she think she is, acting all buddy-buddy with me? It pissed her off for several reasons — she almost would have preferred it if Scorpia was the ambitious type, a cunning force captain gunning for second-in-command status in competition with her.

But no. Scorpia had to be sweet. It was infuriating. Almost as infuriating as Adora’s presence here.

Catra had actually considered leaving her on the battlefield. Once she’d knocked Adora unconscious, she’d agonized over what to do for a split second. In the end, a curious emotion she still wasn’t able to name had overtaken her. Hollowness, maybe. Letting Adora fall off the edge of the cliff in the First Ones ruin had left her feeling strangely empty inside, and Catra feared killing her would make that void worse.

Furious with herself, she’d seized the only other option: hauling Adora’s prone form back to the nearest skiff before the sparkling girl and the silly boy with the arrows could reach them. Her only consolation was that she wouldn’t be handing Adora over to Shadow Weaver upon their return. She was in control now. No more trying to please her cruel ex-mentor.

“Catra?”

Catra snapped out of her thoughts, turning toward the voice. Entrapta stood in the doorway, twisting the ends of her hair around each other in what appeared to be barely-restrained eagerness.

“What?” Catra growled, hoping the ex-princess hadn’t seen too much. Although she’d asked Scoripa to send Entrapta in, her emotions had gotten the better of her once more. That’s happening too often lately.

If Entrapta noticed Catra’s foul mood, she didn’t let on. “Exciting news! I’ve been performing extensive experimental tests on She-Ra’s sword. Based on my previous encounter with Adora in Dryl, and the most recent set of results, I’ve come to several fascinating conclusions—”

Catra rolled her eyes. “Get to the point.”

“I believe She-Ra’s weapon may in fact be a runestone!”

That was clear enough for Catra to understand. Her eyes widened, then narrowed in thought, and she brought two fingers up to cup her chin. “A runestone…”

It was both good and bad news. Good because runestones were exceptionally powerful, connected to each other in ways even Entrapta didn’t fully understand. That meant, simply by holding onto She-Ra’s sword, they had a connection to all of the elemental princesses on Etheria. Bad because…

Catra suppressed a shudder. She had witnessed the Black Garnet’s effect on Shadow Weaver first-hand. Maybe Shadow Weaver was just a terrible person — that was definitely a strong possibility, supported by a lifetime of anecdotal evidence — but maybe the awful parts of her had been amplified by… whatever creepy stuff that thing could do?

If Adora’s dumb sword is a runestone, could it have changed her, too? Made her dependent on it? Made her leave?

The thought reassured Catra more than it should have. She hadn’t realized how hungry for an explanation she was, any explanation other than that Adora just hadn’t cared enough about her to stick around. It was embarrassing how suddenly and fiercely she longed to believe that Adora might have left because the sword had compelled her.

But it doesn’t matter now. She made her choice, and I’ve made something of myself apart from her.

Only then did Catra realize Entrapta was still rambling. “Yeah,” she said, interrupting the ex-princess mid-sentence. “So, what do we do about it?”

“More tests!” Entrapta said, clearly gleeful at the prospect. “Our experiments with the Black Garnet proved extremely successful, and all my data indicates that She-Ra’s sword is even more powerful.”

Catra nodded. “Okay. Do whatever it is you do, and tell me when you have something useful.”

A huge smile spread across Entrapta’s face. “Wonderful! I believe I can even incorporate some of the things I’ve learned about First Ones tech from examining the sword into some of my new robot designs—”

“Yeah, yeah. Just do it.”

Entrapta made a joyful noise and scurried out of the room, rushing to get back to her work. That left Catra alone. Alone with some very distracting unanswered questions. Her shoulders slumped, and she chewed on her lower lip. There was only one way to get answers, and it wasn’t an appealing prospect.

***

“I can’t believe we lost her,” Glimmer said, for what had to be the hundredth time.

“We haven’t lost her,” Bow repeated, also for the hundredth time. As much as he wanted to boost Glimmer’s spirits, cycling through the same conversation over and over didn’t seem to be getting them anywhere. “The Horde won’t kill Adora right away. I’m sure of it.”

“But what if they do?” Glimmer’s hands flew up to her face, partially covering her mouth. “What if we’re too late—”

“We won’t be too late,” Bow insisted. “We’ll get her back, just as soon as we come up with a plan.”

“Adora’s usually the one who comes up with plans, though…”

Bow’s heart sank. Glimmer had a point. Although he had taken charge a time or two in dire situations, Adora was their de-facto leader. She was always the one with the bright ideas. Always the first to rush into battle, putting herself in harm’s way to protect innocent people.

And look where that got her.

Bow shook himself. He couldn’t descend into hopelessness. Glimmer was already on the edge of doing so, and they wouldn’t be able to help Adora if they both lost themselves to despair. Adora needs us. She needs us at our best.

He received support from an unexpected place. Several figures entered the main hall, looking exhausted: Perfuma, Mermista, Frosta, Seahawk, Spinderella and Netossa. Although they’d changed clothes and tended to their most urgent injuries, the effects of the battle for Bright Moon were visible. They were bruised. Tired. Limping.

“We’re going for Adora, right?” Perfuma said, picking up her stride to reach them beside the long meeting table. Neither she nor the others bothered taking their seats. Bow understood why. The situation felt too urgent.

“Duh,” Mermista said. “Like, I’m so over the Horde taking our friends. And we’ve been to the Fright Zone once before. How much worse can it be this time?”

Bow frowned. He knew exactly how much worse. They’d left Entrapta behind to meet her fate, after all. But he appreciated Mermista’s confidence anyway.

It even put a weak smile on Glimmer’s face. “Really? You’d go back to the Fright Zone, even after what happened last time?”

“Of course!” Seahawk bellowed, placing his fist firmly on his chest. “We would never turn down an adventurous rescue mission. Not for our dear, brave friend Adora.”

As usual, Mermista rolled her eyes and edged away from him.

“You’ll have extra back-up this time,” Netossa said. She put her arm around Spinderella’s shoulder. “We’re in. Frosta too, right?”

Frosta’s icy eyes scanned the assembled party, but after a brief pause, she inclined her head. “She-Ra is a threat to the Horde. The Horde is a threat to us. We need to get her back.”

“All right.” Bow took a deep breath. “If we’re going to save her, we need all the help we can get." He straightened his arm, extending his fist. “For Adora.”

Despite the obvious pain on her face, Glimmer did the same. “For Adora,” she said, touching her fist to Bow’s. One by one, the others followed: Perfuma, Mermista, Seahawk, Frosta, Netossa and Spinderella.

“For Adora!”

***

Hungry. So hungry.

Shadow Weaver hunched on the floor of her cell, dragging broken fingernails over her mask. The gnawing emptiness inside her screamed. It had been ages since she’d felt the blissful rush of power from the Black Garnet. A torturous eternity.

Must… must have more…  so hungry…

With a groan of pain and frustration, she summoned what little strength she could, gaining a brief upper hand in the battle that waged within her. She was able to sit up, although she didn’t dare climb to her feet. Instead, she dragged herself over to a wall, bracing her back against it and panting heavily.

Would I have taken this power, if I’d known being deprived of it would hurt so much?

That was the question that haunted her waking hours. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been in this cell. Days? Weeks? Time blended together. There was only the ravenous beast within her, a beast that needed feeding before it tore her apart from the inside out.

Another wave of agony took hold, causing her to collapse and shudder. Her limbs twitched, and she huddled into a ball, burying her face in her arms. The ache was unbearable. It throbbed within her, calling, calling.

The stone…  Adora… the stone…

She had to have it back. Had to have them back. Had to get out of here, before she truly did go mad.

***

Adora’s dreams are haunted by ghostly faces.

There’s Glimmer a few yards ahead, covered in mud but standing her ground against an oncoming line of Horde robots. There’s Bow, firing arrows uselessly at their hulls, his eyes wide with fear. High above Bright Moon, Queen Angella raises her hands to the flickering runestone above her, desperately trying to keep its shield active.

“Glimmer! Bow! I’m coming!”

She tries to run, but her feet are stuck in the mud. She reaches behind her, but her sword isn’t strapped to her back. She’s frozen. Weaponless. All she can do is scream — but as Catra’s face appears before her, expanding to fill the horizon itself, even her breath is stolen. She can’t make a sound.

Catra laughs, and Adora’s ears ring with the cruel sound.

“When did you get so weak?”

“Huh?!”

Adora woke with a start, jerking up from the hard metal bench in her cell. Her right hand flew to her back, but just like in her dream, her sword was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t just a dream. I failed them.

Echoing footsteps approached, the sound of boot soles slapping on grating. Adora turned toward the noise, figuring it must have woken her. But who was it? For a brief moment, her heart leapt, and some stupid part of her hoped it might be her friends.

It turned out to be Catra. She emerged from the shadows, her tail lashing in a way Adora recognized. If that hadn’t given her irritation away, the sparks in her yellow and blue eyes would have.

Adora waited. Catra didn’t say anything.

“What?” Adora blurted out after several tense seconds, her impatience getting the better of her. “Aren’t you going to ‘Hey Adora’ me or something? Mock me for losing to you? Rub it in my face?”

Catra’s eyes narrowed. “Does that stupid sword communicate with you?”

Adora blinked. That was an unexpected question. She turned on the bench, standing up and stalking toward the electric green field that separated them. “Why do you want to know? If you’re trying to interrogate me, you’re doing a bad job.”

“Just answer the dumb question, Adora. Does the sword tell you to do things? How does it work?”

Adora folded her arms over her chest. She hardened her jaw, looking toward the wall.

“Come on! Okay, since you’re not answering, I’m going to assume yes. Did the sword tell you to leave the Horde?”

“What?” Adora turned back around. “No! I left the Horde because I watched them — watched you — burn a peaceful village to the ground and try to massacre the people there. I couldn’t go back after that.” She hesitated. “It scared me that you could.”

Catra clenched her fists. “You don’t get to judge me anymore, Adora. You’re my prisoner. I beat you.”

Adora didn’t answer.

“Ugh!” Catra threw her arms up in frustration. “This is pointless. But for your information, now that I’m Second in Command here, I’m in charge of you. I decide what happens to you.”

Adora merely snorted. “People in charge don’t usually have to say they’re in charge.”

“People in charge usually don’t get captured and let their “friends” down,” Catra snapped.

That hit a nerve. Adora’s lower lip trembled, and she stared at the floor, locking her eyes on her own boots. She sniffed, fighting back tears. Crying alone in her cell was one thing, but breaking down in front of Catra would be worse.

Not that things can get much worse…

“You’re pathetic,” Catra said. “Nothing like the Adora I used to know.”

Adora kept her gaze down. “I guess that’s one thing we agree on.”

“Forget this. Entrapta will find out what I want to know about the sword without you.”

“Entrapta?” Adora’s head snapped up. She leaned forward, bracing her hands on the buzzing green shield. “She’s alive?” By all accounts, Entrapta hadn’t made it out of the vents. That was what Bow and the others had told her. For the first time since her capture, her heart filled with warmth. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah, no thanks to you,” Catra grumbled. “Guess you’re turning the whole abandonment thing into a habit.”

“Let me talk to her,” Adora urged. “Please.”

“No way. We’re done here.” Catra turned away, giving one final lash of her tail. She took a few steps, then glanced back. She opened her mouth as if to say something, and for the briefest of moments, Adora thought she saw something soft in Catra’s eyes. Something like…

Worry?

Then it was gone, disappearing as swiftly as it had come. Catra whisked away, leaving Adora alone in her cell once more. Alone, but slightly more confident. If Entrapta had survived, maybe that meant her friends in Bright Moon had, too. Catra hadn’t mentioned the city. Surely if Hordak’s forces had conquered it, Catra’s competitive nature would have forced her to bring it up. To gloat over it.

If Bright Moon hasn’t fallen, maybe my friends will come for me after all. Maybe it’s not too late. Until then…

Adora sat back on the bench, bracing her elbows on her knees and resting her chin in her hands. She didn’t have a lot of options, but she needed to come up with some kind of plan. It wasn’t like she lacked time in her current position.

Chapter Text

Catra hesitated, staring at the intricate headboard above Shadow Weaver’s bed. No — her bed now. It was black, like the bed frame itself, with a glowing red stone in the middle that radiated an eerie light. Looking at it made Catra distinctly uncomfortable, although she doubted it had any magical properties.

She’d claimed Shadow Weaver’s room for herself, as well as all her previous mentor’s things. Doing so should have given her a great deal of satisfaction, but instead, Catra felt wary. Although she’d never been in here as a child, the room was full of unpleasant reminders.

It didn’t help that the decor practically screamed Shadow Weaver. Everything was black, red, and ominous, much like the Black Garnet itself. Although the sorceress was safely contained in a specially designed prison cell, her presence lingered here.

Catra stalked over to the bed. Pushing past her discomfort, she flopped on the mattress, sprawling her limbs out as far as possible. She’d never had a bed of her own before Adora left. She had slept at the foot of Adora’s bunk for as long as she could remember. She hated to admit it, but she still struggled to fall asleep without the sound of Adora’s breathing, or her smell clinging to the covers.

Not anymore. Now I have a bed. I have my own room. Something no one else in the Horde has except for Hordak himself.

A smile crept across her face. With some redecorating, this room would suit her nicely. She’d get rid of Shadow Weaver’s old things and collect her own. Maybe she’d hang Adora’s stupid sword on the wall, as proof it couldn’t hurt her anymore — that Adora couldn’t hurt her.

Adora…

Some of Catra’s good mood faded. Even locked up, Adora was still a problem, and Catra wasn’t sure what, exactly, to do with her. Eventually, those annoying friends of hers would probably try and launch a rescue mission. Catra sighed. At least preparing for them would give her something to do while Entrapta continued gathering data.

A knock on the door startled Catra from her thoughts. She sat up, leaping off the mattress and into a crouch on the stone floor. Her hair stood on end, and her ears flattened against her head, but then a familiar voice called out. “Catra? It’s Scorpia. Are you in there? If you aren’t in there, you don’t have to answer.”

Catra exhaled. Stop being stupid. Shadow Weaver’s locked up. She isn’t coming to punish you for being in here. “Yeah, Scorpia. Come in, I guess.”

The door opened, and Scorpia entered. Her eyes widened as she took in the room: the massive bed, the polished black furniture, and the eerie threads of red light that ran through the cavernous ceiling. “Hmm, I’ve never been in here before.” She wandered over to the headboard, extending her claw to touch the glowing red stone in the middle. “Pretty…”

“Stop that.” Catra smacked Scorpia’s claw away. “I mean, you’ll smudge it, or break it, or something.”

Scorpia offered a sheepish smile. “Sorry. It kinda looks like the Black Garnet, huh? Guess Shadow Weaver did that on purpose.”

“Maybe. What are you doing here?”

A furrow appeared on Scorpia’s brow. “You didn’t come to dinner. We always eat dinner together since we became the Best Friend Duo. Entrapta and I were wondering where you were. Hmm, that reminds me: should we change our name to the Best Friend Trio, or ask Entrapta what name she’d like?”

Catra fought the urge to scowl. Scorpia was annoying, but she meant well. Plus, deep down, Catra had to admit it was kind of nice that someone had missed her company. Not that she’d ever admit it out loud.

“Wasn’t at dinner because I wasn’t hungry.” She glanced at the heavy black drapes that covered the room’s lone window. “So, I’m thinking we shred those ugly curtains and get some more light in here.” She could already picture herself curled up in the middle of the bed with what little sun the Fright Zone provided shining through to warm her fur.

“Ooh!” Scorpia clasped her claws in excitement. “Redecorating! I like it. Can Entrapta and I help?”

Catra shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”

“Yes! Best Friend Trio has a new mission. So, what do you think of black and pink instead of black and red? Oh, or maybe yellow?”

“Mm.” As usual, Catra tuned Scorpia out, until the force captain sidled up and grabbed her elbow in a gentle but firm hold. “Whoa, what—”

“C’mon, we have to go find stuff for your room! And get you some dinner. Can’t redecorate on an empty tummy.”

Before Catra could object, Scorpia dragged her out of the room, away from Shadow Weaver’s oppressive presence. To her surprise, she felt far more relaxed in the hall. Maybe redecorating isn’t such a bad idea after all… at least it would lower the creep factor.

***

“So,” Glimmer said, scanning the hastily-assembled rescue force before her, “is everyone clear on the plan?”

There were several nods of agreement from around the room.

Netossa spoke first. “Spinderella and I will sneak up to the edge of the Scrapyard, net a few of the guards, and tie them up so we can steal their Horde armor for Glimmer and Bow.”

“Mermista, Seahawk, and I will cause a distraction at the main gate,” Perfuma added with a smile. “I’m thinking… flowers.”

“It’s better than the sewers, I guess,” Mermista drawled. “I’m so over that.”

An enthusiastic grin spread across Seahawk’s face. “A distraction! Excellent. Those are my specialty, if I do say so.”

Mermista side-eyed him. “Really? I thought your speciality was being annoying.”

Seahawk didn’t appear deterred in the slightest. “Don’t you mean… devastatingly handsome?”

“Definitely not what I meant.”

“Please,” Glimmer said, raising her voice to regain everyone’s attention. “We need to focus here, people. So, you three will cause a distraction, and Spinderella and Netossa will join you as fast as they can. Meanwhile, Bow and I will teleport in through the back with our disguises, making sure no one sees us.”

“Yeah!” Bow said. “We’ll find Adora, free her, and then meet up with you so we can make our escape. Easy peasy.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Spinderella said, a wrinkle of concern forming in her brow. “That Horde leader… the one with the ears.”

“You mean Catra?” Glimmer supplied.

“You know,” Netossa said, “I know she’s our enemy, but I appreciate that she has a name that says it like it is…”

“That makes perfect sense, my dear. But from what Adora’s told us, this Catra is smart. I’m sure she’ll be expecting something like this.”

“Oh dear,” Perfuma murmured. “What if she puts a bunch of guards right near Adora’s cell to prevent anyone from teleporting her out?”

“That’s where I come in,” Bow said. “I’ve been working on my arrows recently, and I’ve got a few tricks to keep them occupied.” He reached behind his back, pulling one out of his quiver. “This one’s a redesign of my super awesome sonic arrow. When it hits its target, it makes a really loud, piercing sound that should distract the guards.”

He twirled it in his fingers, until Glimmer reached out to grab his wrist. “Maybe don’t do that?”

“Riiight. Arrow safety. Smart.” He set it carefully back in his quiver, drawing another. “This one’s a flash arrow! It creates a blinding flash of light that should leave the guards seeing stars for several seconds. Glimmer and I can teleport in, grab Adora, and disappear before they know what hit them.”

“This is assuming they’re holding her in the same place they held Bow before,” Mermista said. “What if she’s somewhere else?”

Glimmer frowned. The thought had occurred to her as well, along with another, deeper worry: What if they’re using the Black Garnet to bind Adora, like they did to me? Its power stopped me from teleporting before… what if I can’t get Adora out?

“The plan might require some improvising,” she admitted, trying to sound positive and upbeat, “but it’s the best we’ve got. Worst case scenario, Bow will use some of his explosive arrows to blow up whatever’s between us and Adora. We’ll get her, I promise.”

Despite her own worries, her companions seemed to take heart at her speech. “I believe in us,” Perfuma declared, with an absolutely beaming smile.

“Adventure!” Seahawk crowed.

“Yeah,” Mermista said, with less sarcasm and more seriousness than usual. “No more friends left behind.”

Guilt churned in Glimmer’s stomach. It was her fault, after all, that they’d lost Entrapta. That she’d been kidnapped, and her friends had… No. They were there to rescue me, but it was the Horde’s fault. They’re the ones who caused all this. The ones who killed Entrapta. Unfortunately, those words were easier to think than to believe in her heart.

“Right. Let’s get the skiff. We need to rescue Adora as soon as possible.” We don’t know how much time she has left.

***

Okay. The plan. Let’s go over it again.

Adora had gone through her crazy idea several times already, but locked in a prison cell, she didn’t have much else to think about. The only other thoughts swirling in her head were too painful to focus on. The fate of Bright Moon, her friends, Catra…

Thinking about Catra was especially dangerous. With the flame of hope rekindled in her chest, Adora wasn’t ready to give up on Bright Moon and the Princess Alliance yet, but Catra was a problem she didn’t think she could fix.

It’s my fault. I left her behind with nothing and barely looked back. No wonder she hates me.

Adora shook herself. Her issues with Catra could wait. Her first priority had to be getting out of this stupid cell. She glared at the green force field between her and the precarious pathway beyond, which opened into a large, dark space where elevators carried Horde soldiers to different floors. Escaping would be tricky. Escaping without alerting the constant flow of foot traffic would be nearly impossible.

That’s never stopped you before, a voice said inside her head, one that sounded a lot like Bow’s. Adora took heart. Bow never gave up, no matter how bleak the situation, and she was determined to follow his example.

She stared at the electric barrier, listening to its hum. Her force captain training had only included a brief module on electrical engineering, but she had a basic understanding: enough to know that pouring a bunch of extra electricity into something could potentially overload the circuits and make it shut down.

As for where she’d get that electricity… all the guards carried tasers. They would also inevitably stop by to bring her food, which required opening a small square in the door large enough to reach one’s arms through. She just had to wait.

Her stomach rumbled. It was unfortunate she wouldn’t have time to eat the next meal the guards brought.

“A- hem.”

A throat cleared outside Adora’s cell. Footsteps followed, and a skinny, mop-haired figure stepped into view, narrow shoulders pulled back in an attempt to look more intimidating. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Kyle?”

Kyle forgot to puff himself up for a moment. He smiled, tilting his head. “You remembered my name.”

“Um, of course.” Adora approached the barrier, until only a few inches of buzzing green space remained between her and Kyle. Her eyes flicked down to his belt, and her heart leapt. Yes! He’s carrying a taser. “We’ve been in training together since we were kids.”

“I know. It’s just, uh… you left and all… and we never really talked much unless you were giving the squad orders…” He seemed to remember himself, narrowing his eyes in what Adora assumed was meant to be a menacing expression. “Your food, prisoner,” he said in a deliberately lowered voice, extending a tray toward the barrier.

Adora waited. Any second now… get ready… a slot will open, and then…

Kyle hesitated, drawing the tray back. He shrank in on himself, losing some of his manufactured confidence, and gave Adora an almost plaintive look. “So, um, how well do you know that boy with the arrows?”

Adora blinked. “What?”

“You know, the handsome boy with the dark skin and big smile?” A pink flush spread from the points of Kyle’s cheeks. “His shirt has a heart on it? His name’s, uh, Bow…”

“Wait, you know Bow?” She stumbled over her words. “I mean—I don’t know where or how he is since Catra knocked me out while I was trying to save Bright Moon.”

“Oh, Bright Moon’s fine,” Kyle said, with a dismissive wave of his free hand. “We retreated as soon as Catra defeated you and that ice princess froze the pillar the Moon Stone was standing on.”

Adora smiled, nearly laughing with relief. Although Catra’s behavior had made her suspect Bright Moon hadn’t fallen, she was surprised — but also very pleased — that Kyle had revealed so much information.

Kyle seemed surprised, too. “Er, y-you didn’t hear that from me, okay?” He leaned closer to the barrier, staring at her with wide eyes. “Please. Catra will kill me if she knows I told you anything. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.”

“It’s okay, Kyle. I won’t tell.”

He released a whooshing sigh. “Thanks. So, I bet you’re hungry. Here.” Once more, he extended the food tray toward her.

Adora snapped back into focus. She’d only have one chance to grab Kyle’s taser.

“So, do you know if Bow is single, or…?”

“Kyle,” she said, struggling to hold back her impatience, “you’re a really nice guy to chat with and all, especially for a guard, but I’m actually starving, so…”

“Oh! Right.” With a sheepish smile, Kyle finally offered the tray. A small square opened in the barrier, just large enough for Adora to shove her arm through.

She did so lightning-fast. The green force field shocked her side when she leaned against it, but she pushed through the pain, reaching down to snatch the taser from Kyle’s belt. He dropped the tray, stumbling back in surprise, but he was far too slow to stop her.

“Sorry,” Adora said, pulling the taser through the gap and into her cell.

“Adora, don’t—”

“I promise I’ll tell Bow you said hi.” Adora switched the taser to its highest setting, touching it to the force field.

The barrier wavered. Sparks flew from its surface. Lights flickered, both inside and outside the cell, followed by the groan of the power going out as darkness descended around them.

Adora’s eyes darted around what she could still see of her cell. She’d hoped her plan to overload the force field would work, but she hadn’t expected to fry the power to the entire prison block. Not that it mattered. An escape in the dark was better than no escape at all. It might even prove advantageous.

She shoved past Kyle, who still seemed totally bewildered, and ran along the walkway toward the lift. Luckily, she knew the layout of the prison block pretty well. I’ve gotta find my sword, hopefully before Catra finds me.

***

“And those are my top ten favorite weapons!” Scorpia finished explaining, complete with enthusiastic claw gestures. At least, Catra hoped she was finished explaining. Weapons were actually a pretty interesting topic, but the amount of energy Scorpia poured into the conversation was exhausting.

Still, Catra felt the need to contribute something for once rather than just rolling her eyes. “How do you even hold some of those weapons in your claws?”

“Some are tricky,” Scorpia admitted. “And, I mean, my claws and tail are my favorite weapons. You get it, right?”

Catra nodded. She and Scorpia had that in common (although the fact that she had anything in common with Scoria was still somewhat hard to believe). “Yeah, sure.”

“I really wish you’d gone to force captain training, Catra. We could’ve had so much fun sparring!”

“Mm. I guess we could—”

Before she could extend an offer she would probably regret later, they arrived at the commissary — just as someone else was leaving. The sliding metal doors whooshed open, and Entrapta sprinted through, her pigtails standing straight out to either side. They formed fists, grabbing Catra’s shoulders.

“Catra, the prison block! The guards just told me the power went out.”

Catra’s eyes widened. The prison block? Where Adora and Shadow Weaver were? That was a huge potential problem. “Like, all of the power?”

Entrapta leaned way too far into her personal space, nodding frantically. “Yes! A complete blackout. The guards are locking it down, but they need me to reactivate the power grid. You should come.”

“We should,” Scorpia said. “We need to make sure no one escapes.”

“Well…” Entrapta let go of Catra, tucking one hair-hand under her chin. “I actually meant you should come so you could observe me while I attempted to fix the issue, but yeah! Sure. You should stop the prisoners from escaping. Let’s go.” She grabbed one of Catra’s hands and one of Scorpia’s claws, dragging them both away from the commissary and toward the nearest lift.

Catra stumbled along awkwardly. She knew she should be on high alert — she was the new second-in-command, and a prison break during her first week would reflect very badly on her. Not to mention she’d bet any amount of money Adora was behind it.

But Adora wasn’t who she was worried about. Adora wasn’t the reason her blood ran cold, or a shiver raced down her spine. Her ex-best-friend wasn’t the Fright Zone’s only high-profile prisoner. Someone else was locked away too, magic gone and spirit broken, but still breathing.

Shadow Weaver. Catra yanked her arm out of Entrapta’s grip and took the lead, lips peeling back over her fangs. I can fix this. I’ve already beaten her once before. I don’t have to be afraid of her anymore… right?

Chapter Text

Shadow Weaver was unaccustomed to the dark.

Despite her chosen wardrobe, her powers, and her name, rarely did she find herself in total blackness. Shadows required a light source to exist, and so did she. Before her imprisonment, she had spent a great deal of time in the presence of the Black Garnet, which glowed with its own inner light.

Because of that, she spent the first several moments after the power died looking frantically around her cell, searching for its familiar red aura. Nothing. She couldn’t see her runestone or feel its magic. There was only hunger. Only the same emptiness and pain as always.

She huddled in the corner, dragging her nails over her cracked mask. Without the small piece of the Black Garnet she had carved from its surface and kept for herself, she had no connection to the runestone anymore. No way to feed the demon inside her.

A whispering thought coiled through her mind like smoke, soft and distant, but there nonetheless. The shred of sanity she retained reminded her that the barrier had come down.

Escape. Find the Black Garnet. Make it stop hurting. Take back what’s yours.

The slightest hope that she might be able to soothe the howling pit that lived inside her body was enough to get Shadow Weaver up and moving. She scrambled to her feet, staggering out of her cell. It wasn’t a graceful escape, but by some miracle, there were no guards outside. She heard shouting further along the walkway, near the other side of the prison block.

“The princess has escaped!”

“Get her!”

“Oh no, Catra’s gonna kill me—”

“Shut up, Kyle! You go that way, we’ll go this way.”

Shadow Weaver ignored the voices. She hurried away, arriving at an abandoned lift alongside the multi-leveled cavernous space in the center of the prison block. Then, she waited. Surely the power would return soon.

Her guess proved right. A minute later, the lights flickered overhead, and the lift hummed to life. She fumbled with the control board, cursing the way her hands shook, but managed to press the button that would take her down.

The lift descended swiftly and silently. As soon as it stopped, Shadow Weaver slipped into the nearest hallway, following routes only she knew. Lord Hordak’s base was a series of large, interconnected buildings with plenty of secret passages the guards didn’t patrol. Some she’d made for her own use. Not even Adora knew about them.

Adora… Once I reclaim the Black Garnet, she will be mine again. She will submit to my control, and carry on my legacy.

That thought gave Shadow Weaver enough strength to continue. She had to pause a few times to gather herself. Moving without the aid of her magic was difficult, made more so by her withdrawal from the Black Garnet and the fact that she’d barely touched the food and water she’d been provided during her imprisonment.

Somehow, she made it to her destination. She stumbled down the short corridor that led to her bedroom, propping herself against the closed door and breathing hard. Once she regained some stability, she opened it.

The room inside was… different. Messier. The comforter was rumpled. Dirty clothes were strewn about the floor. There were slashing claw-marks on her lovely drapes, and a noticeable amount of cat hair clung to the bed, but Shadow Weaver barely noticed. All her attention was focused on one thing and one thing only: the glowing gem in the middle of her headboard.

She sobbed with relief as she reached out to caress it. When she had carved out a piece of the Black Garnet to become part of her mask, she had removed another to put above her bed as well. It kept her magic fully charged while she slept — the only occasion when she took the mask off.

As soon as she touched the gem, the pain receded. Cold fire rushed in to take its place, simultaneously soothing her hurt and burning her anew. It was glorious.

Her moans of pain became a laugh, and the glowing gemstone throbbed in time with the sound. It recognized her. It would feed her. Once she restored her connection to the Black Garnet, she would never be hungry or alone again.

***

Adora sprinted along the prison walkway at full speed, shouts and slapping boots echoing behind her.

“Stop!”

“Get her!”

A bolas spun dangerously close to her legs, and she hopped mid-stride to avoid it. It skidded along the floor, and she risked slowing down to grab it, flinging it back at the nearest guard.

That guard happened to be Sekk, from her old squad. The giant lizard-man didn’t have time to dodge. The bolas wrapped around his ankles, and he fell forward, hitting the ground chin-first.

“Sorry!”

She took off running again, but another guard leapt in front of her, blocking her only path forward. It was Lonnie, armed with a shock staff and looking like she really wanted to smack some heads with it.

Adora ducked just in time. The staff whooshed over her head, causing her hair to stand on end. While crouched, she drove her shoulder into Lonnie’s gut, forcing a loud ‘oof’ from her chest.

Lonnie refused to go down. She slid one foot back to brace herself, tucked her staff to her side and jabbed with the butt. Adora side-stepped, but it was another near miss. She’s fast. But I’ve always been faster, even before I was She-Ra.

She waited for Lonnie’s recovery, choosing the perfect moment. She sent Lonnie flying with a spinning kick straight to the chestplate, causing her to drop her staff and fly backward into the wall. She groaned, obviously dazed.

Adora bent to grab Lonnie’s staff, but before she could, something heavy landed on her back, latching on with sharp claws. She stumbled, trying to brace herself with her hands, but a pair of legs tangled with hers, twisting her onto her back. While she struggled, a familiar face hovered over hers.

“Hey, Adora.”

“Catra.”

Adora tried to grab Lonnie’s staff again, but Catra swept it out of reach, sending it skittering over the edge of the large hole in the middle of the prison block.

The one time I don’t have She-Ra’s long arms… ouch!

Catra seized Adora’s throat in a clawed fist, the flickering overhead lights causing her silhouette to come in and out of focus. To Adora’s surprise, Catra didn’t look smug. She didn’t look angry, either. They were enemies now, but Adora had known Catra since childhood. She knew how to read her former friend better than anyone.

It almost seems like she’s… afraid?

“How did you get out?” Catra asked, with a hard, desperate edge to her voice.

“What?”

“Tell me. How did you get out?”

Adora swallowed. Seeing Catra like this was even more frightening than seeing her angry. Kyle’s taser. I overloaded the door.”

“What about the other doors?”

Adora blinked in confusion. “Catra—”

“Shadow Weaver’s door! You knocked out the power. Did her barrier go down too?”

Understanding barreled into her like Swift Wind into a barn door. That was why Catra was afraid. Why she’d gone for the pounce and the pin and the throat instead of their usual… thing. “Shadow Weaver was locked up here, too?”

That was a lot to process. It also explained why Catra had seemed to be in charge at the Battle of Bright Moon, but there wasn’t time to analyze further. More footsteps pounded along the metal walkway.

“Good news!” a familiar, nasal voice cried. “I fixed the power.”

“Ugh,” Catra huffed, without looking away or removing her claws. “I can see that, Entrapta. The lights are on.”

Tears welled in Adora’s eyes. She risked nicking herself on Catra’s claws, using her very limited range of motion to try and catch a glimpse of her friend. All she could see was a shoe and part of one leg, but that was enough.

“Entrapta, you’re alive! Kyle told me, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again.”

“Indeed.” A superior sniff followed, along with a beat of icy silence.

Adora’s stomach sank. “Oh. Oh no. Entrapta, I’m so sorry! We thought you were dead. Bow said—”

“Um, I hate to interrupt,” said another, lower voice. Scorpia’s black boots appeared beside Entrapta’s foot. “It seems important for the three of you to process all these feelings… but Catra, Shadow Weaver’s gone.”

“What?!” Catra let go of Adora’s throat, leaping to gracefully to her feet. Her fur stood on end, and her eyes widened with fear. “No. No no no.” She took off running, leaving Adora to push herself up into a sitting position.

“Not so fast.” Scorpia loomed over her, bending down to seize her arms in both claws. Adora made a brief attempt at struggling, but Scorpia was much stronger than she was, and without her sword, she didn’t have much recourse. “I’ll hold onto you until Catra gets back.”

Adora’s mind raced. Scorpia might be a Horde force captain, but she’s also nice. And Catra is clearly her friend…

“You don’t need to hold me captive,” Adora said. “What about a temporary alliance? Shadow Weaver’s a huge threat, and I don’t want her loose either. If the Horde wants to keep her locked up, I’m all for it.”

Scorpia’s brow furrowed. “You want to help us?”

“Catra might hate me, but I don’t hate her,” Adora said. “And we both hate Shadow Weaver. Besides, if Shadow Weaver just got out of prison, she’s going to be mad. People generally get hurt when she’s mad. Especially Catra.

That put a worried look on Scorpia’s face. “You think she’ll hurt Catra?”

“Absolutely.”

Entrapta cleared her throat. “Ahem. Scorpia? I strongly advise you to accept Adora’s offer of help. I hypothesize that Shadow Weaver will try to restore her connection with the Black Garnet, and letting her reclaim it would seriously disrupt my experiments!”

Scorpia tilted her head. “That’s your only reasoning?”

“No,” Entrapta said. “She’s really scary, too.”

Scorpia gave Adora a long, hard look, then broke into a big grin. “Okay.” She set Adora down, brushing off the front of her jacket with the back of a claw. “I guess we’re allies for the next few minutes. Let’s go help Catra! But I’m taking you back to prison afterward. No offense.”

“We’ll deal with that later. Which way?”

***

Catra bounced agitatedly on her toes as the lift descended, tail lashing back and forth. Her heart pounded in her chest, her stomach churned with nerves, and both reactions frustrated her immensely. I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid… screw it, why am I so afraid? I’ve been dealing with Shadow Weaver’s crap since I was a baby. Plus, I already beat her! I can do it again… right?

And yet, a voice that sounded eerily similar to Shadow Weaver’s whispered in her mind, trying to convince her otherwise:

You got lucky that time. She’ll be angrier now than she was then. And when Shadow Weaver gets angry…

Catra remembered all too clearly what happened when Shadow Weaver got angry. She ended up suffering, whether or not she’d been the one to make Shadow Weaver mad in the first place. Even as Lord Hordak’s new second in command, that instinctive fear was hard to shake.

She tried anyway as the lift came to a stop.

Come on, move it. Go kick some sorceress ass.

The run to the Black Garnet didn’t take long. The few guards she came across were heading in the other direction, toward the prison block. Better late than never, Catra supposed. She ignored them. She didn’t need anyone to tell her where Shadow Weaver would show up next.

When she arrived at the door, she stopped and punched in a security code on the number pad. Luckily, Entrapta’s new system was still in place. Maybe it would be enough to keep Shadow Weaver out.

Doubt it. She’ll find a way. She always does.

A chill ran down Catra’s spine, causing her fur to stand on end. She stepped inside the room and looked around, but there was no sign of Shadow Weaver. There was only the Black Garnet, pulsing in its usual spot. Surrounding it were several of Entrapta’s machines, in various stages of development. Nothing seemed amiss.

Nonetheless, Catra felt uneasy. She curled her paws around her upper arms, rubbing them to ward off the sudden cold. Just because she couldn’t see Shadow Weaver didn’t mean the sorceress wasn’t nearby…

‘Catra.’

The voice that spoke in her mind was low and hard, and sickeningly familiar. Catra whirled around, claws unsheathed, but saw no sign of Shadow Weaver. “Where are you? Come out, you coward.”

‘There is no point in fighting. Your resistance will only lead to more pain.’

Catra prowled around the runestone in a slow circle, scanning the room with her eyes. “Really? Because last time, you were the one who ended up in pain.”

‘You took advantage of my weakness, just like I taught you. But you still have no understanding of my true power.’

“You didn’t teach me anything! And if you want to see real power, come out and face me.”

Shadow Weaver emerged from behind the Black Garnet, and Catra resisted the temptation to leap back. She wasn’t sure how her enemy had gotten so close without alerting her — but Shadow Weaver had always been good at that. She’d spent most of her childhood in a constant state of fear that her ex-mentor would appear behind her.

“Very well, Catra. If you insist, I will teach you one final lesson: that you should know when to surrender rather than fight.”

A beam of black energy extended from the Black Garnet, surrounding Shadow Weaver’s body with its eerie light. Her mask, though cracked in the middle, began to glow as well, and the gem on her forehead shimmered with magic.

Catra gawked. But — but the gem was broken? How did she—

Shadow Weaver extended her arm, shooting a black bolt of shadow. Catra shook herself out of her fearful stupor, barely managing to duck in time. The smell of burnt air hit her nose, and the bolt left a smoldering dent in the wall behind her.

“Fine. You wanna dance?”

Catra charged, weaving back and forth in a zig-zag pattern. Shadow Weaver sent another glob of blackness at her, but she dodged, continuing to press the attack. Once she was up close and personal, she slashed at Shadow Weaver, going straight for her mask.

Shadow Weaver disappeared in a puff of smoke, reappearing directly behind her. “I told you. Resistance is pointless.”

“Aah!”

A wave of cold crashed over Catra’s body, cold that injected itself into the very marrow of her bones. She gritted her teeth, trying to push it out, but it deadened her limbs, making it impossible to move.

No. Nonono. Fight it!

Using fear to fuel her strength, Catra tore herself free of the congealing blackness. She stumbled, shaking, but refused to give up, scurrying away and rounding the Black Garnet to recover.

“Your will is strong,” Shadow Weaver said, floating calmly toward her. That was almost more frightening than watching her launch an attack. She acted as though victory were inevitable. “But you have always lacked focus and squandered your potential.”

Catra snarled. “Squandered? I’ve already gotten further than you ever did!” She scaled one of Entrapta’s machines, a tall tower with scrolling red lights that ran from top to bottom. Shadow Weaver summoned another ball of shadow in her palm, but Catra leapt before she could throw, launching herself from above.

Shadow Weaver teleported, vanishing and reappearing a few feet to one side, but this time, Catra was ready. She landed gracefully on all fours, then pivoted and pounced, slashing her claws down Shadow Weaver’s chest and leaving tears in her robe.

Several things happened at once. Shadow Weaver screamed, falling backwards. Catra landed on top of her, preparing for another strike. The doors to the room whooshed open, and someone ran in.

“Catra?”

“Adora?”

Catra made the mistake of looking up. That brief moment of distraction was the only window Shadow Weaver needed. “Enough!” she shouted, her magically amplified voice loud enough to shake the walls. A surge of energy poured from the Black Garnet, filling the entire room with red light. Catra was flung backwards by an invisible force, and several of Entrapta’s machines started shrieking.

“No!” Entrapta wailed. “My babies! Robert, Sassafras, Pinky, Melinda, are you okay?”

Catra barely heard her. The cold was back, and it hurt worse than ever. It squeezed her throat and clogged her lungs, making it impossible to breathe.

‘Submit,’ Shadow Weaver demanded, speaking directly in her mind. ‘Submit, submit, submit… you are nothing, nothing, nothing…’

Catra fought against the icy hold, but it was no use. Darkness pressed in, gripping tighter and tighter. Her vision blurred, and she felt as though she were drowning in cold, black water. It was a bottomless blackness, with no end in sight.

For a brief moment, she thought she saw something. A face? Adora? Then it disappeared, and there was nothing.

Chapter Text

“No!”

Adora leapt at Shadow Weaver without hesitation. She didn’t care that she was weaponless. She didn’t care that Shadow Weaver still glowed with magic. All she cared about was Catra, who lay crumpled on the floor at Shadow Weaver’s feet.

Shadow Weaver summoned another blob of congealed blackness in her hand, but Adora was faster. She landed a spinning kick to the middle of Shadow Weaver’s chest, knocking her back and causing the ball to crash into the ceiling instead.

“Catra!” Scorpia charged straight past Adora, scooping Catra into her large, muscular arms. “Are you okay?”

Catra didn’t respond. She remained limp. Still.

That only made Adora madder. For all the fights, mistakes, and resentment between them, she refused to let Shadow Weaver, of all people, kill Catra. Not when they had so much unfinished business.

Shadow Weaver clambered to her feet, slightly dazed, but in no way finished. She launched a beam of black energy, which Adora dodged by darting right. Feet skidding on the stone floor, she veered left, circling in on Shadow Weaver again.

This time, she wasn’t so quick. Shadow Weaver threw another bolt, winging her in the arm. Adora cried out, grabbing the wound with the opposite hand. It felt like a burning icicle stabbing through her shoulder.

“Adora.” Shadow Weaver’s voice boomed through the room, and inside Adora’s head. “Stop this foolishness at once.”

“No!” Adora let go of her injured arm, clenching her hands into trembling fists. “I’ll never listen to you again.”

She charged, but Shadow Weaver vanished before she could make contact, reappearing beside the Black Garnet. The runestone glowed, and the blackness around Shadow Weaver grew, fed by its chilling light. Writhing tendrils extended from its mass, reaching all the way to the ceiling.

“Adora?” She whirled to see Scorpia standing by her side, carrying Catra in her arms. “I know we’re enemies and all, but this seems really dangerous, and Catra’s hurt!”

“Agreed.” Entrapta rushed over to join them, carrying an armful of scrap metal and disconnected wires. “We should leave immediately!”

Adora wanted to argue, but there was no time. The shadowy tendrils swiped toward them, and she had to sprint for the door to avoid being seized. They lashed mere inches behind her, close enough for her to feel the air split.

The four of them burst into the hallway, barreling past a few bewildered guards. There were shouts of, “Halt!” and “Stop!”, but those devolved into screams as the black tendrils emerged from Shadow Weaver’s room, knocking them off their feet.

Adora glanced back over her shoulder. She couldn’t see the guards anymore amidst the oncoming tide of blackness. She’d never witnessed Shadow Weaver tapping into power like this before — hadn’t even known her ex-mentor was capable of… this. She ran faster, catching up to Scorpia and Entrapta.

“Run!”

***

“This wasn’t part of the plan!” Bow peeked around the corner, firing several explosive arrows down the hall and causing the closest guards to stumble back.

“I know,” Glimmer shouted from a few feet ahead, driving her staff into another guard’s stomach. “I don’t know why they’re all here!”

Bow groaned in frustration. Everything had gone perfectly at first: Netossa and Spinderella had grabbed two guards and stolen their uniforms; Perfuma, Mermista, and Seahawk had caused a ruckus at the front gate; he and Glimmer had teleported past the wall, made their way through the scrapyard, and snuck into the prison block… and right into a huge wave of unexpected guards. They’d been prepared to fight their way in, but this was just excessive.

Bow grabbed another arrow from his quiver, shooting at a guard who had managed to circle behind Glimmer. A net exploded from the arrow’s tip before it made contact, surrounding him and sending him toppling to the floor before he could strike.

“Thanks!”

Glimmer teleported further down the hallway, appearing beside two other guards and taking them out with sharp jabs of her staff. They grunted and staggered, giving Bow time to pin them to the wall with more arrows.

“We need to move,” Bow panted as Glimmer re-appeared beside him. “We can’t keep fighting them.” Before he even finished his sentence, another squad of Horde guards turned the far corner, advancing down the hall with weapons brandished and electro-shields raised.

“Okay, hold on.”

Glimmer grabbed Bow’s arm. A split second later, he felt the familiar, stomach-churning sensation of being teleported. When they reappeared, he gave his tingling limbs a good shake to restore feeling. Glimmer’s powers often left him feeling a bit numb, even though he’d had plenty of practice going along for the ride.

As he took in their surroundings, a smile spread across his face. Cells with green force fields spanned a multi-leveled ring, with a pit in the center. “I remember this. We’re here!”

Unfortunately, they weren’t alone. More Horde guards were waiting nearby, although on a second glance, Bow realized they weren’t exactly a threat. One, a dark-skinned girl, lay slumped against the wall, unconscious. A giant lizard-man squirmed on the ground, his legs bound by a bolas. A third guard sat on the floor, rubbing the back of his head and muttering to himself.

“Ow ow ow. Oh no. Catra’s gonna kill me… she’s gonna kill me…”

Bow’s eyes widened. He recognized that skinny frame and mop of blonde hair. “Kyle?”

Kyle turned, falling backwards on his hands and crawling awkwardly away. “Stay back! Wait, Bow?” A tentative smile spread across his face. “What are you doing here?”

Bow’s brow furrowed. “Looking for Adora. What are you doing here?”

“Trying to keep Adora from escaping,” Kyle mumbled. “And I kinda messed up.”

“She’s already escaped?” Glimmer asked. “Where did she go?”

Kyle averted his eyes. “I shouldn’t tell you. I’m already in a whole lot of trouble…”

“Tell you what,” Bow said. “If you tell us where Adora went, you can come with us. Then you won’t have to deal with Catra being mad at you.”

Kyle’s smile grew bigger. “Really?” he asked, his cheeks flushing. “You mean it? So, we could be like… friends?”

Bow rubbed the back of his neck. Kyle seemed all right, for a Horde guard. Not pure evil, and not exactly dangerous, if he were to give an honest assessment. “Um, sure?”

Kyle scrambled to his feet. “Okay.” He pointed to one of the lifts. “She went that way with Catra, Scorpia, and Entrapta.

Bow did a double-take. “Entrapta?”

“She’s here?” Glimmer said. “Alive?!”

Kyle nodded. “Yeah. She’s been building machines for us. She seems nice… a little creepy, but nice.”

Bow slapped his forehead. “And we just left her here! Some friends we are. I knew we should’ve gone back and checked…”

“Bow…” Glimmer placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We thought she was vaporized. We didn’t even think there was a body to collect. If we’d had any idea—”

Bow groaned. “Ugh. Well, it’s too late now. Let’s find Adora. Then we can try to find Entrapta.”

“Um.” Kyle cleared his throat. “I don’t know where Adora is, but I do know where her sword is.”

Glimmer teleported several feet forward, grabbing Kyle by the front of his shirt. “Where?”

Kyle stood on tiptoe, his eyes wide. “It’s in Shadow Weaver’s room. I mean, er, Catra’s room. She took over when Shadow Weaver got put in prison.”

“I bet Adora’s already there.” Glimmer dropped Kyle unceremoniously back onto his feet and sprinted toward the nearest lift.

Bow followed, pausing to look back over his shoulder. “You coming, Kyle?”

Kyle beamed. “Really?”

“Yeah, but we need to hurry.”

Kyle scampered to catch up.

***

"This way," Kyle said, motioning Glimmer and Bow around a corner and into yet another narrow, dimly-lit corridor.

Glimmer followed, holding her staff close to her chest. Thanks to Kyle's help, they had avoided most of the remaining guards, but they hadn't seen any sign of Adora, either. She exhaled, telling herself that no news was good news. If Adora's anywhere in this horrible place, it'll be near her sword.

But Adora was nowhere to be found, not even when they reached their destination: a pair of open double doors leading into an undeniably creepy bedroom.

"Whoa," Bow said. "Someone made a mess of this place."

He wasn't wrong. The sheets were rumpled. The drapes were torn — slashed, more accurately. Clothes and piles of trash littered the floor. The bed's headboard was cracked, and seemed to be missing a piece.

"Do you think Adora was here?" Glimmer asked.

Kyle shrugged. "I don't know, but look here."

He approached a tall wardrobe in one corner of the room, opening its doors. It might have held clothes once, but now, it was mostly a collection of junk. Broken tech (which looked like someone had thrown it against a wall), some scattered paper, and…

"The sword!"

Glimmer pushed Kyle aside, grabbing it in both hands. Instantly, warmth and hope returned to her cold, exhausted body. Fighting their way into the prison block had taken a lot out of her, but with She-Ra's sword in hand, she felt energy surge through her. Now, I just have to find the person who can use it.

"That's one of two things down," she said to Bow and Kyle.

Bow cleared his throat "Uh, guys…"

"Where else could Adora be?"

Bow's eyes flicked nervously toward the door. "Glimmer…"

"Kyle, you know this place. What do you think?"

"GLIMMER!"

Glimmer snapped her mouth shut. She strapped the sword to her back, scurrying to the door. The hallway outside had devolved into chaos. A wave of black light surged through the corridor, and running just in front were several figures, one of whom Glimmer recognized by the bright beacon of her blonde hair.

"Adora?"

It was Adora, sprinting mere feet ahead with a look of terror on her face. The small gap continued to close.

Glimmer started running, then teleported, zipping through empty space. When she reappeared alongside Adora, she realized she'd put herself in a horrible situation. She could feel the chill of the black wave seeping through her clothes, trying to grab hold. There was only one way out of this, and it was going to hurt.

"Grab me!"

Several hands grabbed hold of her at once, but there was no time to argue. The blackness rose higher and higher, until it touched the ceiling itself, threatening to crash over them. Glimmer tapped into the energy that lived within her, using everything she had to move them back to Shadow Weaver's room.

She ended up a few feet above the floor, falling with a pained 'oof'. Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately — there were several warm bodies to break her fall. Without the oncoming threat, she could actually tell who she'd saved. Adora was safe. Entrapta was too, much to Glimmer's relief. However, she'd also inadvertently dragged two others along for the ride...

"Scorpia? Catra?"

Glimmer barely managed to mumble their names before rolling off the pile, flopping onto her back despite the discomfort of She-Ra's sword and staring up at the ceiling. She didn't dare move, but her limbs trembled with fatigue. She'd never teleported more than one or two people at a time before, and it felt about as awful as she'd expected. Her heart pounded as if she'd run a marathon, and her vision wavered.

"Glimmer?" Adora's blurry face hovered over hers, not quite keeping its shape.

Glimmer tried to speak, but nothing came out. Every breath was a struggle. Another face appeared, with shorter hair and darker skin. "Hold on," Bow said. "We'll get you out of here."

Come on, get up!

Glimmer closed her eyes. The mere thought of moving was too much. "Sword..."

Adora's brow furrowed. "What?"

"Oh! We got your sword," Bow said. "Roll her over."

Suddenly, Glimmer found herself face to face with the stone floor. The sword was removed from her back, and distantly, she heard Adora's voice: "For the honor of Grayskull!"

***

Adora held her sword aloft, pushing every ounce of power she possessed into the hilt. Its blue gem glowed, sparkling with all the colors of the rainbow. White light welled within her, pouring out through her skin and filling the room. She was no longer just Adora. She was somewhere beyond the Fright Zone, somewhere outside space and time. Purple galaxies swirled around her, and as she swept her sword in a graceful downward arc, a circle of fire sprang to life at her feet.

Her legs lengthened. Her arms extended. White-gold boots appeared on her feet, and her pants were replaced by a fluttering skirt. Her hair escaped its ponytail, flowing behind her on a warm breeze only she could feel. The weight of the tiara settled on her head, and she crashed both fists together, bringing her golden gauntlets into existence. She brandished the sword once more, letting the light take her, becoming one with it. She was She-Ra.

"Whoa..."

Suddenly, she was back in Shadow Weaver's room. Scorpia, the one who had spoken, stared at her with wide, sparkling eyes. "That was amazing! You're so pretty. How did you get your hair to do that?"

"Later," She-Ra said. "Can you bring Catra?"

"Yes, but—"

"She can be mad at me later. We need to go."

Scorpia didn't seem inclined to argue. She draped Catra over one of her broad shoulders and gave She-Ra a serious look. Apparently, she didn't feel like sticking around to face Shadow Weaver's wrath. Next, She-Ra glanced at Bow, who had lifted Glimmer off the ground with Kyle's help. She was conscious, but barely, and needed a significant amount of support. Entrapta still held an armful of scrapmetal, unwilling to let go.

She-Ra tightened her grip on her sword. The others weren’t able to fight. She would have to clear the way. "Stay close," she said, striding from the room and into the hall.

No guards waited outside. The ones who had pursued them were slumped against the corridor's charred walls, unconscious or worse. Wisps of smoke streamed from the cracks in their armor, and none of them reacted to her presence. There was only one source of movement: the cloaked figure at the other end of the hall.

"There is no point in resisting, Adora. You have always belonged to me."

She-Ra squared her shoulders. "I don't think so." She raised her sword and charged.

Shadow Weaver launched a bolt of lightning, but She-Ra was faster than Adora. She found speed she hadn't possessed before, dodging each of Shadow Weaver's attacks. As she closed in, she prepared to strike. She preferred to disable rather than kill, but in this case, she would make an exception.

She-Ra swung her sword a second too slow. Shadow Weaver vanished, causing her blade to slice uselessly through the air. She whirled just in time to see Shadow Weaver reappear behind her, another black ball in hand. She summoned her shield, sending it bouncing into the wall instead, where it left a smoldering hole in the metal.

"Very well then," Shadow Weaver snarled, floating several feet above the floor. Her black hair fanned out behind her, clumped locks wiggling like spider legs. "We will do this the hard way. Catra has rubbed off on you. I never expected my prized pupil to be so... difficult."

She-Ra shut the words out. Later, Adora would have to deal with them. Now, she was fighting for her life. She launched herself at Shadow Weaver again, changing her shield back into a sword and preparing to thrust.

Shadow Weaver avoided the blade with a puff of smoke, sending a waist-high black wave careening down the corridor. She-Ra leapt over it, landing safely in a crouch, only to realize she wasn't the target. Shadow Weaver hadn't even been aiming for her. Instead, the wave collided with her friends, trapping their legs in sticky, tar-like goop.

"Adora!" Bow cried. He allowed Kyle to support Glimmer, reaching back to draw his bow, but the goop on his legs crawled up, slithering along his torso and pinning his arms to his side.

Scorpia tried to snip free with her claws, but the blackness moved faster than she could cut. In a matter of seconds, she was overwhelmed, claws glued together. Entrapta struggled, but the goop seized her hair, preventing her from fighting back.

Shadow Weaver laughed. "You failed to remember my most important lesson: I am the only one you can depend on."

She-Ra froze, her heart in her throat. If she attacked quickly, she might be able to take Shadow Weaver down, but her friends were vulnerable. Shadow Weaver could almost certainly finish them for good in the time it would take.

A distant roar shook the walls, snapping her out of her fearful state. At first, she couldn't place it, but then a giant tidal wave rushed around the corner, with a spinning ball of air balanced precariously on its white-foamed crest. The water veered left, climbing along one wall to avoid her friends, and barreled right into Shadow Weaver, knocking her off her feet.

The spinning ball halted, and a glowing silver net flew through the air, wrapping around Shadow Weaver. Spinderella and Netossa landed safely on the ground, fist bumping each other in triumph, while Mermista slid to a stop behind them on the dying wave, carrying Seahawk in her arms. She dropped him unceremoniously onto his feet, turning deliberately away.

Seahawk didn't seem to mind. "Ahoy, Adora!" he said, waving cheerfully. "We've come to offer our assistance!"

She-Ra beamed. "You all came!"

"Um, duh," Mermista said. "When you didn't come back, we decided to look for you."

Shadow Weaver struggled against the net, causing its strands to flicker. Before she could break free, a patch of ice rose from the ground beneath her, solidifying around her body. Soon, only her head was visible. “No!” she shrieked, black light pulsing within her translucent prison.

“We should go,” Frosta said in her usual no-nonsense manner, stepping out from behind Mermista. Because of her height, She-Ra hadn’t noticed her at first. “Reinforcements are coming.”

Another squad of Horde soldiers appeared at the far end of the hall, racing toward Shadow Weaver with their shock sticks drawn. She-Ra spared one last glance at Shadow Weaver. The ice around her was already beginning to crack.

My first priority is keeping my friends safe. All my friends.

She ran over to them, using her sword to cut them free. Fortunately, the blade sliced through the black goop without any problems. Bow, Glimmer, Entrapta, and Kyle stumbled free, goo still clinging to their clothes. She-Ra hesitated before helping Scorpia, but one look at Catra, still draped over Scorpia’s shoulder, convinced her to take the risk. She’d left the Horde, after all. Perhaps Scorpia had some good in her, too.

“I can heal people sometimes,” she said, giving Scorpia an imploring look. “Come with us and let me help her. Then I promise to let you go.”

Scorpia looked at her, then at Shadow Weaver. She nodded, decision made. “Catra’s my best friend in the world. As much as you’ve hurt her, at least you don’t seem to want her dead.”

“Good enough.” She-Ra ushered the others away, turning the corner last. As she did, she heard the sound of ice shattering.

Chapter Text

Lord Hordak leaned back on his throne, considering his little winged spy. The befuddled creature had scurried in, more panicked than Hordak had ever seen it before. The message that had poured from its mouth was equally panicked, full of overlapping voices, and he had needed to listen through twice. The end results, however, were clear enough: Shadow Weaver and Adora had escaped their cells, and after a brief skirmish, Adora had made off with his new second-in-command, as well as his engineer and one of his best force captains.

That presented a problem. A serious, though not insurmountable, problem.

A loud knock interrupted Hordak's contemplations. He straightened, not all that surprised. Normally, he gave his orders exclusively via the screens set up throughout his base. Only one person dared enter his throne room, so he knew exactly who had come to see him. After pausing to give his spy an affectionate scratch beneath the chin — and to make his visitor wait a few seconds on principle — he pressed the button on the armrest of his throne that opened the doors.

Shadow Weaver entered, floating several inches above the floor. Her hair fanned out behind her, and she looked healthier than she had in some time. Obviously, she'd absorbed a considerable amount of power from the Black Garnet before coming to see him. Her mask was repaired, complete with a shard of red gem in the middle. "Lord Hordak," she said, stopping before the stairs that led to the metal dais.

Lord Hordak observed her calmly. "Shadow Weaver. Have you come to kill me for taking the Black Garnet from you? For replacing you?"

Anger flashed in Shadow Weaver's eyes, visible through the holes in her mask. "Perhaps."

"I think not," Lord Hordak said. "My Horde forces are loyal to me, and me only. Without them, you and the Black Garnet will have no protection from the Princesses… or from Catra. Even you cannot stand alone against them all."

At the mention of Catra, a black glow surrounded Shadow Weaver. Her gloved hands clenched into fists, and the line of her shoulders went rigid. "As always, Lord Hordak, you state the obvious."

Lord Hordak suppressed a sigh. Obviously, Shadow Weaver had forgotten some of her former restraint during her time in prison. It was never wise to telegraph one's emotions so clearly. "In light of recent events, we will consider this unpleasantness a lesson learned on your part. You will kill She-Ra and her companions, and bring the defectors back to me, alive, for punishment. In exchange, you will be given your old post back, as well as unrestricted access to the Black Garnet."

"Not good enough," Shadow Weaver said. The aura around her pulsed, displaying her fury. "You cast me aside as if I were nothing, after years of loyal service."

Lord Hordak stared at her, unblinking. He had expected that response, too. "You were becoming overly dependent on that lump of rock, Shadow Weaver. It may feed your powers, but to be so reliant on anything or anyone is weakness. That is why I promoted Catra, in addition to her unexpected displays of ingenuity. I suspected you might eventually escape and tip the scales once more."

"What you expected does not matter," Shadow Weaver insisted. "I will have my revenge."

"So you will," Lord Hordak said. "In the spirit of generosity, I will amend my orders. You may bring Adora back alive instead of killing her, and do with her what you want. Once I am finished with Catra, you may have her as well."

Shadow Weaver's glow faded, as though she were surprised. "Why are you offering this?"

"Does it matter? It is what you want, isn't it?"

Shadow Weaver regarded him with obvious suspicion. "You never grant favors unless you want something in return."

"I have already told you: this, in exchange for resuming your post as my second in command. Are my terms acceptable, or shall I call my guards?"

After a long stretch of silence, Shadow Weaver nodded. "Very well."

"Good." Lord Hordak steepled his bony fingers, thin lips curling in a smile. "You are dismissed. I will inform my forces that they are to take orders from you again."

Without another word, or her usual deferential bow, Shadow Weaver departed, disappearing through the double doors.

As they closed behind her, Lord Hordak's smile disappeared. He frowned, brow furrowing in thought. Although Shadow Weaver's anger, and her obsession with Adora, were obvious weaknesses, they did make her reactions easy enough to anticipate. He could manipulate her for his own purposes... for now. Once Catra — and Entrapta, a valuable asset in her own right — were returned to him, he could reinstate Catra to her former position and deal with Shadow Weaver permanently. She was becoming more of a liability than an asset.

***

Adora stood on the skiff’s bow, scanning the path as she flew through the Whispering Woods. She had taken on the duty without being asked, despite being bone tired and sore all over. Steering was easier than sorting through all her problems — problems that just kept piling up the more mental space she devoted to them.

First, there was Catra, who was still unconscious and showed no signs of waking. Scorpia had taken her to the rear of the skiff, watching over her with obvious protectiveness and concern. Seeing someone else look out for Catra made Adora feel strange, and not the good kind of strange. Guilty? Jealous? Definite possibilities. Adora was acutely aware that Scorpia was currently keeping the promise she had broken when leaving the Horde.

Then there was Shadow Weaver. Her ex-mentor had escaped prison, and would undoubtedly seek her out at the earliest opportunity. If there was one thing Adora knew about Shadow Weaver, it was that she never, ever gave up control over things, and people, she selfishly and wrongfully believed to be hers.

And, of course, there was Entrapta. Not only was she still alive, but she had willingly joined the Horde in order to further her experiments. On the one hand, Adora couldn’t blame her. They had left Entrapta for dead without confirming it, abandoning her to fend for herself. As friends and allies, they had failed.

On the other hand, it was the Horde. Adora didn’t blame the footsoldiers who had grown up on Lord Hordak’s propaganda for fighting in his name. They didn’t know better, which was why she tried her best not to kill them, or even hurt them too badly. Entrapta, however, was a princess. She’d witnessed the Horde’s devastation. She should have known better.

A soft voice piped up from the middle of the skiff. “Um, Adora?”

Adora looked over her shoulder to see Kyle staring at her with a wary expression. “What is it?”

“I, er — I was just wondering… um, where are we going, exactly?”

“Somewhere we can rest,” Adora said. “Somewhere I can protect us.”

“Not Bright Moon, right?” Scorpia asked. “Because that might be a bad idea.”

Princess Frosta snorted. “That would be an understatement.”

“We could go to my kingdom,” Perfuma volunteered. “We would be safe there… although my people would probably be, erm, surprised to see you with us.” She gave Catra and Scorpia a wary look.

“I vote for, like, anywhere but my kingdom,” Mermista said. “Yay for a successful rescue mission and everything, but you all are kind of… a lot. Not a lot of people, just… people who are a lot. No offense.”

“Completely understandable,” Seahawk chimed in. “We all reach our social limits from time to time. Never fear, Mermista. Soon, it will be just you and me. The two of us.” He leaned in, wagging his eyebrows. “Alone.”

Mermista groaned, shoving him away with a roll of her eyes. “That’s it. I’m swimming home instead of taking your ship.”

“We could go to Dryl,” Frosta suggested. “It’s closer than my kingdom, and it’s well-defended.”

The group looked to Entrapta for a response, but she remained uncharacteristically silent. Instead, she turned away, watching the frozen trees whip by.

“I’m taking us to the Crystal Castle,” Adora said. “We need to stop somewhere close and make sure Glimmer and Catra are okay. Then, we should go to Mystacor.”

“Why Mystacor?” Bow asked. “Not that I mind… I could do with a soak in those hot springs after what we’ve been through. But do you have a reason?”

Adora inhaled deeply. “Because Glimmer’s Aunt Casta might know how to defeat Shadow Weaver. We’re going to have to deal with her, one way or another.”

The skiff went quiet. Although it was a somber atmosphere, Adora didn’t sense any disagreement to her suggestion. Everyone seemed on board with her plan, and they travelled in silence for several more minutes.

After a while, Adora realized they were drawing close. The Whispering Woods looked different frozen over, and the Crystal Castle had a tendency to move around — or, rather, move the forest around itself —  but she didn’t get lost this time. Soon, she recognized the grove of trees where she had first seen the castle’s telltale beam of white light.

It’s like the Crystal Castle wants me here this time. It isn’t trying to hide.

“Are you sure we’ll be safe here?” Bow asked. “There were a lot of spider robots last time.”

“Spider robots?” For the first time since leaving the Fright Zone, Entrapta perked up. She pulled out her pocket recorder, though her enthusiasm was still noticeably dulled. “Please, describe these robots to me in detail.”

Before Bow could answer, Adora pulled the skiff to a stop. “We’re here.”

***

The Crystal Castle was fascinating to behold. Entrapta stared with wide eyes, utterly overwhelmed. The castle’s walls and the ground beneath were made of clear, shining crystal, a material Entrapta longed to sample for further testing. Pink veins of unknown origin ran through its smooth surface, and a bright crescent moon sat atop the tallest tower, casting pale light down upon the triangular entryway.

She pressed the red button on her pocket recorder.

“Day… oh, who cares? This recording will detail my discovery of the Crystal Castle, a mysterious location rumored to hold an abundance of First Ones tech! Preliminary observations… the castle appears to be aptly named.”

“Entrapta?”

Entrapta noticed Scorpia hovering beside her, carrying Catra in her arms. “What is it, Scorpia? Are you excited about the opportunity to learn from the First Ones tech, too?”

“I think it’s great that you want to study this place, but we should make sure Catra’s okay first.”

Entrapta’s heart sank. She switched off her recorder and put it back in her pocket. My friends in the Princess Alliance left me behind in the Fright Zone. I don’t want to get so distracted by work that I do the same to Catra.

“Agreed,” Entrapta said. “We should proceed inside.”

She looked at her companions, present and former. Bow was helping Glimmer off the skiff, while the other princesses and Seahawk waited a short distance away. They cast several worried looks at Scorpia and Kyle, who had decided to stick close beside them. And me, Entrapta realized. I’m not one of them anymore.

It was a hurtful realization. She had known, logically, that the other princesses wouldn’t understand her desire to stay with the Horde. She had never fit in with them. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow were the first to reach out to her in friendship, without any accompanying wariness or condescension. Their abandonment of her had been… difficult to process, moreso now that circumstances had forced them together again.

Of course, Adora was the one to bridge the gap. She left the other princesses and approached the Horde escapees, her stride determined, but her face neutral. “Ahem.” She cleared her throat. “Do you need any help with Catra?”

Scorpia’s brow furrowed. “I’ve got it.”

“I know,” Adora said, a little too quickly. “I just… never mind. Let’s go inside.”

The two groups joined once more, walking toward the castle’s entryway. It was much larger up close, and Entrapta craned her neck to see. A thin layer of frost clung to the door, a lingering reminder of Eternia’s recent bizarre weather patterns, but when she touched it, the crystal felt oddly warm underneath.

“Don’t,” Adora said.

Entrapta drew her hand back. “I just wanted to see—”

“This castle defends itself. I’m the, well… administrator. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Administrator?” Entrapta repeated.

“I’ll explain later.” Adora pressed her hand to the door, and it opened, revealing several smaller triangles that narrowed into a long, glowing pink pathway.

Entrapta followed Adora inside. “There’s First Ones tech built into the walls!” she whispered excitedly to Scorpia, who carried Catra right behind her. “This is unprecedented!”

Scorpia managed a smile. “Yeah, it’s pretty incredible.”

“It’s amazing,” Kyle said, his voice breathless with wonder. “So different than the Fright Zone…”

“Isn’t it?” Entrapta wrapped one of her pigtails around his skinny shoulders, pulling him close to her side. “This place is ancient, but it has its own self-sustaining energy source! I will need to investigate as soon as possible, so I can—” She noted the other princesses a few steps back, and cleared her throat. “I will need to investigate.”

Adora led them down the hallway and through another triangular door, to a room with several pink crystals. They surrounded a flat surface of some kind, almost like a table made of glass. Angular blue threads — similar to the pink ones outside, but on a much smaller scale — wove their way through it, occasionally forming round pockets that reminded Entrapta of circuitry.

“Put Catra down here,” Adora said, gesturing at the crystal table.

Scorpia stepped forward, lowering Catra carefully. Catra’s head rolled to one side, and her eyes remained closed. “What are you going to do?”

Adora drew her sword. “I’m going to try and wake her up. Swift Wind was able to communicate with me here when I was unconscious and lost. Maybe with my sword, I can reach Catra.”

***

Cold. Dark.

Catra whirled around, fur standing on end. She felt solid ground beneath her feet, but otherwise, there was nothing. Black emptiness surrounded her, stretching in every direction.

“Hello?”

Her voice didn’t even echo. It simply disappeared into the void.

“Shadow Weaver? What did you do to me?”

There was no reply. If Shadow Weaver was nearby, there wasn’t any sign of her.

Catra scowled. “Great. Now I’m lost. Stupid Adora.” Her memory was a little fuzzy, but the last thing she could recall was pouncing on Shadow Weaver, only to be distracted at a crucial moment by a familiar, and infuriating, face.

“Adora? Are you here?”

Once again, there was no answer.

Catra sighed, lowering herself onto the nondescript ground and sitting cross-legged. It was unnaturally flat, not like real earth. “I’m in a dumb simulation again, aren’t I? Or some kind of magical plane. Ugh. Why do all the people I fight take me to the weirdest places?”

At first, Catra kept watch. Or, rather, tried to. Several silent minutes passed — she couldn’t tell how long — before impatience got the better of her. With nothing else to do, she reverted to her usual habits and began grooming. She was still sore and singed from her battle with Shadow Weaver, plus she’d split one of her claws.

She was just chewing on that claw to get the shredded casing off when a faint purple glow appeared in the sky above her. “Catra?” a familiar voice called.

“Argh!” Catra leapt to her feet, on full alert once more. “Who’s there?”

“It’s Adora. Can you hear me?”

“Yeah, dummy. Why do you think I said ‘who’s there’? Where are you?” She whipped her head from side to side, tail lashing in agitation, but couldn’t see Adora anywhere.

“I’m in the Crystal Castle, in the Whispering Woods. We escaped from the Fright Zone brought you here.”

“You brought me where?” Catra snarled. “I didn’t ask you to take me from the Fright Zone! I was handling things just fine there on my own.”

“Oh, really?” Although she couldn’t see Adora’s face, Catra could picture the huffy look her ex-friend must have been wearing perfectly. “Because you’ve been unconscious for the past few hours. That doesn’t seem ‘just fine’ to me.”

“That’s your fault. I had everything under control before you distracted me.”

“Distracted? I was trying to save you!”

“Since when have I asked you to save me? I’ve explicitly asked you not to save me like a hundred times already! I’ve gone out of my way to fight you and your dumb new friends at every opportunity. Does that seem like someone who wants to be saved?”

Adora’s voice sighed. “It seems like someone who’s hurt and confused.”

“Confused?” Catra scoffed. “You always did think you were better than me. That I couldn’t do anything without you. Just like Shadow Weaver.”

“I’ve never thought that.”

“I can hear the pity in your voice. Don’t want it, don’t need it. Leave me here. I’ll find my own way out, and then I’ll kick your ass all the way back to Bright Moon.”

“Catra—”

“Just shut up.”

With a dismissive slash of her paw, Catra strode off into the blackness, unsure which direction she was going and not really caring. She did her best to turn her back to the purple light, but since it was above her, the effort wasn’t particularly effective. She stared at her feet, determined not to look at whatever part of Adora was here, in this strange place.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered, unsure whether she was talking about Adora, or herself. She despised Adora all the more for her offer of help, but a growing part of her feared that by rejecting it, she’d sealed her fate. She didn’t know about magic or First Ones tech or any of the mumbo-jumbo Adora, Shadow Weaver, and Entrapta messed around with, but every time it came for her, bad things happened. This was just one in a series of many, and she’d been lucky to survive those.

No. I’m not gonna get stranded in this creepy place. I’ll find a way out, and I’ll do it on my own.

Chapter Text

Adora sheathed her sword, shrinking back to her normal height. Going in, she’d feared she wouldn’t be able to connect with Catra at all. Her powers were still relatively new, not to mention confusing and unreliable. She hadn’t expected to find Catra in the depths of her own mind, only to have her offer of help rejected.

Maybe I should’ve expected it. Catra’s made it clear she wants nothing to do with me.

“Well?”

Adora jumped. Suddenly, Scorpia’s face was inches away from hers. “Scorpia…”

“Is she okay?” Scorpia peered over Adora’s shoulder, staring worriedly at Catra’s unconscious form. Her brow wrinkled. “She isn’t waking up, is she?”

Adora stepped out from between Scorpia and the table where Catra lay. “The good news is I found her. I was even able to talk to her.”

Scorpia’s eyes brightened. “Really?”

“The bad news is, she doesn’t want my help.”

Just as quickly, Scorpia’s face fell. “What?”

Adora chewed her lip, staring guiltily at her feet. “Too much bad blood, I guess. She said she wanted to find her own way out and stopped talking to me.”

Scorpia held her chin between two fingers, adopting a thoughtful expression. She was so emotive that it gave Adora whiplash. Not for the first time, Adora wondered when and how Catra and Scorpia had grown so close.

It’s a miracle Catra hasn’t eviscerated her. Scorpia is like the opposite of what Catra would look for in a friend… Her heart sank. Then again, I failed at being her friend. What do I know?

“Maybe we should give her time. It makes sense Catra doesn’t want help while she’s mad, but whatever Shadow Weaver did to her…” Scorpia shuddered. “I don’t know much about magic, but I’m pretty sure she’s gonna need help to break free.”

Adora’s shoulders slumped. She agreed with everything Scorpia was saying, but wasn’t particularly hopeful. “Are we talking about the same Catra? If we ‘give her time’, we’ll be waiting for an eternity. You have no idea how long she can hold a grudge.”

Scorpia tilted her head. “Really? Huh. Catra never stays mad at me for long. Then again, we’re best friends.”

Even though Adora could tell Scorpia’s words didn’t hold an ounce of gloating or malice, they pierced her like an arrow to the heart. Best friends. Catra and Scorpia. Not me.

“I’ll try again in a little while. Maybe I should think about what to say.”

“I could help,” Scorpia volunteered. “Maybe a reminder that her friends are out here waiting for her to wake up will convince her to let you help.”

Adora forced a smile, even though it was the last thing she wanted to do. “Okay, Scorpia. You can help me come up with a strategy.”

“Okay!” Scorpia perched on the edge of the table beside Catra, and patted the space next to her. Reluctantly, Adora sat down, making sure to keep some distance between their legs. “Maybe you should start by telling me what she said in there…”

***

Kyle drummed his fingers on his knee, eyes darting restlessly around the room. The Crystal Castle was strange and unfamiliar, with its shiny walls and luminescent pink glow. It was only in the past few weeks he’d ventured outside the Fright Zone at all, and this was wildly different from anything else he’d seen.

His stomach fluttered, and his heart beat faster. What is this feeling? Am I nervous? Excited to be here? He stole a glance at Bow, who was talking to some of the princesses nearby. Judging from his smile, a bright white curve on his smooth brown face, he seemed at ease with them, and they with him.

Maybe princesses aren’t the evil monsters Lord Hordak claims they are? Why is Bow so comfortable around them if they’re dangerous?

“You seem deep in thought, my lad,” said a chipper voice, causing Kyle to jump. He leapt off his perch on one of the crystal outcroppings, landing on his feet and stumbling back in surprise. Seahawk, Bow’s flamboyant and impressively mustachioed acquaintance, stood awfully close with a friendly smirk on his face.

“Um… uh…” Kyle swallowed. “Yeah. This place is new.”

“Indeed.” Seahawk gazed up at the ceiling. “But beautiful, too. Isn’t it?”

Kyle nodded. “I guess.”

“You guess? Dear boy, this is a wonderful place for an adventure! Stunning, mysterious, undiscovered!”

Kyle managed a timid smile. “I thought Adora already discovered it?”

Seahawk waved a careless hand. “But we haven’t! This place looked impressively large from the outside. I’m sure there are plenty of corridors, secret rooms…” He wagged his swooping eyebrows. “Maybe even boobytraps.”

“B-booby traps?”

“The likelihood of traps seems high to me,” said another voice, high pitched and nasal. Kyle flinched as he noticed Entrapta standing at his other shoulder. He hadn’t seen her join the conversation at all.

“Oh! Uh, Entrapta. You scared me.”

“My apologies,” she said, looking slightly guilty. “I heard you discussing the Crystal Castle. I’m very interested in the technology housed here. There’s still so much we don’t know about the First Ones.” She exhaled a dreamy sigh. “Think of all we could learn from this place!”

Despite the overwhelming events of the past day, Kyle found himself curious as well. “Like what?”

“Ha! Only how the entire planet works,” Entrapta said. “The weather, the plants and animals, even us: it’s all based on First Ones tech! We interact with what the First Ones left behind in every facet of our lives. Most of us don’t realize what’s around us, underneath our very feet.”

Kyle’s eyes widened. “Under our feet? So, like… inside the planet?”

“Yes,” Entrapta gushed. “I theorize that First Ones tech extends to the very core of Eternia. We are quite literally living on top of it.”

“Woah.” Kyle sat back down, processing everything Entrapta had said. He’d never had much cause to think beyond his small world in the Fright Zone, and his mundane daily routine. There’s so much out there I never knew. So much I could learn, now that I’m not part of the Horde anymore…

“We could look around a little,” he suggested. “I mean, I don’t like the idea of traps, but we might learn something?”

“That’s the spirit, lad!” Seahawk said, clearly enthused. “Searching for treasure in a magic castle. I can’t think of a more worthy endeavor!”

Entrapta’s face brightened. “I do want to study this place while I have the chance.”

Kyle glanced at Bow and the princesses, then at Scorpia, Adora, and Catra. “Some of the others might not like it.”

Seahawk’s face fell. “Perhaps not,” he said, glancing at Mermista. She noticed him looking, and flicked her eyes away with an audible sigh.

“We should ask Bow,” Entrapta said. “The others trust his judgment. Perhaps we could convince him to patrol the nearby area with us?”

Kyle smiled. The thought of exploring the castle was exciting, and the thought of exploring it with Bow was even better. “Good idea. Who should ask?”

“Why, you, of course,” Seahawk said. “Our young Master Bow seems quite friendly with you, eh?” He gave Kyle a soft nudge with his elbow, waggling his eyebrows even more than before.

Kyle’s face burned. “Um…”

“I have observed several friendly interactions between you two,” Entrapta said. “I agree with Seahawk. You should ask him for the best possible result.”

“But…” Kyle gulped. “Okay. I guess I could…”

“That’s the spirit!” Seahawk crowed, giving Kyle a push in the middle of his back. “Off you go now.”

Kyle stumbled to his feet again, fidgeting for a minute before edging toward Bow and the rest of the group.

***

“Explore the castle?” Bow said, studying Kyle. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Last time Glimmer and I were here, giant robot spiders attacked us.”

The tentatively hopeful expression on Kyle’s face wavered. “G-giant robot spiders?”

Bow nodded. “Yeah. It wasn’t fun.” He glanced at Glimmer, who had regained some color since their arrival, and was able to sit up straight under her own power. “Besides, some of us are still weak and injured.”

Kyle squared his thin shoulders, preparing to state his case. “That’s why I thought it would be a good idea for us to patrol. We don’t want anyone or anything to sneak up on us.”

“Oh.” Bow chewed his lower lip. Kyle had a point: the Crystal Castle was dangerous, and Shadow Weaver or Lord Hordak’s forces might try and infiltrate, too. “Maybe it would be smart to make sure the nearby area is safe. Plus, if anyone tries to follow us in, we don’t want to go deeper into the castle without knowing our way.”

Kyle smiled. “Exactly. So, can we go?”

Bow looked at Glimmer again. She was talking to Perfuma, who seemed to be fussing over her injuries a little. Satisfied, he turned back to Kyle. “We shouldn’t go far. Glimmer and Adora might need us.”

Kyle nodded. “We won’t.”

“Hey, Glimmer?” Bow turned, raising his voice. “We’re going to check out the tunnels near here. Just to make sure there’s nothing dangerous.”

Glimmer paused her conversation with Perfuma. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“If there are more giant robot spiders, I’d rather know before they get the jump on us.”

A smirk spread across Glimmer’s face. “Or you could lead them right to us.”

Bow rubbed the back of his neck. “We’ll be careful. And we won’t touch anything.”

With a sigh and a shrug of her shoulders, Glimmer gave in. “All right, I guess. But I hope you’re serious about not touching stuff. Sometimes things go off even when Adora does it.”

Adora. Bow looked around the cavernous pink room, trying to find her. She was deep in conversation with Scorpia, near Catra’s resting place. Her face was drawn with worry, and she seemed exceptionally focused on whatever she was doing. I shouldn’t bother her with this. Glimmer can tell her where we went.

He turned back to Kyle. “Okay, we can go. Who else is coming?”

“That would be me, my young friend!” Seahawk slid close to Bow’s side, wrapping a friendly arm around his shoulder. “Whenever adventure calls, Seahawk answers!”

Kyle’s eyes shifted before settling back on Bow. “Does he refer to himself in the third person often?”

“He does,” Bow said, with an enormous grin. “Isn’t he awesome?”

“I desire to accompany you as well,” Entrapta said, walking up to join the group. “This place is absolutely fascinating. Just think of all we could learn.”

“You promise not to touch anything?” Bow said, giving Entrapta a suspicious stare.

Entrapta made an ‘x’ across her heart, shaking her head. “No. I won’t touch anything.”

Bow wasn’t quite convinced, but he couldn’t think of a valid reason to make Entrapta stay behind. Even if we said she couldn’t come, she might sneak away on her own… and that would be worse. At least this way, I can keep an eye on her. There was another reason, too — a reason he didn’t want to think about too much. I left her behind once. I don’t want to do it again.

“Okay, but I’m serious. Don’t touch anything.”

“I promise.”

***

Catra stopped walking, bending over part-way to rub her sore thighs. She’d been trudging through the emptiness for what felt like hours, with no end in sight. There were no discernible landmarks, and there was barely any light, at least not from any direct source. She could see herself when she looked down, but nothing else.

“Stupid Shadow Weaver,” Catra snarled. She wanted to kick something, but there wasn’t anything to kick. Not even a stray rock. Instead, she plopped onto the flat, nondescript ground to catch her breath, her tail lashing in agitation.

A thought occurred to her, one she accepted with equal parts annoyance and somberness: Maybe I should’ve let Adora help me.

Part of Catra rebelled against the idea on instinct. She didn’t need Adora or her stupid magic or her fairweather friendship. Her own resilience had gotten her plenty far already, and she’d never met a challenge she couldn’t overcome.

But that’s not true, is it? You couldn’t fix things between you and Adora.

“That’s because she didn’t want to fix things!” Catra shouted to the nothingness. “She left!” Then, more quietly, as her ears tilted downward, “She left me behind.”

Suddenly, the world around her changed. It grew colder, and a faint wind blew across her face. A multitude of smells, which had been eerily absent before, rushed into her nose: the smell of dirt and smoke and exhaust fumes. The horizon took on a strange, purple-green hue, and an enormous shadow loomed out of the darkness, crawling slowly toward her.

Catra recognized the silhouette and its movements. A Horde tank! But how…?

“Stop!” a voice shouted.

Catra whirled around. A ghostly blonde figure stood nose to nose with the tank, which had come to a stop. The hatch at the top opened, and even though she knew what was coming, Catra’s stomach gave a fearful lurch when she saw herself emerge. A faint version of herself scampered across the tank’s gun turret, leaping off and tackling Adora to the ground.

“Adora!”

“Catra?”

“They let me drive a tank!” the other Catra said, through audible purrs of excitement. “Can you believe it?”

“I don’t understand,” the other-Adora said. “What are you doing here?”

“Um, duh. We came to find you.” Other-Catra leapt to her feet, offering Adora a hand. “ ‘Cover for me, Catra. No one will even know I’m gone.’ Seriously, did you just immediately get captured as soon as you snuck out, or—”

Catra turned away. “Make this stop,” she demanded, looking up into the sky. Although it had changed color to match the smoky battleground around her, it still seemed as endless and nondescript as before. “I don’t need to see this. I don’t want to see it.”

The ghostly figures continued as though she hadn’t spoken.

“Look,” Other-Adora said, “there’s no time. We have to put a stop to this.”

“What? Why?”

“Because this is a civilian town. Look around!” Other-Adora gestured at the destruction, which came into sharper focus.

Catra caught sight of several shadows fleeing at the edges of her vision, but when she tried to get a better look, they faded from view.

“These aren’t insurgents, they’re innocent people.”

“Yeah, sure. Innocent people who kidnapped a Horde officer.” Other-Catra took Adora’s hand, pulling her along. “Come on, let’s get you back to the Fright Zone. Shadow Weaver is fuh -reaking out.” She laughed, and the noise made Catra wince. The sound seemed wrong somehow, floating above the scorched earth of a battlefield. “It’d be funny if she weren’t such a terrible person.”

The real Catra bit her lip. She tried not to think about that day often — the day Adora had abandoned her — but she remembered exactly how her past self had dealt with Shadow Weaver’s abuse. Dark humor. Deflection. Feigned apathy. Anything to conceal genuine displays of pain.

“Just go,” she whispered to her past self, almost pleading. “Give up on her before she gives up on you.”

But Other-Catra showed no signs of hearing as Other-Adora yanked her hand away. “Catra, no. I can’t go back. Not until the Horde leaves this town alone. You have to help me.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying this is wrong. They’ve been lying to us. Manipulating us. Hordak, Shadow Weaver, all of them.”

Other-Catra rolled her eyes. “Duh! Did you just figure that out? Manipulation is Shadow Weaver’s whole thing. She’s been messing with our heads since we were kids.”

Other-Adora averted her gaze. “How… how could you possibly be okay with that?”

“Because it doesn’t matter what they do. The two of us look out for each other.” Other-Catra put her hands on Adora’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “And soon, we’ll be the ones calling the shots. Now, come on. Can we go home already?”

Other-Adora stepped back, away from Other-Catra’s attempts to draw her in. “I’m not going home, Catra. I can’t. Not after everything I’ve seen. Come with me. You don’t have to go back there. We can fix this.” She took one of Other-Catra’s paws in her hand, staring at her with unbridled hope.

Catra looked away from Adora and her other self, tears welling in her eyes. She covered her ears, unwilling to hear her own response. She’d replayed it in her own head too many times already. A burning lump formed in her throat, and she braced herself for the inevitable.

Everything froze. She turned back, staring at the scene. It looked like a glitched holo-simulation from one of the Fright Zone’s training rooms, only much more detailed, and a hundred times more personal. Observing the memory from the outside made it… worse. So much worse.

Back then, Catra hadn’t realized there were bombs going off and people screaming in the background. This time, it hadn’t escaped her notice that some of the shadows flitting at the edges of her vision were small. Children. I was arguing with Adora while children were being attacked. Why was I okay with that? Adora was wrong to abandon me, but…

She remembered herself as a child. An abandoned, frightened orphan. Adora was the only person she’d been able to depend on, and Shadow Weaver had pitted them against each other at every opportunity. Does the Horde take in children after massacres like this? To mold and use them? Is that where I came from?

Catra crouched on the ground, wrapping her arms around her knees and burying her face in her elbow. Crying had resulted in punishment for most of her life, but tears welled in her eyes nevertheless. She sniffed, desperately trying not to let them fall even though she knew fighting it was useless.

“I—I’m sorry,” she whispered, apologizing to no one. Maybe to herself.

The battlefield disappeared, and the inscrutable darkness descended once more. Catra barely noticed. She could still see the scene in her mind’s eye, only this time, her perspective was very different. Adora was right again. Just like she always is. Just like Shadow Weaver always said she was. And that means I’m wrong. Always wrong.

“Catra?”

Catra hissed, baring her fangs. Her mane of hair stood on end, and she extended her claws to defend herself, but this time, there were no ghosts nearby. There was only a faint, fuzzy light in the sky and a familiar voice. Ugh. Adora again. Will she ever leave me alone?

“Go away.”

“I understand why you don’t want to talk to me, but please, hear me out? Just for a minute. Then, if you still want me to leave, I will. Promise.”

Promise.

Catra couldn’t help but think of another time when Adora had made a promise. A time when she’d been huddled in a ball just like this beneath her bedsheets, crying the same tears. They’d been younger then, and it had seemed like the whole world was against her. It still seemed that way most of the time.

“Whatever. I don’t care anymore.”

“I just want to tell you I’m sorry. As a kid, I was always too afraid to stand up to Shadow Weaver. I wasn’t brave enough, and you got hurt because of it.”

A lump rose in Catra’s throat. That wasn’t the confession she’d expected to hear. She lifted her head, staring up at the light. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I could’ve tried to stop Shadow Weaver from abusing you. Instead, I just let it happen and picked up the pieces afterward. That wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.”

Fresh tears leaked from Catra’s eyes, running down her cheeks and wetting the fine fur there. “You…” Her voice broke, and she had to clear her throat. “You feel like you weren’t enough?”

“I—”

Catra swiped the back of her paw across her face, clambering to her feet. “Adora, you idiot,” she snarled at the light, “you were always enough, until you left.” Her ears drooped. “You were all I had.”

“I know. I’m sorry for that, too. When I left the Horde, something changed. Somehow, I found the bravery to help a bunch of strangers. To do what I couldn’t do before. And I know that isn’t fair to you, but—”

“Don’t,” Catra said. “I… understand.”

It was Adora’s turn to sound surprised. “What?”

“I get it, okay? You were saving a bunch of kids and their parents from getting shot at by tanks. And, yeah, I’m pissed you were their hero and not mine. But we were both fucking kids when I needed a hero. And I shouldn’t have…” She stared down at her feet. “I always told myself I wouldn’t be anything like Shadow Weaver, but I guess she left her mark on me anyway.”

There was a long pause. For a moment, Catra wondered — feared — that Adora might have left. Then: “I never thought you were a bad person, Catra. Never. I always saw someone who was hurting.”

“So you pitied me?”

“No. I hurt for you, but I never pitied you.” The light in the sky took on a sharper focus, and Catra stepped back as it descended like the beam of a spotlight. A white circle formed on the ground, and Adora took shape within. Instinctively, Catra knew it wasn’t the Other-Adora. Every fiber of her being knew that this was the real thing.

Adora extended her hand. “Come with me, Catra. Scorpia and Entrapta are worried about you, and they want you to wake up. After that, I won’t bother you. You can go and do whatever you want… and whatever that is, I know you’ll be amazing.”

Catra studied Adora’s hand. “You won’t stop me from going back to the Horde?”

“No.”

“You won’t stop me from fighting Shadow Weaver?”

“No.”

“You won’t make me join your stupid Princess brigade?”

“No.”

Adora’s brow furrowed. “Catra, you can do whatever you want, with or without me. If you try to hurt my friends, or innocent people, I’ll protect them. But I won’t control you.” Her face fell. “Shadow Weaver did enough of that to both of us.”

Catra took a deep breath. Hesitantly, she reached out and took Adora’s hand.

Chapter Text

Entrapta gazed around the glowing pink hallway in wonder. The Crystal Castle buzzed with warm, invisible energy, almost like it was alive. Everywhere she looked, she saw something amazing: the pink stalagmites, her own fragmented reflection, and the blue and white veins that filled out the quartz like winter tree branches.

She whipped out her recorder. “Log Entry #2. This is incredible! I’ve never seen so much First Ones technology in one place. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge and—”

Bow ambled alongside her. “Sorry to interrupt, but… tech? Where?”

“Everywhere!” Entrapta skipped to one of the walls, smushing her palms and cheek against it. “It’s built into the structure itself. The castle’s asymmetric shapes may look organic, but they’re all technology-based! The First Ones made these.”

“Makes sense,” Bow said. “You can’t exactly grow a castle.”

Entrapta quivered with excitement, spreading her arms and hair out wide as if to hug the wall. She would have hugged the wall if she could. “It’s so much bigger than that. Other people make castles by carving stones or using magic, but this… this is better than magic. It’s what makes up magic. It’s the foundation of the universe!”

“That’s the spirit, lass.” Seahawk struck an impressive pose, propping one foot on a moderately sized piece of quartz and resting an elbow on his knee. “It’s like exploring the High Seas. You never know what treasures you’ll find!”

“It’s much more valuable than treasure,” Entrapta said, “because I get to take it home and study it!” She noticed a small, triangular piece of quartz that stood out in relief from the rest of the wall, easily small enough to fit in her palm.

“Continue log. I’m about to collect my first sample!” She barely contained a squeal as she transitioned her recorder to one of her pigtails, holding it beside her face while she tugged the tiny triangle. It wiggled loose.

“Uh, are you sure you want to do that?” Kyle asked. “We don’t know what it’ll do…”

Entrapta barely heard him. She remained entirely focused on removing the triangle from the wall. It detached, almost like a magnet from a piece of metal, and she felt a surge of triumph — until the blue veins in the wall ran red, and a loud siren echoed through the hallway.

“Unauthorized life forms detected,” a robotic voice said from somewhere around the ceiling. “Activating security response 1-B.”

Entrapta shoved the triangle and her recorder in her pocket. “Perhaps I should have proceeded with more caution,” she admitted.

The others didn’t get a chance to respond. A seamless door built into the wall slid open, revealing a dark, hexagonal tunnel. Six red eyes glowed from within, staring directly at them.

“I vote we get out of here,” Bow said, taking a nervous step back.

Kyle cringed beside him. “Definitely!”

“Pshaw,” Seahawk said. “Where’s your spirit of adventure?”

A giant, metallic centipede crawled out of the tunnel, rearing up to the ceiling. Its thin, spiky legs curled beneath its long, segmented body, and it snapped at the air with giant, jagged pincers.

Entrapta beamed. “Fascinating!” She stared at the creature with wide eyes, already trying to make sense of its schematics from the outside.

“Motion to run carried,” Seahawk squeaked.

Entrapta suddenly found herself being dragged away by the elbow. “No, wait. I need to get a closer look at the specimen—”

“Well, we need to not get eaten,” Bow said. “Run!”

***

When Catra opened her eyes, she found herself in the Crystal Castle. Although she didn’t remember being brought there, the faintly glowing quartz stalagmites and the hazy pink aura were instantly familiar. Adora still held her hand, and it took Catra a moment to release it. Part of her didn’t want to.

Hesitantly, she glanced over at Adora. “Hey.”

Adora’s smile was equally hesitant. “Hey…”

“Catra!”

Immediately, Catra found herself pulled into a bear hug that lifted her off the ground. She struggled and wheezed while Scorpia, her friendly attacker, squeezed tighter and spun her around. “I’m so glad you’re okay! I wasn’t sure when you’d wake up.” She set Catra down — much to her relief — and adopted a chastising expression. “You scared us!”

Catra coughed, sticking her tail out to regain her balance. Her legs were still shaky, and Scorpia’s overwhelming greeting had further disoriented her. “Us?”

“Me and Entrapta, of course,” Scorpia said. “And Kyle, too.”

Catra looked around, but saw no sign of Entrapta. She did, however, see a gaggle of enemy princesses gathered in one corner of the room. They eyed her suspiciously, and Catra glared at them in return, unwilling to be intimidated.

“You didn’t mention we had company,” she growled, aiming a cutting look at Adora. “Your new best friends weren’t enough? You had to bring the whole Princess Posse too?” She tried very hard not to think about how all these people had seen her unconscious and helpless.

“They came to the Fright Zone to rescue me,” Adora said, somewhat defensively. “I’d never just leave them there with Shadow Weaver after they risked their lives to help me.”

Really? Because you didn’t have a problem leaving me with Shadow Weaver back when you left… Catra swallowed down the remark, grinding the points of her teeth. Adora apologized. Besides, even these powder-puffs don’t deserve to deal with Shadow Weaver. No one does.

“Can’t you, like, send them away?” she asked, in a voice that sounded more plaintive than she’d intended.

“We don’t need to be enemies,” one of the princesses said, a thin woman with a pink dress and filmy green cloak. She wore flowers braided into her long blonde hair, and her beaming smile was too big for her face. “Let’s start over, okay? Hi. I’m Perfuma, and I like flowers. And plants. And Adora!”

Catra eyed her. “I like not being bothered.”

Perfuma’s face fell, to Catra’s mild satisfaction, but the princess persisted. “I remember you from the Battle of Bright Moon. Are you going to leave the Horde like Adora?”

Catra’s tail shot up in alarm. “Woah. I never said anything about leaving the Horde. Tell them, Adora.”

Adora frowned, and for a moment, Catra feared she might go back on her word. Then, her ex-friend, current-something, spoke: “The Horde isn’t entirely bad, Perfuma. And I’m not going to make Catra do anything she doesn’t want to do. But Shadow Weaver wants to hurt all of us, plus anyone who gets in her way — so she needs to be stopped. For now, we have the same goals as Catra.”

Catra suppressed a sigh of relief. For once, it seemed like Adora was being reasonable. She thought she saw a flash of the woman she’d once known — only better, maybe, because Adora was prepared to do something about their old tormenter.

“Okay, but like, that woman was seriously crazy,” another princess said. She had light brown skin, fluffy blue hair, and a flat expression that put Catra far less on edge than Perfuma’s awkward smile. “So, yeah, no. We can’t let her do… whatever creepy magic she’s doing.”

You’re ones to talk about creepy magic, Catra thought, but she kept the comment to herself. If Adora could be somewhat reasonable, so could she.

“Wait a minute,” said a third princess, a short pipsqueak that only came up to Catra’s breastbone. She had ruddy skin, short black hair, and a surprisingly dour expression for someone of her age. This one, Catra recognized — Frosta, the princess who’d so kindly hosted the ball where she’d kidnapped Glimmer…

And danced with Adora. Momentarily, Catra forgot her wariness. That night hadn’t been entirely unpleasant. I mean, she did look good in that red dress.

“I understand your perspective, Adora, but are we sure this is wise? Shadow Weaver might be a mutual threat, but Catra tried to overthrow Bright Moon. Trusting her could be a grave mistake… one we might deeply regret once the issue is dealt with.”

Catra met Frosta’s icy glare with an unwavering stare of her own, but the pint-sized princess wasn’t alone in her reservations. “I agree with Frosta,” said another princess, with dark skin, wavy white hair, and a blue outfit that Catra had to admit was kind of stylish. “She almost killed you on that battlefield, Adora. We all saw it. You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course she does, dear,” said another princess, dressed in a pink ensemble that appealed much less to Catra’s tastes. “Adora wouldn’t suggest this without having thought it through.” She put a hand on the blue-outfitted princess’s shoulder, and her expression softened.

“I can’t promise everything will be hunky dory between us, but for now, Catra isn’t our enemy. She won’t do anything to hurt us while we go after Shadow Weaver.” Adora gave Catra a searching look. “You promise, right?”

Catra sighed and rolled her eyes. “Ugh, yes. I promise.”

“That sounded very convincing,” the blue-haired princess drawled, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I promise, okay?” Catra snapped. “I don’t have to like you to work with you. I don’t like anyone I work with, to be honest...”

“Except me and Entrapta, right? Best Friend Trio!” Scorpia wrapped a heavy arm around Catra’s shoulder, and her knees buckled. “Catra’s a bit standoffish at first, but she’s a great friend once you get to know her! The best. Just ask Entrapta.”

Catra ducked out from beneath Scorpia’s arm, looking around the room. “Where is Entrapta? And the arrow kid? And that weird mustache dude?”

“And Kyle,” Scorpia added. “He was with us, too.”

“Oh,” said Glimmer, who hadn’t really been part of the conversation. She’d been leaning against a glowing pink stalagmite with her eyes closed, so Catra had mostly overlooked her. “They went to scout the area.”

“Scout the area?” Adora’s face fell. “Last time we were here, Catra and I almost got eaten by robot spiders!”

“Really?” Scorpia said. “Entrapta would love those!”

“Trust me,” Catra muttered. “She wouldn’t.” She tried to keep calm, but despite her best efforts, a small part of her couldn’t help worrying. Entrapta and Scorpia annoyed her constantly, but they were her… friends, for lack of a better word. They’d stuck around while Adora was off doing the hero thing, which was more than she’d expected from anyone from the Horde.

Well, crap. The least I can do is make sure she doesn’t get eaten by spiders. The gearhead will probably try to reprogram them or something… which actually might be worse…

“We should find them,” Catra said. “Knowing those four, they won’t survive five minutes on their own.”

Adora went pale. “That’s not true. Bow’s a great fighter, and—” The sound of screeching metal and a chorus of terrified screams echoed some distance outside the room. Adora slapped her forehead, dragging her hand down her face. “Yeah,” she sighed, “we should definitely get them.” She drew her sword. “For the honor of Grayskull!”

Catra meant to look away during the transformation, but for some reason, she couldn’t. The flash of light drew her gaze, and as much as she hated magic, she had to admit it was… pretty impressive. Adora disappeared into a burst of rainbow light, and white fire circled her feet. Her limbs lengthened, and her blonde hair billowed behind her, flowing in a non-existent breeze.

For a moment, Catra forgot to breathe. Wow… She cut off the thought, because deep down, part of her knew it would lead to a dangerous place. A place she wasn’t ready to visit.

***

“Aaargh! Help!”

Bow nocked an arrow to his bow, but froze without shooting. The centi-bot had Kyle’s pant-leg in its pincers, dangling him several feet in the air. Kyle struggled, trying to get away, but his efforts only disoriented him. He spun and flailed, making it difficult for Bow to aim.

“Hold still! I’ll get you down…”

“Never fear,” a flamboyant voice bellowed. “Seahawk is here!” The fearless captain leapt onto the centi-bot’s back, swinging precariously as he searched for a handhold. The centi-bot thrashed, but he clung on determinedly. “Bow, my lad, help Kyle!”

He fired. To his relief, the arrow flew past Kyle and lodged in one of the centi-bot’s glowing red eyes. It shrieked, clacking its pincers, and dropped Kyle onto the floor.

Bow dove forward on instinct. He leapt, catching Kyle in his arms before collapsing onto his stomach. Unfortunately, the landing didn’t go so well for him. One of Kyle’s boots kicked his face, and he winced, vision going blurry.

“Bow, I’m sorry! Are you okay?”

The centi-bot roared, slamming its upper body onto the floor. The tunnel quaked, and Bow saw its fuzzy form crawl toward them at a terrifying speed. Seahawk fell off the centi-bot’s back, crashing into one of the walls. He slumped to the ground, conscious but dazed.

Bow rolled into a crouch. He’d have a nasty black eye from Kyle’s boot, but he’d suffered worse injuries. “We have to get out of here,” he told Kyle. “Help me get Seahawk.” His eyes darted around, trying to find a safe path, but the creature filled the entire hallway with its bulk. Its remaining five eyes pulsed with malevolent red light, and its pincers sliced the air.

“Amazing!”

Bow turned toward the sound, and his jaw dropped. Entrapta stood beside the towering beast, examining the plating that covered its body. Using her hair, she tested one of its legs, flexing the mid-joint back and forth. “Remarkable. I’ve never seen a robot like this before.” She beamed up at the beast, which tilted its head in confusion, obviously trying to assess whether she was a threat.

“Entrapta,” Bow called out. “Back away very slowly…”

“But—”

The centi-bot brought its massive head down to Entrapta’s level, letting loose a mighty screech that blew her pigtails back. When they settled, her hair stuck up at ridiculous angles. “Okay. Backing away.” The centi-bot snapped its pincers where her face had been moments before. “Scratch that. Run!”

While the centi-bot was distracted, Bow sprinted toward Seahawk. He helped the captain to his feet, wrapping an arm beneath his for support. Fortunately, Seahawk seemed to be recovering. When he saw how close the centi-bot was, he broke into a run, streaking toward Kyle and Entrapta. All four of them fled down the hall, with the centi-bot skittering close behind.

“Waah!”

Kyle slammed to a halt, and Bow almost collided with him from behind. “What the—” His eyes widened as he saw who his friend had almost run into. Catra stood between them and their only escape route, claws and teeth bared.

***

She-Ra stopped as Catra leapt in the air, throwing herself at... Whoa, what is that thing? It looked like some kind of giant robotic snake, only it had legs. Lots of them. Her skin crawled with disgust. She didn’t mind bugs, but robot bugs that wanted to eat her and her friends were a whole different story.

Catra landed on the centi-bot’s head, digging her claws into the metal. Sparks flew from her hold, and she shouted over her shoulder. “Come on! I’m not fighting this fucking thing on my own.”

She-Ra charged, preparing to slice the centi-bot in two. Before she could, it reared, rising all the way to the ceiling. She struck its underbelly, but aside from exposing some of its wiring, the blow didn’t seem to hurt the beast. One of its spiky legs jabbed at her, barely missing her head.

“Incoming,” a voice shouted from further down the hall.

A wave collided with She-Ra’s back, almost knocking her off her feet. She stumbled, bracing herself against the wall with one arm. “Ugh.” She wiped her dripping hair away from her face.

The centi-bot didn’t like the water one bit. It dropped back to the ground and retreated a few feet, which brought Catra down to meet the tail-end of the wave. She yowled and tried to leap away, but it was too late. Water washed over her, too, almost preventing her from landing on all fours.

“Hey, watch it!”

Mermista seemed nonplussed. “My bad.” She merely smirked as Frosta stepped out from behind her.

“Let’s see how it likes this.”

Frosta stretched out a hand, and the giant puddle beneath the centi-bot solidified into a sheet of ice. It tried to crawl forward, but its wriggling legs slipped, unable to find any traction.

Spinerella seized the opportunity. She sent a whirling vortex straight at the centi-bot’s face, blasting it across the ice and down the hall. It collided against the wall, curling into a protective ball. “Go on, dear,” Spinerella called out. “Use one of your nets.”

“You got it, babe.” Netossa summoned a glowing ball in her hands, lobbing it straight at the centi-bot. Before it could uncurl, the ball expanded, forming a large net. It draped over the centi-bot, holding the creature as it thrashed. “Boom. Nets.”

The centi-bot struggled, and the glowing cords of the net began to strain. She-Ra braced herself, preparing for the moment it broke free, but Scorpia barrelled past her. “I’ve got this!” She wrapped her muscular arms around the centi-bot, trying to restrain it.

To She-Ra’s surprise, Scorpia actually succeeded for a few seconds, despite the centi-bot’s massive size. She pinned the creature to the wall, preventing it from snapping the net. However, the creature’s sheer bulk won out over Scorpia’s impressive strength. It knocked her over, sending her skidding backwards on her rear.

“Wow. That thing is strong!”

Fortunately, Perfuma took over. “Idea!” She slid gracefully across Frosta’s ice path, landing at the end with a twirl, and touched the bonds of Netossa’s net. Green vines wove around its strands, strengthening them before bursting into bloom.

Catra, still drenched from Mermista’s wave, gave She-Ra a look. “Seriously?”

The centi-bot roared with rage, but failed to fight its way free. “Can’t argue with results.” She gave Catra a hopeful smile. “Wanna finish this?”

To her relief, Catra smiled back. “You bet.”

They charged together, sliding along the ice and leaping over Perfuma. By that time, Scorpia was back on her feet. She crouched, offering her hands as footholds, and Catra jumped on them, letting Scorpia boost her high into the air.

She-Ra leapt after her, and the world slowed to a crawl. She drew her sword, plunging downward. Sparks flew from the centi-bot as her blade made contact with its belly. Her sword pierced the creature’s plating, driving deep into its body. Once it was embedded, she gave it a good jerk, leaving a deep slash behind.

The centi-bot flailed, but Catra landed near its head and dug her claws into its remaining eyes. She started ripping out wiring, and soon, the red lights faded. The centi-bot groaned, going limp on the ground.

With a deep breath, She-Ra rolled off their fallen foe. She shrank back to her normal size, allowing herself to take her normal form once more. She pushed back some loose strands of hair, which was still wet in its ponytail, and gave Catra another smile. “Nice one.”

Catra smirked. “I know.” She spared a glance at the others, and for once, her expression wasn’t entirely malicious. “Your friends aren’t completely useless, either.”

“From you, Catra? I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Nooooo!”

Adora turned to see Entrapta running toward the centi-bot, looking absolutely distraught. “Why did you have to break it? I was going to study it—”

“Because it was trying to kill us, you dork,” Catra drawled. “Sorry, but I like being alive.”

Entrapta sighed. “Oh well. I think I can fix it—”

“No!” Adora and Catra shouted at the same time.

“Maybe just study its blueprints a little without reactivating it,” Adora suggested.

Entrapta pouted, but seemed to concede. “Okay. That’s better than nothing.”

“Nice job, everyone!” Scorpia said, practically bouncing on her toes. “You were all great.”

Several of the princesses nodded at her, and Bow even patted her arm. “Thanks. You really saved our bacon!”

Adora folded her arms, wearing a satisfied smile. Maybe integrating these two groups wouldn’t be impossible after all.

Chapter Text

Shadow Weaver stood before the Black Garnet, bathing in its raw power. Magic flowed over her skin, soaking into her body, burrowing into her very bones. The absorption was painful — very painful, actually, although she had grown accustomed to it over the years — but the relief it brought far outweighed any agony she might have felt. She thirsted for this like nothing else.

Yes, the magic whispered. You are strong. You are radiant. You are all-powerful.

Shadow Weaver closed her eyes. The fears, the doubts, and the keen cravings she’d felt in Hordak’s prison were a thing of the past. She had her powers back, and she would put them to use as no other being on Etheria could.

Only I am worthy.

She opened her eyes again, taking a single step back. The Black Garnet dimmed, although it maintained a faint glow, a remnant of their connection. For the first time in weeks, Shadow Weaver smiled behind her mask. She was awash with energy, and she knew what her next step would be.

“Show me Adora,” she ordered.

The Black Garnet pulsed once, and its shiny surface went clear, like the surface of a mirror. An image appeared: She-Ra, plunging her sword through the body of a giant robot. As Shadow Weaver watched, the robot fell, and She-Ra stood triumphant. Someone else appeared beside her: Catra, panting with exertion. She-Ra clapped her on the shoulder, and Shadow Weaver frowned.

The two of them are together again. How unfortunate.

Suppressing her disappointment, Shadow Weaver took note of their surroundings. Her missing charges stood in a hallway made of pink crystal, surrounded by other allies. Shadow Weaver knew several of the princesses, as well as Adora’s new companions, but one member of the group surprised her.

Is that… Yes. That boy is a Horde soldier.

Shadow Weaver didn’t make a habit of paying attention to the rank and file. She had bigger, more important things to worry about. However, she recognized the thin blonde cowering in the corner, watching the others celebrate with his arms tucked close to his chest. She had seen Adora and Catra in his company before.

She approached the Black Garnet, pressing her hand to its surface. It warmed her palm, and the image drew closer to the boy’s face. She searched her memory, trying to remember his name. With some magical assistance, she recalled it. Kyle.

The sinister smile on Shadow Weaver’s face curled up at the corners. As much as magic, this had always been her special talent: identifying her opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them to the fullest. The boy was the weak link. The outsider. He would be far easier to manipulate than Adora, who was only growing more comfortable with her new powers and her dangerous new confidence, or Catra, whose spite protected her like a shield.

Yes, Shadow Weaver thought, stroking Kyle’s freckled cheek. You will do.

***

Kyle sat on the edge of the skiff and watched the trees whip by, wearing a small smile. Bare branches blurred together, a beautiful web of frozen lines feeding into each other. Their smooth, organic silhouette was so different than the sharp, irregular edges of the Fright Zone, and the pale glow reflecting from the frost was calming.

The more time Kyle spent away from the Horde, the more he got used to this new environment, and the more he enjoyed it. He felt at peace out here. Even though I almost died an hour ago…

He stole a glance at Bow, who sat nearby. The handsome archer kept watch over Adora, who had decided to grab a few minutes of desperately needed sleep. Glimmer and the other princesses clustered around her, too, making sure she remained safe. Catra steered the skiff, focusing on the path ahead. That put Kyle even more at ease. He didn’t have to worry about his Force Captain’s judgments or cutting comments while she was busy.

His eyes shifted back to Bow, and this time, Bow saw him and smiled. Kyle flushed despite the cold wind that whipped across his cheeks. He couldn’t help but remember how Bow had saved him, firing fearlessly at the centi-bot while he dangled precariously from its jaws. Seahawk liked to put on a heroic act, but Bow was the real deal.

Cautiously, Kyle scooted closer. He felt braver than usual after his recent brush with death, but he didn’t want to come right out and say ‘thank you’ with no preamble. Surely that would make things awkward. “Can I ask a question?” he whispered instead.

Bow nodded. “Sure.”

“What’s Mystacor like? I’ve never been there.” He felt stupid as soon as he said it. Of course he’d never been to Mystacor. Even Catra hadn’t penetrated the city’s magical barriers, and she was the strongest and most daring of them all.

Bow’s smile brightened. “It’s amazing! They have hot springs, lots of beautiful sights… a bunch of cool magic stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Kyle twisted his hands in his lap. He’d always been interested in magic, although he’d never shown any aptitude for it himself. “I don’t know,” he mumbled. “Catra doesn’t like it.”

“I get it.” Bow’s brow furrowed, and he lowered his voice so only Kyle could hear. “According to Adora, Shadow Weaver’s an awful person… and Catra got the worst of it when they were growing up. That would make anyone wary of magic.”

Kyle sighed. That much was true, from his observations. He always knew when Shadow Weaver was in a foul mood, because Catra tended to take it out on the rest of the squad, even before she’d become Force Captain. “The Horde will be better if Shadow Weaver’s gone,” he said.

Bow gave him a searching look. “Is that what you want? A better Horde?”

“I guess,” Kyle said. “I mean, yes. I do. I just don’t know if I’ll be part of it.”

“Really?”

Kyle shrugged. “They were never… nice to me. I got fed. Had a place to sleep. But it was never…”

“Never home,” Bow finished for him.

Kyle nodded. He appreciated that Bow understood what he was trying to say, even when he couldn’t find the words.

“I felt that way once,” Bow said, “before I met Glimmer and went to live in Bright Moon.”

Kyle’s eyes widened. It was the first piece of personal information Bow had offered. “Really?”

“My parents died in a Horde attack. That’s why I want to defend Etheria against them. After they destroyed my village, I wandered alone for a while, until Glimmer found me.” Bow’s grin returned. “She was sneaking around the woods one night. Overprotective mom issues, you know?”

Kyle nodded, even though he didn’t know. Like many Horde recruits, he didn’t remember his parents.

“Glimmer brought me back to Bright Moon, Queen Angella let me stay, and the rest is history.”

Kyle licked nervously at his lips. He wasn’t sure what to say, but he was enjoying their conversation nonetheless. This is much better than talking in that prison cell. Bow’s actually smiling, for one…

“That was nice of her,” he mused, only realizing after the fact that he was talking about the rebellion’s leader like anyone else. He couldn’t help but wonder how many of the things he “knew” about Queen Angella were actually true.

“Yeah,” Bow said. He paused, then added, “It’s a big, complicated world out here, but lots of people in it are nice. If you get overwhelmed, you can ask for help.”

“I will,” Kyle said. I hope one of the people who wants to help me is you.

***

When Adora woke, it was to heat and a gentle swaying motion. She was reminded of being buoyed by the waves of the Growling Sea, after it had warmed under the sun for a few hours. Upon opening her eyes, however, she realized she was in a far different position. Her face was smushed against someone’s black and red shirt, with a diamond cut in the ample cleavage.

“Gwah?” Her eyes snapped open, and she jerked back, instinctively reaching for her sword.

“Whoa! Calm down there, new friend.” Scorpia’s round face smiled down at her, silver hair playfully tousled. “You fell asleep on the skiff, so Catra told me to carry you.”

Adora blinked, then shot a resentful glare in Catra’s direction. Her… friend? Were they friends again now? … didn’t bother to hide her smirk, either. Strolling casually alongside Scorpia, she looked very much like the cat who had caught the canary, so to speak.

“Morning, lazy. We’re here.”

“Already?” Adora looked around and saw that Catra was right. They had arrived in Mystacor, and she hadn’t even been awake to enjoy Catra’s bewildered expression when the invisible city made its appearance.

“You were really out,” Glimmer said. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Fine,” Adora said, suppressing a yawn. She worked her jaw to ease some of the stiffness, then straightened her coat. “Where are the others?”

“Going to their rooms,” Bow answered. “Did you know Mystacor has guest rooms for all the princesses, even when they aren’t here? This place is huge! Way bigger than it looks.”

Adora spared a glance at the city’s tallest tower. It was impressively large, especially for something that could disappear in the blink of an eye. She was no magic expert, in spite of her new powers, but she suspected such a feat wasn’t easy to accomplish.

“How about getting us some of those rooms?” Adora asked.

“Aww,” Catra drawled, clicking her tongue in mock pity. “Still sleepy?”

Adora shot her a dirty look. “So, Glimmer, does your Aunt know we’re here?”

“Yeah, she should be here any second—”

“Adora, Bow, Glimmer!” Casta’s enthusiastic voice carried across the flowering courtyard, and Adora turned to see Mystacor’s Queen and finest sorceress hurrying toward them, robes fluttering behind her. Somehow, she managed to look graceful and poised despite her hurried pace.

“Of course she’d say hi to you first,” Glimmer grumbled, before putting on her biggest smile. “Hey, Aunt Casta!”

For her part, Catra decided to continue being obnoxious. “Not bad,” she mumbled to Adora from the corner of her mouth, giving Casta a lingering look while the Queen hugged Bow, and then Glimmer, who not-so-patiently waited her turn. “How are she and Sparkly related again?”

Adora didn’t hesitate to elbow Catra sharply in the side, enjoying the grunt she earned. “Don’t be rude,” she hissed back, “or a pervert. She’s too old for you.” Normally, Catra’s other annoying traits took precedence over those two, but Adora’s patience had already worn thin. “Hi, Queen Casta,” she said, offering her hand.

Predictably, Casta pulled her into a tight hug instead. “It’s good to see you, Adora. Last I heard, you were captured by the Horde. I’m glad to see you made it out safely, but not surprised.” She paused, giving Catra and Scorpia a searching look. “Your companions, however, do surprise me.”

“We’re on the same side for now,” Adora informed her. “Lord Hordak doesn’t have Shadow Weaver in prison anymore. She’s got access to the Black Garnet. Catra, Scorpia, and Kyle here agree that she needs to be stopped.”

“Kyle? Where is…” Casta’s brows rose as she noticed Kyle standing behind Scorpia, lingering nervously at her hip. “Ah. Welcome to Mystacor, Kyle. Are you a fellow defector?”

“I, um…” He cleared his throat, then attempted a shaky bow. “I suppose, Your Majesty.”

“In that case, just Casta is fine,” Casta said. “We’re more about research than titles here, as I’m sure Glimmer’s told you.”

The corner of Glimmer’s eye twitched. “Yup. Told them all about Mystacor. Definitely did that.”

Casta gave Glimmer a suspicious look, but glossed over the awkwardness. “And who are these two?” she asked, turning to Catra and Scorpia.

“Hi, I’m Scorpia!” Scorpia rushed forward, taking Casta’s hand gently between her claws for an enthusiastic shake. “I’m a Horde Force Captain.” Casta’s eyes widened, which Scorpia noticed. “Oh, but I don’t want to destroy your city or anything. It’s beautiful! I’m just here to help my friend, Catra.” She dropped Casta’s hand and threw an arm around Catra’s shoulder, dragging her forward. “Say hi, Catra!”

“Yo,” Catra said, giving Casta a half-hearted wave.

A little bewildered, Casta waved hello back. “Well, Scorpia and Catra, you’re welcome in Mystacor if your intentions are peaceful. So, you’re here for help stopping Shadow Weaver? I agree that she’s a dangerous threat, but my fellow sorcerers and I can’t leave Mystacor to deal with her. Our first priority has to be protecting the city.”

“We know,” Adora said, trying to put on a look of understanding. Though undeniably welcoming, Casta still maintained a few of the isolationist policies Adora herself had been trying to combat these past several months — often a harder battle than fighting the Horde, if she were being honest. “We’re here for… well, research. We need to know how to fight back against her magic.”

Casta raised an eyebrow. “Ah. Now that, I might be able to help with. But first, you should get some food and rest. I hope I’m not being rude, but you all look a little worse for wear.”

Adora had to admit it was true. Her clothes were a mess. She was covered in scrapes and bruises. Despite her nap, her eyes still threatened to close whenever she held a blink too long. “That sounds amazing. We really appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble,” Casta said, waving them all forward. “Come on. I’ll make sure the staff sets you up somewhere comfortable, along with the other princesses.” Catra rolled her eyes at that mention, but fortunately, Casta didn’t notice. She was already striding toward the tower, obviously expecting to be followed.

“Come on,” Adora said, tapping the back of Catra’s elbow. “I know you’ll probably hate it here, but you can deal for one night.”

“Who do you think I am?” Catra grumbled. “I hate Shadow Weaver more than all of you combined. I’ll put up with Glimmer’s hot aunt if she knows how to take Shadow Weaver down.”

While Casta was too far away to hear, Glimmer wasn’t. She turned, eyes wide with horror, while Catra smirked, completely unrepentant.

“Stop it,” Adora hissed. She grabbed Catra’s arm, dragging her along. The sooner they got in their rooms, the better — and hopefully, the less trouble Catra would cause.

***

Catra tossed and turned on the bed she’d been provided with, unable to get comfortable. It was plenty large, and the comforter was extra fluffy, but she couldn’t shake her unease. Despite her declarations to Adora, she already hated this place. It positively radiated magic, and Catra really, really didn’t like magic. She flopped onto her other side, heaving a sigh.

Ugh. It’s like there’s a little bit of Shadow Weaver all over.

The thought sent a shiver down her spine, and her fur stood on end. Suddenly, the room felt too big. Too empty. Up until Shadow Weaver’s imprisonment and her own promotion, she’d spent her entire life sharing a large bunk with other cadets. She’d even shared Adora’s bed every night.

My life might’ve sucked, but I never had trouble sleeping then… because she was there. A dim thought occurred, but as tired and stressed as she was, it took Catra a moment to grab onto it. Wait. Adora’s here. In the next room over. I don’t have to sleep alone if I don’t want to.

Catra shook herself, wrinkling her nose in disgust. She and Adora were on better terms, but that didn’t mean everything was okay between them. Not okay enough for her to go climbing into Adora’s bed. Still, the temptation was there. She curled into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest.

A knock sounded on the door before Catra could jump back on the bad train of thoughts looping through her brain. She lifted her head, turning toward the noise. “What?”

“Catra? Are you asleep?” It was Adora, of course. No one else would dare bother her right now — even Scorpia was too polite to interrupt her rest.

Catra rolled her eyes. “I answered you, dummy. What do you think?”

Adora correctly interpreted that statement as a, ‘Might as well come in’. She opened the door, peeking in warily. “Sorry.”

“What for?” Catra sprawled in the middle of the bed, trying to pretend she hadn’t been curled into an unhappy huddle moments before. “Bothering me? Because that’s never stopped you before.”

Adora didn’t rise to the bait. She entered, closing the door behind her. “I can’t sleep.”

Catra sat up, eyeing Adora suspiciously. “Yeah?”

“My brain won’t stop. I keep thinking about… things.” Adora didn’t need to say what things. Catra hadn’t been able to stop thinking about their encounter inside her mind and memories, either.

With an air of annoyed resignation, Catra patted the space next to her. “Get over here.”

Adora climbed onto the bed, sitting close, but not quite touching her. “Sometimes, I miss how things used to be. When I was part of the Horde.”

Catra’s ears drooped, and more of her defenses weakened. She hadn’t expected Adora to be so blunt, although she probably should have. “Me too.”

Adora gave a weak smile. “I really don’t think the Horde is all bad. I mean, Shadow Weaver is bad. Hordak is definitely bad.”

“He gets things done,” Catra said.

“Bad things, Catra. Even you have to admit that.”

Catra sighed. “Sometimes, yeah. Gotta admire the guy for running such a strong empire, though. Your froofy princesses would’ve wiped out anyone else long before now.”

“The Horde is strong,” Adora agreed. “But can you imagine what would happen if they used that strength to make Eternia better? To make homes for all the people like us, who didn’t have one when we needed one?”

Catra blinked. Her first instinct was, of course, negative. Why should the Horde bother helping anyone? No one helped me. But then another voice deep inside her head said, No one except Adora. She might be an annoying, frustrating goody-two-shoes, but she tries, even when her ‘help’ totally fucks things up worse than they were before.

“What are you thinking, Catra?”

Catra averted her eyes, unable to continue looking at Adora’s earnest, hopeful expression. It had more of an effect on her than she wanted to admit, even to herself. “Giving other kids food and training without constantly making them feel like shit doesn’t sound that bad.”

Adora’s smile grew. “Catra, that sounds great. I think you should do it.”

“What? Me?” Catra scooted away from Adora on the bed. “I never said anything about me . You’re the one who does that kind of helpful shit.”

Adora followed her, shifting closer. Their knees bumped lightly together. “Why not you, though?”

“Because…” Catra flailed, trying to come up with an excuse. Because I’m not really a nice person, Adora. You know that. “Because I don’t feel like it.”

Adora saw right through her, of course. “You’ve gotta do something with yourself after Shadow Weaver’s gone. And let’s be honest. Lord Hordak probably won’t let you take her down unless you take him down, too. So, then you have a Horde without a leader. And you said you didn’t want to join the Princess Alliance, so…”

Realization struck. Catra’s ears shot straight up along with her tail, and she stared at Adora in shock. “Wait, are you saying you think I should lead the Horde?”

Adora nodded. “Exactly.”

Catra’s heart clenched, full of so many feelings she couldn’t put them all into words. Pride. Hope. Acceptance. Forgiveness? For what felt like the first time, someone she cared about was showing faith in her. Expecting her to do something great. It was… nice. Nice to know someone had confidence in her abilities. Nice that someone thought she’d make a good leader.

“Before I became second in command, no one ever… people generally don’t think I’m good leadership material,” Catra said softly.

“I know.” Adora put a hand on Catra’s knee, not high enough to be distracting, but the warm touch burned through her leggings anyway. “They’re dumb.”

Catra blinked, then laughed. “They are dumb, aren’t they?”

“Really dumb.”

“Hey, Adora…”

Adora tilted her head, waiting expectantly.

“You can sleep in here tonight. If you want. I mean, since you were having trouble or whatever.”

Adora smiled. “Thanks, Catra. I think that’ll help.”

Chapter Text

Something smelled wonderful. Adora sighed, shifting beneath the covers and burrowing in search of the comforting scent’s source. Her eyes remained closed, but she allowed her breath to skate over the soft fur next to her cheek. It was short, silky, and also strangely familiar…

Her eyes snapped open, and she barely stopped herself from jolting. Catra. I’m cuddling Catra.

Adora’s heart thumped as she took stock of her situation. They were in Catra’s bed, where they’d fallen asleep together, but Catra wasn’t in her usual place at the foot of the mattress. She had crawled toward the pillows and burrowed under the covers, and her rear end was tucked right against the cradle of Adora’s pelvis. Her tail twitched back and forth, and Adora swallowed, valiantly ignoring how it grazed her inner thigh. She could feel the ticklish brush even through her pants.

Her face flushed as she debated what to do. She could try and remove her arm, which was currently draped over Catra’s side, and hope the movement wouldn’t wake her. She doubted that would work, though. Catra had always been a light sleeper, even if she did snore louder than a tank’s engine.

Or I could hold really still and hope she stays asleep… But that was only a temporary solution. Catra would wake up eventually, and when she did, Adora knew she would be displeased, to say the least.

Then there was the fact that Adora didn’t quite want to let go. Foggily, she realized she liked the way her arm curled around Catra’s waist. She liked feeling Catra’s back expand against her chest with each steady breath. She liked burying her nose in Catra’s mane, which held the delicious scent she’d smelled. Memories of other times they’d been close, times they’d been happy, flooded back to her, and tears welled in her eyes.

Could we really have this again? We can’t go back, but… is it possible to go forward? I wish…

Adora stifled a yelp of surprise as Catra shifted in her arms, yawning and rolling on top of her. She waited, expecting Catra to crack open a yellow or blue eye and glare at her, but instead, her friend remained fast asleep. She even caught a glimpse of Catra’s milky third eyelids, which twitched as though she were dreaming. She purred and nuzzled into Adora’s shoulder, content to remain half-sprawled across her torso.

Um.

Adora gulped. One of Catra’s hands was perilously close to her left breast, and her claws flexed an inch away, as if she were trying to knead.

Okay. We can’t stay like this. If she wakes up, she’ll hate me…

“Catra?” she whispered, gently touching Catra’s arm.

This time, Catra did crack her yellow eye open. “Don’t ruin it, dummy,” she rumbled, her voice still raspy from sleep. “You’re warm, and the magic in this place feels like frost to me. It’s everywhere and I hate it.”

“I didn’t know you could feel it,” Adora whispered, trying to hide her surprise. She was more surprised by fact that Catra hadn’t tried to eviscerate her, but she knew better than to say so.

“Know what magic feels like,” Catra muttered, closing her eye again.

Adora’s heart sank a little, and some of her nervous giddiness faded. “Yeah.” She hesitated, then asked, “What about when I’m She-Ra?”

Catra opened both eyes and looked at her. “Hot. Like fire.”

“Is that… bad?”

Catra didn’t answer. Instead, she rolled off Adora and yawned, ears flattening against her head, tail sticking straight out behind her and fluffing up much more than usual, like it did when something excited or startled her.

Adora suppressed a giggle.

“Watch it,” Catra muttered, kneading one of the fluffier pillows for a moment before rolling out of bed.

“Thanks for not doing that on me,” Adora said.

Catra gave a small smirk. “Whatever.” She peeled off her shirt without a shred of embarrassment, scratching the thick, tufted line of fur that followed the column of her spine. Shucking her leggings as well, she stumbled toward the adjoining washroom.

Adora averted her eyes. She’d seen Catra naked many times before while showering, changing in the locker rooms, or getting ready for bed, but this felt… different, somehow. Something had shifted between them, and while it didn’t frighten her, it certainly unsettled her. She’d never liked dealing with emotions she couldn’t name, and this one was particularly vexing.

Since Catra had claimed the washroom first, Adora headed to the dresser and accompanying wardrobe, knowing she would find clean pants, shirts, and robes in a few sizes. Her search was successful, and she ended up selecting a clean shirt, a red, button-up jerkin not too different from her usual jacket, and a loose pair of trousers. They would do until she could get her own clothes clean.

Rather than put them on, she laid them out on the foot of the bed (after checking for any patches of stray orange fur), and approached the washroom door. She rapped with her knuckles, leaning so her ear was beside the wood. “Catra?”

“Fuck off,” Catra called, though her tone wasn’t unfriendly. In fact, it was rather playful — a tone Adora hadn’t heard from her in a long time.

A hopeful smile crept across Adora’s face. “You want clean clothes or not?”

Catra paused. “How ugly we talking?”

“Just regular pants and shirts. Nothing princessy or sorceressy, I promise.”

The door opened, and Catra poked her head out. A few beads of water clung to her face, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. “Guess the shit I was wearing has been through a lot.” She walked over to the bed, taking the outfit Adora had laid out and changing into it.

“That was supposed to be for me, you know.”

Catra shrugged. “There’s more, right? Hmm, red. Not bad.”

“By the way, if you want to get clean and relax, Mystacor has some really nice hot springs.”

Catra pulled the jerkin over her head and turned. “Yeah?”

Adora grinned. Catra wasn’t a fan of water outside of cleaning up, but she did enjoy the heat. It might be enough to convince her, Adora thought, unexpectedly excited by the prospect. “It’s great. After everything we’ve been through, I think we deserve a break.”

“Tell me about it.” Catra headed for the door, tail swishing behind her. One paw on the handle, she looked back over her shoulder. “You coming or what, slowpoke?”

Adora raised her eyebrows. She’d half-expected Catra to insist on asking for directions and going to the hot springs alone. Although they’d taken some important steps toward repairing their relationship, there was still an underlying tension between them. If Catra had expressed a desire for space, Adora would’ve made herself scarce.

But Catra wants me to come with her. She wants me around.

Don’t overthink it, Adora told herself. Catra’s in an enemy kingdom full of magic. She’s probably scared. Still, she couldn’t help hoping that Catra actually desired her company for other reasons.

“Sure. Let me grab a bathing suit.”

Catra flashed her sharpened upper teeth. “What for?”

Adora shrugged and averted her eyes.

“Prude,” Catra snorted, rolling her eyes.

Adora jutted her chin forward. “Am not.”

“Psh.” Catra opened the door, strolling into the hallway with a nonchalance that only aggravated Adora further.

Unwilling to let Catra win, she grabbed a fresh set of clothes from the drawers and followed, finding Catra a few yards beyond the door, leaning casually against one of the passage’s stone walls. “Lead the way,” she said, with a casual flick of her right ear.

Adora tried, and likely failed, to pretend her face wasn’t flushing as she started down the hall. Judging from Catra’s leer, she wasn’t doing a very good job.

***

Catra closed her eyes and sighed, lowering her shoulders beneath the warm water until her chin met its surface. She wasn’t normally the type to soak, since her fur took a stupidly long time to dry, and she tended to look like an orange cotton ball afterward, but she had to admit, these hot springs were as amazing as Adora had claimed. Better, even. She could already feel the aches and pains in her muscles dissolving away.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked a decorative pink pillar, behind which Adora was currently stripping. “Get in.”

Adora peeked around the pillar. “I will,” she said, but made no move to approach.

“When, next year? C’mon.” Catra stretched her arms, sprawling them to either side on the hot spring’s edge. “Besides, I’ve seen it all before.”

She had seen it all before, changing in the locker rooms and undressing before bed, but today, something felt… different… about being naked in front of each other. Something that made Catra shiver even though she was enveloped by steaming hot water.

Does Adora feel it, too? Is that why she’s acting all weird?

With a rather adorable look of determination, Adora stomped out from behind the pillar and toward the hot spring like a soldier marching into battle. Catra suppressed a snicker. She couldn’t name what, exactly, had changed between them, but she had to admit, it was kind of fun to throw Adora off her game. Especially now that they weren’t trying to kill each other all the time.

Not that she ever wanted to kill me. I was the one who tried to kill her.

Catra pushed that dark thought aside. Despite the warped memories she’d revisited in the Crystal Castle, she didn’t want to think about the recent past. Not today. She needed, and deserved, a day off after everything she’d been through lately. A day in the hot springs. A day with… her friend.

Adora dipped a hesitant toe into the water, testing the temperature. Once satisfied, she eased her other foot in, then descended the carved stone steps into the middle of the pool. Catra watched, unsure why she was so fascinated by the movement of Adora’s thighs, or the sheen of sweat that had begun to sprout on her pale skin.

Skin that wasn’t quite as Catra remembered it.

She felt another uncomfortable tug in her gut when she noticed that Adora had several new scars: ones she hadn’t seen before, but recognized immediately. Almost all of them were narrow, slashing parallel lines, most of them on her arms and back.

Adora noticed her looking. “Don’t worry about it,” she mumbled, hurrying to sink beneath the water, where the bubbles and steam would hide her body from view. “They don’t hurt or anything.”

Not now, Catra thought. They’d obviously hurt at the time. A few of them still had scabs, and it struck her how recently she and Adora had reconciled. It had only been two days, but it felt like much longer. She remained silent for a moment, then scooted closer to the spot Adora had chosen.

“Sorry,” she said, cursing inwardly at how awkward her own voice sounded. She almost never apologized — except as a child, when she’d desperately hoped doing so would soothe Shadow Weaver’s wrath and lessen her punishments. Maybe that was why she hated doing it as an adult. Apologies reminded her of weakness. Of feeling scared and stupid and worthless. She glanced away, too uncomfortable to meet Adora’s eyes, until a hand touched hers beneath the water.

“It’s okay.”

Catra forced herself to look. Adora was smiling at her, not quite with sadness, but something awfully close. Wistfulness, maybe? She couldn’t tell.

“Yeah, well. I gave you some pretty good fights.”

To her relief, Adora’s soft, emotional smile spread into a wide grin. “You did.”

“Remember when you were trying to power that magic gate?”

Adora nodded and laughed. “You were such an asshole.”

Catra smirked. “It’s not my fault you’re easy to distract.”

“Is that why you wore the tux at the Princess Prom?”

“Wait, what?”

Adora tilted head. “I mean, obviously you showed up to distract me, but… the tux. I’d never seen you wear anything like that before.”

It only took a moment for Catra to catch on. “Are you saying I looked hot that night?” she asked, putting on her best leer.

Adora’s mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed to sputter out an answer. “No,” she said, with far too much insistence.

“No?” Catra poked out her lower lip, giving Adora her best pout. “So you’re saying I looked ugly?”

“That isn’t… I never said…” Adora’s face flushed bright pink, even though she’d already been in the water for a fair amount of time. “It was a nice outfit, okay? Am I not allowed to compliment you?”

Catra chuckled. Adora’s embarrassment was absolutely delicious. It almost reminded her of the old days, except… the extra charge in the air was new. She couldn’t name it, but she was content to enjoy the excited tingle for whatever it was.

She liked that Adora had complimented her. She liked that she could fluster Adora so easily. And she especially liked the way Adora chewed the inside of her cheek, throat bobbing as she swallowed around an obvious lump. Her embarrassment made her look pretty.

Pretty? Since when do I think Adora is pretty?

“I’m just saying… I looked good. Glad you recognized it is all.” She leaned back against the side of the pool, then added, “You looked pretty hot yourself. Red is a good color on you. Always has been.”

Adora’s lashes fluttered for a moment, and she ran her tongue over her lips. “Thanks.”

They drifted into silence, sitting side by side in the hot spring. “This is nice,” Adora murmured after a moment.

“Hmm?”

“Hanging out with you again. Whatever you choose to do after this is over… I hope we can keep hanging out.”

Catra smiled, a genuine one this time, rather than one meant to get on Adora’s nerves. “Same. So… think we could convince Glimmer’s Aunt to take a dip with us next time?”

“Catra!”

***

“This is amazing!” Kyle said, gazing around the library in wonder. It was large and spacious, but comfortably cluttered as well, with books stacked on almost every available surface. It smelled like paper and the fabric of well-loved armchairs, which were also liberally covered in books of all shapes and sizes.

“It is,” Bow agreed. “I like coming in here, although I usually end up in the fiction section.” He offered a sheepish smile, and Kyle felt a strange fluttering in his chest.

“The Horde doesn’t have a library. There are manuals you can check out, for learning how to use the equipment and stuff. But it’s nothing like this.”

Bow grinned. “There aren’t many libraries as awesome as this one. Come on, I’ll show you.” He brushed Kyle’s arm, guiding him between two towering shelves.

“I—I don’t know where to start,” Kyle admitted, feeling a little overwhelmed. Whether it was from his new surroundings, all the books, or the flash of heat he could still feel against his arm through his sleeve, he couldn’t tell.

“Anywhere you want.” Bow headed over to one of the shelves, selecting several books and tucking them into his arms. He passed them to Kyle, who had to compensate for their surprisingly heavy weight. “Here. These are some of my favorites. Look at the backs and flip through whatever looks interesting.”

Kyle turned the first book over to read the summary. It was something about dragons and saving the world, which immediately caught his interest. The Horde definitely didn’t have any books like this, solely for entertainment.

“Hello!”

A loud, cheerful voice boomed behind him, and Kyle dropped the books Bow had passed him, including the one he’d been examining. He whipped around, coming face to face with a solid black chestplate and two large pincers, which steadied him gently before he could stumble.

“Sorry,” Scorpia said, removing her hold. “Didn’t mean to startle you, buddy. Glimmer’s showing us the library.”

Only then did Kyle notice Glimmer, who was lingering a few yards back with a rather bored look on her face. He smiled at her, and to his relief, she gave a tentative smile back.

“Glimmer!” Bow rushed over for a hug. “What’re you doing here? Looking for me?” He waggled his eyebrows, and Glimmer laughed.

“No. Just giving Scorpia the tour to spare her from my Aunt. She isn’t bad, for ex-Horde.”

Scorpia beamed. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You said us,” Kyle asked hesitantly. “Did you come with anyone else?”

Glimmer’s eyes widened. “Oh, Entrapta! Where’d she go? Darn it, this is the fifth time we’ve lost her…” She scurried out of the stacks, calling Entrapta’s name, while Scorpia remained behind.

“Entrapta’s curious about everything,” she said. “Casta had to kick her out when she tried to examine Mystacor’s defense system. That’s why Glimmer and I brought her here. We were hoping it might distract her.”

“Oh, excellent!” came Entrapta’s voice, from somewhere else in the library. “This treatise on the function of magic in relation to hydraulics should be exceptionally useful in my study of—”

“I wasn’t giving it to you,” Glimmer’s voice replied. “I was putting away the books you knocked over.”

“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t notice. Ooh, is that a book about wards?”

Kyle looked at Scorpia and Bow, and the three of them burst into quiet snickers. “I’m glad she’s having a good time,” Bow said. “I…” His eyes darted to the ground. “I’m glad she’s alive, to be honest. For a while, we thought she was…”

Scorpia’s face fell. “She was upset when you didn’t come back for her. I think she felt scared and alone.”

“I know,” Bow sighed. “I just wish… I don’t know… that we’d done something different, but I’m not sure what.”

Kyle fidgeted, shifting his weight awkwardly from foot to foot. He felt like he was listening in on a conversation he shouldn’t be privy to, but he couldn’t exactly leave, either. Otherwise, Glimmer might have to retrieve him, too. Instead, he edged off to one side and picked up the book he’d dropped, the one about dragons.

“Have you talked to her about it?” Scorpia asked Bow in an understanding whisper.

“Not yet. Do you think I should?”

Kyle tried to focus on the first page, but his attention was drawn away again as Glimmer and Entrapta returned, with the former dragging the latter by the arm to prevent her from wandering off again. Entrapta had an impressive stack of books nestled in her pigtails, and she was grinning from ear to ear.

“Bow, Scorpia, look at all the wonderful reference materials I’ve found!”

She didn’t say hello to you, a voice whispered in Kyle’s head. Does she even know your name?

Kyle blinked, lifting his head in surprise. He glanced around to see if someone had addressed him, but no one was paying attention to him. Bow and Scorpia had turned, forming a circle of sorts with Glimmer and Entrapta, leaving him slightly to the side.

Isn’t that always how it is, Kyle? You, watching from the sidelines, never really a part of things.

Kyle frowned. The voice was definitely in his mind, and not coming from anyone near him. It sounded a little like his own voice — like his own thoughts, rather — but it was also unusually clear and distinct, rather than the hazier, more emotional quality most thoughts possessed.

Bow isn’t paying attention to you anymore. He’s having fun with his real friends.

It was true. Bow was laughing at something Glimmer had said, something Kyle had completely missed. His heart sank, although he wasn’t entirely sure why.

And Scorpia has never noticed you before. She’s polite enough, but she’s had the opportunity to get to know you for years, and she never did. While she made friends with Entrapta the second they met.

Kyle shuffled his feet, feeling immensely awkward. He didn’t know where these doubts were coming from, but he definitely didn’t like them.

“Um…” He tried to speak, to join the group and find out what was so funny, but his voice came out far too soft.

No one ever listens to you, Kyle. It isn’t fair, is it?

He swallowed, then cleared his throat and tried again. “Bow?”

This time, Bow turned toward him. “Hey. Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. What’s up?”

Kyle’s face burned. He hadn’t thought ahead that far. Eventually, he remembered the book in his hand, and held it up hopefully. “You said you liked this one, right?”

Bow checked the book and nodded. “Definitely. I love adventure stories. Dragons, pirates, knights in shining armor… good battle scenes. Plenty of romance.” He winked, and Glimmer and Scorpia giggled, while Entrapta tilted her head in confusion.

“Ooh, romance,” Scorpia said. “Pick one out for me, Bow? Pleeeease?”

Bow tugged the collar of his shirt. “It just so happens that I’m an expert on the romance section. And since Entrapta seems to have found plenty of books…” He glanced at the massive pile she continued to cradle in her hair. “We should get some for the rest of you.”

“Sure,” Glimmer said. “That way I have an excuse to avoid my aunt. She’s always bugging me to read more anyway.”

As they chatted, and Bow began gesturing at the shelves nearby, Kyle began to relax. His dark mood passed, and even though he didn’t have much to say, he made eye contact with Bow and several other members of the group. He felt included.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they all do want to be my friends… maybe.

Chapter Text

“This is gonna be so boring,” Catra grumbled, slouching in her chair.

Adora sighed. Castaspella had been kind enough to provide them with a private meeting room, complete with a large table and plenty of seats, but the one thing their host couldn’t guarantee was positive attitudes. Especially Catra’s.

“It’s important,” she whispered, giving Catra a chastising look. “This is what you want, right? To take Shadow Weaver down?”

Catra pulled her mouth to one side. “Yeah.”

“Do you we have everything we need to get started?” Castaspella asked, looking at everyone in attendance before her gaze settled on Adora.

Adora checked on her companions. Perfuma was beaming, as usual. Frosta’s expression was unreadable, while Mermista, like Catra, looked bored, and deliberately avoided Seahawk’s attempts to catch her eye. Netossa and Spinerella held hands under the table. Glimmer kept shooting Scorpia suspicious looks — probably because she knew Adora would say something if she aimed them too obviously at Catra — which Scorpia returned with her usual friendly grin. Entrapta leaned forward, recorder at the ready, while Bow murmured something quietly to Kyle, which caused him to sit up straighter in his seat.

“I think so,” Adora said, forcing a smile at Castaspella. She still didn’t like the reminder that all these people considered her their de facto leader. She hadn’t wanted or asked for the position, and yet, she was responsible for them. They would do whatever she asked, even if it put them in danger, and that terrified her if she thought about it too much.

Castaspella took her own seat at the head of the table. “All right then.”

“At least the view’s not bad,” Catra whispered, giving Castaspella a not-so-subtle up and down.

Adora’s face flushed. “Stop it,” she hissed, elbowing Catra under the table. Several pairs of eyes turned toward her, and she worried they’d noticed, until she realized they were just waiting for her to begin.

Right. I’m in charge, I guess. Ugh.

“Um…” She tried to think of something somewhat relevant to say. “We all know what a dangerous foe Shadow Weaver is. We’ve all worked for her, or at least fought her, before. But everyone has weaknesses, right? Even her. So, we just have to… uh…”

“What we need to do is get the Black Garnet away from her,” Glimmer said. Adora stifled a sigh of relief. That was what she’d been trying to say, in her awkward, roundabout way. “From what I’ve seen, that’s where she gets all her spooky powers. Right?”

Catra rolled her eyes. “Great plan, cupcake. We’ll just march right back into the Fright Zone and take it from her. Not like she’ll obliterate us before we get anywhere near it.”

“Catra,” Adora said, “that isn’t helpful.”

“She’s not wrong,” Frosta said. “The Fright Zone is incredibly dangerous. We would be hopelessly outnumbered, and we’ve already staged two break-ins before. I’m sure Hordak has shored up his defenses since then.”

“What if it was just one of us?” Netossa suggested. “Maybe Scorpia could sneak in and find a way to smuggle the rest of us inside? She could claim we took her prisoner.”

Scorpia’s eyes widened. “Me? Oh, no. All prisoners have to be debriefed and re-educated if they’re found alive.”

A frown crossed Catra’s face. “What do you mean, re-educated?”

“You don’t know? It was in Force Captain training…”

“Regardless,” Adora said, before Catra could make another comment, “I don’t think it’s fair to send Scorpia in alone. She’d be in too much danger.”

“So, like… are the Black Garnet powers a proximity thing or whatever?” Mermista asked. “Because, like, my runestone gives me more power the closer I am to it and stuff.”

Adora considered that. “Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Shadow Weaver leave the Fright Zone, or go anywhere far from the Black Garnet. Have you, Catra?”

“Nope,” Catra said. “She’s always lurking in that fucking creepy room of hers. If she wants something, she makes someone else get it for her. Or, I dunno, astral projects herself with magic.” She waved her hand carelessly.

“That makes sense,” Entrapta piped up. “Close contact with runestones greatly enhances communion for those who can access their powers.”

Scorpia’s brow furrowed. “Huh. I’ve never felt anything at all from the Black Garnet.” Her face softened into a smile, and she shrugged. “Oh well. That’s okay! I like fighting with my claws anyway.”

Entrapta ignored the cheerful interjection, looking at Glimmer. “Like you and the Moonstone. You always feel more powerful when it’s close by, yes?”

Glimmer’s brow furrowed. “Yes. So, you’re saying we do need to go back to the Fright Zone.”

“Maybe not,” Adora said. For the first time, she had the beginnings of an idea. An idea her friends would probably object to, if she were being honest with herself. She took a deep breath. “We could try sneaking into the Fright Zone, but the Black Garnet is huge and heavily guarded. It’s not like we can just put it in our pockets and sneak out. Or…”

Catra caught her drift. “Or we could lure Shadow Weaver out of the Fright Zone. Get her to come to us.” She flashed her pointed teeth in a grin. “I like it.”

“But how?” Perfuma asked. “You said yourself she never leaves.”

“We should challenge her to battle,” Seahawk suggested. “Have it all out, once and for all! Mano a mano. Er, womano a womano, as the case may be .”

Mermista gave him an exasperated look. “Seriously?” She slumped in her chair, blew a strand of turquoise hair away from her forehead, and scanned the others in attendance. “Why is he even here for this?”

“Actually,” Adora said, “Seahawk said what I was thinking. Sort of.”

The silence was like a thunderclap. After a few paralyzing seconds, everyone started shouting.

“What!?”

“You can’t be serious...”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Adora held up her hand. “Listen. Shadow Weaver never leaves the Fight Zone. But what’s the one thing she wants more than anything else?”

“You,” Catra said, in little more than a murmur. “Control of you.”

She swallowed. Nodded. “Exactly. I’ll tell her I want to parlay, in a place I choose.” It was a sneaky, scummy, duplicitous plan that went Adora’s very grain, and she was almost ashamed her brain had come up with it. Still, it was their best chance, and while She-Ra was supposed to stand for all that was noble and good, Adora stood for her friends most of all.

More silence.

Adora looked at Catra, hoping for support. Her plan was the sort of thing Catra’s cunning mind might have come up with, and she’d been secretly counting on her for backup, especially in regards to Bow and Glimmer, who definitely wouldn’t approve. Instead, Catra remained quiet. Tense. Almost…

Wait, is she angry with me?

“It’s clever,” Frosta said at last. “I’m sure Shadow Weaver will bring guards for protection, but we stand a better chance against them outside the Fright Zone, away from the Black Garnet.”

Adora breathed a not-so-subtle sigh of relief. Frosta wasn’t the voice she’d expected to rise in her defense, but she’d take it. She couldn’t help stealing glances at Catra, though, who deliberately avoided her eyes, going so far as to stare at the grain of the table.

“What if she expects a trap?” Spinerella asked.

“She won’t,” Adora said quietly. “Not from me.”

“She’s right,” Bow said. “Adora’s an honorable person. Shadow Weaver won’t expect a double cross from her.”

“And she’s greedy,” Glimmer added. “When I was her captive…” She hesitated, obviously not eager to talk about that trauma. “Shadow Weaver was obsessed with Adora. Completely. Some part of her would do anything to get Adora back under her thumb. She might take risks she wouldn’t normally consider to make it happen.”

Adora’s stomach lurched. Glimmer had an accurate read on the situation, but it wasn’t pleasant to hear it laid out with such bluntness.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Netossa said. “Worst case scenario, Shadow Weaver doesn’t agree. Then we come up with a different plan.”

“You’ll need to be very careful,” Castaspella said. “If Shadow Weaver agrees to this — and that’s a big if — she won’t be easy to defeat, even far from her runestone. She’ll have a considerable amount of magical energy stored up.”

“Stored?” Bow asked.

Castaspella nodded. “Yes. Not every sorceress or princess draws power from a runestone, but all of us have methods for storing magic. Summoning it from within ourselves, and recovering afterward, is difficult otherwise.”

Adora still wasn’t entirely sure how her own magical abilities as She-Ra worked, but she trusted Castaspella’s judgment. “So, you’re saying we have to take her out fast, or wear her down?”

“Ideally, the first option…”

Adora knew she should be paying attention, but a prickly sensation crept up the back of her neck. Catra was staring at her with an uncomfortable amount of intensity, but when Adora tried to catch her eye, her gaze darted away again.

“... can help you set up some spell wards once you select a meeting place, but I can’t promise Shadow Weaver won’t disable them or…”

“I gotta go.”

Catra pushed back her chair, its legs screeching on the stone floor. Adora opened her mouth to say something, anything, but before she could speak or reach out a hand, Catra was storming away, fists clenched at her sides, tail lashing behind her.

For a third time, silence fell. Adora was left in limbo, halfway out of her own chair, her right arm outstretched. She swallowed around the dryness in her throat.

“Awkward,” Mermista said at last.

Adora’s stomach churned. She didn’t understand what had just happened, not by a long shot. She’d thought Catra would wholeheartedly approve of her plan and the devious tactics it involved. That kind of thing had always been Catra’s game in the simulations…

So why is she angry at me? I thought we were doing better?

“I’ll go check on her,” Adora murmured, all too aware of the many sets of eyes that rested on her. “The rest of you, keep brainstorming. Maybe you can come up with a place for our trap?” She looked at Bow and Glimmer, hoping for their support at least, and received two worried but encouraging smiles in return.

“We’ll be okay,” Glimmer said.

“Go see what’s up,” Bow added.

With a sigh, Adora left the room, entering the hallway just in time to see the brushed tip of Catra’s tail whip around a corner. She hurried after it, unsure what she was going to say, but knowing she had to do something.

I’ve already lost her once. I can’t do it again.

***

Stupid. Stupid, stupid Adora!

Catra growled, stopping mid-stride to bang her closed fist against the wall. Pain thudded through her hand, but it didn’t make her feel any better — and she hated how she felt.

She hated the sick feeling in her stomach.

She hated the dull ache in her chest.

She hated the way her eyes burned and her tongue felt too big for her mouth.

She hated how she felt when she imagined Adora facing down Shadow Weaver, alone and vulnerable, trapped in the same cold, black tendrils that had enveloped her, subject to the same dark whispers.

Of course Adora came up with that dumb fucking plan. She always has to be the hero. Even if it means Shadow Weaver will break her or tear her mind apart or…

“Catra?”

The sound of Adora’s voice, soft and concerned, only made Catra angrier. She whirled, baring her fangs in a snarl. “Why don’t you ever get the fucking hint? Leave me alone!”

Hurt flashed across Adora’s face, but Catra didn’t have the presence of mind to feel guilty about it. She didn’t care. Caring was too much, too soon, and it made her too vulnerable.

Obviously Adora doesn’t care if she gets hurt, so why should I?

Adora poked out her lower lip, folding her arms and thrusting her chin forward in defiance. “I’ll leave you alone once I’m sure you’re all right.”

“You’re worried about me?” Amidst the anger, Catra felt a strange, floating sensation, one that made her head spin and her heart flutter. Someone… Adora was worried about her. But it also made her madder, and her eyes burned with tears she was too stubborn to shed. “You idiot! You want to face down Shadow Weaver, and you’re worried about me?”

A wrinkle formed in Adora’s brow. “Yes? Of course I am. Catra, I—”

“Shut up.” Catra stalked forward, driven by a force she couldn’t comprehend, fueled by a furious fire that rose the longer she glared into Adora’s terribly beautiful blue eyes. “Just… just shut up, okay? For once in your life, shut up!”

Adora’s mouth fell open in surprise, and that was the last straw. Catra grabbed the back of Adora’s head, fisting her ponytail, and yanked her forward, crashing their mouths together in a brutal, terrified kiss.

Shock coursed through Catra’s body. She hadn’t known what she was about to do — could barely process that she was still doing it. She was kissing Adora. Kissing her so fiercely that Adora whimpered against her lips, a sweet, ticklish vibration that made Catra’s mouth tingle. It was warm and soft and almost unbearable.

Adora caressed her face, ever so gently, and Catra realized the tears she’d valiantly tried to hold back were rolling down her cheeks in a slow, dripping waterfall. To make up for it, she kissed Adora harder, and to her confusion and delight, Adora kissed back. Catra nipped Adora’s lower lip, and Adora’s tongue pushed into her mouth, stroking eagerly against her own. She tasted… Catra’s head was spinning too much for her to name how Adora tasted, but it was good, and she wanted more. Only…

“Mmf!”

Catra retracted her claws, releasing Adora’s hair, and stumbled back, leaving Adora to lean dazedly after her, eyes half-closed, lips still parted in expectation.

“What the fuck, Adora?”

Adora opened her eyes. Blinked. “Huh?”

“What was that?”

A frown marred Adora’s expression, and a pink flush took up on her cheeks. “What do you mean? You kissed me.”

“You kissed back. You weren’t supposed to kiss back!”

“You kissed me without expecting me to kiss back? Did you not want me to kiss you?”

“No, that’s not what I—” Catra threw up her arms in exasperation, then covered her face with her hands, dragging them dejectedly downward. “You’re so stupid, I can’t even—”

“Catra.” Adora took a step toward her, slowly but without fear, and touched her shoulder. “I know you don’t mean it like this, but you shouldn’t call people you love stupid. That’s what Shadow Weaver does.”

Guilt lodged in Catra’s throat, burning almost as badly as the tears still welling in her eyes. “I’m sorry, you’re right, I— wait, no. No, this is your fault! You’re the one who’s trying to get herself killed for… for heroics or something! I hate you!”

Unable to look at Adora’s face for a moment longer, Catra whirled around and stormed off, her tail lashing behind her. More tears fell, and she brushed them away angrily with her arm. Adora might not be stupid, but she was a self-righteous fool who was going to get hurt, or worse. And Catra was most definitely not going to stick around to watch that inevitability, kiss or no kiss.

***

It took Glimmer several hours of searching to find Adora.

She checked the obvious places first: Adora’s room, the hot springs, the library. None of those panned out. Although she reconvened with Bow several times, his luck wasn’t any better. He’d searched every spot he could think of, and then some, but there was still no sign of her.

“You don’t think something happened to her, do you?” he asked the fourth time they met, in the kitchens as agreed upon.

Glimmer hung her head. She hadn’t thought so at first, but the longer Adora remained missing, the more worried she got. Her stomach had tightened into a nauseous knot, and her mind flitted through various scenarios, each worse than the last.

“No,” she said anyway. “Mystacor’s defenses are top notch. If Shadow Weaver… breached them… like last time, Adora would’ve acted all squirrely again. We’d have noticed.”

“But she’s missing,” Bow protested, obviously unconvinced. “We don’t know where she is or—”

“So we keep looking.” It was the only thing they could do. Standing around worrying wouldn’t get things done, and Glimmer had always been a doer — one of the many reasons for her and her mother’s frequent arguments.

“Okay, but let’s look together. At least if something bad happens, we’ll have each other.”

Glimmer conceded the point. It was looking more and more like Adora hadn’t just snuck ditched the meeting for a moment of peace, or gotten involved in a longer conversation with Catra… whom they hadn’t seen hide nor hair of, either, as a matter of fact.

“You don’t think Catra’s with her, do you?”

“Why?” Bow’s eyes widened. “You aren’t saying Catra might have…”

Glimmer sighed. “Yesterday, that’s exactly what I would’ve said, but... Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Catra, but I don’t think she wants to hurt Adora, at least not this time.”

Bow offered a weak smile. “Me neither.”

They continued searching the palace, with no success. Even a last ditch trip to the stables, when Bow mentioned Adora’s fondness for horses and remarked that she might be missing Swift Wind, proved fruitless.

It was only walking through the middle of the palace, while searching for Aunt Casta to enlist her help, that they finally heard something: sharp, familiar sobs echoing down one of Mystacor’s glowing, crystalline hallways.

Glimmer locked eyes with Bow, and they both took off running.

They found her in the oddest of places: the heart of the castle itself, where Mystacor’s defense system lay. The place where they had fought Shadow Weaver last time, and the place where Adora currently sat with her knees tucked in, face buried in her forearms.

She didn’t look up when they entered. “Glimmer? Bow?” she said instead, her voice muffled and weary from crying.

“Are you okay? When you didn’t come back to the meeting, we were… we were so worried.” Glimmer hurried to Adora’s side, placing a hand on her shoulder. Bow crouched at her other side, wrapping an arm around her back and kissing the side of her head.

“It’s gonna be fine. We’re here.”

Adora cried harder.

Glimmer sighed and resolved to wait, knowing their friend would talk to them when she was ready.

It didn’t take long. “She k-ki-kissed me,” Adora sniffed, wiping her eyes and nose with her sleeve.

“What?!” Glimmer said, at the same time as Bow said, “Catra?!”

Adora flinched at their loud voices. “Y-yes…” She flopped her head dejectedly onto Bow’s shoulder and scooted one of her hips closer to Glimmer’s thigh.

A storm brewed within Glimmer’s chest as she looked at her friend, the brave and mighty She-Ra, curled into a dejected ball. How dare Catra do that? Make Adora cry? In the middle of so many other problems, no less? “That little… just say the word, Adora, and I’ll—”

“No,” Adora mumbled. “I kissed her too. I wanted to kiss her. Then she ran away.”

Silence fell over the three of them for a while. Glimmer searched for words, but found none. The only things she wanted to say were threats against Catra, but she knew Adora wouldn’t be receptive to those, and Adora’s feelings needed to be her priority.

Luckily for all of them, Bow knew what to say. “Do you love her? Romantically?”

Adora hesitated. “Yes.”

“How long?”

“Since always. But it was… when I was with the Horde, it wasn’t safe to… I didn’t know what it was, or how… we didn’t have examples for feelings like that. People there just didn’t. So it wasn’t until I met you two that I… understood.”

The protective fire in Glimmer’s heart died a little. Her face softened, and she placed a kiss on Adora’s head, much like Bow had done before. “You taught me a lot about friendship too. Don’t sell yourself short.”

Adora lifted her head from Bow’s shoulder, offering a sad smile. “I love you both.”

“We love you, too,” Bow murmured.

“We do. And…” Glimmer tried not to let her distaste show on her face. “We know you love Catra. We know she isn’t all bad, or you wouldn’t feel this way about her.”

Adora’s tears trailed off. She blinked at Glimmer in surprise. “You do?”

Glimmer shrugged. “Catra and I aren’t going to be buddies any time soon. But I can’t stop you from caring about her, or her from caring about you. That’s between you.”

That seemed to be enough, because Adora turned and hugged her, squeezing her ribcage in a fierce embrace. Glimmer laughed, although the sound came out more choked than anything. “Hey, can’t breathe!”

Adora let go. “Sorry. I just… thank you. But it doesn’t matter. Catra stormed off. She thinks I want to get myself killed or something—”

“Ohhhh.”

Glimmer looked at Bow, who had made the noise of understanding. “What?”

“Well, Catra doesn’t really have friends, does she? I mean, Scorpia and Entrapta are her friends, I guess, but not like us, at least not yet. She hasn’t had the experience of fighting incredible odds, going up against huge dangers, and trusting the people at her side to help her get through.” His face fell. “That’s really sad, not trusting anyone. She must be so lonely…”

“She can trust me,” Adora protested. “And I trust her to protect me from Shadow Weaver. Just like I trust all of you.”

“Of course,” Bow said. “But she doesn’t know that.” He looked at Glimmer for backup, and she realized what he wanted her to say. As much as Catra frustrated her, she spoke with complete sincerity:

“You should tell her, Adora. She probably needs to hear it in plain words, to get it through that thick head.”

Adora licked her lips. “You think so?”

Glimmer nodded. “I know so. You two have had your… issues… but we all want the same thing. And we all have to work together to bring Shadow Weaver down. None of us are going to let anything happen to you. Or even her.”

“You’d protect Catra?” Adora asked, as if she didn’t dare hope.

It was Glimmer’s turn to lick her lips. “Yes. For you... and because I hate Shadow Weaver more than her.”

Adora grinned. Then laughed. “You’re the best, Glimmer.”

“You say that like I don’t already know.” She glanced at Bow, who gave her an approving nod.

“We’ll help you patch things up with Catra,” he said.

Adora’s brow furrowed. “How? Do you have a plan?”

A mischievous smirk that Glimmer knew all too well spread across Bow’s face. “Oh, I have a few ideas…”

Chapter Text

“Catra? Caaahtruuuh?”

Scorpia craned her neck down yet another crystalline hall, checking for any sign of her missing friend. She’d grown worried when Catra hadn’t returned to the strategy meeting, although her disappearance wasn’t exactly a surprise. Unfortunately, Catra had a habit of storming off at the most dramatic, and the most inconvenient, moments.

“Hey, Catra?” Scorpia cupped her claw, sending the echo of her voice down the hallway. “I know what always makes you feel better. Tiny food! Well, that’s mostly Entrapta, but sometimes you share her tiny food… and you seem to like it. Or at least not hate it?”

No answer. Scorpia only heard her own footsteps.

“Come on, Catra,” she sighed. “Work with me here.”

Silence followed. Scorpia tapped a claw beneath her chin, thinking deeply. If they’d been in the Fright Zone, she would have known which hiding places to check. She’d made a point of learning them once she and Catra became Best Friends Forever. Here in Mystacor, she didn’t know where to start.

Hmm. Unless…

Her brows rose, and she grinned, heading for the nearest staircase. Catra liked high places with good vantage points. Mystacor might not be the Fright Zone, but it had no shortage of spires and parapets.

“If there’s one thing I know about Catra, she likes to climb!”

Scorpia instantly regretted wasting breath to talk to herself. Mystacor’s staircases were high, steep, and winding, and she soon found herself gasping. Hauling a partial exoskeleton around didn’t make climbing easy, as she’d learned during the physical component of Force Captain Training.

Eventually, she made it to the top of the tower. A door led outside, just as she’d hoped, and cold wind whipped past her face as she opened it, blowing her bangs into her eyes.

“Catra?”

The wind carried Scorpia’s voice into the distance, but there was no reply. She looked over the edge of the tower. The buildings below looked like tiny sprinkles on a giant cupcake cloud, and she wished Catra were there to see it. “Wow. What a view! Bet you wish you hadn’t run off now, huh?”

“Go away.”

Scorpia blinked, then adjusted her gaze upward. It seemed her hunt hadn’t been in vain. There was Catra, sitting on the sloping roof of the tower itself. Scorpia wasn’t sure how she’d climbed up there, but Catra was exceptionally dexterous. “Good, there you are. I’ve been looking for—”

“Didn’t you hear me?” Catra hissed. “Leave me alone for once.

“Nuh-uh. Sorry.” Scorpia put one claw on the tower, searching for a hold. “Hold on, I’m comin’ up—”

“Fuck, no! Just stay there before you break your neck.” Catra clambered down from the roof, landing gracefully. “Why did you come all the way up here?”

Scorpia smiled. She was used to Catra’s annoyed look, and she knew it was only a facade. It was an expression Catra often wore in order to bury other, deeper emotions she didn’t want to show on the surface. “To find you. When you didn’t come back to the meeting, I got worried.”

Catra snorted and turned away. “Never asked you to worry about me.”

“I always worry about you, Catra. I care about you.”

“Never asked you to care about me, either.”

Scorpia stuck out her lower lip. Normally, she could tolerate Catra’s jibes. Sarcasm was just part of her personality. But this wasn’t sarcasm, or even stress. It was mean, and there was no reason for it. “Well, I do. And it’s not up to you who I care about or not. Get used to it, and maybe I’ll help you.”

“Ugh! I never asked you to—” Catra’s shoulders slumped, and she sighed, as if in defeat. “You aren’t going away, are you?”

Scorpia shook her head. “Nope.”

“Don’t tell me you want to talk about my feelings.”

“Well, now that you mention it…”

Catra stalked to the edge of the balcony, climbing on it and wrapping her arms around her knees. She shuddered, although Scorpia had a feeling it wasn’t because of the breeze. “Adora’s gonna get herself killed because she’s an idiot. And I won’t watch her do it. If anyone kills her, it’s gonna be me.”

Hesitantly, Scorpia approached. “Aw, Catra. I thought you and Adora were friends again?”

“We aren’t enemies right now,” Catra growled. “I think… I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I just don’t want Shadow Weaver to kill her because her plan is stupid. It doesn’t mean anything.”

A lump formed in Scorpia’s throat, and she swallowed. “Is this because you have feelings for her?” she said, in a soft and slightly strained voice. “As more than a friend?”

“What!?” Catra’s voice cracked, and she whirled, the fur of her mane standing out in all directions. Her tail puffed several sizes larger. “Who told you that?”

“I’ve always known. The way she gets under your skin — er, fur? It’s obvious you never got over her. That’s why we can’t be together.”

Catra’s startled expression turned into one of confusion. “... Say what now?”

Scorpia blinked, then laughed. “Wait, you didn’t know that either? Wow, Catra. You really are out of the loop — and not just in Force Captain Training.”

When Catra continued staring, dumbfounded, Scorpia offered a hesitant smile. “I like you, like you like Adora. But you can’t force feelings like that, so I’m happy being your friend. That is, when you admit we’re friends. Which you should do more, because I’m a pretty great one. And it’d be nice to hear you admit that for once.”

Catra’s pupils dilated. “So. You know I — whatever, with Adora… and you like me and consider us friends?”

Scorpia nodded. “Best friends.”

Catra groaned and slid off the wall, letting her head flop back against its stones. “This is. A lot. I really wanna fight something right now, because it’s way simpler than all this crap.”

After a moment, Scorpia slid into place beside her. “It’s not so bad. It’s good to have friends. And girl friends. Have you told Adora how you feel?”

“No, I—” Catra wrinkled her nose. “I’m not confirming or denying anything. But that’s rich coming from you. You never told me…”

“Because I thought you already knew. It’s okay, really. I like Adora. I understand why you like her. So, why are you up here alone?”

To Scorpia’s immense surprise, Catra offered a fleeting smile. “I’m not alone.”

Those three simple words lit a warm glow in the middle of Scorpia’s chest. “Right. I mean, why did you come up here alone? Wouldn’t it be better to go talk to her?”

“Don’t think Adora wants to talk to me,” Catra muttered. “I’ve been kind of a jerk.”

“Sometimes,” Scorpia admitted. “But you’re also a really great person. She’d be lucky to have you.”

To Scorpia’s shock, and also her delight, Catra leaned over, partially resting a cheek on one of her shoulderplates. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’m all that great. If I was…” Catra didn’t finish the thought, but Scorpia could guess what she’d been about to say.

“I don’t think Adora left because you weren’t good enough. And I don’t think Shadow Weaver mistreated you because you weren’t good enough. Sometimes life is just hard and unfair.”

“Tell me about it.”

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, huddled together against the chill of the wind. Despite the cold, Scorpia couldn’t help smiling. She and Catra might never be together romantically, but it felt really good to have Catra act like her friend for a change. She’d hadn’t had many before, and for once, it seemed like she hadn’t messed things up. Maybe she’d even helped.

“Scorpia?” Catra said after a long time.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. You’re… a good friend.”

Scorpia blinked away a few tears. “Thanks, Catra. I’m really happy to hear that from you.”

***

“Are you, uh, sure this is a good idea?” Kyle asked, peering around the dining hall with considerable trepidation. “I’m not sure this is, er… I mean… it isn’t exactly Force Commander Catra’s… thing.”

“Come on, Kyle,” Bow said, slinging an arm about his shoulder. “Parties are everybody’s thing! Even a grumpypuss like Catra has to party sometimes.”

Kyle’s cheeks burned, but he didn’t duck out from beneath the pleasant weight of Bow’s arm. In fact, he decided he liked having it there. “It’s just… a lot.” He nodded subtly at the glowing, spherical lights, which Glimmer was attaching to the ceiling, and the trays of food Scorpia was carrying to the long buffet table.

“Didn’t you have parties in the Fright Zone?” Bow asked. Then he frowned and shook his head. “Sorry, silly question. Adora told me she’d never been to a party there. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever heard. Say, have you ever been to a party besides the one you crashed?”

“Um, no.”

“Oh, you’ll love it. Music and dancing and food and friends… and if you need a little quiet time, just grab some tiny food and go into a corner. No one will bother you. Or you can always come find me.”

Kyle’s heart jumped as Bow aimed a dazzling grin at him. His new friend had soothed some of his worries before he’d even voiced them. Still, despite the boost in confidence, a dark voice whispered in the back of his mind.

What business does a loser like you have, going to a party? You’ll just ruin everyone else’s fun. Drag the whole evening down. Bow doesn’t really want to hang out with you. He has plenty of other friends. Fun friends who know how to party…

Kyle snuck another glance at Glimmer, who teleported back to the ground and hurried over with an excited smile. “You know? I needed this. We’ve been so stressed out lately, and we haven’t had time to relax.”

“Yeah,” Bow said, removing his arm and placing his hands on his hips. “I know we’re doing this for Adora, but honestly, we could all use a break.”

“Exactly,” Glimmer said. “I keep forgetting Adora was being held prisoner just a few days ago… and I was a prisoner right before that.” Some of the color faded from her cheeks. “I guess that’s why it’s important to celebrate when we can, huh?”

Kyle’s gut churned with guilt. You helped keep them both prisoner. Adora and Glimmer are nice people, and you kept them locked up… all because you were afraid of Shadow Weaver, and too cowardly to go against her. You’re part of what’s wrong with the Horde…

“Um.” He glanced at the buffet table, trying to formulate an excuse to leave the conversation. “I…”

Bow touched his hand, completely erasing the words from his head. “Hey, Kyle? Do you know how to dance?”

“Er, no—”

“It’s pretty easy. And fun! I’ll show you.” Before Kyle could react, Bow took one of his hands, lacing their fingers together. Bow’s other hand held his waist, and Kyle stiffened until Bow said, “Hold onto my shoulder.”

Swallowing around a nervous lump in his throat, Kyle did so. “Now what?”

“One long step to the side, then two quick steps in a row.”

Bow demonstrated, and Kyle stumbled along, attempting to copy him. To his surprise, he got the hang of it after a few tries. He had to watch Bow’s feet to avoid stepping on his toes, but with a little help, Kyle followed the rhythm. He risked raising his eyes, offering Bow a shy smile. “This is nice.” And it was nice, especially holding Bow’s hand, and feeling Bow’s warm palm on his waist.

“Yeah.”

Bow guided them in a slightly wider circle. Kyle’s brows rose, but he managed to keep up. The two of them could move anywhere on the floor, not just in the same small area. Kyle’s heart picked up speed. He’s smiling! I must be doing it right! Maybe I can learn how to have fun, like Bow’s other friends. Maybe…

“Hey, mind if I cut in?”

Kyle stumbled as Glimmer appeared beside them, popping in as if from nowhere — which she very well could have, for all he knew. Luckily, Bow steadied him. “Uh, sure? If you want to,” he said, letting go of Kyle and stepping back with open arms.

Glimmer didn’t pick up the dance with Bow. She put her hand on Kyle’s waist instead, and he instinctively put his hand on her shoulder. He felt strangely dizzy as she continued around the dance floor with him, and even though he would have rather been dancing with Bow, it was still pretty fun.

“Bow likes you, you know,” Glimmer whispered once they were a short distance away from Bow. He continued watching them, and when he noticed Kyle and Glimmer looking back at him, he offered a cheerful double-thumbs-up.

“He—what? I—”

“He likes you. So you’d better be extra nice to him, and not pull any Horde tricks that break his heart. Do we understand each other?”

All the blood drained from Kyle’s face. “No! I wouldn’t do that. Bow is…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, but Glimmer seemed to understand. To his surprise, she curled her arm around his lower back and dipped him, tilting his head toward the ground. He felt a moment of vertigo, but Glimmer was surprisingly strong, and she didn’t let him fall.

“Good. If you’re really done with the Horde, I won’t stand in your way. Bow’s my best friend. I just want him to be happy. But if you hurt him… well, I’ve gotten really good at putting Horde soldiers in their place recently.”

Kyle forgot how to breathe. Glimmer’s face was mere inches from his, and there was a very nerve-wracking mixture of warning and encouragement in her narrowed eyes. He gulped and nodded.

Glimmer set him back on his feet, and they continued dancing over to the buffet table, where she left him short of breath and with very shaky knees. He grabbed one of the cups and ladled some punch into it, taking a long gulp.

Did Glimmer really mean it? About Bow liking me? And what am I supposed to do about it?

***

“Ugh, Scorpia!” Catra tugged at the navy blue suit Scorpia had shoved her into, wrinkling her nose in annoyance. “When I said we were friends, I didn’t mean I wanted to play dress up with you. Where did you even find this stuff?”

Scorpia didn’t answer the question. “You look amazing,” she insisted, brushed Catra’s hands aside and straightening the suit jacket with her claws. “You’d look good in a dress, too, though. Just saying.”

Scorpia herself was wearing a dress, red this time instead of black, and it highlighted her striking figure in a very flattering way. Silver earrings shone in the lobes of her ears, and she was even wearing a necklace.

Catra forced a weak smile. This wasn’t how she’d planned to spend her evening, but Scorpia had done her a pretty huge favor. People she could trust were few and far between these days. She wasn’t even sure she could trust Adora — at least, not the way she had before.

But maybe, if I talk to her, we could start something new. Something better. Catra dismissed that thought. She knew she’d have to talk to Adora eventually, but not yet. Besides, if I see her, I might get pissed or upset again… and then she’ll really hate me.

She became distracted as Scorpia fluffed her mane, attempting to smooth the unruly fur into some semblance of order. Catra’s ears flattened, and she gritted her teeth against a snarl. Her first reaction was to say, “Hey! Watch it!” but she stopped herself at the last moment and tried something nicer. “A little personal space, please?”

Scorpia smiled sheepishly and removed her claws. “Sorry. Hmm, it’s still missing something. Oh!” She hurried to the window of her room, where a vase of white flowers sat. Plucking one, Scorpia snipped the stem and hurried back over, putting the blossom in Catra’s buttonhole. “Now it’s perfect!”

Catra snuck a sidelong glance at herself in the mirror. She had to admit, she didn’t look half-bad. Her Force Captain uniform was more comfortable, but this was a decent change. She turned to face the mirror properly, admiring herself for a moment and fidgeting with the flower.

“Okay. I look pretty good. Now, can I take the monkey suit off? I wanna find dinner.”

“Not yet.” Scorpia glanced nervously at the door, as though she were waiting for something.

Catra’s brow furrowed. “You’re up to something, aren’t you? What’s going on?”

Scorpia’s eyes widened. “Me? No!” she said, not the least bit convincingly.

“Pfft. That wasn’t suspicious at all.”

A knock sounded on the door, and Scorpia bounced on her toes. “I’ll get it!” She bounded over to the door and flung it open. “Hello! You look great.”

“You too. That’s a great dress.”

When she heard and saw who had knocked, Catra’s jaw dropped. It was Adora, in a curve-hugging, pale blue dress. She’d left her wavy golden hair down instead of pulling it back into its usual businesslike ponytail, and she wore an uncertain smile that only made her look more beautiful.

Catra blinked, struggling to form words. “Hey, Adora,” she said at last, pushing past a crack in her voice. “You’re in a dress.”

“Um, yeah.” Adora straightened her shoulders, as though changing her posture would fix some of the awkwardness. (Awkwardness Scorpia didn’t seem to feel as she stared at them, both claws clasped in expectation.) “Nice suit.”

“Thanks.”

Catra gave Adora a more thorough up and down. Her face grew warm as she noted the dress’s scooped neckline, and how the thin straps complemented Adora’s broad shoulders. The shoulders of a warrior. Catra could even see a few scars on her bare arms, and those weren’t unappealing either.

“Is anyone gonna tell me what’s going on?”

Adora took a deep breath. “Well, last time my friends and I had a party, you crashed it.”

Catra tried not to wince. She did feel a little guilty about that, although she’d never admit it. Glimmer was obnoxious, but taking her prisoner for Shadow Weaver, of all people, was probably an overreaction. Even someone like Glimmer didn’t deserve that.

“So?”

“So, this time, I want to formally invite you. We’re doing another party tonight. Glimmer and Bow and Scorpia set it up. And I… I was hoping you’d go with me. As, um, my date?”

Chapter Text

As my date.

Adora’s heart drummed inside her ribcage, as if it wanted to burst free and flop across the floor. Half the time, it was lodged in her throat, and the other half, it sank through the pit that had opened in her stomach. She couldn’t remember how to breathe, and she couldn’t stop staring at Catra as she waited for an answer, even though she knew she probably looked pathetic—

“Sure. Why not?”

Sure. Yes. She said yes!

Relief washed through Adora’s entire body. She inhaled. Smiled. As the paralyzing fear loosened its grip, she realized Catra seemed nervous, too. Her, ‘sure, why not’ was obviously meant to sound casual, but Adora knew her well enough to recognize the signs. Her ears were flat. Her tail hung low, its tip flicking near her heels. Her voice had more rasp than usual.

“Okay?”

She waited hesitantly, half-expecting Catra to sneer and say it had been sarcasm, even though all evidence pointed to the contrary. But Catra didn’t sneer. She actually smiled, and not her usual smug grin, either. It was a small, sincere, almost shy smile that Adora hadn’t seen her use in a very long time. “I said sure, didn’t I?”

Adora finally relaxed. That confirmed it. She edged forward and, slowly, so as to make sure Catra wouldn’t object, took her date — my date! — by the hand. “Good.”

“Yup.”

Catra’s fingers laced with hers, warm and soft with the claws retracted, and Adora’s face burned.

“Aww!”

Adora jerked her hand back instinctively, and would have let go if Catra hadn’t kept holding it. She’d completely forgotten Scorpia was there, even though she’d been an integral part of the plan. “Uh, should we go?” she asked Catra, her eyes darting toward the door in hopes of escape.

“So, where did your lame — where did your friends set up this shindig?” Catra asked, correcting herself mid-sentence.

“In the main dining hall, but don’t worry. It’s not like everyone in the entire city will be there…”

***

It wasn’t everyone in the entire city, but there were many more people than Adora expected. A large crowd awaited them as she entered the dining hall, arm in arm with Catra, and she couldn’t quite stifle a gasp. She’d thought it would just be her and her friends, but as Glimmer explained, approaching them breathless and more than a little frazzled:

“So, obviously Seahawk and Perfuma and Mermista and Frosta had to come. Then Aunt Casta found out. Then the kitchen staff found out, because they were making the food, and it would’ve been rude not to let them come since they did us such a big favor at the last minute, and then Aunt Casta asked if the apprentices could come, since they just had their final exams a few days ago, and—”

“So we have a bunch of party crashers,” Catra grumbled, cutting off Glimmer’s rambling.

“You don’t have much room to talk about party crashing,” Adora pointed out. Catra snorted in response, while she looked around the room. Most of the guests wore robes of various sorts, as was typical in Mystacor, and the one bright side was that no one seemed to be paying attention to their entrance. Everyone was on the dance floor or filling up plates at the buffet table.

I guess the apprentices really did need a break. And the kitchen staff probably don’t get to go to a lot of parties…

“So, where do we start?” she asked, giving Catra a nervous grin. “The buffet? Or do you want to, uh…” Her eyes darted to the dance floor, where several couples and groups were already enjoying themselves. A small band had assembled to provide the music, although half the instruments in their corner of the hall were magically playing by themselves.

“Wow. You swing that sword at giant robot-monsters without any problems, you wanna rush in and take down Shadow Weaver with a single mighty blow, but the brave Adora can barely ask me to dance?”

Adora felt a brief flicker of hurt, followed by a wave of relief when she noticed Catra was smirking —  not a mean smirk, but a playful one, the kind they used to share before everything fell apart. She took a deep breath. Come on. Isn’t this why you asked her to be your date?

“Catra, do you wanna dance?”

Catra dropped Adora’s arm and prowled around her in a graceful circle, extending a hand. “Let’s show the rest of these losers how it’s done.”

For a heavy heartbeat, Adora found herself lost in Catra’s eyes. The yellow and blue irises widened, drawing her in, and a furious burn rose in the pit of her stomach, one that most definitely wasn’t appropriate for such a public place. Sweat sprouted along her hairline, and her breaths came faster. She took Catra’s hand, and they both gasped as a jolt of something passed between them.

The moment was interrupted by a high-pitched shriek of laughter. Bow had lifted Frosta off the ground, twirling her over his head while she sprinkled shiny snowdust on everyone in the nearby vicinity.

“That’s my cue to go settle them down,” Glimmer said. “Someone around here has to be an adult.” She left, but not before giving Adora a friendly thumbs-up and shooting Catra a ‘don’t-mess-with-my-friend’ glare.

“I should be offended,” Catra drawled as Glimmer left, “but I used to give that exact look to other people on your behalf all the fucking time. Maybe Sparkle doesn’t suck so bad.”

Adora sighed. “You know her name’s Glimmer. But if you two could try and tolerate each other, that’d be great for me. She and Bow did set this up for us, after all.”

Catra blinked. “Us?”

“Well, mostly me, but still. They support… us.”

“Really?” Catra pulled Adora’s hand, leading her onto the floor. “Weirder things have happened, I guess.” They found an empty space amidst the other dancers, and Adora put her free hand on Catra’s waist, wordlessly offering to lead. To her surprise, Catra didn’t object. She placed her hand on Adora’s shoulder, and the two of them began to dance.

“It’s not so weird,” Adora said, steering Catra in a circle. “Glimmer and Bow know I won’t be made to choose.” It was difficult to focus on her words while she could feel Catra’s body beneath the fabric of her suit, moving along with hers.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” Adora almost stumbled, and had to refocus on the steps for a moment. She wasn’t much of a dancer, and it showed. “Whatever we want to be… if we want to be something… they won’t stand in our way. We’re all so tired, Catra. I, for one, am done hating other people. Glimmer and Bow get that.”

“Really? You don’t hate anyone?” Catra asked, raising a skeptical brow. “What about the Horde?”

“You know I don’t hate the Horde,” Adora said. “I never did. I haven’t forgotten where I came from.”

Catra’s eyes narrowed. “What about Shadow Weaver?” Her hand tensed inside Adora’s, and her body went stiff, showing how much she disliked the line of conversation, even though she’d brought it up in the first place.

Adora led them in a different direction. “That’s complicated. I hate what she said and did to us, especially you. But part of me…”

“I know,” Catra said, in a softer voice that Adora wasn’t expecting. “You don’t have to say it. We don’t have to talk about this.”

“We do,” Adora insisted. She stopped in the middle of the dance floor, moving her hand from Catra’s waist and clasping her arm instead. Her fingers trembled as she found a grip on Catra’s suit jacket, but Catra didn’t brush her hand aside. She merely waited, silently and expectantly. “I need to know if you still hate me for leaving… for leaving you with her. Because if you do, we can’t—”

Catra placed a clawed finger over Adora’s lips, stopping her in mid-sentence. She leaned in, close enough for Adora to feel the heat of her breath. “I hate that you left,” Catra said, her voice shaking just a little. Her different-colored eyes gleamed with tears Adora doubted she’d actually shed in public. “You hurt me so much. But it hurt that bad because I…”

The rest of Catra’s words trailed off in a mumble, but Adora’s heart leapt at the shapes her lips made. “Say that again?” she asked, trying not to stutter over her own hope.

Catra scoffed. “I said I love you, dummy. Get your hearing checked, why don’t you?”

Adora draped her arms around Catra’s neck and rushed in, only stopping at the last moment. If they kissed again, she was going to make sure they did it right, with full purpose and certainty rather than in the heat of an argument.

Catra didn’t seem impressed with her caution. She moved her hand up from Adora’s shoulder, threading insistent fingers through her hair, and pulled her the rest of the way in, bringing their lips together.

What started as a violent crash soon became a soft caress. The eagerness of contact flashed in a split second of fire, then melted into liquid, comfortable heat. Their mouths trembled, unmoving, until they both realized they were holding still at the same time. They tilted their heads the same way for more depth, parted, and laughed at the awkwardness.

Let’s try again, Catra seemed to say with the pressure of her fingers, curling them around the back of Adora’s neck. Adora tilted her head the opposite way, and this time, their lips fit perfectly. Catra tasted good. Really good. Mint and heat, mostly, like she’d brushed her teeth before coming to the party.

Her teeth…

Adora became aware of just how different Catra’s teeth were as the sharp points tugged gently at her bottom lips, not enough to pierce, but enough to add sensation. She flicked her tongue forward, swiping against their edges, and Catra’s claws flexed on the nape of her neck. The light pinpricks didn’t hurt, but they made Adora shiver from head to toe.

Kissing. They were really kissing and Catra was touching her and Adora had absolutely no idea what she was doing, only that she didn’t want to stop. Her head spun, and she realized she hadn’t breathed in a long time. She inhaled through her nose, unwilling to give up Catra’s mouth for another moment.

“Awww!”

Catra jerked back, and Adora almost chased her mouth, until she noticed what had interrupted the kiss. Bow was staring at them with large, sparkly eyes, clasping his hands beneath his chin. Beside him were Glimmer, Scorpia, Perfuma, Mermista, Frosta, Seahawk, Entrapta, and Kyle, all of whom wore differing expressions of surprise, delight, or boredom.

“No comments from the peanut gallery,” Catra grumbled, shooting them her most intimidating glare.

Bow pouted. “But… so cute!”

“Cute?” Catra’s ears flattened, and her tail fluffed, which only made her look cuter, in Adora’s opinion. “Say that again if you want to lose your fingers. I’m a biter, archer boy.”

“Lucky Adora,” Bow whispered to Glimmer in a loud voice, and Adora’s face flared with the heat of a blush.

“Adorable,” Scorpia said overtop him, with growing enthusiasm. “Are you gonna dance all night in each other’s arms under the pretty lights, and tell each other it’s the best, most romantic night you’ve ever had?!” She seemed delighted for them, which made Adora feel strangely pleased. She wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but she’d gotten the vibe that Scorpia had a bit of a crush on Catra, too. Nevertheless, the ex-Horde force captain had been instrumental in getting them together tonight.

Catra looked like she was preparing to deliver a cutting comment, but Glimmer didn’t give her the chance. “Easy there, Scorpia. Maybe we should just let them dance. All of us,” she said, aiming a chastising look at the rest of the group.

“Ugh, fine,” Mermista said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not like I care anyway.”

“Speaking of dancing…” Seahawk stepped in front of Mermista, bowing deeply and extending his hand with a flourish. “Would you do yourself the honor of dancing with the manliest, most handsome pirate in attendance at this ball?”

Mermista’s upper lip curled. “Uh, pass.”

“I’ll dance with you!” Scorpia said, clacking her claws in excitement. She grabbed Seahawk and spun him across the dance floor, much to his surprise and apparent delight.

“Me too! Let’s dance!” Perfuma said, looking around at the others. “Hmmm… you. You’ll do.” She grabbed Entrapta, who wasn’t prepared at all, and pulled her into a merry jig after Seahawk and Scorpia.

“What? Oh! A socialization ritual! Yes, I can study this through participating—ouch, my toe.”

“Glimmer?” Frosta asked, rocking back on her heels. “Will you dance with me?”

Glimmer shot Adora one last look, a knowing one that made her face heat up even more. “Sure, Frosta.” She and the ice princess started dancing, while Bow extended his hand to Kyle, who had lingered in the background without comment. “Uh… um…” He stuttered, looking completely overwhelmed.

Adora started to encourage him, but Catra beat her to it. “Just dance with him, Kyle,” she huffed, rolling her eyes.

Kyle’s jaw dropped. “You… Force Captain, you said my name.”

“I’m not your Force Captain anymore,” Catra insisted. “I’m just a very sexy feline in a suit now. Go dance with Arrow or whatever and leave me and Adora alone.”

Kyle gave Bow a shy nod, and the two clasped hands, spinning off across the floor.

Adora let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. The rest of the crowd didn’t know them personally, so there weren’t any eager eyes on them as she and Catra picked up where they’d left off. It was just the two of them, like it had started. Like it had been for years. Adora loved and appreciated her new friends more than she could say, but this — it was something she’d missed. Something she needed deep in her soul.

“This is nice,” she murmured, pulling closer and resting her chin on Catra’s shoulder.

Catra stiffened a little, but wrapped her arms tighter around Adora’s waist. “Yeah. Nice.”

Adora closed her eyes, breathing in Catra’s scent. It was a little sweet, with a slight tinge of new soap, but also comforting and familiar. She’d fallen asleep with that scent on her blankets every night since she could remember.

I want to sleep with her again, Adora realized. There was nothing sexual about the thought at first, but as it replayed in her head, she realized the other potential meaning. A nervous lump rose in her throat, and her heart pounded faster.

She couldn’t quite believe she hadn’t thought about it before she’d left the Fright Zone. They’d already been intimate in practically every other way one could be. It seemed obvious now that she loved Catra. No one else knew her like Catra did, and no one else knew Catra like she did.

How did it take me so long to realize this could be a thing? Jeez, I was so stupid…

But maybe they hadn’t been ready before. As kids, they’d been a single unit, and hadn’t developed into individuals until they’d struck out on their own. Now, after all they’d been through, coming together felt like a choice instead of an inevitability. Two different, fully-formed people coming together.

“You know,” Catra said, whispering beneath the music, “losing you almost killed me. You’re the voice in my head that tells me I’m worth something. Without it, I… got lost.”

Adora nuzzled closer to Catra’s neck. “You’re always worth something to me,” she said, and Catra stopped dancing, stepping back and fixing her with an intense stare.

“Let’s get out of here.” There was no sarcasm in Catra’s tone, no mocking smugness, nothing but hope and sincerity. She seemed happy, and Adora’s smile nearly split her face in two.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen her happy… and I’m the one who made her happy.

“Where to? The buffet?”

Catra took Adora’s hand in hers, running a padded thumb over her knuckles. “Your room. If that dress isn’t on the floor in the next five minutes, I think I’ll go crazy.”

Adora swallowed. A rush of emotion swelled inside her, but it wasn’t nerves. It was excitement and hope. Do I trust her? she asked herself, even though she already knew the answer. It came to her immediately. Yes. And I want her.

She threaded her fingers through Catra’s and pulled her off the dance floor, almost stumbling in her haste.

***

“I have to come clean about something,” Bow said as he twirled around the floor, weaving between several other couples with a skill and dexterity that left Kyle breathless.

Kyle gulped. He’d felt like he was on fire ever since Bow had taken his hand, and the heat of another body so close to his made him feel lightheaded. He was sure it wasn’t just from dancing, either. It was dancing with Bow in particular, and how being close to Bow made him feel. It was like being seasick, but much more pleasant — and he was starting to guess what it meant.

He’ll never feel the same about you, the poisonous voice in Kyle’s head whispered, but he tried to block it out. He had more success than he expected, especially when he looked into Bow’s large, soft eyes.

“Wh-what do you mean?” he stammered. Looking at Bow always made him stumble over his words as well as his own feet.

“My dads aren’t actually dead,” Bow said. A wrinkle formed in his brow, obviously from guilt. “It’s just the standard line I say when I talk about my family, because the truth is… well, it’s stupid, really.”

This time, Kyle didn’t have trouble coming up with something to say. “You aren’t stupid, Bow.”

Bow gave a weak smile and steered them in another direction. “Thanks. But the situation is stupid. See, the thing is… my dads… they don’t approve of the rebellion. They think fighting is never worth it. They wanted me to be a historian. Study the past and all that. But things are going on now. Things I want to be part of.”

Kyle blinked. His parents are alive? It was a confusing confession, but since he didn’t know who his own parents were, he wasn’t the best person to judge how odd it was. Maybe people often lied about their parents’ circumstances to avoid embarrassment. He had no way of knowing.

“I bet they love you,” he said.

“Yeah. The version of me they believe in, anyway. I don’t know what they’d do if they knew I was part of the rebellion, but it wouldn’t be good.”

A cloud hung over Bow’s head, causing his brilliant smile to wilt. In desperate hope that he might see it again, Kyle squeezed Bow’s shoulder and offered him an encouraging look. “Well, I like you. A lot, actually. And I’m sure your parents would if they got to know the real you.”

Bow forced a laugh. “Really? You’ve only known me a couple days.”

“Yeah,” Kyle said. He didn’t know where this newfound courage was coming from, but suddenly, the horrible, self-sabotaging voices seemed very distant. Bow was dancing with him, and it felt good . “They’ve been some pretty incredible days. Because… because of you.”

Bow’s eyebrows rose in surprise, and Kyle began to doubt himself again. You idiot! You came on too strong, just like always. How could someone as amazing as Bow ever—

“Thanks, Kyle. You’re pretty incredible, too. Leaving the Horde must’ve been hard, but you didn’t hesitate. You’re a lot braver than you think.”

Kyle’s heart fluttered. Bow could almost make him believe it. “Thanks.”

They danced in silence for another minute, and Kyle tried to summon his courage. He wasn’t sure what he would say, exactly, but none of the words racing through his mind seemed good enough. He didn’t expect Bow to return his feelings, really. I’m never that lucky. But I should at least say something, right? That’s what people are supposed to do in this situation. He chewed the inside of his cheek, trying not to lose focus. The way Bow’s hand pressed into his waist was very distracting.

“Hey, Bow!”

Bow turned toward the sound of his name, and Kyle looked with him. There was Glimmer, wearing a look of concern. “Have you seen Adora? She and Catra disappeared a few minutes ago, and I can’t find them.”

“They did?” Bow started laughing, while Glimmer put on a scowl.

“I’m sure it’s not like that.”

“Oh, yeah? How much you wanna bet?”

“We aren’t betting on our friend.”

“Why not? Adora’s got moves. And muscles. I bet she shows up late to breakfast with a bunch of scratches and-”

“Save it,” Glimmer said, shushing him with a glare. “Come on, let’s go to the buffet. I’m thirsty.”

Bow removed his hand from Kyle’s waist, and Kyle’s stomach sank. He hadn’t wanted to stop dancing, but he wasn’t brave enough to say so. Besides, I can’t tell Bow not to hang out with one of his best friends. I’m the third wheel in this situation.

“I could use a drink. You wanna get something, Kyle?”

Kyle nodded, concealing his disappointment. “That sounds good.” It’s probably better I didn’t say anything. It would have been a disaster anyway.

Chapter Text

The walk back to Adora’s room was awkward. On the dance floor, Catra had felt confident. In control. She’d noticed the adorable blush on Adora’s cheeks, the desire in her beautiful blue eyes. The quick throb of her pulse had been visible in her throat. Now, though? They were at a crossing point. A point they couldn’t return from.

What if this is a mistake? What if Adora hurts me again? Or what if I’m not—

Before Catra could count the ways she wasn’t good enough, they reached Adora’s room. Adora squeezed her hand, aiming a brilliant smile in her direction, and Catra’s breath caught. She swallowed hard. Looking at Adora, it was almost impossible to remember the reasons she hated herself. Adora certainly didn’t hate her.

Adora might even love me.

Catra straightened her shoulders and returned Adora’s smile, hoping she looked braver than she felt. She opened the door and held it, motioning Adora inside. Adora raised a brow at the chivalrous gesture, but Catra merely grinned and swatted her rear, which was on rather wonderful display in her clinging blue dress.

“Get your fine ass in there. I have plans.”

Adora’s blush spread further. “Plans?” she nearly squeaked, but she hurried into the bedroom nonetheless.

Catra made a show of rolling her tongue over the tips of her canines. “Yup. And they require us to be naked.”

Adora’s eyebrows rose, but she turned, sweeping her loose hair aside and offering Catra her back. “Unzip me.”

A shudder raced down Catra’s spine. She hadn’t been expecting Adora to make demands, too, but found that she didn’t mind. More than didn’t mind. She liked the flash of heat that passed through her as Adora looked over her shoulder, waiting expectantly. Waiting for her.

Catra stepped forward, fumbling for the zipper with shaking fingers. Come on, dummy. You know how to take off a dress! But Adora didn’t laugh or make fun of the brief delay, and soon, Catra managed to peel the zipper down to the middle of her back.

The obvious muscles there made her pulse race. While Adora’s heart shaped face and glossy hair made her undeniably feminine, her broad shoulders and prominent back muscles marked her as an athlete. A fighter and a warrior. Gathering her courage, Catra pressed a kiss to the crook of Adora’s neck and pushed the straps of her dress down her shoulders. It fell to the floor, leaving Adora naked except for her underwear.

Even though Catra had seen Adora naked countless times before, the sight took on an entirely new dimension. This wasn’t anything like showering together or changing in front of each other. She felt the same breathless want she’d experienced in Mystacor’s hot springs, only a hundred times stronger, because she knew Adora felt it too. She sensed it crackling in the air between them. Even the sight of the still-healing scars on Adora’s back, scars the same distance apart as her claws, didn’t dampen Catra’s desire.

That’s behind us. I hope.

Adora turned, and Catra’s eyes dropped to her breasts, high and firm, then to her abdomen, which carried the prominent outline of her muscles. Her bare skin looked so smooth it made Catra’s palm-pads ache.

“What happened to those plans of yours?” Adora asked.

Catra choked on a whimper. She had plans, but the sight of Adora like this, almost entirely bare and waiting for her, had driven them from her mind completely. “Um…” She winced, waiting for Adora to tease her, but it never came.

Instead, Adora reached for her, unfastening her bowtie from around her neck and unbuttoning her collar. “I want you naked, too,” she said, her heavy breaths causing her chest to rise and fall. Catra’s eyes couldn’t resist dropping to watch. “Is that okay?”

It was more than okay. Catra remembered how to move, at least partially, and used the newly remembered skill to shrug out of her suit jacket and help Adora unbutton her shirt, untucking it clumsily from her pants.

Stripping in front of Adora — or, rather, being stripped — was awkward, but only for a few seconds. Catra shuddered as the air hit her fur, but when she saw Adora’s smile, she relaxed. What they were doing was different and new, but it didn’t feel unnatural. In fact, Catra was surprised at how natural it felt. Almost inevitable, as though she and Adora had always known their relationship would develop this way, somewhere deep down.

“You’re beautiful.” Adora’s eyes shone with something wistful and unfamiliar, and it took Catra several moments to recognize the emotion as awe. Adora was in awe of her. No one had ever looked at her like that before, and it lit a fire low in her belly.

There was also the word Adora had chosen. Beautiful. No one had ever called her beautiful. That word was reserved for other girls — smooth, pretty ones, usually human. Not scruffy magikats with crooked whiskers, dark freckles, and a messy mane of fur running down their back. Not for girls people ignored, or worse, used for their own ends.

You aren’t that girl anymore, Catra. You’re a woman now, and you get to be treated like a woman deserves.

“So are you,” she said.

It was the truth. Adora was like the sun, so brilliant that Catra couldn’t stand to look at her for long, even though she wanted to bask in that light for as long as possible. She was all golden muscle and a big smile as she hooked her thumbs in her panties and pulled them down, revealing a trimmed patch of blonde hair at the join of her thighs.

Catra suddenly remembered her plans.

“Bed,” she rasped, grateful she was still able to speak.

Adora offered a shy smile. “Are you sure?”

Catra narrowed her eyes, fixing Adora with her most determined stare. She wrapped an arm around Adora’s waist, leaning in and up for a kiss. It deepened quickly at Adora’s invitation, and Catra soon lost control. She didn’t mind, either. In every other aspect of her life, she hated not having control, but Adora’s familiar smell, the warmth of her skin, and the patience of her hands reminded Catra exactly where she was, and whom she was with. There was no reason to be afraid of surrendering just a bit of that control, if only for a few minutes.

She was a little surprised when the backs of her knees hit the mattress. Dimly, Catra realized Adora had steered her back to the bed. She’d been so wrapped up in Adora’s lips that she hadn’t noticed where they were going, but the bed seemed like a good idea, so she sat, tugging one of Adora’s hands until her new lover straddled her lap.

Lover. We’re gonna be lovers now.

It felt right, that word. Naming Adora as her lover.

Running her hands along Adora’s naked sides felt even more right. Catra grasped her waist at first, then moved up, taking her gasps and the trembling of her body as consent. Then Adora took one of her hands, guiding it to her breast, and it was Catra’s turn to gasp. Adora was so soft. The peak of her nipple stiffened, pushing into Catra’s palm.

“Is this okay?” she asked, just to make sure. Maybe to check in with herself, too.

Adora proved it was more than okay by arching into the touch. She stroked the back of Catra’s head, running teasing fingers through her mane, and Catra felt a stab of want. Adora’s collarbone was level with her face, thin and graceful where the rest of her was strong and firm, and Catra couldn’t resist latching onto it. She swiped her tongue over the flesh she’d bitten, tasting Adora’s skin: warm, a little salty, and altogether delicious.

“Fuck.”

The fingers in Catra’s mane tightened, and Adora shuddered. Her hips shifted above Catra’s lap, and Catra moaned around the flesh in her mouth as warmth pressed into her stomach. Adora’s warmth. She released Adora’s collarbone, both to admire the bruise she’d left, and to offer a teasing comment: “I made you swear.”

Adora huffed in frustration. “So?”

“You almost never swear. And I made you.”

Catra paid for that comment when Adora planted a hand on her sternum, pushing her back onto the bed. She waited, expecting a flash of fear or uncertainty, but none came. Adora had thrown her on her back plenty of times in battle, but this was different. She trusted Adora again. The only emotions she felt were desire and anticipation.

“I can think of better ways to use my mouth,” Adora said, gazing down at Catra through a curtain of blonde hair.

Catra’s stomach twisted into a nervous knot. She didn’t have any objections — in fact, the suggestion worsened the insistent ache in her belly — but she’d never done anything like this before. Her only experience was with her own hand during stolen moments in the shower, or under the covers when Adora wasn’t in bed with her. A mouth was different. Not scary, but new. She wanted to learn, though. She wanted to discover what it felt like, and she’d never been a coward.

“Prove it.”

Adora bent down to kiss her, and Catra released another moan into her mouth. She could really get used to kissing, because the way Adora’s lips moved against hers had her tingling from head to toe. It was even better while they were naked, bodies pressed close. Adora’s skin was warm and smooth, and it felt amazing against her fur, especially in the places where it was thin, allowing her to leech extra body heat.

Longing to feel more, Catra slid her hand along Adora’s shoulder, then down her back. Lean muscles shifted there, and Catra’s claws flexed. She didn’t realize she’d scratched until Adora hissed and nipped her bottom lip.

“Shit. Sorry.”

“No.” Adora panted against her cheek, kissing the corner of her mouth. “I… I like it. As long as you don’t dig in too much.”

A pang of desire struck between Catra’s legs. Her hips bucked without permission, and she barely stifled a whine as she made contact with Adora’s stomach. This new being vulnerable thing was going better than expected, but that didn’t mean she’d let herself mewl like a pathetic kitten.

“Good. ‘Cuz I think I like scratching you.”

Adora snorted. “You always have. But I think I like this better.” She dipped to plant a kiss on Catra’s pulse point, and Catra drew in a gasp. If the heat and pressure of Adora’s mouth felt good there, she could only imagine how it would feel in even more sensitive places.

It wasn’t long before her theories were confirmed. Adora kissed down her chest at a frustratingly slow pace, and Catra was hard-pressed not to grab her hair and push. Eventually, she did, tugging hopefully and trying to direct Adora to the right place. Adora’s mouth latched onto her left nipple, and Catra felt her inner walls clench.

“Oh fuck,” she muttered, arching to press more of her nipple into Adora’s mouth. “Your tongue’s so soft…”

Adora laughed without unlatching, swirling said tongue over and around the sensitive bud. Catra’s face screwed up as she fought a losing battle to keep her hips from bucking. She couldn’t help it. She was embarrassingly close already, and Adora hadn’t even touched between her legs yet.

“Adora, I want it,” she panted, too desperate to be ashamed. She didn’t know how Adora had managed to light her on fire so fast, but she was more than willing to let herself burn.

“What do you want?” Adora whispered, kissing across to the opposite breast. She gave Catra’s other nipple the same treatment, while her fingers traced frustrating trails along Catra’s inner thigh, not going anywhere close to where Catra wanted them.

“Fingers. Mouth. Something. Just fuck me already!”

Adora used the very edges of her teeth to tug the peak in her mouth, only to release it with a wet pop. “I prefer to think of it as making love…” But she skated her fingers closer to the join of Catra’s thighs, raking them through the soft fur there.

“Fine, call it whatever, just — mmh!” Catra threw her head back and screwed her eyes shut as Adora’s fingers touched her outer lips, teasing them apart. She tilted her pelvis, hoping they would slip inside, but Adora merely glided over and through her wetness. She was obviously exploring, trying to learn the lay of the land.

“You’re warm,” Adora whispered, but her words got lost in a laugh as her fingers found Catra’s clit. “Slippery, too.”

Spots flashed behind Catra’s eyelids. “Fuck! That again, but harder.”

To her relief, Adora obliged. She drew circles around Catra’s clit, occasionally adding extra pressure that caused her hips to twitch. Catra’s belly quivered, and her claws flexed in Adora’s hair. When she opened her eyes, Adora’s face was a blur, but still beautiful. So beautiful. Excited, too.

Who knew she was such a fucking tease?

“Adora, please,” Catra blurted out. She scarcely recognized her own voice — it sounded exactly like the needy, mewling kitten she’d had to remind herself she wasn’t mere minutes ago. But it was too late to take the noise or the words back, and Adora’s fingers were so close to being inside her. And, oh fuck she wanted them inside her.

“Huh?” Adora stopped rubbing and looked up in surprise. “What was that, beautiful?”

There it was. That word again. Catra’s face burned beneath her fur. Adora had to be doing this on purpose. “Uh, I…”

Another wide, crooked grin spread across Adora’s face. “You can’t fool me. I heard you. You said please.”

“Don’t make a big deal of it,” Catra begged. When Adora kept smiling, she rolled her eyes and huffed. “Fine. Please. Please fuck me. Just please—ahh!”

She cried out as two of Adora’s fingers swept down to her entrance, bringing plenty of wetness with them, and finding even more as they brushed her opening. Catra held her breath as one of them pressed inside, but it didn’t hurt at all. She was more than slick enough. More than ready.

The new sensation of fullness washed over her like the warmth of Mystacor’s hot springs. She sighed in relief, letting her head flop sideways on the pillow and breathing out through a pleased grin. She hadn’t known just how badly she needed Adora’s fingers inside until they were there, holding frustratingly still, but undeniably present.

Catra sensed that Adora was waiting, searching for some kind of signal or permission. She ground her hips down, and Adora’s fingers hit a white-hot spot along her front wall, one that made her melt inside even as her limbs trembled and her core clenched.

“Whoa. You liked that, huh?”

Adora pressed again, and yowl unlike any noise she’d ever made broke in Catra’s throat. Lightning struck straight between her legs, and her entire body reverberated with the thundershocks that followed. It wasn’t an orgasm, but it was completely overwhelming.

Soon she was panting and rocking into Adora’s hand, muttering all kinds of filth. “Fuck, there — h-harder… no, yes — fucking there oh shit don’t stop don’tstopfuck, Adora!”

Dimly, Catra realized that Adora was staring down at her in pleased bewilderment. She curled her fingers and added some force, enough for Catra to realize how strong even her forearm and shoulder were, but while Catra appreciated the help, she couldn’t focus on it for long. She was too close. Too desperate. She didn’t care about seeming vulnerable anymore as long as the wave building inside her finally broke.

“I love you, Catra. You’re perfect.”

That did it. Before Catra could respond, or even process the wave of pleasure those words made her feel, Adora bent down and kissed her. She stroked her free hand through Catra’s mane, scratching ever so lightly, and the contrast of gentleness and roughness and vulnerability and trust were too much for Catra’s body or mind to handle. She went rigid, overloaded by a barrage of terrifying, wonderful feelings.

She’d made herself come before. Sometimes, it was the best way to take the edge off after a hard day of training. To forget about the constant pressure of living up to Shadow Weaver’s impossible standards. To be as good as Adora. It was a numbing agent more than anything, and the shock of pleasure release gave her usually snapped her emotions back into a more manageable place.

Not this time.

This time, she was intensely aware of Adora’s mouth against hers, so hot and sweet she thought she might drown in it. She was aware of the fullness inside her. Of Adora’s fingers pressing into that same incredible spot. They didn’t scratch like Catra’s did when she touched herself, but they pushed with enough force to draw a river of wetness from between her legs. And she was aware of what Adora had said. I love you. You’re perfect. She ground her clit into the heel of Adora’s hand, moaning helplessly against Adora’s lips.

It took Catra a while to come down. She broke away from the kiss, gasping for air. Adora still had that stupid smirk on her face, but it was a smirk Catra was ready to admit she loved. There was something soft about it, something tender that normally would have made Catra’s stomach get all twisted up in knots. Instead, she smiled.

“Shit, if I’d known sex was so much better than masturbating, I would’ve done it before now.”

“I’m not sure it always is,” Adora said, a little hesitantly. “We… we might have something special here. I think we do.”

“Yeah?” Catra butted against Adora’s hand, turning to kiss her inner wrist. “Maybe we do.”

They rested for a while, content with their quiet closeness. Adora started chuckling after a moment, and Catra looked at her in surprise until she realized why. To her mild embarrassment, she’d started purring.

It wasn’t the first time Adora had heard her purr. Sometimes she did it before she drifted off to sleep, when she was in an especially good mood, or occasionally when she was terrified. Catra waited for the embarrassment to hit, but it didn’t. She felt good. Why shouldn’t she purr? What was so wrong with being happy? Just because Shadow Weaver had never wanted her to be happy didn’t mean being happy was bad.

Fuck. If anything, that should make me want to be happy even more.

“You know what’d really make me happy right now?” she asked, playing with a few loose strands of Adora’s hair.

“You seem pretty happy already,” Adora laughed. “But, sure. I’ll bite. What?”

Catra narrowed her eyes, running her tongue over her teeth. “You made promises about your mouth. Time for you to pay up.”

Summoning her strength, she rolled them over, only whimpering a little as Adora’s fingers slipped out of her. The reward of straddling Adora was more than worth it, though. Her cheeks flushed pink, and Catra’s stomach fluttered in anticipation. It wasn’t exactly a competition, but she was still determined to prove that she was a more than equal match for Adora in this particular arena.

Chapter Text

Catra tasted amazing. Really amazing.

It took Adora a moment to adjust to the flavor—strong and slightly salty—but the more she licked, the more Catra moaned and rocked against her mouth, and the more she decided she liked it. It was Catra, pure and undistilled, and Adora couldn’t get enough. She slid her tongue between Catra’s lips, teasing her entrance, tasting the tempting heat pooled there.

“Fuck, Adora, your tongue.” Catra had delivered mumbled praise since Adora had first started kissing up her thighs, nuzzling the soft fur there, but her voice grew higher and more desperate. “Yes, right there, ohshitrightthere—”

Adora ignored the burn in her lungs and mild ache in her jaw. She pushed further, deep enough to feel Catra clench around her tongue. Her own muscles shivered in response, craving some kind of stimulation, but she pushed her needs aside. Making Catra come the first time had been amazing, and she longed to do it again.

She doubted it would take much. Catra had already taken hold of her hair, pulling tighter with each thrust of her tongue. Her whines became more desperate, and Adora growled in frustration. Can’t get deep enough this way. She still didn’t have a clue what she was doing, but she remembered how much Catra had enjoyed her fingers. Maybe that’s what’s missing?

Her hunch worked out better than she could have hoped. Catra cried out as Adora slid a finger in to replace her tongue, and started quivering all over when she added another. Adora curled them, searching for the same spot she’d discovered earlier, and found it easily. Catra went rigid above her, and her claws flexed against Adora’s scalp.

“Fuck!”

For once, Adora didn’t have it in her to chastise Catra’s swearing. It was actually sexy, all that unrestrained emotion—and it was because of her. She sucked in a quick breath, then focused on Catra’s clit. It was narrower than her own, and as she sucked the tip into her mouth, she felt small, rounded bumps beneath her tongue.

That gamble paid off, too. “Shit, Adora, m’coming… ahh—hmm, ease up if you want me to hold… hold off… ah, fuck.”

Don’t want you to hold off. Adora made that as clear as possible by hooking her fingers and sucking firmly at Catra’s clit. It twitched in the seal of her lips, pulsing as Catra’s textured inner walls squeezed the life out of her fingers.

“Adora!”

The rush of heat that ran over Adora’s lips and chin was wetter and saltier than what she’d tasted before, but just as delicious. She widened her mouth, not abandoning Catra’s clit, but making sure she got to lap up at least a little of the flood before it slid off her face and part-way down her neck. A hungry moan vibrated in her throat, and Catra yelped above her, spilling even faster.

“Adora…?”

This time, her name wasn’t delivered in a yelp, but as a plea for mercy. Hearing Catra cry out for her was too much. Without thinking, Adora shoved her other hand between her own legs, pressing exactly where she needed. She came right on the tail of Catra’s peak, groaning into the heat that smeared her cheeks and ran over her tongue.

In the past, it had always taken her a while to find release—possibly because she’d had to keep quiet and hide beneath the covers to touch herself, and only during stolen moments when Catra was absent or fast asleep. This time, the shock of pleasure struck right away. She tensed and shuddered, sliding a knowing finger inside herself and grinding her clit into the heel of her hand.

She was still bucking and gasping long after Catra dismounted from her head. “Whoa,” Catra breathed, flopping onto her side and watching with wide eyes. “Need some help there?”

Adora shot Catra a pleading look. Her words had deserted her, but luckily, Catra seemed to understand what she needed. She rolled on top of Adora, pressing their bodies together, and began kissing and nipping her way down.

The sharp points of Catra’s teeth and the slight rasp of her tongue drove Adora wild. Surely they would leave marks, but she didn’t care. In fact, the thought made her curl her fingers faster, arching her spine in search of… of…

“Hold still,” Catra ordered, ducking beneath Adora’s knees and pulling her hand aside. Then her mouth went to work, and Adora saw stars.

Catra was incredibly gentle, as though she sensed too much of her tongue would cause discomfort. Somehow, she managed to apply the perfect amount of pressure after only a few strokes. Adora came again, shaking from head to toe, her head spinning with all the competing sensations. She’d never come twice in a row before—masturbation was always a goal-oriented affair.

This was different. The more Catra licked and sucked, the more Adora wanted, and the louder she screamed. She fisted desperate handfuls of Catra’s mane, scarcely paying attention to how hard she was pulling. She wanted to lose herself in that wonderful mouth, to have Catra consume the whole of her.

Eventually, she stopped spasming, but Catra kept going. She eased up a little, but seemed perfectly content to run her warm, wet, and ever-so-slightly rough tongue along Adora’s thighs, cleaning up the wetness there.

Adora groaned and melted into the mattress, still shuddering with aftershocks. She didn’t know how or why she and Catra fit together so well, but she was incredibly grateful they did. I’m the luckiest person in the world…

“Hey, Adora.”

Adora blinked the blurriness from her eyes and looked down. Catra was sprawled between her legs, one cheek resting on the pillow of her thigh, looking very much like the cat who’d caught the canary.

“Hey, Catra,” she rasped, still searching for her voice.

“You’re okay, right? You’re good with what we just did?” There was a hint of worry in Catra’s eyes, and Adora wanted nothing more than to soothe it. She propped herself up, still breathing heavily, and grinned, carding her fingers through Catra’s mane.

“Okay is an understatement. I’m amazing... wait, are you okay with this?”

Catra’s smirk faltered, softening into a warmer, gentler smile. “This doesn’t fix everything between us, but it’s a fucking excellent start, yeah?”

Adora laughed, and Catra joined in. Soon, the two of them were in hysterics, sobbing and clinging to each other for no discernible reason. It didn’t matter. It had been ages since they’d laughed like this, since they’d felt so safe with each other, and Adora never wanted it to end. But it did end, because Catra started kissing her breasts again, and Adora’s giggles transformed into needy gasps.

***

I don’t belong here.

That was all Kyle could think as he watched Bow and Glimmer waltz, surrounded on all sides by friends. Perfuma and Frosta were laughing at something Entrapta had said, while Mermista finally gave Seahawk the dance he’d been begging for. Even Scorpia, former Force Captain, had joined in, smiling and celebrating like she’d always been part of the group.

Kyle stared into his cup, watching the water inside ripple. He’d decided against wine, once Bow had explained what alcohol was and how it affected the body, but now, he wished he’d accepted the offered glass. Maybe it would have helped him relax enough to join the others.

Not that it matters. They don’t even miss your company.

With a sigh, Kyle set his drink aside. “Fresh air,” he mumbled to himself, even though there was no one around to hear. Maybe a short walk would help. Surely no one would notice his absence for a few minutes. He could go somewhere quiet. Collect himself.

He left the busy ballroom, brushing past strangers and muttering apologies whenever his shoulder bumped someone else’s. The party had grown larger somehow, and the crowd was big enough to make his heart race and his palms sweat. He’d never seen this many people gathered all at once, not even during group training exercises.

At last, he reached the double doors leading out of the hall. He slipped through, sighing with relief. People mingled outside, but far fewer of them, and it was quieter away from the music and chatter. Kyle hurried down the hall, unsure where he was going, but too nervous to care. He just needed to go somewhere that wasn’t here . Somewhere he could be alone and breathe.

He wandered the unfamiliar halls in a daze, feeling fuzzy all over. His anxiety should have faded, but the further he went from the ballroom, the more confused he became. What am I doing here? he wondered, even as his feet carried him around the next corner. Where am I going? His body seemed to know, even though his brain didn’t.

Soon, he couldn’t have returned to the party if he’d tried. He was completely lost, but for some reason, he wasn’t concerned about it. He was concerned about… something else. Going somewhere. Doing something. But what? There isn’t anything I need to do other than hide…

Go, some deeply-rooted instinct insisted, coiling around him. Do.

Kyle didn’t understand until he walked down a particular hallway and arrived at a certain door. It was large and ornately decorated, as though it were very important. He sensed that importance as he approached, although he couldn’t place where the feeling came from.

A sudden sense of rightness took over, wrapping around him like a warm blanket. This was where he was supposed to be. If he went through the doors, he would understand exactly what he needed to do.

The room’s interior didn’t disappoint. It was more spacious than Kyle expected, its crystal-studded walls stretching up toward a high ceiling of beautiful paned glass. Everything glowed with pale purple light. In the middle of the room were six gorgeous crystals — or were they mirrors? Maybe both? Kyle wasn’t sure — positioned in a circle beneath a skylight in the ceiling’s center. They floated under their own power, turned inward to face each other.

“What is this place?” Kyle whispered to himself.

A voice answered, which should have surprised him, but... didn’t? Somehow. It was familiar, almost soothing, as though it had been waiting inside his head for a long time. Maybe he simply hadn’t noticed. ‘ These are the Lunar Lenses. Part of Mystacor’s defense system.’

Kyle’s eyes widened. He’d heard the others, Glimmer in particular, mention the Lunar Lenses. Apparently, they were very old and powerful. A short while ago, Shadow Weaver had interfered with them in order to lower Mystacor’s defenses and retrieve Adora…

‘Correct. What a clever boy you are. How silly of your friends not to realize it.’

“They—they do,” Kyle stammered.

The soothing voice continued, ignoring his statement completely. ‘When Shadow Weaver attempted to breach Mystacor’s defenses, one of the crystals was left slightly out of place. You could fix it, Kyle. Then, you would be a hero. All your friends would finally pay attention to you. Bow would pay attention.’

“I don’t think I’m qualified to fix it,” Kyle protested, but his feet were already carrying him toward the center of the room, where the crystals hung beneath the skylight. A circular basin of water stood there too, and when he peered into it, he saw his own reflection: tired, pale, weak.

‘Just move one of the crystals. That one, right there.’

One of the purple gems glowed slightly brighter than the others. Kyle couldn’t be sure, but he thought a faint musical note rang out as well.

“I can’t even reach that high.”

‘Put your hands in the basin.’

Kyle hesitated, but the voice was very convincing. He liked the idea of saving Mystacor. Maybe Bow would hug him and say, “Kyle, you’re incredible,” while all his friends looked on, eager to welcome him — a hero! — into their fold.

He put his hands in the basin.

At first, nothing happened, and he began to doubt.

Ugh, I’m so stupid for thinking I could do this! I don’t have any magical abilities at all. I should get someone else to—

The water around his hands turned ice cold. Black. Kyle tried to scream, but couldn’t take in enough air. Shadowy tendrils erupted past the surface of the water, wrapping up his arms and preventing him from pulling away. The comforting purple light of the crystal walls faded, and the endless darkness from the basin expanded outward, casting the entire room in shadow.

Pain. Everything was pain. A white-hot spike of it pierced the middle of Kyle’s forehead, driving deep into his skull. Once more, he tried to cry out, but nothing happened. His body was completely frozen. Powerless.

More shadowy tendrils gripped the sides of the basin, pushing upward. Something dark and horrible emerged from the water, and Kyle tried to stumble back—but couldn’t. The other tendrils had tight hold of his arms. He could only watch in horror as the thing rose to its full height, staring down at him with blazing eyes. Eyes he recognized.

Shadow Weaver?

“Yes,” she said, out loud this time, and Kyle realized with chilling certainty that the whispers in his head had been her all along. “Thank you for providing me a means of transport into Mystacor, but I have no further use for you.”

What? No! I didn’t—

His thoughts exploded as the spike of pain returned, driving even deeper than before. Everything flashed a brilliant white, with Shadow Weaver’s silhouette and the purple crystals spinning above him… then, nothingness.

Chapter Text

Bow frowned, peering around the ballroom with a furrow in his brow. Music played and people continued talking, but he hardly heard any of it. “Hey, Glimmer, have you seen Kyle?”

Glimmer, who stood beside him with a cup of punch, joined him in scanning the ballroom. “Nope. Is he missing?”

“Yeah. I haven’t seen him in a while.” Bow glanced toward the buffet tables, hoping to spot Kyle’s messy blonde hair in that direction, but had no such luck. His new friend was nowhere to be seen.

Hmph, friend. Right.

Bow pushed the idea from his mind. He’d found himself unusually drawn to the ex-Horde soldier these past few days, but hadn’t had time to think about it. They’d been so busy escaping the Fright Zone, fighting for their lives in the Crystal Castle, and coming up with a plan in Mystacor, that there hadn’t been much opportunity dwell on it.

Or maybe you don’t want to dwell on it. Your dads wouldn’t approve of you seeing someone who used to be Horde, or anyone involved in the fighting at all. Even though Kyle is really kind, sweet, and a good dancer for someone just learning… He scowled, interrupting his own thoughts. Come on, Bow. You have to find him first.

“Maybe the party was too loud for him? Ugh, I should’ve paid closer attention. I knew he was nervous, being around so many people.”

“It’s not your fault,” Glimmer said, putting her free hand on his shoulder. “He could’ve gone for a breather and gotten lost. This castle’s basically a maze. Do you want to go look for him?”

“I don’t wanna steal you away from the party while you’re having a good time.”

She scoffed, waving away his protests. “Of course I’m coming. I actually like Kyle… a lot more than Catra, anyway.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Bow laughed. “You practically pushed them out the door and into bed.”

“For Adora,” Glimmer insisted, looking quite put out. “Trust me, I wish she’d fallen for someone else. But it is what it is, and I just hope Catra doesn’t decide to try something evil or stupid or both, because if she does—”

Bow nudged her arm with his elbow. “Getting a little off-track here. We need to find Kyle.”

“Right. Kyle. Let’s go.” Glimmer set aside her punch and grabbed Bow’s wrist, dragging him through the crowd. It parted for them instinctively. Despite her short stature, Glimmer always projected a large presence, and people scrambled out of her way with surprising speed.

“Where should we look?” she asked outside the ballroom, pausing to consider which direction to go.

Bow thought about it. “If he got overwhelmed, he probably went somewhere quiet. Maybe back to his room?”

“Let’s head that way.”

Glimmer dropped Bow’s wrist and stomped down the correct hall, scattering more partygoers. Bow followed, shooting apologetic smiles on his way. “You could be a little more careful,” he complained as they left.

“I didn’t step on any toes. And do you want to find your boyfriend or not?”

Bow’s cheeks burned, and he stammered for several seconds before responding. “But I—um... he’s not my boyfriend?”

“Only because you haven’t asked.”

“I’ve only known him for like three days!”

“I knew we were going to be best friends forever the first day we met. Sometimes you just know.”

Bow couldn’t come up with a good response, so he fell silent as they headed toward the rooms Glimmer’s Aunt Casta had generously provided. They arrived in a matter of minutes, and Bow approached Kyle’s door, one of several identical doors lining the hall. As a teaching institution, Mystacor’s castle always had plenty of rooms available in the guest wing.

“Hey, Kyle?” He knocked, listening for a response. None came. “Bow here. I just wanted to check and see if you’re okay.”

Bow here? Come on. Could you be any more lame?

Glimmer came to stand beside him, rapping on the door as well. “Kyle, buddy? You in there? You don’t have to go back to the party if you don’t want. It’s okay.”

Still no answer. Glimmer frowned. “Are you sure this is the right room?”

“Yeah, pretty sure—”

“Oh my fucking shit , Adora!”

A loud, very familiar shout came from behind one of the other doors, startling both of them. Bow whipped around in surprise, while Glimmer grabbed her staff from her back, gripping it as though she expected an attack.

“Fuck, Adora, your mouth!” A string of profanity followed, devolving into what Bow could only describe as a loud, long caterwaul that made the hairs on his neck stand on end.

Once the instinctive flash of fear passed, he blushed with embarrassment. “Uh, I don’t think Kyle’s here,” he mumbled, looking anywhere but at the door the noise was coming from. “We should, um, check somewhere else.”

Glimmer, who had come down from her defensive state into one of numb resignation, nodded hurriedly. “Yep. Let’s get out of here.”

Another voice shouted loud enough to fill the hall. “Catra, please don’t stop—”

“We never speak of this again,” Glimmer muttered under her breath, returning her staff to her back and yanking Bow down the hall by the elbow. 

“Hey, I’m fine with that. Stop pulling so hard! What is with you and grabbing me today?”

Glimmer dropped his arm, halting in her tracks. At first, Bow thought she might protest, but then he registered the look on her face—not embarrassment or annoyance, but a confused and somewhat baffled expression that made him glance around in search of the source.

“Glimmer?”

“Hold on.” Glimmer tilted her head, as though straining to see or hear something. “Do you feel that?”

Bow looked around, but sensed nothing out of the ordinary. Even Adora and Catra had gone quiet in the room behind them. “No? What is it?”

“It’s… I can’t describe it. Something’s nearby. A strong magical presence.”

“Ah. Well, we are in Mystacor. There’s tons of magic going on all the time.”

“It’s not that. I’ve been coming to Mystacor since I was a baby. I know how the magic here feels. This is… different. Wrong. I haven’t felt magic like this since…”

Before Glimmer could elaborate, Adora’s door swung open, slamming back against the wall with its force. Bow turned and caught sight of Adora pulling on a pair of pants—definitely not the dress she’d worn to the party. They weren’t even her pants, Bow realized, noting how the ripped red leggings didn’t quite fit.

“Bow, Glimmer,” Adora panted, seemingly unconcerned by her disheveled state.  She was missing her jacket, and her plain white shirt wasn’t tucked in, but she didn’t seem to care as she jogged down the hall toward them, sword at the ready. “Did you feel that?”

“Feel what?” Catra padded out from the room with a bedsheet thrown over her like a cape, clearly naked underneath. She looked even more disheveled than Adora, and her dangerous scowl didn’t help. “I told you, there’s nothing going on…” She paused, eyeing Bow and Glimmer. “Except for the fact that your friends are eavesdropping perverts, apparently.”

Bow waited for Glimmer to leap on that statement, but the argument he expected didn’t happen. Glimmer hurried to meet Adora, still distracted by whatever the two of them had sensed. “I know,” she murmured to Adora. “It almost reminds me of…” She didn’t finish the sentence, but they exchanged a significant look.

“That’s it,” Bow said, raising his voice to be heard. “Will someone please tell me what’s going on?”

As if on cue, the screaming started—distant at first, then growing louder. “Ah fuck,” Catra spat, dropping the sheet and darting back into the room for her clothes in a blur of orange-brown fur.

Seeing her move jolted Bow into action as well. He grabbed his bow from his shoulder and drew an arrow, but the thing that rounded the corner took him completely by surprise. A dark, shadowy beast entered the hall, with nothing but emptiness for eyes and a mouth. Its pitch-black flesh rippled like oil, and it shrieked at them, flashing wickedly sharp teeth.

“Wh—what is that thing?!?”

“Fuck if I know.” Catra returned wearing Adora’s trademark red jacket sans shirt, and what seemed to be a pair of loose boxers. “Shoot it! Do you know how to use those arrows or not, Archer Boy?”

Bow fired. His arrow hit the creature square in the chest, and it jerked back. For a moment, Bow allowed himself to feel hopeful, but then the shadow beast straightened, and the arrow sank into the cavity of its chest as though sucked underwater.

“Guys,” Bow said, grabbing another arrow with a shaking hand. “I think we’re in big trouble.”

“How did it get past the defense system?” Glimmer cried.

“I don’t know,” Adora said, “but we have to stop it!”

Glimmer teleported directly behind the shadow, swinging her staff at the back of its head. The hit looked hard enough to stagger a draft horse, but the shadow barely even flinched, absorbing the tip of her staff into its pulsing body.

“Fucking amateur hour,” Catra snarled, unsheathing her claws. She took advantage of Glimmer’s distraction, darting toward the beast with incredible speed. At the last moment, she leapt, swiping downward at what passed for it face.

Her claws didn’t harm it at all. The creature’s flesh parted where she slashed, as though turning from liquid to smoke and back again. It was plenty solid when it grabbed her, though, seizing her by the front of Adora’s jacket and throwing her into the nearest wall.

“Catra!”

A ring of golden light flashed around Adora, but Bow didn’t stop to watch the transformation. The creature loomed over Catra, as though preparing to swallow her whole. She scrambled for freedom, but it had her trapped.

“Leave her alone!” Bow fired the next arrow in his quiver without bothering to check what it was. It shot straight and true, bursting into flames an inch from its target.

This time, the creature reared back. It shrieked in pain, and Bow saw a clear hole of light punch through its midsection before the beast’s shadow-skin closed around it, sealing it off again.

Catra didn’t waste her chance. She leapt up and darted away, looking horribly shaken. “Adora,” she said, in a wavering voice. “It’s her. Did you feel it? That’s hers.”

Bow listened with half an ear as he drew another explosive arrow. He was going to stick with what worked.

“I know,” She-Ra said, raising her sword, “but not for long. I won’t let it or her touch you again.”

***

Shadow Weaver’s here! Catra’s hands shook. Her heart raced. The ridge of fur along her spine stood on end, and ice shot through her veins—a sensation she only ever felt around Shadow Weaver. A type of paralysis that reached beyond fear and into frozen panic. She’s here, and she’s definitely gonna kill me for betraying her.

Catra could only watch in horror as Bow finished off the shadow creature, shooting another burning arrow into its chest. His trick worked even better the second time. Instead of absorbing the arrow and its flame, the creature howled, thrashing as fire devoured its flesh.

“Fire hurts it,” Bow cried. “Adora, do something!”

For the first time ever, Catra didn’t feel anger when She-Ra appeared at her side, clad in white and gold. Seeing her former enemy only brought relief. She-Ra’s platinum blonde hair billowed behind her despite the absence of wind. She held her sword aloft, white fire burning along the blade, and charged the shadow with a shout of fury.

Catra had watched She-Ra fight before. She’d fought She-Ra herself, even coming out on top a time or two. But as She-Ra thrust the sword through the beast’s stomach, something like awe stirred within her. This time, she wasn’t fighting She-Ra. She-Ra was fighting for her. Protecting her.

She thinks I’m worth protecting…

That jolted Catra back to reality. She couldn’t let She-Ra— Adora— have all the fun while she cowered like a frightened kitten. This was her chance to prove she was made of sterner stuff. Her eyes searched the hallway, landing on one of the mounted wall torches . She leapt, snatching it from the wall.

It was a good thing, too, because as the first shadow fell to She-Ra’s burning blade, more swarmed around the corner. No two were alike, but they all had dripping flesh with a texture somewhere between smoke and oil, and gaping mouths full of nothingness and sharp black teeth.

Catra shut off her brain. She sealed away the terrified voice screaming in the back of her mind and roared, barreling past She-Ra and swinging her torch at the next monster. It swiped at her, but she ducked underneath what passed for its arm and thrust her torch into its gooey bulk.

The creature’s shriek pierced Catra’s ears and boiled in her brain, but she stood her ground. A third shadow rushed her from the left, but Glimmer teleported into its path, burning it with another torch taken from the wall.

“Copycat,” Catra grunted.

“What?” Glimmer swung her torch again to make sure the creature caught fire. It smoldered into a pile of ash, and what was left dissolved into the air as wisps of smoke. “I won’t turn down a good idea just because some other asshole thought of it first.”

Catra snorted. Maybe banter was just what she needed to stay focused instead of hysterical. “‘Other asshole’ implies you’re an asshole, too. Asshole.”

Glimmer rolled her eyes, but didn’t respond. Another wave of shadowy monsters kept them too busy. Catra reacted instinctively, surprised by how easy it felt to fight alongside Adora’s friends. Whenever she was a second too slow, Glimmer popped up to defend her, or one of Bow’s arrows found its mark. She-Ra was an absolute juggernaut, cutting down the horrible creatures almost as fast as they appeared.

Almost.

With growing fear, Catra realized they were about to be overwhelmed. She darted away from a shadow’s claws only to find herself trapped again, back to the wall.

Bow was close beside her, grasping at his rapidly diminishing quiver of arrows. “How many of these did Shadow Weaver make?” he moaned, firing into the nearest enemy’s face. It fell, but not before its talons gouged Catra’s shoulder. She winced, hissing in pain.

So, these fuckers hurt. Big surprise.

“Don’t know,” She-Ra called out, attempting to clear a path toward them. Shadow after shadow fell before her blade, but more rose to take their place. “She must’ve re-established her connection to the Black Garnet. That’s the only way—”

A spike of fear drove through Catra’s chest. If Shadow Weaver has all her powers back, if she’s strong enough to breach Mystacor’s defenses, how the fuck are we supposed to stop her?

But first they had to get past the shadows, and that seemed equally impossible. They closed ranks, and Catra saw both Glimmer and She-Ra trapped on the other side of the corridor, in a rapidly diminishing half-circle. She summoned her courage, preparing to make one last charge with the torch. If she was lucky, maybe she could reach them—

One of the shadows grabbed her by the throat, lifting her off the ground. Catra dropped the torch, trying to pry the icy talons off her neck. It didn’t work. The shadow’s grip tightened, cutting off her breath. Her lungs burned, and her eyes stung as her vision condensed to blurry pinpricks.

“Let my wildcat go!”

A sharp black spear thrust through the shadow’s chest, stopping inches from Catra’s face. The talons around her throat loosened, and she fell to her knees, gasping for air. She clambered upright in time to see Scorpia tear into the shadow with her pincers, her face a mask of fury. It hadn’t been a spear at all, but Scorpia’s tail.

The shadow resisted most of Scorpia’s blows, merely molding around them, but she was determined. She punched and sliced and cut until holes of light appeared in the monster’s flesh. “No. One. Hurts. Catra!” she grunted between blows, tearing the shadow apart piece by piece. It fell before the onslaught, dissolving into an oily puff of smoke, leaving nothing behind but the echo of its screams.

“Scorpia?” Catra rasped. “What’re you doing here?”

Scorpia’s look of anger transformed into a tender smile. “These things are all over the castle. I had to make sure you were okay.”

A warm glow filled Catra’s chest. When Scorpia offered a claw to help her up, she accepted it. “Thanks. I owe you.”

Scorpia shook her head. “Why do you look so surprised? This is what friends do.”

Friends… Catra scanned the corridor, relieved to see that She-Ra, Glimmer, and Bow had cleaned up most of the remaining shadows. And they weren’t doing it alone. Along with Scorpia, several other people had come to the rescue.

Mermista sent a wave crashing over one of the final monsters with a dry laugh of satisfaction. Before Catra could even wonder where she’d found that much water to control, the wave froze in the middle of the hall, trapping the shadow inside. Frosta stood at Mermista’s side, wearing a look of smug satisfaction.

“A-ha!” Seahawk cried, slashing at the frozen beast with his blade. Chunks of black flurry sprayed across the floor, but it was effective. His frenzied chopping made short, if sloppy work of the shadow.

On the other side of the corridor, Spinnerella and Netossa worked as a team, trapping the shadows with nets and disorienting them with blasts of air. Spinnerella’s vortexes tore them apart even more effectively than Bow’s fire, and although Netossa’s nets couldn’t hold them for long, they served as an excellent distraction.

Catra felt a funny sensation in her chest, one that amplified when she saw Glimmer grab She-Ra’s shoulder, teleporting her away from two of the shadows just in time for Bow to shoot. 

They’re… working as a team. Better than the Horde soldiers ever did, no matter how many training sessions we had. Is this… is this why Adora and her dumb friends usually win? How she escaped Shadow Weaver and the Fright Zone while I was unconscious? And did she bring me with her because she wants me on her team, too? Catra glanced at Scorpia, who remained close by her side. If I wanted to make my own team of friends, would Scorpia be on it? Would Entrapta? She felt like she already knew the answer to that question, at least in Scorpia’s case. Entrapta, however, was nowhere to be found. Where could she be?

“Catra!”

Catra turned, opening her arms just in time for She-Ra to run into them. She was lifted off the ground again, only this time, it was impressive instead of terrifying. “Shit, Adora, you’re strong like this,” she said with a hoarse laugh.

“I’m glad you’re okay.” She-Ra set her down, still holding one of her arms in a tight, almost desperate grip. “Thanks,” she said to Scorpia, whose grin only grew wider.

“Aw. It was nothin’.”

“I don’t think we have time for a celebration,” Glimmer said, jogging over to join them. Her forehead shone with sweat, and Catra noticed her dim coloring. She’d obviously used up a considerable amount of magical energy during the skirmish. “Shadow Weaver’s still here somewhere. We have to find her before she summons more of these things—if she hasn’t already.”

Chapter Text

Shadows and screaming people filled the halls, and each corner She-Ra turned only led to more chaos. The entire castle had been besieged. Some, mostly Mystacor’s students, did their best to fight the beasts. They used magic, and in other cases, whatever weaponry happened to be at hand.

She-Ra ran into another hallway, only to find one young man wielding a broken table leg, desperately fending off one of the shadows. She swung her sword, making quick work of the creature before its claws gouged the boy’s chest. He stared at her with wide eyes, obviously awestruck, but she couldn’t offer anything more than a brief nod before rushing the next enemy, while he gathered himself enough to make his escape.

Beside her, the others did their best to clear the hall. Scorpia tore into a shadow with her pincers, defending a cowering group of partygoers. Frosta set up ice blocks for Bow to shatter with his explosive arrows. She-Ra even caught sight of Glimmer teleporting Catra up to the ceiling so she could drop on their enemies from above.

“We’re still missing folks,” Spinnerella panted, arriving at She-Ra’s side. Her clothes were torn, and the gust of air she used to blast yet another shadowy mass out of their way seemed weaker than usual. “No sign of Kyle or Entrapta.”

Netossa joined them, sweat dripping from her brow. “There’s so many. Where are they even coming from?”

Another shadow rose behind Netossa, casting a pitch black image of itself onto the floorstones. She-Ra drew her sword, but Mermista got there first, blasting the shadow with a wave of water—and drenching Netossa in the process.

“Thanks,” Netossa said, with only a mild glare at Mermista as she wrung out her puffy white hair.

“You’re welcome,” Mermista said, in her usual monotone.

She-Ra took a breath to calm her racing heart. The hall was finally clear, but she doubted it would stay that way for long—not to mention all the other halls in Mystacor’s giant castle. Many of them still had to be swarming with monsters.

We can’t keep playing catch-up with Shadow Weaver and her pets. The only way to protect everyone is to find her and take her out.

“Netossa, Spinnerella, can you and the others organize the people here into some kind of defense? We can’t keep fighting like this.”

“We’re on it,” Netossa said. “Right, babe?”

Spinnerella nodded. “We’ll look for Castaspella while we’re at it. I bet she’s got some of her students fighting these things.”

“A quest!” Seahawk appeared out of nowhere, brandishing his rapier in the air. “A search for a fair maiden—hey!” His trumpeting became a squawk as Mermista drenched him with a splash of water.

“No one invited you.”

She-Ra’s temper flared. They definitely didn’t have time for Mermista’s sarcasm or Seahawk’s pouting. “Stop being such a dick, Mermista. Seahawk wants to help, and he really likes you.”

Seahawk looked pleasantly surprised, while Mermista adopted a rare expression of shock before squelching it and rolling her eyes. “Ugh. Fine. Come on, Seahawk.”

The two of them hurried off, with Spinnerella and Netossa close behind. She-Ra watched them go, only to notice that Frosta, Scorpia, Glimmer, Catra, and Bow had remained behind.

“I’m not going with them,” Frosta declared as soon as She-Ra’s eyes fell on her. “You might need me.”

“Yeah,” Scorpia said, her brow furrowing with determination. “I’m not leaving Catra, either.”

She-Ra sighed in frustration, but Glimmer intervened, placing a hand on Frosta’s shoulder. “Look, I know you want to help, but honestly? The rest of our friends aren’t always the brightest in situations like this. You’re one of the best strategists we have. They’re gonna need you.”

“Really?” Frosta’s eyes widened. “One of the best?”

Glimmer smiled. “I mean it. So, please. For me. Go find my Aunt Casta. Help the others. Someone has to protect them.”

Despite her reluctance, Frosta scurried in the direction their friends had gone, only glancing back over her shoulder once.

Scorpia folded her beefy arms across her chest. “Oh no. No way. You aren’t getting rid of me that easy.”

“Actually,” She-Ra said, looking at Scorpia, but really directing the words to Catra by deliberately avoiding her gaze, “I’m…surprised you’re both here? I know Shadow Weaver can be…”

Catra rounded on her, different-colored eyes ablaze. “Yeah, Shadow Weaver terrifies me. But if you think I’m gonna let her fucking hurt you, or even any of your dumb friends, you’ve got another think coming. I know all that old witch’s weaknesses. I know her even better than you. You need me to take her down.”

A lump rose in She-Ra’s throat. She recognized the truth of Catra’s words, but part of her wanted to deny them anyway. To beg Catra to leave with the others. Keep herself safe. The words wouldn’t come—maybe because she knew Catra would resent her for them. This is her chance for closure. I can’t take it away from her just because it’s dangerous. Because she could get hurt, or… 

The thought of Catra getting hurt (or worse) was so unbearable that She-Ra had to force it from her mind. She swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked the sting from her eyes. “It’s your choice. I won’t take it from you.”

Catra’s expression softened, and her brows lifted briefly in surprise before her face hardened again, this time with determination. “Then let’s find her. Sparkles, Crop Top, you in?”

“Are you ever gonna use my real name?” Bow sighed.

Catra eyed him with slightly less disdain than usual. “Not likely.”

“Well, I’m in anyway.”

She-Ra looked to Glimmer, who offered a somber nod. Then, as one, the group looked at Scorpia, who seemed a little put out.  “What about me?”

Catra walked over, patting her spiny shoulder. “I knew you were in without asking.”

 Scorpia’s cheeks turned a ruddy shade of pink. “You betcha.”

She-Ra hesitated, but decided arguing wasn’t worth it. They were running out of time. At least someone will be there to watch out for Catra if I can’t. She turned to Glimmer. “Where do you feel her?”

Glimmer frowned, tilting her head. “I feel…” She hurried back the way they had come, taking a different turn at the end of the corridor.

She-Ra followed, and as they ran, she recognized where they were going. “The Lunar Lenses?”

“Shadow Weaver got past them once before,” Bow gasped, sprinting to keep up with her long-legged stride. “Guess she did it again.”

“Not this time,” Catra snarled. She dropped to all fours, speeding down the hall so fast that she became an orange blur. Adora pumped her legs faster, her skirt fluttering against her thighs. She couldn’t let Catra rush into this alone.

They arrived at the Lunar Lenses sooner than She-Ra expected. When she rushed in, she saw exactly what she’d feared most, the very thing that had haunted her since she’d first felt her ex-mentor’s presence in Mystacor: Shadow Weaver, standing larger than life in her red and black robes. The cracks in her mask were gone, and the gem in the center of her forehead glowed brightly. Catra was there, too, and She-Ra cried out, reaching for her on instinct.

“Catra, wait—”

But Catra wasn’t listening. She lunged, teeth and claws bared. While She-Ra stood, frozen, Adora’s heart leapt with her.

***

Left.

Catra ducked beneath a whiplike tendril of shadow, feeling the air that followed ruffle her fur.

Up.

Another tendril swept for her feet. She sprang, using her momentum to push off the basin in the middle of the platform where Shadow Weaver stood. That gave her enough height to land sideways on one of the glittering crystal walls. She pivoted, launching herself at Shadow Weaver from above.

Shit—back!

Another tendril careened toward her, catching her right in the midsection. She grunted as the air left her lungs, but managed to land on all fours, scrambling out of reach before Shadow Weaver could follow up.

‘Do you really think you can beat me?’ Shadow Weaver’s voice said. Whether it was in her head or aloud, Catra couldn’t tell, but it was deafening either way—harsh, cold, carving into her very bones. ‘You are weak. You have always been weak.’

A ball of anger burned in Catra’s chest, but she shoved it down into the pit of her stomach. Anger would only weaken her. Make her a second too slow, or a bit too reckless. It would take every ounce of cleverness and skill she had to beat Shadow Weaver, even with She-Ra’s help.

Come on, Catra. Pull it together. She’s trying to piss you off. Don’t let her in your head.

‘Really? I feel your anger overtaking you already.’

Catra charged again, roaring her throat raw. Shadow Weaver disappeared before her claws could make contact, only to reappear behind her as a tall, cold shadow. She whirled, but it was too late. Another black mass collided with her chest, sending her stumbling off the platform.

“Catra!”

Someone’s arms secured her from behind, and then she was on the other side of the room. Safe, for a few seconds. Glimmer had teleported in to help her. While Catra tried to make sense of her shifted surroundings, another figure rushed Shadow Weaver: She-Ra, a beacon of white and gold, sword aglow.

“Shadow Weaver, stop!”

‘Adora. My Adora.’

She-Ra swung her sword, but the blade passed straight through Shadow Weaver’s midsection. “I’m not your anything, and I won’t let you hurt my friends.”

‘Friends? They only make you weak. And you are strong, Adora. You still have so much potential...’

The burn in Catra’s gut only grew worse. Shadow Weaver’s words hurt much more than they should have while they were fighting for their lives. I can’t care about that right now. I don’t have time to care… But the anger and shame, the jealousy and resentment, were already rising. Catra ran back into fight, hatred simmering beneath her skin, threatening to boil to the surface.

‘Ah, Catra.’ Shadow Weaver’s voice came from every direction at once. It split her head, injecting something cold straight down her spine. She barely had enough coordination to dodge the black shadow-arms reaching for her, let alone fight them off. ‘You have always been jealous of Adora’s obvious superiority.’

“I’m not jealous. You’re just fucked up!”

A shadowy arm almost seized her, but a large black and red shield appeared in front of her, taking the blow instead. “Go,” Scorpia snarled, her biceps flexing as she tried to hold the shadow back. “Get her, Catra. I know you can!”

Catra didn’t hesitate. Trusting that Scorpia would be fine, she searched the room for Shadow Weaver—the real Shadow Weaver. The fur on the back of her neck stood on end, and she caught movement to her left. She pounced just as Shadow Weaver solidified, before she could conjure more of her evil magic.

Shadow Weaver flinched, giving a very satisfying cry of pain… but then, darkness closed in.

No. Nonono. Not again!

Catra tried to move her arms, but they were already pinned to her sides. Her legs kicked, but they were trapped too, glued to the floor by a rapidly solidifying puddle of black goo. Cold crept up her stomach, over her shoulders, rising the length of her neck.

“Adora!”

‘She can’t help you now. No one can.’

The shadows covered Catra’s mouth, closing over her head, and then everything was darkness.

***

Kyle blinked, struggling to make sense of the fuzzy patterns of light and shadow swimming before his eyes. He instantly regretted it. His stomach lurched, and a wave of pain and nausea passed through his body.

Oh, my head… what happened?

In a flash, it all came back. The Lunar Lenses. The basin. Shadow Weaver.

Shadow Weaver’s here!

Pushing past his dizziness, he tried to prop himself up. His hearing returned, and he realized there were screams coming from all around. More than one voice, obviously in distress.

“Kyle?”

One of the voices was closer than the others, and he recognized it instantly. He turned, nearly sobbing with relief. “Bow?”

“I’m here.” The sight of Bow’s face banished some of the lingering chill from Kyle’s veins. “What happened?”

“Shadow Weaver. She tricked me. Came through the basin.”

He looked beyond Bow, surveying the room. The sight sent his heartbeat into overdrive. A few yards away, Scorpia was doing battle with several shadowy arms. She struggled against their grip, trying to get to a shining black sphere in the middle of the room. It was dim, but slightly translucent, and inside, Kyle saw— 

“Catra!”

He’d never much liked his Force Captain before, but seeing her trapped and in distress, caught by Shadow Weaver’s magic, upset him more than expected. Did she come with the others to rescue me?

“Can you stand?” Bow asked, placing one of his arms beneath both of Kyle’s.

“I’ll try.” With Bow’s help, Kyle managed to pull himself to his feet. Another cry sounded, and he saw Glimmer surrounded by a horde of shadowy beasts. They closed in on her, claws grasping, jaws agape.

Bow must have seen the horrified look on his face. He gripped Kyle’s shoulders tight, turning him so they were face to face. “Glimmer can handle herself. She’s a fighter. Kyle, this is super important— how did Shadow Weaver get in here? What did she do?”

“She…” Kyle tried to remember, but it was almost impossible with the chaos going on all around him. Scorpia was still wrestling with the growing black mass around Catra, which had sprouted a horrifying amount of arms and mouths. Glimmer had teleported away from the shadow monsters, but they’d already given chase. She-Ra, resplendent in white and gold, had gone after Shadow Weaver, but couldn’t come close to touching her. Cold laughter filled the room, piercing Kyle’s skull.

It’s all my fault. None of them would be in danger if it weren’t for me…

“Kyle.” Bow tightened his grip on Kyle’s shoulders, giving them a gentle but urgent shake. “The best way to help them is to stop Shadow Weaver. How did she get in? I know you can do this.”

Bow. Bow thinks I can fix this…

Kyle gritted his teeth and hardened his jaw. His heart still drummed crazily in the cage of his ribs, and his breathing was much too fast, but he managed to shove some of his fear deep down into the very pit of his stomach. It ate at him there, but he could ignore it—at least for a few moments.

“She made me touch the basin. She said…we had a connection?”

Bow’s eyes widened. “A connection? Kyle, have you ever done magic before?”

Kyle shook his head. The noises around him grew louder and more frightening, but he tried his best to shut them out. “N-no…”

“Well, you’ve got about ten seconds to learn. Go for the basin. I’ll cover you. Try to undo whatever you did. If you can’t, we’ll do Plan B.”

“What’s Plan B?”

“Smash Shadow Weaver’s mask.”

***

‘Adora…’

She-Ra grunted, thrusting her sword into Shadow Weaver’s midsection, but met no resistance. It slid straight through her enemy, like she’d just stabbed a First Ones hologram. The image disappeared, but voice in her head continued—low and soothing, like the voice Shadow Weaver had used to praise her as a child.

‘You’ve done so well. I see you’ve truly grown into your power. But it’s time to stop now and come home.’

Stop…

Part of She-Ra—the Adora part, maybe—felt the immediate urge to obey. To listen to the voice. To lower her sword, or even let it fall to the ground. But another part of her—an angry part, so maybe that was really the Adora part after all—rebelled against the magic, because that had to be what it was. Magic. Nothing else could make her listen to a single word that came from Shadow Weaver’s treacherous mouth.

“I don’t care what you think.” She whirled around in search of Shadow Weaver, but came to face the sphere of shadow instead—a sphere that was just translucent enough for her to see who was trapped inside. “Catra!”

That moment of distraction was all it took. Cold tendrils wrapped around her legs, and though she tried to cut them back with her sword, they continued crawling past her pelvis unimpeded. The more she chopped, the faster they grew, twining around her midsection and pinning her arms to her sides. She fought, but the bonds held firm.

“Don’t worry about Catra.” Shadow Weaver appeared in front of her, close enough to gaze into her eyes. The sight of her made She-Ra struggle anew, although it didn’t do any good. “She is beneath your concern. Despite her efforts, she simply doesn’t have your potential.”

“You’re wrong,” She-Ra snarled. “Catra’s just as good as me. In lots of ways, she’s better. And she’s braver and stronger than you’ll ever be!”

For just a moment, Shadow Weaver’s eyes widened behind her mask, as though she’d been taken by surprise. But she quickly collected on herself. The gem in the middle of her mask flared with crimson light, and the shadows around She-Ra pulsed, coiling tighter around her arms and legs. “She is your only weakness. And once I eliminate her, you will be stronger. The strongest weapon in my arsenal.”

“Catra isn’t a weakness. She’s a strength. My strength. You’re just too blind see it.”

“You wish to lecture me about strength? Look around. See what has become of your allies.”

She-Ra didn’t want to, but she couldn’t help it. With her limited range of motion, she scanned the room with growing terror. Catra was trapped in the sphere of darkness, curled into a tiny ball with her arms around her knees. She-Ra couldn’t hear her, but she looked like she was sobbing. Glimmer had fallen to the shadow monsters. They had hold of her arms, and her coloring was dim, exhausted. She-Ra couldn’t see Bow or Kyle—maybe they were somewhere behind her, or off to the side—but she saw Scorpia, trapped just like she was.

“Don’t listen to her, Catra!” Scorpia yelled. “You’re the greatest. You’ll beat Shadow Weaver with one paw behind your back once you get out of there!”

“She can’t hear you,” Shadow Weaver said, without even turning to look at Scorpia. “She is trapped within herself. As soon as I deal with you, Mystacor will be mine. As well as you.” She touched She-Ra’s cheek with her hand, and She-Ra shuddered. Shadow Weaver’s fingers felt ice cold even through her glove.

“You won’t win,” she gasped, jerking her head away. “Not as long as we’re alive to fight you.”

“Then I suppose I should correct that oversight.” Shadow Weaver released She-Ra’s face, approaching Catra’s sphere. Trails of shadow followed her across the room, rolling along the floor like fog. She stopped in front of the orb and raised her hands. “Say goodbye to your weakness, Adora. I only do this to make you stronger.”

Panic stabbed through She-Ra’s heart. She would have recoiled in pain if it weren’t for the tendrils tying her down. Her entire body shook, and she felt She-Ra’s strength drain from her completely. She shrank, feeling terrified. Hopeless. Like Adora instead of an unbeatable Princess of legend.

I can’t let Shadow Weaver hurt Catra. Not because of me. Not for anything.  

“Stop,” she said, her voice cracking as soon as it came out.

Slowly, Shadow Weaver turned her head.

“I’ll go with you. I’ll be your prisoner. Just don’t hurt Catra.”

“Really?” Shadow Weaver turned the rest of the way, her eyes narrowing with smug satisfaction. “You will return to being my ward and prot é g é ?” 

“No,” Adora said—because she was Adora now, not She-Ra. She couldn’t find She-Ra anywhere inside her. Not with her heart in danger of being slaughtered. “Catra would never forgive me. You need to pay for what you’ve done to her. To us. But I’ll go with you as your prisoner.”

Shadow Weaver sighed. “How disappointing. But this problem is easily solved.” She faced the sphere once more, raising her hands.

Adora screamed.

Chapter Text

When Catra opened her eyes, she was somewhere dark. Somewhere cold. Somewhere far from Adora and her friends. Her pupils dilated, but there wasn’t any light, nor anything to see. Only an endless expanse of nothingness.

Fuck, I’m inside myself again. Heh. Inside myself. Get it? But seriously. Fuck. What kind of dumb mental journey am I on this time?

She sat and waited for something to emerge from the darkness—another frozen image, more bad memories—but nothing came. Unlike last time, she was completely alone.

Maybe this is different. Maybe I’m… 

Catra hadn’t spent much of her youth fearing death. In fact, she’d often wished she’d never been born. When she’d charged into battle against Shadow Weaver, death hadn’t been on her mind. She’d thought of the situation in terms of success or failure, winning or losing—not alive or dead. Frozen somewhere beyond time and space, she had little else to consider.

It wasn’t long before treacherous thoughts rose to the top of her mind. If I died, does that mean Adora and the others died with me? Did Shadow Weaver kill us all?

“No,” Catra said aloud. “Shadow Weaver would never kill her precious pet.”

Shit, where did that come from? You love Adora. She rejected Shadow Weaver as an adult—before you did, even—and when you were kids, she was just trying to gain approval. You would’ve done exactly the same if you’d been Shadow Weaver’s favorite.

In the safety of the darkness, Catra could admit that was an understatement. If she’d been Shadow Weaver’s favorite, she probably wouldn’t have turned out half as kind and good as Adora. She shuddered to think of what she might have become. Still a Force Captain, maybe, but she could see that wasn’t a position to be proud of now. The village she’d razed the day Adora had left still haunted her nightmares.

She paused, half-expecting the spectral scene to appear, but it didn’t. Just emptiness. If it weren’t for the rise and fall of her chest and the faint beat of her heart, Catra might have thought her body didn’t exist anymore. She couldn’t even see her hands when she looked down.

Maybe it’s good I’m gone. I can’t hurt anyone or screw up anymore. Sure, Adora will be sad, but she’s got her friends. She doesn’t love me like I love her—because who could really love a screw-up like me? I’ll probably hurt her less dead than alive, anyway…

“Catra’s just as good as me. In lots of ways, she’s better. And she’s braver and stronger than you’ll ever be!”

Catra jerked her head up. She whipped around, searching for the source of the voice, but couldn’t see anything in the darkness. She knew who had spoken, though: Adora, without a doubt. 

“Adora? Can you hear me?”

No answer. Only silence.

“Fuck.” Catra heaved a sigh, burying her face in her hands. “Now I’m hearing things. If this is being dead, it sucks.”

“Catra isn’t a weakness. She’s a strength. My strength. You’re just too blind see it.”

This time, Catra leapt to her feet. She craned her neck, trying to pinpoint where Adora’s voice had come from, but it was impossible. The sound seemed to emanate from everywhere, echoing in the distance before disappearing.

“Adora!”

Catra picked a random direction and ran, unsure where she was going. The terrain beneath her feet was flat and nondescript. No texture at all. There were no landmarks to judge her position by, either. No guides to tell her where she’d end up. I know I heard Adora’s voice. That means she’s somewhere. And if she’s somewhere, maybe I’m still somewhere?

She stopped, listening again, hoping for some kind of guidance.

“Don’t listen to her, Catra! You’re the greatest.”

It wasn’t Adora’s voice, but Catra’s ears perked in recognition. “Scorpia?” Her heart fluttered with something like hope.

“You’ll beat Shadow Weaver with one paw behind your back once you get out of there!”

“Out of where?” she snarled, exhaling an angry breath. “How can I get out if I don’t know where the fuck I am?” But this time, when she looked around, she saw something besides darkness. Not a light, exactly, but something. Dark shades of grey? Yes. Dark shades of grey that made up a cavern—no, a room. A room with people in it.

Suddenly, Shadow Weaver’s mask appeared in front of her, large enough to span the whole horizon. The red sliver of garnet on her forehead burned brightly, a single burning star ripping through the black curtain of the sky.

Ice flooded Catra’s veins. She stumbled back, recoiling in fear, as though the light could hurt her. The darkness, which had been quiet and peaceful before, suddenly felt constricting. It coiled around her, pinning her arms and legs, squeezing mercilessly.

No!

Catra tried to scream, but couldn’t find the breath. Her lungs wouldn’t work, and her heart threatened to stop, too.

“I’ll be your prisoner. Just don’t hurt Catra.”

The light faded, and Shadow Weaver’s giant face turned away. The gemstone drew back, becoming smaller and dimmer.

“Really? You will return to being my ward and prot é g é ?” 

“No. Catra would never forgive me. You need to pay for what you’ve done to her. To us. But I’ll go with you as your prisoner.”

Adora, don’t! Catra thought the words as hard as possible, but she couldn’t form them. She summoned all of her strength, fighting against her bonds, until finally, she managed to flex her claws.

With a silent roar of anger, she tore her way out of the blackness restraining her. She ripped the darkness off her limbs until she could move again, panting and sweating with the effort. The shadows tried to hold her back, but she was determined. She fought them off with frenzied desperation, driven by one thought:

I can’t let Adora go with her!

Shadow Weaver’s mask loomed in front of her once more, but as Catra surged toward it, the image became smaller and smaller. Finally, it returned to its normal size, hovering before her. Close enough to reach out and touch.

Catra thrust her hand through the darkness, seizing the piece of black garnet in her claws and pulling as hard as she could.

***

Kyle hovered over the basin in the middle of the platform, shaking with fear. As promised, Bow had covered him with volleys of arrows, but now that he’d arrived at his destination, he had no idea what to do. Calm down, Kyle. Think. What did you do last time?

He tried to remember, but his mind was blank. All he could feel was terror. His eyes darted wildly around the room, but that was a big mistake. Glimmer had been caught and restrained by several monsters. Scorpia and Adora were trapped by shadowy vines, unable to move. Catra was still in the sphere of darkness, and Bow—

No!

Bow had bought him time, but at great cost. The remaining monsters had left Glimmer to close in on him, teeth and claws bared.

The sight of Bow in danger jump-started Kyle’s brain. For some reason, Shadow Weaver had overlooked him—like everyone else had always done—and he was the only one left. It was up to him to do something.

Bow believes in me. He’s counting on me.

Kyle looked down at the basin. Although his heart still hammered and his hands still shook, he felt more in control. Being terrified didn’t mean he had to be helpless. He put his hands in the basin, as Shadow Weaver had told him to do before.

For a few seconds, nothing happened. Kyle’s heart sank, and the fear started to creep in again. What if Bow’s wrong? What if I can’t fix this? But he gathered himself, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes. Trying to sense something.

All at once, he felt it. The crystals hovering above the basin and glittering in the walls weren’t just crystals. They were mirrors, and they almost seemed to be talking to each other with their reflections. Not with words—it was a language of music and light—but somehow, he could hear it.

When Kyle opened his eyes and looked into the basin, he couldn’t see his own pale, terrified face anymore. He saw a shining, silver-white orb. Wait. The moon? Its soft, pale light streamed in through the skylight above the platform, reflecting in the water. Reflecting…

Suddenly, Kyle knew what he had to do. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he knew. He removed his hands from the basin, and reached for the highest crystal of all, the one closest to the skylight. To his amazement, it moved, changing angles until it bounced the moonlight over to the next crystal. Kyle shifted his focus, moving that one as well. And the next. And the next. And the next.

At last, he moved the final mirror, pointing it toward the water, bouncing the zig-zagging beam of moonlight into the basin.

The moment he did, a warm wind blew through the room. It picked up, ruffling his hair, but had a much different effect on the shadows. They turned toward him, their mouths of nothingness roaring, gaping—but before they could start their approach, they began fading away.

The monsters holding Glimmer recoiled from the moonlight, dissolving into thin air as it washed over them. The bonds around Scorpia and Adora loosened before falling away. The sphere of darkness around Catra wavered, then exploded into wisps of smoke. Her hand thrust out, toward Shadow Weaver’s mask, and tore the gem from her forehead.

Shadow Weaver screamed, but Kyle barely heard it.

Bow…

Bow’s monsters had vanished, too, and he was standing on his own, although his legs shook visibly beneath him.

Kyle abandoned the basin, rushing off the platform toward Bow. It turned out his help wasn’t needed anymore, because Bow managed to regain his balance, but he did open his arms and give Kyle a tight hug. “I knew you could do it, Kyle. I knew it!”

Still breathless and dizzy from what he’d done, tingling with a warmth he could only describe as magic, Kyle found one last surge of courage. He slid his hand behind Bow’s neck and pulled him down, bringing their lips together in a desperate, closed-mouthed kiss.

It took him several seconds to realize what he’d done. He had kissed Bow. He and Bow were still kissing. Rather than pull away, Bow was moving his mouth, and…

Kyle’s legs wobbled beneath him, and he had to clutch Bow’s shoulders for support. Luckily, Bow was there to steady him. “You did it,” he said when they finally broke apart.

“Yeah,” Kyle said, laughing with amazement. “I did.”

***

Shadow Weaver screamed, and Adora felt the shadows around her loosen. She didn’t hesitate. The moment she saw Catra’s hand thrust through the sphere and snatch at Shadow Weaver’s mask, all her strength and energy returned. She fought her way free of her bonds, rushing to help—but it turned out she didn’t need to. Shadow Weaver made a few desperate attempts to fight Catra off, but with her connection to the Black Garnet severed, it was no contest. 

Catra removed Shadow Weaver’s mask, throwing it to the floor and stomping it with her boot. It cracked, wisps of smoke rising from the ruins. Shadow Weaver cried out again, this time more of a despairing moan. She fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands, peeking out through her fingers with bloodshot eyes.

“Catra,” she said in a cracked voice. “How could you? After everything I’ve done for you—”

Catra’s eyes narrowed to angry slits, and her lips peeled back from her teeth. “Kids don’t owe their parents shit, but parents owe their kids everything. All you gave me was pain. Wanna tell me again what you’ve done for me?”

Adora stopped beside Catra and Shadow Weaver. Before, she’d only been focused on one thought: Get to Catra. Make sure she’s okay. But when she arrived to see that Catra wasn’t in danger—that she was alive and whole and apparently unharmed—the rest of her emotions came rushing back all at once, crashing over her like a tidal wave.

First, fear. The realization of what she’d almost lost. Then relief, as she drank in the proof that Catra was really all right. She threw her arms around Catra and hugged her as tight as possible, never wanting to let go. And when Catra hugged her back, clutching the fabric of her shirt, Adora felt a warm glow in her chest. Pride.

“You won,” she said, starting to laugh. “I have no idea how you got out of there, but you won!”

Catra pulled back just enough to meet her eyes. A small, crooked smile spread across her face. “It was you , dummy. I heard your voice. We won.”

After that, Adora couldn’t help herself. She cupped the back of Catra’s neck and pulled her into a passionate kiss, not even thinking about stopping as hot tears rolled down her cheeks. Catra might have been crying, too, but Adora was too distracted by the kiss to tell. All she knew, all she wanted, was Catra’s lips. Catra’s reassuring breaths against her mouth.

“Gross.”

Reluctantly, Adora broke away to see Glimmer standing nearby with Bow and Kyle, both of whom looked as flushed as she felt. Scorpia had taken custody of Shadow Weaver, restraining her limp form with giant claws. Shadow Weaver hung her head, staring at the shattered remains of her mask and ducking to hide her face while her arms were behind her back.

“Sorry,” Adora mumbled, blushing with embarrassment. She didn’t really care if Glimmer was mildly grossed out by the kiss, but she felt guilty for rubbing Scorpia’s nose in the fact that she and Catra were together—even if it was a totally reasonable post-battle, I’m-so-glad-you’re-alive kiss.

Fortunately, Scorpia didn’t seem upset. She grinned happily and said, “Catra, that was awesome! I’m gonna give you the biggest hug once my arms aren’t busy!”

“Yeah?” Catra chuckled. “I’m the one who owes you a hug. I heard you in there, too.”

Scorpia’s eyes widened. “It got through?”

“Yeah, you big beautiful bug. It got through.”

Scorpia squealed with delight. “Oh, good!” She moved, as if to clack her pincers in her own version of applause, but realized she was still holding the limp and dejected Shadow Weaver. 

The moment was interrupted as the doors to the chamber flew open. Castaspella entered at the head of a very eclectic group of students and Princesses. Adora beamed as she saw her friends: Perfuma, Mermista, Seahawk, and Frosta, with Spinnerella and Netossa as well.

“You and She-Ra did it, Glimmer!” Frosta said, breaking from the group and nearly tackling Glimmer with a hug. Glimmer hugged her back, although she caught Adora’s eye as if to say, Great. You and Bow get romantic kisses, while I get this.

“Thanks, but it wasn’t really me. It was Catra and Kyle.”

“Really?” Castaspella studied the Lunar Lenses, floating serenely above the basin, reflecting the full moon’s light directly into the water. She looked at Catra, then at Kyle, and her eyes widened with interest. “Young man, did you do this?”

Kyle’s jaw worked soundlessly for a few seconds. “M-me? Uh…”

“He did,” Bow said, with unabashed pride. “All him.”

Castaspella smiled. “I sense great magical power within you, Kyle. The two of us will need to talk about getting you some proper training.”

“Really?” Kyle’s face lit up, and his face split in a broad smile.

“Yes, but first...” Castaspella approached Scorpia, who still held Shadow Weaver. “Light Spinner. You know the punishment for breaching Mystacor’s defenses and trying to harm the people who live here. Not to mention your crimes against all of Etheria.”

Adora held her breath, waiting to see whether Shadow Weaver would attempt to defend herself. But she didn’t. She said nothing, although she lifted her head ever so slightly to give Castaspella a hateful glare. The magical burn scars on her face seemed to throb with anger.

“Don’t underestimate her,” Adora said to Castaspella. “She escaped the Horde’s prison complex once already.”

Castaspella nodded. “Don’t worry. We are very familiar with Light Spinner’s power here. We’ll make sure she stays exactly where she belongs.”

Shadow Weaver’s eyes shifted to Adora, filling her stomach with the cold, heavy sensation of fear. Even though they’d won and Shadow Weaver’s mask had been rendered useless, she couldn’t help feeling a little scared. “And you, Adora?” Shadow Weaver rasped. “If you despise me as much as Catra, why not execute me?”

“Because,” Adora said, trying not to sound as uneasy as she felt, “I’m not like you.”

“I think you are exactly like me. You wish to see what information you can extract from me first. I taught you well.”

“I’m not like you,” Adora said, with growing confidence. “Catra and I are miles better than you. Castaspella? Take her away.”

“With pleasure.” Castaspella gestured to several of her students, who were mingling among the Princesses. They hurried forward on her command and took Shadow Weaver from Scorpia. Shadow Weaver didn’t put up any resistance. She allowed herself to be carried from the room, under Castaspella’s close supervision.

As soon as they exited the room, a loud voice sounded very close to Adora’s ear. “Brilliant! Another successfully completed quest! What a tale of daring-do this will make, eh? Ehhh?”

She turned to see Seahawk standing beside her, with a friendly arm flung around her shoulder. Adora laughed and put her arm around him in return. “Definitely. I’ll tell you all about my part if you tell me about yours.”

“Nah,” Catra said. “You’ll make it sound lame.”

“I will not! I’m good at stories.”

“No,” Bow said. “She really isn’t. Adora’s version of telling stories is dropping weird, depressing tidbits of information about her past at random times.”

Adora looked at Glimmer, hoping for support, but only got a long-suffering sigh and a shake of her head. “Don’t worry, Adora. We’ll help.”

“Yeah,” Adora said. “I guess we all do things better as a team anyway.”

“Right.” Bow laughed, but the sound died as he scanned the rest of the gathered group. “Wait, where’s Entrapta?”

Chapter Text

“It’s been almost two days,” Bow sighed, bracing himself against a tree. He wasn’t physically tired, but he was emotionally exhausted. The battle with Shadow Weaver and her monsters had drained him, and searching the Whispering Woods for Entrapta without any leads to go on only made things worse.

“Don’t worry, Bow.” Kyle came to stand by his side, placing a reassuring hand on his arm. “We won’t give up until we find her, okay?”

Bow forced a weak smile, but he didn’t really feel it. He pushed away from the tree, his boots crunching into the leaves as he straightened. “It’s just… I left her once before, you know? When you and I first met, before I escaped the Fright Zone. I thought she was dead, so I abandoned her. Now, she’s gone again.”

Kyle turned his touch into a reassuring squeeze. “This is different. We know she’s missing, so most of us are looking for her. And no one remembers seeing her during the battle. They never found a body.”

Bow took a deep breath, trying to absorb the facts Kyle had laid out, but they didn’t do much to alleviate his guilt. It’s my fault. I knew she was having trouble adjusting to such a large group. I knew she felt awkward in Mystacor, even if she did seem to be having fun at the party. If I’d kept a closer eye on her…

“Stop,” Kyle said, with a furrow in his brow. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop. This isn’t your fault.”

For a moment, the heaviness in Bow’s heart lightened. Kyle looked really cute when he was frustrated, with his curly blonde hair and cherubic face offset by the annoyance written all over his face. “Heh. Since when did you become so assertive?”

“I’m not being assertive,” Kyle said, shyly averting his eyes. He removed his hand from Bow’s arm, rubbing nervously at the back of his neck. “I just know you’re blaming yourself, and you shouldn’t.”

“Hey, I like the new Kyle. He isn’t afraid to say what he feels. It’s sexy.”

Kyle’s eyes snapped wide open. “Sexy?” he stammered, nearly choking.

Bow managed a small but genuine laugh. “Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” Kyle’s face turned tomato red, but he cracked a smile, and Bow remembered how to breathe a little easier, without the tightness of guilt in his chest. He reached out, cupping one of Kyle’s cheeks in his hands. “Thanks for looking for Entrapta with me. It helps, being around you.”

Kyle’s smile grew wider. “Really?”

“Yeah. It really does.”

To Bow’s delight, Kyle took the initiative and leaned in first. Their lips met in a soft kiss, and Bow felt hope stir within him. Hope that had been buried, but not lost. He smiled against Kyle’s lips, and Kyle stroked his arm as they pulled apart.

“You’re awesome, Bow. With you in her corner, Entrapta’s gonna be fine. I know it.”

Bow placed another kiss in the center of Kyle’s forehead. “I hope so. All I know is, I’m not giving up on her this time.”

***

It was supposed to be a quick mission. In and out. Entrapta knew all about the Fright Zone’s ventilation ducts and secret passageways, so infiltrating in search of Emily, Emily’s Kid Sister, and her other robotic friends—as well as the notes and supplies she’d accumulated during her stay—should have been simple.

It hadn’t been simple. Hadn’t been quick, either. It had been loud, messy, and awkward. Hordak’s guards had surrounded her as soon as she fell through the ceiling, and her cheerful “Hello!” hadn’t earned her any special treatment. They’d hauled her straight to Hordak’s throne room and dumped her on her knees before him.

As Entrapta peered up at Hordak, some vague part of her mind realized she should be frightened. Most people would have been, sprawled before the leader of the Horde. His appearance was undeniably threatening. The gaunt face, sharp teeth, and blood-red eyes might have been natural, but his armor—dark, pointy, ominous—was clearly meant to inspire fear.

Instead of feeling afraid, Entrapta was curious. What species is he? Where did he get all of the Fright Zone’s fascinating technology? The designs are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Like someone working off a different number system entirely instead of base 10. 

Those questions, and many more, raced through her head as Hordak peered down his flat, slitted nose at her.

“You. Why have you returned? I was informed you escaped with my ex-Force Captain and the other traitors.”

Entrapta stammered through an explanation. “Well, I was in Mystacor with Catra and Scorpia—and my old friends Bow, Glimmer, and Adora—when a bunch of fascinating magical shadow creatures attacked. I tried to help with the defense, but then I realized Mystacor didn’t have any robots! Can you imagine? Not a single one!

“They’re entirely magic-reliant—which isn’t too unusual, because magic and technology really are… what’s the idiom? Oh, I remember! ‘Two sides of the same coin.’ But you know who does have robots, and a whole bunch of First Ones technology? The Fright Zone! So I borrowed a skiff and went looking for backup. Plus, all the super important stuff I left behind when—”

“Enough.” Hordak rose from his throne, folding his hands behind his back and stalking down the stairs. The hem of his cape fluttered as he stopped mere feet away. “Do you mean to tell me you returned here simply because we have robots, and Mystacor does not?”

“Yep.” Entrapta offered Hordak a large grin. “That’s an accurate summary of what I just said.”

Hordak gave her a narrow-eyed look of suspicion, but eventually sighed. “The creatures of this filthy, backwater planet continue to baffle me.”

Entrapta’s pigtails fluttered with excitement. She used them to push herself to her feet, leaning closer to Hordak. “Wait a minute. Backwater planet? Does that mean there are others?” The thought made her heart race a hundred miles a minute. Just think: an entire galaxy full of life, brand new technology, worlds full of undiscovered knowledge! The prospect sent a shiver through her entire body.

Hordak sniffed imperiously. “Of course. There are wonders in this universe a lowly creature like you couldn’t even begin to comprehend.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I have a pretty incredible imagination. It’s kind of a requirement for science.” She edged closer, until her nose was barely an inch from Hordak’s. “Tell me about the other planets. Pleeease? I want to know everything about everything!”

Hordak scoffed and turned away. “Why should I bother? I should kill you for deserting in the first place.”

Kill? A little of Entrapta’s enthusiasm faded. She hadn’t been afraid before, but as she studied Hordak again, she felt an unpleasant tingling in her belly. Is this what fear is? Darn it, I’ve never been good at identifying emotions. It reminded her of the bouts of panic she’d felt when Bow and the others had left her behind in the Fright Zone. Back then, I distracted myself by exploring the vents. Maybe I can do that again?

In search of a distraction, she scanned the room. Something caught her eye, and she turned away from Hordak entirely. “Ooh, what’s this? Some kind of power source?” Her fear vanished as she hurried over to inspect the thing that had caught her attention. “This is incredible. Judging from the design, it’s capable of generating more energy than any other power source I’ve ever seen!”

“Of course it is,” Hordak said, from a much closer position than Entrapta expected. While she’d been distracted, he’d come up behind her. “The technology I once possessed could have consumed all of this pathetic world in a matter of—”

“I bet it doesn’t work, though.”

Entrapta turned to look at Hordak, who stared at her with widened eyes. His mouth moved for several seconds before he managed to form words. “What? Have you been spying on—”

“Your power cables aren’t properly insulated. This power source’s design might be incredible, but you’re lucky it hasn’t blown up on you. Here, let me.” She crouched by the power source’s glowing tank, examining the thick, segmented cables that fed into it. “Hmm. This should be an easy fix. If I could just—oh! A box of tools. Excellent. Now, I need a six-sided hex driver… hmm, what a redundant name for a tool…”

She dove into her work, ignoring Hordak’s bewildered stare and smiling from ear to ear. Thoughts of her friends and defending Mystacor drifted far away. But somewhere in the back of her mind, the part that wasn’t focused on the task at hand, she wondered, What if this is where I’m meant to be?

***

Catra yawned, stretching her arms overhead without opening her eyes. She rolled onto her stomach, reaching for the other side of the bed, but found only emptiness. Adora wasn’t sleeping beside her. The spot had already gone cold, so she’d probably been up for a while already.

With a sigh, Catra cracked open one eye to confirm her suspicion. Yep. No Adora.

It took a significant amount of willpower, but she dug herself out of the cozy nest she’d made from the covers, ambling across the cold floorstones in search of clothes. Mystacor’s rooms and halls had a tendency to get drafty, but she was too tired to put any gumption in her steps, no matter how chilly she was.

Waking up without Adora isn’t fun at all. Reminds me of when we were apart.

Before Catra could push those thoughts aside and select a shirt from the dresser, the bedroom door opened. Adora entered, wearing a somber look on her face, although her expression brightened when she saw Catra. “You’re awake,” she said, hurrying over for a hug.

Catra didn’t protest. She relaxed in Adora’s arms, nuzzling the side of her neck. The familiar scent of Adora’s hair banished her early-morning malaise, and her mood lightened considerably. “Hey, you. Where’d you go? I don’t like waking up without you.”

“Shadow Weaver,” Adora mumbled, her chin still tucked over Catra’s shoulder.

“Did she tell you where Entrapta is?”

“Nope. Didn’t say a word.”

Catra kissed Adora’s throat, then drew back to look at her. “Maybe she really doesn’t know?”

“Maybe...”

Adora hung her head, and the dejected look on her face tugged at Catra’s heart. She chucked a claw under Adora’s chin, which earned her a small smile. “Hey, we’ll find her. Everyone except for you, me, and Scorpia went searching: Bow and Kyle, Perfuma and Frosta, Spinnerella and Netossa—shit, even Mermista and Seahawk paired off to go look.”

“Heh. Glad I’m not part of that group.” Adora’s smile faded, and her eyes darted down to her boots. “I know they’ll tell us as soon as they know where she is, but I feel like I should be doing more—”

Catra put a finger to Adora’s lips. “Stop that. You’re doing everything you can. You’re questioning Shadow Weaver to figure out what happened. We both know how stubborn the old bitch is.”

“I know, but—”

“But, nothing,” Catra said. “The others are all searching, and we’re here to get all the information we can from Shadow Weaver. It might not be much yet, but we’ll get there.”

The corners of Adora’s mouth twitched upward. “Since when are you the positive one?”

“Hey, that’s all you. You’re the one who pulled me out of that sphere of darkness with your obnoxious positivity. It must’ve infected me. Now you gotta deal with the consequences.” That made Adora laugh, and Catra smirked in triumph. “There she is. That’s my girl.”

A soft pink blush spread across Adora’s cheeks, and Catra felt a familiar flutter in her belly. Dammit. How does she manage to be cute and sexy at the same time? Not fair.

“That makes you my girl too, y’know,” Adora said, adopting a smirk of her own.

Catra’s tail flicked. She tried to flatten her ears, but the statement made her all tingly, and she couldn’t fake an annoyed expression. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t go bragging about it to your dumb friends when they get back. I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

Adora snickered. “I think Scorpia’s already ruined that. Where’d you get the nickname ‘wildcat’ from, anyway?”

“Didn’t you hear?” She rolled her eyes. “It’s ‘cuz I’m Etheria’s best fighter-slash-lover. You need to pay more attention.”

“Riiight.” Adora folded her arms over her chest, shifting her weight to one hip and adopting a cocky pose. “Care to prove it?”

“Are you asking me to kick your ass, or fuck you? ‘Cuz those are two very different things.”

Adora waggled her eyebrows. “I dunno. What do you think?”

That was more than enough invitation. If Adora wanted to apologize for leaving her to wake up alone, Catra was willing and eager to accept. She pounced, fisting the fabric of Adora’s jacket and pulling her into a kiss.

It was deep, hungry, and full of more frustration than Catra expected. When Adora’s tongue pressed against her lips, asking for entrance, Catra granted it, moaning at the taste of her mouth—warm, with a little mint left over, probably from brushing her teeth.

Catra’s enjoyment was briefly interrupted as Adora’s touch slid down her back, grasping her rear in both hands. Catra made a muffled noise of surprise, but that didn’t dissuade Adora at all. Next thing she knew, she was wrapping her legs around Adora’s waist as she was lifted off the floor and carried back to bed.

“Got some issues to work out?” Catra laughed when Adora dumped her on top of the mattress. She remained on her back, letting her legs fall open, very glad she hadn’t bothered getting dressed.

“A few,” Adora admitted, but her touch was gentle as she ran a hand through Catra’s bellyfur, scratching lightly on the way to cup one of her breasts.

Catra tilted her head back, biting her lip to stifle a moan as Adora pinched one of her nipples. “Fuck. You’re mean.”

“Mean? I barely touched you!”

“I know. That’s why you’re mean.” Catra flexed her claws, ignoring the way they snagged in the sheets. She needed something to grip, because she had a feeling Adora was going to take things slower than she wanted.

Her guess turned out to be right. Adora took an obnoxiously long time to strip off her own clothes, mostly because she kept pausing to let her palms roam over Catra’s torso and stomach, while batting Catra’s hands away whenever she tried to speed the process along.

Adora’s touch explored everywhere: Catra’s arms, her breasts, her stomach, her hips. Soon, Adora’s lips joined in, sealing around the peak of Catra’s right breast while her fingertips continued fluttering from place to place. The heat and suction, combined with gentle touches, threatened to drive Catra crazy. “Adora,” she growled, but saying her lover’s name didn’t have any effect. Adora seemed perfectly content to continue teasing her.

Eventually, Catra lost her patience. “Take your clothes off, or I’ll tear ‘em off,” she growled, peeling her upper lip back from her fangs.

Adora didn’t seem to take the threat seriously, because she stopped in the middle of undoing her trousers to plant another heated kiss right on Catra’s lips. For a moment, Catra forgot her frustrations. Adora’s top half, at least, was bare, and she could feel most of her lover’s warm body on top of hers.

By the time the kiss ended, Catra was trembling. What the shit? I’ve only been having sex for a few days, and I’m already addicted to it. To her.

“Please,” she rasped, giving Adora her most pleading look.

That worked better than threats. A huge grin spread across Adora’s face, and she shucked her pants and underwear with impressive speed, tossing them aside before stretching back over Catra’s body. She braced herself on one elbow, and Catra panted as Adora’s opposite hand ran up her thigh.

When it cupped between her legs, she stopped clawing the sheets and grasped Adora’s back instead. Adora hissed in pain, and Catra sheathed her claws, offering her  a sheepish look of apology. “Sorry.”

“I told you before, I like it. Just ease up a bit.”

“Mmhmm…” Catra forgot how to form words after that, because Adora’s thumb centered over her clit, while her third and fourth fingers circled Catra’s entrance, making sure she was wet enough.

She was. More than. Catra could already feel damp trails sliding down her inner thighs. Adora’s eyes widened in surprise and delight, and the flush on her face turned a deeper shade of pink. “Wow. You’re so ready…”

Catra huffed, rocking her hips into Adora’s hand. It was cute, how enamored Adora was of such an intimate act. The look of awe on her face made Catra’s heart beat faster. But she needed movement, pressure, something. Cute was nice, but getting fucked was better.

Thankfully, Adora got the message. She slid her fingers deep and curled, and Catra yowled as the edges of Adora’s nails scratched the perfect spot. If she’d been on her stomach instead of her back, her tail would’ve shot straight out. Instead, it flicked rapidly from side to side, bumping into Adora’s arm several times.

“Oh, fuck. More!”

“Be patient,” Adora murmured, leaning forward to suck the crook of Catra’s neck.

The heat and pressure of Adora’s mouth only added to the heat and pressure between Catra’s legs. She hissed, clenching around Adora’s fingers, trying to draw them even deeper. All she knew was Adora, her scent and her touch and her beautiful face, and all she wanted was to be filled.

She yowled again, unable to help herself, and scooted toward the head of the bed, letting Adora’s fingers slide out of her. Adora frowned in confusion, but adopted an even brighter smile when Catra flipped over and rose onto her elbows and knees. “More,” she panted, spreading her legs to offer herself better. “Please?”

“If this is how to make you more polite and get you to say words like ‘please’, maybe I should do it more often.” Adora’s fingers slid back inside, pushing forward and down, and Catra gasped, shuddering from head to toe. The new angle was even better that before, allowing the tips of Adora’s fingers to drive into the perfect spot, with just the right amount of force.

It took her an embarrassingly short time to come. Just a few well-aimed thrusts, and she flew over the edge, muffling her cries in the nearest pillow. She bit down, tasting bland cotton instead of Adora’s skin, but the ripples of pleasure coursing through her more than made up for it. She tensed and quivered, spilling a flood around Adora’s fingers and over her own thighs.

Her orgasm didn’t satisfy Adora at all. In fact, it seemed to feed Adora’s determination. She continued pumping her fingers, only this time, she wrapped one hand around the base of Catra’s tail, pulling her back into each thrust.

“Adoraaah! Shit, what are youuu… fuckkk!”

Catra bit down on the pillow again, moaning at a truly embarrassing volume, but she was too far gone to care. She rocked back into Adora’s fingers for every ounce of pleasure she could get, drooling into the fabric. Her eyes fluttered shut, and bright colors spun behind the closed lids. She came until her lungs burned, and all four of her limbs shook so badly she could barely hold herself upright.

When her release finally faded to aftershocks, Catra collapsed onto her stomach, moaning in happy surprise. “Uhhmmm… mmf. Hmm.”

“Oh, yeah?” Adora said, giving her backside a gentle swat. “Sounds about right.”

“Fff.”

“Fuck me? Sure, I’d love that. Once you recover.”

“Mmnh.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Adora said, scratching gently at Catra’s lower back.

Catra flung her head to the side, rubbing her cheek violently against the pillow. “Mm,” she purred. “Don’t stop. S’good.”

Adora giggled, but kept scratching. Catra sighed with relief, purring even after Adora’s fingers slid out. Any sooner, and the emptiness would’ve felt like a loss, but she had recovered enough to flip over and grasp Adora’s wrist. Without waiting for permission, she pulled Adora’s hand toward her, sliding the same wet fingers in her mouth and cleaning them with her tongue.

“Oh.” Adora’s blue eyes went comically wide.

Catra released Adora’s fingers with a wet pop, running her tongue over her lips for show. “Your turn,” she said, with a predatory gleam in her eye. “And don’t think I’ll go easy on you just ‘cause I love you.”

Adora continued beaming as she rolled onto her back. “C’mon, Catra. We both know you’ll never go easy on me.”