and they were roommates
"I haven't figured out what we're saying to the rest of the Horde," Catra muttered as she flew them to the Fright Zone. Adora, at the back, was listening keenly to this meeting of the Horde political machinery.
"Just follow the teleprompter," Scorpia said.
"You set something up?"
Scorpia rolled her eyes -- duh, of course I did -- a very Catra expression on Scorpia's sweet face, which got Scorpia a playful punch to the arm from the pilot's seat. "After your last great speech, I thought you'd need it."
Even though Adora'd watched Catra socialize, the quiet moments between her closer friends always took Adora by surprise. She knew that this was the real Catra, capable of joking without punching down, still herself without the thoughtless edge. But Catra learned to be herself without Adora, and the feeling was bitter and sweet.
"By the way," Catra said, looking towards the back, "You can either come down with us, they're setting up a stage and everything in the square in front of HQ, or wait it out at the hangar."
From the very back: "I want drama! I want a show! I am dying!"
It was Swift Wind. He flopped on his back to emphasize.
Now it was Catra's turn to roll her eyes. "Fine! You'll walk with us," Catra said. "But we won't be announcing your presence."
"Why not? We're heroes! We saved Mystacor too!"
"Because," Catra said, "You are not on the agenda."
Hours later, they helped Swift Wind settle into a large "barn" at the top of the hangar, windows all around him, though he complained about everything from the red sky to the lack of grass. ("You said you wanted to stay with me." / "I had no idea it was this bad! You live like this?" All in front of Scorpia. He was left to fend for himself.)
Away from the hangar now, Adora and Scorpia walked briskly as the night was deepening. "We gave you back your Ward room. But you don't have to use it." Scorpia couldn't help herself and winked. "Here's your ward room card and" -- she drew out the n for a few seconds, building up tension for her captive audience --"here's the keycard to Catra's floor, and if you lose the keycard, just stick your palm in any HQ elevator and it'll take you to Catra's, anyway."
It seemed a terrible and extraneous security measure to leave Catra's floor access on a keycard, but Scorpia was amused at herself and Adora didn't want to break the mood.
"Also, we figured we'd move all your things to Catra's floor."
Adora's reflexes put her on the defensive. She stopped herself from saying, "we haven't done anything," or the more accurate "I don't even know what we are or what she wants." It felt like giving too much away, when Catra wanted some space to figure themselves out. She just said, "Okay." Scorpia looked like she was doing Adora the hugest favor in the world, so she added, "Thanks."
On the way up the elevator, Adora came to the conclusion that Scorpia was right. Where else would she want to be? If they'd put her in the Ward room she would have probably tripped every alarm to get to Catra's, with the way she was. Yeah, the smug grin on Scorpia's face was deserved.
The elevator dinged and the doors pulled apart to reveal everything Adora owned, fit into three bags, resting against the wall. A wide corridor stretched to the left and right. Catra came into view as she stepped out; her room was at the end of the corridor to the left. Adora could tell by the malevolent red light that glowed from the top. (Another security issue, but she forgot about it later). Catra watched the bags as though they'd pounce. In the dim light, her eyes shone.
"I can stay in my room."
"No, it's fine. Is that horse of yours still sore you both didn't get an honorable mention?"
"Aw, ignore Swift Wind. I think it's great that we're not a secret, at least to the Horde."
Catra shrugged. "If we kept you under house arrest in HQ forever you'd leave in a week. Nobody in the Horde communicates to the rest of Etheria. But we're not sure what you are , now. Except that you walked in with me and watched from the front row."
Adora laughed. "I guess I'm a spoil of war."
A younger Catra would have rolled her eyes or cracked a joke along with Adora. But Catra was looking at her with such an intensity that Adora's heart pounded as she met her eyes. Catra's tail swished and swirled in agitation.
Adora realized the joke was too soon. "Catra, that's not what I meant -- I want to stay, really."
"Yeah. Just get your stuff in. Don't worry, the door's got your bio-signature as well."
Catra's room was red and black. No surprises there. Even the glowing stripe running through the walls about four feet off the floor was red; the light from the fixtures above was yellow. The only blue light came from the screen embedded on the lower left side of the room, glowing a few feet away from the foot of a large bed with side tables in the upper-left corner. Adora could see Catra hauling the whole bed to the side, rather than keeping it at the center of the room; she'd always preferred corners. Below the screen was a table long enough to fit three chairs but only had one. In the opposite corner of the bed, closets lined the right side of the room. Next to the closets was the bathroom door. Spare by Etherian standards but to the Horde, Catra's free reign of the space was luxury.
Catra took off her mask and hung it on a peg on the wall. "The closets are empty, you can put your stuff there. And there's a hanger for your jacket." She went inside the bathroom to wash, the sound so domestic it made Adora's heart race. It was kind of like being back at Bright Moon, except she was alone in a room with Catra. Not even when they were children had they had this level of privacy, and not in a room cooled to a pleasant sleeping temperature; the HVAC was either too hot or cold in the barracks.
Adora hadn't moved an inch from facing the closet door when the faucet squeaked off. Catra's mass of hair was wet at the tips from washing her face; she'd changed into loose pants and a shirt. She raised an eyebrow at Adora hastily stuffing her bags into the closet and shrugged. "Bathroom's all yours."
Inside Catra's bathroom were two sets of face towels, two sets of bath towels, a shower, a sink and mirror, and more closets. Adora had half a mind to ask Catra whose idea this was. The other half didn't want to find out. In the end, she washed up and brushed her teeth and resolved not to ask Catra questions.
Back in Catra's room the lights were off save the Horde aesthetic led stripe. Catra was already in bed, the screen no longer a glowing waterfall of figures and stats. Despite having shared a bed with Catra for years, Adora hesitated. If she went any nearer Catra would surely feel her body vibrating with too many feelings to name.
"Are you planning to sleep on the floor?" Catra muttered, her back to Adora.
"Then come to bed, dammit. I'm not gonna bite. But... I'm all over the place these days."
"Nightmares? I have them too. It might be you on the floor."
"S'fine. Won't be the first time."
Adora padded to bed. Catra was sleeping next to her this time, albeit hidden by her back and hair. Adora breathed in and the smell of Catra reminded her of so many things in their childhood: the old curiosity she had of Catra's ears, Catra learning how her claws worked, Adora and Catra's comparison of fur versus skin -- poking each other, mostly, and grabbing at fur and hair.
Whatever exploring they did of each other now, it wouldn't be anything like when they were children.
"Good night, Catra," she breathed. If she could but reach out to Catra --
From beyond the mass of hair and blankets: "Sleep well."
Catra was less than a foot away from her. Adora's own tiredness, suddenly rearing its head as she lay in bed, wrestled with her pounding heart. In the end, Adora turned to the other side. They both needed to go at this slowly.
The darkness lulled her to sleep.
drive or be driven
While there was no official announcement that "by the way, we kept the Traitor/Ward/ex-She-Ra", Catra left a note in the morning that Adora had free rein to go anywhere and do anything she liked. "Just make yourself useful," the note said. Her mobile now had a map of High Command.
Adora went exploring.
Command HQ was not a building easily accessible to just anyone. The lower levels were open to all, but the higher levels were for logisticians (Scorpia's people), scientists (Entrapta's people, when they weren't in various other labs), and the staff of various force captains. It must have been in the middle of a renovation: the elevator skipped numbers because floors had been ripped up to create larger, more cavernous two-story-tall floors. The vast bureaucracy of the Horde lay visible to anyone taking the "new" elevator, now with glass. As with the rest of the Horde, everyone's work was simply stacked on tables and shelves, while the higher-ranked officers had their own rooms on the far corner of the bullpen. One of those rooms was overflowing with scrolls and parchment and feathers. With nothing better to do, Adora went in.
Inside Kyle was laboriously cross checking everyone's insignia, banner, office, kingdom, title, name, lineage, and so on as he verified correspondence from the outside world.
"What the-?!" he muttered when Adora came in picking feathers off her jacket.
"I hope you're not keeping the pigeons here ?"
"I'm not," he squawked. "Just keeping them long enough to get the scrolls out of them."
"Then why are there so many?"
"Because that's the number of people writing to us!"
Adora had found something to keep herself busy with.
Later that evening a package appeared outside Catra's room, addressed to Adora. Inside were her Horde dogtags (it was her old number, even) and a temporary ID that formally assigned her to the comms department under Kyle. She could hear Catra's laugh already, but she didn't mind. At least she knew who she was reporting to.
Her mobile sang. It was Scorpia.
"Didya get everything? Dogtags, ID, all your stuff was unloaded correctly? And the ID's temp in case you feel like switching around. We just needed something right away."
"I did," Adora said. "And uh, thanks for setting me up in the nicest room in the Horde."
"Hah! You should have seen the look on Catra's face when I brought in side tables." Scorpia said. "She was all, 'I don't need this', and then I said 'All the Force Captains have side tables' -- so she took 'em."
Adora cackled. Scorpia was a sight to behold when it came to maneuvering Catra. "I felt the same way when I first arrived in Bright Moon though. The bed was too soft. I didn't need any of the things inside the room."
"Heh. I understand." Then Scorpia's tone shifted. "Adora. You know Catra better than I do. She's changed I guess, but she's... a strange person." Adora made to disagree, but Scorpia continued, "She carries this supreme confidence. She wouldn't have survived very long as a Force Captain or second-in-command without it. We've all seen it. Sometimes though, you know she's," Scorpia paused, looking for the right word, "-- she's unsure too." Adora swallowed at that. "What I'm saying is, this is uncharted territory. Even for the Horde."
"I understand. I'm coming in with no plans or expectations."
"That's the best idea. Yeah. We'll work something out. Just take care of her, okay? I know it sounds silly saying it to you but--"
There were plenty of things to do that first month: have Entrapta set up Glimmer's private channel (Adora used her Ward room for privacy), reassure everyone in Bright Moon she was still alive, keep Scorpia updated as to the Bright Moon mood, introduce Swift Wind to every part of the Horde, and so on.
Catra didn't leave HQ often, as Scorpia told her earlier that year. But Adora did bump into Entrapta in the oddest places at least once a week. She was hard to miss, especially when borne by her hair.
On the day that Adora asked for a private line Entrapta said, "You've changed," after giving her a thorough once-over.
"Yes! Posture, speaking pattern, your expressions. Your hair is longer."
"...I just figured a few things out. Stopped hesitating. It helped."
It made me feel like a different person. Or maybe this is really who I am?
Entrapta nodded. "I recognize that feeling. I was happy and productive making weapons, and then I wasn't. And then I had to find something worthy to do again."
"Did you find it?"
"Yes. In Dryl. Terraforming, matching magic to technology, learning about different kingdoms -- lots to keep me busy."
"Then why aren't you in Dryl?"
Entrapta's mouth opened and closed. "I've been thinking about it... I might go for a ride back soon." She tottered off buoyed by hair in the opposite direction, muttering into a recorder.
meeting you again
On their quieter days, they'd ask each other questions about their years away from each other. There were times when Adora knew what came next in a Catra story; they had fun with things as simple as guessing games in dining halls at off-hours. Or they'd start with remember when... which would leave them laughing for hours as they assembled together a story from their memory, usually a prank. But there were more serious questions too, as they filled in the time spent apart.
"Okay, so, I think I mentioned this before. Sometime after the first year of the war, we noticed that the Bright Moon soldiers suddenly changed their units. That was you, right?"
"I wrote them the entire structure of the Horde military," Adora said, "but they were like, it's okay, we'll get the Princesses and we won't have to adapt. Can you imagine reorganizing just one army? Salineas was like, 'no thanks'."
"Oh man, that is so upper brass," Catra laughed. "'We've always done it this way' and all that." Then she got serious. "Did you tell them the actual size of the Horde?"
"... I did."
"We were about five times smaller than the Alliance at its peak! And now we're even smaller. But I bet you the Alliance didn't believe it."
"No, they thought the robots were manned. And," Adora reminded her, "the Horde was winning."
"More luck and tech and culture than anything," Catra surmised.
They were quiet for a while as they thought about that.
Adora asked the next question. "Did you specialize in ordnance or just straight up infantry?"
"Ordnance? Because I rode a tank for a day to fetch you? I was tank crewmember only, then boom! Force captain. I specialized for marksmanship, eventually hit expert. And you, you were supposed to be this huge CQC genius."
They stopped, instinctively, at the point before their lives conflicted. But Adora liked listening to Catra, watching her face jump from expression to expression as they talked about weapons and terrain and everything else there was to talk about. They were the same. They'd grown up like this. No civilian from Bright Moon would understand the excitement of training, how they'd been brainwashed into thinking the war was some grand adventure. But Catra had known that there was something wrong, had ignored it because of Adora. And yet for all the terribleness since then, talking shop and all the little things they aimed for as kids made them feel normal again.
"I know we should hate the way we were brought up," Catra said, "but it was... bearable. With you."
And that was what normal meant to them.
A few times in a week Catra would sleep in her actual bed and not in some random chair at some office or battle room. On looser days they'd have dinner at one of the upper-level dining halls. Getting to eat there was a common dream for Horde kids. There were looks, especially in the beginning, but the Horde had picked up from the group hivemind that Adora earned her place in the Horde after their joint mission in Mystacor. Sometimes, if Adora and Catra finished whatever work they had early, they'd read in bed.
"It's weird," Adora said, looking back and forth at her mobile (Horddit and HorTok on speed dial) and Catra's tablet (a trade agreement for review). "We've grown up into Horde adults. " They were comfortably settled in bed. This was something scene-for-scene from a Me And My Princess scroll.
"Aw, is this your first job?"
Adora rolled her eyes. "Do I even get paid?"
"Actually, you do. It goes in your Horde account. The number corresponds to your dogtag's."
Adora was vaguely annoyed all of a sudden. It was always like this with Catra: they would talk, say something shy or teasing, and then Catra would say good night. After everything that had happened between them! They were finally here. And she was behaving like...
To be fair, (and Adora heard this in Glimmer's voice) Catra's never done this before. Or even really said anything.
It stanched Adora's impatience. To be fair, she thought to herself in her own voice this time, Catra occasionally let Adora hug her from behind in the dark and wasn't as twitchy.
"Etheria to Adora?"
"Roger," Adora murmured.
"What is it now?"
Catra, do you know what kissing is, and I don't mean theoretically was hastily shoved back down Adora's throat.
Adora looked up. "What are we?"
Catra's ears jumped up as she pulled away. "Uh," Catra said. Her face was red. If Adora put her hand there, the fur would be warm. She couldn't look Adora in the eye. Adora caught Catra's hand before it could pull away, stroking her palm. "I don't know any of this stuff," Catra muttered, still not looking at Adora.
A heartbeat later Catra added, "You know more about this than I do."
Adora imagined giving Catra scrolls and books from Glimmer's stash.
"I mean," Catra said, "I understand family and marriage and all those things you do outside the Horde. Even in the Horde we have bonds." Her voice drifted off for a bit, then went on: "did you know we have an unofficial guide to the Horde? The older batches wrote it. They have a whole section on forbidden teams, starting with groups of two.'
Only a soldier from the Horde would call a relationship something so awkward, bureaucratic, and technical. Those words were all they had. But that wasn't what caught Adora's attention. "We had an unofficial guide?!"
"Nobody passed it onto us in case we'd squeal to Shadow Weaver," Catra said morosely. "Got to read it, though. Kyle and Rogelio, they knew earlier than we did."
"Whatever it is," Adora said softly, "I just know what I feel for you. Do we need a name for it?"
"But for the rest of Etheria," Catra murmured, "what would that make us?"
"Uh," Adora said. "Betrothed? In courtship? Lovers?" She realized that she hadn't narrowed down the options at all.
"We haven't done anything." Serious though the conversation was, Adora knew Catra was shy.
"I don't think we have to, to qualify."
Catra mulled this over. "Okay."
She follows my lead sometimes, Adora thought.
Much, much later, Adora thought of how strange they must have been even to the rest of the Horde. She had tried to explain before to Bow and Glimmer that Etherian relationships did not exist in the Horde. Perhaps they did all along, in spaces where cameras and eyes did not reach. She thought of herself: naive, and painfully so.
Catra walked less on eggshells around her after that. There was still the awkward swing between moods, between Catra carrying her usual swagger and the shyness around Adora, a shyness that was utterly alien to them both.
"You sure you want to stay up? I'm still working."
"Sure. I'm just scrolling through Horddit. But you know, you shouldn't make your bedroom your office."
"I know that! It's not a habit." With a flick of Catra's wrist the screen blanked out along with the overhead lights.
Adora felt a weight on the bed, then the rest of Catra fell in next to her; Catra's side of the bed was on Adora's right. Her hair was framed by the reading light, the only light left in the room. Adora's arm was outstretched and so Catra's neck fell across her forearm; this was new. If Adora wanted to, she could bend her arm and lock Catra closer, but she stilled her want. Facing Catra's back, Adora only dipped her head closer to Catra.
They'd been getting more comfortable with each other for the last few weeks. Catra surprised Adora with the occasional hug or cuddle; sometimes they fell asleep in each other's arms, which meant that Catra couldn't sneak out of bed without waking Adora, not that Adora minded.
"You smell nice," she said.
"You smell like my soap," Catra said from in front of her. Adora chuckled. For the past few nights she wondered if Catra would let her kiss her. She seemed to be in a good mood.
She asked with a pounding heart, "Catra -- can I kiss you?"
From beyond all the hair: "You can do anything you want."
But Catra didn't move. Oh fuck, Adora thought. Had she misread things?
Adora nuzzled the back of Catra's head, trying to soothe her.
"Are you okay?"
There was a long silence -- not a tense one; Adora could feel Catra breathing, her ribcage expanding and contracting, the warmth of her -- and so Adora waited. Finally Catra turned her body round to face Adora, her eyes shining in the dark.
Adora's hands stayed exactly where they were.
Catra's forefinger grazed over Adora's hand, carefully as though her hand were forbidden territory. She moved closer, touching their foreheads together. A slight tilt was all it took for the kiss, then she backed away and watched Adora's reaction.
"Well?" Catra's voice was petulant, a cover up.
Adora grinned. All apprehension dissipated; it was never there.
"It was good, it was good," Adora said, She couldn't say Catra was cute without risking permanent scars, could she? Catra looked ready to pounce.
"Stay a little longer, okay?" Adora said as she gently tilted Catra's head with her left hand and did the leading. Cupping Catra's cheek, she closed her eyes and kissed Catra, grinning as Catra tried to follow. "Catra, relax," she whispered. But she drew back again and opened her eyes to watch Catra's face.
Catra's eyes were shut tight for a moment, before realizing it was time to open them.
"I'm terrible at this," Catra muttered.
"Are you at least enjoying it?"
If Catra turned any redder she'd be the same shade as their uniforms. "I am! I just feel like I'm not meeting your uh," she gestured helplessly.
Truthfully all Adora had done were smacks and pecks on Catra's lips but she knew what Catra meant. "I think it's easier to hm, 'match' when there's tongue involved."
Catra looked faint and red at the same time.
"We can take a break," Adora said. Watching the panic and shock bloom into Catra's face made her reconsider her earlier recklessness.
"I-I liked it, okay!" Catra shouted. "I just, need to think about how to do it." When Adora opened her mouth Catra beat her to it: "I know it's an instinct thing. I haven't gotten there yet."
Adora raised an eyebrow, trying not to seem condescending, but she couldn't stop the chuckle. "You'll get better by doing it with someone. Like sparring."
"Like sparring," Catra repeated, the redness in her face not receding.
"We can stop," Adora said.
Catra looked up. "I don't know if I want to stop, I just want to be good at it."
"You are," Adora said.
"Don't patronize me."
"I'm not!" Adora traced the fur on Catra's jawline. "Come back here."
They met again with more kissing. "Open your mouth a little," Adora whispered. Catra spluttered and moved back.
"Okay, okay," Adora said, her left hand up. "I think that's enough for tonight really."
Adora knew it was bad when Catra let her ears droop a little, a tell she never gave away.
"Catra, I love kissing you. It's you . I'm the one who should be making sure you're having a good time."
"You've done this before with other people." Catra's voice was lower now.
"I have." Belatedly, Adora thought: How had they not talked about this before?
"Kissing." Catra's ears were sharp, facing Adora, but not flattened: she wasn't bothered, just processing the information. "I haven't", Catra said.
"You just did," Adora said. "It doesn't need to go faster than this."
"It's a little unfair," Catra murmured, half nervous but half joking, too. "you've had practice."
"I wasn't really... expecting it, or looking for it," Adora said. "It just happened, and when things ended, they simply ended."
"Is this who I think it is?"
"Sparkly princess," Catra muttered, demoting Glimmer temporarily back to a nickname. And, to Adora's surprise, Catra asked: "All the way?"
"Catra, geez! Yes, all the way."
If Catra was expecting to fluster Adora with the question, it backfired majestically.
"All the way?!"
It was not the answer Catra was expecting. Her ears folded at the tips again.
Adora cupped Catra's cheek, feeling the fur there. "Hey," she said. "This isn't a competition."
"I know that!" Catra snapped, face twisting away from Adora's touch. "It's not that! I can't do any of this without freezing up or taking forever and that princess -- she can touch you like it's nothing? Like it's easy?"
Why is it so hard? reverberated in both their minds, a connection they both knew the other shared.
"Catra," Adora, "whatever metric or standard you're thinking, it doesn't exist. Okay?" She wrapped Catra in a hug; Catra let her.
Much, much later on, both of them unable to sleep, still thinking in each other's arms, Catra would ask: "You were in Bright Moon long enough to have a fling with Glimmer?"
"It was early on," Adora said. "Glimmer still went on missions with us, we hadn't reclaimed a lot of territory so we were close to the capital. We were spending a lot of time together."
"Why did it end?"
Adora was quiet for a few moments. "It fizzled out. We care about each other but -- not that way." Adora could hear it, Catra's need for reassurance. "We were only ever going to be friends," she said. "And we both knew that even when we started. I love you, you know?" Adora stroked Catra's long hair. She hadn't said those words since Dryl.
I should say it more often.
She felt Catra struggle to speak. "You don't have to say anything. Just stay, okay?"
Catra nodded in her arms.
comfort and weight
Over dinner the next day, Scorpia asked: "Is everything okay?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"One, you showed up late for our staff meeting, two, you forgot it was Sparring Review Time and you usually enjoy giving unsolicited commentary, three, you're eating dinner with us," Entrapta said.
" You're eating with us," Catra retorted, as Entrapta kept odd hours.
Before Entrapta could rise to the bait, Scorpia cut in. "You usually try to eat with Adora."
So Scorpia wasn't going to let go of this so easily.
I can't say it. Her forehead rested on steepled hands, arms on the table, and nothing in her brain but a jumble of thoughts. For a moment they'd coalesce into why me but those words would swirl back into other places.
Entrapta, concerned: "Catra? Are you upset about the food?"
She'd been glaring down at her plate.
"I haven't... really been able to talk to Adora."
Scorpia, sharp as a knife: "About what?"
And that, Catra realized, was spilling too much.
"What have you two talked about?"
"The Horde, memories, war stuff, anything else," Catra answered morosely. "How to uh, check credits."
Now it was Scorpia's turn to cross her claws and cover her face in exasperation.
"From the way Adora walks I would have thought your relationship was proceeding the usual way," Entrapta said.
"'From the way Adora walks' -- what the hell, Entrapta!" Catra blocked out any thought related to Entrapta's idea of the 'usual way.' whatever that was, she didn't want to know.
"I see her at least once a week and she is much happier and confident this time. She doesn't even mind Lonnie poking fun at her assignment to Comms."
(Catra filed Lonnie's transgression under 'for payback'.)
The thought of what Adora was feeling -- whether happy, sad, or lonely -- was at the forefront of Catra's mind. Last night somehow became about her, not Adora. And when she thought of last night --
"She's not having a seizure, she's just remembering something," Scorpia explained to Entrapta. "Something nice."
That knocked some sense into Catra. "Scorpia, lay off. Please." Truthfully she felt bad after kissing Adora. She'd enjoyed it, then felt guilty about it, and not just because she was objectively bad at it. The whole day she'd been off, annoyed at wanting to text Adora, then annoyed at not talking to Adora.
Why am I like this?
You know why.
Shadow Weaver was in her head again. And when she wasn't, there was this gnawing question: did Adora think this was all worth it?
She knew what Scorpia would say. Of course. But Scorpia did not have people she murdered in her head, and Scorpia would never raise a rifle or a cannon towards someone she loved. She'd never been so consumed by anger to get that far. Catra had, and Catra knew her feelings could consume her, even possessiveness. And who was she to do that to Adora?
That was one shitty mess alright. Across her Scorpia was saying, "I'll lay off, but Catra - whatever it is, Adora will wait. She loves you."
The word was somehow both a comfort and a weight.
C: Sorry I couldn't eat dinner with you today.
A: It's okay.
(Adora was typing; Catra didn't interrupt.)
A: Are you staying out?
C: Yeah, just for tonight.
A: Okay. Good night.
Another message whooshed:
A: Love you.
Halfway through to returning the words, Catra gave up and pocketed her phone. She thumbed it throughout the night, asking herself what made it so hard.
The next day Catra resolved to behave normally -- only to avoid the dining halls and dinner yet again. She found herself walking through the creakier, older parts of the HQ. But not even the smells or groaning fans could drown out her thoughts.
Seriously, what is wrong with you?
It was as though she were a cadet and not the woman who ran the damn place! She made for the elevator and punched the touch sensor, then realized what she'd done and gingerly put her palm against it instead. Feeling foolish, she faced the door to her own room. She knocked then came in before remembering to wait for a reply.
"Hey," she said. Adora was already in bed, her long, long hair down.
"Hey." She took a right into the bathroom. A quick shower would help.
"Where were you last night?"
"I slept in the control room."
Catra felt Adora shift and turn in bed to face her. "What's up? Was it, uh, because of--"
"No, it's not that." Losing her footing among her thoughts again, Catra deflected. "How about you tell me what you were up to instead? I haven't really asked lately."
"Oh. I packed Swift Wind with a lot of food and gear for the trip to Salineas."
The horse was cleared to go on long trips. Catra supposed it helped sell the idea that Adora was some kind of folk hero traveling around. It was a plan backed by Kyle and Scorpia so Catra let them do whatever they wanted.
"That horse hates me."
Oh fuck stop talking.
"No he doesn't."
"He said I was a disappointment," Catra muttered, her thoughts leaking out of her even as she tried to shove them back in.
"It's not like we're a show for his amusement, Catra."
Catra clenched her fists. "What does he expect from me?"
Really? The opinion of a stranger mattered? When did she become so thin-skinned on the subject of her and Adora?
Catra felt Adora's forehead against her back. Her fingers loosened. "It's not important stuff; he can be frivolous sometimes."
Catra's thoughts crawled all over her again. With Adora so close it was impossible not to give into them. She asked, "Why wouldn't it be important? What about what your friends thought about us?"
"Glimmer likes you," Adora said. "You're not full of bullshit, she says. And I like you anyway so they have to deal with it."
"Isn't it tiring to have to reassure me like this all the time? I haven't even asked you if this was your idea of staying in the Horde." It was both unbearable to have Adora's head on her back at the same time it was making her spill out every thought she had in her head.
"One, it's not tiring. You've been like this since we were kids," Adora joked, "but really it's not tiring. Two, I had no expectations about what staying in the Horde would be like. Except for when Scorpia pointed out we'd never sleep in separate beds. She was right. You might have been okay with it, but not me."
"Woman's too smart for her own good sometimes."
"Her smarts have been good for us," Adora said tartly. "Don't be so angry someone's trying to help."
"So just like that, everything's forgiven?"
"Catra, you put in the work everyday."
"I feel weird when we kiss." No, not that too. But it was too late. "Like, if it feels good, there must be something wrong about it."
"I know what that's like."
"We're more similar than you think."
"Hmph. Goody two-shoes."
"Please. You studied so hard when we were kids--"
Catra buried her face in her hands, curled in on herself. "Because I did want that bitch to -- hah! What, accept me? Fuck, I killed her."
When Adora said nothing, Catra turned to face her. "Why me, Adora? I'm Horde, through and through. You could have had anyone you wanted, even a princess, no tricky lies involved-"
"There is no one else for me," Adora said quietly. "And I was stupid enough to almost ruin the treaty for us. We are the same." When Catra looked away, Adora tilted Catra's chin back towards her. Her eyes were startling tonight; Catra both wanted to look away and stare forever. She stroked Catra's cheek. "Are you gonna start another war?"
"Not unless they start it first."
"Fair enough. And as for being sorry, I am sorry for every day I left you and I'll say it for as long as I have to. I can't live where you're not."
"Even if I'm different?"
"Yeah." A pause. "Hm. What did you think was the biggest change about me, when you first saw me? Back during the infiltration."
Catra looked away to clear her head. "You were tired. Even when you were angry. You didn't have the same conviction. You gave up without too much of a fight and you were easy to trip. You'd gotten too used to following orders. You looked older."
"That's flattering," Adora said with a laugh.
"You're better now though," Catra said hastily. "Hey, you gave a specific time! What about me then? When you first saw me after the war?"
"I knew you could run the Horde," Adora said. "Even when we were kids. At some point I thought you were untouchable. I'm glad I was wrong." Adora's hand swept back an errant tuft of hair from Catra's face.
Catra's thoughts were melting away against the feeling of Adora stroking her hair. She'd wanted, so many times, to touch Adora back with the same ease. What if I'm always like this...? What if I never get to that point?
It seemed as though Adora could read her mind. "We have time," Adora said. Close enough to feel Adora's breath, Catra found it easy to agree with her and eventually to fall asleep.
where my heart lays down to rest
Catra made a two-week trip to the Kingdom of Snows towards the end of autumn. Frosta was the first princess to successfully broker a trade deal with them. ("Adora, it's not that hard, we're both resource-poor kingdoms. And I saved their princess.")
Am I growing weak to miss her this much Adora wondered.
Unlike Glimmer, who had a line to Adora without the need for towers, a distance as vast as Catra's travel meant no Horde-style comms. "There's pigeons," Kyle offered. "Maybe one of our prototype robos?" Adora declined and tried not to sulk. She spent two weeks distractedly allowing Glimmer to roast her every time they had a call, reprieved only when Bow intervened. Bright Moon was at peace, though Bow and Glimmer could only call away from the castle lest Angella find out where Adora was.
"She misses you though," Glimmer said. "She really has no idea."
"Do you think she'll miss me more than she'll want to hang me once she finds out I'm with Catra?"
Glimmer thought it over. "Catra is building a trade agreement with the Kingdom of Snows. My mother will not risk a war over one soldier's treachery when it strains the Alliance, moreso down the line when Catra starts meeting with other kingdoms. If we get there."
The oath was a pair of shoes Adora'd grown out of. She had never looked back. "Is it strange that it no longer matters to me?"
"No." The princess's reassurance was all Adora needed.
"Glimmer... How are things with your mom?"
"You're not the first secret I've kept from her. This isn't even the first secret about you I've kept."
"You know I owe you one right?"
"Let's hope we never have to call in a favor."
Bow appeared on the screen. "You started without me? YOU ASK ALL THE BEST QUESTIONS WITHOUT ME!"
Catra knocked on their door a few nights later. "Uh," Adora said. "Come in?"
"Hey." Lit only by the side lamp, Catra's shadow loomed at the entrance. Then the shadow took off the half cape and shrunk to her usual size.
"Never got used to the uniform," Catra muttered when she saw Adora was watching her from their bed.
"You look badass in it, though."
"Thanks." Catra struggled to take off her boots. "Damn, I will never wear snow shoes again."
She hopped to the bed, carelessly dropping a drawstring pouch. It landed with a solid thud.
"Oh crap, that's s'posed to be a royal gift and all." But Catra was not to be distracted from the shoes. Finally the shoes popped off and she kicked them away towards her desk.
"Finally!" She groaned and fell to the bed.
"Welcome home," Adora said. Catra propped up on an elbow, twisted to get a look at Adora. They were both red in the face.
"Weird hearing you say that."
"The rest of Etheria does it!"
Catra sat up and grabbed the pouch off the floor. "Speaking of Etherian customs," she said, pulling the drawstrings open, "Princess Frosta gave me this." She pulled out a tiny wooden chest and handed it to Adora.
"Thought it was a bracer at first," Catra said as Adora opened it. "But it's a brace- let . It doesn't do anything useful." Inside were two gold bracelets. "Entrapta and Scorpia were telling me it's the kind of ornament you wear to show goodwill in court. But it's the color of your hair so I thought you should have it. Anyway you might have picked up a taste for Etherian stuff. Or miss something like it."
The bracelets were sculpted to have irregular geometric planes, all angles, as though they were carved ice.
"Catra," Adora said, slipping one on. "I think you should keep one. For official business."
Catra shrugged. "I tried it on, it doesn't really work. But if you say so." With nothing better to do, she tried the remaining one as well. They regarded each other for a moment.
"Missed you," Adora said. Catra jumped a little at that too, at the fact that Adora could miss her, as though it were not the most obvious feeling she'd have.
"I should change," Catra muttered, still in her outside clothes. She slipped the bracelet off carefully and returned it to its chest before handing it over to Adora. "You keep it," Catra murmured. "It's still yours, okay? The set. Any time you want it back, they're both yours."
Adora'd lost track of what, exactly, they were talking about.
They talked that night about Catra’s trip.
"They call their royals 'Your Grace' -- at least in the Horde, we know who we're talking to. I wanted to say 'you ever heard of a chain of command'? But I stopped myself." Catra grumbled. "But I think the teenager's not so bad."
It was three in the morning and Adora was only half-listening. The rest of her was drinking Catra's presence in. And Catra missed her very much, enough to play it cool when Adora moved her head just under Catra's chin. She played it cool even when Adora threw caution to the winds and led Catra's hand to her cheek. Awkwardly, twitchingly, Catra stroked the skin there.
"Adora," Catra said, so softly she almost missed it. "Adora, teach me how to kiss again?"
Adora's head collided against Catra's chin. "Ow!" Adora's head hurt too but she couldn't stop laughing at Catra's yelp. "Sorry, sorry!"
"Damn, that's a headbutt." Catra rubbed her chin.
"So you missed me too, huh?"
"Shut up." Catra was dead serious through her blush. "Teach me or don't."
The pain at the top of Adora's head was subsiding. Adora put her left hand over Catra's forehead. "You close your eyes like you expect a grenade," she said. "Relax."
Catra scowled some more. Adora raised an eyebrow. Finally, Catra loosened up. "There. Close your eyes."
"Close your eyes and what?"
"Follow." Adora held Catra's chin lightly as they kissed. Catra must have been paying attention the last time they did it, because her lips were no longer as taut and rigid. Clumsily, she was learning the steps in their dance. Adora smiled and left a last, languorous kiss before pulling away.
Catra looked like she'd just been spooked through a minefield. She was breathing heavily, her face wine-red from chin to brow.
It's different. We're different.
A slow smile spread across Adora's face. Catra followed, her smile like the sunrise.
They spent the rest of the night practicing.
A letter addressed to Adora arrived a few days later; Catra heard from Kyle directly as it was a possible security issue. It turned out to have come from Princess Glimmer. Catra left it up to Adora to share or not and deleted the security breach from the logs. With Adora on her mind, Catra replayed the scene from her return.
Why hadn't she said those words back? It was starting to become embarrassing, her emotions always catching her unawares. Catra was annoyed by the ping-pong game her brain was playing caught between elation and sureness and the need to hoard her feelings to herself. She'd practiced everything to say to Adora on the ride back, even how she was going to give the box, but Adora saying come in on the other side of the door knocked everything out. And then those damn shoes.
The only thing that had gone right was the kissing. Adora liked it, was red down to her neck now when they did it. Catra was giving as good as she got by the time the morning broke. Her fingers twitched at the memory, building a new instinct: to hold Adora when they kissed.
I love her.
(Scorpia would have rolled her eyes and said "obviously, since forever." Entrapta would have nodded.)
Catra tried saying it out loud. Her voice was wobbly. How had the first Fright Zone soldier figured it out? That there was a word for it? An instinct that ran counter to everything they taught, a loyalty and care between soldiers that superseded orders?
You already know what I feel for you.
It felt as though she'd said those words a lifetime ago. They were no longer all she had.
A letter to Adora came in shortly after that; it could have only come from Glimmer. It was an invite to a village in Plumeria. Bring your woman, Glimmer cheekily added.
Was it six months already? She passed the letter to Catra later that night.
Catra was skeptical up until the last word. "She loses a ducat if we don't show up?"
"Catra!" Lying on Catra's shoulder Adora was in no position to thwap Catra's arm.
"She's rich. She can afford to lose a ducat."
Adora rolled her eyes. "Fine!" Catra huffed. "I'll go too." Then she softened. "Are you sure she really wants me there? If it's just for the terms of the wager -- they are your friends."
"I want you there," Adora said. "I want you to know them. Really know them."
Catra looked ready to fire another retort, but she nodded. "Okay," she said. "I am your woman, then."
Catra laughed in disbelief and nervousness. "No idea how that happened."
"No? Couldn't have been the time you dropped out of the sky to save my butt? Fought Skeletor with me? Made my whole childhood worth living through? Covered every time I screwed up? I got the message, Catra."
If Catra wanted to deflect she could have said, "about time!" and laughed it off. But Adora saw the flicker of pain pass through Catra's eyes. She hadn't expected anything except to know Adora was alive in some far-off country for the rest of their lives.
And Adora hadn't known.
"Oh Catra," Adora said as she buried her face into Catra's neck, "Catra, I won't leave. I swear."
"I know you won't," Catra said, taken aback. "Geez, I know. I can't leave you either. I love you, Adora." The words simply fell out of her, as though they were at the precipice this whole time and gravity had done its thing, tipped them over. Adora looked up, her eyes searching Catra's. "I love you too," she whispered, as she'd said so often now, those words that slowly poured over every crack in Catra's past, filling her up with something new, something golden.
Tomorrow, they'd make plans to leave for Plumeria. After that -- who knew? They’d figure something out, together.
- Entrapta rides with them to be dropped off at Dryl, where she stays six months every year.
- Scorpia meets the Princess of Plumeria and falls in love. They have greenhouses everywhere.
- Swift Wind finds a home in Plumeria as well, finding it much more pleasant than the Horde. He visits to annoy Adora.
- Bow and Glimmer enjoy life in court after Angella retires a few years later. Years down the road Adora assigns herself as part of the diplomatic attache to Bright Moon, openly (re)introduced as the co-ruler of the Horde - a Queen, by the many mental gymnastics known as 'laws' that govern monarchy. She is able to spend a season every year at Bright Moon.
- The Horde sky eventually turns a pinkish-blue from all the terraforming.
- Catra and Adora find in each other a home, regardless of where they are and what titles are conferred to them.
Thanks to those who have left kudos (they are easily seen as generated by ao3)
I'd like to also thank everyone who commented on this fic:
i'd also like to thank my girlfriend, who didn't actually read this fic so much as hear me read it out, and let me work seasonally/part-time rather than full time for most of the year.
i'd also like to thank iliteraven for the keyboard i used to write this story (i wrote this last chapter on the ducky, friend) and for all the helpful input.
there are a great many writers who take pride and feel confident about their writing, and rightfully so. i am not one of those people. i am beset by doubt and terror every time i post something, and the only thing that keeps me going is that somehow, people haven't quit reading, and they let me know this by commenting & kudoing, including those who don't log in so they can leave a kudo anonymously again. thank you.
i'll probably lie down and die for a while, and tbh i have backlogs in a different fandom. if anyone wants to keep abreast, my top pinned post on tumblr (updated every monday US time) will let you know what i'm up to; there is no need for an account to see it. I hope you enjoyed, reader!
update: dev notes for the horde culture/worldbuilding/alliance stuff are here if anyone is interested.