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Dream of Me

Chapter Text

The sky was blue and filled with clouds that floated across the celestial sphere like ships passing in the night, with the wind pushing them ever onward. They came in all shapes and sizes, some large, some small, all of them fluffy and white and unique in form. Sometimes, when she was feeling fanciful, Adora wanted nothing more than to lie atop one of those clouds and let herself fall asleep amongst the sky as she sank into the soft white fluff.

“I think that one looks like Rogelio,” Adora suddenly announced, pointing up at a singular cloud as it passed overhead. Her companion followed her gaze.

“Sure, if Rogelio was a turkey with a limp,” Catra responded with a laugh as she lay beside Adora. “I’m starting to think you need glasses, Adora.”

Adora scoffed. “Maybe you just need some imagination.”

The two were lying atop a small hill amongst a seemingly endless field of grass, one that extended farther than the eye could see, human or otherwise. The sky was blue, the sun was at its peak, and the tall grass swayed back and forth gently in the wind. Lying on their backs next to each other, Adora and Catra had elected to spend the day simply enjoying the presence of the other as they watched the clouds go by.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a perfect day. Perhaps too perfect. Too good to be true.

“I miss this,” Adora said softly after a few moments of silence.

“Miss what?” Catra asked as she turned to look at her friend.

This,” Adora repeated, as though that clarified things. “Hanging out. Joking around. Just…spending time with you. It feels like the only time I ever see you anymore is when we’re fighting. I hate it.”

Catra frowned before turning away so she could look back up at the clouds passing overhead. “We’re at war, Adora. That’s just how it is. I chose my side. And you chose yours.”

“But I never wanted my side to be the one without you, Catra,” Adora said as she took her turn to look over at Catra, revealing the sorrow gleaming in her clear blue eyes. “No matter what side I was on…I always imagined you’d be there with me.”

Catra shrugged sadly. “We don’t always get what we want, Adora.”

They fell into silence again after that, both looking back up at the sky as the clouds continued to come and go. The topic of their conversation was dropped, not as if it never happened, but with both realizing there would be no satisfying resolution to it regardless. And so they once again simply lay beside one another, eyes elsewhere, attention drifting. If time passed, neither seemed to notice in the slightest.

“The Horde insignia,” Adora suddenly said, breaking the silence.

“Hm?” Catra asked.

“Over there.” Adora pointed. “Those clouds over there. They look like the Horde insignia.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t see it? With the little dot in the middle – ”

“And the wings on either side?”

“Right!”

“I guess it kinda looks like the insignia,” Catra admitted after another moment of study. “I dunno, you’re better at this than I am. They all just look like clouds to me.”

Adora smiled, but didn’t speak, and they once again fell into an easy silence. There was peace between them, at least for now, a quiet serenity neither had experienced in many months. Indeed, it was so peaceful that Adora was just about to doze off when she felt Catra take her by the hand. She looked over at her friend questioningly as their fingers intertwined, only to find Catra already looking at her with a small smile of her own.

“Hey, Adora?” Catra asked softly.

“Yeah?” answered Adora, smiling gently as she felt Catra squeeze her hand affectionately.

Catra smiled back. “I miss this, too.”

As if in response, Adora scooted closer to Catra, literally closing the distance between them until they were practically rubbing shoulders. With a content sigh, she closed her eyes and rested her head on Catra’s shoulders. A moment later, Catra tilted her head ever so slightly until she was resting hers atop Adora’s.

“You think we can ever make this work?” Adora asked after another few moments of comfortable silence, and when she asked it wasn’t with a sad or defeated tone, but rather one of hopeful curiosity. “You and me, I mean?”

“I don’t know,” Catra answered her after a moment before smirking and looking down at her friend. “What do you think, princess?”

_____________________________________________________

Adora woke with a start, her eyes snapping open as she sat up in her bed. She wasn’t out of breath, nor was she scared, but something about the dream she had just experienced felt so real that she couldn’t help but feel as though she had just stepped out of one moment in time only to find herself in a completely different one.

She wasn’t in a field, she realized, as she took in her surroundings; she was in her bedroom in Bright Moon, exactly where she was supposed to be, with quite a few hours left before the coming of the dawn. She was alone, too; no Catra lying there beside her.

It was a dream, she finally realized, not without a tinge of regret. She looked down at her hand, the one Catra – dream Catra – had been holding, and frowned. But it felt so real. Not real life, but…not a dream, either, not really. Something in between. Something more.

After another moment of thought, however, Adora shook her head and determined it was time to go back to bed. No matter how real the dream had felt, that was all it had been: a dream. There was no field, there were no clouds, and there was most certainly no Catra. Catra hated her now, anyway, she reminded herself. Catra was the enemy. Catra was her enemy.

“Just a weird dream,” Adora told herself as she laid down again and went back to sleep.

What Adora didn’t know – what Adora could not have known – was that she wasn’t the only person questioning the reality of the dream.

Through the Whispering Woods, across the sandy dunes of the Etherian desert, deep within the confines of the Horde fortress known as the Fright Zone, someone else had woken with a start as the dream came to an end. This person, too, had been confused for some time before ultimately deciding the dream had, after all, been simply a dream.

“Just a dream,” Catra said to herself as she shook her head and prepared to go back to sleep. “Just a weird dream…”

But then, why did it feel so real?, she wondered as she drifted off to sleep.

Neither Adora nor Catra saw the other the following day, but that didn’t mean Adora didn’t spend all day thinking about Catra or that Catra didn’t spend all day thinking about Adora. No matter how hard they tried, neither of them could get the thought of the other out of their heads, and neither could forget the strange dream they had shared.

Maybe that was why it happened again that very night.

_____________________________________________________

They were on a skiff this time, identical to the one they had “borrowed” from the Fright Zone the night Adora first discovered the Sword of Protection, and they were flying over the dunes and canyons of the vast desert that separated the Fright Zone from the Whispering Woods. It was night in the dream just as it was night in real life, and the sky above was a deep, dark purple in color, illuminated only by the many moons of Etheria.

“Don’t go too fast!” Adora warned over the howling of the wind as they flew through the air, already regretting letting Catra handle the skiff in the first place.

“Don’t be such a wimp, Adora!” Catra shouted back, a smile plastered across her face as she zigged and zagged around buttes and other rock formations jutting out of the sandy dunes of the desert. “You have to learn to live a little!”

“I’m not afraid of living! It’s dying I’m worried about!” Adora responded, which only caused Catra to laugh harder than before.

“Then you better hang on!” Catra told her. “We’re taking this baby for a loop!”

Adora paled. “Wait, what did you just saaaaaAAAIIEEE!!”

Adora was unable to finish her question as Catra chose that exact moment to pull the steering rod up as high as she possibly could, causing the skiff to suddenly fly upwards at close to a ninety degree angle. Thankfully, Catra continued to expertly pull on the steering rod as hard as she could, meaning the skiff continued to arc upwards before gravity could take hold and send both girls tumbling to the desert sands a hundred feet below. As Adora held on for dear life (and screamed bloody murder), the skiff continued to curve and curve until it had completed the loop and then came back down until it was once again parallel with the ground.

“Catra, are you out of your mind?!” Adora shrieked as the skiff continued to zoom off into the distance, now with a little extra speed from its successful loop-de-loop. “You could have killed us both!”

“Stop being such a worry-wart, Adora!” Catra retorted, still laughing from the adrenaline high.

“I’m not being a worry-wart!” Adora responded, stomping over to where Catra was and wrestling the steering rod from her. “I just want to make it back home in one piece, thank you very much!”

“Fine!” Catra said with a groan, sitting back against the edge of the skiff now that she was no longer in control. “Have it your way!”

There was silence for a time as Adora adjusted the direction of the skiff so they were flying through a much less dangerous section of the desert, one with fewer canyons and rock formations that they could possibly run into. With that accomplished, Adora settled in next to the steering rod with a single hand gripping it tightly and her eyes on the desert before her, just in case she needed to make any last-minute adjustments.

“You know I wouldn’t have let anything bad happen to you,” Catra said resentfully after a few moments, still looking away from Adora with her arms folded across her chest. “I know what I’m doing. You don’t have to worry so much.”

Adora sighed; Catra was right. “I know. I’m sorry I overreacted.”

Taking one last look out over the desert and thankfully seeing no approaching obstacles for at least another few kilometers, Adora locked the steering mechanism into place and then went to sit down next to Catra on the edge of the skiff. It was just the two of them and the desert zipping by below them, with no one and nothing to interfere with their time together.

“You know,” she finally spoke up, “I’d never let anything bad happen to you, either.”

Catra shrugged. “I guess.”

“I’m serious!” Adora insisted, placing a hand on Catra’s shoulder so she could turn her friend until they were once again facing each other. “You mean everything to me, Catra. I’d die for you if I had to.”

At that, Catra finally smirked. “You might have to, eventually. All things considered.”

Adora blinked. Then she started laughing, which made Catra start laughing, and soon they were laughing together, just the two of them and the desert and the night sky above them. It felt so normal, so natural for them to be doing this, just spending time with one another, laughing and joking around like they used to before the war, before She-Ra.

Before…everything.

“Hey…Catra?” Adora asked hesitantly, watching as her friend turned away from the desert in order to look at her yet again. “Can I tell you something? Something important?”

Catra raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Of course, Adora. What’s up?”

Even though she knew exactly what she was going to say, Adora suddenly had trouble mustering up the courage to actually say it out loud now that Catra was sitting right in front of her and waiting for her to speak. For a few seconds, Adora couldn’t even look Catra in the eye, and instead felt her cheeks burn red. If Catra noticed, she said nothing, and simply sat there patiently and waited until Adora finally spat it out.

“I need you.”

Catra blinked. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I said…I need you,” Adora repeated, looking back up at her friend to reveal tears in her eyes. “I’ve wanted to say it for so long, ever since I left, since we started fighting. I need you, Catra.”

“You…need me?” Catra asked slowly, as though she was having trouble understanding the concept, or at least believing what Adora said was true. “Adora, you’re better than I’ve ever been. At everything. You don’t need me. You never have.”

“But I do!” Adora argued, reaching over to take Catra’s hands in hers, causing the latter to blush a little as her tail suddenly went stiff. “I’ve always needed you, Catra. My whole life, you’ve always been there for me. And now that you’re not…I don’t know what I’m doing. I barely know who I am anymore. I have this whole other life now, and it’s great, but…it’s not what I want. Because…”

“Because…?” Catra repeated.

“Because you’re not in it,” Adora said at last, looking into Catra’s heterochromatic eyes with her clear blue ones. “I love you, Catra. I always have. Whatever this is – dream or not – I don’t want it to end. Because I don’t want to go back to a life without you in it.”

And with that, Adora leaned over and kissed her.

_____________________________________________________

Catra gasped as she suddenly sat straight up in bed, having woken up yet again. She took a few moments to catch her breath and look around, reminding herself she was still in her private quarters in the Fright Zone and that everything that had taken place until just now had simply been a part of her dream.

“What the hell?” she said to no one in particular as she ran a hand through her messy hair.

This is the second night in a row I’ve dreamt about Adora, Catra thought to herself with a frown. First she’s holding my hand, now she’s kissing me? What the hell is going on?

“And why did it feel so real?” she pondered aloud.

Slowly, almost hesitantly, she placed a hand on her lips, as if searching for a sign that the dream had been real. But though the feel of Adora’s lips on hers lingered in her mind, there was nothing to indicate she had actually kissed Adora at all.

Of course not, she reminded herself. Because it was just a dream! A weird dream, sure, but just a dream! Nothing more!

Shaking her head, as if disappointed in her own fanciful thinking, Catra settled back down into bed and prepared to go back to sleep. She had trouble at first, as she kept imagining the feel of Adora’s lips on hers every time she closed her eyes, but eventually she was able to banish the thought far enough away to doze off.

When next Adora and Catra met, it was in the midst of battle.

Chapter Text

For months, the Horde had been developing a secret weapon deep within the forests and jungles bordering the landscape between Plumeria and the Whispering Woods. The entire operation was mobile by design, and the weapon and its staff were regularly moved from base to base or a purposely irregular schedule in order to ensure the Rebellion would not be able to interfere. After all, the Rebellion couldn’t very well stop production of the weapon if they didn’t know which base it was being kept in, and even a single attack on any one of the bases would be enough to convince the Horde to move the entire operation to another region. It seemed foolproof.

What Horde Command – Catra included, unfortunately – had not been counting on was that the Rebellion would somehow gain access to a copy of the operation’s schedule and ambush them during transport of the weapon from one base to another. Not so foolproof after all.

“This just has to be Kyle’s fault!” Catra cursed as she dodged several bolts of laser fire before throwing herself into the fray.

Though armed with a blaster and an electroshock rod, as always, Catra had always preferred close combat, and she excelled at it. The Rebellion soldiers who had been firing at her didn’t even have time to reload before she was upon them, slashing apart their armor and tossing them aside like so much rubbish.

Catra had just led the escort mission past the midway point between their two bases when the Rebellion attacked, using the heavy shade and foliage of the jungle canopy to hide their presence until it was too late for the Horde to do anything but defend themselves. The weapon itself was undamaged so far, contained as it was within a case of impenetrable steel, but the hovercraft upon which it had been situated had been damaged, which meant the Horde would have to hold off the Rebellion at least long enough to get the vehicle mobile again.

“Where are you?” Catra growled loudly as she punched a soldier in the face and then used his chest as a springboard from which to leap off of, throwing him to the ground in the process. “I know you’re here, Adora! Come out and face me! Or are you going to let your little soldiers fight for you?”

Catra was answered immediately when a blast of rainbow-colored energy struck one of the tanks next to her, causing it to explode and erupt into a burst of flames. She spun around to find the legendary She-Ra standing atop yet another tank (this one also in ruins) several meters away, the Sword of Protection still smoking lightly.

“No one fights for me!” Adora announced as she glared at Catra from across the battlefield before leaping into the air farther and faster than humanly possible, her own strength and abilities bolstered by the strength of She-Ra.

Catra leapt out of the way as Adora came crashing to the ground, thrusting her sword deep into the earth below her with such force that it sent a shockwave of power flying outwards in every direction. All around the battlefield, Rebellion and Horde soldiers alike were tossed aside and thrown off their feet; Catra herself only escaped the devastation because of her timely dodge, and so was airborne when Adora struck.

“That was a close one, Adora!” Catra said mockingly as she landed on all fours and then leapt at her opponent with claws bared. “Unless you were aiming for me, that is!”

A moment later, they were once again locked in yet another battle for supremacy, one that had played out time and time again on the various battlefields of Etheria. The rest of the conflict – the Rebellion, the Horde, the secret weapon, even the jungle itself – seemed to fade away as the two of them focused entirely on defeating the other and proving themselves superior once and for all. It was no longer about the war; it was personal.

“You don’t have to do this, Catra!” Adora proclaimed as she blocked one of Catra’s furious swipes. “No one else has to get hurt today! Just give us the weapon!”

“Why, so you can use it against us?” Catra asked, leaping out of the way as Adora threw a superpowered punch.

“So we can destroy it for the good of Etheria!” Adora countered, withdrawing and preparing for another attack. “We aren’t the bad guys, Catra. The Horde is evil. But you’re not. You can still do the right thing!”

“Maybe I don’t know what the right thing is anymore!” Catra shouted back, throwing herself at Adora yet again. “Maybe I haven’t known since you abandoned me!”

Adora grunted as her sword transformed into a shield and she quickly placed it in front of herself just in time to stop Catra from tackling her to the ground. Catra continued to scratch and claw away at the shield, as though trying to break through it, and Adora fought to keep the piece of armor strong and sturdy against her former friend’s ferocious attacks.

“I never abandoned you!” Adora claimed angrily, still fighting to hold up her own defenses. “I left the Horde; I never left you. I even asked you to join me! I’m still asking! And I’ll keep asking for as long as it takes!”

“Why, because you need me?” Catra asked mockingly, suddenly remembering the dream she had experienced only twelve hours ago. “Is that it, Adora? Because without me you don’t know what you’re doing? You don’t know who you are? Is that it?”

Though their fight continued, Catra couldn’t help but notice the way Adora’s eyes widened at her words, or how her strength temporarily faltered, allowing Catra to knock the shield out of her hands and throw herself at the larger warrior.

“Ugh!” Adora cried out as she fell to the ground, only for Catra to immediately leap atop her. She threw her hands out quickly in order to catch Catra’s, and soon they were wrestling against one another, Catra trying to go in for the kill as Adora fought to dislodge her. “Catra, please…don’t do this…”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Catra countered angrily, allowing her rage to once again dictate her actions. “I don’t care what you say, Adora, you abandoned me! You have this whole other life now, and it’s all sweet and perfect, but it’s not what you want because – ”

“Because you’re not in it,” Adora finished the statement, her eyes widening as she did so.

Both Adora and Catra suddenly felt their hearts skip a beat.

A moment later, Adora mustered enough courage to throw Catra off her and quickly scramble to her feet. Instead of grabbing her displaced sword or resuming the battle, however, she chose to wait and watch as Catra recovered. Adora didn’t speak again until Catra was once again back on her own two feet and about to attack yet again.

“‘I love you, Catra,’” she said loudly, as though announcing it to the world but also as though she were reciting the words from memory. Her eyes were wide and shaking slightly, from both confusion and fear. “‘I always have.’ That’s…that’s what I said next, wasn’t it? You remember. ‘Whatever this is – dream or not – ’”

“‘I don’t want it to end,’” Catra continued, her own eyes widening as she realized they were quoting from the same dream. When next they spoke, they spoke together.

“‘Because I don’t want to go back to a life without you in it,’” they finished together at the same time, slowly and hesitantly, shivers running down their spines as they did so.

For the next few moments, all Adora and Catra could do was stare at one another in disbelief, as though they simply could not comprehend the words they were speaking or the events that were unfolding right before their eyes. Around them, the battle continued unabated, Rebellion soldiers gradually overwhelming the remaining Horde forces, but it might as well have taken place in another universe considering how little it seemed to matter to the two warriors.

“You had the same dream,” Adora finally spoke, her eyes still wide and her voice still unsure, as though she couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. “Didn’t you?”

Across from her, Catra nodded slowly and uncertainly. Though the warrior fought to appear as aloof as possible, Adora knew better; she recognized the gentle shaking of her body, the fear in her heterochromatic eyes, the less-than-subtle jerking of her tail.

They knew. They both knew. They had shared the same dream.

Before either of them could investigate further, however, a mighty explosion erupted less than a hundred yards away from them, one that sent pillars of fire and smoke billowing into the sky and caused both of them to look away from each other. The secret weapon Catra and the Horde had fought so hard to protect had been breached; though the steel containment case had taken most of the blast (thank goodness, or else the entire jungle would have been nothing more than a smoking crater), the destruction of the weapon had still been enough to completely obliterate everything within a fifty-yard radius.

What followed was chaos. Horde troopers abandoned their posts and fled into the jungle or climbed into the remaining tanks in order to beat a hasty retreat, while Rebellion soldiers either pursued them or tended to the wounded within the radius of the secret weapon’s explosion. Fire was quickly spreading from tree to tree, bringing with it clouds of smoke, and soon enough the entire section of forest would be up in flames.

Unfortunately for Adora and Catra, this likewise meant their own conversation had to come to an end. By the time Adora turned back around to face Catra, her former friend had already disappeared behind the clouds of smoke, most likely tending to her remaining soldiers. With a curse on her lips, Adora spun around and ran towards the epicenter of the fire, hoping she could find a way to put it out before it spread too far.

Both would return to their own homes soon enough, the battle in the past, just like so many others they had fought, but their conversation would continue to linger until they saw each other again that very night.

_____________________________________________________

Adora felt it happen this time, almost as soon as she fell asleep. Instead of gradually slipping into a deep and peaceful slumber, it felt more like she had been pulled straight out of her body and tossed into another moment in time. More to the point, she knew she was dreaming this time, without a shadow of a doubt, and she held on to that knowledge for dear life.

Her bedroom was gone, as were the field and desert from her previous dreams, to be replaced by the depths of the Whispering Woods, but a part of the woods Adora had never seen before. She was surrounded on all sides by ferns and trees that seemed to extend upwards as far as the eye could see, blocking any semblance of sunlight (or moonlight?) that might have lessened the darkness of the forest.

Adora was just about to call out when Catra lunged out of the surrounding overgrowth and tackled her.

“Uhn!” Adora grunted as she fell to the ground with Catra on top of her. It seemed she could feel pain even in her dreams; that was worth remembering. “Catra, stop – ”

“No!” Catra cried out as she placed a knee on Adora’s chest in order to keep her pinned to the grassy ground of the Whispering Woods. The feline lifted one of her hands high and unsheathed her claws threateningly, clearly attempting to intimidate her former friend. “Tell me what’s happening, Adora! Where are we? What’s going on? How are you in my dreams?”

“I don’t know!” Adora responded honestly, struggling to free herself from beneath Catra’s knee.

“Stop struggling and answer the question,” Catra said threateningly as she leaned in and placed one of her claws at the very edge of Adora’s mouth, “or I’ll tear apart your pretty little face.”

Adora hesitated for a moment, then: “You really think I’m pretty?”

Catra was only thrown off-guard by Adora’s comment for a second, but that was all the time Adora needed to take advantage of the situation and free herself from her former friend’s clutches. By the time Catra had gotten over the initial shock of Adora potentially flirting with her, the latter had already escaped, and their roles were reversed: now it was being pinned to the ground by Adora, who was holding there by her wrists and straddling her waist to keep her from leaping up or kicking her off.

“Let – go – of – me!” Catra hissed as she squirmed fruitlessly, struggling against Adora’s grip.

“Not until you calm down!” Adora told her, tightening her grip on Catra’s wrists and refusing to budge even a centimeter. “I want to know what’s going on just as badly as you do!”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Catra shouted back.

“Fine!” Adora gave in. She released both of Catra’s wrists at once and then quickly stood up, so she was no longer straddling Catra or pinning her to the ground with her weight. “There, you can do what you want. Happy now?”

“Ecstatic,” Catra grumbled as she sat up.

Adora offered her hand, and Catra accepted it, allowing her former friend to help her stand back up. They continued to hold hands for a brief second, even after Catra had gotten to her feet; then the moment passed and both of them were pulling their hand away from the other, as though suddenly disgusted.

“So…you really aren’t behind this?” Catra finally asked as she folded her arms over her chest. “Whatever this is?”

“Of course not,” Adora assured her, instead looking around at the Whispering Woods surrounding them. She carefully reached out and placed a hand on the closest tree before suddenly frowning to herself. “Weird.”

“What?”

“The tree. Feel it.”

And despite everything, Catra did, walking over with an exasperated sigh and placing one of her clawed hands on the tree, right next to Adora’s. At first, it felt just like any other tree, sturdy, covered in bark, with a bit of an earthy scent…and then, all of a sudden, it didn’t.

“It doesn’t feel real, does it?” Adora asked.

Catra shook her head; Adora was right. The tree seemed to shimmer beneath her touch, like a ripple in a pond, and the bark beneath her palm began to feel fuzzy and immaterial, as though she could have simply walked right through it if she pushed hard enough.

“But you,” Adora said as she removed her hand from the tree and then gently placed it on Catra’s bare shoulder, “you feel real. You’re here, really here. Just like I am.”

“So, we really are dreaming, then,” Catra deduced. Adora nodded in confirmation. “But this doesn’t make any sense. How can two people share the same dream?”

“I don’t know,” Adora admitted after a moment of thought. “Maybe it’s a She-Ra thing, or something to do with the First Ones, but…I just don’t know.”

The two fell silent after that, unable to look each other in the eye or come to grips with whatever strange phenomenon had taken hold of their sleeping lives. Dreams were meant to be private, after all, sometimes so private even the dreamer couldn’t remember them after waking. As such, the idea of sharing a dream, particularly with someone who was supposed to be your mortal enemy, didn’t exactly sit well with either of them.

Not to mention it still didn’t make any sense. Catra had asked the perfect question: How can two people share the same dream? It shouldn’t have been impossible. And yet…here they were, both of them, inhabiting the same dream at the same time.

“So, the last dream we had, the one where we were on the skiff in the desert…you remember that, too?” Catra finally asked, more than a little hesitantly. “That was another shared dream, right?”

“It must have been,” Adora confirmed. “That’s how I knew what you were going to say when we were fighting today. Why?”

“It’s just…” Catra began before trailing off and suddenly breaking eye contact.

Adora frowned. “Just…what?”

For a moment, Catra looked like she was struggling with what she wanted to say, as though internally fighting over whether or not to say it at all. “I just wanted to know, in the dream…if you were telling the truth.”

“The truth about what?” Adora asked, blanking completely.

Across from her, Catra closed her eyes and sighed. “In the dream, you said…you needed me. You said you loved me. And I want to know, was that just the dream talking? Or…was it the truth?”

Oh, thought Adora as her cheeks burned a bright red. That.

Silence reigned for a time as Adora struggled to figure out just what to tell Catra, or whether she should tell Catra anything at all. The Whispering Woods seemed to grow eerily quiet as Adora tossed the question over and over again in her mind, as though even the forest itself was waiting with bated breath to hear her answer.

Part of her legitimately considered trying to wake herself from the dream just to end the awkward encounter before it could get worse, but the bigger part of her realized this was important, not just to Catra, but to herself, and so she would have to see it through.

In the end, Adora decided to tell her exactly what Catra needed to hear: the truth.

“I meant it,” she finally answered, using all of her remaining courage to look Catra in the eye as she spoke despite the heat in her cheeks and the rapid pounding of her heart. “Every word.”

And then, suddenly, Catra was kissing her.

Adora didn’t even know when it happened, or how long it had taken; one moment, Catra had been standing a few feet away, looking into Adora’s eyes as she finally admitted her love for her, the next, Catra was practically pressing herself against her as she took Adora’s face in her hands and kissed her like it was the only thing she had ever wanted to do. Adora was understandably surprised at first, but she had always been a fast learner; within seconds, she was kissing Catra back with everything she had in her and their lips were fighting each other for dominance.

The two finally broke apart once their lungs began screaming for air, and both blushed as they looked at the other, their lips swollen but already aching for more. But whereas Catra was actually smiling (and purring, if Adora heard correctly) as she caught her breath, Adora looked somewhat conflicted, as though there was something on her mind.

“Adora?” Catra asked once she had successfully caught her breath, actually sounding worried. “What’s wrong? Am I that bad a kisser?”

Adora laughed a little at that. “No. It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”

“Then what?” Catra asked again.

“It’s just…we shouldn’t be doing this,” Adora finally proclaimed, cursing herself as she did so. This was precisely what she had always wanted to do, whether she knew it or not. “It’s like you’re always telling me; we’re supposed to be enemies! And enemies don’t kiss. Or, at least…they shouldn’t.”

“But we’re not kissing,” Catra told her as one of her sly smiles crossed her face, “we’re dreaming.”

Adora frowned in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, none of this is really happening anyway, right?” Catra went on, reaching out and taking both of Adora’s hands in hers. “So why the hell not? Don’t you get it, Adora? What happens here stays here. We can do whatever we want. And I mean anything.”

Adora seemed to think it over in her head for a few moments as she felt Catra slowly massage her hands, as if reminding her she was still there. Deep down, she knew this was trouble. Could she really do what Catra was asking her to do? Could she love Catra by night and fight her by day? Did she even want to?

What other option is there?, she thought to herself. I said it myself. I don’t want to go back to a life without her in it. And if this is the only way…then it’s the only way.

“We can do anything we want?” Adora finally asked as she looked into Catra’s heterochromatic eyes, as if seeking final clarification.

Anything,” Catra confirmed.

“And…it’s not real,” Adora went on. “It’s just a dream. It won’t affect the real world.”

Catra smirked knowingly. “What happens in dreamland stays in dreamland.”

Adora nodded slowly, as if mulling it all over in her head. “Then, in that case…I don’t want to waste another second.”

With that, Adora threw her arms around Catra and pulled her into another soul-searing kiss. It didn’t take long before Catra was kissing her right back, her own arms wrapping around Adora’s waist and pulling her closer still until the two were practically pressed up against one another. Adora soon found herself moaning lightly into the kiss as she felt Catra hold her close and pour everything she had into the kiss, quickly overwhelming Adora’s senses in the best possible way.

She’s the one, Adora thought to herself as she ran her fingers through Catra’s messy brown hair and met her lover’s passion beat for beat. She’s always been the one.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” she whispered between kisses, moaning again as Catra planted another quick peck on her lips. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted this.”

“Then what are you waiting for, princess?” Catra asked teasingly, whispering directly into Adora’s ear and causing the latter to shiver with pleasure. “Show me.”

And so, that’s exactly what Adora did.

Chapter Text

Over the following days and weeks, Adora and Catra gradually began to fall into a regular (if perhaps somewhat unhealthy) routine. By day, they were enemies, commanders of opposing armies fighting for the fate of the entire planet, each sworn to kill or defeat the other; by night, they were lovers, inseparable, their time together dominated by soft touches and hard kisses and sometimes even more than that.

It was an odd balance they struck between the worlds of night and day, lovers and enemies, one not too dissimilar to the strange bond they had always shared even after Adora defected from the Horde. After all, they had never truly hated each other. Deep down, they had still been friends, had still grown up together, still deeply cared for each other. What they did in their dreams was simply seen as the next logical step in what had become a very unorthodox relationship between the two young women.

Each day, the two would wake up on separate sides of the same conflict and go about their usual duties as though nothing had changed; Adora would provide aid and relief to those who needed it, often in the guise of She-Ra, while Catra plotted and planned and trained the soldiers of the Horde for whatever their next mission might entail. Occasionally, they would come across one another in the battlefield, as they had done countless times before, and they would fight as though nothing had changed between them; as far as the real world was concerned, after all, nothing had changed.

(Remember: what happened in dreamland stayed in dreamland.)

“Your aim is even worse than usual today!” Catra laughed as she watched Adora (as She-Ra) punch the canyon wall directly behind her, missing the feline by mere inches. “I’m starting to think turning into She-Ra all the time is ruining your eyesight, Adora!”

“Shut up, Catra!” Adora shouted back as she threw another punch, only for Catra to dodge that one as well. The rock she struck instead still shattered into a hundred pieces, a testament to her superhuman strength, which was no good if she was unable to hit her opponent.

“Aww, did I hurt the little princess’s feelings?” Catra said mockingly, still smirking cruelly all the while. “Better be careful, Adora, or I’ll hurt more than that.”

“You can’t hurt me, Catra,” Adora retorted. “Not anymore!”

With that, she threw herself into the air and then extended one of her legs out to its greatest extent, the sunlight temporarily gleaming off the golden metal of her boot. Catra had just enough time to once again leap out of the way before Adora came crashing to the ground, the impact of her kick powerful enough to create a crater where Catra had been only moments before.

“I don’t care how fast you are or how high you are on the Horde’s food chain,” Adora said as she glared at Catra, who only glared right back at her. “You’ll never be as good as me. Not anymore.”

Catra growled; Adora always knew exactly which nerve to strike. “Don’t try me, princess. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”

“Then show me,” Adora told her, smirking as she tauntingly beckoned Catra to ‘come at’ her. “I’d love to see just what you’re capable of. That is, unless you’re a…fraidy cat.”

Catra’s ‘response’ to Adora’s taunt was less a response and more of a hiss as she leapt at her opponent, claws bared and eyes consumed by bloodlust. Soon enough, the two were once again fighting as they had countless times before. By the end of the day, one of them would be the victor, the other the loser. Not that it mattered; they would both be right back at it the next day, plotting and planning against the other, an eternal cycle.

Such were the daylight hours for Adora and Catra.

But then the night would come and they would retire to their respective quarters and allow their slumber to whisk them away to another time and place, one where they could be together no matter how badly one had potentially hurt the other only hours ago. The events of the real world would be forgotten, with memories of battle and strife quickly replaced by better ones of intimacy and companionship. They would talk, and cuddle, and kiss, and touch each other, and every night seemed to be more rewarding than the one before. The questions of how and why any of this was possible at all were soon tossed aside and eventually forgotten entirely.

“How long do you think we’ll be able to do this?” Adora asked one evening.

She and Catra were lounging on the cloudy shores of Mystacor at the time, calmly listening to the sound of the purple clouds as they struck the edge of the city again and again, sounding for all the world like the gentle crashing of waves. Adora was sitting upright with her legs stretched out before her as Catra lay curled up on a blanket beside her with her head resting in Adora’s lap. Adora had been in the middle of scratching behind Catra’s ears when she spoke, unintentionally interrupting the feline’s content purring by doing so.

“Dunno,” Catra answered simply, nuzzling against Adora affectionately (and perhaps hoping for some more ear scratches). “Might as well enjoy the time we have.”

“Yeah,” Adora agreed after a moment, resuming scratching behind Catra’s ears and then giggling as her lover once again started to purr. “But so long as you’re here with me…I hope it’s forever.”

Catra smirked. “Dork.”

“Maybe,” Adora said with another small laugh. “Love me anyway?”

“More than anything,” Catra answered, finally opening both of her eyes and leaning up so she could capture Adora’s lips in a short but loving kiss.

“Mmm,” Adora sighed contentedly. “I wish I could just stay here with you forever. Even if it meant never waking up again.”

“Me, too,” Catra said as she laid her head back down on Adora’s lap, this time facing the purple clouds crashing against the edge of the floating city. “Where is here, anyway?”

“Mystacor,” Adora told her, reaching down to gently scratch beneath Catra’s chin, once again causing her to purr loudly. “It’s an invisible floating city ruled by Glimmer’s aunt Castaspella that you can only get to by jumping off a cliff to the west.”

“Riiiiight.”

“Shadow Weaver used to live here.”

“Sure she did.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know you are,” Catra explained as she smiled back up at Adora playfully. “That’s why I’m picking on you. You’re pretty when you’re flustered.”

Adora frowned at her. “You’re a jerk.”

“Maybe,” Catra replied, mimicking Adora’s words from earlier. “Love me anyway?”

“Shut up and kiss me.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the war continued unabated. By night, Adora and Catra may have been lovers, but by day they were always back to being enemies. No matter how important they were to one another, no matter how much they loved one another, no matter what had taken place the evening before, the two were still at war. She-Ra was the hero of the Rebellion, the legendary wielder of the Sword of Protection, the Princess of Power chosen by the First Ones themselves; and Catra was the fierce and notorious Force Captain of the Horde, leader of its armed forces, a general in all but rank, and second only to Lord Hordak himself.

It was a dangerous and precarious balance the two struck between the worlds of night and day, the roles of lovers and enemies. But for countless weeks, they made it work, their love for each other strong enough to help them compartmentalize the different aspects of their lives. They lived two lives each, a life of battle in the day, and a life of love in the night. Maintaining the balance wasn’t easy, but they managed.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever.

_____________________________________________________

Two days later, the Horde invaded Mystacor.

The invasion came just as the sun began to rise over the horizon, revealing a veritable armada of Horde hovercraft and battle-skiffs approaching the city from the west. Though the sorcerers of Mystacor (and their runestone) fought with great valor, the might of the Horde was too great for them, and eventually the invisibility spell surrounding the city fell. With the city’s defenses lowered, it was all Castapella and her companions could do to send a distress beacon to the surrounding kingdoms of Etheria before the Horde moved in for their assault.

By the time Adora, Glimmer, and Bow made their way to the kingdom all the way from Bright Moon atop Swift Wind, the battle was already well under way, and things weren’t looking good for Mystacor. Castaspella and the rest of the primary sorcerers were seemingly trapped in the Lunarium by a Horde blockade, while the rest of the Horde forces attempted to claim the city. Novices, mages, and other scholars of magic waged war as best they could, with some even successfully defending sections of the city, but the Horde vastly outnumbered them.

“This is impossible!” Glimmer said from atop Swift Wind as the flying horse brought them closer and closer to the city, expertly flying between Horde battle-skiffs. “Mystacor is the safest place in all of Etheria! How did the Horde even know where it was?”

The sinking feeling in her stomach told Adora she might know the answer, but she pushed it back regardless. One problem at a time.

(Remember: what happened in dreamland stayed in dreamland.)

Swift Wind landed on the cloudy edges of Mystacor shortly thereafter, and the Best Friend Squad immediately broke apart in order to better divide and conquer. Glimmer took Bow and teleported away to the Lunarium with the intention of freeing her aunt and the other sorcerers, while Adora transformed into She-Ra and launched herself into what appeared to be the thickest concentration of Horde forces; if she could take out most of the opposition and throw the rest into disarray, after all, it might bring a speedy end to the conflict.

Besides, if there was one thing She-Ra was good at, it was fighting.

Taking careful aim, Adora leapt into the air…and then came crashing down on top of a Horde energy cannon several hundred feet away, landing with such force that she utterly crushed the cannon underfoot and sent a shockwave rippling outward in all direction. Horde soldiers and Mystacor defenders alike were thrown off their feet, while those closest to the cannon were sent flying or otherwise knocked unconscious at the moment of her arrival.

Then she was off, the Sword of Protection but a blur of light and motion as it cut down soldier after soldier before her, slicing through Horde armor like a knife through butter. Horde lasers and blasters slowed her down, but did not stop her as she made her way deeper and deeper into the fray, tossing aside or striking down every enemy in her path. Those opponents or obstacles too large or too heavy to be thrown aside were simply smashed or crushed underfoot.

Adora was just about to cut down yet another Horde droid when she was suddenly struck from by a blast of energy powerful enough to slam her into the ground and utterly destroy everything else within a twenty-foot radius, including the droid she had been aiming for. She cried out in pain as she felt the heat and force of the energy blast strike her from above, pinning her to the ground and sending bolts of agony surging through her entire body.

The blast finally dissipated after a moment or two, leaving a smoking crater where a city square had previously been, with a singed and steaming She-Ra lying in the center. Groaning and straining just to remain conscious, Adora turned around to see who or what had fired the energy blast, her eyes narrowing into a glare as she recognized the culprit.

“Catra.”

Indeed, Catra stood atop one of the many battle-skiffs zipping through the skies of Mystacor, this one equipped with a large energy cannon, the turret of which was still smoking gently, indicating it had been recently used. Lonnie was behind her, navigating the skiff in order to keep it far enough out of range that Adora could not attack them while still keeping it close enough for Catra to have a clean shot.

“Well, you got my attention,” Adora said aloud, knowing neither Catra nor anyone else could actually hear her. “Now I’m gonna make you regret it.”

Shrugging off the pain of the last cannon blast, Adora steadied herself against the smoking crater and then once again leapt into the air, this time aiming for Catra’s battle-skiff. Lonnie tried to maneuver the craft out of the way, but she was too late, and a second later Adora landed on the deck alongside her and Catra.

Lonnie came at her first, drawing an electroshock rod and attempting to incapacitate the legendary warrior. Her efforts were fruitless; Adora had always been a better fighter than Lonnie, even before she became She-Ra. A single punch to Lonnie’s face with She-Ra’s superhuman strength was enough to knock the girl off the skiff and onto a nearby rooftop.

Having defeated Lonnie, Adora turned to take on Catra, her true target…and then paused. Instead of assuming a battle stance or leaping at her with claws bared, as Adora was expecting, Catra was instead quickly making her way to the back of the skiff in the opposite direction.

“Running away already, Catra?” Adora asked with a smirk of her own as she took off after her opponent. “Looks like the big, bad Force Captain is nothing but a fraidy cat after all!”

But Catra didn’t take the bait. Instead of spinning around and attacking Adora, she just kept running towards the back of the skiff.

What is she doing?, Adora wondered as she took pursuit, not without a little concern.

Catra finally reached the rear of the skiff and it was only then that she spun around to face Adora, shocking the latter once again. The triumphant smirk or dark look of determination Adora had been expecting to see was absent. If anything, Catra looked sad or disappointed.

Maybe even…regretful?

“Catra? What are you doing?” Adora asked, standing a few feet in front of Catra as the latter perched on the very edge of the skiff, as though about to leap off. She knew something was wrong, and wanted to know what.

But Catra didn’t answer. All she did was look back at Adora with her look of regret, as though she had let down not just Adora, but herself as well. When she spoke, it was but two words, and she said them while looking directly into Adora’s eyes, revealing her honesty.

“I’m sorry.”

Then she jumped off the back of the skiff.

“Catra!” Adora cried out in fear. She raced forward, hoping to catch Catra’s hand to save her, but it was too late; she was gone. With a shout of dismay, Adora ran over to the edge of the skiff and looked down below, terrified of what she might find…

…just in time to see Catra gracefully land on yet another battle-skiff flying by directly below, this one piloted by Scorpia, who had clearly been in on the plan the entire time.

Even knowing Catra had played her for a fool, Adora nonetheless released a sigh of relief upon finding her former friend safe and unharmed. That sense of relief quickly transformed into panic, however, when she saw Catra take position behind her new skiff’s energy cannon and swing it around, so it was once again aiming directly at Adora.

Oh.

A moment later, Catra had fired the cannon and successfully shot her former skiff – and her former friend – out of the sky. The energy blast tore through the battle-skiff like a bolt of lightning, destroying it in a single fiery explosion and sending Adora and the remains of the skiff tumbling to the ground hundreds of feet below.

“UHNN!” Adora grunted as she landed on the streets of Mystacor, all the air having been knocked out of her lungs by the impact of the fact. The fact that She-Ra had superhuman strength and durability was the only reason she was still alive at all.

Groaning in pain and straining just to sit up, Adora took one last look up into the skies above Mystacor as the skiff Scorpia and Catra stood upon began to disappear into the distance. With her eyesight enhanced by the magical powers of She-Ra, Adora was just barely able to see Catra’s expression…and realized, with another pang of concern, that it was not the look of a triumphant warrior.

It was a look of regret. And that was all that Adora needed to know.

_____________________________________________________

Adora understandably had a harder time dreaming that night, for her slumber was chaotic and troubled by the sights and sounds of Mystacor on fire. Though the Rebellion had successfully pushed back the Horde and defended the floating city, it had come at a great price; vast sections of the city had been destroyed before Bow and Glimmer successfully freed Castaspella and the other sorcerers from the Lunarium. Mystacor would recover, but it would take time, and it was clear they wouldn’t be of much help to the rest of the Rebellion until then.

Following the scenes of Mystacor in flames and the terrified expressions of its inhabitants was the feeling that all of this was somehow Adora’s fault. Guilt plagued her conscience at every turn, overriding any sense of logic or reasoning she might have used to banish it away. As such, by the time Adora finally felt the familiar sensation of her consciousness being pulled out of her body, she felt more than just tired; she felt haunted.

“Hey, Adora.”

Adora opened her eyes to find she was back in the Whispering Woods, this time surrounded by the ruins of the First Ones directly in front of the Crystal Castle, and Catra was already there, lounging lazily against one of the ruins, having been waiting for her to arrive.

“Took you long enough to get here,” Catra said with a knowing smirk as she pushed off the ruin she had been leaning against and began making her way over to Adora. “I was starting to worry you hit your head when I shot you down, or something. You don’t have brain damage, do you?”

But Adora didn’t answer. All she did was stare at Catra as though she couldn’t believe she was really there, talking to her, as though everything was fine.

Because everything was most certainly not fine.

“What’s with the silent treatment?” Catra asked as she came to a stop in front of Adora and appraised her with an eyebrow raised in confusion. “Wait, is it cuz I brought up Mystacor? I know, I know, no real world talk in dreamland, my bad. But I was only kidding.”

Still Adora did not speak. She just stared. Even Catra was beginning to feel uncomfortable now.

“Uh…Adora? You okay?” Catra inquired, frowning slightly in concern. “You’re starting to freak me out. Come on, talk to me.”

Still frowning in worry and growing more concerned with every second of silence, Catra finally reached out to touch Adora, as if checking to see if the blonde girl was even really there at all. Her hand never found purchase; seconds before Catra could touch her, Adora grabbed her by the wrist and stopped her short, holding her outstretched hand in front of them both.

“You used me,” she said softly but firmly. Her grip on Catra’s wrist tightened as she spoke, causing the feline to wince slightly.

“What?”

“‘What happens in dreamland stays in dreamland,’” Adora quoted, still holding Catra’s hand in front of her and refusing to let go. Her voice was steady but lined with the gentle sting of anger. “What happens here stays here. That was what you told me, Catra. You told me that, and I…I trusted you. And you used it against me.”

Catra frowned in genuine confusion. “Adora, what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Mystacor!” Adora shouted, flinging away the girl’s hand as she did so and causing Catra to take a step backwards out of shock. Her anger was getting the better of her, she knew that much, but she couldn’t stop, not now. “I told you where Mystacor was. I told you all about it. I gave you information while we were dreaming…and you used it in the real world to hurt people! To hurt me!”

“I…I didn’t,” Catra said softly but unconvincingly, withdrawing her hand and gently rubbing her wrist, as though Adora had unintentionally hurt her.

Adora scoffed. “You’re telling me the Horde just happened to invade an invisible floating city just two days after I tell you all about it? An invasion that I hear you personally led? You expect me to believe that?”

“I swear, Adora, it wasn’t me!” Catra insisted, her eyes widening as she realized just how upset Adora really was. “I didn’t do it! None of it was me!”

“Then who was it, Catra?” Adora asked angrily, her voice rising with every statement. “Who else could it have possibly been? Tell me! Tell me who it was, Catra!”

“It was the other me!” Catra finally shouted back.

Adora froze. Of the many responses she had been expecting, that had most certainly not been one of them.

“…the other you?” she finally asked after a moment of silent contemplation and confusion. “What are you talking about, Catra?

“I’m talking about the other Catra!” Catra responded, her eyes still wide and her hands beginning to shake even as Adora watched, as though her former friend was mere moments away from a nervous breakdown or something equally as debilitating. “The other me, the Catra in the real world. She’s the one who betrayed you. She’s the one who hurt you, Adora. Not me! I would never do that to you!”

What is she talking about?, Adora wondered.

“It’s still you, Catra!” she told Catra nonetheless, never breaking eye contact with her former friend. “It doesn’t matter if we’re dreaming or awake, it’s still you!”

No, it isn’t!!” Catra insisted angrily, and with such force that it took Adora by surprise. There were tears in the girl’s heterochromatic eyes now. “I’m not like her! The other Catra, the one in the real world…she’s your enemy, Adora, not me! She’s the one you fight! She’s the one who hurts you! Not me. I’m not like her. I’m…I’m different. I’m the one who loves you. Don’t you see?”

She was crying openly now, hot tears streaming down her face as she walked up to Adora and placed a shaky hand on the girl’s cheek, as though simply touching her would be enough to help Catra make it through the madness she was experiencing. Adora’s heart broke as she looked into Catra’s eyes to see them not only filled with tears, but also shaking as she spoke.

Oh, Catra, Adora thought to herself. What’s happened to you?

“Please, Adora, you have to believe me,” Catra went on, her voice cracking as she spoke through the tears. “I know I hurt you in the past, but…that isn’t me anymore. That’s the other Catra. I’m the good Catra. I’m the one you can love. Please, just…just let that be enough.”

But Adora shook her head. “I don’t understand what you want me to do.”

She could feel tears of her own beginning to well up now as she began to fully comprehend the depth of her friend’s illness. Her worst nightmare had been realized: Catra could not longer tell the difference between what was real and what was not. The balance between the waking world and the dream world they had fought so hard to maintain, the fragile boundary between reality and fantasy…it was gone now, broken beyond repair.

Had it ever existed in the first place?

“Just stay here with me!” Catra begged her. “The other Catra, I’ll…I’ll make sure she follows the rules. I promise. And we don’t ever have to talk about her or the war or anything in the real world ever again. Everything will be separate again, just like it’s supposed to be. We can be happy, Adora. Just you and me.”

“It’s not that simple, Catra,” Adora said sadly, already feeling the tears start to fall.

“But it can be!” Catra insisted. “We can make it simple, Adora. This is our dream, our world. We can do whatever we want. We can be whatever we want.”

With that, Catra leaned in and kissed Adora with such a fierce and ferocious need that Adora could do nothing but kiss her back with just as much passion. Their tears mixed and fell together as their lips fought for dominance, as though it was a competition between the two to determine who loved the other most. It wasn’t soft, or sweet, or even very romantic; it was strong, and it was rough, and it was desperate. It was Adora and Catra giving the entirety of themselves to the other and hoping – trusting – the other would keep them from breaking.

And then…Adora pulled away.

Catra opened her eyes as she suddenly felt Adora’s lips pull away from her own, breaking the kiss and almost breaking her heart. Adora was turning away from her now, wiping the tears from her eyes and doing her best to compose herself despite everything.

“I’m sorry,” Adora said softly, her voice lined with regret. “I’m so sorry, Catra. But I can’t do this anymore.”

Catra’s eyes widened, and she felt her heart sink into her stomach. “What are you talking about?”

“This, all of this…this isn’t real, Catra,” Adora told her, turning back to look her in the eye and revealing her one were still bloodshot and full of tears. “This isn’t the real world, and we’re not the real us. And I can’t…I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t live a lie.”

For a brief moment, the entire dream seemed to ripple and shift as Catra’s heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

“Is that…all I am to you?” she asked Adora, her voice broken and uneven. “Nothing but a lie?”

“You’re everything to me,” Adora reassured her, tears still trickling down her cheeks. “I love you, Catra, more than I can ever say. I always will. But I love the real you. And I know I might never have you, but…I just can’t keep living this half-life. I can’t keep living a lie.”

Adora turned away after that and fought to dry the last of her tears, unable to look Catra in the eye any longer. She could hear Catra’s gentle sobbing behind her and had to literally fight her every instinct, which told her to turn around and embrace her, to hold her close and tell her everything would be alright, that they would be alright.

It would have been a lie. And Adora was done lying.

“I’ll kill you for this, you know,” Catra finally proclaimed, causing Adora to turn and look at her. She was still crying, but now her face was twisted by rage and anger; with her heart broken into a million pieces, Catra had nothing but hate left to sustain her now, and she had plenty of hate. “In the real world. For breaking my heart. I’ll kill you.”

And though she should have been intimidated, all Adora could do was look back at Catra with an expression of complete and utter regret on her face. This was just the way it had to be, she had convinced herself. For their own good…and for the good of all Etheria.

“I know,” she said simply. “I’m sorry.”

And with that, Adora woke up and the dream came to an end.

Chapter Text

Catra woke up to find she was back in her private quarters in the Fright Zone. Gone were the woods and the night sky and the ruins of the First Ones, to be replaced by steel walls, military-standard bedding, and the humming of heavy machinery. Gone was Adora, to be replaced by…nothing and nobody.

Adora.

Catra’s heart broke at the mere thought of her (friend? enemy? lover?), the one whom she had loved more than she had ever loved anybody or anything. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of the one she had fought for so long, missed for so long, had shared so much with. Adora had meant everything to her – still meant everything to her – and now she was gone.

She was gone again. She had left her again. She had abandoned Catra again.

For a full five minutes, Catra could do nothing but sob violently and uncontrollably. Her pain, her sorrow, her heartbreak, all of it came out all at once in one fell swoop, turning her into an ugly mess buried under sweat and tears and mucus. She cried until she could cry no more.

Then came the rage.

Hot tears still gleaming along the edges of her eyes, Catra unleashed a painfully loud howl of fury as she descended upon her bed and the few other meager possessions she was allowed in her quarters. She tore the sheets of her bed into shreds and then slashed apart the cot itself. She angrily pulled out all her drawers and threw them about the room. She punched the walls and kicked the pipes, breaking several of the latter and inadvertently filling the room with steam. She even shattered her only window, which succeeded only in bloodying her fist and dirtying the air with the smog of the Fright Zone.

Even then, she did not stop. She howled and she cried and she destroyed everything she could get her clawed hands on in a desperate attempt to unleash the overbearing hatred she felt inside her, the hatred that was truly meant for Adora. She wanted nothing more than to dig her claws deep into Adora’s flesh, to watch as the life faded from her eyes, to stand above her in the field of battle and declare victory over the one who had for so long plagued her heart and mind.

But Adora wasn’t there. Adora was never there. Adora would never be there. At least…not for her. Not for Catra. Not anymore.

Maybe not, Catra thought to herself angrily, a plot already forming in her head. But I know where she is.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps and the whoosh of her door sliding open. Catra looked up to find Scorpia standing in her doorway, an expression of grave concern on her face as she entered the room only to find her friend and Force Captain kneeling amongst a room full of debris and with a crazed look in her heterochromatic eyes.

“Catra?” Scorpia asked, her eyes widening as she surveyed the destruction her friend had wrought. “What…what happened?”

But Catra didn’t respond; not verbally, anyway. Instead, she slowly got to her feet and walked over to her shattered mirror, revealing a reflection broken into a thousand pieces, and felt, for the first time, that it truly reflected how she felt inside.

“Tell Entrapta to hack into the Black Garnet again,” Catra said loudly, not yet turning away from the mirror or her shattered reflection. “Just like before. But tell her to get it right this time. Lightning, blizzards, darkness. Everything. I want it all.”

“Um, okay…” Scorpia responded uneasily, suddenly feeling very awkward and very small. “Anything else? Like…a towel? Cold drink? Something like that?”

“Yeah, actually,” Catra answered after a moment of thought. “Assemble the troops while you’re at it. All of them. I want every battle droid fully operational, every vehicle fueled and ready to move, and every soldier armed and at the ready. I’m ending this war…and I’m ending it today.

“But…Lord Hordak didn’t authorize anything like that,” Scorpia protested, immediately regretting it when Catra finally turned around to face her and reveal her heterochromatic eyes were wide and shaking with fury and madness.

“Do I look like I care what Hordak thinks?” she asked, her voice little more a hiss. “Do it, Scorpia. All of it. Now.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll do it,” Scorpia reassured her, lifting her claws as if surrendering to her superior officer, “but…where are we even going?”

At that, Catra smirked, a look so dark and so cruel that it caused a shiver to run down even Scorpia’s spine. With one last howl of rage, Catra turned and smashed her already broken mirror into a thousand pieces, punching her hand right through it and sending shards of reflective glass flying in every direction. Scorpia’s eyes widened in fear, but she wisely said nothing.

“Bright Moon,” Catra finally proclaimed as she pulled back her bloodied hand and then looked down at her sharpened claws, already preparing for the battle before her. “We’re going to Bright Moon. And we’re going to burn it to the ground.”

_____________________________________________________

Adora woke up at the same time Catra did, likewise opening her eyes to find she was no longer in the Whispering Woods or the Crystal Castle, but rather back in her own bedroom in the palace of Bright Moon. Her reaction upon waking and remembering the events of the dream, the events she had put in motion, no less, were likewise similar.

She cried.

She cried for what she had said and done to Catra, for what Catra had said and done to her, and for the way it had all come to an end. She cried for the future, knowing their shared dream would most likely continue despite their falling out, which meant she would continue to see Catra again and again, even as her heart broke for her. Most of all, she cried for who she had lost, not only her best friend, but the person she loved most in the world, the person she now had to face in battle again and again until one ultimately triumphed and killed the other, until one day one of them fell asleep to dream only to find the other was no longer there, and would never be there ever again.

For a few glorious weeks, they had been truly together, their dream world a veritable heaven molded specially just for them, just so Adora and Catra could have a few fleeting moments together in a life otherwise consumed by war. It had been a chance to make amends, to put their differences aside, to love one another the way they had always wanted…and now it was over.

Adora didn’t know for how long she cried but, by the time she was done, she felt weak and more tired than she ever had before. Unlike Catra, who relied on anger and hatred to push her through her sorrow and heartbreak, Adora felt neither and needed neither. She had something else to help motivate her.

She had a job to do.

Doing her best to bury the last of her tears, Adora got out of bed and dressed herself despite the lateness of the hour. Memories of Catra and their shared dream plagued her thoughts, but she pushed them away as best she could. A few moments later, she was leaving her bedroom and making her way down the hall to Glimmer’s.

It took a few knocks (again, it was quite late) before Glimmer finally opened her door to find Adora standing there and looking for all the world like she was about to go into battle.

“Adora?” Glimmer asked uncertainly, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“The Horde is going to attack Bright Moon,” Adora told her without a hint of hesitation or even a little pretense. “Wake up the queen and reach out to as many of the princesses as you can. This won’t be like last time. This will be worse.”

“Wait…what?” Glimmer asked, not sure whether to be concerned or confused and so settling for an expression somewhere between the two. “The Horde? Coming here? How do you know?”

Adora sighed. “Please, just…trust me, okay?”

For a moment, Glimmer looked like she wanted to dispute Adora’s claims or question her further. Indeed, she looked like she wanted nothing more than to prove Adora wrong and go back to sleep without having to worry about whether or not her kingdom would be on fire coming morning. But, ultimately, she did not, and Adora loved her for that.

“Alright,” Glimmer finally said, pushing aside her doubts and putting her trust in Adora. “You go wake up Bow, I’ll get my mom. We’ll meet you in the council room as soon as we can.”

Adora smiled sadly. “Thanks, Glimmer.”

She had just taken off the down the hallway, heading towards Bow’s room, when Glimmer cried out to her one more time. “Adora, wait!”

“Yeah?” Adora asked, spinning around to face her friend and then feeling her heart sink as she saw the fear in her usually cheerful and optimistic eyes.

“The battle…” Glimmer started, trying to swallow her fear before she continued. “How bad is it going to be?”

Just like with Catra, Adora wanted to tell Glimmer that everything would be okay. She wanted to say that everything would work out, that they would get through it together, that they would all live to fight and love another day.

But that wouldn’t be honest, and if Adora was tired of one thing, it was living a lie.

“Bad,” she finally said sadly but honestly. “Very bad.”

_____________________________________________________

The sun never rose that day.

If it had, it was impossible to tell, as the sky of Etheria was consumed by storm clouds so thick and so black that not even the light of the sun itself could penetrate them. Flashes of lightning provided the only illumination for much of the planet, the vast majority of which had been plunged into darkness. Blizzards and firestorms alike swept the landscape, flash freezing forests and bodies of water before burning them into cinders.

True to her word, Glimmer had reached out to the other princesses of Etheria, most of whom arrived in Bright Moon shortly thereafter once convinced their own kingdoms were not being targeted. Soldiers and troopers from all around Etheria gathered together to make the journey, from neighboring kingdoms like Plumeria to distant regions like Snows and Salineas. Even Mystacor sent a regiment of its most powerful sorcerers despite (or perhaps because of) the devastation wrought against them by the Horde only the day before.

By the time the sun would have risen to call forth the morning, Bright Moon looked more like a heavily fortified military base than the bright, pastel kingdom Adora had come to know and love. With the planet’s runestones running haywire, the kingdom’s usual magical defenses had fallen, despite Queen Angella’s ongoing attempts to revive the Moonstone.

Outside, the Princess Alliance took the lead, with Perfuma, Frosta, Spinerella, Netossa, Mermista, Sea Hawk, Glimmer, and Bow each pairing up to stand point before the mighty legions of soldiers standing behind them. At their lead stood Adora, not yet transformed into She-Ra, and still hoping she wouldn’t have to, facing the Whispering Woods and waiting for the inevitable conflict.

Adora was the first to see the tremendous plumes of smoke rising up over the Whispering Woods and billowing into the black sky above, visible only when the flashes of lightning were bright enough to illuminate the forest canopy. Soon after, the ground began to shake beneath her feet, indicating either the beginning of an earthquake…or the arrival of a very large army. Adora could hear the sounds of marching and heavy machinery in the distance and knew, at last, that it was time; she could put it off no longer.

“For the honor of Grayskull!” she cried, thrusting the Sword of Protection into the air. One flash of light later, she was replaced by the legendary She-Ra, Princess of Power, her gleaming aura a symbol of hope to all those who stood behind her.

Noting Adora’s transformation, the other members of the Princess Alliance spotted the smoke soon after and immediately began to prepare, whether by summoning their elemental powers, readying a weapon, or simply steeling their resolve. Behind them, the captains and commanders ordered their troops to hold fast and prepare for the assault.

And then, suddenly…silence.

The ground stopped shaking. The marching came to a halt. The grinding of heavy machinery vanished. An eerie silence fell over the space between Bright Moon and the Whispering Woods where the united armies of the Rebellion had assembled, a silence almost more frightening than the sound of conflict itself.

For several moments, Adora and the rest of the Princess Alliance stood perfectly still and waited for the inevitable. They waited for the ground to shake, the marching to pick up again, the call of a scout or the loading of a weapon. They waited for anything.

Then…chaos.

Just as the Rebellion was beginning to feel very uneasy, and even the members of the Princess Alliance were beginning to doubt their senses, dozens of Horde battle-skiffs flying at breakneck speed burst out of the Whispering Woods, Bright Moon in their sights and energy cannons ablaze with fire. Hundreds of spherical droids on spider-legs poured out of the forest like ants out of an anthill, quickly consuming everything in sight and firing into the distance wildly and indiscriminately, as though trying to cause as much chaos as possible.

A lightning mob, Adora thought to herself as she recognized the Horde tactic. Catra’s throwing everything she can at us right away in hopes of a swift victory. She plans on overwhelming our forces and taking us down before we even have a chance to fight back.

Steeling herself and allowing the power of  She-Ra to guide her, Adora brandished the Sword of Protection high above her head, a beacon to all who followed her. She took in her targets as they approached and then ran right for them, a warrior’s cry upon her lips.

“For Etheria!” Adora shouted as she charged at the enemy.

“FOR ETHERIA!!” came the response of every princess and soldier behind her, their voices a unison of roars and shouts. Skiffs were launched, blasters were fired, and the army of the Rebellion charged forward as a single, cohesive unit to meet the Horde head-on.

The Second Battle of Bright Moon had begun.

Chapter Text

Just as she was the first to charge, so too was Adora the first to land a blow against the invading Horde army. Channeling all of her light and energy into the Sword of Protection, Adora swung the blade around in a horizontal arc just as she reached the first line of oncoming battle droids, unleashing a mighty burst of rainbow energy that tore through them like a wave of explosives. The robots exploded the moment the rainbow energy struck them, blasting them all apart into a million mechanical pieces.

Adora used the resulting clouds of smoke as cover as she descended upon the second wave of droids, swinging her sword to and fro and with such intensity that it must have looked as though the sun itself was fighting the Horde. Robots fell left and right, sliced in half and slashed to pieces, not a single one capable of standing against the legendary Princess of Power.

Behind her, Adora could see and hear the rest of the Princess Alliance enter the fray, with each member attacking in their own unique way. Arrows were fired, nets were tossed, and ships were set aflame. Great bursts of wind blew away multiple skiffs at once as miniature tidal waves swept away the rest. Gigantic icicles burst out of the ground like sharpened stalagmites as the trees and vines of the Whispering Woods seemingly came to life to fight back against the oncoming Horde.

The open area between Bright Moon and the Whispering Woods quickly became a battlefield as numbers fell on both sides, Horde and Rebellion alike. Skiffs were shot out of the sky, laser fire permeated the landscape, and fire and smoke consumed everything else. Still, the enemy kept coming. Entire battalions of Horde troopers began to stream out of the forest on the heels of their battle droids, followed by the Horde’s usual tanks and war machines. Lightning continued to flash in the darkened sky above, temporarily illuminating portions of the conflict while casting others into almost perpetual darkness.

As time wore on, it felt less and less like a battle, and more like the end of Etheria itself.

Adora had just bisected an entire tank when she felt the familiar pain of an energy cannon blast once again strike her in the back, causing her to cry out in agony as the energy tore through her like lightning before throwing her off her feet. She didn’t even have to turn around to know exactly who had fired the cannon blast at her; of all the dishonorable things one could do in combat, striking when one’s back was turned was perhaps the most dishonorable of them all, and Adora knew only one person who would dare stoop so low.

Catra.

It was the first time Adora had seen her since the collapse of their dream, and she knew immediately that something within Catra had changed. Though smirking confidently as always, and leaning against the energy cannon of a tank several meters away as though she had been lounging there all day, still Adora could tell that something was terribly wrong with her former friend. The subtle jerking of her tail, the twitching of her ears, the darkness behind her eyes…Adora had never, in all their time together, seen Catra look quite so agitated.

Catra wasn’t just angry, Adora realized as she felt her heart sink into her stomach; she was out for blood. She was consumed by rage, acting on little more than pain and instinct, her broken heart having seemingly also broken her mind. This wasn’t the Catra Adora knew and loved; this was Catra as she had never seen her before, a Catra with nothing to lose, a Catra with murder in her eyes, a Catra with only one single goal in mind: to watch the world burn.

Catra would have set the world aflame herself just to watch it burn.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra purred from atop her tank, acting as though nothing had changed and this was simply a chance meeting like any other. “Miss me?”

“I did, actually,” Adora responded as she caught her breath and faced her former friend. “But I promise I won’t miss this time!”

With that, Adora launched herself into the air and once again drew the Sword of Protection, righteous fury flashing in her glowing blue eyes. Catra leapt out of the way just in time as Adora came crashing down on top of the tank, plunging her sword deep into its workings and causing it to explode from the inside out.

“Catra!” Adora shouted as her surroundings became consumed by fire and smoke, hiding her opponent. “Where are you?”

“I’m right here, Adora,” came Catra’s response, causing Adora to spin around, only to find she wasn’t there either. Her voice seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all at once, taunting Adora from every angle. “I’ve always been here. I never left. You’re the one who left. Remember?”

“I did what I had to do,” Adora reasoned, clutching her sword tighter as she looked back and forth through the fire and smoke, still trying to spot her opponent. “I did it for us. And I did it for you. It was a dream, Catra. It wasn’t real!”

“It was real enough to me!”

Adora didn’t even have a chance to defend herself as Catra leapt out of the clouds of smoke and swiped a clawed hand across her face, drawing blood and causing the legendary warrior to cry out in pain. Adora swung out wildly, but it was too late; Catra had once again disappeared into the surrounding clouds of smoke.

“I loved you, Adora!” Catra shouted from wherever she was hiding, once again speaking from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “But you never loved me!”

“That’s not true!” Adora argued as she wiped the blood from her face and continued to look around wildly. “You mean everything to me!”

“Liar!”

Catra hissed as she burst out of the smoke and dug her claws into Adora’s back, once again digging deep enough to draw blood. Adora screamed and reached backwards to try and grab hold of her, but Catra had already vanished.

“I never wanted to hurt you, Adora. But you made me do it! You’re still making me!”

She was visible again for only a split-second, just long enough to dash between Adora’s legs and lacerate the backs of her knees.

“Agh!” Adora cried out, fighting to remain standing. “Catra! Stop!”

“Never! I’ll never stop! Not until Etheria falls…and you fall with it!”

Adora grunted as Catra emerged from out of the smoke just to kick her right in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her lungs and forcing her to her knees before disappearing once again.

“You were the only person I ever loved, Adora, and you took that away! So now I’m going to take away everything you love! Bright Moon, the Rebellion…even your pathetic little friends Glimmer and Bow!”

That did it.

Though it wasn’t always readily apparent, Adora could tolerate a great deal of pain and punishment, particularly when she was She-Ra. In the last year since finding the Sword of Rebellion and joining the Rebellion, Adora had lost her home, her best friend, and her entire way of life. She had been punched, stabbed, drugged, thrown off cliffs and tall buildings, and had even been electrocuted far too many times than was reasonable. But still she kept going, because she had to, because she must; for the fate of Etheria, Adora could tolerate almost anything.

What she would not tolerate was a threat against her friends.

“ENOUGH!!” she bellowed as she turned the Sword of Protection upside down and then thrust it into the ground. She did so with enough force that the blade not only sank into the rocky ground beneath her, but it sent a shockwave of electrical energy reverberating outwards in every direction, knocking away surrounding soldiers and robots and finally dispersing all of the clouds of smoke. Now there was nowhere for Catra to hide.

Adora was stopped short in her search for her opponent, however, as she finally noticed the battlefield around her. With the clouds of smoke quickly disappearing, she now had a clear and unfettered view of the conflict, and what she saw horrified her to her very core.

The battlefield was littered with the remains of a hundred droids, their crimson fuel soaking into the ground and staining it a permanent red in color. Fire and smoke dominated the horizon, revealing an entire section of the Whispering Woods was in flames. Even Bright Moon itself had sustained damage, with several of its wondrous towers lying in ruins and the roof of the palace on fire. The sky above was as dark and tumultuous as before, but the lightning that flashed between the storm clouds was now dyed a deep scarlet in color, casting an eerie red light upon the land.

It’s the end of the world, Adora thought. Etheria is falling apart around me…and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

“Admiring the view?” Catra asked, revealing herself to be standing on the remains of the broken tank several meters behind Adora as the latter looked out over the battlefield in horror. “I guess I can’t blame you. It is your fault this is happening, after all.”

“No…” Adora said simply, her eyes widening as she surveyed the destruction the Horde had wrought. “That…that’s not true.”

“It is,” Catra reassured her, grinning cruelly as she leapt from the top of the broken tank and landed just behind Adora, close enough to lower her voice to a harsh whisper. “You did this, Adora. Sure, I can take some credit, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all your fault. And you know why?”

“No…” Adora said again, tears in her eyes. “Please…”

Because you broke my heart.”

Catra’s words struck Adora like a ton of bricks, knocking the air out of her lungs and the courage out of her heart. It was true, she realized; this really was all her fault. She was the one who had broken Catra’s heart; she was the one Catra wanted; she was the reason all these people were suffering on both sides. It was all her fault.

Except…it wasn’t.

“No,” she finally said after a moment of contemplation, her horrified expression transforming into one of steely resolve. “I’ve made mistakes, Catra. I know that. But they were my mistakes. Leaving you when I joined the Rebellion; that was my fault. Not doing enough to protect you growing up; that was my fault. But this…this isn’t my fault, Catra. It’s yours.”

Behind her, Catra’s face twisted into a dark and angry grimace. “What did you just say?

Adora turned to look Catra in the eye, revealing her own were once again glowing with power. Even consumed as she was by rage and hatred, still Catra felt a shiver run down her spine as she felt the fiery eyes of She-Ra upon her.

“I said this is your fault, Catra,” Adora proclaimed with a powerful finality. “Not mine. All this destruction, all this death…it’s your responsibility. Just as it’s my responsibility to stop you!”

With that, Adora attacked, swinging the Sword of Protection around in hopes of catching Catra off-guard. Catra dodged, just as she always did, causing the sword to instead slice through nothing but thin air. Then they were fighting again, sword vs. claws, hero vs. villain, yet another epic duel for the fate of the world.

“This is your fault, Adora, not mine!” Catra insisted as she lunged at Adora, only to be blocked by the flat of the warrior’s blade. “None of this is my fault!”

“Because you don’t think anything is ever your fault!” Adora shouted at her, knocking Catra back and then going in for another attack. “Don’t you see, Catra? You live in a fantasy world where nothing is ever your fault! Because that’s the only way you can cope with the guilt of all the horrible things you’ve done!”

“Shut up!” Catra shouted, leaping out of the way and then lunging at Adora with claws bared.

“You know it’s true!” Adora persisted, blocking each and every one of Catra’s strikes. “You’re living a lie, Catra, just like I was! Just like in our dream! You can’t just wish away the bad things you’ve done, or pretend they never happened! You need to forgive yourself, but you can’t do that without waking up and acknowledging what you’ve done!”

“I said shut up, Adora!” Catra exclaimed as she continued to slash wildly and desperately, her anger blinding her to everything else. “I hate you! I hate you!”

“You don’t hate me, Catra! You hate yourself!” Adora insisted, still dodging each of Catra’s wild strikes. “You hate yourself for what you’ve done and you can’t deal with that. But you have to! You can’t live a lie your entire life, Catra! You have to face reality! It’s the only way you can ever move on!”

“I don’t want to move on!” Catra shrieked, tears in her eyes as she kept up her attacks. “All I ever wanted was you! And you took that away from me! So now I have to take everything away from you! Even Etheria!”

Adora cried out as Catra finally gave up trying to tear into her and instead simply lunged right at her, throwing all of her body weight into the attack and successfully throwing the legendary warrior off-balance. Catra acted quickly, yanking the Sword of Protection out of Adora’s hands and then tossing it far enough aside that she wouldn’t be able to use it. A moment later, Adora was on the ground and Catra was on top of her and scratching furiously.

“You keep saying you can’t live a lie, but I’ve lived a lie my entire life, Adora!” Catra screamed as she scratched at every inch of flesh she could find, despite Adora’s desperate attempts to dodge the attacks. “I was never treated like you were, or appreciated like you were, or loved like you were! I spent my entire life trying to be your equal, and then you abandon me the moment you find some stupid sword! And then we’re enemies all of a sudden, and that’s the biggest lie of them all! Because we both know we aren’t!”

Adora was unable to respond, as she was far too busy trying to block Catra’s wild slashes and crying out in pain when the claws did manage to dig into her flesh. Adora was already bleeding from over a dozen wounds at this point, and she knew full well that if it weren’t for She-Ra’s superhuman durability, the trauma and blood loss alone would have killed her by now.

“I wake up in a bed I didn’t earn and fight the person I love the most because I work for a warlord I hate so I can help him conquer a planet I don’t care about!” Catra went on, still slashing wildly, often missing and digging her claws into the ground surrounding Adora. “It’s all just one big lie, Adora! It always has been! Our dream was the only good lie I ever had! And you took that away from me!”

And though Adora was in the midst of being torn to pieces by the woman she loved, still she heard every word Catra spat at her. Every accusation hit her like a knife to the heart, digging it in deeper and deeper until she was sure she was going to die, not from trauma or blood loss, but from a broken heart.

I’m sorry, Catra, she thought to herself, wishing she could say it aloud but finding herself wholly unable to do so while still at the mercy of the feline’s furious assault. I should have helped you. I should have done more for you. But I failed you. Just like I failed everyone else.

Meanwhile, with her outburst all but done and Adora lying in a pool of blood and tears beneath her, Catra dramatically lifted her right hand above her head and extended her claws out to their sharpest extent.

“You remember how this started, Adora?” Catra asked mockingly, her hand still raised and poised to strike. “You said you didn’t want to go back to a life without me in it. Well, now you won’t have to! And who knows? Maybe I’ll still get to see you in my dreams!”

With that, Catra’s hand descended in order to deliver the killing blow…

…only for Adora to grab her by the wrist and stop her short with She-Ra’s superhuman strength. Catra’s eyes widened in surprise (and perhaps even a little in fear) as she watched Adora’s eyes snap open to reveal they were gleaming with a powerful golden light. In fact, Adora’s entire form seemed to be glowing with golden light all of a sudden, as though she had finally tapped into a reserve of power she didn’t even know she had.

“You’ll definitely see me in your dreams, Catra,” Adora said, her voice raspy but steady and gaining in strength with every word. “Because I’m not going anywhere!”

WHAM!

With a mighty swing of her fist, Adora sent Catra flying through the air and into the trunk of a tree about fifty feet away. The impact knocked all the air out of Catra’s lungs and caused her to fall to her knees in front of the tree, struggling to catch her breath as she watched Adora stand back up and begin to approach her.

Only…it wasn’t Adora anymore. It was She-Ra.

She looked like she had the very first time Catra had laid her eyes upon the legendary warrior outside Thaymor, less like a human being and more like a goddess or some divine avatar. Her aura was blindingly bright, enough to illuminate the otherwise dark world around them, and she moved with a silent but steady grace, her cape billowing out behind her majestically. Even her eyes were different, somehow colder, as though Adora had finally been pushed past her breaking point.

For Adora, everything suddenly seemed to be happening as though through a great fog. She had a general sense of the events occurring around her – the battle, the lightning, her duel with Catra – but the details were becoming strangely fuzzy. The more she called upon She-Ra’s strength, it seemed, the less control she had over her own actions.

“It’s over, Catra,” Adora announced as she approached, her hands clenched into fists and her sword all but forgotten.

“It’s not over until I say it’s over!” Catra growled before throwing herself at Adora once again, claws bared and with bloodlust in her eyes.

But Adora didn’t even bother to dodge. All she did was deliver another devastating punch, one powerful enough to completely throw Catra off-balance and send her tumbling backwards onto the ground unceremoniously.

“I said it’s over,” Adora reiterated, her fists glowing with a powerful golden light. “Stay down.”

“You can’t…tell me…what to do!” Catra managed to get out before leaping at Adora yet again.

This time, Catra managed to get in two good swipes before Adora blocked the third and then punched her again, this time right in the face, almost breaking her nose and sending her stumbling backwards in a daze.

“Stay down!” Adora shouted, her eyes growing colder and filling with rage. “I don’t want to hurt you!”

“Well, too bad!” Catra shouted back, spitting blood on the warrior’s crisp white outfit. “You’ll have to hurt me, Adora, because I won’t stop. I’ll never stop. I told you I’d kill you for what you did, and I meant it! That’s what the real world is like! It’s kill or be killed!”

“Fine!” Adora declared, her voice growing louder and deeper as more and more of She-Ra’s influence took over. “Have it your way!”

With that, Adora threw herself at Catra, who was so surprised at the warrior taking the initiative (and still rather weak from being punched in the face) that she wasn’t able to even try to block before Adora struck her. What followed was little more than a pummeling as Adora further tapped into She-Ra’s superhuman strength and used it – all of it – to express all the anger and heartbreak she had been feeling since the battle began.

The fog shrouding her mind grew stronger…but so did her attacks.

“This is for Bright Moon!” she cried.

WHAM!

“This is for all the people who died here today because of you!”

WHAM!

“And this…is for Etheria!”

WHAM!

Catra cried out one last time as Adora punched her with all her superhuman might, sending her flying backwards into the same tree as before, but this time with enough force to snap the trunk of the tree in half and cause the entire thing to collapse in on Catra. By the time the dust cleared and the last leaf had fallen, Catra laid bloodied and half-conscious atop a broken stump and surrounded by branches.

Without another word, and with seemingly no remorse, Adora closed the distance between them and then plucked Catra out of the debris, lifting her by the hem of her uniform. Catra groaned as Adora then slammed her up against the trunk of yet another tree, pressing her back to the bark and holding her high enough that they could look each other in the eye. As Catra watched, Adora pulled back her other arm and clenched her free hand into a fist that glowed with a light brighter than ever before.

Catra recognized it immediately; this was to be the killing blow.

Were it under any other circumstance, or against any other person, Catra might have continued to struggle. All her life, Catra had fought to be at the top of the food chain, had struggled and clawed her way up from the very bottom, fighting just to prove she had the right to exist. Sitting back and letting herself die, allowing someone to kill her without fighting back…that wasn’t something Catra knew how to do. Yet it was something she was going to do all the same.

Will I dream?, she wondered as she stared death in the face. I hope so. And I hope I see you there, Adora. I truly do.

The fog in Adora’s mind, meanwhile, had grown heavy and thick, blurring her perception. She felt detached from her own actions, yet still somehow a participant, as though someone else was subtly guiding her thoughts and actions for her. She knew, for example, that one more punch would be enough to end Catra’s life and, while that was something she very clearly didn’t want, she found herself wholly unable to convince herself to do otherwise.

Whatever it was that was controlling Adora’s actions and fogging her mind, it wanted Catra dead. And so long as it wanted Catra dead, Adora did, too.

For Etheria.

As Catra watched, Adora pulled her fist back as far as she could, building up as much momentum as possible, and began to channel all of her strength and energy directly into it. Her aura glowed brighter than ever before, almost blindingly so, and Catra knew, deep down, that this was the end.

“Do it,” Catra finally managed to get out as Adora stared into her heterochromatic eyes. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Do it, Adora. Kill me. It’s okay. I’m already dead inside.”

And with that, the fog was lifted.

At the sound of the sorrow and desperation in Catra’s voice, a thousand thoughts and feelings bombarded Adora all at once, as though the fog in her mind had been holding back a veritable stampede of memories and emotions.

She remembered her childhood in the Fright Zone, growing up with Catra by her side, playing pranks on each other and sharing food and bedding and watching out for one another when no one else would.

She remembered their many fights as commanders of opposing armies, epic duels which always seemed to end with one of them leaving broken and bloodied, followed by nights spent alone and wishing the other was there beside them.

She remembered the dream, their own personal fantasy world, hers and Catra’s, a world where they could be together without distractions, without wars, without anyone or anything to stop them from simply being who they had always wanted to be.

Above all else, she remembered how desperately and hopelessly in love she was with Catra.

In short, she remembered everything.

As Catra watched, still half-conscious and waiting for the killing blow, tears began to well up in Adora’s eyes as the rage and hatred faded away into nothingness. Her fist, which only seconds ago had been glowing with golden light and looked ready to strike, began to dim and shake in uncertainty. When next it finally swung forward, it wasn’t to deliver the final blow…but to pull Catra into a deep and intimate embrace.

To say Catra was surprised would be an understatement, as the Force Captain had fully expected Adora to end her life, not pull her into a loving hug. As the reality of the situation set in, and she realized she was not, in fact, going to die, she felt Adora’s muscular arms tighten around her and heard the gentle sound of her sobbing.

There was a gentle flash of light, and then She-Ra was gone, leaving an injured and exhausted Adora to hold Catra in her arms and cry into her shoulder.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Adora said through the tears now openly streaming down her face despite her closed eyes. She held Catra close, almost painfully so, as though terrified of losing her should she let go. “I can’t fight you anymore, Catra. I won’t.”

“You have to!” Catra protested weakly, almost as though she had wanted to die. “You said it yourself, Adora. This isn’t our dream. This is the real world. And in the real world…we don’t get to choose.”

“I don’t care!” Adora responded, practically shouting, but only pulling Catra closer still. “I won’t live a lie anymore! You’re not my enemy, Catra, and I won’t pretend you are! Not anymore!”

“But why, Adora?” Catra asked. “You could have ended the war. You could have stopped me once and for all. Why are you doing this? Why?”

“Because I love you,” Adora told her as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, sniffing lightly and then pulling back just far enough so that she could look into Catra’s eyes as she spoke, revealing the tears still welling up in her own. “And because – whether it’s for real or in my dreams – I don’t want to go back to a life without you in it.”

There was a moment of silence between them…and then Adora and Catra were kissing, truly kissing, in the real world, for the very first time.

As wonderful as their dozens of previous kisses had been in their shared dream, none of them even came close to comparing to Adora’s and Catra’s first kiss in the real world. This kiss felt so much more powerful, so much more substantial, so much more real, than anything they had ever experienced before. The feel of the other’s lips, the scent of their hair, the shivers of pleasure running down their spines, it all felt so wonderfully new. For Adora and Catra, it truly felt as though they were kissing one another again for the very first time.

“I love you, Catra,” Adora declared after their kiss had finally come to an end. “Whether I’m awake or dreaming…I love you. And I always will.”

“You, too,” Catra replied softly as she finally gave in to her own tears. “More than you know.”

And then the two of them were holding each other in their arms and crying as though the world was falling apart around them. The battle seemed to fade away into the distance as Adora and Catra fell to their knees and cried in each other’s arms, finally releasing all of the pain and heartbreak that had been dwelling within them for so long. The black clouds and red lightning no longer concerned either of them so much as the other person in their arms, the one they loved, the one they had come so close to killing only moments before. All of Etheria could have been aflame, and yet neither of the two would have noticed.

For a time, Adora and Catra simply kneeled there in the mud and blood and allowed one another to cry, never once releasing the other for fear of losing them forever.

“I’m so sorry,” Catra finally managed to say through the pain and tears. “For all of it. For breaking your trust, for hurting you, for everything. I know it wasn’t your fault. It was mine. It was all mine.”

“It’s okay,” Adora told her, sniffling as she simply hugged Catra tighter still. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

After countless minutes, the tears finally stopped, and the sights and sounds of battle returned to Adora and Catra as though they were waking from a dream to find themselves in the darkest of realities. Bright Moon still stood in the distance, if barely, and both the Rebellion and the Horde were still at war. The sky above them was dark and consumed by red lightning, and the fields around them were littered with mechanical remains and stained with blood and fuel. Etheria itself was at war, and the two of them were at its center.

But when they stood back up, they did it together, and that made all the difference in the world.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Adora said as she looked out over the battlefield. “It won't be easy.”

“No,” Catra agreed after a moment. “But we won’t have to do it alone. Not anymore.”

Then, as Adora watched, Catra walked over to where the Sword of Protection lay and plucked it from the bloodstained ground. She lifted the sword into the air and stared at it for a moment, as though studying the craftsmanship, before finally turning to face Adora once more.

“What do you say we go end this war once and for all?” Catra asked, offering the sword to Adora, as a show of good faith. “Together?”

“Together,” Adora replied with a nod. She smiled lightly as she accepted the blade offered to her. “And when we're done saving the world…we’ll build a new world. A better one. Like the one in our dream. Sound like a plan?”

Catra smiled. “Sounds like a dream come true.”