Things got a lot worse when Catra turned fourteen.
She’d always been sensitive, but not like this. Not like shaking hands and the sudden inability to breathe. Not like a tight self-embrace, eyes held shut, gritted teeth. Not like sleeping during the day and lying awake at night, not like screaming into pillows, not like hiding and lying and telling herself it was for the best.
Nothing in her life was different from how it had been one year ago, two years ago, five years ago. She was a cadet training to fight for the Horde. Shadow Weaver was her supervisor. And Adora… Adora was Adora.
This went beyond sensitivity, Catra knew. And it was happening nearly every day. It didn’t take much to set her off—a frustrating combat session, a misunderstanding with Adora, or her lesser-preferred color of ration bar. And once it started, there was no going back. There was only falling to the ground, shutting her eyes, shaking, and swallowing the pathetic sobs rising in her throat.
Catra wondered if this happened to everyone who turned fourteen. But she’d never seen any of the other cadets like this, hunched over, whimpering, betrayed by their own body and mind.
Maybe they were just better at hiding it.
Catra would get better, too.
“Hey, I know you’re in there,” said a voice from outside the bathroom stall. Of course Adora had followed her inside the locker room. Catra tried to steady her breathing, but as a result, the lump in her throat grew.
“Catra,” Adora said, “please tell me you’re okay.”
She couldn’t even talk. She was holding in so much—the tears, the lump, the shakes, the hurt—and a single word would release it all.
“I know Shadow Weaver was hard on you,” Adora continued, “and Lonnie was a jerk about the simulation.”
Catra watched Adora’s boots pace outside the stall.
“Gee,” Adora sighed, and Catra could hear her smile. “I sure hope it’s you in there, Catra, and not some other cadet with gross stinky feet.”
Catra lifted her feet off the ground.
“Hey,” Adora said, now serious. “I’m really worried about you. You’ve been sneaking away a lot. What’s going on?”
Catra couldn’t answer because she didn’t fucking know. And that was so frustrating, and terrifying, and she was all alone even though Adora stood right there—
Wait. Where were Adora’s boots?
“Holy shit,” Adora said, standing on the toilet in the stall beside Catra’s. She leaned her head over the divider, peering down at her friend. “Are you okay?”
Catra’s eyes widened in anger and fear as she pressed herself against the wall. “What the fuck, Adora?” she yelped. “You can’t just—”
“I want to help—”
“Leave me alone!” Catra shouted. She swiped at Adora’s stupid face with her claws at full length. It was an impulse, an instinct, a desperate act of self-defense.
Adora cried out, holding her hand to the cuts on her cheek, shocked and fearful.
Catra did that.
“Go!” Catra snarled.
She closed her eyes as Adora’s footsteps faded, sinking her claws into her crossed arms.
All she could do now was lean into the pain.
Catra could hardly recognize herself in the mirror.
No more hair tufts, the playthings of Adora and Shadow Weaver. A new uniform—asymmetrical, dark, commanding. Powerful.
She had decided to overthrow Hordak the day after the portal’s activation—now, it was only a matter of finding the right opportunity.
She’d seize the throne, command the Horde, and finally put an end to the Rebellion, Shadow Weaver, and Adora. She’d break the world until it was broken enough to hold her, and she’d die before letting someone hurt her again.
Catra looked herself in the eyes and nodded.
This is who you are.
This is what you deserve.
The portal had taken Catra whole.
She let herself go and watched Adora’s face as she fell into oblivion. And that was supposed to be it—then, it would be over. And she would have won.
This didn’t feel like winning.
The black corruption consumed Catra’s body and face, sizzling as it met her skin, untouched by her desperate attempts to claw it away. Static buzzed in her brain, her vision cut in and out, and she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
Look at yourself, said a cruel voice in her head, one she knew all too well. Pathetic. You can’t even die right.
It’s Adora’s fault, the voice continued. She left you and it’s her fault. It’s Shadow Weaver’s fault, too, and Hordak’s, and Entrapta’s, and Scorpia’s…
And it’s your own fault, Catra, for expecting anything different. You never learn, do you? It always ends like this. This is who you are. This is what you deserve.
She stopped screaming. There was no point.
The Whispering Woods pierced through the portal’s light and Catra stumbled towards the crumbling world. It didn’t have long, this fucked-up portal reality—but then again, neither did she.
Catra grinned, deranged, as she returned a monster.
It had gotten so much worse.
Catra couldn’t sleep more than two hours a night, could feel the folds of her own undereye circles, the ache of her arms and legs despite her physical fitness. She was possessed by her own spite and determination, turning to hyper-productivity and overexertion to avoid confronting herself.
This is who you are.
She didn’t remember the last time she ate. She only allowed herself a ration bar when the aching in her chest became unbearable, or she stumbled when she walked. A few days ago she had been so sleep-deprived that the corners of her vision started to go dark. Noticing this, Double Trouble annoyed her as Kyle until she finally gave in, retreated to her quarters, and fell into a restless sleep.
She had slept, sure, but hadn’t truly rested. Her mind threw her like a ragdoll from one scenario to the next, a never-ending barrage of guilt and pain. In one, she killed Adora in the Whispering Woods with a sharp swipe to her throat. In another, she captured Adora and held her prisoner in the Horde, chained up, miserable, defeated. Then she died at She-Ra’s remorseless hand as Shadow Weaver watched.
It had almost been a relief when she woke up—almost.
Every day was the same. She smiled, but she wasn’t happy. She laughed, mostly at Double Trouble’s antics, but wasn’t truly fulfilled. It was transactional, after all.
Scorpia was different. She knew Catra more than Double Trouble, had cared to know her. Catra couldn’t bring herself to reciprocate, though—not when caring about people got her into this mess in the first place.
Of course she was lonely. She had been lonely since the day Adora left. But Adora wasn’t Adora now—she was She-Ra, the enemy. Scorpia had been something of a comfort, for a time, until she finally threw in the towel. As much as it stung, Catra could hardly blame her. Ever since the portal, she’d lashed out at Scorpia in nearly every interaction they had.
At least now she was being honest with herself. For so long she had struggled to be the person Adora thought she was, Scorpia thought she was, even she herself occasionally wanted to be. Someone deserving of love and capable of loving, someone who could be strong without being cruel.
This is what you deserve, Catra told herself, punching the wall so hard her fist bled. This is what you deserve, Catra told herself, crying on photographs and drawings from years ago. This is what you deserve, Catra told herself, holding her breath and wondering what would happen if she never inhaled again.
She didn’t want people to know, but obviously they did. They gossiped and laughed, gave her patronizing looks as she commanded them, narrowed their eyes as she stormed by. They could see her falling apart. They wanted her to fall apart. It was the entire world against her, and if she showed an ounce of insecurity or fear, she’d lose her power. She’d have nothing, then. Not a fucking thing.
This didn’t happen to Adora. She had her friends, Shadow Weaver’s support, her magical destiny and fancy sword. She didn’t need Catra, and never had.
It was Catra’s secondary goal as Co-Lord to take that power away, humiliate and reduce Adora in front of her found family. Stoke her insecurities, strike her weakest spots. Show the world that Adora was far from the hero she pretended to be.
It was sadistic, her desire to watch Adora fail. Catra had tried to capture her, degrade her, leave marks in her flesh that would never disappear. She was possessive with her hatred, determined to make Adora’s new friends suffer at her own hands. Determined to watch. Determined to control Adora, because she’d never been able to control anything, least of all herself.
What had she said in the Battle of Bright Moon, traversing the clifftops to avoid She-Ra’s attacks?
“It won't be over until I see your friends' faces when they find out that you failed—that you were too weak to save them.”
What had she said in the Northern Reach, smirking at Adora’s unconscious form?
“Always so perfect… look at you now. You're coming back to the Horde under my command.”
“I wonder which of your friends I'll have you annihilate first.”
What had she said traveling from the Crimson Waste to the Fright Zone, Adora bound and gagged beside her? Not a fucking word. Catra had only watched her struggle, amused and belittling. She wrapped her arm around Adora, holding her sword just out of reach, and threw her at Hordak’s feet like it was easy.
Catra was pure hatred and rage, imbued with knowledge of Adora’s insecurities and fears. It consumed her with every word she uttered, in every new location she manifested with the portal’s power.
She summoned the Crimson Waste cantina, where she had intimidated dozens of hardened criminals. She slammed Adora down on the counter, trapping her between her legs, and stared down at her terrified face. The portal had replaced any mercy or benevolence within Catra with pure, undiluted wrath. She grinned at Adora’s pathetic attempts to placate her—how didn’t she know it was too fucking late? Catra relished Adora’s cries of pain as she bent her arm back, forcing her into a standing position.
"Let's be honest,” Catra taunted in her ear, “All of this is your fault.”
She flung Adora to the Northern Reach, where Catra had infected She-Ra’s sword. “If you hadn't gotten captured, your sword wouldn't have opened the portal.”
She grabbed Adora by the shoulders and shoved her against the overpass railing, disappearing for a second before forcing her to her knees from behind. She threw snow in Adora’s face and grabbed her by the shoulder, dragging her roughly against the bridge’s cold metal.
She pulled Adora to her feet and slammed her against the railing again. “If you hadn't gotten the sword and been the world's worst She-Ra, none of this would've happened.”
Catra threw Adora over the bridge, submerging her in the waters of Salenias, watching as she struggled to reach the surface. Catra pulled Adora out of the water by her ponytail, hissing right into her ear. “Admit it, Adora—the world would still be standing if you had never come through that portal in the first place.”
And then they were at Princess Prom, Adora lying at her feet. “You made me this,” Catra cried, her voice distorted by the portal’s influence. Adora tried to run, to leave Catra again, wiping the grin off her corrupted face. She shoved a foot against Adora’s back and slammed her face-down on the ground.
“You took everything from me,” Catra spat, thrusting Adora onto her throne in the Crimson Waste. She trapped her with a hand beside her head, dominating her in the only place she’d ever felt powerful.
Adora was a whimpering mess, tears staining her cheeks, golden strands freed from her perfect hair bump. Catra basked in her triumph—this was her throne, her broken world, and her Adora.
“You broke the world,” she sneered, “and it is all your fault.”
Catra wanted this Adora—broken, ashamed, and small. She’d trap her here until reality collapsed in on itself.
Adora’s expression turned defiant. “No, it’s not!”
She shoved Catra back inside the portal, the Whispering Woods still crumbling around them. “I didn’t make you pull the switch,” she shouted, heading for Catra as the ground splintered between them.
Catra tried to attack, but Adora caught her wrist and held it tight. “I didn’t make you do anything.”
Adora threw her roughly to the ground, hostile and resolute. “I didn’t break the world,” she said, “but I am gonna fix it. And you?”
She drew back her fist as Catra pounced. “You made your choice. Now live with it!”
Catra collapsed from the punch’s impact, black dots swimming in her vision. She could hear Adora’s heavy breathing from above.
The ground broke again, sending both them into freefall. The corruption consumed Catra’s body like a disease, claiming her as it ripped her to shreds.
Catra was living on a promise.
Adora’s every touch, every glance, every word of praise kept her going. Kept her fighting, kept her in the Fright Zone under Shadow Weaver’s instruction. She was nineteen now, and she could absolutely escape—no, not even escape, just leave.
But Catra stayed, because even if she wanted to go, she knew Adora never would. She was the golden child of the Horde, a star soldier, destined for great things. In ten years Catra had no doubt Adora would be ruling Etheria, with her loyal second-in-command by her side. Catra would never truly believe in the Horde—but she’d always believe in Adora.
And Adora would look after her, protect her, fight for her until all the bullshit faded away. She’d seen Catra at her worst and stayed by her side. She held her nearly every night, kissing the crown of her head, making her feel safe and warm and loved.
She was Adora’s, and Adora was hers.
For nineteen years, it was enough.
The air smelled like fire from Hordak’s onslaught. Catra stood above him, breathing heavily, battle-damaged but somehow victorious.
She turned to face Adora, her eyes going wide with shock. “No,” her voice cracked, “you can’t do this. You can’t come in and take this from me now.”
“Whoa, I knew this would get a rise out of you, but still, you really are obsessed… aren’t you, kitten?”
That voice. That cruel, patronizing voice, speaking the sweetest word Catra ever heard. A word reserved only for Adora, a word Catra had pretended not to notice whenever the shapeshifter uttered it.
Double Trouble laughed as they returned to their true form, grinning at Catra’s stunned expression. “You know, it took me a while, but I finally figured out your character.”
They transformed into Catra herself, pressing up against her, using her own voice to mock and tease. “You try so hard to play the big, bad villain… but your heart’s never been in it, has it?”
It was like Catra was a dumb kid again, hiding in a blanket, whimpering. “Wh—What are you…?” She held her head in her hands, forcing her eyes shut. “Stop. Stop it!”
Catra threw a weak punch at DT, only to be grabbed and forced to face herself, their claw grasping hers.
“People have hurt you, haven’t they?” DT said, walking Catra forward. They transformed into Shadow Weaver, whose very presence stopped Catra’s heart. “They didn’t believe in you.” Then they were Hordak, Entrapta’s chip missing from their chest. “They didn’t trust you.”
And then they became Adora, a cruel version of her best friend and worst enemy, staring Catra down with those icy blue eyes. “Didn’t need you,” they said in Adora’s beautiful voice, raising Catra’s hand to cup her beautiful face. Catra sobbed.
DT leaned into her touch, tenderly closing their eyes so that, just for a second, it really could have been Adora standing there. “Left you.”
Catra fell backwards and landed on the ground. DT advanced, reverted to their original form. “But did you ever stop to think,” they asked, “maybe they’re not the problem?’
Double Trouble now wore Scorpia’s face, disappointed and unyielding. “It’s you,” they said, staring down at Catra. “You drive them away, wildcat.”
“Why are you doing this,” Catra asked faintly.
The true Double Trouble leaned down to address her, clasping their hands together. “It’s for your own good, darling,” they said. “We both know this was never what you wanted.”
“But,” DT continued, raising a Horde tablet, “it was also a good distraction.”
The screen came to life, streaming the Horde’s failure to invade Bright Moon in real time. Those were Catra’s battle formations, her pulsebots, her soldiers… failing miserably.
“Your army was ambushed on their way to defenseless Bright Moon,” DT drawled. Catra could only watch as the fruits of every sleepless night, every hidden breakdown, every bout of paranoia collapsed before her eyes.
“Your face right now is almost better than applause,” DT taunted. “Almost.”
“You betrayed me,” Catra said, and fuck, did she say those three words often.
“It’s not personal, darling,” DT sighed as they stood. “You knew how this worked. The best way to survive is always choose the winning side.”
All Catra ever did was survive.
“The rebels have some sort of ancient superweapon,” DT explained. “Any minute now, they’re going to use it, and when they do… everything you’ve worked for will be destroyed.”
With a smile and a clap of their hands, Double Trouble bent down to face Catra. “I’d really better be going before that happens.”
Smirking, they pressed a long finger to her nose. “And scene.”
Somehow, Catra had survived the portal.
But she still remembered it all—what she had become, the things she said, the things she did. The ported had fed on Catra’s anger and pain, amplified it, and she had let it destroy her.
She wasn’t going to sleep tonight. She wasn’t going to sleep for a very long time. Instead Catra laid awake in bed, holding a hand to her face to make sure she was still real.
“Let’s be honest,” her own voice echoed through her head. “All of this is your fault.”
Adora’s fault for leaving her. Adora’s fault for believing she could change. Every fucking thing in Catra’s shitty life was tied to Adora, always had been.
“If you hadn't gotten the sword and been the world's worst She-Ra, none of this would've happened.”
Adora would have stayed, would have been Force Captain, would have insisted Catra and the other cadets join her in Thaymor. Would have woken up next to Catra every day, would have watched the sky with her every night. Would have held her, understood her, protected her. Would have saved Catra from her own brokenness, would have loved Catra hard enough to convince her she was better.
“Admit it, Adora—the world would still be standing if you had never come through that portal in the first place.”
Catra wouldn’t have made it in this world without Adora. She had saved Catra’s life more times than she could count. For the first nineteen years of their lives, Adora protected Catra from Shadow Weaver, became her reason to wake up every morning, gave her a safe place to lay her head every night.
Adora knew Catra so well and cared for her so deeply, chose Catra to be hers, told Catra that she was good and strong and clever no matter what anyone said.
Adora was the first and only person in Catra’s life who made her feel loved. Without her, Catra’s world was incomplete.
“You made me this. You took everything from me.”
Adora made Catra love her. She made Catra need her. She was Catra’s entire world, her person, her everything.
Then she left and took everything away.
“You broke the world, and it is all your fault.”
Adora broke Catra’s world, broke Catra’s heart, and it was Catra’s fault for letting it happen.
She tossed and turned in bed, tearing her blanket with shaking claws as tears ran down her cheeks.
This is who you are, she reminded herself through gasps and sobs. This is what you deserve.
Catra hadn’t moved an inch since Double Trouble’s betrayal, her mind racing as tears dried on her face.
They had been cruel, but they were right—this was never what she wanted. Conquering the world hadn’t satisfied her the way it did Hordak, who had the time of his life with those dumbass arm canons in Salineas.
Maybe that’s because Catra never wanted to rule the world—she just wanted Adora.
She always had, from the first time they met to the last time they fought. Catra loved Adora more than anything else in her sorry excuse for a life. She loved Adora’s strength, her protectiveness, the way she’d hold Catra late at night, making her feel so safe and warm. She loved that Adora was strange—goofy, tactless, and kind of dumb—and had no idea it was endearing as hell. She loved that Adora had the willpower and foolish optimism to get what she wanted. Catra loved that Adora wanted her—and yeah, she got her, over and over again.
Catra loved that Adora tried, even when it was stupid, or hopeless, or terrifying. Catra loved her infectious strength. With Adora, she was fearless. With Adora, she felt whole.
Why can't you just stay? We have everything we ever wanted.
It's not real, Catra. As much as I wish that things could be simple the way they used to be… there's no going back.
Ever since Adora left, Catra had struggled to fulfill her own needs, even the basic ones like eating and sleeping. Every day she braved a panic attack, or a fit of rage, or a two-hour crying session. She suffered constantly and had no idea how to stop—and Shadow Weaver’s betrayal had only made it worse.
Catra relished opportunities to hurt Adora, her friends, and Etheria at large. She sought chaos and destruction as an outlet for her rage, threw herself into her work to repress her pain. She refused to care, because she couldn’t, not when she suffered like this every single day.
Catra had ruined lives to avoid confronting herself. She had conquered, destabilized, and devastated an entire planet. She had assumed the throne of a warlord, the very same person who had conscripted her as a child to fight the war he created.
Loving Adora had gotten Catra through nineteen years. When Adora left, she didn’t even know how to function.
And suddenly it became clear, the reason why Catra had refused to join the Rebellion time and time again—
There was no going back.
It was a matter of pride, sure, but in a broader sense it was about identity. Catra’s identity, something she’d neglected her entire life, suddenly developing in Adora’s absence.
But now, slumped against fallen Fright Zone debris, Catra was just as lost as she had been the day Adora left. She had been broken from the beginning, but for nineteen years Adora’s love bandaged her up. When it unraveled, so did she.
As she awaited death by the Rebellion’s superweapon, Catra knew she never would be whole. Never would find herself, never would get better.
Whoever Catra really was, she’d never have the chance to know.
Sparkles materialized inside the chamber, aiming her staff at Catra as soon as she saw her. Catra couldn’t even bring herself to be surprised.
“Guess you wanted all my attention for yourself,” the princess taunted, glancing sideways at Hordak’s crushed form. “Your troops are gone. You’re all alone. You’ve lost.”
Catra faced the glowing staff with tired eyes. She spoke in a low and toneless voice. “What are you waiting for? Do it.”
Glimmer stared down at her opponent, eyebrows raised. Catra didn’t care that she looked weak. She didn’t care that her plan had failed. She had no idea who she was, and no one who’d miss her once she was gone.
“Looks like we’re both alone… Sparkles.”
Catra closed her eyes and waited, wondering if Glitter’s deadliest magic would look as stupid as her usual attacks. Seconds passed and she wondered if dying would hurt. Then she pictured Adora, because… well, because Adora.
Catra panned from her stupid hair bump to icy blue eyes, from her soft lips to rosy cheeks. She knew every inch of her by heart. Even though Adora hated her now, even though she had broken their promise and left, her face was still the most comforting thing Catra could imagine.
She opened her eyes when she heard the magic staff clatter to the floor. Catra gasped at what she saw—Glitter gripping her head, groaning, as bright marks spread onto her skin. The marks siphoned her magic into the air, forcing screams as Sparkles fought to stay lucid.
“Adora was right,” she cried, “Light Hope used me. She activated the Heart.”
“So?” Catra shouted, “I thought you wanted to win. Use your weapon.”
“I can’t. It would destroy everything,” Sparkles groaned and looked up at Catra. “I have to try and stop it.”
She picked up her staff and struggled towards the doorway, heading for the Black Garnet. Catra found herself rising to her feet, gripping her injury and entering the chamber. She watched, shell-shocked, as Glimmer assaulted the runestone with magic blasts.
The princess cried out in exhaustion, having made zero progress in deactivating the stone. Catra knew she should run, disappear, survive this bizarre attack to suffer another day.
But honestly? Catra was pretty fucking done with suffering.
So she stayed, leaning against the chamber wall and gripping the wound at her side.
Catra didn’t know if it was the physical pain or emotional exertion that finally did her in. Either way she fell to the ground, unseen and unheard by the struggling princess.
As her vision faded to black, she could have sworn she saw stars.
Catra found herself in the Fright Zone, wandering through empty hallways with a dull pain at her side. She didn’t know where she was going, or what time it was, or where everyone had gone.
She froze when she heard the sobs.
Catra approached the cadet’s barracks, her suspicions confirmed as she peeked inside. A small girl sat on a bottom bunk, wrapped in a blanket as she cried.
Catra knew this memory well. She would hiss and whine, but Adora would comfort her anyway, hold her, promise something only a child could. Because that’s what Catra and Adora were—lonely, dysfunctional children, one berated and the other groomed, serving a cause they didn’t understand.
But this time, Adora wasn’t there. Just one girl sat on the bed, sniffling and holding herself tight.
Catra held her breath to avoid detection. She regretted so much, had fucked up so badly in the past few months—but here she was, years and years in the past, still salvageable. Still somewhat intact, even with the crutch of a friend.
The ground moved beneath her feet, giving her no other option but to face her younger self. An impossibly fluffy little thing, Young Catra hissed at the grown woman before her.
“I’m not crying,” she snarled, wiping tears away. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
“I… don’t know,” Catra answered. “I think I’m here to figure that out.”
“Who I am.”
Young Catra scrunched her face into an adorable scowl. “I don’t care. Leave me alone. Where’s Adora?”
It was like a punch to the gut. “I don’t know,” Catra said. “She usually checks up on you, right?”
Young Catra nodded slowly. “How did you know that?”
“I just do,” Catra shrugged. “You do this a lot—get hurt, or laughed at, or scolded by Shadow Weaver. Then you wrap yourself in a blanket and cry when no one’s watching.”
“Then Adora finds you, every time—even when you don’t want her to. And she doesn’t leave until you’re better.”
“Yeah,” Young Catra murmured, “that’s what happens.”
Catra looked at the empty doorframe and sighed. “I don’t think she’s coming today.”
Her younger self burst into tears again.
“Hey, wait, look,” Catra said, moving to sit on the mattress’s edge, “she’s not always gonna be there, you know? She’ll say it and mean it, and you’ll want to believe her so much, but it’s just… it’s just not that simple.”
Young Catra went silent, holding her breath as tears dried on her cheeks. “She makes me feel better,” she finally blurted, and Catra understood with every fiber of her being.
“But can I ask you a question?”
“Why do you feel so bad in the first place?”
Young Catra looked at the ground, kneading the blanket with her hands. After a moment’s deliberation she looked into Catra’s eyes, a perfect reflection of her own.
“I think I’m broken,” she said, as though it was the simplest and truest fact in the world.
“It’s what Shadow Weaver tells me, and the Sergeant, and lots of people when I get mad or sad. But that’s just how I feel sometimes, and then I do bad stuff, like pranks or sneaking around or getting Adora into trouble. One time I took out a Force Captain’s eye.”
Catra smirked. “Octavia had it coming… dumbface.”
“She did,” Young Catra huffed. “And can I tell you a secret?”
“Sometimes, when I do that stuff, it actually feels good,” Young Catra said. “Maybe Shadow Weaver is right—I am bad.”
A growl rose in Catra’s throat. “No,” she exclaimed. “Shadow Weaver is never right.”
“It’s what everyone thinks I am, anyway,” Young Catra said, looking at the ground. “Everyone except—”
“Okay,” Catra sighed, glancing at the wall beside their bunk. No drawings yet. “What does Adora think, then?”
“She says she likes my jokes,” Young Catra said, “and my climbing and my purrs. She likes when I sleep in her bed and tell her stories, when I let her hug me for a long time because she’s tired or sad. She told me she likes my eyes. She likes that they’re not both the same. She says it’s because I’m more interesting than everyone else.”
“Adora says a lot,” Catra muttered, playing with the hem of her bodysuit. “Do you ever wonder if she’s lying?”
Young Catra looked away, staring at nothing in particular. “I need her,” she finally admitted. “I need her to protect me from Shadow Weaver. I need her to sleep at night. When everyone tells me I’m bad, I need her to tell me I’m good. She’s the only one who matters, anyway. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
Catra’s heart ached as she reached out towards the child, resting her hand on her shoulder. “What you and Adora have is… so special,” she said, her voice cracking halfway through the sentence. “But it’s simple because you’re young, and it won’t last forever. Someday things will change, and… you’re going to change with them.”
“That sounds scary,” Young Catra replied. “But if I’m with Adora, everything will be okay.”
Catra ran a hand through her hair, so different from the child’s unkempt mane. Maybe if she had defected in Thaymor, fought beside She-Ra and the Rebellion, everything would have worked out fine.
But Catra doubted it. As much as Catra and Adora had loved each other, there were always seeds of conflict. If it hadn’t been the sword, it would have been the badge. If it hadn’t been the badge, it would have been Shadow Weaver.
“Can I ask you another question?”
Young Catra yawned, stretching her arms over her head, displacing Catra’s hand in the process. She noticed this and replaced it on her shoulder, now free from the blanket cocoon. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Who do you think you are? Like, not what Shadow Weaver thinks, or what Adora thinks. You.”
Young Catra furrowed her brows. “Sometimes… I think I’m too much,” she began. “I feel too much, and then I say too much or do too much because it’s how I feel inside. Honestly, sometimes I think my life would be better if I couldn’t feel anything at all.”
Catra shook her head. It wasn’t.
“I think I like stories,” Young Catra continued. “I’ve made up lots of them, with monsters and princesses and battles and balls. And I’m always the hero.”
“The hero,” Catra repeated.
“Adora, too,” Young Catra added. “We always win in the end.”
Catra exhaled, draping half the blanket over herself. “Do you… do you think you could still be a hero without her?”
Young Catra thought for a moment, then answered at barely a whisper. “I hope so. It would make me sad, but—”
“Even if she left you?”
Young Catra froze. “She promised.”
Young Catra stole back the blanket and wrapped herself up, turning away from her adult self. “Go away,” she spat. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
And in that moment Catra wanted to scream. To tell this pathetic kid all the fucked-up things that she’d do and say, all the ways she’d be hurt and abandoned, all the times she’d feel bad with no one to help her feel better.
Instead, she just sighed. “Listen,” she said, “someday, you’re going to be alone.”
“I said, go away!”
“And you’re going to feel so bad, and Adora won’t be there to help—”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
She grabbed the younger girl’s wrists, firm but not tight enough to hurt. Tears fell from yellow and blue eyes as Catra finally faced herself.
“But I will be,” Catra affirmed. “I mean, you will be. There, with you. And you’re… you’re not bad, you’re just… a little lost.”
“I don’t care about the Horde,” Young Catra admitted. “I don’t even want to be a soldier.”
Catra nodded. “You were never given a choice to do anything else.”
“Yeah, well, that’s dumb.”
Catra laughed shortly. “You’re right. It is.”
Young Catra looked up with renewed interest. “I wanna ask you a question,” she said.
“Go for it.”
“Who do you think you are?”
Catra finally stood, ruffling the child’s hair and realizing that she missed its wild texture. “I’m very strong,” she said, “and I am very tired.”
She leaned down and pecked her younger self on the forehead, cupping her face for just a second. “But I’m not giving up.”
Catra felt dizzy as the dream began to fade. It was just them now, standing in darkness, alone but together. Young Catra blinked, unfazed. Her voice achingly familiar, she spoke barely above a whisper.
This wasn’t the Fright Zone.
Catra rubbed her head as she stood on wobbly legs, observing the unfamiliar space before her. It was cavernous, massive, with strange green lights in the unintelligible distance. She was mostly hidden by a jutting metal structure, and she lowered herself behind it at the sound of Hordak’s voice.
“I was pulled into a shadow dimension. All this time I have been trying to return to your side. But it has not been in vain. I have built an empire in your name.”
Catra’s eyes widened. This was Horde Prime’s ship. She and Hordak had been abducted, along with…
Catra peeked out and sure enough, there she was, watching Hordak interact with a very intimidating version of himself. Just the sight of Prime made Catra’s skin crawl, and then his voice—
“I received your transmission, but I could not determine its source. Until I detected an energy reading like nothing I have ever seen before. And when I arrived, this curious planet had appeared.”
Catra gulped. This guy made Hordak look like Kyle. And he knew about the superweapon Double Trouble had mentioned, the one that possessed the Black Garnet…
“I conquered this world for you,” Hordak insisted, “to show you that I am worthy, so that I may retake my place by your side. I have bent its people to my will.”
Prime stood and approached Hordak. “To your will?” he asked, grabbing his clone’s face.
“Why can I not see your thoughts?” he asked, a small smirk on his face. “I see now. You have given yourself a name. You tried to create an empire of your own. There was even a time you wished I would not come for you, is that so?”
“No, brother. I did it, all of it, for you.”
Prime dropped his hand from Hordak’s face, only to grip it tightly again. “You have forgotten who you are,” he scolded. “You truly think you are worthy to stand beside me, could be equal to me?”
Catra suppressed a gasp as Prime lifted his struggling clone into the air. “I made you in my image, but you have become an abomination.” Prime’s hair sprung to life, plugging into Hordak. “And so, you must be reborn!”
Prime dropped him to the ground as Glimmer watched in horror. Catra wondered if she should run, where she possibly could run, to escape a fate worse than Hordak’s. Prime was evil, truly evil, more intimidating than anyone Catra had met in her life.
“Take him to be reconditioned,” Prime sighed, his hair returning to its previous state. Several clones carried Hordak out of sight as Prime turned to Sparkles.
“But I have been rude,” he said. “We have a guest. Royalty, unless I'm mistaken.” He helped Glitter up with a sickening grin, standing at nearly twice her height. “I apologize for my little brother. His actions are an embarrassment. I desire only peace and order.”
“Then you’ll leave us alone?” Glimmer whimpered. Catra put her face in her hand.
Prime chuckled. “Oh, no, child. I cannot let words spread of my brother's botched conquest. For order to thrive, this whole mess must be wiped away. Beginning with you.”
Catra’s heart pounded as Glimmer backed away, staring horrified as Prime’s hand reached for her. How many times had Catra been in her place? The victim, the loser, the abandoned and abused?
She was very strong, and very tired.
But she had a promise to keep.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Catra stepped out from behind the structure, standing beside Glitter as she addressed Horde Prime. “You don’t wanna destroy Etheria. The whole planet is some kind of ancient superweapon. A really, really big one. Sparkles, here, is a part of it. And if you wanna learn how to use it, you need me.”
“A weapon,” Prime repeated, his hand still cupping Glimmer’s face. “That explains these readings. They are stronger than anything I’ve seen.”
He smiled down at Glimmer, finally lowering his hand. Catra’s tail flicked as Prime bowed to Bright Moon’s queen. “Your Majesty, what an honor to host a guest of your stature. Trust that your planet will become the jewel of my empire, and it will allow me to bring peace and order to the farthest reaches of the universe.”
Prime settled on his throne as Catra locked eyes with Glimmer. “Thank you for your allegiance, child. All creatures, no matter how small, have a place in service of Horde Prime.”
Catra swallowed her fear and took a deep breath.
We’ll see about that.
She returned to the barracks much later that day, after spending hours hiding alone in a closet. Adora already occupied their bottom bunk, her posture withered from their previous encounter.
Catra came from behind and enveloped her in a hug. Adora was startled for a second, but instantly relaxed at the sound of Catra’s breathing.
“Hey,” she muttered, her voice soft but hurt. “You went away.”
“Yeah,” Catra said, nuzzling her head into Adora’s shoulder. “I did.”
Adora’s hand went to the bandage on her face. “Today sucked.”
Catra wordlessly came to sit beside her, reaching out to cup her cheek. “Can I…?”
Adora nodded, initially wincing from the contact. The scratches were still tender, Catra realized with a pang of guilt. Still, not seconds later, Adora leaned fully into her touch, closing her eyes with a sigh.
“I’m so sorry,” Catra whispered. “I hurt you. I should never hurt you.”
“I shouldn’t have invaded your privacy,” Adora said, her eyes still closed. “You’ve been different lately. You seem like you’re going through a lot. I just wanted to help, but I think I did more harm than good.”
Catra shook her head and withdrew her hand. “You are amazing,” she said.
Adora opened her eyes. “What?”
Catra took Adora’s hands in her own, a purr building in her throat. “Thank you,” she said, “for not giving up on me.”
“Of course,” Adora responded. “And I… I know that we’re different, and we deal with different stuff, and Shadow Weaver is… Shadow Weaver, but I just… I just want you to know that I care about you so much. Even when I do it wrong.”
“There’s no way to care wrong, dummy,” Catra teased, laying back on the bed. Adora joined her without a word.
“What did you do… after?” Adora asked, turning to face Catra. “Where did you go?”
She shrugged. “Just needed some alone time, I guess.”
Adora stared into Catra’s multicolored eyes, snuggling closer so that their noses nearly touched.
“Do you feel better?”