Catra paced the hallways like a caged animal, tail lashing behind her as she went. It was fine. It was all going to be fine. Shadow Weaver was gone, yeah, but so what? She didn’t need Shadow Weaver. She didn’t need anybody. She could get out of this by herself. If only she could convince her body of it.
Her chest felt like a gaping hole, pouring blood into a sour stomach. She was so fucking stupid. How could she ever have believed she’d be good enough to make Shadow Weaver proud? How could she have ever fallen for that? After everything?
Snarling viciously, she forced the tears welling in her eyes not to fall and grabbed at the anger living inside her like a second skin, desperate to force away the weakness Shadow Weaver had capitalized on so readily.
How could she be so fucking weak?
She screamed and whirled on the nearest wall, tearing into it. Metal parted beneath her claws with a harsh screech, drowning out her voice as she used the muscles in her back to rend panels from insulation, tearing the wall to pieces like she was ripping apart a corpse.
It almost covered a strange sound behind her, but even in the midst of an ‘episode’ her instincts were razor-sharp.
Wrenching her claws from the peeled shavings of metal, she dived behind a stack of boxes, taking cover to survey the unfamiliar sound. It was a strange whirring almost like a gust of wind, but too loud, unnatural in the narrow halls of the Fright Zone. There was a gasp and the sound of someone staggering like they were off-balance, their steps short and quick as they steadied themselves.
"Bad magic baby!” said the interloper. “No interdimensional portals!”
Catra’s ears, which had been pinned against her head, swiveled forward in shock. She knew that voice. She peered over the top of the crates she’d hidden behind, and the motion must have caught their attention, because she locked eyes with...
“Oh, shit,” said the second Catra, eyes widening. She looked older, stronger, her hair pulled back in a ponytail instead of restrained by her mask. “Oh fuck me, this is bad. Your mom’s gonna kill me.”
Catra (the real Catra) frowned for a moment, confused--lord knew she didn’t have a mother--before her eyes moved to old-Catra’s arms and went just as wide.
Yeah. That was definitely a baby. A sandy-furred baby with cat ears and a gleeful smile, giggling up at old-Catra like they were playing a game.
“Okay,” she said slowly, getting out from behind the crates. Old-Catra took a step back, cradling the baby a little closer as if she were afraid Catra would like, hurt it or something. “Wanna explain to me what the fuck is going on right now?”
“Oh, sure, let me get my notes,” drawled old-Catra, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know, you little brat! Do you think I’d be here if I could help it?”
“I don’t fucking know! You’re like a million years old, maybe I go senile! If you’re even me!”
“I’m twenty-eight, asshole!”
“What’s with the fucking baby? Where did you get a baby?”
“Do you really need me to tell you where babies come from right now?” asked old-Catra, smirking, and Catra’s ears went back against her head again as she fought off an angry blush.
“No! You know what I mean!” she hissed.
“Tell you what, help me figure out when I am and I’ll explain the baby. Why’d you fuck up that poor innocent wall?”
Catra’s mood, which had been ramping up into outrage, dropped like a stone.
She crossed her arms over her chest, looking away and refusing to answer, refusing to think about it. She didn’t want to tell this older version of herself how stupid she’d been.
Before she could think of what to say, how to deflect, old-Catra’s ears flicked and she straightened in alarm.
“Shit,” she said, sharp but quiet, springing to Catra’s side and ducking behind the boxes. “I’ll be right behind you, just--pretend I’m not here. Please.”
Catra spared her a look of disgust for begging, but made no move to alert the oncoming cadet of the other her’s presence as they made a beeline for Catra herself.
“What,” she snapped, as the cadet reached her and threw up a perfect salute.
“Lord Hordak has requested your presence, Force Captain!” they said, in clipped, excited tones. “You’re to report to his lab at once.”
Catra’s blood ran cold.
“Oh,” she said after a moment. “Okay.”
She stepped past the still-saluting cadet, idly shoving them aside by the helmet. “Beat it,” she said absently.
The cadet scuttled off like an insect, and Catra stared back the way they’d come, tail waving slowly behind her.
“Any idea what this is about?” she asked, without looking back at the crates.
“I hope I’m wrong,” said old-Catra, softly. “I really, really hope I’m wrong.”
Catra had a sinking suspicion she knew exactly what this was about.
“Look, don’t worry,” said old-Catra, moving closer. “I won’t let him hurt you.”
Her tail lashed behind her. “And what are you planning on doing? You’re too busy babysitting to fight him. Even if we teamed up--”
“I’m not babysitting,” said old-Catra, stepping in front of her. The baby looked between them in pure, unfiltered confusion, clearly trying to figure out how there were two of her. “And I’m not abandoning you. Nobody will ever abandon you again, if I have anything to say about it. We’ll get through this meeting, and then we’ll talk. Okay?”
“The fuck do you mean you’re not babysitting?” Catra muttered, brushing past her so she wouldn’t have to acknowledge the way those words made her feel. “You’re literally holding a baby.”
“If they’re yours, it’s called ‘parenting’.”
Catra whipped around, barely conscious of her tail bushing out behind her.
"What?” she practically shrieked. The baby whined softly, upset by the loud noise, and old-Catra shushed it with a horrifying domesticity.
“Did you think I just found a random magicat and started carrying it around like a tote?” she asked Catra severely, pressing the baby against her neck and patting its back soothingly. “Man, I remember being smarter than this.”
“That’s--what's a--that isn’t--that’s impossible!” Catra spluttered. Because, like--a baby? Her? No way. No way in hell. Where the fuck did it even come from? Who--?
“You’re going to be late for your meeting,” said old-Catra, raising an eyebrow.
Growling wordlessly, she whipped back around and stalked towards Hordak’s lab.
No way. It was some dumb prank. It did sound like something she’d do if she were sent back in time holding a baby, just to see tween-Catra jump. So what if its ears were the same shape as hers? So what if it had big, blue eyes that made her ache with familiarity? It wasn’t true. It was some kind of trick.
- - -
“You wanted to speak with me, Lord Hordak?”
“Yes, Force Captain. I wish to--touch base, as you put it? See how my orders are being carried out.”
“Everything is running smoothly.”
“Does this mean Shadow Weaver has been transferred to Beast Island, per my orders?”
There was a brief pause as Catra realized that Hordak didn’t know. He hadn’t realized that Shadow Weaver was gone, that it was Catra’s fault--
“No,” said old-Catra from behind her, stepping out of the shadows by the door. “She escaped last night.”
Hordak whirled at the voice as Catra stiffened in betrayal, heart sinking. Why had she expected her to treat herself any better than Catra always treated people? She’d been kind, but it was easy to be kind when there was no pressure around your throat.
It made sense. She had a kid to think about, apparently.
Not like it would ever be born if she died here, though.
“What is the meaning of this?” Hordak demanded, looking between the two Catras before settling on the infant in the older her’s arms. Old-Catra’s grip tightened infinitesimally, so slight that Catra wasn’t sure Hordak would be able to notice.
“I come bearing a message from the future, little brother,” she said smoothly. Catra’s brain short-circuited. Some impossible future where she had like, kids? That was one thing. Calling Hordak her brother? “And a warning.”
“I am not your brother,” snarled Hordak, fists clenching at his sides.
“No? You would reject Prime’s light so easily?” asked old-Catra, still smooth as silk. She walked closer, stopping just outside the ring of electrical towers Catra now knew to manipulate the atmosphere. Hordak’s hands went slack, and his entire body seemed to sag in shock.
“You--then--it works?” he asked, and Catra took a step back. He sounded--hopeful. Desperately hopeful. It was wrong.
“Not even close,” said old-Catra, laughing. “You would do well to forget it entirely, in fact. It is not something which can be achieved through science, not when what’s standing in your way is magic.”
“But… you…” said Hordak, looking between them again. “You know my brother. And so he must be there, in the future. I must succeed.”
“Ah, little brother,” said old-Catra. She shook her head slowly, almost pitying, and it scared Catra to see. This was the natural conclusion of her attempts at manipulation, this artful dance she was leading Hordak into, and it was terrifying. “Therein lies my warning. You were attempting to trap me, to punish me for what you perceived as a failure, but Prime sees all. Prime knows all. In my past, your future--you will return to your place by his side.”
“What is the warning?” Hordak asked warily. “I don’t understand.”
Old-Catra lifted her chin. “I am beloved in Prime’s sight,” she declared, almost regally. Catra couldn’t look away. “My daughter is integral to his plans. If you damage me beyond repair, you will be reunited--but you will not be welcomed.”
“And how is it you know to warn me?” he scoffed, finally getting suspicious. “Clearly I didn’t kill you, if you come from the future.”
“I remembered being warned,” she said simply. “Listen to me, little brother: The portal will not work. You must move past it. Only then will the true path reveal itself to you; only then can you prove all that you are worth.”
Her voice was growing softer, and Catra watched in fascination as Hordak drew closer instinctively, grasping at her words.
“We will rejoin him soon, and cast out the shadows of Despondos. You will not simply let the Horde in--you will bring all of Etheria to Prime, and with it a weapon beyond comprehension. You will be his greatest general.”
Hordak shuddered, transfixed.
“I was at your side on the day of your reunion,” said old-Catra, smiling at him as she held her daughter close. “As you told him of your conquest, how you built an army, an empire, from ashes! He saw, then, that you had redeemed yourself. That you had overcome your defects, and were worthy to embody his image.”
“What must I do?” asked Hordak, voice trembling.
“You need only to trust me, little brother,” she purred. “Shadow Weaver is of no concern. She’s been broken by her escape, and will never again be strong. But Catra--this Catra--she grows stronger day by day. I am beloved in Prime’s sight because of the things she is able to accomplish, the battles she wins, the worlds she razes.”
Her eyes grew feverish as she spoke, and Catra found herself leaning in as well, drunk on the promise of power, of safety.
“Forgive this transgression as Prime shall forgive yours. Underestimating a prisoner is hardly the worst of crimes, and she intended to confess when pressed.”
Catra blinked out of her stupor at the bold-faced lie.
How much of this was pretend? Was she ever going to be as this older her described? To be strong? To win?
“Very well,” said Hordak finally, looking askance at the strange technological tangle he’d been working on every time Catra had been in here. “I shall need to think on this.”
“Of course,” old-Catra said, still smooth, still smiling. “I must return to my time, but I would like to impart some wisdom to my younger self. We’ll take our leave now.”
She didn’t ask for permission. She just turned on her heel and went, and Hordak let her.
Catra trailed after her, trying not to gape, all the way back to her quarters.
Old-Catra immediately sagged onto the bed, clutching the baby to her chest and pressing her face into its hair, eyes screwed shut like she was trying not to cry.
“That… that was amazing,” said Catra. “Do you really remember this? How much of that was true?”
“Oh, it was ninety percent bullshit,” said old-Catra, a little hysterically. She opened her eyes to peer up at Catra, face still pressed against the baby as it cooed in her arms. “You will be, though. Strong.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, each processing what they saw reflected back.
“You’re so young,” said old-Catra finally, so heavy, so sad.
“I’m not that young,” she said automatically, scowling. “I’m an adult. You’ve got less than a decade on me.”
“That’s a third of my life, kid. But that’s not what I mean. I mean… I look back at how I used to be, the mistakes I made, and I hate myself for it.”
Catra flinched, but old-Catra shook her head.
“Let me finish. I hate myself for it, because I’m looking at it all with hindsight, knowing how it feels to achieve everything I ever wanted. Knowing how worthless it felt in the end, compared to being happy. But I look at you and… you’re just a kid. You’re so scared, and alone, and you don’t think anyone cares about what happens to you. You think you have to do this by yourself.”
Catra made a face as she struggled not to get emotional, breath coming a little too shallow.
“Well--well I am, okay?” she demanded, voice cracking. “I am alone! I wasn’t enough for Adora to stay, I wasn’t enough for Shadow Weaver, I--”
“Nothing is enough for Shadow Weaver,” old-Catra said sharply.
Old-Catra stared at her as she fought the heaving breaths, wrestling back tears.
“Not even Adora,” she said. Catra looked back at her, ears folding against her head.
“Of course Adora,” she argued. “Adora is--she always did everything right. She’s perfect, and better than everybody, and she knows it, so--”
“Shut up,” old-Catra snarled, shocking her into silence. “Adora is just a person. She’s just a kid, too. And yeah, she’s an idiot, but she’s always cared about you, Catra. She--she loves you more than anything.”
“Then why did she leave?”
Old-Catra sighed, shifting the baby so that it was cradled in the crook of her elbow, smiling down at it for a moment. “Like I said, she’s an idiot. We’ve both hurt each other so much. But--and this part is important--she doesn’t understand yet, just how bad things were here. How hard it was, not just on us, but on her. She wanted to stay with you, but--when has Adora ever done what she wants? Over what she thinks she has to?”
Catra’s tail lashed behind her.
It wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough.
Even if Adora had wanted her, it would never have been enough.
She was broken out of her brooding by a sharp giggle, looking up to see old-Catra tickling the baby’s stomach with one claw.
“What’s--what’s her name?” she asked awkwardly, shifting her weight.
“None of your business.”
Catra bristled. “I”m pretty sure it’d be hard to find something more my business!”
Old-Catra laughed, beckoning her over. “Relax, brat. I’m messing with you. Come and meet her.”
Catra sat on the bed beside her, watching warily as the baby stared up at her.
It was kind of cute, she guessed. Sandy pale fur, dark ears, a light brown tail the same color as the patch of hair on its head. And its eyes were enormous.
It was so small and helpless, trying to shove its foot in its mouth. It couldn’t even sit up on its own.
“Aw, Catra,” said old-Catra, grinning down at her as she leaned closer. “Are you getting all maternal on me? I would’ve thought you’d think she was gross.”
“She is,” Catra snapped automatically. “I just… I don’t know.”
It wasn’t like she loved it. LIke, it was cute, and it was clearly important to her in the future, but she wasn’t going to war over it or anything. Maybe she did want to keep it safe. It had been so long since she’d seen such an open display of weakness. It made her feel strange, like she was intruding on some intimate moment.
But whatever, she wanted to keep lots of stuff safe. Herself, her secrets, her friends. It didn’t have to be a big deal that she was now including this pathetic scrap of fur.
“Her name is Cyra,” old-Catra said softly. “I’d let you hold her, but I don’t really want to put her down. I’m still not sure how she got us here.”
“Wait, she did this?” Catra demanded, pointing at the incontinent mess gnawing on its own toes.
“Yeah,” sighed old-Catra. “She’s kind of… magic. It’s usually cute stuff, like making her mobile spin, or her toys moving, but… well, it’s a long story.”
“Why the hell is she magic?” Catra asked, horrified. “Please tell me you didn’t shack up with a princess.”
Old-Catra laughed, free and unrestrained, lilting and a little creaky but so infectious Catra found herself smiling by the time she wound down.
“You could say that, yeah,” she said finally, wheezing a little. “Actually--about that. We should talk some more about Adora.”
Catra’s heart skipped a beat.
“Well that’s quite the segue,” she managed. She looked down into Cyra’s strikingly blue, familiar eyes. It couldn’t be, right?
One of her eyes was blue, anyway. It wouldn’t be that weird, genetically speaking, if the shade were a little different.
“Talking about princesses, Adora’s a princess sometimes, it makes sense,” said old-Catra, waving a hand dismissively. Catra wilted a little, caught between relief and a surge of disappointment she forced down immediately. It did make sense. It was a perfectly reasonable transition. “Anyway--we were talking about how Adora’s an idiot.”
“Yeah, and water’s wet,” said Catra, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah. You’re an idiot too.”
Catra bristled. “Wh--fuck you! I’m way smarter than Adora!”
“Uh, not about feelings, dipshit,” said old-Catra, leveling her an unimpressed stare. “I know you know how you feel about her. I’m you, remember?”
Catra looked away, growling low in her throat. “The way I felt about her. We’re enemies now.”
“Please. If it were that easy to get over it you would’ve snuffed it out when you first realized,” scoffed old-Catra. “Look, I know it hurts. I know how it feels. But you’re worth so much more than anyone’s ever told you. You’re fast and smart and agile, sure, but you’re more than what makes you a good soldier. You’re even more than what makes you a bad one.”
Catra looked up at her, throat thick with some unnameable emotion, staring into her own mismatched eyes.
“You’re enough, all by yourself. And once you get out of here, once you let yourself trust people even though you know they’re going to trick you, once you let yourself rely on them and show them all the ways that you’re weak--fuck, Catra, you have no idea how happy you can be.” Old-Catra was crying, unashamed of the brash display of weakness, smiling at her like she wasn’t horrible and broken and twisted into a ragged pillar of anger and pain and grief, like she was something to be protected.
“What--what does that--” she struggled for a few moments, unable to fully suppress her own tears. She let them fill her eyes, but no further. “I thought we were going to talk about Adora.”
“Right,” said old-Catra, laughing softly. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, pressing a kiss to Cyra’s head as if to assure herself the baby was still there. Catra could hear its reedy little purr as clearly as if it were her own. “You know how she gets when she has an idea in her head. And--I know shit was rough, in Thaymor. Like, the worst pitch of all time rough. ‘We can fix it’--ugh. Fucking idiot.”
Old-Catra chuckled fondly, even as Catra bit back a snarl at the memory.
“You gotta understand, kid--she had no idea the Horde was evil. She really bought into their bullshit about bringing order, and she’s always been so comforted by routine like that, right? She knew Shadow Weaver was no good, but she thought the old bitch was an exception, not a rule. To Adora, it was all worth it because we were working towards something better, and once we were out from under Shadow Weaver we could fix ‘everything’ for the whole damn planet.”
“Come on,” said Catra, glaring at her. “She’s an idiot, but she’s not stupid. She had to know on some level. How the Rebellion never started battles, how all the new recruits were ‘orphans’ or their parents wanted to ‘pledge allegiance’... she can put shit together when she wants to.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t want to,” said old-Catra. “That shit--it would have broken her. It was hard enough for her to watch us get our ass kicked, to meet Shadow Weaver’s expectations, to--to be a weapon.”
She looked down at Cyra, the baby apparently drifting to sleep, its hand fisting in the fabric of her shirt as it buried its head against her.
“Look at Cyra,” said old-Catra, lifting her free hand and holding it over the baby, eyes fixed on its face. “She’s weak, right?”
“Well, yeah, she’s a baby,” said Catra, raising an eyebrow.
Old-Catra unsheathed her claws, and Catra’s breath hitched involuntarily.
“Could she stop me from hurting her?”
“You--you wouldn’t,” said Catra, surprised at the way her own voice was shaking.
“Of course not. I’d rather cut off my hand,” said old-Catra, and something in Catra relaxed. Her shoulders stayed tense as she watched the claws so near the baby, though. They weren’t arced to swing, no real danger, but their very presence was freaking her out a little. “But answer the question. Could she stop me?”
“No,” said Catra, glaring at her. She was starting to pick up on where this was going. “I’m not a baby. I can protect myself. I did stop Shadow Weaver.”
“You beat her in a fight,” said old-Catra, “which was tremendously satisfying by the way, excellent work on that--but you can’t stop what she did to us. She made us like this, after all. She can’t physically hurt you while she’s gone, but mentally? Emotionally? That never stops.”
Catra hissed wordlessly, pupils narrowed to slits.
“Now,” said old-Catra, looking back down at her daughter. “Could you stop me from hurting her?”
“What?” asked Catra, confused out of her brooding silence.
“Cyra. If I wanted to hurt her right now, could you stop me? Could you protect her, when I’m faster than you? Stronger than you? When I know so much more and have so much control over her?”
Catra stared at Cyra, now thoroughly asleep. Her stomach ached with helplessness. “No,” she said finally. “Not without making you drop her and hurting her even worse.”
Old-Catra’s claws slid back into their sheaths, and she brushed her fingertips gently across Cyra’s face, echoing the baby’s purr with her own. Deeper, more solid. Grounding.
“Adora couldn’t protect us,” she said with a sad smile, looking back to Catra. “And believe me, she wanted to. But all she could do was try to keep us out of trouble, or cover for us, try to convince Shadow Weaver what an asset we’d be in the field. It was never going to work, sure, but she always tried. She always cared about us.”
“Then why,” said Catra, gritting her teeth, “did she leave. ”
“Two reasons, I think,” said old-Catra, sighing a little like it wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to Catra. “One: It’s Adora. She couldn’t just fight for something she didn’t believe in, or leave innocent people to be slaughtered.”
“Yeah, because she’s so much better than me, I get it,” Catra snapped.
Old-Catra groaned. “You’re exhausting, you know that? She’s not better than us. I mean, she is at some things, but we’re better at other stuff, right? Adora’s good at caring about people even when she shouldn’t, and us? We’re good at surviving. Believe me, that is not a skill in Adora’s repertoire.”
“What was the second reason?” Catra asked mulishly.
“What else? Shadow Weaver. She found that damn sword and went from one megalomaniac telling her to martyr herself for them to another. She spent her whole life being told she was only special if she listened to Shadow Weaver, and that all the things that happened to us were her responsibility. Adora… she was always working towards that future they laid out for her.”
“What megalomaniac? That hologram in the temple?” asked Catra.
“In a sense,” said old-Catra. “Here’s the thing about Adora: She’s not trying to be some perfect hero type because she believes everything they said about her. She’s trying because she doesn’t.”
“Of course she does,” Catra argued. “She’s Adora, she’s always been the best at everything. She doesn’t even have to try, but she does anyway. How are the rest of us supposed to stand a chance?”
“Perfectionism isn’t about striving to be your best self or whatever self-actualizing garbage she used to regurgitate from propaganda,” said old-Catra, shaking her head. “It’s… for Adora, it’s a defense mechanism. She needs to be perfect the way you need power. It’s like she thinks if she can do everything perfectly, if she can look like she has it all under control, it’ll get rid of all the blame, the guilt, the shame. She thinks if she can get people to have that kind of faith in her, she’ll be safe. It’s never about what she wants; it’s about what other people will think of her, what will happen if she fails.”
Catra looked down at the floor, taking it in.
Adora needed to be perfect to feel safe. It made a lot of sense, in retrospect. The way she threw herself into everything with her entire being, like their lives hinged on passing a stupid quiz on how to camp or whatever bullshit. The way she watched authority figures with the same guarded longing Catra herself felt, despite never needing to fear a blow. The way praise seemed to egg her on instead of satisfying her, like it would be revoked if she relaxed for even a moment.
The way her determination could make her reckless, could blind her to obvious threats. The way she trained until her knuckles bled, or studied until she passed out when she tried to stand up, or kept trying to plead desperately with Shadow Weaver on Catra’s behalf.
Until she’d left Catra in her clutches to galavant through the woods with her sparkly new friends, and sent her back empty-handed from Thaymor to face her wrath alone.
She’d never thought that Shadow Weaver would kill her, outside a momentary panic or two, until Thaymor. She’d said she wouldn’t dispose of Catra until she’d proved a hindrance to Adora, and, well--losing her in the woods was probably considered a hindrance.
If she hadn’t been dragged to Hordak instead, if he hadn’t promoted her…
“Shadow Weaver said--” said Catra, breaking off mid-sentence, embarrassed at the thought. She looked away again, but she could feel old-Catra watching her patiently, expectantly. “Shadow Weaver said that I was like her, because I had to earn power, to earn respect. I know it was probably just bullshit to trick me into giving her the badge, but…”
“Yeah,” said old-Catra, sighing. “That one still hurts. Listen, kid. I know you get that she was lying to you, but--she was also brushing you off. I--we--asked why she did it, how she could treat a child like that, and what did she say? ‘Why should it be different for you’ or whatever the fuck?” She laughed again, much quieter, much smaller. “Why shouldn’t it? She didn’t say why. She just said ‘why not’.”
“But she was right,” said Catra, shrinking against the mattress. “I do have to fight for everything. I have to work so hard to get even a chance to prove myself, and then there’s always someone else swooping in to steal it out from under me!”
“No,” said old-Catra, and she looked impossibly sad. “You don’t have to earn respect. People should respect you for who you are, not what you’ve done, and power… real power comes from vulnerability. From weakness. From sharing the things that make you feel broken or inferior or worthless and asking for help. From having someone to cover your weak points.”
Catra stared at her like she was speaking another language. She might as well be--how the fuck could weakness be strength? But it was buzzing in her stomach, climbing up her throat, and her eyes were so hot--
“Catra, real power comes from love,” old-Catra said softly. That was what did it.
Catra broke down and sobbed against her shoulder, biting back noises that would wake the baby out of some bizarre feeling of responsibility that watching the thing doze under her claws seemed to have instilled.
“When?” she asked between heaving gasps for air. “When am I… When?”
“Soon,” said old-Catra, rubbing her back with her free hand, clutching her as tight as she could. “So soon, Catra, I promise it’s all going to be worth it. You just have to be good, okay? You have to think about what you want--what you really want--and I know you’ll know what to do. You’re so much stronger than anyone can see.”
They sat like that for a long time, until eventually Catra ran out of tears.
“She never did actually say why,” she said dully, staring at the wall. She felt wrung out, exhausted, like she’d just fought a battle. “She said I’d have to be stronger than her, or smarter, or something, but--she didn’t say why she hurt me, or how it was supposed to help me do those things.”
Old-Catra’s grip around her shoulders tightened briefly. Over the course of her breakdown, Catra had scooted closer, pressing one side of their bodies against each other. Her head rested on old-Catra’s opposite shoulder now, the still-sleeping Cyra nestled between them in old-Catra’s arm.
“She couldn’t tell you why when she still wanted to get something out of you,” said old-Catra, voice dark and heavy with distaste. “It was only ever about power. About control. She had to drive a wedge between us and Adora, so we wouldn’t team up or realize just how wrong it all was. She hurt us because she could, and it made her feel good to do it.”
Catra looked down at Cyra’s face, relaxed in sleep, and tried to imagine hurting her. Freezing her, beating her, shocking her. Telling her, even in a few years, that she was worthless and Catra would kill her if she screwed up.
“How?” she whispered. “How could it possibly feel good?”
“That’s the big question, isn’t it?” asked old-Catra, sighing. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to understand. I used to try to come up with theories, to rationalize it, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know why she did it to know I never will.”
She rested her cheek on Catra’s head, a reassuring gesture that made her throat feel thick again, even when she was cried out. It felt… indescribable, to hear it from herself. The understated confidence, the admission that even in the future it was incomprehensible and cruel. That she’d never be like Shadow Weaver.
“How could you ever have kids?” she asked, bringing a hand up to Cyra but unable to bring herself to touch. “I always thought… well, I guess mostly I thought I’d die in battle before it was even an issue, but sometimes I’d… you know, it would come up. And I always thought I didn’t want them. I still don’t. I don’t--I didn’t think I could be a good mother.”
Old-Catra hummed against her hair. “I mean, you don’t have to have them. We’ve already diverged pretty significantly from my timeline, so you don’t have to do it just because destiny says so, or whatever. I think mostly I didn’t want them growing up because I didn’t know how to be a good mom, or how to be a good person in general. I was only ever a soldier, and I didn’t want to have to worry about some poor kid when I couldn’t even take care of myself.”
“I know why I don’t want them, I’m asking why you do,” Catra interrupted, muttering.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting there. I guess it was just… I did learn how to be a good person. How to be happy. And it’s really fucking scary, I’m always so terrified I’m going to mess this up somehow. But we’re in a good place, a place where I felt like… if we had a kid, it could be safe, and happy. It could have a future. And that just made me think about it some more, and I realized what I wanted was different than it used to be.”
“It seems like a lot of stuff I want is different,” said Catra. “What the hell happened to you? You’ve gone soft.”
Old-Catra laughed without a trace of bitterness. “As if. I could kick your ass any day. You have no idea how much ass I’ve kicked in the intervening years, I’m basically a god.”
“Uh huh,” said Catra, rolling her eyes. “I mean, obviously, I’m very impressive, but look at you. You’re all sappy and having children on purpose and talking about safety like it’s even an option, when the whole planet’s a warzone.”
“Oh,” said old-Catra, blinking. “Oh, shit, right. Yeah, it’s not the planet actually, it’s the multiverse.”
“Well, except I guess it isn’t, because the war is over, so--”
“Yeah, okay,” groaned old-Catra. “I know, it’s a lot to conceptualize. Bear with me. The war ended like, years ago. We’ve been going around fixing shit but mostly just like… living. In peace. It’s kind of great.”
“So… the Horde loses?” Catra asked, ears flattening. There was no way a future where they won would be peaceful. She wasn’t so naïve as to think Hordak would ever rest, would leave any resource untapped or stone unturned. He was up to something in that lab, something her future self had hopefully talked him out of. “Hordak’s brother, he loses?”
“Yeah,” said old-Catra, pulling her face away from Catra’s hair. Catra drew back reluctantly, looking her in the eyes. “And believe me, he was way worse than Hordak. Hordak is… okay, he’s a monster. But he has his reasons for being a little bitch, same as we do. He’s no Prime, or even Shadow Weaver--hell, he only tortured me like, twice.”
Catra flinched, eyes widening, and old-Catra winced in response.
“Sorry, I… well, it happens. Playing games with conquerors. I don’t think I should say too much. I want you to know that your choices are your own, and not feel like you have to live my life to be happy.”
“I dunno,” said Catra, “it seems like a pretty sweet life. Can’t I have a few hints?”
“Well,” said old-Catra, pretending to think about it. She tapped a claw against her chin, looking up at the ceiling. “I’ve got one that’s pretty relevant at the moment, but you’re not going to like it.”
Catra frowned. “What is it?”
“I know where Shadow Weaver is.”
Catra went ramrod straight, opening her mouth to yell before old-Catra slapped her hand over it and looked pointedly at Cyra.
They had a brief but intense argument through expression alone, and old-Catra slowly removed her hand when she was satisfied Catra would keep it down.
“Where?” she hissed, claws flexing with the need to rip into her erstwhile guardian.
“You know, I think you could probably guess,” said old-Catra. “Here’s the thing--busting out? It took a lot out of her. A lot. She’s kind of… dying.”
Catra stared at her, struggling to digest that.
Dying. Shadow Weaver couldn’t die. She was… untouchable, immortal, she lurked in the corner of every room and could pluck thoughts from your head like strands of hair.
“So what do you think she’d do, if she were dying?” asked old-Catra, gently, patiently, like it was supposed to be obvious.
“Uh, not die?” asked Catra, beginning to feel a little panicked. This wasn’t right. Shadow Weaver couldn’t--she wouldn’t--
“Yeah,” said Catra. “And you’re really gonna hate how.”
The panic rushed out of her all at once. “Don’t tell me.”
“Look, I promise it’s not--”
“Do not tell me she went to Adora!” Catra yelled. Cyra stirred in the other her’s arms, crying out at being disturbed, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Of course. Of fucking course she’d go to Adora. She couldn’t wait to get away from Catra, to trick her by telling her what she’d wanted to hear, to make her feel like there was something worth feeling. Shadow Weaver couldn’t wait to rip the rug out from under her, no matter what Hordak was going to do when he found out. She didn’t care about Catra. She never had.
Of course when she was dying she’d only care about seeing Adora.
Old-Catra didn’t speak for a few minutes, calming the baby as Catra grappled with the rage roaring through her, trying to spark more tears, but she was so fucking tired of feeling like this. She was so tired of being hurt.
“I promise it isn’t how it feels,” said old-Catra eventually. Catra looked back at her, exhausted beyond words. “Yeah, she went to Adora, but it’s not like it was out of love. She-Ra has healing powers, and Shadow Weaver knows it. She used us to get out of the consequences of her actions, and now she’s using Adora.” Her face darkened. “And I don’t think we should let her.”
Catra blinked. “What are you saying?” she asked warily.
“I’m saying get your skiff key, Force Captain. We’re going on a little field trip.”