The room was dark when they stepped inside, a ruffled Castaspella insisting they should have some kind of supervision while old-Catra lied through her teeth and told her to take it up with the queen. It was spacious for a prison, easily the size of Adora’s room, if furnished less opulently. Shadow Weaver was kneeling in a cylinder of magic, oozing shadows with every breath.
Catra swallowed hard at the sight. Even in her cell in the Fright Zone, Shadow Weaver had never looked weaker. More pathetic. She wouldn’t want to be seen this way--she’d be angry at Catra for seeing her like this.
“Well well well,” drawled old-Catra, high and sing-song as she swaggered forward into the light. “Look what the cat dragged in!”
“Catra…?” Shadow Weaver wheezed, eyes widening behind her mask.
“Surprised to see me?” asked old-Catra, doing a little spin. “I look fabulous, I know.”
“You’re from the future.”
“She can be taught,” said old-Catra, holding a hand out behind her. Catra edged forward, not taking the hand, but allowing it to rest on her shoulder as she too stepped into the light.
“Oh good,” drawled Shadow Weaver, “there are two of you.”
“Had any time to think about what I could give Hordak?” she growled, flexing her claws. “You know, to save your sorry skin?”
“I did what I had to do, Catra,” said Shadow Weaver.
“Not even going to pretend you’re sorry?” she snapped. Old-Catra’s hand tightened briefly on her shoulder. “Do you even know what Hordak was going to do to me? Do you even care?”
“You could hardly be held accountable for my escape unless you foolishly divulged your part in it,” said Shadow Weaver, looking away. “Or if you were so pathetic and afraid that you attempted to cover it up.”
Dismissive. Uninterested. An old hurt roared in Catra’s ears, and it felt like her heart had turned to lead in her chest, blocking her airways. Never enough. She bristled, unsheathing her claws.
Old-Catra leaned forward, her eyes narrowed. “Pathetic. After you told her she was losing her place with Hordak, that she was going to end up in a cell just like you? Gee, I wonder why she was afraid. She always had such positive experiences with authority figures, growing up.”
“‘She’?” Shadow Weaver repeated, raising an eyebrow. “I’m surprised my words had such an effect on you, Catra, to remember them so many years down the line. Yet you still can’t allow yourself to move past that fear, can you? You distance yourself from this Catra the same way you distanced yourself from the natural consequences of your misbehavior.”
“She’s me,” old-Catra spat, tail lashing behind her, and Catra shifted uncomfortably at the open display of emotion, reaching up to the hand on her shoulder. “She’s me and I’m her. Don’t pretend to understand us because of a fucking pronoun, you heartless--”
She broke off as Catra squeezed her hand, meeting her eyes.
“You always hated me,” she said after a moment, turning back to Shadow Weaver. “Always. You tortured me. You told me I was worthless, that you were going to kill me the second I stopped being useful, that I’d never amount to anything.”
“I took a firm hand with you, I admit,” said Shadow Weaver. “You always were a stubborn, rebellious child. I had to prepare you for the realities of--”
“You didn’t prepare me for shit!” said old-Catra, voice breaking. “You didn’t make me stronger. You broke me, you--you turned me into this horrible, twisted joke of a person, who couldn’t express herself or even feel without thinking it was going to hurt her. You took a child under your protection and you convinced her she could never be loved.”
Catra gripped her hand tighter, claws beginning to prick at old-Catra’s flesh.
“... I don’t expect you to understand,” said Shadow Weaver. “I did my best to teach you, Catra. You allow your emotions to weaken you, to distract you. It’s why you were always--”
“Emotions aren’t a distraction! Love isn’t a weakness!” old-Catra burst out. “Maybe the reason you never got the power you were after is because you aren’t even capable of it, Shadow Weaver. Maybe if you knew how to care about anything besides yourself, you wouldn’t have died so pointlessly.”
Shadow Weaver stilled.
“Yeah, you’re dead. Big surprise, right? Who would have thought the almighty Shadow Weaver could be taken out,” said old-Catra, gesturing in disgust at the shadows still weeping from her skin. “You could have just held the shield and waited, but you had to be dramatic about it. Had to get in one final dig. You know what the last thing you said to me was? You said you were proud of me. You thought I should be grateful. And maybe Adora was right, maybe--”
“Adora,” Shadow Weaver interrupted. “You’re from the future. What of Adora?”
Catra started laughing. “Of course that’s all you care about! It’s always Adora, huh? Well guess what, Shadow Weaver? Guess what?”
“Catra,” said old-Catra.
“What, so you can get all emotional but I can’t even point it out?” she spat.
“She’s playing us,” said old-Catra, stepping closer. “She’s trying to get more information.”
Catra fumed, glaring at the ground between them. “She’ll find out eventually.”
“Then let it be on our terms, not hers. Fuck her terms. Okay?”
“Fine,” she spat, turning the glare back to Shadow Weaver. “We’re not here to talk about Adora, anyway.”
“Then what are you here to talk about?” drawled Shadow Weaver. “Surely you learned better than to gloat after our last conversation.”
“I guess I’m here to tell you how I feel,” said old-Catra. “Can’t speak for my associate here, though. Things went differently in my timeline.”
“I’m here in case she tries to kill you,” said Catra. “Can’t let her have all the fun, right?”
It was more than that, probably. Even more than the resentment coursing through her, the desire to make good on her original plan of throwing shit.
Fuck this part of her. Fuck whatever shriveled heart she had left for seeing Shadow Weaver dying and caring at all.
“I see. Tell me then, how do you feel?” asked Shadow Weaver, dripping with disdain.
“Like you’re kind of just a monster,” said old-Catra, with none of her earlier emotion. She seemed perfectly calm, tail waving slowly behind her, ears relaxed. There was a pinch in her brow, but it was almost confused, like she didn’t understand something. “And like, I guess I already kind of knew that? I knew you were selfish, and obsessed with power, and that you didn’t really care about us, but… I don’t know. Maybe I took our last conversation to heart more than I should’ve, even knowing it was just another way to boost yourself up.”
“I’m not one for regrets, Catra,” Shadow Weaver said dryly. “I gave you the best possible chance in this life. If it weren’t for me, you would have died in that box you were so wisely abandoned in.”
Catra’s stomach seized at the reminder, but old-Catra just shrugged. “No. Some other soldier would have collected me and dropped me off with the other kids. You didn’t give me any special opportunities, or extra training, or really anything besides regular beatings and threats on my life. You kept me around because I made it so much easier to manipulate Adora, and because you needed a scapegoat for everything that ever went wrong.”
“I cared for you,” said Shadow Weaver. “I still do.”
“You never cared about me,” Catra snarled. “Don’t give me that ‘you remind me of myself’ bullshit. I’m nothing like you. I’m ‘wild’ and ‘insolent’ and everything you hate, everything you tried to stamp out of your soldiers. You followed after Hordak like a fucking dog, begging for scraps of power.”
“And you followed after me, begging for the slightest hint of affection,” said Shadow Weaver. Her eyes crinkled, the mask hiding a condescending smile Catra could still feel. “You can’t pretend my approval is meaningless to you, Catra. Even now, you’ve come to seek validation. Justifications. You want to understand. To be understood.”
“Not by you,” spat old-Catra, stepping even closer to Catra, almost protective. “You can’t understand me. There was never a justification--there’s nothing that could make any of it okay. Baby-me’s right: You never cared about us. You’ve never cared about anyone but yourself.”
She didn’t bother to deny it, watching Catra with level eyes behind her inscrutable mask. For a small eternity, they just stared at one another, Catra struggling to accept what she’d always known to be true.
She’d never be enough for Shadow Weaver.
She needed to accept that.
Her spiral was interrupted by a soft knock on the door, and old-Adora stepping hesitantly inside. Shadow Weaver drank her in hungrily, but old-Adora didn’t even glance at her, moving immediately to old-Catra. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, before old-Catra reached out for Cyra, seemingly by some unspoken agreement. Old-Adora relinquished her with a soft sigh, pressing her forehead into the edge of old-Catra’s shoulder.
“Adora,” said Shadow Weaver, audibly smiling, something slimy and fawning. The tone that meant Catra was about to get the shit kicked out of her until Adora had stepped in. A reward for Adora taking responsibility for her. A reprieve. “Look at you.”
“You okay?” old-Adora asked Catra, pulling away from old-Catra’s shoulder and ignoring Shadow Weaver entirely. Catra nodded tersely, looking to her own Adora.
Adora seemed… nervous, but determined. She was still holding Adam, standing farther from the light of Shadow Weaver’s prison and keeping him turned away.
“I can feel your power from across the room,” said Shadow Weaver, coughing as more shadows bled from her body. “I knew when I took you in that you would be great. That you were special.”
Adora’s expression darkened, and Catra shifted to stand between her and Shadow Weaver. She was clearly biting back a retort, burying her fingers in Adam’s hair like he could anchor her.
It felt strange to see her so angry off the battlefield. To see her angry at Shadow Weaver at all. Getting angry at Shadow Weaver was asking for trouble; Catra had learned that the hard way. And Adora never got in trouble.
Times had certainly changed.
“Though I see you still have the unfortunate habit of picking up strays,” Shadow Weaver went on, searching for some kind of chink in Adora’s armor, some way to elicit a response. “You know, when they breed, you aren’t required to keep the young. There are plenty of rivers in Bright Moon. You could simply dispose of--”
Catra didn’t see any movement, not even a flicker, before hearing the ear-splitting CRACK! of Shadow Weaver slamming against the magical container, old-Adora’s forearm pressed into her throat. Her head lolled to one side as if she’d been struck.
“You don’t get to talk about them,” said old-Adora. Her voice was level and calm, jarring against the violence of her position and the unearthly flare of magic in her eyes. “You don’t get to look at them.”
“So it’s true,” said Shadow Weaver, eyes narrowed behind her mask as she turned her head, slowly, to meet old-Adora’s gaze. “That’s why they feel so powerful.”
“Of course it’s true. You always knew this would happen if you stopped interfering. Catra saved the universe,” said old-Adora, leaning forward onto the arm across Shadow Weaver’s neck. “Catra saved me. You never gave her her due. And you never, ever let us be happy. All you ever cared about was power.”
“A lesson you could clearly stand to learn!” said Shadow Weaver. Catra winced at the defiance in her voice, the lack of fear. Couldn’t she see the way old-Adora’s eyes were glowing? Didn’t she know what she was challenging? “You allowed yourself to be distracted, and it made you soft. Weak. How long has it been? Five years? Ten? You could have been so much more. You could have been a god, Adora, but you let yourself be torn from your destiny!”
“I let myself be loved!” old-Adora yelled. Adam started to whimper in Adora’s arms, and old-Catra moved to her side to stroke his back reassuringly, eyes still on old-Adora.
Catra couldn’t look away either.
Her ponytail was moving in an invisible wind, the glow from her eyes manifesting in trails of light. Her teeth were gritted in a snarl, the hand that wasn’t keeping Shadow Weaver pinned flexing at her side as if she had claws of her own. She was beautiful, and terrifying, and Catra was suddenly very glad they were on the same side now.
“You’ll never understand,” she said, with another forceful push against Shadow Weaver’s throat, before she dumped her unceremoniously on the floor. She stepped backwards, out of the cylinder of light. “It’s not like it matters. Even if you were sorry, I’d still never forgive you.”
“Yet you forgive Catra?” Shadow Weaver rasped from her feet. “Catra, who’s hurt you for nothing, who’s tried to kill you?”
Old-Adora met Adora’s eyes, holding a hand out to her in invitation. “Yes.”
Adora crept forward slowly, clutching Adam against her chest until old-Adora took him from her with a reassuring smile.
“It wasn’t for nothing. Catra didn’t--Catra didn’t torture children, or use them like pawns in some sick mind game,” said Adora, stepping into the circle. “When you were going to erase my memory and pretend I’d never even found the sword, she let me go. Catra cares about people, even if she doesn’t want to. You never cared about anyone. You never cared about me."
“Adora--” Shadow Weaver started, in her most patient and condescending voice.
“Nope! No, you don’t get to talk to her, actually,” old-Catra said sharply. “You picked your prison. Sit down and shut up, or we’ll ship you back to the Horde.”
It took three tries for Adora to transform, and Catra was sure Shadow Weaver’s silent judgment wasn’t helping things in that quarter. It felt like hours before She-Ra stood where Adora had, her hair loose and flowing.
“I forgot about your cape,” old-Catra murmured into old-Adora’s ear, barely loud enough for Catra to pick up on. “You look like a dork.”
“No, you,” said old-Adora. She was still tense, and her grin wasn’t as dopey as it usually was, but something in Catra relaxed at the teasing. It was unnerving to see this older, softer Adora look sharper and angrier than she ever had in war.
There was no sign of the fury lurking beneath her skin now, as she kissed her son’s face and smiled at old-Catra like everything was going to be okay.
Catra looked away, throat thick with emotion, and focused on her own Adora.
She did look pretty dorky, awkward and still visibly angry as she did something with her sword, enveloping Shadow Weaver in golden light. The shadows washed away from her skin like ink, dissipating in the glow of She-Ra’s magic.
Catra made a face.
Adora got to her feet, changing back as she stepped through the circle and heading for the door with no hesitation. Catra followed without a backwards glance, barely catching old-Catra flipping Shadow Weaver off in her peripherals.
Castapella was still lurking outside, though she seemed to have been calmed by the two Adoras ‘supervising’ and let them pass unharassed back to Adora’s room. Their older counterparts stopped to speak with her for a moment, giving Catra and Adora a moment alone.
“Adora,” said Catra, but when Adora turned to look at her she found she didn’t know what to say. They stared at each other for a few heartbeats before Adora seemed to realize there wasn’t more to the sentence.
“I missed you,” said Adora, shifting her weight.
“Yeah. I… messed up,” Catra admitted. Shit. She could feel regret welling up, and that wouldn’t do. She wrestled with her instincts for a moment, staring hard at the floor as she squashed the urge to apologize. She shouldn’t be that weak in front of Adora. Not when she was already so compromised, alone in a sea of erstwhile enemies, her only allies ripped from another timeline.
“She missed you too,” said old-Catra, leading old-Adora back into the room. “Now: Who wants to go home?”
“Me,” said old-Adora, sagging with exhaustion. “I would very much like to go home.”
“I can’t think of anything else we can tell you guys, or anything we could do that wouldn’t take way longer than I’m willing to be here,” said old-Catra. “So, like, it’s been real, but see ya.”
“Wait!” said Adora, eyes widening as she jolted forward. “Wait, I--I still have questions.”
“Most of them you’re going to need to figure out on your own,” said old-Adora, apologetically. “Just remember what we told you, okay?”
“If Shadow Weaver ever tries to talk to either of you, just like shine a flashlight on her or something,” old-Catra put in. “Or stab her. Dealer’s choice.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Catra said quietly, her head still angled away. “You told me to be good but--I don’t know how.”
Old-Catra’s gaze softened. “Just watch and learn, kid. Bright Moon is a better teacher than I could ever be. And please, please learn how to apologize.”
“Oh! You’re allergic to brambleberries. Don’t eat brambleberries,” said old-Adora, pointing at her younger self.
“Do I have a family? Have you met them? What was that thing Catra said about a weapon? Why don’t you have the sword on you? What’s a brambleberry? Are Glimmer and Bow okay? Is there a way to keep from getting infected by those discs Entrapta has? How will I know if I’m--”
“Whoa, whoa. Hold your magic horses, baby-Adora,” said old-Catra. “Just trust us, okay? Everything is going to be fine. You just need to have faith in your friends, and in yourself.”
Adora made a high-pitched whining noise.
“It’s not as impossible as it sounds,” said old-Adora, grinning at her. “Sometimes all you need is a little reminder from the right person.”
Catra studiously avoided her eye. Yeah, like hell.
“So you know how to get home?” she asked, a little louder than she probably should have.
“We have a pretty solid theory,” said old-Catra, shrugging. “Twin magic is apparently an actual thing, so my apologies to Sparkles, I guess. We just need to switch ‘em. Any other last minute crises, or can I go take a fucking nap?”
Catra and Adora looked at each other.
Adora’s face was inscrutable, searching, but whatever she saw in Catra must have been enough, because she smiled gently and turned away.
“No. Thank you so much, for everything.”
She elbowed Catra pointedly in the ribs.
Catra sighed dramatically, making a show of rolling her eyes. “Yeah, thanks for getting me out of there before whatever the fuck Hordak was gonna do to me. And old-Adora, always a pleasure to see Shadow Weaver get tossed around.”
“And…?” old-Catra prompted, smirking insufferably again.
Catra growled, looking away. "And thank you for the stuff you told me. And bringing me here. And for leaving now and never coming back.”
“Don’t forget getting your sentence commuted,” said old-Catra, smug and irritating and difficult to actually be mad at. “Thank me by actually going to therapy.”
Adora leaned forward, pressing her forehead against each of the babies’ in turn. Catra cleared her throat, embarrassed, when she saw tears welling up again. Had Adora always been this pathetic, or was it just the presence of infants?
“Goodbye,” she breathed. “I can’t wait to meet you guys one day. I promise I’ll keep your mom safe until then.”
“Yeah, but the second you’re born it’s open season,” said Catra, pointing at them with mock-sternness. “Soon as she gets her hands on you, I’m toast.”
“Well, obviously I’ll get custody if you have an unfortunate accident,” said Adora, grinning back at her. “I don’t see your married-person jumping into the past for them, huh?”
Old-Catra laughed long and loud, squeaking with unbridled glee. “You gonna take me out for maximum kitten access, babe?” she asked old-Adora, wiping away a tear of mirth.
“The word is wife, Adora,” said old-Adora, covering her face with her free hand.
“Oh! Like Spinnerella and Netossa! Are they married?”
"Now she gets it,” said old-Catra, still chuckling. “C’mon. Let’s blow this popsicle stand before she overworks her only brain cell.”
“Is it my fault I’m naturally trusting?” asked old-Adora, a sweeping gesture with her arm interrupted by old-Catra handing Cyra to her.
“Yeah, actually. You should at least know better after our entire childhood turned out to be a lie,” said old-Catra, with more affection than derision.
“So she isn’t going to grow out of being oblivious?” asked Catra, groaning dramatically.
“Of course not. But you secretly love it,” said old-Adora, a trace of her wife’s smugness leaking through as she passed Adam to old-Catra.
There was a soft whir as space began to swirl behind them, purples and blacks vanishing into a formless void.
Catra stared at them for a moment, taking them in.
They survived. They were together. They were happy.
It hadn’t occurred to her until the portal had opened, but she was willing to do pretty much anything to reach that future. Including some things that probably wouldn’t qualify as ‘good’.
“Don’t look so sad!” said old-Adora, laughing freely. “You’ll see us again. We’re you!”
“‘M not sad,” Catra mumbled, looking down at the twins. She’d never seen another creature like her before, so she wasn’t sure how much of them resembled her specifically and how much was just the typical features of their kind, but their eyes… Their eyes were pure Adora, and it still made her head reel to consider. It felt so much more visceral to consider them Adora’s children than hers; it took it from a weird hypothetical to something tangible and defensible that she (ugh) cared about. “You better be nice to the brats, or I’ll find a way to kick your ass.”
“Likewise,” said old-Catra, grinning at her. “You be nice to Adora, too. If you’re ever not sure how to handle something, ask yourself, ‘What would Shadow Weaver do?’ and then do the exact opposite thing.”
“I think I like that plan,” Catra snorted, looking up from the babies. “Good luck not getting stuck in another timeline, I guess.”
“At least we’re together this time,” sighed old-Adora, taking old-Catra’s free hand in hers. “We’ll be okay in the end.”
“See ya, twerp,” said old-Catra. “Baby-Adora. Don’t be afraid to call each other out on your bullshit, because there’s a lot of it.”
“We never are,” said Adora, elbowing Catra again.
“And you never will be,” said old-Adora primly. “We love you guys. Take--take care of each other.”
They stepped through the portal in unison, vanishing in a spiral of dark mist.
Catra stared at the space where they’d been, overly conscious of Adora’s body heat next to her.
“Wow,” said Adora, after a full minute of silence. “So that just happened.”
“Yeah,” Catra agreed numbly. “I guess I’m… here now.”
Adora bumped her shoulder affectionately, and part of Catra wished again that it could go back to how it used to be, to when they chased each other across the Fright Zone and wrestled with abandon on top of rickety industrial towers--but another part appreciated the gentleness of this contact, the care Adora was obviously trying to show.
It used to needle at her, like Adora thought she was made of glass and couldn’t handle anything that wasn’t soft.
She wasn’t sure when that had changed.
“Now what?” she asked after another comfortable silence, leaning into the contact.
“Now we kick Hordak’s ass,” said Adora, grinning wide and open and stupid, bouncing deeper into the room. “We figure out the stuff they warned us about, we beat destiny, and we look out for each other.”
“That sounds great,” said Catra, only a little sarcastically, “but can we take a nap first? I’ve been up all night dealing with this horse shit.”
Adora’s grin softened around the edges, a little less manic and determined but still just as warm. “Anything you want,” she promised.