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.”
i'm trying desperately to pretend babies don't freak me out, or as my friend logan put it:
"clare: im normal and like babeys (:
clare: anyways this one rips apart space time
clare: you know, as babies do"
The ride to Bright Moon was surprisingly smooth. Old-Catra had stolen her blanket and fashioned it into a sling of sorts, and was now wearing a giggling Cyra strapped to her chest like a quiver, confidently maneuvering the skiff through the trees.
“Should we really be going through the woods?” Catra asked, ears still swiveling at every sound she could pick out above the hum of the motor. “It’s dark still, there’s all kinds of shit out here.”
“It’s the fastest way, and I’ve got a pretty good handle on them by now. Only real danger would be running into a village, and even that’s just a matter of surrendering.”
“Surrendering?” Catra repeated indignantly. Like hell was she going to surrender. It was bad enough she’d agreed to this in the first place.
“Yeah. It’d take some extra time, but it’d still get us to Bright Moon. That’s only if they could stop us though, which is unlikely. Even if they were good enough to catch us, why would they want to? For all they know we’re just passing through.”
“I mean, we are.”
“That’s the spirit,” old-Catra said cheerily.
Eventually, just as dawn began to creep over the horizon, she eased the skiff down beside a huge, winding path, briefly debating with a babbling Cyra over whether to cover it in leaves and ignoring Catra entirely.
“Okay,” she said, dusting off her hands and kissing Cyra between the ears. “Follow my lead, and raise your hands when I do, okay?”
“Why?” asked Catra, sulking a little as they walked the rest of the way. “Raising your hands is to show you’re unarmed, but we’ve got fingers full of knives. Even those dipshits know better than to trust us.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” said old-Catra, rolling her eyes so hard her entire torso swung to one side. If it weren’t for Cyra, Catra was certain she’d have dropped all the way to the ground, just for the theatrics. She raised her hands as soon as they broke the treeline, though not over her head until they got to the bottom of the stairs.
“Halt!” called one of the two guards, approaching with their pike at the ready. “Who… goes there?”
“Catra and Catra, here to surrender,” said old-Catra breezily. Catra’s tail lashed behind her. “Might we trouble you for an audience with the queen?”
The guard looked back over their shoulder to their partner, who shrugged and signaled up to the next pair, stationed farther up.
“Very well,” said the first guard, slowly, suspiciously. “Is that--a baby?”
“No, it’s a horse. Of course it’s a fucking baby, get it together,” said old-Catra, starting up the stairs unprompted. The guard jumped, clearly uncertain which Catra to point their pike at, before lowering it entirely and just staring.
“Oh, is that you under there Kevin?” old-Catra asked as she passed another set of guards at the top of the stairs. “Wow, I don’t remember you being this short. You should work on that.”
Catra trailed after her, leaving the confused guards in their wake, her arms crossed over her chest by the time they reached the throne room, tail still lashing back and forth. Surrendering was dumb. This whole place was dumb. Why were there so many stairs? Dumb.
“Your Majesty,” said old-Catra, sweeping past a startled herald and taking a knee in the center of the room, smiling and perfectly at ease as she dipped her head in respect. Catra stopped a few feet behind her, refusing to kneel, ears pinned back in agitation. The guards were surrounding them now. Half had their pikes raised, and old-Catra was in a vulnerable position, with Cyra strapped over her like a target. Catra’s tail lashed harder.
Queen Angella stared down at them in obvious shock for a moment before she schooled her expression into something more severe.
“Fetch Commander Glimmer and her friends, please,” she ordered one of the guards, who saluted and ran off immediately. She turned back to the two Catras, wary, assessing. “I assume there’s some manner of sorcery afoot?”
“Nothing I won’t figure out,” said old-Catra, the picture of self-assurance. “Might need Casta’s help, but we’ll get home soon. Just thought I should drop off some info, and a dumbass.”
“Fuck you,” said Catra, no real venom behind it as she watched the guards for any sudden moves.
“Ughhh, Mom!” groaned Glimmer, appearing in a shower of magic like always and clearly not taking stock of her surroundings, “It’s so early, what’s going on?”
“Glimmer,” said Adora, stiff at her side as she locked eyes with Catra, the sword hanging loose in her grasp.
Glimmer jumped backwards with a yelp, and Adora slid into place between her and the threat, her eyes widening as she took in the older Catra and practically popping out when she saw Cyra.
“Hey Adora,” said old-Catra, way, way too soft, with a big smile that set Catra’s teeth on edge.
“That’s my line,” she hissed. Old-Catra stuck her tongue out at her.
“Uh, what’s going on?” Adora asked in a strangled voice, looking to Angella. She was holding the sword in both hands now, stance wide but sloppy. Panicking. Catra smirked.
“Special delivery,” said old-Catra, jerking a thumb at Catra. “One furry idiot, some hot gossip, and a word of advice.”
“I think we’re all wondering how it is that there are two of you,” said Angella, massaging her temple with one hand. “Would you care to enlighten us?”
“Oh, sure,” said old-Catra, grinning. “My daughter here’s magic.”
Adora dropped the sword with a clatter, immediately fumbling for it, spluttering apologies. Catra snickered at her, secure in the knowledge that nobody had seen her own reaction to the news. Adora didn’t seem to be able to recover her stance, staring at Cyra with undisguised shock and curiosity.
“Your… daughter,” said Angella, also staring at Cyra. Catra’s skin itched at the attention, but it didn’t seem to bother old-Catra at all. She just smiled at Cyra and smoothed a hand over her head, letting the tiny purr echo in the tense silence of the throne room.
“My daughter,” old-Catra repeated, with so much affection that Catra’s heart felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. It wasn’t safe to care about things that much, that openly, the queen was right there and brimming with magic and power that she now knew just how to wield against her--
She took a deep, shaky breath. It was fine. Old-Catra clearly had a plan. A show of weakness was acceptable if it was calculated. It was fine.
“The details aren’t really important, but she opened a portal and dropped us in the Fright Zone, almost a decade in the past. I found this Catra and was able to persuade her to come to Bright Moon in peace,” old-Catra reported dutifully.
Catra dropped her eyes to her bare feet, shifting uncomfortably as everyone’s attention moved to her. She didn’t need to justify herself to these people. She didn’t owe anyone but Adora an explanation, and that was just if Adora was willing to listen. And apologize.
“I have some important information about Adora, and a location on someone I think you’ll be very interested in rescuing,” old-Catra went on, “but my advice is going to come first: Don’t let her heal Shadow Weaver.”
Catra glanced back up, just in time to watch Adora close herself off immediately.
“Adora is not to go anywhere near Shadow Weaver,” said Angella, looking between them. “Castapella is currently interrogating the prisoner, and there are guards posted to prevent Adora from making an attempt.”
“All due respect, Your Majesty, but did you really think that would stop her?” asked old-Catra, raising an eyebrow. “It’s Adora. Bet the only reason Bow’s not here yet is ‘cause Glimmer had to snatch her and left him on watch.”
Adora shifted guiltily, caught out.
“Look. You can heal her if you want to,” said old-Catra, sighing. “Just… don’t listen to her, okay? The queen just wants to keep you safe. Shadow Weaver is… all she ever does is hurt us. I don’t know why you ended up healing her in my time--though I can guess--but I know everything she’s trying to pass off as ‘vital information’ and I can sure as hell be more tactful about its delivery. Which is, you know, saying something, because I’m me. Tact isn’t really my forté.”
“I just--” Adora began, breath hitching. “I just want to know what she’s doing here. If maybe she’s changed.”
“She hasn’t,” Catra said sharply. Adora looked up at her, startled; it was the first time they’d spoken since the disaster with Entrapta’s disk. “She’s using you, Adora. Just like she used me to escape.”
Adora hesitated. “Catra…?”
“I’m not going to pretend like everything’s fine and dandy,” she gritted out, shoulders stiff. “I’m still--I haven’t forgiven you. But this bitch--” she gestured to old-Catra “--made some interesting points, and I’m done trying to… I’m done with the Horde. We came here to help.”
Adora’s eyes filled with tears. “Catra--” she said, starting forward, only to be stopped by Glimmer’s hand on her arm.
“And why should we trust you?” she demanded, looking between Catra and old-Catra. “Either of you? You could be from some messed up future where the Horde wins, or trying to create it! All you’ve ever done is hurt Adora, just like Shadow Weaver!”
Catra snarled wordlessly, unsheathing her claws, though she made no move to attack with all the pikes still trained on them. The immediate, instinctive denial of no no no I’d never be like her hissed and boiled against the fact that Glimmer was right, she had hurt Adora, all she ever did was hurt people--
“That’s not true,” said Adora. Catra froze in surprise, just able to see old-Catra beaming in her peripheral vision. “Glimmer, that’s not true, she’s--Catra was my best friend. She always--we were--look, I know she’s hurt me, but I’ve hurt her too. And she’s never been like Shadow Weaver, even when she was trying to--” She broke off awkwardly, clearly not wanting to bring up the attempted murder. “Even when we were fighting.”
Catra stared at her, taking a small step backwards for balance as she relaxed from her angry coil.
“Look, Sparkles,” old-Catra told Glimmer, grimacing. “Adora might not have given you the details, but Shadow Weaver is more than you’ve seen of her. I might goad someone on or set a trap, sure, but you’ve gotta concede torturing children and dismantling their psyches piece by piece isn’t exactly my style. I feel slimy enough manipulating Hordak.”
Glimmer looked uncertainly at Adora, who was staring grimly at the floor, somewhere to the left of her feet. The hand that wasn’t holding the sword was clenched into a fist.
“I know it’s difficult to believe when you’ve only seen us going at each other’s throats,” old-Catra went on, “but Adora and I were friends even longer than you and Bow. I imagine it’s hard to sympathize given the kidnapping and invading and such, but come with me on a journey to Imagination Town.”
Glimmer made a face.
“Pretend with me, Glimmer. Pretend Bow joined the Horde, and also the queen is still controlling but now hates your guts and only put up with you for Bow, and also has lightning powers,” said old-Catra.
“Controlling?” Angella repeated indignantly.
“Not now Your Majesty, we’re in Imagination Town.”
“I didn’t agree to this,” said Glimmer. “I don’t like--I don’t like this.”
“It’s uncomfortable, huh?” said old-Catra, nodding sympathetically. “What do you do, there? Join the Horde, even though Bow ditched you? Stick with your mom and hope she doesn’t literally murder you next time you screw up? You can’t just run away. Who knows what else is out there? You know what to expect with the Rebellion. You may be nigh-universally loathed, but at least if you stay you know what you need to do. At least you won’t be alo--”
“Enough,” said Catra, baring her teeth. “They don’t need a play by play.”
Everyone was staring at her. She could feel their eyes like hands around her neck, even as she glared determinedly at the floor. It was dead silent in the throne room apart from Cyra’s dumbass baby noises, but Catra felt like she could hear their thoughts. They thought they knew her now, they thought they understood. They thought she was weak, and now they were sizing her up. Like the biggest target wasn’t wriggling undefended in a sling with half a dozen pikes pointed its way.
“Catra,” Adora said again, softer this time.
“No,” she said sharply. “I’m just like Shadow Weaver, right? You shouldn’t trust me.”
“Ugh, you’re so dramatic,” old-Catra groaned. “She didn’t know, kid. They’ve met all of once, and she had bigger things on her mind than psychoanalyzing the old crone. Glimmer, do you have anything you’d like to say to Bratra?”
Glimmer looked rather like she’d eaten a bad ration bar, but she nodded. “I’m sorry, Catra. Future-you is right, I didn’t know.”
“You still don’t,” she muttered, but she let her glare relax into a scowl. It helped that Glimmer still looked irritated. That she still considered Catra too much of a threat to pity.
“She has an inkling of what Shadow Weaver is capable of, having been her prisoner,” said Angella. Catra was surprised to find no trace of the anger she’d expected to see when the subject of Glimmer’s kidnapping was brought up; instead, Angella was staring at her with naked concern. “And from what we know of her time as Light Spinner. There is a reason I so want to keep her from seeing Adora again. I’m sorry, Catra. I wish that the Rebellion had been able to help you.”
Catra blinked at her, barely aware of the tension uncoiling from her shoulders. What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Help her what? Beat Shadow Weaver?
“I’m Hordak’s second-in-command now,” she said slowly. “I can help myself.”
“Okay, advice administered, what you do with that is up to Adora and nobody else, got it?” old-Catra said, drawing Angella’s attention while Catra wrestled with her confusion. They knew she beat Shadow Weaver, right? They had to know. They must know she was strong by now.
“Got it,” said Angella, gesturing for old-Catra to go on.
“Alright. Item one: Micah’s not dead.”
Angella shot out of her throne.
“That’s impossible,” she gasped.
“Who’s Micah?” asked Catra, leaning closer to her future self to keep her voice lower.
“Glimmer’s dad, keep up. Anyway yeah, no idea how Shadow Weaver didn’t know about it, but I guess he got sent to Beast Island.”
“Beast Island?” Adora yelped, almost dropping her sword again.
“Yeah, I wasn’t around for that one but I’m told it was both better and worse than you were anticipating,” old-Catra went on. Catra stared at her in mute horror. Beast Island was worse than a death sentence. It’s why she’d actually given a shit about Shadow Weaver’s fate in the first place.
“Wait, wait, I--he’s alive?” asked Angella, hand over her mouth as tears began to spill down her cheeks. Old-Catra softened, smiling up at her with compassion and a sincerity that Catra had never seen on her own face.
“He’s alive,” she confirmed gently. “He’s a little bit feral, but he’s all in one piece. He misses you so much.”
Glimmer teleported to her mother’s side, laying a hand on her arm as Angella sobbed in earnest. The princess looked more confused than anything, torn between hope and suspicion, clearly pained at her mother’s emotion but not yet crying herself.
Adora took the opportunity to step closer to Catra again.
“Was there more?” she asked old-Catra, eyes lingering on Cyra again. The baby babbled at the sight of her, raising its arms expectantly, and Adora looked surprised and delighted and absolutely terrified.
“Yeah, but it can wait a sec,” said old-Catra, beckoning her closer. Adora knelt beside her on the floor, her sword transforming into a vambrace as she looked at Cyra with wonder and uncertainty. “Her name is Cyra. Come say hi, she loves you.”
“What do I--I’m not good with babies,” Adora said awkwardly, looking up at the Catra she knew as if for help. Catra just raised an eyebrow.
“You’re good with kittens, as I recall,” old-Catra laughed softly, taking one of Adora’s hands and guiding it to Cyra’s head. The baby started purring instantly, rubbing her face into the contact, and Adora melted.
“She’s so cute,” she whispered, eyes filling with tears again.
“Jeez, are you crying? Even I didn’t cry,” Catra teased, moving to stand over them. Adora just beamed up at her, that stupid idiot smile she got when she was really, actually happy. When she forgot about all the pressure and pain and let herself appreciate a moment for what it was.
“You’re here,” she told Catra, laughing a little breathlessly. “You’re here, and--you’re going to live. You’re going to be happy and have kids and--and people who love you.”
She let the tears fall, still petting Cyra, still laughing and smiling and happier than Catra had ever seen her.
Because she was happy for Catra.
“You too, you know,” said old-Catra, the same teasing lilt Catra had used moments earlier. “We all live happily ever after in the end.”
“What was--what was the other information?” Adora managed when her tears had slowed, playing with Cyra’s ears. “You said there was something about me?”
“Yeah, uh… I’m gonna be real with you, I don’t know if there’s a good way to tell you this so much as a ‘better than Shadow Weaver did it’ way,” said old-Catra, one hand rubbing the back of her neck with apparent reluctance.
“What is it?” asked Adora, frowning.
“You know, maybe we should discuss this somewhere else,” old-Catra hedged, looking up to the queen as if for permission. “Can I, uh… could we get some amnesty for Bratra over here? She might not join the Rebellion right away, but I promise she won’t try to assassinate anybody or whatever.”
“You don’t speak for me!” Catra snapped indignantly.
“Okay, would you like to assure the queen in charge of deciding your prison sentence that you don’t want to kill her whole family, or did you just wanna leave that kinda open-ended?”
“Obviously I’m not going to assassinate anybody, or I would’ve already done it,” Catra hissed. “We literally walked right in. Was it this easy to infiltrate the entire time I was trying to destroy you chucklefucks?”
“At times even easier,” said old-Catra, grinning. She got to her feet, holding a hand out to help Adora up, who for her part only hesitated a moment, looking surprised when she wasn’t dropped. “I’m thinking community service. Maybe you can even serve it by blowing some shit up, if you play your cards right. But hey, I’m not the monarch.”
Angella looked caught between amusement and severity, but it was difficult to be intimidated when her eyes were still puffy with tears and a tremulous, hopeful smile kept curling the corners of her mouth. “Oh, very well. Probation, community service, and an apology.”
Catra’s fur bristled, and she saw old-Catra and Adora wince in unison as she swelled with outrage.
“Then lock me up, because that’s not happening,” she spat.
“Catra--” Adora tried, but backed off at the growl building in Catra’s throat.
“I don’t apologize for anything,” she told the queen, claws flexing at her sides. “I did what I had to do to survive, and I’m not going to let you or anybody else make me feel guilty about it.” She glowered at old-Catra, who lifted her hands in a gesture of surrender.
“Maybe probation, community service, and some therapy?” old-Catra suggested hopefully, somehow making her smirk look sheepish as she turned back to Angella. “I appreciate you keeping Adora away from Shadow Weaver, but she’s not the only one with trauma.”
Catra scoffed. “Trauma? Please. I beat her, remember?”
Old-Catra’s stare stayed fixed on Angella. “You see what we’re working with?”
“Catra,” Adora started hesitantly, still trying to fix it. Still trying to fix her. Catra took an exaggerated step back, ignoring the way it made Adora’s face fall. “She was horrible to you. The things she would say--”
“I’m not a little kid anymore, okay?” she gritted out. “I can handle a few words without being traumatized or whatever the fuck.”
“Sure, all well-adjusted victims go around committing war crimes,” said old-Catra, rolling her eyes. “Just because you only ever say it to Shadow Weaver doesn’t mean it’ll end the same way. It isn’t a vulnerability to admit that you can make mistakes, and feeling remorse doesn’t automatically equal begging for mercy. You don’t have to apologize yet, but it’s either agree to the therapy or spit it out.”
Catra’s tail lashed again, ears flat against her head. That sounded like a load of bullshit, but she’d rather agree to whatever ‘therapy’ was than apologize. “Fine,” she said finally.
“Great. Let’s go to Adora’s room and talk some shit out.”
“I didn’t excuse y--oh, fine,” said Angella, trailing off into a mumble as old-Catra led the way out of the throne room.
“How do you know where Adora’s room is?” Glimmer asked old-Catra suspiciously as she navigated the complicated, twisting hallways with ease.
“I stayed there when I first joined up,” she said easily, “Couldn’t sleep by myself, and Adora understood best. She had some trouble adjusting herself, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Adora, meeting eyes with a bewildered Catra. “Um, so… Did you want…?”
“I get it,” she muttered, ears going back again. “I can find someplace else, it’s not like I thought… I’ve been sleeping by myself since you left, it’s fine.”
“Can we at least have a sleepover?” Adora asked hopefully. “Last time I slept by myself I kind of woke up to Shadow Weaver standing over me like the grim reaper.”
“Just watching you sleep? Yeesh, I forgot how creepy she was with you,” said Catra, shuddering. “Alright, fine. But just because your senses are vastly inferior, not because I like you.”
“Liar,” said Adora, grinning at her. Catra rolled her eyes.
“So what am I like in the future?” asked Glimmer, clearly grappling with the desire to intervene. “You’re friends with Adora again, so you must see me a lot, right?”
“All the time,” said old-Catra, ruffling her hair. Glimmer squawked indignantly, trying to swat her off. “We’re besties now. I almost destroyed the universe, you almost destroyed the universe, we got abducted by aliens together... it’s been a beautiful journey, Sparkles.”
“I--what? I would never destroy--I meant like am I single!” Glimmer spluttered.
“Oh, figured that one was obvious. You two are so sappy I thought you were together the whole time we were fighting,” said old-Catra.
“Wait, are they not together?” asked Catra, raising an eyebrow. “What about--”
“Okay!” Glimmer squeaked, waving her hands in front of her face. “Can we please stop talking about it now thank you.”
“What?” asked old-Catra, grinning at her. “You asked!”
“I didn’t ask who!”
“It was implied,” said old-Catra, glancing back at Catra and Adora for support. “It was heavily implied.”
“I mean. You didn’t ask about almost destroying the world?” Adora pointed out uncertainly. “Uh, but implied what? Who are we talking about?”
“I swear to every god Adora,” Catra groaned, rubbing a hand over her face. “You could fill a library with obvious shit you don’t know.”
“I mean, I’m pretty sure they have,” said Adora, smirking. “That’s sort of the point of libraries.”
“Only you could brag about being an idiot,” said Catra.
Adora raised a hand to swat at her before apparently thinking better of it, rolling her eyes instead. “You’re just mad I know how libraries work and you don’t.”
“Yeah, congratulations. Maybe in another few years you’ll learn what ‘subtlety’ means.”
“Bold words from someone who doesn’t know what a party is,” said old-Catra, opening an enormous set of doors and waltzing into what appeared to be some kind of sitting room, except there were only a few places to sit, and a bed in the middle of it.
“I know what a party is,” Catra spluttered.
“Oh? Do tell,” said Glimmer, smirking at her.
“It’s—a group of something that does something specific. Like a tracking party. Boring stuff, it’s like... bot work.”
She glowered at them as they laughed at her, old-Catra loudest of all. Anger burned hot again, and she wanted to scream, she wanted to hit something, but she was supposed to be ‘good’, it was how she got to be as happy as old-Catra.
She swallowed it down and settled for a low growl. “I’m not stupid,” she bit out. “Just because I don’t know some word--”
“Nobody thinks you’re stupid,” Adora rushed to assure her. “It’s not like we had parties in the Horde. A party is a kind of celebration, where people sing and dance and eat lots of really good food. It’s like Princess Prom but the rules are way easier to learn and you can keep your weapons, if you want.”
“Really? That’s what you remember about Princess Prom?” Glimmer asked incredulously.
“I mean, I kind of liked the rules actually, but those aren’t really Catra’s thing, so--”
“I think she’s referring to how I kidnapped her and Arrow-Boy,” said Catra. “Where is he, anyway? I thought you three were joined at the hip.”
Glimmer squeaked. “Oh no! He’s still making sure Adora doesn’t sneak into the prison!”
She disappeared in a burst of magic.
There was a brief silence as Catra and Adora stared at each other, expressions shuttering as they remembered Princess Prom and everything that came after.
Old-Catra flopped onto the bed, arms coming up to support Cyra. “Ugh, Adora, you could have at least sprung for a bigger mattress. How am I supposed to sprawl?”
“You’re--you aren’t supposed to sprawl,” said Adora, huffing. “Since when do you even sprawl? You sleep all curled up like a bug.”
“Yeah, when I have to sleep on a brick,” she groaned, reaching under Adora’s pillow without looking and tossing a dagger to the floor behind her.
“Wh--hey!” said Adora, moving to grab it. “You don’t just--that’s mine!”
“You don’t need it, I’m here now,” said old-Catra, putting the arm over her eyes. “Fuck, I’m tired. Cyra, sweetheart, can you wake Mommy up in like ten years? Thanks.”
Cyra giggled, wriggling in her sling so they were laying chest to chest and reaching up to smack her mother in the face.
“Good baby,” old-Catra murmured, her other hand moving to play with Cyra’s hair.
Catra stared at them for a long moment, uncomfortable with the intimacy, eventually averting her gaze, inadvertently locking eyes with Adora. She looked like she’d missed a step going down the stairs and only just caught herself, surprised and realizing she should have panicked more after the fact, standing uselessly at the foot of the bed.
“So, um, any ideas on how to get you home?” asked Adora, breaking their eye contact and circling the bed to sit beside old-Catra, dagger forgotten. “I mean, your, um, family is probably freaking out.”
“Oh, you’ll come rescue me eventually,” said old-Catra. “I think you’ll cut me some slack for going off-script a little. I couldn’t just watch this dipshit get tortured again.”
Catra stiffened as Adora’s eyes flew to hers immediately. "Tortured?"
Old-Catra removed the arm from over her eyes, waving a vague, dismissive gesture. “Nothing too bad, in the scheme of things. Hordak’s got this machine that makes the air change, so you can inhale but you can’t breathe, you know? It’s like… well, not quite like drowning. Drowning’s easy, as long as nobody’s electrifying you. Though I guess that’s true of most things.”
Adora looked horrified, head swiveling from one Catra to the other. “Catra, what--”
“Did you think it was all going to be fine when you left?” Catra spat, forcing her gaze away, ears pinned defensively. “I told you Shadow Weaver was going to kill me if I didn’t bring you back from Thaymor. I told you it wasn’t safe. You don’t get to act surprised or--or worried about what happened to me when it’s your fault.”
She saw Adora flinch out of the corner of her vision, but before she could dig in any deeper, old-Catra sat up abruptly.
“Shut up,” she said firmly. “It’s not Adora’s fault that people hurt you. You think Shadow Weaver wouldn’t have kicked your ass even if you did bring her back? What, you thought she’d treat you like the conquering soldier and not like you’d been the one to lose her in the first place?”
"How are you on her side?” Catra yelled, throwing her arms in the air. “Am I so fucking unreasonable I can’t even get myself to agree with me? Shadow Weaver actually, literally tried to kill me, and I still--You’re telling me Hordak was about to suffocate me again and I didn’t even know, because of course I fucking didn’t--you never know when someone’s going to fucking stab you in the back in the Fright Zone, right? And I’m the one who needs to shut up? She left me! In hell!”
Old-Catra didn’t even seem angry, which set Catra’s teeth to grinding. How could she not fucking care about this? How could she think this was fair? “Adora wasn’t safe there either, and acting like she’s responsible for every bad thing that happened when she left is just playing into her stupid martyr complex. Stop treating her like a hero and start treating her like a dumbass kid, because that’s what she is.”
“I’m not a kid,” Adora mumbled, scowling when old-Catra patted her hair pouf condescendingly.
“Fuck, you’re both so young,” said old-Catra, sadness weighing on her shoulders like a blanket. She looked down at Cyra again, eyebrows pinching together. “You’re both so young and hurt and scared, and I can’t fix it.”
“I’m not scared,” Catra and Adora protested in unison, making a face at each other after the fact.
“Ugh, yes you are, you big idiots.” She sighed heavily. “I think it’s time I told you that hot gossip, Adora. We can deal with everybody’s underlying psychological issues once you have your identity crisis.”
“My… my what?” Adora asked nervously.
“One of the things Shadow Weaver told you in my timeline, when you inevitably snuck into her cell to interrogate her, like an idiot, is where the Horde found you.”
Catra stiffened, but Adora froze. She sat there like a statue, staring at old-Catra with wide, expectant eyes.
“You--you know where I came from?” she asked, voice shaking. “Do I--I mean, like, are--where--did I have a--?”
“A little under twenty years ago, there was a portal opened on Etheria. The second in a thousand years, since the previous She-Ra stranded us in this universe. It was small, and barely open for long enough for anything to come through, but--something did. Someone did.”
“Me?” Adora breathed, emotions flickering over her face so fast Catra could barely catch them. Confusion, disbelief, pain. Catra’s stomach felt like it was crawling up into her throat.
“You were brought here from the wider universe, from a planet called Eternia,” said old-Catra, halfway reaching for her but holding back when Adora didn’t move to respond. “It wasn’t Hordak that opened the portal, but he was the one who found you. Shadow Weaver… she sensed that you were powerful, and wanted that power for herself. So she took you in.”
“So I was--I just--I’m from another planet?” Adora asked, voice breaking. “Did I have a--a family? Could I go back? Could I go… home?”
Old-Catra’s expression didn’t change, even as Catra took a step back. It felt like she’d been clubbed between the ears. Home? Was this not home? Did she not care about their whole lives? She just wanted to run back off to wherever the fuck and pretend she’d grown up somewhere else?
Somewhere without Catra?
“If you want. It’s pretty dangerous, and it’d take a long time, but it’s your decision,” said old-Catra, eyes flickering to Catra’s as she struggled to control her breathing.
“If it wasn’t the Horde, then who… who opened the portal? Why am I here?”
Old-Catra’s face twisted in anger for a moment before she seemed to let go of it, taking a deep breath and removing her hand from Cyra’s head before it could curl into a fist.
“There’s no such thing as destiny,” she said, apparently out of the blue.
Adora blinked at her. “Uh, but--”
“Nope. Everything you’ve ever done, every decision you’ve made--that was you, Adora. You left the Horde. You reformed the Princess Alliance. You always do what’s right, and you never give up, because that’s who you are. Not because some stupid fucking sword--” She broke off, looking away. Her tail was thumping against the mattress in agitation, but otherwise she still seemed weighed down, heavy.
“Catra, who opened the portal?”
Old-Catra looked up, and for just a moment, Catra saw the despair that clawed at her nightmares painted on her own face.
wow!! y'all like this a lot more than i was anticipating uh. hey what's up. i added an extra chapter to the total bc i'm gonna do some morally gray shit and wanna have time to unpack it still lmao. everything's all written, i'm just getting it edited. tricky on account of im projecting real hard & have no idea where the line is between 'compelling character development' and 'oversharing trauma'
hey also what the fuck is up with the front entrace to bright moon? is there like an elevator under the moonstone? spiral staircase? how'd swifty get up there if it's a spiral staircase? things you don't think about until you're like "wait are there even stairs here?" anyway for the purposes of this fic the answer is yeah totally
Chapter 3: Adora
What's better than one baby?
Adora sucked in a breath, physically reeling back. “What-- What? ”
“She’s been corrupted by the First Ones’ programming. Her prime directive is to activate a weapon called the Heart of Etheria, but she can’t do it without… without She-Ra.”
Adora’s hand moved almost convulsively to her vambrace, tossing it away like it was venomous. It turned back into a sword as it clattered to the floor. “So--so the only reason I’m here is--my destiny--”
“Doesn’t exist,” old-Catra said fiercely. “You’re not what she’s trying to make you, Adora. You don’t have to do what she tells you, or be anything you don’t want to be. You have a choice. None of this is your responsibility. It might have a shinier coat of paint slapped on, but--it’s just a whole bunch of Shadow Weavers from a thousand years ago, trying to manipulate you. Trying to turn you into a weapon.”
“The megalomaniac who runs your stupid crystal clubhouse,” said Catra, eyes widening as she remembered what old-Catra had told her in the Fright Zone. “The one you wanted to talk to? When I was stuck in there with you?”
“That kept telling her to ‘let go’? Yeah, that bitch,” said old-Catra, making a face. “Look, I know I’m pretty biased, but, Adora--letting go of attachments or whatever doesn’t make you strong. Look at Bratra.”
“Okay, can you stop calling me that?” Catra growled. “Also, I’m strong as hell, so fuck you.”
“I told you love makes you stronger and you started crying,” said old-Catra.
“Shut up!” Catra hissed, flushing. Adora giggled, a little unhinged. “Adora cried about your stupid baby!”
“Those were happy tears,” said old-Catra, looking down at Cyra with a smug smile. “Anyway, what I mean is if you had it your way you’d have zero friends, right?”
“Well, yeah,” said Catra, rolling her eyes. “Caring about people is a ridiculously exploitable weakness. Everybody knows that. They can hurt you, people can use them to get to you, it’s all way too messy and complicated. I mean, I made an exception for Adora, and look how that turned out. Or like when she surrendered herself because she thought it’d save her new besties. I didn’t get to be Hordak’s second-in-command by making friends.”
“Yeah, and that position worked out great for you, right?”
Catra groaned, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes. “I’m going to kill you. I’m gonna gut you like a fish and make the kid watch.”
“Uh, maybe don’t?” said Adora. “I’d kind of like to hear where this is going.”
“Pushing people away, taking on everything by yourself--that’s a one-way ticket to being so desperate and alone that you get yourself killed,” said old-Catra. “We need other people. It’s not a weakness to love them. It’s--ugh, I can’t believe I’m saying this--it’s the strongest thing there is.”
Adora stared at her, while Catra stared at Adora, watching the complicated play of emotions grow steadily more conflicted.
“But… if I’m only here to be She-Ra, then… shouldn’t I let go? Not to be or use a weapon, but to fight for what’s right. The world doesn’t… need me as Adora. I can’t… it’s not fair, but isn’t it my responsibility to protect Etheria, if I’m the only one who can?”
“Okay, well, you’re not the only one who can,” said old-Catra, rolling her eyes. “C’mon Adora, ego much? You can’t be responsible for the whole planet, you’d explode.”
Adora spluttered something, probably about it not being her ego, but Catra was focusing on old-Catra.
She kept doing that. Breaking little moments of tension or steering conversations where she wanted them to go. Leading people around by the nose, herself included.
Part of her felt like she should hate it, like it was just more manipulation and she was being controlled, but… Adora already looked less upset, flushing red instead of working herself into a lather. Was it still manipulative to help someone calm down? To reassure them?
It was so different from the usual mind games. She didn’t know if she liked it, but it didn’t feel like a violation in the way that Shadow Weaver’s machinations so often did. Sure, old-Catra was fucking exhausting, but Catra thought maybe it was a good exhausted. Like the burn in her muscles after winning a fight, or curling up somewhere warm and safe at the end of a long day.
She at least preferred it to the anger that usually directed her every decision.
“Also, fuck Etheria,” said old-Catra. Catra tuned back in with a blink. “Your friends need you as Adora, not She-Ra. The people who love you aren’t only hanging around because you can turn into an eight-foot legendary warrior. Glimmer and Bow basically adopted you at that festival, way before you started blowing stuff up. If you--hypothetically--stopped being She-Ra, they’d still love you. They’d still care about you even if you couldn’t do anything for them, because you’re you.”
Adora was back to being upset, face drawn in a grimace as she stared at old-Catra with open, desperate confusion. “Even--even then, if I can’t protect them--”
“You don’t have to be She-Ra, Adora,” said old-Catra, shaking her head. “You have a choice. And I know you’ll always use that choice to protect as many people as you can, but you can’t protect anyone if you die trying to do it. Protect us from you getting your dumb ass killed, alright?”
“But--but what if I mess it up? By being Adora too?” asked Adora. “What if I can’t take it and I snap like Mara?”
Old-Catra blinked, then burst out laughing. “Mara? Adora, she saved the world. She loved Etheria and its people so much that she gave her life for them--for you, so you’d never have to make that sacrifice.”
“But she couldn’t handle the pressure,” said Adora, shaking her head, uncomprehending. “She… she let the responsibility overwhelm her, and…”
“And Light Hope was lying to you,” said old-Catra, shaking her head. “Mara was a hero. We literally built a statue of her. She’s the only bitch from Eternia I respect.”
“Wait, is Eternia--am I a First One?” Adora squeaked.
Glimmer chose that moment to return with a very sleepy-looking Bow. “Okay, I explained the whole time travel thing, I think, so if we--what’s going on.”
Both Catras were poised to grab Adora’s arms as she attempted to wrap them around her head entirely, curling into a ball on the mattress.
“Oh, nothing!” she said with more than a touch of hysteria. “I’m just a First One and everything I thought I knew about She-Ra was a lie, that’s all!”
“You’re a First One?” gasped Bow.
“Yes! No! I don’t know! Catra?”
“Yeah,” said old-Catra, patting her on the shoulder. “You’re a First One.”
“I guess that explains why you can read their language,” said Glimmer.
“Does it? Does it, Glimmer? Because I was apparently a baby when I got here!” said Adora, gesticulating wildly as she pressed her face harder into her knees, accentuating expressions they couldn’t even see.
“Whoa, Adora, chill out. You’re still the same obnoxious showoff you’ve always been,” said Catra, crouching in front of her.
“Thanks, Catra. Really needed to hear that right now,” she huffed, raising her head just enough to glare at her.
“You’re so welcome. Hey, while you’re busy freaking out, can I throw things at Shadow Weaver in jail or is that a no-no?”
“No!” said Bow, horrified, at the same moment that Glimmer asked, “What kind of things?”
Bow huffed at Glimmer, crossing his arms.
“Oh come on Bow, Shadow Weaver is the worst!” Glimmer groaned.
Catra’s ears pricked forward appreciatively. “Oh, this bitch gets it.”
“I’m telling you, there’s nothing like bonding through spite,” said old-Catra, grinning. “If we’re allowed to throw things, then--well, no, I’m not taking Cyra in there. Talk about nightmares.”
“I forgot about the baby!” said Bow, distracted from his disapproval instantly. He practically flew to old-Catra’s side, gaping in delight. “Oh my gosh! She’s so cute!”
“Careful, she bites,” said old-Catra, as Cyra grabbed onto one of Bow’s fingers and tried to drag it to her mouth.
“Does she even have teeth?” asked Adora, peeking out from her tangle of limbs a little further.
“No, but she has gums and determination.”
“So uh… not to pry, but where’d she come from? Are you like, married?” asked Glimmer, peering at Cyra over Bow’s shoulder.
“What’s married?” asked Catra and Adora in unison.
Bow and Glimmer looked at each other in horror, while old-Catra started full-on cackling, which in turn made Cyra giggle, reaching for her mother’s smile. Adora uncoiled a little farther, watching her, a pink tinge to her cheeks that was probably the same embarrassment Catra was feeling, somewhere under the anger of people laughing at her vocabulary again.
“You wanna field this one, Sparkles?” old-Catra asked, wiping a tear of mirth from the corner of her eye.
“I… uh… well, when two people love each other very much…”
“Two or more!” Bow added, nodding.
“When two or more people love each other very much, and they want to be together forever, they um… make a promise? I guess? Sometimes they invite a bunch of people?”
“What kind of promise?” asked Adora, frowning.
“You know, to always be together,” said Bow, rubbing the back of his neck. He was blushing fiercely. “Um, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer. To be there for each other no matter what.”
Catra and Adora looked at each other, frowning.
“So are we married?” asked Catra, gesturing between them and looking back to Glimmer for confirmation.
Old-Catra started cackling again, loud and creaky, echoed by Cyra’s delighted laughter.
“You’re--no!” Glimmer spluttered. “What are you--what?”
“We promised we’d always have each other’s backs,” said Adora, slowly. “Nobody said anything about sickness, are we gonna get sick?”
“No!” Bow squeaked. “That’s not-- usually when people get married, they’re in love.”
“And a wee bit older than five,” old-Catra added gleefully. “Fuck, I wish I had that recorded. Go on Bow, tell them about love next.”
“I know what love is!” Catra protested immediately. Her face felt hot. None of this shit made any sense. Why did you have to be older than five? Were they supposed to only have each other’s backs after they grew up? “You know I--ugh, I hate you.”
“What’s that Catra?” asked old-Catra, sing-song. “I know you know what being in lo--”
She cut off into another peal of laughter as Catra pounced on her, arms bracketing Cyra’s sling as she forced her older self back and pressed her claws against her throat.
“Catra!” Adora yelped, grabbing at her shoulders, but Catra hissed and flexed her hands to show she’d dig in if pulled.
“Keep your thoughts to yourself, you old hag!” she growled, wanting desperately to claw the smug little smirk off old-Catra’s face. Is this what it was like to deal with her all the time? No wonder people kept attacking her.
She was distracted by a sudden pricking sensation in her wrist, looking away from old-Catra’s face to find Cyra swatting determinedly at her with needle-sharp claws, still giggling.
She let go reflexively, stepping back with her ears flat against her head. Old-Catra sat up in a smooth motion, holding her own hand out for Cyra to practice swiping at.
“Force Captain Catra, cowed by the mightiest warrior on Etheria,” old-Catra purred, raising Cyra’s tiny hand to press a kiss against it.
“I’m--shut up,” said Catra, wrong-footed. Adora was smiling at her again, soft and secret like she used to do when Catra had done something clever but Adora wasn’t allowed to say so. “It’s not like I’m gonna hurt your stupid baby.”
"Our stupid baby,” said old-Catra, moving her free hand to her heart behind Cyra’s head. “You know it’s okay to admit you’ve been in love, right? You don’t have to say anything about it.”
Catra’s tail lashed back and forth so quickly she could have dusted all of Bright Moon. Her face felt like it was on fire.
“Shut up,” she managed after a moment of intense embarrassment, voice squeaking under the weight of the ‘Best Friend Squad’ staring at her. She cleared her throat. “You’re deflecting. You never answered Sparkles’s question. Are you married?”
“Yeah, duh,” said old-Catra. “We all are.”
“To who?” Glimmer burst out. “Who the hell married you? ”
Old-Catra grinned, wide and sharp and not looking nearly as offended at the question as Catra felt. “You’ll see,” she said smugly.
“Am I married?” Bow asked enthusiastically.
“Yeah, what part of ‘we all are’ did you not get?”
“I didn’t know if I was part of the ‘we’! Are we friends in the future?” he asked eagerly.
“Best friends,” said old-Catra with a disgustingly sincere smile. Catra mimed gagging as Bow practically glowed with joy, and Adora snickered at her from over his shoulder.
“Oh! You’re a nerd. Before I forget, there’s a bunch of First Ones’ tech on Beast Island,” said old-Catra, snapping her fingers and pointing at Bow. His eyes lit up, impossibly happier.
“So how long have you been in this time?” asked Glimmer, apparently deciding to ignore the fawning. “A day?”
“Eh, less than that. I got here last night I think--kinda hard to tell time in the Fright Zone, but can’t have been too long or Cyra would be hungry.” Old-Catra looked down at Cyra, who was wriggling determinedly in her sling. “You hungry, kid?”
“Beh,” said Cyra, swatting her on the nose.
There was a very loud whirring noise emanating from the center of the room, and Catra spun, claws at the ready, to face--another fucking portal.
Son of a bitch.
There was a very undignified squawk as someone fell through the portal, a blur of blue and gold tipping backwards like they’d tripped on their own feet, awkwardly jerking their legs clear before the portal closed.
“Catra?” groaned the newcomer, still on the ground, “please tell me that worked.”
“Adora?” gasped Bow, extremely dramatically, looking between the Adora on the bed and the one on the ground, because yep, that was fucking Adora. There were two of them. Cool. This was just a super cool fucking day.
“Oh shit are we in the past,” said old-Adora, because she was in fact older, lurching into a sitting position and staring wide-eyed at Bow. “Please tell me Catra is here and I didn’t just like, strand us in--”
“You brought Adam?” old-Catra yelled, staring at her in disbelief and something like alarm.
“Catra!” old-Adora yelled back, voice bright with relief. She scrambled to her feet, awkward around a second baby, this one a vivid red tabby, and rushed to old-Catra on the bed. She pressed their foreheads together in an affectionate headbutt, scanning for damage, her free hand coming up to stroke Cyra’s face.
“You have two babies?” Adora asked delightedly, looking from old-Catra to the kitten that was probably named ‘Adam’ in undisguised glee. Old-Adora froze, looking at her out the corner of her eye.
“This is… extremely awkward,” she said after a moment, straightening up. Adam burbled softly in her arms, reaching for old-Catra and Cyra with a demanding noise.
“Adora, what was rule number five?”
“I panicked!” said old-Adora, clutching Adam closer to her chest. She looked around the room, blinking when she saw Catra. “Wait, when are we?”
“Don’t change the subject. Rule number five?” old-Catra said sternly, getting to her feet. She kissed Adam between the ears, eliciting a trilling purr. “Hey buddy. Did you sleep okay?”
“Rule number five: Don’t let the babies play with the sword,” old-Adora mumbled. “I panicked, Catra! I don’t know how to open a portal! I was like ‘maybe if we recreate the circumstances we can recreate the portal’ and that didn’t work but then when I went to ask her Entrapta was like ‘I don’t see their life signals anywhere on Etheria’ and I started freaking out even more and then Glimmer said ‘maybe twin magic will work’ and I think she was kidding but I was like freaking out--”
“Aw, they’re twins?” gasped Adora. She’d followed old-Catra to her feet, peering in absolute adoration at the babies. “I always wanted a twin!”
Old-Adora stared at her for a moment and then laughed her ‘panicking but trying to act cool’ laugh. Catra rolled her eyes; even at twenty-eight Adora was still very much Adora.
“Yeah, uh, seriously, when are we? How much have you told them? Why are you in Bright Moon with your Force Captain badge?”
Catra looked down at her shirt, where her badge was in fact still pinned. Whoops.
She plucked it off and tossed it to the floor at Glimmer’s feet, where it was obligingly stepped on with a vicious smile of satisfaction Catra couldn’t help but approve of.
“Entrapta’s on our side again in the future?” Bow asked hopefully.
“I mean, if we can get Catra, we can definitely get Entrapta,” said Glimmer, gesturing at Catra as if she were self-explanatory.
“Okay, calm down. Deep breaths,” said old-Catra, laughing a little as she rubbed circles onto old-Adora’s back. “So Cyra dropped us in the Fright Zone--”
“She what?” Adora whisper-shrieked, clearly conscious of the infants between them.
“Yeah, so, Shadow Weaver just broke out of jail, and I was like, hey, what if we just don’t heal her? And I talked to Bratra about--you know, mushy stuff--and she agreed to come back with me, so--she’s here now. And I told Angella about Micah and you about Eternia and I broke the timeline and I’m sorry?”
“It’s--I mean, it’s probably fine, right? We’re still here, so it’s not like you broke the future or something. Um. You told Angella?”
“Okay. Yeah. So probably good call on all of that, um, how’s everybody… doing?”
“If I hear one more speech about the power of love I’m gonna hurl,” said Catra.
“I don’t trust her,” said Glimmer, pointing at Catra, “but I’m--Can we trust her? Is my dad really alive?”
“Yes,” said old-Adora, with a soft, almost wistful smile. “He might eat some spiders when you first bring him back, just as a heads up. And you can trust her. My Catra wouldn’t have brought her here if you couldn’t.”
Catra’s ears twisted a little at the sound of any Adora saying ‘my Catra’. It was fine. A perfectly reasonable way to distinguish between the two of them. She was totally fine.
“I just can’t believe how cute these babies are!” said Bow, gesturing emphatically at the twins, who were now trying to play-fight across the space between them. “I’m not exaggerating when I say I would die for these babies,” he added, very solemnly. Adora nodded in fervent agreement.
“Yeah, I’m gonna be honest, I was freaking out about the ‘from another dimension’ thing a little but it’s kind of hard to panic when this is going on,” said Adora, smiling at her older self. “Catra has babies!”
“Mmmmmhm,” hummed old-Adora, several octaves above her normal register. “Um, Catra?”
“Yeah, I didn’t tell them. I kind of want to though, can you imagine?” asked old-Catra, laughing.
“No! I can’t! That’s kind of the problem!” said old-Adora.
“Aw, they’ll be fine. I already broke the timeline, right? They can’t live the same lives we did, but maybe…?”
“Tell us what?” hissed Catra. “I’m kind of taking a chance here! I just ran away from my whole life because you turned up with your dumb kid and said ‘hey let’s screw over Shadow Weaver’!”
“Catra, if that were enough you’d have left with me in Thaymor,” said old-Adora, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know what my Catra told you, but you can’t pretend it was just Cyra and spite.”
Catra’s ears went back as she narrowed her eyes, unable to deny it. “... It was mostly spite,” she muttered.
“Seriously though, what aren’t you telling us?” Adora asked anxiously. “I really--this has been so nice, but--look, I’m really, really tired of people giving me cryptic non-answers about myself. I just want… I want to know.”
“Adora, would you like to share any words of wisdom first?” asked old-Catra, looking at her expectantly.
“Oh, you are just --fine! Fine. Okay.” Old-Adora took a deep breath, turning to her younger self. Catra felt like she should look away, but could only bring herself to exchange a wary glance with Glimmer.
“Adora,” said old-Adora, mouth twisting with awkwardness. She rested a hand on Adora’s shoulder, as if addressing a junior cadet. “Um. Listen. It’s okay to set limits. It’s okay to want things. You don’t have to give everything everything you have, whether that’s your time or your energy or your future. I mean, yeah, uh, you should always--try your best! But sometimes it’s too much, you know? If you give it your all all the time, you won’t have anything left to give. The world won’t literally end if you want to be happy. Or metaphorically end. Uh.”
“Wow,” said old-Catra. “You worded that in the least coherent way possible.”
“Shut up! I don’t wanna just say what Mara said--”
“Why not? It actually got through your thick skull.”
“Because it would be weird! If I was just like going about my day and my future-self came through a portal and told me I mattered and my feelings were important, I’d have freaked out!”
“I mean, I’m not freaking out,” said Adora, staring at them. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, though. Do my best, but don’t do my best?”
Old-Catra sighed, making a face at old-Adora. “What she’s trying to say is, you are more than what you can give other people.”
“People love you for who you are, not what you can do for them,” said old-Adora, stepping to old-Catra’s side as she put an arm around old-Adora’s waist, just smiling softly at her. “You don’t have to be useful to be needed. Or to be loved.”
Adora’s breath hitched, and her eyes welled up with tears.
“Glimmer, could you and Bow give us a minute, please?” old-Adora asked as they started to rush to comfort Adora. “Everything is going to be okay, she just needs some time.”
Adora had averted her eyes, clearly wrestling with the instinct to hide her weakness versus the lure of being told she was worth something. Catra could sure relate. Hopefully this was a little safer than having trusted Shadow Weaver of all people.
Glimmer hesitated, looking at Catra, who grimaced back. She’d made no move to comfort Adora, arms crossed over her chest to keep the twisting want inside where it belonged.
“Catra can stay. I want to talk to her a little,” old-Adora said gently. Glimmer sighed, grabbing Bow’s arm and disappearing in a cloud of sparkles without another word.
“I’m--I don’t understand,” said Adora, still fighting tears. She kept her head turned away, but her eyes were on old-Adora. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because it’s true,” said old-Catra. She looked over at Catra, gesturing for her to stand next to Adora. Rolling her eyes, Catra obliged, keeping her arms crossed. “Forget Etheria for a minute. Forget about big magical destinies and empires and every person who ever told you any of it was your fault. She-Ra is okay, I guess, and yeah, a bunch of nobodies like her a whole lot, but honestly? Fuck all of that. Because none of that would be possible without you. You, Adora, are so much more than She-Ra. You’re--fuck.”
“Are you crying?” asked old-Adora, grinning at her. “Get it together, baby.”
Catra’s ears flicked forward.
“Adora, you’re irreplaceable, okay?” said old-Catra, powering through. “I… there’s nobody else in the whole universe like you, and you--I don’t know what I would do without you. I don’t know how I survived while we were fighting. Sometimes I feel like I didn’t.”
Her voice broke, and she turned into old-Adora’s arms, readily enveloped in a one-armed hug, the twins chirruping between them. Old-Adora looked down at her with unbearable fondness, and Catra had to fight the urge to bolt as her own eyes welled with tears.
She was close enough to see Adam’s eyes now; they were that same, stormy blue.
“It’s not too late?” she asked, cursing the waver in her voice.
“You kidding?” asked old-Adora. “You couldn’t even get rid of me after you destroyed reality, Catra.”
“That was one time!” sobbed old-Catra in her arms.
“So we really get to be friends again?” asked Adora. Her head was raised, and Catra could see a few of her tears spilling over. “We don’t--we don’t have to fight anymore?”
“That’s up to you,” said old-Adora, smiling softly.
“I’m-- you’re friends,” said Adora, pressing the heel of one hand into her eye as if she could physically force the tears back in. “You were holding her other baby when the portal opened, right?”
“I was holding Adam, yes,” said old-Adora, face twisting awkwardly again. Catra narrowed her eyes. There were still other explanations. The most obvious solution wasn’t always the one that was true.
“Say it,” she said abruptly. She had to know either way. Fuck this. “Friends, or not?”
Old-Adora and old-Catra looked at each other briefly, old-Catra clearly suggesting something that old-Adora didn’t approve of. It frustrated Catra even further; she could still read their expressions, but without words she’d never know what they were talking about.
“Catra’s my best friend in the whole universe,” old-Adora declared after a moment, having won their silent debate. Even Adora was looking at her with confusion and suspicion now.
“You’re being… weird,” she said, very slowly.
“Look, like I said,” said old-Catra, wiping her face on the sleeves of old-Adora’s pale blue jacket. Old-Adora made a small noise of disgust. “You don’t have to follow our same path to be like this, right? It doesn’t matter what capacity you’re in each other’s lives, it just matters that you’re happy.”
“Except I’m thinking it does matter,” said Catra, staring pointedly at old-Catra’s arm around old-Adora’s waist.
“Well maybe you should talk about it,” said old-Adora, grimacing. “Um. I do want to talk to you alone for a second, actually.”
Catra tilted her head expectantly. Old-Adora, clearly recognizing the challenge in her eyes, huffed and passed Adam to old-Catra, who whined with anxiety.
“Are you sure you should let go? We don’t know if they’re what’s like, anchoring us to the timeline--”
“Catra, I’m She-Ra.”
“And you don’t know how to make a portal!” old-Catra said anxiously as she adjusted Cyra and Adam’s positions. “I’m not cut out to be a single mother, Adora! My arms are already tired!”
“I’d come back for you,” said old-Adora, grinning. She leaned forward for a moment before seeming to catch herself, ducking to kiss each of the twins and stepping neatly away. Catra’s eyes narrowed as she led her to a corner of the room.
“Okay, so here’s the thing,” said old-Adora, glancing over her shoulder at old-Catra collapsing dramatically onto the bed, Adora hovering like some kind of kitten-petting vulture waiting to swoop in. “You’re the smart one.”
“Yeah, no shit,” said Catra.
“And I like to think I know you pretty well,” she went on, as if Catra hadn’t spoken, “so I’m pretty sure you know what’s going on here. And I just want you to know, we won’t say anything to uh, me, if it isn’t something you’re comfortable with, but--yeah, you’re right.”
“I’m--I’m right?” she breathed, staring up into old-Adora’s eyes, filled with soft affection and sadness and seeing right through her. Part of her wanted old-Adora to say it, explicitly. Part of her couldn’t bear to hear it.
“Yeah. You always said they had my eyes,” she chuckled. “I just--I know it’s going to take you some time. To adjust to everything. I think it’s good to take that time, I probably need time too--you should be comfortable here. You two should be comfortable with each other. But I just want you to know that I love you. You’re--everything. I can’t even begin to explain how much you mean to me. I just--whatever you decide to do, however much time it takes you, I need you to know that you are so, so loved.”
She didn’t even try to fight off the tears this time. She just leaned forward into old-Adora’s arms and sobbed in earnest, losing herself in Adora’s scent and the comfort of her hands rubbing soothing circles into Catra’s back.
“Catra?” Adora’s voice asked from across the room, alarmed.
“She’ll be fine,” she heard old-Catra say distantly.
“You save me,” old-Adora murmured, pressing her face against Catra’s head. “You protect me from myself, you keep me safe and happy and alive and I’m so grateful my Catra was able to forgive me. I’m so sorry I made her have to. Your Adora--she’s an idiot, okay? She can’t tell how you feel if she doesn’t know what you’ve been through. If you can’t be honest with her, she’ll never be able to be honest with herself. And fuck, I wish I’d been honest with myself sooner. I wish we’d been together since we first started feeling this way.”
“W-we couldn’t have been,” Catra managed, clutching at the back of her jacket. “I’ve--for years, there’s no way--Shadow Weaver would’ve killed me.”
She couldn’t see old-Adora’s face, but she could feel her muscles tense as it darkened. “Yeah. I wish… I wish we’d just been put with the rest of the orphans, and we’d grown up like regular cadets. I wish we were allowed to be happy before the end of the world.”
“Uh, the what?” asked Catra, drawing back slightly.
“It’s fine, we stopped it,” said old-Adora, grinning down at her. “You and me can do anything when we’re together.”
“Do… do you think me and old-Catra are wrong for not wanting to heal Shadow Weaver?”
“Old-Catra?” she repeated indignantly. “We’re not old!”
She sighed, pushing a hand through the hair that was loose from her ponytail. “Honestly? I don’t know. All she ever does is hurt people and try to drive us apart. She taught Glimmer some stuff, but Micah can do that too, and she taught me how to heal when I saved her, but--I’m here now. I can teach myself. But is it right to let her die just because we don’t need her? Is it right to kill someone just because they aren’t useful?”
“It’s not killing her,” said Catra, a little evasively. “She did this to herself, right? It’s just… not fixing her mistakes.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I have kind of a ‘fixing it’ thing,” old-Adora said ruefully. “Although that does bring up a good point; how she got herself into this mess.”
Catra disentangled herself from old-Adora’s arms, glancing back at their counterparts. Old-Catra had managed to coax Adora to sit on the bed and was apparently trying to teach her how to hold a baby, though from Adora’s expression it might as well be a bomb.
“I haven’t forgiven her,” said old-Adora. “I never will. The older I get the more I realize just how fucked up it all was, how badly she treated us. The more I came to understand about myself, the more I learned about what she did to you--what she said to you. To get here. I’m so sorry, Catra. I’m so sorry she took advantage of you like that. You don’t deserve it. You never deserved it.”
Catra let out a watery chuckle, looking away. “Didn’t I? I never did listen, when we were growing up. And in--in the prison--”
“You were a child,” old-Adora interrupted fiercely. “Even now, you’re--nobody deserves to be treated like that, but Catra, all you ever did was try to protect yourself. And yeah, you were pretty garbage at it for a while, with the lashing out and the warfare and such, but--none of that makes it okay. None of that means it was right for her to hurt you.”
“I did kind of kick her ass and throw her in jail,” Catra pointed out, swallowing.
“Yeah, and she tortured you for like fifteen years, I’d say she had it coming.”
Catra laughed at that, a little half-hearted. How could Shadow Weaver have it coming if Catra didn’t have it coming? Why were some crimes forgivable? What was a good reason to hurt someone?
“Shadow Weaver isn’t someone who’s willing to face the consequences of her actions,” said old-Adora, as if she could read Catra’s thoughts. “She never, ever took responsibility for the things she did to us, or Etheria. She always blamed someone else, usually you, and I just--I don’t know. Maybe if she hadn’t pushed so hard, you wouldn’t have…”
“Destroyed reality?” asked Catra, trying for a smirk that came out as more of a grimace.
“Well, yeah. Like you pulled the lever, and you were a real brat about the whole thing and wouldn’t help me fix it, but… I don’t know, I mean, first she pulls that shit in prison, then after you get tortured and sent to the Crimson Waste you find out she’s here in Bright Moon, then she turns up in the Fright Zone and fucking tortures you again while she uses Glimmer like a battery--”
Old-Adora broke off, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths through her nose, while Catra stared at her in horror.
“I--the Crimson Waste?” she repeated in a small voice.
“Not the death sentence he thought it was,” old-Adora told her, smiling. Her eyes were still closed. “You conquered it in literally a day, captured me, found a spaceship, and completed your official objective. That sure taught him to underestimate you.”
Catra felt a strange swelling of pride, not quite able to tamp down the instinctive desire to be recognized for her worth. Hordak’s opinion of her didn’t matter anymore. She was… Shit, she was with the Rebellion now. Ugh.
“And, um, torture?”
Old-Adora squeezed her eyes shut tighter. “When you told me, I think… I think it’s the angriest I’ve ever been at Glimmer. Like look, okay, I love her, she’s one of my best friends and I’ve forgiven her now, but she let Shadow Weaver hurt you. Not just restrain you, hurt you, and she didn’t do anything to stop it. I hadn’t told her about how we grew up, not really, especially not how Shadow Weaver treated you, but… I don’t know. It was hard not to be upset that Glimmer had blamed me for everything, when she brought her there and gave her the power to do that to you.”
“This was… before I destroyed everything?” Catra asked, swallowing. Who knew Sparkles had it in her?
“Yeah. You were… I’ve only seen you more upset a couple of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that angry. It’s… I’m not saying I don’t recognize that you made your choice, because you’re still responsible for your actions, but when it comes down to it I think of the whole thing as being Shadow Weaver’s fault, because if she weren’t such a terrible person you wouldn’t have made that decision.”
“You don’t know that,” said Catra.
Old-Adora smiled at her, soft and sad. “I guess I don’t. But you knew it would kill you too, and otherwise you were always pretty damn good at surviving. I think I could have at least talked you into helping me while we were in there, instead of fighting so hard to die.”
Catra just shrugged. The more she learned about this the less she wanted to know.
“I guess it’s up to past-me anyway,” said old-Adora, sighing and looking back at her counterpart, who was holding Adam like he might explode at any second. “... Which probably means she’ll heal her.”
“Ugh,” said Catra.
“Ugh,” old-Adora agreed. “I mean, you could tell her about some of the stuff she didn’t know. How she even got to Bright Moon. I was pretty mad when I found out, and she was already dead by then.”
Catra’s ears swiveled forward. “She’s dead?”
Old-Adora winced. “Yeah.”
Catra looked away, considering that. Rolling the thought over in her mind to see how it felt. The surge of denial she would have expected after reacting to Shadow Weaver being on death’s door like that didn’t seem to be coming; maybe she was removed enough from this hypothetical future Shadow Weaver that it just didn’t matter. “Did it help?”
Old-Adora shifted, looking back at old-Catra. “No. Not really. It’s nice that we don’t have to see her ever again, but it’s… hard, too. For you especially. I kind of got my closure; I told her how I felt, that she was poison, but you…”
“What, she didn’t get the picture when I tried to destroy reality to spite her?”
“It wasn’t just for that,” said old-Adora, shaking her head. “But no. Her last words were kind of fucked up, and I know it bothers you. You didn’t get to tell her how you feel, not really, and you’ve never been able to know if it was just one last mind game.”
“I don’t want to know, do I,” said Catra, eyes lingering on the gentle smile on old-Catra’s face as she tried to help Adora relax.
“Probably not,” old-Adora sighed.
“So,” said Catra, still watching old-Catra as she made a stupid face at Adam, and Adora smiled a stupid smile, “they’re idiots, right?”
“Yeah,” old-Adora agreed, grinning. “But they’re our idiots.”
She swooped in to press a kiss against Catra’s cheek, ignoring the indignant squawk of protest. Catra batted her away, claws still sheathed, as she fought off the burning in her face.
“C’mon,” said old-Adora, taking her hand like it was the most natural thing in the world and leading her back to the bed.
“Okay,” she announced, reaching for Cyra, “we’ve talked. How about you two go have a conversation and I teach past-Adora here how to heal?”
Old-Catra narrowed her eyes as she passed Cyra to old-Adora, clearly picking up on something Catra had missed. “There’s no point,” she said after a moment’s silence.
“Catra,” old-Adora said, stern, “as long as we’re here, we might as well fix some stuff for our timeline too.”
“Do you honestly think it’s something I can fix with one conversation?” old-Catra asked petulantly.
“Of course not. But you deserve some kind of closure.”
“Why the kid, then?”
“She’s the only one I really trust to keep you safe,” said old-Adora, fidgeting. “I mean, maybe Angella, but… that could get awkward.”
“Why?” asked Adora. “Wait, safe?”
“You want us to talk to Shadow Weaver,” Catra realized aloud, staring at old-Adora. “You think I can keep her safe?”
“I think it will be easier on both of you if you can remember that you’re a person,” she said carefully. “A person who doesn’t deserve whatever mind games she’s going to try to play.”
“I should go, too,” said Adora, face drawn and pale. “Look, um, me, you can’t just--just send them in there. You know what Shadow Weaver is like! And she’s hurt Catra, before, what if--?”
“She can’t hurt me,” old-Catra interrupted, tail lashing as she got to her feet. “Not physically. Not without Glimmer juicing her up, and that won’t happen. If it’s just the mind games, the two of us should be enough.”
Privately, Catra wasn’t so sure. She was still reeling from her last interaction with Shadow Weaver.
“She hurt you too,” old-Catra told Adora, clenching her jaw. “And I know you’re going to heal her anyway, so you’re going to have to deal with her eventually, but right now--right now I want her to see that her actions have consequences. That she doesn’t get to talk to you just because she wants to.”
Adora looked physically pained, unable to move with Adam resting carefully in her arms.
“And she can’t get away from me just because she wants to,” said Catra, a slow, vindictive smile stretching across her mouth. “Study up on healing, Adora. I’m gonna throw some shit.”
seriously debated splitting this one into two chapters, but in the end i was just like "you know, i already extended the total & it's already edited" so like, fuck it. thank you all for the comments!! they make my day, you have no idea
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.
and that's a wrap! apologies for adora's terrible parenting re: exposing children to shadow weaver's bullshit, but she had a point to prove and i wanted an excuse to punch SW in the face
it's with a heavy heart that i confess i am already penning a sequel, because i have no self control :/ i liked this whole "have the thing written and just post it as you edit" thing, so i expect it won't be up for a bit, as i'm only [checks watch] 20 pages in. jesus christ. she-ra, am i right? see y'all next time!