The water is colder than she thought it would be.
Then again, it’s not like she’d been sitting there pondering the temperature of the water, so maybe that’s a stupid thought to have. The water can’t be colder than she thought it would be if she hadn’t been thinking about it all, right? Something about the idea of that feels wrong, but a voice at the back of her mind quite rudely interrupts her train of thought before she can really start to contemplate it. Move, idiot, the voice says, sounding suspiciously like Catra, or you’re going to drown.
Oh, yeah, that’s right.
Adora’s never been in shock before, but she’s pretty sure this is probably what it feels like. Despite the voice’s continued muffled shouts to swim, you fucking dumbass , Adora can only manage the herculean feat of twitching her fingers, which does absolutely nothing to slow her descent through the water. The water is rough tonight, waves knocking her from side to side almost more than they are actually pushing her downwards. Another wave of ice crashes over her head, instincts ingrained in her from childhood the only reason she manages a gulp of air before going under. Adora, seriously, you have to move, the voice says again, somehow more muffled than before (as though it’s getting farther away, which doesn’t make sense, considering it’s, y’know , in her head), and Adora’s surprised at how worried it sounds. The voice needs to relax, she thinks, watching a tendril of blonde hair float mesmerizingly between her eyes. It’s too cold to be so —
“Adora, come on!”
Did the voice just interrupt her thoughts? No, thoughts can’t exactly interrupt themselves, can they, which means — oh . The voice isn’t in her head at all, is it?
“You’ve gotta still be able to hear me, right? Move, idiot, I know you can swim!”
Catra. That’s actually Catra yelling at her, yelling for her, yelling because she just watched her best friend fall into the water — the dark, cold water currently wrapping around Adora and dragging her down and squeezing that measly breath of oxygen out of her lungs and holy shit she’s fucking drowning.
A gasp rips through her, one she regrets almost immediately as water rushes into her open mouth and down her throat. Painful as it is, it seems to be the shock her system needs to start fucking working again, and a piercing clarity shoots through her waterlogged brain at the same time as her body finally, finally , starts to move. Lungs suddenly burning for air, Adora kicks her way to the surface as fast as she can, adrenaline shooting through her and leaving previously numb fingers tingling as she propels herself through the water in a race to beat her aching chest. She needs to move, she needs to breathe.
(Strangely enough, it feels like the waves are helping move her up as soon as she starts moving, even though she knows that doesn’t make any sense.)
Catra’s name strangles its way out of her throat the second she breaks through the waves — accompanied by a lot of water and some very painful coughs that render it to nothing more than an indistinguishable cry. Her chest aches as she gulps in air, the oxygen coming in stinging her battered lungs almost as much as the water did coming out. Legs cycling underneath her to keep her afloat, Adora pushes a lock of wet hair out of her face as she tries to get her breathing under control, chest heaving with the effort. Water laps up against her sides as she treads water, and Adora looks around, panting softly as she glances at the rippling waves around her and shaking the numbness out of her still tingling hands.
It’s weird. The waves were definitely stronger before, weren’t they?
Almost before she can finish the thought, a wall of cold crashes over her head from behind, leaving her spluttering as she pops her head back out of the water once it passes.
Well, at least now she knows they’ve definitely not calmed down.
She’s not sure when her hair tie fell out, but she silently mourns its loss as she pushes strands of soaking wet hair out of her face, shaking her head to try to clear some of the disorientation from being quite literally hit in the head with what felt like a wall of water. With another cough, she calls for Catra again, twisting around in the water in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the familiar red sheen of their boat. She peers through the thick of the night and the stubborn blonde strands still drooping across her eyesight, and Adora silently begs her waterlogged brain to see their boat through the dark or hear Catra’s cries over the roar of the sea.
She shouts Catra’s name again, and again, and again — as loud as her stinging throat will let her. She drags a cold hand over her face with a groan (one that sounds suspiciously like a sob) when she hears no response, trying her best to quell the growing sharp panic building in her chest, feeling a bit like her lungs have shattered into broken glass. It bleeds into the exhaustion tugging at her mind, the two mingling sending her mind into a muddled frenzy. But she — she can’t give in to it, she can’t give up.
She’s not giving up. Catra’s voice flutters through her mind, a memory of the girl from the other week teasing her, her low voice purring out a flirtatious you just never give up, huh? when Adora had refused to stop sparring even though her nose had started to bleed. Adora doesn’t give up. She never has before, and she’s certainly not about to start now. Not with Catra’s warm laugh from that day still echoing in her mind, pinging between her head and her heart. Determination rekindled, she opens her mouth to shout once more, but her voice dies in her throat when she’s interrupted by the most beautiful sound.
“Adora, are you still out there? Is that you?!”
Consider this an apology for all of the times she’d grumbled about how stubborn Catra could be. She’ll never complain about it again, promise.
She kicks forward towards where she thinks the sound is coming from, shouting Catra’s name as she swims. A sob catches in her throat when she sees the familiar glint of reddish metal under the moonlight, and she pumps her legs as fast as they’ll go. Throwing an arm up in the air once she can make out the deck (and the figure on it alternating between pacing nervously and leaning far against the railing), Adora tries for another yell.
“It’s me! Catra, it’s me, I’m okay!”
The change in Catra is immediate, the other girl practically throwing herself against the railing at the sound of Adora’s voice. Adora can’t see her expression, but she can picture it well: mismatched eyes frantic and teary, the way they always get when Catra’s panicked (even when she thinks she’s hiding it well), eyebrows furrowed deep with worry, hair sticking up from where panicked hands keep pulling at it. As the image solidifies in her mind, the desire to be back at her side, to smooth her hair down and wipe the tears from her eyes, grips at her chest, and Adora tries to swim faster despite the exhaustion seeping through her bones. Ducking away from the rail, Catra disappears from her sight for a moment before reappearing, something dark and thick clutched in her hands. Adora can’t make out what it is, her weary mind attempting to identify the object and why Catra had grabbed it in the first place, but her question is answered when the other girl calls out to her once more.
“Hey, Adora, I’m gonna - I’m throwing a rope down, okay? To pull you out!”
Despite the chill that’s taken residence under her skin since falling into the water, a warmth blossoms in Adora’s chest at the fierce determination in Catra’s words. There’s an undercurrent of concern in it too, and she already knows she’s definitely going to be bringing it up the next time they get into a teasing argument about how Catra totally doesn’t like her.
(Maybe planning to bring up the near-death experience — the one she hasn’t for sure survived yet — to make fun of her best friend isn’t where her head should be right now, but it’s not like the mind is in a particularly solid place after almost drowning.)
She calls out an affirmative before holding her breath and ducking under the surface as another rush of water washes over her head. It pushes her back a few feet, but at least she avoided another assault of salt stinging her nose and throat when she’s still coughing every couple seconds from her last bout with the waves. Pushing her wet hair out of her eyes once again (seriously, why’d her hair tie of all things have to fall out?), she resumes her route back to the boat, trying very hard to ignore the deep and rapidly getting harder to ignore ache of fatigue in her limbs.
She chokes on a relieved laugh as she notices the new addition to her view of the ship: something long and thick, dangling over the side of the boat all the way to the water’s edge. She really got her a rope. It’s gripped tight in Catra’s hands and tied solidly to the railing — Adora’s not sure how Catra’s planning on pulling her up on her own, especially with the additional weight from the water soaking through her clothes, but she’s never once doubted Catra, and she’s not going to start now.
Unwilling to give her up just yet, the sea seems to grow more aggressive the closer to the boat she gets, ice cold water cutting into her skin as it slams into her and tosses her from side to side. She’s just barely managing to keep her head mostly above the surface, but she’s not sure how much longer that’ll last.
She can barely believe it when she registers the rope hanging in front of her face and the smooth metal of their boat glinting moonlight into her eyes. The thought is morbid, but she wasn’t really sure she’d ever actually make it here. The swim there had felt seemingly endless, the rolling waves constantly pushing her three steps back.
It takes cold fingers brushing against the rope and just barely feeling the coarse braid through her numb fingertips to solidify that it’s really there, that she’s really there. Relief blooms in her chest, warm and comforting, and she sighs heavily, a comfort settling on her shoulders. Adora tilts her head up the boat, the bright smile on her face out of place on her otherwise bedraggled person. She raises an arm to wave, the other reaching to grip the rope she knows is ahead of her.
But Catra doesn’t seem happy to see her, for some reason. She can see her better now, even if her vision is still a little fuzzy from the leftover sting of salt, and the other girl’s face is twisted up in some kind of worried grimace, eyebrows furrowed deeply, far from that beautiful wide grin she’d been expecting. Catra’s eyes suddenly blow wide with fear — and wait, she’s not even looking at Adora anymore, is she? She’s looking behind her with those scared eyes (fear looks out of place on Catra’s usually confident face, Adora thinks), one hand letting go of the rope to grip the railing as she leans further against it. Adora tries to turn around to see what she’s looking at, and Catra’s mouth opens in a scream to warn her — but it’s too late . The wave smashes into Adora before she can brace herself, sending her flying as easily as a rag doll and slamming her against the side of the boat. Her head cracks hard against the hull, a painful dizziness gripping her body as she squeezes her eyes shut with a gasp. She barely hears Catra’s screams as she slips under the water.
Her eyes fly open as the voice echoes through her head, tendrils of blonde hair swishing around her head as she twists around in shock.
What … who was that?
A bolt of pain shoots through her skull at the quick movement, and she grimaces, lifting a hand up to rub at her temples. Moving slower this time, she tilts her head around, trying to orient herself in the dark of the water. Adora’s not sure if it’s because she just hit her head or if it’s always this hard to see in the water at night, but she’s having a really hard time figuring out what direction the surface is. She rubs her chest gently, the tightness in her lungs from holding her breath growing harder and harder to ignore by the second, and she knows she’s not going to be able to hold it for much longer. She doesn’t have the time to try to figure anything out, she has to move!
Choosing a direction that she desperately hopes is actually up , she starts propelling herself towards it, trying to ignore the numbness that shoots through her legs the second she moves them. She’s sure it’s from the fatigue, and the speed that it seems to be growing stronger by the second at is … pretty concerning, considering she’s still completely underwater.
Adora. Let go.
The unfamiliar voice echoes through her mind again, and Adora freezes in shock, just barely stopping the gasp bubbling up in her throat. Where is that coming from? It somehow sounds like someone calling out to her while also being in her head at the same time — though maybe that’s just the oxygen deprivation getting to her, considering that doesn’t make any sense.
She shakes her head in a weak attempt to clear her mind (unfortunately, all it does is send a pang of pain to the spot her head had met the hull) before continuing to swim in the direction she’d been going in. She can kind of make out something glimmering up ahead, and her brain weakly supplies that it’s probably the reflection of the moon or one of the boat’s lights through the water. That must mean she’s going in the right direction at least. Thank god for it, too, because her lungs are starting to really burn, now, and she’s really not sure how much time she has left before they give out. The second she moves her legs, though, there’s another echo in her mind, accompanied by a flash of — of something really weird.
Bright white light, and shimmering blues and shining golds, the rush of waves, the glint of metal, and a … face. One she’s never seen before, and yet somehow it’s still familiar.
Adora, you have to let go.
As though no longer in control of her own body (or maybe the oxygen deprivation really is getting to her now), Adora can’t stop the gasp this time. Water washes her daze away and rushes into her mouth as her eyes blow wide with fear over what she’s just done. She looks desperately up towards the surface, towards the sky she’ll never get to see again, and then —
— and then Adora breathes.
Something that feels like air but somehow not fills her lungs. And then again. And again. Adora chokes it down, the tight fear in her chest the only thing stopping it from feeling as natural as breathing in the salty air on the beach.
This isn’t right. Adora knows that. One of the first things you learn as a child is that people can’t breathe underwater. That’s just not how it works.
And yet here she is. She can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of just-before-you-die hallucination, but her mind feels clearer now than it has since before she first fell into the water what feels like ages ago.
Maybe the scariest part is that for some reason, the fact that she’s literally breathing underwater isn’t really freaking her out anymore. With every breath, the panic that had previously been seizing her chest and throat slowly melts away, as if her body is telling her that yes, Adora, this actually is normal, despite what you’ve been told your entire life! And maybe it’s the exhaustion speaking, but she can’t really find it in her to question it right now.
Now that the threat of running out of oxygen is (apparently?) no longer a threat, Adora looks around, trying to let her eyes adjust to her surroundings so she can actually swim where she wants to go rather than blindly picking a direction and hoping for the best. Through the water, she catches a glimpse of the light she’d been trying to follow earlier before the voice — that seems to have strangely disappeared, but she’s not going to complain — had interrupted her. She can make out now that it seems to have a yellow tinge to it, which means it’s probably one of the boat’s lights, and she nods to herself before setting off towards it once more. The swim feels oddly peaceful now that the pain in her chest has subsided, and Adora grins to herself as she gets closer to the golden glow.
Catra is so not going to believe this.
Despite the fact that breathing doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore thanks to her apparent new skill, the exhaustion weighing down her limbs is still very much one, her legs aching more and more with every kick. She’s gotta get back to the surface soon before she just can’t anymore. Luckily, that light is definitely getting closer.
Unluckily, the closer she gets, the less it looks like the circular lights she knows they’ve got stuck to the bottom of the boat and the more it looks like something … long and shiny?
And strangely familiar.
It almost looks like a sword , her mind helpfully supplies. And a sword would be super cool if she could bring that back up to the boat with her.
Adora stops swimming as she hesitates, casting a look back where she’d come from before turning to look at the now mystery object that she’d been following this whole time.
She really should get back to the boat.
But at the same time, it’s not like she’s got much to lose, beyond probably giving Catra a heart attack (but the other girl has given Adora her fair share of her own, so maybe she deserves it this one time!). It’ll just be a few seconds, right? Go check out the weird glowy underwater maybe sword thingy, and then figure out which direction is up, find the boat, Catra will pull her back onto the deck, and it’ll be all back to normal! No harm in a little curiosity, and besides, she — she just really wants to go see it. It feels like she’s supposed to go see it.
Mind made up, Adora continues swimming the way she’d been going, silently apologizing to Catra for the freakout she’s probably causing her poor best friend and mentally promising to buy the girl breakfast for the next week or something. As she approaches, the pull of the glow growing stronger and mesmerizingly brighter, she can start make out an underwater mountain rising up underneath her, and it startles her as she realizes just how close to the bottom she must be. She grimaces at the thought and kicks a bit harder, hoping she can just grab whatever she finds and head back up sooner rather than later.
Her sword hunch turns out to be right, as the distinctive shape of a pretty big broadsword stuck into the rock of the mountain beneath her materializes within the light, and a sense of awe fills Adora’s chest.
There’s not a hint of rust on the entire thing, the silvery blue of the blade as spotless as she assumes it was the day it was forged. The hilt is flawless as well, an ornate gold curling up the edges of the blade before twisting into a solid looking handle. Something shimmery’s set in the top of the golden hilt — maybe some kind of gem? A light pulsing seemingly on its own emits from within it, drawing Adora closer. Almost in a daze, she reaches for it, the light appearing to grow stronger as she approaches it.
The second her fingers brush against the metal, the light envelops her too, and Adora shuts her eyes with a cry of surprise.
For a moment, she feels nothing.
And then she feels everything.
The light passes rapidly through her body, warm and almost-comfortable, a feeling she can’t quite place settling in her skin and the crown of her head once it’s gone. Her legs grow hot, almost unbearably so — but it’s gone before she can register any pain. As quickly as it had flared, the light fades, and Adora is suddenly very aware of the feeling that something doesn’t quite feel right.
After waiting a beat in fear that the sword would do something weird again, she tentatively opens her eyes. Eyebrows furrow in confusion as she immediately notices the golden hair floating gently in front of her eyes, the colour not quite her own and the length definitely much longer than Adora’s shoulder length hair has ever been. She reaches out with the hand not holding the sword to touch it, and a bubbled gasp escapes her mouth as she twists a tendril between her fingers as though she’d expected it to be an illusion. She had been expecting it to be an illusion. She blinks incredulously as she watches the lock of hair catch itself ever so slightly on the gold cuff now resting on her wrist, the bracelet a perfect match to the golden hilt of the sword.
She’s starting to think following the sword was a bad idea after all.
Her gaze returns to the sword just as the flutter of something white just underneath her peripherals catches her eye, and she tilts her head down to see what it could possibly be.
A strangled gasp leaves her throat, bubbling into a near hysterical laugh that sends tears pricking the corner of her eyes. Adora looks down at her tail (yeah, her tail ), the white flutter apparently having been one of the smaller fins (?!?!?!?) attached to her hip that has gotten caught by a small current. She blinks down at the white scales (?!?!?) of the tail where her legs had been only minutes ago, fingers hovering above them but not quite willing to touch them. With a morbid curiosity, she twitches her muscles, watching the large fin at the end respond with the small kick she’d been trying to do, the scales glimmering gold with the movement. Another laugh bubbles up in her throat, something that feels very much like dread settling in her chest in its place.
Yeah, following the sword was definitely a bad idea.