Catra watches as Adora’s breath gusts between her lips, creating tiny wisps of steam that evaporate nearly as soon as they appear.
Back in the Fright Zone, on the coldest nights—the nights that left Catra freezing and shivering—Adora would sometimes blow warm air against Catra’s hands, heating them with her breath, massaging them with her fingers. Melting the stiffness and numbness away like it was nothing.
Adora was always so annoyingly warm. Catra is the one with fur, but Adora always walked around like the cold never bothered her. Even now, Adora is ridiculously underdressed for the weather. As She-Ra, she paraded around in freaking shorts during a snowstorm. And here, on the floor, she’s in nothing but her usual jacket and trousers. No winter coat or mittens or anything.
Typical reckless Adora.
“Uh, Catra?” Scorpia asks. “Shouldn’t we do something about the alarms?”
Right. The alarms. Catra should really be used to those alarms by now. Activating them—or pursuing situations that cause them to be activated—seems to be a particular talent of Entrapta’s.
Catra knows what it means, that sound. Those alarms. They declare an unwelcome truth: that someone is again attempting to trespass on the Horde’s outpost here, in the Northern Reach.
Catra sighs. Haven’t they dealt with enough intruders? First, there was that mystery thing that destroyed all of Entrapta’s digging bots. And then, shortly after that, Adora’s merry little band of rebels arrived—demanding that Catra leave, that they abandon this outpost to the rebellion.
Not that Catra was willing to comply. And not that it worked out so well for Adora.
Catra glances down at the sword in her hands, her grip fastened around the golden hilt. It’s She-Ra’s sword, gleaming and heavy as ever. Though there’s at least one recent change to its appearance: the strange red veins of virus that climb up the face of the blade.
The virus from the First Ones disk contained in Catra’s pocket.
Catra was told that the disk would relieve She-Ra of her powers. That it would strip She-Ra of her incredible, indomitable strength, and leave her helpless. Vulnerable.
That alone sounded too good to be true. But this? The ability to make She-Ra go utterly berserk—unable to tell friend from foe? The ability to turn She-Ra on the rebels and princesses that pretend to be her friends?
It’s priceless. A surefire path to the revenge against She-Ra that Catra craves more than anything else. She can turn She-Ra into a weapon. A weapon that will help Catra, for once. Rather than cut Catra lower, like She-Ra always does.
Adora won’t get to play rebel anymore.
Again, Catra looks down at Adora, on the ground. This is closer than Catra has been to Adora in a long time. Even from this distance, Catra can feel the faint heat radiating from her skin.
Adora lies ramrod straight, despite her unconsciousness. Her posture is perfect, even in sleep, and of course she looks the same as always—same poofed-up ponytail, same lean, muscular frame, same obnoxiously long eyelashes and cutting jaw.
Catra rises to her feet and glances at the alarms, which continue to flash red along the walls. She swings the sword up until it’s bouncing against her shoulder.
“It’s probably just more rebel idiots,” Catra says to Scorpia, twisting around with the sword clutched between her hands. “Though I doubt it’s much to worry about. The rebels are helpless without their precious She-Ra.”
Scorpia makes a nervous noise. “Still, don’t you think we should check…?”
“If you want to check, you can check,” Catra says dismissively. “I’m staying here. I nearly froze my butt off back there. And besides, we have what we need—” She gestures to Adora, still asleep behind her. “—the ultimate weapon. We should just pack up and leave while we still can.”
Scorpia cranes her neck to glance down at the floor behind Catra.
“Uh...what weapon are you talking about?”
Catra scoffs, eyes rolling furiously at Scorpia’s obliviousness. “She-Ra, obviously—”
But when Catra turns to look, Adora is no longer there. The space where she once slept is empty, completely empty. Almost like she was never there at all.
“Wha…?” Catra gasps, mouth agape. “Where did she—?”
“She went that way!” Entrapta happily interrupts, sounding far too convinced of her own helpfulness.
Catra’s head swivels. She finds one of Entrapta’s pigtails pointing toward the far door—a door that hangs suspiciously ajar.
“You saw her leave and you didn’t stop her?” Catra hisses, outraged. Because of course Entrapta didn’t stop her. Catra can’t count on anyone except herself—
Catra whirls on Scorpia next. “Go deal with the rebels,” she orders, prodding Scorpia in the chest for added emphasis. “Make sure they don’t get to Adora first. I’ll find Adora in the meantime. She can’t have gotten far—”
“But—” Scorpia begins to protest, but Catra doesn’t want to hear it. Catra instead begins marching toward the far door, her posture rigid with annoyance.
“No arguments!” she shouts back. “Just do it!”
Catra should have been paying better attention. She should have known better than to let anyone else watch Adora, even for the shortest of moments.
Now Adora is gone. Or at least, that’s how it looks to Catra. She walks through hallway after hallway, only detecting the barest trace of Adora’s scent along the way. It seems that Adora has, in fact, gotten quite far. And might be traveling even farther still.
Or maybe Catra just doesn’t remember Adora’s smell quite as well as she thought. It’s different now, at least. Before Adora defected, it was all Horde-issued soap and hairspray and sweat. A natural, human scent that Catra knew better than any other.
But now? Now Catra can smell Bright Moon’s perfumes all over her. Flowers and sugar and magic, most of all.
It smells fake. Wrong.
But it gets stronger here, in this storage room filled with boxes. Strong enough to mean that Adora is here, somewhere. Maybe she’s hiding between the boxes, trying to slip away before Catra notices her—
That’s what Catra thinks, anyway. Right until a body plows into hers.
“Catraaa!” a voice squeals, and Catra feels a strong pair of arms constrict around her torso, binding Catra’s arms to her sides. The sword clatters out of Catra’s grasp and onto the floor.
Catra shrieks in surprise. Not because she doesn’t recognize that voice or those arms, but because she does. She recognizes them all too well.
Catra stiffens, helpless and utterly dumbstruck as Adora’s face presses against hers, cheek-to-cheek. “Catra!” Adora squeals again, nuzzling ever-closer. “I missed you so, so, so much!”
Very slowly, Catra’s logic returns to her. Adora is here. Adora is...hugging her? Adora is claiming that she misses Catra, after everything?
And her lips are right there, nearly touching Catra’s cheek, as if it’s no big deal—
No. No way. It can’t be true.
“Get off me!” Catra screams, jabbing the sharp angles of her elbows into Adora’s side. Adora releases her with a small oof, and with her arms free, Catra takes the opportunity to reach behind her back and yank Adora over her shoulder.
Adora hits the ground with a dull thud, breath exhaling in a sharp gust.
For a moment, she only blinks up at Catra in surprise—gray-blue eyes wide and glistening—as though she can’t fathom how she ended up on the floor in the first place.
Catra doesn’t let it distract her. She can’t let Adora escape, or catch her off-guard like that again. First, she kicks the sword away, out of Adora’s reach. And then Catra pounces on her—pinning Adora’s wrists and ankles to the floor beneath her weight.
Adora giggles a bit, for some unfathomable reason. Like Catra has never done something more amusing. The sound fills Catra with fury. It’s just like Adora to mock her—
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Catra hisses, baring her incisors threateningly over Adora’s face. She leans in perhaps a bit too close, close enough to feel Adora’s warm, unsteady breaths gusting across her skin.
Adora keeps staring for yet another moment, saying nothing. And then…
Then she begins to laugh.
It’s the first time Catra has heard Adora laugh—really, truly laugh—since they were in that First Ones ruin together, reliving projections of their childhood memories. And that laugh was always something. It’s a tumbling, sighing, snorting kind of laugh. Catra used to tease her for it, back in the day. But now…
“What’s so funny?” Catra snarls. “You shouldn’t be laughing—you’re my prisoner!”
Adora wriggles a bit as her laughter fades. “Okie-dokie! Guess I’m your prisoner,” Adora agrees with a small shrug, beaming up at Catra with a thousand-watt smile. It’s so bright, so affectionate, it makes something in Catra’s stomach drop to her toes.
She stares at Adora, not sure what to say. Or what to do. Adora just stares back.
She giggles. “You’re so pretty, Catra.”
Catra’s eyebrows shoot up. Her jaw hangs open.
“Wha…” Catra stammers. “What did you just say?”
“You’re pre-ttyyy,” Adora repeats, dragging out that last word for what feels like a year. Practically singing it, even. “Pretty, pretty, pretty Catra—”
Catra’s cheeks burn. What….why would Adora say that? What could she possibly have to gain? They’re enemies. You don’t compliment your enemies, and you especially don’t call them pretty, of all things—
“I’m tired of being the prisoner,” Adora complains loudly. She flashes a mischievous smile up at Catra. “Your turn!”
Catra is entirely unprepared when Adora crashes their foreheads together, causing pain to blast through Catra’s skull.
Her eyes scrunch shut on a pained reflex. And the next thing Catra knows, Adora has flipped them—causing Catra’s shoulders to slam into the metal floor, and the air to heave from Catra’s lungs.
When Catra opens her eyes, she finds Adora sitting on top of her stomach, smiling and giggling in a lazy sort of triumph—with Catra’s waist pinned between her thighs.
Catra curses her own distraction. These kinds of holds were always Adora’s speciality, back when they sparred in the Horde. Catra could never escape them. And if Adora has her trapped like this now, there’s little else Catra can do except scratch her until she lets go—
But she can’t quite summon the resolve. Not when Adora gives a little hum and collapses on top of her, unclenching her thighs from around Catra’s waist and stretching herself languidly over Catra’s body.
Catra can only gape, craning her neck to get a better look.
She doesn’t understand. What is Adora trying to do, exactly? Isn’t she trying to escape? Because if she is...this whole lying-down-on-top-of-Catra thing surely isn’t helping her.
“Now I win,” Adora says contentedly, and lets her eyes flutter shut. Her cheek presses warmly against Catra’s chest. Her whole body, in fact, is comfortingly warm—the warmest thing Catra has felt since arriving in the Northern Reach.
Instinctively, Catra curls an arm around Adora’s back, a purr beginning to rumble through her chest—
Wait. No. No. Catra forces the arm back to her side. She cannot be doing this right now. Adora is her enemy. They’re supposed to be fighting each other, not…
Oh god, is this cuddling? Is Catra seriously on the floor right now, cuddling with Adora, of all people? The Horde’s greatest enemy?
And why would Adora even want to do this with Catra, after everything? After Catra kidnapped her friends and left her hanging off that cliff and attacked Bright Moon and—
But as Catra stares at her, gets the sense that Adora doesn’t remember any of that right now. Adora simply continues lying there, mouth curved into a smile, body pressed end-to-end with Catra’s.
Under different circumstances, Catra would suspect that she’s being tricked. That Adora is trying to fool her into letting her guard down. But trickery has never been Adora’s style—she’s simply too bad of an actress to fool anyone this convincingly, let alone someone who knows her as well as Catra does.
And then Catra recalls something Entrapta said, back when Catra first found the disk.
“...when it infected She-Ra, she lost her powers,” Entrapta told her. “She also got very...floppy.”
Floppy. That was what Entrapta said.
Catra glances at Adora again, still curled up on top of Catra’s body.
Yup, this is the very definition of floppy.
“Uh… Adora?” Catra says, still too surprised and warm to muster the proper hostility. “Are you okay?”
Adora lifts her head slightly to look up at Catra. She nods happily. “Uh-huh.”
“You, uh...don’t seem very okay.”
Slowly, Adora’s smile fades in favor of a pout. She seems momentarily troubled—and even more surprised to find herself that way.
“I’ve been...sad,” says Adora. Her eyes slide from Catra’s face and affix themselves to some distant point.
Catra follows her gaze to find her staring at the sword—She-Ra’s sword, still coated in that pulsing red virus. It’s fairly far away from them now, resting at the foot of a stack of boxes. Catra slid it out of reach as soon as she freed herself from Adora’s tackling hug.
For a moment, Catra fears that Adora is going to spring up and make a run for the sword. She knows that if Adora touches it, she may very well turn back into that blood-thirsty version of She-Ra. And Catra can’t hope to defeat her all by herself—
But as soon as Adora meets Catra’s gaze again, the relaxed, broad smile returns. And Catra gets the feeling that Adora isn’t going anywhere.
“But I’m better now,” Adora says brightly. “You’re here! And I missed you.”
Adora settles back against Catra’s chest with a small sigh, and the sound causes Catra’s throat to go dry. Catra and Adora haven’t touched like this since they were small. Shadow Weaver always used to yell at them if they got too close—
“You’re so soft and warm,” Adora whispers against Catra’s coat. “You’re my favorite person.”
At first, the confession stuns Catra—renders her speechless. Because really, how could it be true? Adora has all those new “princess” friends now. Friends who Adora prefers to Catra, friends who Adora left Catra for—
The thought fills Catra with an immense, almost suffocating bitterness. “You don’t act like I’m your favorite person,” she hisses accusingly.
Adora looks up again. Her eyes fill with tears. And that, at least, seems a little bit more like the Adora that Catra has come to know.
“You’ve been really mean to me,” Adora says, her voice thick and childish. “And you keep hurting me—”
Catra stiffens at the words. So even in this state, Adora is going to blame her for everything? No. No way.
“You’ve been mean to me too,” Catra grits out. “And you hurt me when you left. Shadow Weaver said she’d kill me if anything happened to you—”
“Shadow Weaver’s mean too,” Adora mumbles, once again speaking against the fabric of Catra’s coat. “I wanted you with me. Not there, in the bad place. With her.”
“Yeah, well,” Catra huffs. “It’s not like you asked me what I wanted. I didn’t want to be a rebel.”
Adora stares uncomprehendingly. And this is something that Adora has never understood, “floppy” or otherwise. That Catra didn’t want to leave the Horde. Not without first proving herself there. To Shadow Weaver. To Hordak. And Adora was supposed to be there, by her side, when it happened—
But Adora left. And watching Adora leave...that was the last thing that Catra wanted.
Quietly, Catra adds: “I just wanted you to stay.”
There’s a long pause. A silence in which Catra can hear the wind howling outside, blustering between the buildings of the Horde’s outpost. She hates it here, in the Northern Reach. It’s so cold. So loud.
Finally, Adora sniffs loudly and clutches Catra ever-tighter. “Can we stay here? Or go somewhere better?” Adora asks. “Together. No Shadow Weaver or She-Ra or anything else?”
At that, Catra can only laugh. Adora sounds especially childish now. They both have responsibilities—inescapable ones. Adora has her duties to the rebellion, and Catra has her duties to the Horde. Neither of them will give up the chance to win this war. Not for anything.
And certainly not for each other.
“Come on, Adora. We both know you’d never give up being She-Ra for me.”
Adora shakes her head fiercely. “Nooo,” Adora whines. “But I don’t wanna be She-Ra. I wanna be with you—”
Catra scrunches up her eyes. She doesn’t want to hear this. Because it can’t be true, even if Catra wants it to be. If it were true, Adora never would have left. Adora never would have stayed gone.
And worst of all, if it were true...it would make everything too damn complicated. It was easy to think about Adora as an enemy so long as she remembered that Adora hurt her. That Adora wanted to hurt her. That Adora didn’t care and never would again—
It was easy to hurt Adora...so long as Catra convinced herself that she was hurting She-Ra instead.
“Catra?” Adora asks tentatively. “Do you wanna be with me too?”
She feels Adora reach for her hand. But rather than let Adora grab hold of it, Catra lifts the hand to cup Adora’s cheek.
Adora leans into her touch. And for the first time in months, Catra lets herself feel it. She lets herself feel how much she has missed Adora. She misses making Adora laugh and smile. She misses sharing Adora’s bed, misses feeling the way they used to—like they were inseparable. Like Adora cared about Catra as much as Catra cared about Adora.
“That disk really messed with your mind, huh?” Catra says.
Adora just watches her blankly, dazed and “floppy” as ever. She smiles serenely at Catra, as though there is no place she’d rather be than here, lying with Catra on a dirty floor in the coldest place on the planet.
Catra glances at the sword gleaming on the floor several feet away. She tries to picture herself doing it—handing Adora that sword. Watching her turn back into that feral, red-veined version of She-Ra. Forcing her to hurt her friends or whatever else wanders into her path.
Whatever version of Adora that Catra has ever known—this one, innocent and trusting. The one from her childhood, loyal and generous. The one that stands across from her on a battlefield, resolute and distant…
Every version of Adora would be utterly devastated—destroyed—if Catra used her as some sort of weapon of mass destruction. If any part of Etheria suffered at Adora’s hands—
Maybe Catra could inflict that kind of guilt and suffering on She-Ra, and She-Ra alone.
But she can’t do it to Adora. She can do a lot of things to Adora, but not that.
And she can’t do this, either. She can’t leave Adora mindless for the rest of her life. She’d rather spend an eternity fighting and arguing with Adora—the real Adora—than leave Adora with only fuzzy fragments of herself.
“Let me up,” Catra says, nudging Adora slightly.
Adora nods eagerly and scoots to the side so that Catra can rise unsteadily to her feet. Adora, meanwhile, hoists herself upright but doesn’t stand. She watches Catra from the floor, tapping her hands upon the ground in idle excitement.
Catra returns her gaze as she fishes the disk from her pocket.
“This is only a one-time thing, okay?” Catra says almost warningly. “This doesn’t mean I like you. I just…” She sighs. “I’d rather fight you than turn you into something you’re not. Got it?”
Adora pouts and ceases her tapping—her whole body sagging downward in disappointment. “You don’t like me?”
Catra rolls her eyes. Nope, she definitely cannot deal with this version of Adora full-time. Perhaps this is for the best.
She clasps both hands around the disk and then, with a mighty tug and the faint fissuring of crystal, she shatters the disk into two jagged pieces.
Catra turns away as she hears Adora give a low groan. Resisting a lingering blush, she instead occupies herself with scooping the sword off the ground. It’s back to normal now. Free of the red virus that once bled from the hilt.
Catra’s knuckles go white around that hilt. God, she really hopes that Adora doesn’t remember anything—
“Ughhh...where am I?” Adora asks.
Catra freezes, grateful to have a prayer answered for the first time in her life.
And then, in a more startled voice, Adora says: “Catra? Is that you?”
Catra turns around and plasters a smirk to her face.
Adora is still sitting there, on the ground. A palm pressed into her forehead like she’s recovering from a headache.
“Hey, Adora,” Catra greets, all snark. “Feeling better?”
Adora hesitates for only a moment, then springs to her feet. She widens her stance and raises both arms in a defensive gesture, clearly expecting an attack.
“The disk—” Adora says. “What did you do—?”
Catra tosses the pieces of the disk to the floor by Adora’s feet. Adora’s eyes widen as she glances at them—broken and unusable—then returns her eyes to Catra’s face. Her features are slack with surprise.
“Entrapta said it would take away your powers,” Catra says, trying to sound flippant. “Put us on equal footing. I didn’t know it would...y’know. Turn you into a raving lunatic.”
Adora’s eyebrows pull together.
“What is this place?” she demands, eyes flitting between the boxes and the metal walls. “Why did you bring me here?”
“When we got the sword out of your hand, you passed out. Your friends were gone—they fell into some sort of hole. So we brought you inside, out of the snowstorm. And then I thought…”
Catra trails off. It’s stupid, that she still feels like she owes Adora honesty. Even when they’re enemies.
Adora’s eyes are hard and distrusting. “You thought what?”
“I thought that maybe I could turn She-Ra into a weapon for the Horde,” Catra says with a sigh. “But I thought better of it.”
And then, like the disk, she tosses the sword at Adora’s feet. It skids with a harsh metallic screech before coming to rest lightly against the toes of Adora’s boots.
Adora merely blinks down at it, too stunned to speak. And surely, she is keeping count. Surely, she realizes that this is the second time that Catra has restored the sword to her, despite how much Catra claims to hate it, and her, and all that She-Ra entails.
But this is the last time, Catra promises herself. The last time she does anything for Adora.
Just as Adora glances back up at her, Catra turns away. She doesn’t want to look Adora in the eye. And she especially doesn’t want to face the question that undoubtedly sits there, in those gray-blue eyes she knows so well.
“You should get going,” Catra says, hunching her shoulders. “I think your idiot friends are trying to ‘rescue’ you. Better not keep them waiting.”
Catra marches out of the room, forcing her feet to move quickly—precisely. She doesn’t want to watch Adora transform into She-Ra and walk away. Not again.
And as she enters the hallway, she notices that her coat smells like her—like Adora. Like Bright Moon. Like flowers and sugar and magic. Like that place where Catra will never, ever belong.
When she gets back to the Fright Zone, Catra resolves to burn the damn thing.