Adora will swear that it starts at Princess Prom.
She’ll swear up and down that she’s never felt the air pushed out of her lungs when Catra walks into the room with all the swagger she holds in the way she tilts her hips back and forth just a little too much when she walks, her tail flicking back and forth only accentuating the motion. She’ll tell herself that she’s never thought about the patch of fur under her collarbones and under her sternum that’s begging Adora to stroke it. Adora will tell herself that she’s never looked at Catra’s dilated pupils as she steps into Adora’s space and hope that the reaction is for her.
But Adora knows that she’d be lying.
She knows deep down: this is a years-long slow burn that she easily repressed while in the Horde.
Without the daily reminders of the Horde’s mission to stop the so-called evil rebellion, of the depraved attachments they have to others that no Horde soldier should ever explore, of Shadow Weaver’s praise that was just enough to stave off the growing pit in her stomach each time she saw the difference in how she responded to her versus Catra… Adora finds that there’s more room for emotions, instead of punching them away as was recommended.
More room for connection.
More room for curiosity.
She’s found that the citizens of Etheria can be more to each other than comrades in battle, more than manipulative mother figures. They can be family. They can be friends—which Adora has had plenty of in the past—but there’s also… more than that. She sees it in the longing way Angella stares at the mural of Micah. She sees it in the way Netossa and Spinnerella tease one another, the other placating with a tender kiss on the forehead. She can even sense it in the way Bow’s gaze lingers on Glimmer for just a little too long, or the way Glimmer gets jealous when Perfuma takes a little bit too much of a liking to Bow.
(Even if it seems like Bow and Glimmer haven’t figured out what’s right in front of them yet.)
But Adora sees it all—she hears the terms thrown around. Boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, husband, wife, lover. Something that was only spoken of in hushed terms and secret hiding spots from senior cadets in the Horde. Something she only gained limited knowledge of thanks to overhearing conversations from others and trying to piece together context clues. Looking back, it was probably more common than Adora gave credit to. There were too many instances where Lonnie would disappear and come back with bruises on her neck (which Adora now knows is called a hickey, thanks to a very uncomfortable sex education conversation with Glimmer), or too many times she saw cadets stumble out of supply closets together when she was younger.
And it really puts into perspective all the times the rest of her squad would ask Adora about her and Catra’s relationship. From Kyle’s simple question one day about the nature of her relationship with Catra—so what’s going on with you two? To Rogelio’s affirming roar every time Adora gave part of her ration bar to Catra. To Lonnie’s very direct you two wanna fuck each other so bad it’s embarrassing. Adora hadn’t really known what it had meant at the time, had only seen the way Catra’s cheeks went completely red, and she let out a hiss before briskly walking away.
(The next day, Adora finds the sword, so she doesn’t really have the chance to ask Catra what it all means.)
She knows what it means now.
And Adora hates that it plays on a loop in her head every time she’s seen Catra since.
There’s always been…something between her and Catra. An energy, a chemistry, something Adora could never put her finger on. Something she never let herself linger on for too long. Adora chalked it up to being best friends, leaning in to the fun banter they went back and forth with, sparring verbally just as much as they did physically, ignoring the knowing giggles from the rest of the squad. Adora looks back now and knows she and Catra’s banter would probably be classified as “flirting.”
But it’s harmless.
And it doesn’t matter now anyway.
Whatever feelings she has will fade with time and the Rebellion will win the war and she’ll move on from Catra and the Horde and everything…
will be perfect.
(At least, that’s what she’s trying to convince herself.)
So yes, Adora will try and tell herself that it starts (and will end) at Princess Prom, a flare of jealousy in her chest when Catra walks in on Scorpia’s arm and a flare of something else that hits her deep in the gut when she takes in Catra’s tight-fitting suit and undone bowtie that’s just asking for Adora to yank on. Or maybe it’s always been there.
Maybe Adora’s finally letting herself see it.
Maybe Adora’s finally letting herself feel it.
(But it doesn’t matter now anyway.)
They’re on neutral ground, but Adora can’t shake the feeling that Catra and Scorpia are planning something. Even though part of Adora wishes she didn’t think that. Even though part of Adora really kind of just wants to know what it would be like to dance with Catra.
Adora’s been to a few parties in honor of She-Ra now, and she hasn’t been able to get through any of them without thinking at one (or more) points that Catra would love this. So when Adora tells them “Wherever the two of you go, I go,” and Scorpia and Catra split off in different directions, Adora stalks off after Catra without a second thought. There’s an anger, a hunger, in Adora’s eyes as she runs after Catra, weaving through the crowd in a way that catches glances from several of the guests. She groans as Catra stops and pops an hors d’oeuvre into her mouth, staring back at Adora tauntingly before moving on. Adora’s heart is hammering in her chest as Catra glides around a pillar, her hand skating along the surface so gently as she reaches into her jacket with the other hand and pulls out a piece of paper before dropping it in an icebox.
Adora draws a gasp from the crowd as she nearly knocks someone over to get to the box, tossing other wadded up pieces aside until she gets to one that’s neatly folded and simply reads:
In the upper right hand corner, the paper contains a quick doodle of Catra’s face, and Adora can barely resist the urge to run her thumb over the tiny picture. Adora lets out a deep sigh, and in that moment, remembers that she loves Glimmer and Bow, that she loves the other princesses and Bright Moon and feels a sense of purpose in this new adventure. But she really could have done without the way leaving the Horde has unlocked this whole new depth of…yearning.
Adora finally turns to see Netossa and Spinnerella, along with a few strangers, staring at her with concern as she laughs awkwardly in response, still holding the paper. They’re forgotten again when she turns even further to see Catra up on the mezzanine walking toward Entrapta, and Adora is gone again, little paper note still in hand. Adora is sweating by the time she makes it up the stairs and tries to tell herself it has nothing to do with the way her mind is singularly focused on Catra. She watches as Entrapta leans over the edge, and Catra reaches out a hand to—
“Don’t touch her!” Adora roars, as Catra reaches out a hand to an unbalanced Entrapta and…catches her?
Entrapta says something about this spot being a great vantage point for her observations before turning to Adora and asking, “Hi Adora! Have you met my new assistant?”
All Adora can do is let her eyes flit back and forth between the two, as Catra adds, “She stole my food and then asked me to spy on people with her. Is this what love feels like?”
It’s a low blow that Adora’s not even sure Catra means to land. But it causes something primal to well up in Adora as her head tries to tell her mouth you’re not jealous you’re not jealous you’re not jealous, but instead what comes out of Adora’s mouth is, “Entrapta, do you mind if I borrow Catra for a minute?”
“By all means! I will continue the social experiment,” Entrapta replies, returning to her perch overlooking the party below.
Catra smirks, and Adora swears her brain short-circuits, and that’s what causes her to wrap her hand around both ends of Catra’s tie and pull her by the neck to an empty hallway.
“Easy there, princess. Buy me dinner first,” Catra says when Adora uses her leverage to back Catra against the wall.
“Will you just shut up for five seconds?”
Adora realizes how close they’re standing, Catra still with that smirk on her face and Adora’s hand still tightly wound around Catra’s tie, and she groans before finally letting up and letting go, taking a step back as she does.
“Oh, you think you’re the one in position to be making demands?” Catra taunts.
“What do you have planned, Catra?”
Catra keeps staring right back at Adora, the yellow and blue of her eyes pulling Adora in like they always do. But usually, Adora pulls back.
Right now, all she can do is get lost in Catra’s eyes, like she’s teetering on the edge of a long, hard fall.
Falling doesn’t sound so bad.
It’s even worse when Catra finally tears her eyes from Adora’s and very obviously rakes them all up and down Adora’s body in a way that makes her wonder how it’s possible for her to be sweating in a literal ice kingdom.
Adora dares to let herself think the proximity is having just as much of an effect on Catra when she replies, her voice having dropped dangerously lower, saying, “Maybe I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see you in a dress. Very flattering, by the way.”
Maybe it’s the neutral ground.
Maybe it’s the unspoken, illicit excitement that’s come with them being on opposite sides of the war.
And maybe it’s just a new way for Catra and Adora to get a rise out of each other.
But there’s something about tonight that makes Adora feel like she and Catra are quickly hurtling into a no holds barred territory.
And Adora curses the impulsive part of herself when she grabs the lapels of Catra’s jacket and blurts out, “You think you can just show up here with Scorpia wearing that stupid suit with your stupid smirk and your—"
Adora stops herself, but its too late. Something flashes across Catra’s face, something predatory, like she knows she has the upper hand now.
And that stupid smirk is back, one of Catra’s fangs hanging out of her mouth as her lips quirk up.
“Wait a minute. Are you jealous, Adora?”
Adora quickly drops the fistfuls of Catra’s jacket in her hand and steps back again. To breathe. To calm down. To do something other than spill her jealous guts to Catra.
You’re not jealous you’re not jealous you’re not jealous
“No. Why would I—there’s nothing to—I have my new friends now, remember? I’m not jealous.”
Nothing else could make the smirk on Catra’s face drop quicker. Her eyes narrow, and her fists clench at her sides. Adora knows she’ll never say it out loud, but she’s known Catra long enough to know from her words, from her actions, that she’s a little jealous too. It used to make Adora sad, back in the Horde, when Catra would convince herself that Adora would rather be with all the other kids instead of her. It used to make her want to comfort Catra and convince her that they could all be friends, that Catra still mattered the most to her.
And part of Adora still feels like that. But there’s an edge to it now. Something exciting, something…intoxicating…something that feels like their banter (their flirting, or whatever), but stronger.
But Catra isn’t down for too long, a toothy grin crossing her face.
“And yet, rather than be with them, you’ve been chasing me around all night.”
It’s Adora’s turn to narrow her eyes at Catra.
“Glad you like the suit, by the way,” she adds with a wink.
And with that, Catra slips out from the space between Adora and the wall and starts to walk down the hallway.
But she’s not done yet. They’re not done yet.
“Why are you doing this, Catra?” Adora calls out.
Catra stops but doesn’t turn around.
“You’re not a bad person. You can still leave the Horde. Come with me.”
Catra growls and whips around on her heel.
“Will you quit it with that? Who are you to tell me what I am?”
Catra takes a step back toward Adora. Adora takes a step toward Catra.
They meet in the middle again.
“I know you, Catra,” Adora says plainly.
But it doesn’t have the desired effect. It just seems to make Catra more upset, as she growls again and raises her voice.
“Have you ever thought that maybe I like the Horde? Maybe I like being noticed now that you’re not around?”
I always noticed you, Adora thinks.
Adora doesn’t realize she’s foolishly said it out loud until she sees the flash of softness in Catra’s eyes before she’s turning away again.
“Shut up, Adora.”
Adora gives her a ten second head start before she starts following Catra again. Because she still has no idea what Catra is planning. And she’s not jealous.
Adora’s scrambling down the stairs when she gets caught in a crowd as Frosta announces the first dance of the evening. And there’s Catra, hand up in invitation, as if the last ten minutes never happened. Adora takes it with a sigh, ignoring how warm Catra’s hand feels in hers.
They turn in a circle with the rest of the guests, hands up, as Catra says, “I don’t know about you, but I am having a blast.”
For the first time all night, Adora tries to focus on the mission itself and not the girl behind it. Which becomes decidedly more difficult when the dance calls for them to move their hold on each other from their hands to their hips.
“Whatever it is you’re planning, it won’t work,” Adora grits out, staring Catra down while they continue to dance circles around.
They spin away from each other, and Adora’s hand connects with a crying Glimmer, who’s explaining her fight with Bow and how she doesn’t know where Scorpia is and—
Glimmer floats away, and Adora’s met with Perfuma, who asks her where Bow is. Perfuma’s explaining all this, how she doesn’t know where their friend went, and Adora swears she’s listening. But she’s also hoping that Catra sees the way she effortlessly lifts Perfuma up. Adora returns to Glimmer and tries to focus on finding Bow, focus on the details, focus on where he could be and if he’s in trouble. But then Glimmer’s gone again, and Catra comes falling into Adora’s arms backward. Adora catches her easily, Catra’s hands grabbing at Adora’s.
“Maybe my plan won’t work. But then again…”
They’re so close, and Adora wants…something.
She won’t let herself finish the thought.
(It doesn’t matter now anyway.)
But then Adora’s immediately missing the contact when Catra turns out of her arms, holding Adora’s hands the whole time and why does this dance just feel like a hotter version of them sparring—
Adora barely hears Catra say, “Maybe it already has,” as Catra dips her, and Adora hangs on for dear life while she tries to muffle whatever sound just came out of her mouth.
But then Adora sees Catra’s eyes get wide and feels a short, stuttered breath ghost across her cheek, and she realizes that with the way Catra has spread her legs to dip Adora…
Adora’s thigh has fallen right between Catra’s legs.
It’s Adora’s turn to smirk as she presses her thigh upward just the tiniest bit and right into Catra. Catra squeaks, and Adora feels the hands on her back give for just a moment, nearly dropping Adora in the process. She hears Catra groan before taking a deep, steadying breath and lifting Adora up again, sending her out at arms length like she’s going to pull her back in when she draws Adora back to the real reason they’re here.
“Say, where’s your friend, Bow?”
And that’s it. The build up of the fury, the frustration, the…whatever it is…pulls something feral from Adora. She deals with it the only way she knows how. She lunges at Catra and pushes her to the ground, to the horror of every guest at the ball. The music stops as Catra’s back slams into a sculpture and breaks it into pieces, as Frosta watches solemnly.
“What did you do to him?”
Adora’s seeing red as she reaches for Catra again, this time lifting her up off the ground until large, jagged icicles surround them both. She’s still seeing red as Frosta kicks her out of the ball, deeper as explosions reverberate through the hall, as Catra sidles up next to Adora where she’s trapped and lets her tail graze against Adora’s chin.
“It was fun distracting you, though,” Catra tells her through the ice that separates them, and then she’s gone again.
Adora rises from the rubble and keeps doing what she’s done all night.
Chasing after Catra.
Adora meets her at the end of a dead end hallway.
“Trapped,” Adora notes with a laugh as Catra turns around to face her.
And then she’s gone again, Adora still giving chase and meeting Catra up on a platform. She lunges at her once again, Catra anticipating and swinging Adora around. Where Adora is stronger, Catra is quicker, and they fall into their old fight patterns.
“I really did miss sparring with you, Adora,” Catra calls as Adora sends a fist into open air as Catra easily shifts away from the blow.
They continue like this back and forth for a few more punches, Catra landing one with a kick to Adora’s back and Adora backing away from Catra’s claws.
Which sends Catra flying toward the edge of the cliff.
Like it’s second nature, like she always has, like she probably stupidly always will, Adora wraps an arm around Catra’s waist to keep her from falling.
It pulls Catra right back into Adora’s arms.
They’re both on the edge, and Catra’s so close that Adora could just—
Adora could just pull Catra in an inch further, and their lips could be touching. And in this split-second epiphany, too high on adrenaline to not let her mind finish her earlier though, Adora realizes she wants it.
She wants to kiss Catra.
And of course it’s then that the ground crumbles underneath them, and they’re sent careening down, down, down—
And how fitting, because Adora’s already falling.
It takes all her energy to pull her hair pin and carve it into the cliff, catching Catra’s hand on the way down.
Adora’s mind is a jumbled mess as Catra lets go and falls. As the shape of a ship bursts through the clouds below them. As she sees Catra’s face again from the cockpit, along with Scorpia, Kyle, Lonnie, Rogelio—
And Bow and Glimmer.
Catra leaves her hanging from a cliff in more ways than one. So Adora expends all her energy in the only way she knows how. She rallies the other princesses and sets to work on battle strategies to rescue Bow and Glimmer. And not think about kissing Catra.
(It doesn’t matter now anyway.)
The next time she sees Catra, it’s no happy reunion.
It’s a grave reminder of the differences in how Shadow Weaver has always treated the two. Adora wishes it didn’t break her heart as much as it does when she hears Shadow Weaver say, “Now that Adora’s back, there’s no need for you there.”
Adora watches as Catra’s face falls.
“Seriously? After everything I’ve done for you, it’s still her you want?”
The door closes on Catra’s scowl, her eyes boring into Adora’s.
It hurts to watch. But Adora doesn’t have the time to think about Catra. She solely focuses on Glimmer, on their escape, and soon the two are rushing away from mindwiping threats and toward the skiff awaiting them. Until Glimmer can’t teleport. Until Adora hears the whining of metal on metal and turns to see Catra brandishing the Sword of Protection against the wall, her face half-lit in the red of the security beacons. And then Catra is turning the hilt of the sword in her hand and pushing it toward Adora.
“What are you doing?”
Catra just pushes it further toward Adora.
Adora just stares, trying to focus in on her sword and on Catra’s face and not on the way the gesture is making her feel, on the way Catra’s eyes dart away when she says, “This is not because I like you.”
It’s been Catra’s ongoing joke with her since they were young. So many times when Catra would offer to bandage Adora’s wounds or take her hand to sneak up to the spot where they’d overlook the Fright Zone together, when anyone would point out how Adora was the only one who Catra seemed to like, Catra would try and deflect it.
This is not because I like you.
And Catra’s smile would betray the words every time. But this time there is no smile. Just a look of resignation on Catra’s face as she keeps her eyes fixed anywhere but on Adora. Adora takes the sword and lets her fingers brush against Catra’s hand just briefly.
“Just get out of here.”
And they do.
By the time Adora’s transformed into She-Ra and slices through the closed door, Catra is gone. It’s a long ride back to Bright Moon. Adora mostly cries for Entrapta. At the friend they all left behind.
But Adora cries for someone else she’s left behind too.
It’s much later that night, and Adora thinks she’s finally all cried out. Bow is fast asleep on a mound of pillows, and Glimmer sits beside Adora on the floor.
“Can I change the subject to something else for a bit?” Glimmer asks after a long stretch of silence.
“Yeah,” Adora responds, her voice scratchy and weak.
“What was that back there? With you and Catra?”
Adora swallows a lump in her throat that she didn’t realize was there. While Adora has shared plenty about her past with the Horde, she hasn’t gone too much into specifics about her relationship with Catra. Glimmer and Bow know that they know each other, that they are (were) friends, that they grew up together. They have no idea that Adora was two seconds away from kissing her just last night.
“What do you mean?” she asks carefully.
“A Horde Force Captain who had possession of She-Ra’s sword, and she just… what… gave it back?”
Adora wishes she had a better answer for Glimmer. But she’s wondering the same thing. Keeps it on replay in her head all day.
This is not because I like you.
“I can’t figure it out either, Glimmer.”
Glimmer just nods and a silence falls over the two of them. Adora sees Glimmer chewing her bottom lip, like she has a question on her mind. Like she’s trying to decide if she should ask it.
“You two were really close, huh?”
Adora thinks about the way she and Catra have been inseparable for as long as she can remember. How they made each other better soldiers. All the late night sleepovers pulling pranks on Kyle and dreaming of a future ruling the Horde together. That was the plan—Catra and Adora. Always together, in some capacity. She thinks of the way she’s always pictured her future with Catra in it somehow. How she wishes every night that Catra would join her in the Rebellion, how it still feels like something’s missing.
Adora realizes she’s fallen silent for awhile when Glimmer clears her throat.
“Were you two…you know…”
Glimmer’s question trails off, but her friend gives her a knowing look that causes Adora’s cheek to flame red. Adora nearly chokes on the air around her as she clumsily responds.
“Oh. I—No—I—oh. No. It’s not like that. We never—I mean, everyone apparently thought we were but—”
Glimmer shoots her a look that Adora isn’t entirely sure of—if it’s judging, if it’s just confused, if it’s just trying to be empathetic toward the situation.
“Sounds complicated,” she replies with a laugh.
Adora just fakes a smile.
Against her better judgement, Adora lets herself think about dancing with Catra, about her thigh pressed against Catra and the heat that Adora swears she can still feel there. She thinks of the way Catra’s pupils blew out and the sound Catra made when she did it… Adora kind of wants to do that again. Wants to know what other sounds she can get Catra to make.
“Look, I don’t want to pry, and I know we’re all kind of…fighting each other…but did you, you know, have a crush on her?”
Adora blushes, and her eyes go wide as she looks away from Glimmer and wonders for a moment if her friend can also read minds. Adora knows her face is still red when she finally answers.
“Anything I learned about…romance…from the Horde was from other cadets. They didn’t really teach us anything. You know that. So I guess I never let myself think about it too much. Or tried not to let myself think about her like that.”
Which is true.
Adora has tried not to let herself think of Catra like that. It’s just become a much more difficult undertaking in the last several weeks. Glimmer seems to know to stop pressing, as she just nods quietly. But just to be sure, Adora pivots and tosses the question back to Glimmer, staring at Bow’s sleeping form the whole time she asks.
“What about you? Any crushes I should know about?”
Glimmer stumbles over a response when she realizes that Adora is looking past her and at Bow, and now it’s her friend’s turn to flush a deep red. She rolls her eyes and rises from the floor.
“Good night, Adora.”
Adora laughs quietly and climbs into bed, while Glimmer tries (and fails) to be sneaky about pulling her sleeping bag closer to Bow.
Adora falls asleep that night thinking of yellow and blue eyes and lips pressed against hers as she and Catra go plunging off a cliff together.