Adora doesn’t fall back asleep after Catra leaves that night.
And there must be something about the way she walks into the dining room later that morning that cause Bow and Glimmer’s smug grins to fall immediately, and any plans they may have had of asking her about who she was sharing a bed with the night before fall to the wayside.
She has no idea where Catra’s gone.
No idea if her “I’ll see you again” was just smoke and mirrors.
Adora never gets answers.
(And when she does, they’re always full of ugly, inconvenient truths.)
But she can still try.
Which is why Adora spends the whole day deep in her own head as she walks through the woods trying to make sense of it all, of everything that had been on her mind right before the moment she saw Catra in that stupid robe, sprawled out on her bed, and made everything else go blank for several hours.
If she wants answers, she’ll have to go to the Crimson Waste.
The deadly desert wasteland Crimson Waste.
The Crimson Waste that the Horde only told terrifying stories about, where countless soldiers had been lost to sandstorms and heat and desert beasts.
Adora has run into some hopeless situations with Bow and Glimmer in the past year and a half.
This one might feel like the most hopeless.
Maybe she’s only recklessly fueled by the fear that she’ll never see Catra again, that whatever this was between them is over now, and Adora will have only have had the chance to show her rather than tell her how much she wants her and hope that the message got through somehow.
So Adora doesn’t waste any more time.
She’s going to find answers.
And she runs head first into it.
She doesn’t sit down at the table with Bow and Glimmer, just stands with her hands folded together and shoulders set.
“I think I know what I have to do,” she starts without preamble. “My whole life, people have been hiding the truth from me. So I’m gonna go look for answers myself. Mara started all of this when she stranded Etheria. She’s the only clue we have about portals, and…me.”
Adora doesn’t get a choice in being She-Ra.
But she can have a choice in what she knows. And what she does with that knowledge.
“I’m going to the Crimson Waste,” she continues. “I’m going to follow the message from Mara. I know it’s incredibly dangerous, but this is my choice.”
She can’t control the outcome.
Adora can’t even control if she lives or dies in the Crimson Waste.
She can’t control where Catra is going.
But she can have this. She can control this.
And she can hold on to Catra purring, resting on top of her, sated after a long night together.
And that’s what Adora can hold onto, deep in the desert.
Bow and Glimmer don’t mention the visible bruise on her neck or the one they pointed out on her collarbone the night before. They just nod solemnly, hold Adora close, and promise to go with her.
It’s more than a bit of a shock then, when the Crimson Waste ends up being less of an uninhabitable wasteland than is advertised.
It’s still a terrifying place—full of quicksand and a broken tracker pad and birds that suddenly die when they perch on the wrong plant and sand-colored snakes and gruff locals—
Gruff locals like Huntara, who actually turn out to be pretty great, once they get past the initial mistrust.
Great enough that after Adora wrestles her sword back from Huntara’s grasp, the ex-Horde soldier offers to buy Adora a drink.
And it becomes a habit over the next couple nights as she, Bow, and Glimmer travel with Huntara through the Waste, stopping at little dive bars along the way.
Adora’s not much for drinking, doesn’t have much experience with alcohol aside from the fancy wine that Angella would occasionally roll out for dinners in Bright Moon. But Adora accepts the drinks from Huntara and over the course of the few days they’ve been traveling, learns to like some amber colored liquor that’s called whiskey.
“You know, I remember when you were young,” Huntara starts one night, seated next to Adora at the bar.
Adora turns her head a little too quickly because, well—
“I deserted over a decade ago, but I remember working with some of those younger squadrons on occasion. You hung around with that little cat girl, didn’t you?”
Adora hasn’t even had a chance to consider that Huntara would have known her somehow as a child, or at least remember her. And she certainly hasn’t considered that she’d seen Catra and Adora running around the Fright Zone together as kids.
That there’d been other by-standers beside Shadow Weaver watching as Catra and Adora grew up, racing through hallways holding hands or roughhousing in the barracks. That there were so many other people who saw the story unfolding even when Adora didn’t realize it.
Since the Crystal Castle, since…the first time with Catra, Adora’s avoided thinking about her childhood as much as possible.
Every time, she feels something crack in her chest, a deep ache pulled from somewhere deep, somewhere that makes it feel like she’ll never reach it and never fully heal it.
Not when all she can think about still is blue and yellow eyes and a child-like giggle and Catra’s wild mane flopping all over her face.
“Why leave?” Huntara asks. “Seemed like you had plenty of friends.”
“You and I both know it was about more than that,” Adora says plainly.
She could have never stayed.
The sword would have always found her somehow.
She never would have gotten to keep Catra, keep things simple.
This is your destiny, she hears on a loop in her head.
“I did what I had to do, just like you.”
Adora wonders if she would have left the Horde anyway, even without the sword. If Shadow Weaver would have eventually pushed too hard or gotten rid of Catra like she always threatened. If she and Catra would have made it into battle together, found a new place to call home, and leave together.
But it doesn’t matter anyway.
Huntara just hums solemnly next to her while Adora stares at melting ice in her glass.
“I hate her for so many things, you know?” Adora continues, and she hates that at this point she doesn’t even have to specify who she is. Huntara and Adora often sit in silence, but sometimes their topics have drifted to the Fright Zone. To Shadow Weaver.
“But I think what I hate her for most is the way she drove me and Catra apart.”
For all of Shadow Weaver’s efforts, she never did well to keep them physically separated. But Adora sees it now in Catra’s reluctance to leave the Horde, this need to prove herself and rise above those who hurt her. She sees it in the way Shadow Weaver manipulated them both for so long, how Adora’s stomach turned when Shadow Weaver showed up in Bright Moon yet being called my Adora still hit somewhere deep in her heart.
“Catra’s the uh, the cat girl,” she adds.
“This Catra still means something to you?”
Everything, Adora thinks automatically through the haze of the alcohol.
“It’s complicated,” is what she says instead.
Huntara just laughs.
“Well, I have time.”
Adora explains, as briefly as possible, how she and Catra were best friends growing up in the Horde—how they did everything together. How Shadow Weaver would say directly to Catra that she only kept her around because of Adora. That comments like that probably slowly chipped away at their foundation for years without them even realizing.
How Adora found the sword, learned about She-Ra and left.
How she tried to get Catra to come with her.
How Catra wouldn’t.
And still won’t.
“And now, we have to fight each other. She’s Hordak’s second-in-command, actually.”
“Well, that certainly does damage to a friendship.”
Yeah, so does sleeping with her, Adora thinks, and is grateful that she’s not drunk enough to let that slip.
Huntara, with her years of Horde soldier training, seems to be able to read Adora pretty well, and seems to know to let the silence linger.
When Adora doesn’t say any more after a couple of minutes, Huntara sighs and rises from the barstool next to her.
“Be careful with that heart of yours, kid. I’d hate to see it held by the wrong hands.”
Huntara gives her a firm squeeze on the shoulder before getting up to leave.
And then Adora’s alone, staring at the empty glass in front of her.
She orders another—her third of the night.
Tonight, this is the only thing that makes her feel anything remotely like how Catra makes her feel.
Light, giggly, dizzy in a way that’s pleasant and makes her braver.
She’s tried so hard not to let herself think of Catra in the time she’s been in the Crimson Waste, as if she’s trying to save the memories for when things inevitably get harder. Like she can’t waste too much energy on them now, so she can enjoy them more later.
All roads lead back to Catra.
And Adora misses her with every fiber of her being. She’s anxious every morning when she wakes up, wondering where Catra has gone in the week since they’ve last seen each other, wondering if there’s even still a Catra to miss—
She gulps down almost half of the drink in front of her, and it burns going down just as much as the thought that comes to Adora’s half-filtered brain.
She loves Catra.
Why hasn’t she told her?
Why didn’t she tell her when she had the chance?
Adora thinks of all the times she could have said it—she could have told Catra right before she’d left Bright Moon that night. Adora could have told her to wait and let the words slip out.
And maybe Catra would have left anyway. That would be the more likely option.
But Adora could have tried.
She had a choice.
She had a chance.
And she didn’t take it.
Adora can’t decide what would hurt worse—telling Catra and having her leave anyway, or this—not having told her and knowing she might never get the chance now.
Adora’s whole body aches from the hours of travel with Huntara, the racing to the center of the Crimson Waste to find Mara’s ship. All these little choices she’s made to get closer and closer to answers.
And still, all she can think about is Catra.
Catra, and how Adora wishes she were here right now, to give her a shoulder massage like they used to do for each other after particularly intense days of training back in the Horde. To fall asleep next to in the little tent she’s pitched in different parts of the Crimson Waste as they go.
But Adora doesn’t get to have that.
“Thought I might find you here,” Adora hears suddenly off to her right, and she whirls around—causing her head to spin just for a moment—to see Bow clamoring onto the barstool next to her.
“Bow? What are you—where’s Glimmer?”
“Sleeping,” he replies, with a fond smile and gentle tone in his voice that doesn’t go unnoticed by Adora.
It’s been an unspoken agreement among the three of them to not bring up what happened in the kitchen last week, given the severity of their current situation.
But Adora’s tipsy, and has no filter, and now feels like as good a time as any.
And Bow’s gaze is so soft and friendly that Adora can’t help but want to feel a sense of normalcy just for a few minutes by having a conversation with her best friend. About something other than constellations and spaceships.
“So, what’s going on with you two?”
Bow’s eyes widen at how easily Adora asks.
Bow drums his fingers against the wood of the bar top nervously, almost giggling and looking away from Adora.
“Well, uh—I mean…”
He smiles then, and finally turns toward Adora with another shrug.
“We’re happy, you know? And just kind of figuring things out as we go.”
Adora smiles but feels her chest ache, because she kind of knows the feeling—those stolen moments of happiness away from the war with Catra, just figuring it out as they went, promising that each time was the last time.
“What about you?” Bow asks, with a gentle bump against Adora’s shoulder. “Any crushes we should know about?”
She can blame the redness of her face on the drinks she’s had and not because her head is taking her right back to the Bright Moon kitchen where Glimmer is pointing out the mark on her collarbone.
“Definitely don’t have time to think about that, what with my ‘destiny’ and all that.”
She shouldn’t have time to think about it.
And yet, mixed in with saving the universe, Catra is always in the back of her mind.
The worst part is, in her half-drunk state, Adora wants to tell Bow. She wants to confess the whole thing and just have somewhere to go with it because keeping it between her and Catra, not knowing what to do, not knowing where the fuck Catra is—
Turns out it’s taking more of a toll on Adora than she’s realized.
“Can I say something that’s going to sound really crazy?”
She doesn’t tell Bow that she and Catra actually kissed at the Crystal Castle. That they—actually did more than that. And have continued to.
She doesn’t tell Bow that she’s pretty sure she’s in love with Catra and has been for longer than she realizes.
She doesn’t say any of that.
“Sometimes I wish I was back in the Horde. At least then I didn’t have to worry about saving the planet and being some great hero of the universe or portals or anything like that.”
Bow doesn’t raise his eyebrows or gasp or really, even move at all.
He just sits quietly next to Adora, solid and steady like he always is, and listens.
“I don’t regret coming to Bright Moon and meeting you all one bit, but sometimes… it’s just a lot, Bow.”
Her friend nods in acknowledgement, and now that the words have started pouring out of her, Adora’s not sure she can get herself to stop.
“And I miss how simple things used to be. Sometimes, I miss my friends from the Fright Zone and—”
She chokes on the name.
The lump in her throat keeps it from coming out.
But Bow—sweet, observant, understanding Bow—just squeezes Adora’s hand and adds simply, like its as plain a fact as the sky being blue or 1+1 equaling 2:
“You miss Catra.”
Adora goes quiet.
She’s not sure she could speak if she wanted to.
The lump in her throat is choking her now, and she reaches for her drink and downs the rest of it.
And she wonders where Catra is. If she’s thinking about Adora too.
If she’s completely cracking under the pressure of waging war on the person she cares about the most.
“We always said it was going to be me and her, together at the end of the world,” Adora adds quietly.
She remembers it so clearly—her and Catra, staring at the hazy red sky of the Fright Zone from atop the Forge, Catra’s tail having wrapped its way around Adora’s calf loosely, tethering them together. She remembers asking Catra what she thought might happen with the war, if they might win, what would happen if they lose.
“Who knows, might just be the end of the world,” Catra had replied casually.
“At least we’ll have each other,” Adora had said, feeling Catra’s tail tighten around her leg.
“You and me together at the end of the world, huh?” Catra had asked. “Sounds nice.”
“I know you guys probably think I’m insane for having any nice thing to say about her, but she was my best friend for years. And caring about someone that much doesn’t just… go away.”
Bow just continues to sit quietly and listen intently, and Adora’s thankful, because she’s not sure she could stop talking now if she tried.
“I know she’s done terrible things. I know it’s probably hard for you to understand, but sometimes I just wish there was a way to get her to see how things could be if she’d just leave the Horde. If I could get you guys to see that she’s so much more than…a soldier.”
Adora pauses and sighs, finally looking over at Bow, who’s still just watching her with kind eyes that are trying to understand. Still, Adora waits to be yelled at, waits for the “Are you INSANE?” that she’s certain will come, or for the gentle encouragement to just let Catra go.
“Tell me about her.”
“If it’s important to you, it’s important to me, Adora. Best friend squad law. So, tell me about Catra.”
And Adora wants to cry, because in the year and a half she’s been in Bright Moon, she’s not sure anyone has ever asked her that. If anyone has bothered to acknowledge that to know Adora’s childhood, her whole upbringing, is to know about Catra.
So she tells him.
“She’s always been…scrappy like she is now. She was always the one picking fights with cadets twice her size and never gave a shit about authority. She never applied herself, and it was so infuriating growing up because I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as smart as her. Like there’s a reason she’s already Hordak’s second-in-command—Shadow Weaver refused to put her in advanced tactical classes even though its where she belonged. She’s the kind who always needs a challenge, and I guess we kind of challenged each other and made each other better, you know?”
Adora can’t hide the fondness in her voice and can see Bow smirking out of the corner of her eye.
It’s going to hurt later, thinking again about how she doesn’t know where Catra is or where this leaves the two of them.
But it feels good for now.
“How did you two meet?”
“We’ve known each other for as long as I can remember. The earliest memory I have of her is when we were five. We shared a bunk bed all throughout our time in the Fright Zone together, and all the sudden I looked over, and Catra was hanging down from the side of hers upside down.”
Adora giggles at the memory, fueled by the liquor and by the image of the girl who grew up to be commanding an army, hanging upside down, anchored by her small legs and tail, laughing as Adora screamed in surprise at Catra hanging from the side of their bunk bed.
And Adora’s tried to avoid thinking about their childhood as much as possible for a while.
Because of that feeling like something’s breaking, that deep ache.
Right now, it doesn’t ache.
So Adora lets herself have this—have the fleeting joy that comes with the memories of Catra.
“When we were in the Crystal Castle,” Adora continues, “Something happened where we were shown a bunch of our old memories together. Shadow Weaver really did a number on us both. And I don’t think—I don’t even really know how to begin to process a lot of that.”
“I’m really sorry that you went through all of that, Adora.”
She shrugs and nods along absent-mindedly, appreciative of Bow’s validation, but—
Fuck. She just misses Catra.
“I know it’s not quite the same, and I’m way oversimplifying, but how would you feel if you woke up one day, and you and Glimmer were on opposite sides of the war?”
Bow sits up straighter and his eyes widen, like he hadn’t considered something like that before.
“I—Wow. I’d probably do everything I could to get her on my side.”
Adora watches him as he pauses, a thoughtful look on his face.
“I think even if it seemed hopeless, I wouldn’t give up on her. Probably ever,” he adds.
“That’s how I feel about her.”
In the background, Adora faintly hears the doors of the bar swing open and a round of excited greetings call out to whoever has just walked in—probably some local gang leader.
Adora is facing away from the doors, leaning her temple on her fist and slumping against the bar. She feels a wave of fatigue hit her suddenly, the emotional hangover of everything she’s telling Bow setting in long before the physical one she might have tomorrow.
Adora’s wondering if that’s something she can use her powers to heal quickly if that ends up being the case when Bow’s mouth drops open as he looks toward the door.
“Well don’t look now, but she just walked in.”
Surely he doesn’t mean—
That actually might make sense.
Catra being sent off to a desert wasteland.
To look for First Ones tech.
Which means the Horde knows about the ship, too.
Adora doesn’t turn around, convincing herself that she’s just hallucinating this whole conversation and that three and a half drinks has made her completely incapable of rational thought.
“She’s right over there,” Bow whispers, slinking down in his seat like he’s trying to avoid being seen.
Adora turns slowly, and—
No more wondering where Catra went.
If there’s still a Catra to be missing.
She’s right there, and out of all the bars in the Crimson Waste for her to walk into—
Adora can’t breathe.
She can’t breathe, because Catra is maybe twenty feet away from her, completely alive and looking sinfully attractive in a black leather jacket over her usual bodysuit.
Adora is much too drunk for this.
“Look, I think I’m gonna head back,” Bow says, as Catra lets a group lead her to a spot at the end of the bar. Adora tries to hide her face with her hands and angle herself away from Catra but knows that her stupid red jacket is going to give her away the second she looks over.
“Are you coming?” Bow asks, holding out a hand for Adora to steady herself when she stands up.
But Catra’s right there.
The smart thing would be to walk away for now, to leave it alone.
She’s hurt and confused and drunk and sad, but more than that, she has missed Catra so much—hasn’t known if she was going to see her again.
And she’s right there. At the end of the bar. Just out of reach.
Even when she tries to get Catra out of her head, she always comes back somehow.
So she just looks up at Bow with a pleading gaze.
“Just…be careful, okay? Don’t make me send out a search party.”
And Bow walks out of the bar, a look cast over his shoulder that’s a mix of trepidation and resigned understanding.
Adora calls over the bartender and sends a drink down to the end of the bar.
The fact that the Crimson Waste is actually full of a “heavily-armed crowd,” as Scorpia puts it, only makes Catra angrier.
It only makes her more frustrated and reminds her of the fact that she could—and does—Hordak’s job better than he does. That he doesn’t know anything at all because he’s sat in his sanctum for years while everyone else does his job for him.
Catra should be in charge.
But Catra doesn’t get to be trusted.
Some people have a bad day, Catra tells them when she arrives. I’ve had a bad life.
If she wants something, it’s taken from her.
Like the Rebellion took Adora.
If she wins a fight, she loses the war.
And she loses to Adora.
Threats only work on someone who has something to lose.
She’s already lost it all.
For example: Adora.
And she lost a chance at a maybe-normal civilian life when the Horde took her in.
She lost Shadow Weaver’s trust the moment she decided that Catra wasn’t good enough, just a nuisance.
She’s lost the rank she’s fought for. Ex-Force Captain Catra.
She’s lost Adora.
That’s for certain.
And sometimes, as she and Scorpia keep wandering through the Crimson Waste, with nothing to lose and only First Ones tech and Catra’s title to gain and re-gain, Catra wonders if she could have just stayed in Bright Moon that night.
If she could have just skipped the whole being exiled thing.
If she could have listened when Adora told her to stay, to come back to bed.
But here’s how Catra knows it would go:
- She could stay in Bright Moon. No one would trust her.
- Eventually, Adora would lose any faith left in her too.
She just doesn’t get to win.
So instead, she holds on to the phantom feeling of Adora’s lips on her neck, deep in the desert.
There’s nothing left for Catra to lose, until the bartender pushes a small glass in front of her.
“The blonde down on the corner sent you this,” they say, gesturing over to the other end of the bar and then walking away.
Catra follows the bartender’s finger to where they’re pointing and—
“No fucking way.”
Her stomach drops.
And Catra throws back the drink in one gulp when her eyes meet Adora’s.
Because of course Adora and her stupid friends would fling themselves head first into a no man’s land to try and search for the same thing as Catra.
Of course, even when she’s trying to make peace with the fact that she can never have Adora the way she really wants, when she’s trying to stay away from her, Adora always comes back.
Even when Adora doesn’t realize it. She keeps pushing her way back to Catra.
The fact that the Crimson Waste is actually full of a “heavily-armed crowd,” as Scorpia puts it, only makes Catra angrier.
But the fact that she has to add Adora to said crowd, makes her want to hear the sound of her glass breaking against a wall just as some kind of release valve.
Catra has nothing left to lose.
And she’s too damn weak to resist when Adora rises from her seat, wobbling as she gets up, and gingerly walks to the other end of the bar.
“Hey Catra,” she slurs, and it’s then that Catra realizes Adora is a little bit drunk.
“What are you doing here?” Catra asks, because she’s not quite sure what else to say.
She can’t give a simple how are you? or thanks for the strap action last time we saw each other or yeah, by the way, this is what I meant when I said I wasn’t sure we would see each other for a while.
“What are you doing here?”
And she can’t exactly respond to that with well, you see, I was sent here to die because I let our commanding officer escape from her prison cell.
(This is all so terribly fucked up.)
“I’m guessing we’re after the same First Ones tech as usual,” is all Catra says, trying to keep her breathing even when Adora sits down next to her. Trying to ignore the way her heart is basically beating out of her chest when Adora is this close to her. When she genuinely hasn’t been sure that she’d get to be this close to Adora again.
“Thanks for the drink,” Catra adds, raising the glass to her lips just to give her mouth something else to do, instead of doing something stupid like talking.
An awkward silence follows, Adora swirling her glass and making the ice cubes that remain clink against each other with what has to be the most annoying sound in the world. Catra has a half a mind to pin Adora’s wrist to the bar and shut her up when she finally stops the motion and speaks again.
“Nice jacket. Seems like you fit right in here.”
Catra laughs to hide how nervous she is and how angry she wants to be as Adora reaches out and tugs on the collar of Catra’s jacket. She tries (and fails) to hide the way her breath hitches when Adora puts her hand on her.
“I always was tougher than you,” Catra says roughly, lowly.
She takes another sip of her drink because she doesn’t trust the sound of her own voice.
The silence falls again, and there’s so much between them. So much more than the six inches that separates them, and Catra has no idea how to cross it. If they even should.
She thinks about the last time and how Adora had looked at her, how Catra had kissed Adora with less frustration and passion and more tenderness.
She hadn’t been sure she’d have to deal with the consequences of that.
It was a problem for future Adora and Catra.
Catra knows that Adora has always been incapable of letting silence go on for too long, so she isn’t surprised when she speaks up again.
“Didn’t expect the Crimson Waste to be so…populated.”
“Yeah, Hordak will be very disappointed.”
It slips out, because even after all this time, Adora makes it easier to want to be vulnerable.
And if they’re both here, if they’re both going to have to face this tension that feels like more than just wanting to pin each other against the nearest horizontal surface, they have to start somewhere.
It’s all going to crash and burn, Catra’s sure, but she has nothing left to lose.
And Adora deserves to know some of the truth.
Catra takes a deep breath and another sip of her drink before she responds.
“Well, he kind of sent me here on a suicide mission.”
“Why?” Adora asks, leaning toward Catra, trying to get Catra to look at her.
And Catra just keeps staring across the bar, picking a spot on the wall and fixing her gaze to it, avoiding Adora’s blue eyes.
“Made a costly mistake. He doesn’t trust me. So he sent me here on a ‘fool’s errand,’ as he so kindly put it.”
Adora doesn’t respond with words, just chokes out a surprised sound and follows Catra’s gaze, staring straight ahead at the wall.
“Entrapta thought she was saving me by sending me here to check out some First Ones tech or something, but I think he expected me to just die here.”
Catra feels the tension wrap around her throat when she says it, knows she has no where to hide now when Adora inhales sharply next to her.
“Is that why you said—last time we saw each other—"
And Catra realizes, that since this started, since they started sleeping together, they haven’t had to do this.
Haven’t had to fully acknowledge it outside the walls of someone’s bedroom or as a joke or a dirty trick in the heat of battle.
“Did you think you were coming here to die?”
It’s just Catra, Adora, and the space in between them in a bar in a desert wasteland.
“I don’t know. Thought I could at least buy myself some time, but now…now I could actually prove myself to the Horde again.”
She hears Adora sigh heavily next to her, feels Adora’s gaze burning into the side of her face, can basically feel Adora’s disappointment at her words.
“You could come back with us, you know. I—I could introduce you to Huntara.”
“Who the fuck is Huntara?”
“She kind of runs the Crimson Waste. She was a Horde soldier who deserted.”
“So, options for soldiers who leave are either become a magical human weapon or run away to a barren wasteland. I think I’ll pass.”
Catra can’t do this. She can’t leave. It’s not that simple.
She doesn’t get to win.
And Adora would—
Adora would leave again anyway. Somehow.
“You’re already in the barren wasteland,” Adora points out.
And then Adora—stupid, drunk Adora—bumps her shoulder against Catra like it’s the most casual thing and adds, “Though I do think the She-Ra skirt would really show off your legs.”
There are so many things that frustrate Catra about Adora.
Like the way she’s incapable of sitting still or sitting in the quiet. Catra can think of so many examples from practice recon missions back in the Horde, where she and Adora would have to stay in one spot for hours at a time, and Adora would suggest ridiculous games or hum or fidget around and just not stay still.
Or the way she puts everyone’s needs before her own. That’s definitely up there on the list of things that frustrate Catra.
But most of all, Catra hates how difficult it is for her to stay mad at her.
“Shut up, Adora.”
Because she wants to be mad at her.
She wants to push her away before Adora inevitably does it to her.
“Maybe we can find a way—"
“Did you forget the part where we are still on opposite sides of the war?” Catra snaps.
She can’t do this.
“You still have a choice to leave, Catra.”
But I don’t get to win.
This is all going to come crashing down on me at some point.
“Not this again,” Catra says, no longer hiding the bite behind her words.
And then something happens. Something snaps. Something changes, and not something that Catra expects.
Adora gets mad.
“You know what’s so fucked up about all this?”
Now it’s Catra who’s staring at the side of Adora’s face while she stares ahead at the wall, jaw clenched.
“I left the Horde because I wanted a choice. I wanted to choose my path. And then, I come here and find out that apparently all along, I’ve been destined to become She-Ra. That I have to fulfill whatever duties that entails. That it was always gonna be me—whether I found the sword in the woods or somewhere else. That I never had a say in this all along.”
Catra just watches in shock as Adora’s eyes burn holes in the wall, still staring straight ahead, her voice strangled like she’s holding back tears. And Catra realizes that for as much as they know about each other, there’s still so much to learn.
There’s still a lot they’ve missed in the last year and a half.
“I was brought through a portal. Hordak found me and brought me back to the Fright Zone,” Adora adds quietly. Too quietly for the weight that the words carry.
It’s unnerving to see Adora like this.
Catra isn’t even sure how to respond, just stays quiet and waits, trying to process everything Adora is saying.
“I’m not even from this planet, Catra. I could have a family out there somewhere else, and I have no idea.”
“And so it’s really frustrating for me to listen to this because you do have a choice,” Adora finishes with a bite in her voice and stumbles as she pushes her stool back and stands.
She starts to march toward the entrance, not once giving Catra a backward glance. And she could leave it alone—she could let Adora walk away now, and they could continue on this path apart.
She could let Adora run without even having to push her further away.
But Catra, like she always does, foolishly runs after her.
Because she can’t let it end like that.
Not when Adora is vulnerable and hurt and drunk and probably has no idea where she’s going.
She reaches Adora just outside the bar, dim spotlights casting a hazy glow over Adora’s body as she stops just outside with her hands on her hips, facing away from Catra.
“And where else would I go, Adora?” Catra blurts out from behind her, because she can’t leave it alone. Because Adora has a point, but where else is Catra supposed to go?
She watches as Adora perks up, stiffens, and then slowly turns around.
And the spotlights make the glisten of tears in Adora’s eyes unmistakable.
“With me!” Adora exclaims, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. “Come with me.”
But there’s no way Adora can actually mean that. Surely she doesn’t—
She can’t still want Catra. Not after everything.
“Adora, you’re drunk. You don’t mean that—"
But Adora—the same foolish, brilliant, beautiful Adora she’s always known—just takes a step closer.
“Why is it so hard to believe that I still care about you, Catra?”
Tears are spilling from Adora’s eyes now, and she’s staring at Catra with those beautiful eyes that are so genuine and so vulnerable. All Catra can think about is Adora on top of her in her bed in Bright Moon and look at me, baby and the way Adora had looked at her the first time she asked Catra to leave the Horde and come with her—
So genuine. So vulnerable.
“You were my best friend, and that doesn’t mean I just stopped caring when I left.”
“But you still left,” Catra responds quietly, staring at the sand at her feet because she can’t bear to look into Adora’s blue eyes for any longer.
Catra wants to believe her, can feel herself being pulled in by the hope she feels when Adora tells her to come with her once more.
But Shadow Weaver’s voice is still on a loop in Catra’s head—just a nuisance. Just an orphan.
Just a distraction.
“And I have worked way too hard to just throw it away by following you wherever you go.”
She grits her teeth at the broken way Adora calls out her name, her voice cracking over the two syllables.
And this, Catra thinks, is where it all catches up to them.
This is where it all comes crashing down.
Holding patterns aren’t designed to last forever, after all.
So they’re crashing. Here.
In the middle of the desert.
With nowhere else to run.
“Nobody in Bright Moon would trust me anyway!” Catra adds, screaming now, because why can’t Adora see that?
“If I was ever gonna leave, I think I missed my window, Adora.”
“They learned to trust me!” Adora yells back, too loud and too harsh for the eerie quiet outside the bar.
“Well, I don’t transform into a mythical eight-foot-tall warrior princess! I’m just a useless orphan who’s only been an inconvenience to everyone her whole life!”
Catra finally looks up at Adora to see her staring back at her with her mouth hanging open.
“That is not true.”
And Catra wants to believe that.
But she doesn’t.
“Nobody ever thought I mattered, Adora! Shadow Weaver thought I was nothing. But I rose above her and got the Horde closer to taking Bright Moon than anyone ever has, and I will keep proving myself as long as I have to. I will show Hordak that he made a mistake sending me out here to die.”
Adora takes two steps closer and shouts back. She’s close enough that Catra can feel her breath on her face, and it’s too much—it’s all too much—
“So leave them and come join the Rebellion! We could defeat them together. It doesn’t have to be like this!”
“I would never be worthy of you, anyway!” Catra finally screams.
And there it is.
Out in the open.
Catra has nowhere left to hide.
All roads lead back to Adora, and here Catra is, standing in the middle of the path, the ugly and simple truth laid out next to her like roadkill.
She’ll never be worthy of Adora.
And Catra doesn’t get to win.
And she steels herself and holds Adora’s gaze, which, to Catra’s horror, just softens.
And then Adora’s surging forward to kiss her.
Her teeth clack against Catra’s fangs, and the angle is all wrong, and Adora tastes like sweat and whiskey, but Catra lets herself lean into it for just a moment.
Just a moment.
Just a moment, before she’s pushing gently at Adora’s shoulders and away from her mouth.
It takes all the will-power in Etheria for Catra to not pull her right back in and let Adora press her against the side of this bar, but she does.
“This isn’t something that…that can fix.”
This isn’t something that not talking can fix.
This isn’t something that another night together can fix.
Catra’s not even sure that whatever she and Adora have between them now can be fixed.
Or what fixing it would even look like.
“Can we just drop this for now?”
There’s still the issue that Adora is in no position for Catra to leave her alone and wandering around drunk.
“I don’t know where you’re staying and you’re in no condition to be alone, so just…let me take you home.”
This is the kind of hell Catra had anticipated when she was being sent to the Crimson Waste. She just didn’t expect it to take the form of having to lead an emotional, drunk Adora back to her place to let her sleep it off after a shouting match that’s going to leave them both in ruins.
Thankfully, it’s a short walk back to the hut Catra has claimed for herself, with Scorpia claiming the one next door.
It’s a quiet walk back, too.
“You take the bed,” Catra says, not turning around to face Adora. “I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“There’s room for both of—"
Adora tries to muffle the sound of her crying with a pillow, but Catra’s ears are too sensitive and she can hear it all. When Adora finally falls asleep some time later, Catra’s still wide awake and staring into the darkness.
She must doze off at some point, because the next morning when Catra wakes up, there’s no trace of Adora. No sign she was ever there.
So Catra spends the day marching further still into the belly of the beast that is the Crimson Waste.