Actions

Work Header

falling feels like flying (till the bone crush)

Chapter Text

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:

Hi Adora

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.

Or punches.

Or something.

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.

It’s infuriating.

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.

She’s not.  

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.

“You sure?”

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.

Oh.

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?”

“Nothing permanent.”

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.

“You wish.”

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—

Oh.

Oh.

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.

Badly.

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.

Oh.

“What are you doing?”

Catra just pushes it further toward Adora.

“Take it.”

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.

“Catra, I—"

“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.  

Glimmer shrugs.

“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.

“Yeah. Complicated.”

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.

Chapter Text

Catra will swear that it starts when she and Adora are fifteen.

They’re sparring—Catra always feels the sparks when they’re sparring—and Adora has her pinned to the ground, her hands clamping down on Catra’s wrists and holding her in place. Adora is still all gangly limbs, but she’s strong. Adora’s strong, and she has these beautiful icy blue eyes that Catra’s just noticing now, for some reason. Catra stares, and they feel like a key to Adora’s soul. There’s a softness in them that’s not quite congruent with the amount of force she uses to hold Catra down. It’s almost unnerving.

Almost.

But Catra just keeps staring as she hears the countdown. She only has three more seconds to get up before they call the match for Adora.

Catra realizes she doesn’t even care. She has Adora looking at her like she’s the most incredible thing in the world. She figures she can lose this battle if it means winning the war. The buzzer sounds, and Adora hops up, extending a hand out for Catra to take. Catra rolls her eyes at the gesture but smiles all the same.

Her heart nearly bursts at the seams when Adora sees the reaction and says, “Don’t worry. It’s not because I like you.”

And that’s when it starts for Catra.

She notices more things about Adora after that—scratch that, she already knows so much about Adora. But everything around her feels…heightened now. Like the way Adora snorts when she’s laughing really hard, and Catra thinks it’s one of the most endearing sounds in the world. Or the way they’ve grown and can’t easily fit in a bed side by side like they used to do when they were younger, but Adora still invites Catra to curl up at the end of her bed every night. How Adora keeps her hair back in a ponytail because when its down and within the reach of her fingers, she has a nervous habit of playing with her hair. How Catra waits to hear the sound of Adora sighing and her breathing evening out when she wraps her tail around Adora’s ankle like an anchor. Or the way sometimes Catra sees Adora watching her, and Catra lets herself hope for just a moment that maybe someday, they can rule the world together.

Being teenagers in the Horde, Adora isn’t necessarily sheltered—she knows Adora is smart and can pick up on plenty just from listening to conversations from other cadets. Conversations about things Shadow Weaver and Hordak call “depraved” and “of the Rebellion.”

Sex. Dating. Love.

So while Adora picks up on some things, its safe to say that Catra…knows more. The rest of the squad doesn’t try to necessarily keep anything from Adora. If anything, in hindsight, Catra realizes that it’s likely because so many of them already thought that she and Adora were together. Or at least wanted to be.

And Catra wants to be.

But Adora…

She’s so single-mindedly focused on the mission. On being a good soldier. She’s by-the-book in a way that mostly masks the impulsive streak that few people outside of Catra see regularly.

So when they’re doing their usual back and forth in the mess hall one day, Adora tugging affectionately at one of the lighter tufts of hair behind one of Catra’s ears, and Lonnie barks a laugh and says, “You two wanna fuck each other so bad it’s embarrassing,” it’s no surprise that Adora just tilts her head in confusion. She’s not quite sure what Lonnie means.

Catra, on the other hand, hears the message loud and clear, and feels her heart hammering out of her chest, hissing and walking away before she starts an all-out brawl in front of everyone. Catra wonders if Adora wonders what Lonnie means. But the next day, Adora finds the sword.

And then it doesn’t matter anymore after that.

It doesn’t matter because Adora’s left her behind. Because as soon as something better comes along, she’s gone. Because how can Catra be sure that Adora even means it when she asks her to leave the Horde and join the Rebellion? What if it’s just a pity invite?

Adora’s never wanted Catra the way the Catra wants Adora.

She never will.

And Catra is still desperately trying to not let this stupid crush swallow her whole. She thinks she’s doing a fine job of that for these first several weeks that Adora’s been gone. The promotion to Force Captain, the time spent in the field, the success has been able to keep the heartache away.

Until Princess Prom.

And for Catra, it starts all over again.

All she’s been able to think about for the past several nights is Adora in that stupid red dress that shows off the cut of her shoulders. Adora refusing to admit she’s jealous even when it’s so easy for Catra to believe (and see) she is. Adora pulling her along by her tie in a way that sets Catra’s fantasy world on fire. Adora leaning close. Dancing with Adora—

Adora’s thigh pressed between her legs.

At first, Catra wonders if she’s simply imagined that part. If it’s all just a part of her very-Adora heavy dreams that night. Until Catra wakes up and realizes that no, Adora was pressing into her with a fire in her eyes that tells Catra she knows exactly what she’s doing, and Catra has to wonder what kind of sex education they’re offering in Bright Moon.

She tries not to let herself dwell on it, on the way Adora points out Catra’s “stupid suit” and the way it feels to have Adora’s attention on her all night, even for the sake of a mission. She tries not to think about the way Adora pulls her back from the ledge, the way Adora’s eyes bore into hers when she realizes how close they are until they’re sent off an exploding cliff a half second later.

Catra really tries not to think about it all. But no matter what she does, it’s always Adora in her head. Adora fighting her, encouraging her, giving her false hope that she could ever want Catra.

(But it doesn’t matter now anyway.)

When she finds Adora again, it’s completely by accident. She’s trying to work this ridiculous tracker pad when she hears footsteps, sees Adora bounding through the woods toward a building. Catra barely hesitates when a door opens in the ground, and Adora goes inside. She stays in the shadows, waits as she hears Adora’s voice grow frantic as she speaks to some holographic figure about healing someone, about asking to speak to someone named Light Hope. Catra tiptoes into the light and scours the outer part of the room, half listening to Adora and the hologram lady until she spies a data crystal lodged in a much larger, seemingly decorative pyramid. She hears the hologram speak of letting go, and of course, as she does, Catra’s move to take the crystal causes an eerie sound to erupt from the pyramid, causing it to glow red. And Adora turns around, whipping her sword in Catra’s direction and taking out the pyramid behind her.

“Hey! Watch it!” Catra yelps.

Catra wishes she had more time to enjoy the look of surprise on Adora’s face, but then the hologram is glowing red and declaring that an unauthorized user has been detected. Then Adora runs, her hand latched onto Catra’s wrist and pulling her along. It’s a blur—there’s some spiders, a lot of red, and Adora’s hand in hers.

There’s winding hallways, and symbols she knows to be First Ones’ writing.

(And Adora’s hand in hers.)

And then darkness.

And then more spiders.

They round another corner, Adora yelling about how nothing is listening to her in this place. She’s since dropped Catra’s hand, but they walk for a bit in comfortable, familiar silence. And then more red eyes. More spiders.

“Adora,” Catra warns, and while the Horde has prepared her very well in near daily training scenarios, somehow running away from giant killer spiders in a First Ones temple with an eight foot tall blonde has not been among them.

When she says Adora’s name, she’s begging her to act, begging that just like they used to, where one falls short, the other will compensate. They’ll give and take and ebb and flow and somehow get out of a situation that would spell disaster for any of the other cadets. It takes Adora barely any time to react before she’s pulling her sword out once again and ordering Catra to stand back before carving the sword through the ceiling like its butter, transforming the sword to a shield and pulling Catra to her and underneath it as rock falls all around them. They pull themselves from the rubble, and Catra hates herself for thinking Adora’s little She-Ra display is as hot as she does.

And then She-Ra is gone, leaving just Adora. Her Adora. In her stupid red jacket and her stupid belt and everything is almost the same except for where she’s replaced the Force Captain pin with a little gold wing.

Adora turns to Catra with a sigh.

“You shouldn’t be here, Catra. Those things aren’t gonna stop until they get you, and as long as I’m protecting you, they’ll see me as a threat too.”

“Good thing I didn’t ask you to protect me,” Catra lashes back.

And truthfully, Catra doesn’t hate knowing that Adora will seemingly always protect her, always want to keep her safe. But Adora doesn’t need to know that. And Catra isn’t some lame princess, some damsel in distress who needs to be rescued. Adora stumbles through a response and instead pivots to asking Catra why she’s there. Catra’s quick on her feet, mentions the beam of light. She doesn’t mention that she was only truly intrigued when she saw Adora wandering through the woods.

“Does Shadow Weaver know you’re here?”

Catra turns away from Adora and fights the urge to roll her eyes. Shadow Weaver is the last thing on her mind, and as Catra quickly tells Adora, she’s sure that Shadow Weaver has bigger problems to deal with right now—

And then Catra turns back to Adora, who’s got her arms folded in a way that she knows show off her arms even through her jacket. And she’s smirking.

(Seriously, what are that Arrow Boy and Sparkles teaching her?)

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

What Catra doesn’t ask is how to get Adora to never stop looking at her like that. There’s a heat to it that Catra isn’t sure has been there before, and if it has, it’s never felt this…intense. Catra’s entirely confused at how you can want something so much and be completely terrified by it at the same time. So as Adora keeps staring, eyebrow cocked and lips quirked to the side, Catra pulls back and realizes—

Ah, shit.

“No…I know what this is about.”

Catra lets her face fall into her palm and hopes she’s just convincing enough.

“I knew you’d be weird about me letting you escape.”

She only let Adora escape because how boring would it be have it all end so quickly? How stupid for the story to end with Adora being mindwiped and not even remember Catra? She only let Adora escape because Catra has no idea what she would do with Adora’s sword anyway.

It’s not—

“I told you, this is not because I like you.”

(It absolutely is.)

(But maybe, just maybe, if she denies it enough to herself and out loud, it’ll be true.)

Adora’s looking at her in a way that’s going to haunt Catra’s dreams when she mumbles, “I mean, I didn’t say anything.”

Adora’s still smirking at her, and it is not fair when there’s no actual way that Adora means to be looking at her like this—like she wants Catra to just admit it and say she likes her.

No.

No.

She won’t let Adora get the best of her.

“Where are your new best friends, anyway? I thought you did everything together,” Catra asks, the bitterness dripping from her voice, and Adora’s smirk falls quickly into a grimace.

Adora’s eyes narrow, and Catra hears enough about what Adora says to respond. But truly, all she’s focused on is the way Adora steps into Catra’s space so easily, like she’s so used to, and how frustrating it is that Catra doesn’t immediately want to push her away.

No—this has to stop. Catra is not going to let herself pine over Adora anymore. Catra insists she’ll find her own way out of this place even though she knows she’s followed Adora (almost) everywhere their whole lives.

No.

She won’t do it.

Except, this time she kind of has to, as She-Ra’s rockslide has left any alternative paths blocked. Catra groans as she walks at Adora’s heels and follows her down to…another dead-end. Until Adora says it’s not. Until Adora’s pressing her hand against the door and saying “Eternia,” and….

How much has Catra missed?

Adora just shrugs as the door opens and only offers, “Ehh, long story,” as an explanation.

(Catra doesn’t tell Adora that she actually kind of wants to hear it.)

(That she misses the way Adora tells stories—recounting every detail for Catra when they were given separate tasks in the Horde or keeping her updated on things she saw when they weren’t in the same room.)

She doesn’t even have time to tell Adora, because suddenly the space is eclipsed by darkness, and then—

The door is gone. There’s only Adora and the blue glow of her sword (that’s somehow also a nightlight, Catra notices). And then a red light. A flash.

Catra opens her eyes, and she’s back in the Fright Zone.

With Adora.

What

There’s a hand on her shoulder and an arm against her neck as Adora presses Catra back into a machine.

“What kind of game are you playing?”

But Catra’s just as stunned as Adora, even more stunned when—

When Catra breaks loose from Adora’s grasp and rounds the corner, only to find that the guard is a hologram. When Catra stumbles upon Adora again. Adora who’s not acknowledging Catra’s presence at all, instead staring down at something intently with a look that’s a combination of fear and wonder and nostalgia. Catra’s attention is finally called to where Adora’s eyes go, and Catra feels her heart clench.

Catra’s staring at a 13 year old version of herself, baring her teeth and hissing at a cadet two years older than her who decided to mess with her one day.

She’s seen this before. She’s lived it.

“Just leave me alone, okay?” Catra hears herself say, straining to keep her voice steady, just like she remembers.

Mick, the older cadet, just crosses his arms and towers over her.

“What are you gonna do? Adora’s not here to rescue you.”

Catra finds herself baring her teeth just like her younger self does and whispering the words she knows she’s about to say.

“I don’t need anyone to protect me.”

Catra watches as her younger self leaps and lands a quick kick to Mick’s abdomen that leaves the older cadet grunting in pain. Catra runs.

She and Adora turn to see young Catra peel away from the scene, calling out, “Adora!”

The younger Catra rounds a corner and finds Adora’s younger self running toward her, and Catra suddenly feels herself being pulled into the memory. Like she’s living it all over again. Until all Catra can see in front of her is Adora at 13, big blue eyes wide and asking, “Catra? Are you okay?”

Catra remembers all too well how sad and insecure she felt, her ears flopping down and her tail curling in on itself.

“Mick told me that my ears are too big, so I kicked him,” Catra mumbles.

Adora’s staring back with all the empathy that she remembers. Remembers how Adora tells her that he deserved worse. Remembers all the times she and Adora had stayed up at night while Catra grappled with insecurities about her ears, her tail, her claws…

How Adora was the first one to try and make Catra see that her feline traits were more of an asset than a liability. And then Catra hears quick footfalls, sees Mick rounding the corner and chasing after them.

“He’s coming!” Catra calls.

Adora tugs on her hand, and Catra hangs on for dear life. Because she knows what comes next.

“You and your stupid girlfriend better get back here!” she hears Mick yell, just like she remembers.

Catra and Adora run away laughing, just like Catra remembers, but she still can’t shake the reminder of one of the countless times an onlooker could see how much they meant (still mean) to each other. They run away laughing until Catra opens her eyes and stops dead, realizing she’s holding the hand of a laughing, fully grown, present day Adora. Adora’s laughing like they haven’t been fighting each other for weeks. She’s laughing like she doesn’t bear this new weight of responsibility that Catra’s noticed. She’s laughing like she wants to crawl inside this memory and stay there forever the same way Catra does.

Until it stops.

They both look up, look around, and realize they’re no longer in the Fright Zone, but in another maze of a hallway. Back in the present. And realize, as they both look down at the same time, that they’re still holding hands. Catra rips her hand from Adora’s grasp with a hiss but doesn’t miss the way Adora’s eyes have gone wide from it. It isn’t until Catra leans against the wall that she realizes her heart is racing, and no, what part of I can’t want Adora like this anymore does her body not seem to be understanding?

And more importantly, what the hell just happened?

“What was that?”

Adora looks lost in her thoughts when she replies.

“It must have been some kind of simulation. It’s tapping into our memories? I have no idea why though.”

Catra’s stomach twists as she wonders what else she might have to see. There are so many memories of her and Adora together, even memories of them from the Horde where they didn’t get along. Why not choose those ones? Why not choose something that reflects what’s actually happening now? Why choose such a happy memory? Why remind them how much they care for each other? Why—

Why that one?

You and your stupid girlfriend

Catra decides she absolutely hates this dumb castle.

“How can you deal with all this magic stuff?”

The wrong thing to say apparently, as Adora frowns and leans closer to Catra, who’s entirely against the slanted wall now.

“I’m only dealing with it because I need to heal Glimmer because someone got her cursed.”

And they’re right back to where they started.

“What do you want? An apology?”

Catra leans in, pushes off the wall.

Pushes Adora.

“You’re not getting one.”

Catra walks off, and Adora follows, because of course Catra is forced to grapple with abandonment and betrayal and the tension that’s practically vibrating off the walls when she and Adora are together these days.

It’s easy for Catra to focus on how Adora doesn’t want her when she’s frowning at Catra and mad at her for whatever happened to the sparkly one. It’s easy to focus on how Adora doesn’t want her when she remembers that she left and became best friends with someone new so easily. It’s easy to take her thought process so far that Catra tells herself she knows this would have happened no matter what, even if Adora had stayed in the Horde. Because she’d never be good enough. She’s never been good enough.

She’s just—

“Can I ask you something?” Adora suddenly asks, as they’re walking into a new room with a long, narrow rock bridge over a bottomless chasm.

“Can I stop you?” Catra bites back.

“Why did you help me escape after Shadow Weaver captured us?”

Because I care about you, you idiot.

Because some stupid part of me is always going to care about you.

Because I can’t look at you now without thinking of how your thigh feels between my leg, and its incredibly distracting.

Catra doesn’t say any of that, just brushes it off with a, “Oh, not this again.”

Adora keeps pressing.

She’s the only one who can press Catra like this and not get claws in the face, and Adora knows it.

“You could’ve gotten caught. Why risk it?”

Adora says it as she’s stepping down off the bridge, and Catra hears a sickening crack. She turns back to see an unbalanced Adora about to go over the edge.

Just like at Princess Prom. Just like how Adora pulled her back. Just like how Adora always pulls her back.

Catra reaches out a hand and holds Adora by the wrist.

“Did you really think I’d just let Shadow Weaver erase your memory like that?”

Catra swears it’s the most she’s going to give her.

“I don’t know. Probably.”

Catra smirks and pulls Adora in, one hand on Adora’s waist to steady her and the other finding purchase in the fabric of her jacket. And it’s just like Princess Prom. Just in reverse. Adora’s leaning back in her arms with raised eyebrows, and there’s something about being able to surprise Adora, get her off balance, that makes Catra feel way too powerful.

“Hmm. This feels familiar.”

When Catra says it, she doesn’t expect her voice to crack, completely betraying the way she’s trying not to act like she’s affected by how close Adora is again. And then Catra sees it—

It’s just for a moment, but Adora’s blue eyes are darting down to Catra’s lips in a way that can’t be missed. Adora lets out the tiniest gasp when she looks back up into Catra’s eyes again.

Fuck.

Catra just clears her throat and stands Adora back up, letting go of her and putting some distance between them immediately.

Surely she didn’t—

Adora definitely doesn’t want to—

Now is really not the time for Catra to go down the does-she-doesn’t-she rabbit hole again. But Catra can’t help letting the end of her tail brush against Adora’s hand as she walks away. She holds her breath as she does it and doesn’t bother looking back to see Adora’s reaction. She’ll blame it on the adrenaline of Adora being close to her, of the way this is going to end at some point so she might as well just ask, how this castle will probably hurt her more than asking Adora this question will.

“It wasn’t all bad growing up in the Fright Zone, right? I mean, you still have some good memories, right?”

You still have some good memories of us, Catra means. Catra can’t even look at her when she asks, but suddenly Adora stops and answers in a way that sounds so genuine that Catra can’t help but believe her.  

“Of course I do,” Adora says, like it was a foolish question for Catra to ask.

Adora smiles sadly and adds, “But it doesn’t change the fact that the Horde is evil. I had no choice. I couldn’t go back.”

Catra just stares back and nods quietly. She doesn’t want to have this conversation with Adora again. She doesn’t want to go in circles about the righteousness of the Rebellion and how Catra can just leave and Adora just doesn’t get it

Adora, who’s suddenly looking at Catra with the softest smile. Catra wonders if Adora knows how impossible to forget she is. And then Adora bumps her hip against Catra’s.

“Hey. I miss you too.”

Catra misses her so damn much, can barely sleep most nights still because she’s gotten so used to Adora by her side.

“What? I don’t miss you.”

But it has just as little bite as all of Catra’s this is not because I like you’s, and it’s all too easy to fall back into this kind of banter with Adora as she gives her a gentle kick in the thigh and says, “Get over yourself."

Adora giggles and postures herself into a fighting stance, Catra mirroring her.

It feels so much like they’re back in the Fright Zone.

It feels so real.

It is real.

It’s just not permanent.

Adora launches herself at Catra and ruffles her knuckles into Catra’s hair.

“Not until you admit you like me.”

And once upon a time, there was probably a day where Catra would have slipped up and admitted it.

(But that doesn’t matter anymore.)

Still, she’s smiling as she pushes Adora again, and then Adora’s falling through the walls—

The room shifts, and suddenly the floor is the tell-tale red hexagon grid of the Horde training room. Catra groans as she turns to see her 15 year old self wielding a weapon headed straight for Adora. She half expects the floor to drop out underneath her as she remembers this.

It’s right after it starts for Catra.

It’s their first sparring match after she’d let Adora pin her to the ground because she was too distracted by her ridiculous eyes, and Catra just prays that Adora can’t see the way she knows her cheeks are burning red. Catra lets herself fall face-first into this memory all too easily, and suddenly she’s living this fight again, dodging Adora and pushing her back as she swipes at her. Adora smirks back at her with all the bravado she remembers and Catra remembers that it’s no wonder she’s had this stupid crush for years. They stop, and Catra remembers this part fondly—she pokes her index finger against Adora’s forehead. It freezes Adora like Catra’s found a power switch and it causes the same laugh to erupt from Catra’s lungs the way it did three years ago.

Where anyone else would roll their eyes or find it stupid or annoying, Adora’s smiling at her. Adora’s still smiling at her after all these years, and it feels so good. They keep going, until Catra’s calling out with a fake yelp of pain which winds up with Adora pinned to the ground. And then the grin from Adora that kept Catra up at night for days as Lonnie swipes down at Catra from behind. She’s strong enough to hold off the attacks and knock Lonnie out, but it’s given Adora just enough time to recover. She’s on her quickly, and Catra’s spear falls to the side, just like she remembers.

Just like Catra remembers, everyone is congratulating Adora. Catra’s making jokes about how she let Adora win. Everyone notices Adora, but only Adora seems to notice Catra.

You were fighting dirty. I was just leveling the playing-field.

versus

Are you okay? Did I hurt you?

She lets the memory keep playing out, lets the hurt hit her when she sees the rest of the squad laughing with Adora as Catra uncomfortably rubs a hand against her shoulder and turns away to the locker room. Catra walks to the mirror with tears in her eyes, and when she looks up, she sees her current self staring back as sobs wrack her body. In the background of the mirror, she sees blonde and red and pale blue as Adora comes into view.

“Catra.”

Adora’s reaching out a hand like she wants to comfort her when suddenly the mirror glows red.

Unauthorized presence detected. Security protocol activated.

Another spider. But through the tears clouding her vision, Catra’s not quick enough, and she’s wrapped up in its green web before Adora has the chance to reach her. Adora grabs her hand and pulls, but the bot is too strong. Catra screams through the webbing over her mouth and cries as she’s pulled away from Adora. She’s pulled down the hallway and steadies herself, breathes deeply, unsheathing her claws and slashing through webbing, clawing and scratching at every wire within the bot that she can reach. She pulls back, finally subduing the bot, its red lights gone out, when Adora comes flying in with her sword, slicing into the middle of the bot’s head with a yell.

“Are you okay?”

Catra had it, and she tells Adora this much. For all the things she loves about Adora, it’s infuriating when this savior complex of hers kicks in.

“For the last time, I don’t need you to save me,” Catra growls.

They don’t need each other. Catra knows this much is true. They’ve been functioning without each other for weeks, months, and Catra’s finally getting the chance to prove herself. She’s better than Shadow Weaver ever gave her credit for. Maybe Catra’s better than even Adora has given her credit for.

They don’t need each other.

(Even if they are better together.)

(Even if Catra still wants her.)

Catra swallows a lump in her throat and keeps walking away from Adora.

“I’ve been doing just fine on my own, no thanks to you.”

“Catra, wait.”

Adora pulls Catra by the wrist, and here they go again. Running in circles. In this holding pattern where Adora tells her she can come with her, that she can join the Rebellion, where Catra says no and they somehow fall back into how things were like they didn’t just leave the conversation without a resolution.

“I never wanted to leave you,” she hears Adora say.

But you did, Catra thinks.

Catra doesn’t get a chance to respond as their surroundings melt back into the green metal walls of the Fright Zone. They’re younger in this memory, maybe 9 or 10, chasing each other around and swinging on wires they shouldn’t be, all giddy laughter and Adora’s smile with her missing tooth. Catra feels bile rising in her throat when she spies the red glow of the Black Garnet, watches as the younger Catra and Adora run toward it.

Watches as Adora whimpers and gives away their hiding spot. Watches as Adora gets a stray hair tucked behind her ear while Catra gets threatened. As Shadow Weaver tells her she’s not good enough, that she’s dragging Adora down with her. That she’s jeopardizing Adora’s future.

She’s just—

Just a nuisance.

A problem to be handled.

So it’s easy for Catra to focus on how Adora doesn’t want her.

She’d never be good enough.

She’s never been good enough.

(It doesn’t matter anymore anyway.)

Chapter Text

Catra’s hand swipes at Adora’s arm around her shoulder as soon as the memory fades. It makes Adora’s stomach drop as she stops, Catra still walking away from her without looking back. Adora remembers all these memories so well, as much as she’s tried to block ones like this out. As much as she tried to convince herself growing up that Shadow Weaver didn’t really mean it. She didn’t really mean to hurt Catra as much as she did.

Seeing it from the outside makes Adora want to throw up.

“You always need to play the hero, don’t you?”

Adora frowns.

No.

She doesn’t. But it was her job to keep Catra safe. Shadow Weaver had told her as much growing up—keep her out of trouble. And less because of her obedience to Shadow Weaver and more because she cared about Catra, Adora did that.

She had to.

It was her job to keep Catra safe, and it was her mission to point out Catra’s successes any chance she got. To make Shadow Weaver see how good and valuable Catra was and had always been—how could she never see it?

“I was only trying to protect you.”

And it’s entirely the wrong thing to say apparently, as Catra points a finger toward Adora and lashes out.

“You never protected me! Not in any way that would put you on Shadow Weaver’s bad side!”

It’s disorienting as the Fright Zone suddenly fades around them again, and Catra and Adora are left in another small hallway.

“That’s not true,” Adora protests.

“Oh yeah? When you left, who do you think took the fall for you? Who was protecting me then?”

Adora wants to scream. Catra has yelled at her probably five different times today about how she doesn’t need Adora to protect her, and then when she actually needs it, actually wants it—Something burns even deeper in Adora at the implication that Catra does want to feel protected by Adora, might even like it sometimes. Which is truly an inconvenient thing to think about when they’re standing this close together once again.

“You can leave, Catra!” she screams, because she doesn’t know what else to say anymore.

They keep going in circles, in this holding pattern, dancing around each other with this same conversation. Adora wants Catra to come with her—it’s all she wants right now. Catra won’t leave. They change the subject. Repeat.

And it’s been the same dance for weeks every time they see each other, this same push-pull that goes nowhere while they both seem to hope that stuffing it deep down again will solve things. That they can put a lifelong friendship and all its added…whatever they are…into a box and expect it all to fit neatly.

Adora just feels the anger, the frustration, the tension tenfold now.

A cardboard box can’t hold a wildfire.

Catra barks out an acid laugh and comes back just as strongly.

“Oh, because I need to follow you everywhere you go? Just because everyone else in the Horde expects it, doesn’t mean I have to do it!”

“Catra—"

“Just because everyone thought we were so obsessed with each other doesn’t mean its true!”

Catra’s almost yelling at the top of her lungs now, panting as she finishes, the last of her words echoing down the hallway as a tense silence falls over both of them.

And then Adora sees the tell-tale shimmer of tears in Catra’s eyes. And the holding pattern breaks. Now they’re either going to land safely or crash. Adora wonders if the crash can somehow feel as good as the free-fall she’s previously found herself in with Catra. Catra rubs a hand over her face and groans.

“Stop looking at me like that!”

Adora pauses and backpedals. She’s not quite sure what she’s done or how exactly she’s looking at Catra or how long she’s been looking—

But now she’s worried she’s let one too many cards show.

“Like what?”

Catra’s voice breaks as she replies.

“Like you actually care! Like you actually want me around!”

I want you an extremely inconvenient amount, you idiot.

I do want you to come with me because I always pictured us fighting together, not against each other.

I do want you around.

Adora doesn’t say any of that. The lump in her throat is suddenly too big, so she narrows her eyes and gets angry instead.

“Catra, stop—"

“Well maybe I don’t want to leave! What don’t you understand about that? I’m not afraid of Shadow Weaver anymore, and I’m a better Force Captain than you would’ve ever been.”

And the thing is, Adora doesn’t even doubt that. Adora is strong and focused and smart. But Catra? Catra’s brilliant. She’s quick and witty and can get in people’s heads, sometimes without even trying. She’s strategic and cerebral in her battle plans, and she’d never tell, but Adora is terrified of the future if Shadow Weaver can somehow see how much potential Catra has and what could happen if that potential is misused.

And as much as it should hurt, as much as Adora wants to keep her anger going and growing, she can’t help but feel a sense of pride in Catra. She hopes she’s not just saying she’s a good Force Captain to get a rise out of Adora. Adora actually hopes she means it. Hopes Catra can see how good she is.

(And stars, Adora is going to crash out so hard.)

“You always said you didn’t care about things like that,” Adora replies, because she can’t say anything else that she’s thinking.

Catra goes deadly quiet, her eyes down and full of tears that threaten to spill over, the fur of her tail standing on end, her fists clenched so tightly that Adora worries she’s going to cut herself on her claws. And then Catra erupts like a volcano. Like a wildfire. Like she always does. Like she always has when she tries to push Adora away.

“Well, I was lying! Obviously!”

But Catra’s never pushed Adora so far that she still can’t reach her somehow.

“Catra, just wait!” Adora yells out as Catra wheels around and starts stomping away from her.

She runs after Catra, catching her by the shoulder and causing her to whirl back around, catching Adora by the wrist and gripping tightly.

“Why do you think I gave the sword back to you in the Fright Zone? I didn’t want you to come back, Adora.”

Oh.

Catra drops Adora’s wrist as soon as she says it, her eyes wide like maybe she’s gone too far this time.

Oh.

Like she can’t come back from that. Like Adora won’t come back after that. And Adora just thinks about the way Catra’s cheeks faintly blushed red earlier when she’d asked why she’d given her back her sword. Adora thinks about the way Catra stopped breathing when Adora couldn’t help but chance that look down at Catra’s lips. Adora thinks about the shy way Catra asked her if she has good memories from the Horde, the way she’s still saying this is not because I like you in her entirely unconvincing way. Adora thinks about pressing up against Catra at Princess Prom. About the eighteen years they’ve spent in each other’s orbits, suddenly coming undone as the war outside intensifies. Suddenly coming undone as Adora starts to realize that being Catra’s friend has never quite been enough.

And Adora thinks about how so many times, Catra can say one thing and mean another to try and keep herself safe.

So just like she always does, Adora keeps coming back. Adora takes one arm and fixes a tight grip on Catra’s hip with her hand and, with the other, presses her forearm against Catra’s neck, pushing her hard into the wall and causing Catra to let out a little “oof” in surprise. Catra’s eyes are still wide in surprise in a way that makes Adora’s heart race when she answers.

“You don’t mean that.”

Adora can feel the quick thrum of Catra’s heartbeat from the way part of her arm presses against her pulse point. She can feel the way Catra’s breathing comes out uneven. It completely betrays the hard look in Catra’s eyes and the way she holds her voice together with just enough of a challenge when she asks, “And what if I do?”

But Adora knows her. She knows this dance. And with the way this tension feels like its closing in on Adora and suffocating her, she knows this feeling is way too strong to be one-sided.

Catra has to feel it too.

“I know how you get, and I know how you say things just to hurt when you don’t really mean them.”

Adora feels Catra’s throat bob in a gulp under her arm. She sees the way Catra clenches and unclenches her jaw and shakes her head like she does when she’s trying to hold back. She sees the way Catra lets her head fall forward and feels a teardrop fall from Catra’s chin onto Adora’s hand. Adora lets up on the pressure but she doesn’t quite let go.

Catra stares up at her finally, tears freely falling down her face, and Adora still isn’t sure if this is a safe landing or a crash. Catra’s voice is quiet and scratchy when she speaks again, a quiet, resigned confession.

“You know, with you being gone, I was just really hoping I could get you out of my head instead of running into you all the time.”

Adora sighs in relief. She and Catra have trusted each other with their secrets their whole lives, and even now, it gives Adora a small comfort that they can still do that.

For now.

And she smiles at the knowledge that Catra still thinks about her, feels a little rush knowing it.

It makes Adora feel braver.

“Believe me, I can relate,” Adora answers, and this time, when her eyes flit down from Catra’s eyes to her lips, she doesn’t even try to hide it.

She feels more than hears Catra when she inhales sharply.

Adora also doesn’t miss the way Catra’s tongue darts out to wet her lips.

And this? This falling with no landing and no crashing? Just weightless floating in the air?

This she can do.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Catra’s got an eyebrow quirked up and a challenge in her voice when she asks it. And because every little reaction she’s getting out of Catra emboldens her, Adora can’t help but push a little further.

“I just think about you a lot,” Adora replies with a shrug and a smile.

Catra just stares back with those piercing eyes and nods, like she’s not entirely sure what to do with how forthcoming Adora’s being.

It’s just like when they’d spar—Catra was always so proud of herself when she could anticipate Adora’s every move. When she knew what was coming, knows what’s coming. It’s always kept Adora sharp, trying to find new ways, new moves to surprise Catra.

So Adora tries a new move.

“I just—I’ve been thinking about the last time we saw each other.”

And it’s definitely not a lie. Adora thinks about it all the time.

She lies awake at night thinking about pulling Catra in by that stupid tie and kissing her senseless. She thinks about dancing with her again, to a slower beat this time, while she pulls Catra close and leans her head against hers. She thinks about replacing the thigh between Catra’s legs with her hand. Sometimes Adora thinks if she just thinks about it enough, it’ll go away. That she’ll get bored of it.

All she’s realized is that now, here, so close to Catra again, she just wants it even more.

Catra’s left ear twitches—it’s a tell that Adora’s too familiar with. Adora has her on the ropes, has the upper hand. But Catra still pretends to be all cold and calm when she rolls her eyes and asks, “What, still thinking about Princess Prom?”

Adora flexes her fingers, tightening her grip on Catra’s hip and pressing her further into the wall while Adora draws closer. Catra’s eyes dip to look at Adora’s lips, and Adora thinks if she doesn’t get to kiss Catra, she might actually die.

She feels like she’s coming out of her skin. She feels like all those feelings she tried to take out on a punching bag with princesses’ faces on it for years are just roaring back. Has this always been there? Has she always wanted this? Adora still isn’t sure, but she…

She wants.

Adora’s let herself want more things in the last several months than she has her whole life. She wanted to leave the Horde. She wants to know more about She-Ra and how to heal people and how to be the best she can be. She wants friends like Bow and Glimmer, like Perfuma and Mermista and even Seahawk and—

Adora’s let herself want things.

But so far none of them have made her feel quite like this. She wants Catra.

And Catra seems to be leaning into this game just as much.

“I’ve gotta say, Adora, that was a dirty trick you pulled back there. The little thigh move? Certainly didn’t pick that one up from the Horde.”

Adora can’t help but test her, can’t help but lean the tiniest bit closer to Catra just to see how she’ll react. Catra’s eyes flutter closed like she’s waiting for Adora to close the distance between their lips, and she swears she almost feels as powerful as she does when she’s She-Ra. Adora doesn’t lean in any further. She doesn’t close the distance. She doesn’t kiss her. Instead, Adora leans back the tiniest bit and nudges Catra’s knees apart so she can wedge her thigh right between Catra’s legs.

Adora can’t help the grin that spreads across her face at the way Catra fails to suppress a gasp. Catra’s eyes are wide open once again then, staring right at Adora and shaking her head.

“You fight dirty, princess.”

Adora just smirks.

“I learned from the best.”

What she doesn’t expect next is for Catra to start laughing, shaking her head and fondly muttering, “You’re such an idiot.”

She can’t help but laugh too, just to break the tension for a moment, with her thigh still pressed into Catra and Adora still in a free fall.

It’s ridiculous, really. It’s ridiculous, and it’s confusing and overwhelming.

And Adora’s tired of running from whatever it is. Turns out, it’s exhausting to run from something even when you don’t realize you’re sprinting away full speed. Adora lets her forehead fall gently against Catra’s with a sigh, lets herself enjoy the closeness.

“We’re a mess,” Adora mumbles.  

Catra lets out a short chuckle but doesn’t disagree, just keeps her forehead pressed against Adora’s as Adora can just barely see from her close-up view that Catra’s eyes are closing again. It’s a waiting game then—Adora with her points of contact at Catra’s hip, her neck, and the heat between her legs. Catra with her palms pressed flat against the wall like she won’t let herself touch, won’t let herself want.

Catra’s the first one to break the silence with a defeated sigh.

“Adora, don’t start something you’re not gonna finish.”

She pulls back, letting the arm on Catra’s neck fall away and instead moving it to the left of Catra’s head to prop herself up against the wall. Catra looks…conflicted.

“Please,” Catra whispers.

Adora’s eyes widen as she realizes that Catra seems to think that Adora’s just messing with her. That she has no intention of finishing this or may not want to or might leave again or—

Oh.

Oh, no.

That is definitely not Adora’s intention. Adora doesn’t think she could turn back now if she tried. Instead, she presses her leg further into Catra. Catra’s head hits the wall with a soft thump as she softly, brokenly cries out.

“Fuck, Adora.”

The sound snaps the last bit of control Adora’s been white-knuckling.

Her hands immediately fly up to cup Catra’s jaw and then she’s surging forward and pressing her lips to Catra’s.

It’s clumsy at first, and Adora goes in with a little too much force, but she quickly readjusts as Catra’s hands come to land on the small of Adora’s back. Catra kisses her back desperately, pulling Adora in and holding so tightly until Adora feels Catra’s lips moving over hers, slanting and slotting together and then pulling back just the tiniest bit to kiss her again with the slightest angle change. It’s like Catra wants to kiss her everywhere and all at once, and Adora is hanging on for dear life.

Adora wonders in the back of her mind if Catra’s done this before as she seems to expertly nip at Adora’s bottom lip in a way that drags a moan out of her throat. She wonders who else, if anyone, Catra has kissed, if Adora measures up.

But it’s easy to put those thoughts aside for another day when Adora follows instinct and bites back at Catra, soothing the spot by sucking on her bottom lip, and Catra lets out a sound that Adora can only describe as a whine.

It’s also what causes Catra to gently run the tips of her claws up Adora’s back, and Adora has to pull back from the kiss just to let out the shaky breath she’s holding in. Catra takes the opportunity to flip their positions, and then its Adora with her back to the wall, completely surrounded by Catra.

Adora wants everything else to fall away until there’s nothing left but her and Catra, who suddenly pulls back to mumble against Adora’s lips.

“Just for the record, this—"

“Is not because you like me. Sure, Catra.”

Adora kisses the smile off of Catra’s face.

Catra changes course then, kissing the corner of Adora’s mouth, then all across her jaw back to a spot underneath Adora’s earlobe. While she misses the feel of Catra’s lips on hers, she soon finds a different pleasure in the feel of Catra’s lips on her neck, finding its impossible to keep quiet without Catra’s lips muffling Adora’s gasps.

Catra, with her lips pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses all over the muscles of Adora’s neck. Catra, whose fangs are pricking into her skin just enough to cause a blinding kind of pressure that doesn’t quite cross over into pain. Catra, who’s tugging on the collar of Adora’s white shirt to start sucking on Adora’s collarbone.

Adora’s internal monologue is just a loop of every curse word she’s ever learned. She’s known since the last time they saw each other that she’s wanted to kiss Catra. But it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough. She just feels like she’s on fire, and every spot Catra’s kissing is getting doused with gasoline.

She wants more.

She wants to—

“I mean it. This is just because we both apparently need to get this out of our systems.”

Yes. She wants to get it out of her system. Because thinking about it isn’t enough.

She has to do something about it.

Of course.

It’s just a one-time thing anyway.

(And that’s a problem for future Adora and Catra.)

Adora stops thinking, just acts on what she wants. So she pulls her hands away from their spot roaming up and down Catra’s back and pushes her out, pushes her down hard enough so her back hits the ground like they’re sparring and not making out in some creepy First Ones temple. Adora’s on her quickly and swings her legs around so she’s straddling Catra’s hips.

They’ve been in this position several times before throughout their lives. But fuck, it’s never felt this good.

And like she would in any sparring match, any simulation where she has Catra pinned underneath her, Adora can’t help but tease.

“Because you wanna fuck me so bad its embarrassing?”

Catra’s already pulling at Adora’s jacket to lower her mouth to hers once more when she groans and mutters, “Shut up, you do too.”

And as Catra’s tongue dips into Adora’s mouth, Adora thinks it really is a shame that so many others saw this so clearly before they did. Catra’s tongue is licking into Adora’s mouth in a way that’s making her head spin when the girl underneath her decides that rather than pull Adora closer by the jacket, she’d rather just take it off completely. Adora helps shuck the fabric off of her and is more than happy to be free of the extra layer.

But then Catra’s running her hands all over Adora’s back and it’s still not enough. It’s still not enough when Catra gently runs her claws underneath Adora’s shirt and onto her skin. It’s still not enough when Adora involuntarily grinds her hips down into Catra in a way that causes something to flare white-hot deep in Adora’s core.

It still doesn’t feel like enough, and soon enough, Adora’s pulling away from Catra’s lips and pulling her shirt all the way over her head and flinging it away from her.

They’ve seen each other in pretty much every state of undress imaginable in their days in the Horde. There’s only so much privacy you can get in a locker room or in showers with flimsy curtains.

But it’s never been like this.

Adora’s never allowed herself to really look, and judging by the awestruck, open-mouth look on Catra’s face, neither has she. She follows Catra’s eyes down from her neck, quickly over her chest (like she’s still not letting herself look there), and down to her abs.

She’s looking at Adora like she’s all she’s ever wanted.

(Adora kind of wants to believe that.)

Catra’s always made her a little bolder. From stealing a skiff after the excitement of her promotion to Force Captain to calling Octavia a “dumbface” and racing away. From sneaking into the kitchen to try and get Catra an extra ration bar to the all the hiding spots they would sneak off to find just for themselves.

She’s always made Adora braver. Maybe a little more reckless, too. And Adora feels drunk on the reactions she’s pulling from Catra, from the way she can’t hide how much she’s affected right now. All she wants to know is what else she can do to Catra. And its with that singular mission in mind that Adora smirks at Catra, reaches behind her, and unclasps her bra.

It catches the first time, but she doesn’t let her frustration show as she unhooks it quickly on the second time. And the reaction is all the same. Adora quickly removes the fabric, and suddenly, she’s topless on top of Catra.

Catra finally lets herself look.

Adora notices, under the heat of Catra’s gaze, that she’s not as uncomfortable as she’d thought she’d be in the split second before she took it off. She’s not rushing to cover up or feeling nervous like she would running around the showers in the Horde with her towel clutched tightly to her. Despite everything going on between them, everything going on around them outside—

Adora feels safe.

Catra’s not even trying to hide that she’s staring now, and it only drives Adora forward.

“See something you like, Force Captain?”

Adora immediately hears how Catra’s breath hitches with the way she teasingly calls Catra by her title and files that away in her memory.

“You’re such an idiot,” Catra replies, but her voice comes out hoarse and lower than it was just a minute before.

Catra runs a teasing hand up Adora’s abs and just to the underside of her breast, making her shiver like her body is begging for Catra to leave no part of her untouched.

“A really hot idiot. But still an idiot.”

Catra’s hand reaches a little higher this time, her thumb grazing over Adora’s nipple and gently squeezing.

Adora can’t hold back a moan and grabs at Catra’s other hand, guiding it so she has both palms cupping her chest and pads of fingers brushing gently over nipples, and Adora is acutely aware that she’s not sure anything in her life has felt as good as the last twenty minutes have.

Catra keeps running her hands all over Adora, claws gently scraping over her abs and then back up her front, pulling moans from Adora the whole way. But it has Adora wanting to do the same to Catra, to see Catra wriggling underneath her and unable to keep quiet with the way Adora wants to be touching her. She lowers her lips to Catra’s again and starts tugging on her top.

“How the hell do I get this off?”

Catra laughs against Adora’s mouth, and Adora whines when the warmth of Catra’s hands is suddenly gone to reach for a zipper at the base of her neck.

“Just let me get it, dork.”

“Shut up.”

Catra raises an eyebrow and puts her hands up in surrender, letting Adora reach back to undo the zipper of Catra’s bodysuit and stripping it down her torso and down her legs until she’s left in her underwear in front of Adora.

And, oh—

Adora’s breathless.

She wonders if Catra knows how beautiful she is, and—

“Hey.”

Catra’s face twists into a grimace.

“Yes?”

“Can I take this off?”

Adora taps a finger against the mask that’s still on Catra’s forehead. She can barely remember the last time she’s seen her without it on. Adora feels the way Catra tenses underneath her.

“Uh, no. Just—just leave it. It…it helps keep my hair out of my face.”

It’s not the full story. Adora can feel that much. But she lets it slide for now.

“Oh, okay. Makes sense.”

Catra doesn’t let the awkward silence linger and pulls Adora’s mouth to hers once again until Adora decides its her turn to kiss down Catra’s neck. She hits one spot in particular near the juncture of her neck and shoulder that she swears makes Catra purr, and Adora gently bites down on the muscle there and sucks until a bruise is blooming underneath. Catra just groans and mutters that Adora’s lucky her outfit will cover that. Adora shuts her up with another searing kiss on the lips, and then Catra’s tugging on the band of her sports bra and flinging it somewhere across the hallway—

Oh.

Oh, wow.

“What? See something you like, Princess?”

Adora realizes then that she’s been very openly staring—gawking, probably—at Catra, flushed and topless underneath her and—

Adora’s gotten to see a lot more of Etheria lately. She’s been to different kingdoms, and the castle at Bright Moon is beautiful. Even this temple is beautiful, and the flowers in Plumeria and the ice-capped mountains in the Kingdom of Snows, the crashing waves in Salineas—

None of them can possibly compete with Catra right now.

(Even if she hates the way her body betrays her when she feels a spark ignite deep inside when Catra calls her princess.)

But Adora needs to get the upper hand again. So she mirrors Catra’s motions from earlier and grabs at her breasts, running her hands all over Catra’s chest and paying close attention to all the places that make her gasp.

“That’s not fair.”

“Well, am I just supposed to stare at you until something happens?”

Catra’s moans reverberate off the temple walls when Adora tweaks a nipple between her thumb and index finger.

“You’re the worst,” Catra says, but her body talks louder as she arches up into Adora’s touch.  

Adora smirks again, lowering her mouth to Catra’s collarbone and kissing between the valley of her breasts and then—

Without warning, Catra’s grabbing Adora by the wrists, wrapping her legs around her waist, and flipping them. Adora hisses when her back hits the cold temple floor as she stares up at Catra who hovers over her.

“Adora—"

Catra’s said her names a lot of different ways in the lifetime they’ve known each other. But she’s never quite heard it so…reverent. So careful. Like there’s something behind it that Adora can’t quite recognize. Catra’s staring down at her like there’s no end of the world coming, like there’s nothing else outside of the tension between them. Adora wants this so badly.

She wants Catra so badly.

“You sure about this?” Catra finally whispers.

She wants to tell Catra that she wants her hands and her mouth all over her. She wants to tell Catra that she’s been thinking about kissing her for the past two weeks and has probably punched it down somewhere far away for years before then. She wants to tell Catra that she’s impossibly turned on right now, and if she doesn’t touch her, she might actually explode. Adora hopes that she somehow communicates all of that when all that comes out of her mouth is a broken:

“Please.”

Adora knows she’s completely lost the upper hand, and she doesn’t even care. Catra presses one last, long kiss to her lips before she trails kisses down her neck, down her chest. Catra’s peppering marks all over her breasts that Adora knows will be there for days, and she’s flicking a nipple with her tongue and fuck, she wants to kill every last general of the Horde for keeping her from this. For keeping them from something like this.

Adora doesn’t even try to muffle her gasps and moans anymore as Catra kisses down her stomach until she reaches the band of Adora’s underwear and starts pulling down, teeth grazing over her hipbone and then sucking another mark there. Adora’s barely able to keep her eyes open when Catra finally looks up. Adora just nods frantically, mutters breathless yeah yeah’s and take it off until she’s completely bare before Catra. Adora isn’t sure how much further she can fall when she sees Catra’s hooded eyes staring at the patch of curly hair between her legs, at the way she can probably see just how much Adora wants this. Catra places a tentative hand on Adora’s inner thigh and strokes back and forth, getting ever closer to where she wants her.

“Is this okay?” Catra asks tentatively, and this is the Catra she’s missed so dearly. The one who, despite how harsh and sarcastic she is, has moments of tenderness around Adora that make her want to cry.

“Yes,” Adora gasps out and then whines when Catra slips two fingers through Adora’s folds, and she can definitely feel how turned on Adora is.

“Fuck,” she hears Catra mutter under her breath.

Adora bucks her hips into Catra’s hand as she carefully teases around her clit, and—

Adora groans when Catra pulls her hand away and starts kissing all around where her hand just was—her thighs, a spot below her bellybutton, her hips, and good god, she just wants Catra’s mouth—

Catra freezes, and Adora, who’s squeezed her eyes shut tightly in frustration, opens them wide as she realizes she’s said that last part out loud. Catra’s looking back at her with wide eyes. And then an all-too-pleased smirk.

“Do you want my mouth, Adora?”

“Yes.”

Catra curls her arms around the backs of Adora’s thighs and spreads them further, carefully placing a few kisses along her thighs and then closer still, just above her clit and fuck

Catra doesn’t keep her waiting any longer, burying her face between Adora’s legs. She finds quickly that Catra is as quick like this as she is in battle—she’s paying close attention to Adora’s every reaction, every twitch, every cry. She’s memorizing her, poring over her like she needs to make Adora call her name like she did just now when she did that with her tongue—

It feels so good. So good. Adora’s a chorus of oh fuck and Catra and please don’t stop. She feels completely wrecked, and she imagines she probably looks about the same. Catra’s working her up to something so intense, and Adora’s gotten herself off plenty of times alone in her suite in Bright Moon. But this?

This feels.

Like a lot.

She hasn’t quite been sure what to do with her hands, is just pressing them against the floor, palms flat and digging into the ground like she’s bracing for something. Like she’s chasing something, but it feels so far out of reach still, and she’s so tense and her eyes are closed painfully tight trying to focus—

Adora feels a rush of cold air and opens her eyes to see Catra’s pulled away and is pressing her cheek into Adora’s thigh, looking up at her with a puzzled look.

Adora wants to scream.

She groans loudly, her head hitting the ground as everything she was chasing after starts to pull too far away from her.

“Why would you stop?” Adora whines.

Catra cocks her head to the side and raises an eyebrow, like she’s studying her.

“You’re holding back,” Catra says simply.

“What? Catra—"

Adora closes her eyes again and bucks her hips down toward Catra’s face, who just chuckles in response while Adora wonders if her thighs are strong enough to crush Catra’s head between her legs because she is going to kill her if she doesn’t put her mouth back where it belongs—

“I should have known you’d be so needy,” Catra comments, her thumbs stroking the skin of Adora’s thighs as she holds them.

The sentence makes Adora’s eyes fly open again as she looks down to see—stars, what a sight—a smug Catra between her legs, a shine on her lips and chin that are unmistakably Adora’s doing.

“You’ve thought about us doing this before?”

Catra’s eyes widen and the smugness fades quickly.

“What? No—I—"

Catra clears her throats and shifts her position, removing her arms from their place wrapped around Adora’s thighs. She props her chin on her hand as she lays on her stomach in front of Adora, feet nervously dangling behind her like they’re having a sleepover back in their Horde barracks and Adora wasn’t just teetering on the edge of an orgasm a minute ago.

“I’m just saying you need to let go.”

“Well now you just sound like this fucking temple,” Adora snaps, rolling her eyes.

She arches her back and tries to scoot herself closer to Catra’s face again.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse this much. Damn, the Rebellion really changed you.”

“I think it has more to do with you stopping doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing.”

Adora props herself up on her elbows and shoots Catra a pointed look, sighing.

Catra’s looking at her like she wants her to beg, and Adora has absolutely lost the upper hand here, but she refuses to do that. No matter how good it feels. She’s not about to give Catra the satisfaction.

She should have known it’d be just like when they fight. And she hates that Catra knows her so well. She is tense. She is a little nervous. She feels—unmoored. Off-balance. On edge.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you need something?” Catra finally asks.

Adora could just finish the job herself. Right in front of Catra. She still has that play left.

(But she still just wants…)

“Catra—"

“Hey Adora.”

And that gets Adora every single time. She notes the stutter in her heartbeat and the way she softens immediately, and damn, they are going to ruin each other. It softens Catra too, who now takes an index finger and starts tracing patterns all over Adora’s stomach in a way that stokes the fire in her all over again.

“Look, you just seem really tense. Is there anything that would help?”

“Wow, so chivalrous,” Adora bites back.

Catra rolls her eyes and presses a quick kiss to Adora’s thigh.

“I’m serious. I just want it to…you know, feel good.”

Catra shrugs as she says it, and Adora would find it endearing and sweet if she wasn’t so painfully turned on right now.

“I do feel good! That’s why I’m mad you stopped!”

“Well, I just wanted to know if there’s anything I can do better!”

“When have you ever accepted feedback about anything in your life?”

Catra groans and reaches for the same spot she just kissed Adora, this time biting down hard on the muscle of her leg. Adora cries out again, shifting her weight closer and closer to Catra’s face when she pulls away again.

“Look, do you want my mouth to keep arguing with you, or do you want it on your clit, Adora?”

Adora practically squeaks at that, and yes, she desperately wants Catra’s mouth back where it should be.

It’s just…

“I—"

She just doesn’t quite know what to do with her hands.

“I just feel like I need something to hold on to.”

Catra looks down at Adora’s hands that are still pressed almost painfully tightly to the temple floor. She smiles and reaches for them, threading their fingers together and squeezing gently.

“You can…grab onto my hair if you need to.”

Adora’s already a little too into the way Catra’s hair felt in her hands when they were kissing. And this…

They’re definitely going to ruin each other.

“Oh. Is that—is that okay?”

“Yeah. Or here, this hand is free.”

Catra replaces her arms around the backs of Adora’s thighs and one hand on Adora’s hips, wiggling the fingers of her other, free hand. Adora smirks when she combs her hands through Catra’s hair and receives a moan that Catra can’t quite control in response.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

She waits patiently then for the feel of Catra’s mouth against her again, but Catra’s just staring up at her still in that reverent way she has been this whole time. Like she’s wanted this just as badly.

It’s a little overwhelming.

“Catra?”

“Hmm?”

“If you’re not gonna fuck me, I’m gonna do it myself.”

Catra grins back and then winks up at Adora as she lowers her head once again.

“As you wish, princess.”

Adora tries her best to keep her eyes open—she really does. She wants to look at Catra and watch her as she teases Adora, as she licks through her folds, as she finally sucks gently on Adora’s clit. But she’s so far gone and so strung out on Catra and the way she feels against her and the way her hands are gripping her hips and the way her hair feels in her hands—the way she can feel Catra moan when Adora can’t help but tug on her hair—that she throws her head and screws her eyes closed and hangs on.

Adora comes hard with her fingers pulling Catra’s hair and her hips bucking into Catra’s face, a tightly wound coil of something finally breaking free as she comes back down. She finally lets her eyes flutter open as Catra pulls away, pressing her cheek against Adora’s thigh again and staring up at her with those yellow and blue eyes that are already setting her on fire all over again.

Catra grins up at her.

They’re in the very center of a war. There are battle plans to be made and alliances to be formed. They’re probably going to hurt each other.

But right now, Catra’s smiling up at her in a way that feels so familiar and brand new at the same time, and Adora feels a little bit lighter.

The war outside keeps raging on.

(But that doesn’t matter.)

Right now, Adora has this. She has Catra.

And in the moment, it’s enough.

Chapter Text

Adora looks—well, thoroughly fucked.

Her chest is still rising and falling quickly, and her stupid hair poof is all kinds of mussed up, her ponytail barely holding together under the pressure of how she was pressing herself into the temple floor. Her light blue eyes are dark, her lips swollen from the way Catra sucked and nipped at them, and there’s more marks on her body from Catra’s teeth than Adora will be pleased with.

Catra can’t help the pride that curls in her chest knowing that she’s the reason Adora’s got an unfocused stare pointed at the ceiling and a dopey smile on her face. She looks completely blissed out, and Catra suddenly thinks she could have gone her whole life without knowing how Adora looks post-orgasm.

Because it’s going to live in Catra’s head for the rest of her life.

She could be honest. She could tell Adora that she’s known she’s loved her since they were fifteen, and probably long long before then too. She could tell Adora that she sometimes wishes that they could just leave it all behind—the Rebellion and the Horde—and find a new place to go. She could tell Adora that she wants to take her back to Bright Moon and fuck her on every surface of her bedroom.

But she won’t. She’ll never tell. This is a one-time thing. It can only be a one-time thing.

There’s too much at stake.

Catra has a war to help plan. But, still, Catra lingers in the space between Adora’s legs, her cheek pressed against the inside of Adora’s thigh.

Just for a little longer. Just to savor what she’s never going to have again. Catra’s not even sure how long they lay there—it could be seconds, minutes, hours—until Adora moans as she tenses into a full body stretch, her other thigh knocking against Catra’s opposite cheek, effectively trapping her between Adora’s legs.

Adora laughs—no, giggles—as she looks down at Catra and offers a shy, “Hi.”

A tightness floods Catra’s chest, and she’s so overwhelmed by how much Adora makes her feel. She feels warm from the way Adora’s legs are wrapped around her face still. She feels vulnerable from the way she’s lying completely bare before her. She feels terrified by how much it’s consuming her already.

This can’t happen again.

Once was probably too many times. If Catra keeps going now, she’s just going to end up with a more permanent fracture in the same place Adora broke her heart the first time. And she might shatter the whole thing along with it. So Catra presses one more kiss to Adora’s thigh and pulls away, turning away and reaching for the red bodysuit that Adora had tossed just out of reach down the hallway earlier.

“Where are you going?” Adora calls out, petulantly, still boneless on the floor. The unspoken question hangs in the air between them.

What about your turn?

Catra doesn’t look back.

She can’t.

Shadow Weaver taught them both long ago that these attachments would be their downfall eventually. That when something makes you feel vulnerable, you imagine a wall. Put the wall between you and the attachment. Break it. Break the thing that makes you feel. Break the thing that claims to care for you.

Lash out if you have to.

“We have to keep moving,” Catra answers simply.

And it’s not a lie. There are still bots all over the place that could come after them, still memories for them to suffer through maybe. But suddenly Catra’s not sure the memories will hurt anymore than what she’s feeling already. She licks her lips and realizes they taste like Adora—and Catra focuses in even harder on grabbing the suit and ignoring how she can hear Adora sitting up and shuffling around on the ground behind her.

Just to get it out of their systems.

That’s all this is. All it was.

And Catra doesn’t need her turn. It’ll make things more complicated than they already have gotten, and they need to keep moving. The last thing she needs is to be interrupted by a killer spider bot with Adora’s fingers buried inside her. So Catra wordlessly starts dressing again.

“Catra—"

“This doesn’t change anything. This was a one-time thing, okay? We’re still on opposite sides of the war.”

And Catra tries to make herself believe it the same way she’s willing Adora to believe it when she says it. Catra dresses quickly, with the same practiced ease she does every morning in the Fright Zone, and starts walking away without looking back.

“Catra, wait—"

She turns. Adora’s still sitting on the ground, holding her red jacket over her torso to cover herself up and looking up at Catra with pleading eyes. Maybe Catra’s breaking her own heart by doing this.

But Catra runs.

A few minutes later, she can hear the faint buzz of the bots, the tell-tale slide of Adora’s sword out of its sheath as Catra keeps racing in the opposite direction. She’s not running away from anything. She’s not.

She runs faster, harder, and her lungs are burning by the time the temple around her starts morphing back into the dull green metal of the Fright Zone. Holograms pop up all around her like obstacles—she sees Lonnie taunting her. She hears Shadow Weaver bitterly call her an insolent child. She hears Adora’s voice, and she screams.

I’m sorry, Catra.

Her claws slice through the holograms like she thinks she can wipe the memories away by slashing them to bits.

“Let me out of here!” she cries, finally collapsing on the ground, chest heaving, tight with a lack of oxygen and something deeper, something that feels like it’ll never stop hurting. Her eyes water, and she—she hears crying.

Catra peers up to see the barracks she grew up in modeled before her, sees a shaking blob covered up by a blanket seated on the first bottom bunk on the left. Catra already knows what this is, and the tightness becomes a deep, clenching hold that takes the air completely out of Catra’s lungs as she sees a small, young Adora toddle over to the crying mess of fur and tears on the bed. Young Catra hisses at Adora as she pulls the blanket away from her face, and Catra just watches stoically.

You look out for me, and I look out for you.

Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other.

It hurts. It hurts in a way that Catra can’t describe, but she learned to hide her tears from an early age. Saved them for the barracks. Saved them for when Adora was around, when she felt safe. It’s not safe anymore. It can’t be.

“You promise?” Catra hears herself say in unison with her younger self, feels her heart stop when she hears Adora reply, “I promise.”

She watches as the two walk away, hand in hand. When things were simpler.

They’re not simple anymore.

She’s more than a nuisance. She’s more than who she is with Adora. Catra can do this on her own.

She can.  

The Fright Zone fades around her, and Catra follows the sounds of fists clanging on metal bots and Adora’s grunts and screams. Her stomach rolls as she sees the sword tossed carelessly to the side. Catra picks it up and follows the sound of Adora’s hopeful “Catra?” over the side of the cliff. Adora’s broken her heart once already. Catra can’t let her do it again. She’ll have to break Adora’s instead.

(And her own. But at least she has control over who’s doing it.)

“Oh, you know, it all makes sense now. You’ve always been the one holding me back.”

Bile rises in Catra’s throat as she says it, as she keeps going. She has to believe it, wills herself to believe it.

“You wanted me to think I needed you. You wanted me to feel weak.”

Adora’s never wanted you to feel weak, her heart tells her. She’s only here to get in your head. She only kissed you to throw you off. To take advantage of you, says her head, in a voice that sounds too much like Shadow Weaver’s.

She’s your weakness.

“Every hero needs a sidekick, right?” she asks, claws brushing over the edge of the sword while Adora hangs from the edge. She can’t want Adora. And if she can’t want Adora, then maybe she can just want her gone.

So she takes the end of the sword and cuts through the webbing that Adora grips onto while she begs Catra not to do it. This is who she is. This is who Shadow Weaver raised her to be. Destroy the enemy. Destroy the Rebellion.

No matter who they are.

“…really, you leaving was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

It’s a lie.

“I am so much stronger than anyone ever thought.”

That one, there’s some truth to.

“Bye, Adora. I really am going to miss you.”

And that’s the only real thing Catra says her entire speech. Catra tries to walk away as casually as possible, and as soon as she’s sure she’s out of Adora’s sight and earshot, she runs. She runs out of the temple, screaming the whole way, slashing her claws through vines and tree bark and anything solid that she can get her hands on.

You don’t need her you don’t need her you don’t need her

Catra returns to the Fright Zone late that night, the ghosts of the past following her the whole way like the phantom feeling of Adora’s lips on hers.

She falls asleep dreaming of a world where she and Adora are still on the same side.

But it doesn’t matter now anyway.

 

 

///

 

 

When Adora wakes up in the Crystal Castle to Bow and Glimmer at her side, she doesn’t have time to break down. Doesn’t have time to cry. She feels some relief seeing her friends there, but she barely even has time to think as Bow cries out about spiders and sees dozens of red eyes fixed on them. She transforms with one thought on her mind—just getting out of the castle. Her sword swipes through the bots and through the trees as they make their way outside, only for Adora to find red lightning streaking across the sky and a snow storm ravaging the Whispering Woods. How long has she been out?

She can’t even wonder that much as Swift Wind takes flight, and they rise above the trees. The entire Etherian sky looks like its on fire—dark clouds swirling all around like smoke and red bolts threatening their every move as Swift Wind guides them through the skies. Adora looks back to see it’s coming from the Fright Zone. Ice covers the Whispering Woods below them, and the ground quakes. She turns back to see a blinding beam of pink light coming from Bright Moon’s direction. The distress beacon, Glimmer tells them. Swift Wind flies faster still, sending them straight for Bright Moon Castle. Adora can barely keep up with anything that’s happening as they arrive, her mind completely in a fog thicker than the clouds that cover the sky.

“Mom, what’s going on?” Glimmer asks as she embraces Angella in a hug as they land near the runestone.

“The elements are out of harmony. The Moonstone is using all its power to counteract the growing cloud of darkness. But its not enough.”

“The cloud is coming from the Fright Zone,” Adora says, turning away.

The whole world is falling apart.

And so is Adora’s.

She paces around the War Room as everyone mills about discussing strategy.

Your mission is to fix the planet.

Your purpose is to protect all of Etheria.

You are distracted by your attachments.

Your friends are endangered by your presence.

It all comes rushing back then. Adora has to do this. She has to protect the planet. That’s what she’s for. That’s her purpose. She doesn’t get a say in attachments or…or…Or Catra. Or whatever is happening there.

“She-Ra can’t do this alone,” Bow pleads with her.

“Then what good is she!” Adora shouts back.

And Adora walks away, to stand outside and stare into the wreckage.

She was chosen.

She finally thought she had a choice. This was her purpose all along. This was her destiny. She never had a choice. And maybe it wouldn’t feel so…overwhelming if this all wasn’t happening so fast and Glimmer wasn’t powerless and the runestones weren’t out of balance and where is Catra? She finally lets herself release the sob she’s been holding in since leaving the Crystal Castle because the only thing breaking through the fog in her mind is the feel of Catra’s lips on hers, on her neck, on her shoulders…everywhere. The way Catra looked at her that told Adora she wanted her just as badly.

The way she just walked away from it all before it even began. The way that the scene before her, Etheria on the edge of ruin, is just another reminder that Catra and Adora never had a chance to begin with. It was just a one-time thing anyway. Just to get it out of their systems.

Like with anything, with a poison or an alcohol or medicine, it’ll take time to leave her system. She’ll feel the effects, and with time, it’ll dissipate.

She’ll get over it. And Catra made her choice.

And Adora?

Well, she never had one.

“Adora? Are you okay?”

Adora turns to see Glimmer and Bow standing in the doorway with concerned looks on their faces.

“Catra will be leading the Horde when they attack.”

She states it simply, as a fact. Like that’s all it is, and it’s not a statement that’s breaking her heart.

“I have to face her. I can’t let her hurt anyone else.”

She turns back to face her friends, seeing them sharing a look before Glimmer asks, “What happened to you in that First Ones temple?”

And Adora has to look away again because all she can think of is the soft smile on Catra’s face as Adora started running her hands through Catra’s hair, as Catra had leaned in and—

This is a mess. This is such a mess, and the sky looks just like Adora feels.

“I saw Catra in there.”

She thinks of Catra’s whiny please, the way she’d groaned out Fuck, Adora before she finally snapped and kissed her.

“You know, with you being gone, I was just really hoping I could get you out of my head instead of running into you all the time.”

And wouldn’t that make things so much easier? Out of sight, out of mind?

“I thought I could get through to her, but all I did was push her farther to the side of evil.”

It’s all your fault, Adora, she tells herself.

Your attachments distract you.

It’s what Light Hope tells her, but it’s also what Shadow Weaver had told them all growing up. And maybe, Adora thinks brokenly, there’s some truth to it.

Glimmer pulls her in for a hug.

“You’ve got this. And we’ve got your back,” she replies as Bow joins in their hug as well.

It’s a lovely thought. And maybe, maybe somehow, it can even be true. But Adora can’t shake the heavy feeling of the weight of Etheria on her shoulders.

This is your fault.

They barely have time in the armory before the castle walls start shaking, and Adora follows Glimmer and Bow out to see a calvary of Horde soldiers rolling up in tanks. Green blasts start firing toward the runestone, toward the castle, as Adora gives Bow and Glimmer the command to defend the castle while she runs straight toward the line of fire.

This is your fault. You have to fix this.

A second round of Horde soldiers come flying in on armored skiffs, blowing past Adora as they fly right toward the castle. Their faces are hidden behind their armor, but Adora can’t help but want to search for Catra in every one of them. That thought is broken when Adora sees a bot take a hit and looks up in the sky to see Bow and Glimmer riding in on Swift Wind to come to her aid. A warmth fills her chest as her friends fight alongside her, but its quickly overtaken by another thought.

If they get hurt, it’s all your fault.

Adora launches her sword at a bot, rendering it useless, before pulling it back again and transforming it to a shield as a beam of green light aims right for her chest. The beam bounces off the shield but pushes Adora back as she tries and fails to hold her ground in the sloppy muck of the shallow lake she finds herself in. The beam hits her again and sends her shield flying. She’s disoriented, searching for the shield in the water beneath her, and she can barely see her hands through the sediment that the blasts have swirled up in the water.

The tank before her opens from the top, and out walks…

Catra.

Adora hates that her heart starts beating faster as Catra greets her with a smug “Hey, Adora.”

She hates that her brain automatically pulls the memory of Catra between her legs, teasing her, stroking her hips gently with her cheek pressed against her thigh and giving her the same greeting. But years of training, years of stuffing her feelings and punching them out later serve her well for moments like this, she finds. She can keep Catra at a distance right now and focus in on the matter at hand. She has to.

Otherwise, this is all your fault.

Catra’s always been the brains, the master manipulator who gets in her opponents’ heads and uses psychological warfare to her advantage. Adora’s spent plenty of time with her to know.

And Adora’s spent plenty of time with her to learn.

I learned from the best.

Which is why Adora simply grits her teeth and imagines herself stuffing all her feelings into a box, like Shadow Weaver had once taught her, and raises an eyebrow.

“Force Captain,” she says in greeting, and if Adora’s voice drops lower than it should when she says it, then she and Catra are the only ones who know.

The smirk falls away from Catra’s face immediately.

“Surprised to see me?” Adora adds.

“Not really. I figured it wouldn’t be that easy to get rid of you,” Catra responds with a casual shrug.

Adora shoves her feelings down. Into a box. A neatly packaged box. There’s definitely no other reasons that she launches herself at Catra’s tank and brings her fists down hard on the hood of it, sending Catra flying up but gracefully landing on a cliff above. It definitely has nothing to do with the fact that Adora can’t look at Catra without thinking of the way she bites down on her lip to try and suppress a moan when Adora kisses her neck. It definitely has nothing to do with the fact that Adora can pinpoint exactly where the marks Adora left are hiding underneath the collar of her clothing.

“You know, I’m actually glad you did make it out of there alive.”

Catra brandishes her claws, and Adora thinks of how they felt gently scraping along her back.

Stop it.

“Because now, I can take you out myself.”

Catra launches herself off the cliff, sending her claws right for Adora’s face. Adora blocks her with ease, her claws hitting the armor on her forearms with a clanging sound that sends Catra flying backward. The tension flares in Adora’s stomach, and it takes all her effort to channel it into anger, sending her fists flying toward Catra, just desperate to make some kind of contact.

Adora tries to keep shoving the feeling down. She really does.

Back in the box.

Punch it away.

But…

The box has never been fireproof.

Her fist collides with the cliff as Catra slinks away from her reach, dodging every one of Adora’s blows, and she’s just so angry. Angry that they’re here having to do this. Angry that Catra left her in the Crystal Castle hanging off the edge of a cliff. Angry that Catra’s still playing this stupid game of acting like she wants Adora gone like she didn’t have her hands all over her just yesterday.

“Too bad I know you don’t mean that,” Adora grits out.

Catra backs up a few feet, still in a fighting stance, and snorts.

“Oh Adora, you think I’m going to go soft on you just because I’m sleeping with the enemy?”

Adora’s a fireball of anger and hurt and lust as she launches herself at Catra again, only for her to bounce away once more. Catra flips in the air and lands herself on a cliff overlooking Adora once again, and Adora sees red as she envisions the last time they were in this position. Catra on a cliff with Adora’s sword. Adora holding on. Adora letting go. Catra leaving her.

“Thought you said it was a one-time thing,” Adora finally replies dryly.

There’s an edge to the banter that hasn’t been there before. An edge that cuts a little deeper than what Adora’s comfortable with.

Adora whips a stone at Catra’s face, and it bounces off her mask. Catra makes a move to scoot backward but finds that its her on the edge now, as Adora jumps up. And the playing field evens once again. Adora pauses, breathing heavily from the exertion.

(Not from the fact that she’s this close to having her hands on Catra in any capacity.)

Catra quirks an eyebrow up and levels Adora with a heated stare.

“Well, this feels an awful lot like foreplay, don’t you think?”

Catra jumps higher on the cliff, and Adora goes chasing after her, watching the sudden look of fear cross Catra’s face as Adora blows the ground she stands on to dust with her fists. Both of them go hurtling toward the ground again.

Falling.

When they hit the ground, Adora can’t help but stride right up to Catra.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Catra growls, rising from the ground. They circle each other. In their same old holding pattern.

Adora’s body is on fire, and she keeps prodding, keeps poking, knowing the same flames are burning in Catra too.

They keep circling.

“I bet you think about it about night, don’t you?”

They keep circling, but Catra stumbles over a divot in the ground.

Adora strikes. She places a hand on each of Catra’s shoulders and shoves her into the cliffside, pinning her there. Adora leans in and trails her fingers down Catra’s arms. Adora’s burning brighter than the Bright Moon sky when Catra’s eyes fall to her lips. Adora takes the opportunity to grab Catra by the wrists and pin both her hands above her head, trapping Catra between the cliff and Adora’s body.

“I bet you think about my lips,” Adora whispers, and she is absolutely coming undone inside knowing she can make Catra react like this.

Adora leans in further and even though Catra only growls in response, she doesn’t miss the way she rolls her hips toward Adora.

“I bet you wish you would have let me touch you.”

Catra groans, tensing her body and fighting against Adora’s hold on her wrists. Adora just presses in further until her body completely covers Catra’s. Adora’s blood is pounding in her ears, and she can faintly hear the sounds of tanks shooting beams and the occasional strike against something solid. As hard as she’s tried to fight it, Adora’s whole brain is just screaming Catra Catra Catra.

“You are fighting so dirty,” Catra grits out in a dangerously low voice.

“I learned from the best. Remember?”

Catra’s eyes fall to Adora’s lips once more, and then she’s smirking up at her. Before Adora has any time to react, Catra’s surging forward, pressing her lips to Adora’s and biting down on her bottom lip hard. It’s just enough for Adora’s grip on Catra’s wrists to loosen, and suddenly Catra’s pulling back and kicking out into Adora’s stomach. Catra springs free and kicks a rock up at Adora, and then she’s flying through the air. Adora’s still trying to recover from Catra’s lips on hers when Catra lands on her back, and Adora cries out in pain as she feels claws biting into her shoulder blades, deep enough to scar.

“Keep telling me how good I am, and I might develop a praise kink, princess,” Catra whispers in her ear from behind her.

Adora’s blinded by the pain and the tension and the way she wants to shut Catra up with her fists or her mouth, so she reaches back to hold Catra tight against her back and slams them backward into the cliff wall. The sound Catra makes when her back hits rock would be considered sinful in any other setting.

“Shame we aren’t in this position under better circumstances,” Catra says breathlessly.

Adora reaches back to grab Catra again, but she’s too quick.

“This isn’t over,” Adora calls out, and when she says it, she’s not quite sure which situation she’s referring to.

“Of course it’s not over,” Catra calls out in reply.

Maybe neither of them know.

And then Catra’s feet are kicking into Adora’s back, sending her toward the ground. Catra’s somewhere above her, spewing so many hurtful words that hit so deep, and Adora really can’t tell anymore if she means it or not. If maybe, this really is over.

“…the looks on your friends’ faces when they find out that you failed.”

This is all your fault.

You’re supposed to protect them.

You’re supposed to protect the planet.

This is your fault. Look what you’ve turned Catra into.

Adora can’t think straight. Adora can’t think much at all, and she clings to the boulder beneath her and flings it into the one Catra stands on, levitating in the air. It shatters.

They shatter.

Catra’s left hanging off a cliff in the exact opposite position they were a day before. Except Adora doesn’t leave her there. She reaches down and pulls Catra up by the front of her shirt, trying so hard to ignore the way Catra’s breath hitches at the easy display of strength. And Adora shoves her into the cliffside again.

The way Catra asks did you really think this was about you? haunts her as she races toward the runestone, toward the castle, as Bright Moon hangs on by a thread.

It’s all a blur after that—Angella at the runestone trying to hold on. Glimmer taken out by Scorpia as she heads for her mother. Adora bound by ropes as Horde soldiers surround her.

This is all your fault.

Adora’s vision grows hazy when she hears footsteps plodding toward her through the water, causing little waves to ripple up against her knees. Everything is blurry, but she can just make out Catra’s form in front of her, brushing the hair away from her face and stroking her cheek in a way that’s much too tender to be in line with the harsh way she says,

Now, it’s over.”

It’s Bow’s face she sees beside her as he hands her shield back to her, pleading her to fix this.

It’s Glimmer and Angella she sees when she closes her eyes and hears them screaming, fighting off the attacks of the Horde.

It’s Catra she sees when she opens her eyes again, and Adora wants to cry as she wonders how they reached the end so quickly.

“I’m so sorry,” she hears herself say, and prepares for the worst.

Everything’s hazy again after that—Mermista and Seahawk, Perfuma, even Frosta showing up. And everything changes.

The sky stops burning red.

The runestone burns a bright blue.

The Whispering Woods starts to thaw in the distance.

Everyone’s celebrating around her, but then Catra catches her eye as she goes riding away on a skiff, retreating. There’s no malice in her eyes as she gingerly holds herself, one hand on her shoulder and rubbing like Catra always used to when she was uncomfortable.

She just looks sad.

Adora puts it all in a box again.

She lets herself be happy.

She wants to be happy.

And she doesn’t need Catra for that.

She spends the next month trying to work it out of her head, with simulation after simulation in the Crystal Castle. Every time, it’s the same story. Her friends go out to the woods to take on the bots, and Adora chases a Catra-shaped hologram around the castle.

She goes head to head with her every time, memorizing every sultry hey Adora, and maybe, just maybe, if she does this enough, she won’t feel so overwhelmed whenever the real Catra gets close to her again. Maybe she can get it all out in this fantasy world.

It was a one-time thing. They hate each other. They’re supposed to hate each other.

(Adora can’t do it.)

Every time, in every version of this, she ends up with Catra pinned underneath her, Catra taunting her somehow. And every time, Adora brings down the tip of her sword or whatever she’s managed to transform it into, and stops. Just short of Catra’s face.

Adora can’t do it. And every time, she goes back to her room in Bright Moon at night, the thought of even fighting a simulation Catra weighing heavy on her mind and even heavier on her body.

She’s just in my head.

Some nights, she just stays out late training, trying to will Catra out of her head. Trying to let go of the girl she knew in the Fright Zone, the best friend she grew up with, the one she made so many promises to. The one who knows every button to push at exactly the right time. Some nights, she just collapses into a dreamless sleep. And some nights, she dreams of Catra. Other nights (too many nights), Adora lays awake and muffles her moans with one hand while the other slides past the waistband of her underwear as she imagines Catra touching her.

It’s driving her mad.

She hasn’t seen Catra in a month, and it’s driving her mad. Where is she? How is she? Would she even want to talk to Adora? Adora just keeps thinking of all the tells that Catra wanted her back—the way her breath caught in her throat in the Castle, even at Bright Moon, the way she leaned forward and kissed her even if it was a distraction.

Maybe one more time will get it out of her system.

So Adora throws all reason out the window one night, and heads right for the Fright Zone.

 

 

///

 

 

Run away. It’s the only thing you’ve ever been good at.

There’s almost nothing in the world that gives Catra more pride than knowing she’s risen above Shadow Weaver. That at just 19, she’s risen to Hordak’s second-in-command. That she is, in fact, so much stronger than anyone ever gave her credit for. But beating Shadow Weaver at her own games, rising above her…

Catra’s found it doesn’t make all the things she’s said, all the things she’s done, go away.

And that one has particularly been playing in Catra’s mind lately.

You retreated. You ran away.

You ran away from Adora.

She ran away from me, she says back to the voice in her head.

She didn’t run away from Adora. She’s just put up a wall…some distance. So what if the bots are out there doing the work for her? She doesn’t want to see Adora anyway.

And she needs to get her head back in the game. Seeing Adora isn’t going to help when every night, Catra sees her in her dreams—kissing her, holding her, fucking her—

Adora doesn’t want her. Not like that. And Catra definitely doesn’t want Adora.

She can’t.

Even if all Catra can think about at night is the way Adora’s eyes glazed over when Catra kissed her at Bright Moon. Even if Catra held back a gasp every time Adora touched her. Even if the way Adora held her wrists down so easily and pressed her into the rock face has played a starring role in too many of Catra’s fantasies over the last month.

It’s better this way. She needs to stay away from Adora right now. She needs to have some fucking self-control. It’s not worth risking everything she’s worked for, anyway. But as Catra sits on her bed that night, trying to will herself to think of anything other than ruining Adora’s stupid hair poof by running her fingers through her hair, she remembers that even the best laid plans can be blown to bits.

There’s a knock on her door, and Catra groans, knowing she’ll probably have to come up with another excuse to get Scorpia and Entrapta to leave her to her own devices.

Until she opens the door.

And all the air leaves Catra’s lungs.

“Adora? What the hell?”

Adora, who she hasn’t seen in a month, hasn’t seen since she put some nasty scars on her back, hasn’t seen since they left each other in their weird, unresolved tension at Bright Moon, is standing in front of her in an obviously stolen suit of Horde armor. And she presses her way into the room and closes the door like she owns the place. What—

“Shhh,” Adora says, pressing a finger to her lips and pushing Catra further into the room.

This is a dream. Surely, she’s dreaming. She needs to get her out of here. It’s bad enough that Adora’s been living in her head. She can’t have her here of all places.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t call in every squadron right now,” Catra says, trying to put a bite in every word, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Adora just drops the helmet she must have been wearing through the halls and starts undoing all the complicated hinges on the armor until it all falls to the ground, Adora standing before her in her usual outfit. It feels like something out of a dream. No She-Ra to be found. Just Adora. Her Adora. Alone. In Catra’s private Force Captain quarters.

She needs to get her out of here.

“I want to talk to you, Catra,” Adora says as if the last time they saw each other, they weren’t both leaving marks to cut deep both physically and emotionally.

“What is there to talk about, Adora?”

But Catra can feel how nervous Adora is, can see it in the way she’s fidgeting with her fingers. She can also see the very obvious way Adora’s eyes keep drifting from the bed back to Catra, the way Adora suddenly rakes her eyes over Catra’s body in a way that makes her shiver.

Oh no.

No.

This is such a bad idea. There’s no way that’s actually what Adora’s here for.

Is there?

“Wait—"

Catra takes a step closer, and suddenly the tension that came from Adora’s body trapping Catra to a cliffside has flared up all around the room. She needs to stop. They need to stop. But she’s already buzzing on the tension in the air, and the only one who can match Adora’s impulsive streak is Catra. And Catra’s ability to think rationally is quickly dwindling with Adora looking at her like she might actually want her.

“Adora, is this a booty call?” Catra asks, half-joking.

Her brow furrows in a way that Catra shouldn’t think is cute (but does).

“A what?”

“A—you know…”

Catra shrugs, like the meaning is obvious, and then Adora’s eyes are snapping up to Catra’s face again because she was definitely just trying to check out Catra’s ass.

Maybe she is here for that after all.

Catra smirks.

“Did you come over here because you want to have sex with me?”

Adora’s face goes as red as her jacket.

“I—I mean—no—but also yes. But no—I just—I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m here.”

And Catra really shouldn’t find this as endearing as she does.

This is a terrible idea.

“You don’t know why you’re here.”

But Catra really can’t bring herself to care when Adora is gaping at her like she just broke her brain.

“You came all the way from Bright Moon, broke into enemy territory to see me, and you don’t know why.”

“I just—"

“You’re so smooth when you want to be.”

And really, she is. But Catra kind of likes how they do this—how its just like when they were training together growing up. Where one fell short, the other always stepped up. Always an electrifying give and take. Adora takes a deep breath and takes a much more confident step toward Catra, like her calling Adora smooth has finally put some air back in her sails.

“I know we both wanted what happened to be a one-time thing, but…it feels like it didn’t help.”

Oh.

And that’s one thing about Adora that kills her sometimes. How bad she is at lying. How direct she can be.

I need to get her out of here, comes the call from her brain one more time.

Catra doesn’t listen.

“Well, that whole fight at Bright Moon sure didn’t help matters.”

The tension takes an even deeper hold when that makes Adora laugh and take one step closer to Catra.

“I mean, I should hate you, right? I shouldn’t be…here.”

And Adora stares down at Catra’s lips like she’s playing through a fantasy in her head, like she’s thought about this just as much as Catra has.

This is a terrible idea.

“So you think about it too, huh?”

Adora quickly looks up, like she knows she’s been caught staring.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on. You bet how I wish I would have let you touch me?”

It’s like they’re on a stolen skiff in the woods all over again, careening toward something. Toward a crash, probably. Catra doesn’t care and takes another step forward, leaning up to whisper in Adora’s ear.

“And you wouldn’t be wrong, Adora.”

She hears the way Adora softly gasps, and Catra can’t help herself. She leans up and nips at Adora’s earlobe, causing another, much more obvious gasp. Catra pulls back to see Adora’s eyes gone dark, her pupils blown and a wide grin on her face with the confirmation that Catra has not at all gone unaffected by their last few meetings.

“I’m just saying. You never did get your turn. Doesn’t seem fair to leave you hanging.”

“Oh, so you’re here to repay a debt.”

Adora shrugs.

“Mmm. Wouldn’t call it that. More of just wanting to see a Horde Force Captain completely strung out and at the mercy of a princess.”

Catra bites down on her tongue to stifle the moan that threatens to fall from her lips. She can’t let Adora know that she finds the way she’s talking to her right now insanely hot. Not yet, at least.

Hopefully not ever.

“Awfully sure of yourself there, sweetheart.”

Adora crosses her arms over her chest, and Catra can see the way her muscles strain against the fabric covering her arms.

“I think you would have called for backup by now if you weren’t interested.”

“Never said I wasn’t interested.”

Catra reaches out and grabs Adora by the hand, pulling her closer again.

Or we can find out what it’s like for all of the Fright Zone to hear said princess screaming my name.”

Adora’s throat bobs as she gulps, her mouth falling open.

“What do you want, Adora?”

This is a terrible idea.

You’re only going to get hurt.

Catra doesn’t care anymore. All she wants to do is hear what Adora wants and make it happen.

Adora presses her forehead to Catra’s and sighs.

“Make me forget…everything. Just for a little while. Can you do that?”

Yes. Catra is absolutely going to get hurt.

But Catra wants to forget, too. She wants to forget all the ways they’ve hurt each other, all the things that they really do probably need to talk about, like why this is happening again or how Adora was able to sneak into the Fright Zone so easily, or how the hell they’re not going to get caught if this kind of thing keeps happening…but god, she just wants to turn her overactive mind off for a little while too.

They can give each other this. Just this once.

So Catra threads her fingers through Adora’s hair and kisses her.

Adora’s hands fly to Catra’s waist and deepens the kiss. She walks Catra backward until the backs of her knees are hitting the mattress. Catra barely has time to pull back and open her eyes before Adora is pushing her down onto the bed and straddling her, kissing her into the mattress and already rolling her hips into Catra’s.

Adora starts kissing along Catra’s jawline, and Catra can’t help but wonder how this would go if things were different. It’s so easy to pretend with Adora above her, in her bed in the Fright Zone. It’s so easy for Catra to slip into a fantasy where Adora’s still Force Captain and they’re in her room and somehow, they’ve ended up in this same spot. And she can’t help but wonder if Adora’s thought about this like Catra has, if this is fulfilling a very specific fantasy that she’s also had for at least a year. One step closer to ruling the Fright Zone together and all tangled up in each other.

But that’s not their reality, and it’s not that simple.

But at the same time, Catra thinks she’ll take the real thing over the fantasy, even if reality hurts so much worse.

“Feels much better to be doing this on an actual bed,” Adora mumurs against her neck, reaching for the zipper of Catra’s outfit.

“Please, I’m sure this is nothing compared to your lavish Bright Moon suite,” Catra adds, reaching to shuck Adora’s jacket off her shoulders and tossing it aside.

Adora pulls back and reaches for the hem of her shirt, pulling that off next before tugging on Catra’s collar.

“I promise it’s not that fancy. But you’re welcome to come test it out sometime if you’d like.”

Catra rolls her eyes at the line and slips out of her red bodysuit easily.

“I don’t know about that.”

Adora reaches back to unhook her own bra, leveling Catra with a look like she’s anticipating a similar reaction to the one she got last time.

Catra doesn’t disappoint. She really can’t help the way her mouth falls open at how good Adora looks like this. She pulls her closer, chasing Adora’s lips, earning a soft moan from Adora when she runs her tongue along her bottom lip. Catra’s hands run all over Adora’s back until she reaches the raised flesh on her shoulderblades that—

Catra inhales sharply and pulls back, an apology on her lips, because those are definitely the marks that Catra put there in Bright Moon. But before Catra can get the words out, Adora is biting down on Catra’s shoulder, and it becomes abundantly clear to her that that’s not something they’re going to talk about tonight. Catra loses herself in the feeling of Adora’s lips all over her, her bra quick to go next while Adora’s mouth works one of Catra’s nipples into a hardened peak. Entrapta and Scorpia are a few doors down, and Catra really hopes that they’re both fast asleep by now because Adora is making it very difficult to keep quiet, especially when one of Adora’s hands are toying with the band of Catra’s underwear.

“You first,” Adora whispers.

Catra looks down to see Adora staring up at her, fingers brushing back and forth over her stomach, waiting for the go ahead from Catra.

Catra just groans and shoves the last piece of fabric off her body, throwing it somewhere on the floor and reaching for Adora, pulling her in for a bruising kiss. They stay like that for Catra doesn’t even know how long, and she’s content for awhile to just make out with Adora and memorize the way her lips feel—they’re so fucking warm and soft—until she can feel Adora’s hand shaking as it slides along Catra’s hip.

“You okay?” Catra asks when she pulls back.

Adora looks about as wrecked as Catra feels.

“Yeah, I just—I don’t know how I can compete with…you.”

What—

She’s such an idiot.

Oh stars, this girl is such an idiot. Catra knows for a fact that as soon as Adora touches her, this is going to be over embarrassingly quickly. And Adora seems to have no idea just how turned on she is. That she’s been thinking about this for such a long time.

But she doesn’t say that. Instead, she says, “Okay, first of all, this isn’t a competition, dummy. Second, like you’ve ever backed down from a challenge.”

Which isn’t entirely true, because based on the limited sexual experience they do have with each other, it is a little bit competitive.

(But that’s something for Catra to unpack another time.)

“I just want it to be…good.”

Oh, sweet, vulnerable Adora.

There’s so many things Catra wishes she could tell her. Like the fact that having her like this is a dream come true for Catra, but that’s too sappy. Like the way that it’s Adora, so how could it not be good? But that’s too much pressure for someone who already puts the weight of the world on their shoulders. Like how she’s going to take care of this herself soon if Adora doesn’t do something because Catra’s not really sure anymore why she held herself back from this last time.

“Look, Adora, think about how I reacted fully clothed with your thigh between my legs. I think you’re off to a pretty good start.”

Adora gives her a confident smirk and just nods.

“Now, in the words of a very wise woman—if you’re not gonna fuck me, I’m gonna do it myself.”

“Shut up.”

Catra pulls her in for a kiss and whispers against Adora’s lips, “Make me, princess.”

And that seems to light a fire in Adora again, because suddenly she’s pressing Catra back into the mattress and teasing a finger through the wetness in her folds, and fuck, Catra has to choke back a yell so loud it’ll wake people up in the next kingdom over. Adora sucks on a spot on Catra’s neck that’s making her purr as she teases a finger around Catra’s clit and then down, just barely pressing inside her before pulling away again. Adora pulls her hand away completely and releases Catra’s neck with a pop.

“What are you doing?” Catra growls.

Adora actually has the audacity to take her index finger and press it against Catra’s lips, shushing her.

“This is payback for last time.”

Catra just sighs, resigned to her fate that she won’t actually die in battle like she always thought she would. She’s going to die here, in this bed. Waiting for Adora to touch her. What a way to go.

“Tell me what you want, Catra.”

Yes. Catra is going to die here.

“Fingers. Inside. I’m not gonna say please.”

Adora just laughs, and suddenly Catra almost misses the shy, unsure version of the blonde. Cocky Adora is a pain in the ass. But Adora does as she’s told and starts pumping one finger in and out, slowly and shallowly.  

“Adora, remember how last time I asked you not to start something you’re not gonna finish?”

“Oh, you’ll finish.”

Adora picks up the pace and leans down to whisper to Catra, “It just might be on my terms, Force Captain.”

“Why are you so obsessed with winning even in bed?” Catra groans, wrapping her arms around Adora’s shoulders while she fucks Catra a little faster, a little harder, but it’s still not nearly enough.

“I’m not.”

Catra mutters harder and faster as Adora places messy kisses along her neck.

“Besides, you get to come, and I get to enjoy the view. I think we both win.”

Adora adds another finger and curls them forward to hit a spot that makes Catra wail, and it doesn’t take much longer after that as Adora fucks her hard and fast, paying close attention to all the things that get the biggest responses out of Catra. Catra comes with a cry muffled by Adora’s lips on hers and doesn’t let Adora go.

“Fuck,” is all she says in reply, which causes Adora to chuckle and reply with a sarcastic, “yes, that’s the idea.”  

Adora smiles against Catra’s lips when she pulls her in again, Catra rolling them over and deftly reaching for the button on Adora’s pants. It isn’t long after that cocky and confident Adora is reduced to a puddle underneath Catra.

They lay side by side after, sharing Catra’s one pillow and trying to catch their breath. Catra looks over to see Adora twirling her hair (which has long since come undone from its ponytail) in her fingers, a tell-tale sign that she’s deep in thought.

But so is Catra.

Because they haven’t had to do this part. And Catra’s not really sure what they’re supposed to do now.

She doesn’t want Adora to go.

This was such a terrible idea.

“Adora, I can feel how hard you’re thinking.”

Adora shifts onto her side next to her.

“No, it’s nothing. I just, I should go, right?”

Adora starts to prop herself up on her elbows, the sheet covering them both falling down and pooling at Adora’s hips. She starts to swing her legs around the bed and stand when Catra grabs her by the hand.

“Wait.”

Adora turns back to her, wide-eyed.

“It’s late, and I know you can handle yourself and all that hero shit, but it would really be a shame if the demise of She-Ra came from being eaten by some creepy monster in the Whispering Woods—"

“As opposed to being eaten out by some scary cat—"

Catra tugs on Adora’s hand and pulls her back to bed, silently thanking whatever deities are out there for helping Catra come up with a decent excuse on the spot.

“Hey!”

“You’re such a dork.”

Adora’s full-on giggling now, half-draped over Catra with a hand starting to trace patterns over her collarbone. It’s so easy to pretend that things are still simple, that they’re still just Catra and Adora in the Horde, and not whatever mess they are now. She wonders if Adora is thinking the same thing.

“Besides, Force Captains get a slighter bigger mattress, so we won’t have to squeeze into bed together like we used to.”

“You drive a hard bargain.”

“Just stay. You can leave early in the morning before everyone else is up.”

Adora leans down and presses a soft, short kiss to Catra’s lips. It feels different from any of the other kisses they’ve shared so far. This one feels more tender, more hopeful, and it’s the worst thing for Catra’s heart to feel any kind of hope that this could end well.

But for now, she has Adora in her bed. Maybe moments like these can help get her through.

(Or drive her mad. She’s not really sure.)

Adora falls asleep first, her head on Catra’s chest, and she can’t help but notice how Adora almost looks peaceful in her sleep. Growing up, she was prone to kicking Catra and sleep-fighting, her face always twisted up in some grimace. Right now, she doesn’t look like She-Ra, the mighty warrior, or even Adora, the Horde soldier. There’s a softness to her expression that Catra would like to think is reserved just for her.

And maybe, that’s enough for now.

Catra wakes up in the middle of the night, Adora’s arm wrapped around her waist and their legs intertwined. She can feel Adora’s forehead pressed into her hair and nuzzling at the nape of her neck. She reaches down and places her hand over Adora’s, the one that lays protectively on Catra’s stomach. Catra threads their hands together and can’t help it in her half-asleep daze when she pulls their joined hands up to her mouth and presses a kiss to Adora’s knuckles.

Maybe she dreams the way she feels Adora smile against her neck, or maybe its real.

This is only going to end up hurting her.

And they really can’t do this again.

But Catra lets herself live in the fantasy, lets herself live in the place where Adora asked her to make her forget everything for awhile.

She can enjoy it while it lasts.

When Catra’s alarm goes off the next morning, Adora’s gone.

Which really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Adora always leaves.

Chapter Text

When Catra wakes up with the disappointment that comes with the cold space in the bed next to her where Adora was, she decides to push it down. Deep down. The way she always does. The way she was taught:

To use it as fuel for later.

One more reason to be mad at Adora gives her one more reason it’ll be easier to wage war against her later on. And then, she tries not to give it another thought.

(She fails.)

But she ends up in Shadow Weaver’s cell, staring at her former mentor (tormentor is more like it, she thinks) in shackles, just to try and stave off the completely unwarranted heartache of Adora leaving in the middle of the night without even bothering to wake Catra.

“You look terrible,” she spits out, hovering over Shadow Weaver, who’s kneeled on the floor on her hands and knees, wrists strapped to lime green shackles that hold her down.

“Catra,” Shadow Weaver drawls, and Catra thinks it’s the kindest she’s heard Shadow Weaver say her name in years.

Until she keeps talking.

“It’s been so long. I assumed that Hordak realized what a lazy, worthless creature you are, and banished you.”

Catra hides the way the words sting with years of practice, just towers over the sorceress with arms folded over her chest with pride. She’s Hordak’s second-in-command now.

She’s better than Shadow Weaver. She’s proving herself. She’s going to win.

“Just the opposite,” Catra replies proudly.

She’s not going to let Shadow Weaver get the best of her. She’s not going to let the words sting. She has this moment, and she’s going to enjoy it.

“Hordak values me. I’ve been busy getting the Horde closer than its ever been to defeating the Rebellion. His words.”

The thing about Shadow Weaver, though, is that it’s often impossible to tell what she’s thinking behind the mask.

“If you’re doing so well, why are you here?”

Catra digs a claw into her arm, subtly enough that Shadow Weaver won’t see.

“It’s Adora, isn’t it?” she prods.

Catra’s chest gets tight.

Yeah.

Yeah, it is Adora.

But not for the reasons Shadow Weaver would think.

“So? I let her win one. We’re gaining ground, and our armies are growing.”

Catra’s voice grows louder, pacing back and forth, the anger seeping out like blood from her heart, like Shadow Weaver pulled a trigger right to Catra’s chest when she says the name Adora. The anger bleeds out now. Not because she let Adora win one. Not because of anything with the Rebellion. Just everything to do with the girl on the other side of the war who keeps breaking her heart.

“When they’re ready to roll out, I’ll be at the head, and you’ll be here. Rotting.”

Catra finishes with a deep breath and turns back to Shadow Weaver, still knelt on the ground before her.

“Thanks. I needed this.”

But it doesn’t make her feel better at all. Not even close.

She still doesn’t feel better a week later when she’s standing before the green Horde banners that blow in the wind at Dryl. And she definitely doesn’t feel better the next day when that Sparkles and Arrow Boy ambush her.

It’s a foolish accident, really, how they kidnap her. Catra gives chase as Scorpia is held to the ground by one of Bow’s trick arrows. Catra tells herself it’s not because being around them is the closest thing she has to being around Adora. And she just had to grab hold of Glimmer. Just had to be tugging on the end of her shirt when she teleports. And then Catra’s flying through the air after a kick to the face, and falling falling falling—

She quickly finds (unfortunately) that Bow and Glimmer aren’t that different from the Catra and Adora she remembers from the Horde—stupidly loyal to each other and balancing each other out in a way that’s off-putting to outsiders who watch them. They’re also super into each other.

(Not that either of them seem to notice, Catra thinks.)

But Catra notices. She notices very quickly the way Bow stares softly at Glimmer when she’s not looking, and the way Glimmer’s hold on Bow’s wrist lasts a little too long. It might almost be endearing if they weren’t her enemies, and the people who Adora left her for. So they walk in silence for awhile, Glimmer at the head, Catra in the middle, and Bow at her back. And Catra discovers all too quickly that they’re both just too fun to mess with.

Catra throws herself to the ground purposefully, knowing that stupid, noble, kind Bow will be at her side in an instant.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asks.

Like clockwork.

“Like you care,” Catra grits out, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.  

“We do, actually. The Rebellion treats its prisoners with compassion.”

Maybe in another life, Catra would actually believe that. But when Catra sees Bow and Glimmer, all she sees is what Adora left her for, how she’s around the people Adora spends all her time with now but Adora’s not here. Not that she wants Adora here.

She doesn’t.

She doesn’t.

“You princess-types always have to be the bleeding hearts, don’t you? Everything is about the power of friendship. How’s that working out for you?”

Bow scoffs as he helps her up and bumps his shoulder against hers. As if they’re friends. As if they’re just the best of pals. Catra hates it.

“Come on. I bet even the Horde has friends. What about Adora?”

What about Adora? is what she wants to say back.

But Catra just falls quiet instead, and plays the last time she saw Adora on a loop in her head. Adora’s shaking hands on her body. Adora’s nervous eyes as she showed up at her door, only to leave again as if Catra was nothing. Adora’s mouth leaving marks on her collarbone that Catra swears still haven’t faded all the way.

“You two grew up together, right? What was she like as a kid?”

Catra looks over the cliffside and considers flinging herself off it when her brain automatically supplies her with the words.

She was everything.

But she can’t say that to anyone ever, and she certainly won’t say it to Adora’s new best friend.

So Catra just groans and grumbles out, “Just as headstrong as she is now.”

She can see Bow smile out of the corner of her eye, and Catra keeps walking.

Forward.

She has to keep moving forward and not thinking about Adora and not talking to Bow because that is the only way out of this and—

“She still really cares about you, you know.”

Catra’s heart stutters, and she thinks of another image that’s been rolling around in her dreams at night for the past week—Adora above her, fingers pumping in and out of her at a maddening pace, staring at her like she’s the only thing that’s ever mattered as Catra falls apart all around her.

“She told us about what happened at the Crystal Castle—”

Catra whips around a little too quickly at that.

“What did she tell you?”

Bow’s eyes go wide, and Catra knows her cheeks are probably flushing red, and fuck, this is truly the worst day ever.

Bow’s brow furrows like he knows there’s something else there, but he just shrugs and answers, “Just that she saw you. But…I don’t know, I think she misses you.”

Catra growls.

“Adora made her choice. And I don’t know why you think I want to process the whole me and Adora thing with you of all people.”

“I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

Catra doesn’t doubt it. Bow objectively seems like a decent person. A good listener. A good friend. And maybe if things were—

No.

Stop it.

Catra is not going to let herself entertain a vision where she leaves with Adora, where she joins the Rebellion and goes on double dates with her ridiculous friends.

“Glimmer and I have known each other forever too. She’d teleport to the roof to get my lost arrows when I was just learning to shoot.”

So Catra goes right for the heart. She’s done with Bow thinking he can try and good listener her into softening to him or Glimmer or Adora or anyone.

“You ever gonna tell her you’re in love with her?” Catra asks, like she’s asking him something as simple as if he knows the weather forecast.

It hits just like one of his arrows. Catra feels him stop dead in his tracks behind her, and Catra turns around to see his shocked, embarrassed face staring back.

“What—"

“I have eyes, Arrow Boy. I think you two are the last to know, honestly.”

He looks away—eyes darting around to the valley below them, the sky, the birds, anything but Catra and definitely not Glimmer, who’s still none the wiser walking in front of them.

“It’s—it’s not like—it’s just complicated, okay?”

Catra just throws her head back in a laugh, because yes, she knows complicated friendships all too well. Not that Bow ever needs to know that.

“Well, it sounds like you two are very close. I bet Glimmer would do anything for you.”

But Bow seems to take this as an invitation to talk about the girl he’s totally not in love with and tell Catra all about how they’d do anything for each other, how they’re best friends—

Catra goes flying through the air for the second time that day, claws dug into Bow’s shirt and Glimmer staring at her with a burning rage that would be absolutely hilarious if Catra didn’t find it just the smallest bit terrifying. They’ve also nearly fallen off a waterfall by the time Catra catches her breath, and god, she can’t wait for Adora to hear about how she’s bonded with this new “Best Friend Squad” that Adora has found herself a part of.

“How did Adora take years of this?” Glimmer screams at her, wringing out the water in her hair once they’re finally on solid ground again.

And Glimmer? Glimmer’s more like Catra than she thinks either of them would like to admit.

Because Glimmer goes right for the kill, too.

“She didn’t run away from the Horde,” she tells Catra. “She ran away from you.”

“And where is she now, huh? Off being She-Ra? You think she’s not going to leave you behind too?”

“You know, I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t figure it out. Why did you give her back the sword in the Fright Zone anyway?”

Honestly, Catra’s almost forgotten that Glimmer was even there. That she was right there when she flipped the sword in her hand and pointed it toward Adora.

This is not because I like you.

“I really do not understand the dynamic with you two. One minute you’re trying to kill each other and the next it’s like—"

But Catra cuts her off.

She doesn’t have any idea how Glimmer’s going to end that sentence. And she doesn’t want to know.

“I didn’t want her to come back.”

It’s the same lie she told Adora at the castle. It’s the same one she tells herself every day, because she’d rather that than admit that seeing Adora mind-wiped, seeing an Adora who’s a shell of herself and not Catra’s—even if she isn’t Catra’s anymore now anyway—would probably hurt more than Adora leaving. That she wanted Adora to keep the memories she has and not become whatever lifeless version of herself that Shadow Weaver would make her.

Shadow Weaver could have made Adora stay. But it only would have been Adora’s body. And at least now, on the opposite side of the war, Adora has her memories. Catra still has parts of Adora that Glimmer and Bow will probably never reach.

It’s not nearly enough.

But it’s something.

“So she didn’t leave you. You pushed her away. And that, Catra, is on you.”

“Yeah. Maybe it is,” Catra replies, because it’s easier than telling the truth.

 

 

///

 

 

Adora knows that Catra’s here somewhere. She shivers and chalks it up to the cold climate of the Northern Reach, like it has nothing to do with how her body responds to the idea of Catra every time she crosses her mind. Sometimes it hits her gently, like the way Catra used to burrow into Adora’s chest for a hug when they were kids. Sometimes it makes her stomach twist in knots, or her chest almost hurt with how tight it gets. And sometimes, it feels like claws in her back, digging into the flesh of her muscles and leaving marks that Adora stares at over her shoulder every day in the mirror.

A reminder of what they’ve done to each other. A reminder of what they do to each other.

Adora tries to pretend she isn’t disappointed when she only sees Scorpia at the Pass, Catra nowhere to be found. She tries to pretend she hadn’t been hoping that… well… She really wants to stop thinking about kissing Catra.

Adora really does, but ever since the first time she let herself form the conscious thought, it’s with her when she wakes up. It’s with her when she’s training. It even strikes her in the middle of when she’s with her friends, having a wonderful time, laughing and eating cake and enjoying each other’s company.

It always somehow comes back to Catra.

Kissing Catra, pressing Catra against a wall, fucking Catra—

Sometimes she wants to feel Catra so close that it feels like she could crawl inside her chest and never come out. Sometimes she wants Catra so far away from her just as a sad attempt to try and forget her. Sometimes she wants Catra completely wrecked underneath her, and sometimes, Adora’s the one who wants to give up control. To give up things like destiny and honor and missions and being the perfect She-Ra. Sometimes she just wants to let Catra consume her.

Which is exactly why she had to leave when she woke up last time with Catra in her arms, Adora realizing she had a lazy smile on her mouth and nuzzling into Catra’s neck.

Not that any of that has since helped. Because still, somehow, this thing between them  feels like something…

Something that isn’t going away with time or repetition or just once more to get it out of her system.

And that’s how the first time happened. The second time was just because their fights feel like foreplay now.

And the third time—

Well, this would be the third time. And third time’s the charm. So they have to, right? It has nothing to do with the fact that Adora’s been complaining that Catra’s been in her head. It has nothing to do with the ridiculous battle fantasy caricatures of Catra that her friends came up with that have only left Adora wanting the real thing. It has nothing to do with the fact that they haven’t seen each other in weeks, and now Adora’s freezing her ass off in the Northern Reach and all she can think about is how warm Catra is when she—

Fuck.

Adora tries, tries, tries to focus on the feel of the snow whipping around her and hitting her skin. Tries to prepare herself for what she knows she’s going to find. And then—

“Catra!”

She spots her at the other end of a bridge, pointing a finger toward Entrapta and yelling about something with First Ones Tech.

“It’s been awhile.”

Catra whirls around with a devilish smile, and Adora thinks how absolutely unfair it is that she can somehow look that good in a parka.

“Hey, Adora.”

Adora hates herself for the heat that shoots between her legs when she hears the sultry edge to Catra’s voice. Catra stands about twenty feet away, Entrapta and Scorpia flanking her on either side, and looks Adora up and down.

(Adora’s shivering from the cold, she reminds herself.)

(Not from that.)

“Not sure this is great skirt weather. Looks great on you, though.”

Adora’s brain completely short-circuits, and she barely registers the way Scorpia turns toward Catra with the most puzzled look on her face.

“I—"

Adora shakes her head and clears her head of any burgeoning thoughts of how she’d love to tower over Catra as She-Ra while she—

“We’re here to take back this land. It’s time for you to go back to the Fright Zone.”

“You want me to go?” Catra yells over the snow and ice that pelts at all of them.

Catra smirks, and her voice drops dangerously low, when she answers.

“Make me, princess.”

“My pleasure.”

Adora jumps and brings her sword down hard, and Catra takes off like a shot. She chases after—because they always have and they always will, it seems—and wills the sword to transform into a rope, catching Catra by her ankle and pulling her through the snow.

“Not exactly my first choice of how I’d like to tie you up,” Adora remarks as Catra flips over in the snow and rolls her eyes.  

And now that they’re alone, it’s all too easy to fall back in.

“Heard you missed me at the Pass.”

Adora blushes and suddenly wonders where Scorpia is because of course she had to go and tell Catra.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Scorpia said you asked about me,” Catra confirms with a smug smile.

“Whatever, I didn’t miss you. I was just curious.”

Adora transforms the rope back into her sword, pointing the tip right at end of Catra’s nose. Catra only raises an eyebrow in response.

“You sure you weren’t just looking for a post-battle quickie?”

“That’s rich coming from the one who begged me to stay and cuddle after.”

Catra just rolls her eyes and mutters, “Yeah, awfully nice of you to just ditch without a trace.”

She knows Catra’s trying to hide it, but she’s doing a terrible job. Adora can see right through the way she tries to make it a joke—the way Catra’s voice has to try just a little too hard to put the joking edge she wants on it. She wanted Adora to stay.

(She always wants Adora to stay.)

And Adora…

They can’t do this.

“What did you think I was going to do? Get up and get us breakfast in bed?”

Catra narrows her eyes, stares at the sword in Adora’s hands and then back up to Adora’s face.

“As much as I love our fights, it’s way too cold for this.”

Catra pulls a red, three-pronged crystal from the pocket of her jacket and points it toward the teal stone of Adora’s sword.

“But feel free to stop by once this is over so we can get some of this pent-up energy out. In the mean time, why don’t we try something new?”

Adora sees burning red, and the whole world goes dark. The last thing she remembers is Catra’s horrified face as Adora charges toward her. She wakes up later that night in a cabin that Seahawk had found them, her three friends all sound asleep in their beds. And despite herself, all Adora can think about is Catra. She knows she shouldn’t. Adora knows that as soon as she ends up alone in a room with Catra, it’s all over. That she can’t help herself. It’s like Scorpia said. Even through the haze of the infection, it’s one of the few things Adora remembers clearly:

Even when you two are fighting, you can still tell there’s such a bond.

There’s something so familiar about the rhythms of battle that they fall into these days. How even on opposite sides, even with the flare of anger and betrayal between them, there’s something about Catra that always keeps bringing Adora back.

She remembers Catra’s face right before she blacked out, looking scared of…something. She should at least go check on her, right? It’s really the least Adora could do.

And Adora barely realizes she’s walked right toward the outpost until she nearly hits her head against the door.

She has to make an educated guess on how to get to Catra’s room based on the blurry memories she has of the day, and Adora sneaks in quietly and follows the sound of a soft snore that she knows from years of sleeping beside it. She knocks without a second thought.

Catra opens the door with a smirk, like she’s not as surprised to see Adora as she was the last time she showed up in her bedroom.

“Come to apologize for nearly killing me?”

“Oh, while I was out of my mind on the First Ones tech you infected me with?”

Catra steps aside to let Adora in and laughs, holding up her bare arm, which has an angry, oozing gash across her forearm.

“Left a nice mark, princess.”

“Well, I guess we can call it even now,” is all Adora can think to say, and Catra’s eyes darken as she turns away from Adora.

“What—what did I do?”

“Came chasing after me and sliced me. My jacket was the true casualty.”

Catra points to a chair where the arm of Catra’s parka lays sliced away from the rest of the garment.

Unfortunate, Adora thinks.

Adora also spots gauze and disinfectant on the bedside table that’s obviously gone unused as Catra’s cut remains uncovered, a gouged open spot that makes Adora wonder if they’re both going to have everyday reminders of how they’ve hurt each other. Adora grabs the gauze.

“Sit down.”

Catra looks from Adora’s hands up to her eyes as Adora reaches for the other supplies and sits down on Catra’s bed.

“Oh, we’re just jumping right into this, huh?”

“I’m serious, Catra.”

Catra sighs and sits down next to Adora.

“I can bandage my own wounds, you know.”

“Just shut your mouth and let me do this.”

They’ve done this for each other so many times, back when they were cadets, and Catra seems to remember this too as she automatically holds out her arm for Adora and wraps her tail around Adora’s wrist. It’s something Catra would always do right before Adora cleaned any cuts or scrapes Catra had. When they were very young, Catra would cry at the sting of it, and the first time, Catra had wrapped her tail around Adora’s hand to try and pull it away. Until Adora had just held her arm firm and put her other hand on top of Catra’s tail until she calmed down.

And she’s done it ever since. Even now. Adora almost wants to cry at how familiar things feel between them, when its just the two of them alone.

“Is that too tight?” Adora asks softly, once she’s bandaged Catra’s arm.

“No, it’s not—it’s fine.”

Adora rubs her thumb along the fur of Catra’s forearm, smoothing out the bandaging.

“Why are you here? I don’t think you showed up just to play nurse.”

Adora just smirks.

“You invited me.”

“I was kidding.”

But Adora watches Catra and the way she looks up at her, the way her eyes dart all around Adora’s face and the way her lips curl up just the smallest bit, one of her fangs poking out with the motion. She still knows Catra like the back of her hand.

It’s what’s going to ruin them both.

“Liar.”

“Brat.”

“Jerk.”

“Dummy.”

Adora leans closer now, and she wonders if Catra’s been thinking about this too—about how Adora really can’t see their meetings ending any other way anymore than them falling into bed together.

“Force Captain,” she whispers into the quickly dwindling space between them.

Catra brings a hand up to cup Adora’s jaw.

“Princess.”

But the question hangs on Adora’s lips, like it’s hung on her mind for weeks, hung in the hallway of her heart like a big red warning sign.

“What are we doing, Catra?”

“We’re in the middle of a war. The entire planet is probably gonna fall apart around us.”

“So optimistic,” Adora replies dryly.

But it doesn’t stop Catra from inching closer still, her thumb gently rubbing Adora’s cheek, and suddenly the warning sign means nothing when Catra looks at her like this.

“I’m just saying that you and I both need to find some... relief... somewhere,” Catra responds.

They shouldn’t be doing this.

They’re going to get caught.

This is going to ruin them.

(But Adora’s never been one to let warning signs stop her.)

“Yeah, I’m just not sure hooking up with a Horde soldier is the best option here for me,” she admits.

Not because she wants to. But because Adora’s begging Catra to convince her otherwise.

(It really doesn’t take much convincing.)

But Catra just grimaces and takes a step back, muttering, “Well, you’re free to have your needs met elsewhere, Adora.”

And she probably is.

She doesn’t miss the way villagers’ hands linger on She-Ra’s arms a little too long or the way strangers smile softly at her. She probably could do that. They’re back in their holding pattern, the maddening push and pull, and Catra just crosses her arms like she’s waiting for Adora to make a move—daring her to walk out now and end whatever the fuck this is.

And Adora can’t possibly pull away when Catra’s still tracing patterns on her cheek, the edge of her claw gently digging in now and driving Adora insane.

Adora kisses her instead.

“That’s kind of the problem,” Adora whispers against Catra’s lips. “I really don’t want to do that.”

Catra moans as Adora deepens the kiss, her arms wrapping around Catra’s waist and pulling her closer. Adora pulls away from Catra’s lips, which earns a her a whine from Catra and brings a smile to Adora’s face, seeking out the muscles of Catra’s neck and sucking a bruise into the spot just underneath Catra’s jaw. Adora hears Catra inhale sharply and then she’s pushing Adora away without warning, her eyes going wide.

Adora doesn’t even have time to form the question on her lips when Catra’s telling her, “You need to hide.”

“What?”

“Someone’s coming.”

And sure enough, Adora can start to hear the steady rhythm of footsteps coming down the hall.

“Where am I supposed to hide?” Adora whispers, jumping up from the bed and looking around the room wildly.

“I don’t know. Is there a closet in here?”

“Catra—"

“I’m—Adora, I’m serious.”

There’s a knock on the door then, and Adora sprints in the direction of some cargo boxes in the corner of the room, crouching down behind them and holding her breath. Adora hears the muffled sound of Scorpia’s voice through the heavy metal door.

“Catra? Are you okay in there? I thought I heard voices.”

“Hey, Scorpia. No, I’m fine.”

Adora considers peeking around the corner of one of the boxes until she hears the sound of the door opening.

“Did you need something?” she hears Catra ask.

“Well, I just…I just wanted to check in. See how you’re doing.”

“Oh.”

“I just know sometimes you seem a little down after you see Adora. Just wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it.”

And oh, Adora can’t help the pride that bubbles up in her chest with every confirmation she gets that Catra thinks about her when she’s not around.

“Or, we don’t have to talk about her at all! Hah! She doesn’t matter anyway.”

Adora grits her teeth at that and rolls her eyes, already thinking about the marks she’s going to leave all over Catra.

She’s not jealous. She’s totally not. She has no reason to be.

They’re not—Catra isn’t hers.

But Adora isn’t stupid. She knows there’ll be other girls, probably have been other girls, who find Catra attractive. Girls like Scorpia.

“Or the board game offer still stands,” she hears Scorpia add.

She’s not jealous.

She wants Catra to have friends, and Scorpia seems like a truly caring and kind friend. But there’s a small, possessive part of Adora that wants to jump out and usher her away so Adora can have Catra in all the ways that her other friends don’t get to.

“Look, Scorpia, I really appreciate the offer. I just—it’s late. I’m exhausted.”

“Totally get it, boss.”

“Rain check, maybe? Super…Friend…Three…whatever you call it? Board game night?”

“Super Pal Trio board game night? Oh, wow—that’s—what an idea.”

Adora can’t help but smile, and while the idea of Catra, Scorpia, and Entrapta having a board game night is a little unexpected, she can’t help but find it cute. Adora actually finds herself more jealous of Scorpia and Entrapta getting to enjoy the mundane, day-to-day things like that with Catra.

Because Adora misses that.

“Just not tonight, okay?”

“Sounds good! Get some sleep, wildcat. See you tomorrow.”

The door closes, and Adora’s pulled from her (not) jealous daydream. She takes off her jacket and tosses it on the floor, and if she walks with a little more confidence than usual, high off the fact that she has a big enough impact on Catra’s mood that even her friends notice, then Adora’s the only one who needs to know that.

(But she wants Catra to know it too.)

“Aww.”

“Shut it.”

“You get sad after you see me?”

Adora saunters up to Catra and sees the way her cheeks blush red as she stumbles over a response.

“That was—she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“Mhm.”

“I get angry when I lose,” Catra growls, and suddenly they’re toe to toe, face to face again.

“Didn’t realize you were in such high demand…wildcat.

Catra rolls her eyes and pushes Adora away by the shoulder.

“Don’t you dare—"

But Adora doesn’t let her get far, reaching for the Horde-issues built that hangs on Catra’s hips and pulling her in roughly.

“You get angry when you lose, huh?”

Maybe Adora’s taking it a little too far. Maybe she’s a little bit drunk on how possessive she’s feeling, on the way Scorpia could probably see the very visible hickey on Catra’s neck that Adora had just left there. But Adora still knows Catra like the back of her hand.

And she can tell that Catra is coming undone seeing Adora like this.

Adora pulls her shirt over her head and quirks an eyebrow up, tilting her head and looking at Catra with a faux-innocence that has Catra’s jaw dropping open.

“How do you feel about losing clothing?”

Catra groans and rolls her eyes.

“That line is not going to work on—"

Adora unhooks her bra and lets the straps fall down her shoulders.

“You were saying?”

“I can’t fucking stand you.”

Catra rips the fabric off of where it hangs from Adora’s arms and pulls her in for a searing kiss, Adora unable to hold back the moan that rips from her throat when Catra presses her tongue into Adora’s mouth.

“We have to be quiet,” Catra whispers.

“I am not that loud—"

“Last time you came so hard they could probably hear you in Salineas.”

Adora rolls her eyes and tugs on Catra’s hand, pulling her toward the bed.

“I did not—"

Catra just shoots her an oh, really? look as she lets Adora lead her.

“I am not that loud.”

Which has been true up until this point, until Catra’s hands are running up Adora’s abs and up her chest and rolling her nipples beneath her thumbs in a way that makes Adora sigh loudly.

“Well, fuck, I can’t help it when you’re doing that.”

“I’m just getting started.”

Adora groans, pulling Catra’s hands away and turning them around so Catra’s hitting the edge of the mattress with the backs of her knees until Adora’s pushing her down.

“You’re just lucky Scorpia didn’t barge in at the wrong time,” she mutters.

Catra hums against Adora’s lips as she kisses her again.

“We really can’t keep doing this, huh?” Catra asks as she starts laying open mouthed kisses all over Adora’s chest.

“Last time. This can be the last time. Let’s just make it count.”

It’s a lie Adora keeps telling herself—after the first time, after the second time, and now this time too.

But it’s her favorite lie to tell.

Chapter Text

It’s two weeks after she’s last seen Adora that Hordak tells Catra he’s banishing Shadow Weaver to Beast Island.

And that should make the pain she feels from Adora always leaving hurt a little less, right? Something positive. A win.

It makes Catra throw up in the shower that night when she thinks about it too hard.

Catra tries to convince herself that it’s like she told Hordak—she knows more than anyone about Etheria. She’s still useful to them, even as a prisoner.

It has nothing to do with the way Catra still wants her around, if for no other reason than for Shadow Weaver to see how great Catra is not because of her, but despite her.

It has nothing to do with the way Catra still sometimes wishes that Shadow Weaver would have held her up on a pedestal the way she did Adora.

You have two days to extract whatever information you can from your prisoner, Hordak tells her.

It feels even worse when she sees Entrapta sidled up next to Hordak like she’s the one who’s second-in-command, like she’s the one Hordak trusts.

Not Catra.

Never Catra.

She never gets to win.

Not with Shadow Weaver. That victory will be taken when she gets banished to Beast Island and doesn’t get to see all that Catra is capable of.

Not with Hordak, who’s too invested in Entrapta’s knowledge to see what Catra could ever offer the Horde fully.

And not with Adora.

Never with Adora.

There’s nothing complicated about it, Adora! It’s just sex.

Catra laughs derisively as she reaches the top of the forge, peering out over the Fright Zone and imagining Adora beside her. It’s stupid. It’s so fucking stupid that she ever thought that this could be just sex with Adora.

Adora, of all people.

Adora, who still looks at Catra the same way she always has, full of care and kindness, and like Catra might still matter to her.

And in those moments locked in Catra’s bedroom, or buried in the snow in the Northern Reach, or on the floor of an ancient temple, Catra can let herself believe Adora does still care.

It’s just sex.

It’s just sex.

It’s over now anyway.

Catra grips onto the old, piped railing and crouches on it, looking down and thinking of plunging off a cliff in the Kingdom of Snows with Adora.

Adora catching her.

Catra letting go.

Always falling.

She barely hears the sound of footsteps and instead feels the railing jerk underneath her as Scorpia greets her with a wave and a laugh.

“How’d you find me?” Catra grumbles, staring straight ahead and hoping this conversation is over quickly.

“You always come out here when you’re upset,” Scorpia replies easily.

And maybe, in any other life, any other circumstance, she’d be just a little more soft with Scorpia.

She means well—Catra knows this.

(Despite the several conversations about boundaries.)

And she’s a good friend.

She cares.

But right now, all Catra can see when she looks at Scorpia is her friend running into her room, pincers raised to strike, while Catra covers herself with a blanket and tries to control her breathing.

All she can see is the outpost in the Northern Reach, which leads to her bedroom, which leads to Adora.

All roads always lead back to Adora.

And Catra doesn’t know how to find a different route.

“Also, I looked everywhere else. Now, what’s troubling my bestie?”

Catra groans.

“I’m not your bestie. And I’m fine.”

“Oh, I don’t accept any of that.”

Neither do I, Catra thinks.

“Yeah, well get used to not getting what you want in life.”

Always second-best.

Always the side-kick.

Just a nuisance. A waste of space.

“Look, I know you get this way about two things usually. Shadow Weaver and Adora. So which one is it?”

Catra’s claws pierce through the railing at the sound of Adora’s name.

“Hordak’s making me send Shadow Weaver to Beast Island.”

Scorpia gasps and pulls so hard on part of the railing that it breaks.

“I thought Beast Island was just a story they told to keep us in line. Being sent there is supposed to be a fate worse than death!”

Catra bounds off the railing and around the corner, curling in on herself as she finds a new place to perch.

A fate worse than death.

And Catra—for some godawful reason—doesn’t even know that she wants Shadow Weaver to die.

(If she does, then she wants it to be by Catra’s own hands, she thinks.)

She just wants to prove herself.

Catra scowls at Scorpia, who quickly adds, “I bet there’s some really nice stuff, too. Maybe Shadow Weaver will write and tell us about—”

“What is wrong with you?” Catra snaps, whirling around on Scorpia. “People don’t send letters from Beast Island. They go, and they never come back.”

Catra brushes past the pincer Scorpia holds out to comfort her, marching back the way she came.

“It doesn’t matter how hard I work or what I do for the Horde. Hordak doesn’t trust me. He never listens to me!”

It’s nowhere near catharsis. But saying that much out loud and having someone hear it does help just the smallest bit, Catra thinks.

“Shadow Weaver is useful, and she can help us.”

I hope.

I wish.

“Seriously? Because she hasn’t exactly given us any information. Why do you really want to keep her around?”

Catra’s chest tightens.

“I kind of thought you hated her,” Scorpia adds.

I do.

I don’t.

It’s complicated.

Catra just wants to prove herself to Shadow Weaver, to the Horde, to Hordak, to Adora—

Prove that she’s worthy of someone giving a damn about her.

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t understand,” Catra answers quietly, turning away and walking further toward the other side of the platform.

Scorpia keeps following.

“Is that kind of how things are with Adora too?”

Catra stops in her tracks, fists balling at her sides and turning slowly toward Scorpia.

How dare she just ask out of the blue about—

“What?” Catra asks quietly.

“Well, I mean, she left you. But you two were also really close. So I’m not really sure where you stand with her.”

I don’t fucking know where I stand with her, Scorpia, is what she wants to say.

I don’t know, Scorpia. Help me figure out how to talk to my enemy who I’m sleeping with.

Hey! Remember that time in the Northern Reach when you thought you heard screaming? You did. It was actually because Adora was eating me out and—

What a fucking mess.

“Adora is part of the Rebellion now,” Catra grits out, hands shaking from how hard she has her fists clenched.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Scorpia replies, much too cheerfully for Catra’s liking.

“Yeah, well—"

“You really cared about her, didn’t you?”

Catra turns away and gazes directly at a spot on the horizon she’d always find when she was up here with Adora. A spot to the west where the smoggy red sky of the Fright Zone would get just a little bit brighter at this time of day, bursting with dazzling red streaks against the dark maroon and gray of the rest of the shadowy sky.

It always made Catra think of how Adora made her feel.

How Adora still makes her feel.

A ray of light against the dark. A drop of vibrant color against black and white. Something different against the mundane day-to-day of battle strategies and hours spent sparring.

Something worth fighting for.

Someone worth fighting for.

“Scorpia. I am asking you nicely to please drop it,” Catra answers, and this time, she doesn’t hide the venom in her tone.

Scorpia sighs and pats Catra gently on the shoulder.

“If you do wanna talk about, I’m here.”

Scorpia walks away and leaves Catra standing on the edge, staring out into the Fright Zone, a whole kingdom she’s basically running herself.

And all she can do is stare at the red sky and wish she was seeing Adora’s blue eyes.

When she finally climbs down, Catra goes to see Shadow Weaver.

“Pack your bags! You’re headed to Beast Island,” Catra calls out in greeting.

Catra tries to keep as much of an edge to it as she can, but seeing Shadow Weaver like this, seeing her broken body leaned up against the wall of her cell like this, pulls on something deep in Catra’s heart. Pulls her back to when Catra was just a kid, looking for someone to look up to.

Someone to nurture her.

Someone to be a mother.

Someone to lean on.

She shouldn’t feel a bit of pity for Shadow Weaver.

She doesn’t even want to.

Catra wants to pull her heart out from inside her chest and find the spot where Shadow Weaver still keeps her cold, black tendrils wrapped around her and remove them by hand.

(And maybe take Adora out too.)

(But how much of Catra’s heart would even be left, then?)

“Oh, that’s right. You don’t have anything,” Catra adds when Shadow Weaver doesn’t respond, just keeps staring at the wall opposite her.

“When?” is all Shadow Weaver asks.

“Don’t you care?” Catra asks at the simple question. “It’s a death sentence. What don’t you get about that?”

More silence.

Like she’s talking to a wall.

“You’re a goner unless you can give me a reason good enough to convince Hordak that you’re still worth keeping around.”

Still nothing.

Catra’s almost begging her to lash out, just to give her something to work with here.

“Don’t you have anything to say? Just—give me something!”

Shadow Weaver finally looks up and her.

“I’ve given everything I have to the Horde.”

And gone is the pity Catra felt just a moment ago. Gone is the sympathy—not because she doesn’t still feel that tug on her heart, but because she has to. She can’t. She can’t let Shadow Weaver in her head anymore.

She’s going to Beast Island, and that’s the end of it.

That’s the end of all of this.

Everyone who was supposed to care for Catra, everyone who was supposed to look out for her—

They all leave.

“You really are useless. You are getting what you deserve.”

“Wait.”

Catra stops but doesn’t turn around.

“Take pity on an old, powerless woman. I know my days here are numbered. I want to see my old Sorcerer’s Guild badge one last time.”

It’s the last thing I will ever ask of you.

“You don’t get to ask things of me anymore.”

But Catra does it anyway.

Because maybe, just maybe, she can get some answers from Shadow Weaver before she goes.

Maybe someone in her life can finally give her some closure.

The unfortunate thing, Catra finds, is that being honest with someone isn’t enough to force them to be honest right back. When Catra asks, “Why did you treat me the way you did?”, she should know that the answer she gets isn’t genuine.

She should know she’s being manipulated.

She should know better. Should be smarter, better, faster—

“Because you remind me of myself,” Shadow Weaver replies, and the tug on Catra’s heart takes hold again.

She should know better.

“You always have. Nothing was ever easy for me, either. I wasn’t born to power like Adora and…others. I had to earn my power. Fight for it. Why should it be any different for you?”

And when Shadow Weaver beckons her closer, gently smooths the tuft of hair behind her ear, softly gives her advice in the way she’s always wanted—

But Catra should know better.

She’s a nuisance.

Someone to use to get other people what they want.

When Catra returns to Shadow Weaver’s cell later to find nothing but a mirage, she knows she should have known better.

She should have been smarter.

And it’s all her fault.

It’s a losing game, trying to find Shadow Weaver.

It’s always a losing game.

Shadow Weaver.

Hordak.

Adora.

Catra doesn’t get to win.

Catra doesn’t get what she wants.

You lied to me, Hordak says, staring her down, and suddenly, the lights go out.

There’s a red glow all around her, and Catra can’t breathe.

“Worst of all, I gave you the chance to come clean, to prove your worth to me, to the Horde. This was a test.”

And she failed.

Because Catra doesn’t get to win.

 

 

///

 

 

Catra’s sinking to the floor on her knees, kissing her way down Adora’s body while she tries to bite back a moan.

“You better hope that Swift Wind doesn’t do a fly-by and see my bare ass pressed against the window, Catra.”

Catra chuckles as she kisses lower, teeth poking out to nip at Adora’s thighs.

“Not an exhibitionist then?”

“Shut up.”

Adora’s eyes slam shut as her hips buck toward Catra’s mouth, her hands grasping at Catra’s hair, back digging into the window pane.

“Adora, wake up!” she hears somewhere in the distance, but Adora’s not sure what there is to wake up from.

“Mmm…,” is all Adora says in response when Catra teases two fingers inside her while the flat of her tongue presses against her clit.

Adora swears she hears another call to wake up.

“Catra…”

And then the warm feeling of Catra all over her and the sun beaming on her back through the window is replaced by a draft of cold air. Adora realizes she’s back in her bed and not pressed against the giant window of her bedroom, the blanket she’d had covering her now ripped out of her grasp and being held by—

Glimmer.

Shit.

“Adora! What?”

How much of that did she hear?

“What? I’m awake. What’s happening?”

Adora tries to hide the way she knows she’s blushing now, the fact that she still feels hot all over from what the dream version of Catra was doing to her, launching herself out of bed and reaching for the dagger she sleeps with, ready to attack.

Glimmer is just staring, eyes and mouth wide open.

“Why did you just say ‘Catra’?”

Well…

“I didn’t. I said, um…”

Think of something. Literally anything.

“Cap-chuh! Like capture. But in a Seahawk voice. I was having a dream that I was Seahawk.”

Think of literally anything else, Adora thinks, as Glimmer holds her gaze with an open-mouthed stare, still not entirely sure what to make of what she’s walked into.

“I don’t believe you.”

“I can—”

But Glimmer’s already walking away and pacing around the room frantically.

“Don’t think we won’t be talking about that more, but we have bigger problems right now. Bow’s in trouble!”

Glimmer pushes a small arrow into Adora’s hand, with a note attached.

I’m fine. Don’t follow me.

Okay. Totally normal.

But Glimmer doesn’t give her much space to argue, pushing Adora’s clothes into her arms and telling her to hurry, the whole I may have been having a sex dream about Catra bit suddenly forgotten. Adora dresses as quickly as she can, and before she even has time to ask questions, Glimmer has them teleported into the Whispering Woods.

Definitely not the way she’d anticipated starting the day.

Especially when she’s still thinking about…

Catra.

Catra, who she hasn’t seen in over two weeks. Catra, who she’s definitely not going to sleep with again because last time was the last time. For real. They’re at war, and she can’t—

She can’t stop thinking about her.

Every night for the past week, Adora’s woken up from dreams where Catra stands center stage. Sometimes they’re fighting. Sometimes they’re in bed, tangled up in each other or trading lazy kisses back and forth while Adora groggily wakes and realizes that there’s no warm weight pressed against her. That it’s just all in her head.

She’s still stuck on Catra when Glimmer starts rambling worriedly over Bow.

“Glimmer, he said not to follow him. Maybe he’s got this under control.”

“He’s not fine! If he was fine, he would have told us that he was leaving. And after finding out those signals were about Mara, and—”

“Okay, Glimmer, just—calm down. I agree. But I’m sure he’s fine.”

“But what if he’s not, Adora? What if he’s not and something happens to him and—”

Glimmer is practically buzzing with fear as she paces around the woods. Adora can see the tears forming in her eyes, and—

And she wonders if this is how everyone in the Fright Zone felt about her and Catra.

Something so obvious right in front of them both, and somehow, neither one can see it.

It’s infuriating on the outside.

It’s so obvious how much Bow and Glimmer care for each other, and yet—

Oh, this is not at all how Adora needs to be spending her day. Especially when she’s thinking of how much Bow and Glimmer obviously are into each other, and how much they can’t see it, and how much that reminds her of Catra, and—

All roads lead back to Catra.

They always have.

“You’re really going to give me a hard time for allegedly saying ‘Catra’ in my sleep when you’re… doing this?”

“So you admit it!” Glimmer shoots back, pointing an accusing finger right at Adora’s chest.

“I said, allegedly!”

Glimmer groans, and Adora matches the sound in frustration because this is all just too much for a Saturday morning.

“Why are you so focused on that when Bow is missing?”

All roads lead back to Catra.

And just once, she wants to get her out of her head.

“He’s allowed to do things on his own, Glimmer! He’s allowed to not tell you. He’s not your boyfriend!” Adora snaps.

And immediately regrets it.

She’s not sure if she says it more to Glimmer in regards to Bow or to her own self thinking about her and Catra.

It’s just sex, Adora.

She’s not your girlfriend, Adora.

But Adora shakes free of that thought quickly when she sees the hard line of Glimmer’s mouth pulled into a grimace, the way her friend’s eyes go cold, and then the way Glimmer turns away completely and starts walking with a deadly quiet, “Come on. We need to find him.”

Adora doesn’t try to apologize.

Not yet.

They’re definitely headed in the same direction as Bow, judging from all the broken twigs, sap, and the oddly distinct footprints that Bow leaves behind. It’s only a few seconds after that Glimmer finds his arrows.

And Adora definitely didn’t expect to be spending her day inside a library.

It somehow gets even weirder—Glimmer nearly starts crying over seeing Bow in a shirt that isn’t a crop top, which is certainly jarring. Bow introduces Glimmer and Adora to his dads and starts spewing some nonsense about the Academy of Historic Enterprises. And Adora, the brilliant liar she is, suddenly has to act like a triple major in art, history, and art history.

Totally doable.

The afternoon is a whirlwind of snacks and information as they find out that Bow’s one of thirteen children, that his fathers think he wants to be a historian, and that they have no knowledge of his prowess as an archer.

It’s kind of a welcome distraction from thinking of Catra, as all of Adora’s brainpower is held captive by keeping up the ruse of being a student at an academy Adora’s not even sure is real.

If only things could be so easy.

Soon, Adora’s bringing out her sixth major in She-Ra, and fighting an elemental in George and Lance’s living room.

And totally not thinking of Catra at all.

It works out in the end, though, as Bow’s dads fire up a projector and start to give them answers about Mara, Serenia, the portal…

Or at least somewhere to start.

They show Adora all the constellations, show her Serenia, show her where it would appear for just one night in the summer.

The Crimson Waste.

“Then that’s where we have to go,” Adora says plainly, staring into the projection of the desert wasteland.

What? You can’t just go into the Crimson Waste. It’s a no-man’s land. No one’s ever made it that far and come back alive.

But when Adora returns to Bright Moon with Bow and Glimmer in tow, she’s still thinking about the Crimson Waste.

She wants answers.

It’s her destiny after all. Adora would at least like to understand it better.

So Adora falls asleep back in her bed in Bright Moon, dreaming of a desert wasteland, stars in the sky, and Catra.

Always Catra.

What she doesn’t expect is to wake up in the dead of night to a sickly Shadow Weaver hovering over her bed.

And then Adora just wants more answers.

It strikes Adora suddenly that it feels like everything is happening so fast, reaching a critical point, like someone snapped their fingers (maybe Adora) and set things into motion.

Everything feels so out of her control.

She just wants answers.

So when Shadow Weaver only agrees to talk to Adora, she goes to seek out those answers.

She fights the urge to roll her eyes when Shadow Weaver calls her my Adora and reaches out for her like she’s someone Shadow Weaver cares about.

Shadow Weaver doesn’t care about anyone but herself.

Adora’s not going to let her get in her head.

“You snuck into Bright Moon,” Adora says in greeting. “I want to know why. That’s the only reason we’re speaking.”

You’re the only one I can trust.

I’ve missed you, my child.

Once upon a time, that would have meant something to Adora.

But now—

“We’re past that. Try again.”

Shadow Weaver’s laughs devolve into a coughing fit, but once she finally catches her breath, she hits Adora where it hurts.

“You sound just like Catra.”

Adora growls and takes a step closer to Shadow Weaver, suddenly remembering that Glimmer is in the room as well when Adora feels a hand on her shoulder pulling her back.

“You never could resist being around each other, could you? Even with her dragging you down—"

“Don’t talk about her like that.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Adora can see the way Glimmer raises her eyebrows at the way Adora leans forward and goes rigid at the way Shadow Weaver talks about Catra.

She’s so angry.

She’s so confused.

And she still—for some stupid reason—just wants…

“You really must be wiser, Adora. Remember that these entanglements are never worth your potential for greatness.”

Adora pulls back.

“What do you want?”

“I have a proposal for you.”

Heal her in exchange for information.

So Adora does it.

Because Adora wants answers.

The thing about getting answers though, is that at least when you’re still sitting in the uncertainty, you have options.

Finding out the truth?

There’s only one option, then.

Shadow Weaver tells them of the portal that Hordak’s trying to build to bring the rest of the Horde armies through.

A force so large you cannot even comprehend it.

But that—

Well, somehow, that’s not even nearly the worst part.

Adora’s vision goes blurry, the room starts spinning, and the grip she has on her sword is quickly loosening when Shadow Weaver tells her that Hordak has succeeded once before in building a portal.

And Adora came through it.

Adora can barely hear Glimmer yelling at Shadow Weaver to stop. Everything is muffled. Everything is—

Adora is different from us.  

And so Adora does the only thing her instincts can tell her to do as the walls close in around her.

She runs.

She barely registers the way she commands Swift Wind, who watches her almost in fear as she charges up to him, to start flying. They don’t stop until she gets to the Crystal Castle. Adora doesn’t stop until she marches inside and yells for Light Hope—

And that’s the thing about getting answers.

That’s thing about the truth.

It can change everything.

Truths like:

She’s a First One.

She’s not even from Etheria.

“Can a portal take me…home?”

Home.

She doesn’t even know what home is anymore.

Home used to be the Fright Zone. Home used to be—

Catra.

Adora screams at the hologram staring back at her, too cold, too calm, while Adora feels her whole world cave in.

“Don’t I get a say in what happens to me? Don’t I get a choice?”

“No, this is your destiny,” Light Hope replies in the same monotone voice.

This is your destiny.

You don’t get a say.

And that’s the cold, hard truth that Adora has to live with, has to bear.

When she arrives back in Bright Moon later that night, she knocks on Glimmer’s door with an apology on her lips.

“Hey.”

Glimmer steps aside and lets Adora in.

“I realized I never apologized about what I said the other day. About Bow.”

Glimmer sighs and answers, “No, you’re right. And even if he was my…”

Glimmer shrugs and stares out the window with her arms folded over her chest.

“He’s allowed to have his privacy. So are you,” she finishes.

“Glim, you should just tell him how you feel.”

And she wants Glimmer to do it so badly. Part of Adora thinks she wants her to—no, knows she wants her to—because Adora knows she can’t do the same.

That she can’t have Catra like that.

“And what if I completely ruin years of friendship by doing it?”

Well, that’s just ridiculous, Adora thinks.

But she smiles instead and puts a comforting hand on Glimmer’s shoulder.

“I think if he doesn’t feel the same way, you two are strong enough to work through that,” is what she says out loud.

She squeezes Glimmer’s shoulder and then bumps her hip against hers.

“For the record, I think he likes you too.”

Glimmer laughs and tries to fight the smile forming on her mouth.

“And what does a former Horde soldier know about love?” she jokes.

Adora has to fight back a laugh because what does she even know?

She knows she loves her friends.

She knows she probably would have loved her…her family… had she known them.

And she knows she wants Catra, still cares for her so much more than she should—

But love?

“I’ve learned plenty in the last year, I think,” is all Adora says.

Glimmer nods and smiles, taking a seat on one of the overstuffed couches in the room.

“Can I ask you something?”

Adora sits down beside her.

“Of course.”

“What happened with you and Catra at that temple? You never told me.”

Oh.

Adora’s not really expecting the question. But then again—

All roads lead back to Catra, after all.

“It…made us relive some old memories.”

Adora leaves out all the rest. Leaves out the part where she finally gave in and kissed Catra for the first time. Leaves out the part where she knows now that she’d been wanting to do it for so much longer than she’d realized.

“Good ones? Bad ones?”

“Both.”

“With Catra, it’s just…it’s complicated,” she feels the need to add.

Complicated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

“I mean, I was a Horde solider when you first met me. She’s—"

“She attacked my family’s kingdom, Adora.”

Adora sighs and knows that trying to get Glimmer to see the good in Catra is probably not going to happen, at least not tonight.

But she can’t help herself.

“I know, it’s just hard when we have a lifetime of growing up together to go along with that. Like, we’d been close for much longer than we’ve been fighting, and it’s just…”

Adora shrugs and lets out a heavy sigh.

Because still, Catra is in her head, and Adora barely has anywhere to go with it. No one to talk to about her.

She has to put it somewhere.

“I know it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. I just miss her sometimes.”

“Adora, I know you really cared for each other, but she chose her side—"

“You don’t know her like I do,” Adora interrupts.

It’s a foolish idea, she realizes. There’s no one in the world who seems to understand what she’s going through, or at the very least, will fully listen.

Adora doesn’t get a choice anyway.

Adora doesn’t get to want things.

Not things that aren’t part of her destiny.

Not anything that’s not dangerous or a suicide mission to the Crimson Waste that’s seeming more and more appealing by the minute or anything with Mara and She-Ra—

“Look, that’s beside the point.”

Glimmer, thankfully, seems willing to drop it.

“Okay.”

“The point is, I think you should consider telling Bow how you feel.”

Glimmer groans and falls back against the plush pillows of the couch.

“We’re in the middle of a war.”

“So? When is there ever going to be a good time?”

“I—"

“Just think about it.”

Glimmer smiles softly and nods as Adora rises from the couch to head back to her room.

She’s ready to turn her brain off for a few hours (if she can).

Her entire system feels overloaded—her stomach is in knots, her throat is tight with anxiety, and her head is pounding in pain from the sheer amount of information she’s taken in in the past couple days.

She’s exhausted.

And she misses Catra.

And it’s so fucking stupid.

Adora wonders if maybe screaming into the void in the middle of the Crimson Waste wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

She shuffles down the hallways of Bright Moon’s castle, feet dragging as she finally reaches her bedroom door.

She sighs as she closes the door behind her, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath before turning the lights on.

Only to find—

“Catra?”

Catra is sprawled on Adora’s bed, wearing Adora’s robe (and nothing else underneath it, it appears), lounged there like she’s been waiting.

“Hey, Adora.”

Chapter Text

Catra’s had plenty of time to think—alone in her cell, shackled. A mirror image of Shadow Weaver just a few days before. Same cell, too. At least Hordak is poetic like that.

I did everything right. I tried to prove myself. I don’t get to win.

She lashes out at Scorpia because she’s the only person in front of her. She lashes out at her because she can. Because she doesn’t get to win. She doesn’t get to have friends who care about her or believe in her or—

They’re all going to leave anyway. Might as well get the jump on it. And so Catra had sat in her cell, just waiting, knowing full well that this is the end. Catra had always told Adora that she expected to at least die in a cool way. In battle somehow, maybe trying to slay the Queen of Bright Moon herself. Maybe she’d die just as she reached the castle, being taken out while the rest of her squad went on and won. Or maybe she’d die in Adora’s arms, her hand pressed to Catra’s cheek and whispering the words she’d always wanted to hear from her best friend.

It’s not supposed to go like this. She’s not supposed to go out like this.

Exiled. Pushed out. Untrusted. A failure.

On a suicide mission to a desert wasteland where nothing survives, as they’d told all the cadets growing up. Going to the Crimson Waste is a special kind of hell that Hordak serves her with. Execution would be quick. This? Catra just hangs on to the false hope of First Ones tech and a second chance. Even if she knows that she’s going to die.

Slowly. Probably painfully. And definitely not in Adora’s arms.

Caring about people is what got me into this mess, she tells Scorpia.

Caring about the Horde. Caring about Shadow Weaver. Caring about Adora, for fuck’s sake.

She’s going off to die in a desert wasteland. And all Catra can think about is blue-gray eyes and blonde hair and the way Adora smiles down at Catra when she’s leaning over her in bed. All she can think about is the memories they replayed in the castle and so many more. All Catra can think about is how it started for her when she was fifteen, stupidly and recklessly in love with a princess and not even knowing it.

Catra doesn’t get to win. Catra doesn’t get what she wants.

But if she’s going to die, if she’s going to go out like this, she’s going to give it one last try. Because Catra may not get to win. But she doesn’t quit. And if she’s going to die, she’s at least going to try and make things right with Adora somehow. Give her one last good memory.

Adora deserves that much.

And it’s with that focus that Catra sneaks out of the Fright Zone and heads for Bright Moon.

“Hey, Adora.”

Catra’s sprawled out on Adora’s bed when she opens the door, bodysuit forsaken for the plush purple robe she saw hanging by Adora’s bathroom door, and it doesn’t occur to Catra until this exact moment that maybe ambushing Adora in her Bright Moon bedroom when the last time they saw each other ended…tensely…was not a fully thought-through plan. But desperate times, or however the saying goes.

“Catra, what—how—why—"

Adora just gapes back at her, stuck somewhere between confused and shocked and, if Catra can still read her correctly, a little turned on, judging from the way she stares at Catra.

“Is that my robe?”

“It’s very soft.”

Catra props herself up on her elbows and moves to stand, smirking at the way the robe rides up her leg with the way she moves. With her sensitive hearing, she doesn’t miss the way Adora chokes back a gasp.

“How long have you been in here?”

“Like ten minutes.”

Catra stands and starts to pace around the room, toward the giant waterfall that for some reason exists in Adora’s room, stopping to trace a finger over the sword that lays on a table next to Adora’s bed.

“Why?” Adora asks, a little breathlessly.

Catra tips her chin up and tosses a smirk back toward Adora as she continues to saunter around the room. It’s all an act. It’s completely an act. Catra’s all bravado on the outside, and on the inside, she feels…

What if Adora kicks her out?

Insecure. She feels a little insecure.

“Didn’t you say I should come check out your room sometime? Gotta say, you were right. This bed really isn’t that fancy.”

Catra gestures toward the large windows, the waterfall, the absurd amount of plush pillows and couches that fill up every surface of the room that’s not Adora’s bed as she adds, “The rest of it, though…”

“Catra, why are you really here?”

Adora walks toward Catra now, standing just a few feet away, her expression unreadable.

“Are we calling this neutral ground?”

“Is that a euphemism?” Adora asks dryly.

Catra laughs despite the gravity of this whole situation, at the idiotic blonde girl who haunts her dreams every night.

“No.”

“Then sure,” Adora replies, smirking.

Catra picks her next words carefully.

She wants to tell Adora everything. She wants to tell her that this is probably it for them, for her. She can’t. She won’t.

“I didn’t like how we left things last time,” Catra starts, barely above a whisper.

And at this, Adora’s unreadable expression softens into a look that Catra’s noticed over the years, one that Adora seems to reserve only for her. Something that just belongs to them. Just Catra and Adora. Like it always should have been. Like it was always supposed to be.

The look on Adora’s face makes the words keep tumbling out of Catra’s mouth.

“And I—"

She takes two steps closer to Adora.

“I’m obviously not going to get into why, but I don’t know that we’re gonna see each other for awhile.”

Catra takes another step closer, staring at the floor, at the way her feet are just inches from the boots on Adora’s.

“So I just wanted to see you,” Catra finishes, looking up at Adora, who’s searching Catra’s face for any kind of answer.

“Catra, what’s going on?”

She wants to tell her. She wants to tell Adora everything, just like she used to.

“Adora—"

“Well, can I help?” Adora pleads.

“Adora.”

But she knows exactly what that’ll do. Adora will try and protect Catra. She’ll try and save her. She’ll always come running. That’s just what Adora does.

It has to end like this. And this will certainly be the last time.

Catra burns a pleading gaze into Adora’s eyes, silently begging her to drop it, to just let them have this. She feels a lump in the back of her throat pressing up further and further, eyes starting to burn and she is not going to cry—

Adora reaches out and tugs gently on the end of cinch that holds the purple robe closed.

“I thought we agreed last time was—"

“I know,” Catra says, and she hates the way her voice breaks on the words.

And Adora—foolish, brilliant, beautiful Adora—has her eyes completely on Catra’s lips as she keeps talking.

“I know things are complicated and weird and me being here is not helping at all, but I—"

Catra breaks off with a sigh. She’s never known how to ask Adora for what she really wants. As kids, Adora’s attempts to comfort her were met with kicks in the stomach. As teenagers, it was this is not because I like you. When Catra asked her not to leave the Horde, it came out stay instead of I love you.

Catra doesn’t get to win. But she’ll let herself want this one last thing.

“Look, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a really shitty time the last few weeks, and I guess I just thought maybe you’d wanna…take the edge off? God, that sounds so lame. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. Who shows up in their enemy’s bedroom—"

“Hey now. I did that,” Adora replies, smiling.

“Well, you’re an idiot.”

Adora sighs, bringing a hand up to cup Catra’s cheek. Catra leans into the touch.

There’s no holding pattern. There’s no floating. They’re going to crash and burn.

And Catra just keeps falling.

“We were more than that, you know. More than enemies,” Adora whispers into the small space between them, Catra bringing a hand up over Adora’s on her cheek.

We can still be more than that, is what Catra wants to hear her say.

“Yeah,” Catra just whispers, her eyes slipping shut, the feeling of Adora’s hand sandwiched between Catra’s own hand and her cheek the only thing grounding her, the only thing keeping her from crashing.

When Catra feels Adora press closer, feels her lips press against hers, it’s not like any of the other times. It’s softer. It’s gentler. It’s the way Catra imagines someone who cares about her would kiss her. Adora pulls back just an inch. Catra feels her breath on her lips and god, she wants to savor every last moment of how Adora feels against her like this—hand on her cheek, an arm snaked around her waist, forehead pressed against Catra’s.

Catra wants to cry when she hears the request she’s made of Adora so many times echoed back to her.

“Stay.”

So Catra threads her hands through Adora’s hair and pulls her lips back to hers, tilting her head and deepening the kiss. She can feel Adora smiling against her lips as she wraps both arms around Catra’s waist, tightening her hold on her and guiding them backward toward the bed that feels suspiciously like Adora’s mattress in the Fright Zone. If Catra closes her eyes, they could be in the Fright Zone for all she knows. They could be anywhere—Catra really can’t think of much past Adora Adora Adora

“I thought about coming to see you too, you know,” Adora murmurs before Catra starts kissing her neck.

They tumble onto the bed together, Adora pulling Catra down on top of her while Catra already is reaching for Adora’s belt buckle.

“I just…I thought about you a lot in general,” Adora adds.

This reformed vulnerability between them is almost too much for Catra to bear. She’s so used to being able to tell Adora everything, still, even after all this time on opposite sides. But it’s been so easy to hold back when they’ve been together like this, with the knowledge that they’re…well, actively supposed to be trying to destroy each other.

Not that they don’t do a good enough job of that without the war, Catra thinks. But Catra leans into it now the way she leans into how Adora touches her, feather-light and caressing, something she can arch into.

“Yeah?”

“Mhm.”

“And what were you thinking about?” Catra asks, pausing her trail down Adora’s neck and coming back up to press a quick peck on her lips.

Adora loops her arms around Catra’s neck and pulls her in to kiss her again.

“Well, I thought about us doing a lot of things on this bed,” she says, gasping to catch her breath in between kisses.

“But also against the window…”

Catra groans and rolls her hips down into Adora’s stomach, suddenly desperate for friction and even more desperate for Adora to tell her about every single fantasy she’s ever had.

“And I have a really nice shower…”

Catra doesn’t even care that she absolutely despises water and thinks that’s probably one of the best ideas Adora’s ever had.

“Sometimes even out in the gardens…”

Catra chuckles against Adora’s lips, kissing her once more, and then again—just because she can, just because she has to savor it.

“Mmm. Sparkles would kill us,” Catra says into Adora’s collarbone.

“Let’s not talk about Glimmer right now,” Adora grits out, moaning as Catra starts sucking a mark into a sensitive spot on her neck that drives Adora crazy.

There’s something so new and exciting about being with Adora like this, and at the same time, Catra can’t help but notice how comforting it feels. How right it feels to know someone the way she and Adora know each other—like the backs of their hands—and still find ways to be surprised, still find new things that make the other tick. Catra thinks that no matter where they are, Adora is probably always going to feel like home.

It’s awful. And it’s heart-breaking. And Catra doesn’t get to win. But she prays to whatever, whoever, is out there, that she can just have this one good thing to go out on. Adora pulls her tight white top over her head, and then her lips are on Catra’s again, tongue pressing in to find hers, so soft and warm and so good. They’re not as hurried this time, less frantic and rushed, and the slow burn of it all has Catra even more strung out than usual.

“I missed this,” Catra hears herself say when Adora tugs on the opening of Catra’s robe and starts nipping at the tops of Catra’s breasts.

Adora pulls back suddenly, and it startles Catra for a second. But Adora—fuck—she looks…

Her stupid hair poof is a mess, flyaway strands of hair framing her face. Her lips are red from the way Catra’s bitten at them, and her face is flushed. And she’s looking up at Catra with a cocked eyebrow and a smile that burns brighter than that runestone that lives outside her window.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re getting a little sappy on me.”

No. Nothing’s okay.

(And at the same time, everything is, because Adora’s here.)

But Catra can’t say any of that. She can do vulnerable, but…

There’s still a line.

“I was talking to your tits,” Catra shoots back.

“You’re the worst.”

Catra smirks and lets Adora tug the cinch of her robe open, reaches for Adora’s pants and starts pulling, and they’re bare in front of each other again, this time with an added, unspoken layer between them. Something’s shifted, at least for Catra. She’s going into this night fully aware and not at all trying to hide—at least to herself—that she loves Adora. That she has for so long. And she’ll never tell her. But she can still try and show her.

Adora leans up to kiss her again, their bodies pressing together and god, Adora’s hands are roaming all over Catra’s back, to the base of her tail, back up across her shoulders. And Catra pulls back and sees Adora looking absolutely wrecked underneath her in her stupid Bright Moon suite.

“What?” Adora finally asks after Catra’s been staring for probably much too long.

These are the things she wants to remember when she’s deep in the desert. She wants to remember the rise and fall of Adora’s chest, the way it hitches and the way her back arches when Catra touches her. She wants to think about Adora’s eyes darkening when Catra calls her princess. She wants to remember all of it. Catra can’t help herself when the words come out. There’s usually an element of talking to these trysts, but it’s mostly been trading banter back and forth, never straying into anything too deep.

“You’re insanely gorgeous. Like, you know that, right?”

Adora’s eyes widen.

“I—”

Catra doesn’t let her finish.

“You probably have so many people just dying for your attention, who would give anything to have you like this.”

Catra knows that Adora has a possessive streak. Adora should know that Catra definitely has one too.

(Not that Adora probably couldn’t already tell, based on the way she’s smirking up at Catra.)

And it’s never been lost on Catra once since they started doing this, that out of all the people of Etheria she could be doing this with, Adora still—for some reason—keeps coming back to Catra.

(She just tries not to think about it too hard because Catra knows it’s only going to give her false hope.)

“What would they think if they knew their precious hero begs for it from me?”

“I don’t beg—"

“Bet I could make you.”

Adora eyes her, challenging her, and then softens after a moment, reaching a hand up behind Catra’s ear and scratching gently there. The intimacy of the gesture nearly kills Catra on the spot.

Adora smiles sadly and says, “I hate to break it to you, but Adora doesn’t really do it for them. It’s more She-Ra that gets all the attention.”

Catra wants to tell her fuck She-Ra, fuck all of them. That Adora has always been more than enough being just Adora. Not even Adora the Force Captain. And certainly not Adora the Princess.

Just Adora. Her Adora. She’s always been enough.

“Well, then they’re fucking stupid,” is what Catra says instead.

But it earns the most genuine laugh she’s heard out of Adora in a long time, and Catra breaks into a fit of giggles along with her.

“You say the sweetest things to me, Catra.”

“I know. I’m very romantic.”.

Adora smiles at her like the world isn’t burning around them, and Catra decides she can’t take it anymore, can’t take how soft and sweet Adora is being. So she spends the next several minutes between Adora’s legs, teasing her, bringing her close to the edge and then pulling back, hearing the way her voice breaks a certain way when Catra’s tongue flexes just so and smirking as her hips buck toward Catra’s face.

“Catra—"

“Say please.”

“Fuck you.”

Catra loves all sides of Adora. But the edge-of-orgasm, needy Adora who has an absolutely filthy mouth on her has got to be one of Catra’s favorites. And Catra can’t help but tease this out a little longer. If this is the last time—the real last time—she’s going to give Adora something to remember her by.

“If you want it so bad, tell me.”

“You are such a brat,” Adora groans, in a voice at least an octave deeper than the one she usually speaks in.

“Just love seeing you come undone like this,” Catra says, laving her tongue against the skin of Adora’s inner thigh and sucking.

She teases one finger inside Adora and keeps going.

“Love knowing that no one else makes you like this.”

She adds a second finger.

“How charged it makes our fights these days.”

Catra rubs her thumb on Adora’s clit, and Adora whimpers above her.

“How I know it does it for you when I call you princess.

Catra presses into Adora a little deeper, pulling a deep moan from Adora’s throat.

“Like you didn’t nearly fly through the ceiling the first time I called you Force Captain.”

Catra just laughs and keeps pressing into Adora at a pace so slow it’s not going to get her anywhere fast.

“Come on, Catra…”

“What’s that, Adora?”

Adora growls at that, grabbing Catra by the wrist of the hand that’s inside her and digging her nails in enough to leave half-moon fingernail marks long after she’s gone.

“Fuck me.”

“Well, you could at least ask politely.”

Adora cranes her neck up so that she can glare at Catra now, and Catra can’t help but laugh. She loves to have the upper hand like this.

Please fuck me before I throw you off this bed and do it myself while I make you watch.”

“And I’m the brat?”

But Catra can’t keep her waiting for long, and she drives Adora to the edge quickly after that, her fingers buried deep inside her and Adora pressing messy, open-mouthed kisses on Catra’s lips. She comes with Catra’s name on her lips, and that’s one more thing Catra vows to hold on to deep in the desert.

Adora wastes almost no time flipping them over, pinning Catra to the bed with a thigh pressed between her legs.

“Your turn, I think,” Adora whispers in Catra’s ear before pressing a quick kiss to her cheek and pulling back.

“And what do you have in store for me, princess?”

Suddenly, Adora blushes and looks away, a hand reaching up to rub at her neck nervously.

“Actually, I—”

Hmm. This is different too. Adora hasn’t been this unsure since, well, the first time this happened.

And then Adora’s hopping off the bed and rummaging through a dresser, avoiding eye contact with Catra.

“There is kind of something I wanted to try.”

Oh.

Oh.

Adora turns around and is nervously holding…

Oh.

She’s dangling a harness from her fingers.

“Where the fuck did you even get that?” Catra asks, her voice coming out in a pathetic squeak because she is kind of losing her mind at the thought of Adora fucking her with a strap-on.

“It was a gag gift from Mermista, but…,” Adora answers quietly, eyes still looking away from Catra and completely in the opposite direction of the toy.

“Do you even know how to use that?”

Adora’s face is flaming bright red now, and she shrugs.

“I mean, yeah. I think so. I just—We don’t have—”

“No. No. I want to.”

Adora finally looks over at Catra, who’s laying on the bed, legs open and almost shaking in anticipation. She definitely wants to. And to put any doubt out of Adora’s mind, Catra takes a ragged breath and answers in a voice so low she’s almost worried Adora doesn’t hear her at first.

“Put it on.”

Adora raises her eyebrows, just nods and walks over to the bed with the toy still in her hands. She pauses, tilts her head at Catra and fixes her with a questioning look like she just remembered something important.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Can I stop you?”

Adora points a finger and taps it against the red mask on Catra’s face.

“When did you start keeping this on all the time? I can’t remember the last time I saw you without it.”

And god, they’re just covering all the bases tonight, aren’t they?

“It’s just—a comfort thing. I guess.”

And it is. Catra’s just more comfortable with it on. With the way it keeps her unruly hair out of her face with how often Shadow Weaver would make comments about how unkempt she looked. It was one less thing for Shadow Weaver to berate her about when she had it on. So it became something safe. And then it just became a habit. Another layer of armor.

“You can take it off if you want.”

And she means it. Catra’s done with the armor around Adora. At least for tonight.

“Well, no, I don’t want to make you—"

“I want to.”

So Adora removes the mask from Catra’s forehead and gently cards her fingers through her hair, smoothing it out and staring down at Catra with a look that’s so…

Catra doesn’t even know what to call it. What strikes her about Adora, particularly tonight, is how soft she’s being.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Adora replies, with a sigh that tells Catra that it’s definitely not nothing.

Adora keeps smiling down at her, keeps playing with the tufts of Catra’s hair in her hands.

“You know you’re really hot, too, right?”

Catra barks out a laugh and an “oh, sure.”

“Oh, don’t go fishing for compliments,” Adora says playfully, getting up from the bed again and reaching for the strap-on.

And soft, sweet, unsure Adora is gone again, replaced with the cocky, confident Adora who is surely about to ruin Catra’s life.

“You had to know what that tight bodysuit did to all the other cadets.”

Adora pulls the harness on and swings a leg over Catra’s hips, her fingers stroking down Catra’s stomach, over her hips, and down through her folds—

She’s so turned on. She’s so wet. She wants Adora so badly.

“I wasn’t really looking at the other cadets,” Catra answers, not even bothering to hide the smile on her face.

“So you knew exactly what that suit would do to me at Princess Prom too?”

Adora’s staring down at her with a cocky smile, fingers teasing Catra and working her up even more and fuck, it’s just not fair how much Adora makes her feel.

“I certainly had my hopes.”

Adora eases two fingers inside of Catra, pressing into her shallowly, just enough friction for Catra to feel something start to build but nowhere near what she needs.

Adora’s hovering over her now as she leans down and whispers in Catra’s ear, “You want to know what I did the minute I was alone after that?”

Catra can’t even form the word yes, just moans and nods.

“I laid in this bed and thought of you in that suit while I touched myself.”

“Adora—"

“Want to know what I was thinking about?”

Fuck.

“I would so prefer you showing me, Adora.”

Adora thrusts her fingers in deeper, the heel of her hand rubbing against Catra’s clit, and she knows that Adora’s just getting started with her, just getting her warmed up, but god, she is about to lose it.

“I wanted to pin you against a wall right in the middle of that hallway.”

Adora presses in deeper, faster.

“I don’t think I even would have cared if someone saw us.”

And then, she stops. Catra clenches around Adora’s fingers, but she’s slipping them out as Catra whines and chases Adora’s hand, jerking her hips toward her.

“I wanted to be the one walking in on your arm. I wanted to be the one who took you home,” Adora continues, now lining up the head of the dildo with Catra’s entrance.

“Adora, you’re killing me here.”

Catra’s not sure her voice has ever sounded his hoarse, this broken, and Adora hasn’t even moved yet. But Catra’s whole body is practically vibrating from the way Adora is talking to her. Adora tilts her hips just so, and Catra sinks down toward her as Adora slowly presses into her. Catra wonders if she can just die like this instead.

“Sometimes I think about the way things were,” Adora whispers, and this mix of soft and sensual and sexy that Adora is so effortlessly striking is setting Catra’s whole body on fire.

“Adora, please—"

“I think about that night in your room. If things were different, if we still would have ended up there somehow.”

Adora has her hands on either side of Catra’s body, bracketing her in, Catra’s legs wrapped around Adora. Adora snaps her hips into Catra and finally starts thrusting into her at an agonizingly slow pace.

“Adora. Adora, fuck—"

Catra does her best to keep her claws retracted as she grips Adora’s shoulders in the same place she’s left scars once before while Adora drives into her deeper and faster. And Catra hangs on for dear life. She has her eyes screwed shut and her mouth wide open, little gasps and moans falling out with every move Adora makes. And then she feels Adora’s hand on her cheek, willing Catra to look up at her.

“Look at me, baby,” she hears Adora whisper into the space between them, and Catra nearly comes from that alone.

She does as she’s told, opens her eyes to Adora staring down at her, eyes dark and hungry and god, Catra might be completely drunk on the way Adora is making her feel, but it makes her believe that maybe, just maybe, Adora cares for her just as much as she cares for Adora.

“Adora—"

Catra can’t take her eyes off of her even if she wanted to.

Adora—"

“Come for me, Catra.”

Catra falls apart. Adora catches her.

She doesn’t know how long it is after that she opens her eyes to Adora lying beside her, propped up on her elbow on her side, staring down at Catra and gently stroking her index finger along Catra’s arm while she catches her breath.

“You okay there, Force Captain?”

“Mmm.”

Catra leans into Adora’s touch and has no intention of ever leaving, not when Adora’s looking at her like that. She curls into Adora’s side when suddenly, Catra’s stomach growls loudly.

“Are you hungry?” Adora asks with a laugh.

“Kind of a long journey to get here, Adora. Didn’t exactly stop and eat.”

She can already feel herself dozing off, curled into the warmth of Adora’s side, letting out a groan in protest when Adora suddenly pulls away.

“You poor thing.”

Adora gets out of bed, reaching for the robe that Catra had borrowed earlier.

“Where are you going?”

“You stay put. I’m going to the kitchen to see if there’s any cake.”

Adora leaves, but this time Catra knows she’ll come back.

And these are the moments she’ll hold close to her, deep in the desert.

 

 

///

 

 

Adora’s walking to the kitchen, thinking about what kind of cake will be waiting for her.

Maybe there’s multiple kinds. Maybe she’ll get a choice.

Choices.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Her life isn’t exactly cut out for making her own choices, she’s found. Sometimes this…thing…with Catra—it feels like the only thing she gets to keep choosing. Something she gets to choose to spite the way the world around her exists—just the two of them, on opposite sides, finding something with each other that they never could anywhere else. And so when Adora had walked into her bedroom to find Catra of all things waiting for her…

It just feels too good to be true.

She doesn’t get to want things, let alone have things. But Adora’s hurt, and confused, and her mind is rattled by words like destiny and purpose. And Catra’s the one thing that still somehow makes sense, the one constant in her life even with how things have changed…

All roads lead back to Catra, after all.

She’s still too engrossed in thinking about the memories of the last hour or so to worry too much about what Catra means when she says I don’t know that we’re gonna see each other for awhile.

Maybe she’ll bring it up later. Maybe she’ll press the issue again sometime tonight. Or maybe— Maybe she’ll just let it go.

She thinks about the pleading look in Catra’s eyes, asking Adora to let it go. Is she even going to see Catra again? What’s going on?

And maybe Adora would force the issue more, if she got to want things. But wanting Catra, having her here tonight, feels like more than what she’s allowed already. And that’s just going to have to be enough for now. Besides, Catra has always had a flare for the dramatic. Maybe Hordak’s just sending her on some sort of mission elsewhere. They have been seeing less of each other on the battlefield, the higher and higher Catra rises in the Horde ranks. Maybe she’s simply just too valuable to risk.

So Adora keeps padding through the hallways of the Bright Moon castle, thinking about how Catra is back in her bed, and wishing things could always be like this. She opens the kitchen door, humming happily, only to find that the space at the counter is already occupied.

By Bow and Glimmer.

Who are…

Wearing matching purple robes, similar to the one Adora has on.

And cuddling?

Oh.

Wow.

Glimmer has her arms wrapped tightly around Bow’s waist, and Bow is leaning down with his face lodged tightly into the crook of Glimmer’s neck. And then Glimmer presses a kiss to Bow’s cheek, and Adora doesn’t think she can stay quiet much longer. Adora clears her throat, and Bow and Glimmer’s gazes snap away from each other and toward Adora.

“Uh, hi guys.”

They spring apart, Bow practically jogging around to a spot about ten feet away, reaching for the same chocolate cake that Adora has come to find.

“Adora!” Bow practically yells, his voice cracking as he reaches for a knife to start cutting the cake.

Glimmer doesn’t fare much better, awkwardly leaning against the counter and re-adjusting her robe.

“Hi! Hello! Adora! What a pleasant surprise!”

With the two of them standing apart, Adora can now see how rumpled Glimmer’s hair looks, and there’s definitely a couple marks on her neck that…

Seems like everyone took Adora’s advice tonight.

“What are you guys doing here?”

“Better question is what are you doing here?” Glimmer fires back.

Adora just needs to get in and get out. Get the cake. Share no further details. She can do this.

“I wanted cake.”

“So did we! There’s plenty to share,” Bow says, slicing a piece onto a plate and handing it to Adora.

“Can I actually get two pieces?” Adora asks, for some stupid reason.

Glimmer raises her eyebrows and flits her gaze back and forth from the cake and Adora. Damn it.

“What for?”

Adora shrugs, and she and Glimmer are stuck in this strange stand-off like Adora can’t totally call out the fact that she and Bow are definitely walking around in a post-sex afterglow, and Glimmer can call out the fact that Adora is walking around in a similar state of undress, asking for two pieces of cake for some reason.

“I’m just hungry,” Adora replies simply.  

Glimmer grabs the knife from Bow and cuts her one, much larger piece, handing it back to Adora.

“How about one bigger piece?”

Adora takes it.

“That’s fine.”

Adora grips the plate so tightly she’s afraid it’s going to break, holding her breath while she goes to open one of the drawers to get a fork. She doesn’t even try and sneak two and make Glimmer even more suspicious.

“Did you want to stay and eat with us?” Bow asks.

“No, I’m good. I’d hate to interrupt…whatever is happening here.”

She turns around to see Bow nervously fidgeting with the knife in his hands, and Glimmer’s face flushing red.

“What? There’s nothing happening here!” Bow insists, but the way his voice cracks over nearly every word gives him away.

And Adora just loves to have the upper hand.

“I can see Glimmer’s lip gloss on your neck, Bow.”

She points to her friend’s neck, where Adora can see something shimmering against it, and smirks, wheeling around on her heel and heading back out the door. Back to Catra.

“See you guys tomorrow!”

But Glimmer’s surprised, shrill voice calls out to her as she goes.

“Don’t think we won’t be talking about the hickey on your collarbone, Adora!”

Fuck.

Adora’s face blanches, but she doesn’t turn around, the kitchen doors closing behind her. Glimmer’s going to have all kinds of questions tomorrow, and to be fair, Adora does too—

That’s a problem for future Adora and Catra.

Right now, Catra’s in her bed, probably wondering why it’s taking so long for her to come back. And Adora returns to find Catra comfortably nestled under the covers like she belongs there, and Adora briefly wonders what she would have to do to make that a reality. For her to have Catra here with her every night.

“You okay? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Catra calls from her place in bed.

Adora walks over and hands Catra the cake, sitting down beside her while Catra’s tail sneaks out from under the covers and wraps around Adora’s wrist.

“I ran into Bow and Glimmer in the kitchen.”

“Oh,” Catra says around a mouthful of chocolate.  

“I think they were uh…you know.”

Catra nearly chokes on the piece of cake in her mouth and starts laughing hysterically.

When she’s finally calmed herself, Adora having gotten her some water to make sure she doesn’t die by dessert, she says, “Wow, I didn’t know Sparkles had it in her.”

Adora just glares at her, pulling the collar of the robe to the side and pointing a finger at the very obvious bruise that Catra’s left on her collarbone.

“Yeah, well they also noticed what someone did here.”

Catra’s fangs poke out as she smiles.

“Oops,” is all she says in reply, and Adora knows she’s not sorry at all.

And Adora really hates that while she’s pissed at Catra for being so careless, she mostly just finds the idea of someone knowing—knowing that Catra is hers, that only Catra gets to mark her like this and vice-versa—really hot.

“Catra, I’m serious. We’re both dead if we get caught.”

Her stomach gets tight when she lets her mind linger on the thought for too long. Bow and Glimmer can be forgiving, but it’s Catra… and well, Adora’s not sure how well she can talk herself out of this one. The room goes quiet, aside from the sounds of Catra’s empty plate clinking against the bedside table.

“I can go if you want me to,” Catra says quietly.

And—

That would be for the best. That should be how this ends. That’s how it always ends.

“I really don’t want you to.”

Catra smiles at that and tugs on the opening of Adora’s robe.

“Sounds like they’ll be busy with their own…activities…anyway.”

Adora leans in and kisses Catra. For tonight, she’ll let herself want something.

“I should be nourished enough for round two,” Catra adds, shrugging Adora’s robe off her shoulders and pulling her on top of her.

Catra keeps kissing her, sweet and tender and nothing like the frantic, passionate meetings they’ve had before this. And Adora just wishes, just wants—

No.

She can love Catra from afar. She can show her. She just can’t tell her.

“Someone mentioned something about a shower.”

“Mmm, you hate water,” Adora whispers against Catra’s jawline.

And then Catra’s pushing at Adora’s shoulders for her to get up, and Adora goes willingly.

“I can make an exception.”

She lets Catra lead her to the shower.

Adora doesn’t have any idea what time it is when they finally crawl back in bed, Catra’s chin resting on Adora’s sternum and peering up at her with tired eyes, one of her claws tracing lazy circles on Adora’s stomach while Adora’s fingernails scratch gently up and down Catra’s back. It’s peaceful and quiet and everything Adora’s ever wanted.

And it’s temporary. It doesn’t get to stay like this forever. Because Adora doesn’t get to want things.

“So, She-Ra gets propositioned, huh?” Catra asks.

Adora laughs and pulls Catra closer.

“When people are brave enough. Most just throw themselves at me and touch my arms and hope for the best.”

“And you’ve never indulged any of these besotted civilians?”

No. Never. How could she when all she’s ever thinking about is what’s laying right in front of her?

“Not really interested, I guess,” Adora answers quietly, staring at the ceiling.

Catra gives an affirmative “hmm” in response.

“What about you?” Adora asks.

“What, are you jealous?”

Yes. No. Definitely not.

Adora laughs nervously.

“What? No. Why would I be jealous? It’s not like we’re—"

It’s not like you’re my girlfriend.

It’s not like you’re in love with me.

It’s not like I’m in love with you.

“It’s like you said last time. It’s just sex.”

But it’s not. It never has been.

Adora wonders if Catra feels the same. The silence hangs over them tensely for a few moments, Adora willing herself not to tense up because she knows Catra will instantly feel the way she goes rigid when she’s anxious like this, will feel the way her heart is about to start beating out of control.

Breathe.

There aren’t many things she can control. She can control her breath. And then Catra suddenly speaks up.

“Yeah. But there’s still a reason I risked my tail sneaking into Bright Moon to see you rather than be back in the Fright Zone right now.”

Adora smiles up at the ceiling and picks her head up to look down at Catra.

“Oh yeah? And what would that be?”

Catra shuffles closer, her face hovering over Adora’s now, like she’s leaning in to tell her a secret.

“It’s really, really good sex,” Catra stage-whispers.

Adora’s laughter bubbles out of her chest, and her heart nearly bursts because she’s missed this so much—the sweet, silly joking side of Catra that she grew up with.

“Besides, we’re in the middle of a war. I don’t have time to be making notches in my bedpost.”

“Just mine?” Adora asks, because she can’t help herself.

Catra props herself up on an elbow with a smile and reaches a claw for Adora’s bedpost, swiping a nail into the wood deep enough to leave a mark.

“Just yours.”

Adora never wants her to leave.

“Do you want to stay? I would imagine I’ve worn you out by now.”

Catra rolls her eyes and presses a kiss to the corner of Adora’s mouth.

“Please, you’re gonna be walking weird for a week after what I did to you tonight.”

But Adora can feel the tell-tale rumble of Catra’s purring deep in her chest, feels her body sink into the mattress at the way it always seems to instantly calm her.

“You’re purring awfully loudly.”

“Shut up.”

“Just stay.”

Adora falls asleep with Catra in her arms and hopes that the morning never comes. But it does, and she wakes to the sounds of the bedsheets rustling and cold air where Catra was curled against her.

“Catra?” she calls out in a half-asleep daze.

Adora fans an arm out around the bed, hoping to make contact with Catra’s warm body, but she never does.

“Go back to sleep,” she hears Catra mumble from somewhere in the room.

And Adora’s suddenly wide awake, reaching for her robe and turning on the lamp next to her bed to find where the sound is coming from. Catra’s standing by the window, already dressed, ready to disappear into the night again.

“Weren’t you at least gonna say goodbye?”

Catra sighs and looks away from Adora. She stares out the window while the early morning light starts to break and threatens to ruin everything. And this is the part where Adora can’t help the thoughts that come rushing to her head.

“I’ll see you again, right?” Adora asks, because she has to know. “Maybe not for awhile, but I’ll see you again?”

She watches Catra, watches the way her throat bobs when she gulps and the way her fists clench at her sides. And finally, she turns back toward Adora. And smiles softly.

“See you on the battlefield sometime.”

But when Catra kisses her one last time, soft and slow and full of something Adora can’t quite put her finger on—

It feels like goodbye.

Chapter Text

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.

No answers.

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—

That’s news.

“Wait, what?”

“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.

“I—Oh.”

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.

But—

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.

So much.

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.

To want.

To have.

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.

“I—"

Bow drums his fingers against the wood of the bar top nervously, almost giggling and looking away from Adora.

He shrugs.

“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?”

“I—No.”

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.

“Adora—"

“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—”

Catra.

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.”

Oh.

“What?”

“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.”

What?

“What?”

Surely he doesn’t mean—

That doesn’t—

That—

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.

But surely—

No.

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—

“What—"

Sure enough.

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.

He sighs.

“Just…be careful, okay? Don’t make me send out a search party.”

“Thanks Bow.”

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.

But Catra?

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:

  1. She could stay in Bright Moon. No one would trust her.
  2. Eventually, Adora would lose any faith left in her too.

Because Catra?

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.

Or worse.

“No problem.”

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.

“What?”

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.”

Oh.

Oh.

“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.

So naïve.

“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.

“Adora, stop—”

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.

“Catra, I—"

“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. Please.”

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.

Chapter Text

Adora wakes up with a pounding head and an unsettled stomach.

She briefly considers using She-Ra to heal herself, and then she turns over to see Catra, asleep on the floor.

She’s facing Adora, her brows furrowed and mouth held in a tight line, and not at all the relaxed, purring mess that Adora’s had in her arms before.

And suddenly, Adora doesn’t think she deserves to feel better.

She rises carefully and tiptoes toward the door because that’s how this always ends, right? With one of them disappearing before the other has the chance to say anything.

And Catra’s made it pretty clear that she doesn’t want to say anything else.

Can we just drop this for now?

Adora tries not to move too quickly, knows that if she does, her stomach will threaten to release the bile that’s rising in her throat. But she wants to get out of here, and get out of here now—because all she can hear in her head on a loop, looking at Catra’s restless form, is:

I would never be worthy of you anyway

She’s not even entirely sure what Catra means by that.

Worthy of Adora in what way?

Being friends again? Mercy on the battlefield?

Worthy of loving Adora?

In her drunken haze, Adora knows that the words almost spilled out, the ones she’s all too aware of now. Day and night. Deep in the desert.

She thinks about it all the time.

I love you.

But she can’t say it.

Not when she’s drunk. Not when Catra is still so hell-bent on her commitment to rising above everyone in the Horde, to prove herself.

Not when they’re just two parallel lines, running out of space and out of time and never crossing.

Not when destiny and duty and She-Ra will always have to hold her attention the way it does right now.

So she thanks the Horde for the stealth training she’s had growing up—the same training that allowed her and Catra to get so good at sneaking into the barracks late at night long after they should have been asleep—and closes her hand around the doorknob.

She chances a look back, and Catra is still fighting a war in her sleep just like she does when she’s awake.

And Adora leaves.

Because she always does.

Because she’ll always have to when they’re on opposite sides of a war with no end in sight.

She nearly does throw up when she continues to think back on her actions from the previous night—the talk with Bow, how she almost spilled all her secrets right in his lap in the middle of a bar, how she’d stormed outside full of rage and wishing Catra would just make a different choice.

How Catra had followed her—because while they never intersect, their lines still run parallel and run this way closely. Sometimes touching.

Just for a moment.

Just for a night.

How Catra had insisted that she’d never be worthy of Adora, and while Adora still isn’t entirely sure what that means, the only thing she could think to do for Catra was to try and prove that isn’t true.

Which, in Adora’s unfiltered mind, had to mean kissing her.

The memory of the rest of the night is hazy, but the kiss isn’t—she can hear Catra’s sharp gasp and feel the way her lips awkwardly crashed into Catra’s, accidentally catching one of her fangs on Adora’s lip and leaving a sore spot there this morning.

She can see the torn look in Catra’s eyes—Adora’s seen it before. The wanting to pull her close again, but this time, different from all the other times, holding herself back.

She can hear Catra yelling things like useless orphan and inconvenience and I’ve worked way too hard to throw it all away.

Adora wants so badly to convince her.

Convince her that she’s so much more than that.

More than a Horde soldier.

But she doesn’t have a damn clue how to get Catra to see that.

In the light of day, it’s much easier to navigate the Waste, and Adora makes it back to the camp that she, Glimmer, Bow, and Huntara have set up with little issue.

When she opens the flap of the tent, Bow and Glimmer are seated on the floor, talking with each other animatedly.

They must hear the flap open, and when they turn and see Adora, their faces fall into hard glares that make Adora’s stomach turn with dread and her brain twist with confusion.

“Good morning, Adora,” Glimmer says, with probably the least amount of enthusiasm Adora has ever heard from her friend.

What is going on?

“Uh, hey guys,” Adora greets cautiously.

Bow isn’t even looking at her, a far cry from the supportive listener she sat next to the night before.

“Glimmer and I were just about to join Huntara for breakfast.”

He still doesn’t look at her, and Adora turns to see Glimmer trying to catch his eye with a glare that Adora fears might burn holes into him.

“Oh, that sounds…that sounds nice. You guys are up so early.”

Truthfully, Adora was hoping she could sneak in quietly, that the two would still be asleep and worn out from the amount of traveling they’ve done.

“Well, we do have to keep moving,” Glimmer answers simply, and Adora hates this brand of anxiety.

The one where her stomach seems to squeeze itself and somehow feels like it could fly right out of her body. The one where it feels like she’s vibrating from the inside out, unable to control the way her heart pounds and her throat feels full and blocked.

“Is everything okay?” Adora finally asks, terrified to know the answer.

She watches as Glimmer takes a steadying breath, looks her dead in the eyes, and without any stalling, asks, “So how long have you been sleeping with Catra?”

Oh.

Adora feels her knees buckle, feels the ground give out from underneath her. The quicksand she’d jumped into last week would be a kinder fate than this.

It’s, of course, at this moment, that Huntara makes her entrance, a giant skewer of some sort of meat in her hand.

“Hey everyone. Breakfast is served.”

No one says a word.

Adora wishes the ground would swallow her whole already.

“I—"

“Wait, Catra, like the cat girl you were telling me about last night?”

Everyone’s heads whip toward Huntara as they realize she’s heard some of, or maybe all, of this exchange.

“You’re right. That is complicated,” she adds, giving Adora a gentle punch on the shoulder and walking past her to put the slab of meat on their makeshift table.

Glimmer’s been a silent, stoic angry this entire time, simmering under the surface in a way that Adora knows only leads to—

“You told Huntara before us?” she yells.

—blowing up.

“I didn’t tell her we were sleeping together!” Adora yells back, in a high-pitched tone that barely sounds like her own voice.

(Is she about to pass out? Is this what dying feels like?)

“So you are sleeping with her? And you never thought to maybe, I don’t know, bring this up?”

Adora fights back like she’s in battle, on the defense and completely without a plan for this ambush.

“Sorry I didn’t know how to tell you that I was hooking up with our enemy!”

“Why were you doing that at all?” Glimmer shouts back.

“How did you even find out?”

Glimmer huffs and nods toward Bow, who’s been waiting patiently while the two go back and forth.

“I saw you two making out outside the bar last night! It had gotten late, and I came back to see where you were. I would love to be mind-wiped right about now,” he shares.

Fuck.

Adora hadn’t even considered that someone might see them, that anyone else was even around when she was so single-mindedly focused on Catra—so stupid, so reckless.

Another reason why Adora shouldn’t get to want things.

When she does, she’s so careless with them.

“Bow—"

“What?”

And while Bow didn’t give his overwhelmingly positive blessing last night, he still said he trusted Adora to stay at the bar and let her talk to Catra.

“I thought you were fine with me staying at the bar!”

“I didn’t know you were gonna kiss her!” he responds, his voice cracking over the words the way it does when he’s exasperated.

Glimmer is off to the side gaping at Bow, and then covering her hands with her face and letting out a long, dramatic groan.

“You just left her there, Bow?”

Adora’s head pivots back and forth between the two as Bow holds up his hands in defeat.

“She wanted to stay! How was I—"

Seeming to realize that she’s taking out her anger on Bow, Glimmer whirls around with another groan and faces Adora once again, cutting Bow off.

“So what? Then you went back to her place and let her defile you?”

“It wasn’t like that! I was drunk, and she just wanted me to be safe and took me home.”

Glimmer stares Adora down, arms crossed, like she doesn’t believe her at all.

But she doesn’t say any more.

And Adora just stands there, suddenly too hot and feeling the need to shuck her jacket off and toss it somewhere far away. She needs to run somewhere far away and give Glimmer and Bow some time to process this and good god, when did it get so hot in here?

Glimmer must notice the way Adora’s fidgeting with her hands and shifting her weight back and forth on her heels at a speed much too quick for her stomach to handle right now.

Glimmer sighs. She doesn’t yell, just asks in that quiet, eerie calm voice, “How long has this been going on?”

Adora imagines her face goes even more red than it already is and stumbles over a response.

It’s been going on for months.

And the feelings?

Well, those have been sitting somewhere deep inside her for longer than she’d like to admit.

But she doesn’t even know how to begin to explain that to Glimmer and Bow right now.

Glimmer doesn’t give her a chance to formulate a coherent response when a look of realization dawns on her friend’s face.

“Oh my god. That’s where the hickey came from, isn’t it? Oh my god. Adora, that night…please don’t tell me you let her in the castle.”

Adora’s stomach lurches at the mention of the night in the castle and thinks well, actually, Catra let herself in—of Catra laid out on her mattress in a robe, waiting for her, Catra growling as the spray of the shower hit her back and then sighing as Adora worked her fingers against her, Catra scraping a notch into Adora’s bedpost and smirking down at her.

“I—"

“Adora! Are you out of your mind?” Bow shrieks.

The two just stare at Adora in disbelief, her silence enough confirmation for them that yes, she let Catra into Bright Moon, and yes, this has been going on for some time.

And Adora feels her grip rapidly slipping on one of the few things where she felt like she had a choice.

Huntara, ever observant, must pick up on this, and she clears her throat and offers, “This food is gonna get cold if we don’t eat soon.”

Bow just nods in response, and Glimmer turns toward Adora once again.

“We are nowhere near finished discussing this, Adora.”

They eat in silence.

There’s a tension in the air as they go about taking down their tents and packing up.

The quiet lingers on as they begin their hike further into the Crimson Waste, closer to Mara’s ship.

The silence is interrupted only by Bow’s excitement—this thing used to travel in space! Think of all the amazing things it contains!

It’s a brief respite from all the discord.

Adora just stares, stomach still in knots—same as it has been all morning—directly at Mara’s ship.

The ship is empty, save for dangling cables and an eerie voice that rings out when Huntara tells Glimmer that the ship is “haunted.” The voice sounds oddly familiar, like something out of Adora’s dreams, but she can’t quite place it.

The ship is so large, and the room they’re in is so small—there has to be more. There has to be.

Adora searches for a door, a window, anything to give her some clues aside from the rusted walls.

She finally looks down and realizes she’s standing on a giant rune.

There.

That has to be something.

With her sword in her hand, Adora transforms it to a shield and the light blue glow of the runestone ignites something all throughout the ship. A dazzling mural of pinks and yellows and purples—a giant She-Ra—comes to life in front of them, and a door slides open.

The voice gets louder.

Adora can make out a few words now…

She-Ra…Etheria…gone.

Any lingering tension related to Catra dissolves as Adora, Glimmer, Bow, and Huntara step into the open, dimly lit room to find what looks like some sort of command center. Bow sits in what must be the captain’s chair and accidentally springs a constellation map to life, and then a pink hologram is projecting in front of them.

I am Mara, She-Ra of Etheria. And I am gone.

Adora approaches the hologram, the tiniest bit of hope welling up in her because, finally, maybe she can get some answers.

But when Adora greets Mara, the hologram reboots and repeats the same message.

I am Mara, She-Ra of Etheria. And I am gone.

She tries again. It must just be like Light Hope. There must be a password, or something—

I am Mara, She-Ra of Etheria. And I am gone.

Adora doesn’t get to want things.

Not Catra.

Not choices.

Not even answers.

She laughs derisively, mostly at herself, for thinking she could ever have something go smoothly, while the rest of the group stands in silence and watches. She tries to focus on her breathing, tries to focus in on the way she needs to control her stomach before she completely loses it.

But it’s all too much.

With Catra still in the back of her mind and a Mara hologram repeating the same awful message in front of her—gone gone gone—Adora can’t take it.

And deep in the desert, Adora starts to feel herself crack.

“Of course it’s on a loop,” she starts, her voice rising as she flings her arms in the air in defeat, turning around to see her friends watching her, concerned.

“Of course it is! Because why would a hologram ever give me a straight answer? Solve a puzzle. Train. Let go—”

And where did trying to let go of Catra even get her? Adora wonders.

Nowhere.

Fucking nowhere.

“I do everything they tell me, waiting for answers, and all I’m left with is—”

Nothing.

“Why was I taken from my family? Why was I forced to become a soldier? Why did I come here if this was nothing but another dead-end?”

Adora lets herself scream all the questions she’s been trying to set aside, lets herself ask everything because nothing fucking matters anymore

Everything is a mess.

She’s losing Glimmer and Bow’s trust.

She’s certainly lost Catra.

She’s losing everything.

Adora slams a fist down on what looks like a control panel and waits for the buttons to crush under her hand.

Instead, her anger finally gets her somewhere.

The Mara hologram disappears and what materializes instead is an image of the hilt of her sword, slid into a slot like a key card.

When Adora slides the sword in, the room shines bright blue again, and she turns to see—

Mara, or some version of her, in the captain’s chair.

Adora stands before her, captivated and confused.

She listens as Mara explains that she failed, that it was Mara who was supposed to be the last She-Ra.

Something about a weapon.

A portal—

A portal that Mara used to keep Etheria safe. To hide the planet in Despondos away from…

Something.

I never wanted to be a hero. I won’t be remembered as one.

Adora knows the feeling all too well.

“You have the sword now. It is the administrator key to our planet. With it, you can activate a portal,” Mara says.

Don’t do it.”

Adora listens as Mara, or whatever is left of her, begs her to leave the planet in Despondos, tells her that the portal would only lead to death and destruction.

For the good of the universe, Etheria must stay in Despondos. If not, everyone will—

And Mara is gone again.

So that’s that.

Adora can’t go home.

She’s not even sure she wanted to, but—

It would have been nice to have a choice.

And then Adora hears a slow clapping sound as the hologram cuts off and disappears.

“Who’s there?” Huntara growls. “Come out and face Huntara.”

A flurry of stun darts come flying out from somewhere behind the captain’s chair, hitting Glimmer and Bow as Huntara holds up her knife to block the one headed right for Adora’s face.

Out of the shadows come Huntara’s former gang, all decked out in black jackets that look familiar to Adora, ones that she saw—

“You two joined Tung Lashor?” Huntara asks.

“They haven’t joined him. They joined me.”

And there, walking out from behind the captain’s chair, walks Adora’s worst nightmare.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra greets, and there’s no softness behind it.

Just Catra, the battle strategist.

Catra, the enemy.

Catra, who doesn’t think she’s worthy of Adora anyway.

Catra, the one who thinks she has nothing left to lose.  

Adora’s stomach twists again, and against her body’s protests, she races toward the sword, grabs it, raises it in the air—

“For the honor of—”

But she doesn’t get to finish the command. The sword gets tangled in a whip and yanked from Adora’s grasp.

Right into Catra’s hands.

And deep in the desert, Adora starts to feel herself crack.

 

 

///

 

 

Adora always leaves.

She will always leave in the end.

That is the simple fact that Catra has to keep reminding herself as she marches on, in search of First Ones tech.

She can get out of here. She can find what she’s looking for before Adora does. She can prove herself.

She’s been in the Crimson Waste for barely a week and has already amassed a following larger than she originally thought there were people in this entire place.

She can do this.

She doesn’t need Adora.

And Adora doesn’t want her, anyway.

(Not like Catra wants Adora.)

It was always going to end like this, she reminds herself.

Catra just thought it would end with her left for dead in the Crimson Waste, dying of thirst or starvation or killed by some beast.

But regardless—

It has to end.

So Catra waits, stalks her prey when she spies the ship, the group walking in, the hologram.

Adora’s yelling about destiny and answers and choices, and Catra ignores the way it breaks her heart to hear Adora coming undone like this.

No.

This is her one shot to finally win at something.

And Catra will not let any feelings get in the way.

Whatever they had is broken anyway. There’s no way to repair it now, with Catra’s stupid confession, recklessly showing her hand.

I’d never be worthy of you anyway

And it’s true. It’s absolutely true, Catra thinks.

But Adora didn’t need to know.

Holding patterns break.

Things crash.

The end.

So she listens to Mara speak, listens to the talk of a portal that would only bring destruction. The sword as the key.

This.

This is how they win.

This is how she wins, how she proves her worth.

She damages her and Adora further—with a whip, a pull, and then the Sword of Protection is resting in Catra’s grasp.

“Catra, no—"

“This might be the quickest I’ve ever won a fight. Always so dramatic with you, isn’t it, Adora?”

There’s fear in Adora’s eyes as Scorpia holds her arms up above her head with her pincers, Adora wriggling against her grasp.

“Catra, please. Just listen—"

“Like the new accessory?”

She makes a show of snapping the whip toward her while Huntara lifts Bow and Glimmer over her shoulders and escapes.

Catra doesn’t even care as she watches them escape, gives a half-hearted “stop them” to one of her goons—

She has everything she needs.

The sword.

Adora captured.

This is how I finally get to win, she keeps telling herself when her heart clenches at the way Adora is looking at her—soft, open, desperate for Catra to just hear her out.

No.

They’re done.

They’re done.

Bright Moon was the last time, and last night—whatever last night was—was a mistake, and sitting with Adora was foolish and stupid and they’re done they’re done they’re done, she tells herself in time with the beat of her heart.

And then Adora lets out a small whine, her eyes closing and her head slumping.

Scorpia raises her tail in explanation, and Catra just stares, smiles in appreciation.

This is how she wins.

The rest of the crew is quick to turn the inside of the ship into a makeshift dance floor, slinging drinks and scouting all the other rooms to find any remaining loot that wasn’t taken years ago after the sandstorm that first unearthed the ship.

They toast her, tell her she’s the best boss they’ve ever had, and Catra’s drunk on the feeling of power and a few beers.

It almost feels as good as how she felt with Adora.

And Catra knows she’s never going to have that again.

So she takes it and runs with it. She chases the feeling.

She suggests a toast to Scorpia, and Catra laughs in delight as Scorpia shyly accepts the cheers that come her way.

She’s tired of thinking.

She’s tired of thinking about Adora.

So Catra grabs Scorpia by the hand and pulls her out from the crowd, laughing the whole way with Adora’s sword in the other hand, chasing the feeling of being wanted by a place and a whole army and new friends.

The door shuts behind them, and Catra marvels at this new thing—this party they’re having.

“When we go back, there’s going to be a lot more parties,” Catra suggests with a bright smile.

The Horde could really use it.

And once she’s in charge, once she proves just how valuable she is, the Fright Zone will be full of parties.

But Scorpia just stares at her, confused, stumbling over her words.

Catra doesn’t care that Huntara got away.

She has the sword.

The key to the planet.

“When I bring this back to the Fright Zone, Hordak will see me for what I’m worth, and I’ll be back on top.”

She stares at her reflection in the metal of Adora’s sword.

This is how she wins.

Scorpia’s reflection appears just above hers as she adds, “Or, counter point—we don’t go back at all.”

What?

And maybe Scorpia has a point when she tells Catra that she hates it in the Fright Zone, that she’s managed to take over an entire region in a ridiculously short amount of time, that she’s respected here in the Crimson Waste and should stay and enjoy it. (Should keep chasing the feeling that Adora gave her.)

Maybe Scorpia has a point when she says that it’s the first time she’s ever seen Catra happy.

But Scorpia also hasn’t seen Catra with Adora.

And while she hates the Fright Zone a lot of the time, while she finds herself stressed and constantly grinding to get a win—

She still had Adora.

Adora in the Crystal Castle, in her bed in the Fright Zone, in the Northern Reach outpost, in Bright Moon—

Scorpia may not be privy to it, but it’s wrong to suggest that Catra hasn’t found her moments of joy throughout this godawful war.

Because she has.

She just doesn’t get to have them anymore.

Because Catra doesn’t get to win—at least, not everything.

Not Adora.

But she can win this war.

“Forget Hordak,” Scorpia says.

And maybe that sounds appealing.

But when Scorpia follows that up with “Forget Adora,” it hits Catra somewhere deep in her chest.

She can’t forget Adora.

That’s the whole fucking problem.

And she’s not going to forget Adora by hiding in the Crimson Waste. She can forget her by winning, by destroying the Rebellion, by—

Something else hits Catra in the chest when Scorpia follows that up with a proposition—that they could rule together, be happy.

Scorpia blushes, eyes full of promise and full of hope, and Catra’s heart sinks at the realization.

Oh, Scorpia.

Sweet, kind, loyal Scorpia.

Who has waited by Catra’s side this whole time and followed her deep into a desert wasteland.

Who is never going to have a hold on Catra’s heart the way Adora does.

(The way Adora did.)

(That’s over now.)

But Catra lets her down as gently as she can, just shaking her head and finally turning away.

“I have to go check on the prisoner.”

Because for some awful reason, it’s still Adora at the front of her mind.

Even now.

Even though that’s over now.

It has to be.

Because that is how Catra will win.

Catra grips the sword tighter as she walks away, making her way down a hallway to another small room where she knows Adora is being held captive. Her stomach flutters at the thought of being alone with her again, and she curses her body for the automatic reactions she has to Adora’s presence, as much as she wants to fight it.

Catra walks into the room to find Adora bound by ropes, on her knees, tied to a pillar.

And oh, she absolutely hates that her first thought is that in another setting, this would be fulfilling all kinds of fantasies.

Adora’s straining against the ropes, and she whips her head toward Catra, ponytail coming undone and a sheen of sweat pressing flyaway hairs to her forehead.

She looks just like she does in bed when Catra’s teasing her, working her up and edging her closer and closer before pulling away and pulling a loud moan from Adora’s lips.

And it almost weakens Catra’s resolve.

Almost.

“Catra, you can’t do this.”

“Well, hello to you too.”

Catra looks over at the guard and nods toward the door.

“Leave us.”

Catra waits until the door is closed again, and she and Adora are completely alone.

Adora tied up, and completely at her mercy.

Adora keeps struggling against the binds, and it’s all Catra can do to not kiss the stupid glare off her face.

They’re done.

That’s over.

But Catra still can’t help but want it, can’t help but feel the electricity that crackles between them no matter what.

“Let me go.”

“Please, you know how much I love to watch you squirm.”

Adora lunges forward as Catra steps closer, leaning down so that she’s eye-level with her.

There’s still this irresistible, awful pull, and Catra’s not sure that’ll ever go away.

But it’s over.

They’re over.

This is how Catra wins.

“Catra, this is serious.”

Catra gives Adora her best enlighten me face, tilting Adora’s head up with the sharp end of her sword and raising her eyebrows.

“Hordak is trying to open a portal. He wants to bring the rest of the Horde army through to Etheria. We can’t let that happen.”

The…rest of the Horde army?

“The rest of the Horde army?”

“Hordak is part of a gigantic evil army from another world.”

Catra wonders what kind of poison is in Scorpia’s tail because…

What?

Catra just raises an eyebrow in disbelief and stares Adora down because—

That can’t be happening.

And why wouldn’t Hordak ever mention this to Catra?

Unless—

Of course.

Of course.

Catra doesn’t get to be trusted.

She hides the pang of hurt in her chest and continues.

“Never a dull moment with you. Why would I be against more Horde? That means we win, and you lose.”

“We’ll all lose if Hordak uses his portal machine. Light Hope and Mara both said that opening a portal will endanger everyone.”

Catra knows—she heard it all in the ship herself.

But this…armies from other worlds…

How would Adora even know this?

Catra rises from her place on the floor with Adora and turns away from her with a sardonic laugh.

“You’ll listen to anything weird old holograms tell you, won’t you? You should really try to get over that.”

Catra won’t show it, won’t admit it, but Adora looks too deadly serious for this to be fake.

But how?

“Besides, how do you know about what Hordak is doing?”

“Shadow Weaver told me,” Adora shoots back easily. “We know all about Hordak’s plan.”

Catra keeps facing away from Adora and drops the sword to her side, so that Adora can’t see her reflection, can’t see the way her eyes widen.

But Shadow Weaver—

Catra’s mouth falls open, and for a moment, she loses focus on the world around her.

No.

That can’t be.

Catra gets to win this one.

She wills her hands to stop shaking as she turns and asks, “Shadow Weaver told you? How exactly did Shadow Weaver tell you this?”

She asks quietly, letting the rage bubble under the surface, letting it come to its natural boiling point.

“You didn’t know?” Adora asks quietly.

Catra advances, grabbing Adora by the lapel of her jacket and lifting her up higher on her knees, inches away from Catra’s face.  

“How?” Catra whispers, her grip going tighter when she feels Adora’s breath on her lips.

Adora’s eyes go wide then, in realization that actually no—Catra has no idea what Adora is talking about, like she’s going to break her entire world by telling her.

And Adora does.

She always does.

“Catra,” Adora begins, cautiously, “Shadow Weaver is in Bright Moon.”

Catra drops the fabric in her hand, hears Adora fall back to the ground with a grunt, and nearly drops the sword along with it.

Shadow Weaver left her.

Shadow Weaver tricked her.

Shadow Weaver manipulated her.

All to leave her—

For Adora.

It’s always been Adora—the favorite, the Force Captain, the one being praised.

Catra’s just a sidekick. An orphan. A nuisance.

And she’d never be worthy of Adora anyway.

And she never, ever, ever gets to win.

“Shadow Weaver left me,” she says plainly, in a small voice.

She’s so foolish—so fucking foolish—

To think that Shadow Weaver or Hordak or Adora could ever actually want her.

It’s all been a trick.

“For you.”

She turns toward Adora then, who’s looking up at her with pleading eyes.

“All of this happened because of you.”

Catra sees red and sees everything from the past several months playing on a fast loop in her mind, her heart beating so quickly, it’s causing her head to pound—Adora’s lips on her neck in the Crystal Castle, leaving Adora hanging off a cliff, the Battle of Bright Moon and its aftermath, Fright Zone bedrooms and sneaking out of Bright Moon in the early morning light—

All of it. For nothing.

Just to be tricked.

Just to be second best once again.

“Catra—Catra, please, you have to listen.”

Catra starts walking away, dragging the edge of the sword against the ground in a way that vibrates in Catra’s hand and makes an awful screeching sound on the floor that imitates the way Catra would like to scream right now.

Shadow Weaver left her.

Betrayed her.

To go help Adora—

Adora, who wanted her to just follow her anywhere.

Like a sidekick.

Adora, who doesn’t—can’t—actually want Catra.

She stops dead in her tracks.

“No.”

She lets the sword fall to the ground with a loud clang, kicking it far out of reach from Adora and marching back to her. This time she grabs Adora’s jacket with both hands and hauls her close to her face, fangs bared.

“No, I am done listening to you. All you have done is use me and get me to go soft on you so that—"

“Catra, it was never like that! You have to believe me.”

She pushes Adora back against the pillar, and her back hits it, dragging a yelp from her. Adora just stares up at her, hurt, confused.  

“You and I are through, Adora. Do you understand me?”

She’s all fire and fury and dead-set on opening this portal, no matter how much destruction it brings.

If she burns the whole world down, it doesn’t fucking matter.

Catra is certain now that she has nothing left to lose.

Adora shakes her head and strains against her holds again, pleading, begging.

“Catra, please. No part of this—no part of us ever had anything to do with winning the war.”

Catra growls and comes closer again, knowing that this is probably going to be the last time she’s ever going to have Adora’s lips so near.

Her lips are right there, and Catra could just lean down and…

But she’s stronger than that.

She’s better than that.

And this is how Catra will win.

“There is no us. There never was. It was just—"

Just sex.

Catra shakes her head, shaking the memory that comes with the words out of her mind. She rises again and turns away.

“Fuck you, Adora.”

She doesn’t turn back around, doesn’t let Adora see the tears in her eyes, as Catra listens to the sobs that burst out of Adora’s mouth, the broken way she’s calling Catra’s name—

They’re over.

They’re done.

Catra keeps these words on a loop, like a mantra, as she walks back to the party.

 

 

///

 

 

She’s failed.

It’s over, Adora realizes.

Everything is over.

Death and destruction awaits.

She fails again when she tries to convince Entrapta that they never meant to leave her behind.

She fails when she tries to explain that Catra was her friend once too, but she just makes bad decisions.

Adora doesn’t tell her the part where she swears she can feel her heart cracking in half over it, over the way Catra pushed her back against the pillar and left her calling her name.

They’re two parallel lines running out of time, and for as close as the lines have run, Catra’s is taking a sharp turn away from Adora.

Adora hears a laugh as she continues to plead with Entrapta, and then Catra steps out of the shadows and into the lab.

“Entrapta, leave us for a minute, would you?”

Entrapta goes, muttering something about more data collection, and Catra turns toward her with her arms crossed.

“Harsh words, Adora.”

“It’s true. You do make bad decisions,” Adora answers.

She does.

Maybe they both do.

But that still doesn’t stop the chorus of I love you I love you I love you in Adora’s brain as Catra stares her down. It doesn’t stop the way Adora wishes she could get through to her.

Get her to see that none of this was ever fake.

That it was never just sex.

“Yeah. Sleeping with you was one of them,” Catra growls.

But Adora knows this version of Catra, knows how even still, Catra will say things she doesn’t actually mean.

“Don’t even start.”

“Right, and you have such moral high ground. Trying to seduce me into switching sides? Into just giving up everything for you?”

Adora wants to scream at how ridiculous it sounds—how can she not see?

“That is not true, Catra.”

Catra’s never pushed Adora so far that she doesn’t keep coming back.

And against her better judgment, Adora still wants to keep coming back.

Because here, tied up and awaiting what might be the end of the world, Adora has nothing left to lose.

“You know, you really had me going for awhile, Adora. Not bad for a girl who’s shit at lying.”

Adora fights against the ties that hold her arms back.

“You would seriously rather believe that I was trying to trick you into having sex with me than think that I did it because I actually wanted to?”

Catra turns away.

She watches the way Catra’s fists ball at her sides, watches how she digs her claws into her palms and takes a deep breath.

She makes no move to turn back around, or speak, or do anything. She just keeps her back turned toward Adora, tense and unmoving.

“Catra—"

They’re running out of time.

Adora knows this.

And she has nothing left to lose.

And no reason left to not let herself want something, to not let herself make her last stand.

“You were one of the few things I got to have a say in,” she starts, watching the way Catra’s fists clench even tighter, the way her shoulders pull back and down as she takes a deep breath to steady herself.

Adora doesn’t stop herself from continuing, her voice raw and breaking over every word as she continues.

“Being with you was something I got to decide. That I got to choose. My entire path, my destiny, has been predetermined since I came through that portal. Ever since I found that sword, I’ve just felt less and less like I control it and more like it controls me. Being with you made me feel like I had a choice.”

She can feel the tears streaming down her face and hates the way she can’t wipe them away, her arms uncomfortably twisted back behind her still.

And she hears Catra take a sharp breath, watches as she turns around, tears in her eyes too.

“Adora—"

“I mean it. You don’t have to believe it, but I need you to hear this and know it’s true. I care about you, Catra. I always will.”

Catra holds Adora’s gaze and holds back the tears that she can see shimmering in Catra’s eyes.

Catra doesn’t get a chance to respond though, because Hordak comes rushing in, announcing that the princesses have arrived.

That they have to open the portal.

That they have to get through to Horde Prime.

Bow, Glimmer, and Shadow Weaver are in hot pursuit, a jolt of Shadow Weaver’s magic coursing through Catra and tossing her to the ground. Adora watches as she gets up again, looks to the lever, then back to Adora, and growls.

Hordak sends a pillar similar to the one Adora’s attached to hurtling toward Shadow Weaver and Glimmer, who parry it back at him, sending glass shattering and pipes falling everywhere, effectively cutting Bow, Glimmer, and Shadow Weaver out with no way back in.

The electricity emanating off the sword sends a shockwave through the room, and Adora grits her teeth while she braces for the impact.

And makes one last plea.

And she hopes, she begs, that it’ll somehow be enough.

“You still have a choice. You don’t have to do this, Catra. You don’t have to open this portal.”

Catra stares at her, wide-eyed, as the room continues to devolve into unbridled chaos, and then looks back at Hordak, who’s approaching the lever.

In the end, Adora has to watch it all happen, still tied to the pillar and helpless to stop it.

And Catra does the same, gasping as she watches Hordak flip the switch, set the portal into motion.

The walls of the portal rise around the sword, and Adora shudders as bright lights engulf them all, the sword burning a deep blue while the most awful whirring, buzzing drone threatens to shatter Adora’s eardrums.

The last thing she sees is Catra reaching toward her with wide eyes.

And then the world goes dark.

Chapter Text

It’s a strange dream that she wakes up from.

Hordak pulling some kind of switch. A bunch of people she doesn’t recognize gasping in horror, who are, for some reason, standing with Shadow Weaver. And Catra, a terrified look on her face, reaching toward her while all of them are engulfed by shades of pink, blue, and purple. Blinding light. And then—

“Adora…Adora!”

She opens her eyes to Catra hovering over her face, just inches from her, and Adora pushes at her shoulders in surprise. She’s about to jump up in bed and do—she doesn’t even know what. It just feels instinctual, to rise quickly and be on the attack. But Catra’s right there and grabbing at Adora’s wrists. And she’s giving her the softest look with big, open eyes. And it strikes Adora that Catra looks so beautiful, and she suddenly doesn’t have a clue what she may have been trying to remember. 

“Adora, whoa.”

Catra’s still holding tightly to her wrists, rubbing circles into the tender spots where her veins and tendons cross. Holding firm and gentle in a way that only Catra can seem to do.

“You okay, babe? Since when do you sleep in?”

And there’s something about it, about the way Catra calls her babe that feels just the slightest bit off, but Adora shrugs it away, chalks it up to the fact that she just had the strangest nightmare. She’s just disoriented. That’s all. When Adora doesn’t reply, just stares at Catra, open-mouthed and gaping, Catra squeezes her wrists and smirks.

“I must have really worn you out last night, huh?”

She tries to shrug it off. She really does. But Catra’s this close to her, no malice lingering anywhere on her face, just—

No.

That can’t be right.

They’re not—

“Where am I? And how did I get here?”

Catra just raises an eyebrow and shoots her a quizzical look.

“Uh, you’re in your room. Are you okay?”

And Catra keeps rubbing circles on Adora’s wrists, grounding her to the moment, and—

It’s a problem for future Adora.

Right now, she has Catra in front of her and looking at her like that, and who is Adora to argue? Sometimes, things feel too good to be true. But maybe this isn’t one of them. So Adora just shakes her head back and forth and laughs awkwardly, trying again to shrug away this nagging feeling that something isn’t right.

“I’m…I’m fine. I was just having a weird dream. There was something I needed to fix.”

Catra laughs and slides her hands down to Adora’s hands, lacing her fingers through Adora’s and pulling her up as Catra stands up on the bed.

“Of course, you dream about work,” she says fondly.

Catra hops off the bed and swings herself around the bedpost, leaning away from it while she holds to the post with one hand, throwing Adora a flirty look that has her wishing they could stay in here all day and not face whatever’s on the other side of the bedroom door.

“Shame though, when you could be turning that brain of yours off for a few hours and thinking lovely thoughts of your super-hot girlfriend.”

Girlfriend. Adora’s been able to quickly gain that information from context clues, but the actual use of the title…makes something warm settle deep in Adora’s chest. Makes her stomach feel like all the little butterflies in the Whispering Woods are trying to burst out of her intestines, and—

Wait.

Are there even butterflies in the Whispering Woods? Adora’s not even sure how she would know this, considering she’s never been there herself. Huh.

But that’s a problem for future Adora, she supposes again, as Catra tosses another smile over her shoulder as she exits the room.

“Come on. We have to go.”

And Adora follows. She tosses her red jacket on over her shirt and gives herself a once-over in the mirror.

Everything looks fine. Normal. Perfect, even. But there’s something about the way her eyes flicker over the green Force Captain pin on her chest that makes her stomach lurch, and she can’t explain why.

She walks side-by-side with Catra down the hall, their hands brushing together every so often in a way that makes Adora’s heart start pounding. Girlfriend? Catra’s her girlfriend? And why does that feel like such new information?

Fuck, she thinks. She must really be in love for her to be this dumbstruck over Catra.

But she’s pulled from her thoughts once more when she notices the armored Horde soldiers walking down the hallway stop at the sight of her. They pull up, step to the side, and stand at attention, hands up to their foreheads in a salute, as Adora walks by. They mumble under their breath, things like there she goes and its Adora!          

And it feels…

Off.

“What are they all looking at?” Adora finally whispers to Catra, who’s wearing a proud smile as they continue to pass awestruck cadets.

You,” Catra says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “The invasion of Thaymor went perfectly. You’re the hero of the hour!”

Thaymor.

Thaymor.

The name triggers something—flashes of memories—fire, civilians running, a man with a bow and arrow, bright glowing blue eyes and hair that’s too blonde to be her own, and…

Catra. Catra staring at her, backing away into a cloud of smog with a look of betrayal on her face. Adora has no idea where the memories come from. If they’re even real. Maybe it was part of her dream last night. Yeah. That’s what it feels like—when you wake up and remember flashes of your dreams, when its so vivid that you can’t be sure at first if it’s real or fake. It’s just a dream. It was all just a dream. And she’s here now.

With Catra.

And everything is perfect.

“Thaymor…Oh, yeah! I defeated the rebel insurgents at Thaymor. Yeah. I did that.”

Adora smiles then as Catra wraps an arm around her shoulder and pulls her close.

“Oh please. You couldn’t have done it without me.”

“Right,” Adora replies, a teasing tone in her voice as she bumps her hip against Catra’s. “What would I ever do without you?”

Catra giggles as she stumbles, Adora’s hand shooting out to catch her, and this time, when their hands catch, Catra doesn’t let go. Instead, she just intertwines her fingers with Adora’s, like they’ve done it a thousand times before, and all Adora can do is let herself be tugged along and enjoy the warmth she feels with Catra’s hand in hers.

“Where are we going again?” Adora asks as they continue down the hallway.

“To the locker room. There’s something I wanna show you. But first…”

Catra lets go of her hand suddenly. She grabs Adora by the collar of her jacket with one hand and swiftly opens the door to a supply closet with the other, pushing Adora inside and pressing her up against the door in such a fluid motion that Adora can’t help the moan that escapes her lips as her back hits the door. And she definitely can’t help the way she moans into Catra’s mouth when her girlfriend closes the distance between them and slots her lips against Adora’s, arms wrapping around her neck while Adora pulls her closer and anchors herself by holding tightly to Catra’s hips. There’s still a nagging this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right running on a loop in the back of Adora’s head, but she pushes it down and grips Catra’s hips tighter, fingers digging into her sides and causing Catra to gasp against her lips.

Adora tries to lose herself in this—whatever this is—because the only thing winning out over the voice in her head is how good it feels to kiss Catra again.

Wait.

Again?

It suddenly strikes Adora that she can’t even remember the last time she kissed Catra. Or how long they’ve been doing this for.

Or—

No.

No no no.

She presses harder against Catra’s mouth, bites down on her lower lip and soothes the spot with her tongue in a way that feels too natural, too normal for Adora to not remember doing it before. She’s about to dip her tongue past Catra’s lips and deepen the kiss further when Catra pulls back and gently scratches the base of Adora’s scalp.

“What was that for?” Adora asks, still in a daze.

Catra smirks and leans forward to give her a quick peck on the lips.

“Because I want you all to myself for a little longer before everyone crowds you and praises you all day.”

And once again, Catra is staring at her like she’s the only thing on Etheria, and Adora—

Adora has this thought in the back of her mind that she’s not supposed to let herself want this. That she’s not allowed to let herself want anything. So she shoves that thought aside while she still can. Just for a little while.

“Good thing I’m only interested in you,” she whispers against Catra’s lips, and then leans in again to kiss her.

She kisses Catra like she’s trying to memorize her, like she’s going to forget this all over again because for some reason she can’t remember what it feels like to kiss Catra.

But at the same time, it feels so normal. The thoughts start racing on a loop in Adora’s head—this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right—and instead of listening, Adora just kisses her like she’s drowning and lets a hand start sneaking up Catra’s front—

“Easy, tiger. There’s time for more of that later.”

Catra pulls her lips from Adora’s and, all too soon, is leading her back out into the hallway toward the locker room. Though, Adora swears there’s usually a door right near where they’re walking that would give them a shortcut… They enter the locker room to a loud “Surprise!” from Lonnie, Kyle, and Rogelio. Kyle holds what looks like a ration bar cake—

Cake.

Wait.

Should she even know what cake is? And Adora wonders briefly if she’s losing her mind, if there is actually something very wrong—

But then Lonnie is explaining how thankful they are that Adora convinced Shadow Weaver to let the squad join the invasion of Thaymor, and they even got her the gray kind of ration bars, and…

“It was Catra’s idea,” Lonnie adds.

“Oh yeah?” Adora says, turning around and cocking an eyebrow at Catra, who stands leaned against the wall with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes.

And that warm fondness that keeps burning through her every time she so much as glances at Catra comes washing over her again. I love you, Adora finds herself wanting to say.

“Whatever. Don’t make a big deal about it.”

“Wow, I can’t believe you like me,” Adora says instead, joking as Catra pushes herself off the wall and walks closer.

And Adora can’t help herself—it feels instinctual when she grabs Catra by the arm and tugs her roughly toward her, rubbing the knuckles of her fist deep into the hair on the top of her head and suddenly just wishing she could pull it for completely different reasons. For as wrong as some of this feels, Adora notices that the one thing about it all that feels right is how much love she feels for Catra.

And that has to mean something.

Right?

“That is so embarrassing for you!”

Catra finally pushes Adora off of her, tackling to her to the ground, and Adora laughs while she takes in the scene around her—her friends and her girlfriend—and maybe this does feel right.

Just maybe.

“We’re literally dating, you dummy.”

And then Kyle is wobbling around above them, caught off-balance by the impact of Adora and Catra tumbling against his shins, and the ration bar cake goes flying to the ground. Rogelio and Lonnie are quick to grab the mush in their hands and start tossing it around the room at each other, Catra joining them. And in the midst of her mirth, Adora looks down at the remnants of the ration bars and sees letters that definitely weren’t there before. Spelled out in the gray goop is the word MARA. She gasps, blinks, and then suddenly the word is gone again, the four blocky letters disappearing without a trace.

MARA.

The word, the name, whatever it is, feels like a distant memory, slipping right in to curl around Adora’s brain along with the fear that there’s something very wrong about all of this. And both of those things constrict a little tighter around her head, like vines, and suddenly her brain is pulsing in time with her heart and the word Mara Mara Mara

And then she gasps again at the sound of Shadow Weaver’s voice.

“Adora. Get off the floor. You are the Force Captain who sacked Thaymor.”

Adora’s stomach drops, a terrible dull ache in the pit of it as she fears that what’s coming for Catra is much worse than what’s coming for her.

“Sorry, Shadow Weaver,” Adora mutters, eyes averted from Shadow Weaver’s masked face.

“And you…”

Shadow Weaver points a finger directly toward Catra’s face, and Adora holds her breath while Catra seems to brace herself for impact.

And then Shadow Weaver’s hand gently reaches for Catra’s cheek, wiping the ration bar goo off her face and in a sweet tone that Adora’s not sure she’s ever heard Shadow Weaver use (at least not with Catra), says, “Look at you. You’re a mess. Go get yourself cleaned up.”

Adora watches in confusion as Shadow Weaver keeps a hand resting on Catra’s shoulder as she continues talking, and this… Adora’s starting to wonder if Catra was onto something earlier when she asked her if she was okay. Maybe she hit her head during the battle and—

“I have high hopes for you both. Do not waste your time on such foolish games.”

But Adora doesn’t even have time to think about that, let alone any of the other dozen things that just aren’t adding up this morning, when Shadow Weaver asks her to walk with her. Shadow Weaver gives her a glowing review of her performance in Thaymor, congratulates her on becoming every bit the leader that she expects Adora to be, tells her that Hordak is impressed. And it should feel right. It should feel like everything is perfect when Shadow Weaver tells her this is who you are.

She’s Adora—the Force Captain who will lead the Horde to victory. It should all sound good and right and exactly what she wants.

Until Adora stares out over the Fright Zone with Shadow Weaver and watches as bright white and purple flashes of…something, like lightning, flash in front of her.

Everything is perfect, she hears Shadow Weaver say.

And then a figure, a mirage, an illusion of some sort flies across the window muttering the words Mara, dearie…

And nothing feels perfect. Nothing feels right at all. Except Catra.

But even that—

But Adora has a briefing to attend.

And maybe this is nothing.

Or maybe you’ll get some answers, she finds herself thinking.

But Adora gets the sinking feeling that she’s not allowed to want those either.

When she arrives at the Force Captain briefing, she sits beside a tall, muscular scorpion woman with a friendly face. She introduces herself as Scorpia, and Adora thinks nothing of the interaction until two seconds later when Scorpia is leaning in to stare her down and announces to Adora, “You know, I don’t know what it is, but I do not like you.”

And well. That somehow isn’t even in the top three in the list of weird things that have happened to Adora this morning. Scorpia is on a rant about Adora’s “gigantic forehead” and “dumb little hair poof” when the sergeant begins the briefing and effectively ends her monologue. The sergeant begins flipping through slides of the Salineas Sea Gate, which causes Adora’s heart to skip a beat in a way she doesn’t understand.

And then a folded piece of paper falls into her lap. She whips her head around to try and find where it could have come from, but all the other Force Captains have their eyes trained firmly on the presentation.

A note?

She opens the folded piece of paper to once again read the four letters that have been haunting her for the last hour:

MARA.

And Adora feels the vines tighten further.

this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right

The sergeant continues, warning the Force Captains that “you may have to go head-to-head with a princess.”

He flips to the next slide—an image of a winged woman soaring high above Bright Moon.

Queen Angella.

The sergeant keeps flipping through, and the small voice in Adora’s head, the one telling her that something is wrong, starts screaming. The hold of the word MARA gets even tighter, pulling on her mind, constricting—

Perfuma.

Frosta.

Mermista.

Glimmer.

Bow.

Tighter.

Tighter.

Names come rushing back and along with them, memories.

Until the pressure on her head is so great, so distracting, that Adora can’t see anything in front of her anymore. All she can see are flashes of color, flashes of memories, and—

So much comes rushing back all at once.

And Adora starts to remember.

None of this is real.

The portal—

Oh god, the portal.

She stands suddenly from her chair with a scream, knocking it over and rushing out of the room without a second thought.

Catra—

She needs to find Catra.

And all she can see as she goes racing down the Horde Academy’s hallways are memories of the two of them. It all comes rushing back. In the Crystal Castle. In bed together in the Fright Zone. Fighting in the Northern Reach. Catra kissing her goodbye before she left her in Bright Moon. The fight outside the bar in the Crimson Waste.

Adora realizes she’s crying as she skids to a stop when the hallway in front of her disintegrates before her eyes, just for a moment, once again engulfed in the same bright light she’d seen earlier in the window with Shadow Weaver.

The light flickers.

And then it bursts forth, even brighter, and Adora tries to shield herself as best as she can with her arms in front of her face.

It flickers again, and she’s left standing in an empty hallway.

“Adora?”

She whirls around to find Catra behind her, reaching for Adora’s hand to hold it. Adora wants to break down right there and let herself cry in Catra’s arms, even if none of it’s real. Even if they aren’t real.

“What is wrong?”

But Adora is going to get answers this time. And she swallows down want and love and hurt and all the things she feels for Catra, reaching for the piece of paper in her pocket.

“Did you write this?” Adora asks, her voice shaking as she hands the paper to Catra.

And Catra unfolds it, cocking an eyebrow and looking up at Adora with a mix of confusion and amusement.

“Did I write a blank piece of paper?”

Catra gives the paper back to Adora, and sure enough—

It’s just blank.

But that doesn’t make sense—

Why isn’t any of this making sense?

“No, there was something there…I think…”

The vines she’s felt wrapping around her brain coil further down, still pulsing in time with the word MARA, this time wrapping around her throat until Adora feels like she can’t breathe.

None of this is right. None of this is real. And why can’t Catra remember any of it?

“And then I was running…Why was I running?”

From behind her, Catra places a firm hand on Adora’s shoulder.

“Okay, okay. Calm down—"

“I can’t calm down!” Adora yells, slapping Catra’s hand away like she’s been burned because god—none of this is real, and Catra can’t be touching her like this, and they aren’t together and they’re not in love and—

“There’s something I keep forgetting. There’s something I’m supposed to fix,” Adora continues.

Adora swears she sees Catra’s eyes flicker in recognition.

“I remember a sword, a bright light…”

She sees Catra’s eyes go wider at that, and come on, Catra, remember. Remember.

Even if it hurts.

“And you—"

There’s a stinging feeling against her cheek then, along with the realization that Catra’s slapped her into being silent.

“What was that?” Adora shrieks, a hand against her cheek to try and soothe the burning.

“Sorry! You were freaking out, and it was freaking me out,” Catra answers quickly, in a shrill voice that tells Adora that she’s starting to panic just as much as she is.

But then Catra collects herself just as quickly as the slap comes, shakes her head, and says, “Come on. Let’s get you outside. You need some air.”

And Adora lets herself be pulled along once again, Catra’s hand wrapped around her wrist.

Just like it was this morning. But suddenly a lot less grounding. She insists to Catra that it’s not air she needs—what they both need is to talk about whatever is going on and why any of this is happening and about the portal and—

In a flash, Adora is on top of the forge, seated next to Catra, who just watches her with concern.

“How did we get up here?” Adora whispers.

“We climbed up. Like we always do. Don’t you remember?”

Don’t you remember? Adora wants to ask. Maybe there’s a chance that this is all just some weird dream, some strange simulation, and she’ll wake up in bed with Catra above her just like she did this morning.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right

But Catra scoots herself closer, lays a hand on Adora’s knee, and squeezes.

“Maybe you just need to relax. I know something that’ll help take your mind off things.”

She shouldn’t. They shouldn’t be doing this. But when Catra’s voice gets that low husk to it that makes it very clear what she has planned, Adora’s always been powerless to resist. And when Catra whispers it softly in Adora’s ear and then kisses the spot on her neck just below her earlobe, she cracks. And when Catra puts her hand on Adora’s cheek, smiles gently, and pulls her in to press her lips against hers, Adora shatters into a million pieces. Adora tries to pour everything she can’t say out loud into the kiss.

Please remember with the way she angles against Catra’s mouth to kiss her deeper.

I miss you so much with the way she sucks on Catra’s bottom lip.

I love you with the way she reaches out to cradle Catra’s face in her hands.

And it hurts so badly, because Adora knows—can’t go back to pretending she doesn’t—that none of this is real. And still, she mumbles against Catra’s lips anyway, “Maybe you’re right—"

“Of course I’m right. Everything’s perfect.”

Everything is perfect.

Perfect.

She squeezes her eyes shut even tighter and keeps kissing Catra while the word plays over and over.

Perfect.

Adora thinks of how many times she’s heard that awful word today—from Catra this morning. From Shadow Weaver in the locker room. Everything is supposed to be perfect here. In a perfect world, maybe she and Catra would be together like this.

And Adora wishes the portal would have just swallowed her whole as she realizes this.

“Catra—"

Adora pulls away from Catra’s mouth, still holding her face gently, pressing their foreheads together—and this? This isn’t perfect at all. This is Adora’s worst nightmare—having everything she’s wanted quite literally in the palms of her hands and being unable to keep it. Having to be the one to ruin it.

“And soon you and I will be ruling Etheria together, just like we planned,” Catra whispers into the space between them.

Adora’s stomach twists, because isn’t that what so much of this comes down to?

Catra wants power. Catra wants power more than she wants Adora—she’s worked too hard to just follow Adora wherever she goes. Catra’s told her as much.

And Adora has to learn to live with that.

“Is that really what you want?” Adora can’t help but ask. “To rule the world?”

Catra pulls back, and Adora can see all of her face clearly now, no longer obscured by how closely they’ve been leaning together. And she looks confused, maybe rejected even.

“Yeah—isn’t that what you want too?”

Catra looks off to the side, away from Adora, as she asks. Like she’s afraid she’s said something wrong. And Adora can’t help but wonder—

Is that even what Catra really wants?

“I don’t know,” is all Adora can offer in response.

Adora drops her hands from Catra’s face, looks out over the horizon again, and bright white light fractures the buildings that she and Catra stare at.

“Everything will be perfect as long as we stay together,” she hears Catra say.

“What if we don’t stay together?” Adora responds when the lights flicker against the buildings again.

What is happening?

She’s about to ask Catra if she can see it, and if she can, why she’s not reacting to it—why she’s not just as scared by the bright, blinding lights that carve literal buildings in half only to disappear again like it was never there. Like everything in front of them is just a picture to be torn apart and not a real, populated region of Etheria that they’ve known like the backs of their hands for years. Not the actual Fright Zone.

Just an illusion.

But then Catra’s asking a question that wraps itself around Adora’s lungs and pulls tightly, just like so many other words and questions have done already today.

“Wh—like break up?”

Adora just stares at her with wide eyes, wants to tell her that there’s nothing here to break up. That none of this is real—as badly as Adora wants it to be. As much as she wants the part where Adora and Catra stay together to be real.

But then Lonnie is calling up to them from the ground, and the moment is broken.

Just like the whole world.

Broken.

The thing is—Adora is suddenly down on the ground in front of her squadron, and she doesn’t at all remember getting down. And she definitely doesn’t remember picking up teleporting as a skill.

More lights flash behind Lonnie as she explains that they’re being sent to Salineas tonight—

Wait.

Isn’t that supposed to be a week away?

Lonnie just laughs awkwardly and looks to Adora with concern when she asks, explaining that it has been a week.

And how—

What—

“No…,” Adora mumbles, grabbing at her head as another flash of light bursts around her.

“I know this isn’t right. Can’t you see it? My memories don’t match. Everything’s jumping around. Things are disappearing. It’s like time and space aren’t working right.”

Everything feels too tight, constricting—the clothes on her body, Catra’s hands on her arm, the word MARA that still feels like a distant memory that she can’t quite place. There’s another flash of light, and suddenly the daylight, the burning red of the haze of the Fright Zone, is replaced by darkness. In a flash, night has fallen. And Adora can’t breathe. Adora can’t even think.

“Adora, stop. Stop it,” she hears Catra command harshly, like she’s talking to a soldier. Like she’s trying to push away the memories now, too.

And as Catra squeezes tighter, as Adora feels all of time and space crashing in on her, an image of a hologram of a woman appears in her mind.

Mara.

The blazing blue of the sword, drawn into the portal machine like a magnet, and the unsettling buzz that nearly burst her eardrums as the portal was set into motion.

“Mara…the portal…I think I remember,” she mumbles to herself, to the empty air around her, like maybe if she says it out loud, someone or something will hear her and make this finally stop.

this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right

None of it’s right.

Not Adora being in the Fright Zone. Not Adora being Force Captain. Not life without Bright Moon. Not life with Catra.

“None of this is right. We’re not supposed to be here.”

Catra’s in front of her then, trying to hold her gaze, trying to get Adora to look at her. And Adora—

She can’t.

“Adora. Everything’s okay,” Catra says, this time much softer.

But Adora only wrenches her wrists from Catra’s grasp and steps back because how can she not remember?

“Stop saying that! Everyone keeps telling me everything is perfect, but it’s not!”

Catra reaches out and tugs on her arm suddenly, pulling Adora away from the rest of the group, tossing a “just give us a minute,” and an awkward laugh over her shoulder to the rest of their teammates. When Catra pulls her around the corner, Adora sees half the Fright Zone go up in the same purple-white bursts of light she’s been seeing all day. She screams as the figures of Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle go up with them.

And this time, they don’t come back.

The flashes keep coming. Buildings start disappearing. Everything around them starts crumbling. Adora’s shaking now, mumbling “no no no” under her breath and whipping her head around to try and find her friends, find any signs of life.

All she finds is Catra, staring at her with wide yellow and blue eyes, hands up like she’s afraid to reach out and touch her.

“Adora, what is going on?”

“You can’t tell me you don’t remember the portal, Catra,” Adora finally says, voice cracking over the words remember and portal and Catra.

Adora’s vision swims as her eyes become watery, and the tight feeling in her throat becomes a lump she can’t swallow down, burning against her muscles as she chokes back tears.

“You can’t tell me you think any of this is real.”

But Catra just shakes her head and turns away from Adora, folding her arms together over her chest. Guarded. Not wanting to see it.

this isn’t right this isn’t right this isn’t right

“You’re not making any sense. Everything’s fine. Everything’s—"

“Don’t say it’s perfect. I know it’s not perfect, and so do you.”

Adora puts an arm on her shoulder and tries to turn her around, but Catra shrugs her off with a grunt, shaking her head again, like she’s trying to shake away memories. She’s begging Catra to remember, and still she won’t.

She can’t.

“You’ve gone crazy,” she hears Catra mutter, still shaking her head as she starts to walk away from Adora.

The next thing Adora knows, another flash of light consumes them, and the two are in the loading zone where the Horde keeps their skiffs.

“Wha—,” Catra starts to say, cutting herself off as she looks around the room, clearly confused about how they ended up here.

Remember, Adora begs quietly. Remember.

She thinks it in time to the pulsing of her heart, which she can feel all throughout her body as words like MARA and this isn’t right and perfect wrap around her tighter still.

But Adora doesn’t have time to wait for Catra to remember as another flash of light takes out half of the loading dock and most of the Horde’s fleet of skiffs. She spies a bin of tasers conveniently located about ten feet to her left and wonders briefly if maybe this portal is on her side in some ways. Adora runs and pulls one out of the bin before Catra has time to react, mumbles a quick apology, and tases Catra. She falls forward into Adora’s arms, and Adora scoops her up, one arm supporting her behind her knees and the other wrapped around Catra’s upper back.

And she runs.

Beams of light shoot up from the ground and soon consume the entire Fright Zone as Adora loads Catra’s unconscious body onto a skiff and sends them careening toward the Whispering Woods.

Adora has them deep in the woods, maneuvering through low tree branches and thick shrubs as she hears more than sees the beams of lights, bolts like lightning and rumbles like thunder, far behind them as more of Etheria disappears into thin air. Pieces of the world continue to break off like the twigs that litter the forest floor, and Adora keeps pushing the skiff along faster and faster.

Adora hears a soft groan from the body that lays on the skiff, one that she’s heard so many times before when Catra is just on the verge of waking up. And then Adora peers down to see two very open, very angry-looking eyes staring up at her. Catra’s eyes fall to the taser that rests on Adora’s hip, secured to her belt, and reaches for it. Catra’s too quick for her, wrenching the taser from Adora’s grasp and brandishing it in front of her, ready to strike. Adora parries as Catra jabs the taser toward her but loses control of steering the skiff in the process. The two wrestle back and forth on the skiff, Adora trying to hold Catra off while she tries to grab hold of the steering lever once again while they go sailing through the Whispering Woods.

Headed for a crash landing.

And oh, it feels all too familiar.

They do crash, their bodies hurtling off the skiff when it flies too low to the ground and gets its front end lodged on a large tree root, and they both groan in pain as they hit the ground. Catra jumps up a half-second quicker than Adora, reaching for the taser that’s fallen in between them. But Adora’s desperate, so very desperate to get Catra to see the truth, and she flies through the air, body slamming Catra back to the grass and causing the taser to fall free from her grasp.

“Catra, you can’t,” she pleads. “We need to get as far away from the Fright Zone as possible, or we’ll be completely erased along with everything else.”

Adora rolls off of Catra’s back, kicks the taser away, and holds out a hand for her to take.

And Catra just stares blankly.

Like she’s trying not to give anything away. Like she doesn’t want Adora to see what’s going on in her head.

Adora wonders if she remembers, if Catra’s just not saying it.

“I won’t leave you behind again,” Adora adds as Catra picks herself up off the ground, ignoring Adora’s outstretched hand.

Catra keeps shaking her head like she’s trying to shake away everything Adora says.

“Why can’t you just stay? We have everything we ever wanted.”

And Adora still can’t tell if this is portal-Catra, the girlfriend, speaking to her, or a Catra who’s fully realized the depth of what’s happening, that none of this is real.

“It’s not real, Catra,” Adora finally says. “As much as I wish that things could be simple the way they used to be, there’s no going back.”

Adora watches as Catra steps backward and balls her fists against her sides, still shaking her head.

“There’s no time, Catra. We have to go.”

Catra won’t even look at her, keeps staring at the ground and digging her clawed feet into the dirt like she’s going to anchor herself here in the woods and let the portal swallow her too.

“I promise. Everything will be okay if we just stay together,” Adora adds quietly, taking a step toward Catra.

And that’s when Adora sees it. The flicker of recognition in Catra’s eyes. The way her breath stutters. And with certainty, Adora knows that Catra remembers everything.

 

 

///

 

 

Everything is perfect when Catra wakes up.

She estimates that she gets about two hours’ worth of perfect, two hours’ worth of winning, before it all falls apart. Before space and time is literally collapsing around them.

She’s not really sure of the exact amount of time—it’s difficult to tell when entire weeks flash by her in literal seconds. But the thing that strikes Catra the most right now, realizing that everything around her—from waking up with Adora to Shadow Weaver’s kindness—is a façade, is that it’s actually the closest she’s felt to getting a win. And it’s all fake. Because of course it is.

The memories are crystal clear—of Adora, of everything. Of the final moments leading up to the portal swallowing them up, making one final, desperate plea for Adora not to leave her after she’s pushed her away so many times.

(Because that’s how Catra wins.)

(By pushing Adora away.)

(Or so she had thought.)

And the words replay in Catra’s head as Adora stands before her now, reaching right back, hand outstretched as she begs for Catra to come with her.

She can’t. She can’t go with her.

Being with you made me feel like I had a choice.

She keeps shaking her head as Adora speaks, still rooted firmly in the ground.

You still have a choice. You don’t have to do this, Catra. You don’t have to open this portal.

And she didn’t. She made a different choice. Hesitated.

For Adora.

And it’s a sad weakness that Catra will always fall victim to, she thinks.

All roads lead back to Adora.

And all the words that Adora’s saying, all the words she said just before Hordak opened the portal, play on repeat in her mind along with all the reasons she can’t go with Adora right now.

This is how she wins.

She’s just a nuisance.

Adora always leaves.

I’ll never be worthy of you anyway.

“I promise. Everything will be okay if we just stay together,” Adora pleads, hand still outstretched and taking one step closer to Catra.

It’s simple, really. Catra wants to go with her. They’re quite literally running out of space and out of time. And as the world burns around them, all Catra sees is Adora—in front of her right now, drunk and surging forward to kiss her in the Crimson Waste, staring at her with darkened blue eyes and whispering look at me, baby, pressing up against her to fall asleep in the Fright Zone—

She loves her. She’s always loved Adora, for as long as she can remember.

And living in this fake reality with her, even for just a couple of hours, has weakened Catra’s resolve.

Pathetic, she’s sure Shadow Weaver would call her.

Love is a weakness, she would tell her.

“Help me fix this,” Adora says.

And still, some small part of Catra wants to believe differently than what she’s been taught. Without even realizing it, Adora is fighting back against all the voices in Catra’s head that keep begging her to stay on the path she’s been walking—toward destruction, toward the end of the world.

Because at least then she could have some fucking peace.

“Please. This can’t be what you wanted,” Adora continues, voice cracking over every syllable as the beams of light that have engulfed the Fright Zone threaten ever closer to the Whispering Woods.

I just wanted you, she thinks. I just wanted you to stay for once.

But what Catra realized in that moment of hesitation at the portal, at the moment when Hordak pulled the switch, was that she really doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t want this all to end yet.

“Oh, it isn’t,” Catra mutters, barely audible over the loud cracks of tree branches as the woods starts to disintegrate before their eyes.

Adora’s expression softens further. She steps closer still, palm open and still waiting for Catra to take her hand. Beautiful, brilliant, foolish Adora.

“But I don’t get the things I want, Adora.”

Everything her past has taught her is telling her this—that she doesn’t get to win, doesn’t get the things she wants, doesn’t deserve it. Anything good she’s had is simply too good to be true.

Just like Adora. So she pushes one more time. And Catra has never pushed so far or so hard that Adora has stopped coming back. This push-pull between them has never gone away in all the time they’ve known each other, like they’re tethered together somehow.

“Catra, stay with me.”

Still two parallel lines.

Tied together.

Never crossing.

“I’m going to Bright Moon,” Adora continues. “I’m going to find Angella and Glimmer and Bow and explain everything. You can come with me or you can stay here and die.”

Catra laughs, because what else is she supposed to do at the end of the world?

“You think they’re going to believe you? They don’t know who you are!”

“We remembered! They can remember too.”

“And then they’ll just remember me as the one who helped set the portal in motion!”

Two parallel lines.

Tied together.

Never crossing.

Sometimes curving and bending toward each other and then away just as quickly.

Adora marches forward again, undeterred, and grabs Catra by the wrists.

“We’ll figure it out. I promise. Just trust me.”

And that’s the terrible thing Catra’s found about every second she’s existed—as long as she houses a living, bleeding heart. That she’s always going to have the smallest hope that somehow, things can be different. That the story doesn’t always have to end the same way. With everyone leaving, thinking she’s not enough or too much. That someone can prove her wrong.

That Adora will prove her wrong.

It pulls hard at her heart when Adora says I promise—so unwavering, so sure of herself. And Catra wants to believe her. She wants to make a different choice. She wants the pattern to break.

(But Adora always leaves.)

(She’ll never be worthy of her anyway.)

(Adora doesn’t want her like Catra does.)

“Adora—"

“Please.”

Adora gives one hard tug on whatever invisible rope exists between them.

And the lines cross.

She tugs firmly on Catra’s wrists, and when she’s close enough that she can feel Adora’s breath on her lips, her wrists are released and Adora is reaching up to frame Catra’s face with a hand on each cheek. Adora cradles her face in her hands like she has so many times before, swiping a thumb against the underside of her jaw, and leans in. Adora kisses her gently, fully sober and both of them fully aware of their memories and their history, but this time its not a kiss that’s trying to lead to one of them strung out and writhing on a mattress.

It feels like a promise.

“I don’t want to do this without you,” Adora whispers.

It feels like a promise, and fuck, it’s the end of the world. She has nothing left to lose.

And Catra makes a different choice.

“Fine. But this—"

“Don’t say it.”

Catra smirks at her, and Adora lets a laugh bubble out of her throat despite the fact that the world around them is going up in bursts of light and breaking down all around them. Leave it to Catra to need the entire universe to fall apart to force her hand. To choose a different path. She just hopes it works.

Adora grabs her by the hand as they start heading in the direction of Bright Moon, and moments later, a flash forward—they’re standing at the foot of the castle.

It doesn’t take long at all for a guard to take notice.

“You better know what you’re doing, princess,” Catra mutters as they’re surrounded by Bright Moon guards (the same ones that Catra did a pretty good job avoiding to sneak into the castle, she reminds Adora, under her breath) and taken to—

“King Micah? You’re here? Whoa, you look different from your mural—”

“Shut up, Adora,” Catra growls as they’re both pushed forward and onto the ground in front of the king and queen.

King Micah approaches them without a word, expertly drawing two individual runes with a wave of his index finger—one for Adora and one for Catra. He sends the blue circular patterns flying toward the two and explains it’s a truth spell. They’ll be compelled to answer honestly. And oh boy, Catra thinks. They’re never going to buy this.

“Now tell us,” Micah begins. “Who are you? And why did you break into Bright Moon?”

Adora turns her head toward Catra and cringes, knowing they’re both thinking about how ridiculous this is going to sound.

“Okay, wow, this is going to be a lot to explain…”

Catra watches nervously as Adora trails off, gulps, clears her throat—

And well, if they’re going to die, at least they’ll be swallowed up by this portal together. Adora gives one final warning that this is going to sound weird and I promise its all true before launching into her explanation.

“Reality is collapsing in on itself because of the portal that the Horde set off—except, you probably don’t remember the Horde because the Fright Zone disappeared, like, just now. It was pretty crazy. It was erased by the portal, but I promise it used to exist. And we were fighting them! Along with the Princess Alliance. And I had a sword that could turn me into an eight-foot-tall warrior lady with really great hair named She-Ra—”

Adora.”

Adora stops at the sound of Catra saying her name, eyes widening and begging her to stop. This is a disaster.

“Uh, right,” Adora continues. “And this is Catra. She’s—”

Catra shakes her head furiously.

“She’s…helping?”

Catra nods vigorously.

“Yes,” Catra confirms. “I’m helping Adora.”

But the explanation sets off the queen, as Angella storms forward off her throne and demands more information. Adora fumbles through a brief account of how she knows Bow and Glimmer—that they’re best friends. That King Micah is actually dead. Which, not shockingly, does not go over well.

And Catra just bites her lip and tenses, staying quiet as Adora tries to improvise her way out of this. They let her keep talking.

This world is not real, Adora says again.

Catra watches as Angella pinches the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger, turning away from them. She’s remembering. Where others might have missed it, Catra catches the way Angella’s gaze falters for just a moment. With her hearing, she doesn’t miss the quiet way Angella’s breath catches. She knows.

Because she looks exactly like Catra felt when she started remembering too.

“I have heard quite enough,” the queen grits out.

Micah commands the guards to escort them both away, and Catra and Adora are tugged along, down a familiar hallway, and into an even more familiar room. It’s Adora’s bedroom.

Which—

Well, in this reality, it’s not Adora’s room at all. It’s much emptier than the last time Catra was here, and apparently the only thing Bright Moon has to call a “holding cell.”

Neither of them mention the room, or make reference to the last time they were both here. Adora just stares out the floor-to-ceiling window next to one of the waterfalls and sighs. Catra stands back, hands rubbing at her wrists where the guards had wrapped ropes around them earlier. And she prepares for the end, reminded of the promise that she and Adora made to each other years ago.

“Well, it’s just like we said. You and me together at the end of the world, huh?”

Catra hears Adora let out a shaky breath. She doesn’t move, just continues to stare out the window, shoulders tense and facing away from Catra. She can barely make out her reflection in the window. Catra can’t tell with the glow of the beams lighting up the Bright Moon sky, taking more and more of the Etherian landscape with it, but she swears she sees the shimmer of tears in Adora’s eyes even from this far away.

“It can’t end like this,” Adora says, brokenly, just above a whisper.

Catra’s not even sure that Adora means for her to hear it. But then she’s turning around to face Catra, taking a hesitant step forward, and Catra can definitely see the tears in her eyes now. She’s not sure she’s ever seen Adora looking this vulnerable, taking another step closer to Catra as the portal continues to wreak havoc outside the window, a purple glow around all the lights that flash in the distance, taking more of Etheria with them.

“We can’t end like this,” Adora whispers.

Oh.

And that’s the terrible thing that Catra’s found about all of this—

That she’s always going to have the smallest hope that somehow, things can be different. That maybe Adora could want her back. And she takes one step closer to Adora, meeting her in the middle.

She has nothing left to lose, after all.

“Catra, I—”

But Adora doesn’t get to finish. Whatever hangs on her lips as she stares at Catra with a wide-open, unguarded gaze dies in her throat because it’s at this exact moment that Glimmer and Bow teleport into the room. They’re confused, and agitated, and Adora keeps trying to explain things to them like they still know her and they’re still her best friends—

But it takes all of three minutes and an impassioned speech about friendship for that to change.

Typical princesses.

Glimmer remembers first—Catra can tell by the way she gasps and stares at the ground and says, “My dad—”

Bow seems to follow shortly thereafter, realization dawning on his face as he peers up at Catra. His eyes widen, pointing a finger toward Catra.

“Wait, what is—”

But he doesn’t get to finish his thought either as the earth quakes, and the castle jolts, nearly sending them all flying to the ground as the portal continues to swallow up the planet like a black hole.

“We have to get out of here,” Adora says quickly. “There’s something I keep forgetting—I feel like I’m supposed to go back to the beginning. But I don’t even know what that means.”

Bow’s eyes go wide again.

“Wait, you said a portal caused this…Maybe Entrapta would know how to fix this.”

Catra watches as Adora’s jaw drops, realizing that Bow and Glimmer have, in fact, started to remember. And then Adora is pulling Bow and Glimmer by the hands down the Bright Moon hallways, Catra following with a growl and a roll of her eyes as Adora explains we’re doing things the Best Friends Squad way. They race down the halls, past the guards, until they come to a dead end. And find Micah and Angella behind them, ready to attack. Angella commands Catra and Adora to get away from Glimmer, but the castle starts crumbling around them—one crack in the wall turns to several. The ceiling starts to cave in.

They don’t have time. The floors give way underneath them, and Catra, Adora, Bow, and Glimmer all go hurtling into oblivion. And wind up on the floor of Entrapta’s lab in Dryl. They land in a heap, Catra sandwiched between Adora and Glimmer.

“So is anyone going to explain why she’s here?” Glimmer asks once they stand and dust themselves off, pointing a glowing fist toward Catra.

Catra rolls her eyes and unsheathes her claws, not meaning to do anything with them but intimidate her.

“Think we can get through the whole reality collapsing thing first, Sparkles?” Catra shoots back.

Thankfully, Entrapta is quick to change the subject and begin to discuss “the unstable portal, which is the only thing that would account for all the anomalies in my research.”

She explains that the portal will stay open and keep consuming reality, faster and faster, until nothing remains. Explains that the only way to turn it off is from the inside. That whoever shuts the portal down can’t leave. Trapped between realities forever. The portal—centered around the sword.

Around Adora.

Someone has to go remove Adora’s sword from the portal.

Catra barely has time to react to it as Entrapta disappears before their eyes. A flash forward again—

And the four of them are outside the Crystal Castle.

“I think we might be too late,” Adora mutters, staring up at the sky, and Catra looks up too.

Stars dot the sky for the first time in her life, little poke-holes of lights in a blanket of darkness. Maybe they are too late. A fifth person appears then—another woman, one who Adora calls Mara. But she’s gone just as quickly, and the castle goes up in beams of light too.

It’s too late.

It has to be too late.

Catra resigns herself to it. She doesn’t get to win anyway.

And then Adora is turning around, smiling softly at her, Bow, and Glimmer.

“You guys stay here. The portal is centered on me. You’re at risk as long as we’re together.”

No.

No no no—

She can’t—

Catra knows instantly what Adora is planning to do. She’s going to sacrifice herself to close the portal. She’s going to get trapped between realities, and Catra is here, trying to save the world so she can try and have one where Adora is still in it and—

This isn’t fair.

Bow and Glimmer dissolve along with the trees of the Whispering Woods, the faint sounds of Glimmer’s we believe in you hanging in the air.

And then its Catra and Adora, together at the end of the world.

Just like they’d always planned.

And Catra doesn’t want to die. But she can’t let Adora do this. Catra can go get the sword. She can—

“Adora, no,” Catra pleads, grabbing her by the hand when she turns away again to stare at the bright light that’s overtaken the Etherian sky and everything around them.

“You can’t.”

Catra can’t get Adora to look at her—Adora just keeps staring down at what’s left of reality, a levitating chunk of the woods. Catra watches as Adora closes her eyes, tilts her head up, and opens her eyes again. And Catra looks up to see the portal—a tornado wrapping rocks and soil and anything it can into its hold, a bright light at the center.

And the sword.

“I have to fix this.”

The world is crumbling around them. They’re running out of space. Out of time.

“No, no no no no no—"

Catra grips tighter to Adora’s hand and pulls, anchoring them to the ground, like she can keep Adora from reaching up or jumping to grab the sword if she just holds on tightly enough.

Catra can’t let her do this. She can’t let Adora die for her.

“I’ll go get it. I’ll go get the sword, and then—"

“I’m not letting you get stuck in that portal, Catra.”

“Well, I’m not gonna let you die just to satisfy your savior complex!” is what Catra yells, because I love you keeps getting caught somewhere behind her teeth.

“This is my fault, Catra! I should be the one to do it.”

It’s not her fault.

This is Catra’s fault—this is her obsession with winning, with proving herself.

This is her fault. And Catra should be the one to go get it.

Catra doesn’t want to die. But she’ll do it for Adora.

Catra’s about to yell back at Adora when a winged figure appears, a shadow against all the brightness around them.

Angella.

She lands beside the two of them, Catra letting go of Adora’s hand when Angella secures her hands on Adora’s shoulders.

“I remember, Adora. I know this world isn’t our own.”

Angella turns her head quickly toward Catra, narrows her eyes, then turns back to Adora.

“What is she doing here?”

Adora backs away from Angella and shields Catra from her, standing between the two of them.

“Hey hey hey. It’s kind of a long story, but just trust me, okay? She’s trying to help. I promise.”

Angella peers past Adora, into Catra’s eyes with an untrusting glare, and then back to Adora. She sighs.

“How do we fix this?”

“I have to go back to the beginning. My beginning. To the place I came through as a baby.”

Adora smiles sadly, and Catra feels any grip she still had on her slipping.

“I can fix everything. I just need to go into the portal and pull out the sword. That’ll turn this thing off, and everyone will come back safe and sound.”

She’s going to have to watch Adora die, and Catra wonders if she can just jump into the portal with her.

“And you’ll come back safe, too?” Angella asks.

Adora doesn’t answer. She just turns her gaze toward the ground, and the smile drops. Angella steps in front of Adora and asks again, “Adora, you’ll come back safe too, right?”

Adora shakes her head, and when she looks up at Angella, Catra sees a look in her eyes that she knows too well. She’s seen it in the heat of battle, in training exercises as kids, when any other cadets would try and tease Catra. It’s a look of loyalty. Determination. Love.

Sacrifice.

Catra fucking hates that look.

“I have to do this. This is my destiny.”

Adora steps back from Angella’s hold on her shoulders and walks directly toward Catra, for what she imagines will be the last time. There’s so much Catra wants to say. So much—

“Adora, please—please don’t do this. Just let me do it.”

It’s the only thing that makes it past her lips before Adora is reaching for Catra’s face once again, holding her close. When Adora leans in, this kiss doesn’t feel like a promise.

It feels like goodbye.

“I love you,” Adora whispers against Catra’s lips.

Catra’s wanted to hear those words for so long, but she never expected them to hurt the way they do right now. Adora loves her, maybe even in the same way that Catra loves Adora, and she’s going to lose her. Catra’s going to have to lose her, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it, and this is all her fault—

“Adora—”

But Adora just smiles, presses one more kiss to her forehead and starts to pull back. Catra digs her claws into Adora’s jacket and doesn’t let go.

“Adora, no. It’s like you said. We can’t end like this. Please.”

Sobs wrack her body, and Catra’s yelling above the winds of the cyclone above them, the sword still at the center and rapidly disintegrating the remnants of the earth they stand on. Adora hesitates, just like Catra did when the portal went off. And just like she did there, Catra keeps reaching for Adora. She has a hold of her now, and she doesn’t want to let go. Adora keeps gazing into Catra’s eyes, tears filling them, shaking her head.

You and me together at the end of the world.

But not like this, Catra thinks.

Just like with the portal switch being pulled, in the end, Catra and Adora stand back and watch it all happen.

It’s Angella who flies to the portal. Angella who removes the sword. Angella who gets trapped.

And its all Catra’s fault.

The world goes dark again.

When Catra wakes up, she’s back in the Fright Zone, Adora at her side, along with Bow, Glimmer, Hordak, Shadow Weaver—

And the weight of all her choices.

The queen of Bright Moon is trapped between realities. Stuck. And it’s all Catra’s fault. And it doesn’t even feel like winning. Really, this should be a win for the Horde. The Rebellion’s leader is gone. They’ll be weakened significantly by grief.

It doesn’t feel like winning at all. Especially when she sees the way Adora stares blankly at the machine where the portal once was, the whirring buzz now eerily silent.

Catra doesn’t give Adora the chance to stop her when she stands up from the floor. And Catra does the one thing Shadow Weaver told her she was always good at.

She runs.

Chapter Text

In the next several days, Adora tries to find comfort in a few things.

The first thing is that she spends more time in the Whispering Woods, by herself, usually just wandering aimlessly until Swift Wind shows up and asks her if she’s okay, tells her it’s getting dark and that she should head back. And every time, Adora nods, gets on his back, and they fly back to Bright Moon silently.

For as annoying as he can be sometimes, Swift Wind has learned quickly not to press the issue when it comes to the aftermath of the portal.

And so Adora enjoys her long, quiet walks alone, turning every detail of the portal in her mind over and over. It’s gone past trying to come up with answers and gone straight into a cycle of rumination—Adora knows this.

But what else is she supposed to do?

Glimmer won’t speak to her, has barely looked in her direction since she found out what happened.

And Adora can’t even blame her at all.

They’re all grieving—but Glimmer most of all, and the weight of an entire rebellion thrust on her shoulders unexpectedly.

The second thing Adora takes comfort in is knowing that Angella isn’t dead, necessarily.

She’s just trapped. And maybe they can get her back somehow.

It’s awkward, these first few days, because Castaspella is trying to make funeral plans, and Bow and Glimmer keep reminding her she’s not dead, but she’s also not here, and how exactly do you plan a funeral for someone who’s gone but…not?

The third thing Adora finds comfort in is knowing the last thing she said to Catra is I love you.

Which is both comforting and unsettling at the same time somehow, because the last thing Catra did when she was around Adora was run away. And she hasn’t seen her since.

Is she back in the Fright Zone? Are they right back to being enemies despite this knowledge that their “perfect” world involves them being together? Despite the fact that Adora has finally said out loud how she truly feels? Is Catra okay? Does she feel the same?

It’s been a little over a week since the portal, since Angella’s not-death, since all the things that Adora’s barely scratched the surface of processing.

She’s lost so much.

Her best friends are grieving. So is Adora.

She’s exhausted.

And she has no clue where Catra is. No clue if Catra is.

She tries not to let herself think of that possibility, that when Catra ran from the portal, Hordak went after her, sent soldiers to capture her. That maybe Hordak was successful in that, or if not, that Catra met a similarly awful fate somewhere in the Whispering Woods.

She thinks of Catra, of sitting in an alternate version of this exact room and telling her we can’t end like this. She thinks of knowing she’d have to be the one to pull the sword from the portal, not wanting to die—especially in front of Catra—but pushing herself to finally say what she’d been wanting to before she did.

I love you.

Adora thinks of the way the words felt whispered against Catra’s lips, the way Catra’s breath ghosted over Adora’s mouth in response, the fear in her eyes as she pulled back and realized what Adora was going to do.

Adora, no. It’s like you said. We can’t end like this. Please.

She doesn’t focus on the fact that Catra didn’t say it back. Adora tries to convince herself that Catra’s tears, her pleading for Adora not to do it, holding onto her and digging her claws into her forearms, is enough. That those actions were Catra’s ways of showing she loves her too.

But if Catra does love her back, why did she run?

It’s one of the many questions Adora tries to answer during her walks in the woods.

Adora’s standing in her bedroom that night, looking out the window, and if she keeps her eyes peeled open long enough, she can still see the phantom flashes from the portal—white cracks of lightning severing everything from the top of her line of vision down to the ground, like an earthquake pulling the entire atmosphere apart. She’s trying to stand exactly the way she did when she was in the portal, in the exact same spot, captured with Catra and staring down the end of the world.

Like maybe, if she stands just right, if she thinks just the right thing, she can somehow transport herself back there and fix it. Like if she stays fixed to this spot long enough, she can feel it all over again—the pain, the anguish, the longing for Catra she felt in those moments. Like maybe if she punishes herself enough like this, if she keeps feeling it over and over again, it’ll stay this big open, festering wound.

Because Adora doesn’t want her grief to feel smaller.

She doesn’t deserve it.

Adora let herself want something, and look what happened—

Angella is gone. And Catra is gone. And everyone and everything is in ruins.

So Adora stares out into the night, at the starless Etherian sky, suddenly so much darker and more despondent than it’s ever seemed.

It could be seconds, minutes, or hours later that Adora hears a knock on her door—she’s not really sure. Time seems to run together these days after having weeks flash before her in seconds inside the portal.

Adora sighs, rises to open the door, and softens when she sees Bow standing on the other side.

While Glimmer has shut herself off from most (Adora included), the one thing they do have in common right now is Bow’s unwavering support for the both of them. But even that breaks Adora’s heart, because she knows that Bow is grieving just as much as the rest of them, and here he is, doing his best to keep them all tied together when the ropes are dangerously frayed.

“Hey, did you hear?” he asks in greeting, but Adora just stares back quizzically.

“Hear what?”

Bow looks past Adora into the room, silently asking if he can come in, and Adora steps out of the doorway to the side. He slowly walks in, turns back toward Adora as she shuts the door behind them, and says, “We just got word that Catra’s not in the Fright Zone. Hasn’t been in a week.”

Oh.

Catra really is gone.

The first thing she feels is relief that Catra didn’t go back. That maybe this means she’s trying to change, trying to get away from the Horde. But then she feels sorrow—because if Catra’s trying to get away from the Horde, and has left, then where could she possibly go? Why didn’t she—

“So where is she?” Adora asks quietly.

Bow sits down on the end of Adora’s bed and scrubs his hands over his face, sighing again.

“That’s just it. Nobody knows.”

Mara is gone.

Angella is gone.

Catra is gone.

And Adora? Adora still has no answers.

“She deserted, Adora.”

Catra has left the Horde.

Catra has left, and instead of coming to Adora, she’s just gone.

The next thing Adora feels is anger. At Catra. At herself. Because here, Adora has let herself want something—someone—has made the choice to be vulnerable, to start to tell Catra what she wants—

And Catra is gone.

“Oh,” is all Adora can utter in response.

It’s a silly thing to ask out loud, why Catra wouldn’t come to Bright Moon. Logically, there’s probably several reasons why she didn’t. But still, Catra has broken into Bright Moon to see Adora before, so why—

“But then why wouldn’t she—”

Adora cuts herself off, shakes her head.

No.

No.

She deserves this. This is what she gets. This is punishment. And Adora will bear it, and deal with it, and keep moving forward because regardless of where Catra is, the Horde is still out there, though certainly weakened by the loss of their strongest strategist.

But the Rebellion is weakened too without Angella.

Maybe now they’re even.

Adora paces around the room as she turns the questions over in her mind, and she feels Bow’s eyes on her while she walks circles which are undoubtedly making him dizzy as he watches her.

“You really didn’t know?” Bow asks suddenly.

Adora stops, looks over at Bow, who’s staring up at her in surprise, like he’s thinking that maybe she knew where Catra was headed. Like maybe because they were…whatever they are… (were, Adora corrects herself) that Adora would know.

But Catra is gone.

And Adora has no idea where she is.

“Look,” Bow continues. “I know Glimmer isn’t ready to talk about it, and maybe you’re not either. But I’m just gonna ask anyway…”

Adora feels herself tense because, here it comes, the question she’s been avoiding all week by diving deep into the Whispering Woods alone.

“What happened in the portal, Adora?”

Truthfully, Adora’s still trying to find the answers herself. She goes to the woods to avoid the questions from others, but she also goes to seek out the answers. If she just walks far enough or stumbles upon the right part of the landscape, maybe she’ll remember a detail she’s lost to adrenaline, or maybe she’ll find a different perspective.

Maybe some of this will finally make sense.

But right now, Bow is sitting in front of her, all open heart and ears, just like he was in that Crimson Waste bar when he urged Adora to tell him about Catra. And maybe he’s the different perspective that she needs right now.

Adora stops pacing. She goes to stand by the window again, places her left foot over the spot where the toe of her boot has scuffed a mark in the floor to remind her where to stand. Right foot shoulder width apart from the left. Hands balled in fists at her sides. Staring straight out onto the horizon. Just like she was before.

And Adora feels it all over again, just as big, just as angry, just as much of a bleeding wound.

We can’t end like this.

She lets herself replay the scene in vivid detail in her mind but only gives Bow bits and pieces—it’s her pain to bear, after all. Not his.

“Someone had to go into the portal to get the sword. I volunteered myself. It was all my fault. It’s all my—"

“Adora.”

Adora sees it all—Catra’s wide eyes filled with tears, shaking her head at her, hair swept up in the windstorm of the portal as it broke off more and more, taking pieces of the only solid ground left on Etheria as it got smaller and smaller—

“Catra begged me to let her do it. And I wouldn’t let her.”

Adora sees it all—resigning herself to her fate, her destiny, her death. She could keep them all safe. She could have kept them all safe, and she failed.

“And then Angella stepped in, and, well, you know.”

She should be the one in the portal. She should be the one trapped, alone, suspended between realities. That should be Adora, and Bright Moon would still have a queen. Glimmer would still have a mother. And Catra—

Well, Catra is gone.

Adora quickly pivots the conversation away from Angella. It’s too much, too hard to talk about. And if Adora just lets the pain live inside her head, swirling around and pounding on her nervous system with no way out, if she just keeps it locked inside, then maybe this grief will keep feeling bigger and keep hurting more, just like she deserves. Maybe if Adora keeps it locked inside, she can keep her pain away from Bow and Glimmer and anyone else. They don’t need to know she’s hurting too. They don’t need to know.

So Adora brings the questions back to Catra.

Even though that topic hurts almost just as much.

“If she deserted, why wouldn’t she come find me?”

Adora’s still rooted to her spot at the window, fists tightening until she feels her fingers tingling from lack of blood flow.

“Adora, maybe just give her some time,” she hears Bow say from his spot on Adora’s bed.

Adora doesn’t turn around, doesn’t move a muscle as another terrible question re-enters her mind:

What if Catra doesn’t have time?

What if she’s dead? What if the Horde killed her and are keeping it quiet? What if she tried to escape and was captured by someone else? What if—

“What if she’s—"

“Adora, we can’t think like that.”

But it’s the only way Adora is capable of thinking now, caught in this vicious cycle of what if. And truly, all the evidence of the past week continues to point to things going wrong, things turning out horribly.

And it’s all Adora’s fault.

She looks up at the clock and sees how late in the afternoon it’s gotten. Castaspella is probably looking for both of them to help Glimmer with preparation for the coronation this evening. They’ve held it together in front of others, and between Frosta crafting an ice sculpture of her and Glimmer, a ceremonial robe that needed quite a bit of altering, and Mermista’s comments about “stifled creativity” when it came to flower arrangements, that’s been no easy task.

Adora’s had to steel herself for days, pretend like it’s not killing her inside that Glimmer only politely engages with her in front of her friends and walks away as soon as everyone but her and Bow are gone. And Adora isn’t exactly known for her incredible acting skills, either. But thankfully, planning a coronation proves to be time-consuming and energy-consuming, so any of the many times that Adora falters, that her voice cracks or she laughs uncomfortably, can all be shrugged off as stress from the event.

“Come on, we have to go get ready,” Adora says quietly.

Casta is surely waiting on them by now, so Adora waits for Bow to leave and then, when he’s out of sight, heads down the hall in the opposite direction of him.

Toward Glimmer’s room.

However, not much farther down the hall, Adora is stopped by two guards who appear to be covering—

Fuck.

The guards part just enough to reveal deep blood red cloaks, and Shadow Weaver’s unsettling white eyes staring at Adora through her mask. Because for some reason, in the week since the portal, she’s just been…hanging out here.

“There’s no need to be alarmed. I’m a guest now, can’t you tell?”

But the two guards flanking Shadow Weaver on either side do nothing to ease Adora’s anxiety, do nothing to stop her from flashing back to the portal. To the way she tossed Catra aside like a ragdoll with her magic to try and keep her away from the switch.

There are several things about Shadow Weaver that have made Adora anxious over the years. But the worst thing right now is her ability to manipulate people, manipulate entire environments, to make it unclear which side she’s even on anymore.

“Please convey my best wishes to our new queen. I hope you two are still close. Power changes people,” she adds, that mocking lilt of her voice cutting through Adora like a knife.

And Adora can’t help but bite back, can’t help but respond, because power isn’t changing Glimmer. Glimmer hasn’t even changed.

She’s just grieving.

And Glimmer is absolutely allowed that.

“Glimmer is a good friend. She’ll be a good queen too,” Adora answers, eyes firmly set on Shadow Weaver’s masked face, before brushing past her and making a point to knock her shoulder against hers.

Adora doesn’t bother turning back around or reacting when she hears Shadow Weaver call out, “I hope for your sake you’re right.”

In the end, the stress finally gets to Glimmer right before the ceremony begins. Frosta is grumbling that Seahawk is whining about being encased in ice. Perfuma is upset that she’s not the one doing floral arrangements. Mermista is making an aquarium out of the gardens. And Swift Wind is dangling a lantern on the horn of his forehead, excitedly announcing that they should be ready for the quest now.

Adora can see the moment something cracks inside Glimmer, right before she screams.

“Everyone just STOP!”

The whole courtyard falls silent as Casta places a hand on Glimmer’s shoulder. Adora watches as Glimmer brushes her away and turns her head toward the castle.

“Let’s just get this over with,” she hears Glimmer mumble.

And with every crack that Glimmer shows, Adora feels herself break even more.

Because this is all her fault.

So Adora follows Glimmer into the Chamber of Queens, hoping that they will indeed just get this over with and do so quickly.

Later that night, the coronation quest (we’re bad at quests, Glimmer makes a point to snap at Adora when she insists that the Best Friend Squad is great at quests) complete and the three of them on tenuous terms still (because not even an epic journey into the Chamber of Queens can fix trapping someone’s mother in a portal), Adora once again goes for a long, lonely walk.

This time, it’s down the hallway from her room to Glimmer’s, a relatively short walk she’s made dozens of times.

But this time it feels like there’s miles between them.

Adora knocks on the door and hears a sigh from the inside before a stern “come in.” Adora opens the door and barely steps inside the room to see Glimmer sitting at her desk, staring at…something. Adora can’t quite tell what it is from this angle. But there’s a mirror that allows her to catch Glimmer’s reflection, and it’s clear she’s been crying, eyes rimmed red and tear tracks glistening on her cheeks.

“Can we talk?” Adora asks carefully, quietly.

She catches Glimmer’s eye in the mirror, but her friend’s gaze darts away once again, firmly focused on herself. Adora wonders if Glimmer ever thinks about the resemblances she bears to her mother, as she steps close enough to realize that what Glimmer is staring at in her hands is a picture of Angella. Because to Adora, while there are certainly differences, certainly ways in which Glimmer’s face resembles Micah more than Angella, the hard, focused look in her eyes reminds her of the Queen.

Former queen. Technically.

“Glimmer, I’m so sorry—"

Glimmer doesn’t let her finish, raising a hand to cut Adora off and then inhaling sharply, closing her eyes.

“For which part, Adora? For keeping secrets from me and Bow? For sleeping with Catra? For getting my mother stuck in a portal forever?”

And Adora can’t even be mad at how direct Glimmer’s being. She knows that Glimmer can get angry—that passion was always something that Angella seemed to fear would lead her daughter right into getting hurt somehow. She knows that sometimes Glimmer has the tendency to push, to lash out and make the space around her and everything (and everyone) in it her emotional punching bag. She knows that.

(She knows because she sees it in Catra, too.)

Adora knows this about Glimmer, and she can’t even be mad. Because Glimmer is grieving, and part of grief, part of feeling like you’ve completely lost control of what you thought you knew, is a deep, raw anger.

Adora knows this because she’s feeling it too, though she keeps it locked tightly inside.

And even if it hurts them both, Glimmer deserves to be angry.

“How could you do that? How could you go trust someone like that—"

“Will you please let me explain?” Adora shouts back.

Glimmer deserves to be angry.

But Adora deserves the chance to explain what happened.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about me and Catra. But how was I supposed to?” Adora asks, taking a few steps further into the room as Glimmer turns away from the mirror and toward Adora.

Adora deserves the chance to explain what happened in the portal, what happened with Catra, for Glimmer’s sake.

Not for her own.

“Well, I think I would respect you a little more if you had told me yourself instead of me finding out from Bow being traumatized by her shoving her tongue down your throat outside a seedy bar!”

Fair enough, Adora thinks.

And then she decides that she’ll tell Glimmer whatever she wants to know, whatever she needs to know.

“How long has this been going on, Adora?”

Years, Adora finds herself wanting to say.

Years ago, before she even knew what it was, what she felt. Years ago, somewhere in the in-between, somewhere along the lines until Adora realized that tether she felt, that pull, was more than just missing her best friend.

But, Adora also knows that’s not necessarily what Glimmer’s asking.

“The first time was at the Crystal Castle. When I saw her there, right before the Battle of Bright Moon.”

Adora sees the way Glimmer tenses and looks away from Adora, and can’t help but think of the moment she leaned forward and kissed Catra for the first time. It’s probably not what she should be thinking about right now, given that she’s trying to have a serious conversation with Glimmer, but Adora can’t help it when the memories come roaring back.

She sees the frustrated look on Catra’s face, hears the please Catra whined when Adora pressed her thigh more firmly into Catra. She remembers the uncertainty she felt, wondering if she measured up to anyone else Catra had previously kissed, and then forgetting that question completely when Catra started kissing her back and pawing at her shoulders, desperate to get closer.

Adora misses her so much, wonders if having Catra here would bring any consolation at all.

But it doesn’t matter.

And Adora has to live with the consequences.

“I—I didn’t realize how much I…felt for her until we were apart, you know?” Adora adds, like an afterthought.

Even though it’s the exact thing that’s at the front of her mind right now.

“I’m not asking for you to understand or even be okay with it,” Adora continues. “I just need you to know I’m sorry for keeping it from you for so long. And I’m sorry for what happened into the p—"

“Don’t.”

Glimmer’s voice cracks when she speaks, eyes still fixed firmly on the floor in front of her, chin tilting downward to hide her eyes. She grips the picture of her mother in her hands tighter and tenses even more when Adora goes to say the word, like it’s something forbidden, like it’ll unlock a new level of hurt that Glimmer’s not ready to feel yet.

And Adora just wishes she could take it all away from her.

“Glim—"

“Don’t say it.”

So she doesn’t. Adora doesn’t say the word portal, doesn’t say anything at all after that. She just waits on Glimmer, afraid that even the smallest whisper of any words will make it all worse.

“I want to know. I want to know what happened. Just not yet, okay?”

Glimmer finally looks up at Adora with pleading eyes, and Adora nods before backing out of the room once more.

She somehow manages to wait until she gets back to her room to let the tears start falling.

So Adora decides to wait a few more days to approach Glimmer again about the portal, still taking her solitary walks into the woods and now, joining Glimmer for meetings to discuss how to deal with the Horde going forward. Especially when there’s so much they don’t know—like who’s even in charge or what Hordak has planned. Have Scorpia and Entrapta stepped up in Catra’s place? Has someone else?

And still, it doesn’t answer the question of where Catra went.

Three days later, it’s Glimmer who ends up coming to Adora first.

Adora’s rooted in her place in front of the window, staring out onto the horizon again, still swearing she can see the world fragment before her eyes, when she jumps and grabs for the dagger at her bedside hearing the door open behind her.

She only finds Glimmer standing in the doorway with the same tired and sullen look that Adora’s come to find a regular fixture on her friend’s face these days.

“Hi.”

She peers down at her friend expectantly as Glimmer sits down on Adora’s bed and adjusts her cape as it tightens under her when she sits. Adora watches her shift uncomfortably and stare at the floor before muttering, so quietly that Adora has to strain to hear it, “I’m ready to know. What happened. If you want to talk about it.”

Adora suddenly finds herself fidgeting, anxiously pacing around by the window because while she’s thought about this conversation several times in the past week and a half, she wasn’t sure when it would actually happen.

And in her mind, Adora can control the outcome, can control the way she plays it out in her head and try to ready herself for any scenario.

But here, in reality, she feels woefully underprepared to have this conversation.

But Glimmer wants to know. And Glimmer deserves to know.

So Adora finally walks over to her bed, sitting down beside her, and starts to tell what happened. She explains everything from when they lost her and Bow in the woods, to Catra pleading her not to go in the portal, to Angella flying in with the realization that none of what was happening around them was real.

“Catra was wanting to help. When we got to the portal and saw the sword, I was going to go in. I was going to close it and be the one who got stuck. It should be me there and not—"

“Adora,” Glimmer interrupts.

But Adora won’t hear it. She won’t hear it from anyone else, and she certainly won’t hear it from Glimmer. This is her fault, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.

This is Adora’s fault. Angella is gone, and Catra is gone, and it’s because of Adora’s actions.

“And then Catra said she was going to do it. That she would rather die than have me do it.”

Well, I’m not gonna let you die just to satisfy your savior complex!

This is my fault, Catra! I should be the one to do it.

Adora pauses, replaying every detail in her mind over and over. And like with Bow, Adora remembers that this is her pain to bear and gets stuck on the details.

“What happened next?” Glimmer prompts.

Still, Adora can’t speak, her mind caught on the image of Catra fully sobbing Adora’s name and begging her not to go.

“Adora. What happened next?”

But Glimmer wants to know—she wants to know it all. And that includes the parts with Catra too.

“I was ready to do it myself. Or as ready as I could be, I guess. I made peace with it as much as I could with such limited time. And I told Catra I loved her, and—"

Adora stares at the floor when she says it but swears she feels the way Glimmer sits up straighter at that. Adora shakes her head and adds, “Angella was just standing back and watching this all.”

She remembers Angella’s hand on her shoulder behind her as Catra held her by the arms. Adora remembers letting go of Catra only to turn and see Angella towering over her, then placing a second hand on the other shoulder and bracketing her in place, not letting her go toward the sword.

She remembers what Angella told her, right before she flew up into the portal, feels it seared into the membrane of her brain like an unwanted tattoo.

But Adora, I was just scared. And then, I met you. You inspired us. You inspired me. Not because it was your destiny, but because you never let fear stop you. And now, I choose to be brave.

“She said she wanted to make the brave choice.”

Adora feels her heart crack in half when Glimmer reaches over to grab one of her hands. Adora welcomes it, because she thinks both her and Glimmer are desperate for something to hold onto.

And Adora lets the tears fall once again.

“I’m so sorry, Glimmer. I—"

Glimmer cuts her off by wrapping her arms around Adora, crushing their bodies together in a hug so tight that Adora wonders if Glimmer’s trying to squeeze the guilt out of her. Adora starts crying harder and hates herself for it, because she’s supposed to be the one comforting Glimmer, who’s crying just as hard into Adora’s shoulder.

She’s supposed to be the other comforting Glimmer, and Adora shouldn’t even be crying right now because this is her fault anyway.

“The last thing she asked me was for us to take care of each other,” Adora mumbles against Glimmer’s shoulder.

What she doesn’t tell Glimmer is that when Angella said it, she glanced back at Catra like she was including her in that command as well.

 

 

///

 

 

Catra knows that she’s never pushed so hard that Adora hasn’t still been able to reach her, hasn’t pushed away to a point that Adora would stop fighting for her. But she can’t help but wonder, as she looks behind her and sees her tracks blown away in the desert wind, sand swirling up all around her, if this time, she’s finally done it.

If this time, Adora won’t reach her.

And Catra can’t help but wonder if maybe, right now, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Because really, that’s why she’s here. There’s a lot to process, and Catra thinks maybe that’s best done in a place where she can’t be found right now. Where Hordak (hopefully) can’t find her.

And where Adora can’t either.

Because where Catra has been so hyper-focused on winning, on proving herself to anyone and everyone, she realizes that she’s completely run herself into the ground. It only took getting to the end of the world, and Catra hates herself for it.

Maybe winning never even mattered at all.

Because she’s completely lost herself in the process.

She tries to convince herself that the number of times she’s had to stop during her travel from waves of nausea that slam into her body are from the harsh conditions of the desert, the possible dehydration she’s starting to experience.

But Catra knows while that’s probably contributing to how she’s feeling, there’s more to it. The twisting in her gut and the gagging when she tries to choke down her food is just her body’s way of begging her to take notice that not only is she physically unwell, but emotionally too.

With every step she takes into the desert, she tries to clear it from her mind—the wide-eyed look on Adora’s face when Angella came swooping in. The way Adora screamed out in agony as Angella sent the sword down to them, and they both watched the portal close up.

The way that the queen of Bright Moon is stranded in a portal, and it’s Catra’s fault.

She should be happy. This is what she wanted—the Rebellion weakened and at the Horde’s mercy. Surely, with a blow like losing Angella, Etheria would be hers for the taking.

But watching in shock as Angella made one last request to Adora, watching as Angella’s eyes roamed from Adora to Catra and back as she said take care of each other, like there was some sort of deeper understanding, deeper clarity that wasn’t there before, Catra knows she could never do it.

Angella saved them all. Catra included.

And seeing the pain in Adora’s eyes…

Maybe she never actually wanted any of this. Maybe her heart was never really in this to begin with.

So when the dust had settled, and the world as they knew it returned with one less person in it, Catra knew the only thing she could do to buy time was run. She craves the quiet, the space, the distance. And in a world where all she’s known is war and fighting and death… She just needs a little time to breathe. A little time to think.

Because there’s so much for Catra to process that she hasn’t even gotten around to one of the biggest parts of it—

That Adora loves her.

She replays it at night, sprawled out in the desert wherever she’s been able to take shelter, wide awake and wishing that she was in Adora’s arms instead.

Adora loves her.

But thinking of the portal, of what she’s done, what she’s been a part of, Catra’s not so sure she deserves that.

So she keeps walking, one foot in front of the other, eyes focused on a small hut that a local had pointed her toward. At first, they’d just laughed at her when she requested to know the whereabouts of the strongest in the Crimson Waste, but a quick refresher with her claws and a threatening growl seemed to remind everyone that it was just a couple weeks ago that Catra was poised to take over the whole region.

She approaches and hears nothing inside, just listens to the sounds of the desert winds and the sands sifting. Catra knocks on the door.

Nothing.

She knocks again.

Still nothing.

And really, she should have known it would go like this. Because now she’s completely alone, and how stupid is Catra to think that she could show up in the Crimson Waste and maybe have Huntara help her out?

“Who are you?” Catra hears suddenly, somewhere behind her.

She whirls around, and there, just as Adora had once described, all purple-skin and muscles and narrowed eyes, is Huntara.

“Wait, aren’t you—you’re Adora’s…friend.”

She says the word carefully, tentatively, like maybe she has bits and pieces of Catra and Adora’s story but is missing a lot of the details. And then Huntara cocks an eyebrow and tilts her head at Catra, dropping the bag of supplies she holds on the desert sand next to her.

“What are you doing here?”

It isn’t malicious, but it isn’t welcoming either. Huntara mostly sounds confused, and maybe a little apprehensive. After all, Catra’s sure that word of her short-lived success in the Waste has spread. Huntara could easily see her as a threat and do away with Catra right now if she wanted. She’s weak enough that it probably wouldn’t take much.

“Isn’t this where ex-Horde soldiers go to restart?” Catra asks.

Huntara’s eyes widen, but there must be something about the tired, broken look on Catra’s face that she recognizes from years ago when she deserted, that she believes as genuine, because then she’s smirking and reaching out a hand for Catra to shake.

And then, Huntara invites her inside.