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a rumor, a legend, a mystery

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The train wobbled on and on, creaking on the tracks as the decades-old machinery found its footing. Having to watch out for other passengers’ bags in freefall, though, was just an unfortunate side-effect of not being able to afford three regular tickets, and having forged all the wrong ones.

“Remind me again,” Adora massaged the back of her head, where a bump was already forming, “how long you two have been in this business?”

“Oh, so long,” her sturdy companion gushed, clearly not reading the sarcasm. Thankfully, when it came to someone like Scorpia, it was impossible to be mad. “Has it been three years already?”

Catra, on the other hand, clearly saw the comment for what it was. She and Adora had quickly fallen into a mutual understanding that only seemed to lend itself to battles of wits and back-and-forth. “And for three years, those tickets were imprinted with First Ones writing. How was I supposed to know they’d take it off now?”

“And instead of - I don’t know, going back and forging new ones - this was what you came up with?”

“Resourcefulness, princess,” Catra snapped, bringing out the nickname - the one that made Adora want to punch her, but also seemed to unlock something in the back of her mind. The conclusion she’d come to was that someone, in a past she couldn’t remember, had used to call her that, too - a parent, maybe, or a sweetheart. “You were the one who needed to get to Bright Moon stat. I’m providing a service here.”

Adora sighed so emphatically she banged her head against one of the shelves. As much as she didn’t like Catra’s terms, she and Scorpia had been the only one insane enough to risk it all to get her all the way across the planet - and on the single hunch that Adora might find something relevant about her past there.

Sure, she could have spent her life just working with Shadow Weaver at the orphanage she’d grown up in, never having a clue where she’d come from - or she could make a last minute decision, run away into the night, and jump on the first train to Bright Moon with the help of two complete strangers.

If it involved agreeing to pretend to be the long lost She-Ra and being tossed around in a luggage van, well - there were worse things in the world.

She slid to the floor, placing a bag between her head and the wall, and tried to sleep. It was a long way to Bright Moon.

 

Catra remembered more than she should about She-Ra.

She remembered growing up at the Eternian Court, when they were at the height of their power over Etheria. She was only a kitchen girl, and would rarely have the chance to interact with royals - but Catra had always observed She-Ra from afar, all long blonde hair and bright blue eyes, pampered with love and the finest brocade.

It was the way She-Ra’s family talked about her too - like she had this great destiny to fulfill, this innate power within her. The First Ones had filled the planet with so much of their sterile technology that a child with magical abilities as pronounced as She-Ra’s hadn’t been born in decades.

Soon enough the entire staff had caught up, and suddenly her teachers and servants and even the Sorcerers’ Guild were falling over themselves to gush about her too - how gifted she was, how smart she was, what a good queen she would make.

It took Catra all of five seconds to ascertain that Adora was not She-Ra, and it was the time it took Adora to fall face first on hers and Scorpia’s frozen doorstep.

“Why were you leaning on the door?”

“You weren’t answering,” the girl sputtered from the floor, taking the hand Catra was offering to get to her feet. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, I was in the tub,” Catra shrugged, and the robe she had precariously wrapped around her body slipped off one shoulder. She didn’t miss the blonde finally realizing what it was that Catra was wearing, nor the way her eyes lingered on the bare skin.

Catra seized her right back up, something which visibly unnerved the girl. “So what can I do for you?”

“My name is Adora,” she said, following Catra into the living room. “I need to get to Bright Moon.”

The way she moved was rough and awkward, like she was afraid of occupying too much space; She-Ra always walked like she owned the place, which, to be fair, she did.

“Excellent,” Catra drawled, taking a seat on her couch while Adora sat in front of her on an armchair. “Go on.”

Most girls who came to her, looking nothing like She-Ra but hoping Catra would tell them otherwise, did it for the money.

What she got this time, instead, was: “The name is carved on my music box. It’s the only thing I got to keep from my old life. I want to find out where I come from.”

The pipe Catra had been about to light up almost fell out of her hands, and she choked on her saliva and coughed like she’d inhaled tobacco for centuries.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I don’t remember anything from my life before the orphanage,” Adora explained, and she got the small wooden square out of her internal pocket, like this wasn’t already so goddamn weird, “but I have the feeling someone who cared about me wanted me to follow it. It says BRIGHT MOON right here, see?”

“So, you’re asking the help of two strangers to get to one of the biggest cities on Etheria, hoping to find, what, some clue about your past life, all because your music box told you to?”

“Yeah,” Adora confirmed, holding Catra’s gaze steady.

In the silence that followed, on try number two, Catra managed to light up the pipe - then turned it back on Adora. “You need this more than I do."

When Scorpia came home from the farmer’s market, it was to a room filled up with smoke and with the notes of Adora’s music box - a haunting melody Adora had forgotten the words to, like she’d forgotten her whole life. Something about it made Catra’s heart ache.

“Scorpia,” Catra greeted from where she was perched, on the arm of the couch, “meet Princess She-Ra”.

“Oh,” Scorpia said, putting the bags down on the tea table. “Yeah, I see it.”

Maybe it was the smoke, or the fire roaring in the chimney, or the lullaby still playing - but Catra felt kind of lightheaded. She reached out in the space where their legs almost touched to examine a lock of Adora's hair under the light.

"Then stop with the inspection already," Adora huffed, batting Catra's hand away. "Are we doing this or not?"

Definitely not She-Ra. But the hair and eyes were almost right, and the rest would be left to simple training and posturing. No one could teach a person to be She-Ra better than a former princess and the girl who’d been obsessed with her for most of her childhood.

“We’ll get you to Bright Moon, Adora,” Catra said, flicking the last of the cinders in the ashtray. “If you agree to meet the queen with us.”

“The queen?”

“Former queen,” Scorpia corrected, to which Catra rolled her eyes. "She-Ra's godmother. Monarchy has fallen all over Etheria, but she still lives there. She's ready to offer a big reward to anyone who brings back her protégée - it's why She-Ras have been popping up all over the place lately.”

“We get you to Bright Moon,” Catra recapped, “you meet with the queen, we collect the reward, and we all get what we want. Think you can pretend well enough?”

Adora looked up at Catra under her eyelashes, suddenly self-conscious. "You think they will believe me?"

Catra sneered. "Princesses will believe anything," she said, "if it sounds enough like a fairytale."

 

"Uh, guys?"

Scorpia's voice shook Adora awake and, inexplicably, sent her head knocking against Catra's. The other girl had fallen asleep curled against her side, head laid on Adora's shoulder - or maybe they'd moved closer through the night. Unclear. They barely had the time to glare at each other before they were sent careening against the opposite wall.

"Wow, you guys sleep through anything. Uh. We have a problem."

"We've noticed," Catra groaned.

Their wagon was revolving quickly, spiraling off the tracks into the barren countryside. The rest of the train was nowhere to be seen, though one look out the window had been enough for Adora to feel like she was going to puke.

"We're being derailed?"

“Well, it’s gotta stop eventually, right?”

Adora would have been of the same mind, had the train not been hurtling down a hill, directly towards the trees bowed under the weight of snow.

“Possibly before we crash to death?”

“Okay, hold on,” Catra yelled back, trying the safety brake which was, of course, broken. “Fuck.”

Adora watched Scorpia try to force open the doors. They were either jammed or just built to stay closed while the train was in motion, but it didn't matter in the end - because Scorpia ended up tearing the door off its hinges, her outline stark against the rising sun. It made Adora feel things she didn’t have time to examine.

“We need to jump,” Scorpia said, which had to be the first reasonable suggestion. Catra and Adora managed to flank her sides, rocking on their feet with every bump the wagon hit down the road. “On three, okay?”

Now,” Catra said, eyeing a tree getting closer and closer.

Then, not a second later, she sprung, dragging both Adora and Scorpia behind her to tumble to the ground with her.

The wagon leapt out from behind them, crashed against the tree, and finally stopped its descent.

Adora vaguely realized she was breathing in the curve of Catra’s neck as she came to, the other girl sprawled over her body as if to encase her. A dazed look over Catra’s shoulder told her Scorpia had been separated from them in the fall and landed a few feet away.

Catra’s smell wafted over her again, strong and tangy and - there was something familiar too, under the cologne. She reached her hands up without thinking, brushing over Catra’s short hair like that would help her figure it out - and Catra startled, getting off of her immediately.

 

The bad news: they were stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no way to get back on the train.

The good news: Catra knew exactly where they were, and how to get to the nearest town.

"We're not that far out from Salineas," she announced. "There's a harbor there. We'll find someone."

More good news: the other passengers wouldn’t be going back for their bags anyway, so they now had a luggage wagon entirely at their disposal.

As promised by Catra, Salineas Harbor was only two miles away. Finding someone who could get them to Bright Moon - or as close to it as geographically possible - wasn’t too challenging either. A guy named Sea Hawk had been getting ready to lift his oars when he’d seen three girls staggering across the harbor and very gentlemanly offered to carry their bags for them; Adora and Scorpia had then tricked him into carrying them free of charge if they could both beat him at arm wrestling, which they very much had.

Despite the initial trickery, Scorpia and Sea Hawk hit it off right away, staying on deck to swap anecdotes of their adventures around Etheria. Adora slipped right into her cabin instead, eager to shower and change out of her ripped, soiled dress.

Now what to change into - that was a bigger problem. She’d grabbed a little bit of everything, not wanting to waste anyone’s time - but the truth was, she’d never had the choice before. Shadow Weaver had bought clothes for her all her life, and so she’d never had to think about what she actually liked to wear. It was enough to give her a splitting headache now, and eventually, she just threw on another dress - a washed out red one that puffed out slightly at the end, tied at the waist with a ribbon.

When she came back out on deck, Scorpia and Sea Hawk were gone and Catra was looking down at the sea. She’d changed into a simple waistcoat over a white shirt and dark trousers.

“What do you think?” Adora asked by way of greeting. Catra had to look back at her to reply, and what she saw seemed to surprise her.

“You look nice,” Catra said. Adora wondered if she should take that as an offense.

“Thanks. I just thought - if I have to pretend to be a princess, I might as well look the part.”

There was the shadow of a smile on Catra’s lips, and it looked even softer with the setting sun. “We should probably start practicing, then.” And she reached up to untie her collar, exposing the hollow at the base of her neck. “Do you know how to dance?”

Adora’s brain had completely short-circuited at the sight of that single sliver of skin. She was glad her reply only required her to shake her head, and take the hand Catra was offering.

They started out slow, Adora simply mirroring Catra’s steps. Adora felt pretty good about it; she lifted her eyes from the points of her feet, expecting to find a smile on Catra’s face, maybe to hear a few words of praise - something about how she learned fast. But Catra’s eyes were cast downwards, her mouth pinched in a frown.

She was already picking up the pace for her. She guided Adora so surely - left hand gripping tight at the waist, right hand soft in Adora’s. She’d intertwined their fingers, so that Adora could get away with brushing over them with her thumb, if she wanted to.

Adora desperately wanted to hear Catra’s voice. The silence was birthing too many thoughts in her head - she needed something, anything, to drown them out.

“Do you really think She-Ra’s alive?”

Catra raised her head at that. The light of the sun glinted in her golden eye, her blue eye already partially cast in shadow. “I think she escaped the ball,” she replied immediately, “the one where her family was murdered. But who can say what became of her afterwards.”

Adora nodded. Depictions of that ball had haunted her whole life - first-hand recounts from witnesses, poems and ballads and paintings immortalizing that tragedy forever. “It’s terrible, what happened to her.”

“Yeah. I mean, I was never a fan of the First Ones. I probably would’ve joined the local uprisings if I hadn’t been literally eight years old.”

Adora had been nine. She knew that, if nothing else.

“But in the end, they didn’t fall because the downtrodden were asking for justice. They fell because their most trusted sorceress sought even more power than she already had, and didn't like being denied. That’s just fucked up.”

Catra’s voice had dropped down to a pleasant buzzing, heads knocked together now as they spun. Adora’s head felt like it wanted to float away from her - images of the ball playing on the back of her eyelids, flashes of colors and lights and a sudden spike of fear in her gut. All those people who’d been dancing like she and Catra were, who’d planned on eating and chatting the night away - and then the fall.

Catra dipped her gently, and that was the thing bringing her back down to Earth - Catra’s steady hands splayed out on the small of her back, more of that low murmur in her ear.

“So wherever She-Ra is, if she’s still out there somewhere - I can only hope she’s found peace.”

When she lifted Adora back up, she also tugged her closer. They were standing almost nose to nose now, and Catra could've kissed her right there, if she’d so wished.

She wouldn’t, obviously; Catra was after something else entirely. Yet Adora’s heart was pounding in her chest, and not just to remind her that it lived. I want, it said. I want.

“I think that’s enough dancing,” Adora sputtered, and Catra’s hands fell away instantly. “My head’s spinning way too much.”

Catra raised an eyebrow at her, but Adora’s explanation must’ve reassured her, because she simply smiled. “Seasickness getting to you too, uh?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

Her brain was a loud, cluttered mess of Catra and hands and something darker lurking on the edges, like static forewarning a storm.

 

Adora didn't remember going to bed that night, but she must have, at some point - because she also dreamed.

She found herself in the Eternian palace, before it was destroyed - more specifically, the ballroom. Adora had never been there, obviously, nor had she ever seen it beyond paintings and such, but dream logic had her feel like she knew the place inside out, like she fit in it perfectly, the focal point of a crowd of dancers spinning around her.

Some of them, her brain could pick out and recognize. There was Norwyn, one of her teachers, bowing out of his last dance and awkwardly making his way to the punch bowl; the tall, pink-haired one that just passed her by, smiling in the arms of a much shorter man, was Queen Angella; and the man stepping forward, asking Adora to dance - her own eyes staring down at her - was her father.

Gladly, Adora took his hand. But when he opened his mouth, he called her -

"Adora!"

Under her eyes, tendrils of darkness engulfed the room, bodies dissolving into dust like projections made out of smoke. The lights of the chandelier flickered once, then twice, then were snuffed out entirely.

"Adora!"

Adora shook awake. She was so terribly cold in just her thin nightgown - the wind whipping at her, the waves almost reaching up to embrace her. It was that shock only that allowed her to recognize the deep black in front of her for what it was, and to take a stumbling, horrified step back.

The sea. She'd somehow climbed onto the plank and almost fallen into the sea.

Jumped?

"Adora, please."

There was desperate screaming behind her, and she realized someone was holding her hand, trying to pull her away. After the initial knee-jerk reaction her muscles had frozen over, gluing her to the spot - so it was easy to stop fighting and let herself be tugged back on solid ground, warm against Catra's chest.

"You're okay," Catra was whispering into her shoulder, hands quickly brushing over Adora's wet hair. "You're okay."

She led Adora away from the scene, keeping her arms around her all the while like she still expected Adora to run and throw herself overboard when she wasn't looking.

"What were you doing?" Catra muttered again, fearfully, brokenly. "Adora, what was that?"

Adora had no idea. The dream was already receding in her mind, and she'd never had a history of sleepwalking - but she remembered the sudden cold seeping in, the feeling of being plunged right in the dark. She couldn't reach for what had come before, but the sense of loss was creeping up on her, consuming her.

"A nightmare," she concluded. Catra held her tighter, stroked along her back, and cried along with her.

 

Bright Moon, finally.

After five days on the sea and three more on land, the city of lights, once capital to the largest kingdom on Etheria, was in full view before them.

In all of her travels, Catra had never been to Bright Moon before. All the focus on it being the last magic stronghold had made it insufferable in her eyes, and she found the lights to be honestly a bit overkill. Bright Moon had always refused to implement First Ones tech like the rest of the planet and characteristically lit up the city with only these fragments of moonlight, which floated up over the river’s surface and the bridges and turrets like a swarm of fireflies.

To Catra, this would just be the setting to her greatest con; but whatever Adora was looking for, she expected to find it here.

She hadn’t let Adora out of her sight since the accident, and as far as Catra could tell, she really had no intention of killing herself - or at least, no more than anyone living in that economy. Everyone had thought the fall of the First Ones would give more power to the people, but the end of their reign had only created a void no one had figured out how to fill yet.

But Catra had carefully instructed Adora on all things She-Ra, and Adora had become increasingly good at memorizing facts about her alleged life. Sometimes she’d even correct Catra - like when Catra had presented her with She-Ra’s family tree, and she’d mistakenly had Randor II marked as She-Ra’s first cousin instead of her second. So who knew - maybe she’d manage to convince them after all, reclaim the throne, and finally fix this for everyone.

She hadn’t thought this big before, but still - that had always been the plan. Yet the idea of leaving Adora in Bright Moon now and never seeing her again - it plagued her with a sadness not even the thought of her reward assuaged.

The royal residence knew they were coming, and had sent a carriage for them. It opened to reveal a tanned, blonde girl, her nose gently dotted with freckles - and half a look at Scorpia was enough for Catra to know her friend was hopelessly in love.

What really surprised her was that the girl already knew Scorpia’s name, and seemed just as ecstatic to see her.

“After such a long correspondence,” the girl piped up, “we finally meet again, princess Scorpia. You’re just as enchanting as I remembered.”

“Princess Perfuma,” Scorpia greeted, very obviously flustered. “Thank you for answering my letters and, uh, setting this meeting up. Hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”

Catra had simply asked Scorpia to send word to Bright Moon that they’d found She-Ra and they were coming. She hadn’t expected her to get a girlfriend in the meanwhile.

“So,” Perfuma started, once they were all settled down and in motion. “I hope you don’t mind, but - before I bring you to Angella herself, she’d like me to ask you a few questions.”

Despite being sat next to one another, their arms lined up and touching, Catra suddenly ached to hold Adora’s hand, or softly rub comfort into her shoulder, even though she had this - Catra knew she did.

Some of the questions were basic, and others they’d thankfully gone over by pure chance. But some - she had no idea how Adora even knew those, but Adora barely allowed herself a split second before spouting that She-Ra’s first vacation with her family was in the Kingdom of Snows, or that her mother loved orchids.

Even Perfuma looked more and more unsettled as her questioning went on. Something told Catra no other pretender had gotten that far in.

“Alright,” Perfuma announced, clearing her throat and finally closing her planner on her lap. “I have one last question for you, She-Ra. Call it personal curiosity. How exactly did you escape?”

And there it was: their plan crashing and burning. They’d made up a cover story, obviously - that she’d run and gone into hiding, fearing the sorceress would find her and finish what she’d started - but Adora couldn’t know about the logistics of it, because Catra hadn’t told her. She hadn’t told anyone.

And yet, apparently, Adora did know.

“A kitchen girl,” she replied slowly, as if the words were being suggested to her one by one, “pushed me into a portal.”

Catra remembered the chaos when Light Spinner had burst in, furious at everyone who’d cast her out. The portal she’d come through, quickly opened, quickly closing.

Perfuma’s gaze was piercing. “Am I supposed to believe a girl with the gift would have been relegated to the kitchens?”

“No, she didn’t open it. Light Spinner did." Adora - She-Ra - frowned. "The girl just threw me in before it closed.”

When she'd caught her first whiff of the sorceress's dark magic, Catra's first thought had been for She-Ra. Catra had grabbed her and led her out of the ballroom before Light Spinner even noticed her absence.

"Where did you end up?"

"Where the portal had been opened," Adora seemed to suddenly realize. "The Fright Zone."

Adora darkened there without Catra fully understanding why. She’d long stopped following, her brain stuck on the same thought, over and over again: Adora is She-Ra. And contained within it, as if in smaller script: Adora will never want me.

But Perfuma looked radiant. She knocked on the roof of the carriage, calling for the coachman. "Drop us at the next boutique. Run ahead and tell Angella we're coming, and we have -"

Lightning struck the perfectly serene night sky and hit the carriage, sending it careening across the bridge. The smell of burning filled the air - the same that had hit Catra’s nostrils at that fateful ball, alerting her to danger - and on pure instinct, she kicked the door open before the four of them got blasted again, or fell over the railing and into the river.

The carriage skidded to a stop, parts of it charred and burned, not too long after they’d thrown themselves out. Catra barely had the time to realize that they’d all been there before, that this had just kept happening, all throughout their journey - because a figure clad in shadow towered over them.

From where she was sprawled on the ground, Adora slowly blinked up. “Shadow Weaver?”

The woman in front of them hid behind a mask now, face too scarred by her own ambition, her own dark magic - but Catra could never forget.

“No.” Catra was already crawling to Adora, covering her from view. It was a lowly, pathetic attempt - but she’d started so young, and she wasn’t going to stop now. She croaked: “Light Spinner.”

 

Adora should’ve been terrified, and honestly, part of her was. But bit by bit, fear was giving way to clarity, and betrayal - and anger.

“I remember,” she announced, foolishly hoping it would have intimidated her caretaker, somehow - her captor. “I remember everything. My memories - you erased them.”

When Shadow Weaver spoke, her voice was as calm and controlled as always. “I had an opportunity, and couldn’t let it go to waste.”

“Why go through all that trouble?” Adora staggered to her feet. A quick look told her Scorpia was dragging Perfuma away, possibly to go call for help - but Catra had stayed, and was uselessly trying to pull her back down. “Why not just kill me, like you killed everyone else? Like you’ve been trying to do since I left?”

“I never would have killed you, my dear,” she murmured, despite the hand raised menacingly towards Adora now. “You are a wonder upon this world - a prodigy. I merely wished to mold your powers to my purpose. But with the memory spell fading, you’re a liability.”

Electricity shot out of her palm, dancing through the air like lightning - and it missed, because Catra was suddenly launching forward, trying to knock Shadow Weaver to the ground. Catra, protecting her again.

“Unfortunately, I have no use for you,” the other woman hissed, and her shadows grasped Catra and lifted her off her feet, tossing her all the way across the bridge.

Adora must’ve screamed her name, because she found her throat scraped raw; but Shadow Weaver was speaking over it like over the whims of a naughty child.

“What will it be, She-Ra? Come back with me, or die with your friends here?”

“I’m never coming back with you,” Adora swore. “You’ve destroyed my family. You’ve ruined my life.”

“As you wish,” she sneered - and with a snap of her fingers, the shadows still choking Catra electrified, shocking her again and again. “Your family almost brought about the end of all magic. Fitting, that their legacy should end here.”

And sure, if it had been anyone else, watching the most powerful sorceress on Etheria gather all the magic around her like it was nothing, fragments of moonlight becoming corrupted as soon as they touched her hand, it probably would have been frightening.

But it was Adora, and her eyes were on Catra. There was something Shadow Weaver had forgotten, too, with the years.

Adora's powers were still her own.

There was a blinding flash of light starting from somewhere inside her chest, and Shadow Weaver absorbed it all. All the magic she held in her body, everything Shadow Weaver had coveted all her life, Adora gave to her, all at once.

If she’d been hoping to get any help from the shadows, coming to the city of lights had been a mistake, and she would burn for it.

She barely heard the sorceress wail as she was finally consumed, but she didn’t miss Catra’s sigh into the air as she finally stopped struggling.

When Scorpia and Perfuma came back, with Angella at the heel, her godmother had to scoop her up from Catra’s body to crash her against her own chest. Adora pulled back as soon as she felt she was allowed - but Catra was already stumbling away.

 

When Adora next saw Catra, it was on the front steps of the royal residence - Adora about to walk in, Catra just walking out - and she knew it'd be the last time.

“Did you get your reward?” she asked right away, bypassing greetings.

Catra’s smirk shouldn’t have sunk her stomach the way it did. Catra deserved to be rewarded at least ten times over for everything she’d done for her. “Yup, cashed in and everything. I said goodbye to Scorpia on the way out." She cleared her throat when her voice broke slightly on the name. "I guess we all did get what we wanted.”

Adora had harbored a small hope, when she'd heard Scorpia had decided to stay. But if not even she could change Catra's mind, then Adora had no reason to try.

“Thank you. For leading me to my family, risking your life for me, and - for saving me, when I was a child."

Catra raised an eyebrow. “You remember.”

“Had it been up to me, I never would have forgotten.”

Something happened behind Catra’s eyes that Adora could not discern, but it was like a light had been switched on from the inside, roaring to life one second and carefully dimmed the next. Catra stood three steps away from her; she climbed down two of them, so they could be at the same height.

“I never forgot, either. I’ve thought about you all my life.” She whispered it like a secret, though her voice was surprisingly firm and, just like her gaze, it never wavered. “At least it finally paid back.”

Adora frowned, not understanding what Catra hoped to find on her face. She was glad Catra had finally gotten some recognition, and figured maybe she should say so; but something told her that wasn’t the right answer.

Catra observed her for a while longer, then pulled a strained smile.

“Right, then. Goodbye, She-Ra.”

As Catra walked past her, not looking back - as Adora thought back to her walking away, all the way to her godmother’s chambers, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something she’d missed.

 

“If there is one thing Light Spinner was right about,” Angella said as she poured tea for the two of them, “is that you were always a wonder, She-Ra. A baby like you, born at such a desperate time, gave everyone hope again. That’s why your parents offered you to me - as a show of good faith, and a symbol of peace and unity between the First Ones and us magic users.”

Adora sipped away, smiled at her godmother, and thought she should have been happier. This was what she’d wanted her whole life, what she’d recklessly set out to find - family, or as close to it as she could come. She’d even realized she was a princess, which many in her same situation would have killed for. And yet.

“Perhaps it is a sign, that you were the only one who got away,” Angella continued kindly. “Perhaps you’ll be key in rebuilding our future after all.”

“Why are you telling me this, Angella?”

Her godmother was studying her, though Adora wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Because I see that, perhaps, that is not what you want.”

Adora’s spoon clattered on the tea table, and Angella lay a comforting hand on hers.

“I’m so happy to have found you again, my love. And you will always have a place here, whatever you decide. But Princess Scorpia was given a choice - one that thankfully aligned with her heart’s desires, and one which has made Perfuma very happy. It is only fair I do the same for you. If you were to follow your heart, She-Ra, where would it lead you?”

Adora couldn't trust her heart. It had made itself heard at the most discomfiting times.

“I had an interesting chat with your Catra, just now. How weird that she just left - I could’ve sworn she was very fond of you.”

“Yeah, well,” Adora huffed. “Doesn’t matter. She was after the reward, and she got it. No reason to stick around.”

Angella finished drinking her cup of tea, then poured herself another. She never took her eyes off Adora in the meantime, prompting her to ask, exasperatedly: “What?”

“My love,” Angella drawled out, “she didn’t take the reward.”

The information rearranged itself in her mind again and again, its implications branching every which way. She suddenly didn’t care about tea anymore.

“I've sent Glimmer to intercept her. She can't have left the gardens."

Adora's mind was going to burst. "After everything I've done to get here, I can't just-"

"You came here to figure out who you were, and you did. You did more than enough to avenge your family; you don't owe them the rest of your life."

"But won't people expect She-Ra to-"

"Then maybe it's for the best," she brushed Adora's cheek, "that She-Ra was never found."

She wasn't ready for the rush of relief that accompanied those words, but just like that, a burden had been lifted from her shoulders that she hadn't even noticed was there. In the end, as in the beginning, what she'd been looking for was exactly this: someone to look at her and everything she was meant to do, and tell her You don't have to.

"Go to her," Angella smiled, one last time, "Adora."

Her music box played on the other side of the room, the words coming to her now as familiar as they were strange.

 

That day, word got out that the former queen Angella, tired of being deceived by conmen, had decided to forgo the search for She-Ra, her long lost protégée.

Etheria would never know for certain whether the princess was alive or dead, and would eventually give up trying to figure it out. Regardless, on everyone's lips, the legend would live on.

No one paid any mind to the two girls kissing on the first boat out of Bright Moon, sailing away.