“I cannot love a hero. I do not want to see you being transformed into a statue.”
— Christa Wolf
“...We are not legends either. We’re better. A legend is an old story, a dead thing, frozen forever.
And we are very much alive, still in motion. We must use that.”
— The Penumbra Podcast
“I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air. I do it for love. For love, I disappear.”
— Kim Addonizio
One year later
The Big House, nestled in the center of Camp Half-Blood, used to be Adora's favorite place in camp.
It was where she met Bow for the first time. Newly claimed, Bow grinned from ear to ear as he took notes on treating spear-wounds while an older Apollo kid helped patch Adora up after a particularly rough round of capture the flag. Adora had been ten.
When Adora was twelve, she and Glimmer ended their months-long rivalry in the Big House. The two had been captains of their respective teams all summer, and it got so intense that even Bow had to get involved in some gentle bullying on both sides for them to get along in their offtime. The final match of the season ended with neither team capturing a flag, leaving Adora and Glimmer to start fighting each other with real weapons. Juliet had to intervene and dragged them to the Big House to work things out. (To this day, Adora claims Juliet had sabotaged the match on purpose.) Somehow despite the match ending with no real winner, when Adora and Glimmer shaking hands to solidify their friendship, Glimmer started to glow pink—a token for children of Victory after a satisfying win.
Most importantly, the Big House was where Adora changed from a lonely orphan on the run to someone who mattered. It’s where Juliet had told Adora that Camp Half-Blood would be her home. Adora couldn't believe she didn't have to run from monsters anymore.
Adora doesn't remember when exactly she had begun to look at the Big House with dread.
After a quest or a mission, it's standard for the head counselors of each cabin to meet with Juliet in the Big House. Considering they’re in the middle of war, the meetings have only been more frequent and disheartening.
As her nervousness grows, Adora taps a rhythm on the ping pong table they're all seated around. She tries to stay focused on Bow summarizing their latest mission, but her mind wanders, too drained to follow along. She stifles a yawn as she scans the enraptured faces of the other campers listening to Bow. She tries not to think about how this used to be the rec room: a place for games and laughter, not a place to convene for war plans. She tries not to think about the missing faces in the crowd.
Camp Half-Blood has been facing a long string of losses as the titans keep gaining more allies and growing in power. Each time they meet in the Big House, their discussions edge around how hopeless their situation is.
But today, things are looking brighter.
Together, Adora, Bow, Glimmer, and Sea Hawk had together dealt a major blow to Kronos by destroying an entire ship carrying his troops and weapons. All the monsters on board had perished, marking this as their biggest win in months.
Adora’s grateful that out of all of them, Bow had taken charge of explaining things to everyone else. His confidence is infectious, and she can see a glimpse of hope in the eyes of her fellow campers again. This was Bow’s first big mission since he had started college, and even though Adora can tell he's embellishing some things to boost morale, his optimism has been sorely missed at camp.
“Adora took care of the Drakon all by herself,” Bow recounts, eyes bright. Usually, Adora gets annoyed when he hypes her up too much, but she lets it slide this time as she sees Perfuma, counselor of Demeter’s cabin, perk up with a grin. “She was our biggest distraction, along with Sea Hawk."
Sea Hawk isn’t a counselor, but because of his role in today's mission, he’s permitted to attend this meeting. Sea Hawk preens as every head in the room turns towards him.
"Setting boats on fire is my specialty after all," he says smugly. He then strikes a dramatic pose, sending every pair of eyes in the room rolling fondly.
Sea Hawk was right though, Adora has to admit. His control of Greek fire had always been formidable. He looked menacing today, throwing around green flames everywhere. Adora wouldn't want to be fighting on the opposite side of him (though standing too close to him on the same side isn't always a great idea either, as Adora's singed ponytail can attest). The two of them were distracting every creature on the upper deck while Glimmer and Bow were down below, doing the real work.
Proudly, Bow continues, “Glimmer and I worked together to set up the bomb in the brig. Glimmer was able to teleport the four of us out before it went off.”
It was a risky move, but Glimmer insisted she could do it. Only Adora and Bow know what a big deal teleporting is for her. Glimmer’s one of the few children of Angella blessed with teleportation instead of flight; despite how rare the gift is, her powers are limited.
“The Headless Princess is gone, and so are all the monsters that were on board.” Bow says with finality.
He meets Glimmer's eyes with a grin. Glimmer holds out a hand for a fist bump and Bow gladly obliges. The two have been trying to live a normal life at college, but now it's their winter break, and they both fit here, in this war room. Bow looks alive, and Glimmer is radiant, basking in the glow of the goddess Angella's blessing after a victory.
Destroying the Headless Princess was a huge win, it feels good to make Kronos hurt, considering fatalities at camp have been rising.
After the initial high though, it seems everyone at the table is beginning to come back to reality. The Headless Princess was only one ship of many.
For once, Sea Hawk hasn't been particularly chatty, apart from occasionally interrupting Bow when he left out a few details. In fact, Sea Hawk looks like he could pass out any second. Adora suspects controlling all that Greek fire is more taxing than he lets on.
Even Glimmer is starting to look exhausted. Being the daughter of the Goddess of Victory, winning revives her, for a time. But she used a lot of energy to transport the four of them to safety earlier. It seems like it must be catching up to her now.
Frosta, a child of Poseidon and the youngest person at the table, sits sullen, her arms folded. Ever since Poseidon claimed her, things have been tense between them. Adora doesn’t even try looking Frosta in the eye, knowing all she’d get is an icy glare.
Adora switches her attention to Entrapta, head of the Hephaestus cabin, who’s too busy tinkering with a new weapon to notice her gaze.
Lonnie and Perfuma, who had been listening to the story with great interest, exchange uneasy looks. Adora waits for one of them to speak up, stomach full of dread because she knows which question they’re about to ask. It's the reason Adora hasn’t been able to wholeheartedly celebrate their success.
Perfuma tentatively raises her hand, and Bow nods at her to go on. "Were there any… survivors?"
A hush falls over the room, any lingering excitement that had followed the triumph dies in an instant. Sea Hawk sits up, alert and serious. Entrapta sets whatever contraption she had been messing around with down on the table with a clatter.
Bow falters, his excitement dissipates. He shoots a nervous glance at Glimmer, whose post-victory glow dims, almost in shame.
The whole room knows what Perfuma meant by “survivors.” In the past year, more demigods have betrayed their Camp Half-Blood and switched sides in the war—especially the unclaimed ones.
Adora understands feeling bitter about the gods’ neglect, but that doesn’t make it easier to stomach the fact some of their own have joined the other side. When the time comes, Adora will have to fight people who were her friends once, who are still family. People she once shared smores with at camp gatherings, people they had all spent time with in this very room.
The betrayals are difficult to speak about, so a lot of the time they just avoid the topic altogether.
But Perfuma is a bleeding heart. She looks at them wide eyed and desperate, as if she half-expects a flowery answer.
Lonnie looks away, as if she doesn’t want to hear the truth. There are dark circles under her eyes. Adora knows that the weight of the Hermes cabin having the highest rate of traitors has been taking its toll on her. As the head of her cabin, it’s Lonnie’s responsibility to make unclaimed kids feel welcome; she blames herself every time another demigod leaves camp.
“Well, you see…” Bow trails off. He doesn't have reassuring words for once. He sits down, defeated.
Their sources were barely able to get the Headless Princess's coordinates in the first place. Going into this mission, they had no idea that some of the same demigods who betrayed them were on board that ship. It was only supposed to be full of monsters and mercenaries.
But there were demigods.
Adora looks at Bow, who avoids her glance. She spotted a few of them and warned them to get off the ship. She doesn’t know if they listened.
She suspects they didn’t.
Murmurs erupt at the table, whispers of who could have been on that ship, and who was lost.
Juliet, who had been silent for most of the meeting at the head of the table, raises her voice to quell the nervous chatter, "Settle down, everyone."
In response, Frosta snaps, “Why should they?”
Adora shares a look with Juliet, remembering the conversation they had when Poseidon first claimed Frosta.
"I don’t expect you to take up training Frosta anymore,” Juliet says.
“Why’s that?” Adora asks, confused.
“Children of the Big Three tend to butt heads," Juliet explains. She speaks with the wisdom of someone who’s trained heroes for millennia. "It’s expected, considering the strained relationship between the gods themselves. There's always a power struggle.”
Adora narrows her eyes. She knows that all too well—it's been drilled into her from a young age to stay away from Poseidon and Hades' respective domains at all costs. It's ironic, she thinks, that Poseidon was angry at Zeus for breaking the oath and having a kid when he sired a child himself. Adora had accepted a long time ago that she would never fully understand godly politics, but this is something that directly affects her.
"Besides,” Juliet says. “Frosta says she wants to go to school in the city, the same way you did.”
Adora sighs. She's been to her fair share of boarding schools. It was risky, as a child of the Big Three. But unlike the other kids, Adora’s never had a permanent home outside of camp. She figured she might as well get to see more of the world before she was bound to camp for school breaks. Adora can’t argue with Frosta going back into the world when it’s the exact same choice she made.
“I don't see why I can't help out with training from time to time,” Adora says. "You know, when she's over here for summer break."
Juliet eyes her carefully. "If you're sure, Adora."
This is when Adora starts wildly gesticulating, as if waving her hands will make her point more convincing. “I just—I think it could be good for her. For us! To learn from each other and be a team! I could teach her how to fight with a sword, and maybe even tell her the shortcut to climbing up the lava wall faster or—"
"Child, child," Juliet says, making a 'slow down' motion but she's smiling. It's rare for Adora to see her amused. “You don't have to justify yourself for wanting to be friends with another child of the Big Three. I know how hard it is for you to find peers on your level."
Adora exhales in relief, only now realizing how tense she was moments ago.
"Continue with her training then," Juliet says with a small smile. "I'm always curious to see if heroes are able to break a pattern,” Juliet pauses, brown eyes pensive. “Besides," she adds softly, "there's no one else who could possibly understand the weight of being a child of prophecy."
Juliet’s smile disappears. Adora has always had a hard time reading Juliet's expressions—she’s never been the most revealing. Whether that was by choice or her nature as a cryptic immortal teacher was anyone's guess. But right now, Adora can read her face clear as day—she looks like she's grieving Adora already.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Adora jokes nervously.
Juliet does not laugh. “This doesn’t mean that Frosta is the next She-Ra,” Juliet says. “The prophecy still might be yours.”
If it’s an attempt to make Adora feel better, it fails. Because it doesn’t matter. It goes like this: either Adora is She-Ra and dies at twenty, or Adora isn’t She-Ra and she dies before her twentieth birthday. Adora drops the uncomfortable smile, and meets Juliet's eyes, dead serious.
“Are you going to tell Frosta the truth about the prophecy?”
Adora’s had to live with the knowledge of her foretold death for eleven years now. She knows what it's like to live with a deadline hanging over your neck. When Adora looks at Frosta she sees the same bright-eyed child she had briefly seen in the mirror so long ago. A child with the promise of adventure, before Adora found out the truth. There's nothing more Adora wants to do than shield Frosta from the same fate.
"Swear to me," Adora says sternly. “Swear to me you won’t tell Frosta the whole prophecy, unless something happens to me first. I don’t want her to have to deal with the same burden."
Juliet’s eyes are solemn. “I swear, Adora, I won’t tell her.”
“On the Styx,” Adora insists.
Juliet makes her vow, and thunder rumbles, solidifying it.
Adora foolishly thought she and Frosta could break the pattern, considering they were nothing like their parents—just two girls who didn’t have a say in their fate. There was a part of her that thought they could understand each other.
But clearly, she was mistaken.
Frosta stands up and slams her fist on the table, snapping Adora out of her thoughts. “Those demigods could have been saved.”
Defensively, Adora says, “There was no way we could have known there were demigods on that ship. Our sources never—”
“It should have been expected,” Frosta snipes. “And we could have prevented their deaths. My father rules the sea, water is literally my element—”
"We don't know for sure if they're dead—" Bow starts weakly but Adora cuts him off.
“You and I both know Poseidon doesn’t have full reign of the seas anymore, Frosta, not with the old titans fighting back. That’s the reason the ship got so close to New York in the first place.” Adora pinches the bridge of her nose. “Besides, Frosta, we’ve already talked about this. You’re too young for missions this dangerous.”
Everyone shifts around uncomfortably.
“Adora’s right,” Glimmer adds as gently as possible. “Frosta, it would have been too risky to send you out there. Even with your power over water."
"You just don't have enough experience, Frosta,” Bow agrees, sympathetically.
“I can take it,” Frosta says through gritted teeth. “I need you all to stop treating me like a child.”
“Well, you are one!” Adora snaps. “We’re only trying to keep you safe.” Someone has to, Adora thinks desperately.
Adora can't help the ugly, bitter jealousy that swells up in her. Adora grew up with the knowledge that she was She-Ra, invincible, a legend, before she ever had the chance to prove herself. No one tried to protect her then. No one thought it was even necessary. And this—this child has so many people looking out for her, who want her to be safe. And she has the gall to take it for granted.
Adora can't help it. She's angry.
So much for breaking the pattern.
“In case you’ve forgotten, I was handling myself just fine before I ended up at camp,” Frosta says.
And it’s true, Frosta was on her own in the wild for months before a satyr was able to escort her to Camp Half-Blood. She had fought a cyclops and a group of Laistrygonian giants on her own.
“I don’t need anyone to keep me safe,” Frosta says, sitting back down. “Especially not you, Adora." Before Adora has the chance to respond, Frosta leans in with the final blow. "You couldn’t even keep the demigods on that ship safe," she spits. "Face it, you failed them.”
Frosta leans back in her chair, glaring at Adora with venom in her eyes.
The silence in the room is deafening. Everyone turns to face Adora, but she keeps her mouth shut. All she can do is stare back, stricken.
“I could have helped,” Frosta continues. “I should have been there, but you wanted all the glory for yourself, didn’t you, She-Ra?”
“Frosta!” Glimmer gasps, horrified.
But Adora can’t focus on anyone. The word glory rings in her head.
“You really think this is all about glory?” Adora asks, voice low.
“What else would it be?” Frosta bites back. “But it doesn’t matter. You turn twenty in what, a few weeks? That leaves you plenty of time to get yourself killed on a reckless mission. And I’ll still be here, next in line to be She-Ra.”
Adora bites her left cheek.
The problem is, Frosta is right. Since Poseidon claimed her, there has been a dangerous thought nagging at Adora: the possibility that despite all the promises of Adora’s destiny, Light Hope was wrong. Adora might never turn twenty, meaning Frosta will be She-Ra, and the war will go on for another seven years.
She takes in everyone’s solemn faces, and it hits her: they can’t fathom the war going on for that much longer.
Something in Adora's chest springs. "You don't know what you're talking about," Adora says darkly. She’s never wanted to be She-Ra, but it was easy to accept, as madness was the only other choice.
“I know exactly what I’m talking about,” Frosta says, voice flat.
"Do you think it's easy to be the child of a prophecy? Do you think this is something I want—"
"That's enough!" Juliet stomps her hooves on the hardwood floor with a loud bang, and suddenly Adora remembers it's not only her and Frosta in the room.
She also remembers that Frosta doesn’t know the full truth of the prophecy.
But the damage is done, everyone stares at Adora with concern. She has never so much as implied that she had never wanted to be She-Ra until now. She can’t handle their shocked looks, least of all Frosta’s.
"Adora?" Bow starts quietly, reaching out a hand.
But Adora can't take it, that's when she decides she needs to get out of the Big House this second. Panicking, her eyes dart to Juliet, like she’s still a child asking for permission. Juliet nods subtly in agreement.
“I need some air,” Adora announces brusquely, doing everything in her power to walk instead of straight up bolting out of the room.
Adora goes to the beach, seating herself along the dunes, mindful not to sit too close to the water. She has a suspicion Poseidon isn’t happy with the way she’s treated his daughter lately.
Even with the sun poking through the clouds, the sky is dark, and so is the water. Adora hasn’t always appreciated the sea. Long Island’s ocean is far different from Ogygia’s, everything here is gray, cold, violent. Ogygia’s shore was bright and warm. Still, Adora has a new fondness for it now, when she looks at it, she remembers Catra.
Adora reaches for her camp necklace—beads are added to it at the end of every summer. Adora has lost hers, though she’s not sure how. She never takes it off. She’s been so used to wearing it all this time, she still forgets it’s missing. She rubs her neck tenderly instead.
Sighing, Adora pulls out her wallet. Looking at the picture of Catra she keeps in there is a newer habit of hers. But Adora can’t resist: Catra looks serene, surrounded by honeysuckle and thyme. Adora believed Catra when she told her she fought for the titans, but Adora can’t picture Catra at war. She wonders if that’s what millennia of exile has done to her, or if what Adora has seen is Catra’s true nature. She was born in Ogygia, after all, not the pits of Tartarus.
Adora has tried to do her research on Calypso, but there’s limited information on her. Most of it is encyclopedic: Calypso was born to Atlas and Tethys, she’s a nymph, she’s a nature goddess, possibly a love goddess—the scholarly debate rages on. Adora hasn’t been able to find anything about her involvement with the war against the gods. The only actual myth that includes Calypso is The Odyssey, where Calypso seduces Odysseus and holds him captive on her island for ten years. Adora finds that particular story hard to believe. She can’t picture Catra forcing anyone to stay.
She hadn't even bothered asking Adora to consider it.
And something still doesn’t add up: Catra’s punishment is deliberate, cruel, still ongoing. Eternal solitude is extreme for someone who simply sided with the titans during the war. There has to be more to Catra’s story than that, but history and scholars haven’t done Catra any justice. Adora might never find out the truth.
Too caught up in looking at the photograph, Adora doesn’t notice Sea Hawk’s presence until he sits beside her.
“Ah,” Sea Hawk says. “Long distance relationships are quite tricky. Sometimes I don’t know how my dearest one and I do it.”
Adora raises an eyebrow.
“Mermista,” Sea Hawk practically swoons. “We’re on two different coasts and everything, you know. And we still make it work.”
“Right,” Adora drawls, putting all her energy into suppressing an eye roll.
Mermista is allegedly the sea nymph who saved Sea Hawk and Bow last year. Sea Hawk has claimed that they’ve been an item ever since. Adora hasn’t bought it, especially considering that she got Bow to admit he was unconscious during this rescue. He had never actually met the sea nymph in question. Adora thinks that if Sea Hawk wanted to be more convincing, he should have picked a better name for a nereid than Mermista.
“My point is, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to give up on your dream girl.”
"She's not my dream girl," Adora shakes her head, her shoulders sink. “And it’s different.”
“How so?” he asks earnestly.
“Well, we’re not in a relationship, for one thing.” Adora sighs.
The one thing Calypso’s legends agree on is that Calypso is cursed to fall in love with every hero who lands on her island, even though they can never stay. Adora has seen it for herself, through the visions of Mara. Catra had begged Mara to stay, but she never asked Adora.
There’s a simple explanation: Catra had never loved Adora at all. She clearly didn’t want her to stay.
“Catra didn’t ask me to stay with her, Sea Hawk. She just sent me on my way. And here I am.” Adora folds the picture and tucks it back into her wallet. “And it doesn’t matter, anyway. Even without the war, and the prophecy, she said I’d never be able to find her again."
Catra had said, "No one ever finds Ogygia twice." Her words still echo in Adora's mind.
"There’s no going back, Sea Hawk.”
“It seems to me,” he begins thoughtfully, “that the titans, and even the gods, are flawed. They think they know every outcome, when they don’t. I’d say, it’s better not to give up so soon.”
That's assuming I'll live long enough to try making it back to her, Adora thinks but keeps to herself.
“Thanks, Sea Hawk,” she says.
He offers her a smile. She offers him a weak one back.
Tentatively, he says, “I know Catra’s not the only thing on your mind.”
Adora can’t tell if he’s tiptoeing around the meeting, the war, the prophecy, or everything. She groans in confirmation.
“Yeah,” Adora says, dragging her hands down her face. “I can’t believe I got so riled up by Frosta.”
“She is a hellion,” Sea Hawk says agreeably.
A beat passes.
“It’s not all her fault,” Adora admits. “It’s—it’s mine, too.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks.
There are so many things Adora would prefer to scream out loud.
“It’s just—maybe she had a point. I'm doing my best to protect her, protect everyone, but—” Adora bites her lip, brings her knees close to her chin, "what if I'm only making things worse?"
She refuses to look at Sea Hawk to see his reaction. He places his hand on her shoulder carefully.
"But you were there, Sea Hawk. Everyone who left camp wouldn’t listen to me. How am I supposed to save people who don’t want to be saved?"
"They made their choice," Sea Hawk says, staring out at sea, resigned. It occurs to Adora that she might not be the only one harboring this guilt. "They could have stayed with us, their family, and they didn't," he adds firmly. "Perhaps it would be easier on us if we let them take responsibility for their actions, don't you think?"
Adora doesn't know what to say to that. And so, they sit in comfortable silence watching the sun set over the sea.
She wonders if Catra's learned to accept that she can't control anyone's fate. If somehow that's how she copes with losing every hero who's washed up on her shore, only to leave her behind and meet their tragic destinies. Adora wonders if that's something she could ever learn to do, too.
The moonlace has continued to grow, covering Adora’s entire windowsill with flowers. They keep sprouting, keep blooming. Adora worried that she’d kill the plant Catra had given her, she never considered that she’d have too much of it. Their luminescent shine reflects in the window, even though the moon isn’t out tonight.
And thunder roars, per usual.
Adora has never felt like Zeus’s cabin was hers, even though she’s never had to share it with anyone, aside from when Bow and Glimmer would have sleepovers with her. Adora has hung pictures above her desk, but that was the closest she’s gone to decorating. Until now.
The moonlace helps make the cabin feel like her own. Its fragrance is sweet, but not in an overwhelming way. Catra had called the flower “a piece of Ogygia,” and she was right. If Adora closes her eyes and shuts out the noise of the thunder, she can almost pretend she’s back in Ogygia. With Catra.
Adora has researched moonlace, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. She’s grateful for the proof of it, right there on her windowsill. She runs her finger along one of the petals, and the whole flower seems to glow brighter in response. In her head, she likes to imagine the plant had become fond of her, too.
A quiet series of knocks on the door startles Adora, but she smiles. It’s the same one Glimmer has used since they were twelve.
She opens the door to find both Glimmer and Bow, who excitedly step into the cabin.
“Wow,” Bow says. “The moonlace has really grown since we last saw it!”
“Yeah,” Adora says dreamily. She’s sure her grin is dopey, but she can’t contain her pride. “Perfuma helped me take care of it.”
“She did a great job,” Glimmer chimes in. She takes a step closer to the windowsill to inspect the flowers. As the moon peeks out from behind the clouds, the flowers respond to it by glowing even brighter. “Well, they definitely make this cabin much more bearable.” A roll of thunder reverberates loudly through the cabin, as if she offended Zeus himself. “Oh, fuck off, I’m right,” Glimmer mutters back.
The backtalk cracks Adora up, and everyone else joins in.
Once the laughter subsides, Bow asks, “Are you doing okay? After the meeting, I mean. That was rough.”
“Yeah,” Adora answers, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. “I mean, I’m not great but, I’m definitely doing better than earlier.” Bow parts his mouth and Adora beats him to it. “I’d rather not talk about it anymore. Besides,” she says, taking a seat on her bed. “We can finally relax—for a little bit, that is. I wanna hear about your first semester of college, not prophecies.”
Thrilled to have a single room, Bow says, “I’ve never had a room to myself before, between sharing with my brothers or all my family in Apollo’s cabin. It’s tiny, but boy, is it a huge luxury.”
Adora smiles contentedly. She knows how much he loves his brothers, even though they can be a bit much. They tease Bow about his crush on Glimmer even more than Adora does; she’s seen it firsthand, and they’re insufferable. She’d be more sympathetic if he and Glimmer haven’t been stuck in a will-they won’t-they limbo for the past five years.
“Some of us can’t relate,” Glimmer groans. She went to the same private boarding schools as Adora, the two of them were roommates most of those years. “I’m stuck with three other girls and one bathroom. I’d rather wake up to Adora’s six a.m. alarm any day.”
“Hey!” Adora protests. “It was only six a.m. on weekends.”
“Right,” Glimmer says. “Because six-thirty on weekdays was so much better.”
Bow laughs at them. In the quiet heartbeat that passes, Adora becomes all too aware that it’s been a long time since they’ve been able to hang out like this. It’s welcome, but it’s limited. Glimmer and Bow know it, too. The knowledge of Adora’s upcoming birthday hangs over them insidiously.
“It’s been fun to decorate though, even if my roommates have awful taste.” Glimmer eyes the windowsill. “I should probably figure out what plants are easy to take care of.”
“Do you want some moonlace?” Adora asks.
Glimmer looks shocked.
“What?” Adora gestures. “It grows fast, and I’m almost out of room on my windowsill.”
“Yeah but that was like—" Glimmer voice goes shrill as she waves her hands in the air, as if gesturing at something nebulous, "Catra’s parting gift to you! It’d be wrong for me to take it.”
Adora snorts. “I think she’d be happy to know there’s more moonlace in the world again. And trust me, it’s easy to take care of. If I haven’t killed it yet, you’ll be fine.” She makes eye contact with Bow. “Don’t worry, you can have a flower, too,” she teases.
He grins back, "Oh good, because I was about to kick you out of the Best Friends Squad on grounds of preferential treatment."
Clutching her chest in mock indignation, Adora claims, "I would never."
They laugh and talk a bit more before finally going to sleep. It's only then Adora lets the thoughts crowding the back of her mind come to the forefront.
There's a cry lodging in the back of her throat as she realizes that soon, the plant will be the last living thing in the cabin. Adora can only hope that when her time comes around, her friends will take care of the rest of the moonlace. (If she doesn’t fail, and Olympus isn’t razed to the ground in the end, that is.)
She promised Catra she’d take care of the moonlace, that’s the one thing she can do for her. It might be Adora's last parting gift to her, ensuring that the moonlace will survive.
Catra calls her Serenia this time. If possible, Catra looks a little younger. Adora wonders if it’s because she hasn’t experienced as much loss.
Catra’s hair blows in the wind, unbraided and free. Instead of the red mask Adora has grown accustomed to, the mask she wears resembles wings. It glints golden in the sunlight. Something about it feels different, but Adora can't put her finger on the reason.
“Serenia, if you must leave, I will help build you a raft," Catra says. Her words sound clipped and mechanical, as if keeping her emotion at bay is the only thing she can do to keep from falling apart. "My mother is a daughter of the sea; I will ask that she help you arrive where you must go.”
“Calypso, I cannot ask that of you,” Adora’s mouth moves, but Serenia’s voice comes out, they sound earnest and shattered all at once.
"You have chosen your path," Catra says, stilted, "and that is your right."
Serenia's protests are cut off as Catra ploughs on, "But I took great pains nursing you back to health,” Catra half-scoffs. Despite the words, there's no bite to it. "The least you could do is allow me the satisfaction of knowing my efforts haven't been for naught."
Serenia laughs, but Adora can feel the pain coiling tightly around their chest. She sees it mirrored in the small smile Catra shoots back at them. This goodbye will not be easy for either of them. But then again, these goodbyes on Ogygia's shore so rarely are.
Serenia stands taller than Adora, but shorter than Mara. “If you insist,” she says kindly.
To Adora’s gratitude, they don’t kiss.
There’s no thunder when Adora wakes, but she’s left bitter. Her mouth tastes metallic. Every now and then, an Olympian curses her to see a softer, more vulnerable side of Catra, through the eyes of her old lovers. Adora has no choice but to witness these past moments.
"I don’t think this is what Sea Hawk meant when he called her my dream girl," she grumbles to herself.
Both Glimmer and Bow are sleeping soundly.
Careful not to wake them, Adora tiptoes to her desk. She won’t fall back asleep and risk another voyeuristic dream, not tonight. Jumping from one ordeal to another, she thinks. She reaches across her desk to pull out a folded sheet of paper hidden behind the corkboard above her desk.
Troubled, she sighs, staring at the words she had written: To my friends, for when it finally happens.
It might be a bit too simple, but “For when I sacrifice myself to save the world (or for when I die and the world is destroyed in which case you will never be seeing this because we all are dead)” doesn’t exactly sound great either. It’s not like she has any frame of reference to write such a letter.
Adora has tried to write a proper farewell letter for Glimmer and Bow since she turned nineteen. It didn’t take long to realize that it's not easy to put down everything you've ever wanted to say to the people you love into just one sheet of paper.
But there's always been something wrong with her drafts. Sometimes it's the tone—too impersonal like she’s trying to remove herself from the situation to focus on the greater good. Or she’s too jaded trying to express her regret for all the things she wished she had done differently. It's hard to strike a balance between saying she’s glad to sacrifice herself for a noble cause, while also telling her friends that they meant the world to her without letting on how much she doesn't want to leave them. This letter is meant to serve as closure, not a pity party.
But Frosta's challenge this evening was a wake up call in a lot of ways. If Adora isn't She-Ra, then her days are even more numbered. She has to be pragmatic, even though it sucks. She's been putting this off for too long.
Adora uncaps a regular pen and writes, this time with the intention to finish. And she does.
She leans back in her chair and tries not to cry. The letter is far from perfect but it'll have to do. She's in the middle of folding up the paper again when she senses movement out of the corner of her eye.
She stills. And then she turns around so fast her ponytail whacks her on the cheek. She blinks in confusion at the dimly lit figure standing at her window.
It’s… Frosta, her hand raised halfway as if she were about to knock against the windowpane. Surprised she’s been discovered, she lowers her hand.
Adora quickly shoves the letter into her desk drawer, puts on a pair of jeans and grabs her red jacket.
“What are you doing here, Frosta?” she whispers harshly. Why are you standing outside my window like a creepy horror movie child? Adora refrains from asking. “Do you want the harpies to catch you?”
Frosta stares back impassively, it’s the first time she hasn’t automatically scowled at Adora in weeks. “I need to talk to you,” she answers dismissively. She then starts walking, not even checking to see if Adora follows.
Aside from the fact that it's the middle of the night, this whole situation strikes Adora as off. If Frosta appeared more anxious Adora would assume she was in trouble. Even if that were the case, Adora suspects she'd be the last person Frosta would go to for help. But whatever the true reason, Adora knows she needs to right things between them. She doesn’t want the grudge between her and Frosta to last after her death.
So, she follows.
Frosta leads her to the beach, walks right up to the shoreline.
Adora hangs back, tentative. "Frosta," she calls out. Frosta turns around to face her. "I can't come any closer. Whatever this is about, you'll have to talk to me here."
Frosta huffs in annoyance. "Don't be a wimp, Adora."
The sand at her feet is dry but it's close enough to the patch of sand that's damp from the tide to keep her on edge. Warily, Adora eyes the waves crashing onto the shore. It's a calm night, and the tide isn't particularly high but she takes a step back on the dunes for good measure.
"Fine," Frosta complains, "I'll come to you."
"Thank you," Adora says, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. She can understand that maybe Frosta wanted to talk where she feels most comfortable, but her safe space isn’t safe for Adora.
"So," Adora starts carefully, when Frosta reaches her. "What did you want to talk about?"
Frosta looks at her blankly, as if she isn’t prepared for an actual conversation, even though she's the one who had sought Adora out. Adora will cut her some slack, considering she’s barely a teenager. Adora, after all, is definitely no stranger to foot-in-mouth syndrome. Even so, she can't help but feel the growing doubt at the back of her mind.
"Uh, yeah," Frosta says awkwardly, "I wanted to talk about the meeting today."
Adora nods for her to go on.
"Look," Frosta is looking off to the side now, and fumbling with her hands, "I know I haven't been the nicest." Frosta sighs.
She seems nervous now, and Adora's suspicions and annoyance from earlier start to fade away. She's just a child—a child who had to face too much before she was ready, but a child nonetheless.
"Wait, stop, stop." Adora motions with her hands.
"What?" Frosta snaps at the interruption. "I'm trying to apologize to you."
"I know," Adora says too quickly, "and I really appreciate it. But I think I have something to apologize for first."
Frosta's eyes widen in surprise.
Hesitant, Adora admits, "I… haven't been fair to you.”
"You don't say," Frosta says, but there is no bite to it. She looks at Adora with suspicion but also something a bit like hope. It spurs Adora on.
"Maybe I was too quick to write you off the mission," Adora rubs the back of her neck. "You might have been a great help today. We should have given it some more thought.” Adora sighs. "What I'm trying to say is that you were right."
She had expected Frosta to be smug, maybe shoot her an “I told you so,” but if anything, Frosta seems even angrier now.
“Then why do you guys keep doing that?" Frosta asks crossly.
"Doing what?" Adora asks, confused by Frosta's outburst.
"This wasn’t the first time you guys have excluded me from a mission." Frosta clenches her fists. "Even when we train, you go too easy on me. That’s not going to help me in a real fight! Do you think I'm not capable enough?" she demands, and the waves seem to crash onto the shore faster and harder. "Or is it that you just don't want me around?"
The look on Frosta's face sends Adora back to when she was first claimed, and avoided by everyone at camp because she was the prophecy child. It was a lonely time for her before she became friends with Bow and Glimmer. All she could do was throw herself into training like Light Hope told her to. Everyone knew she wasn't meant to exist, a product of a broken oath, proof that the world was going very, very wrong. It's a horrible thing to carry that kind of blame at such a young age.
And that's when Adora understands it. Frosta's face isn't twisted in anger. It's out of hurt.
"Frosta," Adora says hoarsely around the lump in her throat, "of course I want you around."
"Then act like it," Frosta replies, trying and failing to pretend like she wasn't wiping away a tear.
"Frosta, I'm so sorry," Adora says, eyes wide with remorse, "that was never my intention."
"Then what was?" she asks, still visibly upset.
“I just—” Adora says. Her breath comes out shakily. "I’ve been trying to protect you, Frosta.”
"From what?" Frosta scoffs between sniffles and crosses her arms. “I’ve heard, you know. That you went on your first quest when you were twelve. It’s not fair that I’m older than you were then, and you still won’t let me help. If you’re not She-Ra, and I am, I need to prepare myself for what’s to come.”
“Frosta,” Adora says as gently as she can. “Do you know what being She-Ra actually means?”
“Of course I know what it means,” Frosta says. “Once a daughter of the Big Three turns twenty, she will hold the power to destroy Olympus, or save it.”
“There’s… more you don’t know, Frosta,” Adora says.
“You’ve never heard the full prophecy; Juliet and I didn’t tell you everything.”
“Really?” Frosta asks, crossing her arms. “More coddling from the two of you? I don’t know what I expected.”
“We both thought it'd be better to keep it from you!” Adora frowns. Water soaks through her sneakers. It makes her heart do a panicky somersault in her chest—she hadn't even noticed it get this close. It’s freezing. Adora takes a few steps away from it. She assumes it’s Frosta getting agitated. “Seriously, Frosta? I’m just trying to be honest with you. She-Ra—She-Ra has to die to make sure the prophecy comes true!”
“What?” Frosta asks, her eyes widening.
“I didn’t want you to live with the weight of that. I’ve known how things would end for me since I was eight years old. I’ve had plenty of time to accept it. But then you came along and… you reminded me of myself."
Adora hugs herself and looks away, feeling way too bare after admitting that. "I didn’t have that many people looking out for me. I wanted you to stay a kid.”
“I’m a child of the Big Three, Adora,” Frosta says. “We don’t get to be kids.”
“I know,” Adora says, voice breaking. “But, Frosta,” she whispers, “it’s hard, knowing you don’t have much time left. I don’t want you to have to grow up feeling the way I did.”
For a second it seems like she's gotten through to Frosta. Her face settles with understanding. Then a wave grabs her by the ankles and knocks her into the water.
“Adora!” Frosta cries.
There’s so much more Adora would like to say, but as soon as she stands up, a wave knocks her back into the water. “Frosta?” Adora’s voice wavers. “What’s going on?”
The water around her swirls threateningly.
“Frosta, cut it out!” her voice raises an octave in panic.
“I—I don’t know what’s going on!”
“You’re not the one doing this?”
Frosta shakes her head. “No—I’m sorry—he said he just wanted to talk!”
Adora can’t breathe for a moment. “He?” she asks. But Adora puts it together, now. She was stupid to follow Frosta so close to the ocean.
“My dad!” Frosta chokes out. “He said if I brought you to him, he would help—I don’t understand what—”
The roar of a larger wave cuts Frosta off, dragging Adora in deeper.
Frosta looks terrified. Adora understands. Poseidon tricked Frosta, too. And now she knows that her father wants her to be She-Ra. And it’s not fair. Frosta’s only thirteen, her face is still round with baby fat. She shouldn’t have to live her life afraid of what’s to come.
Adora tries to swim to shore, but it’s no use. The sea moves in many different directions, as if it’s being pulled apart. She can’t even try to reassure Frosta. And how could she, now that her last act will be traumatizing a child instead of saving the world.
A violent force pulls her deeper.
“Good riddance,” a deep voice reverberates around her.
Beneath the waves, her consciousness abandons her as water fills her lungs.
Then, it's like the sea's grip has released her.
Adora comes to when her body finally rises above the waves. The water is warmer, the sky is brighter, pinker, now. It must be daybreak here. She inhales a fresh breath of air, suddenly certain that she’s nowhere near Long Island, or camp, or Frosta and her father.
She tries to swim to shore, but her arms are weak, keeping herself afloat is the best she can manage.
Someone pulls her out of the water, and is talking to her quick and sharp, sounding anything but happy to see her. Calloused hands grip her arms, and lay her down on the sand gently all the same. They're hands Adora has trusted before, and reflexively leans into once again.
It’s on the shore Adora starts coughing up water, until her eyes startle open, meeting gold and blue.
Something buried in Adora’s chest, wound tight and hard, begins to untangle at the very sight of those eyes. Where have you been? she wants to ask, even though she knows Catra can’t be anywhere else. I missed you, she wants to say. Did you miss me, too?
What comes out instead, is considerably more sincere:
“Hey, Catra,” Adora says, grinning woozily. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
Catra opens her mouth to speak, but Adora can’t hear her. Judging from the scowl on Catra’s face, she’s not amused. As Adora slips out of consciousness, she’s barely aware that Catra cradles her head.
Keeping her eyes shut, Adora takes it all in. She must be back inside the cave: it smells like ocean air and spices and home. It’s also quiet, though thunder still echoes in the back of Adora’s mind. She prays it will fade completely, now that she’s in a land untouched by the gods. She had accepted that she would never see Catra again, she had given up on that hope. To be back in Ogygia almost feels like she’s in Elysium. Adora will cling to this taste of heaven as long as she can.
Adora doesn’t have any fresh wounds to tend to, this time, but she feels Catra applying ointment to the prominent scars she got from the manticore’s spikes: on her arms, her side, her cheek. Catra’s touch is delicate, as if she’s trying not to disturb Adora in her sleep.
Adora opens her eyes; Catra looks at her with a familiar expressionless look she's used to getting from most immortals she's interacted with. Timelessly tired, she thinks, is the best way to describe it.
Hesitantly, Adora reaches for her hand. “I thought you said no one ever finds Ogygia twice,” she says.
“Looks like you’re special,” Catra says flatly. She then yanks her hand away from Adora’s. She gets off the side of the bed to kneel on the ground.
There is a shift between them, now, Adora realizes. She knows exactly who Catra is, now.
Weakly, Adora says, “Thank you for taking care of me for the second time, Calypso.”
"You don’t have to thank me," says Catra dismally. “This is what I do, She-Ra.”
In response to Adora’s shock, Catra snides, “Doesn’t feel so good to be called by your title, does it?”
It hadn’t occurred to Adora that Catra might know the truth to who she is, too. But it makes sense, she supposes it was only a matter of time before she would have figured it out. Even if Catra’s isolated, nothing stays hidden from immortals for very long.
Adora suppresses a sigh. She should have told Catra the truth herself. “How did you find out who I am? Or were you lying to me, all that time?”
Catra winces at the accusation. “I didn’t know who you were when we met. After you left, Lady Scorpia came to see me. She’s the one who told me who you are, Daughter of Zeus.”
“I thought my heritage didn’t matter to you,” Adora says, biting her lip.
“Don’t misunderstand me, Adora. I can recognize a powerful demigod when I see one. I just—I didn’t think you’d be so stupid to go back into the world and seek your death.”
Catra stares at her harshly, and Adora recognizes the expression. It’s betrayal. It’s remorse. It’s the same look Bow and Glimmer give her, the same knowing look of someone with little time left.
Something in Adora clams up at the sight of that pain on her face.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Adora snaps.
“Like what?” Catra asks. She looks startled. Adora hasn’t seen Catra look so perplexed since she mistakenly took Catra for a monster.
“Like you’re already preparing to watch my shroud burn at my funeral,” Adora says. She clenches her fists until her knuckles turn white. “I get enough of that at home.”
And she knows she’s being unreasonable, but she can’t stand it. For a time, Ogygia gave her an illusion with Catra. An illusion where she wasn’t something to be grieved. An illusion where she still had a future.
But Catra didn’t know that’s what she had offered Adora. Her ignorance isn’t fair either, Adora knows that. She doesn’t even know when Scorpia told Catra the truth. It could have been as recent as yesterday. Catra hasn’t had the same amount of time to process as everyone else who knows her.
“I’m sorry,” Adora says.
Catra doesn’t say anything. She sits next to Adora on the bed again and continues to treat her scars.
Eventually, Catra asks, “How much time has passed for you?”
“Around a year.”
Catra’s eyes narrow as she runs her fingers through the gray streak in Adora’s hair. “Where did this come from?”
Recalling the way Catra had pushed her hand away a few minutes ago, Adora resists leaning into her touch. She has to get a hold of herself.
“I had the honor of meeting your father,” Adora answers sullenly. It was hard to forget the malicious way Atlas spoke. She thinks she might hate him more for trying to persuade Adora to switch sides by mentioning Catra, than for making her carry the weight of the sky.
“I’m so sorry, Adora.”
Adora lifts her eyebrows. “What for?”
Catra looks grim. “I know what you did to earn that streak. And I know firsthand how unpleasant he can be. Is Atlas—is he the one carrying the sky again?”
“As far as I know,” Adora says.
“Good,” Catra says. Her voice is startlingly bitter as she says, “It’s what he deserves.”
There’s a weight to her words. Atlas is definitely one of the worst titans, Adora can attest to that. She can't say she feels all too bad for him but Catra, whose only concern seems to be nursing Adora back to health, shouldn’t stay trapped in Ogygia for the rest of time.
“Here, you should drink some water,” Catra says, handing her a glass.
Adora makes a face. After nearly drowning in it, water lacks its appeal.
Catra rolls her eyes. “You swallowed a lot of saltwater. You’ll feel better if you drink it.”
“Can’t I just drink some nectar instead?” Adora asks. Catra glares at her. Adora takes the glass, and drinks it all. She does feel better already, but doesn’t want to give Catra the satisfaction.
Catra sets the glass on the side table. “You should get some sleep,” Catra says.
“Sing to me?” Adora asks, smiling. “Your magic helped a lot last time.”
Catra blinks at her. Her eyes soften. “There’s no magic when I sing, Adora.”
Adora considers this. She’s never felt more at peace than when Catra sang to her. “I think you’re wrong about that.”
Catra smiles at her, sings to her in a language sad and old and familiar. As her voice carries, Adora’s eyes closed, and she’s lulled to sleep.
Adora is on Mount Tam, carrying the sky again. She does her best to search for Glimmer and Bow, but there’s no sign of them anywhere.
Before her, Frosta appears, watching her in terror. She’s completely helpless as Adora carries the heavens.
But Adora can’t carry the sky on her own anymore. She cries as her knees buckle and she falls forward, letting the sky meet the earth. The vortex of blues and grays start to swallow her, until she’s drowning in it.
She’s failed Frosta, she’s failed them all. She shuts her eyes but she’s powerless as Frosta’s screams ring in her ears.
It doesn’t stop.
The murky darkness keeps dragging her down, there’s nothing to hold on to.
But then she hears something, something different from Frosta’s cries of terror.
It’s garbled, but Adora can make out a gentle voice. She opens her eyes to see a light. It calls to her. She swims towards it.
Adora gasps as she wakes, those familiar heterochromatic eyes are looking down at her, wide with worry.
“Adora, you’re safe,” Catra says, her palm warm against Adora’s cheek. “The sky didn’t collide with the earth, you didn’t fail.”
“I didn’t fail yet, you mean,” Adora whispers.
“Unfortunately,” Catra says, shaking her head, “I don't think you're the type to let yourself fail.”
Adora almost replies with, I’ll fail you. She’s able to stop herself.
“Go back to sleep, Adora,” Catra says.
Adora doesn’t say anything, but for a moment, Aphrodite’s words echo in her mind. “Love can be kind to you, hero, but only if you allow it.”
As Catra sings Adora back to sleep a second time, Adora thinks she’s beginning to understand what Aphrodite meant.
On the bedside table are two options for clothes: a new set of jeans with a black shirt, and a white tunic. Adora goes for the chiton and in a panic, realizes that her old jeans are missing. It wouldn’t matter, but Adora’s wallet was in one of the pockets. With the picture of Catra.
“Shit,” she says to herself. She’s not sure how she’d explain the photograph to Catra if she saw it.
Adora tiptoes out of her section of the cave to find Catra sitting at the table. Adora stops in her tracks. Catra’s wearing a red long-sleeved shirt and jeans. Adora blinks, surprised to see Catra in such modern clothes. She still wears her mask, but her hair isn’t braided today.
Adora takes a seat. “You’re wearing denim?” Adora asks.
“Is that what you call the fabric for the pants?” Catra shrugs. “They looked comfortable when you wore them. Figured I should try wearing something that’s not a tunic for once.” Catra gestures to the tunic Adora wears. “You chose the classic style?”
Adora nods. “It feels freeing, in a way. Like I’m going back to my roots.” She then picks a date from a bowl, plops one in her mouth. Then two. She ungraciously spits the pits out on a plate.
Catra laughs. “It’s the opposite for me. Even if I can’t visit the modern world, it’s fun to wear things in its style.”
“Um, where are the clothes I was wearing when I crashed here?”
“They’re out air-drying.” Catra raises an eyebrow. “Why?”
“My wallet was in my jacket pocket.”
Catra lifts her hand up, and out of thin air, she pulls out the wallet. Catra hands it to her. “Is what you’re talking about?”
“Yes, thank you.” Adora takes it. It’s miraculously dry. Glimmer had put a spell on it once, Adora didn’t think it still worked after all this time.
Catra then pulls out another object. “I believe this is yours, too.” In her hand dangles Adora’s Camp Half-Blood necklace.
Adora gasps. “Where did you find this? I’ve been missing it ever since…” It hits Adora. Of course it ended up here in Ogygia of all places. It explains why Adora was never able to find it.
“I found it on the sand a few days after you left. I figured it must’ve been yours. What do the symbols mean?”
“They represent something that happened at camp each year.” Adora points to the bead with a lightning bolt. “This was from the year I was first claimed, since there hadn’t been a child of Zeus at camp before. And this one—” Adora laughs. It’s silly, it’s a centaur in a prom dress. Juliet had lost a bet. “I think I’d have to explain prom to you, so you can understand it.”
“So explain it to me,” Catra says curiously.
Adora does. Maybe she overshares. She talks about how she skipped out on her own prom, but that Glimmer and Bow went together “as friends.”
It feels natural to talk to Catra about prom and all its traditions, telling her about her friends, as if they’re both two girls hanging out, not a titan and a hero.
After, there’s a dreamy look on Catra’s face. It turns serious as she runs her index finger over all the beads. “You have so many of them,” she says.
Adora shrugs and clasps the necklace around her neck. “I’ve been at camp for a long time.”
“Adora?” Catra asks, unsure. She looks away. “Are you—are you happy to be back in Ogygia?”
“Of course I am,” Adora answers quickly. She takes Catra’s hand. “I was worried I wouldn’t see you again before—” she stops herself, not wanting to bring up the prophecy again.
“Before your birthday,” Catra answers for her, meeting her eyes once more. “Adora, how much time do you have?”
Adora’s not sure what day it is here, so all she can do is guess. “Less than three weeks,” she says. With a frown she asks, “Catra, how long will I be here this time?”
“I’m not sure, Adora.” Her brow creases. “I wish I knew.”
Adora takes her hand back, takes a sip of water.
It feels as if the Fates are trying to strangle Adora with their strings, tying her to the prophecy, tying her to Catra. Adora wonders how Catra can tolerate it. Knowing that she’ll have to leave soon is agonizing.
As beautiful as Ogygia is, it doesn’t feel as welcoming as it did before. Maybe it’s because Adora knows her visit is more limited this time, leaving her afraid of getting close to Catra again. Adora’s not sure if Catra’s good at concealing her pain, or if she’s not hurt at all. But it doesn’t matter, ultimately. Adora has to go back to camp.
If there are seasons in Ogygia, Adora assumes this would be fall. The leaves aren’t as green as they were last time, apples hang heavy from their branches, and the sky almost appears a deeper blue.
As Adora comes across Catra in the garden, she stills. Melog is dozing in the sun next to her, but they wake up once they sense Adora’s presence.
“Hi, Melog,” Adora laughs as they rub against her side. “I missed you.”
They make an affectionate sound and proceed to roll in dirt.
“Hey, Adora,” Catra says. She’s tending to some beautiful red flowers. “Care to help me with these dahlias? Might as well be useful if you’re going to stay here.”
“Uh,” Adora replies eloquently. Walking in the garden was a mistake. All she wants to do is look at Catra in her element, to burn this into her memory so she doesn’t have to rely on the photograph.
Catra seems to sense her panic. “I was teasing. Mostly.”
“Right,” Adora says. Out of habit, she fiddles with her pen. “I think I’ll leave the gardening up to you.”
Catra shrugs. “Suit yourself,” she says.
"Though," Adora starts with a shy smile, unable to keep it to herself, "I have been taking care of the moonlace you gave me."
Catra's face shifts into an expression Adora can’t read. It only lasts a split second, if Adora had blinked, she would have missed it. Before she knows it, Catra looks collected, raises a quizzical eyebrow. "Oh?” she asks. “How has the moonlace been doing?"
"Well, I'm no expert like you but," Adora laughs a little, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear self-consciously, "it's kind of taken on a life of its own? My windowsill is pretty much covered with all the flowers. Perfuma said that at the rate it's going, they’ll probably overtake the whole cabin soon."
"Huh," Catra says, blinking in surprise. "They don't usually grow that fast."
"Nope.” Catra aggressively pats down the earth next to pats down the earth next to the dahlias. "Maybe it likes you."
Adora blinks. "Is… is that a thing plants can do?"
Catra squints at Adora almost judgmentally, and then starts to remove some of the flower’s buds. “Plants have feelings too, Adora,” she says.
“Why do I get the sense that you’re messing with me?” Adora asks.
“Why would I do that?” Catra asks. She gestures to the dahlia, it starts to sag. “Look at what your ignorance has done,” she says. She touches the drooping blossom sympathetically. “Don’t mind her, Little One. She’s only a mortal.”
“I—” Adora huffs. She scrambles over to the flower and gets on her knees. “Uh, I am so, deeply sorry for um, assuming you don’t have feelings mister—or miss! Mx? Mx. Little One, was it? Uh—"
Adora looks up to see Catra covering her mouth with the back of her hand, barely containing her laughter. Adora's jaw falls open in offense.
Catra full out cackles now, wiping tears from the corner of her eye. "You're too easy," she gasps, trying not to fall over onto bed if dahlias.
Blood rushes to Adora's cheeks, she can't tell if it's out of pure embarrassment or if it's because she finds the borderline obnoxious laugh of Catra’s ridiculously cute. She’s a titan, cute shouldn’t fit her, but it does.
"Are you done making fun of me now?" Adora grumbles, absolutely not paying attention to the little smudge of dirt on Catra's cheek. Definitely not thinking about how it makes her look more human than immortal. "It's not that funny."
"It kind of is," Catra says, finally calming down, still wearing a huge grin on her face. It takes everything in Adora to not break character and smile back. "Just to clarify," Catra points a finger at the dahlia, makes a ‘come hither’ motion, and it stands tall again, in full bloom. "I do believe these little guys have feelings. I just don't think that they—" she snickers. "I just don't think they’re sentient enough to accept apologies."
"Oh," Adora says, embarrassment fading to a strange feeling of disappointment. She had liked the thought that the moonlace responded to her.
Catra seems to notice her disappointment. "It still is weird though, to hear about how fast your moonlace has grown," Catra ventures. "Moonlace usually isn't too cooperative. I always have trouble keeping them alive for more than a few months."
Adora perks up at the new information. Even Perfuma hadn't been able to dig up much on the plant, so Adora assumed Catra would be an expert on it.
"Perhaps it thrives better in its new habitat than in Ogygia."
The thought of that seems strange to Adora as she looks around her. Ogygia is a paradise—the idea that something couldn't thrive here doesn't make sense to her. She watches Catra tap a finger thoughtfully on her chin, and suddenly remembers with a chill that what is paradise for her is prison for Catra.
"Or," Catra says, distracting Adora from her thoughts with a teasing glint in her eye, "maybe it really does like you."
"Oh, come on!" Adora complains, cheeks flaring again as Catra falls into another round of snickers. She picks up a stray leaf and throws it at Catra in retaliation but the leaf barely makes it halfway, floating back to the ground serenely. They both watch it fall.
"Are you going to apologize to the leaf, too?" Catra asks.
"Oh my gods," Adora swears, burying her face in her hands to the sound of Catra's raucous laughter.
When Catra finally calms down though, her smile seems to fade. She hesitates, before saying, "I really am impressed you’ve been able to keep the moonlace alive for this long.”
Adora softens at that. "I like it," she says meeting Catra's eyes, "I like taking care of it."
There’s silence between them. It’s electric. She wonders if Catra senses that she isn't talking about the moonlace anymore.
Catra bites her lip and looks away, turning her attention back to the dahlias. "I'm glad you do," she replies quietly.
Catra continues working on the plants while Adora tries her best to not rip out the grass around her feet to pass time. She fails. She pulls out a few blades of grass. Gardening is definitely not her thing. Neither is birdwatching: Adora watches as doves and hummingbirds flit about, but they bore her quickly.
“Catra?” Adora asks, breaking the silence. “I—I tried to research more of your history. You told me you were sent here as a punishment for fighting with the titans, even though you switched sides. Is there… is there more to it than that?”
Catra furrows her brow. “I was a commander for Kronos’ army. I had wanted to impress my father, to show him what I was capable of. I was still quite young then.” She laughs bitterly. “You see, Tethys’ children are usually peaceful, but I sought Atlas’ approval. I thought being a commander would make him proud of me. But he resented me for rising above him in rank. I was powerful, back then, and now I’m here.”
It’s a lot to process. Catra’s immortal skin is unmarked from the war, but her eyes look tired. If Catra had been a commander for the titan army, it means Adora's first instinct about her was right: Catra is dangerous. It also means she knows how to face Kronos in a fight.
“As you know, I switched sides. But I caused the gods and mortals a lot of damage first. I'll never be able to forget it.”
“And now you garden,” Adora says.
“Yes Adora,” Catra says, devoid of bitterness, “now I garden. Tell me, do you think it’s all that bad? To have a simple life? I don’t have to worry about dancing around death, the way you do.”
It doesn’t sound bad at all, that's the problem. It’s everything Adora’s never allowed herself to want.
“Can I see your sword?” Catra asks.
“Sure,” Adora uncaps the pen and hands the sword over.
It’s heavy, it had taken years for Adora to get comfortable with its weight, but Catra carries it like it’s nothing. “Have you ever fought a titan before?” she asks.
Aside from Catra, Atlas is the only titan she’s met. Considering she was carrying his burden, she didn’t have the chance to fight him.
“No, I haven’t.”
Catra hums in response. She hands the sword back. “I admit I’m out of practice, but tomorrow at dawn, I’ll help you train. If you're going to fight Kronos, you're going to need all the help you can get”
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Catra scowls. "I'm serious, Adora. If you can't take me in a fight, you won't have a chance against Kronos." Catra eyes Adora up and down. She perks an eyebrow. "Your power radiates off you, Adora. It’s time you show me what you can do. Besides,” Catra flashes her a mischievous grin, “it’s been a long time since I had the chance to put a hero in their place.”
Enticed by the idea of practicing with Catra, Adora grins right back. “We’ll see about that,” Adora says.
In one of the groves, Catra awaits. She’s wearing a chiton again, which Adora doesn’t think is very appropriate for fighting, but it is alluring.
Catra tilts her head at her.
It's then Adora notices Catra isn't carrying a weapon.
“How am I supposed to fight you if you don’t use weapon?” Adora asks.
Catra gives her a dangerous grin. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” she says, almost a purr. “Trust me, Adora, I can handle whatever you throw at me. You’re the one who should be worried.”
Adora’s not too convinced. “Okay, then,” she says, quickly stepping forward. As soon as she uncaps her pen, she strikes.
The earth sinks beneath her feet, sudden and vicious. With an embarrassing wail, Adora manages to grab a root to hold on to. She’s not sure where she’ll land if she lets go, but the hole looks deep.
Catra stands on the ground above her, hand on her hip, not looking amused. “I told you, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a weapon. I’m a titan.”
Adora wants to claim that this was cheating, but now she knows Catra has a point. Catra laughes as Adora dangles helplessly, clinging on to the root with one hand, and holding on to her sword with the other.
"A little help here?" Adora intones.
The earth rises, making Adora level with Catra once more, and the pit seals itself shut beneath her feet.
“Let’s try that again, shall we?" Catra asks.
An hour passes, and Adora has gotten the hang of avoiding each pit that Catra summons. After another hour, Adora has barely missed striking Catra’s side.
And in spite of the way that Adora is drenched in sweat while Catra is still perfectly composed, Adora is thrilled. Few people at camp were able to take Adora in a fair fight, leaving her no choice but to train with Light Hope when she sought out Adora. And as good as she is at fighting monsters, it could never compare to this. How could it? The smile Catra makes when Adora manages to impress her with a move reminds Adora of a moonrise: lovely and out of reach.
"I'm going to try something else with you now," Catra says. "Kronos can manipulate time—he can make your brain think you are moving slower or faster than you really are. There's no real way to prepare for this, the best I can do is control the ground beneath your feet, to slow you down."
Adora tries to process this. "Okay," she says, give me your best."
Another two hours pass, and both of Adora's arms are unbearably sore. But whether it was her demigod hardwiring or actual skill, she had managed to land several hits on Catra.
“You need a break,” Catra says.
Adora shakes her head. “I don’t get breaks out there, I’m not going to quit just yet.”
Catra rolls her eyes, and mutters something about how not even Serenia was this stubborn. "Adora, I know it wasn't easy, but you did better than I expected. Looks like there may be some hope for She-Ra after all.” She wrinkles her nose. “But you need a bath. I’ll prepare you some food in the meantime.”
Adora's stomach grumbles at the mention of food. "Fine," she says.
For an immortal, Catra has considered everything a mortal might need.
There is a jar filled with rose petals next to the bath. And another one with lavender. Adora curiously takes a handful of each and tosses them into the water. Stepping in, Adora sighs as the water soaks into her skin. She scrubs herself clean with the soap Catra made herself. She’s never been able to relax in a bath before.
Two nights later, Adora sees Light Hope in a dream, a memory. It was a week after Adora had returned from Ogygia the first time. Light Hope had materialized into her room without any warning.
"It's a little late for training, Light Hope," Adora says, not bothering to conceal her agitation.
"That is not why I have come," Light Hope says. "I understand you have been to Ogygia."
Adora crosses her arms, glares at the statue of her father. "I don't see how that's any of your business."
"You are under my care, Adora. What happens to you is my business."
“You told me there would be consequences for not traveling with the Hunters,” Adora says through gritted teeth. “Was meeting Catra one of them? Did you send me to Ogygia to make some kind of point?”
Light Hope’s gaze is cool and unrevealing. “It matters not,” she says. “I have no say over what the Fates decide is best.”
Adora sits with this. “But you knew I would land there.”
“Yes,” Light Hope answers simply, as if this is a trivial matter. “It’s been quite some time since titan goddess Calypso has been punished.”
“Is that all I’m supposed to be to her? A punishment?”
“Yes, Adora. Does that surprise you?”
It shouldn’t. But something twists inside Adora, knowing that Light Hope knew this would happen.
Catra is there in the entryway when she wakes up. She's carrying a lamp, Adora's certain it's more for her benefit than Catra's.
“Did you have another nightmare?” she asks.
Adora shakes her head. “It was a memory. Do you know why Ogygia blocks out demigod dreams? I can’t receive any godsent visions out here.”
Catra shrugs. “I’d assume it’s the island’s magic. It’s designed to keep me from having visions of the outside world. By extension, it’s supposed to keep you and your lot out of trouble. Not that it’s ever very successful,” she grumbles.
“I saw visions of you. After I left.”
Catra perks up. “You did?” she asks, shooting a hopeful glance, like this means something to her.
“What I don’t understand,” Adora says, trying to keep her voice steady. “Is why you asked her to stay.”
Catra’s smile drops. “Who are you talking about?”
“Mara,” Adora says. “You asked her to stay. And Serenia, too. I saw. In the dreams.”
Catra marches right towards Adora. “Would it have made a difference if I asked you?” she asks, pressing her finger against Adora’s chest. “You still would have left, same as the others. Even this time, you will leave. You’d rather fall into the gods’ death trap than stay here.”
“That’s not fair, Catra, the prophecy—”
“I don’t care about your prophecy—” Catra practically hisses. “And I don’t care what you saw in your dreams about me. My curse is my burden, it has nothing to do with you.”
Adora flinches. Shadows flicker across Catra’s face: she’s furious, and she has every right to be.
“I don’t know how long it will take for your raft to get here this time,” Catra says coolly. “You waste your time searching for it. And I know you don’t have much time left to waste.”
“Don’t you get it?” Catra’s voice is shrill, fractured. “The gods sent you here twice with the sole intention of hurting me again. No one’s ever come back before. Once was an act of the Fates. Twice is deliberate, Adora. It’d be something I could handle if I knew you would stay.”
An apology spills out before Adora can think better of it. “Catra, I’m so sorry—”
“Please, Adora,” Catra says. Her eyes are wet. Adora didn’t know it was possible for immortals to cry. “I know you had no say in returning, but you do have a say in what you do next.” Catra pauses, as if she’s waiting for Adora to promise she won’t leave, but Adora can’t utter a word.
“You should take a break from training tomorrow,” Catra says.
She leaves the room, and Adora doesn’t follow her this time.
In the morning, Adora makes her way to the beach and scans the ocean for any trace of white sails. Catra said she wasn’t sure when the raft would appear during this visit. But it’s sudden arrival last time had surprised Catra, meaning it’s inconsistent. Adora’s all too aware of faulty-magic things not showing up when wanted, but she has a hope that if she seeks out the raft, it will come to her.
Adora’s sure to stay far from the water itself, after the almost-drowned incident. She doesn’t want to risk any more of Poseidon’s wrath, but still, she trudges forward. When she does find the raft, she’ll have to cross the sea again, but that’s future Adora’s problem. Right now, she needs to find the raft so she can leave sooner, and avoid hurting Catra anymore.
As the sun moves across the sky, Adora realizes it’s getting late. Sunset will be here in a few hours. If she can’t find the raft by then, she has no chance of leaving today. Still, Adora isn’t going to give up.
After passing the cypress tree she had marked at the beginning of her search, Adora groans in exasperation and settles on to the sand, defeated.
“Stupid curses,” she says out loud. “Stupid prophecies.”
Panic overcomes her, like she’s on the edge of the world, about to fall into an abyss. Adora doesn’t want to be another one of Catra’s punishments. And she doesn’t want to leave her, again.
The sky grows darker, and thunder rumbles, but Adora is too focused on trying to keep her breathing even to pay any mind to it.
“Adora,” Catra calls from behind her. Adora turns her head towards her. “There hasn’t been a thunderstorm in Ogygia for centuries, I would appreciate it if you could keep it that way.”
“What?” Adora glances up towards the sky. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right.” Catra says, stepping closer to her.
“Is it? It seems like you don’t want me here at all and I thought—” Adora stops herself. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Adora, it matters to me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you loved Mara?” Adora asks. “And Serenia? And Odysseus?”
It starts to rain.
“Adora,” Catra warns.
“I’m sorry,” Adora says, and she starts crying. “I know it’s your business. I just—I don’t understand. I don't even know which god sent me these visions. I never wanted to intrude.”
Catra sits next to her, and despite the rain fall, she wipes away her tears. The thunder ceases, but the rain doesn’t stop falling.
“I didn’t want to frighten you before, if you knew all that I was.”
“All that you are?”
“Odysseus never landed here, Adora.” Catra’s mouth tightens. “I know of the rumors. Even Mara caught wind of them, in her time. I didn’t know how badly my story would be twisted. I was worried if you knew who I was, you would think I was only trying to seduce you.”
Adora painfully realizes that Catra’s shirt is white—and soaked. Adora quickly glances at her chest, and then meets her eyes. Catra makes no move to cover herself.
“Even if they were all true,” Adora says carefully, “that wouldn’t change how I feel about you.”
Catra raises an eyebrow. “And how do you feel about me, She-Ra?” The rain falls lighter now, but the sky remains gray.
Adora stares at those lips of hers. She meets Catra’s eyes, dejected.
“Let’s get you into something dry,” Catra suggests.
Back in the cave, Catra offers her a selection of chitons.
“Do you make all these by hand?”
Catra shrugs. “Sewing passes the time.”
“And gardening,” Adora repeats.
Catra laughs. “It’s better than training nonstop. No wonder you sleep so much here, your muscles are exhausted.”
“It’s what I know to do,” Adora says.
“You were looking for the raft, earlier, weren’t you.” Catra says quietly.
Hearing this breaks something in Adora, but she can’t deny it.
“So I can’t be the one to hurt you anymore,” Adora says simply.
“Do you think it’s that easy?” Catra asks.
“I wanted to try,” Adora says. “None of this is fair to you, Catra. And we’re both miserable,” she pauses. “Aren’t we?”
“We don’t have to be,” Catra says. “You could… you could stay with me. You don’t have to fulfill the prophecy, Adora. You still have a choice.”
“But I don’t—”
“Only you do,” Catra insists. “You know the prophecy is a death sentence. The gods will use you for all that you are worth. And you, Adora? All you’ll get a constellation in the sky to commemorate your sacrifice. That’s what happened to Mara and that’s what will happen to you.”
Adora feels as if she’s been struck.
It’s the first time Catra brought up Mara unsolicited.
And the thing is, Catra is right. And it’s tempting, it’s so painfully tempting to stay. With a breath, Adora could hide from her destiny, from every manipulative god. Adora’s not stupid. Her blood won’t be the only that’s shed for Olympus, she could avoid dealing with the loss of anyone else if she stayed here. She could have a life here, tending a garden with someone who sees her.
“I know you’re not fighting for glory,” Catra says. “What is it you’re fighting for, Adora?”
Adora closes her eyes, remembering Glimmer and Bow’s laughter, flying with Swift Wind, sparring with Lonnie. Then she remembers Frosta’s horror when she realized her father tricked her.
“There are people I care about, Catra. I—” and what is she supposed to say, she can’t abandon them, but she can abandon Catra, for the second time? “Poseidon broke his oath, too and his daughter—she’s only thirteen. I’ve had to live with this burden for years. I can’t put her through that, too. It has to end with me.” One way or another, Adora will make sure of that.
Catra looks like she can’t breathe. She moves closer to Adora, takes her in her arms. “I didn’t know you had to carry the weight of the prophecy all this time.”
Adora starts to cry. She wishes she didn’t exist outside of Ogygia. She wishes she could stay here forever.
The next night, on the hilltop, they gaze at the stars in silence. Adora wants to hold Catra’s hand, but she feels trapped. Every cell of hers fights to be closer to Catra, but she knows that’s not right. Not when she has to leave again. And it’s not like Catra is making any moves either.
“Humor me, Adora,” Catra says. “If you weren’t She-Ra, what would you do?”
Adora glances at Catra’s parted lips. Part of her wants to say she’d choose to stay here, but that seems unfair.
“I don’t know,” she answers honestly.
“Have you truly never thought about it?”
“No one’s asked me, before,” Adora says, "I've never had the chance to seriously consider it.”
Catra’s fingertips brush over Adora’s hands.
“I’m asking you to consider it, now,” she says gently.
“Why? I mean, it’s not like it will ever happen.”
“I’m bound here,” Catra says. “And when you leave I will still be bound here. Indulge me. I want to hear about the life you wish you could live.”
“I guess—” Adora sighs. “I guess I would actually go to college. You know, university. I always wanted to study astronomy. Or art history. But not Greek art, obviously. I’m a little tired of it.”
“Obviously,” Catra repeats.
“It’d be cool to study some contemporary art. Or photography.”
“Photography?” Catra asks.
Right. Catra has lived here since before photography existed.
“It’s uh…” Adora trails off. “Like portraits! But real."
Catra stares at her in confusion.
"I'm not explaining it right, give me a sec" Adora says, reaching into her pocket. Adora pulls out her wallet. She takes out Catra’s picture. “Here,” Adora says, handing it over.
“So this… is a photograph?” Catra asks, taking the picture of herself and squints..
Adora can feel herself burning. “Yeah, I uh, took it last time.”
Catra brings the photo close to her face to examine it. She pokes a finger at photo-Catra's face. "Oh," she says in wide-eyed wonder, "that's me."
"Yeah," Adora says with a grin, embarrassment fading away as she delights in Catra's discovery. "This is a thing we can do now, it's pretty neat. I don't know if you remember but the last time I was here, I kept wandering around with my camera? That's what I used to take your portrait.”
Catra creases her brow thoughtfully. "You mean that small rectangle thing you kept walking around with?"
"Oh, so that's what that was for," Catra muses.
"Wait, hold up," Adora says, holding up her hands in confusion, "what did you think I was doing?"
"I had assumed it was some kind of good luck charm, or something to help you cope with not being able to fight anything.”
Adora bursts out in incredulous laughter. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
"Adora, trust me," Catra says sagely, even though she’s poorly suppressing a smile, "if you could see the way you fight in your sleep, you would assume the same thing."
Adora folds her hands in front of her chest sulkily in mock offense and Catra laughs.
"How does this… camera thing work anyway?" Catra flips the picture from side to side, top to bottom as if it will reveal any answers. It doesn’t. “Why didn’t you show me this photograph last time?”
"You have to send it in to get it developed and printed," Adora explains, pausing as she takes in Catra's blank expression. "It's… an entire process, I wasn’t able to get them developed till after I left Ogygia.”
Catra only looks more confused. "I… still don't understand how you… take the photographs," she admits.
Adora grins, "That's the fun part."
Adora holds up her arms, both her hands forming an L-shape and puts them together, palms facing opposite sides to create a rectangular frame. Catra watches her curiously.
"So this," Adora says, nodding at her hands, "Is what we call a frame. Now look through it."
Catra slowly leans in to do as Adora says.
"What do you see?"
"I see…" she says, peering through the gap in Adora's hands, "I see the moon?"
"Exactly," Adora says with a confident grin, "that's kind of how a camera works! It has a tiny lens that we can look through to see this kind of frame."
Adora shifts the position of her hands mid-air to try getting a different composition with the moon. The bright spot of silver moves to the top right of her frame, and even though this is only a pretend-camera, she can imagine how nice this would look as a photograph.
“If I were actually holding a camera, there’s a button I would press to take the picture. It makes a clicking sound.”
When she turns to look at Catra, she's met with a blank face. "You… didn't understand any of that, did you?"
"No," Catra laughs lightly, "and I probably never will."
Adora drops her clasped hands and laughs, albeit it a little self-consciously.
"But," Catra offers, "I liked hearing you talk about it."
Adora smiles at her. "What more could I ask for."
Catra actually blushes, and it fills Adora with delight.
"What do you like about photography?" Catra asks, hurried to change the topic.
Adora shoots her a smirk before she answers, "Honestly it's just… fun. I love walking around and just looking for interesting things and patterns. Photography is less about getting it right in one go, and more about looking at one thing from all possible angles till you get it right." Adora laughs in spite of herself. "Sometimes that means having to literally lie down on the ground, or contort yourself in weird, embarrassing angles to get the right composition but—" she sighs softly, "when it's right, it's right." She turns to Catra, smiling. "And then it's all worth it."
Catra blinks wide-eyed at her, and Adora laughs sheepishly. “Wow,” she says, rubbing a hand against her neck. “Sorry, that was corny.”
Catra laughs softly, and pointedly looks at the stars instead of Adora.
Adora lies down on her back. "I usually use a disposable camera," Adora continues, unperturbed, “since they’re cheaper. I don’t have to risk damaging them on quests. But I've always wanted to own a DSLR. And not, like, the ones we can loan from camp."
Adora makes a face, thinking of all the times she'd had to literally wrestle one or more of the Apollo kids to get a hold of any one of the ten DSLRs at camp. "Our father is the literal patron god of art, it is my dad-given RIGHT to use that camera!” they’d argue.
"I'd like to travel and see everything and be there to capture it all,” Adora admits, suddenly feeling as if she’s discovering something about herself. Her heart races.
"And you said you never thought about what you'd do if you weren't She-Ra," Catra teases, bringing Adora back to earth.
"Yeah," Adora says, feeling a little dizzy. "Yeah, I guess subconsciously, I already knew."
A beat of silence passes between them and it feels like a punch to the stomach. It feels as though she had realised something way too late. She's grateful when Catra pulls her away from her own head.
"So, why do you have this picture with you, and not the camera?”
Because I wanted proof that you were real.
Because you’re beautiful.
Because I missed you.
Adora sits back up. “I keep pictures as reminders,” Adora finds herself saying. “I, uh. People keep pictures of their friends in their wallets.” And significant others, Adora thinks. Shit. She pulls out the picture of her, Glimmer, and Bow, after she and Glimmer won a chariot race together. “Here,” Adora says, exchanging the photographs. “This is of me, Bow, and Glimmer."
“You look happy here,” she points out. “And so do your friends."
"Yeah," Adora says fondly, smiling at the memory, "It was a good day." She pauses. "Well, it was a good day for us, not sure about the others. Bow and I kept trash talking the other teams, while Glimmer teleported onto their chariots and messed with their reins, so maybe not as much for them. But, we still won so," Adora shrugs.
Catra bursts out a surprised laugh. "And here I was thinking the pink one looked too cute to be wearing all that armour."
"That’s Glimmer, and yeah," Adora agrees proudly, "people always underestimate Glimmer more than they should."
Catra smiles, "Sounds like you, Sparkles, and Arrow Boy have a good thing going on."
Adora gives Catra an admonishing look.
"Fine," Catra says, waving a dismissive hand in the air, "Glimmer and Bow. I swear mortal names keep getting stranger and stranger each time I hear them."
"But I'm glad you've got good people in your corner," Catra says. She returns the photo to Adora. She looks back up at the sky instead of Adora, and her shining in the moonlight. When she speaks again, she’s careful to avoid sounding emotional. "They're the people you have to go back for."
"Yeah," Adora says quietly. "They're kind of my safe space. When things get to be too much, I know I can count on them to catch me when I fall." Adora struggles, "I need to be there to catch them, too. That’s kind of why I keep this on me most of the time. For when I need to remember that."
"Right," Catra swallows, "Of course."
Catra meets her eyes, looking scarily vulnerable. Adora realises they're sitting shoulder to shoulder and Catra is very close.
"So my—photo, as you call it," Catra bites her lip almost anxiously, "You keep it with you because...?"
Maybe it's the fact that they'd been training all day and Adora's body aches, or maybe it's because Adora's tired of avoiding Catra's grazing fingertips, but she doesn’t want to deny her feelings anymore.
"I think you know why," Adora replies softly.
Catra sucks in a deep breath and shifts away, using her hair for cover. Adora takes satisfaction that for once she's the one who flustered Catra instead of the other way around. Even if there's nothing she can do about it.
Can’t do it, or won’t? she thinks. The sentiment sounds suspiciously like Catra.
As Catra recovers, noticeably after having put some distance between them, Adora holds out the photo to her. "Here," she says, holding out the picture of her and her friends, "You should keep it."
"Adora, I can’t take this from you.”
“It’s only fair,” Adora says.
“Okay,” Catra says. “If you insist.” She smiles, shy and unsure.
Adora wishes she had a camera on her.
One morning, after some vigorous training, Catra delicately suggests they go to the beach and swim.
"Nothing too intense," she promises, raising her hands up as Adora's breathing quickens. "Just a quick dip. So you will get used to being in the water again."
“I can’t go into the ocean.”
Catra looks at her worriedly, and it irks Adora.
"I can't go into the ocean," Adora insists once more, unable to keep her voice from shaking.
Catra gently reaches for her hand, and it's probably the first time in a long while they've held hands properly with the sole intent of doing so. Neither one backs away from it. It's only when Catra gives her hand a comforting squeeze that she realizes her hands had started shaking.
"Okay," Catra says, calm and patient, "name the reasons you can't go, one by one."
“You know, there’s the whole feud with Zeus and Poseidon?" Adora, squeezes her eyes shut, trying to focus on the pressure of Catra's hands on hers. "It's kinda how I ended up here in the first place.”
“My mother is Tethys, Adora. She’s a sea goddess older than your uncle. Ogygia’s waters are part of her domain. Poseidon can’t touch you here."
"The last time I was in there I had nearly drowned," Adora says. Mentally, she counts to ten the way Juliet had taught her long ago.
"The waters here are no threat to you, I won’t let you drown, Adora," comes the fierce reply.
A second hand folds itself over the one already holding Adora's hand. It feels like those are the only things holding her together.
"I know, Adora. I will hold your hand every step of the way. When the raft comes you need to be prepared, if you wish to return home.”
Adora stays quiet for a moment as the static in her mind begins to die down.
Adora feels the same magic as when Catra sings to her. “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” Adora says.
Catra gives her a sad smile, "Let's go, then."
They walk to the beach, hand in hand, and Adora can almost pretend they’re a real couple going for a walk together. Until she sees the waves, and dread fills her stomach.
“You know,” Catra says in an attempt to distract her, leaning in with a conspiratorial smile, “I'm pretty sure my mother’s the one who brought you back to me."
"But she's a titan, why would she try to save a child of Zeus?"
Catra’s smile only grows. “You forget that I'm a titan too. By that logic, what reason did I have to save you?"
I could think of one, Adora refrains from saying. She thinks about how she had been so sure a few weeks ago that there was no way in Hades that Catra had cared for her the same way Adora did.
They stand right at the edge of where the water laps at the sandy shore. It’s gentle, inviting, like Tethys herself is trying to tell Adora it was safe, but that doesn’t mean Adora can trust it.
"Adora," Catra interlaces their fingers carefully, "if you want to turn back, we can wait until you're ready. I'm not going to force you to do anything you're not comfortable with."
Adora looks at their hands, and then back to Catra’s concerned, beautiful eyes, deciding that the Adora from a few weeks ago was an idiot.
"I trust you," Adora says, looking Catra in the eyes. She takes in a deep, shuddering breath before facing forward to the ocean. "Lead the way."
Together, they tread carefully into the water.
Standing ankle deep, Adora watches Catra wade deeper into the water.
The water feels cool and soothing against her skin, in the sun. She lets her feet sink into the sand, watching the sand build up more with every wave.
She slowly works her way towards Catra, who splashes her right away. Adora doesn’t mind, she’s delighted in the way They end up closer together.
Adora wants to kiss Catra, the same way she has in her dreams. She wants it to be her own lips pressed against Catra’s, this time.
But standing knee-deep in the water as it laps against her, with Catra this close to her is all too familiar. Adora’s been forced to live Catra’s past too many times. Seemingly unaware of the reason Adora has frozen, Catra steps closer, opening her mouth to comfort her.
Adora flinches away, the thunderclap of a broken oath ringing in her ears.
The dreams still leave Adora feeling sick, Adora doesn’t want to be another hero repeating the past.
She wants to tell Catra that, but she’s not sure how. Instead, she ends up apologizing.
“I’m sorry," she says in a rush, "I’m sorry I'm for being another hero who’s landed on your shore."
“Why are you apologizing for the work of the Fates?” Catra asks.
“Because it’s not right that you're forced to do this over and over," Adora says, agitated. "That you’re forced to fall in love with me.”
To her dismay, Catra snorts. “Now you’re being presumptuous. I never said I loved you.”
Catra cups her cheeks. “The Fates can’t force love. They pick a hero they know I can’t help but fall in love with, even though she can’t stay. Even though I can never save her.” Catra lets go of her face. “If I weren’t trapped here, wherever I might have been, I would have still loved you. When you leave I will still love you. That’s how this works.”
Adora lets that sink in. “So, you do love me?”
Catra splashes her again. “Let me clear things up for you. One, I don’t even like you,” she says airily.
Adora lets out a laugh, despite herself.
"And two," Catra says, coming close enough that their faces are once again mere inches apart. Adora’s breath hitches. "Even if I did love you," her voice drops an octave, seemingly amused at the effect she has on Adora, "that would be my choice, wouldn't it?"
"But nothing," Catra says gently, pressing a finger to Adora's lips to silence her. Her heterochromatic eyes pierce through Adora. She’s rendered breathless by the way Catra makes her feel so seen. "You don't have to save everyone all the time, Adora"
Adora stares at her wide-eyed and she can't tell if it's because of Catra's words or if she's just flustered. Catra removes her finger, but does not back away.
"I have to try," Adora says weakly with a shrug. I don't know who I'd be if I didn't.
Catra's eyes soften once again, as if she'd heard what Adora didn't say. And then she rolls her eyes.
"You," she says in exasperation, poking Adora’s forehead, "have gotten too used to being called the harbinger of disaster, She-Ra. Try being a normal mortal from time to time, I've heard it's fun."
"I don't think 'normal' is really an option for either of us," Adora chuckles, despite the ache the thought causes in her chest.
"Oh, well," Catra shrugs, and finally moving away from where she'd been overwhelmingly close, "a girl can dream." She turns to move back to shore. "You coming?"
Adora follows. Her forehead burns where Catra had touched her.
They’re both at the beach when Adora hears something rocking in the water.
The sight of white sails startles her.
“I suppose it’s time,” Catra says. She sighs. “Look, Adora. Prophecies are… tricky. Not everything is as it seems. So, here.” She takes off her mask, offers it to Adora.
As soon as Adora’s fingertips touch the mask, it shifts into a beaded golden headband, like she carries the touch of Midas. Carefully, Adora puts the headband on.
“When you’re in battle, it will give you some protection,” Catra explains. “But I’m not giving this to you because I like you,” she warns. “And here’s this,” Catra says, handing Adora a whistle that looks like it’s made of bone. “This will let you call Melog.”
“Let me guess,” Adora says. “Because Melog likes me, and you don’t.”
“Exactly, glad you’re following,” Catra replies. “You can use the whistle once, and Melog will come to you, take you where you need to go.”
“Could they bring me back here?” Adora asks.
Catra startles. “I don’t know. But Adora, don’t waste this gift on me. Melog can take you to the River Styx safely, and bring you back. It might be the only thing that can help save you.”
“I thought the River Styx was dangerous. Isn’t that what ruined Achilles?”
“Pride ruined Achilles, from what I heard,” Catra says. She shuts her eyes. “If you do go to the Styx, just, promise me you’ll remember something that tethers you to this world.” Her eyes flash open. “It will burn you up otherwise, and even my mask won’t be able to help you. Adora, promise me you’ll remember this.”
“I promise,” Adora says.
Catra places her hands on Adora’s shoulders, lifts herself up to kiss her forehead. A blessing.
“Now get going, dummy. The sun has almost set.” Her eyes soften. "You have people to keep from falling. And—" her voice cracks, "remember to take lots of photos for me one day, yeah?"
Adora nods, worrying her lip trying to keep herself together.
A beat passes. If Adora lingers, she’ll have no choice but to stay here forever.
“Thank you,” Adora says.
Catra just smiles at her, teary eyed.
Adora aches. She wants to kiss her goodbye, but that’s what Catra’s ex-lovers had done, with promises of returning.
Adora won’t return this time.
Catra knows this.
Instead, Adora pulls Catra close to her. Catra freezes at first before she tugs Adora closer all the same, burying her face in the crook of Adora's neck.
Adora could whisper an apology, she could whisper a confession of love. She could whisper a false promise. Instead, she says, “If it is my time, and I save Olympus, the only constellation I'd care about is the one that you would name after me.”
To this, Catra laughs, muffled into her shoulder. “You’re such an idiot.”
Adora’s ears heat up, she was trying to be sincere. “You’re going to mock me?” she asks.
When Catra pulls back there’s a glint in her eyes. “You misunderstand me. Even if you fail, and Olympus burns to the ground, I couldn't care less. I’m not giving you my mask for you to save Olympus, Adora. I’m doing it for you.”
Adora’s breath hitches.
"A constellation is the last thing I want to see you turn into," Catra says, running a thumb along the nape of Adora's neck. "Find a way to live for me, Adora, and that will be enough."
Adora bites back tears because she knows it's something she cannot promise. But there’s something else she hasn’t vocalized.
Some heroes are welcome into Elysium, others are offered the chance to be reborn, to live again. It's a reach to assume she could find her way back to Ogygia as a different person—but it's a wild hope she clings to. Anything to make the thought of leaving now easier.
“Catra,” she whispers. “If it is my time, and I’m offered the choice, I won’t choose Elysium. Maybe in a different life, I could find my way back to you, and stay.”
"It's not that simple," Catra says, sounding terribly jaded. Adora hates to see her in pain. "Every life comes with its challenges, no matter the circumstances. If not because of a prophecy, you will find some other reason to leave."
Adora looks away, feeling hurt but unable to argue. This is not how she wants the two of them to part.
Catra seems to agree. "But for argument's sake," she tries, smiling feebly. “If that's your contingency plan then… try not to take too long.”
“I won’t,” Adora says. That’s a promise.
It’s as if the raft knows how torn she is. Instead of being close to Camp Half-Blood’s shore, Adora’s stranded miles away. Long Island’s shape is hardly traceable in the distance. Being at sea for so long has left her stomach shaky. And it’s cold, January winds blow right through her.
At this rate, Adora’s own anxiety is going to kill her before Poseidon or Kronos get the chance.
“Pretty stupid of a child of the sky to be stuck in the middle of the sea like this,” a voice drawls.
Adora startles. She looks up from her seasick daze to see a face peering up at her from the water. Adora jumps back with a yelp and immediately regrets it as the raft splits into pieces. She clings onto the mast of the raft (or what’s left of it) for dear life, while the woman in the water watches, almost judgmentally.
Scratch that, definitely judgmentally. Adora might have found her pretty, if she weren’t in the middle of the ocean. She stares at Adora like she’s chewing gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Or fin, in this case. The sea nymph’s emerald colored tail swings below her lazily.
“You seriously couldn’t find an actual boat or something? This raft is an antique, and not even in the cute vintage way.”
“Uh,” Adora says through chattering teeth, “How did you know I’m Zeus’s kid?”
“You reek of the sky,” the sea nymph tells her, sniffing the air and making a face. "It's kind of unbearable."
Adora makes an offended noise, momentarily forgetting that she was feeling sick. "What would the sky even smell like?"
"Like you," the nymph deadpans, as if that clarifies anything. "Duh."
Adora makes a face back and tries to discreetly sniff herself.
(She’s not very discreet.)
The nymph stares at her with narrowed eyes, and suddenly Adora wonders if she should have been more prepared for conflict on the way home. It’s not like it matters, Adora is helpless, not even her sword can help her in this situation. She’s going to freeze to death.
“Oh, wait a minute, you’re the one Lord Poseidon tried to kill a while ago.”
“Yep,” Adora answers, popping the ‘p.’ “That would be me.”
“Lowkey it’s amazing you’re alive,” the sea nymph falters, staring at Adora’s face. “Oh, never mind, that makes sense actually,” she drawls.
“What makes sense?”
"You've got that whole thing going on," the nymph gestures to the headband. "Its aura is powerful enough to shield you from, like, actively turning into demigod chum for monsters. Which is lucky for you, ‘cause like, Poseidon kinda put a bounty on your head in case you turned up alive or whatever."
"Huh," Adora says, touching her fingers to the warm metal of the band, marveling at the power from Catra’s gift to her.
“Not on my watch,” Catra had promised. And she was still keeping it, even miles away from Adora.
"Wait, did you just say there's a bounty on my head? Is that why you're here?"
"What? No way." The nymph waves a dismissive hand in the air. "I don't care about Olympian drama." The nymph pauses to correct herself, "Actually scratch that, I do care about Olympian drama but, like, only if it's funny."
Adora stares at her in confusion. "But wouldn’t it be treason if you let me go?"
"Do you really want me to drag you to Poseidon's court, then?" she asks, unamused. "Because I could do that, but your tiny human lungs wouldn't last five minutes on the journey down there."
"Never mind," Adora says hastily, "treason is good."
"Don't sweat it," the nymph shrugs. "That headband you wear has a pretty effective range, I'm pretty sure there isn't a single monster for at least half a mile. Besides, it's not treason if no one’s around to see it.”
It’s not exactly sound logic, but Adora’s desperate enough to accept it.
"If you're not planning to kill me, or taking me to Poseidon, then what do you want?"
“Since there’s no way what’s left of your raft can make it to shore,” the sea nymph sighs, “I guess I can like, help you get there, if you do me a favor.”
And great, a favor from a sea nymph could never be a good thing. But Adora can’t afford to be picky, she won’t make it to shore on her own. Even if the water wasn’t so cold, Adora couldn’t swim that distance.
“Sure,” Adora says. “Whatever you need.”
“Great, there’s this guy I need you to give a message to.”
Adora stares at her and puts the pieces together. She’s a grouchy, beautiful sea nymph with a long undulating tail the color of sea glass. And she definitely gives off a Cali vibe. “Oh my gods,” she gasps. “You’re Sea Hawk’s Mermista!”
Instead of answering yes or no, the nymph's eyes widen and she flushes. She squeaks in embarrassment before the nymph disappears underwater, sinking deep down.
Adora yelps in surprise and leans forward to check on her, but the second she sees the murky surface of the water, she thinks better of it and returns back to the safety of her death grip on the mast.
A few seconds later, Sea Hawk's Mermista reemerges out of the water, now much more composed and groans, “Gods, do not call me that in public.”
Adora smirks, glancing around at the empty sea around them. Public. “Your secret’s safe with me,” Adora laughs. “I have to admit, I didn’t think you were real. Or that you and Sea Hawk were still in contact.”
“I am like, way out of his league, and no, that is not a pun,” Mermista deadpans, swimming as she pulls the plank Adora clings on to. “I’m surprised you’re alive. Everyone thought you ran off and died.”
“Oh,” Adora says.
“I mean, not everyone everyone. Sea Hawk’s been super worried. I told him I’d keep an eye out for you,” Mermista pauses, before feigning nonchalance. “Not because I like him or anything, it was just weird to see him so serious about something. I figured it couldn’t hurt to help him out.”
“Sure,” Adora says, grinning at the familiarity. “Of course,” she says, rubbing her thumb against the whistle Catra gave her. “I would never assume anything.”
Mermista doesn’t leave until she’s sure that Adora is safely on the sand.
“Tethys’ protection was strongest with the raft,” she says. “I think that mask you’re wearing will still help you, but you’re probably better off avoiding the ocean for the foreseeable future. Poseidon is not going to be super thrilled once he finds out his daughter isn't going to be the next She-Ra.”
“Understood,” Adora says. “Now what’s the message you’d like me to pass along to Sea Hawk?”
Mermista flushes, and hands her a piece of paper, which must magically remain dry.
“Good luck,” Mermista wishes her sincerely, before diving back underneath the waves.
Alarmingly, camp is empty. Adora wonders if everyone is out fighting. She pokes her heads in all the cabins, and there’s no one. Adora then notices smoke coming from the amphitheater, which is strange, as it’s still pretty early in the morning.
Adora makes her way over there, and realizes it’s a funeral. She spots an off-white shroud with a lightning bolt. She stills. It’s her funeral.
It looks understandably rushed, and more of her fellow campers are in splints or crutches.
Adora clears her throat. “This can probably wait till after my birthday.”
Everyone turns around. They stare at her like a ghost. Admittedly, she’s almost one. But she’s not dead yet. Glimmer grabs Bow and teleports right to her side immediately, the three of them stifle tears as they hug each other.
Swift Wind flies over to her. “I couldn’t sense you,” he says mournfully.
Adora wraps her arms around him. “I was back in Ogygia again.” she explains.
To her surprise, Frosta tackles her. “I thought I killed you!” she says.
Seeing Frosta’s relief, Adora knows she made the right choice to leave. Even if it’s at her heart’s own expense. Not to mention her life.
Adora feels the headband shift into its mask form, and everyone gasps. “I have been blessed by the titan goddess Calypso,” she declares. “We’re going to win this war.” The mask shifts back into a headband.
She leans down to speak to Frosta gently. “I’ve lived most of my life thinking I would be the next She-Ra,” she reminds her. “I’m going to make sure you don’t have to go through that, too.”
Frosta hugs her. Adora tries not to cry.
When she and Sea Hawk embrace, she hands over the slip of paper Mermista gave him. His eyes light up when he realizes what it is.
“Mermista is lovely,” Adora says.
“She really is,” Sea Hawk agrees.
Adora’s twentieth birthday is tomorrow. She had been gone for over two weeks.
"I don't know about this, guys," Glimmer says, unable to hide the nervousness in her voice. She hangs back a little ways away from where Adora had dragged her and Bow to a secluded corner outside the Zeus Cabin.
Explaining her new plan about going to the River Styx wasn’t easy, but it needed to be done.
Bow's gaze darts between the two of them as he wrings his wrists.
"Don't you see everything wrong with this?” Glimmer asks. “It’s far too risky. Maybe if we had all planned this out sooner, or something. I don’t know.” She meets Adora’s eyes pleadingly. “I just know that this is a bad idea and I don't want any part of it," she says. Shooting a frantic look at Bow, and gesturing aggressively at Adora, she half-yells, "Bow, tell her!"
Bow stands between them, still processing what Adora had just said, looking as if he doesn't quite know what to do with himself. He looks lost.
Adora can sympathize with that. She feels it too. But on this she refuses to budge. When she speaks, her voice is steely, "It might be our best chance, Glimmer."
"It could kill you!” Glimmer cries, distraught. “Your soul might never find Elysium!”
The Underworld’s River Styx is known for its ability to give a hero invulnerable skin, making them impervious to any mortal injury. It’s created some of the most powerful heroes. It is less glamorously known for the number of people it has left burned alive for attempting to even dip a toe in its waters. The whispers say their souls are lost to its currents; they never make it to the Gates of Hades.
It is a risk, even Catra had made it clear, but there doesn’t seem to be any way around it. If Adora’s to die tomorrow, she’s going to make sure she can protect as many people as she can; making herself stronger will be one of the best ways to do that. Besides, Adora had nearly drowned to death when the ocean tried to swallow her, if that’s the fate that awaits her at the Styx, she thinks she can handle it.
“Glimmer, I turn twenty tomorrow. We don’t have any time to argue.”
Glimmer still looks furious, so she switches her gaze to Bow. He meets her eyes helplessly and she has to tear her eyes away.
"I'm doing this with or without your help guys," Adora says, resolved, despite the fear eating away at her stomach at the thought of going it alone. Softly, she says, “But it would mean the world to me if I had your help.”
And apparently that's all it takes to settle it.
Glimmer, still fuming, throws her arms up. “Call me when you figure out how to get there," she snaps, walking away to cool off, but staying within earshot.
Adora swallows, watching Glimmer as she storms away. She turns to Bow guiltily.
"Guess she's not offering up to teleport us to the Styx, is she?"
"Don't think so," comes his subdued response, "I think it might be too far out of her range anyway."
"You're not trying to stop me," Adora notes.
"If I tried to stop you," Bow says tiredly, "would it work?"
Adora feels actual shame when she mutters an honest, “No, it wouldn’t.” Adora has to venture to the Styx. The battle tomorrow is what she was put on this earth for. She’s simply fulfilling her purpose.
Adora bites her lip in the pause that follows. "Is Glimmer—"
"She'll be fine," he assures her. "Your disappearance hit her pretty hard."
Adora blinks. She’s spent so much time feeling guilty about leaving her friends to deal with the war, she hasn’t even thought about them grieving her until now. Which, in hindsight, is ironic considering she had crashed her own funeral.
"It hit us all hard," Bow continues somewhat vacantly. "I was surprised to see how hard it hit Frosta, but Glimmer took it worse than anyone. We just woke up and you were gone. For weeks.”
And here Adora is, asking them to possibly watch her disappear again. "Bow," she chokes out, stricken, "you guys don't have to come with me, I'm sure I can do it alone—"
"No," he says flatly. Adora blinks at him as the empty stare turns sharp and focused. "You don't have to do everything alone, Adora. We're not going to abandon you, " he vows. With a wry smile, he adds, "Especially not when you've actually tried to reach out for our help for once."
Adora chuckles weakly.
"So," he claps his hands, trying to inject some fake cheer into his voice, “how are we going to get there?” Bow asks.
Adora gives him a small smile of gratitude and he returns it, a bit shakily. She pulls him in for a quick side hug before reaching into her pocket.
“There’s someone I can’t wait for you to meet,” Adora says. She pulls out the whistle, and blows.
No sound comes out.
"Uh, Adora," Bow says tentatively, "I think your whistle might be a bit busted—"
Adora shushes him, shoving a finger onto his lips, ignoring the offended noise he makes at being interrupted. "Look," she says, pointing at the space in front of them.
There's a light shimmer in the air in front of them, as if the air particles themselves are vibrating like a mirage. A silhouette forms and then a great big something comes bounding out of thin air and landing on top of Adora.
Her back hits the ground with a thud, and Bow cries out in alarm. She feels something wet and slobbery lick at her cheek affectionately and laughs.
"Oof, yeah, okay, I missed you too, buddy." She giggles as Melog continues with their overenthusiastic hello. “It hasn’t been that long,” she teases. They whine at her.
The familiar whoosh of magic in her peripherals draws Adora's attention.
Glimmer materializes next to Bow, whose arm is frozen midair in confused shock, reaching for an arrow on his back.
"What in Hades," Glimmer breathes, eyes wide and with her bronze spear cautiously raised in the air, as if it would have any effect if this were a real fight.
Melog bares their teeth at them and gives them a low growl, but Bow and Glimmer don't budge, eyes darting to Adora defensively.
"Guys, you can put those down, there's nothing to worry about," Adora assures them. "This is Melog, they're a friend." Melog nuzzles her cheek affectionately, purring.
Cautiously, Bow and Glimmer lower their weapons.
She whispers at Melog to get off her and they do, keeping an alert eye on her friends as they move away but not too far away from Adora's side.
“They’re our ride.” Adora says excitedly.
"Uh, Adora? No offense to your big magical cat friend, but I think they might be too small to carry three people,” Bow says.
Melog chuffs, and it almost sounds like a snort, before their body tenses. The three demigods watch in wonder as Melog's body stretches and grows to almost twice its previous size. Melog shakes out their mane in pride at their astonishment, the translucent aura around their neck bending light in strange ways for a few moments before settling.
"Never mind, then," Bow says, with an incredulous grin on his face.
Carefully, Adora climbs onto Melog. It’s a very different experience from being on Swift Wind. Melog is softer.
“Is this okay?” she asks.
They meow in response.
As Adora turns to face her friends, she smiles seeing Glimmer beaming, eyes wide in awe.
"They're magic!" She laughs in delight, and there's a familiar sparkle floating around her—the one that appears when she gets really excited.
It’s been a long time since Adora has seen Glimmer being truly sparkle-level excited, aside from when they came back from successful missions. She used to glow naturally to the point where she'd get embarrassed when she couldn't get it under control. It goes to show things have only gotten more difficult, over the years.
Had the circumstances been different, Glimmer would have loved to gush over Melog and their magic for hours. Idly, Adora wonders if Glimmer and Catra would get along. The idea of it makes her smile wistfully. She could picture them sharing stories about magic, teaching each other what they know and maybe even—the line of thought dies abruptly when Glimmer meets her eyes and the excitement on her face fades along with it.
Concerned, Glimmer asks, "How did they even manage to get through the camp's borders? The whole point is that Camp Half-Blood is supposed to keep out magical creatures."
Adora pats Melog's back proudly, "They're pretty good at getting to places they shouldn’t be able to."
"That's probably an actual cause of concern, " Bow points out.
"Yes, but we should get going," Glimmer says, now glaring at the ground. “We can worry about the borders when we get back. Along with everything else.”
"Right," Adora says, trying to keep her hands from shaking. She waits for Bow to climb on, and when Glimmer struggles, she extends her hand to assist. Glimmer pointedly ignores it.
"Bow, help me up."
Bow sends Adora a helpless look, before pulling Glimmer onto Melog's back. If things were less tense, Adora would have pointed out that she could have simply teleported herself.
"Were you planning to ever mention that your girlfriend had loaned you her magic cat, or were we just supposed to wait for the right moment?" Glimmer asks, once they’re all settled.
"She didn't loan Melog to me," Adora scratches the Melog behind their ears. "Melog's their own… whatever they are. This was a one-time offer." She frowns. “Can you take us all to the River Styx?
The air around them begins to vibrate as Melog gears up to travel, and it takes a few seconds for Adora to fully process what Glimmer had said. Her face flushes.
"Catra isn't my girlfr—"
Melog launches themself into the nearest shadow with full force.
Adora didn’t know Melog traveled by shadow. It unsettles her stomach even more than when she was on the raft at sea.
Adora can’t tell how much time passes, but suddenly it’s almost pitch-black. The four of them are in the Underworld—it’s been years since they came down here on their first quest together. They nearly didn’t make it back out.
Seeing the River Styx up this close is strange. It bubbles, murky and gray. It looks toxic.
They all stand in a line at the bank of the river, staring at the currents in apprehension.
"This is it," Adora says, feeling overwhelmed. Melog nuzzles her side, and Adora not so subtly runs her hands through their fur for comfort.
"We can't be here too long," Glimmer says, looking around vigilantly. "I don't think Lord Hades will be too happy to see us break into the Underworld a second time."
"Right." Adora swallows and pulls away from Melog. She breaks away from the group and moves forward, closer to the edge of the river.
"You still have time to turn away," Bow says, "We can walk away and pretend this never even happened."
Adora can feel her stomach twist itself in knots at the very thought of stepping into the turbulent waters of the Styx. Over the noise of the currents crashing against the rocks in its corners she realizes there's something else. Wailing—human wails of pain that rise and fall with each swell of the current.
When she peers into the water, she sees that the bubbles breaking at the surface almost resemble human mouths twisted in agony. She gulps as she realizes that is the fate that awaits her if she fails.
If Poseidon's wrath had left her shaking, it seems the Styx had something much worse in store for her.
She turns back to her friends, barely able to keep the terror off her face. From the expressions on their faces, she's not too sure she's successful.
"You don't have to do this," Glimmer repeats, not bothering with the calm that Bow had tried to project. "Adora, come back here."
There are people she needed to keep from falling, Adora had said to Catra. Desperate, Bow and Glimmer stare at her, hoping beyond hope she'll turn around and laugh off the whole endeavour. Glimmer looks like she's ready to drag her away herself.
"This is how it was meant to go, Glimmer," she says, unsteadily. "Either it happens here, or in battle tomorrow. I've been preparing for this my whole life."
Mechanically, she turns to Melog, and gives them a grim smile, "If I don't come back, make sure they get back to Camp Half-Blood, okay?”
Melog blinks at her.
Glimmer and Bow begin to protest but Adora ignores them. "I didn't get to say a proper goodbye last time," she says trying to keep up a brave face, "I'm sorry it had to be like this."
"You always say that," Glimmer hisses, "as if you have no control whatsoever."
"I know a prophecy said a long time ago that you would die, but that doesn't mean you stop trying at all!"
Adora stares at her, stricken, "Glimmer, I—"
"I'm not stupid," Glimmer snarls, "I know you gave up a long time ago."
When Adora glances at Bow, his brows are furrowed. He agrees.
"I know once you've decided on something you can't be stopped because you're the most stubborn person on the planet. But if you're going to be deadset on something this stupid, the least you can do is promise that you'll come back."
Adora hesitates. "I can't promise that," she says, pained.
It's why she never promised Catra anything, either. Even if she survives the Styx, there's no telling about anything beyond that. She can't even think about it. She can't leave them clinging onto a lie.
"We're not the ones who need you to promise, Adora," Bow says, finally speaking. "You do."
"I believe in your future, Adora," Glimmer grabs her by the arms, looking her dead in the eyes. "I need you to believe in it, too."
The words strike at something in Adora's core and she can't breathe.
Adora pulls her into a hug, finding it impossible to speak. It's not long before Bow hurries to join them.
They pull away. Glimmer is wiping away tears while it's Bow's turn to grab her by the shoulders.
"Promise you'll bring our best friend back?"
A sob works it's way up Adora's throat and she tightens her lips to keep it from escaping. She slowly nods, unable to make herself say the words.
Bow nods back and lets go. "You’ve got this Adora,” he says.
Glimmer’s gaze is firm. “We’ll be here to pull you out by the heel if we have to.”
Adora lets out a feeble laugh at that, and Glimmer's lips quirk up into a small grin.
And then Adora turns back to face the Styx.
As she walks towards the water’s edge, passing over the rocks poking out of blackened earth, she can't help but think of how familiar it feels to forcing herself on the beach in Ogygia. It's strange how she’s staring at the possibility of a fate worse than death, yet the only thing on her mind is how badly she wants to feel Catra's hand in hers once more. She activates Catra's mask on her head, if only to feel her presence in this way at least.
She turns to give her friends one final look before she takes the first tentative step.
Part of her expected it to burn, or for her foot to completely dissolve. The river is cool as ice, and then she’s pulled under and her vision goes dark.
Adora’s not sure if she’s opening her eyes, or if she’s dreaming.
She’s sitting on the kitchen counter in a tiny apartment. The place is covered with moonlace and other plants Adora can’t name. There are no ceiling lamps turned on, the only emitting light comes from fairy lights and the moonlace itself. It seems to glow happily, casting light on the photographs all over the walls—some are framed, some are tacked up, but it’s too dark for Adora to make out their contents. It's an impressive collection however, and Adora wonders how much time the photographer must have put into it.
Judging from the view through the window, she’s in a Manhattan neighborhood. But that can’t be right, Adora’s not supposed to be here. She’s supposed to be—
“Bow!” Glimmer practically shrieks, running out of a hallway. She’s older, with an undercut. Just like she’s always wanted. “We cannot bail on going to Perfuma’s new vegan restaurant just because you’re craving pizza.”
“I’m not saying we won’t go,” Bow insists, right behind her. He has facial hair now. “I’m just saying we should plan ahead and order a pizza for later. Adora’s with me, right, Adora?”
“Uh,” Adora replies.
“See?” Bow shrugs, making his way to the front door. “Adora knows the importance of our Friday-night-tradition.”
“We’re still following it, we’re just eating somewhere else,” Glimmer intones but laughs anyway. "We promised her we'd be there Bow!" she exclaims. Bow pretends to take in a long suffering sigh but is smiling widely all the same as she meets him in the doorway, and takes his hand.
By Glimmer’s feet, a housecat with Melog’s coloring rubs against her legs.
And then before Adoar, Catra appears from somewhere else the apartment, maskless, modern, right there before her very eyes. She’s wearing black ripped skinny jeans and a leather jacket, keeping one hand in her pocket. Her hair isn’t braided down her side, it’s up in a ponytail.
“I’m with Bow,” Catra announces. “I’m quite fond of pizza. Can’t believe I lasted centuries without it.”
Glimmer groans. “You can’t keep using that as an excuse every time we go somewhere you don’t want to eat.”
Catra considers this for a moment before she grins at Adora. “Pretty sure I've earned it.”
Glimmer shakes her head fondly and snorts. “We’d better get going though, I don’t want to miss the train.”
“Hey, Adora?” Catra asks, putting her index finger on the center of her forehead. The air surrounding Adora is cool, but Catra’s touch is warm. “You okay in there? We’re going to be late," she leans in with a knowing look, "and you know how Perfuma gets.” Catra rolls her eyes, as if she's had the time to get used to how Perfuma gets. She holds out her hand. “Come on,” she says, smiling, as if she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. "We've got a promise to keep."
Adora reaches to take it, and suddenly Adora is back on the Styx’s shore, soaking wet and shivering.
Melog meows at her, and Adora caresses her forehead, the same spot Catra placed her lips when she said goodbye. Vaguely, Adora recalls that the mask covers this spot, but right now, in its headband form, the spot is still exposed.
“Well, that was a stupid place for my Achilles’ heel, huh?” she asks Melog, as if they know.
Melog stares at her blankly, and opts instead to lick her fingers.
She hears a yell from a little ways away, and it's all the warning she gets before she's bowled over by a sudden flash of pink. Glimmer's hands are wrapped around her midsection, and Adora almost topples over. She nicks herself on a nearby rock as she steadies herself, laughing as she hugs Glimmer back. Despite the sharp edges on the stones, they do not cut her skin.
"You're here," Glimmer says, though it's muffled into Adora's chest.
"Yeah," she says, a bit disbelieving, "yeah, I guess I am."
She hears the sound of rapid footsteps, and turns around to see Bow coming at them with a huge grin.
"I knew you could do it!" he says.
Glimmer snorts. "Did not," she teases, even as she holds Adora tightly. "You couldn't even stop with the waterworks."
"Yeah, well, I'm allowed. And also, if I recall correctly, neither could you," Bow huffs and Adora drags him into the group hug.
“Are you okay?” Glimmer asks.
“I think so,” Adora says.
Glimmer looks away, avoiding eye contact. "I'm sorry about—you know. Right before. I shouldn't have yelled at you that much."
Adora sighs. "No, you probably yelled the right amount."
"I'll say," Bow replies, with a snort. "It felt like something we needed saying for a long time."
Adora looks at the two of them, remorseful for the glimpse of the future she just saw, but will never get to have.
Bow reaches out, pats her shoulder in assurance, "We can talk about it later."
Adora nods quietly, still feeling a bit raw from… everything the past few hours has been. Bow wraps an arm around her shoulder, and Glimmer wraps one around her waist and the three of them trudge towards Melog.
“So," Bow asks curiously, "what was it like?"
Adora grimaces, thinking about the airy apartment filled with plants, fairy lights, photographs, and her favorite people on earth. A future with everything she hadn't even known she had wanted. It was beautiful, maybe too beautiful to even dream about.
"Not what I had expected," Adora says.
After her armor has been put on, the headband expands into a mask. Adora looks into her shield’s reflection, some of its shape is similar to Catra’s, but there’s a red jewel in the center.
“Wow,” Glimmer says. “Catra really gave that to you?”
“Yeah,” Adora says.
“It’s powerful,” Bow says. “I can feel it. Definitely glad to be fighting next to you instead of against you.”
“Do you think it will have the same effect on monsters?” Adora asks.
“Definitely,” Glimmer says.
Across the city, mortals are asleep. Morpheus, the God of Dreams, must have intervened to help protect the city.
Catra’s mask is powerful, half of the monsters take one look at Adora and flee in fear. She likes to think Catra would be proud to know that her legacy is still so terrifying to creatures of Kronos, even after all of these years.
Thanks to the Styx, Adora is unstoppable. The monsters who do get in her way disintegrate faster than she can keep track of. Their claws and weapons bounce off her skin like they're nothing, unable to pierce through it. Every encounter starts to blur. All she knows is that she’s tired, but she can’t give up. The monsters don’t stop coming.
And even with her own invulnerability, she can’t save everyone.
She finds Lonnie at one of their check-points, a medical station. She's staring blankly at her hands, as one of Bow's brothers patches up her wounds.
Adora collapses onto a chair next to her bed. Though her body is physically unscathed, the fight had taken its toll on her.
“Kyle and Rogelio are gone,” Lonnie says, grief stricken. Adora's eyes widen, and she immediately reaches out to grip Lonnie's hand. The medic gives her a nod, letting her know he's leaving and runs to the next patient in need. She waits patiently for Lonnie to speak again. "It was an explosion," she manages curtly, "some of the demigods on the other side got blown up, too."
Adora listens in quiet horror as Lonnie describes the fight.
"We're killing our own," she breathes out, once Lonnie is finished. "And we're supposed to think it's a win."
“Is there any point, Adora? To any of this.”
“I don’t know, Lonnie. I don't know.” She looks down at her hands. "We'll protect those we can," Adora says, words feeling alien even as they come from her mouth. "Maybe," she says softly, pushing further, "that's the best we can do."
Adora stands on Olympus for the first time since she was twelve.
She doesn’t know how she’s still standing, but she’s here: breathing and unscathed. None of the demigods who survived can say that; Bow’s arm broke, and Glimmer is badly scraped. She refused to get stitches until this was over.
Still, they’re both alive, and by her side. Taking one of each of their hands, they walk to the throne room, slowly.
As it’s late January, Olympus is chilly. The torches decorating the place offer little warmth, Adora supposes the gods themselves don’t need it.
And in a few minutes, her birthday will be over.
It’s strange to see all the gods gathered in one place. Their thrones are all massive, the gods tall enough to fit them. She suspects the shortest god in here is presently ten feet.
The throne room is silent. Adora looks towards Aphrodite first, her eyes still resemble Catra’s. She doesn’t smile with her mouth, but her eyes are kind.
Adora then looks at Light Hope, stoic as ever.
Lastly, Adora looks at Zeus, head held high, on the throne beside her. It’s strange to see him in the flesh when she’s grown so accustomed to the bronze shine of his statue. He only nods at her in greeting.
Bow and Glimmer both squeeze her hand before she lets go and steps forward. Once she’s six feet away from Zeus’s throne, she kneels until he tells her to rise.
“You have honored me, Daughter,” Zeus says. His voice is loud, and like thunder, it is absent of anything soft. “You have successfully defeated Kronos, and his forces.”
He continues to rave over her accomplishments, but Adora can’t hear him.
All she can think of is the new crack that ran through the gem embedded at the centre of her crown. Catra had warned her that Kronos could manipulate time, but it was worse than she thought.
During the final moments of the battle, it had been only Adora and Kronos alone in the throne room. Kronos had managed to separate her from everyone else, and she had come so close to losing it all. As Kronos swung his battle axe over her head, time slowed, rendering Adora unable to strike him with her sword fast enough.
It was excruciating to realize that he was aiming right over her mortal spot, and she was powerless to stop it. All she could think of was that no matter what happened to her, her sword had to reach its mark. When the axe met the mask, the force of it had sent shock waves all through her body, down to the marrow of her bones. She expected it to cut through the metal of her mask easily. But before she could even think of sending out a mental apology to Catra, she heard a head splitting crack. The next thing she knew Kronos was thrown back by a strong wave of energy, with her sword sticking out of his chest. It's the last thing she saw before her vision went black.
Apparently that was the exact moment her entourage had defeated the monsters outside, and had come crashing into the throneroom to finish off the work Adora had started. Bow and Glimmer had found her lying on the ground—her heart had stopped. If they hadn't found her as soon as they did, and Bow hadn't conducted CPR, they might have lost her forever.
In a way the prophecy had come true. She did die for Olympus—she just didn’t stay dead. And it hadn't been, as she always thought it would be, a one woman job to take down Kronos. Adora couldn’t have done it alone.
Weak from the burst of magic Catra’s mask released, and the sword wedged in his body, Kronos disintegrated into dust.
“Which is why,” Zeus continues, shaking Adora out of her thoughts, “we have all deemed you worthy to become a goddess, and join us here on Olympus.”
Adora’s sure it’s Glimmer who gasps.
Perhaps two years ago Adora would have been relieved if she knew this was to be her fate. If she had never met Catra, she would be completely ecstatic to know her life wasn’t to end at twenty, that she could live forever.
And it’s funny, Adora thinks. This is the second time she’s been offered immortality during the same week. There were probably a whole slew of heroes who would have killed for this chance shot at eternal glory. And yet, the kind of eternal life that Catra had offered—a quiet life with the person she loves—is something Adora would choose over any godly reward.
It’s insulting how Zeus sits on his throne, thinking this gesture could measure up to what Catra could have given her. Catra, whose love had protected her even as she almost died at the feet of her own father's throne.
“Forgive me, lord father,” Adora answers, "but I'm afraid I can't accept this generous offer." She probably takes a little too much pleasure in his shocked expression as she rejects his honorable gift.
“Too many demigods died today, on both sides,” Adora says. She’s not sure if her confidence comes from Catra’s mask, from their victory, or if it’s from the resentment she’s been keeping inside herself all these years for herself and on behalf of all the demigods who had ever been abandoned. “If every godly parent could have just claimed their children, fewer would have left, and more lives could have been spared."
She looks her father in the eyes—this stranger who's features she'd memorized off a hunk of metal—and continues even as the frown on his face deepens. "Olympus' neglect is the reason we have had to see this day. Instead of making me a goddess, I ask that you deal with the root of all these problems and claim all your children before they turn thirteen.”
The entire room seems to hold its breath in the silence that follows.
"You dare question the authority of Olympus?" Zeus booms.
Adora stares back at her father defiantly, and finds that she doesn't really care if Zeus is displeased with her. Not after all suffering she's seen.
"My Lord, if I may interject," Light Hope speaks up from her throne beside him, “I believe it is a reasonable request. It is in our best interests to change our ways, so as to not repeat past mistakes.”
Zeus shifts his narrowed eyes from Adora to his wife, who looks at him coldly. Almost as if intimidated by her, Zeus relents.
Adora clenches her first. After everything Light Hope has put her through, she doesn’t deserve to be in Adora’s good graces now.
“I have one more demand,” Adora says.
“Since when do you get to make demands?” Zeus grumbles.
Adora bites the inside of her cheek. She wants to scream at him, his broken oath is the reason that she was prepared to die for every god in this room for over a decade. He has the audacity to think he can make it up to her by making her an immortal, as if that would erase all the torment she’s been through.
But Adora has to keep her cool. It’s the only way she has a chance. She clears her throat. “Cat—Calypso. I think she’s been in Ogygia for long enough. I am asking you for her freedom.”
“Calypso is dangerous,” Zeus says immediately, shaking his head. “She’s the reason we nearly lost the war with the titans in the first place.”
“Yet she’s the reason you won,” Adora says, trying to conceal her frustration. “Both wars. I wouldn’t have survived this war without her help. Before Calypso switched sides, she was simply fighting for her father just like I fought for you. Please, I beg you, she has done penance for her actions for the past millennia. I believe it's time her sentence ended.”
Zeus muses over it. Light Hope tries to speak to him, but Zeus raises a hand her way. It’s a decision he was to make on his own. Other Olympians try to offer him their counsel, but he silences them as well. Aphrodite and Scorpia both look worried.
“Calypso is free to leave Ogygia,” Zeus concedes. Adora’s heart hammers in her chest, but when he opens his mouth again, Adora knows there's a catch. “But only on the condition that she will become a mortal once she passes the boundary into the real world. Adora, do you accept these terms?”
"Do you accept these terms?" he repeats, unrelenting.
Adora's eyes skitter to Light Hope who nods at her as if to say this was the best she was going to get for now. Even despite all the resentment between them, Adora knows better than to question her judgement when it comes to Zeus.
Devastated, Adora nods mutely. Thunder roars, and the deal is set.
As Adora makes her way back to where Glimmer and Bow are standing, her mouth is dry. These weren’t Adora’s terms to accept, and she can’t even imagine how Catra would react to this possible freedom. But there’s no way she can picture Catra choosing to leave her home, especially not for Adora, who’s left her twice. Adora could never ask that of her.
Glimmer rubs Adora’s shoulder, as Bow is called to accept his rewards from the gods.
"That was brave," Glimmer whispers to her appreciatively.
Adora hums quietly, and leans on her. They watch Bow march forward clutching his broken arm.
Apollo, God of Medicine, heals his arm, and offers Bow a workshop here on Mount Olympus, to be able to craft as many of his self-invented arrows as he pleases. Bow says he’ll accept the gift, so long as Apollo helps heal every injured demigod.
Angella offers Glimmer the chance to study abroad on Mount Olympus, and Glimmer agrees, on the condition that every demigod will be claimed before the year ends.
During the celebration, Adora seeks out Scorpia, Goddess of Loyalty, who eyes her warily.
“I was wondering if you could pass a message along to Catra, for me.”
Scorpia’s gaze is firm, electric. “You know, it’s not exactly customary for a demigod to request anything from a goddess.”
Adora won’t let that stop her. “I've already made demands in front of the entire Olympian Council, I figured one more time couldn't hurt. Especially since you already visit her from time to time.”
Scorpia frowns. “I’m not sure she’ll be happy with me if I do this.”
“Please,” Adora begs. “Please just tell her, I’m sorry. I only had the best intentions when I asked my father to grant her freedom.”
“I’ll tell her what I can, Adora. You and I both know leaving Ogygia was never what she really wanted.”
“What do you mean?” Adora asks.
“She wanted someone to stay.”
It shatters her.
Scorpia notices, and decides to pity her. “I’ll pass along your apology. I may appreciate your efforts today, but that doesn't mean I trust you.”
Adora swallows and nods, and they part ways.
There are couples dancing, nymphs singing, satyrs eating. Sea Hawk is seated near a fountain, where Mermista and other sea nymphs are hanging out. She sees him whisper something into her ear, only for Mermista to lightly slap him in the shoulder though she's clearly suppressing a smile. Sea Hawk laughs in delight, and Adora has to hold back a laugh of her own. Out of my league, my ass, Adora thinks as she turns away with a smirk. She tiptoes around the palace, searching for Glimmer and Bow.
She's not even surprised when finds them making out behind a pillar. Part of her wants to interrupt and say, “It’s about time,” but she’ll give them their space for now. She can tease them about it later.
With all the romance in the air, it shouldn't have been a shock when the next person she ran into was the Love goddess herself. Aphrodite sneaks up on her, walking around at the height of an average mortal woman, and Adora jumps back with an embarrassing squeak. Seeing Catra’s eyes again leaves Adora unsettled. Part of Adora wants to ask if Aphrodite would change her appearance for her.
“I think it was noble of you to ask for Calypso’s freedom,” Aphrodite says with a fond smile. Sighing wistfully, she continues, "It's always refreshing, I think, to see heroes so thoroughly changed by love."
"I—I never said anything about love," Adora weakly protests. Aphrodite raises an eyebrow and Adora quickly gives up on the idea of trying to lie to the Goddess of Love. Instead, she changes direction. "What does it even matter," Adora says dejectedly, "I still failed her."
Aphrodite tilts her head quizzically. "That's strange. I don't recall anyone saying that you had failed."
"Heroes don't find their way back to Ogygia more than once. The fact that I did at all was a miracle and I—I doubt Catra will give up her immortality on a deal she wasn’t even a part of and I'm not counting on being able to see her a third time," Adora says in a rush, almost too fast to follow. "Lightning definitely doesn’t strike the same place thrice," she adds thickly. When she finally looks up, she finds the goddess smiling at her with compassion.
Aphrodite reaches out and cups Adora's cheek and for some strange reason Adora chooses to lean into it. It's warm. "Chin up, hero. Don't give up hope just yet."
It's not as overwhelming to be in such close-quarters of Aphrodite's cloying presence as it was the first time. In fact, it's almost comfortable.
"I don't know if you've heard," Aphrodite leans in, smiling, "but you have a whole life ahead of you to fix things now."
Adora chokes out a laugh, though she hasn't quite wrapped her head around that yet. She has a life to live. What a thought.
"As for the lightning thing—well—it already has struck twice, has it not? I'm sure that a child of Zeus, of all people, can figure something out."
She kisses Adora's cheek, before stepping back. "Don't forget what I said," she says as her form begins glow as she shifts to her original form, "Love can be kind to you—"
Adora closes her eyes and replies softly, "But only if you let it."
When she opens her eyes, Aphrodite is gone, but the warmth of her words and her touch feels as though they have taken a permanent residence in her.
Or, Adora thinks, maybe that's just what love is. Something that makes itself home in your chest. Catra might have to wait a bit longer but it's not the end. She's not getting rid of Adora so easily.
But for now, despite everything—she's here. She has a family to get back to.
"It was so scary when everyone thought you were dead," Glimmer says apropos of nothing.
They are finally back in Cabin One, away from the celebrations and the people coming and congratulating her on everything. It’s quiet, the thunder has stopped rolling. Adora is thrilled to be alone with only Bow and Glimmer in her room. The moonlace glows at the windowsill, somehow brighter than ever, almost as if it's glad to see her back. Adora remembers what Catra had said about plants and their feelings, it’s quite possible that it is glad to see her back.
Glimmer leans on Bow's side, casually playing with his hand and avoiding looking Adora in the eye. Bow makes a noise of agreement, leaning his head on hers.
Adora who had been on the verge of dozing five second ago suddenly feels wide awake. Adora sits up to look at Glimmer but she's staring off into space.
"I knew that it would be hard," Glimmer continues shakily, "For the longest time we were preparing to watch you die, knowing there was nothing we could do to stop it."
Adora reaches for Glimmer's hand and holds on tight.
"I know we somehow agreed between us that we'd never talk about it but," her lip trembles, "it was so hard to go about living normally as if my best friend wasn't in danger all the time. And then when you went missing without any warning, so close to your birthday—" Glimmer slaps a hand over her mouth, as if she’s about to be sick.
Bow pulls her closer and continues hollowly, "It felt as if the worst thing imaginable had already happened and even though we had spent so long preparing for it, it still felt like the world had gone upside down."
Adora watches quietly as Bow reaches into his jacket pocket to hold out a piece of paper. She takes it, carefully. And then Adora recognizes it. It’s a little crumpled at the edges from being carried around in his pocket, sure, but there’s her own cramped handwriting on the front. It’s her goodbye letter. He must have found it when she went missing.
Her grip on it is shaky. "Did you—" she swallows but her voice still cracks, "did you read it?"
"Of course not," Bow laughs wetly, swiping at his eyes.
"We didn't believe you were dead at first," Glimmer says with a tired grin, "why would we read a goodbye letter from someone who wasn't gone?"
“We were going to wait till after your funeral,” Bow says.
“I’m glad it didn’t come to that,” Adora says. “I guess—I guess there's no need for this anymore," she says, though it feels unreal.
She holds it up in front of her like it's a weapon, rather than just a flimsy piece of paper.
Glimmer and Bow nod at her proudly, with big smiles on their faces.
"I love you both, so much.”
She tears it apart and watches the pieces fall.
After her goodbye letter is destroyed, it hits Adora: she survived. She has lived through the thing she had believed would kill her for the past decade and she came out the other side, still very much alive. The prophecy had come to pass—just not the way anyone had expected.
When the realization hits truly seeps in, it crashes into her like a tsunami, and all the walls she hadn't even realized she had built to keep her emotions in check crumble under the weight of it. Her hand flies to her mouth to cover what she knows is going to be a strangled sound.
When Glimmer asks her if she's alright, Adora turns into a sobbing wreck.
Glimmer hugs her, the sobs wrack both their bodies, Adora can’t tell which tremor belongs to who. Bow joins them, and the three end up sinking on the floor, clutching each other.
For a while, everything is a blur of tears and snot. All she knows is she clings desperately to Bow and Glimmer who hold her back just as tight, as if they too are only just realizing how close they had come to losing it all. Bow's tears wet Adora's hair and Glimmer's soak her shoulder. They're a tired and teary pile of tangled limbs on the floor of Cabin One for a solid chunk of time, and it's close to the most comfortable she's ever felt her entire life.
After that they're spent, too tired to get off the floor.
Adora’s voice is hoarse when she speaks again. “Guys,” she swallows. “If I ever land on Ogygia again… I can't just leave her there again.”
Bow and Glimmer don’t look as sad as she had expected.
“We know you haven't felt like you were allowed to have a future for a long time,” Glimmer says. “But you have one now. If you want to spend it with Catra, I completely support you.”
They hug again and cry some more.
Adora doesn't know if it was because she had acted as union leader for Camp Half-Blood and asked for their rights, or if it’s a newfound post-traumatic-I-don't-care-what-the-gods-think but no one really seems to care about cabins anymore.
Entering the dining pavilion for breakfast, she’s pleasantly surprised to find that for once the Hermes table isn't unnecessarily crowded; everyone had spread out across different tables, sitting with their friends and having a good time.
Adora takes a seat next to Sea Hawk. “So, look like your parent has to claim you now, huh?”
“So it would seem,” Sea Hawk says distractedly. “Adora, do you know what this symbol means?” He shows her a drawing he made on a napkin. It looks like a caduceus, but there’s something off about it. "I keep seeing it in my dreams."
“Isn’t that Hermes’ symbol?” she asks.
“Apparently, it’s Mercury’s.”
Adora lets that sit. “Isn’t he just the Roman version of Hermes?” she whispers. “Does that matter?”
“If it doesn’t make a difference, why hasn’t he claimed me yet?”
“Weird.” Adora frowns. Her stomach grumbles. “I’m going to go get breakfast, I’ll be right back.”
Sea Hawk doesn’t respond, he just keeps doodling over the napkin.
In line to burn their offerings, Frosta stands ahead of Adora. As she drops her food into the fire, she can distinctly hear Frosta say, "Goddess Angella please accept my offering."
Adora doesn’t mean to laugh, but she does.
Frosta whips around quickly. "What's so funny?” she demands.
"No, it's just—I thought most people would use this to thank their own godly parent instead of… Glimmer's mom?"
"Well!" Frosta huffs, "I just think Lady Angella is very pretty and has cool wings and she was very nice to me when we were at Olympus. Also," Frosta's face wilts, "I'm not sure I'm particularly fond of my godly parent seeing as he tried to use me to kill my best friend.”
"That’s fair." Adora puts a hand on Frosta's shoulder. "You know I don't hold that against you, right?" she asks gently.
Frosta leans into the touch. "Yeah, I do," she says, "but I still feel bad about it."
"That's okay," Adora sighs, "I just want you to know that you're forgiven."
Frosta nods solemnly, but Adora can tell it will be a long time before some wounds heal.
A smirk pulls at her lips. "Best friend, huh?"
"What—no, who said that?"
"No take-backs!" Adora exclaims, before ruffling Frosta's hair roughly despite her protests. "We're besties now!"
"Ugh, you're such a loser, oh my gods—"
Frosta pushes Adora away, causing her to nearly drop her plate, but Adora's too happy to care.
When Adora approaches the fire, she’s satisfied knowing they had broken the pattern their fathers had set for them. As she gets her fork ready to scrape some hash browns into the brazier, she pauses. Adora had always offered her food to Zeus, it was a habit, she had never considered offering it to anyone else. But it seems so very pointless now, after everything that’s happened.
"What the Hades," she mutters under her breath.
This time she'll pay her dues to the one who actually kept her alive. Who she actually loves.
I'm alive, she thinks as she tilts her plate over the brazier.
I'm alive. She scrapes the best piece of bacon into the fire.
I’m alive. She watches the flames go up and turn red, the same shade as Catra’s mask when she wore it. This was the real gift that she had been given.
Thank you so much, Catra. For everything.