Actions

Work Header

Echoes Leading to You

Chapter Text

Horde Prime's Ship: The Velvet Glove

 

Catra's heart thunders in her chest with each step she's forced to take toward that room. The green door dissipates, as her captors push her forward.   

"Ah, Little Sister, welcome." Horde Prime gives a chilling smile.   

 

She recognizes his formal tone, though his words carry an undercurrent of malice.   

'Fear is weakness' Shadow Weavers mantra plays in Catra's mind as Horde Prime strides over. A glint of something sharp catches her eye.  A blade?   "That's your plan, giving me a haircut?!" Her incredulous laugh sounds hollow in her ears.   

"You must first look the part," Horde Prime answers, a cruel glint in his eyes.  
 

"Even Hordak was more intimidating-" Catra winces as a pair of hands shove her shoulders down, bringing her to her knees.   

"Curious how you display your insecurities so openly." Horde Prime runs his clawed finger down the side of her mask, before lifting her chin. "It will be a nice addition to my collection." He removes the metal headpiece, handing the blade over to one of the clones. "Proceed."  

Catra closes her eyes, wishing she could block out everything. This is nothing like it was in the Horde.  A memory from long ago surfaces:

 

Adora's gaze darts to the hallway on the left, then the right. "All clear," she sighs, guiding Catra to a secluded room. "Are you sure you want to do this?"    

  

"Shadow Weaver doesn't like when my hair gets this long," Catra whispers, afraid the shadows might overhear. "Her way of cutting it is..." She trails off, curling her tail around herself.

   

"Okay, but it may not look that nice," Adora warns, bringing the blade closer. "Last chance to back out," she laughs, as she straightens a lock of hair in her hand. 

 

"I trust you," Catra smiles, as Adora beams back before making the first cut.   

 

The clones lift her to her feet, banishing the memory. In the next breath, they push her to the water's edge. It crackles ominously at her feet, causing her hair to stand on end. Catra clenches her jaw, eyes narrowed at Horde Prime. The water looks and smells foreign,, but she suppresses the instinct to scurry away. The surface glows brighter, as she reflexively shields her eyes. A curse dies on her lips as her feet touch the water,  and a shockwave runs through her. The pain is familiar, yet alien all at once. Catra refuses to cry out. I won't give him that satisfaction! She glances back in hatred at the two clones preventing her retreat, making sure she can only move deeper into the water. She grits her teeth against the jolts of electricity, commanding her legs to carry her forward.   

"I must commend you on your efforts, futile though they are," he acknowledges, a trace of amusement in his eyes.   

Before a retort can form on her lips, another shock runs through her. The green liquid acts like an invisible hand dragging her down. The moment her feet don't feel anything solid beneath them, her pulse races as a chill runs through her. Panic stricken; she struggles to remember anything Adora had said about swimming. A single snap reverberates in her ears, as a shock rips through her with furious intensity. The last thing she sees before being dragged under, is Horde Prime's callous smirk as he watches and waits.   

Acrid water invades her lungs, cutting off the scream that threatens to undo her facade. The mask of indifference she wears is disappearing as fast as the air in her lungs. Everything within her is sparking. A burn that travels from her head, to her throat, searing a pathway to her core. Thunderous roars fill her ears, drowning out every sound, save for the name echoing in her mind: Adora!  

 

"Catra..." A voice says, shaking her shoulders. "Catra!"  

 

It's a voice she knows well. Catra opens her eyes, meeting a pair of light blue ones looking at her with worry.   

"A-adora?" Catra questions, not trusting what she sees, as a younger Adora looms into view.  She blinks at her in confusion.  

 

"Why'd you do it?" Adora frowns at her, holding her hand in hers.   

 

"Shadow Weaver said..." Catra looks away, gaze moving wildly around the room. It's one of the training rooms that happened to have a pool.

   

"Catra, you know you can't swim," Adora scolds, a gentle admonishment. She stands, pulling Catra to her feet.  

 

She meets her eyes, noting the water droplets falling off of Adora's hair. "You...jumped in after me?"

  

"Of course I did," Adora answers. "We need you, after all."   

Catra looks at their joined hands for a moment.  

 

"Ah, poor little sister...Even then your Adora wounded you deeply." Horde Prime's voice echoes.   

The memory fades to black as Catra is surrounded by shadows with glowing green eyes. "She's not my anything!"   

"Oh, but you want her to be, don't you?" Horde Prime taunts from the darkness  

Another unbidden memory springs forth  

 

"Catra," Adora calls, careful to keep her voice low. Their watch was supposed to be conducted in silence, but this was one of the few times they were truly alone.   

  

Catra's ears perk up, as she turns toward her. "What?" She suppresses the urge to laugh. "You're going to make ME be the voice of reason, here?".   

 

"It's because of," Adora pauses with a groan, averting her gaze.   

  

Catra waits, studying her. Those blue eyes hold a trace of fear. It's a feeling that belongs with Catra, not the fierce, kind, dauntless Adora. A grimace replaces the smirk on Catra's face.   

  

"Was it...something she did or said?"  

  

"Not exactly," Adora shifts, gaze darting to every corner of the hallway.  

  

 Catra's claws extend, senses hyper aware. Cat eyes are better suited for the dark than her companion’s. "I'll handle this, so wait here."  

  

"Wait, I can-" Adora interjects, taking a hesitant step forward.   

  

"Can't leave,” she interrupts with a shrug. “One of us has to be here in case someone shows up," Catra  advises, wearing a casual smirk.  "Rules aside, you'll probably just trip and run into me...again."   

  

Adora sighs in defeat, watching Catra's form move out of sight.    

 

Catra scans her surroundings, as her ears turn in various directions to catch any hint of sound. Adora is probably worrying for nothing. Whatever scared her was reason enough to go through this, if only to give her temporary relief.   

  

Claws tap against metal, more grating than Catra's. She peers into the darkness, muscles tensing for battle. Her hackles raise, as she resists the urge to hiss. The sudden resounding cry in the dark makes her stumble backward in a panic.   

  

"Ugh, Catra!" Adora grunts, as they tumble to the floor. "What gives?"  

  

"There's...something out there," she breathes, loathing the tremor in her voice. "It freaked me out!"  

  

Adora scrambles to her feet before helping Catra up. "We go in together this time."  

  

They both take tentative steps down the long hallway, an uncomfortable silence between them. The various creatures in the Fright Zone were abnormal in size and appearance. Even a small creature could pose a threat, especially those from Beast Island.   

  

Knowing Adora she's probably thinking it's a ghost.  Catra's hand touches something soft and coarse in the dark. Fur? She looks back at Adora only to have a shriek ring in her ears. Large red eyes blink back at her. She startles, a hiss tearing through her throat.  "Adora, get-"  

   

"That's...a big mouse," Adora murmurs, the fear in her voice replaced by amusement.  

 

Catra swipes at the eyes of the abnormally large rodent, and it flees into the darkness. She glances back at Adora, a knot in her stomach as she catches that smug grin. "Not. A. Word." Catra growls, grabbing Adora's hand as they walk back to their post.  

  

"What? I haven't said anything," she replies, her unspoken 'Yet' hanging in the air.   

 

"You two appeared to be so...close," he states in a condescending tone, as the vision shifts to a battlefield. "Yet your words could not dissuade her." 

 

Adora stands before her, staring in disbelief. "How could you possibly be okay with what Shadow Weaver and the Horde have done?"  

 

"Like you said, it doesn't matter what they do, since we look out for each other." Catra places her hands reassuringly on Adora's shoulders. "Once we're in charge, it'll be us on top of the world...together!"  

Adora's face falls, as she looks at the ground. 

  

"Now we can go home," Catra says, keeping a hand on her shoulder. An explosion hits a bit too close to where they stand.   

 

"I'm not returning to the Horde, Catra," Adora states, before moving to grab her hand. "We can leave all of that behind, go where they can't influence us anymore."   

 

She must have misheard her because of the explosions. This isn't the Adora she's known for practically her entire life. "You can't be serious," Catra scoffs, pulling her hand away.   
 

"I am," Adora states, squaring her shoulders, gaze unflinching.   

 

"You're listening to people you just met..." Catra feels her chest constrict, as dread and fear seep in like a toxin.  "Choosing them?!"

    

"I'm sorry," Adora says, her gaze sad as she turns away from her.

 

The thought of losing her makes Catra's stomach twist in knots so tight, it's painful. Betrayal, a bitter, heavy taste settles on her lips. Rage overwhelms reason, as her hands grip the combat staff. She hits Adora in the back, watching as she crumples to the ground.   

Only this time, Catra feels the shock as well. A haze takes over, clearing the memory, though the pain remains.   

 

"You failed to bring your Adora home," Horde Prime gloats, holding her face in his strong grip.   

 

Catra tries to speak, but something prevents her string of curses. An odd plastic taste surrounds the small circular piece in her throat. Panic shoots through her as she grabs at it and pulls.   

In response two clones pin her arms tight to her side as Horde Prime looks on in amusement. "Now now, little sister," he chastises. "The more you struggle, the more pain you will experience."  

Cold metal touches her neck, latching itself to her like a parasite. Catra winces at the bite, gaze narrowing to slits at Horde Prime.   

"I am sorry your Adora will be the cause of your suffering," Horde Prime says, tone a mixture of kindness and pity. He removes his hand from her aching jaw.  

A buzz reaches Catra's ears, bringing a current to life. Every muscle in her body bunches in protest. White hot pain courses through all the nerves, as dots cloud her vision. Although she knows pain, this is so much more. Worse than when Adora shocked her with the combat staff. Worse than any of Shadow Weaver's punishments. Worse than that toxic pool she almost drowned in. Her only reprieve is when she drifts into merciful unconsciousness.   

 

"Catra..." A voice whispers in her ear.

   

But she doesn't reply, covering her face with that all too familiar blanket.

   

"C'mon Catra," that small, calming voice coaxes. "I know you didn't mean to use your claws." 

 

Catra knows that won't make a difference, not to Shadow Weaver. She's never been important enough to matter, only seen whenever she makes mistakes.

The blanket is pulled away, as those hopeful blue eyes meet hers.

 

"Hey, it'll be okay," Adora says with a small smile of encouragement.  

  

A shock travels down her spine. "Always her leaving you to defend yourself..." his voice whispers, as the images shift.  

Leaving you. The words fissure through her, opening something buried deep within. I wanted her to leave, didn’t I?  

 

The weapon in Catra's hand is comforting. It gives her some sense of control. Lonnie launches herself at her, but Catra evades, sweeping a leg under Lonnie before hitting her in the chest. Lonnie smirks up at her. Catra turns, but a blow to her arm knocks her back. She sees Adora, sprinting for her. Raising her staff high, she aims for that center.  Of course...she has to swoop in and save the day.  Catra suppresses a growl of frustration. 

 

Adora blocks the attack as their staffs connect. The hit to Catra's shoulder stings, diverting her attention long enough for her opponent's staff to collide into her chest plate. "Hey Catra," Adora smirks, triumph flashing in her azure eyes.

   

Another shock runs through her.  "Always her shadow..." That voice murmurs as the Salineas gate morphs from red to brilliant blue  

 

Catra leans in close, cradling She-Ra's face in her hand. "You left me to play hero with your new friends?!"

  

"I told you. I'm not going back! "She-Ra grunts, as blue energy goes from her sword to the gate. She turns her attention back to restoring the gate. Adora doesn't even spare Catra a glance as she celebrates their victory. 

  

The shock returns "Always her second choice..." his voice hums, carrying a trace of sympathy.  

Second choice. The cracks deepen, threatening to tear her apart. Like Adora said, Catra chose...and now she's living with the consequences. 

   

The scene shifts to Adora hanging on to the staff to avoid falling.   

"Hey Adora," Catra says, offering a hand to help her out of the pitfall. 

  

Before she can lift Adora up, the memory morphs into the Crystal Castle. Adora is hanging onto a small ledge with unshed tears in her eyes.  

"To her, you are nothing.  A traitorous enemy." Horde Prime taunts her. It's a truth that Catra refuses to acknowledge, a reality she can't bear to face.   

 

On and on it repeats; a vicious cycle replacing any semblance of time: 

Adora appears.   

A shock.

A greeting.

A barrage of pain. 

  

Again, his voice whispers to her. "I can give you the peace you seek...make this pain cease..."  

The onslaught stops, catching Catra off guard.  Is it over?   

  

"If you accept the light," he finishes, tempting her with an out.

  

No, I can't betray Adora...Not again!   

  

"Always her leaving you to defend yourself. Always her shadow. Always her second choice. Her traitorous enemy."  Horde Prime says repeatedly as other voices join in. Their words threaten to tear her skull apart until Catra's world goes dark.  

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Shadows of Light

Catra isn't sure which is worse, Horde Prime forcing her to relive the recollections of her past, or her dreams. The memories are familiar, sometimes painfully so. However, it's a path where she knows what to expect, rather than a warped reality of wishes and wants. Adora stands before her, elegantly clad in a red dress.  

 

Princess Prom

 

 

 

Only this dream differs from the memory, no matter how many times she experiences it. When their eyes meet, Adora’s gaze is warm, no longer uncertain. She gives an inviting smile, offering her hand to Catra.   

"Hey, Adora," she tries for the usual nonchalance, but her voice is too strained, on edge.  

 

"Hey Catra," she replies, reaching for her hand before she can withdraw it. "Shouldn't you be the one telling me to relax?" Adora squeezes her hand in encouragement.  

 

I know I don’t deserve this, after everything I’ve done.  "Since you've never relaxed a day in your life, isn't that pretty pointless?" Catra laughs, taking a cautious step closer. At least here I can’t hurt her more than I already have.  

 

They move across the room as one. With how many times they practiced in secret, the dance should be as natural as breathing.  

  

Catra always fumbles at this part. The confident air evaporates, replaced by unease. Her movements are stiff, as though expecting an attack at any moment. Pulse thundering in her ears. Desperation drives her forward, as she takes in every feature of Adora's face, committing the dream version to memory. A crackling hits Catra's ears as she drops Adora's hands in order to wrap her arms around herself.  

 

 "A dance with your Adora who left you?" Horde Prime’s voice echoes in her mind. “How sentimental,” he sneers, as those other voices return.   

 

Tunneling darkness overtakes the vibrant room. "No. This isn't real. You can’t be here!" Catra chokes out, fighting the burning sensation spreading through her. She looks around wildly, half expecting Shadow Weaver to descend from the silhouettes in the room. She pauses for breath, forcing herself to gather her thoughts. 

 

Shadow Weaver's in Bright Moon. That's what Adora said back before she pulled the switch on that stupid portal. I should have just let it take me out and saved them all this trouble. 

 

Catra watches as Adora’s form begins to fade, but she can still feel the comforting touch on her shoulders. "A-adora...if any part of this is real...The portal was my mistake!"  

 

Adora's eyes widen in surprise as she starts to respond.  

 

Catra strains to hear what she says, but the annoying crackling drowns out all of Adora's words. The only part she can discern before the dream fades completely is her name on Adora's lips. 

  

-----------Adora----------

"CATRA!" Adora bolts up, struggling to force air into her lungs. She can still feel the ghost of Catra's warm shoulders under her palms, which are now trembling. On instinct, she curls them into fists. The traitorous tremors lessen, but still persist.  

The air in the ship feels tense, heavy with unspoken words. The squad is back together, but things between Glimmer and Bow are awkward. Adora knows he is just as relieved to have her back as she is. Yet, their conversations have been anything but casual. Adora rises to her feet with a groan. The ship remains quiet. Good, that means I haven't woken anyone. Even though her friends would be understanding if she disturbed their sleep, fighting an old habit from the Fright Zone still proved difficult.  

 

Shadow Weaver towers over a younger Adora "Your time for the course has slipped." She rests her cold palm on Adora's face. Adora fights the urge to recoil, knowing it will be seen as weakness. "Perhaps I allowed you too much responsibility in looking after Catra. The shadows in the room combine to form a lifelike version of the cat eared girl. "Lord Hordak will not keep her around if she...distracts you so." The shadows start to disappear.  

 

 "Wait! Adora looks at the silhouette before turning to Shadow Weaver. "I'll be better!"  

 

"Excelling in your training is the only way you can help her, and  I can guarantee Catra remains here. Shadow Weaver places her hand on Adora’s head "You cannot allow yourself to lose focus." 

 

“I won’t let it happen again, Shadow Weaver," Adora says, her tone resolute.  

 

“We expect great things from someone as special as you.” Shadow Weaver dispels Catra’s silhouette with a wave of her hand.   

 

“Etheria to Adora...” Glimmer’s voice says as her hand waves in front of Adora’s eyes.  What has her so out of it?

 

Adora blinks, eyes widening in surprise, then alarm. “D-did I wake you?” 

 

“No, it’s not that,” Glimmer replies, brow furrowed in concern. “I haven’t slept well since...” she trails off, avoiding eye contact.  

 

“Glimmer,” she sighs, placing a hand on the Queen’s shoulders. “I know my best wasn’t enough to save your mom.” Her loss haunts me every day, but I know that’s nothing compared to how it affects her. 

 

“Adora, no one could stop my mother when she made a decision,” Glimmer replies with an almost wistful smile.  “Not me, and certainly not She-Ra."  

 

"I should have done something...thought of another way..." Adora shakes her head, burying her face in her hands. No one was supposed to be lost.

 

"You can't always save those you care about," Glimmer murmurs, pulling Adora's hands toward her. "Sometimes, you can." She gives her a small smile

 

"I'm glad you were saved, and I know Bow is, too." Adora glances over Glimmer's shoulder. "Even if he isn't showing it."

 

"I went too far with my words...and everything else." Glimmer follows Adora's gaze. "I can't blame him for being angry." She studies her friend's face for a while. "Doesn't look like you've been getting much sleep yourself. 

 

Adora's eyes widen, but she stays silent. I can't let her worry about me- Not after everything she's been through.

 

"It's about Catra, right?"

 

Adora blinks in surprise, withdrawing her hands. "I keep having this same dream, but tonight's felt," she draws in a shallow breath. "Different. Catra...S-she apologized for the portal this time- Pulling the switch." 

 

Glimmer covers her mouth in shock. "What exactly did she say?" 

 

"If any of this is real, the portal was my mistake," Adora recounts, unease curling in her stomach. 

 

"It may be a coincidence, given all that just happened," Glimmer looks away in thought. "In case it isn't, there may be a way to communicate with her without Prime's notice."

 

Adora grabs Glimmer's shoulders in desperation. "How?!"

 

"When Shadow Weaver was teaching me magic, she mentioned a way to control dreams." 

 

Adora stiffens at the sound of her former commanding officer's name. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she lets out a resigned sigh.

 

"Lucid dreaming could allow you both to connect in the dreamscape." Glimmer's expression darkens. "If Prime somehow finds out what we're doing, it could put Catra in danger, if she isn't already."

 

"I have to find out," Adora replies, cringing at the tremor in her voice. "Even though there's a risk, not knowing the truth is..worse." She turns, making her way back down the hallway leading to her room.

 

Glimmer nods, following her lead. "You only need to be there long enough to get a message to her." She watches Adora's retreating form. How can those shoulders that took on the role of Etheria's protector appear so fragile now?

 

Adora sits on the bed in silence, as Glimmer sits beside her. 

 

"You won't be facing this alone," she says, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I'm here for you, just like Entrapta and Bow are."

 

"Catra's refused to listen so many times," Adora murmurs, head bowed. "I'm...afraid of what will happen this time." She trails off, closing her eyes against the increasing dark thoughts swirling in her mind.

 

"Focus on what you can do, and we'll roll with whatever happens next."

 

Adora lies back on the cot, reluctant to dream again. Exhaustion starts to pull her into slumber, until a whirring noise breaks the silence.

 

"Entrapta," Glimmer whispers, going over to her. "We can't break Adora's concentration."

 

"Oh, are you doing an experiment?!" She laughs excitedly as she walks into the room.

 

Adora rises from the bed, giving Entrapta a small grin. "Something like that." Her smile fades, as she looks down at the floor before meeting the tech princess's eager eyes. "Entrapta, I still feel terrible about not fighting harder to go back for you...I never wanted to make  you feel like we didn't care."

 

Entrapta raises a questioning brow at Adora, processing her words.

 

"As the leader, I should have done more!" Adora clenches her fist over her heart. "I can't undo the past, but I'll try to make up for it in any way I can."

 

Entrapa stays quiet, meeting Adora's sincere gaze. One strand of hair reaches out, patting the warrior on her shoulder. "From my observations, mistakes are similar to imperfections." She smiles at her two companions. "Without them, we couldn't learn to find better methods of self-improvement for the future."

 

Adora looks from Glimmer to Entrapta in relief. She folds her arms in front of her.  "D-do you think that's true for everyone? Even Catra, who's hurt so many?

 

"By 'everyone' do you mean Catra?" Entrapta shares a knowing look with Glimmer. "Well, I did have some good moments with her and Scorpia. On the other hand, she also betrayed me..."

 

Pushing past her hesitation, Adora forces the question out before she can take it back. "What did she do when we weren't fighting each other?" 

 

Entrapta strokes her chin with her hair in contemplation. "When we weren't searching for First One's tech, which was so fun!" A bubbly laugh bursts from her. "When I was up late working on Emily, I'd hear her in the early hours of the morning." The excitement in her eyes dims. "Sometimes there was slamming, clawing, and growling...Other times it almost sounded like she was crying."

 

Taken aback, Adora's expression shifts from anger to understanding. 

 

"I think she was lonely...and has been for awhile...The one thing that allowed us to talk was sharing memories about you, Adora." Glimmer adds, her gaze radiating warmth.

 

Adora stills, processing their words. "Me?" It comes out as an almost imperceptible whisper. 

 

"I'd love to help with your experiment, if you'll let me." Entrapta says, leaning toward the two of them eagerly. After taking a moment to jot down the plan in her notepad, she busies herself with rummaging through various pockets. "Ah, I found it," she exclaims, using her hair to drop a recorder in Adora's hands. "You can use this to record anything you might say in your sleep! It could definitely help you track your progress!" Entrapta waves goodbye to them, opening the door to leave.

 

Adora offers the tech Princess a grateful smile. "Thanks" Turning to Glimmer, her eyes shine with resolve. "Glimmer, let's do this."

 

Adora hangs on every word of Glimmer's instructions as she lies back on her cot. "As soon as I reach Catra, I'm not sure what to say..." She turns her head toward Glimmer, who sits at the foot of the bed. "Catra's not one to ask for help, so how will I know?" 

 

Glimmer reaches for her friend's hand, clasping it in hers. "No one knows Catra better than you." She gives her a soft grin."I believe in you, Adora." 

 

Adora returns her smile, closing her eyes and concentrating on taking slow, even breaths.

 

After some time, sleep finds her. The next sight she sees upon opening her eyes in the dreamscape is that dark, familiar room. A red glow surrounds her along with those chillingly familiar wisps of shadow around her.

 

Rising hastily to her feet, she reaches under her pillow, feeling the cool comfort of a metal hilt. Adora looks at the blade she holds, seeing her teenage self reflected in it.This has to be a memory. Closing her eyes, she tries to rouse herself, but a shadow knocks her down, taking the form of a triumphant illusion of teenage Lonnie.

 

She charges at the shadow silhouette of her comrade, extending her leg to sweep under it, catching the adversary off guard. A scream tears from her opponent's throat, before dissipating.  Another shadow in the form of Rogelio takes its place, latching onto her arm. Adora grapples with the lizard, not allowing him to separate her from her dagger. She grabs his tail, plunging the blade into it. The shadow roars as she pulls the dagger out. A third Shadow appears out of the corner of her eye, taking the form of Kyle. He goes for her arm but she pivots out of his reach. He staggers forward, caught off guard. She draws her fist back, delivering a punch to his jaw.  The shrill cry pierces her ears forcing her to cover them to muffle the painful sound. 

 

"Hey, Adora," Shadow Catra says from behind her. 

She stops to study the teenager she remembers.  "Catra?"

 

Shadow Catra lunges, knocking her to the floor. Adora winces, looking into those eyes she knows so well. There's a challenge in them. Her usual playful smile transforming into a menacing one. A chill runs down Adora's spine.  Maintain control...

 

"You're distracted..." Shadow Weaver whispers from the shadows, anger and irritation seeping through the words.

 

A swarm of shadows descends on her, each taking the form of her friend. One twists her arm behind her back, causing her to drop the dagger. Another sweeps a leg underneath her as she struggles to get up, as a third pins her arms. Show no weakness. Acting on instinct, she throws her head back. A screech sounds from the shadow pinning her, as Adora's head collides with the nose of the shadow pinning her. She rolls to the side to evade a strike that almost hits her face. 

The two remaining shadows round on her, the first leaping into the air while the other goes for her. She kicks out with her foot, hitting the oncoming shadow in the chest, wrestling her blade from it's hands. At the sound of claws unsheathing, she raises the dagger, moving it in a large arc above her. A piercing shriek rings in her ears, acting as a confirmation of her victory. 

 

"Was that good enough?" Adora watches as her maternal figure and commanding officer materializes from the darkness.

 

"Adora, I've told you many  times before. If you are not useful to the Horde, to Lord Hordak, you are unimportant." Shadow Weaver reaches out, cradling Adora's face in her hand. "Let me help you with your training, and together, we can make them all see how worthy you are..." 

 

The dreamscape changes 

 

Adora is running through the hallway, dodging between the various boxes of equipment. I can't let her see...Or else Catra- Panic drives her forward, eyes sweeping the darkest corners of the rooms. She touches the gashes on her face, pulling her hand away to see if the wound was still open. Adora sighs in relief upon realizing the bleeding has finally stopped. The stinging hasn't subsided, but that's not what thoughts occupy her mind. What can I tell Shadow Weaver that won't get Catra in trouble? I know she didn't mean to do it...she was just scared.

 

"Adora, is that you?" Lonnie calls from behind her. "You're going to miss the prank we're pulling on Kyle."

 

She stays hidden behind a pile of steel crates. "Hey Lonnie, I'm not feeling the greatest...Could you help me out and make up something? You know how the trainers and officers get whenever any of us are sick."

 

"Yeah, show no weakness..." Lonnie runs to another room, throwing a blanket toward Adora. "Here, this'll help!"

 

Adora catches the soft material in her hands, draping it over her like a cloak. "Thanks, Lonnie. I owe you one!"

 

"Just...don't get caught, okay?" Lonnie whispers back with a wink, as she heads toward the dining hall. 

 

Before the rest of the memory can play out, the dream shifts again, and Adora finds herself in the Black Garnet Chamber.

 

Catra hides next to her as Shadow Weaver enters the room. They watch her through fearful eyes as she leans over a glowing basin. She removes the mask. It takes all of Adora's control to suppress her scream at the sight of the scars. A gasp escapes her, as her friend looks back with startled eyes. 

 

"Get out!" Shadow Weaver commands, as shadows envelop the room. Adora runs, hearing Catra behind her, until they stop short of the doorway. 

 

"Catra, you stay." 

 

Adora watches in horror as red bolts surround the terrified cat girl, freezing her in place. She can hear Catra's whimpers, seeing as her expression changes from fear, to absolute terror. 

 

"Shadow Weaver, It wasn't her  fault!" Adora cries, powerless to help. I have to do something...What should I say?

"It was my idea too!"  Why did I say that?! Fear rises in her again, stopping her from correcting the statement. Maybe I can still fix this...

She spreads her as wide, standing in front of Catra protectively. 

"Please stop!" Adora begs, as Catra's body glows an eerie red behind her. "She didn't mean to!" Instead of being there for her, I-I blamed her. 

 

The revelation feels like being plunged in ice

 

"Catra...I'm sorry...so sorry" Adora admits as tears start to cascade down her face.

 

The world starts to shake as a voice calls to her 

 

"Adora..."

 

Her eyes flutter open to a blurred room. Glimmer's concerned gaze swims into view. Adora bolts upright in alarm, causing the room to sway.

 

"It's okay," Glimmer murmurs in a soothing voice. She wipes away unshed tears from Adora's face. "You're safe with us on Mara's ship."

 

Adora takes several gulps of air, as the traces of her nightmare fade. It didn't work. I failed!

 

 Glimmer holds her steady, waiting for her to speak. "I...couldn't reach Catra." She frowns, gripping the blankets in frustration. "Only memories of her and Shadow Weaver."

 

"You can't expect to get it right the first time," Glimmer advises, shaking her head. "You aren't perfect." She watches the fear recede from Adora's expression, giving way to grim determination. "Ready to try again?"

 

"Ready."

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Delving into Memories

 

"What do you mean you don't know where Adora is?!" Shadow Weaver's shadow wisps force her chin up."

 

"How much clearer can I get?" Catra growls, as her hair stands on end. "I was asleep in my bed. When I woke up, she was gone."

 

"Don't. Lie. To. Me." Shadow Weaver towers over her. "I know Adora better than you think, and she would never take off without telling you." She glares down at her ward, as the shadows billow around in agitation. "You will bring her home."

 

Catra meets her gaze without flinching. I just have to bide my time until she returns." And if I don't?" She turns her back on Shadow Weaver, ready to walk away. A red glow shines on the wall, freezing her where she stands. Catra won't cry out, no matter how much pain that cold electricity surrounding her causes. You're going to have to do better than that, old woman.

 

Shadow Weaver grabs onto Catra's face. "Then, you'll suffer the consequences in her place."

 

Fear courses through her as she recalls that time so long ago. 

"I've kept you around this long because Adora was fond of you...I will dispose of you, myself."

 

"Yes...Shadow Weaver." Catra mutters, as the red glow and electricity fades, her body almost collapsing on the floor. 

 

"You will get temporary clearance to operate one of the tanks. Don't even think of causing any collateral damage," Shadow Weaver commands, pointing toward the door. 

 

Only 'clearance to operate one of the tanks' registers in her brain. She's careful to keep her face blank, while her mind races at all the exciting possibilities. "When do I leave?" 


"You're wasting my time..." Shadow Weaver sneers, as the shadows swirl, a mix of danger and irritation. "GO!" The shadows launch themselves at her

 

Catra does her best to dodge them when she exits, but one tendril hits her in the back. She cringes as it connects, leaving a familiar sting

 

Another memory materializes:

 

"Explain to me how you lost Adora," Shadow Weaver demands, eyes narrowed to slits. 

 

"Ugh," Catra presses her palms to her forehead in exasperation. "I've already told you... She said she's not coming back. Adora defected!" She slams her fist into the lockers behind her. 

 

"How dare you," Shadow Weaver responds, looming over her. "You must have done something to cause this!" The tendrils of shadow creep closer toward Catra, and she flinches.

 

"She left us..." Catra states, glaring back. "She left me!"

 

Shadow Weaver gets in Catra's face. "I WILL find out the truth...even if I have to drag it from your feeble mind!" Before the shadows can surround them, agony overwhelms her, as a new darkness stakes its claim. 

 

"Hey...Catra?" That comforting voice whispers from above her.

 

"What?" She opens one eye to look back, meeting eyes of  metallic crystal blue. "Another nightmare?" Adora's so young. Catra looks down at herself, seeing the old Horde uniform.

 

Adora averts her gaze. Showing fear is always perceived as weakness. They all know this, but nightmares hold a different power than reality. One that inflicts pain with invisible wounds.

 

Catra moves to her companion's side. "Was it about her?" 

 

She nods, eyes downcast in shame. 

 

Catra's heart constricts. "You don't have to talk about it..."

 

Adora's small hand reaches out, touching her comrades shoulder. "Catra, what if we weren't soldiers in the Horde?"

 

Her brows raise in surprise, caught off guard. "What if we weren't?" She keeps her voice to a hushed whisper, knowing if anyone overheard, punishment would be swift. 

 

"Where would you go?" Adora's curious gaze shines with excitement. 

 

"I...I'd go with you," she murmurs in response, her face feeling too warm in the cold barracks. 

 

Adora offers that small radiant smile, pulling Catra into an embrace which eliminates the gap between them. 

 

A rumbling purr emanates from her chest, moving to her throat before she can stop it. "Sorry," Catra begins to back away, embarrassed .

 

"You don't have to apologize." Adora tucks Catra's head under her chin. "It's soothing." 

 

A haze of shadows covers everything in sight, but Catra still remembers heat rising to her face unexpectedly. Gone was that shared moment. She knew the reason for her reaction at one point, before Shadow Weaver interfered. 

 

"Poor sister. Your Adora's gesture of love for you, erased from your mind and discarded in hers." At the sound of his voice, electricity hums through Catra, a violent torrent of fire, as she closes her eyes against the agony.

 

When her eyes open Shadow Weaver stands before her, taller than she remembers. "Y-you wanted to show me something?" Her voice is higher than usual, like it sounded when she and Adora were kids.

 

"Yes, Catra, come here," she beckons her forward.

 

Catra takes a tentative step, brow furrowed in confusion. 

 

Shadow Weaver rests her palms on either side of Catra's face. "Did you think I wouldn't notice what you did?!" Her cold hands tighten their hold until it hurts. "If you can't control those claws, I will remove them, permanently."

 

Catra shivers beneath the bite her touch brings, gasping as Shadow Weaver's palms move to her temples. Red static takes shape in her peripheral vision, as the shadows overtake everything she sees. Flashes of memories appear in her mind's eye. Of Adora's smile. Of her comforting embrace. Of her kind words. Shadows encircled in red currents move through the recollections, as a crackling fills her ears. Catra vaguely hears her muffled scream as countless moments are sifted through. When the shadows find the memory of Adora's and her talk of leaving the Horde, they shred through it with new intensity. The pain nearly renders her unconscious, but she resists. Finally, they reach that memory Catra would rather forget. Showing the moment she scratches Adora's face repeatedly. An icy shock strikes her each time the claws hit., accompanied by a searing pain. In the clutches of ice, fire and shadows, there is no sense of time. Once Shadow Weaver speaks, she knows it's over.

 

"I am fixing your mistake, this time. " She walks past her, pausing at the doorway. "If you ever try putting the thought of leaving into Adora's mind again...you won't have to wonder where you'll go."

 

Her mind feels frazzled, numb. The ground is cold, but that's not why she shivers.  Catra doesn't know how long she lies there, questioning why her adoptive parent treats her with disdain, while Adora gets praise. A question she doesn't expect an answer to. Shadow Weaver's words come back to her, then. Fixing your mistake. Her eyes widen as the realization hits. She's going to mess with her head, just like me...Anxiousness sparks through her as she shuts her eyes, determined not to let the tears fall. Every time Catra tries to recall Adora's conversation with her, it ends with Adora's question. A conclusion she can't see the end of anymore. It doesn't stop the warmth that blooms in her chest after each attempt. One that makes Catra feel safe, giving her the strength to rise to her feet, All she can do now is go to the barracks and wait for Adora.

 

Alone with her thoughts, under that famliar blanket that blocks out the world, she gains some clarity. Shadow Weaver erased whatever happened after Adora mentioned leaving. Because I was close to Adora...she's being punished for it. A wave of guilt and apprehension overwhelms her. Shadow Weaver always says love is weakness. Maybe she's right. For a brief instant she envisions herself existing without having Adora by her side. An emptiness spreads through Catra, while her heart hammers in protest against her ribs. She banishes the imagined reality, realizing she can't face an agony like that. Her mind crafts a plan. If Shadow Weaver doesn't see them being close, Adora will be safe...and she could be, too. Catra dozes off before Adora returns, waking when the other drapes a blanket over her. She stays still, unsure of whether or not to respond. 

 

"Hey...Adora?" No answer. She peeks down from the top bunk, where she can tell her companion has fallen asleep. As her gaze travels to the wounds she inflicted, regret surges through her. Adora tosses and turns, her fists clenched around the blanket. Catra's ears perk up, noticing her uneven breaths. She moves from the top bunk and makes her way to the foot of Adora's bed. I may not be able to stop the nightmares, but I can be there when they happen. There in the darkness, curled up at her companion's feet, Catra doesn't bother to hide the purr that  reverberates in her chest.

 

What Catra doesn't see is the way Adora bolts upright from a nightmare, fear transforming into confusion as she feels a rumbling warmth. Her cat eared comrade lies there. How someone so small could instill such comfort is something she can't make sense of. Her friend doesn't stir as she hesitantly reaches out to touch the wild hazel mane. Adora gives a content sigh, smiling with relief when she realizes Catra's still here. She lies back down, welcoming a dreamless sleep.

 

When she opens her eyes again, her reflection stares back. Catra's appearance more closely resembles her age before Adora defected, except for the missing headpiece. Another memory.

 

An arm wraps around her shoulders. "Catra, you're going to make us late to the combat evaluation!" Adora laughs in her ear, pulling her by the arm toward the door. "If you do, we'll never be promoted, so let's go!"

 

She stares down at their joined hands, easily keeping up with her companion's pace. "What's the point?" 

 

Adora looks back, that cheerful smile dimming. "You don't want to be with me and the others?"

 

"Ugh...Fine." Catra groans, as they reach the training room. 

 

"Nice of you to join us, cadets," the squadron commander groans, scowling at the pair. 

 

"Sorry, sir," Adora responds with a salute, nudging Catra's shoulder when she doesn't do the same.

 

"Yeah, whatever." She crosses her arms, avoiding the commander's disapproving look.

 

"Since the other cadets have been paired up," the commander tosses their gear at them. "That leaves you two." He waits for them to finish putting on the combat equipment. "Take your positions, cadets."

 

Her ears perk up as she smirks at her teammate. They move in sync toward the center, standing back to back. It's a shame this'll be over so soon with the two of us on the field.

 

"On my count, you'll face one another," the commander states. "The match ends when one opponent lands three consecutive hits."

 

Catra glances at Adora, seeing surprise mirrored on her face as well. 

 

 The commander looks at both combatants, who nod in reply. "Begin!"

 

Catra faces Adora, displaying a playful grin, which her opponent reciprocates. They rush towards one another with their staffs raised. Electricity crackles as the staffs connect. Each try to drive the other back, but neither relents. 

 

A shadow forms in her peripheral, making her heart race. She jumps backward, breaking the contact. Using her staff to keep distance between them, Catra circles around her opponent, while her eyes count the sillhouetts surrounding the room. Catra knows Shadow Weaver and her spies are watching, but that doesn't mean she can't make things entertaining.

 

Adora takes advantage of whatever holds Catra's attention, swinging at the chestplate. A growl is the only warning she has before her comrade dodges, using their staff to catapult into the air.

 

From above, Catra pounces on her, knocking them both to the ground. "Hey Adora, still busy being the world's slowest person, huh?" 

 

"As the score stands, I'd say you're after my title," she taunts, wearing that all too familiar smug look.

 

"As if!" Catra scoffs, letting her opponent regain their footing before sweeping the staff behind their legs.

 

"Ugh, Catra," she exclaims as she hits the ground with a thud. "That's cheating!"

 

Catra laughs as she strikes Adora's chest plate. "Not when I warned you that nothing's too low for me, remember?" 

 

She rolls her eyes,  scowling up at her cat eared comrade. So that's the kind of game you want to play? Fine. "Just help me up, okay?" 

 

Catra extends an arm out and she starts to pull her companion to her feet. Adora quirks a brow at Catra, her expression determined. Why is she looking at me like that? 

 

A mischevious glint shines in Adora's eyes right as she latches onto Catra's arm, pulling her closer. 

 

"What are you-" Catra's question is cut off by the abrupt impact and flash of pain that erupts in her head. 

 

 An audible crack is heard as Adora's skull collides with Catra's, and the pair stagger backward. 

 

"Are you crazy?!" Catra shakes off the disorientation, charging at her opponent with renewed resolve.

 

Adora deflects a strike, almost losing her balance from the force. She can hear claws scraping the ground behind her. Why isn't she retracting them? At the last moment, Adora dips down to the ground and rolls as Catra runs past her. 

 

Catra tries to reorientate herself, but is caught off guard by another thump to the chest. 

 

Wasting no time, Adora goes for Catra's staff, wrenching it from her grip. She launches both weapons into the air, pinning her adversary to the floor.  

 

Catra grapples with her opponent. "What kind of idiot discards their weapon?!" She tries another tactic, launching her foot into Adora's stomach.

 

Adora winces, distracted by the strike long enough for her grip to loosen. 

 

It's the opportunity Catra needs and she takes it. Placing her arm across Adora's neck, she pins her in place. Adora gives her a sly smirk. "This is NOT because I like you" Catra scoffs in response.

 

"I didn't say anything," Adora mutters, eyes looking past Catra.

 

Catra follows her gaze, watching as the two staffs get closer to them. She leans back, reaching out to catch one. 

 

Adora leans forward, extending her hand as the first staff falls into her palm. 

 

The cool metal of the other staff brushes Catra's hand in the same instant. On instinct Catra swings the staff, grinning as it makes it's mark, until another thud reaches her ears. She looks down to see the other staff on her chestplate as a red X appears. 

 

"Good work, cadet Adora. " the commander states, as Adora offers her help up. " This concludes the combat examinations."

 

"Hey, you did great!" Adora praises, regarding Catra with admiration. 

 

"I guess," Catra murmurs, clasping onto her companion's hand as she rises to her feet. 

 

They walk over to where the commander and their teammates are waiting. 

 

"As the victor in your match, I present to you this," the commander holds a metal box in both hands. "It's an artifact we managed to recover in the Whispering Woods."

 

"Oh," Adora pulls out a red metal headpiece. "This- this is great" she mutters, plastering a pleasant smile on her face. "I'll just try this on later." She places it back in the box. 

 

Catra tries to hide her snickering at her companion's awkward reply.

 

"You've both done enough to earn your promotion to Senior Cadets...You are dismissed" The commander says, as they salute one another. 

 

Adora leads Catra back to their room, sitting on the bed as she removes the headpiece, frowning as she tentatively places it on her head. "Ow," she says, wincing at the discomfort as the metal touches her forehead.

 

"Hey," she murmurs in genuine concern, reaching for Adora's arm. .

 

"I-it's nothing. I'm fine," she answers, stepping out of her reach.

 

Catra folds her arms, brow raised. "Is it from when you decided to use your head as a weapon?"

 

"No!" Adora responds too quickly for the lie to be believable. "Maybe."

 

"Let me see, Adora." she touches her arm, turning her around so they're facing each other. She raises the metal headpiece, seeing the slight raised bump on her companion's forehead. "I don't think you'll have any lasting brain damage...Maybe that little hair poof of yours is good for something after all."

 

"Could you stop with the quips about my hair?" Adora groans, subconsciously brushing her hair back with her hand. 

 

"I will...when you let go of the mouse joke," Catra answers, leaning back to study the headpiece, as she starts to tremble.

 

Her eyes widen in alarm. "What?" She grabs onto Catra's shoulders which continue to shake.  She's not in pain...She's laughing. Adora folds her arms defensively, a scowl on her lips. "What's so funny?!"

 

Catra's boistrous laughter fills the room. "You look ridiculous!" She doubles over, holding her stomach. 

 

"I feel ridiculous!" Adora hastily removes the headpiece with a groan. "Hmm, wonder how it'd look on you," she muses, rounding on Catra.

 

"No," Catra warns, dodging out of the way, but Adora's too quick, catching her by the shoulder.

 

"Just try it on!" Adora places the headpiece on her comrade's head, being careful to not let it hit her forehead. She stands back, resting her chin against her closed fist. "You know," Adora tilts her neck to the side thoughtfully. "I think it suits you more than it ever would for me."

 

Catra glances at the mirror, catching the reflection of her side profile. The headpiece draws attention to her sharp jawline. She turns toward it, tilting her head to see how it looks at different angles. For an instant, her eyes flicker green, reverting back as soon as she blinks. A searing heat crawls down her spine, bringing her to her knees. The room goes in and out of focus, as a crowd of voices form a chorus in her mind

 

She's vaguely aware of someone's arms around her. Not someone's...Adora's.

 

That same overwhelming chorus roars their mantra through her mind. Cast out the shadows...Cast out the Shadows 

 

Horde Prime's voice drowns out the rest. "Those trapped in darkness need only seek the light." 

 

Adora

"Wait...Catra!" Adora jolts up, her hand instinctively reaching for where Catra always stayed. I gave her the mask headpiece? No...That can't be right...Can it? Concentrating, she mentally sifts through what she recalls of the exam. All she can remember is the fight, and celebrating with her teammates, but the rest eludes her. 

 

She's alone. Everything is too quiet. Her dreams become more warped, blending with past memories. One thing she is certain of is every time she sees Catra, she gets closer to reaching her. No matter what it takes, I WILL find Catra again and get answers. Adora focuses on her breathing, as exhaustion pulls her toward the dreaming world once more

Chapter Text

The familiar chill is almost enough to quell that searing pain raking its way up Catra's spine. Through sheer will she opens her eyes, regretting it the moment she sees the green, acrid liquid. Somehow, she's suspended in a chamber with a glass edge. The feel of the water makes her skin crawl, while her heart hammers in protest at the confined conditions. Caged like an animal. Trapped. Helpless.

 

"Hello again, misguided child," a muffled voice says from somewhere nearby. 

 

At the sound of that voice, her steady breaths dissolve into gasps for air. Even with the tube in place, Catra manages a hiss when Horde Prime's face looms into view. 


He tilts his head in clear amusement. "Your false hero- No, your Adora will not stop me." 

 

She is NOT my Adora! Catra thinks, seething with hatred for him. Furious at the piece of her that still wants Adora to stop this torment. Hating herself for being so weak. 

 

Horde Prime laughs, unaffected by her attempt at intimidation. "She's NOT my Adora," he recites, a clawed finger scraping the glass. "Is that what you were thinking?" A cruel smirk spreads across his face.

 

Seeing that look chills the blood in her veins, as she shakes her head in disbelief. No, it's n-

 

"Not possible?" Horde Prime finishes, a sinister gleam in his gaze. He snaps his fingers, and the liquid drains as the glass lifts. "Oh, my child, I assure you, it is already a reality."  He cups her jaw, running that cold clawed finger along it and yanking her chin forward.

 

The action feels too coincidental, reminiscent of when Shadow Weaver lectured her about respect after Adora's defection. Just like-

 

"Yes, Shadow Weaver." Horde Prime laughs, tightening his grip. "Such love for Adora, yet she left none for you" he tsks, voice full of mocking pity. "Don't you want to be free of all these trivial emotions?" The clawed hand moves to cup her cheek.

 

Catra cowers from his touch, hitting the chamber wall with a thud. She winces at the unexpected zap the movement causes. 

 

"You will submit to the Light," Horde Prime commands, leaning in. "As I have already said, all beings must suffer to become pure." He releases her, snapping his fingers again, causing the glass to rise into place and liquid to fill the chamber once more. 

 

Catra's blood rushes in her ears at the cold green water rising past her chest, to her neck, until she's floating in it. The retort Catra was contemplating falls prey to the crackling static resounding in her ears. She glares at Horde Prime, refusing to let that ever rising panic show.

 

Horde Prime smirks as he watches her eyes dialate in desperation. "I wonder, how long can you resist when you are so very much alone?"

 

The snap that reverberates in the space between them is like a lock being closed on the mental cage that is Catra's mind. I can't fall here. Just breathe through it, like you always did with Shadow Weaver. Breathing equals control. No matter how much oxygen she inhales, it isn't enough. What little control she has slips, thoughts flashing to that fateful day in Hordak's sanctum where he sapped the air from the room. 

 

As if to confirm her suspicions, Horde Prime nods, enjoying the spectacle that is her suffering. 

 

Her vision tunnels to black as she sees him turn away, vaguely hearing his receding footsteps. That horrendous chorus of voices follow her into unconsciousness.

 

Adora:

"Why can't I remember anything about that mask?!" Adora kicks at the bed, hoping to vent her frustrations.

 

Glimmer sighs, wishing she could teleport the bed out of her friend's reach. "Think, Adora," she coaches, pulling her friend's fist away from the diamond-shaped panel she's about to strike. "Was there a time where Shadow Weaver tried to erase your memories?" 

 

Adora places her free hand on her temple, eyes closed in concentration. Try as she might, only one memory appears in her mind's eye. "There was one...when we went to rescue you from the Fright Zone."

 

Glimmer blinks in recognition. "When she tried to make you forget about being She-Ra?" A shiver runs through her, as her stomach twists in knots at the memory.

 

"Yeah," Adora breathes, transferring her hand from her temple to rest on her chin. "The pain must have acted as a distraction so I wouldn't see if she went after any other memories."

 

"Why would she do that?" Glimmer inquires, noticing Adora's troubled expression.

 

"Shadow Weaver never liked how..." Adora pauses to rub her own shoulder. "How close we were."

 

Glimmer places her hand on Adora's. "I won't let her do that to you again." She sees the slightest tension ease from her friend's shoulder. "Want to talk about it?"

 

"There's no time for that..." Adora shakes her head dejectedly. "Not when I haven't been able to talk with Catra in the dreams."

 

"So you did reach her?" Glimmer gives a hopeful smile, which Adora doesn't reciprocate. "You were asleep when I left, and even after I came back awhile later. What stopped you this time?"

 

"She did...I tried to reach her when she collapsed, but she faded out before I could ask what was happening," Adora drags her free hand down her face in irritation. 

 

"Collapsed?" Glimmer drops her hand in alarm. "Did you notice anything out of the ordinary."

 

Adora thinks back to the scene in the barracks. "There was a...mirror. She collapsed in front of it."

 

"Was she attacked? Like those spiders in the Crystal Castle?" Glimmer catches sight of the involuntary spasm of Adora's hands.

 

"No, but she's never collapsed like that." Not even when she was sick! Adora's expression is grim, as she walks back over to the bed. "Something only she could see made her fall."

 

Glimmer turns away, opening the door. "I'm getting some tea for you." She sighs at her friend's questioning look. "Bow gave it to me after my mother- Her breath catches as she lowers her head. "It'll help sleep find you easier and calm your nerves."  

 

Adora watches Glimmer go, leaving her alone to dwell on one of her biggest regrets, an ever- expanding list. Logically, she understands she was powerless in that situation. It's one loss she can't forgive herself for. A guilt she and Catra share, whether they both acknowledge it or not. 

 

Her mind drifts to happier times, the only small luxury she allows herself to have. Even now, she can picture how little Catra was back then:

 

Adora wanders the various hallways of the Fright Zone, like she does most nights after training sessions with Shadow Weaver. It stops those shadow spies from sneaking up to attack when she tries to sleep. Suddenly a scraping sound catches her attention and her eyes scan the shadows. "W-who's there?" she calls out, but everything stays silent. Adora climbs closer to the skiff, nearly jumping out of her skin as something soft brushes against her leg. Looking down in the dark, it resembles a tail. She crawls around the corner of the metal crate, meeting a pair of different colored eyes. One a striking light blue, the other a brilliant yellow-gold.. 

 

A hiss comes from the figure in the shadows.

 

 Adora gasps in surprise, withdrawing her hand.

 

"Aren't you scared?" A small voice whispers from behind the crate.

 

"I-I am," Adora admits, staring back at them. "Don't tell anyone, okay?"

 

Those cat like eyes study her, narrowing slightly. "Why?"

 

"Weakness is frowned upon," she explains with a shrug. "It makes things tough here."

 

A growling noise fills the air and the figure backs away again.

 

Adora tilts her head, recognizing the sound. "You must be hungry, right?" She pulls out her last gray ration bar she was saving. "Here. They aren't much but these taste way better than the brown ration bars!"

 

Suspicion shines in that heterochromatic gaze in addition to a growl. A warning to her. 

 

Breaking off a very small piece for herself, she tosses the morsel into her mouth. She smiles warmly at those distrusting eyes, offering the rest to the hidden figure. "I'm Adora!" 

 

A shaking hand reaches out with razor sharp claws before the figure gradually emerges from the safety of the shadows.

 

Adora's eyes widen at the sight before her. Wild hazel hair that seems too long for someone so small. Where ears would normally be are cat ears which twitch at every sound. 

 

"Catra," she whispers the introduction before taking a cautious bite into the gray bar. Her pupils dialate as she stares at the food in her hand.

 

"It's good, right?" Adora grins broadly, watching as she eats the rest of it. 

 

Catra shivers, wrapping her tail around herself and rubs her arms in a feeble attempt to generate some warmth.

 

"I'm such an idiot," Adora groans, shaking her head. "Come with me, Catra. There's a cot above mine you can use." She holds out a hand, wondering what her new friend will do.

 

Catra stands there looking from that open, inviting palm, to those eyes of bright slate blue which regard her with such kindness. Ever so slowly, she reaches for it, still afraid Adora's hand might ensnare her wrist, forcing the choice. Adora doesn't. She waits. Even when a chilling breeze causes them both to shiver, she endures it, holding that hopeful gaze. Finally Catra places her hand in Adora's, expression still uncertain.

 

Adora nods, encouraging her to follow with a small tug. The pair make their way to the barracks, careful not to make a sound as they enter. She points at Catra, jerking her chin toward the top bunk with a blue blanket. Catra leaps into the bed, covering herself in the soft material, as Adora settles into her own bed below. 

 

Once she hears Catra's breaths deepen in sleep, Adora relaxes just enough to drift into unconsciousness. On this night alone, the nightmares fade away, leaving her to dream. Upon waking she rushes to find Shadow Weaver, anxious to talk with her. It takes time, but an eventual accord is made. Instead of exploring in the evenings, Adora begins to train with the Shadow Spies every night. Pleased with her cooperation and progress Shadow Weaver takes Catra in as a second ward.

 

When Catra's clawing gets out of control, it threatens the arrangement. At first, the damage is easy enough to hide. Some pillows. Blankets. Their shared bedframe. Until the day Catra comes barreling down the hall, nearly knocking Adora over as she clings to her. 

 

"Catra," Adora looks down at her friend's trembling form, "What's going on?"  Those tiny claws dig into her back, but she ignores it. A soft whimper is her companion's only answer. "Did you scratch something again?" There is no judgement in her question since she understands Catra isn't intentionally trying to destroy things. Her hand moves through Catra's wild hair, a gesture meant to soothe. Even if it looks unkept, the strands are always soft, which never ceases to amaze her. A low rumble against her chest piques her interest. It isn't a growl, but more gentle.The sound brings a smile to her lips. "I'll help you fix this, just like last time."

 

"No," Catra replies in a small voice. "It can't be hidden."

 

"We'll think of a plan," Adora replies warmly. "You have to let go of me first, though." 

 

"What?" Catra looks at her in confusion for a moment. When she realizes she can feel her claws in Adora's back, she recoils in horror. "S-sorry," 

 

Adora doesn't make a sound when the claws are removed, not wanting to upset her further. "So, where is it?."

 

Catra grabs her hand, running in the direction of the training room. Two sets of angry gashes on the opposite wall greet them when they enter. 

 

Adora says nothing for a long time, mind racing through various solutions to this problem. "Hey, can you find some small scrap pieces around here?"

 

Catra's brows raise, unsure how it's going to help. She spots a box that has old bot parts from one of their recent training exercises, and starts searching.

 

While she waits, Adora rummages through the medical supplies, finding bandages. "Found it!"

 

Catra glances over, frowning when she sees what is in her friend's hand. She walks dejectedly over to her, dropping the stack of metal squares at her feet.  "You don't have to-"

 

"Can you use your claws to cut those?" Adora interjects, grabbing Catra's hand and examining it closely.

 

"You..want me to use them?" Catra narrows her brows, thrown off guard by the request.

 

"Yeah, cut them so they look like yours!" Adora instructs with a smile, pointing to one of her black claws. "We need ten pieces."

 

Catra makes several careful lines with her claws, trying to make them resemble hers as much as possible. She passes them over to Adora, still not understanding. "What are you doing?" 

 

"You'll see," Adora  answers, wrapping the tape around each fake claw, before securing them onto her fingers. "They look real enough to you?" She holds them out to Catra, pleased with her handiwork.

 

"Whoa," Catra whispers, holding out her clawed hand to compare. "What now?

 

"Now," Adora sighs, offering a halfhearted smile. "We wait for them to find out."

 

Within the next week, Catra and Adora are roused abruptly from their beds. Shadow Weaver leads Adora away as Catra is taken the opposite direction by the Sergeant. They look back at one another. Catra's eyes are full of fear, while Adora's are determined and reassuring.

 

"It'll be okay," Adora whispers, praying that Catra's enhanced hearing catches the message.

 

Shadow Weaver rounds on her ward, voice dangerously quiet. "What do you think you were doing, Adora?"

 

Adora's eyes widen as a lump forms in her throat. "W-we were sparring and I wanted to find out what it was like to use claws as a weapon."

 

"I KNOW it was Catra who damaged the training room wall." Shadow Weaver towers over her, eyes narrowed. 

 

Everything was unfolding exactly as Adora expected, and what she had prepared for.  On cue she pulls out the fake claws, putting them on her fingers. "No, I made these and...well, I missed." Adora looks at the ground in embarrassement.

 

"Honesty is one of the most important attributes of a future Force Captain," Shadow Weaver's voice dips dangerously low in warning. "Lord Hordak does not take lying lightly."

 

"Yes, Shadow Weaver," Adora replies, raising her head to meet Shadow Weaver's gaze without flinching.

 

"Do not disappoint me." Shadow Weaver turns away, signifying their conversation is over.

 

Adora waits until she's far enough away before breaking into a run. She looks everywhere for her friend, finally finding her covered in a blanket, crying. "Catra?" Careful in her approach, she kneels in front of her, pulling the blanket down. Catra hisses in response. Unfazed, she gives her a gentle smile. "Catra, it's okay. It's just me." She can see unshed tears and sadness dwelling in those cat eyes. 

 

Catra wipes a tear away as her friend sits beside her, looking at the floor.

 

"It doesn't matter what they do to us. You know?" Adora meets Catra's gaze, touching her shoulder. "You look out for me, and I look out for you."

 

Catra looks down at the hand on her shoulder before looking away. That comforting hand drops, but only for a moment.

 

"Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other." Adora places her hand back on Catra's shoulder.

 

Catra gazes at her earnestly."You promise?"

 

"I promise," Adora answers without hesitation, smiling as Catra leans on her for comfort.

 

How could everything have gone so wrong? Adora"s thoughts start to spiral to that darker place of what-if's: Had she attempted to leave with Catra sooner, maybe they would still be friends, instead of...Enemies? Former allies? None of those labels feel right.. That's not how this all started...All of the missteps she took that brought them to this run through her mind. Criticizing Catra for being disrespectful after she asked what Shadow Weaver's problem with her was. Forgetting how excited Catra was for her promotion. Leaving Catra to cover for her when she went back to the Whispering Woods.

 

Catra's words from the Crystal Castle come back to haunt her. 

"You never protected me! Not in any way that would put you on Shadow Weaver's bad side."

 

How can she not remember those times I did protect her? 

 

As if in answer, Catra's voice shouts in her head. "She's been messing with our heads since we were kids!"

 

It was never just about Catra feeling like she was second best. Adora had set the conditions of their promise, only to fail at upholding her end of it time and time again. Yet, over and over, Catra forgave her. She recalls what Catra asked her in the Crystal Castle. "When you left who do you think took the fall for you?"

By defecting she hadn't simply turned against the Horde. It was so much more than that. I betrayed Catra...abandoned her. "Who was protecting me then?" Catra was left to face Shadow Weaver's wrath. Adora knew how ruthless she could be. She never asked whenever Catra came back from one of their "talks". Adora told herself it was out of consideration for her friend, which, in part, was the truth. Another scared piece of her didn't want to know...didn't want to understand the severe reality of Shadow Weaver's cruel punishments. Because of her refusal to return to the Horde, Catra alone was bearing the consequences of her choices.

 

How could I be such an idiot?!

 

The sound of hydrolics break Adora out of her self-deprecating cycle. Her head snaps up as Glimmer walks into the room, holding a cup between her hands.

 

"Hey, everything ok?" Walking over, Glimmer passes the teacup to Adora.

 

Adora watches the steam rise from the cup, taking comfort in the warmth it brings. "Yeah, it's just..." she whispers, pausing to take a deep breath, inhaling that calming aroma "What if I can't fix things between us? Or worse, what if we never get the chance?"

 

"Adora," Glimmer murmurs, sitting beside her. "It'll be-"

 

"Don't say it'll be fine," Adora cuts her friend off, pinching the bridge of her nose in agitation. "We made a promise when we were kids. One I broke so many times, especially after leaving. H-how can she forgive me after...everything?"

 

Glimmer puts a hand on Adora's shoulder, feeling the underlying tension beneath her palm. "Your friendship might never be the same, but..." Her mind drifts to Bow for a moment. "I have to believe it can be repaired."

 

Gaining courage from her friend's words, Adora finishes the tea with a contented sigh.

 

"I'll be here when you wake up this time."

 

Chapter Text

The cold void surrounds Catra, creeping and familiar. She welcomes it like an old friend. However, just like everyone else, it leaves her. Catra's limbs are weighted, as a pressure threatens to drag her under. She does what she always has. She fights. Claws reaching, seeking anything to latch onto, trying to escape the overwhelming sound of that chant.

 

Cast out the shadows...Cast out the shadows...

 

"Catra?" 

 

 

 

That hopeful call breaks through their monotonous chant. A voice which used to bring comfort during the worst of her nightmares. The only constant in her world. So long as Adora was there, Catra knew she could persevere through the bleak days and lonely nights. With Adora, she was no longer alone. Catra remembers this night well. The night of their promise. 

 

"Adora?" Catra whispers into the silence, even though they're alone in the barracks. 

 

"You okay?" Adora responds, worry evident in her tone. 

 

"Y-yeah, just...thanks," murmurs Catra, as she wraps the blanket tighter around herself. "For helping me cover up the clawing." 

 

"You don't need to thank me, Catra." Adora chuckles, gazing up at the ceiling of their shared bedframe. "I'll look out for you, just like I know you'll look out for me. That's what friends do." 

 

"Friends." Catra says, emitting a soft, cheerful sigh. 

 

"I want to show you something." Adora climbs up to peek into the top bunk. 

 

Catra's ears perk up, moving toward the edge of the bed. 

 

"Look at these!" Adora beams proudly showing off the pink and blue sticks in her hand. 

 

"What are you doing with those?" Catra quirks her brow in confusion. 

 

"It's chalk," she explains, peering at Catra with excited eyes. "They use them to mark positions for training, but I have a better idea." 

 

Catra climbs down, settling onto Adora's bed. "You took them?" 

 

"They won't miss pieces this small," she says nonchalantly. "You draw me, and I'll draw you." Before Catra can protest, Adora shoves the pink chalk into her clawed hand. 

 

"Okay." Catra scrunches her eyes in concentration as she glances over from Adora to the metal frame, adjusting the details.  

 

"There!" Adora leans back, pleased with how her drawing turned out. "It's proof that we're connected, no matter what." Adora places an arm around Catra, as she leans into the curve of her neck. 

 

"A touching sentiment." Horde Prime's callous whisper sounds loud in her ears. Too loud. "Though you were never enough for her."  

 

A memory replaces the darkness. One that Catra wishes she could erase, even if it wouldn't have made a difference.  

 

Adora and Catra walk hand in hand to the skiff. It's their favorite spot, the one that changed both of their lives. That place where they first met. Only the skiff isn't there. They're about to turn around and explore elsewhere, when a whirling fills the air. A skiff lands with a thud, as a few figures take hesitant steps off of the platform. Catra takes in the odd sight of them. One has green rough scales, and a toothy smile. She knows those teeth are dangerous, deadly even. Behind him hides a frail boy with sandy hair. He offers a subtle grin. She passes over the two of them quickly, as the third person catches her attention. Tanned skin, braided hair, wearing a smile exuding confidence, complimented by focused hazel eyes. It's a look Catra knows well. Adora has that air about her every time she wins during their fights.  

 

"I'm Adora!" She greets them with a gap-toothed grin before putting an arm around Catra's shoulders. "And this is Catra!" 

 

Catra tilts her chin up, trying to hide the smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. The way her name sounds on Adora's lips brings that warmth which spreads through her chest. A low rumble starts before she can push it down.  

 

"Lonnie," the hazel eyed girl answers, pointing to herself. "That's Rogelio," she jerks her head in the scaled one's direction. "And the one hiding behind him is Kyle." At the mention of his name, the sandy haired boy waves.  

 

Adora directs a questioning look toward her cat-eared companion as the sound of purring reaches her. "Hey," 

 

Catra realizes too late as she meets the observant glint in those crystal blue eyes. "Yeah, whatever," she scoffs, yanking her hand away from Adora's, even though it's the last thing she wants. 

 

"C'mon, you guys are just in time for dinner." Adora leads the trio, as Catra walks slightly behind, head down. Adora spares a glance back toward her, concern evident on her face. 

 

Despite Adora's efforts to form a cohesive friendship between the five of them, progress is slow. Especially with Catra and Lonnie clashing so frequently. 

 

"You only won because of Adora's help" Lonnie says dismissively after a training session. 

 

"Oh yeah?" Catra scoffs, getting close enough to her that their noses almost touch."I can take care of myself!"  

 

Lonnie raises a skeptical brow. "Not from what I can see," she goads , folding her arms in front of her, agitation clear on her face. "You can't expect Adora to wait around for you to catch up all the time."  

 

Her words strike a cord, giving voice to Catra's greatest fear: losing Adora. A growl of rage tears through her as she pounces on Lonnie, fist connecting with her face. Rogelio snarls in response as Lonnie falls, standing protectively in front of her. Kyle holds up his hands in a peaceful gesture, attempting to diffuse the situation. Catra can hear Adora's footsteps,but she can't face her. Doesn't want to see the disappointment- No, the judgment in her eyes. So, Catra flees, fueled by adrenaline, pain, and anger. Like always, it isn't long until Adora finds her hiding place. 

 

"We were all just having fun." Adora leans down toward her. "You didn't have to do it." 

 

Catra closes her eyes, not wanting to hear another lecture...from Adora especially. 

 

"Why'd you do it?" Adora asks, a hint of disappointment amidst the confusion in her voice. 

 

Catra gasps, lashing out with her claws on a reflex, the force of which sends her friend far away from her. 

 

Adora yells out in pain, falling backward. She looks at her friend with tears in her eyes, touching the red gashes on her face. 

 

Catra hisses, half sobbing as unshed tears well up in her eyes. 

 

Cast out the shadows...Cast out the shadows...

 

No matter what she does, Catra can't seem to escape the chorus of clones, or his voice.

 

"With your own hands, you caused her such suffering...Yet were forgiven," observes Horde Prime, his tone cool, collected. "Though this is not the last time you inflicted wounds on your Adora, is it?"   

 

The scenery shifts so abruptly it's dizzying. She closes her eyes against the disorientation.  

 

The next time her eyes open to an unexpected horizon. Catra blinks in astonishment. The Fright Zone looks as dilapidated as ever, but when she turns, Adora is by her side.  

 

"You were right!" Adora laughs, smiling broadly at the scene before her. "Definitely worth the climb up here." 

 

For too short of a moment, time stops. Catra stills. That feeling envelops her in soothing heat as the rumble resounds in her chest. She gasps, tearing her gaze away from Adora, though it pains her. With Adora here, they can accomplish anything. Overthrow Shadow Weaver and Hordak. Rule as one. Together.  

 

"It's like we're at the end of the world," she breathes, admiring the horizon with determined eyes. "Just the two of us! 

 

"Yeah, the two of us," agrees Catra, trying to ignore the way that image makes her heart flutter.  

 

Blinding white light drowns out the horizon, as a force tugs at her. She cranes her neck to see the portal which haunts her nightmares. As it has every day since she pulled the switch. Powerless, she's taken into it.  
 

"She always went back to save them," he sneers. "Never for someone insignificant like you."  

 

The world shifts again as that chorus returns.

 

Cast out the shadows...Cast out the shadows...

 

Adora is bound against the metal table. "Glimmer, I'm here. Don't worry, everything will be okay. I'll save you." 

 

"Now that she has Glimmer back, what purpose do you serve?" The question is like poison to her invisible wounds. 

 

A gasp leaves her as the Crystal Castle takes shape. The cool hilt of that accursed sword in her grasp once more. A catalyst for her loss of Adora; the weapon which tore the first piece of her world apart. Wearing the rage like armor to mask her wounded heart. Those marks of agony and heartache burned through her back then, corrosive and volatile. Catra can't feel the hurt again and this is the last place she wants to be. A physical reminder of their shared betrayal.  

 

When she was here last, her mind concluded a theory that the Crystal Castle wouldn't dare let it's precious weilder of the sword, and She-Ra fall to her death. Maybe she would be trapped there. At the time, Catra didn't care in the least. She would make Adora understand the pain of being left behind, abandoned, helpless. 

 

"Catra!" Adora's voice rings throughout the empty void. "Catra, help me, please." 

 

This time Catra hears her plea, the hope held within it. 
 

The phrase pushes past her lips of it's own volition "This thing wouldn't work for me if I tried, would it?" She was envious of Adora's power, the freedom it gave. "It only works for you." The jealousy coarsing through those words makes Catra internally recoil. "Then again, you're special. That's what Shadow Weaver always said." She blamed Adora for Shadow Weaver's favoritism, something completely out of her control. At the time, it was just easier. Blaming Adora. For her troubles, hurt, and pain. If Adora was going to treat her as an enemy, like the rest of them, then that's what she'd become.  

 

"Catra...what are you doing?" Anger resonates in Adora's voice. 

 

In spite of her efforts to stay silent, the words come out. "Ah, you know? It all makes sense now. You've always been the one holding me back." Catra knows that was a falsehood. It was when she stopped trying. Adora only encouraged her, praised her for her efforts. The only person who ever did. "You wanted me to think I needed you. You wanted me to feel weak." Adora always had a problem letting Catra handle fights alone. Now she realizes it's not in Adora's nature to resist helping. Shadow Weaver was a different matter. "Every hero needs a sidekick, right?" She always felt stuck in Adora's shadow, but no longer. 

 

"Catra no, that's not how it was!" Adora's declaration echoes over the chasm. 

 

Catra didn't want to hear those words back then. Everything was too clouded in seething hate and vengence. 

 

"The sad thing is, I've spent all this time hoping you'd come back to the Horde," The truth. She did want Adora back, desperately. "When really, you leaving was the best thing that ever happened to me." The lie. All those sleepless hours. The long nights without her. It was the worst thing imaginable. The only positive aspect of Adora's absence had been the opportunities it afforded her, until it caused more trouble. Catra fights to pull upward on the blade as it lowers toward the webbing. "I am so much stronger than anyone..." The blade cuts through one of the strands. "...ever thought." 

 

Adora's fearful gaze looks up at her, wanting to believe this isn't happening. Seeing that now makes Catra's chest ache. 

 

"I wonder what I could've been if I'd gotten rid of you sooner." Catra attempts to pull the sword away, but the blade slices through the last strands. A deceitful statement. She didn't truly want her gone, only to be good enough.. 

 

Adora's cry before she catches the small rock handhold rings in Catra's ears. "I-I'm sorry!" The sincerity in her tone is almost too much for her to hear. "I never meant to make you feel like you were second best!" A fact Catra now understood. Adora didn't mean for it to happen. "Please don't do this!" That voice a mix of hope and desperation. It's agonizing to listen to.  

 

Instead of the sword falling, Catra's hand grips the hilt tightly as her other hand reaches out, pulling Adora up. Before she can realize what's happening, the blade is thrust forward. 

 

A gasp of surprise. A grunt of pain. Adora's hopeful gaze glazing over, as a copper scent fills the air. 

 

"Bye Adora, I really am going to miss you." Catra tries to hold on, knowing this isn't reality, but she has no control. Her hand relinquishes Adora, as she looks on, an unwilling witness to her descent into darkness. 

 

Catra closes her eyes, thinking back to what brought Adora to the Crystal Castle in the first place. A mission to heal Glimmer. It could heal her, even though that's not what happened. If I could just wake- Suddenly, a series of bangs echo in the hallway. Her eyes snap open at the sound. "Up?"  Her ears twitch, catching a distant beeping noise. 

 

"We have to find Catra!" Adora shouts, cutting metal with her sword.  

 

The screeching is muffled in Catra's ears, but it still makes her flinch.

 

"Do you think she's-?" Glimmer's voice is hesitant. 

 

"No, she can't be dead!" The ferocity of that denial shocks Catra to her core. She tries to call out, but her grunts are too muffled by the tube and her prison. Catra pushes against the glass in desperation, switching to using her claws when it doesn't budge. 

 

"Catra?" Adora runs over, shocked at the sight of her imprisoned companion. "Hold on! I'll get you out!" She raises the sword edge to the glass, slicing through it like paper. Green liquid rushes onto the floor, as Adora studies the tube. "This might hurt, okay?" 

 

Catra nods, just wanting to be able to speak again. Mentally steeling herself against the pull, she closes her eyes, coughing as it's wrenched from her throat. She's glad to be rid of that plastic taste coating her tongue, but without the water, her body feels too heavy to stand up properly. Wobbling on weak legs, she sees Adora's hand move to help. Relief floods through her as she reaches for that open palm.  

 

"Why would your Adora save a traitor?" His statement seeps into her mind, dissolving her momentary relief like acid. "Someone who is the source of such destruction. Who could ever forgive everything you've done?" The question burns away another piece of Catra. That small part who dared to hope Adora would come back for her.  

 

The scenes change in a blur of muted colors. 

 

The rocky terrain is unmistakeable as the sounds of battle surround her. She could never forget that smoke invading her lungs, as fire scorches her nostrils...Brightmoon. Catra catches the scent of magic in the air, intermingled with Adora's. She knows who will be there when she opens her eyes. Sure enough, Adora, as She-Ra locks eyes with her. 

 

"Catra..." Adora responds, taking another breath before she speaks again. "Surprised to see me?" Her question spoken with hesitation, as though dreading the response.  

 

As she should.  

 

"Not really. I figured it wouldn't be that easy to get rid of you." That's what she'd been hoping for. The Catra of the past wanted Adora to feel more of her pain. Adora wouldn't perish from a simple fall. She knew her former friend was stronger than that, she always had been. 

 

With an agitated cry, Adora lunges toward her, but she's too slow, as always. She evades the strike easily enough, leaping to higher ground. Catra cringes at the next phrase, knowing she can't prevent the half truth meant to uplift Adora's spirit before dashing it to pieces.  

 

"You know, I'm actually glad you did make it out of there alive." Catra sees the anger fade from Adora's eyes, while she directs a confused, yet hopeful glance at her former friend.

She struggles to stop those cruel words from being said, to no avail. "Because, now, I can take you out myself." Catra wills her claws to dig into the rock, having no desire to attack Adora this time. Her body rebels, leaping with claws out toward her opponent. She retreats backward as those fists continue to get closer and closer to her. Narrowly missing a punch to the face, she retreats to avoid a kick before her back is to the rocky surface. Just as before, she hears the wall crumble under the force of Adora's fists. Catra is still grateful the transformation never helped Adora's agility. They continue the deadly dance like last time. Her swiping at Adora as she counters with missed punches. When she feels her claws graze Adora's cheek, she internally winces."Tired already?" That had been the plan, after all: wearing her opponent down. When the distances grows between them, Catra almost smiles as the next line of banter leaves her lips."I thought punching was supposed to be, like, the one thing you're good at."  

 

A zap hits Catra at the same instant the rock does and she cries out. 

 

"And I thought you were supposed to be quicker," replies Adora, quick to return the banter, though there's no humor in her eyes, only anger. 

 

On instinct, Catra's claws dig into the edge of the rock she's standing on, before she does a backflip onto another platform. She barely has time to react before Adora's fist collides into it, causing them both to fall. They circle one another, as a knot forms in her stomach. She remembers what occured. What she no longer wants to happen. And it doesn't, at least, not in the way she expects.  

 

"This ISN'T over," Adora yells, readying herself for another attack. 

 

Powerless to hold them back, the next words emerge. "Of course it's not over!" Catra lunges, latching on to Adora's wrist, her grip too tight. She twists until a crack is heard, illiciting a cry of pain from her adversary. "It won't be over until Bright Moon is destroyed and the Rebellion falls." That's all past Catra cared about. Fulfilling her mistaken mission of revenge against Adora, who left for the sake of the rebellion. "It won't be OVER until darkness covers Etheria forever." Not that she cared about Etheria at that point. She can feel her claws sharpen, now fully extended. Catra tries to retract them, but her efforts are futile. She feels those claws rake across the gold battle armor, slicing clean through it. Adora grunts in pain, determined to remain standing. "And it won't be OVER until I see the looks on your friend's faces when they find out that you FAILED."  Back then, she knew her opponent facing the reality of failure would hurt more than any wounds she caused with her claws. Since failure was so foreign to a person like Adora. It added insult to the injury of those long gashes on her back. Her clawed hand transfers it's vicegrip from Adora's wrist to her neck. Adora's pulse thrums against Catra's unwilling grip, as she leans in to whisper those damaging words: "That you were too WEAK to save them!"  She hears the rapid breaths against her hand, the thrumming pulse slowing before skittering to a deafening halt.  

 

"No...this can't be right!" Catra shouts when her hand finally releases it's captive. "I know what happened...I know..." Even as her eyes see She-Ra's still form, she can't trust them anymore. 

 

Although Catra knows her memories, everything is so life like. Crafted from her recollections and intermingled with a reality she doesn't know is real or a warped perception. Darkness reaches for her, cold and empty. A sightless soundless emptiness.  

 

"Catra," a chilling voice beckons. "Don't you want to see your Adora?" 

 

At that, Catra's eyes snap open as her prison is drained. The acidic smell clings to her, and that plastic taste is back. She would gag from both, if not for the tube still lodged uncomfortably in her throat. Two clones drag her from the chamber, holding her upright as they yank the tube harshly from her mouth. She coughs at the rawness in her throat, taking several heaping gulps of air, before being pushed forward. The walk down those pristine, white halls seems endless and abrupt simultaneously. Her heart pounds in her chest, a rhythm of fearful anticipation and excitement. I should've known Adora wouldn't listen to my warning. It isn't in her stubborn, heroic nature. It's a quality she admires, annoying as it can be at times. Not that she'll admit it. Catra's led to the very room she fears most. The reconditioning room.  

 

"You are late, little sister." Horde Prime admonishes, a twisted grin on his face. 

 

"Where. Is. Adora?" Catra growls, forcing each word between bared teeth.  

 

His gaze sweeps over to the glowing liquid before them. "She dove in without a second thought." 

 

Why would sh-. Catra sees her old red mask floating ominously on the water's surface. That idiot! She yanks her arms free of the clones hold, pushing past her fear as she runs toward the pool. Her sore body hits the water with a splash. Even with her enhanced sight, everything is murky, glossed over in an abnormal green hue. Catra hears the zap before she feels it. An excruciating current of fire. A searing heat that threatens to melt her bones. Still, Catra kicks forward, propelling herself through the water, until a shadow takes shape in her peripheral. Adora! That famliar light blond hair, no longer restrained by the neat ponytail, floats around her face. She's too pale... Catra's heart skips a beat as her limbs are pushed to their limit. She shudders the instant her fingertips brush Adora's palm. They're like ice. Catra's hand locks around hers, pulling upward while water sparks around them. The pain fuels her rage, as she commands her screaming limbs to move faster. Breaking the surface with a gasp, Catra drags herself and Adora out onto the floor.   

 

"You were too late to save your Adora," he gloats, clear amusement flowing through his tone. "Just as she was too late to save you.

 

Were. Was. Those two words revolve around her mind in the most torturous loop. No, she can't be gone! Catra resists the urge to collapse, squeezing the hand she holds in an iron grip. No response. She sits up, peering at Adora with concern. Eyes frantic, she searches for signs of life in that ghostly pale face. Her cat ears twitch, listening intently for any inhalation of breath as silence stretches on between them. When she lowers her ear to Adora's chest, panic clutches at her. There's..no heartbeat. It stuns Catra, her held breath rushing out in a gust. Prime's presence all but forgotten, she racks her brain for the Horde's survival training which covered drowning scenarios: Thirty rapid compressions for every two breaths. 

With shaking hands she pushes on the center of Adora's chest in a rhythm, willing her heart to beat again. I can't believe you were dumb enough to dive in without thinking. Blinking away unshed tears, she inhales as much oxygen as she can hold. Catra leans down, so close that their lips almost touch. I'm only doing this to help...Not because I like you. 

Forcing two breaths into Adora's lungs, she presses her palms into the center of her chest again. 

First breath. C'mon Adora. 

Second breath. You're too strong to lose here. 

A pause met with stillness. "What will I- the Rebellion do if you're gone?" Catra whispers urgently.  

Starting another set of compressions, her tone grows more insistent. "You have to live!

First breath. Fight! 

Second breath. You can't just do this! 

Another pause as quiet reigns. "Not now!" Catra growls, briefly shaking her by the shoulders before continuing.  

The sound of ribs snapping under her palm causes a grimace. It doesn't startle her to hear it with how much force she's using now. That's a future problem for herself and Adora. A hiss of frustration slips past her lips. "Didn't you say you wouldn't leave me behind again?!" Catra snarls through her teeth, but it ends in a sob.

First breath. Adora, breathe! 

Second breath. Please?! 

Her urgent entreaty rings in the silence. "Don't go..."  

Catra increases the pace of her compressions. "ADORA!" 

She repeats this arduous process until she's lightheaded and her hands hurt. After each cycle her ear flies to Adora's chest, desperately searching for any sign of respiration or beating cadence. The only breath that reaches Catra is her own. Too loud. Too erratic. Her chest constricts so much she's afraid her ribs will shatter. Heroes aren't supposed to die for people like me. Tears cascade down her face, reappearing faster than she can wipe them away. Not you...

 

"You say she was your enemy. That you wanted her gone." Horde Prime steps in front of Catra's kneeling form, raising her chin with his clawed finger. "I have granted your wish, yet you weep for her." He tilts his head in confusion. "Is this not what you wanted?" 

 

Was. Wanted. Her. Gone. Those words collide painfully against Catra's skull, adding to her anguish.  

 

"Poor child," Prime tsks, mock pity showing in those snake-like eyes. "You truly loved her, I see that now." He cradles her face in his hand. "Your Adora betrayed that love..." He smirks when Catra flinches at the mention of Adora's name. "Breaking your heart," he whispers, withdrawing his hand. 

 

That declaration unravels whatever resolve she has left. Unable to tear her gaze away from Adora's unmoving form, Catra's world stops. 

 

"The heart is such a fragile thing." Horde Prime muses, walking triumphantly out of the room.  

 

Catra sits there, numb to everything except that beckoning darkness. Her eyes close, wanting only to disappear.  For a while she sees nothing and hears nothing, a beautiful silence. Unaware of her surroundings changing until an abrupt chill runs down her spine. Even through eyes blurred with tears,  the crystaline surface of that ballroom is unmistakeable. 

 

Adora materializes semi-transparent before her, clad in the same elegant gown. 

 

One last dance before the end... Catra gives a heavy, almost wistful sigh as she rises to her feet, a forlorn grin on her lips.  

 

Adora blinks, once, twice, adjusting to her surroundings. Her eyes widen when she sees Catra in that familiar magenta suit. She offers her hand, startled at the gentle way Catra holds it. Looking at that despondent heterochromatic gaze, Adora's brow furrows in concern. Catra encircles her waist with shaking fingers, and guides them in careful, deliberate circles across the dance floor. Adora is at a loss for words as they move, while her dance partner stays noticeably quiet. 

 

"Catra?" Adora places her hand on top of the one at her waist. 

 

Adora's scent clings to her, as those slate blue eyes look at her, the sight is comforting, familiar, and too overwhelming. In response, her movements slow to a standstill while she stares in disbelief at Adora. How does she seem so lifelike?  She shakes her head, desperate to dismiss the illusion.  

 

"Catra!" Adora calls again, voice more insistent. Her heart lurches at the sight of barely contained tears in her companions eyes. "What is it?"

 

"I can't..." she gasps out, releasing Adora as though the contact burns. 

 

"Catra, please," implores Adora, gaze softening when she sees her recoil. "We don't have time for this," she murmurs as gently as possible. 

 

Adora stops and stares as a fierce growl resounds from Catra's throat. "No." The hushed denial reverberates in the air. 

 

After a moment, Adora leans in, as Catra retreats, taking several hurried steps back. "Catra, stop!" She's avoiding me? Clearing her throat, she tries a different tactic. "Catra," she calls, reaching for her shoulders, being careful not to alarm her. "It's me...Adora," she says with a small smile. Her expression falters when she observes the sudden change in Catra's body language. 

 

Those blue-yellow eyes go wide, ears flattening low, and hackles rising. She gives a warning hiss. "I saw what happened!" Catra covers her ears, squeezing her eyes shut against the memory. She glares, practically spitting each word between clenched teeth. "You.  Aren't. Here." Catra attempts to push past her, but Adora puts an arm out, barring her path. "Haven't you taken enough from me?!" 

 

"Catra, I am here!" Adora grabs onto Catra's wrist with her free hand, pulling her close. "For once, just listen to me," she grits out, fighting to maintain her grip. Even as those claws dig into her flesh, her hold doesn't relent.  

 

Catra laughs, a harsh, bitter sound ending in a restrained sob. "Adora couldn't be here..." She yanks her wrist out of Adora's grip. "Not after what I saw." Her arms go protectively around around herself. "It's not like I matter, anyway."  

 

That phrase cuts Adora like a sword to the heart, as her pulse races in protest. If my words aren't reaching her...maybe this'll work. As a last resort, she presses a fingertip to Catra's forehead. 

 

The warmth from that touch breaks through the numbness. "Adora?!" Catra's voice trembles, a trace of hope in her eyes as she remembers the meaning behind that gesture. Hope which succumbs to dread as the memory of She-Ra's piercing blue gaze after their return from the portal flashes through her mind. Prime's words come back to her: Why would your Adora save a traitor? Someone who is the source of such destruction. Who could ever forgive everything you've done? 

 

Adora looks at Catra intently as those cat eyes widen to another degree, her breath starting and stopping in rapid bursts of air. She's terrified, more than I've ever seen before. 

 

"I will give you peace, undeserving though you are, little sister." Catra startles at his voice, as the numbness disappears. "I am sorry that you must suffer." A crackling erupts in Catra's mind as she closes her eyes against the burning agony. 

 

Adora watches Catra's legs give out beneath her as she falls. Her arm reaches out to catch her, only to be dragged from the dreamscape. 

 

Adora:

"Don't...NO!" Adora shouts in protests as a pair of hands catch her wrists. She thrashes around, her breath ragged, eyes wild, struggling against whatever restrains her. 

 

"Adora...It's Glimmer." She relaxes her grip, speaking in a low measured tone. "Deep breath in..." 

 

She closes her eyes, taking a shallow gasp of air into her aching lungs. 

 

"Hold for three seconds. One...Two...Three." Glimmer coaches. "Now, exhale slowly. She has her repeat this process until her friend's breathing returns to a more natural rhythm. "The recorder ran out of tape so I didn't catch the last dream," she gives an apologetic smile. "What happened?" 

 

"I saw Catra and s-she-" Adora draws a stuttering breath, about to continue when the hydrolics cut her off. 

 

"Adora! Glimmer!" Entrapta exclaims, rushing in with an excited chuckle. "I'm pleased to report Darla has successfully navigated the debris field and we've landed!"  

 

Adora sighs as Glimmer shakes her head in slight exasperation. 

 

She notices the uneasiness in the room. "Did I interrupt something?"

 

"It's fine, Entrapta," Adora pauses, sharing an uncomfortable look with Glimmer. "We were just finishing up with the experiment." 

 

"Oooh," she says eagerly, leaning in closer with a notepad in hand. "Was your hypothesis correct?"

 

"Maybe..." murmurs Adora her expression grim, eyes downcast. I've never wanted to be so wrong. 

 

"Why don't we discuss this after we get the crystals?" Glimmer suggests, resting one hand on Adora's shoulder, and the other on Entrapta's. 

 

"Good idea!" Entrapta laughs, leading the way out of the ship. "Darla and I are going to spend some quality time together," she says, waggling her brows suggestively as she pulls out her tools. 

 

The trio walks away, clearly uncertain how to respond to that. 

 

Knowing what I saw in those...Dreams? Visions? What should I do? Adora sighs as uncertainty plagues her thoughts. 

 

"We're looking for these pink crystals. Thulite," Bow explains, while the three of them look at the tracker pad. 

 

Adora looks around at their desolate gray surroundings. "Not alot of pink here," she groans, kicking the dirt. "Or any colors."

 

Glimmer attempts to keep her tone upbeat. "That's okay. We'll find them." She smiles reassuringly at her friends. "We're the Best Friend Squad, and we're great at quests." Glimmer turns to him for encouragement. "Right, Bow?"

 

"Yeah, sure," he says dismissively, turning his attention back to his tracker pad. "Come on," he leads the way walking in the direction of the signal.

 

"He's still mad at me, isn't he?" Glimmer mutters, eyes downcast.  

 

"Well," Adora starts as she glances in his direction before looking back at her. "Bow missed you so much." Her gaze sweeps from Bow to the ground, then Glimmer. "But he was really hurt by everything you...uh by everything that happened." Their eyes follow Bow in the distance. "I think he was so focused on finding you, he never actually worked through all his...stuff." 

 

"Well, what do I do?" Glimmer covers her arm with her hand. "There has to be a way to fix it." 

 

"W-...You're asking me?" Adora gestures to herself. "Wow!" She laughs, pointing her thumb behind her. "Bow's usually the friendship stuff guy." Her hands curl into fists. "And I'm usually the 'punch your feelings out' guy." She hits the air with her fists, before resting a hand on her hip. "But okay, um..." Her other hand moves to her chin in thought. "Uh, maybe if you try-" A crackling cuts the conversation short as the ground near Bow begins to split apart.  

 

Glimmer runs in his direction. "Bow!" She shoves him, knocking them both over. 

 

The ground trembles beneath Adora before breaking apart. Adora cries out in alarm as she falls. Sliding on the rocky surface, she grabs her staff, extending it and planting the edge into the ground. Tumbling forward with a thud, Adora dusts herself off. 

 

"Are you okay?!" Glimmer's voice bounces off the cave walls from above. 

 

"I'm okay!" Adora calls out, smiling at the sight in front of her. "And I found the crystals!" She gets to her feet, turning her head up. "Not the pink ones, though." 

 

"Just stay put, we're coming." Glimmer yells, turning her attention to Bow. "We'll have to find another way down." 

 

Brightness shines ahead of Adora. "I think I see a light." She takes a few steps forward. Curiosity gets the better of her. "I'm gonna go towards it," says Adora excitedly. 

 

Bow's eyes widen in horror. Oh no, maybe that fall was worse than we thought..."Don't go towards the light!"  

 

She frowns, stifling a groan. "It's not that kind of light!" Adora yells back exasperated. A chirping reaches her ears and she readies her staff, striding forward. Footprints? Everything goes dark and she tightens her grip on the staff. "Hello?" A whooshing sound fills her ears as she rolls forward. Turning around hastily, she searches for the cause of it. A figure she can't quite make out grabs the dagger before a flash of light blocks them from view. A bird. Her staff whistles through the air as she swipes at the creature. The one who weilds the daggers appear on her left. Adora dodges the blades which narrowly miss slicing her nose. I have no reason to fight them. "Wait!" A fist shoots out as she ducks 

 

"Intruder!"  

 

The staff connects with the person's back as another person joins the fray. 

 

"W-w-wait! I just-" Adora stammers, catching the edge of the sickle with her staff as a third person appears. 

 

"Who are you?" He swings the blade as she moves back to avoid it. "Why are you following us?" The tip of his sickle catches on the staff. 

 

Adora rotates her staff, pushing against his attack. She speaks through gritted teeth. "Why are you hitting me?"  

 

"Answer the questions!" He pushes back, the blade getting close to her chest. 

 

"You first!" She twists the staff, managing to disarm him. Pointing the sharp edge at his face, her eyes regard him hostily. "Are you with the Horde?" 

 

"No way!" He raises his hands in a placating gesture.  

 

Adora turns in time to see the second figure launch the sickle back in his direction. She leaps out of the way. "Whoa!" Landing on one knee, she  watches nervously as they approach.

 

"We're only here for the fuel," explains the dagger weilder, as her allies join her. "After that, we're getting as far away from Horde Prime as possible." 

 

Adora stands again, staff out, watching cautiously as the three of them circle around her. 

 

"Are you with the Horde?" The second one asks, moving closer as a group. 

 

"No." Adora responds, staff poised at the ready. Seeing the dagger wielder move to attack, her arm raises her weapon high. "I mean-" She grunts as she flips her staff, sending the dagger wielder toward the one holding the sickle. She turns to the last one standing, watching as their mechanical arm wraps itself around her weapon. Twisting the staff, she launches the second person into the air as they land with a thud. "I was, but I'm not anymore." Adora rotates the staff vertically, placing a hand on her hip as she looks away. "It's complicated, ok?" 

 

"What's complicated?!" The mechanical armed person demands. 

 

The dagger wielder whistles and the bird swoops down, causing Adora to duck in response. 

 

Taking advantage of the distraction, the mechanical armed opponent pulls her forward. 

 

Adora gasps in surprise as she slides across the floor landing on one knee. The staff collides with the sickle and dagger. 

 

"Do you serve Horde Prime or not?" The sickle weilder demands, pressing his blade downward. 

 

"No!" Adora looks up at them with suspicion. "Do you?" 

 

"No!" The three of them answer in unison. 

 

Her left hand locks on the mechanical one, removing it while she keeps the staff steady in her right. "Then we're all on the same side," she explains, pushing back against them before she lowers her weapon again. "Can we please stop hitting each other now?" 

 

Meanwhile Bow and Glimmer make their way through the cave, using his tracker pad as a guide.  

 

"We teleported everywhere. Brightmoon, Mystacor..." 

 

Those were fun times... Bow's eyes remain on his tracker pad, a fond smile on his face. "Castaspella hated it." 

 

Glimmer smiles back, recounting their numerous escapes from Castaspella with renewed excitement.  

 

Bow resists the temptation to grab Glimmer's shoulder. His smile falls as Etheria's near destruction flashes through his mind. She almost destroyed our home. "That was forever ago." He moves past her, refusing to meet her gaze. "A lot's changed since then." 

 

Glimmer reaches out hesitantly, before thinking better of it. "Yeah," she mutters, resting her hand on her shoulder. Bow moves forward as she stops momentarily. "I guess it has." 

 

After the star siblings introduce themselves, they explain that the thulite crystals all of them are after are impossible to reach. Due to the earthquakes that are making the cave fall apart. That's the reason they're stranded. 

 

There has to be a way to get those crystals. "We can't be stuck here. There's no time." Our friends back home need us. And Catra..."Horde Prime invaded Etheria," she explains, clenching her fists in frustration "I have to stop him before he takes it." 

 

The star siblings retort that it's too late to stop him if he's already invaded. They inform her that the crystal planet used to be a safe haven for travelers before Horde Prime left destruction in his wake, just like he's done to their home. 

 

Tallstar puts a comforting arm around Starla "If you're smart you'll run far, far away. Like we're trying to do," she advises. 

 

Adora stands, expression determined as she points her thumb at herself. "Well, i'm not." She pauses, realizing how that sounds. "Running away, that is," she clarifies, putting her hand to her chest "I am smart." 

 

The star siblings send a skeptical look in her direction. 

 

Adora shakes her head dissmisively, informing them once the ship is refueled, she'll face Prime and stop him. 

 

Starla stands up, expression eager. "Really?" Tallstar makes her sit back down. 

 

They could help us fight! Encouraged by the reaction Adora suggests they could join the Rebellion, using their tech and weapons to do more than just be on the defensive. 

 

Tallstar stops her, not agreeing with the risk of resisting Horde Prime after what he's already done to their home. Jewelstar chimes in, pointing out how impossible her odds are with that staff. 

 

It strikes a sore spot as Adora's gaze travels to the floor. Maybe I don't have the sword anymore, but I can still be useful. She retorts that if they combine their efforts Prime can be brought down. Her fists clench in anger. "He has to pay for what he did, and he-" He might be hurting Catra... Adora averts her gaze, uncertainty clouding her features. "He has someone on his ship." Her eyes lock with theirs before she looks away again. "Someone I-" Can't leave there? Care about? She's unsure how to finish the statement. "We're stopping him." 

 

Jewelstar advises that if her friend is with Prime, it's too late to save her. 

 

We aren't friends anymore... Adora raises her hand to correct him. "Oh. no." She rubs the back of her neck uneasily. "Catra is not my friend." Holding her palm out, she continues.  "I mean, she's-" A former enemy? An ally? Adora looks back at him. "Used to be, but that was a long time ago," she says with a shrug. "And she's tried to kill me a bunch of times since then." Her gaze shifts to the side in contemplation while she rests a hand on her hip. "But, then she saved Glimmer." Adora's mind weighs the pros and cons, at war with herself. "And maybe, that means there's still good in her." Adora touches her hand to the back of her neck. "And now, I don't know." So much has happened between us... "It's..." Her staff hits the ground and she sighs heavily, pressing the other hand to her forehead. "It's complicated." That's putting it midly. She can feel the beginning of another headache forming behind her eyelids. 

 

Tallstar notes that seems to be how everything is with Adora.  

 

"Whatever she is, friend or not, she's gone." Jewelstar lowers his head. "There's no point in going back for her." He looks sadly at his siblings. "No one stands up to Prime and survives. 

 

Adora hears the defeat in his words.  I know her though, she's too resourceful and stubborn to fall to him. Because she's Catra. 

 

"I'm sorry," Jewelstar states with finality. 

 

They're acting like she's already... Adora can't push the creeping unease that coils in her mind. The sound of someone approaching allows her a temporary reprieve.

 

"Bow," Glimmer calls after him as he walks ahead. "Would you please slow down?"  

 

"I just wanna get back to the ship," he replies hurriedly, stopping as blades are shoved at them. 

 

Adora steps between the groups, recognizing the tense air between Bow and Glimmer. "These are my friends." 

 

They don't sound like friends," Jewelstar responds. 

 

"Are you guys-?" Fighting again from what I can see.

 

Bow brushes off the question as another quake breaks some crystals loose. Adora formulates a plan where they can work together to get the crystals. Entrapta appears, joining the group on their trek to the cavern. Along the way Glimmer tries to smile at Bow, sighing when he doesn't even acknowledge her. On the next quake, they all push a large column over to form a bridge, crossing as the cavern shakes. At the sound of tumbling crystals, Tallstar and Adora look at the entrance, watching their only way out begin to collapse. They both rush to it, holding up the crumbling crystal. Glimmer climbs up, determined to reach the thulite, even as Bow argues that it's too dangerous.  

 

The cave starts to break apart as the remaining star siblings run back across.  

 

"My friends are on the other side." Adora pushes back against the weight of the collapsing crystal. "I am not going anywhere," she grunts through gritted teeth. Her feet dig into the ground where she stands. I refuse to make the same mistake again! A renewed sense of strength courses through her. "I'm not leaving anyone behind!" The crystal crumbles away in a surge of power and blinding light. Adora glances back to see the entrance has gotten wider, as Bow and Glimmer make their way to the chasm, swinging across it. The group hoists them up to safety as they all exit the cavern.  

 

"Look, I know you're still mad at me." Glimmer gives a sad sigh. "Maybe you'll be mad at me for a really long time." She walks closer to Bow. "I deserve it. And maybe-" Glimmer turns away. "Maybe we'll-" She crosses her fists over her chest. "Maybe we'll never be friends like we used to be." 

 

Bow glances back at her, listening. 

 

Glimmer turns back toward him, hand over her heart. "But I'm not going to stop trying to make it better. I made a mistake with the heart of Etheria...I should've listened to you and I'm sorry." She drops her hands, expression full of regret. "You get to be mad, for as long as you need to be.  

 

Bow continues to stare, absorbing her words. 

 

Glimmer shakes her head "But I'm not going anywhere."  She takes a step back. "And when you're ready," she pauses, clutching her arm. "I'll be here." 

 

Bow takes both her hands in his. "Okay," 

 

Adora smiles, relieved that her friends have finally started to fix things between them. Is that possible between her and I? To fix things? She contemplates everything she's seen, heaving a heavy sigh once she makes her choice. I owe our friendship one last chance...If Catra needs me, I'll go to her. With or without She-Ra. 

 

Glimmer walks over with Bow. "Adora? Are you okay?" 

 

"Yeah, I just-" She sighs. "Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, and dangerous, and I know Catra was our enemy," she says in a rush, gaze moving from her friend, to the ground, expression dejected. "And she's done a lot of bad things and hurt a lot of people, but-" I shouldn't be asking this, after all the hurt she's inflicted on so many Etherians. She turns around in shame.

  

Glimmer touches her shoulder, turning Adora to face her again. "You want to go back for her." 

 

Not trusting her voice, Adora nods "I can't just leave her there," she states, expression pained. "I have to try." Even if I have to do it alone. She keeps her eyes on the ground.  

 

"Catra sacrificed herself to save me," Glimmer answers, looking into her friend's eyes. "Whatever you need to do," she says, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I'm with you."  

 

Adora smiles as Bow puts an hand on each of their shoulders. "Then, let's do this, Best Friend Squad style." Adora and Glimmer give a happy sigh as the three embrace.

Chapter Text

For once, Catra's mind is quiet. Calm. Free of memories, rage, pain, and grief. All of it extinguished by the Light, just as Lord Prime promised. She's not sure why she hesitated. Why she resisted for so long. Catra was no longer alone. Her brothers acted like an ever-present, consistent comfort. One that she was lacking, needing. They would not leave her, for they were as eternal as Prime's Light. Unlike that woman. As soon as the thought slips out, electricity shoots down her spine. 

 

"Prime knows and sees all, little sister. Be cautious about incurring his wrath," her brothers advise as a single voice. "Lest you be cast back into the shadows."  

 

 

 

As though responding to a summons, his words carry over all the rest. "Child, it appears we have more work to do. Join me in my throne room." 

 

There was no arguing, not that she wants to. Her existence depends on him and she owes a debt she can't possibly begin to repay. With such a tainted soul, she wouldn't have been able to be near the Light, pure as it is. He made a place for her, even though she was so unworthy. He accepted her when no one else would, allowing her to bask in His Light. Catra doesn't have to fear losing him. Won't need to know the pain of loss, ever again...Before long she reaches the throne room, crossing that long pathway to him.  

 

"Welcome," Horde Prime rises, approaching her with a cool smile. "Are you pleased with your new attire?" 

 

"Yes, Lord Prime, I am grateful to be blessed with such a gift." Catra bows in supplication. "What do you require of me?" 

 

"I wish to bestow peace upon you. " Horde Prime quirks a concerned brow at her. Your mind is...troubled, is it not?"  He lifts her chin up to face him, before cupping her cheek. 

 

Catra leans into the touch, confirming his observation with a nod. 

 

"Fear not, child. " His hand moves from her face to her head, smoothing her hair back. "I shall free you of it, although the process is," Horde Prime shows a calculating smile. "Unpleasant" Slipping into her mind is his first step to getting full access. The fact he has not done this before now was only to punish her for the betrayal. Though it has it's advantages. A broken mind is easier to manipulate, even if her eyes do not appear green yet, that too shall change. He will give her a test. One to see where her loyalties truly lie.

 

Like a snake Horde Prime's thoughts coil around her, slithering into the deepest recesses of Catra's mind. It makes her uncomfortable in her own skin with how intense the pain is.

"Let me help you."

She relinquishes control, marveling at how suddenly the sensation stops. She's protected once more.

 

"Well done, little sister."

Horde Prime releases his hold as he examines her face. "Now, there is something you can do for me, child." 

 

Catra's ears remain lowered, as he has taught her to do. She blinks at him in confusion. "Something I can do?" 

 

"Yes, only you can be trusted with this task." Horde Prime circles around, eyeing her closely. "Before I can mend what is broken you must prove your loyalty to me and the light." 

 

"I will do whatever you ask of me," Catra replies with a bow, gaze downcast.

 

"I require She-Ra for my plans, though her vessel-Adora, may not survive it," he announces solemnly.

 

His statement is like a blade to her chest. Heart betraying her as it beats sporadically against her ribs. I saw her die... Flashes of Adora laying lifeless by the reconditioning pool appear in her mind's eye.

 

"Do not despair, child, for I have done you a great service," he says warmly, raising his arms out as a snap reverberates through the room. A hologram materializes. 

 

Catra's eyes widen when she sees Adora on a table. The subtle rise and fall of her chest is almost imperceptible. "She is...alive?" There's too much emotion in her croaked out inquiry, the sound too strained. Prime's punishment will be severe this time. She flinches, readying herself for the inevitable shock. It doesn't happen.

 

"Yes, she lives. However if she does not accept the light soon-" Horde Prime says, voice grave. 

 

That too pale, ghostly white face appears in her memory. Acid claws it's way up her throat at the image, but she dares not move. 

 

"Do you wish for her to join you in the Light?" Horde Prime offers, waiting patiently for an answer, despite already knowing her desire. 

 

"Yes, Lord Prime." Catra knows her desire is taboo, to want such a dangerous enemy of his to be welcomed into the light.  She should be content with what Horde Prime has already bestowed on her, not asking for more. It is a challenge to keep her face expressionless. Catra remembers the last time she failed to remain stoic. Her jaw still hasn't recovered from the force of his hold. The gashes on her scalp were slow to heal as well. A side effect of her repeated attempts to banish the haunting images of Adora.

 

"I do not wish to see her suffer needlessly in the shadows," he admits with a sigh, ascending the steps to sit upon his throne. 

 

Where Adora's face was blank in the hologram before, now her eyes are shut tight, teeth clenched in pain. Something Catra has seen her do during the darkest of her nightmares. This, she can remain passive for. Numb. Until the screaming starts. At first they are agonized cries derived from pain. She fights the overwhelming urge to cover her ears against it, because Horde Prime is watching. 

 

"Catra!" 

 

In answer to the call, her ears twitch upward, jaw dropping in alarm. 

 

"Catra, help me," she says, voice trembling. "Please.." A whimper on her lips.

 

Subconsciously, her claws extend as she takes several strides toward the hologram. "Is there a way to stop this?" Catra realizes her mistake as the question leaves her. The tone is too sharp, like steel.  

 

Horde Prime peers at her with renewed interest. Catra's outburst was unexpected. She should be a complacent, obedient servant, not one who asks questions freely. His retribution will be swift for such a disruption. "It is not your place to ask questions, child," he warns, displeasure dripping like venom onto his words. "In order to save her, you must be free of distractions." A scowl pulls at the corner of his mouth. 

 

Her gaze lowers to the floor in shame, transforming into fear at the sudden edge in his voice.

 

The screaming begins again and Catra  bites her tongue to stifle the growl threatening to push past her teeth. A coppery taste fills her mouth while she counts the seconds until silence returns.

 

"You Etherian's and your paltry connections." Horde Prime tsks, walking toward her in careful, measured steps. His eyes glow that ominous green. "After all I have done for you, why do you still rebel against me?"

 

Fear freezes the blood in her veins as his clawed hand scruffs her. The building  pressure in her neck becomes so severe she staggers forward, prevented from falling only due to his vicelike grip. "I-I'm...n-" Catra stutters a hasty denial, anxious to assure him of her loyalty, but it fizzles to nothing. Her tail bristles from terror, heightening that rising panic within.

 

Horde Prime shakes his head, eyes narrowing to slits. "I do not reward dishonesty." 

 

Prime casts out all shadows...Prime casts out all shadows...PRIME CASTS OUT ALL SHADOWS!

 

The chorus of voices become a defeaning roar that she cannot block out, thrashing against her skull. Catra grits her teeth to prevent a whimper from escaping, aware it will only make things worse.

 

"It appears you are not ready yet," he says, disappointment seeping from his words. "But you will be." Horde Prime's tone resonates eagerness as he releases his hold. 

 

Mara's Ship

 

Adora paces before her friends, sensing the concerned glances they send. "Glimmer," she directs an uncomfortable glance at her. "I..I need to know what Prime is like." She looks down abashed, knowing the answer is painful. The way Glimmer starts to shake again is proof enough of that. "How he behaves. How he talks. Anything that might help give an advantage."

 

Bow squeezes Glimmer's hand encouragingly, as Glimmer gives a light, grateful smile. "There's always a reason behind...what he does. That dinner," Glimmer grimaces at the recollection. "It wasn't just to expose our weaknesses- the Rebellion's. Mine. Catra's. Yours. He showed his strength. How helpless we were...and weak we are, compared to his army."

 

Catra's...weakness. Catra's...Yours. Adora tries to keep her expression unreadable. Those words replay in her mind, like pieces of a puzzle that aren't fitting together. If Prime thinks I'm her weakness, then he wouldn't bother weaponizing her. He'd keep her imprisoned, as bait. Bait. The word leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. "I'll be the decoy," she declares into the silence. 

 

Glimmer and Bow both shoot up in alarm, asking the same question in unison. "What?!" 

 

Bow is the first to recover from his shock. "Adora," he says, voice like lead. "The Rebellion- No, we can't risk your life like that!"

 

So, I can't, but Catra can?! She's tempted to voice the thought, but settles on a different argument. One of reason. "Because She-Ra might be back?" She can't hide the scorn in her retort.

 

"If you can't transform into She-Ra..." Glimmer's voice is the calmest, even though it trembles. "What's your plan without her?"

 

"Prime will expect me to go after Catra. It's the most obvious, and we don't know what she told him when they were...allies." Her stomach rolls like tidal waves at the thought. "That's why I need you to get her, Glimmer." She shoots Bow an apologetic smile. "She doesn't know Bow or his kindness enough to trust him yet." Bow nods in understanding as Adora looks back at Glimmer. "But, Catra knew you well enough to want to save you, so she'll trust you." Her heart warms at the thought of Catra choosing to save rather than maim. It's a refreshing and welcome change.

 

"Neither of us like the idea of you facing him alone," sighs Bow, shrugging the tension from his shoulders. "But we believe in you."

 

Adora beams at the confidence resonating in his words. "Good, because I need you and Entrapta to find any weaknesses Prime and his army may have. The only question is, how do we keep communication open during the mission?"

 

Entrapta laughs enthusiastically, pulling something from her pockets. "You can use these!" She tosses three small ear pieces to them. "They're ear communicators. I made them from left over parts of Darla, so they should hold up well." 

 

"So, to recap the plan: Bow, I'll buy time for you and Entrapta to search for weaknesses," she nods at pair as they give her grim smiles. "Glimmer, that will give you the opening you need to grab Catra. Get out as quick as you can."

 

"What about you?" Glimmer's voice quivers with fear, as Bow and Entrapta give Adora similar concerned looks.

 

"If he cares at all about preserving his army and empire, he'll let us all go." It sounds logical, reasonable even. What if he doesn't?

 

"And if he tries to call your bluff on using the Heart?" Bow's brows knit in concern again, as he spares a glance at Entrapta. Losing her for the brief time we did almost lost us the war...twice. With She-Ra and the weapon, the entire Universe is in danger.

 

"Then, I'll improvise," Adora answers with a shrug. "It's served well enough in the past." 

 

"Wouldn't it be bad if Prime knows you aren't alone?" Entrapta twirls two ends of her hair together nervously.

 

Adora's brows raise in surprise. "Yeah, it would." She can tell Entrapta has something she isn't telling them, as though nervous about how they'll respond. "If you have an idea, I'd love to hear it," she gives Entrapta an encouraging smirk.

 

"I do. In fact-" Entrapta runs off into another room, coming back with some odd looking outfits. "I made these! They're suits that allow anyone to survive in space without a ship..." she pauses in thought. "At least, temporarily," she adds sheepishly.

-

Although Catra's legs are unsteady from standing there for so long, that isn't why she trembles now. She would trade whatever was asked of her to make it stop. She wishes Horde Prime would return. Wants nothing more than the bite of his claw in her skin. Welcomes that restraining, vice-like grip. He could hold her jaw until it breaks and she would be grateful, if it meant that woman's suffering would momentarily cease  Anything to block out those torturous cries. To quiet the voice which pleads with her. Who speaks her name in such desperation

 

"Catra..." the woman's voice shakes in fear. "Help me, please." A hopeful request. 

 

One she isn't prepared to fulfill. That's what Horde Prime had said, and he never lies. Catra curls her hands into fists, claws cutting into her palms. The pain acts as a temporary distraction from this. From her. The cries get worse each time, yet, still it pales in comparison to that sickening, unbearable silence left behind when Catra thought she lost her. Unbidden, Adora's lifeless, too pale face flashes in her mind. A reminder that she failed to save her. If not for Lord Prime she would be- Her ears perk up at the unexpected quiet, though it's short lived. 

 

"CATRA!" The agonized cry of her name on those lips rips through her chest, creating new wounds to go with the reopened, raw one. It leaves her breathless. Broken all over again. How her heart still beats through all the damage elludes her. Countless tears spring to her eyes, no matter how many times she wills them to recede. 

Adora. A name as unforgettable as her own. That voice a constant melody playing within memories. Features carved on the remnants of Catra's shattered heart. Eyes which have captivated her past and present may inevitably pursue her future.

It renders her incapable of retreating from the slate blue gaze that reflects a sea of suffering. Knowing she's powerless. Helpless to end the torment, even as Adora begs her to, over and over, in that same agonized voice. Drowning in the anguish and despair, those tears finally overflow, making paths down her cheeks. 

"Adora..." Catra speaks the name like a blessing for the first time since her defection, rather than a curse. It comes out as a raw, strangled whisper on her lips. Is this what it means to love someone? To fear their loss so much a piece of you shatters every instance you imagine them gone? Catra almost wishes she didn't know this feeling. An increasingly familiar ache which bleeds more than any wound she's ever dealt or been dealt. Despite the pain, she clings to that warmth burning too intensely in her chest. Threatening to consume everything Catra is. With each reappearance, she gets closer and closer to letting it. 

 

Horde Prime enters, glancing at the cat-eared creature with satisfaction. Her eyes have not left the hologram he projected, following his orders as instructed. The evidence of his punishment is plain to see, from her white knuckled fists, speckled with crimson, to her tear stained face, and clouded gaze. His cruel smirk broadens in delight at the sight. An almost perfect personification of rage and grief and pain. Almost. Viewing her memories, he has no doubt Adora will retrieve her precious Catra. Perhaps they can make a deal by exchanging her for She-Ra. 

 

"Poor child," he places a hand on her cheek, pleased when she willingly moves into the contact. "Your resistance demonstrates you have not completely stepped out of the shadows." Running his clawed finger down her neck, he presses on her jugular, until she gives a pitiful whimper. I unmade her appearance, destroyed her mind, and now I will crush that rebellious spirit. If Adora happens to succeed in her foolish rescue, she will have whatever remains of this poor creature. Entering her fragmented mind is a tedious neccesity if he is to maintain his advantage against She-Ra.

Upon offering her the initial choice to be free of those inconsequential memories, he had considered placing Catra in a fabricated reality. Where She-Ra existed as a separate entity from Adora, fulfilling her deep desire. It would serve its purpose of stopping her interference, or rebelling. Not that it would matter once She-Ra activated the weapon. They would be reduced to rubble, and his army would move on, same as every other world he conquered.  "Recieve your judgment." Slipping into her thoughts, he navigates through the various recollections, seeking to form that connection which will bind her to him. With how broken she is, it does not take him long. Vaguely, he recognizes a cry of agony. Catra should not have sought to challenge me. Like a mechanism clicking into place on a well-oiled machine, Prime attains control. Her words and actions his to command as he deems necessary. 

 

Prime casts out all shadows...Prime casts out all shadows... Prime casts out all shadows...Prime casts out all shadows.

 

The mantra drowns out all other sound and the air is stifling, burning her nostrils with every breath. Everything she sees is coated in a green haze so thick, it's as though she's drowning again. Any sense of control slips out from under her. Catra's dragged down by an unseen force, as her limbs move on their own. Stiff. Unsteady. Bone grates on bone, as her muscles tear apart. The worst is when those claws unsheathe without prompting. The deadly points slice her fingers open with each extension and each attempt she makes to push against them, causes Catra to be caught in a riptide of power that leaves her reeling.For a moment, she manages to reclaim a piece of herself, until a shock from the chip saps any remaining strength. She's forced back under the thick mental haze. unable to resurface until Prime allows her access again. Catra's body is so weak and that haze of green won't dissipate no matter how many times she wakes. That mantra is a deafening roar now, beating against her skull, scattering her thoughts like leaves in a windstorm. Each time Catra regains control it's as though she's wearing a disguise, feeling less and less like herself. A stranger to her own skin. Pain lives in her limbs now, coursing like poison in her veins, branding her bones. She has ended up in those corridors, not knowing how she got there more times than she can count. Whatever sleep she does get is plagued by haunting images and visions, each more twisted than the last.  Somewhere deep within the encroaching numbness, she can sense how bad things are. How dangerous. Prime may be winning this battle against her, but with Adora safe, he will lose the war. 

 

Mara's Ship

 

The captain's chair is cool against Adora's skin. Normally it's reassuring, allowing her a sense of power and control. Today, everything is different. Without Bow, Glimmer and Entrapta inside the ship, her mind becomes a tumultuous storm of questions and heightened emotions she's unable to tamp down. Are we too late? Is Catra still fighting? An air of loneliness spreads like a thick cloak weighing her down. One too vast to contain. Is this how Catra was feeling the entire time? How long has it been since I was alone? Unbidden, images of Glimmer and Bow disappearing before her eyes in the portal reality appear. It had felt like her limbs had been torn from her body, as overwhelming guilt and grief brought her to her knees. Some of that guilt lingers with her, a spectre that appears most when looking at Glimmer, and more recently, King Micah. 

Adora's thoughts turn to Catra, as she saw her in the portal. Warped and corrupted. She hadn't known anyone who was taken by the portal could reappear. At the sight of her, relief and concern rolled through in waves, until Catra began blaming her for everything miserable that had ever happened. Although those words were intended to cut Adora, instead, they clarified. Catra had made choices Adora had no control over. Just as Adora made the choice to fight back. Even if punching her had hurt physically and emotionally, witnessing Catra disintegrate and disappear into the portal felt like a piece of her own heart was ripped away along with her. Things were different now. She had her friends, and hopefully Catra would be among them soon.

 

"We are being pulled in by an outside force." 

 

Breathing deeply to steady herself, Adora squares her shoulders, eyes narrowing in determination. I  haven't given up on you, Catra, so don't give up on me! Darla lands with no incident, and Adora walks resolutely to the exit, steeling herself. At the clones approach, she hides a smug grin. Prime felt so threatened he sent five of his clones to escort one person?

Pushing down a laugh, she raises her arms in surrender, expecting to be led to where Prime is. A grunt escapes as the two clones flanking her roughly twist and pin her arms back. Adora glares daggers up at the lead clone, glancing back as two clones inspect the ship. Sweat beads on her brow that she's unable to hide or wipe away, pulse jumping with nerves as they search. Glimmer said the clones aren't too observant. "You won't find anything," she calls back to the pair of clones, before facing forward again. "I came alone." Mustering an air of arrogance to disguise her unease, she continues. "I hear Horde Prime's been looking for me. Figured it was time we met," she finishes with a smirk. 

 

"Yes, you will be brought before Prime," the lead clone says, as the two flanking Adora release her arms. "And there you will recieve your judgment." The twisted smile the lead clone gives is unnerving. Adora grunts as those other clones push her forward. 

 

The comm buzzes in her ear as Bow speaks: "We're in. They didn't find us." 

 

Everything is going as planned. While I stall, Glimmer will get Catra. Bow and Entrapta will hopefully find a weakness and then we'll escape. "Good. Be quick, and don't get caught," she orders as quietly as possible. 

 

Glimmer walks through those pristine white hallways, focusing on the mission rather than her increasing anxiety being back here brings. "I'm heading to Horde Prime's holding cell to get Catra. Her holding cell, a room she could never forget. It was barren, lonely, and devoid of warmth. Bow's voice brings her back to the present, grounding her.  

 

"And Entrapta and I are gonna hack into the ship's server and download any intel about Prime's weakness." 

Bow knows being back here isn't easy for Glimmer. On the ship, whenever Prime's name was mentioned, she would subtly shake, trying to brush it off as being cold. He would pretend he believed the lie, making a show of grabbing extra blankets and draping them over the two of them. I won't ever let her be confined like that again. His arms had instinctively tightened around her at the thought. Glimmer had said she was okay with it, that it felt nice. Bow wasn't sure when the shaking stopped that night, having fallen asleep on her shoulder, but that smile she graced him with the following morning could rival the Moonstone. He returned her smile, glad to know she was able to relax enough to rest.  

 

"Look for a room with a lot of glowing tech in it. I remember them taking me past it when they took me to-" Glimmer stops, words caught in her throat at the memory of that visit with Prime. His callous voice comes back to her 'Let me be clear, Your Majesty. Your world belongs to me.' She shivers, cringing at the phantom feel of his clawed hand on her shoulder. "That has to be the server." 

 

Bow notices the pause, concern briefly on his face, until Entrapta speaks.

 

"Then that's our access point. Although, as long as we're here," she trails off, thinking of all the once in a lifetime opportunities to study the ship's tech. Maybe it could help make Darla even more advanced! "You wouldn't mind if I just took a few readings-?" She takes a few steps to the left before Bow wordlessly grabs her arm and pulls her to the right. "Okay, to the server room," she says excitedly, though her hair points to where she was intending to go earlier.  

 

"Okay, uh," she pauses, listening to the update from Bow and Entrapta. At least Bow is there to keep her focused. "Everyone just be careful," Adora cautions while being guided to a large green forcefield, watching as the two clones on either side clear it. 

 

"You will go alone," instructs the lead clone, arms folded confidently behind his back.

 

Adora's gaze wanders back to the doorway before entering the room. She cautiously walks along the pathway, footsteps reverberating with each passing step. 

 

"You've got this, Adora," says Bow, bolstering her courage. "Keep him talking," he adds, as another voice chimes in.

 

"Knowing him, that is not going to be a problem," scoffs Glimmer. 

 

Adora can't help but smile at that. Those words are a quiet reassurance that distracting him won't be as much of an issue. A small gasp escapes her at the lengthy, purposefully narrow path ahead. An intimidation tactic? She doesn't know what Prime will be like but will stall until Bow Entrapta and Glimmer give the signal. Everything will be okay. Just wait a little longer, Catra. She glances to the right, a bead of sweat forming on her brow at the visibly large chasm below. Definitely an intimidation tactic, and an implied danger. A fall from this height could be fatal.

In the distance, two clones are crowded around a chair. Why are they here? Focusing on keeping her breathing even, she maintains her stride as she stops in front of her adversary who is connected to strange tubes. "Prime," states Adora, gaze narrowing in anger. 

 

At last, the hero has arrived. "Welcome," he greets her, opening two of his smaller eyes. "Adora," he says with a grin, as his center eye opens. It's a visual tactic. One he's used many times before. Most recoil from it, finding the gaze intimidating. I wonder how it will affect her?

 

Adora blinks once, taken aback by what's in front of her. The sight of him disrupts her angered gaze, giving way to an unnerved expression. He's so different from Hordak. She fights the urge to shudder in revulsion. Eyes like a predator. 

 

Glimmer finally reaches the hallway Catra previously guided her down. Anxiety bubbles to the surface in a sigh. This place was always hard to navigate. How will I find her? Which path do I take? The right? The left? Memories of being led by the clones down countless identical halls flash through her mind. Subconsciously, her eyes look around in every direction as her breathing becomes more sporadic. 

 

Bow hears the change in her breathing, touching his communication piece.  "Hey." Upon hearing the voice, Glimmer gasps in surprise, turning around quickly, as though expecting an attack from behind. There's nothing there. No one to sneak up on her like last time.

 

Glimmer's response is a gasp. Bow's brow knits in concern. "You okay?"

 

Realizing it's just Bow, she sighs deeply, trying to calm her breathing again. "What, you worried about me?" Her face relaxes in relief. It's comforting to know that he still cares after everything that's happened between them. 

 

Although he is worried for Glimmer, he doesn't want to make it worse. "Maybe," he answers, voice calm. "Just, be careful...okay?" 

 

The sentiment is sweet enough to bring an affectionate smile to her face. "Yeah, you too." Bow's smile fades as Entrapta walks ahead of him, eyes on the tracker pad.

 

"Still no sign of the server room," she announces, glancing around at the hallway. "This place is so big," Entrapta continues, gesturing to both sides of the hallway with her hair. "And empty." She looks around before glancing back at the tracker pad readings. "How does anyone get around in this place? Where are the vents?" Those would be a more efficient way of navigating this expansive ship, after all. 

Bow sees two clones ahead of them. "Call you right back, gotta go," he says hastily, as they run in the opposite direction. Grabbing Entrapta, he pulls them into another hallway. As the two clones approach, Bow gasps in fear, covering Entrapta's mouth to prevent her from giving away their position unintentionally. 

 

Entrapta stills, spotting a lit chamber close by. She goes to move, but Bow's arm stops her. Removing the hand covering her mouth with her hair. "That must be the server room." Entrapta grabs hold of Bow before pulling them both towards it. 

 

What they see upon reaching it causes Bow to gasp in alarm. Pods encircle the room with a glowing pool and screen at the center. 

 

Entrapta excitedly holds her hair, looking at all the various clones around the room. They're all completed clones! And there's so many! Maybe Hordak is one of them! The two clones turn to see what the disruption is.

 

"Uh...Hello," says Bow, giving them an awkward wave while thinking of a reason he can give to explain why they interrupted. Sea Hawk told me how he infiltrated and decieved Force Captain Scorpiaso maybe that can work here? "Would you believe that we're the inspectors?" The clone nearest to the screen puts his hand on the panel, sealing the entrance. They lunge toward the pair with a snarl, as Bow and Entrapta scream in alarm. 

 

The scream and commotion pull Adora's attention to her earpiece, but only for a moment. Not good. They've been caught and I can't help them! Reluctantly, she tears her gaze away from the earpiece and back to Prime.

 

"Forgive my unseemly state," says Horde Prime, taking note of the flash of panic on Adora's face. She can believe her communication with her friends is hidden, for now. "It is a tedious task," he pauses to look at his hands indifferently. One that has kept me alive for longer than she realizes, and she shall soon see how futile her efforts are. They all will. His chair turns. "But a necessary one to maintain this vessel," he adds with an arrogant smirk. 

 

In response, she blinks away her hesitation, giving him a determined look. Blood pounds against her eardrums. Maintain control. I've got this. Fist clenched in resolve, her thoughts are a storm of rage, knowing how much damage he's done. I can- No, I have to do this...for Catra. Lying was never her forte, as Glimmer and Bow reminded her several times during her rehearsed negotiation.

"This is how it's going to go," she announces with an air of authority, voice sounding more intimidating than she feels. "We're gonna make a deal." In all honesty, it's not a favorable one for Prime, but one he will take."You're gonna give me Catra, and then you're gonna let me leave again, free and clear.He won't refuse if I say we'll use the weapon...will he?  "I have something you want," proclaims Adora, concentrating on keeping that forced bravado. 

The weapon won't ever be used if she has anything to say about it, not that he'll know that. She gestures to herself, feeling her pulse hammer wildly beneath her hand. "A weapon that only She-Ra can activate." Hand to her side again, she continues. "The Heart of Etheria." Her gaze hardens, as she readies the threat. "And if you don't do as I say, then I'll use it and destroy you and your empire for good." At the sight of those tubes loosening it breaks her focus, expression morphing to one of disgust. She gazes back up at Prime, who appears unconcerned. Not the result I wanted from him. I just threatened his entire army, and he doesn't care?!

 

Her lie would have convinced others, but not him, who sees and knows all. Her attempt at deciet is laughable and no cause for concern. Training his eyes back on the 'hero', he smirks, laughing loudly in response to her words. 

 

Of all the reactions she had prepared for, this wasn't in any of her scenarios. Taken aback by his offensive reaction, she clears her throat, squaring her shoulders. "I-is something funny?" Adora narrows her eyes at him, irritation bubbling beneath the surface. 

 

Regaining control again, he lowers his hand from his face. "You are not going to use the weapon, or you would have already done so," he concludes, barely restraining his laughter. 

 

Not convincing enough for him. Concealing those whispers of doubt in her mind, Adora glares at him. 

 

"You would never risk the safety of your Catra." She was important enough to deliver yourself to me without a fight, which will the downfall of you and your pitiful planet.

 

Irritation rises to the surface at his words. "You don't know me," she retorts, scowling at him. "And you don't know what I'm capable of," she warns, staring him down. 

 

"Oh, but I do," Horde Prime counters, directing eyes full of hate at her. He disconnects himself from the tubes as he rises to his feet. "I am old, far older than you can imagine," he explains. "My brothers lend me their life force," he says, spreading his arms wide before turning to the clone to his left. "And when one vessel fails me," he rests his clawed hand on their face. "I simply elect another," he adds, giving him a sinister smirk.

The clone looks back, enraptured as he runs a hand through their hair. "Thus, Prime has reigned eternal through the centuries." Steepling his hands, he strides forward. "There is something so...familiar about you, Adora." At his unexpected approach she steps back. "A face I have not seen in a thousand years," he says, turning her chin to examine her.

 

A slight gasp slips out from his unexpected touch, but Adora holds her ground. He's studying me like some..creature. Repressing the urge to shudder, she tears her chin out of his grasp, eyes shining with indignation.

 

Catra waits, just as she's been instructed. The multiple scrapes form a pathway of fire along her scalp, agitated by the water. Her throat is rubbed raw by that tube, but she dares not make a sound. Not until he gives his signal for her to speak. Her meeting with Lord Prime was unpleasant. Reliving her mistake, one that he assured she would be forgiven for. The portal. Those hateful electric blue eyes. He advised he needed her to go through the memory. Called it temporary suffering which she must endure to aid him, and be free of the shadows.

The pain raking along her head didn't matter, so long as he was pleased with her. She had done what he asked, but was still sent to that pool. She had begged not to be put in again, pleaded with her brothers as they shoved that plastic tube in a second time. Only at the mention of angering Lord Prime, did she then walk willingly into the sparking water. Fragments of conversation reach her as they get closer to his throne room. 

 

"And you are one of them, are you not, Adora?" Horde Prime’s voice rings against the space. That's what he had been searching for. Adora's origins. 

 

After moving through countless hallways, Glimmer finds Prime's holding cell. She presses her hand to the green door, only to see the room empty. Why isn't she here?! "Guys, I found the cell, but Catra's not here...What do we do?" The only response she gets is static. Her earlier unease rises to the surface. "Bow?" Static. She tries again. "Entrapta?" More static. Her voice grows sharper. "Adora?"

 

The assumption that she serves the First Ones strikes a nerve. "I don't fight for the First Ones. I fight for my home for myself and for my friends. Adora's lost count of how many times she's asked about Catra. His repeated deflecting has pushed her past civilty. "Now, for the last time," she declares, ignoring her trepidation. "Where is Catra?!"

 

Catra's ears catch her name, sparing a moment of clarity within the maze of voices. "A-adora?" She can't be here... Adora turns in response, momentary relief budding in her chest.

 

 "Catra, where are you? Examining the darkness, countless green eyes stare back at her.

 

"Of course, your Catra," he acknowledges, lips twisting in a grin. "She hoped you would come for her," he states, observing her reaction. So much hope in this false hero. "Poor thing," he adds in a tone of mock pity. "So all I had to do was wait." And you've arrived, like a lamb to the slaughter "As she would have said, you are so very predictable. 

 

Adora's heart stutters in her chest at those words. Would have said? Concentration becomes nearly impossible as she struggles to keep her expression neutral. I just heard her...but Glimmer hasn't checked in at all. No, he needs her. She can't be gone. If he killed Catra I- 

 

"Come here, child," he commands with a crook of his finger. 

 

Eyes widening at the unfamiliar term, she turns to see someone who looks like Catra flanked by two clones. Is she a clone or the real Catra? Or worse, was this all a trick? 

 

Per Horde Prime's instructions, she remembers to smile while giving a proper greeting. "Hello, Adora." 

 

That trace of elation at the sight of Catra gives way to dread when she hears that oddly calm voice. In all their interactions, she has never been one for formalities. Yet she sounds so much like her, Adora forgets to breathe, incapable of tearing her gaze away from those alien green eyes. What has he done to you? The realization of how much she misses Catra's glowing gaze, reminding her of night and day, has never been more clear than in that moment.

Unfeeling green eyes stare back, accompanied by a serene smile that is foreign on those lips. Stomach twisting in knots, bile burns in her throat as they look at one another in the silence. Horror mingles with outrage, lending power to her furious cry. "What did you do to her?!" Desperation drives Adora forward, reaching out for her, only to be stopped by two clones. Following Catra, she watches her walk over and prostrate herself before Prime.

 

"I saw her mind, so ensnared in rage and grief and pain," he says in a sympathetic tone, offering his hand to her. Such a simple minded creature to manipulate. "And I brought her to the light." He pulls her up with practiced grace to her feet. "Isn't that right, little sister?" 

 

Disgust twists in her stomach at the title. "Catra!" Adora pulls against the clones hold. "You have to fight it!" She has to be in there somewhere... 

 

"My place is with Horde Prime, Adora," she responds, looking up at him in adoration. "I don't want to leave."

 

"Tell her what I've done for you," instructs Prime, ushering her forward. 

 

"Prime has given me peace, something you could never do," she states plainly, wearing that smile. 

 

Adora's thoughts race in time with her heart. Peace was something Catra could only get in sparse quantities. Those secret fragments they both shared together in the Fright Zone. None of this is right.

 

The heavy haze clears enough for Catra to see Adora's face. She knows this is exactly what Prime wants. He's using me to hurt her...like he did to me. Using the small advantage she has, Catra wills her body to obey. It doesn't matter if this is another illusion. I have to get her to understand how to stop all this! "You broke my heart," she admits in a whisper, placing her hand on the side of Adora's face. "But he has made it whole again." 

 

Once Catra speaks, Adora's mind can't process the words quick enough. The palm resting on her face; a hand she's held so often, and reached for feels cold. The touch of a stranger in her friend's skin. I broke Catra's heart? That confession seeps like ice into her veins, leaving her breathless.

 

"Don't you see? This is for the best," she murmurs, quirking her head to the side. Catra knows Prime is aware of the communicator Adora's wearing. She keeps her hand near the earpiece for a moment before lightly running a thumb across Adora's cheek. "I'm happy here." Catra brushes her fingers against the back of Adora's neck. "You could be happy, too," she offers, squeezing Adora's shoulder and raising her brows slightly. Come on, Adora, concentrate!

 

The subtle changes in Catra's expression don't go unnoticed. A single tear rolls down Adora's face. She knows however Catra's combating the control, it's not without a struggle. Renewed hope swells in Adora's chest, lending her strength. Catra's still fighting. "Let her go," commands Adora, glaring at him with restrained rage. 

 

 

Prime grabs onto Catra's shoulder, eliciting a small gasp as she goes rigid under his touch. "Shall we make a deal, Adora? I will give her to you, if you want her," 

 

Adora's eyes narrow at the suggestion. There's no question I want her back!

 

"But first, you must do something for me. You will give me She-Ra," Prime declares triumphantly. 

 

"Never," she snaps back, hating the way his hand clings to Catra in such a possessive manner.  

 

As expected of this foolish hero. It would be too easy if she gave in now. "Very well," he says, snapping his fingers.

 

Pain shoots through Adora's ear from the mic feedback. She groans, removing the piece from her ear as she sinks to one knee.

 

"You miscalculated," he declares, crushing the small tech beneath his foot. "I see all. I know all. You thought yourself worthy to challenge me, but you are nothing more than a false hero. The last of the First Ones to fall at my hands." He looks over at his pawn with a calculating grin. You will learn I am in control soon enough, foolish child. "You have led your friends to destruction." He squeezes Catra's neck forcefully as a warning that resisting will only cause more pain at his hands. 

 

The pressure of his clawed grip brings Catra past the haze of green and she grimaces That room swims into view as her gaze moves to find Adora standing there. Not a hologram, or partially solid like before. A small gasp escapes before she's dragged back into that thick green haze. 

 

Adora gasps in response when those familiar eyes look back at her in desperation. Catra's twitches in pain, teeth clenched, as though struggling against an unseen enemy. Vaguely, Adora hears Prime mockingly tell her to bring She-Ra out to strike him down, but her attention is drawn to those small almost imperceptible sounds of struggle from Catra. She heard me...Tears of sorrow and relief fall from her eyes as she lets out a shaky breath.

 

"Ah, but you two must have alot of catching up to do," he says, voice calm again when he moves his hand to Catra's hair, smoothing it back into place. "I will leave you to it. Let me know when you're ready to make a deal," he adds, walking away from the pair. 

 

Adora rises to her feet, confused by this development. Her eyes go to Catra, watching worriedly as those claws unsheathe. "We aren't enemies anymore," she says, gaze softening. "We don't have to do what Prime wants," she pleads, staring into that void of unnerving green while she waits for a response. 

 

'You shall fight to prove your loyalty."

 

Catra struggles against the pull of Prime's command, wishing she could regain control of herself again. I may not be able to stop this completely, but I can still resist! She wills her fist to close, fighting Prime's attempt to compell her to use her claws

 

Pain shoots through Adora's chin as she cries out. Whenever they've fought in the past, Catra's been the defensive one. Adora dodges another punch, craning her neck to avoid a strike to the throat. Grabbing onto Catra's ankle, she holds it there, only to be dragged down toward the ground. Putting her hands out to catch herself, she sees another fist in her peripheral, rolling at the last second to avoid it. Looking at those blank eyes makes her stomach twist in revulsion. I don't want it to be like this! Her heartbeat jumps as Catra leans in again. I'm sorry! Adora's stomach lurches at the feel of her foot connecting with Catra's abdomen, sending her backward. Adora slowly tries to regain her balance, eyes widening when Catra's hand closes around her hair. Though the grip doesn't have much force behind it. 

 

Never thought I'd miss that dumb hair poof... Catra fights to maintain the light grip on Adora's hair only for the haze to increase it's pressure and her grasp.

 

Wincing at the unexpected pull, Adora's eyes fill with fear as those claws get nearer to her face, momentarily catching her off guard. 

 

She knows Prime is purposefully aiming there because of her missteps.  I won't let him use our past as a weapon! Catra attempts to slow herself down, buying time for Adora to defend against it.

 

Acting on instinct, Adora grabs Catra's wrist, pulling it toward her and back. "Catra, listen to me," she implores, cringing at the pain she's inflicting. "I know you're still in there," she murmurs, as tears appear in her eyes. "I am not leaving without you." The corresponding laugh as Catra pulls against her hold is strained. "It's gonna be okay." She keeps her voice calm in an attempt to soothe and reassure, waiting for any indication Catra has heard. Bones crack and break beneath her grip sending a wave of nausea running through Adora.

She looks over in shock, watching the wrist she's holding turn along with that hand at an unnatural angle. Eyes widening in beweilderment, a small gasp pushes past her lips as panic spikes in her chest. Adora's broken enough bones to realize Catra should be giving some sign of distress, but she doesn't even groan. Rather than pain, Catra still wears that ill fitting smile accompanied by lifeless eyes. 

 

Blood fills the air, as claws meet flesh. Catra's stomach flips, twisting sickeningly tight when those razor sharp points sink deeper into Adora's skin. Despite her struggles to pull them out before they can do more damage, those claws stay imbeded. She closes her eyes, not wanting to witness what Prime intends to do next.

 

Adora groans at the bite of those claws, piercing like daggers. The sensation is something she could never forget. When she caught Catra by surprise all those years ago, the cuts were shallow enough not to leave a visible scar. This time, the strike is different, meant to pierce and tear. They carve a path across her leg, shredding the skin. She screams at the sting, fighting to stay upright. This leaves her open, unable to defend against Catra's next attack. 

 

Catra winces internally as Adora's scream rings in her ear, She pushes past the weight of that haze to redirect her grip, moving from Adora's neck in favor of a loose headlock while restraining her other arm. "Everything is already okay," murmurs Catra, pulling her closer. The natural calming scent of Adora is tainted by the overwhelming copper in the air. "We are with Prime now," she says, holding her in a mock embrace. "There is no need for you to suffer, Adora." 

 

Catra has always gotten into Adora's personal space for as long as she can remember. Not that it really ever bothered her. It was Catra's own way of showing how comfortable Adora made her. Where she would find it playful, now it's unsettling. Inhaling sharply at the sensation of Catra's claw as it trails down her throat, digging into her flesh in a silent threat. 

 

"Come into the light with me," she whispers against her ear. Catra cringes at the mention of the light, as indignation rises within her at Adora's hesitation. Stop holding back, Adora!

 

This isn't you, Catra! Unwilling to hear any more of Prime's words, she hoists Catra over her shoulder with a shout, watching as she tumbles into one of the steps.

 

The haze is still pulling her downward, dulling her senses but not enough to prevent the jolt on her neck. A cry of pain pushes past her teeth. Prime doesn't want her interference, but also wants her to suffer. Wants them both to suffer. 

 

"Snap out of it Catra," pleads Adora, rising to stand. "I don't wanna hurt you." The forced laugh from Catra is so unnerving Adora resists the urge to retreat. She sounds like...him. 

 

Laughter grates against Catra's ears, so unlike her own she would claw her own throat out if she could. "But you have already hurt me," she admits solemnly. "You were all I ever needed, Adora, but I was never enough for you." The words taste like venom, a double edged sword of poison meant to wound weilder and target alike. No...Adora, it's not that I need you I- She fights to speak, to explain, but the haze is so stifling it robs the ability from her. "Prime has set me free of that pain, the pain that you caused."

 

Those words pierce her chest, causing more harm than any of those claws could. Although Adora knows these are statements meant to exploit her emotions, a part of her wonders if there is any truth to them.do need you, Catra. I always have. Before she can state it clearly, Catra is walking backwards up the steps.

 

"He will set us all free, forever," she says serenely, arms crossed over her chest. "A world of peace without end." Only because everyone will be dead.

 

A world of death. Doubt whispers in her mind as she gazes up at Catra. Nothing I say gets through to her...What if what Prime has done is permanent? What if I can't save her? Distracted by her racing thoughts, she's slow to react when Catra launches into the air, fist aimed for her chest. Adora narrowly avoids it, as Catra peers at her with those foreign eyes and unsettling smile. Spurred on by fury and fear with Catra's advances, she draws her arm back and strikes. It's reminiscent of that time in the portal, only now, Catra doesn't deserve it. Why didnt she dodge? When Catra winces, Adora looks at her hand, horrified. I'm supposed to be saving her, not inflicting more pain... A pang of guilt prevents her from blocking Catra's next punch. When those claws go in for another killing blow. Adora's gaze hardens to steel. This isn't one of our previous half effort battles. Clasping onto Catra's left arm to prevent another swipe, she then latches onto the right wrist before the claws can reach her face. Maintaining her grip, they circle one another in a deadly dance, tension radiating from both sides. A battle of attrition neither can afford to lose. Catra's pulse beneath her wrists is steady. Her own is rolling like a storm in her chest as her heartbeat thunders in her eardrums.

 

Through the thickening green haze, Catra can see a change in those slate blue eyes. The flow of Adora's breathing becomes steady and senses that earlier trepidation and uncertainty give way to a fire of determination. Unease and pride balloon in her chest. You have to survive this, Adora, even if I don't! She concentrates on pulling away, rather than pushing while they grapple around the platform. 

 

Sensing the slight pull, Adora shoves her backward to gain some distance as Catra staggers to the edge. Realizing the precariousness she's placed her friend in sinks her heart into the pit of her stomach. Uttering a small gasp, her hand flies out in desperation. "Catra!"

 

Even with the haze surrounding her, Catra sees how far the fall is and intends to step forward, until her body moves back of its own accord. That cruel, callous laugh rings in her ears. At least it'll be a quick end...but this will hurt Adora. 

 

All consuming terror clutches at her as Catra steps off the platform. In a panic she rushes toward her with a shout, frantically latching onto her arms rather than her wrists. I almost lost her. Hastily pulling her to safety, she holds her in a gentle embrace, sighing with relief. I've got you, Catra.

 

The haze becomes a current, dragging Catra under its weight before she can overcome it. Now your Adora will suffer because of you, child. What are y- Catra's claws extend, pushing past multiple layers of skin, ripping into flesh. A silent scream accompanies Adora's groan of pain as waves of nausea crash into her.

 

Tears spring to Adora's eyes, washing away that earlier relief. Catra's claws pierce like daggers in her back, evolving into knives of searing agony as they rake through skin. They've never cut this deeply, not even during the Battle of Bright Moon. An anguished groan pushes past gritted teeth, loosening the hand resting on Catra's neck.

 

"Oh, Adora," Prime whispers the chastisement. "How long will you drag this out?"  

 

The mixture of his voice merged with Catra's makes Adora's blood run cold, freezing her breath and stilling her limbs.

 

"You will destroy the ones you love in the process," he warns, pulling Adora back to face them, sending Catra's knee into her abdomen.

 

The impact knocks the air from her lungs with another groan, hand cradling her stomach. Before she can react, Catra grabs her jacket, swinging her toward the edge of the precipice and she cries out in alarm.

 

Meanwhile, Bow, Entrapta and Glimmer are in the server room, as Entrapta tries to hack the server. Adora and Catra still need us. Glimmer calls out to Entrapta. "We might not be able to hack him, but we can still make him hurt," she declares, driving the borrowed spear point into the system, causing sparks to move up the column as they flee. 

 

"She was afraid in the end, and she suffered."

 

Adora's  gaze snaps back to Catra's unnatural white pupils surrounded by green. Present peril forgotten, her entire focus is on that voice. 

 

"Shall I tell you how many tears she shed over you? How much she wept for you? How she cried out your name?"

 

I don't understand...What does he mean? Adora blinks in confusion, unable to respond.  

 

"Let me show you," Dread fills Catra as the churning haze clears just enough to see and hear what's occuring. No...he wouldn't! A snap reverberates in the silence, confirming what she most fears with the slight buzz in her ears.

 

Adora's eyes lock onto the screen ahead, watching as Catra, clad in her usual dark red ripped leggings with a matching red top, accented with that black half sleeve and a red diamond on her shoulder. Her eyes have dark circles underneath them, and her gaze is far off, dulled. She stumbles forward into a room with a pool at its center. A snarl appears on her face, as she yells at Prime. "Where. Is. Adora?" The anger resonating in that inquiry on her behalf brings forth a gasp of surprise. 

 

Prime looks pointedly over to the unnatural green water. Something red floats within it. A headpiece. Catra's headpiece. She watches a tremor pass through Catra's body, then tense as she dives right into the crackling water. Adora's gaze follows Catra's pained expression as she fights the electricity in her efforts to reach a life-like version of Adora. Eventually, she pulls herself and the false Adora to the surface, searching her face anxiously. The feed cuts out as Catra starts trying to resucitate her. 

 

She dove into that to save me? Adora stares at the blank screen. Even if it was a fake reality, she hopes Catra suceeded.

 

"As she suffers now," he says, snapping again. There's no picture that springs to life, just sound. 

 

Screaming? Catra's? The torturous sounds are agonizing, fearful and familiar. Once she hears her own voice pleading with Catra, it sends her mind reeling. When Catra calls out, it's a horrendous, broken cry which echoes throughout her entire being, tearing into her heart. 

 

"If you had not waited, she would not have endured such torment because of you, and her mind would still be intact."

 

Struggling against the bile snaking its way up her throat, Adora's about to respond with a slew of curses and sharp threats, only to be interrupted.

 

"Perhaps I will make her my new vessel," he suggests, glancing absentmindedly at her claws. 

 

That cruel twisted smile doesn't belong on Catra's face.The unnatural expression sends waves of unease crashing into Adora's stomach, violent enough to make her feel sick. 

 

"Though, she would not last me long."

 

Her stomach drops to the floor in protest at the implication, as the words die on her lips.

 

"What do you think," he pauses with an arrogant smirk before the white recedes from those eerie green eyes.

 

"Adora?"

 

Free of Prime's voice, her name almost sounds like a purr on Catra's lips. The taunt brings a wave of rage, thawing her frozen limbs allowing her to grab Catra's arm. Giving a ferocious cry, she forces them off the edge, slamming Catra's back into that accursed glass screen.

 

The shock causes the current of green haze to still for a breath of time. 

 

Adora sees blue sparks appear on the back of Catra's neck as she gives a laugh that sounds less like Prime. There's some sort of tech on her...A chip? 

 

When Catra meets her eyes she finally sees Adora, free of the haze. This is real...Prime was wrong. There's so much Catra wants to say, but all she manages is a gasp before being dragged beneath the current. 

 

The room shakes as pieces fall around them.  Adora looks around in concern. That must be from Bow and Entrapta. Her gaze goes back to those eyes which have turned green once more. "I am NOT giving up on you, Catra!"

 

"Then you're a fool," she shakes her head incredulously. "You cannot stop Horde Prime. He will reign triumphant over all the universe. It is destiny." The screen flares to life behind her as a jolt sends shockwaves down her spine.

 

At Catra's cry of pain, Adora leans forward. "No!" Taking several steps away from the sparks, Catra's body sags against hers when the panels furthest from them explode. She runs, shielding Catra with her body as they roll to the side to avoid the flames and glass shards. Once she raises her head, she feels her hair loosen from the hair tie, while she looks at the remnants of that screen. A crackling draws her attention to Catra. Ever so slowly, she turns her onto her back. Did the chip get damaged? 

 

The pain ebbs as a hand touches her shoulder. Being jostled causes a groan to slip out. The world blurs before her as she meets a slate blue, worry filled gaze she would know anywhere. Catra isn't dreaming. It isn't an illusion or a trick. Relief builds within her as Adora's face gains clarity, along with an undercurrent of irritation. "Adora," she admonishes, drawing in a quivering breath. "Why did you come back?" I'm not worth the risk of losing this war! "We both know I don't matter."

 

What she expects to see is those green eyes. Instead, irises of night and day look back at her. Catra's words stop her heartbeat. "You matter to me, she confesses, resting her palm on Catra's face. 

 

In all their time together, Adora had never been affectionate like that. It usually consisted of playful shoves or an encouraging arm around the shoulder, accompanied by witty remarks. This was different. Her eyes lower, weighing the validity of that declaration against her own doubts. I...matter to her? Reading the sincerity in those slate blue eyes, Catra's own fill with tears. You really do care...She moves her hand, intending to rest her palm over Adora's, but can only gasp when that green haze drags her under once more.

 

A gasp falls like water from Adora's lips as Catra rises, striking her cheek before her hand can block it. With a grunt of pain, she catches herself, glancing back at Catra who's walking further from her.  

 

Electricity cascades down her spine as she screams, staggering closer to the edge with a groan.

 

Adora cautiously stands, a hesitant hand outstretched as her mind searches for some way to reach her safely. If I approach too quickly, she could fall. Frustration breaks through the fear. "Come on, Catra," she says, fists clenched. "You've never listened to anyone in your life." Adora shakes her head, putting her arms out. "Are you really going to start now?"

 

The words reach Catra through the haze as she pushes for control. As if I haven't been defying Prime this entire time. Adora's stated the obvious, like she always has. "You're such an idiot," she says giving a genuine smile as fondness flows through the insult.

 

"Yeah," she admits with a breathy laugh. "I know."

 

Catra's missed their routine. It's been such a long time since she's sincerely laughed, or shared one with anyone. Wrapping her arms around herself, Catra's laugh ends in a restrained sob as those whispers start to invade her thoughts again. 

 

"I'm going to take you home," declares Adora, her gaze serious. 

 

Catra groans as she fights the voices. "Promise?" Tears roll down her cheeks, her tone cautiously hopeful.

 

"I promise!" Adora extends her open palm without hesitation. A silent plea. 

 

'I won't leave you behind again!' Adora had told her that in the portal reality, and returned for her. Now here she was, offering another promise and her hand. Catra's body shakes from exhaustion. "Adora..." she murmurs, reaching for her, only to be pulled under the current.

 

Adora winces at the crunching bones when Catra's hand withdraws, moving to her temple. Dread rushes through her as Catra raises her head, neck cracking with the unnatural movement.

 

"Dissapointing," he says, scowling back at her with those glowing white pupils. "Some creatures are destined only for destruction." The white disappears with the green as suddenly as it appeared. 

 

Once she sees Adora again, she knows she's in control, only there's no haze, no whispers, no Prime. He's...gone? Before she can say anything, the tide of relief is overshadowed by a shock that rips through her with such intensity, it steals her words so all she can do is scream.

 

Everything happens in slow motion. The convulsions. Catra's agonized scream. Then, she's falling backward. Adora commands her limbs to move, rushing forward with a cry of her own. "NO!"  She's not quick enough, missing her by seconds as Catra plummets to the depths below. Adora doesn't think. All she knows is Catra needs her, and she'll be there for her. Without hesitation, she leaps into the darkness. Wait for me, Catra!  Pain flashes through her head as her eyes open, seeing the light above. She groans, looking over with a gasp when her gaze reaches Catra. Hastily rushing to her feet, she wobbles, falling ungracefully back to the floor. From the shooting pain she feels, Adora presumes one of her legs is probably broken, if not both. Using the last reserves of strength, she crawls over to Catra's unmoving form. 

 

Darkness surrounds her like a cloak, dulling her senses. Her thoughts are impossible to hold on to, fragmented. Someone says her name. 

 

"Catra?" Adora's gaze travels over her unmoving form. Is she...No she has to be alive. Even her worst injuries don't compare to this amount of damage. Never has Catra looked so...broken. "Catra?" Adora's voice trembles. "It's okay," she says lifting her gently into her arms. "I'm here."

 

The cold floor leaves, replaced by warmth, as a familiar scent reaches her. I know that voice...Adora...Why does she sound so distressed? "I'm still here." She tries to speak the words, but all that comes out are a few gasping breaths. 

 

The rattling of air brings new tears to Adora's eyes. She knows what it means. After all this, I might lose her...Holding Catra tighter, she buries her face in her neck, muffling the quiet, breathless sobs that escape. 

 

Adora's heartbeat reaches her ears, wild and frantic as Catra feels moisture on her neck. Is she crying...for me? As much as she wants to speak, to reassure her that it's okay, no sound comes out. 

 

The clones approach, but Adora doesn't look at them. All her focus is on Catra. 

 

"I am sorry for the needless waste, Adora. It did not have to be like this," says the clone under Prime's control. "Are you ready to cooperate?"

 

I couldn't catch you this time...Adora runs trembling fingers through Catra's hair. You went through so much suffering because of me. She lowers Catra out of the embrace. She feels her heart shatter as fury, sorrow and grief pour through every cell in her body, until it becomes something uncontrollable. Everything breaks apart. Upon opening her eyes there is no physical pain within that blue aura. Power wells from deep within. Where she was once the calm, now she has become the storm. Adora stands, supporting Catra as she holds her free hand out, shouting, "For the honor of Grayskull!" Heat travels like lightning through those broken pieces of herself, as ancient warrior and soldier merge to form a perfect storm of golden light.

A radiant warmth shields her from that impenetrable darkness, causing the last remnants of pain to cease. Catra is truly free. She exhales a contented sigh.

 

She-Ra looks over at Catra as a whispered breath leaves her. She waits for another inhale but it never happens. Unbridled fury surges through her, as she charges forward in a flurry of rage, slicing through the crowd. One of the last clones eyes change to white. Walking over, she glares down at him, knowing Prime's watching. "You miscalculated," she says with contempt before taking out the clone. 

 

Prime supresses a snarl of rage as the screen goes black. Amidst the rubble, one clone spots an odd pink crystal. Staring at it, he recognizes the First One's writing for 'loved' on it. A buried memory surfaces of a girl's face. "Entrapta?"

 

Bow, Entrapta and Glimmer have been searching for Adora and Catra, but haven't found them yet. Suddenly a ray of light eminates from one of the walls Darla damaged when ramming into the ship. They shield their eyes from the brightness, seeing She-Ra holding Catra in her arms. The fierceness in that electric blue gaze softens when she smiles at them. As more clones approach, she hands Catra to Bow.

 

Bow can feel the bones shift under his grip. He cringes from the way his stomach flips at the sensation, gingerly setting Catra down as Glimmer sits at her feet. Glancing at Glimmer his brow knits in concern. "She's hurt...badly." 

 

Glimmer looks at her former enemy, sympathy bubbling in her chest. "I wish we had gotten to her sooner...I wish she would've gone with me," she expresses regretfully. Her breath catches in her throat, as Bow meets her gaze with a worried one of his own. If I had my magic, maybe I could heal her, but-

 

Wordlessly, she slices the air, sending energy toward the clones as they fly backward. She-Ra walks confidently to the ship, directing Darla to get them out of here. She looks back at Prime's ship with disdain. "And Darla, make it quick."

 

Careful not to jostle her as Darla accelerates, Bow and Glimmer move Catra onto her side to check for any movement of air. Catra doesn't make a sound. She's still. Their eyes find each other again, sharing a panicked look, as tears start to form.

 

Now that they're out of immediate danger, She-Ra's attention turns to where Bow and Glimmer are with Catra. There are tears in Bow and Glimmer's eyes. She-Ra drops to her knees, reaching slowly for Catra. With cautious hands, she turns Catra over, arms cradling her. Catra's warmth is fading...What if I can't fix this? She exhales her doubts with a shaky breath. I won't let things end like this between us! "Come on, Catra," she whispers encouragingly.  

A memory surfaces in her mind, one of them on the rooftop of the Fright Zone. How do you think this war is going to end? Adora had asked. Catra's reply was a laugh. 'How else, you idiot?' Then a smile. 'It'll be you and me at the end of the world, together' 

"You're not done," she says. "Not yet." Please let this work. Focusing on bringing peace to her frazzled thoughts, she presses her forehead to Catra's. "We're going home," she murmurs as tears stream down her face. 

 

Catra sees flashes of light appear against the darkened sky above her. Stars? A distant pulse reverberates in her ears as a comforting scent wafts around her. That peaceful brightness becomes blinding. The heat from it radiating with such intensity she can't even breathe.

 

She-Ra's form dissapates like a gust of wind. The ache is enough to make her collapse, but Adora resists it. Gazing down at Catra whose eyes are still closed. I was too late...I failed...Adora chokes back a sob as her tears fall.

 

Catra coughs, forcing air into her lungs again.

 

Adora gasps, eyes widening in shock as a spark of hope reignites. She moves her hand away from Catra's face.

 

Catra looks to the side, seeing the interior of the ship. Her gaze sweeps to that familiar red jacket, and she turns her head toward it. Adora's heartbeat...the sound brings a smile to her lips as she looks into those slate blue eyes shining with tears. "Hey, Adora," she murmurs weakly. If this is a dream, I'm not ready to wake up...

 

Adora releases a shuddering gasp of relief, pulling her into a tight, careful embrace as she weeps. I'm not letting go. She'll hold onto her as long as Catra wants her to.

 

Catra inhales sharply at the realization she's awake. Her gaze wanders to Adora's, feeling those shuddering breaths pass through the quiet sobs. After all the suffering I've caused, is it really okay to even be near her? She chooses to be vulnerable in this moment.

Letting all the fear, pain, and grief melt into that embrace. She clings to her hoping to soothe what's been broken inside herself as well as Adora. When the rumble starts rising in her chest, she doesn't supress the sound. Catra's always comforted in her own way. Now, she allows those purrs to echo between them, offering Adora the only form of healling she possesses.

Chapter Text

Adora's limbs ache like a gradual burn seeping into bones as Catra's claws make pinpricks in her back. This pain she'll gladly bear, compared to almost losing Catra forever. When Bow and Glimmer have the brig prepared, Adora ignores her protesting legs, carefully maneuvering the two of them as she stands. She shifts Catra in her arms, staggering slightly out of the room. Walking through the hallway doesn't feel real. Adora looks down at the woman in her arms. She's finally safe. Catra is here, with me... Too soon they reach the brig. With great reluctance she lays Catra onto the bed, forcing herself to make her way toward the door. She looks back, releasing a held breath of relief at the slow, steady rise and fall of her chest. Even though her room is close by, not being in Catra's immediate vicinity causes anxiety to spike. Breathe in...hold for three seconds. Breathe out for four. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. Adora continues this mantra in her head long after she's lying in her own bed.

 

Pain brings Catra out of the nightmare, killing the scream in her throat. Typical after one of Shadow Weaver's- She blinks as the world blurs into focus. She's not in the Fright Zone recovering from the aftermath of one of their...discussions. The bed is plush beneath her, almost to the point of being uncomfortable. She's on that ship...Mara's. Her other senses gradually return. When they do, she wishes they hadn't. The initial pain was bad enough to be awoken from the nightmare, but she didn't know it would worsen so drastically or quickly. Sweat collects on her brow, evidence of how bad the ache and nightmares are. She'll have to shower. Water always irritated her before, but now...A flash of Prime's sinister grin as she sinks beneath the green liquid appears in her mind. Catra rubs the back of her neck, startling when those claws catch on something. The distinct metallic sound grates against her eardrums. The chip. She jolts as if the chip can read her thoughts. Maybe it can? It causes her to land on the floor in a heap, eliciting a hiss, born of surprise and pain. Catra hopes no one heard. Not no one. Adora.

 

The door is only a few feet away, but to Catra's eyes it looks like an endless tunnel. Her breathing is labored and too uneven. A pitiful growl pushes past bared fangs. Sinking her claws into the floor, she pulls herself inch by inch to the doorway. Raising a clawed hand to the panel, she leans against the door as a beep reaches her ears. Trembling on unsteady legs and using an adjoining wall to keep herself upright, she makes it into the shower. The frantic hissing breaths she takes do nothing to quell that constant fire invading her limbs and lungs. A sharp pull on the metal faucet releases a stream of water almost hot enough to scald. Emitting an appreciative sigh, she notes the water doesn't sting her nostrils this time.  Anything is better than that chilling green pool...Catra stands under it, allowing the heat to combat the one in her limbs like fighting fire with fire. For a few precious moments, her world is silent. Only when her body is covered in tingling numbness does she step away. 

 

Adora is uncertain when she fell asleep, but a thud brings her right out of the dream. Catra? Ignoring her protesting limbs, she bolts from her room to where Catra's room is. To her dismay, knocking at the door gives only silence. What if she's hurt? What she is expecting to see is Catra, not wide gashes marring the floor or a steam filled room. "Catra, it's me." When there's no reply, she begins pacing

 

A flash of white catches the corner of her eye. Dread coils in her stomach as she slowly turns her face toward it. Tired mismatched eyes stare back from the mirror, accented by dampened loose brown strands which are partially swept to the side. As a force of habit her fingers move through her hair slicking it back. When she glances at her reflection, the sight looks so much like how Prime had it, not a hair out of place. A scream rises like an oncoming wave, crashing through her lips before she can muffle it. 

 

That scream makes Adora's heart leap into her throat. "I'm opening the door," she announces, not bothering to wait for an answer. A blanket of steam covers the shower room, catching her off guard. What's more surprising and concerning is the sillhouette of Catra on the shower floor. She can just see the stark pristine white outfit adorned with black Horde wings. It looks so unnatural on her and...wrong. "Sorry, I heard a thud and-" Catra's ear twitches in her direction as she stays silent. "I can come back later," she offers, rubbing the back of her neck uncomfortably.

 

"Wait," says Catra,  thankful the shower is still going, as the water hides her tears. That moment of vulnerability she won't let anyone see. Not even Adora. "Get this thing off me," she snarls the command with disgust, tail bristiling at the visual reminder of his claim on her. 

 

"W-what?" Adora croaks out. Her throat feels dry, even in the steam filled air. For the first time in her life Adora's flustered being around Catra in this state. It's not like they hadn't been around each other in the Fright Zone, especially after practices, but something's changed, shifted, since their shared past in the Horde. After a hesitant pause, the reason clicks and Adora clears her throat. "Let me grab you clothes first, okay?" As she's halfway out the door, she catches that nod of agreement. Running fast as those protesting limbs will carry her, she barrels down a few hallways, reaching her room. The drawer is no match for her show of strength as she pulls it open and it splinters in her forceful grip She grabs one of her spare sets of night clothes, rushing back toward the brig. 

 

In solitude her senses heighten. Water cascades down her shoulders causing a shiver to trail down her spine as steam laced air settles in her lungs with every breath taken. That suit clings to every part of her, like a pale snake skin which refuses to be shed. Before she can push the recollection down, that memory of her punishment at Hordak's hands flashes in her mind. Catra coughing as she chokes from lack of oxygen. Her steady inhalations dissolve into wheezing gulps. Where that water felt soothing, now it's suffocating. Maybe a shower wasn't the best idea. Confining her in it's restrictive embrace and suddenly she's back in that chamber, surrounded by sparking water. With lead filled limbs and straining claws, she reaches for the metallic handle, fingers continously slipping on the smooth metal. Growling in frustration causes her to pause, bringing attention to how tight the suit suddenly is. How trapped she feels. A tremor runs from her head to her legs, becoming so violent she's unable to stay upright. Catra crumples to the floor arms crossed around herself while she rests her head on them, in an attempt to keep from falling apart. 

An ear perks up at a skidding sound. Catra doesn't need to look to know it's Adora, as the scent of sunlight reaches her amidst the steam. "Just get it off," she hisses through gritted teeth. How have I been reduced to begging Adora for help?! It isn't normal for her to sound this pitiful. She hears those slow footfalls, hesitant in their approach, which is the last thing she needs right now. "Adora!" The footsteps quicken, accompanied by rustling fabric falling to the floor. Fists bunch in the material on her back. An effort filled grunt, a harsh yank and then she's finally free of it. That too clean, too restrictive, unnatural suit. 

 

"I'm just g-" The words evaporate at the sight of Catra's shaking form, still facing away from her. Strong shoulders toned from years of battle, much like her own. That back which appeared to be so resilient from carrying life long burdens, looks so fragile now. Adora never realized there were stripes there too. It's surprising to see. She clears her throat. "I'm gonna go burn this." Without another word she sprints away, hoping to give Catra privacy to change into more comfortable clothing. Her clothes. The gesture feels protective, like she's able to shield Catra from everything, even if she's not present. Adora reaches the incinerator in seconds, flinging it into the flames. Staying longer than necessary, she watches that horrendous white suit be overtaken by black, as though the memory of one of their worst shared experiences will also turn to ash. When she returns the water is off, Catra's dressed and her shaking has lessened. A small relieved sigh escapes before she speaks. "Hey, uh, I'm back." Catra tips her chin in acknowledgement, but says nothing. "If you need help back to your bed, I can-"

 

"No," she responds in a small voice sounding so unlike herself it's startling to her own ears.

 

 She still sounds so frail..."What? You're making this your new bedroom?" Adora laughs, intending it as a playful jest. When Catra doesn't respond in kind, that laughter dwindles to nothing. "So...why did you...scream?" Adora's voice lowers on the last word as she shifts uncomfortably on her feet.

 

Not surprised she heard. Catra shivers, unsure if her voice will tremble when replying. Instead she raises her arm, pointing to one of the mirrors before raking that same clawed hand through her damp hair. Maybe she'll understand the meaning without me having to explain. 

 

Adora's gaze travels from the mirror to Catra's slicked back hair, brow furrowed in momentary confusion. She supresses a gasp when the connection is made. Her hair looks like it did back...then. An involuntary shiver creeps up her spine and she's relieved Catra isn't looking in her direction for once. Harnessing She-Ra's power is easier than it's ever been, thanks to that brimming rage still brimming just under the surface. Thinking of what Prime's done to Etheria and to Catra, she raises her palm out and the sword materializes in her hand with a flash of light. 

 

"What are you-" Catra's question is cut off as she shields her eyes from that blinding gold light emanating from the sword in Adora's hand. 

 

"Cutting your hair," she replies casually, as if they had been discussing Etheria's weather. Transforming the blade into a crude, deathly sharp pair of scissors, she grins, pleased with the result. "It's not going to look the greatest, but it'll grow back...eventually."

 

Catra meets those warm, fiercely determined slate blue eyes, blinking once, then twice, before resting her head back in her arms. 

 

Recalling one of those few moments Catra has shown that gesture in the past, she knows what it means. Her chest tightens and warms at the sight. In a small way, Catra is beginning to trust. Although it doesn't breach that wall between them, a small crack appears, revealing a speck of light. A hint of hope for their future. "How short did you want to make it?"

 

"Short enough that it doesn't look like-" Catra can't find the words without images of him flooding her thoughts. His laugh. That sinister smirk she wishes she could claw right off Prime's serpent like face. A growl rumbles low in her chest as she hears that first snip, causing one blade to graze the chip and a yelp to burst from her.

 

The unexpected sound almost makes Adora drop the scissors out of shock. "S-sorry, I didn't-" Adora starts, hastily withdrawing the scissors.

 

"Don't apologize!" The hiss in those words isn't directed at her but it's too late to take it back. Catra's breath is harsh, ragged and wild. 

 

"You need to retract your claws," she murmurs quietly. When Catra's claws remain extended, she lays a hand on those clenched fists. "Catra, you're bleeding."

 

Catra turns one hand, seeing the red crescents across her palm. Too slowly they retract, leaving a stinging sensation in their wake. She's vaguely aware Adora has let go of her hand, rummaging through different drawers before that hand returns, turning hers palm up.

 

"This might hurt a bit," she advises calmly, before tipping a small solution into her hand.

 

In an automatic response to the pain and that flashback that statement brings, a loud purr builds in her chest. Adora said the same thing when she- No, not her...An illusion of her. Catra's lost count of how many times those purrs helped cope with and self soothe during her worst moments. After Shadow Weaver's punishments. After Adora left her. That particular wound is one her purring never could completely diminish. Now she has another to add to the list...Prime. 

 

With gentle, trembling hands Adora finishes bandaging both palms, before resuming the haircut. Being this close to Catra brings back a multitude of memories. Casual conversations. Catra's smile. Those eyes of night and day looking back at her with open acceptance and trust. On a particularly good day, Adora asked her what the purrs meant, to which Catra answered it was mostly to show she was happy. At the memory a slight smile lifts at the corners of her mouth as her fingers run through the silk smooth strands. If she didn't know better, this almost feels like a dream. I never knew how much I'd miss simple things like this. Touching her hair. Talking to her. The way her purrs lulled me to sleep after her worst nightmares. A radiant warmth spreads through her chest, one she hasn't felt in so long. "You know, I missed this," she confesses wistfully. "You remember how bad I messed up your first haircut?"

 

That memory brings laughter bubbling to the surface only to be silenced by that world of sickly green. Her purrs intensify, so much the force threatens to tear her vocal cords apart. 

 

"Catra?" Adora lightly brushes a hand on her shoulder, flinching as she recoils. "Hey, I know the chip is bothering you." The quiet is deafening as Adora's pulse hammers against her eardrums. "Once we get the chip off everything will be fine," she murmurs soothingly, her eyes shining with optimism. 

 

It's more than just the chip. Things aren't fixed that easily. Irritation simmers within her while she fights to regain some fraction of calm. "You really don't get it! Catra growls, unable to restrain the bite in her words.

 

"Then explain it to me," Adora offers, allowing the scissors to dissipate as patient blue meets wild mismatched eyes.

 

"You wouldn't understand," mutters Catra, wrapping her tail around herself, averting her gaze. Explaining things would mean she'd have to relive it. Catra isn't ready to do that. Everything is still too intense. Too palpable.

 

Frustration breaks through the earlier calm. "I would try to if you would talk to me instead of closing yourself off again!" Adora retorts sharply, internally cursing herself for snapping when she knows it won't help. Taking a deep breath, she recollects herself. "I'm trying to understand, Catra, really, I am."

 

"Whatever..." grumbles Catra, still too focused on dousing the seething anger which threatens to boil over. "Just get out of here," she requests in a reserved tone. 

 

Adora should be used to Catra pushing her away. It's happened so many times since she left, yet the rejection bleeds the same way it always has. Words catch in her throat as she struggles with what to say. "I'll...let you rest," she mutters, voice calm and dejected. 

 

Catra doesn't want Adora to go, but can't bring herself to ask her to stay. Like the predictable people pleaser she is, Adora does exactly as she's told. For the second time, she leaves her. Double Trouble's words cycle around in her head. 'You drive them away, wildcat.' After everything, she's repeating that same mistake. Like a growing wave, memories of every misstep flash into her mind before she can repress them. Their altercation at Salineas. Capturing Sparkles and Arrow Boy. Abandoning Adora in the Crystal Castle after refusing her offer to join the rebellion. Clawing She-Ra during the Battle of Brightmoon. Corrupting She-ra in the Northern Reach. Pulling the switch. Letting go instead of taking Adora's hand in the portal reality. Fighting Adora on Prime's ship. Wounding Adora twice. Catra is drowning in a tide of her regrets and remorse, powerless to stop it. The more breaths she takes, the more frantic they become, never enough to satiate her starved lungs. Shadows appear, gradually overtaking all she sees. Catra tries to stand, but her world sways until she's hurtling into that dark void of emptiness. 

 

Adora remains in the doorway for longer than she means to, sorting through her chaotic emotions. The distinct sound of frantic gasps of air catches her attention. She waits for the breaths to calm, but they stop altogether. Her breath catches in her throat, until another thud has her running back toward the shower. "Catra?!" No answer. Adora places her palm on the scanner, eyes widening in alarm when the door opens to reveal Catra's unmoving form. Guilt and concern twist her stomach in knots as she bends down, lifting Catra into her arms. Adora's heart smashes against her ribcage. Everything will be okay. She's here. Catra's safe. Adora reminds herself, reassured by the subtle breaths that reach her ears. They're grounding, enabling her to maintain control of her own. With the utmost care, she sets Catra on the bed. One day, when Catra's ready, I'll learn what happened on Prime's ship. Until then, all I can do is be there for her. Adora wanders aimlessly down the halls,  eventually ending up in the main control room. 

 

Bow and Glimmer’s hushed conversation halts once they hear her footsteps. Glimmer is the first to speak as the pair walks over. "How's Catra?" If Glimmer's honest, she's rattled by the entire ordeal, but right now, Adora and Catra need support from both of them. 

 

"And just as importantly, how are you?" Bow adds, giving her a small smile even as his eyes shine with worry. 

 

Adora returns their worried gazes with what she hopes is a casual smile. "Catra's okay. Irritated enough to lash out at me, but that's a good sign, right?" She tries to laugh but it's too forced to ever be convincing. 

 

Glimmer and Bow exchange concerned glances as they see her hands begin to tremble. "Adora, everything will work out," he says, placing an encouraging hand on her shoulder. 

 

"If she has enough energy to argue, I know she'll be okay," murmurs Glimmer, squeezing Adora's hands optimistically, even as she feels them shake. "We're here for her and you."

 

The comforting heat forming in her chest banishes the uneasiness and fear as she tears dot her eyes. Although she fights to stop trembling it increases to the point her aching legs can barely hold her up. It hits her all at once, like a tidal wave of emotions crashing into her Once the first tears fall, new ones take their place. Covering her mouth to stifle a sob, she wraps the other around herself. 

 

Glimmer hasn't ever seen Adora like this before. Normally she would strike something, or yell. Looking toward Bow, she moves a hand to Adora's waist. Simultaneously,  Bow places a hand on Adora's back. Even though he knows it's good to get those feelings out, it doesn't make seeing her cry any easier. 

 

Adora is crumpling, caving in on herself before she even reaches the floor. She doesn't know why she's crying, only that the tears won't stop, pouring like rain down her cheeks. Whenever she attempts to speak it comes out as a strained cry. At the sound those arms around her tighten their embrace. 

 

"We've got you, Adora." Glimmer whispers soothingly, running a hand gently through her hair. 

 

"You can count on us...for anything," Bow adds, rubbing small circles on her back. They sit there holding each other while the minutes pass 

 

Once the shaking subsides and she's no longer blinded by tears, Adora pulls herself away from the hug, rising to stand on unstable feet. Before she can fall, Bow and Glimmer each drape an arm over their shoulder. "Thanks," she expresses, turning to smile at each of them as the trio make their way to Adora's room. 

 

Glimmer directs Adora to sit on the bed. "Bow can you brew some of that tea you've made for me? It should help." She continues to rub Adora's back until the tremors subside. 

 

Exhaustion clings to Adora, muting her senses. She's aware Glimmer of speaking but can't discern the words, merely that they carry a caring, albiet concerned tone. When that hand at her back touches where the claw marks are, Adora flinches. Seeing Catra's face, hearing that blend of her voice mingled with Prime's.

 

Glimmer stops when Adora flinches, witnessing the change in demeanor. How her relaxed back is now taut like a bow string. Eyes darkening as black overwhelms blue. It isn't long before those breaths dissolve into a rasping pattern of quick inhalations and exhalations. "Adora, if you can hear me, grab my hand," she instructs, extending an open palm to her.

 

Her careful control is slipping like quicksand, threatening to bury her beneath its surface. Chest compressing under the weight of it. Crushing the air from her lungs regardless of how quickly she inhales. Pressure builds behind her temples beating in time with her increasingly erratic pulse. She knows Glimmer's there despite how the world is spinning, then spiraling into a void of darkness. Adora hears Glimmer asks her something, holding out a hand as she does so. A lifeline which Adora snatches onto, grasping so tightly her knuckles turn white with the effort.

 

Glimmer represses a grimace once Adora's hand locks around hers in a trembling iron grip. "Remember the waves in Mystacor?" Glimmer asks softly, as Adora nods. "Concentrate on visualizing them in your mind. Breathe in when they recede and breathe out when they reach the shore."

 

Adora does as instructed, picturing those cloud waves, allowing them drown out the sound of Prime's words and wash away that alien version of Catra. 

 

Glimmer's attention goes to the door at the sound of Bow's approach. She takes the two cups he offers, raising a questioning brow at him.

 

"Thought you could use some, too," Bow explains with a shrug, gazing at both of them warmly. "What else do you need?

 

Glimmer pauses, peering at Adora's rigid form which is still quivering . "A blanket." She hears Bow's footsteps retreat into the hallway. Her attention returns to Adora focusing on running her thumb lightly along Adora's clenched fist, sighing in relief when the grip loosens. 

 

The more level her breaths become, the less her world spirals. That calming touch brings light to combat the dark void, pulling her away from it and back to herself. She feels a blanket draped over her shoulders, turning to see Bow there.

 

"If it's painful, you don't need to discuss it," says Bow, putting an arm around her. "We won't expect you or Catra to explain what happened back there."

 

"But if either of you want to talk, we're here to listen," adds Glimmer, holding the cup out. 

 

Pride and elation balloon in her chest at their words, wrapping her in an all encompassing warmth. In every scenario she'd dreamt of, Glimmer and Bow voluntarily comforting Catra wasn't even a possibility. The only positive outcome from Prime's capture. Rather than weakening his enemies, he strengthened their connections. "Thank you," she says, gaze moving to Bow, then Glimmer. "For everything." Adora lifts the cup to her lips, smiling softly when a floral scent of chamomile and lavender reach her. Taking small sips, she savors the flavor and warmth it brings. Upon finishing the tea, her eyelids droop and it's a struggle to keep them open and herself upright. They coax her into laying back, draping the blanket over her when she complies. Once Adora's deep asleep, they exit the room together. 

 

Both of them are struggling so much right now...When they're far enough from Catra and Adora's room's Glimmer voices her concern. "Bow, they'll be okay, won't they?" Glimmer's brow furrows her expression grim. 

 

Bow's worried gaze finds Glimmer as he takes both her hands in his. "They'll get through this," he murmurs encouragingly. "Are you okay? I know being back there wasn't easy...neither was seeing Catra-" Dead. Bow can't bring himself to say it. Despite Adora and Catra being on opposing sides of this war, he had hoped...believed Catra would be better. If Adora could defect, then she might too."

 

"Compared to what the two of them are going through, I'm fine," she answers, pushing down her unease for their sake.

 

"I wasn't comparing their experience to yours," he counters, shaking his head in exasperation. "You're also struggling with what happened."

 

"Bow..." Glimmer feels tears forming. "I-I'll handle it. I'm more worried about them."

 

"No one said you had to do this alone," he replies gently, brushing a tear away before it can fall. "I'm here." Bow wraps his arms tightly around her, silently conveying his support and his fears. "I'd rather Catra didn't go through whatever Prime did..." He pauses to draw a shaky breath. "The entire time she was...lying there, all I could think is what if was you?"

 

Any response Glimmer was going to say disappears. If she was honest, that thought had crossed her mind as well. What if it had been him? She knows rest would be impossible until Prime was dead by her hand. Glimmer speaks past the lump in her throat. "I'm sorry it was Catra, but I'm glad it wasn't you." Being in the comfort of that embrace helps chase away her fears as new confusing emotions take their place.

 

Adora doesn't know when she falls asleep, only that a sea of darkness is is now in front of her. Where am I? In answer a sudden light shines ahead, so bright she shields her eyes. She-Ra? Her movements are sluggish like trekking through quicksand. Reaching out blindly she manages to grab hold of the sillhouettes wrist. The light contorts, twisting until its shape is unrecognizable. She tries to pull away but is held fast by the shifting form. At the first glimpse of black claws, her struggle stops. Catra? The rest of Catra's body takes shape, facing away from Adora. A horrified gasp resounds in the darkness upon seeing that pristine white uniform adorned with black Horde wings. Still in shock, she's pulled forward as Catra whispers leans close to her ear.

 

"Come into the light with me?" As soon as the words leave her lips in a whisper, the darkness is illuminated. 

 

No... At the sight of those pristine floors and her blank green eyes, Adora's stomach flips. "Catra, we aren't here! We're on the ship."

 

"If you won't join the light," she releases Adora, stepping up onto the ledge.

 

"Catra, please, don't!" Adora lunges at her, reaching out.

 

"Goodbye, Adora." Catra tips back wearing that same unnaturally serene smile.

 

I won't let her fall! The momentary relief that fills her when she grabs hold of Catra's arm dissipates in a flash of pain slicing through Adora's skin. In spite of the sting cascading down her arm, she manages to drag them backward to relative safety.

 

"Oh, Adora," whispers Catra in that distorted mix of her own voice and Prime's. "I told you there was no need for you to suffer, but now..." 

 

Slashes made of fire trail across her back. Groaning at the searing agony, her eyes blur with tears as Catra leans out of the embrace.

 

"You have led us to destruction," whispers Catra, laughing maniacally while guiding them to that same ledge. 

 

None of this is right...but it seems so...real. Adora's pulse thunders wildly as she glances down at her arm, seeing a few droplets of crimson mar the white floor. "Catra, we have t-" A tremor stills her breath as she looks around, witnessing pieces of the roof collapse.

 

Catra's heel slips over the edge and it's as though things are happening in slow motion and too fast simultaneously. 

 

"NO!" Adora surges forward as fast as her feet will carry her, barely managing to grab Catra's hand. With one hand gripping the ledge, her mind races. I can't lift us both up like this! Her muscles scream against the strain when she attempts to raise Catra back on the ledge. How can I get us out of this? Scanning her surroundings, there's nothing to grab on to. Debris from the ceiling fall around them and she winces when one bounces off her head to land at her feet. Maybe this could work? Tapping her foot gingerly against the lower ledge, she tests its hold. No choice but to try. "Hold on, Catra!" Drawing from whatever reserves of strength that remain, she braces herself, pressing into the ledge with her foot as she tugs forcefully on Catra's hand. "I'll get us out of this, so don't let go," she yells, grunting with the effort of keeping her balance while focusing on keeping her fingers locked on Catra's.

Inch by agonizing inch, she pulls Catra up, seeing her wrist, then forearm followed by her shoulder; each a mark of their progress. Doubling her efforts, she moves her grip from Catra's hand to her arm, before gradually removing her foot from the ledge. Taking a few quick steadying breaths, she moves one foot back, then the other. Her strides are slow, growing in confidence with each step that gets them toward the relative safety of that platform. A violent quake rattles the room, causing Adora's balance to falter and her grip to loosen. She scrambles to reach Catra's hand, and their fingertips brush right as the floor crumbles beneath them. The air whistles in her ears when they fall. A wave of dread crashes through her as the distance widens between herself and Catra. She pins her arms to her sides and straightens her legs in order to decrease wind resistance as she gathers more speed. Catra's form is more visible now, but still too far apart to reach as they rapidly approach the ground. Pain explodes in her skull as darkness overruns everything. The first sign of awareness is how much her body hurts. Forcing her eyes open causes a blinding light to pierce her eyes, and she debates closing them. The memory of Catra falling brings a gasp with it as she pushes against the floor, only to drop down.

She looks at her hand in bewilderment, noting how it still has traces of Catra's warmth. I had her hand...and I let go. Her gaze sweeps around, quickly locking on Catra's unmoving form. Crawling toward Catra proves to be more difficult than she thought possible. Every movement becomes a fight in itself, like struggling to resist an impossible current with weights attached to her limbs. Each breath causes knives of anguish in her chest, but she continues to drag herself closer to Catra, panting from exhaustion by the time she reaches her. "Catra?" Her eyes trail down the white uniform as a shiver of revulsion runs up her spine. Catra doesn't make a sound.

Adora holds her breath, eyes widening in horror at the all consuming silence. Although sitting on her knees is almost unbearable, she does so, lifting Catra carefully as those bones shift unnaturally under her touch. She speaks past the sudden lump in her throat. "Catra?" The word comes out brokenly. "It's okay," she murmurs softly choking back a sob, because, right now Catra needs her to be strong. "I'm here." The strangled gasps for air make Adora's own breath stop, heart falling into her stomach. Her own quiet sobs blend with those labored breaths as she cradles Catra against her chest.

 

"I am sorry for the needless waste, Adora," a Prime controlled clone says in a false sympathetic tone. "It did not have to be like this...Are you ready to cooperate?"

 

Adora hears other metallic footsteps approaching, but doesn't bother looking up. All she can focus on is Catra's faint scent which is dilluted by the chemically odor from that suit. Her sobbing breaths lessen once she runs her fingers lightly through those smooth as silk strands of hair. A sudden crash draws the attention of Adora and the crowd of clones. Numbly she sees the clones fall with arrows near them. Bow? A hand touches her shoulder and she recoils, moving Catra away from the threat, until those familiar pink eyes meet her own. Glimmer? She tries to speak but no sound comes out. 

 

"It'll be okay, Adora," Glimmer says, offering her hand.

 

Adora starts to take it, then looks down at Catra, brow knitting in concern. 

 

"Bow, I could use some help over here," says Glimmer, inclining her chin toward Catra.

 

Adora sees Bow's face grow pale when his gaze finds Catra. Hurriedly he goes over to them, hands reaching for Catra, as her eyes widen in panic. 

 

"I'll keep her safe, don't worry," he murmurs gently, being just as careful when he lifts Catra from her arms.

 

 Glimmer drapes Adora's uninjured arm around her shoulder, half dragging her back to where Darla waits.

 

The moment Bow sets Catra down on the floor, Adora drops to her knees in front of her. This can't be real...it can't! She closes her eyes, not wanting to see more of the color fade from Catra's face. Forcing a new stream of tears back, she concentrates on taking deep, slow breaths. Adora feels the bones in her legs shift, but she doesn't care. Please let me fix this! The momentary calm gives way to a storm inside, sending streaks of power coursing into her veins. It seeps through every fiber right to her core, until she loses track of where the energy ends and Adora begins. "For the honor of Grayskull." The words are spoken like a whispered entreaty. When she opens her eyes again, she's practically towering over Bow and Glimmer. Her gaze wanders down to her hands and she almost cries with relief at the sight of those golden vambraces. It has to work...it just has to. 

Wasting no time, she places Catra in her arms, willing the magic to heal Catra just as it had with Bow and Shadow Weaver. Adora can feel rather than see the golden light transferring from her to Catra until it fizzles out and she's back to herself again. Gazing down at her through eyes brimming with tears, Catra's eyes stay closed. So, she waits, scrutinizing her for any movement like the twitch of ears, or whisper of a breath, but everything is still and silent. No...She-Ra's healing worked...It never fails." Adora knows any second now Catra will open her eyes and greet her with that same 'Hey Adora' wearing the familiar snarky smirk. The more time passes, the more Adora's hands shake as she clings to Catra's lifeless form. "For the honor of Grayskull!" The burning glow starts, only for it to go out as quick as a lit match. Adora loses count of how many attempts she makes to summon She-Ra, as her world swims in and out of focus. "You always said it would be you and me, together at the end of the world...but this can't be the end, Catra!" Searing rage interrupts the numbness as she yanks Catra up by the collar. "After everything we went through, you can't leave!"  She shakes her, but the force behind it is so weak her head barely moves. "You made me promise to take you home, Catra!" Images of Catra's smile, her laugh and her voice permiate the anger, dousing it instantly. "Hey," she murmurs shakily. "Don't just lie there...Tell me how I'm the world's slowest person." Tears drip onto Catra's face which Adora tenderly wipes away. "Call me an idiot like you always do." Catra's skin is cold..."I'll stop wearing my hair up, okay? And I'll drop the mouse joke you hate so much, so...so...-" A sob racks her body as more tears fall. "Let's go home." Adora gazes into that face, now too pale to really look like Catra, tucking her chin into Catra's neck as she cries and holds her tighter. 

 

Glimmer's hand brushes a tear from Adora's eyes as she places a blanket over her shoulders. "You have to let her go," she says, voice thick with tears.

 

Bow puts his arms around Adora, eyes full of unshed tears. "I'm so sorry, Adora." He kneels, starting to pull Catra from Adora's arms.

 

"No, wait!" Adora tries to keep ahold of Catra, but her limbs won't work. 

 

"Glimmer, I'll put her in the brig until we figure out what to do when we're back on Etheria," he says gently, his expression grim.

 

"We'll make sure everyone knows of her sacrifice. In the end, she wasn't evil."

 

Adora doesn't know how long she sits there, staring at nothing. 'Maybe your best wasn't good enough!' Glimmer was right after all...It wasn't good enough to save Angella, and it hadn't been enough to save Catra. I wasn't good enough... Adora's heart feels like it's been ripped out of her chest, shredded to pieces, stomped on, then put back in. A wound too vast for even She-Ra's power to heal. She wishes someone would remove it, then she wouldn't hurt anymore. Somehow Adora finds the strength to stand, walking robotically to her room and lying on the bed. Unconsciousness claims her, but soon after, something rouses her from sleep. As though in a trance, she walks to the brig, opening the door to see Catra's form. How could the loss of you still cause my heart such distress? When she gets closer, Adora can see a cloth is covering her face. Reaching out with tentative fingers, she brushes a few strands away from Catra's face, flinching at how cold her skin feels.  Adora's legs give out as she covers her ears, in an effort to block out the silence, and everything else. 

 

Adora wakes, a scream about to burst from her throat. One she stops. Catra...I have to get to her. Moving faster than she ever has, she bursts into the brig. Instead of Catra's usual response to being awoken by the noise and hissing, like Adora expects her to, Catra just lies there. Her heart pounds against her ribcage so hard it threatens to crack ribs. She goes over, reaching out with trembling hands as her arms lock around Catra in a tender, yet fiercely protective embrace.

 

Within the nightmare as Catra looks up, she can almost feel the droplets falling from She-Ra's eyes. Where breathing had been difficult before, now it was impossible. No matter how much air she manages to draw in, no oxygen reaches her starved lungs. She scrambles, thrashing wildly, to no effect. She's trapped. Her eyes snap open as she's jolted from the nightmare. Catra would scream if she had the breath for it. Adora's scent surrounds her like a cloak. Their earlier argument runs through her mind as she prepares herself for another round of arguments. It's the same story, same old battle. One Catra is getting tired of participating in. Each of them putting up their own defenses made of misread signals and half truths. She accused Adora of not understanding, but the way she's being held by those foreign arms now...Uknown, yet also known tells a different story. 

Catra is claws, fangs and hissing hurt given form. She's not supposed to be the softer one. That was always Adora: the soft exterior with an underlying strength. They were opposites, never meant to meet, and if they connected, mutually assured destruction was sure to follow. It did, in a sense. Throughout the countless fights, they had plenty of opportunities to take one another out of commission. Catra certainly tried, attacking her body with claws. She realizes striking Adora's back- her weakest point, was a cheap shot. It always had been, because everyone watched her back, herself included, until Adora left. When nearly toppling Bright Moon didn't work, she attempted to move past it by attaining power. Which was derailed the moment Shadow Weaver left her to die before going after her precious Adora. We aren't meant to remake what was broken...Sitting here in the arms of her former enemy, Catra isn't so sure she believes that anymore. 
"Adora...you have to let me go," coughs Catra, not having the strenght to struggle out of the embrace. In response, the hold tightens so abruptly it steals what little oxygen remains in her. "Adora, I...can't...breathe," she says between gasps for air, seeing stars appear in her darkening vision. Catra feels a tremor rock through the silent warrior, grip relenting just enough that her lungs function again. Catra's so taken aback by the sensation of water on her cheek that her next words evaporate from her mind. Tilting her neck to the right, her eyes spot something that stops her next breath. Tears? This is the first time shes seen Adora, the warrior, cry. It's a forbidden image that is now engraved in her memory. Wait...warrior? Catra blinks in confusion, recovering from the momentary shock. Her mind registers what her eyes see. Those muscular arms encircling her, and that crisp white material adorned with gold accents. "Why...Why are you transformed?" The question is hesitant, uncertain, and uncomfortable, a reflection of her current internal feelings. 

 

"What?" Adora croaks out in a  weighted breath. 

 

"Yeah," Catra doesn't know what else to add.

 

"Oh." The simple, surprised admission is released like a sigh.

 

"Adora, I-" She wants to ask why Adora's crying, needs to, but knows from experience not to point out weak moments...vulnerable ones. Catra starts to pull back, unable to resist the temptation to look at her face. 

 

"Don't." A hushed command so faint, Catra swears she imagines it. 

 

Deep within the barrier she's spent years building up, fortifying, a shift occurs. Catra takes a breath to steel her resolve. "If you want to talk...to me...I'm ready to listen." It's the smallest concession she'll allow. There's an answering hitch in Adora's breath, but not for the reason Catra expects. 

 

"I...I..." Adora stammers, taking miniscule sips of air. "Thought I lost you," she states the confession in a strained half sob. "Again..." Her voice quivers so much that the word is almost unintelligible.

 

"Again?" Catra's brow raises in question along with her voice, not that Adora could see it. A recurring nightmare? "Adora, those are only nightm-"

 

"No, they're not!" Adora's vehement denial punctures the air. 

 

Catra's about to ask for an explanation, but it isn't neccessary. She has unintentionally pulled a switch on the dam of self control Adora holds herself to.

 

Adora's next words fly out in a tumultuous, albiet, tremor filled burst. "The platform...you fell...I t-tried talking to you..." Catra? It's okay. I'm here. She trails off, reliving the almost imperceptible rise and fall of Catra's chest. Hearing those labored breaths, that death rattle which haunts her memories. Her nightmares. Her dreams. One that refuses to be forgotten with time. Drawing several gulps of air, she clears her throat before continuing. "After I transformed into She-Ra, I know what I felt..." Adora cant' bring herself to go into the details of Catra's final breath. A sigh on the wind before all consuming emptiness. "What I didn't feel when...I c-couldn't hear you breathe."

 

Catra's own breath stills at the admission as that horrible manipulation from Prime invades her senses. It replays in her mind but it's as if she's experiencing the moments a second time. Adora's deathly pale face, accompanied by her increasingly desperate thoughts during the failed attempt to save her. C'mon Adora. You're too strong to lose here. Fight! Adora, breathe! Please?! When the first tremor hits, it overpowers all semblance of self control. Fear, acidic and dark clutches at her throat, killing any possibility of speech. The world is shaking so violently, it causes the wall ahead of her to blur in hues of blue and purple. 

 

Adora can't hear the reassuring inhalation of exhalation of breath from Catra anymore, or feel her move. Blood turns to ice in her veins, sending her right back into that instant after She-Ra's healing. Catra is just as still now as she was back then. Driven by pure, panic filled adrenaline, she shakes Catra's shoulder's wildly despite how her hands tremble. When she doesn't move...Doesn't even breathe, it's like the past and her dream merge into a living nightmare. "C...tra...atra...CATRA!"

 

The sharp cry of her name on Adora's lips brings reality crashing back, sending a rush of air into her lungs. "A-adora?" What began as a breathless sigh morphs into a hiss through gritted teeth. Being held isn't the reason a growl abruptly forms in her chest. It's how tight the hold is. She hates this confined feeling. One which reminds her so much of Horde Prime's imprisonment and restraint. That heated protest on the tip of her tongue is extinguished by a sudden stream of tears running down the side of her face. More tears?

 

"Don't leave me...please..." Adora strains out the words in between quiet gasping breaths as she runs a shaky hand through Catra's hair.

 

Catra's own plea reverberates in her thoughts. 'Don't go...' Another piece of that carefully constructed wall cracks. "Adora, I-I'm here," she states plainly. "Not that I could go anywhere with that grip of yours," she adds, a hint of a smile in her tone. Instead of adding levity, it only reinforces the arms around her to tighten further. Unnatural puffs of air from Adora brush past her ears. She waits for them to level out, as they always have before when this has happened. Only, it doesn't. Catra's heart thunders with new intensity when her sensitive ears catch the increasingly rapid breaths, becoming a stark contrast to her own. "Adora, look at me," she urges, tone firm. 

 

Adora doesn't want to look. Doesn't want to see her too pale, too still face again. An expression of death. 

 

Not even during her worst nightmares in the Fright Zone did Adora lose this much control...Enough to hyperventilate. The longer it goes on, the more frightened Catra is as she listens. Her need to make it stop is so intense she doesn't bother to bite back her next words. A second surrender. "I'll...close my eyes so...look at me?" Catra's question is pleading as she keeps her tone as calm as she can make it, in spite of the fear. The back and forth movement of Adora's head is a clear refusal of her request. Swallowing years of pride, she closes her eyes and sighs. "Adora...try?" That hold loosens at an agonizingly slow pace, but she doesn't push. She waits in the same way Adora did when they first met. When the embrace becomes a light pressure instead of stifling, she can speak easier. "Hand, palm out, " demands Catra, her tone stern, but gentle as she holds out her own in the darkness. 

 

"What are you doing?" Adora's question is just above a whisper.

 

"For once...just listen to me!" The growl escapes before she can retract it. 

 

Adora reaches out, half afraid of the touch. Her heartbeat is frantic as she recalls the coldness and lifelessness within that hand. Eventually, her fingertips brush Catra's palm and she almost withdraws it, but Catra's quicker and grabs on, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze as she holds it in an unrelenting grip. 

 

Catra keeps her eyes shut, moving that hand to her own throat, placing it where her pulse hammers just beneath the surface. She hears Adora's breath catch once she does so and is certain if she opens her eyes, a stormy blue gaze will be staring back at her. Eyes that mesmerize her as much as they terrify her. When she feels that palm begin to hastily draw back, she covers it with her own. "Don't." Adora needs to realize that I'm mostly okay. Her beating heart is irrefutable proof that she's there with her. "What's under your palm right now?"

 

Adora takes a few stuttering breaths, her entire focus fixated on that thrumming at Catra's neck. The beat is sure, strong and...fast? Faster than she remembers it ever being. 

 

"Adora, answer," prompts Catra, in a tone that leaves no room for refusals.

 

"Y-your..." murmurs Adora, pausing to clear her throat again. "Hearbeat," she concludes, voice so faint it's almost inaudible. 

 

"Right," says Catra, matching her tone. "Dead hearts don't beat, do they?"

 

"No," she replies slowly, releasing a heavy sigh of relief. "They don't."

 

Catra frees her palm from it's captivity, almost missing the warmth, though she won't ever admit that. "So...can you undo the She-Ra transformation at will?" Her voice catches at the mention of 'She-Ra' making her attempt at sounding casual fail. Maybe she won't notice.

 

"Oh." Adora says softly, forgetting that she's transformed. "Yeah."

 

"Can you do that now?" Catra's hushed request sounds too sharp to her own ears. 

 

"Okay." Adora concentrates on letting the magic recede within her until she's in her own body once more. 

 

When the bright flash is gone, Catra knows it's safe to open her eyes again. "I...uh...I'm still really tired so," she says, rubbing her shoulder uneasily.

 

"Y-yeah, you should rest," agrees Adora, as she rises from the bed, turning to glance back at Catra before leaving. "And thanks."

 

"Don't mention it," she replies bitterly, doubting Adora will catch her meaning. She lies back down, tail curled around herself while a loud purr starts in her chest. Not when I don't deserve it...Now that Catra's alone, she can admit the only thing Prime did that was anything remotely kind was providing a system of support in the hive mind. One where she never had to be lonely. The reality of it makes her stomach twist in so many knots she feels sick as a familiar voice beckons.

 

"Catra..."

Chapter Text

The Rebellion has successfuly protected another territory, and for once since Prime's invasion, there's a rare lull in the fighting. 

Scorpia looks up at that brightly lit sky, taking a deep breath of the crisp night air. Push down doubts and insecurities...che-

 

' But of course you ruined it....You're Scorpia. That's just what you do! How can you  possibly be this useless?!  '

 

Scorpia's easy smile falters a bit. Her daily routine has proven more challenging ever since she lied to Catra.. Scorpia lost count of how many papers she threw away before leaving that note to Catra. Maybe her words had been too harsh. Catra hadn't been thinking clearly...She was tired and didn't know what she- Catra knew what she was saying. As much as Scorpia wanted to give her wildcat the benefit of the doubt, those words, and the sting that still remains, are clear as day. Other people would be able to cut friends out. Not her. She's loyal, maybe to a fault, but it's who she is. Wherever you're at, wildcat, I hope you're safe and happier. I guess I couldn't break down your walls after all.

 

Perfuma exits her tent, mind preoccupied with thoughts of her people, as well as Bow, Glimmer, Entrapta, and Adora. She feels that knot of unease form in her shoulders. Nothing a little night time meditation can't cure! She walks out to the quiet clearing, noticing that towering form of the Scorpion Princess. A rare falter in that easy smile makes Perfuma stop.  "Scorpia, mind if I join you?" 

 

Scorpia's head turns, caught off guard by the voice. "Oh, Perfuma," she says, an uneasy smile gracing her features. "Sure you can." 

 

"You wouldn't believe we're in the middle of a war with a sky like this." Perfuma sighs contentedly as she takes a seat next to Scorpia. They sit there, looking up at the stars in silence. "I didn't spend much time with She-R-, I mean, Adora, before they all left," she says, tone regretful. "I know you said you were here to learn how to be a better friend and mentioned Catra..."

 

'We are not friends!' 

 

Scorpia pauses, putting her pincers together nervously. "Wildc- Catra and I aren't friends...and I wasn't as close to Kyle, Rogelio or Lonnie." She knows they care. Lonnie had even said she was one of them before letting her and Glimmer walk through the Fright Zone unhindered. 

 

Perfuma notices the defensive gesture. I know she said Catra wasn't being a good friend to her but I didn't think it'd mean that was enough to end the friendship. "Sometimes it helps to talk about it...Whatever happened, that is," she says quietly, offering a slight encouraging smile.

 

"I know...it's just-" Scorpia takes a deep breath. "I did so much for Catra. Everything she asked me to, except destroying Emily to get the recordings. But it was never enough for her."

 

Perfuma rests her palm on Scorpia's pincer. "You know that friends would actually show their appreciation for making an effort, whether you suceeded or not, right?"

 

Scorpia's head turns toward Perfuma, contemplating her words. "I mean Catra did thank me...once, but afterward, because of all the pressure, she was just...mean."

 

"No one deserves to be treated that way, Scorpia. Not everyone is like that." Perfuma smiles softly up at her. "Someone like you who gives so much should also be given more in return. Every relationship is about giving *and* taking. Not just one or the other." Perfuma squeezes Scorpia's pincer in soothing encouragement. 

 

"You know, I think you're right, Perfuma." Scorpia returns Perfuma's smile with a warm one of her own. "I really needed that. Thanks."

 

A small giggle bubbles from Perfuma's lips and the two of them stargaze until those stars disappear in the daylight.

 

Catra's every waking moment is marked by that constant whisper of their voices, while every night is filled with those horrendous flashes. Beckoning Catra back to that dreaded, acrid, pool, those pods lining it, a testament to her imprisonment. 

 

"Little sister...Return to the Light"

 

Hearing Prime's voice wakes her, sending a scream that threatens to rip her apart. Trying to make sense of the blurred world, she searches wildly for something to cool that aching burn permanently seared in her throat. There are bottles of water, along with unknown foods beside the bed. She downs two bottles, barely pausing between gulps. A small sigh leaves her at the cooling relief it brings. Sitting in this room by herself brings those buried feelings of lonliness crawling up her skin. There's no Scorpia. No Lonnie. No Kyle. No Rogelio. There is Adora...Sparkles and Arrow Boy. Catra pushes the thought down as soon as it appears, knowing she doesn't deserve to be around people she's wronged and almost killed. I should be treated like the war criminal I am, not a guest. Taking a few angry bites of some of the food, she leans her head against the wall, listening to that subtle whirling of the engine. It's almost enough to drown them out, but it isn't. 

 

Those suffocating voices steal every calm breath until she's panting with the effort of fighting their influence. Catra stares at her hands, willing her claws to extend, then retract. Finding a rhythm in the repetitiveness, she matches her uneven breathing to it. Extend. Breathe in. Retract. Breathe out. Despite the slow progression, it's a start to regaining one piece of control back from him. 

 

'Catra's...She's sleeping...just...not well'  Adora's words revolve around Glimmer's mind as she gets closer to the brig. The way her friend's brow has been furrowed for so long she's unsure if that crease will ever disappear. Glimmer knows there isn't much she or Bow can do for either of them. While Adora appears to be getting slightly better, Catra's recovery is questionable. Her hands trembled while making the tea. Only when the warm scent of chamomile and lavender wafted around her, did her hands cease their shaking and she felt calmer. Maybe it can have the same effect on Catra. Upon reaching the brig door, Glimmer's knuckles lightly knock on the metal, not wanting to startle her. 

 

At the sound of a tentative knock on the door, she coughs, wincing when the burning in her throat reignites. "What?" The way it comes out in a growl is more due to her own frustrations, rather than whoever is here. As if they could tell the difference.

 

Glimmer's eyes widen in shock, caught off guard by the response sounding so harsh and weak all at once. "Horde- The nickname automatically begins falling out before she catches herself. Glimmer clears her throat, inhaling that comforting aroma from the cup she holds. "Catra," she murmurs, tone free of any past hostility. "Mind letting me in so I can give you something?"

 

Why is she asking me as if I'm in charge? "It's not like I own the ship, Sparkles," she answers gruffly. Catra notes how gravely her voice sounds. On instinct, she attempts to wrap her tail around herself like before. Anything that might soothe the ache in her body and heart. The movement is a small twitch, nothing more. A growl of irritation wells up in her chest.

 

Glimmer represses the reaction to jump at the growl. "Right, sorry." Setting the cup down on a table with a clatter, she looks at Catra's slumped form. Tension radiates off of that increasingly frail body, framed by muscles pulled taut, as though in anticipation of a fight. 

 

Catra's ear scarcely twitches at the sound. What used to be a natural response, now feels unfamiliar It's like he still has ahold of me! A groan slips between her bared teeth.

 

"Catra?" Is she in pain?  Glimmer takes a step forward, arms at her sides. "What I brought is supposed to ease you into sleep." She waits for a reply, only to be met with silence. 

 

Catra's head lifts at those words. "Dreamless sleep?" The question is a whisper on her lips, one she dares not place too much hope in.

 

"No, b-" Seeing Catra's head drop hits like a stone on Glimmer's ribs while her heart beats hollowly against it. "But when we're back on Etheria, I'm sure we can craft a substance to fix that." 

 

"Sure," she scoffs, laughing dryly at the idea. Why am I surprised at that?! Nothing ever makes things better, not for her. 

 

Glimmer's fists clench at her sides. If I just had my magic, maybe I wouldn't feel so useless. "I-I know it's not much, but the tea should help," she adds calmly.  

 

 

She's powerless to prevent the sudden hitch in her breath. The way her heart rate elevates so fast it's dizzying. Her pulse roars in protest as a memory surfaces.  

 

Scorpia stands there, a cup balanced between her claws. 

 

Catra rests a hand on her forehead as she talks out loud." If I can pull this off, everything, everything will have been worth it." She turns back to Scorpia, focused on her mission. "Find me those recordings so I can finish this."

 

"Yes!" Scorpia replies with an enthusiastic smile. "Yes, I'll find them, I-I promise." She pauses, gaze passing from the cup in her hands, to Catra. "D-did you want any of the...tea?"

 

Catra frowns and stares at her.

 

"You know what, it's-it's not a big deal."

 

Snatching the drink from her claws, Catra downs the warm tea with a sigh, enjoying that momentary peace.  "What are you still doing here?"

 

Glimmer is frozen in place, her eyes catching the subtle bristling of Catra's tail. "Catra...you know we're here if you want to talk to us. Or Adora, if that's easier."

 

At Adora's name all Catra sees are those naively determined, hopeful eyes. Hearing the words Adora spoke in Prime's throne room. 'I am not leaving without you. It's gonna be okay.' How did she repay that show of kindness? Gouging her leg. That wasn't the worst injury though. Catra's claws still remember ripping into Adora's back. 'I am NOT giving up on you, Catra. Rage rises like lava in her veins. At Prime. At Glimmer. At Bow. At Adora. The most rage she saves is at herself for being so weak. Like always, she unleashes it in her words. "Well, I don't!"

 

Glimmer closes her eyes with a sigh. She backs out of the brig, gaze lingering on Catra until the door obscures her from view. For the third time since she was whisked away from Etheria, Glimmer wishes her teleportation powers were usable. That earlier confidence deflates as she retreats back to her own room.

 

Bow notices the sound of Glimmer's door shut loudly behind her. Guess it didn't go well. He ponders various things he could do to lift Catra's spirits. Upbeat, he strides forward, making his way toward the brig door. He smiles confidently as he knocks.

 

When she no longer hears footsteps, Catra takes a few more bites of food, forcing it down with huge gulps of water. Now that she feels full, Catra's attention returns to her tail. Move. Nothing. Come on... A shadow of movement. Was that real?  Redoubling her efforts, she draws a deep breath in only to have a rap on the door knock it right out. "I already told you, Sparkles-

 

"It's...," Bow hesitates, rubbing a hand on the back of his head. "It's Bow," he says with a nervous laugh. "So, I thought you might-"

 

Catra's hiss punctures the air. "Leave me alone!" She drags her claws along the sheet, not caring how much damage it does. Better the sheets than him... Instead of fading footfalls, everything is quiet. Gradually rising from the cot causes another growl of agitation to bubble up. The closer she gets to the less she's able to supress it. Even the wafting aroma of lavender and chamomile do little to quell the sound. Searching for the source, her eyes lock on that cup. Bringing her to that moment of what transpired after she lit into Scorpia about being useless.

 

"What?!" Catra looks at the silent Force Captain with eyes narrowed.

 

"You're a bad friend," replies Scorpia, her expression reflecting hurt and sadness before she leaves.

 

Everyone should leave...They're only worried because Adora cares. Unsure if her voice will break if she speaks, Catra grabs the cup, throwing it at the door with such force it shatters on impact.

 

Bow muffles a yelp with his hand, laying his forehead against the door. How can I help someone who doesn't want to be helped, despite how clear it is they're hurting?! He forces himself to turn away from the brig, sparing a few glances behind him before going to his room. 

 

Isolated once more, her traitorous mind summons the worst mistakes, starting from when Adora left. Triggering that wound of rejection and abandonment, slicing so deep into her scarred heart, she can barely breathe from the agony. Catra's heartbeat becomes as sporadic as her breathing. So many sensations crash into her relentlessly that her control slips from her grasp. It's too much, too fast. That tidal wave comprised of her own thoughts, feelings, and emotion buries her until she's drowning in it. When was the last time I didn't feel like this?  Dread forms at the answer. When I was connected to...the hive. Revulsion coils low in her stomach, twisting and curling her insides. Catra's throat which felt dry as a desert moments before is being overrun by saliva. Hastily, her feet find the floor as another stomach cramp causes her to sink where she stands. For once, those voices are silent. It allows a small measure of peace while using her claws to support those rebelious limbs as she crawls along the floor toward the bathroom. 

 

Ever since the rescue operation, Entrapta has been quietly keeping a log of Catra's condition. Last time Adora was sick, Bow mentioned her needing sleep. Remembering that, she's made sure to maintain distance during the recovery process and observation period. Walking with her assistant, she puts a finger to her lips as they approach the brig. "Catra, sick log, day..." she looks to Wrong Hordak for an answer. He holds up six fingers, then makes a zero with his other hand. "Day 60," Entrapta adds, sending a thankful smile his way. "According to Bow and Glimmer's input, food has been left, but rarely is consumed. Catra seems to be experiencing disrupted sleep cycles. However, Glimmer mentioned creating something to resolve the issue. Adora says- A thud, followed by a series of loud bangs and a cracking sound causes Entrapta to jump, nearing the doorway with heightened concern and interest.

 

Catra hardly registers the protest of the material when it cracks under her grip. A small sheen of sweat forms from the exertion while her body trembles violently as her stomach rids itself of what little food she's consumed. It sets a fire in her throat no amount of water can extinguish. 

 

"It does not have to be this way, poor child...You could be free of this pain again."  

 

Catra's eyes widen in horror as she looks up in alarm, seeing her own pale skin and wild heterochromatic eyes staring back. He's not here. She draws in a shaky breath, brushing her hair away from her face. 

 

Entrapta opens the door, noticing the holes in the floor. She looks over at Wrong Hordak, putting her hands out flat, so he knows to stay. Before Catra woke up, Adora mentioned it might not be a good idea for those two to interact at first, given the events on Prime's ship. Hearing Catra's distress, Wrong Hordak calls out. "What can I do to ease your suffering, little Sister?"

 

Adora is walking through the halls, somewhat aimlessly, eventually ending up near Catra's room. Her brows raise in surprise when she notices the door is open. Hope balloons in her chest. She's almost in front of the door, until two words cut like a knife, deflating that earlier elation. Little sister. A title which chills her blood before it heats to dangerous levels.  

 

Ears twitching at the title, those muscles tense as her body body goes ramrod straight while she inhales small hissing breaths. Catra's legs shake with such intensity, only that clawed iron grip on the sink prevents her from collapsing. Despite her effort, Catra can feel herself teetering over the edge, vision tunneling and blurring. 

 

Adora flies to the door. "Entrapta," she says hurriedly , looking from her to Wrong Hordak. "Why- why don't you both look at some schematics Bow's drawn up for his arrows?" It's less of a question and more of a demand. Hearing that title can't mean anything positive.

 

"Oh, Adora!" Entrapta exclaims excitedly, lowering her voice to a whisper when she realizes the volume might be disruptive. "I was just taking a few observations for-" She pauses at the edge in Adora's eyes and the forced smile accompanying that suggestion. "Wrong Hordak let's go see Bow." Entrapta wraps one of her ponytails around his waist and he lets himself get pulled from the room.

 

Adora sighs when they leave. She dare not discuss the issue yet, keenly aware of how advanced Catra's hearing is. She nears the bathroom, seeing Catra wobble before starting to collapse. Just like the dream... Running to her side, Adora's knees hit the floor, arms encircling that frail body before it reaches the ground. "I've got you, Catra." 

 

Catra braces herself for an impact that never happens. Instead, she's hovering, weightless. Her ears twitch at the sound of her name from a familiar voice, one that isn't Prime. "Flashes," she groans, whimpering at the pinpricks of pain raking along her temples.

 

Staggering to her feet, being careful not to jostle Catra's form too much, she nearly misses the word. Flashes?  She doesn't know what it could mean, just that it isn't good. "I'm not letting go," Adora murmurs comfortingly while she makes slow strides back to the cot. She's...paler than usual. Those dark circles stand out stark against the sickly palor. Another nightmare? The flashes? Or because of what Wrong Hordak said?  

Catra seems easier to carry than normal. Although Adora's recovered from the side effects of She-Ra's healing, lifting her shouldn't feel this different, enough to be noticable. Concern creases her brow at the implication. Mouth pulling into a grimace, she takes stock of the mostly uneaten food and copious bottles of water around the room. With delicate hands, Adora lowers Catra back onto the bed, tacticle in her retreat until it's disrupted by something crunching beneath her foot. She breathes a sigh of relief when Catra doesn't stir, and makes her way back to the hull. 

 

 

"Adora, you need to stop pacing," murmurs Bow, as he watches from the captains chair, hand tucked under his chin in concern. She's been doing that nonstop since waking up.

 

You'll put permanent marks in the ship if you keep it up," adds Glimmer, her teasing tone offset by the concerned look she sends Bow.

 

"When I moved her last...her body was lighter." she mutters, mostly to herself while continuing to pace. "You guys brought food to her and tried talking to her right?" Adora's voice rises as quickly as the churning anxiety in her chest. 

 

"I tried to, but.." Bow trails off, his expression darkening when he clenches his fist. 

 

'So, I thought you might-'

 

'Leave me alone!'  

 

"She didn't want to see me." Catra had screamed at him through the door. Despite her request, he stood there, only moving when something broke against it.

 

"Glimmer?" Adora's anxious gaze locks on hers, hands open to accept anything she has to give. 

 

"Catra...she let me in," she begins, lips forming into a thin line. "That was a start, but she wouldn't look at me..." Glimmer's gaze passes from Adora to Bow. "I-I left her that tea you both tried, since it could help her sleep."

 

'Catra...you know we're here if you want to talk to us. Or Adora, if that's easier.'

 

'Well, I don't! '

"I think that's what she threw at the door," she elaborates, giving Bow an apologetic smile. 

 

"I'm so sorry, Glimmer. Bow" Adora says softly as she looks at the pair. "Thanks for trying. I'll think of a plan." Adora clears her throat "Entrapta, any changes in your log?" 

 

"Not since...well..this morning," she replies with an awkward laugh, twirling those two hair strands together. "Sorry...again."

 

Adora bites back a groan, hand moving to her temples to calm the pounding ache there. Two steps forward and one step back. "I know Wrong Hordak was only trying to help," she says forcing air into her lungs. "Just don't let him call her that." Adora looks off to the doorway that leads to the brig. "Brother is fine...A bit weird," she admits, an awkward laugh spewing from her mouth. "But better than the...other one."

 

"Why would he call her that when sister would be more appropriate and correct?" Entrapta brings out her notepad, pen at the ready for Adora's response. 

 

Gaze hardening at the question, her head turns sharply at the question. "Because that's," she pauses, as the memory of Prime's voice surfaces. Clenching her knuckles to avoid hitting the ship, her knuckles turn white from the show of restraint. "That's what Prime called her." The phrase comes out much harsher than she intends it. 

 

 Entrapta has rarely seen Adora angry. Frustrated yes, but nothing this intense. She nods in understanding, not wanting to push the issue, or exacerbate that anger further. "I'll definitely let him know about the name thing, I promise."

 

The tension that built so quickly within her fades at Entrapta's words. Once she feels calmer, Adora goes back to her room, making a mental note of how many spare clothes she has. Catra probably needs a new set. So Adora waits and paces, walking past the brig door and opening it on multiple trips. One more walk around the permiter and then I'll go to the bridge. After passing the brig and finding no change, Adora returns to where the rest of her friends are. 

 

Glimmer is the first to speak, giving voice to the question on everyone's mind. "How's Catra?" She steps toward her friend, noting how nervous she appears to be. 

 

"Good, I think." Adora responds, rubbing her hands together anxiously. "I ju- I keep checking on her," she continues, lowering them to her sides. "But she's been sleeping for a while." On instinct, her gaze drifts in the direction of the brig. Adora's hands clasp together as she holds them in front of her chest. "Do you think I should check on her again?" 

 

Adora being concerned about Catra is as understandable as it is, well, adorable. Bow knows from his previous interaction with Catra, hovering over her might be the last thing she wants. "Adora, you should let her rest," he advises calmly. 

 

"Right. Right," she agrees, clasping her hands tight while the other two look on in worry. After a breath, she shrugs with her palms out. "But what if she needs something?"

 

Glimmer scowls at Adora in disapproval, while Bow stays silent beside her.

 

Disregarding that look in Glimmer's eyes, Adora turns on her heel. "I'm j-I'm just gonna go check on her," she says, pointing toward the door. 

 

Glimmer takes a few strides forward, blocking Adora's path, giving her a stern glare. After what happened last time? No! She needs rest. 

 

Adora holds her hands up in a placating gesture. "No, no no," she concedes, starting to turn around, eyes are focused on the look Glimmer's sending into her back. "You're right. You're right." Adora takes a few more steps away from the door with a smile. "Letting her rest," she finishes with a breathy, nervous laugh. Glimmer tries to lighten the mood, speaking energetically about surviving Prime, getting She-Ra back, and planning a celebratory meal. When Glimmer drags Wrong Hordak off, Adora knows Bow will be too busy steering Darla to stop her. "I'm gonna go check on Catra again!" Adora hurriedly runs after Glimmer and Wrong Hordak, ignoring Bow as he calls after her.

 

Prime looks at the screen, seeing the visual of that elusive ancient ship. A sinister smile spreads across his lips. In saving your Catra, you are leading your friends to destruction, Adora. Prime spreads his arms wide, laughing triumphantly. Imagine the look on their faces when they reach precious Etheria. 

 

Catra isn't sure how many times Adora has repeatedly opened the door to her room before walking away. Normally, she'd yell at her to leave if that burning in her throat hadn't made her voice hoarse. The disturbance has ironically woken her from numerous nightmares, while simultaneously bringing his voice to the forefront of her mind. She tosses and turns, beads of sweat falling down her face.

 

"Little sister."  Horde Prime stares down as Catra is once again standing in front of the acrid pool. "Catra," he taunts, watching while she sinks lower and lower, falling prey to that toxic current. 

 

Catra covers her ears, pressing down to bury Horde Prime in voice and memory until she's panting from the effort. Hissing hydraulics break what little concentration she's managed and her eyes pop open at the light. In her alarm, she bolts straight up, a scream bursting forth before it can be silenced. 

 

Once the door lifts, Adora's expecting Catra to be asleep, same as before. Instead, she's startled by a terrified scream. "Hey," she holds her hands up passively after recovering from her momentary surprise. "Hey, it's just me." Adora walks over with a gentle smile of encouragement, resting one leg on the cot with her hands together in front of her. 

 

Catra looks up at Adora, watching as those slate blue eyes shine with hopeful concern. That annoying, idiotic hopeful expression...It's one she's become increasingly familiar with in her dreams. After Catra's taken a gulp of air to get her breathing under control, the realization of being caught in a moment of percieved weakness finally registers. Looking down at the bed, she groans, sighing as she turns over. 

 

I don't want her to turn away...Adora's hand tentatively reaches out, intending to turn her back around, but thinks better of it. Knowing forceful physical touches is what Prime would do, she clenches her fist, lowering it back down. I'm not him and I don't want to remind her of him either. Her eyes stare ahead for a moment, debating on whether to ask. "Are you," she starts, turning toward Catra, brows knit in concern. "Still getting the flashes?" 

 

This is precisely why she hadn't moved all the other times Adora disrupted her sleep. An interrogation is the last thing she wants. Now it's happening and she's on the defensive again. "Yes, I keep having this horrible vision of a blond girl," her neck lowers and her eyes drift in their direction. A certain, heroic, save the day, blond girl..."Who thinks she's better than everyone," she pauses to partially sit up, looking pointedly at Adora. "Barging into my room all day." Catra's gaze stays narrowed on her former friend. "Oh, wait," she expresses, letting her head fall back onto the pillow.

 

Adora's eyes widen at the barging comment.That only happened one time...Adora looks foward with a sigh. I was just trying to help, but maybe that's not the kind she needs?  Understanding causes a smile to light her features. "We'll find a way to remove the chip," she declares, tone exuding confidence. "If you'd just let Entrapta take a look at it," her brows raise in confusion as Catra grabs a pillow. "I bet she could-"

 

Once Entrapta's mentioned, it brings irritation and self hatred brimming to the surface. To block Adora, and maybe the world out, she snatches that small pillow, pressing it to her face. "I don't want to see anyone," she mutters, leaning toward Adora on the last word to emphasize her point. "Okay?" 

 

Adora's arm goes out in a defensive gesture, surprised at Catra's hostility.

 

"Not you, not Arrow Boy, or Sparkles and definitely not Entrapta," she concludes. 

 

Frown deepening with each name, Adora's hand pulls the pillow from Catra's face. I don't understand where this is coming from.

 

Unwilling to look into Adora's slate blue gaze, fearing the judgement she'll find there, Catra turns away. 

 

"So, you're just going to hide in here forever?" That's an unrealistic solution and we both know it. "You'll have to face them sometime."

 

Now that Catra doesn't have anything to block Adora's voice she catches every word, ear twitching at the last statement. "No, I don't." All I'm good for is causing pain..."Just- drop me off on the closest planet." Catra lets her pride guide her words. "I'll make my own way," she adds hurriedly, despising how fear shakes through the statement.

 

 

She's not making any sense! "What?" Adora shrugs, tension rising with her ongoing aggravation. "So Prime can capture you again?" The inquiry rings with hurt and disbelief. Catra wouldn't really put herself in danger, would she? 

 

Catra is at her most vulnerable and Adora's suggestion that she's weak or stupid enough to be captured sends a wave of indignation to wash away the earlier fear. "I can take care of myself!"

 

An exasperated sigh hits the air as Adora's eyes narrow in anger. That part of her that punches her feelings out rears its head, but she knows it isn't a solution right now. Adora grips the mattress tight.

 

Catra can tell from the way Adora sighs that she's getting angry. Good. Better for her to be mad at me after everything, rather than give sympathy I don't deserve. Hearing a grunt of effort, Catra's eyes find Adora, who's lifting her mattress. What is she-?

 

Wordlessly she tugs the mattress sharply upward, flipping it. Her fists return to her sides. Hearing Catra's yelp causes her to internally cringe, but it's a small comfort knowing the cry is one of surprise, not pain. Catra's being too stubborn and prideful for her own good! 

 

Catra's world gets turned upside down in a single motion, resulting in a yelp of surprise. She looks over at Adora, frowning as she approaches.

 

"I promised I'd take you home and that's exactly what I'm gonna do," she states, expression determined and resolve unwavering. I won't betray another promise. 

 

Seeing the fierceness in those eyes, Catra backs up, gaze narrowing in anger. She feels cornered, and it's not a sensation she's ever comfortable with. You shouldn't be doing all this for me anyway!

 

"Why are you acting like this?!" Pushing all of us away isn't going to fix anything! Adora's gaze softens slightly. "We saved your life!"

 

I never asked to be saved, because I was never worth saving! Those words act like a match to the flame of Catra's emotions. "I told you not to come back!" The phrase is almost a growl and she rises to meet Adora head on. "But you just love feeling like a hero," Catra practically spits the title with disdain, as Adora backs up a little. "Don't you?" That's the only reason you'd risk an entire war to save a traitor, isn't it?

 

This has nothing to do with me being a hero! Righteous fury causes her voice to rise, all traces of calm gone, as she points back toward Prime's ship. "You'd rather I left you there to die?!"  chose to save you! 

 

Although Catra understands how much Adora does care, that isn't what will stop them from getting close. I'd rather hurt her now, than risk her life again...Whatever she has to say to ensure Adora's safe from her, she'll say, even if it causes pain for them both. Catra musters all her self loathing, hurling it like a weapon from one phrase into the next. "WHAT DO YOU CARE?! I know you all hate me!"

 

Adora can do nothing to combat the wounds those accusations leave in their wake, cutting deep into her soul. "I never hated you!" Anguish seeps into the exclamation, as she stares into those mismatched eyes. How could I hate someone I was so desperate to have back with me for so long?!

 

As soon as the admission is out, so is Catra's fury fueled flame. Adora...never hated me? I hurt the Etherian's she protects. I hurt her friends. I hurt her. Yet she still- Backing up a few steps, she plops down on the mattress, unable to face Adora after that. "Then you're even dumber than I thought," she concludes, tone softening. How can you not hate me, when I don't even like myself?  Catra stares at the floor. "Just..leave me alone."

 

Adora looks away, then sighs in defeat. "I'm such an idiot." For thinking we were actually making progress. "I thought things would be different this time." Between you and I...Adora's fists unclench, arms held open as if wanting to hold Catra there, if she'd let her. "But clearly, nothing has changed," she concludes angrily, stomping out her frustrations and dissappointment upon exiting the brig.

 

Catra watches that retreating back, as the footsteps get further away. She sighs, tail curling around her on instinct. There's no joy in the accomplishment, overshadowed by her own guilt and self loathing. Left with nothing but her memories, all she can think of is how much hurt those choices caused. How much it cost her and almost cost Adora. When she closes her eyes, her mind pulls her back to that moment with Double Trouble. 

 

"You try so hard to play the big, bad villain, but your heart's never been in it. Has it?" 

 

Every altercation with Adora, forced or not, could have been stopped at any moment. Yet, each wound she inflicted was half hearted at best. Given enough effort, Adora's She-Ra form could have been brought down by her claws alone. Prime proved that in his false reality. There had been multiple opportunities to end the Rebellion and She-Ra permanently. 

 

"People have hurt you, haven't they?" 

 

She wanted to make Adora hurt the way she did, at first. Make her realize the depth of that damage caused by her departure. How lonely she was. How excruciating the mere memory of Adora became as time passed. How agonizing it was to be cast aside, as though she never existed. Only when she was right in front of her, flashing those claws and hurtful words, did Adora ever acknowledge Catra's existence.

 

"Did you ever stop to think maybe they're not the problem? It's you."

 

Her own words rush to the forefront of her mind. "All I do is hurt people." I'm so tired of hurting her...That all consuming ache in her chest is a gaping emptiness nothing can fill. Catra's not sure how long she sits there, fighting a war within what she wants, and what she deserves. Her only respite occuring when his voice cuts into the silence.

 

"Rejoin the Light. Then you will not need to suffer like this, Catra"

 

Hands clutching at her skull, they press into her head in a feeble attempt to banish him in name and memory. She whimpers when more flashes appear, along with the pull of the Hive.

 

Glimmer's found it's best to let Adora vent out her frustrations, even at the expense of innocent cargo.

 

Adora's pacing again, letting out a groan. "Catra is driving me crazy."  When Glimmer doesn't say anything she continues. "I thought we actually had a chance at fixing things this time," Adora extends her arm. "But after everything we've been through, she's still," her foot connects with the box for emphasis and so she can kick her feelings out. "A stubborn brat." 

 

Glimmer pulls out a pouch of food. "This is Catra we're talking about," she advises, glancing over at Adora. "Did you think she was going to just instantly become a totally different person?" Glimmer walks over to Adora with an unknown pouch of food in her hands. Plus, we don't know what she's been through. It must be hard for her right now. 

 

Hands on her hips, Adora looks up, taking a deep breath. "No, I just-" she sighs, meeting Glimmer's gaze. "I thought she'd at least try." Adora's face softens from aggravation to sadness as she grabs a square piece of gelatin. "We all risked our lives to save her," I almost lost her. Tossing it into the air, the rant continues. "And she can't even say thank you?" Adora holds her hands out in exasperation. "Can you believe that?!" She scoffs, anger returning in full force when throwing the gellatinous substance.

 

Wrong Hordak has been quietly observing the exchange, fascinated by the myriad of emotions the one named Adora is displaying. Horde Prime never allowed such displays of emotion...He's brought out of his thoughts by an object splattering him in the face, obscuring his vision. "I believe in Horde Prime," he says with a bow.

 

Glimmer goes to a different room, gathering ingredients for the meal. 

 

Adora shifts her weight from one foot to the other, glancing over at Wrong Hordak, who still has gellatin dripping down his face. "So..." she trails off, hand rubbing the back of her neck. "Sorry about throwing that at you. I just-" A heavy sigh rushes from her.

 

"It is alright, Brother. I merely wish to serve. I did not mean to cause offense to your companion."

 

Companion? Adora blinks at the term. "Oh." Eyes widening in understanding, heat rises to Adora's face.  "Catra's not...she's not my-" Adora stills, lost for words. "I mean we were enemies and now...we're...not?"

 

Wrong Hordak tilts his head in confusion. "Horde Prime called her 'your' Catra...Is she not?"

 

Adora's fist clenches at the bitter memory, pausing to take a deep breath. Wrong Hordak isn't Prime. I need to remember that.  "Could you..tell me," she starts, biting her lip nervously. "What Prime did to her?" Adora rings her hands as she feels that anxiety coiling in her stomach. "How he chipped her?" 

 

"Of course, Brother!" Hordak's confusion vanishes, eyes conveying clarity and eagerness. This is something he knows well and remembers. "What you speak of is the reconditioning process."

 

"Reconditioning process?" Adora repeats, brow scrunching in worry. "And what happens during that?"

 

"First, we are expected to submerge ourselves in the purification pool."

 

Adora's mind flashes to the eerie glowing green water, sparking with electricity. Catra already didn't like water before... A lump rises in her throat, making it difficult to speak. "And...if they don't go willingly?"

 

"Those of us who are present assist in the process, should there be any resistance," he answers, a small frown forming at the corner of his mouth. 

 

"As clones, you don't need oxygen, right?" Adora feels her chest tightening, afraid of what this answer could mean. 

 

"You are correct, Brother! We are able to conquer planets in Horde Prime's name regardless of the atmosphere," he replies with an encouraging nod. 

 

"For someone that needs air though..." She trails off, the muscles in her neck and shoulders tensing. 

 

"A systematic breathing device would be required, such as a tube the oxygen would flow through." Wrong Hordak pauses, closing his eyes as though recalling something. "That is what Horde Prime did for Catra."

 

Adora's jaw clenches so hard, her teeth grind together and she struggles to speak past the sudden tightness enclosing her windpipe. "After that?"

 

"Clones have a port," Wrong Hordak pauses, turning and pointing to the one on the back of his own neck. "Seeing as she is different, installing the chip was a difficult process."

 

"Difficult how?"  She can feel that nervousness heightening to a frantic degree, merging with the anxiety clawing at her insides. 

 

"It involves more pain during the application procedure." Wrong Hordak clarifies. "As Horde Prime says, all beings must suffer to become pure. It is considered a vital part of the reconditioning."

 

"What is the chip for besides control?" Adora murmurs, nearly choking on the bile snaking it's way up.

 

"Horde Prime uses them to go through memories. Though, for the person reliving the experience, it is an unpleasant process," he responds, the hint of a grimace on his face.

 

Other than the illusion I saw...That's what he meant? An image of Prime controlled Catra takes shape. 'And she suffers now...'

Catra's screams reverberate like a tide in conflict with Adora's heartbeat. The earlier hunger is dragged under those violently churning waves in her stomach. Like a distant voice on the wind, she hears Wrong Hordak's voice explaining something important, but can't comprehend their meaning. Bile scorches her throat while blood rushes down at such a rapid pace it leaves her lightheaded. 

 

"You appear to be unwell," he observes, seeing the change in Adora's complexion. "Would this nourishment help?" Wrong Hordak holds up a small vial of green liquid.

 

The bile in her throat threatens to escape as she looks at the sloshing fluid contained there.

 

Seeing the tight lipped expression on Adora's face, Wrong Hordak puts the vial away. 

 

Just then, Glimmer returns holding a few ingredients. Once her stomach settles, Adora is capable of talking. "What's he doing here again?" 

 

Glimmer looks over at Wrong Hordak. "He's helping me make dinner," she answers, moving to stand beside him. 

 

"True nourishment comes from the favor of Horde Prime," states Wrong Hordak exuberantly. "Also from nutrient-rich amniotic fluid," he adds, pulling out a tiny vial filled with green liquid.

 

Glimmer backs up as that small green vial is brought into view. "Yeah, well we're not eating that." Glimmer looks down at the ingredients in her arms. "I think these rations were Mara's. "Does space food expire?" Glimmer's hand moves the packet closer to Adora so she can read it. "What does this one say?"

 

Adora recollects herself, translating the packet in Glimmer's hands. "Dehydrated protein slaw." She twists her face into a smile, even though food is the last thing on her mind at this point. "Yum?" 

 

"Guys, you'd better get in here."

 

Adora and Glimmer rush to the main cabin. "What's going on?"

 

Bow pulls up a screen, showing three different Horde ships. "Sensors picked up Horde ships on our tail. They're coming straight for us."

 

Glimmer recalls Catra's earlier conversation with her during their capture. 'A ship left Etheria's atmosphere a few days ago. Prime cannot track it.'

She looks at the screen in disbelief. "It's gotta be a coincidence. Prime can't track this ship." 

 

Bow navigates Darla into the astroid field as there is a collective sigh of relief in the room. 

 

Catra turns her tail in various directions, relieved to find the movements are less robotic and more animated. Concentrating on the hum of the engine, she turns her ears in various directions. Though they're slower in responding than normal, they do eventually move the way she's used to. The floor sways violently as she's thrown against the wall, grunting in pain at the impact. Holding her head, she gasps when a series of flashes appear. Prime's decaying spire on an empty world. An army of bots marching. Etheria surrounded by Horde ships. Catra's breaths grow more ragged with each flash, but the whispers drive her over the edge until she's left gasping for air. She shudders, shaking her head as her ear twitches involuntarily. What did I- A loud crash sends her body flying onto the opposite side of the brig and Catra yelps in suprise.  

 

"We have taken damage. Hull integrity at 60 percent." Darla's voice echoes in the room. 

 

Entrapta taps a button on the control console with her hair, as a monitor comes to life. "Horde ships coming right for us!"

 

No! Catra was finally safe. We all were! Panic makes Adora's voice go sharp. "How did they find us?!"

 

Entrapta thinks for a moment, watching the chase. "Prime may not be able to track Darla, but something on board is sending up a trace signal. That must be what they're following!"

 

"Those flashes Catra's been getting, the signal's coming from her chip, isn't it?" Adora approaches Entrapta, grabbing her hand. "Once again, Catra is ruining our lives!"

 

Where is she taking her?! Bow can't move from the captain's chair, but calls out to them. "Entrapta hasn't fixed the shields yet!"

 

Although she knows that's important, all her focus is on stopping them from being located. The shields are a future problem for now. "Then try not to hit anything," she growls, pulling Entrapta with her into the hallway.

Adora didn't mean to say Catra was literally ruining their lives. She's aware it's only because of Prime's chip. They were words said out of anger, fueled by her frustrations at Catra not appearing to want to change. From the moment she was recovered enough from She-Ra's healing, Adora had considered cutting the chip out, but the idea of causing Catra even more harm made her sick every time she considered it. Similar to how she's feeling now after what she learned from Wrong Hordak. Bringing Entrapta along will upset Catra, but we have no other choice.

 

"What is she doing in here?!" Catra retreats back toward the wall. "I told you, I want to be alone!" I never wanted to see HER again!

 

Seeing the cot overturned, Entrapta's hair wraps around the frame, then the bed, setting it right again. 

 

Adora stands, arms folded. "Entrapta's going to remove your chip."

 

In preparation and anticipation, Entrapta lowers the mask over her face.

 

Of all the things for Adora to say, that's the last thing Catra expects. Her heart thunders wildly against her rib cage. "You're going to let her operate on me," she asks, voice rising in nervous exasperation. "She'll kill me!"

 

Entrapta raises her mask, regarding Catra with confusion. "Why would I wanna hurt you?" A slight pause while pondering the possible reasons. The memory of being shocked by Catra comes to mind. "Oh," she says, hair raising to resemble fingers. "You mean because you sent me to Beast Island, stole my work and used it to rip a hole in the fabric of space and time?"

 

Catra looks away in shame as Entrapta lists her mistakes, hands touching the wall for support. 

 

"I get it." Entrapta closes her mask, hair flying out in all directions with various tools in them. "HOLD STILL!"  

 

In response to all the sharp objects and buzzing, Catra's ears flatten against her skull, tail bristling. "Stay away from me!"

 

I tried being gentle before but now I can't afford to be! Adora marches toward her. "Catra, Horde Prime is tracking that chip," 

 

Why doesn't Adora ever listen?! Catra tries to avoid Adora by circling around the small space. 

 

"He's coming for us right now," she says angrily, gaze comprised of fear, and determination. If you don't do this, any hope to save ourselves and Etheria is gone.

 

That feeling of being trapped grows steadily, until she's backed into one corner. Don't get any closer! Catra doesn't want to use her claws on Adora, but maybe the threat will be enough to gain some distance. Ensuring they aren't fully extended, Catra swipes at Adora with a grunt. 

 

Adora catches the intended swipe. Pinning Catra by her wrist to the wall. "So grow up and let us remove it, or we're all dead," she states, while her eyes bore into Catra's. And every step we took to save you will have meant nothing. Adora releases her hold.

 

Catra can't tear her gaze away from those intense slate blue eyes. Breathing out a sigh, she slides down the wall. 

 

"We're doing this," she says, tone resonating with anger and finality. "Then if  you think hiding from the people you hurt will make you feel better," Adora continues, despising how her voice shakes. "We'll drop you off and you'll never have to see us again," she states, her words sounding more broken than angry. I don't want you to go, but I won't hold you captive here...Adora pauses for a breath, sighing dejectedly. The anger in her gaze softens to sadness  when she forces herself to finish the statement. "You'll never have to see me again." Adora turns away from Catra, resigning herself to the reality that she may lose her after all. 

 

The sight of Adora turning away from her hurts, but never seeing her is like losing her over and over. She sighs, releasing that earlier hostility, choosing to grab Adora's wrist.  "Adora, wait-" she pleads Don't go.

 

Adora glances back at Catra, seeing her head bowed. I'm doing what she wants so why is she stopping me now?

 

Memories of all the times Adora reached out for her, no matter how much she refused run through Catra's thoughts. Maybe it's my turn now, but will Adora reject it like I did? Catra slides her hold down to Adora's hand. "Please." Another piece of that wall between them fissures when she reaches out

 

Adora's eyes widen in shock, as a subtle blush makes it's way up her face. After all this time...Catra's grabbing my hand? Her mind can hardly believe it, but the warmth against her palm is undeniable. 

 

 

Catra raises her head, fearful of the answer Adora will give. "Stay," she expresses, voice filled with quiet hope. 

 

"I'm here," she answers voice and gaze softening. Taking Catra's hands in hers, a warm smile spreads across her face. That fissured piece falls away, brought down by their joined hands.

 

A smile which holds the power to brighten and burn Catra. Despite that, she clings to the touch, needing any amount of strength for the task she's set herself to do.

 

"Experiment number 982." Entrapa makes her way over to the pair, sitting behind Catra while she speaks into her recorder. "Removal of embedded Horde chip." This is an exciting challenge! It's an experiment Entrapta's happy to complete especially if it will help Catra. 

 

Adora rests her fist in front of her mouth, removing it when she sees the fear in Catra's eyes. The corners of her mouth turn up in a slow, quiet show of encouragement directed at Catra.

 

"Let's begin." Entrapta lowers her mask, touching the pliers to one of the purple wires inside.

 

Catra gasps as another flash appears. Etheria surrounded by Horde ships. A valley. The face of a chipped Etherian is what elicits a gasp from her. "Wait," she says looking behind her at Entrapta. "Not yet."

 

Adora moves forward. "Catra, we don't have time," she advises, desperation creeping into her tone. 

 

"I can help you, okay?" she counters exasperated. Catra pauses for a beat, hunching in on herself. "When Horde Prime was...using me," Catra's voice trembles. "I felt--"

 

Witnessing the way Catra holds a fist close to her chest, and that hesitation makes Adora's heart twist.Reliving this on top of whatever else he put her through can't be easy.

 

It's like, um-" Catra shrugs the tension off her shoulders, struggling to find a way to describe what she's been seeing. 

 

Adora's frown deepens, looking on with sympathetic eyes. Needing to do more than just stand there, she approaches Catra. 

 

Gulping a bit of air in, Catra's eyes stare at her clenched fist. "It's like all his clones are-are connected to some kind of hive mind," she says, glancing up when she hears Adora's footsteps. "...and I was part of it."

 

She reaches out, grasping Catra's shoulder. Is it Prime? Adora wants to ask, but that question is too difficult to get out. "Those flashes you're getting?"

 

"It's him." Catra's confirmation is barely audible, her shoulders drooping, as terror sinks it's claws in.

 

Adora's eyes widen, her worst fears confirmed. Even when he's not here, Prime's still hurting Catra!

 

"He's still in there." Catra's voice quakes with fear. I wasn't strong enough to get rid of him.

 

Surprise gives way to solace. I wish I could take this pain from her. Adora's brows crease with worry when she feels Catra's shoulder tremble beneath her palm. 

 

"He can-he can see me." Her hand rubs the chip as an idea forms. The Hive mind connection isn't one sided so..."But maybe I can see him, too. I can find out what he's planning."

 

 

Horrified at the possibility of Prime controlling Catra again, Adora's head shakes. "No, you can't risk letting him back into your head."

 

"Adora," she warns, eyes resolute. "You have to let me try." I can't let her take any more risks for me..."Otherwise you're going to do something stupid and get yourself killed." I want to protect her, too. "Just..." Catra pauses, fear thrumming in her chest, as she places her hand over Adora's, giving it a slight squeeze.  "Just stay with me while I do it, okay?" 

 

Adora gives a reassuring smile, nodding up at Entrapta, who stands up. 

 

Catra takes a deep breath as her eyes shut. Opening that connection feels like a snake gradually slithering into her thoughts as those whispers return. "I can feel him." Prime's ship materializes. That slithering presence burns through their shared connection. "He's.." Prime appears on his throne, fists clenched, scowling. "He's angry," she chokes out in fear. The hatred feels like fire, hot enough to scorch everything in it's path. Catra groans, struggling to stay in control. 

 

A small gasp seeps out in response to Catra's pain, and Adora's hand automatically extends give her support, should she need it.  

 

At the noise, Catra's eyes open, seeing those slate blue eyes muddled with distress. Refocusing her efforts, she breathes deeply, closing her eyes once more. "He wants revenge." Another image of numerous spires descending on a planet flashes in her mind's eye. She swallows past the dryness in her throat. "He wants to make you hurt," Catra advises, voice cracking on the last word. "He's..." Catra pauses, trying to make sense of the building before her. It must be where he's hitting next. "He's attacking Etheria." Whispers reach her. 

 

Adora's gaze narrows, hanging on every movement and word. 

 

"No." she shakes her head as more images of various Etherian's unfold before her. "No, no no, not attacking. Something new is happening. Those whispers become more discernable. 

 

Prepare them for Horde Prime's arrival. 

 

None can escape Prime's Light.

 

He will conquer all. 

 

"There's so much noise," she expresses, voice small.

 

It's as though Adora's glimpsing an invisible  battle, powerless to intervene on Catra's behalf. You're not alone. Noticing the white knuckled grip, wracked by subtle tremors, she places both of Catra's hands in hers again.

 

Vaguely, the form of Frosta takes shape, enshrouded by a wall of ice that fists pound on. 

 

How will this false hero fight every Etherian she sought to protect once they are under my control?

 

"He's chipping them," she announces, tone growing sharp. "H-He's going to chip them all." Catra's eyes pop open in terror as sweat beads down her brow. "Horde Prime is taking control of Etheria!"

 

Images of all the innocent people of Etheria staring back at her with those eerie green eyes run through Adora's mind. "No," she says, shaking her head in denial, as trepidation creeps into her voice. I won't let him do this! Adora's gaze intesifies with resolve. "He...He can't!

 

"It's already happening," counters Catra, fixing a terrified gaze on Adora.

 

Adora's eyes widen in horror. All those innocent people.

 

If anyone can defeat Prime, it's Adora. "You've gotta stop him!" A boom makes Catra's ears ring, causing her to yelp in ruprise. 

 

Adora grunts from the impact , grabbing onto Catra and holding her close. 

 

Catra feels those strong arms around her, returning the embrace as the ship shakes around them. 

 

Bow tries his best to navigate past the Horde ship's lasers, groaning when Darla's hit. 

 

The hull has sustained multiple fractures, reports Darla, an alarm blaring in the background.

 

"We will be unable to withstand another full-on strike," announces Darla.

 

Adora and Catra withdraw from one another with a groan, as Adora's brow knits in contemplation.

 

Catra senses a change when she looks at those eyes. "Adora, please..." she implores, blinking once as her ears move down.

 

Adora's gaze meets hers, waiting. 

 

Catra finally gives voice to what she's wanted since the rescue on Prime's ship. "I...I want to go home," she admits, blinking once more. 

 

There's no misunderstanding between them now. Catra is trusting me to fix this. "We will," she declares, giving Catra a small smile. Pulling Catra into a comforting embrace. "I'm getting us out of here." I won't let her down. Contemplating the plight their friends are facing, Adora's gaze narrows, blood heating in anger. "Etheria needs us." Disentangling from Catra's warmth, Adora continues. "And I won't let him hurt anyone else," she declares resolutely, turning to walk away from Catra.

 

Catra doesn't know what to think when Adora breaks the embrace. "Where are you going?" 

 

With every step taken, that anger heats her blood another degree. Fingers splayed out, eyes closed, Adora latches onto the feeling, letting it build with those recollections of Catra being hurt and almost killed by Prime. "To send Horde Prime a message," she answers, thrusting her hand forward and summoning the sword to her hand. "For the honor of Grayskull!"

 

That power rises from within as warrior and ancient converge to form the perfect storm. Energy surges like liquid lightning in her veins, pulsing with rage filled retribution. 

 

Catra looks on in stunned silence, seeing the golden light of the transformation for the first time. She-Ra is a storm given form. Muscles defined like mountains. Almost unearthly in appearance. As mighty as she is majestic. Underneath that magic is Adora...When those eyes flash and Adora smirks, her face lined with a golden mask, does Catra's mouth fall open. A blush heats her skin as she gapes, awestruck.

 

Adora marches out to the bay door, mind clearer than it's ever been. Multiple Horde ships lie in wait as the door opens. Launching herself from the ship with a thunderous roar, she propells toward the first victims of her blade. 

 

Entrapta speaks into her recorder, examining the chip. "Chip appears to be fused with the subject's nervous system." Her hair wipes sweat beading on her brow. "Leeching energy in a parasitic exchange. Extraction is going to be a delicate process," she observes, pulling at a wire with her pliers. "Careful now..."

 

Catra keeps her eyes trained on the floor, attempting to block out the buzzing electricity which reminds her of that green pool. Knowing she'll be free of his control is what allows her to stay there. I'll never be controlled like some part of his machine again! A sudden shock brings a yelp from her as the ship shakes.

 

"Sorry!" Entrapta looks at Catra apologetically.

 

"Just get it off," she demands angrily, facing forward so Entrapta can finish removing the chip. 

 

Landing on the nearest ship with a thud, her eyes lock onto the Prime bot. "Tell Horde Prime this is from me," she growls, sword sweeping upward carving into the ship. Her feet leave its surface before the explosion transpires.

 

Glimmer directs bow through the astroid field , as a comet moving among the astroids catches her eye, followed by more Horde ships. "Wait, is that-?" The figure is unmistakeable. It's She-Ra. A giggle bubbles from Glimmer as she watches.

 

When her feet touch onto another astroid, her eyes glare up at the two ships as they move past, then turn. Two ships fire simultaneously, but she stands her ground, catching the blasts with her sword. Widening her stance, She-Ra flings the blast back at one ship with a yell, which explodes on impact. Jumping to another astroid, she frowns up at another ship as it fires. A grunt pushes past gritted teeth when she pushes off another astroid before the blast can hit it's mark. Dodging various blasts using those astroids as stepping stones, she launches herself into the air, blade raised behind her head. A furious cry bursts forth and glass shatters at her feet when she lands on the ship. Embedding the blade into the bot's chest, she imagines it's Prime, shouting as she arcs it upward, slicing the bot in two. She looks behind her for more ships, finding none. A sudden blast from below diverts her attention, narrowly missing. She glares at the bot, raising her sword high. With an enraged shout, She-Ra slices her blade downward, sending a wave of energy toward that ship, splitting it in half. Looking back toward Darla, she confirms they're unharmed. 

 

Glimmer's spirits lift at the spectacle and she raises her fists in excitement. "Yeah!"

 

Bow, who can't see what's happening feels nervousness tug at him. "What is going on out there?"

 

Circling the sword tip, She-Ra forms a magical platform, hopping from the glowing disc onto Darla. Charging a blast, she raises the blade outward. With a yell, She-Ra releases that magical energy like a cracking whip, causing the remaining ships to explode.

 

Entrapta delicately picks at the chip. "Almost," she says, squinting in concentration. "Almost..."  The last wires loosen as Entrapta's pliers pull the chip off, disconnecting the chip from Catra. 

 

Catra rubs her neck, as relief pours in when she can't feel the chip anymore. 

 

"I did it!" Entrapta looks at the removed chip excitedly. "With the chip removed from its power source," she pauses, dropping teh chip into a tube. "It won't be able to signal anymore. 

 

Catra looks from the chip in the vial, up to Entrapta, expression uncertain. 

 

"Okay, gotta go check on Darla now," she says, starting to walk toward the door. 

 

Catra's eyes stare at the cot for a moment. She helped me...Even after I sent her to Beast Island. Catra raises her head, arm stretched out toward Entrapta's retreating form.  "Entrapta, wait, " she calls out shakily.

 

Experiment 982 officially a success! I'm glad I was able to help. Now Darla needs me. Heeding Catra's call, Entrapta turns around to look at her.

 

Feeling Entrapta's gaze on her, Catra's eyes shift to either side before settling back on Entrapta as tears gather. "Thank you," she expresses quietly, pausing to  avert her gaze for a second. "And, I'm sorry."

 

Entrapta gives Catra a small smile as she walks back toward her. I remember her not liking to be touched, but Catra was okay the last time my hair touched her so..."I forgive you," she answers, patting Catra's hair with hers.

 

Catra blinks in stunned silence, as another knot of guilt untangles itself from her chest. She directs a sincere smile toward Entrapta.

 

Entrapta examines Darla, concluding she'll just need some time to reboot now that the shields are fixed. Adora Entrapta and Bow lay near each other, Bow and Adora expressing relief that She-Ra is finally back. Their conversation is interrupted by the hiss of a door opening. 

 

"Brothers," Wrong Hordak greets them, holding a tray of dumplings.

 

"Who wants dinner?" Glimmer walks beside him with a tray of her own. 

 

Bow sits up, taking one from the tray. "Glimmer. You made these?" His voice squeaks in barely contained disbelief. She's never cooked before, and Angella wasn't exactly known for it...

 

"Wrong Hordak helped," she answers, gesturing toward him as he smiles. "Everyone, eat, eat." Glimmer laughs, seeing Entrapta and Adora exchange cherrful looks. "I used to make these with my mom. She wasn't that good of a cook either, so I figured it would be hard to mess up. " Everyone takes one from the tray. 

 

Bow takes a bite. "Okay, hold up," he says, holding up his hands, then his  gaze travels to his right where Glimmer sits. "Glimmer, this is amazing!"

 

"Wait, you made these in the oven, from dehydrated protein slaw?" Adora talks between a mouthful. "This is so good!" 

 

Entrapta nods her head. "Oh, wow, this is delicious," she agrees, smiling at the group.

 

Catra can hear snippets of conversation through the door, opening it before she can back out.

 

Adora's eyes lock on Catra's in astonishment. I didn't expect her to be here so soon after.

 

Her hand encircles her other arm when all those eyes go to hers. Catra's footsteps are tentative and hesitant, with her ears down. She drops to one knee before hugging them both to her chest. Adora's accepted me, but is it too late to be accepted by the rest of them?

 

Bow and Glimmer look to each other, a silent discussion passing between them. They scoot over, making a space specifically for Catra.

 

Ears perking up in surprise, a slight blush rushes up Catra's face. They're...letting me in? Those ears move down again as she approaches, slowly sitting down, knees tucked to her chest. 

 

Glimmer smiles, offering a dumpling to her. 

 

Catra pauses, looking at the food, then up at Adora. 

 

Adora's expression shifts from surprise to a radiant smile. I told  you it was gonna be okay, Catra. 

 

That smile spreads a warmth through Catra's chest, like a light illuminating her darkest nightmares, and allaying her greatest fears. She takes a small bite, hearing the fragmented conversations.

 

"How is it? It smells good right?" Glimmer questions the group.

 

Entrapta looks at the dumpling with a smile. "Does this come in smaller sizes? It's hard for me to eat if it's too-"

 

"It was coming right at us. Then Glimmer was like, 'Oh no. Bow, stop.' And then I was like, 'Okay, I'll stop.' And then I pulled up, then we missed it.

 

Adora takes another bite. "This is almost better than-"

 

Wanting to join in the conversation, Wrong Hordak speaks up. "I put amniotic fluid in there." The group goes silent, directing wide eyed stares at him. "That was a joke."

 

 

Everything will be under my control. Starting with our new Princess on Etheria...

Chapter Text

The earlier tension has slowly begun to fade within the ship. Bow and Glimmer are laughing and smiling more often, much to Adora's relief. No transmissions from Etheria has to mean something positive. One that shows they're still fighting. No news is good news, right? Another yawn escapes Adora before she can stifle it. You would think I'd be used to sleepless nights after all these years...Shifting in the captain's chair to find some sparse fraction of comfort, Adora's gaze turns to the stars. At this point, she's grown accustomed to the repetition. Her mind usually pulls in so many directions, but seeing those pinpricks of light amidst that expansive dark canvas has a calming effect which allows her to breathe a little easier. Those even breaths deepen and Adora's lids drift closed.

Before her eyes, the Crystal Castle takes shape, looking exactly as she remembers. Placing one hand flat on that glass like surface, unease fills her at what she'll find there. Will it be the Light Hope she knows? Or will it be the one that's a stranger to her? Forcing herself to open the door and walk through those darkened hallways, Adora's heartbeat becomes almost defeaning in that empty space between her ribs. When she reaches the center there is no hologram to be found. Looking along the wall Adora reads those lines of First One's script. Instead of telling Mara's story of destruction, new lines appear on that wall in front of her. 

Etheria's hero destined to aid those in that hour of need

Appearing before them clad in a symbol of the enemy

Cautioned of the danger relying on attachments cause

Placing friends above Etheria's balance will bring devestation

The She-Ra who breaks their world for fear of letting go

It takes reading those words twice to comprehend the meaning behind them and why they sound so familiar. This isn't Mara's story. It's mine. Adora's palm rests on that last line of script and the walls glow an ominous red as cracks appear where she stands. The ground gives way beneath her and a whispered voice echoes in that space. 

You are nothing but a false hero.

Hearing him speak makes fury rise in Adora, setting her blood aflame. "You're wrong!"

As if to contradict her, another voice joins in.

You always need to play the hero, don't you?

Catra's voice douses that fire instantly and Adora looks around, expecting to find her. "Catra?" There's no one else there. "That's not how it is. She-Ra's the only way I can protect everyone." That darkened space becomes hazy as the smell of smoke fills her lungs and she's pushed down, looking up into Catra's eyes.

That race of tyrants abandoned you on a forgotten planet in a shadow dimmension.

In response, Catra rises as pink light drowns out what remains of Thaymor. Hoisting Adora to her feet, she moves toward that ominious light.You left me

"Please, don't do this!" Adora pushes against Catra's grip, straining to gain some distance for herself and Catra. Like the first time, that light envelops them as they struggle, only instead of fading, they're falling. Prime's voice surrounds them, like echoes on invisible walls. 

They made you their weapon. Their She-Ra.   

Catra's still holding onto Adora's shirt, her figure gradually being overtaken by black, save for those pupils which are now green. You made me this way!

"Catra-" Adora grunts when she's abruptly released and her back hits the floor, sending pain through every limb. 

Leaning over Adora's still form, Catra's pupils go from green to white, voice distorted like a corrupted mix of hers and Prime's. You always wanted more, Adora, but all she ever wanted was you. 

Why can't you just stay? We have everything we ever wanted here.

Although looking into those white pupils disturbs and unnerves her, Adora's determined to answer. "I couldn't stay. Not when I learned the truth. I never meant to make you feel rejected or alone." 

I told you I would have given her to you, Adora. All I required was She-Ra.

"I could never trade all of Etheria for Catra."  

After waking from that recurring nightmare, Catra leaves her room to wander aimlessly around Darla, walking through the various hallways. At the sound of her name, she stops in front of those doors leading to the main deck. Extending her palm to the mechanism, that door whirls open to reveal Adora, laying in the Captain's chair. From how hunched over she looks and the furrowing of those brows, She's sure it's uncomfortable to sleep in. I'd better go wake her up. Making her way toward the chair, Catra's hands go to Adora's shoulders, gently shaking her. "Adora." That expression tightens as though pained. "Adora?!"

The world starts to tremble as Catra roughly grabs her shoulders, gaze hateful and hurt. Being She-Ra and playing hero with your new friends was all you cared about. That voice resonates with rage as the shaking becomes more violent, claws biting into her shoulders. You broke our world, Adora!

"That's not true..." Desperate to get away from that accusatory stare and unfamliar eyes, Adora pushes against Catra's hold. "No!"

Maintaining a more firm grip on Adora's shoulders, Catra's tone is stern. "Adora!"

The sharpness of that voice causes Adora's eyes to pop open, gaze disoriented and panic stricken. For a few moments, all she sees is Catra in front of her, voice and body distorted. Instinctively, Adora launches a fist at her.

Catra draws back, but not far enough to dodge that strike. Supressing a growl, she lets go of Adora's shoulders, one hand cradling her aching jaw. "Seriously, Adora?!"

Blinking away the remnants of that nightmare, Adora's jaw drops. "C-Catra?"

"Who else would I be?!" Catra's yell echoes in the air as she fights to steady her breathing. "Why were you sleeping there anyway?"

Bow and Glimmer emerge from their rooms at the sound of Catra's yell. Running to the bridge, it's clear from the way Adora and Catra are standing that something's caused them to be at odds. 

Always the voice of reason, Bow walks over, putting a hand on each of their shoulders. "We haven't had a chance to talk like this," he states. "Why don't we all sit down for awhile?"

Glimmer joins Bow, smiling congenialy at the two. "I think you'll really like Bright Moon, Catra."

Catra and Adora take a seat beside one another, worry mirrored in their shared gaze.

Though Adora tries to hide it, Catra's observant enough to tell Adora's clearly unsettled by whatever dream she's seen. 

"It's great!" Adora's eyes shine with enthusiasm which falters slightly. "No punching bags though," she murmurs, resting a closed hand on the side of her face. 

"I don't know how you managed to get Adora to stop punching things when she was mad."

"Oh, we had to." Glimmer gives Adora a look of feigned annoyance. "She kept breaking lamps. Mom wasn't too happy about that, either."

"I didn't break that many." Adora huffs, arms crossed. "It was for training.

"Adora," Bow shakes his head fondly at her. "It got so bad the first few weeks you were there that Glimmer's mom made her replace them herself."

"I..I didn't know." Adora's shoulders drop as she looks over at Glimmer guiltily. "I'm sorry, Glimmer."

"It gave me an excuse to practice my teleporting," she answers, giving Adora an easy smile.

Bow rests a hand on the side of his face. "Why did you sneak out of the castle on your first day?"

"I needed more room to raise the sword after..." Adora glances at Glimmer apologetically. "I ripped one of the curtains in my room and knocked a bunch of bottles over."

"I was wondering what that sound was." Glimmer laughs at the memory as another appears in her mind.  "Though I think the real shock was me waking up to you in my bed!"

In her bed? Why was Adora in Sparkles bed? Catra's brows raise as she watches Adora shift nervously.

"I wasn't trying to scare you. I hadn't been alone before, since-" Adora's eyes wander to Catra's.

Since you left me. Empathy wars with the wound of betrayal which Catra can feel with every heartbeat and breath. Those mismatched eyes travel to the floor, one hand on her arm.

"It's not every day you wake up to the Horde symbol staring you in the face," Glimmer quips, relieved she can laugh about the memory now.

"That's why you wanted to call your aunt Casta?" Bow shakes his head, smiling. "So she'd make new shirts for Adora?"

"Aunt?" Catra's gaze travels to each of them in turn, seeing a subtle look of amusement pass between Glimmer and Bow.

Adora's the one to respond to her inquiry. "An aunt is a term for a family member who's connected to someone's mother or father by blood." Seeing that confusion grow in Catra's eyes, she nods in understanding. "The names don't mean much. It's more that she's important to Glimmer."

Catra nods, still unsure what the term aunt has to do with connections. All her mind can make sense of are the ranks she's been raised to believe she'll never be promoted to. Cadet. Commander. Force Captain. Second in Command. Lord.

"I'm surprised you don't mind Catra calling you Sparkles." Hearing her name on Adora's lips pulls her out of those thoughts. 

Glimmer folds her arms and scoffs. "It sounds a whole lot better than Shimmer or Twinkle," she expresses, mouth twisting in distaste.

Catra grimaces at the nicknames. "Who called you that?"

"Sea Hawk." Bow smiles wide, eyes shining with excitement. "He's been on so many adventures and beaten so many enemies! He even has his own boat!"

Catra's ears turn down sharply at the word. "Boat?" Her mind drifts back to the one time Shadow Weaver forced Scorpia, Lonnie, Kyle, Rogelio and herself onto a boat, knowing full well how much she disliked water. 

"I think you and Sea Hawk would get along," Adora states, letting out a lighthearted laugh. 

"It's not like making friends is easy for me," she murmurs. Now that her curiosity is peaked, Catra wants to know why Adora's assuming she'd be amicable toward him. "What makes you so sure?"

Adora gives a wink, like it's a closely guarded secret. "Because you both like to travel and have a reputation for exploding vessels," she answers matter of factly. 

Catra looks at her, dumbfounded. It's the last answer she ever expected out of Adora. *You...remembered that after a this time?* Truthfully, she had spoken the sentiment as an offhand comment brought on by the idea of getting to see the world they'd conquer together.

When Adora's gaze falls on Catra's wide eyed stare, laughter erupts from her, intermingled with snorts, despite any effort to stifle them.

"I know Catra blew up a bot or two," recalls Glimmer, a small smirk accompanying the recollection of teleporting that giant bot above the Whispering Woods.

"No, this was way before that." Adora folds her arms, amusement in her gaze. "Catra wanted to blow something up...Probably a tank," she chuckles.

"Hey, the one time I drove, that tank made it back to the Horde." But you didn't... Catra's free hand moves to her arm, as if the action itself will hold those invisible wounds closed.

"Sea Hawk kind of has a reputation for burning things up instead," says Bow, shrugging. "It's how he lost the first two Dragon's Daughter ships. 

Catra arches a brow. "How do you lose two ships?"

"Three, Bow," Glimmer corrects him, laughing at the confused look he directs at her. "You were with me when the three of us set that ship on fire, remember?"

"Oh, yeah, you're right," he responds, rubbing the back of his neck with a laugh. "You made us swear never to tell your mom about it." 

"Yeah, if she'd found out I did that at the Salineas Sea Gate, she would have grounded me for months!"  

Adora's smile is still there, but the amusement fades from her eyes.

At the mention of that place, it brings forth images Catra wishes she could erase from her mind as well as the pain they cause. Salineas...The moment I knew Adora wouldn't return, after I tried to reason with her. That day is one of the most painful in their history. Never did Catra think Adora would refuse to return if she asked, or looking so happy without her. Yet, wrapped in the arms of new friends, that smile spoke volumes of where Catra's place was in Adora's heart and mind. Or was it that she didn't have a space there at all now that Adora had new friends to take the spot she once occupied? Catra didn't know and it was too painful to care.

All that anger festered, pushed further by Adora's hostility toward her in the Crystal Castle and those memories of how the promise had been central to their friendship in Catra's eyes, but not Adora's.

Tail bristling, Catra's knees go to her chest and she closes her eyes, withdrawing further into herself.

Catching clear signs of distress from Catra, Adora glances over at Bow and Glimmer, who regard them both with oncern. Eyes moving from them to the door and back, she nods at the pair.

Glimmer and Bow spare one lingering look at Catra as they slowly rise to their feet and walk out of the main cabin. 

"Hey,"  Adora's tone is gentle when she kneels down next to Catra. "Was it something I said?"

Not just you... Catra's arms tighten around herself in response.

"Catra," Adora lightly touches her shoulders. "Tell me what's going on so I can help."

Shrugging her shoulders, Catra groans. "Haven't you talked enough?"

"We don't have to talk." she relents, sitting beside Catra. "But I'm not leaving."

Catra's ears twitch, catching the shift in Adora's voice. "What are you saying?"

"I'm staying," Adora answers, meeting Catra's gaze. "Even if you don't say a word about what's bothering you...I'll be here." I won't push her, but she can't stop me from being by her side.

"You can't be serious." Catra laughs dryly. "You're really going to-" When her gaze locks onto Adora's, the determination in those slate blue eyes halt that sarcastic retort .

 Adora's gaze is steady, but there's a vulnerability when she speaks. "I know you're still mad..."

Catra's eyes widen at the indignation on Adora's face, so intense, it stuns her into silence once more.

She raises a skeptical brow. "If you weren't mad, you wouldn't be avoiding and withdrawing from me...Again." Adora sighs. "If it's about this morning, I didn't mean to do it."

"That's not why I'm mad," Catra bristles, tail thrashing wildly. "You think your nightmares are anything new to me, Adora?" 

Adora stops, eyes widening. "Well, no, but I-" She pauses, tone regretful. "I hit you."

"It's not like that didn't happen daily in the Horde." Don't assume I'll break at the slightest hit because of what Prime did. Catra's lip curls, anger brimming to the surface as she abruptly stands. "Or are you saying that I'm too weak to take them?!"

Offending Catra wasn't Adora's intent, but it's clear by the look in Catra's eyes that she's given her the wrong impression. "Catra," She pulls herself to her feet, palms up in a gesture of surrender. "That's not what I-"

A growl of irritation tumbles out as Catra swings her fist toward Adora. "Leaving was so easy for you, wasn't it?"

Recovering from momentary surprise at the bite in those words, Adora's hand flies out, catching Catra's fist before the strike can land.

Grunting in frustration, she throws another punch out, which Adora intercepts. "Did you even care that you left me?!"

Adora's gaze softens at the slight trembling of those fists, tone earnest. "Of course I cared, Catra!"

Looking at Adora through narrowed eyes, she forces those next words through gritted teeth. "I saw how much you cared back then at the Sea Gate, celebrating with your new friends..." Tears well up in Catra's eyes as she growls the accusation. "You didn't even look back!" It was like I wasn't important to you anymore. Discarded. Replaced.

That sudden realization causes Adora's grip to loosen and she freezes, eyes wide with shock. "Y-you were still there?"

A few tears fall despite Catra's effort to contain them as her voice cracks with emotion. "You only saw me when I was right in front of you, Adora!"

The denial is there, hanging on the edge of Adora's lips before it recedes like a tide. "I'm such an idiot," she murmurs. Her gaze drops to the floor as she scowls, crumpling under the truth in Catra's words. I was hurting her in ways I didn't realize. How could I have been so blind to her feelings?  Why couldn't I see what my other decisions were doing to Catra?!  It doesn't make what she did right, but I was also causing her so much pain! Seconds of silence morph into minutes. When Adora finally lifts her head to look Catra in the eyes, anger and hurt are reflected in them, shining with unshed tears. "That's not what I ever meant to do to you, Catra," she grimaces, heart twisting with the force of her remorse.  "Leaving was a rash choice. One that I didn't fully understand at first." With a sigh, Adora drops her hold on Catra's hands. "For the first time in my life, I hadn't run through every scenario before deciding what to do." Through the increasing tightness in her throat, she manages to speak, voice thick with emotion. "I did miss you, Catra."

Catra closes her eyes for several moments before she looks at Adora, tone grim. "We could have left the Horde, together, at any time, Adora."

"Then why didn't you take my hand when I asked the first time?"

You never asked me. Catra had thought of that day so many times Adora's words are permanently ingrained in her mind. Now, she repeats them. " 'Catra come with me. We can fix this'- Doesn't sound like a question to me," she murmurs, indignation in her eyes.

Adora cringes as her own words are thrown back to her. In rapid succession all the times she's attempted to get Catra to change sides appear in her mind. During none of those interactions did she ever actually ask her to go with her, always telling her instead. Catra's right. I was so focused on getting her back that I expected Catra to follow me. I always grabbed her hand rather than letting her take mine.

Waiting for Adora to answer only to be met with none causes the feeling of being ignored to irritate that wound, as if her past self can't stand not being heard again. "It took two strangers less than a day to convince you to defect! Knowing what Shadow Weaver was putting us both through wasn't enough of a reason to leave, but they were!"  Did my safety even cross your mind at night? Or was I a lost cause to you after Salineas?

"Catra, it was never about them." Adora's arms open, eyes begging her to understand. "After I realized that the Horde was doing so many wrong things and hurting-"

Hurting me!  Catra's snarl cuts through the air. "So was Shadow Weaver!" Baring her teeth, she continues, tone incredulous. "Do you even realize what she almost- What she put me through after you left?!"

"No." Adora raises one brow, catching the shift in Catra's question, her voice low. "You know I don't." Gaze conveying years of regret in that one look, she gives a world weary sigh. "I'll have to live with that mistake." Pausing for breath, she musters her courage to voice the question she's wanted to ask since that first day. Adora's fists clench at her side "Do you really think I was happy about leaving?!"

Catra simply nods, her focus on restraining more tears that threaten to escape.

Marching over to the captain's chair, Adora presses her palm against a panel, which reveals a stack of tightly folded papers. She returns to Catra, holding them out. "Here."

"Adora, this is the exact opposite of talking."

"I know, but you aren't hearing what I'm saying, so maybe you'll believe me if you read these." Adora's chin dips as her voice lowers to a whisper. "I never meant to send them," she confesses with a shrug. "They were just a way to get out how I was feeling."

Catra unfolds the first piece of paper:

It's weird being here in Bright Moon, Catra. I'm not sure if my sleep has gotten worse because of how quiet things seem at night. How soft the beds are compared to those in the Fright Zone. How colorful everything is..Mostly, I think- know the main reason is that you aren't here with me...like you should be...I'm not used to you not being by my feet. Waking up without you hurts. At first, it's like you've gone to play a trick on Kyle, or you've gone up to our spot to think, but then I remember that you aren't really there. You're in the Fright Zone and I'm here. I don't understand what's going on between us. I want to talk without fighting. Why didn't you grab my hand in Thaymor? No matter how many times i run through that day, the worst one, in my head, I can't make sense of it. Even in my nightmares. Maybe, if I keep trying, if we talk, you'll take my hand this time...I miss you, Catra. 

Scanning the page again, Catra's eyes scrutinize every word like she can't quite believe what's written there. Moving to the next letter, Catra reads on.

I didn't mean to make you do this, Catra. Back then, I should have tried harder to defend you against Shadow Weaver. The truth is, I was..scared. I know that's a sign of weakness in the Horde, but, I was. I would fix it if I could go back somehow. Do more to actually protect you from her. I thought I was, but clearly, I failed. You know, I meant what I said in the Castle. I'm sure you still feel like leaving you was the plan. Even if you ever read this, you probably won't believe me, but I didn't mean to leave you behind or make you think I was using you to make myself look stronger. We used to be so close. I wish we still were. I won't pretend I'm not mad at you for cutting those webs instead of helping me up. I still am. Mostly, I'm just...confused. I don't understand why you did that. It scares me thinking about what almost happened when I fell. What if I had died? I wonder what you'd do. Would you mourn me? Would you feel guilty?  Would you care? Would you miss me like you said you would? I never thought you'd do that. For the first time in our lives, I'm not only scared for you, I'm scared of you. I won't run away though. I'll face you and fight you if that's what it takes, but...I don't want to kill you. It'd hurt too much. In spite of everything that's happened, I still miss you, Catra.

Despite how much I hated what you did, I would have mourned. Catra's lungs constrict at the understanding that Adora feared her once. If she'd seen this years before, the Catra of the past would have loved to know that She-Ra was afraid. There were so many advantages she could've exploited to weaken and defeat the Rebellion's forces. As she is now, that knowledge burns in her chest. With slightly shaking hands, Catra goes to the next letter, noticing immediately it's much shorter. 

After what we went through in the portal..How can I need as much distance from you as possible, yet still want you by my side, Catra?

Could Adora...feel the same?  Adora's words to her on Prime's ship echo in her mind: 'You matter to me.'  With that memory and the letter in Catra's hands, some faint hope rises from deep within. Could she want me the way I want her?  Fighting to keep her hands steady, Catra flips to the next letter.

I haven't seen you on the front lines in a while, Catra...Maybe that's a good thing, considering I'm not sure how I'll react the next time we see each other. I wish you would've listened when I begged you not to pull the switch. Now, I don't know where we stand. Whether we can even go back to being friends once this war ends. You've caused more hurt to me than you could ever understand. I know you wanted things to return to how they were before I left, but why did you have to go so far?! Destroying the world, reality, would have destroyed us both, so you wouldn't have gotten what you wanted anyway. Did you stop to consider that? How your actions could affect so much more than just us?! Catra, I- I don't know who you are anymore. Even though we're enemies, I had hope. Believed that I could make you understand there are other choices which don't involve hurting each other. But now, it's so difficult to think things will change. That you'll change. Despite us being on opposing sides. All the mistakes and missteps we've taken. The pain we inflict. The hurt we're both causing. The loss of you and...others...I can't speak the words, because it's a selfish thought now. I'll write it here. Even though I shouldn't. Even though I know better. Even though it might be wrong. I can't help missing you, Catra.

A myriad of emotions war within Catra as though she's picking up both her emotions and Adora's as she reads. A twinge of fear when she thinks of that same searing look after they returned from the portal reality. The uncertainty held within those words, which accompanies that anger. Her realization that if she had succeeded, neither of them would get what they wanted. The thought of which is enough to twist Catra's stomach in painful knots. Those knots unravel at the mention of Adora being unsure if Catra will change. A strange wave of elation lifts her spirit enough to continue on to the final letter.

I'm coming back for you like I should have done all those years ago. Not because of some sense of heroism. I remember when you said...That you never asked me to protect you. The truth is, you should never have to. Through these year apart, we've been enemies who've made bad decisions on both sides of the war. I know what I'm planning might be dangerous, or crazy, I'm doing this for you and  for myself. I'll reach out to risk everything for the chance at fixing things between us. It won't undo our hurtful words and wounds...but I have to try. You looked out for me, so, now, I'm looking out for you, Catra.  

From that very first sentence, Catra can feel tears prickle at her eyes. It's the last one that causes a few droplets to cascade down her cheek. You remembered... Staring at the words, it's like she's back in the Fright Zone, holding the note Scorpia left for her. They're ingrained in her memory. 

Wildcat,

Even though leaving you is difficult, it's for your own good. I'm sorry for letting you down and causing you pain...I hope you find someone who can break down your walls. 

The words replaying in her minds eye causes Catra to clutch Adora's letters tighter to her chest.

Watching Catra read each letter, Adora knows the words aren't easy to go through. They were difficult enough to write, but she's hopeful Catra will be able to believe that she never stopped missing her.

Catra's gaze finally moves to Adora. There are so many questions circling through her mind: Why didn't you take me with you that night? Why did you ask me to cover for you, knowing Shadow Weaver would find out? Why did you defect after all the plans we made? Why didn't you come back? Why did we keep misunderstanding each other for so long? Out of all those questions, Catra can only manage to voice a single word.

"Why?" That word hangs in the air between them. Not accusatory in nature, but there's a desperation held within it. A need to understand and gain clarity amidst all the misreadings.  

Wide eyed, Adora's brow furrows in thought, considering her answer. She's not exactly certain if Catra's asking why she wrote what she did, or why she never intended to send them. Either way, Adora wants to give her some kind of answer to quell some of that hurt in those eyes of night and day. 

As soon as Adora opens her mouth to reply, Catra puts her hand up to stop those words from being voiced. She's unsure what Adora's response will be, or if she wants an answer. "I'm...going to bed," she mutters, letters still in hand as she pivots on her heel, leaving.

The same nightmare unfolds before her. Only Adora's She-Ra form looks even more terrifying. An ethereal, glowing magic, which sends waves of power through the air. It makes Catra's hackles rise, summoning a growl from deep in her chest. If she felt powerless before, now she's helpless. Her attacks do nothing to stop that imposing figure from pinning her, no matter how much she kicks, bites, or scratches. Unable to prevent those muscular arms from reaching for her neck, as that warrior's hands squeeze the air from her lungs. Through blurred vision, one thing is startlingly clear: She-Ra isn't crying now. That realization is enough to jolt her awake, a shout of Adora's name rips through her throat.

"Maybe I shouldn't have shown her all of the letters at once..." Adora muses quietly, pacing the ship. She's pulled from those thoughts by Catra's cry of her name piercing the quiet atmosphere. Hastily making her way to the brig, she opens the door to see her facing the wall. "Catra?" Adora says, voice low so as not to startle her.

Any progress Catra has with her breathing evaporates as soon as Adora speaks. She hides those uneven breaths behind a hiss.

"Hey," Adora whispers, approaching with caution as she squats by her. "Was it another nightmare?" Although she asks the question without judgement, Catra bristles in response with her ears back.

Catra senses Adora sitting near her, but keeping a respectful distance. Part of her wants to reveal the nightmare, however she's still not used to discussing them after being silent for so long.

"You don't have to talk about it, Adora murmurs, raising a hand out to brush her shoulder, until Catra flinches. "Or," she pauses, suppressing the hurt from the unexpected reaction. "We could spar, like old times?" The offer exudes friendliness and eagerness within her mischievous suggestion.

Under more normal circumstances, Catra would already have leapt up to pounce on her, but not now. The nightmare is still too raw of a mental wound. One she hasn't begun to dismiss from her mind. "I don't...want to fight you," she admits through a sigh.

Catra doesn't want to fight? It's a phrase Adora never expected to hear, not from her. " Adora knows from experience that although Catra's injuries are healed, the physical ache left over from She-Ra's healing isn't so easily dealt with. The worse the injuries, the worse the pain is.
"Are you still hurting from She-Ra's healing?" The inquiry sounds too anxious, on edge.

"No," she answers flatly, still not turning around.  

Adora waits for her to elaborate, but she stays silent. "Oh, well that's good, right?" She tries to keep her tone upbeat, even if her brow is knit with concern.

"Yeah, I guess." Catra agrees, shrugging her shoulders.

Maybe She-Ra can help again! "For the honor of Grayskull." Adora speaks the phrase quieter than usual, not wishing to disturb the others.

Catra's pulse increases to a frantic degree at the battle cry. "Adora, what are you doing?!" She turns, nearly blinded by that light. Then Adora is gone, with She-Ra in her place. The scent of storms fills her nostrils, as her hackles raise. Bolting to her feet in alarm, a snarl tumbles out and her claws extend to sharpened points.

In response, Adora morphs the sword into a shield, bracing herself for an attack. Hopefully this will help Catra work through whatever has her so worked up. When nothing happens, Adora peeks her head over the shield. Her eyes sweep over Catra's bushed out tail, swaying rapidly near her feet. Gaze moving to her ears she can tell they're pressed flat against her head. 

Adora feels a knot of concern form in her throat as that smile falters a bit. However, it's the sight of Catra's face which makes Adora's smile drop into her stomach. Constricted pupils stare back at her, unblinking, accompanied by bared fangs. She knows that look well. Though, she's never seen it go to this extreme. "Catra?" Adora speaks her name gently, all playfulness gone. To her dismay, Catra's silent and still. Lowering her shield slightly doesn't elicit any change in her body language either. "What's wrong?" Her voice trembles with worry despite her attempt to sound calm.

Catra can't think. Can't even speak. Her mind is in full survival mode. Even if she did try talking at this point, it would just be growling and snarling. All she sees is the towering figure of Adora, transformed into She-Ra, the warrior. Powerful. Strong. Dangerous. Deadly.

"Hey, I'm here," Adora assures, extending her free hand, palm out. What she expects is for Catra to grab her hand, like before. A slight gasp escapes her when Catra shuts her eyes instead. Does she think she's still dreaming? She lowers her hand, morphing the shield back into a band on her wrist."Catra, I'm going to ask you questions that I need you to answer. Just respond by nodding or shaking your head. Can you do that for me?"

Catra nods in agreement.

"Do you know where you are?"

She gives a second sharp nod.

"Do you think you're still asleep?"

A resolute shake causes Adora to press on, needing more information. "Was the nightmare about...her?" Adora knows nightmares involving Shadow Weaver are the worst she's ever had, until recently. Though Catra's must be so much worse when she's there..

Catra's head moves frantically back and forth.

"Was it...Prime?" She hesitates asking, especially knowing just a fraction of what he put Catra through. Even the sound of his name makes her own blood ignite with rage. I need to know so I can help her in whatever way I'm able to.

A slight pause as Catra tilts her head to the side in contemplation, finally nodding to confirm Adora's guess..

"Was I there?" Part of Adora wonders if it's their fight on Prime's ship, or Catra's fall to her death. She shudders at the thought. The other part hopes she was there, so Catra would know she wasn't facing him alone, even in nightmares.

After a long pause, Catra's chin dips down once.

Adora breathes a slight sigh of relief. "As She-Ra?" Confusion rolls off of her while she tries to discern why that response appears to be so nervous.

Those ears point downward and there's a pause before she nods again.

The fact that she's hesitated twice now perplexes Adora. Wouldn't her being there as She-Ra be a reassurance or comfort to Catra? She definitely feels that way whenever she's transformed. Unless... A lump forms in Adora's throat, making it difficult to speak. "W-was I chipped?"

Catra's chin barely moves, as though she doesn't want to answer.

Adora's heart pounds furiously against her ribcage. She forces the words out past the sinking dread in her chest. "Did I hurt you with my sword?"

Tilting her head, Catra nods. Her brow furrows in thought, then, ammending that response, she slowly moves her head from side to side.

"I don't understand, Catra." Adora tries to keep her tone level, but it sounds too sharp. She sighs, thinking of how to get a clearer answer. "So, I didn't harm you with my sword?"

Catra gives another slow nod.

The relief that wells up with that response is short lived when she recalls the conflicting reply from earlier. "But I did hurt you...as She-Ra?" Adora almost doesn't want to know the answer to that, but she looks on, waiting.

A grimace pulls at Catra's lips and her eyes shine with a silent apology as she gives an agonizingly slow dip of her chin.

"No..." A breathless gasp of denial rushes past Adora's lips, hanging between them. "Catra, you can't really believe that I would hurt you, right?"

There's an almost indiscernable nod from Catra.

"Catra!" A panic filled reproach. Adora realizes she could wound her in the past, not that she enjoyed doing it. After everything that's happened in the past few days, it's something she wouldn't dare do now. The thought is unbearable.

At that, Catra's gaze locks with those electric blue eyes. That narrowed glare she sends Adora is sharper than She-Ra's sword, as fury runs through her, molten and volatile. "I hurt you," she snarls through bared fangs.

Catra's finally meeting her gaze, even if her eyes are narrowed to slits. "Well, yeah, I know we fought and injured each other. I wish I could undo it a-

"That's not what I mean!" Catra seethes, unable to control her ragged breathing.

"Then, tell me!" Adora snaps back, incapable of reigning in her temper. Catra always has a way of getting to her, even now.

Growling, Catra's hand lashes out in an effort to clear a path away from her.

Acting on instinct Adora puts an arm up to block her, but isn't quick enough this time. She hisses in a breath at the sting it leaves, grasping Catra's wrist in her other hand.  "We need to talk about this," she grits out, focused on taking steady breaths.

Without looking, the scent of copper reaches Catra, eminating from her claws and the crimson gashes on Adora's arm. "T-told you." Her voice falters as she looks into those electric blue eyes regarding her with fury.

Adora focuses on unclenching her teeth and relaxing her gaze, but doesn't loosen her grip. "Catra," she says, a warning in her tone. "I understand some of what you're going through right now."

"No, you don't." Catra's ears go back, tail lowering when she starts to tremble again. "I told Prime about your ship, before that transmission," she whispers the confession, tone heavy with remorse.

Adora's gaze is sincere, tone resolute. "You made a different choice. That's what's important."

"How can you say that when all I've done since this started is hurt you?" 

"Catra, you've also been hurt by me," Adora counters, voice calmer now. "There was a reason I used my sword as a threat against you, rather than a weapon."

"What are you saying?" Catra tilts her head in confusion. She recounts all of their battles, gradually seeing the truth of Adora's words. What happened in the Northern Reach was proof enough that if Adora wanted to, she would have run her clean through then. A tremor moves up Catra's spine and she shakes her head to clear the recollection.

"When you stopped trying to talk to me," she groans, debating whether or not to complete the explanation. "I had to punch my feelings out," Adora concludes with a shrug. "You know that's how I've always been."

Catra's jaw drops at those words, needing several seconds before she can form a response. "Are you seriously telling me all those times you were trying to hit me with those fists," she pauses to look accusatorily at the one encircling her wrist. "You were trying to vent to me during our fights?!" It's almost laughable, and something Catra never considered. Granted, back then she was too driven to win and defeat Adora. She wasn't focusing on things like that. Maybe I should have.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Adora answers resolutely.

"Really, Adora," she huffs, relieved her voice sounds more normal, even though the shaking hasn't relented.

"What were you talking about?" Adora quirks a brow, waiting for a response.

"Nothing," Catra averts her gaze, not wanting to look at She-Ra or the blood welling up from that wound she just inflicted.

"Try again," she challenges, arching an incredulous brow at her. "Only this time, look me in the eyes and say it. Then I might believe you."

Catra can't bring herself to do it. She may be better than her at lying, but right now, her emotions are too raw. Too open to deceive anyone she makes eye contact with, least of all, Adora.

"If you aren't going to talk to me any more, then listen," Adora groans, giving an exasperated sigh. "I'm going to let go of your wrist now. Resist the urge to strike me this time, okay?"

Catra nods, gaze moving to the floor as a new wave of regret and remorse crashes through her, even though she knows it wasn't intentional.

"Whether I'm in this form, or not, I couldn't willingly hurt you anymore," she admits solemnly, wishing that Catra would just meet her gaze. "I'd rather die by your hand, than kill you with my own."

Catra's eyes open in terror and her heartbeat races as if to outrun the memory those words summon. That illusion of Adora's dead face swims to the forefront of her mind, sending her breathing into overdrive.

"Catra?" Adora gasps at the visceral reaction her words have caused. A wave of guilt consumes her. She hadn't meant to cause the panic to come back. "What's going through your head?"

Catra can't stay silent any longer, her fear is too palpable. "I don't want to see you die again!"

"I-is that what he showed you?" Eyes conveying shock, Adora's mouth drops in silent horror.  "When you dove into the water in the illusion?" Her hands latch onto Catra's shoulders. "Why you said I wasn't there?!"

Catra nods her head as a few stray tears fall to the floor. She's glad Adora can't see them. Crying isn't something she's used to doing in front of others. It makes her feel too exposed and weak.

"Catra, I need you to look at me," Adora says, unable to conceal the quiver in her voice. "Please...?"

The plea gets through to her. Another break in that wall between them as Catra meets her gaze.

"Every time we spoke to one another, I was there. Not once did I die in those dreams."

"H-how?" Catra stutters, trying to get her breathing back to normal.

"It's a long story," she sighs, shaking her head. When Adora's hand moves to Catra's face, she's hurt at seeing Catra recoil again. "Trust me."

Catra stills, fighting the instinct to run from those electric blue eyes again. "Okay."

Adora places her palm on the side of Catra's face, concentrating on summoning that familiar surge of healing light. "I couldn't bare it if you died again," she chokes out, voice cracking on the last word.

Catra can't stop her voice from shaking. "Was that your nightmare?"  She's hoping the answer is no. Seeing Adora die in that illusion was too horrific.

"Yes, only, you didn't come back," Adora admits, holding back tears as her voice cracks on a whisper. "I couldn't bring you back with She-Ra's healing."

A warm ripple of energy move across her face "What do you..." Catra trails off. "That was just a nightmare, right?" Their previous conversation comes back: 'Those were only nightm-' Adora had cut her off. 'No they weren't!'

"No, it wasn't," she sighs, expression grim. "You died in my arms right after I transformed. When we got to the ship, you didn't breathe or move until I used this power."

 Catra gasps when that warmth continues to radiate through her, spreading like sparks of sunlight.  "You...brought me back to life?"

"Yes," she answers, a soft smile spreading across her face. "I never stopped reaching for you. Not in dreams. Not even in death." She withdraws her hand, turning away from Catra. The glow fades when she starts to revert back.

 Catra's throat constricts. "Adora..I-" Upon seeing those five angry slashes, her heart lurches in her chest.  along with her heart. Even though they aren't visible when Adora's transformed, Catra knows the claw marks are still there. The one wound She-Ra's magic didn't reach.

"What is it?" At the sound, Adora stops the shift, glancing at Catra worriedly. She follows Catra's stare, realizing it's transfixed slightly below her neck, The gashes from when she was chipped. Adora doesn't hold her responsible for those injuries. Those actions were Prime's doing, but it can't change the fact that Catra blames herself enough for the both of them. "Catra, these marks may fade," Adora's eyes shine with understanding and determination. "Even if they don't...I hope eventually, when you look at them, you see it as proof that I didn't give up on you and I never will." She turns back to Catra, resting her hands on her shoulders as she's done so many times before. "Believe in She-Ra and trust me."

That final piece of the wall between them crumbles. "I'll try." Catra moves over to the bed, sagging onto it as she lays back. 

 

 

 

"I can leave..." Adora says quietly, concern etched on her features. "If you want?" She really doesn't want to go, but Adora's not going to push Catra further. So, she stands there, patiently awaiting a reply.

Though her tone is hesitant, Catra's determined to speak before Adora leaves. "You don't have to," she murmurs. Now that her heart rate is back to its usual rhythm, nothing is there to take her mind off the swirl of loneliness surrounding her. 

"I'll stay." Adora gradually settles into the space beside Catra. The sheets are light, but leave a chill against her skin and she shivers.

Seeing those goosebumps raise on Adora's skin, Catra grabs the blanket, draping it over them. "I remember how cold you got back then. Looks like that hasn't changed," she chuckles, a subtle smirk exposing one of her fangs.

"You know, it's nice being able to look at you..." The admission is wistful and soft spoken. Adora sees Catra's eyes widen in response. Realizing what she just said, Adora clears her throat nervously. "I-I mean you used to lie by my feet so-"

Her tail trails along Adora's ankle. "I guess it's nice to have more room," she agrees. Seeing how flustered Adora still gets, Catra's excited at the prospect of teasing her about it. She makes it so easy. 

"Wait till you see the ones in Bright Moon!" They're soft enough to sink into- but if you don't like that, Glimmer can get a firmer one for you," Adora says in a rush, smiling broadly. Her gaze softens as she takes a deep breath. "I'm just glad you're here with the Rebellion- and me." She inches slightly closer, lessening that void between them. "There wasn't a day I didn't think about you."

Catra's heart squeezes at her words, and she wonders if Adora can hear it beating out of her chest with how close they are to each other. "Bet they were fond thoughts, huh?"

"Yeah, they were," she whispers back sincerely, bridging the gap between them. "I never stopped reaching for you, Catra." Adora raises a hand, idly running her fingers through the shortened strands as she tucks Catra's head under her chin. 

With that, the last piece of the wall falls. An answering purr wells up from deep within Catra's chest as she cautiously wraps her arms around Adora's back, purposely avoiding the wounds she made. "I missed you too," she murmurs, listening for a response. The only one she gets is Adora's less than quiet snores. A sound she used to give her grief about, and plans to again. Lying there she remembers how long it's been since she's heard it. YearsNever thought I'd find such an annoying sound so soothing now. It's a thought she won't admit to Adora. Her eyelids droop as she drifts off into a dreamless sleep.