The birthday party is the most lavish celebration Adora has ever experienced in her own honor. Her parents have spared no expense on balloons, musicians, jugglers and entertainers, and more food than even her whole camp of rebels could consume in a week. Everyone wants to be seen with her, and while she's fine with Adam and Mother and Father, after the twelfth young lord or so who is more interested in sizing up the eligible young princess than in knowing her, she has to make an escape.
The Royal Palace is still a mystery to her. Everything on Eternia is. Adora sighs, clutching her glass of nectar protectively as she finds a quiet spot on a balcony overlooking the courtyard. She should be down there with the guards, practicing and keeping herself in shape, not up here making small talk with people she doesn't know and doesn't like. As Hordak's adopted daughter, she was subject more to rules and regimen than to grandeur. She's not used to parties, even shared parties for herself and her beloved twin, not used to court intrigues and being viewed as a marriage prospect rather than a military leader.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Adora is startled to hear a bright voice over the background hubbub coming from the direction of the party. Teela comes up next to her, leaning over the balcony's edge. Her eyes are focused on the men training below, and Adora can easily see she'd rather be down there as well, gorgeous blue gown be damned.
"What's a penny?" Adora asks around a sip of her nectar. What does Teela want?
Teela shrugs. "Something from Earth, I think. The Queen used to ask me when I was little and staring off into space about something."
A shiver runs through Adora, not for the first time. This woman is her own age, and Adam's. She has grown up here with him, standing in as the sister Adora should have been. Adora's mother told her stories and had little jokes with her from her homeworld, instead of telling Adora.
She doesn't know what else to say. She likes Teela. She's quietly certain her brother is in love with this pretty, strong false twin. But she has no idea how to tell her what's on her mind: the party she doesn't understand, the life she never lived, the tangled emotions surrounding each.
"I'm always looking for excuses to duck out of those parties," Teela says lightly, keeping her attention on the guards rather than fixing Adora with a stare she can't return. "Adam hates them, too, but your parents give him an earful whenever he slips out." The sigh she gives speaks volumes. How many times have Adam's excuses not been about the party, and instead been about saving the world?
"I thought the two of you would be used to it all." She gestures with her glass. "Everything is so … "
Adora bursts out in a laugh, turning to catch Teela's sly smile. "I was going to say 'grandiose' but yes."
"Just because we're used to it all doesn't mean we like it. Anyway, I'm not one for birthday parties." Her red mouth twists. The story Adam told her comes back in a rush.
"Adam said you're adopted."
Teela nods. "I love my father, and he always gave me such lovely parties when I was a child, but it never fails to remind me that someone had to give me up."
"Yes," says Adora, voice tight. Every birthday when she was little reminded her of the life she never knew. Hordak and Shadow Weaver spun tales about why Adora was with them, and her other caretaker had always been kind. But even the younger happiness of presents and the older happiness of being wanted were edged with a kind of grief for the days that never were.
"You know, I generally rescue Adam from the guests around this time. Want to find a nice corner in the kitchens and break out the good snacks?" Her grin is open and friendly, and a bit mischievous. A quiet party with her brother and his best friend sounds much better than rejoining the fray inside.
Together, they slip into the party. Adora is immediately surrounded by prospective suitors and pretending admirers. She tries not to panic, noticing Teela gliding across the room to Adam, informing him stiffly that he's needed elsewhere and extricating him from a gaggle of giggling ladies. She worries they'll abandon her here, until a hand is placed under each of her elbows.
"Pardon me," Adam says smoothly to Lord … What was his name? Adora has already forgotten and doesn't care. "Princess Adora is needed. I'll bring her back shortly." He and Teela flank her and the three of them hurry out again before the King and Queen see what's happening.
It's a quick dash through the less-used corridors to the cozy warmth of the back kitchens, echoing with the chat of the cooks in the main kitchen and redolent with fresh breads and sweets. Adam swipes a bowl of thick cream, and Teela grabs a hot loaf. Adora finds herself with a bottle of nectar and a warm shoulder to either side as they sit together, passing the food and eating with their fingers.
"Aren't Mother and Father going to be angry?" she asks her brother, as he dips a crust into the cream and pops the morsel into his mouth.
"They'll be angry at me." His eyes betray a little sorrow, but his lips are pulled into a smile. "It's nothing out of the usual. And Teela said you needed a break."
"Don't mind me," said Teela, grabbing the nectar bottle and taking a long swig. She belches, covering her mouth with a ladylike hand.
Adora laughs at the pair of them, seeing the old friendship. It dawns on her that there's still room between them for her friendship as well.
"Happy birthday, sis," Adam says, and he kisses her chastely on her cheek.
Adora rests her head on his shoulder. "You too."