It’s getting easier to be She-Ra.
“Don’t move.” Adora says, her sword inches away from Catra’s face.
Snow falls intensely around them. It melts as soon as it touches Adora’sー, She-Ra’s skin. The wind is harsh against her hair and clothes, but it doesn’t feel cold. She-Ra seems to be comfortable in any environment.
Catra lies on her back. Adora and her friends found her alone on a bridge once they reached the point where Bow's trackpad led them to. Even outnumbered, she didn't show any fear. She challenged Adora and before she noticed they were chasing each other and fighting in the snow.
The fight was quick, though. Things are getting easier now that Adora is getting more comfortable with her sword and her powers.
“Oh, please! You’d never have the guts.” Catra grins.
Adora’s glare at Catra is firm but the hand holding the sword trembles. There is no one around them to stop Adora. Her friends are probably still on the bridge or walking around looking for other Horde people.
She’s just a few inches from hurting Catra, but she can’t do it.
I knew you couldn’t do it. Catra’s words from Light Hope’s simulation echoes in her head.
She removes the sword from Catra’s face.
The simulation is designed for total accuracy. Light Hope said.
She could never do it.
“You know, as much as I love our fights, it’s way too cold for this.“ Catra grins again. “Why don’t we try something new?” She takes something from out of her pocket and reaches for Adora’s sword.
Her movement is too quick.
The sword starts to emanate an odd energy. An energy that flows quickly to Adora, that feels painful and makes her feel glued to the sword. She feels it invading her veins, running through her body, trying to rip her skin apart, and it’s like she is back in Entrapta’s castle in Dryl. The last time she felt like this she woke up hours later, without any memories of anything that infected She-Ra did.
Adora tries to fight it, but the more she fights it the more it hurts. She screams, trying to use all her strength and willpower, trying to use She-Ra’s strength, but her control over She-Ra slips through her hands. Her body feels like it’s up in flames. The burning begins on her hand and spreads way too fast, and when it hits her eyes she thinks this is how it's all going to end.
Then it all goes black.
I know you’re still in there, Adora!
For a second Adora hears Glimmer’s voice somewhere far in her mind. All her limbs are on fire but she tries to fight the energy anyway. It only makes the burning worse.
Everything goes black again.
The energy oscillates and Adora feels herselfー, feels She-ra, panting. Everything still burns but she feels it a little less hot on a knee and a hand. Her vision is blurry but she notices she’s kneeling. Maybe she’s regaining control?
The hand holding the sword is still on fire, and it hurts so bad to hold it, but she can’t let it go.
Some noise behind her triggers the energy to come crashing all over again. The excruciating pain darkens her vision and by the next second her senses are gone one more time.
Adora hears screams and grunts in the distance. They sound familiar, but they disappear too quickly. Then,
Adora hears a desperate voice.
The energy oscillates again and Adora fights it. For an instant the burn in her eyes diminishes and she focuses.
Sheー, She-ra? Is grinning. And she stands overー
Except it’s all wrong. Because Catra is on her stomach, static.
Because the snow around her isn’t white.
Because there is...
A lot of blood.
Dripping from the sword she holds straight in front of her, dripping from her hands, over her clothes, her face, overー
Adora feels the energy growing again, more violent than before, and she’s being ripped apart from the inside. But she won’t let it win.
She can’t let it win.
She fights it, and screams, and contorts herself, and slowly, too slowly, she opens her fingers, starting by her pinky.
As the grip on the sword loosens, the burn intensifies and she is sure she is going to lose her hand. But that doesn’t matter, because nothing matters right now, nothing besidesー
The sword falls and Adora crouches over Catra.
Her vision blurries and for a second she thinks she’s losing her senses again, but she blinks the tears away and looks closer.
There is a cut that starts on the back of Catra’s left arm, goes across her back diagonally and ends by her belt. Adora’s stomach throws over when she sees white from the cut on the arm, and she can’t know how it looks on her back because of the layers of clothing, but there is blood still coming out of it, and she needs to calm down, and think, and do something, anything.
The bleeding, she needs something to stop the bleeding.
She starts to remove her own jacket, except she doesn’t find it. She looks down and realizes she is still in She-Ra’s form, somehow, and her veins are red and bulging.
She is a monster, she thinks. I’m a monster, she corrects herself.
The energy oscillates again. It was still there, Adora realizes, quiet until now, but once she notices it, it starts to try to grow again.
Adora searches Catra's pockets and only now realizes they are alone.
Where is everyone else? Did I hurt them too ー she stops her thoughts, she needs to focus.
Adora finds the cursed First Ones disk. She crushes it with one hand and feels an explosion inside of her.
She wakes up as soon as her face hits the cold snow, heart pounding, her entire body shaking and her chest so tight she almost can’t inhale for air.
She is weak, exhausted, freezing, but it doesn’t matter. She pushes herself up and removes Catra’s jacket, as carefully as her trembling hands allow her, but she doesn’t touch the left arm. She examines the cut a little better. It looks deeper by her hip.
Finally, she removes her jacket, rolls it, and wraps it around Catra, trying to tie it over the cut as best as she can, tight enough to hold the blood inside. She reaches for the ripped sleeve from Catra’s jacket and tries to finish ripping it off. The jacket is too thick so she turns and almost reaches for the sword, except her hand stops a few inches from it. She turns back and uses her teeth instead. She ties the piece of cloth over the cut on Catra’s arm, then puts the jacket on her again because she needs to keep her warm.
Adora wants to turn her around, she needs to see her face, but she doesn’t know if that could be worse. She slowly and carefully turns her, supporting her by the shoulders, and Adora panics again when she sees only the whites of her eyes.
“C-catraー” Adora tries to say, but her throat scratches and her voice fails. She pushes back the hair over her face and notices an ugly bruise forming by her eye. She did that too.
Adora reaches for Catra’s pulse on her neck with her free hand. It takes a moment too long, because her fingers are numb from the cold, so Adora’s own heart freezes, but she finally feels weak quick beats under her fingers. Adora exhales a shaky breath, relieved for a second, but Catra is pale and almost as cold as her bloodied hand.
Adora cups her face. “Catra, pleaseー Catra, wake up, please.”
Adora shakes her, and she probably shouldn’t do that, but she doesn’t know what to do anymore. She stops shaking her, because she definitely shouldn’t be doing it, and suddenly Catra’s body jerks. Her eyes shoot open as she coughs and chokes. She whimpers and tries to move, and Adora holds her tighter.
“Catraー Catra, don’t move. I’m here, please, Iー”
Her ears raise up and Catra looks at her. Her breaths are quick and shallow and confusion and horror wash over her face.
“Adora? Whー” She reaches for Adora’s collar with her good arm, winces and hisses as she does so. “It hurts, Adora, itー” She groans, wincing again.
“I’m sorry, Catra, I’m soー” Adora sobs. She looks around, they are alone, she doesn’t know where she can take her.
Catra breathes heavily and shakes. She reaches for her own chest and Adora hears a familiar noise. She pressed on her force captain badge. Good. Other people were probably nearby, maybe there was a Horde base with a medical facility? Here, in the middle of nowhere?
“Let me gー” Catra grunts.
“I’m not letting you go. How far are the others? Can they help you?” Adora tries to maintain a firm voice, but she is sure she's failing.
Catra scowls, hissing again, and Adora doesn’t know if it’s because of pain, or anger, or both. Catra tries to scratch her, but she’s so weak all she does is crave her claws in Adora's shoulder. If it hurts Adora doesn't notice. Catra winces again, and Adora has to hold her free arm to stop her from trying to move.
She closes her eyes and her ears fall flat. Her breathing is shallow again, looking even weaker.
“Catra!” Adora shouts. “Stay awake, pleaseー”
Catra’s ears twitch and she opens her eyes again. It takes a moment for her to find Adora's face.
“Relax, princess.” Catra tries to laugh but all she does is inhale sharply. Then after a beat, “I never thought you hadー, had it in you.”
“I don’tー, Catra, Iー” Adora trembles. “Catra, I’d never, never hurt you like this.” Adora needs her to understand this.
Catra looks away from her eyes. “You should’ve,” her face twists in pain, but she continues, “Just finished me off.”
"No. No, I would neverー”
"I would." A corner of Catra’s mouth twists up for a second before she coughs and shakes again in Adora's arms.
Adora looks up and see Scorpia and Entrapta running towards them in the distance.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER!?” Scorpia screams, gaining speed.
“I didn’tー, Iー” Adora whispers. She doesn’t know what to say.
She looks at Catra again, her eyes are hazy. Adora doesn't remember the last time she saw Catra afraid. Probably when they were kids. And usually it was because of Shadow Weaver, or some stupid bully threatening her. Never because of Adora. But the look on her face now? Adora did this to her.
“I’m sorry, Catra.” Adora presses her forehead on Catra’s head and cries again.
“Get away.” Catra groans, trying to move, and Adora raises her head back up.
Scorpia’s shouting gets louder and soon Adora feels big hands removing her from Catra, and suddenly she is flying away. Adora hits a big rock, head first, and falls to the cold ground. Her ears ring and a loud sound makes her open her eyes to see the sword stuck in the rock a few inches from her head.
She turns around dizzy, struggling to sit up, and makes out Scorpia and Entrapta running back from where they came from. Scorpia holds a limp Catra in her arms.
Adora’s head pounds. She looks over where she was just a minute ago and sees a big puddle of blood. Catra’s blood. That She-Raー, that Adora spilled.
Adora feels a knot in her stomach, and now she’s dizzier. She’s so cold, and so tired. She tries to get up, she needs to follow her. Needs to know that she will be alright. But she falls down. Something drips from her forehead to her eye and she sees blood on the snow under her.
Catra is going to heal. Scorpia and Entrapta got her. She is going to survive.
It’s so tempting to just close her eyes.
Catra has to survive.
Adora hears shouting and opens her eyes. She raises her head to see Glimmer, Bow and Sea Hawk running to her.
They are alive.
Despite everything, Adora smiles. She didn’t hurt everyone. Her smile disappears as quick as it comes.
Glimmer gets to her first and helps her sit up. She looks around and panics, probably seeing all the blood, then starts checking Adora over and asking a million questions.
“I hurt her, Glimmerー” Is all Adora can say.
Adora wants to close her eyes, but Glimmer screams at her, startling her and telling her to stay awake because she definitely has a concussion. Adora obeys, but only because she sees Bow and Sea Hawk trying to yank the sword off the rock.
She wants to tell them to leave it there. That she doesn’t want to ever touch it again. But they manage to pull it off, and in the next second they disappear. Actually, it’s Adora and Glimmer who disappear. Glimer tells her she only had one teleport left so they still need to walk a bit to get to the boat. Glimmer removes her coat and puts it over a protesting Adora. Glimmer doesn’t remove her arms from around her.
When they get near the boat Adora tries to go for the water. Because her hands still have her blood. But Glimmer stops her and drags her to the boat, because the water is freezing and she would lose her hands like that.
Glimmer finds a blanket and wraps it around Adora while they wait for Bow and Sea Hawk to get to them. Adora slumps down, feeling too weak to stand up. She just really wants to close her eyes, but Glimmer doesn’t let her. She asks her to talk to her, about anything, just to stay awake.
Adora doesn’t want to talk. But she does. She asks what happened to them, and Glimmer tells her they tried to remove the sword from She-Ra but fell off a cliff. With that, Adora cries because she hurt them too, and, God, she could have killed them. She tells her what she remembers, and what she did, and she sobs. Glimmer tries to tell her it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t her, it was the virus.
But that’s not true, because it was her fault, and it was her.
Glimmer tells her Catra is tough and she will make it, but the lack of confidence in her voice is too much for Adora to bear.
So she keeps crying.
The Bright Moon doctors say Adora will be alright. Physically, that is. She needs to rest for at least a week, and avoid pretty much any activity, which she doesn’t mind. She doesn’t really feel like doing anything anyway.
She mostly lies in her room, staring at the ceiling, or at the waterfall when she gets bored of the ceiling. She tries not to think ofー not to think in general. Sometimes Glimmer convinces her to walk around the castle, or a little bit outside, but the light hurts her eyes and worsens her headaches, so she prefers to stay inside in her room. On the rare occasions Glimmer leaves her side, Bow is there to keep her company, but they are usually both there together. They also make sure she’s eating well.
She doesn’t sleep much, though.
When her body is too exhausted and finally collapses, she often dreams of blood-tainted snow, an immobile slashed body, and frightened and dazed mismatched eyes. Other times she dreams of Etheria’s destruction and all of her friends’ death led by a burning sword.
She always wakes up in cold sweat, shaking, and she swears her hands are always stained in red before she blinks and sees them clean.
I’m no better than Mara, Adora thinks. In her dreams and when she’s awake.
A bit over a week passes by when the doctors tell her she’s free to resume her normal activities. The headaches are gone, and she tells them she’s been feeling well.
Glimmer gifts her a new jacket. It’s red, and it’s really pretty, but it doesn’t feel the same. Adora wears it anyways.
She still hasn’t heard any news ofー
Glimmer tells her the Horde took over another fortress in an important pass, and she doesn’t have to join them if she still needs to rest, but obviously she decides to go. Adora knows that if she is still alive, and she has to be alive, it would be too soon for her to be out in the field. Still, Adora hopes to see her there.
Adora tells Glimmer she will get there with Swift Wind, so the other princesses and Bow can go without her. She doesn’t tell Glimmer that she leaves the sword in her room, or that she hasn’t touched it since they got back from the Northern Reach, or that she doesn’t plan on touching it ever again.
Adora is a soldier. She didn’t need a magic sword before she knew she was a princess. She still doesn’t need one.
She goes to the castle’s armory room and chooses one of the swords from there.
When Adora gets to where everyone is she tells them they should engage as soon as possible and do just like the other day. They only notice her sword is different when she doesn’t shout the magical words before heading to battle.
It’s a little weird. Sometimes she misses a movement, or isn’t quick enough to completely avoid a blow, but overall she does well. She’s a soldier, she was born for this. From now on she will only need to train harder and more often.
When the battle is near its end, Adora realizes Catra isn’t there.
The Horde soldiers start to retreat, so she runs after one and tackles him to the ground. She demands to know news about Catra, but he says he doesn’t know anything about her, so Adora punches and punches him, until Glimmer has to teleport her away from the guy.
When they are back at Bright Moon, and Adora has her knuckles bandaged, they ask about the sword. All Adora says is that She-Ra is too dangerous, and they don’t need her to fight the Horde. They are more than good enough together, without her.
Another week passes by and Adora spends most of her time in Bow’s dads’ library in the Whispering Woods. She reads everything she can about Serenia. All those old manuscripts help her in not thinking aboutー
Still no news of her.
Adora trains everyday. She experiments with other types of weapons from the armory, but swords are still what she’s more comfortable with. She starts training with a shield, to see how it feels like. She figures it’s good to have more protection.
Adora is lying in bed awake one night when she decides to get up and head to the Fright Zone. She knows it’s probably a stupid idea, but it’s the only idea she can think of right now. She’s not too far from Bright Moon, though, when a worried, sleepy Glimmer pops up behind her. She scolds Adora for how irresponsible she is being, walking straight into the enemy’s zone without even carrying She-Ra’s sword with her, and Adora allows herself to cry for the first time since they got back from the Northern Reach. Glimmer holds her tight, and only when she calms down for a bit she teleports them back.
On the next day, Glimmer instructs the rebel spies around the villages to keep an eye out for Catra. If they spot her, they should let Bright Moon know immediately. Adora starts reading every letter that gets to Bright Moon, but none of them mentions her.
News of Horde activity near a village close to Plumeria gets to Bright Moon, and Adora and the alliance go there to investigate. As expected, they end up fighting. Adora sees Lonnie, and the spark of hope that’s been almost dormant inside of her grows, because if Lonnie is there then maybeー
She corners Lonnie and demands, begs, for news, anything, about Catra. Lonnie says Adora doesn’t get to know anything about any of them or the Horde anymore. Before Adora can say or do anything else, Horde tanks start invading the area. If she was in She-Ra’s form she could easily destroy them. But she isn’t. So they run, and for a miracle they escape. Glimmer hurts her foot, because she ran out of teleports and fell while running, and was almost blown up by a tank if it wasn’t for Bow saving her. Would that have happened if Adora had She-Ra’s sword?
That night Adora holds the sword for the first time. She expects it to burn, but nothing happens. She swings it around for a bit, feeling its weight. She then lays it back on the floor and tries to go to sleep. She stays awake the whole night, though, thinking of Lonnie's words and trying to decipher her expression when she mentioned Catra.
It takes another week for Adora to try it again.
She locks herself in one of the castle’s prison cells, and with her heart pounding and the sword in hands, she says the magic words.
She remembers the pain, the burning, the screams, the blood, Catra almost unconscious, shaking in her arms.
Adora reaches for air and opens her eyes. She’s still in the cell. Nothing burns. She’s completely aware of herself and the world around her. She takes a deep breath and transforms back with no problem.
It feels familiar.
On the next battle against the Horde, Adora takes She-Ra’s sword with her. She doesn’t say the magic words. She doesn’t need to, that day, at least.
Adora doesn’t see her in that battle, or in the next one.
She still hasn’t heard news about Catra.
Adora doesn’t know it, but weeks ago, miles from her, in the toxic green fog of the Fright Zone, Catra was recovering.
She woke up with a jump, expecting cold, wind and snow, not the gray walls and hard bed of the Fright Zone infirmary. She felt her torso and arm all bandaged up and everything aching. Scorpia was right besides her, telling her that she was safe, and crying, because apparently Catra stayed unconscious for more than 30 hours.
The doctor said it was a miracle she survived the trip back from the Northern Reach, and the improvised bandages over her injuries were what kept her blood loss from being lethal. It took her a whole week to be able to sit up in bed without too much pain. She couldn’t feel the back of her left arm, but at least she was able to more or less move it.
It took her about the same time for her to piece her memories back together.
She first remembered Adora in her dumb princess form, except looking terrifying because of Entrapta’s disk, not holding back. Not even when Catra had screamed.
She dreamt of burning red eyes, a maniac laughter, and agony.
Next she remembered Adora holding her tight. She was in too much pain to be totally aware of what was happening, but she remembered very clearly the fear in Adora’s eyes. Catra really believed she was going to die.
She dreamt of stumbled words and a familiar voice sounding shaky, broken and full of guilt.
Catra dragged herself to her room, besides Scorpia’s protests, because she didn’t want to be seen in the infirmary anymore. She was the second-in-command, she was not weak.
On the corner of her room she found a dirty and familiar red jacket. She remembered Adora not wearing her jacket when she woke up, and something red and tight wrapped around her in the cold snow. So Scorpia hadn’t been the one who made the improvised bandages.
Adora doesn’t know she saved her life.
A day after Catra moved back to her room Hordak asked to see her. He didn’t seem to care or acknowledge that Catra was hurt. She also didn’t mention it, and tried her hardest to stand up straight and not wince when she walked, and to not use her floppy left arm. He said he wanted Catra to banish Shadow Weaver to Beast Island, so after that Catra had two days to convince him otherwise.
Adora doesn’t know it, but it took Catra one day to lose Shadow Weaver. And another day for Hordak to find out.
Adora doesn’t know that days after Hordak banished Catra, she woke up alone in Beast Island, still in pain, and without a jacket to keep her warm.