A lover? Maybe. Something tender, anyway. But tender like a bruise.
"THE WINNER'S KISS," Marie Rutkoski
There were parties, after. Horde Prime failed. The Rebellion lived. Etheria healed itself through the power of friendship and magic and love, and they celebrated for days on end.
Catra sat at the highest point of the Castle of Bright Moon. Beside her, like she had for years before their lives changed, sat Adora. The scars splicing her face from jaw to cheek faded white with time, drawing deep and pale groves onto her otherwise flawless face. Her nose, so straight and angular growing up, rested ever so slightly crooked from one too many crunches under Catra’s fists and kicks. She bore the years of their time apart.
But she sat there, hair long and loose around her shoulders, and watched the celebrations down below. She wore not Horde red or Bright Moon lavender. She wore plain white and black, a soft burgundy jacket pulled over her shoulders. She looked everything and nothing like the girl Catra had grown up with.
Adora turned to look at her. Her eyes crinkled at the corners and she smiled, small and soft and hesitant. The expression was new, too. “What?”
“I’m leaving,” Catra admitted, and grew warm at the knowing on Adora’s face. “I’m not sure where to just yet. Glimmer hasn’t decided where she wants to send her new ambassador.”
“It’s a big world,” Adora said.
“Even bigger universe.”
Adora nodded. She asked, “Is that really what you want?” not as a question, but as a musing.
Catra considered. Too much time stretched before her now. She had fallen — far lower than she could ever have imagined. She had both conquered and helped save a world. She never wanted to live unknown and a mystery to herself and had grown up relying on Adora to know her for her, to read the minute shifts in her face and body and tone and recognize without being told what exactly she was thinking, and resented her when she failed.
She poked at that nurtured resentment now and found it as still as a cadaver.
“I want you to come with me,” she said.
Adora looked at Catra. This time, when she smiled, she smiled without restraint.
Adora ignored Catra as best she could when she joined the Rebellion.
Catra understood, of course. She took to avoiding her unless utterly necessary. She sat as far from as possible during Alliance meetings. She memorized exactly when Adora had her meals and scheduled herself to eat at the very minimum half an hour after. She avoided Adora’s favorite spots in the castle: the training grounds; the hall holding her, Glimmer, and Bow’s rooms, despite how often Glimmer invited Catra over to talk; the gardens; the courtyard. It was easy, at first. Then the missions began.
Destroying the Horde — permanently destroying the Horde — required things beyond their skills. There were missions, and there was espionage, and there was Adora, no longer She-Ra. Glimmer, as Queen, remained on Horde Prime’s good graces while the others studied Etheria and its magic.
“Send Bow instead,” Adora said one morning.
Glimmer sat at the very last step of leading up to her mother’s throne. She rarely sat on it. Adora towered over her, but Glimmer seemed to barely notice. The respect Catra held for the small Queen grew like moss while they were on Horde Prime’s ship and continued to grow the longer she stood by her side.
“Adora,” sighed Glimmer, a hand at her forehead. She looked tired. Everyone looked tired these days. “You know I can’t.”
Adora pointedly did not look in Catra’s direction. She stood with her back to Catra, spine straight, her shoulder blades pulled back and visible through her shirt. Her hair hung like tightly braided rope down her spine.
“You can’t or you won’t?”
Later, after Adora stormed out the room, Catra sat next to Glimmer. She bumped her shoulder against hers. “Maybe it would be easier,” she said, “if you sent Bow out with her instead.”
Glimmer shook her head. “He’s working with Entrapta. You know that. You just don’t want to be alone with her.”
Catra laughed. “Guess Adora and I are finally on the same page then, huh?”
So they left, her and Adora, in the very same ship Catra once held Adora prisoner in. Adora sat in the very same seat Catra once treated as throne all that time ago, and they both pretended it didn’t bother either of them.
They didn’t talk, not really. They traded information and studied different books borrowed from Bow’s fathers on the history of Etheria, on its magic, on the lore of She-Ra. Catra traced back the years to the origin of the Horde’s occupation of Etheria. They said little even as they explored ancient ruins. They said little even as they discovered nothing of use.
Maybe Catra was a little cowardly. She noticed the bags under Adora’s eyes; heard Adora shuffling through the ship at night when they were supposed to sleep. She caught Adora mid-workout at three in the morning one time and said nothing.
She knew what Glimmer would say. Talking seemed impossible between the two of them. Too much had happened, she decided, so she said nothing. An apology would do little good between them.
The days continued like this until days stretched to a week to weeks. They stopped at the ruins of an ancient First Ones’ temple near Candila and said nothing about the time years ago they met in the palace ruins hidden within the abandoned kingdom. Catra tried not to remember and analyze the looks Adora used to throw her way before the portal.
The temple was large, and vast, and ultimately empty. The walls were thick glass that must have refracted light during its prime. Now, everything sat dead. The only light that filtered in originated from the door Adora kicked down.
The hours passed slowly. Just as Catra sifted through another cabinet, Adora fell to her knees and screamed into her hands.
Catra paused. She closed the cabinet filled with nothing but dead machinery and stopped before Adora, sitting back on her haunches, hands on her knees. Her claws dug into the fabric of her soft Bright Moon pants.
When Adora finally looked up from her hands, her eyes shone.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” she said. It was the first personal thing she’s said to Catra since the portal. It must have dawned on Adora too: Her gaze fell to the floor and she clenched her hands into fists at her lap. “I don’t know how to bring back She-Ra. I don’t even know how to harness any magic. There’s just — nothing, anymore.”
“There’s you,” Catra said.
“That’s not enough.”
“You’ve always been more than enough. She-Ra didn’t make you. You lived without her for an entire life. You can spend the rest of your life without her too.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You hate her.”
“But I never hated you,” Catra admitted. Adora’s head snapped up, and she stared at Catra, the skin between her brows crinkled. The space between them was too warm. Catra felt too translucent and wished herself opaque instead. “It was always you succeeding. It was always you ruining my plans and saving the world. She-Ra was just a weapon. What’s a weapon without the person wielding it?”
Adora stared at her like she had as plumes of violet smoke parted across the first battlefield they stood opposite of. “I’m so tired,” she said softly.
Catra said, “Then we’ll help hold you up.”
Everyone cried the morning Catra and Adora left. Glimmer and Bow hugged Adora tight, the three of them weeping like children, even as Adora continued to reassure them that they were coming back, obviously they were coming back. On Catra’s end, Scorpia let tears shed but kept her sobs to herself, instead hovering over Catra and making sure she packed absolutely everything and that all her belongings were stored safely in Adora’s ship. Entrapta continued to ramble about how Catra had to absolutely catalog and journal everything that she saw once in space. Even Netossa stopped by to ruffle Catra’s hair and wish her luck on her journey with a wink.
If Catra’s cheeks warmed, she ignored it.
Eternia was only weeks away, and so they set off with enough food to tide them over for the entirety of the trip.
Adora never touched Catra and Catra found she missed it. She even missed fighting. She missed when simply stepping into Adora’s line of vision meant Adora faltered. She always faltered. Everything had to be grand, and epic, and world-ending between them or they didn’t know how to act around one another. Catra remembered the portal, and how easy it was to sling her arm around Adora’s shoulders, how easy it was for Adora to cup Catra’s face in her hands and press a firm kiss to her mouth, and craved the ease of it now. They lived in the same space but rarely touched the first few days despite the war’s ending. This was new; tentative. Forgiveness earned step-by-step.
The fourth night — and they only knew it was night because of the clocks set to Etherian time — Adora stood at the door to Catra’s room, duvet bundled and cradled to her chest. Catra pushed herself up to sit, propped up by her elbows, and blinked at Adora’s figure shadowed by the hall’s light.
“I can’t sleep,” she said, just like she had when they were children. The bottom bunk had been Catra’s before it had become theirs. Something warm blossomed in her chest like the petals of a blooming flower.
Catra scooted so that she was pressed against the wall. Adora stepped into the room and the door slid shut behind her as she crossed the distance to the bed. It was small, fit for two only if they lay squished together. Catra watched as Adora hesitated, her heart in her throat.
“I have trouble sleeping too,” Catra admitted. In the dark, Adora allowed her face to drop its controlled facade. She looked tired and too young to have ever carried a world’s fate on her shoulders. She looked like a girl grown woman too soon.
Adora sat at the edge of the bed. She held her duvet like a stuffed toy. “It’s hard,” she said, “not to remember everything that happened sometimes. Does it get like that for you too?”
After a moment, Catra answered, “Yeah.”
“What do you usually do? When it gets bad?”
“Find a high place to climb.”
“Difficult to do that in space, huh?”
The corner of her mouth twitched. “Yeah, it is.”
Adora slid into the bed. She wrapped herself in the duvet and settled on her side facing Catra. Catra mirrored her, cheek pillowed by a hand. Enough time must’ve passed for Adora’s eyes to adjust to the dark: They searched Catra’s face, now, like she was trying to memorize her features.
“I don’t know how to talk to you anymore,” she admitted, and Catra was glad not to be the first to speak it to life. “Isn’t that weird? We won a war together and I still don’t know what to say to you.”
“It’s easy to get tongue-tied around me. People say I’m devastatingly good-looking.”
Adora snorted and shoved at Catra’s shoulder. “That’s because they never saw you when you were twelve.”
“Like you were any better.”
“At least neither of us had braces like Lonnie.”
Catra laughed. “I would’ve liked to have seen them try.” She smiled, her body relaxing, then said: “See? We still know how to talk.”
“We know how to deflect,” Adora replied. Still, she smiled back.
When Catra awoke hours later, groggy from a full night’s rest, she didn’t recognize the weight draped over her waist, not until she felt breath at the back of her neck. She shifted and the arm gently pulled her tighter against Adora’s sleeping body.
If anything, it was a start.
“You’re joking?” Adora said. “Double Trouble? You and Double Trouble?”
“Say it louder. I don’t think the rest of the universe heard you.”
Adora doubled over in her seat laughing, a hand to her stomach. She laughed so hard she snorted once, twice.
Catra sat at the table, her cheek resting in the palm of one hand, and watched Adora with a grin. She threw the peel of an orange at her. “Shut up. Don’t tell me you didn’t date anyone questionable after you left.”
“With what time?” Adora wiped at her tears, still giggling. “It’s not like there was a bunch of free time open for things like a relationship. ‘Sides, I had this one ex that kept me pretty occupied.”
Catra’s face warmed for some reason. “So you’re telling me that in what — three years? You didn’t even go out on a single date? Didn’t even hook up with someone?”
Adora shrugged, face pink. She tugged at the end of her right shirt sleeve. “Well. I mean...” At Catra’s raised eyebrow, Adora’s face grew redder. “You can’t laugh. Should we even be talking about this considering — ”
“— considering we had the most dramatic break up in history? Oh, definitely.”
The corner of Adora’s mouth twitched. “Fine. Perfuma.”
Catra blinked. She blinked again. “You’re joking.” Adora shrugged again. “Adora, she’s dating Scopia.”
“I know! Obviously this was before Scorpia joined the Rebellion.” Adora paused, suddenly shy, fiddling with her sleeve again. “Did you and Scorpia ever, um — Did you two…”
Catra shook her head. “No. Almost? Scorpia was too — She was too good for me, y’know? I wasn’t really in a place to even seriously consider it without hurting her.”
“But Double Trouble…”
“Oh, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into there.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s not like I expected them to be the love of my life. Whatever. How long did the thing with Perfuma last?”
“A few dates. It’s not like I expected her to be the love of my life.”
“So you and Glimmer never…”
Adora’s eyebrows shot up. “Glimmer?”
“You can’t blame me for thinking — ”
“Adora, seriously, you’re telling me you never thought about — ”
“ — Look, she was your date to Princess Prom, you can’t tell me that doesn’t look like the two of you were —”
Catra groaned and hid her face in her hands. She heard a chuckle. When she looked up, Adora’s lips were pressed tight together into a thin line, her shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter.
“It’s a logical conclusion to make, okay!”
Adora grinned. “Were you jealous of Glimmer?”
“Were you jealous of Scorpia?”
“Wow, look at the stars!” Adora turned to the plexiglass window, her voice forcibly bright. “It sure is nice out in space, huh?”
Catra snorted and turned back to her breakfast. She stabbed a claw through an orange slice and brought it to her lips, saying, “I’m taking that as a yes,” right before taking a bite.
There existed a version of the story where Adora grew to forgive Catra after she fell to her knees in a forgotten First Ones’ temple. A version where, after, they curled up against each other in a past She-Ra’s ship and slept like the children they used to be. A version where, after, Adora smiled at Catra and drew her in for a kiss.
That was not this version. Adora grew to tolerate Catra. They returned to Bright Moon, and Adora nodded at Catra if they passed each other in the halls or ate dinner at the same table or saw each other at the Alliance meetings. She said hello, sometimes. That was enough. It was more than Catra expected or deserved, though it wasn’t what she wanted.
“I don’t understand why you keep punishing yourself,” Glimmer said one evening after Adora left the dining hall. The other princesses still sat far from Catra despite their general friendliness towards her. Glimmer and sometimes Bow were the only ones to join her at this end of the table.
Catra scowled down at her plate. “I’m not.”
“You guys were gone for two weeks,” she continued as if Catra hadn’t spoken. “I thought maybe that’d be enough to have you guys at least talk — ”
“Playing matchmaker now, Sparkles?”
“Sorry if I want my friends to be happy.”
“Oh, we’re friends now?”
Glimmer groaned. She pushed her chair back and stood up. “You’re a pain in the ass. You know that, right? Talk to her or I will.”
Catra raised a brow. “Wow. Terrifying.”
“Yeah, I’ll just tell her all about how you’re still in lo—”
“Shut up,” hissed Catra. “I’m not — Why the fuck would you even —”
Glimmer winked at her and disappeared in a flash of purple glitter.
That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Catra paced outside the door of Adora’s room. She stopped, raised her fist to the door, then let it drop back to her side before she continued to pace. She did that four times. Finally, she knocked.
The door remained shut. Catra stomped down the dual relief and disappointment. She sighed and turned to head back to her room, except the door creaked open behind her and a groggy voice said, “Catra?”
She turned. At the door, hand still on the knob, stood Adora, hair loose around her shoulders, dressed in gray shorts and a gray tank top. She wore white socks. She stared back at Catra, her brows furrowed, her nose crinkled the way it usually did when she was confused or thinking too hard.
Catra swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Hey, Adora.”
“What are you doing here?” She stayed at the door. “It’s late.”
“Can I come in?”
Adora hesitated. She searched Catra’s face and whatever she found made her step aside to let Catra in. When Catra stepped in, she paused and took in the clothes, shoes, and books littered on the ground, messy in a way Catra had never known Adora to be. The door shut behind her and she turned to find Adora leaning back against the door, arms crossed over her chest. Catra dragged her eyes up to her face to find her scowling.
“Look — I just wanted to say that…” She paused. The inside of her mouth felt dry. It was easier, somehow, to look at Scorpia and speak the words she tried to tug out now, not because she meant it any less now, but rather because Scorpia looked at her and smiled. Adora stood across from her and their history stretched between them like a map. “I just want to talk, I guess.”
Adora gestured at her. “So. Talk.”
“I know that you hate me. That’s more than fair.” She rubbed at an arm. “I don’t expect your forgiveness, but I’m sorry. For everything. For staying with the Horde. For opening the portal.” Adora stared at her, but Catra found she couldn’t discern the expression on her face. Catra found that there were a lot of things that she didn’t know about Adora, now. It bothered her more than she could admit. “I owed you an apology. I’m sorry.”
Silence blanketed the room. Adora kept her gaze on Catra, steady and firm. The only reason Catra remained still was out of sheer stubbornness. Then, just when it grew too unbearable, Adora said, softly, “I don’t hate you.”
Catra scoffed, but the look Adora leveled her way kept her quiet.
“I don’t,” she continued. “I tried to for a really long time, but I don’t think I could ever hate you.” The scars on her face blared at Catra. She wondered, briefly, if her back bore the marks she tried to leave during the Battle of Bright Moon. Adora shifted her weight from one sock-clad foot to the other. “You have to give me time, you know. I believe that you’re actually on our side now. It’s just — hard. It’s hard, Catra. You should know that better than anyone.”
She stayed silent.
Adora nodded as if this answered everything. She twisted the doorknob. “You should sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”
“Okay,” and Catra made her way to the door. Adora held it open for her, and it wasn’t until Catra almost crossed the threshold that she paused and touched Adora’s hand on the knob. Warmth bloomed where she touched Adora.
“Do you think we’ll ever stop hurting each other?” she whispered. She glanced up from their hands and caught the vulnerable longing on Adora’s face as she stared at where they touched.
Adora shut her eyes. She shuddered a ragged breath. When she opened her eyes, her face was tired. “I hope so,” she answered just as quietly. “Good night, Catra.”
“Is it a smart idea,” asked Catra, staring out the window, “to go to Eternia?” She turned to look at Adora sitting at the pilot’s seat reading a book. When she stiffened and looked up, Catra shrugged a thin shoulder. “They created the weapon. Should we be worried about what we find there?”
Adora smiled, tight-lipped. “Glimmer and I didn’t know where else to start with the whole exploring the known universe and trying to make alliances business.”
“What better way to reconnect than on a mysterious, possibly deadly planet?”
Catra laughed. “Oh, real romantic. I’m swooning.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear.”
Adora wore a loose white shirt, just a size too big for her. Even across the room Catra could see the line of her collarbone as she shifted in her seat and the neckline fell just an inch.
“We should arrive soon,” Adora continued, shutting her book and standing to stretch. Catra forced herself to look away; to instead stare down at the flickering lights of the controls she didn’t quite understand. The space around her warmed when Adora stepped next to her and bumped her shoulder with hers. “It’ll be fine, y’know.”
“Obviously. Sparkles is nothing if not resourceful, Ambassador Adora.”
“Took you long enough to figure that out, Ambassador Catra.”
Catra smiled. “Do you want to send the transmission or should I?”
“I think I want to,” Adora said. She hesitated, then laid her hand over Catra’s. Catra stiffened, eyes roving over the pink on Adora’s cheeks, the way her eyes flitted to hers and then back to the windows. “But could you help me come up with the message?”
“Yeah,” answered Catra, her voice rough. “Of course I will.”
Their transmission went unanswered. The ship hovered in Eternia’s system and they could see the blue and green planet, its metallic rings large and otherworldly. It had five moons opposed to Etheria’s three. Catra couldn’t tell if the planet itself was larger or smaller. It was simply different.
“Should we land anyways?” Adora gnawed at her lip.
“I don’t know,” answered Catra.
In the end, they landed on a clearing in a dense forest with trees taller than the Fright Zone’s highest point. The sky was gray and heavy. Fog met them once the door opened. The air was the same as Etheria’s, thankfully, and they had little use for the helmets Entrapta invented for them.
Despite the peace that met them, Adora’s expression was tortured. Her eyes shone and she crouched to the ground, pressing one hand flat against the grass.
“It’s dying,” she breathed. She turned her head up to meet Catra’s confused stare. “Catra, the planet’s dying.”
Catra stood close to her. “How can you tell?”
“I don’t know. I just can. It’s like — It’s like the whole planet is holding in its breath. Like it’s conserving it.” Adora’s cheek hollowed like she was gnawing at the inside. When Catra held a hand out, she took it and pulled herself up to stand. They stood close. If Catra took a step forward their chests would touch, their noses would brush together. Adora didn’t seem to notice. “I can feel it but it’s not like Etheria. I can’t — There’s no pull? I can’t just — I can’t do anything about it.”
“Hey, one step at a time. Let’s just figure out who’s in charge, then we go from there.”
Adora nodded. She grabbed Catra’s hands, then sighed, pressing her forehead against hers and shutting her eyes. Like it was easy. Like she did it without thinking. Like she forgot that the claws she held in her hands once raked down her face. Catra froze.
“Let’s head back in,” Adora said, eyes still shut. Her breath warmed Catra’s mouth.
Catra pulled away. She brushed her hair back. Anything to keep her hands busy. “Yeah. We can — We can fly around. See if we find any castles or whatever.”
“That’s smart.” Adora smiled, though it wavered. She tugged the long sleeves of her shirt to cover her knuckles. She looked like she might just reach for Catra and Catra wasn’t sure she could live through it again.
Inside the ship, as they flew through the air and stared out at the planet below them, taking in the decimated lands, the tanks and war camps, the villages barely held together, they stood close together again. This time, when Adora grabbed her hand, Catra was prepared. Though her heart caught in her throat, she didn’t stiffen. She didn’t freeze.
“We have to help them,” Adora said.
Catra wrinkled her nose and thought of the sword, the weapon built deep into Etheria. “Maybe,” she said, and did not regret it even as Adora looked at her in horror.
“I need to find Madame Razz.”
Glimmer barely looked up from the tablet Bow had handed to her minutes before Adora had stormed into the throne room. She sat at her throne for once, cheek in hand, looking bored. When her eyes darted away from the tablet to meet Adora’s, she scowled.
“You already tried. You couldn’t find her.”
“So I try again.”
“Fine. As long as you take Catra with you.”
Catra, leaning against a pillar, arms crossed, frowned at this. She had walked in minutes ago, thinking to keep Glimmer company, not to witness another disagreement between the two, although a small part of her — one she tried to reel back — thrilled at the conflict.
Adora looked her way and Catra didn’t miss the way her eyes roamed from her legs up to her face in a slow crawl before flicking away in feigned disinterest.
“I want to go alone,” she said, finally.
Glimmer groaned. She let the tablet drop to her lap and she glared at Adora. “You can’t go alone when there’s a literal army hanging over our heads. What if you get captured? We can’t take that risk.”
“No She-Ra,” she said, gesturing at herself with a wave, “no risk.”
“Are you serious right now?”
“They’re not going to be interested in some random traveler. I’ll dress up like a villager. I’ll be fine. The Whispering Woods aren’t even far from here.”
“No. That’s final.”
“I’ll go with or without your blessing,” Adora said calmly. She stood with her hands clasped behind her back, her spine soldier straight, her chin raised. “Don’t let me sneak out of here without you knowing.”
“I’ll increase security.”
“You can’t take that risk.”
Glimmer dragged a hand over her face. “Just go with Catra. Why can’t you just go with someone? You don’t have to do everything alone.”
“I know that,” she replied. “But I don’t think I’ll find Razz if someone’s with me. She knows things, Glimmer. You know that. She can help us and maybe she’ll be able to help me get back She-Ra.”
Glimmer frowned down at Adora. Her fingers tapped against the arms of her throne
“You can’t seriously be considering this,” Catra said.
Glimmer barely glanced Catra’s way. “You can leave in the morning. You’re taking a tablet with you and updating us every three hours with your location.”
Adora grinned. “Thank you, Glimmer.”
“They need our help,” Adora argued.
“We don’t know that,” Catra threw back.
Their ship hid in another dense forest miles away from the large castle town they found. It had been large, sprawling over several miles of land. At its very center towered a large, white castle. It was the most visibly thriving area they had seen thus far.
“What do you mean we don’t know that? Their planet is dying, Catra. Did you see all those warships? The destroyed villages?”
“We don’t know the context, Adora. We don’t know what’s going on or why they’re even fighting. We don’t know what the war is here. How can we possibly help? What if we help the bad guys by accident? What then?”
Adora jerked back as if hit. That was one of the worst things about the two of them. Years of war on opposite sides with Catra’s ire directed at Adora and only Adora yet she still looked back like the very first time they fought as children.
“We’ll talk to people in town,” she continued. “We’ll try to figure out what’s going on. Then we’ll decide what we do, okay?”
“Fine,” Adora answered and sounded anything but.
So many of the townspeople paused and squinted when Adora spoke. They tilted their heads. They stared at her like trying to piece together a complicated riddle or to remember where they left a spare key.
“I feel like I have food in my teeth,” Adora commented after another townsperson stared at her in wonder.
They caught glimpses of the conflict: The Crown King and Prince missing in action; a man by the name of Skeletor ravaging villages, destroying any land faithful to the royal family, taking prisoners of those loyal to him, though as of late his own forces have dwindled.
“The Horde suddenly ceased assisting him, you see,” a seamstress told them.
In the end, they were directed to the castle; were told that the royal family took audience with their subjects and guests to listen to their worries. “They’re good people,” a merchant told them and sent them on their way.
The castle was large and ornate in a way different than the Castle of Bright Moon. Its pillars were elaborate; its doors heavy and gold. It reeked opulence.
The guards led them to a throne room with gold and blue banners. Decorative swords hung on the walls and twin thrones stood on a platform higher than the rest of the room. A woman sat alone, her dress long and flowing, blue like the ocean. Her red hair hung in a braid slung over her shoulder. Something about the line of her jaw, the slope of her nose stuck familiar.
“We don’t often get visitors from other planets,” the Queen said. She sat straight, her hands folded on her lap. “I apologize for the lack of a proper greeting. I am Queen Marlena. Please, what are your names? Where do you come from?”
Adora stepped up before Catra could open her mouth, her hands clasped behind her back. “My name is Adora. This is my companion, Catra. We’re ambassadors from the planet of Etheria.”
The Queen’s brows furrowed. She stared at Adora, eyes searching her face. “Etheria was destroyed long ago.”
“Yet here we are,” interjected Catra. She stepped forward, mirroring Adora’s position, raising her chin. “Apologies for dropping in like this. We tried to send a transmission to warn you of our arrival, but it went unanswered.”
“We’ve...had some issues with our satellites.” She smoothed at the fabric of her dress. Her hands trembled, barely decipherable. “I’m sure you noticed the state of our planet.” At their nod, the Queen sighed. “Things have gotten better now that the Horde has retreated, but Skeletor’s forces remain at large. He might’ve intercepted your transmission instead.”
Catra and Adora traded a look.
“We were sent here in search of allies, Your Majesty,” said Catra. “Etheria existed in a pocket dimension for...a long time. Things have changed for us, and we want to let you know that the Horde will not be a problem anymore.”
The Queen raised an eyebrow. “I suppose that’s why they’ve disappeared so suddenly.” She leaned back in her seat, elbow on the arm of her chair, and covered her mouth with her hand. Her cheek hollowed as if she were gnawing on the inside. “I’d like to continue this discussion privately at a later time, if that is alright with the two of you. I have many questions as I’m sure you do as well. Eternia and Etheria were sister planets, once. I’d like to see if that relationship can exist once more.”
Beside her, Adora stiffened. She did her best to hide it, but Catra’s ears twitched at the barely audible thumping of her quickening heart.
“We appreciate it, Your Majesty.”
They were put into separate rooms. While they had grown used to sleeping in one bed again, neither Catra or Adora requested anything different. Catra kept her things packed and slept uneasily that first night, tossing and turning on the too plush mattress with its too soft sheets and too fluffy pillows. She thought about crossing the hall to knock at Adora’s door. She wondered if Adora would refuse her like she did before the end of the war; if Adora could look her in the eye and turn her away after everything they’ve been through.
The concept was enough to keep her in bed.
There wasn’t much staff in the castle. A few soldiers, a few knights. Catra caught some of the kitchen staff when they were given a tour, but it wasn’t like in Bright Moon with its fully serviced staff and full kitchens. When she awoke in the morning, a guard stood at the door to lead her and Adora to the dining room. Even then, she only saw a few custodians, the number not nearly enough to maintain a building this large.
Queen Marlena sat at the head of the table. At the seats to her left and right, breakfast was already served. Breads and butters and greens and cut meats — simpler than anything in Bright Moon. Today, the Queen wore a dress as green as grass, with white laces and ribbons. She wore no crown; only earrings and a simple necklace. She smiled when Catra and Adora sat with her and poured their water for them.
“We’re short staffed,” she explained. “The war has taken its toll on all of us, and with only myself remaining it’s hardly fair to expect so many others to remain.”
“The King and Prince are really gone then?” Adora asked.
“My husband died a few years ago. Many would like to believe he’s simply missing, but…” She touched the necklace at her throat. “My son went off on a mission. He’s yet to return.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Catra.
“He’ll come back.” She let her hand fall away from her necklace and straightened her back to smile at both Catra and Adora. “Please. Tell me of Etheria. All I know are from books in our library.”
“You said Etheria and Eternia were sister planets, right?”
The Queen nodded at Catra. “That’s what I’ve read. The First Ones explored both planets and its magic. Etheria’s magic was more potent so they favored Etheria instead, but our records say it was destroyed over a thousand years ago.”
Adora gestured with a wave. “Well. Pocket dimension.” She nudged at her plate with the tip of her fork, seemingly mulling her words. “You said the First Ones explored both planets. I thought they were Eternian?”
“They were, but they were also...not. They weren’t quite the same species, from what I’ve studied. There are legends about them that have faded to nothing more than stories with time. We’ve found some remnants of their technology, but again: We were not their preferred planet.”
Catra’s eyes flicked to Adora’s only to find her already looking back. Catra cleared her throat. “I know things have been difficult because of the war on your planet, but we were hoping to establish some kind of trade and communications between the two planets. We’d love to have you to get in contact with our Queen —” she didn’t let her face twitch at that and she noticed the way Adora hid a smile “—so that the two of you could better discuss what would work for your kingdoms. Etheria defeated Horde Prime not too long ago, which should greatly diminish Skeletor’s efforts.”
“I’d love to speak with her.” The Queen smiled, wide and bright, and Catra stopped herself from scratching at the itch of familiarity at the back of her head. “We have a few alliances with other planets that have suffered greatly at the Horde’s hands. I’m sure they’d love to meet with you as well.”
Adora perked up. “Really?”
“They’ve aided us however they can, and we have done what we could too, but with all of us under similar invasions it has been difficult to fully fend them off. I can’t tell you how relieving it has been for the Horde’s forces to have dwindled the way they have. My allies would want to meet you.”
Later, once the meal was finished, both Catra and Adora stood to leave when the Queen cleared her throat and wrung her hands together. She forced herself to sit straight underneath their confused stares and asked, “Would you stay behind for just a few moments, Ambassador Adora?”
Adora glanced at Catra, her lips parted as if she were unsure what to say. At Catra’s nod, she tentatively sat back down. Catra crossed the room. Just as she shut the door behind her, the Queen spoke:
“Adora...is a strange name, isn’t it?”
A frantic knock sounded at Catra’s door. She stood up from where she had been reading at the daybed by the window and opened it to reveal Adora, her hair ruffled around her head like she ran her fingers through it one too many times. Catra stepped aside. When Adora came in, she immediately began to pace, wringing at her hands.
“Uh, you good?”
“I’m a princess,” she blurted out.
“Yeah. I know. That’s kinda why you defected, remember?”
“No. No — I mean. We think — Queen Marlena and I think that —” Adora tapered off, gesticulating nonsensically. Catra’s brows furrowed, her stomach tightening. “Shadow Weaver and Light Hope told me I came from a portal. That I’m from another planet, right?” She paused, but then didn’t wait for Catra to respond. “They never specified from where, exactly, but we have to assume it’s where the First Ones are from, right? That’s why I was able to wield the sword in the first place. So it makes sense that I would be Eternian, right?”
Catra crossed the space between them, grabbing at Adora’s wrists. “Hey. Breathe.”
“She had twins, Catra. A son and a daughter.” Adora met her eyes, and Catra couldn’t read the expression on her face. “But her daughter disappeared years ago, when she was still a baby.”
“Do you think that —”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. She showed me a portrait of the royal family and they — the Prince looked exactly like me, Catra. He did. It was so weird .”
“Are...Are you happy about it?” Catra asked. Something familiar coiled at the pit of her stomach and she tried to wrest it away; to tell herself history was not repeating. “What happens now?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happens or how to feel.” Adora bit at her lip. “It’s a lot. She cried and I didn’t know what to do. She seemed so sure about it and I believe her — How could I not?”
“She looks like you,” Catra whispered.
Adora looked at her and Catra finally pinpointed exactly what the expression was: lost. It wasn’t something she often looked like; had only ever carried the same look in her eye when she confided in Catra inside the ruins of a First Ones temple, her voice soft as she told her, I’m so tired. She looked unmoored.
“She asked if I’d consider staying longer than a few days,” Adora said. And there it was, the hatchet ready to fall and split them both.
“So you’re staying,” Catra said, sharper than she meant to.
Adora cupped Catra’s face and for once Catra did not thrill at the touch. She batted Adora’s hands away and ducked her head from view.
“Catra, I didn’t say that. You can’t just put words in my mouth.”
“I can guess them.”
“That’s not fair.”
“You know what’s not fair?” Catra turned to Adora, and for once she felt no fear. They’ve spent too long snipping and stitching at their words out of fear of upsetting one another. They never said what they meant. Even now, with a war behind them and standing on the same side, they assumed the other knew what she meant. What did she have to lose now? She asked: “ When are we going to talk about how you always leave? When are we going to talk about that night, Adora?”
Adora stepped away from Catra, shaking her head. “Not now. Not when you’re like this.”
“I know I did horrible, unforgivable things,” Catra continued as if Adora hadn’t spoken. “That doesn’t mean you get to jerk me around, Adora. That doesn’t mean you can be with me for a night, not tell me what it means, and then just never bring it up again. Do you know how confusing that is? I can’t just follow you around with my tail between my legs hoping that you’ll decide one day that you forgive me and want to be with me. Either you do or you don’t, and I have been giving you space to try to figure that out. I haven’t pursued you. I’ve let you make every first move, but you never follow through. I asked you to come with me and I thought — I thought you saying yes meant something.”
Adora’s eyes shone. “It did.”
“Then why have we just been — skirting around it? Why did you go to my room that night? Why did you —” She bit her tongue. She swiped beneath her eyes and ignored the way Adora looked at her with pity.
“You know why,” she said. “You have to have known it was all I could give either of us at the time.”
Adora came to her that night, the one before she was set to leave to find Madame Razz. She knocked on Catra’s door. She stepped into the room. She let her fingers dust over Catra’s belongings until she stopped by the bed and found the familiar blue blanket. She looked at Catra, understanding plain on her face, and for once Catra did not wish to hide.
Stood against the door, Catra asked, “Why are you here?” and Adora replied, “I wanted to talk to you.” She stopped before Catra, taller than she’d been when she left the Horde, and gnawed at her lip. She wore her usual clothes, the Horde ones, except without her jacket. Catra could see the lines of her neck as she swallowed whatever words she meant to say. She could track the nervous fluttering of her heart at the hollow of her throat as clearly as she could hear it.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” she said, finally. At the look Catra leveled her way, she ducked her head. “A lot of things are at stake here, but getting She-Ra back is the one thing I can do for the Rebellion. It’s the one actually useful thing I can do.”
“No, it’s not,” Catra started, except Adora touched the ends of Catra’s hair falling over her shoulder.
“It’s so much longer,” she whispered. Her eyes flicked up to meet Catra’s. “You never let your hair get this long.”
“Neither do you.”
Adora offered a small, sad smile. “It’s not practical.”
“Adora,” breathed Catra. “What are you doing?”
“I’m tired of being mad at you. I want —” Her fingers skimmed over the column of her throat. Her eyes, usually so light, were shadowed. “Can we just have one night where neither of us are angry?”
“We’re always angry.”
“We weren’t always.”
Catra’s hand lifted to touch Adora’s. The heat of her palm rested against her chest, right above her breast, over the fast pulse of her heart. Adora curled her fingers into the fabric of Catra’s shirt and pressed her closer to the door.
“I was,” Catra admitted softly.
Adora tipped her head towards Catra, and she was too close, her body too warm and sure against Catra’s. Catra could feel the swell of her chest against her own, the way she dragged in every breath.
“Please,” Adora said, her breath warm against Catra’s mouth.
Catra kissed Adora first. Her hunger yawned, endless and large. Her hand fisted in Adora’s hair and she relished the gasp against her mouth, the jut of Adora’s hip through the fabric of her pants against Catra’s other hand. Adora cradled her face in her hands and pulled her as close as she could. Everything about her touch was familiar, though the circumstance was not. She had wished for so long to have Adora against her again like she is now.
Adora was the one to tug at the waist of Catra’s pants. She was the one to pull her to the bed. It was softer than they had ever been, and Adora kissed her reverently, clutching Catra to her with an ironclad grip. Catra let her. Morning came and she woke to the rustle of Adora pulling on her clothes. When she left, Catra let her.
Queen Glimmer of Bright Moon and Queen Marlena of Eternia negotiated until the hour ran late. As ambassadors of Etheria, Catra and Adora were involved in the discussion and Catra made sure to keep her space from Adora and ignore the small glances her way.
Her hurt was a beating heart inside her, palpable and visceral and thrumming too heavy inside her. Catra would leave once negotiations were done to visit one of Eternia’s allied planets and Adora would stay to further solidify Eternia and Etheria’s relations. Silly of her, really, to think they were meant to ever be together. It was easier to smooth her hurt into anger.
Queen Marlena smiled at Adora like she gifted her the stars and moons; like Adora herself parted the storm clouds and brought light back to the land. How could Catra begrudge her this? They spent so long as children huddled in bed together weaving tales of what their families might have been like despite the fact Catra knew, she always knew, what really happened to hers. She remembered the burning wreckage of her village, the way one of her mothers hid her in an old well and whispered desperately, Stay there. No matter what you hear, stay.
Hadn’t that been the whole of their childhood? Catra hiding the ugly truth for the warmth of Adora’s smile, doing anything — absolutely anything for Adora’s smile. Catra protecting Adora while Adora believed herself to be doing the same to Catra.
She thought she rid herself of the habit during the war, but defecting to the Rebellion only proved how deeply Adora embedded herself into Catra. She let Adora kiss her when she knew it was too good too soon. She let Adora leave. She let her and then didn’t see her until the midst of Horde Prime’s invasion, struck by the sight of Adora burning with She-Ra’s ethereal golden glow.
The meeting ended and Catra stood to leave, but Adora touched her shoulder. “Have you seen the gardens?”
Catra scowled down at the ground. “No.”
“I can show you around.”
“Please.” Her eyes were wide and earnest and pleading. With her hair braided down her back, dressed in Bright Moon blue, she looked every bit the royalty she was.
They walked in silence the entire walk down to the gardens. The land was large and sprawling, with flowers that glowed neon even in the light of day and bushes thicker than Mara’s old ship. The grass was overgrown. Weeds towered up to Catra’s knees as she walked.
“The gardener went missing,” explained Adora. “The Queen’s tried maintaining it on her own, but it’s a slow process.”
Catra stayed quiet. They stopped at a small clearing with a wide fountain and several benches around it. The sky above remained gray and gloomy, just like it had since they arrived on the planet. Catra missed Etheria. She missed its pink skies. She missed the three moons, and the babble of the river cutting across Bright Moon. She even missed the Fright Zone with its clogging green pollution and too sharp metallic buildings.
Adora sat at one of the benches. She pulled her braid over her shoulder and played with the end of it, gnawing at her lip as she looked at Catra. “Do you wanna sit?”
“Not really.” She sat regardless, arms crossed over her chest, staring down at the ground.
Adora shifted and the side of her thigh pressed against Catra’s. “Look. I know you’re mad. I get why and I’m — I really am sorry. I didn’t think I was being vague about what I wanted.”
Catra’s head snapped up.
Adora, wringing her hands on her lap, didn’t meet Catra’s eyes. Her leg shook. “I thought we were just taking it slow and that’s why you weren’t being touchy. I thought, well, uh, agreeing to come with you meant that we were, y’know, together again.”
“You thought —”
“I know now that’s stupid of me, now. We haven’t had a real conversation about what this means for us and I just thought it was too good, y’know? That I forgave you and you forgave me. And I didn’t want to ruin it by just dredging up all this bad stuff between us.”
“I didn’t even know you forgave me,” Catra said quietly. “I thought you were still mad, even if you were being nice.”
Adora flinched. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s on me.”
“We never say what we mean, do we?”
“We’re still unlearning a lot. From the Horde, I mean.”
“How long can we use that as an excuse?”
“It’s not one, I think.” Adora frowned. “It’s just a fact. The Horde was a part of us and it’s not like it really taught us how to do stuff like this.”
A faint breeze ruffled the leaves of the bushes and trees around them. It ruffled Catra’s hair, long and loose down her back. She brushed it away from her face.
“You still left that night.”
“I couldn’t take you with me.” She hesitated, then touched her knee. “I wanted to.”
Catra inhaled a sharp breath. She searched Adora’s face for any sign of dishonesty: the faint twitch of the mouth or brow or nose, but Adora held her gaze.
“What about now?” she asked.
Adora said, “I could go with you. I don’t have to stay,” but Catra shook her head. She cradled Adora’s face in her hands.
“I can’t do that to you,” she said. “She’s your family. I can’t keep you from her. We can figure it out. We can have the other dignitaries meet here or just go to them later. What’s the rush?”
“You were so mad —”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry too. I should’ve listened to you, but I was thinking about myself. I just assumed —”
“We’ve both been doing a lot of that, huh?”
Catra laughed. She pressed her forehead to Adora’s. “Sparkles and a bunch of other snooty royals can wait a few days.”
“She’s not —”
Catra pressed a firm kiss to Adora’s lips. She felt Adora’s mouth quirk up into a smile and then a hand cupped the back of Catra’s neck and pulled her in closer.
Glimmer hid her face in two hands and groaned on the screen. Behind her, Bow continued to blow into a tissue Sea Hawk handed to him. Catra snickered and tugged Adora close, an arm around her waist. They sat on their bed in Mara’s old ship, the tablet propped against the wall. Catra wore one of Adora’s shirts, pulled on hastily when the call rang, while Adora had pulled a random sweater over her head, her hair still tousled. A golden ring on Adora's finger, hand resting on Catra's knee, glinted in the light filtering through one of the open windows.
“What do you mean,” Glimmer said, slowly, as if processing the thought, “you eloped?”